The hidden stats behind Newcastle United’s helter-skelter start to 2020/21

It has been a solid enough start to the season. Based purely on results, there is little to complain about, as we have taken seven points from a possible 12.

The defeat to Brighton and the performance against Tottenham were worrying, but the overall trend has been positive. 

That said, last season, we did take eight points from the same fixtures, therefore an argument could be made for regression. It will be interesting to see how the expected numbers compare between the first four matches and the corresponding fixtures last season. This should provide a good picture of how the team have progressed or not over the last 12 months of Steve Bruce’s management. 

The manager has regularly spoken about the need of time in his development of the playing style. Below, we will see if there has been any progression.

Defence

Throughout the first four matches, we have a total expected goals conceded (xGC) of 6.36. This ranks as the 13th best in the division by this metric. Over the course of last season, we ranked as the 17th best. The sample size is much smaller, as we have only played four matches, but it might be the start of a more encouraging trend.

It is worth stating that we have played against three teams that will likely finish in the bottom half of the table, therefore the defence still needs improvement. 

Against Brighton and Tottenham, we had an xGC (expected goals conceded) of 5.07. Both teams dominated possession, while we were passive and easy to play through. When Bruce plays against more expansive sides, there is still an issue in the organisation of the team. In the same matches last season, we had an xGC of 2.36. This is a stark regression in these two matches, but the set-up and style was confusing in both. This played a part.

In the two matches against West Ham and Burnley, the team was set up well with a game-plan that suited the opposition. We had an xGC of 1.3 in these two victories and these should provide encouragement.

During the first four matches, we are ranked as a mid-table defence. There have been two good defensive performances and two bad ones, but the main takeaway from the expected goals stats are that we need to be far more organised against teams that dominate possession.

Attack

The attack has been criticised due to an unsustainable rate of scoring nearly every shot on target. However, we do rank as the 12th best in xG, creating 5.08 in the first four matches. This has been helped by two penalties, but this has been a common theme throughout the league.

During the first four matches, we have created six big chances, which ranks as the 13th best in the division. The signing of Callum Wilson has been a huge positive for our attack, as he gets into the right positions in the final third. His goals against West Ham and Burnley show this. Against Brighton, he came close to scoring with a great headed chance. This was a result of smart movement in the penalty box.

In addition to his four goals, Wilson has missed two big chances. This should be seen with encouragement rather than a worry. The best strikers consistently get big chances as it shows a sustainability to their goal-scoring form. Based on his first few weeks at the club, the former Bournemouth man looks like he can sustain this form.

This season, Wilson has scored four times from a total xG of 3.76. He is currently in the top four of this metric, trailing only Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane. Although he has been aided by penalties, he still ranks in the top five for non-penalty xG with 2.1. 

There is room for improvement in attack, but the addition of Wilson has been a huge help and it is great to finally have one of the leading strikers in the division in black and white. Allan Saint-Maximin’s return against Burnley showed a team that can cause problems in attack with an xG of 1.96 during the match. 

Verdict

It is clear by viewing a lot of the predictive stats that Newcastle rank safely around 12/13th in the majority. The sample size is small and the quality of the opposition barring Tottenham has been questionable, but the stats provide more encouragement than they did last season.

For the majority of it, we were ranked as a bottom three side and the results didn’t look to be sustainable. Some of the performances in the Carabao Cup and against Tottenham/Brighton have been worrying, but there have been signs of encouragement too.

The set-up against Burnley should be seen as the template for the rest of the season. We are most dangerous when we have players pushing up in support of Wilson. Bruce should also make arrangements to give more freedom to Saint-Maximin. The Frenchman can win matches on his own and that will prove to be valuable over the course of the season.

There are still big issues with Bruce’s coaching and management, which this writer holds. However, we should be in a lot less fear about an imminent relegation. We are shaping up to be a solid mid-table Premier League team, albeit one that delivers an inconsistent level of performance.

Stats taken from FB RefUnderstat and Sofascore

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