So, to the home stretch of what has been an mightily successful season for Newcastle United. The Toon go into their remaining five fixtures looking to surpass the 60 point mark for just the 7th time in their Premier League history, four of them coming in their first four seasons in the new top flight.
And, next up is Stoke City. The last six meetings between the two have brought about two wins each, two draws and 11 goals a piece. The 1-3 victory for Newcastle earlier this season was the latest; Demba Ba struck a hat-trick during a superb tactical display grabbing Newcastle’s first win there in five attempts. The last time the teams met at St James’ Park, Stoke ran away with all three points snatching a 1-2 win.
NUFC are looking for their 6th straight win, keeping a clean sheet in their last three home games, and Stoke have failed to win their last seven away in the Premier League. This is another fantastic opportunity for the Magpies to continue their excellent form as the season reaches its climax. Another chance to scratch three points on the board and keep the prospect of Champions League football for next season alive; especially with key games against Chelsea and Manchester City forthcoming.
What Stoke do…
The Potters have the worst possession rate in the whole division – 39.5%. Furthermore, only Santander of La Liga have a worse record across Europe’s top-five leagues.
They also have the worst pass success rate in the Premier League – 69.5%, the 4th worst across Europe.
However, Stoke do win the most aerials per game on average in the league – 15.2.
Only Everton and Wolves make fewer tackles per game on average (16.9) and they make the fewest interceptions per game – 12.1.
They also produce the fewest shots per game on average in the Premier League (9.9) thus leading to having the fewest on target as well (2.5).
Only Norwich manufacture fewer successful dribbles per game (3.8).
Only Blackburn and Bolton are caught offside less than Stoke on average – 1.6 times per game.
Stoke have scored the fewest goals in the whole league from open play (11), but only Blackburn and Man Utd have scored more from set plays – 16.
They also produce the fewest short passes in the top flight per game – 227, compared to 328 from NUFC.
The Potters initiate the highest percentage of attacks from the right hand side in all of the division – 42%.
Finally, they have the highest percentage of shots from inside the 18 yard box in the Premier League this season too – 18%, double that of second best Blackburn (9%).
Who to watch…
Matthew Etherington – The wide man has created the most chances for Stoke in the Premier League this season (47) including most from set plays (21) and most open-play goal assists (3). He is the highest total goal assister at the club (6) and has created the most clear cut chances for team-mates (9) alongside producing the most attempted dribbles – 60, only 27% of which are successful though.
Glenn Whelan – The Irishman is Stoke’s ‘pass-master’, producing more than any other player at the club in the Premier League this season, as well as the most accurate passes in the attacking half. He also wins possession in the midfield third more than any other Potters player.
Peter Crouch – The inconsistent Englishman is Stoke’s top scorer this season with nine and although partner Jonathan Walters has had more shots at goal, Crouch has the most on target (19). He has the best chance conversion rate at Stoke (22%) and wins more aerial duels per game than not just every player in the Premier League, but across Europe’s top-five leagues also (4.7).
How to win this one
Every team knows what to expect when Stoke come to town. They play as direct a game as ever a team has and will look to get the ball into the Newcastle penalty area at every opportunity. And, it has been this kind of play that has been NUFC’s shortcoming at times this season, albeit when the squad has been at its weakest.
A look at Stoke’s last ten Premier League goals highlights exactly how keen they are to use the direct ball into the box or scoring from crossing opportunities. Very little of their play comes through central areas and they won’t look to take advantage of the space in behind Newcastle’s back four.
It is worth highlighting however, that Stoke produce just one more cross per game on average than NUFC currently in the Premier League (22 to 21) and just two more long balls per game (67 to 65). The difference is that Stoke have very little possession in games and look to get the ball forward at the earliest of opportunities.
Being at home and on the run NUFC are on, Alan Pardew will be looking to stick with his newly acquired 4-3-3 formation in which Hatem Ben Arfa has been a star of late. Stoke’s back four are not known for their quickness and agility, and the enigmatic Frenchman could be key for Newcastle’s success once again.
Having said that, it was the earlier favoured 4-4-2 that produced such a good tactical and defensive display against the Potters at the Britannia earlier in the season; Jonas Gutierrez particularly playing very well helping out at full back and nullifying Stoke’s wide threat. This will be on the agenda again.
NUFC_Stats prediction: 2-0