I think we can all admit that Newcastle haven’t exactly set the league alight this season! Following on from the successes of last season and attempting to show further progress was always going to be a tough ask.
But, few would have predicted that the Magpies would have given us such lacklustre and unimaginative displays in their first 12 games in the Barclays Premier League – none more so than the last two defeats at home (the last time that happened was the dreaded relegation season!).
The question is though, ‘what exactly is the cause?’ Alan Pardew? There will be some that continue to question his team selection, tactics and comments regarding the team at times. Or is it personnel? Have the latest batch of injuries and suspensions just stretched our squad so much, that the barrel-scrapings simply can’t cut it in Europe’s toughest division? Or is it purely down to the players on the field? The Cabaye’s, Cisse’s and Tiote’s have not started with the same impact they had for so long last campaign.
Last season, despite our accomplishments, there were questions around the team’s ability to create at times. And, as only a defensive midfielder was acquired (in the main) in the summer transfer window, I wanted to know to what extent NUFC compete with the other sides in the Premier League in terms of creativity. Why? Because game after game this season I have watched a one dimensional team struggle to do anything with the ball in the final third, other than float aimless lofted/crossed balls into a bunch of players that have yet to score from a free kick, corner or even cross (Ba’s ‘handball’ hardly counts) this season.
Unless Yohan Cabaye or Hatem Ben Arfa are ‘firing on all cylinders’, who ACTUALLY fashions goal scoring opportunities for our frontmen? At present, Ben Arfa (1.9) and Cabaye (1.8) produce more chances per game than any other NUFC player in the league – after that… Vurnon Anita (1.1)! Consider the fact that Leighton Baines is the Premier League’s top chance creator currently with 4.2 per game and that really puts Newcastle’s creativity into perspective! But, it wasn’t about the individuals on this occasion, I wanted to look at teams in general. So, here’s the numbers…
What I decided to do, to put a more conclusive spin on this, was to award each side in the top 3 of each category numerically, 5 points, and each side in the bottom 3, -5 points. Where a side didn’t feature in either of these, they remained at 0. So, a team without any values in the top3 or bottom 3 would end up with a ‘Points Total’ of 0.
On first glance, it is quite clear to see that, despite not performing to their expected level this season so far, Manchester City are still top of the pile in terms of their creation, having values in the top 3 of the Premier League in 5 out of the 6 criteria. Everton’s fine start to the season is also highlighted, with 4 out of 6 values in the top 3.
In the reverse, it is Sunderland who languish at the bottom in the creativity stakes – 5 out of 6 of their numbers reside in the bottom 3! It is similar at Reading. They have 4 out of their 6 values which are within the lowest 3 in the entire division.
As for Newcastle, a pretty ‘average’ picture is painted. They sit 9th out of 20 for total chances created, which divides to 8th for open play but 5th for chances from set plays! (Just 4 Premier League players playing 80+ mins per game create a set play chance more frequent than Yohan Cabaye).
9 teams have produced fewer ‘clear cut chances’ than us and 7 teams have produced fewer assists so far, but the most worrying figure is the aforementioned stat regarding set plays – NUFC are the ONLY side in the whole of the Premier League this season that have yet to score from a set play. The last time we did that, was away to Wolves last season (Demba Ba header).
Those that have watched NUFC in the league this season will point the finger towards the actual set play routines, which appears, consistently, to involve a hopeful loft into Mike Williamson in the hope that he can win the first ball and create an attempt. However, I have yet to see this work once! So, a look into the set play stats was needed…
40% of those ‘hopeful’ lofted freekicks and corners have managed to find a black & white shirt, while just 7 chances in 12 games have been created by free kicks alone! It’s a similar story for corners, where the vast majority are ‘peeled’ into the box but very rarely do we win the first ball. Because of that, not 1 chance has been created with a corner this season in the top flight. We’ve had just 5 shots directly at goal from free kicks and we’ve only managed 7 shots directly after a set play (the 7 chances mentioned).
All in all, the general creativity figures are not as bad as first thought. However, they certainly don’t read like that of a team pushing to secure European qualification again, or better still, Champion’s League. The most concerning of this information is our set play statistics. Alan Pardew spoke at the back end of last season about his worry over this aspect of the team, but nothing at all appears to have been done about it!
Against Swansea, Hatem Ben Arfa took what was probably the best corner we’ve seen all season – he shot at goal! We need to ‘mix up’ our ideas, changing the taker more regularly and work on some shorter, more clever and well thought out ideas.
Mastering the set piece is a big part of the modern day game and can account for a large quantity of goals – very important goals at times. To not have that in your locker as a team, can leave you at a real deficit. We don’t want to be left behind!