A sullen first half or so of the season doesn’t look to be getting any brighter for Newcastle United – the 2-1 defeat to Fulham continuing Alan Pardew’s record of never coming from behind in a league game as NUFC manager, leaving the Toon with just 17 points after 16 games and 2 points above the relegation zone.
Every excuse going has been used for the Magpie’s poor showings thus far – tiredness, injury, recruitment, tactics, effort. However, in Newcastle’s last 3 Premier League games, there has been a major improvement in their performance. Against Stoke, Newcastle were very unlucky to lose the game, conceding the goals they did so late in the game, whereas Wigan came to St James’ Park and got the spanking their performance deserved. Newcastle also bossed Fulham statistically, but failed to get that elusive goal(s) to draw or win on that occasion.
Much has been said this season, in the tactical notion, about their ability from dead ball situations. Newcastle remain the only Premier League side this season to score via a set piece. Add to that, the continued discussion on the ‘long ball’ style play that they have took on this season (which Alan Pardew denied this week) and there is a team here that clearly is not playing the game as effectively as last season.
In terms of those values, NUFC scored 8 set piece goals in the 2011/12 Premier League season. They delivered 171 corners, 142 of which went into the box, and 36 (25%) of which were accurate. They created 39 chances from their set plays, but just one dead ball assist – a Demba Ba header away to Wolves, the last goal scored by NUFC from a corner!
Regarding their long passing, 2130 (14.5%) were completed in total of their overall 14,638 passes as a team and 1063 (50%) of those long balls were accurate. That accounts for 56 long balls per game which was the 8th highest in the division.
A look at similar numbers, and in comparison to the other Premier League sides, was in order to find out exactly what is going on with Newcastle United and their ability this season.
As aforementioned, NUFC are the only side yet to score a goal in the league from a set play. Only Swansea (2) come anyway near and Manchester United lead the pack with a colossal 11 goals! 76 corners have been delivered by NUFC, 63 into the box, and 37% accurate, an increase on last season. They’ve created 22 chances from set plays but, obviously, are yet to register a deadball assist or goal.
Referring back to corners, NUFC aren’t as one-dimensional as some may have thought, with just 83% of corners this season going straight into the box – the other 17% used more creatively or quicker. That in comparison to West Brom, who have ‘peeled’ 96% of their corners directly into the box.
Newcastle’s accuracy also isn’t as bad as first assumed – at 37%, just 4 sides win the first ball more often than NUFC, a really startling statistic considering they have yet to score. Because of that, the chances created by the Magpies from overall set plays is also very average when compared to other league sides this season. 11 teams have failed to create as many chances from dead balls as NUFC (22), so one must question the ability of the player receiving these set plays and their inability to put the ball in the back of the net or the decisions they are making.
One must also question the ability of our free kick takers. Man Utd have notched 11 goals via set plays, but just 5 have been assisted. That means they have scored from 6 direct free kicks, so too have City and Sunderland have managed 6! NUFC have had 6 shots direct from free kicks this season, not one rippling the net.
Regarding long balls, 1052 (more than any other side) have been completed with 600 (57%) on target. Those 1052 long passes account for just 17% of their overall passes in the league, a slight increase (from 14.5%) from last season. That also means that NUFC produce 65.75 long balls on average per game this season, obviously the highest in the top flight, but also an increase of nearly 10 per game on the previous campaign.
Looking at the accuracy of those longer passes, 7 teams have a lower target percentage, meaning again, it’s not necessarily the quality of the delivery; it’s what is being done with the ball after receiving. Man Utd lead the way yet again with a quite immense 72% of long balls accurate (just 8% short of NUFC’s overall passing accuracy this season in the league).
Alan Pardew has made his feelings clear on NUFC’s ability from set plays and their intent regarding long passing. Last season he admitted that Newcastle were poor in attacking and defending dead balls and vowed to do something about it. Which of Amalfitano, Bigirimana and Anita was brought in to combat this?
Man Utd’s 11 goals from set plays is just over a quarter of their overall Premier League tally this season (40), but would actually account for over half of NUFC’s 18. The black and whites really are ‘missing a trick’ in this area and must consolidate and improve to provide important goals.
He also stated this week that the ‘long ball statistics are misleading’. Well, Alan, they aren’t. In fact, when objective data such as a ‘number of long balls played’ is telling you that you play the highest amount, there isn’t anything to be misinterpreted. Having said that, while Newcastle do play the most long balls, it isn’t the quality of the ball, but what happens thereafter.
Ba and Cisse are not target men and as a team, they do not possess the legs to get in behind or support the front players quick enough when the ball is played directly up there.