When bottom club Villa rolled in to Toon on Sunday, you could forgive many for thinking it would be a routine 3 points for Newcastle United after their successes in Europe and an International break for recuperation on the horizon. Considering Newcastle have only EVER lost to Aston Villa twice at home in the history of the Premier League and again, even the most pessimistic of fans would have been filling their egg baskets on this one!
NUFC have won more Premier League home games against Aston Villa than any other side in the history of the Premier League (12) and only against Spurs (now 62) have they managed more goals (now 57). Prior to Sunday, in the last 6 between these two at SJP, Newcastle had managed 14 goals and only conceded 3 and Aston Villa had failed to score in 5 of their last 8 Premier League matches, netting only once in each of the other 3.
Alan Pardew opted for his much-fancied 4-4-2 to begin the game, the side unchanged from the defeat at Chelsea with the ‘evolving’ to 4-3-3 expecting to occur in later stages. Despite playing on Thursday against Atromitos, Demba Ba started alongside the goal-searching Papiss Cisse and new recruit Vurnon Anita got his first home Premier League start in the absence of Cheick Tiote – many a fan agreeing that being the only difference to what could be called NUFC’s full strength side.
Newcastle produced slightly more attempts at goal (17 to 13), the brunt of which came in the second half (10), but Villa were the more clinical getting one more than NUFC on target (5 to 4). The home side produced just 25 more passes than the Villains but with more pleasing accuracy and shaded the possession by 1.7%.
The Mags produced a whopping 37 crosses (12 accurate) to Aston Villa’s 7/20 and both sides manufactured 6 successful dribbles, although NUFC attempted 19 and Villa just 8.
Villa blatantly came to SJP with a specific game plan – they put in a colossal 29 tackles, winning 18 compared to Newcastle’s 6/11 and they won 18 of their 32 aerial duels. The most ‘opaque’ of Villa’s plan been their foul count – they made an astonishing 21 fouls (9 def, 12 att half) compared to NUFC’s 6, 9 more than their previous game v Everton and 12 more than their opening day game v West Ham.
The graphic shows the average positions on the NUFC team v Aston Villa. Notice the ‘gaping’ space in and around centre midfield, an area Villa completely dominated. Notice also the distances between our centre backs and the space between our defensive and midfield lines. If Newcastle continue to gift such room, then a player of the ‘Rooney’ mould is going to hurt us significantly!
Check how narrow our entire side are! Gutierrez barely played out of the centre circle and Ba and Cisse played so deep, tight and central that NUFC had no chance to get in behind. NUFC did produce a lot of crosses, some of which through free kicks, and created the majority of their 13 chances via wide areas.
45% of NUFC’s attacks were initiated from the right hand side and with the ‘height’ of Simpson/Anita and of course Ben Arfa, it’s easy to see why. The problem NUFC have, is that often Ben Arfa is the furthest player forward and when teams mark him effectively, it’s hard for him to go anywhere/produce anything. This was highlighted on Sunday, as HBA played the lowest percentage of passes forward out of the entire NUFC side (15%).
As a comparison, below are the average positions of Man Utd’s side in their game against Southampton, a team who also begin with a 4-4-2. Look at the stability they behold in their central ranks in midfield, but also how big/wide they make the pitch, particularly on the right, to exploit space and make it hard for teams to defend against.
Not for the first time this or last season, the attacking third statistics say it all! Vurnon Anita, NUFC’s centre midfield-come-right back, made more attacking third passes for the black & white’s v Villa than any other player (13/18) and overall, Aston Villa produced more (123) than Newcastle (120) in total.
Further to that, Newcastle failed to ‘nick’ the ball once in the attacking third, whereas Villa managed to on 2 occasions.
The above team heat maps show exactly how limited NUFC are in their play in the final third. The majority of Newcastle’s play in the opposition’s half took place on the right hand side, as aforementioned, but just look at how sparse the possession was in the rest of that half, especially down the left hand side and inside and around their penalty area.
A look a Villa’s map shows a completely different story – their movement was by far sharper than Newcastle’s, tending to favour the space between Coloccini and Santon as well as their left hand side where Gutierrez was so narrow.
A look at the areas mostly worked in by NUFC’s front two shows the depth at which they play and how limited their possession in dangerous areas was. With that space continuously opening up in centre midfield, Demba Ba consistently dropped into the hole producing ‘hotspots’ close to the centre of the pitch – surely he should not be asked/needed to drop in there as regularly as he does! Newcastle needed runners in behind Villa’s backline which obviously rarely materialised.
In Cisse’s case, he did play a little higher than Ba as he usually does (most offside player in the Premier League with 7) but again his ‘hotter’ areas are very deep and his possession in and around Villa’s box was few and far between. This map also highlights how similar both Ba and Cisse are in their movement patterns and the way they play the game sometimes as ‘second-forwards’ rather than lead men.
The above graphic is the same heat map but of Manchester United’s Robin van Persie in his game against Southampton. Look at the ground he covered in the opposition’s but more importantly, his activity inside and around the penalty area.
It appears as though Newcastle have retained a problem they had for large periods last season – lack of creativity!
On Sunday, far too often that final pass was long, lofted, from deep with the idea being to win the first ball or condense space around the second and create from there. Why? Because currently NUFC don’t possess the industry to get the ball there any other way.
Cabaye – lacklustre, Jonas – confused, Bigi/Anita/Tiote – defensive. It is only when Hatem Ben Arfa gets on the ball that NUFC come alive. Some have expressed their concerns of the time if/when Ba/Cisse aren’t available. At present, Ben Arfa being unavailable is far more a worry!
Newcastle have scored 5 competitive goals so far this season:
Ba v Spurs – No assist, individual brilliance
Ben Arfa v Spurs – Assisted his own penalty
RTaylor v Atromitos – Individual brilliance
Vuckic v Atromitos – Assisted by Simpson throw
Ben Arfa v Villa – No assists, individual brilliance
Are NUFC a poor side? Definitely not. Is the lack of creativity a worry? YES! If Ba and Cisse aren’t as prolific as last season, one has to worry about how many goals will be scored from creating so few chances.
On the flip side, it must be considered that the season is very much in its early stages with players still gathering fitness and match sharpness, added to the fact that some of the team have been participating in extra games in Europe and the possile lasting effects to our better players of Ramadan still.