Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa – A ‘narrow’ point earned

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.

Match Stats

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.

Team Shape

NUFC average player positions

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.

Man Utd average positions v Southampton

Possession zones

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.

NUFC & AVFC heat maps

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.

Forward trouble

Ba & Cisse heat maps

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.

Robin van Persie v Southampton

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.


32 thoughts on “Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa – A ‘narrow’ point earned

  1. First time posting on the blog, but have been reading for the last couple of seasons. Just had to shaow some appreciation for your amazing analysis nufc_stats. Always in depth and often highlighting something I had completely missed. Keep up the good work!


  2. For the record… thanks for trhe blog Toonsy. It is far more balanced than a certain other blog of manic depressives (we all know to whom I am referring), and more thought out than a certain other place.


  3. Stats ,Brilliant yet again. It more or less shows what I was seeing as it does seem we are reliant on moments of brilliance. I think 433 gives us far more creativity and I hope we ditch the 442 .We did seem lack luster and slow to every ball and like we were constantly getting caught in possession v Villa .Have to say I also thought Villa were very dirty too.


  4. @You can go back even further on the individual brilliance point. Think it spans the last four games of last season as well.

    Love the article as always but one piece of constructive criticism Stats:
    Bigi came on in the first half so you may have misjudged the gaping hole in the middle as I don’t think he’s included in the map.

    Our width is shocking. Defeats the point of 4-4-2 imo


  5. @Stats

    Saw your work on twitter as well. Makes for very very interesting reading.

    To me it shows a complete lack of off the ball movement from our players.Whether that is down to lack of fitness I don’t know, but movement is the most important thing in football.

    If Ben Arfa is going to roam infield, then Simpson simply isn’t the right man for full back. Although good defensively, he is completely lost in the final third and has no idea what to do when he goes forward. For me Anita showed potential. Perhaps Santon should be playing on the right? He played there most of preseason. So why not now??

    Ba and Cisse are taking up the same positions almost getting in each other way.

    Static players are incredibly easy to mark and it’s no wonder that Ba and Cisse are hardly getting a touch.

    I have to blame Pardew. He has been employing a long ball strategy which simply isn’t working. The shape of the team is a mess and he needs to deploy a system which suits the players we have.

    We missed Tiote sitting in front of the centrebacks, because he fills that space you mentioned and is the link between the defence and midfield.

    Bigi did a good job, we played better when he came on and Anita moved to fullback. For me Anita was too far up field.

    It also explains why Cabaye has been so poor. There is nothing a midfield playmaker can do if there is simply no movement from the players around him. Who can he pass to? He can only pass sideways and backwards. It must be extremely frustrating for him.

    People bitch and moan about him, but this is one area Obertan adds a lot to our play. His movement is generally brilliant. He is always making runs and making himself available. He may not be a Bellemy but he is the best we have in that department.

    Personally, I would drop Ba and play Obertan or Marveaux in a 4-3-3 system.

    Come on Pardew. Sort it out!


  6. To make it short.

    Pardew is trying to play our best 11, not our best team… Some may think this is the right thing to do… personally, for me. It doesn’t work.

    You play the best system and then select the best players that fit into that system.

    For me, the formation is a disaster at the moment.


  7. All, if you were a manager, would you take the opposition teams formation into account when setting your team up? Or would you just put your fomation out regardless?
    I have read a lot of 443 talk lately and it makes me laugh when it is deemed as the answer to our problems??
    Pardew knows more about footbll management than anyone on here but you wouldn’t know it from some of the comments posted 🙂 🙂 🙂


  8. Aussie, does he?

    Why does he have to change the formation every game in the second half because his original tactics are not working?

    Obviously the formation at times depends on the team we are playing and nobody in saying they know more than Pardew.

    We are all commenting on the proof of what we have seen and the stats that back it up.

    Pardew messed up against Villa. His tactics were very poor.

    Just because he is managing a Premier League team and none of us are doesn’t mean we can’t be critical or make suggestions when he has clearly got it wrong.

    If we can’t make suggestions, or our suggestions make you laugh. What the feck is the point of a blog. Surely its to give OUR opinions? 🙄


  9. Great work stats as always.

    Pretty much confirmed what most of us thought I guess, yet more proof that Jonas isn’t a winger. If we’re going to start 4-4-2 i’d like anita on the left and santon on the right so they can both actually attack/cross effectively. However a right side with Santon, Benny and Staylor would be pretty weak defensively imo.

    Did you pick up anything on our headed clearances I wonder? Personally I thought Staylor had a pretty poor game as well, rarely clearing the ball effectively. Villa humped it up and we nodded it down for one of their dangerous midfielders, usually ireland to pick it up.

    We humped it up and got nowt.


  10. Aussie-I get what you mean, but that’s such a buzzkill. Plus you can say that about every aspect of our football club in terms of pards, coaches, all the footballers, llambias and ashley and say that we shouldn’t have any opinion on anything at all.

