But while the red-suited Mr Claus does his duties, it’ll be another large-bellied, jolly porker who decides on the gifts Newcastle United receive shortly after Christmas.
The January sales; a transfer window loved by some but arguably hated by more. For the more powerful money spinners in the Premier League, the January transfer window is another chance to add to the armoury and diminish the chances of other clubs by attracting their top performers with success and extra cash. For the lesser teams in the division, no more than 31 days constantly checking the quotes of your manager and best players, desperately hoping the names of those beloved top players don’t appear on Sky Sports’ yellow ‘Breaking News’ bar!
For Newcastle, all will remember this time last year. False promises, puppets, helicopters, last minutes and David Craig. This year, it could go either way. January 2012 could follow 2011 and see the likes of Krul, Tiote, Colloccini and Demba Ba exit/pushed through the ‘out’ turnstile at SJP. Alternatively, the puppet master and his dolls may disregard every approach from the outside and instead, add to the lack of depth currently being highlighted at the club and strengthen the push for a top 6 finish or higher.
The noises thus far have been positive; Ashley having already asked AP ‘when he was going to go out and get a defender’ after the injury to Steven Taylor and recently Graham Carr and Peter Beardsley being sent out to scope the talent in England and on the favourable continent. The question is though; who? Pardew has stated his intentions as far as a centre half goes, saying he would prefer that player with crucial Premier League experience. But all fans will probably agree, that’s not the only area to strengthen.
NUFC_Stats looked at Newcastle United’s current statistical weaknesses and the realistic and viable options available in the Premier League presently to improve them.
Shots per game
Newcastle currently have one of the worst shots per game records in the league, producing only 13 on average, just 2 more than bottom team Stoke. Tottenham create the most shots at goal per game with 19. While it could be argued that there aren’t many players in the team renown for ‘letting shots loose’, it does beg the question as to the rate of assists currently ongoing.
The recent article on Obertan and Gutierrez undoubtedly highlighted their weaknesses thus far, and one of those was definitely their chance creation rate. Presently, Yohan Cabaye and Leon Best have the highest assists for Newcastle with 2. But, when you consider David Silva has 8, although the player is in a different league, you have to wonder why 1 player is gaining only 3 less assists than NUFC’s whole team. Cabaye is Newcastle’s top ‘chance creator’, forging out 30 chances for players in black and white to score so far. Back to Silva, he has 44.
Now, David Silva is not a player NUFC are likely to be targeting next month – this is about being realistic! So, turn then to someone like Swansea’s Mark Gower. The Englishmen has the 3rd best assist rate in the Premier League with 5 and has carved out 33 chances for the Premier League newcomers. Look beyond Swansea to Fulham; Danny Murphy has created a whopping 41 chances for his team mates in 16 matches this campaign, numbers Demba Ba would surely thrive on!
Turning the attention back to our wide players, at just 27 chances created between them, they aren’t setting anything even slightly on fire. James Morrison (31) and Matt Jarvis (30) are both creating high numbers of chances, in teams not exactly known for their PL dominance, while Junior Hoilett and Victor Moses are creating near 20 chances each per game but are also the top 2 dribblers in the division with over 3 dribbles on average per game each.
Shots on target
So, not only are we not producing enough shots, but when we do, few of them generally hit the target! Only five teams have a worse ‘shots on goal per game’ rate than Newcastle. At only 4.1 shots on target per game, results like the Swansea fixture are a huge example of how important hitting the target can be.
Individually, Leon Best has had 13 shots at goal in his PL appearances so far, 46% of which have hit the target. Demba Ba has manufactured 38 shots at goal, getting 61% of those shots accurate, one of the best rates in the PL. Further back afield, the ‘Dreamboat’ has conjured up 17 shots, 59% heading for the onion bag and then there’s the widemen again. Jonas has 40% of his 15 shots heading for the net while fan favourite Gabriel Obertan has had 11 shots at goal in his 13 starts and 1 sub appearance. His accuracy……..0%!!. The Frenchmen is yet to get a single shot on target in the Premier League this season!
So who is getting them on target? Well, look no further than Fulham again. Clint Dempsey has had a very impressive 49 shots at goal in his 14 games thus far, with an accuracy of 53%. And, his compatriot Moussa Dembele has managed 30 shots with a 60% accuracy in his 13 starts and 3 sub appearances. Down at Wigan, Hugo Rodallega has rattled 19 shots towards the white frame, getting 59% of them on target.
