Despite a disappointing loss to local rivals Sunderland, Newcastle have continued their impressive start to the season in recent weeks. They are currently 9th in the table, only 2 points off the favourites for the title, Manchester City. After an awful campaign last season blighted by the Europa League, it finally looks like Alan Pardew has managed to get his side back to playing the type of football that led to them finishing 5th in the 2011/12 season. The French players that joined in January have settled into the club and are starting to hit top form which is a huge positive for the Geordies. In this article, I will look at the side’s defensive, passing, creativity and attacking stats while finding out the key men in each area. Also I will compare the team’s performance so far to last season and discover if there has been an improvement.
Newcastle United Defence
Newcastle’s defence has improved since the start of the season after conceding only 3 goals in their last 4 matches, including two clean sheets against Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. This has taken their goals conceded total to 15 and their clean sheet total to 4. Mathieu Debuchy has been the standout performer in the Newcastle defence. He has made the most clearances (66), all of which have been successful. Furthermore he has made the second most headed clearances (33), trailing only Mike Williamson (36) who is known for his aerial ability unlike the French full back. The former Lille full back has made the most outfielder blocks (7). He has also attempted and won more tackles (won 26 from 33) than any of his team mates. Moreover he has been involved in 61 aerial duels and won 45 of them, which is also better than anybody else in the squad. These stats highlight Debuchy’s defensive abilities which are underrated considering he is thought to be an attacking full back by many. They could also suggest that he is being targeted by opposition sides.
In recent weeks, central defender Williamson has been through a resurgence after nearly being sold to Cardiff in the summer. Now he is keeping club captain Fabricio Coloccini out of the side. Since returning to the starting eleven, he has kept the likes of Fernando Torres, Roberto Soldado and Jermain Defoe from scoring. The Englishman is often criticised by fans but since the club returned from the Premier League, they have kept 32 clean sheets. Williamson has played in 22 of those matches which suggests he is an asset to the side. He is strong in the air as showed by the amount of headed clearances (36) and his aerial duel success rate (65%).
Newcastle United Passing
Pardew’s side have started to play a different style of play which involves pressing and short passing. This is shown as the team went from playing the most amount of long balls last season to playing less than the majority of sides this year. However they do prefer to have less possession than the opposition as showed by side’s average possession of 46.19%. The best two passers in the side this season are central midfielders Vurnon Anita (87% passing accuracy) and Cheick Tiote (88% passing accuracy). They do have different roles in the side as Anita is used to get the ball to the attackers, this is shown as he passes forward (31%) more frequently than he does in any other direction. Whereas Tiote’s main role is to win the ball back and retain it with the majority of his passes going left (32%) and right (27%).
Yohan Cabaye is now used as an attacking playmaker with more freedom going forward than he had last season. He has made 42 penalty-area entries which is more than anybody else in the squad which highlights his new free role. He has attempted the joint most final third passes (142) along with fellow French International Moussa Sissoko. However Sissoko has a better final third passing accuracy (75%) than Cabaye (65%) but the latter is more likely to play the incisive passes that break through defences. Cabaye has played the most through balls with 12. Only 3 were successful but this emphasises the problems that Cabaye causes when he is in the opposition half.
Newcastle United Creativity
Newcastle have created 128 chances so far this year. The player who has created the most chances for team-mates is Sissoko with 18, from which he has one assist. Cabaye has created the second most chances with 13, he also has one assist. The Frenchman has improved his set piece delivery this season which has led to two goals so far, one was a direct assist for Yoan Gouffran against Chelsea. Considering Newcastle struggled with set pieces last season, it will be relieving for Pardew to see his side score twice from them in recent weeks. Papiss Cisse and Gouffran lead the assists chart with two apiece. Eight players currently have one assist which shows that Newcastle have players who can create goals all over the pitch.
The player who has attempted the most dribbles is Hatem Ben Arfa who has attempted 46 dribbles. He has been successful with 54% of them which he will want to improve on as the season progresses. Sissoko has attempted the second most dribbles with 39 at a 51% success rate. These two Frenchman can cause opposition defences a lot of trouble with their runs but they are very different in style. Ben Arfa relies on his skill and guile to dribble past defences whereas Sissoko is a quick, powerful runner who relies on pure brawn to get through defences. If Pardew can fit both into an effective system, they can cause lots of problems for defences with their differing styles.
Newcastle United Attack
The side have scored 15 goals so far this season from 173 shots. Loic Remy is the club’s leading goalscorer with 7 goals. The Frenchman is also currently in joint second place in the league. Three other players (Ben Arfa, Cabaye and Gouffran) are on 2 goals. Remy has a shooting accuracy of 60% and a chance conversion of 35%. He has scored more goals than open play than the whole Tottenham squad put together. The French International is showing his class on Tyneside and his form has seen him recalled to the National team. There is no doubt that Pardew will be pushing Mike Ashley and Joe Kinnear to secure Remy on a permanent deal in January before more clubs become interested in the player. Remy himself has spoken about being happy at Newcastle, but his agents scuppered his move to Newcastle last January, it could happen again if the hierarchy at St James’ Park aren’t careful.
The main worry in Newcastle’s attack is the misfiring Papiss Cisse who is yet to score a league goal this season. He has the worst shooting accuracy in the team with only 36% of his shots going on target. Moreover the Senegalese striker has missed all 4 of his clear cut chances, which is more than any of his team-mates. The former Freiburg striker has lost his place in the team in recent weeks with Pardew preferring Shola Ameobi who is also yet to score, however the Nigeria International offers better link up play than Cisse which will help the side create more goals for Remy.
Comparison To Last Season
Newcastle are three points better off than they were last season as the side only picked up 14 points from their opening 11 matches last campaign. They managed 12 goals in the same period last season which is three less than they have managed so far this season. However they conceded 15 goals in the opening 11 matches of last season which is one less than they have conceded so far this year. Their goal difference is better this year as it currently stands at -1. In the same amount of games last season, it was -3. Their start has been slightly easier this season but they have managed to take 7 points from four matches against potential title contenders (Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham) this season.
Since the last International break, Newcastle have played against Liverpool, Sunderland, Chelsea and Tottenham. They picked up 7 points from these matches which is more than everyone expected. They scored 6 goals while conceding only four which makes their goal difference from these matches +2. From the corresponding fixtures last season, the Geordies only managed to collect 4 points. They scored 5 and conceded 11 which makes their corresponding goal difference -6. This shows that Newcastle have done much better this season as they picked up 3 more points and an 8 goal swing took place. The incredible amount of goals conceded from the same fixtures last year was due to the 6-0 loss at home to Liverpool.
This comparison shows that Newcastle are doing a lot better this season and if their form continues, they could even have an outside chance of qualifying for Europe.