It isn’t rare for a Newcastle United opening weekend fixture to end with a discussion about a club in crisis. However, it is rare for us not to be the subject of that discussion.
In fact, there has been a lot of optimism centring on our new signings and the performance on Saturday, both within the fan-base and the general media.
Jamal Lewis, Jeff Hendrick and Callum Wilson all made their full debuts for the team, with each one playing their part in the opening day win.
Below, we will analyse each of them using key stats:
The left-back only signed for the club in the last seven days and he was thrown in the deep end to start at the London Stadium. He arrived with a developing reputation following an encouraging first season in the Premier League at Norwich City. Liverpool were interested in signing him earlier in the window and it was obvious why.
There were many positives to take from his debut, but the main one was his energy and willingness to contribute in the final third, with only one defender creating more chances from open play than him (3) over the weekend. He will benefit from playing on the same wing as Allan Saint-Maximin, as the Frenchman attracts a lot of attention. On Saturday, this created space for Lewis to run beyond his winger.
He created three chances during the match, which was the joint-most in our team, alongside Jonjo Shelvey. There were signs of an understanding developing with Callum Wilson, as the striker was always looking to run into the near post when Lewis got into a crossing position.
Lewis has the pace to recover when the side loses the ball and he is able to win the ball back. Against West Ham, he completed two tackles and made a further interception. A tackle success rate of 66.7% was a positive first outing for the left-back. He provided more dynamism down the flank than Danny Rose did during his loan spell. Based on his debut, this will be an excellent addition.
Many were surprised to see Jeff Hendrick on the team sheet, especially as Miguel Almiron started on the bench. However, Hendrick delivered an excellent performance and was the leading candidate for man of the match. The decision to start him likely centred on the balance he would provide. Lewis and Saint-Maximin were going to be very attacking on the left. Therefore, it was important we had a more disciplined right-hand side. Due to his preference to play centrally, Hendrick could drop inside and cover when needed.
Hendrick was solid out of possession and worked hard to close down the West Ham players. This was especially true in the defensive third, with the midfielder completing a team-high of four blocks. A pass success rate of 78% and three completed dribbles showed that he could progress the ball in midfield areas. During the match, he completed six progressive passes. Only Jonjo Shelvey (11) completed more.
Surprisingly, it was Hendrick’s attacking intent that stood out most from his debut. He was always looking to get into the box to support the attack, with four touches in the opposition penalty area. Two of these proved decisive. He got the assist for the opening goal with a clever flick on to Callum Wilson, before following this up with a fine strike of his own. Burnley supporters were keen to play down his attacking quality, but the first impressions were that he could be an asset in this part of his game.
Hendrick had an xA (expected assists) of 0.79 on Saturday. Prior to Monday, only Andros Townsend (0.87 xA) achieved a higher xA during the opening weekend. It would be harsh to drop the Irishman following his debut display.
It was Callum Wilson that stole the headlines and was the centre of the discussion on Match of the Day. That is for good reason as he showed what a striker should be doing when leading the line for Newcastle. He was a nightmare for the defenders to contain and always looking to make something happen.
Wilson had four attempts on goal, with his movement often leading to chances being created for him. He also showed an awareness to create his own chances, as he picked the ball up on the left, scanned his options before cutting inside and shooting just past the far post. The former Bournemouth man was positive in his movement and decision making, which was refreshing to see. His goal showed his impressive instincts in the final third.
A total of seven touches in West Ham’s penalty area and an xG (expected goals) of 0.92 showed his threat. Wilson looked motivated and was always looking to make something happen. Further to his own goal threat, he created two chances and was linking up well with Andy Carroll.
Alan Shearer picked out two clips that showed Wilson stealing a run on his marker, before looking to cross for a team-mate. On both occasions, the rest of the team were slow to react, but as they get used to his style, this could be an avenue that leads to goals.