NUFC have a possession rate of 47.3%, which tucks them averagely into 14th position in the possession table. Only Wigan and Swansea currently spend less time in the opposition’s half with their possession. And, only 5 teams produce less passes on average per game than Newcastle United in the league; their 313 passes well under the top passing team Arsenal who make 501 on average.
It doesn’t stop there unfortunately; Newcastle lie at 13th in the table for pass succession, with just 70% of their passes being accurate. As expected, all the barcodes playing on the front line (Ba, Best, Shola) have the worst individual record for pass completion, but our resident right back Danny Simpson only completes 73.3% of his passes accurately. Furthermore, 5 more first team regulars have pass rates in the 70’s!
In terms of available personnel, Swansea have some of the most attractive players when it comes to keeping possession. As a team, they keep the ball the 3rd most in the PL and midfielder Leon Britton is a huge part of that. Averaging nearly 60 passes per game, Britton has the best pass completion rate in the entire Premier League at 94.2%.
Left back Neil Taylor, a notorious former target of NUFC, has a pass rate of 85% and centre back Ashley Williams completes the 4th most passes in the Premier League at a success rate of 84%. Outside of Swansea and realistically available, Jamie O’Hara at Wolves is passing successfully currently at 82% and he produces the 9th most passes in the PL.
Scoring from set plays
NUFC have the worst record in the division at scoring from set plays with just 2 this season. Unsurprisingly after last weekend, Norwich have scored the most with 12 and cash-spinners Man City have managed 10.
The present average in the PL for goals from corners and free kicks is just 1 and it is 0 from direct free kicks, so the set play statistics are not just about shooting directly. It is imperative that the delivery of the set play and targeted player are of very good quality. The Toon have just one of those it would appear.
Ryan Taylor has had his fair share of free kicks this season and from those he has managed to carve out 3 chances for his buddies but no goal assists. Cabaye has provided a more optimistic 13 scoring chances from his set plays but these have formed into just 1 goal assist.
Compare that to new-neighbour Seb Larsson; the Swede has 15 chance creations to his name from set plays alone, although similar to Cabaye, just the 1 assist. However, the Mackem winger has produced 3 goals direct from free kicks in the PL. Last night’s opponent Chris Brunt has crafted 13 chances from his set plays which have eluded to 3 goal assists. Bolton’s Martin Petrov has 2 assists and David Fox of Norwich has fashioned 3 assists, both from set plays and 11 created chances.
Shots from the right hand side
Whether or not down to Obertan alone, Newcastle have the worst percentage of shots formed from their right hand side in the Premier League. Only 11% of the Magpie’s 155 shots have originated from that side, the aforementioned shots on target rate (1 per game on average) of the Frenchmen obviously a big factor to that statistic. For perspective, Chelsea currently pose the biggest threat from the right, managing 26% of their shots from that side.
Both Wigan & Bolton appear in the top 6 for this particular area. Victor Moses is presently wrapping his foot around 3.1 shots a game from the right hand side, the best at Wigan and Chris Eagles is doing the same at Bolton with 2.9. Shaun Wright-Phillips is providing some decent firepower at QPR with the same shots per game as Eagles and his midfield teammate Adel Taraabt, who can play on the right, is carving out 2.6 shots per game.
It’s probably fair to suggest that many of these names, if not all, won’t appear on Newcastle United’s shopping list for the January sales. While the numbers tell us one thing, they cannot account for the reputation and past performances of any player and whether any of these players actually fit into MA’s ‘blueprint’ is another question.
What is for sure though, is that NUFC undoubtedly need strengthening. With the current squad size, injury situation and the African Cup of Nations pending, Newcastle United could be left very high and dry come the start of February if significant activity doesn’t take place.
First and foremost, everyone will agree that NUFC must hang onto their prized assets. The likelihood of which will depend on the amount of numbers on the cheque flashed to MA of course! But, if they can do that, then going for a defender has to be of top priority, as well as another creative wide player, preferably good a set plays and right sided, and another forward. A forward with a good goal ratio who is not afraid to get his shots off and has a good pass succession rate to link play.
Let’s hope we all get what we want from the jolly fat man this year!
Merry Christmas to you all!
(PLEASE NOTE, ALL STATS ARE PRIOR TO WEDNESDAY NIGHT’S FIXTURES – BA’S FREEKICK MEANS NUFC HAVE 3 FROM SET PLAYS; THE 2ND WORST IN THE PL)