Newcastle V Liverpool | Tactical & Opta Statistical Preview

Newcastle V Liverpool | Tactical & Opta Statistical Preview

Up next for Liverpool is a first trip to the newly named Sports Direct Arena, and a chance to do battle with the emerging Newcastle United this year. With Newcastle sitting in sixth place in the table and still only 5 points off fourth, it’s still conceivable that they may pinch that last Champion’s League spot. Liverpool stay in seventh a further 8 points behind Newcastle and any dreams of participation in next year’s flagship European competition are now well and truly over.

Match-Up And Facts Corner

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  • Tim Krul and Pepe Reina are the only 2 players from both sides to play every minute of every game in their respective sides in the Premier League this season.
  • Shola Ameobi and Andy Carroll have both come on from the bench 13 times this season, more than any of their team-mates.
  • Leon Best has been substituted 14 times this season, more than any other Newcastle player.
  • Dirk Kuyt has been substituted 10 times for Liverpool this season, more than any other Liverpool player.
  • Danny Simpson is the only outfield player from both teams to have started all 30 games in the Premier League this season.

  • Demba Ba is Newcastle’s top scorer in the Premier League this season with 16 goals.
  • Luis Suarez in Liverpool’s top scorer in the Premier League this season with 7 goals.
  • Both Newcastle and Liverpool have benefited from 4 own goals this season.
  • The last draw at Newcastle between these two sides was on 6th December 2003.
  • Newcastle have a streak of 13 games without a draw against Liverpool in the Premier League and they have conceded at least one goal in each of their last 11 matches against Liverpool in the League.
  • Newcastle are now 6 home matches without a defeat in the League. Last defeated at home by West Brom 2-3 on 21st December 2011.
  • Liverpool have now lost 3 matches in a row away from home and haven’t drawn an away game since 21st December 2011.


On Page 2 (click below right): Newcastle’s Approach

Newcastle Approach

In the preceding game back in December I reviewed the game on AnfieldIndex and it was clear from re-reading that piece that Liverpool were quite lethargic in that game. If it wasn’t for the intervention of Steven Gerrard the game was more than likely heading for a draw. Newcastle that day played a slightly defensive 4-5-1/4-4-1-1 with Vuckic playing in the zone just behind Demba Ba and then dropping into midfield to give an extra man there when they lost possession. I’d be even more surprised if Pardew went with that formation and set-up considering they are playing at home and taking into account how fragile Liverpool have been recently.

Probable Newcastle Line-Up

This is how I see Newcastle line-up for the game. In a more orthodox 4-4-2, I wouldn’t imagine it will be too far from the same side and formation that beat WBA. Demba Ba and Cisse should both start up front with the two wingers being Ben Arfa and Guiterrez on the other side.  Ben Arfa will play as a more straight forward winger and will hope to give Newcastle some width on that side. Guitierrez on the other side should operate slightly tucked in from the sideline and look to come and link up with the front players.

Newcastle Using The Long Ball

Newcastle are not a team who command a lot of possession. They average 47.5% in their games this season and have a modest passing success rate of 76.3%. It’s an indication that they can still win games without dominating. It’s also a sign that they are comfortable with opposing teams having the ball. Newcastle have scored 3 goals from counter attacks this season. Although it may not seem a lot, only Arsenal and City have scored more from counter attacking situations this season.

In their last 3 games they have attempted 162 long balls but were successful with only 50 of them. You can see from the StatZone image the amount of long balls from the goalkeeper that were unsuccessful. Also notice the amount to the left side. 21% of all Newcastle attacks come down their left side, only Bolton and Wigan have attacked down that side more in the Premier League this season. This left side emphasis will be placed in context below when discussing Liverpool’s approach to the game.

On Page 3: Newcastle’s Players Statistically

Newcastle Players Statistically

First let us take a look at the Newcastle defence. The areas highlighted in green are the best stat for that particular category.

As you can see from the table it’s pretty noticeable that Danny Simpson comes out tops in a lot of the statistics. He has won 50 tackles and 104 ground duels this season, more than his defensive compatriots. He has also won 83% of all his tackles, more than any of his fellow defenders. James Perch has also done well when called upon, winning 71% of all his ground duels and 67% of all his aerial duels. As a side note it’s also worth noting that relatively speaking the centre backs have a low aerial duel win %. Coloccini particularly, only wins 45% of all his aerial duels, perhaps an area where Andy Carroll can look to exploit.

Midfield Attack

Not surprisingly, given Newcastle’s propensity to (left-wing – see above) attack on the wings, the wide players come out tops in an attacking midfield sense. What is surprising is that is the wide right side that features so heavily considering Newcastle attack so much down the left.

Newcastle Midfield Attack

Perhaps they should direct more of their play towards Ben Arfa in the future, as he comes out tops in most of the areas covered. Certainly the most impressive, is that he has 4 goals and 4 assists from only 86 successful final third passes. The sheer number of final third passes (234) by Gutierrez indicates that Newcastle do like the left side of attack, he also has 34 successful dribble attempts this season.

Forward Attack

Lastly let’s take a look at who the danger is when it comes to the Newcastle attack. Demba Ba has obviously scored 16 goals this season which is a phenomenal amount, and he does seem a constant threat with his 84 shots in total. That is nearly 60 more shots than anyone else on the table. Cisse features heavily, coming out tops in four different areas.

