Reality check time at Stamford Bridge as Newcastle were cut open by the craft of Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres in a 2-0 defeat on Sunday. But, Newcastle gave a super account of themselves and the disappointment of the club and fans at losing to one of England & Europe’s top sides really highlights the strides Newcastle United have made in recent years.
Chelsea were worthy winners in the end, but there were plenty of positives to take away. What did we learn statistically?
In general, and particularly in the second half, Newcastle looked anything but a struggling side against Chelsea. Yes, in Eden Hazard, Juan Mata & Fernando Torres, Chelsea had players that were at times unplayable and we found them very difficult to contain, but Chelsea didn’t have the game all their way.
Tim Krul only made 4 saves all game, Petr Cech with 3. The Blues has 12 attempts at goal, just one more than Newcastle, getting 6 on target compared to NUFC’s 3. But, it was actually Newcastle that were the more astute when it came to carving out chances – their players managed to manufacture 8 chances in total (Simpson & RTaylor most with 2 each), whereas Chelsea managed only 7.
In terms of possession, Chelsea edged it slightly with 52.5% and their players had just 26 more touches than Newcastle’s (667 to 641), producing only 62 more passes (513 to 451). However, it was NUFC that were the more accurate with their passing, getting 88% on target compared to Chelsea’s 86% – very impressive considering Newcastle’s average pass accuracy for the whole of last season was just 76.7%.
Finally, Newcastle showed that they possess the ability, especially with players like Hatem Ben Arfa, to open up even the best of teams and they did that successfully, particularly down the sides at Stamford Bridge – they managed to produce 21 crosses compared to Chelsea’s 13 and at a more successful rate (24% to 23%).
A revert back to the passing figures shows that in general the teams were pretty par, but a look at passing zones highlights that NUFC simply didn’t play high enough up the pitch. Just 31% of their passes were produced in Chelsea’s half compared to 47% by the Blues. Furthermore, only 75 passes in total (17%) were made by Newcastle in the final third and only 44 (59%) were accurate. Chelsea completed 156 passes in the final third (30%) with a 72% accuracy. Nothing optimises this issue more than the fact that despite missing the game v Chelsea, Cheick Tiote has made more final third passes than any other Newcastle player in the Premier League so far (21)!!
A look at the positional shooting figures and for the second game running in the Premier League, Newcastle failed to produce a single shot from the right hand side. Pretty damning stat considering NUFC’s most creative player (HBA) plays there, although the left footed Frenchman does tend to cut inside a lot of the time and rarely holds down that left sided position throughout the game.
But, it is not Ben Arfa who is the problem – a look at where Danny Simpson received the ball shows just how little an attacking threat he poses, even though he has supplied more outfield crosses than anyone at NUFC in the Premier League so far. Compared to Davide Santon, Simpson is very content staying behind the play and rarely takes risks and joins in the build-up of attacks. NUFC have initiated 43% of their attacks from their left side in the division this season so far, only Wigan have produced a higher percentage (45%).
Lastly, that 43% of attacks is a surprisingly high percentage, especially when you think about Jonas Gutierrez’s role at Newcastle now. He no longer plays the game as the flair, direct, attack-minded winger that he was bought by Kevin Keegan as. Alan Pardew has preferred to harness Jonas’ superb positional discipline and work rate by reverting the Argentinian to more central midfield role, where his responsibility is to help out his full back and double up whenever possible.
A look at the above graphic shows exactly that point – Jonas rarely ventured forward and was always on hand to help out Davide Santon and ensure he was never exposed to the threat of one of Chelsea’s talisman. It worked! Chelsea too failed to produce a single shot from their right hand side. The downside, is that we seldom see Jonas in the attacking third and in fact against Chelsea, he received the ball just 7 times in the Chelsea’s half (see below).
To wrap up – yes, after the performance at Stamford Bridge last season, to lose there 2-0 was disappointing. But, one must consider the fact that this was NUFC’s 3rd game in a week and that Chelsea have spent over £80m on incomings this window in an attempt to solidify their place at the top of Europe’s elite and challenge again for honours domestically.
Demba Ba had an increasingly pleasing game but Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse still seem a little ‘off’, whereas Vurnon Anita was thrown somewhat into the deep end for his first start in the toughest league in the world and I’m sure he will improve as he settles and his confidence grows.
Next up in the league – Aston Villa at home! HTL!