Lady lucky shone through the murky sleet –threatening skies at St James’ yesterday, as an injury time Sammy Ameobi shot deflected off the back of goal-hunting Papiss Cisse and landed in Wigan’s far corner to secure 3 points. That, after a very lacklustre and uncreative performance from the Black & Whites.
This time last season, Newcastle were sat in the dizzy heights of 4th place in the Barclay’s Premier League, claiming 19 points from their opening 9 games – 5 wins, 4 draws and alongside only Man City, yet to lose a game. 12 goals rattled in and just 6 conceded had Newcastle United fans dreaming of the prospect of European football once more, even at that early stage of the season.
This year, the summary after 9 games is very different. Newcastle United are just say rearing their heads in the top half of the league, languishing in 10th place having taken just 13 points from a possible 27. The win against WBA was only Newcastle United’s 3rd of the season, with 4 draws and 2 defeats also incurred. 11 goals have been notched similarly to last season, but in conceding 13 goals, Newcastle are over double that of this time last season, highlighting where their main weakness obviously lies.
A look at the numbers to dig deeper into those frailties highlights some interesting points. Just half of every ground 50-50 duel and aerial 50-50 duel that Newcastle United have entered into this season so far has been won which is pretty low for a team with high table aspirations – so too their tackling success at just 71%, an uncharacteristic set of values for a team that took pride on their team spirit and cohesion last campaign.
6 defensive errors already this season is another worrying statistic when you consider that only 13 were made in the whole of last season – following in this vain would see Newcastle make 24 errors by the 38th game!
Most United fans will know that Newcastle’s back-line have the ability to put these stats right and that the shaky number thus far have a lot to do with the inconsistency of the personnel in them. Newcastle have been ravaged by injuries to defensive players – Steven Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini, Danny Simpson and Tim Krul all missing games of late due to injury.
Those same fans will also say that although conceding goals has been a problem, Newcastle have not been the most creative and threatening of sides this season. Just 8 chances per game on average have been created by the Toon so far with just 3.7 shots on target per game and average possession of 47.9%.
Looking at the attacking values for the first 9 games last season compared to this and again some interesting numbers come to light. 6 out of the 10 values represented in the table have decreased compared to last season including shots, possession, chances created and attacking 3rd passes. Within the remaining 4 categories, Newcastle have improved their total number of passes per game and their pass accuracy, and the consistency of Hatem Ben Arfa and Davide Santon in the team have seen the average number of dribbles increase.
However, the data that will have frustrated every Newcastle United fan so far, is the increase in long balls by Alan Pardew’s side – Newcastle United play more long balls per game on average than any other team in the Premier League currently (it’s also the same in the Europa League!) Just 43 per game on average last season in the first 9 games, 49 being the most in a game – that going up to 54 on average and a 61 highest this time round.
There are two ways to look at Newcastle United presently – a decline in performance and results compared to last season, but also a team picking up points despite injuries and not playing well. Bettering the success of last season was always going to be a tough ask, and the form of players like Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez, Cheick Tiote & Papiss Cisse, who have all started slowly, hasn’t helped matters.
But Newcastle look a team devoid of idea at times and the performances of their younger and fringe players in Europe have outshone their first team counterparts at times. Consider the fact that NUFC have had more average possession in their own half than any other Premier League side this season and that only Sunderland have produced a lower percentage of possession in the opposition’s half.
Newcastle are not performing well currently, certainly in terms of creating chances. The 4-3-3 that wreaked havoc last season is not being utilised and NUFC are not playing to their most creative players’ strengths. Playing the game in their own half is not going to get goals and the long ball tactic is predictable and ineffective – Newcastle United are the only side in the Premier League season yet to score from a set piece!
Next up is Liverpool – where Alan Pardew goes from here, we shall wait and see!