Newcastle Forwards

He is on target with a fantastic 71% of all his shots and also converts 36% of those into goals. Also with a shot on target every 43 minutes it shows he won’t hesitate to shoot when given the chance. Finally also worth noting is the high conversion rate of all the Newcastle strikers. Together they have convert 23% of all their shots on target into goals. With Liverpool, as a team having a shot conversion rate of 9% it’s maybe something they could learn from.

Next… On Page 4: Liverpool’s Proposed Line-Up

Proposed Liverpool Line-Up

I would suggest that Liverpool play a 4-2-3-1, for more reasons than I can state here. I’ve been saying it over and over this season that 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 does not suit us as a team. It is a formation that is way too rigid for the wide players we have. To make a static system like that work you need very quick wingers, who can dribble and who have a trick and can go past a player. Have Liverpool got a player like that? Probably one, Raheem Sterling, who is now on the precipice of the first team, however, an away game at Newcastle probably isn’t the ideal time to throw him into the mix. Perhaps a home game would be better.

Liverpool Proposed Line-Up & Formation

So we should play a 4-2-3-1 with emphasis on Gerrard getting close to Maxi and Suarez to link up with them and create some passing triangles around Newcastle’s left side. Remember James Perch is relatively inexperienced at left-back so it would do no harm to overload that side for a bit. Downing should play on the left to provide some width and crosses for Carroll, and to drag players out of a congested centre to free up space for Suarez to roam. It’s important that Gerrard, Maxi and Downing try to make runs beyond Carroll and try to stretch a static Newcastle formation.

Spearing should be tasked at sitting in front of the back four and not to get dragged too far up field. I pointed out Jay Spearing’s positional sense in my QPR review here. It will be even more important in this game, as with Newcastle playing two front players, and Krul attempting his long balls, it will be important for Spearing to hover around the two centre backs and pick up any second balls. If he doesn’t then either of our centre backs will have to come out of position to fill in that space. And as the QPR game showed, this is not a good defensive tactic.

Much discussion lately has focussed on Andy Carroll’s non-inclusion in the starting 11 – and the fact that we have quite a high win percentage with him starting games. It’s become further clear over the last number of games that Suarez is not suited to the central striker’s position. Such is Carroll’s presence that he tends to keep two opposing centre backs busy, so with his inclusion it inevitably frees up some space for Suarez to operate. Furthermore, with both the Newcastle centre backs having a poor aerial duel win % (see above), we may get some attacking joy from Carroll in this area.

On Page 5: Liverpool’s Centre Back Pairing

Wigan focus on our right side

Last but not least our centre back pairing has come under much debate lately. In fact, it’s become a mystery as to why Steve Clarke and Dalglish continue to use Carragher as a right centre back. Firstly, Carragher has played left centre back plenty of times and is well used to that position, and secondly, why move Skrtel, our best defender this season, out to left centre back to accommodate Carragher? Would it not make more sense to have Carragher left centre back and Skrtel right centre back?

Two positions they are both comfortable at playing. Whatever the reason it is not working, the second QPR goal was conceded from an error on that side of the defence, and also the Wigan winner was also scored from that zone. This led me to investigate the matter further. Over the last 7 games Liverpool’s opposition passes to the left has increased dramatically.

Coincidentally coinciding with Agger getting injured and Carragher coming back into the team. In the preceding 23 games opposition teams on average only made 7% of their passes to the left (our right). In the last 7 games that has increased to 24%. The question is, is this just a coincidence, or are opposition teams now targeting our right side by directing more of their passes there? Remember Johnson is injured as well, and Kelly is now covering for him. So maybe they are looking to exploit Kelly/Flanagan and Carragher on that side. Wigan certainly did, as you can see from the StatZone graphic they really did direct most of their attacking play down Liverpool’s right side where Flanagan and Carragher operated.

This is why I believe it is imperative that we start with Skrtel on his favoured right side of centre back and bring in Coates to the left. Considering Newcastle direct most of their play down their left (our right) I really fear for us on Sunday if we start with the same positional back four as against Wigan.

Agger/Carragher With/Without

With all the talk of bringing Carroll into the team, one man not talked about who has been out of the team lately is Agger. In my opinion that has really had a negative influence on the defensive performance of the team. Take a look the attached table.

I have calculated how we have performed with and without both Carragher and Agger in the team. Only games where the player has played more than 45 minutes have been taken into account. With Agger in the team we were conceding 0.84 goals per game and without him that has jumped to 1.36 goals per game. That is just over 0.50 goals per game.

Over a season that is the difference of conceding nearly 20 goals more without Agger in the team. Carragher’s figures show the opposite. The team concede more with him playing, 1.21 goals per game, and only 0.87 goals per game without him. That is a difference of 0.34 goals per game less without him. Over a 38 game season that amounts to nearly 13 goals less conceded without Carragher in the team. The opposition don’t seem to have any more or any less shots or more frequently/infrequently with either Agger/Carragher in or out of the team. However, the opposition are more accurate with their shots when Carragher plays – on target with 43% of their shots when he plays, and only accurate with 38% of their shots when Agger plays. Lastly when Agger plays we win 42.1% of our games, compared to when Carragher plays we win 35.7% of our games. I’m am not Carragher bashing at all, I think he has been a fantastic servant to Liverpool, however, he is not having a great season, and perhaps its time to give Coates an extended run in the team whilst Agger is injured. Food for thought. Here’s to 3 points and a win.

All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.comSubscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) See Demo’s and videos about the Stats Centre & read about new additions to the stats centre.