Following Sunday’s resilient display against Liverpool, I’ve been thinking just how much more disciplined & organised this team is under Rafa Benitez and in doing so, stumbled upon quite a fascinating stat.
Across our opening 7 games this season, I figured that we have NEVER conceded more than once while having 11 players on the pitch (Huddersfield 1, West Ham 0, Swansea 0, Stoke 1, Brighton 1, Liverpool 1). The only time we’ve conceded more than one came back on the opening day of the season, with both of Spurs’ goals coming in the second half when we were down to 10 men.
On top of this, it also occurred to me that since that defeat to Tottenham, just ONE of the four goals we have conceded since has come in our own box. Goals from Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy, Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Liverpool’s Phillipe Coutinho all came from range, meaning Tomer Hemed’s winner at Brighton was the ONLY goal we’ve conceded in our own box with 11 men this season – and it’s debatable whether that should’ve stood given what looked like a foul on Chancel Mbemba in the build up!
This really does sum up how well drilled we’ve been, showing how effective we’ve been off the ball given how much possession we’ve consistently given the opposition. We’ve averaged just 34.75% possession across our 4 home games against Spurs, West Ham, Stoke and Liverpool so far, yet have conceded just twice with 11 men on the field in those games, taking 7 points from a possible 12.
Heroics from the likes of Rob Elliot and Jamaal Lascelles may have saved us on occasion, but these statistics don’t flatter us. This is the product of real discipline, dedication and determination. Rafa Benitez’s pragmatic approach may give us organisation, structure and a tactical edge, but the players have bought into his philosophy brilliantly and carried out his instructions so well.
We may have to become more potent in attack – scoring just one away goal in three outings – but for the first time in a number of years, I feel our defence will be the last thing to let us down this season, and that certainly bodes well in our bid to avoid the dreaded drop.