Ask any of the Newcastle United faithful if they would have snatched off the proverbial hand if offered 7th in the table at this stage of the campaign, in early July, and the majority of answers will be the same.
However, falling from the dizzy heights of 2nd (temporarily) and unbeaten to where they lie now, in such a short period of games, has a left lot of the Magpie contingent feeling a little glum as the festive period approaches.
The defensive frailties were apparent to even the most naïve of football fans against Norwich on Saturday; a team totally devoid of any settled centre back was duly taken advantage of by a clever and well organised Norwich team who had one thing, and one thing only in mind; ‘bang it into the box!’.
However, when you cut through the 14 performances so far this season, and when you slide the defensive record to one side, the eyes come across more defects in the current NUFC setup – imperfections linked to their goal-getting play.
Newcastle now stand at 10th in the table for conceded goals, mainly down to the impact the last two games’ results have had but more worryingly they sit only 8th for number of goals scored this season, just one goal more than bottom club Bolton.
The Toon currently only spend 27% of their lowly possession in games in the oppositions half (the 2nd lowest in the PL), so it is of mass importance that when the ball does reach those areas, good things are done with it. Initiated attacks to get there are very well balanced; 31% originate from the left, 31% centrally and 38% from the right. It would appear though that Newcastle’s problems in attack start here; with their 16th placed 12.6 shots on average per game, 62% them derive from central areas, with 27% coming from the left and only 12% (lowest in Premier League) coming from the right.
It has to be said, that in Demba Ba, NUFC have one of the buys of the season and his 11 goal return so far has been a dominating shining light for the St. James’ Park outfit. But, adding to that Shola Ameobi and Leon Best, Newcastle’s strike force all appear to be shaped from a similar mould.
Throw pending January signing Modibo Maiga into that mixture and, in the stereotypical 4-4-2 Alan Pardew insists on playing, Newcastle have a bunch of spearheads that thrive on service; service that should come from crucial areas as the wide flanks. Therein, it would seem, lies the main problem. What are Jonas Gutierrez and Gabriel Obertan offering for out talented talisman?
Obertan @ NUFC
New signing Obertan arguably plays the traditional wide role for Newcastle. He has pace in abundance, an athletic frame and razor sharp technique with the ball at his feet, able to cut any fullback from the game.
At NUFC, he plays the 7th average number of passes (just 28.5) a game, which ultimately raises questions over his involvement. With those passes, he is 11th in the squad for their completion rate, only 0.2 of them per game being successful crosses (see from the chalkboards below, he has produced just one successful cross in the last six games). He does though play the 3rd most key passes per game on average but is yet to play a through ball this season.
He has no goals to his name yet and of his 0.9 shots on average a game, he is yet to register one on target! Obertan is the 2nd best dribbler alongside Ben Arfa, with one per game, and he gets dispossessed the 4th most frequently, a statistic that may be of surprise to many fans.
Gutierrez @ NUFC
Jonas, on the opposite flank, has one goal to his name which he managed from his 4th best 1.6 shots at goal per game average. He is also 4th with his key passes and he is NUFC’s top dribbler, producing 17 successful runs in his 14 games. Gutierrez is the most fouled player in the Premier League alongside Ashley Young and he is the 10th most dispossessed player there (2nd most dispossessed at NUFC after Tiote).
He is 9th at Newcastle in the table for average passes per game, worse than Obertan he plays just 27.6 and he is 13th with that passing accuracy. In terms of crossing, he is the 4th best producer at the black and whites with 0.6 successful per game on average and like Obertan, he is yet to play a through ball (see relevance in chalkboards).
Against the best
The above table shows that the numbers make pretty dire reading for Newcastle’s widemen when compared to the best from the top 6. The stand out figures being Obertan’s lack of tackles won, his crossing accuracy and the amount of chances presently being created and taken by the pair.
In a little Christmas nut shell, it doesn’t surprise me that Gabriel Obertan is offering very little defensively, but going forward his game needs a very big overhaul also. Whether lacking in confidence or still adapting to the English game, Obertan needs to step his game up if Newcastle are going to challenge for places in the top ten this year.
For Jonas, his provision of cover for Ryan Taylor at important times this season has showed his defensive qualities and the numbers reflect that, but again going forward the Argentinian flatters to deceive, especially when you look at what the ‘top’ wingers are doing. Newcastle have strikers ‘made’ for service such as wide deliveries and it seems the production line is a little too rusty at this moment in time. Here’s hoping it’s oiled and ready for a home battle against Swansea at the weekend!