    What a boring world that would be eh 😉


  11. Not great really, but to be fair Pardew has acknowledge we were pretty gash. I hope he or the players have the balls to question the formation and whether Ba and Cisse really work well together in the same team. It may be that they can but they need to get it right.

    Off topic – The Daily Mirror suggest that we are going back in for Tom Ince in Jan having had a £4m bid knocked back – missed that one like 😯 – good play so fingers crossed.


  12. It seems to me that the average player position graphic shows that we played with 3 up front.

    Btw, I look forward to this match analysis. Excellent job, NUFC_Stats. A very reasonable analysis. As somebody has already pointed out, that gap in the middle was filled by Bigi in the version I saw after the game, almost like an added central defender. And it explains why Anita is so far to the right.

    The surprise for me was how far forward Jonas played. Clearly his brief was to help out Cabaye in the centre more, rather than Santon down the left, who seemed to get pushed back a bit because Villa attacked down that side more often.


  13. Also a little comment on the individual brilliance aspect. Quite frankly we were reliant on individual brilliance almost all of last season. In the first half Ba was putting away chances out of nothing. I’m not taking anything away from the team-we were avery tight and effective defensive unit, but it was Ba’s finishing that shot us up the table and got us wins rather than draws. In the second half it was a bit more shared, again with good play all around, but Cisse and Benny were match winners on their own several times.


  14. I like talk of formations really. I mean on here its alright. .com is a joke though, football manager playground 😆


  15. Newkie @18. So 433 for an hour and it didn’t work.

    We were 424 at the end there.

    Can’t blame Pards for not trying things.


  16. JJ-Aye I know he had a fair number of them, he’s playing the role where he’s supposed to go up and clear them and obviously anita/simmo are lightweight and small and Santon not really aggressive enough.

    It just didn’t seem like we cleared the danger well enough, like Staylor wasn’t getting enough on them. May not be his fault though, I guess if Cabaye had been more active he would actually have challenged for the cleared ball, and if we’d had Tiote he’d probably have mopped it up a lot better.


  17. JJ, lighten up mate, I’m sure you are a great manager as well 🙂 feel free to criticise mate but don’t act like your formatons are the answer in the next breath. Every team changes their shape if things aren’t working out, there are so many factors involved that can’t be planned for.. that’s my opinion, if I am allowed to have one as well 🙂


  18. I really hope Tiote is back next game. And I think Obertan or Marveaux need to start to add some movement and creativity and take some pressure off Benny.

    For me, Ba has been worse than Cisse. He is supposed to be dropping back into the hole to create. But he is too selfish. He doesn’t ever look to pass, he always shoots, even if from impossible angles or if there of five defenders in front of him.


  19. @newkie
    that’s why i think we shouldn’t base our expectations on.last years league placing. You’re spot in really – very good defensively generally, terrific number of.clean sheets. but a lot of games we didn’t actually play too well and were reliant on magic moments.cisse scored a great number goals but most of them were out of thin air, same hba.
    We are a top 8 team that could challenge for 5th.


  20. Bris we played a really warped version.of 433 though. Ba in a 3 should be out left. The average position map shows how much of a mess it is.


  21. “don’t act like your formatons are the answer”

    Aussie, never said that were the answer. Its my opinion. It not like what we say on this blog has any influence on anything at the club or on the pitch.

    Every word anyone says on this blog is opinion. So to laugh and belittle those who actually have one. That’s being a bit uptight mate.

    We can’t all be arse lickers all the time 😆 😉

    I think Pards has done a great job… But when he gets it wrong then he deserves criticism as much as he gets praise when he gets it right.


  22. “We are a top 8 team that could challenge for 5th.”

    Quite right Solano, but when we get outplayed by Villa then we’ve clearly had an off day, or got the tactics wrong.


  23. Okay a quick glance at last seasons fixtures shows that we gathered points through individual moments against (in.played order): sunderland/wolves/spurs/everton/manutd/qpr/villa/wolves/bolton/chelsea
    9 games. Some of them a bit harsh. but i haven’t counted the games where we didn’t.get points.
    We may all those moments of class again, we may not. But i am definitely going to factor that season expectation.


  24. JJ, no stress, I thought I was reading one of Chucks posts earlier on…it read like one of his.. they way I see it, I will critique a players effort or performance because it can be judged . But I will not critique formations because it is hard to say what will work from game to game. There is no one formation that will work, 442 is a safe play and I think Pardz is trying to get some points on the board before being to expansive…


  25. Sharpy@14 Re, Tom Ince. I was on a Liverpool site a week ago and a fan questioned why they let Tom Ince go.The Ed of the site said it was because him and his Dad were Knobheads who thought he (Tom) was better than he is and demanded too much money ,so they let him go. Somehow Sharpy I ain’t gonna hold my breath on that one tbh . He does seem to be scoring for fun but may well be a bit greedy like. 🙄 .


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