PremAndUp posted a link to squawka earlier that showed a few stats from the 2014/2015 season – so I thought i’d take a look and see if there is any obvious reason for why we were almost relegated…
I have taken out the the usual established Top 5 as well as those that were relegated or promoted, focusing on where we expect to finish – somewhere from 6th (on a good season) down to roughly 15th. It will not be a surprise to learn that Newcastle conceded at least 10 more goals last term than the likes of Aston Villa, Sunderland, West Brom, West Ham and several other mid table sides. The reason for this appears to be a deep rooted problem that links into a significant issue for us at the other end of the pitch – scoring. Outside of the 3 relegated sides, we only outscored Villa, Sunderland and West Brom.
Outside of the To 10, there are obvious failings from certain teams that explains why they finished where they did. West Ham’s Sam Allardyce you will remember, was given a mandate of having his side be more exciting. To be fair the Hammers created (367) chances at goal, more than anybody else in this group other than Spurs (407) and Southampton (382), however they struggled to keep the ball (47% average possession), whilst Villa did not create enough chances (288), explaining their poor return of 30 league goals. Crystal Palace on the other hand could only keep the ball for 45% of the time – but managed a respectable 10th place finish thanks largely to a staggering 24 goals scored from set pieces as opposed to Newcastle’s lowly 8. Palace also worked as a team to help keep the number of conceded goals down – by undertaking 56 defensive actions per game – which is the 3rd highest outside the Top 5.
I am one of many who highlighted our lack of cutting edge when it came to set pieces – and 8 goals all season is amongst the lowest in the league – but it does not paint the whole picture. Southampton for example also only managed 8, however they excelled in keeping the ball, creating chances, scoring from free play and keeping clean sheets.
If we are honest with ourselves, then we are not content sitting in the bottom haf. So lets compare notes with Spurs, Southampton, Stoke, Swansea, Palace and Everton – who were all there or thereabouts in the Top 10… The Magpies scored less than all of those teams and conceded significantly more. Almost all of those teams managed to have a speciality over their competitors; Everton (11th in the table) had the highest shot accuracy out of the group and the joint-highest passing accuracy (83%). Southampton conceded less than everybody else (30 goals less than us), Spurs created more chances (407), scored more goals (58), won more average duels for the ball (50%) and kept possession (54%) more than anybody else. Swansea were joint-top dogs at average passing accuracy (83%) and Palace knew how to score from set pieces. Stoke were impressively consistent amongst several fields, finishing in the Top 3 of this group in chances created, average duels won and goals conceded.
So we must have something we are good at, right? Erm no, not really. Granted we did not finish in the Top 10 or 11, so we are not going to compare favorably against these sides – but surely we pushed the Top 3 or 4 in some fields at least? Nope…We were poor in every field so no need to list them. I know you want a positive – so I’ll give you one. I heard many people criticise the team for playing hoof ball. However, our average length of pass was 19 meters, which is bang on average. In fact it’s slightly above average with no other team having a shorter average passing length – the biggest being 21 meters and the guilty team being Aston Villa.
In my opinion our problem comes from possession – and what we do with the ball. Its obvious to say as much but bear with me! Every team in the Top 10 had possession over 50% per game. Spurs finished 5th. Southampton 7th and they had better possession than anybody outside the usual Top 5 with 54% and 52% respectively. We managed 49% – it does not seem like a lot of difference but we are talking about fine margins at the very top of the professional game – so small margins make big differences. Once we manage to retain the ball, we need to get into key areas and start producing opportunities. We only created 332 chances last season. Again Spurs and Southampton lead the field with 407 and 382 respectively. When we create those chances, we need to execute them better. We only managed a 43% shooting accuracy which is worse than all of the other 6 sides listed above except Stoke. I suspect this is because we lacked the cutting edge in our passing game to get close enough to goal. Too often when in possession last term, we passed sideways or backwards – partly because we had no real width in our game and no real catalyst in the middle to burst forward and open up space. Sissoko is the best we currently have in that regard, but too often he did not seem to really bust a gut or show enough desire and interest. This is why I hope the Wijnaldum rumor is true – he is exactly what we need.
In terms of goals conceded, it is no coincidence that Spurs top the bill again with 50% of their duels won. We only managed 47%. This means we lack bite in midfield as well as at the back. We have Anita, Colback, Sissoko etc on the books but do any of them have a specific position that they excel at? Tiote has been a big miss and if we had his influence in front of the back 4 then I believe we would have conceded far less. If he is leaving, we need to employ someone like Colback to just sit there putting the tackles in and keeping his passing game simple so that we have a foundation to work off and build up momentum. Again, take out the relegated sides and the Top 5 and Newcastle as a unit had the lowest defensive actions per game (48) than almost everybody else. Most of the Top 10 had somewhere in the mid to high 50’s – so what’s going on there?
Not only were we not attacking with any kind of purpose, we were also not chasing back or getting into defensive positions when we should have been. Is the whole squad lazy? I doubt it. I reckon it’s a case of poor coaching and players not knowing what the hell to do due to a bad system in place. A new coaching team with experience of football on the Continent combined with experience of winning things here at home should see a big improvement from our current squad. Step forwards Steve McClaren and his team. Add a couple of well planned additions to the playing staff (Matip, Austin/Mitrovic, Wijnaldum anyone?) and we should achieve a few small percentage increases in the above fields, which in turn will yield big results come the end of the season.