As soon as Newcastle kicked off on Monday night, it was clear there had been a formation change.

When the starting XI was announced, it was unclear if Ciaran Clark would be at left-back or playing in a back three. It immediately became apparent that it was the latter.

While on paper, the 3-4-3 or 5-4-1 formation looked negative, it was the foundation for another Newcastle victory.

(Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)

Formation change won us the game

Before the team was announced, we didn’t know who would replace the injured Paul Dummett. The obvious choice was Javier Manquillo, but Rafa Benitez threw a curve-ball and picked Clark.

Donning the captain’s armband, Clark played as the left centre-back, with Federico Fernandez in the middle and Fabian Schar on the right.

Width was supplied by DeAndre Yedlin and Matt Ritchie, who operated as wing-backs. Ritchie did brilliantly despite being asked to play in an unfamiliar role.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

While all the talk after the game was about Ritchie’s miss, the Scotland international did well defensively, and got up and down the flank. He often found himself in space, and he was able to deliver a brilliant cross for our second goal.

As for Clark, his presence at centre-back was a big plus. Burnley started the game with Chris Wood and Sam Vokes up top, two physical strikers who are strong in the air.

Clark’s presence meant we had more than enough cover at the back, as the three defenders dealt with most of the high balls that were hoofed their way.

Rafa gets it right

The change in formation was a stroke of genius by Benitez.

He could’ve kept the same shape that had won against Watford and Bournemouth. But he acknowledged Burnley’s strengths, considered what we were missing and reacted brilliantly.

It’s decisions like this that make Benitez one of the best managers around. We are truly lucky to call him ours.

(Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

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