The number one priority during the summer was to sign a striker capable of scoring regularly in the Premier League.
It is rare that the club get something completely right, but the signing of Callum Wilson could be the exception. Based on the underlying numbers, our starting centre forward is currently the most threatening player in the Premier League.
At the time of writing, Wilson leads the division in expected goals (xG) with 5.6.
There are caveats to this, with the main one being that he has had three penalties to boost these numbers. However, he still projects very well in non-penalty xG with 3.3. Only four players have managed to accrue a higher number so far this season.
Mo Salah and Harry Kane are considered the most devastating goal-scorers in the division. To provide context, the Egyptian has an xG of 5.0 and a non-penalty xG of 2.8. Meanwhile, the England captain has an xG of 5.3 and a non-penalty xG of 3.8. Wilson betters Salah in both stats, while he has a higher total xG than Kane and comparable non-penalty xG.
He spoke himself of his England ambitions when he signed for the club during the summer and based on current form, he should be back in the conversation. There were initially doubts about whether Wilson would be a good signing from relegated Bournemouth, but he has added a focal point to our attack. Six goals from seven Premier League matches seems high, but based on his underlying numbers, it is a run of form that should be sustainable.
In addition to his six goals, Wilson has missed three big chances. Some would be worried by that, but it is a sign of a prolific goalscorer. Every season, the very best players in the league miss lots of big chances. The more important thing is that they are getting into the positions to have these chances in the first place, as this shows they are a consistent goal threat.
One of the more impressive parts of Wilson’s game is that he maximises every single opportunity that he does get. In a team like ours, it is unlikely that he will get enough service to have several chances each game. His movement and reading of the game often leads to a high xG chance. The non-penalty goals against West Ham, Burnley and Everton were all tap-ins, which show this attacking intelligence.
So far this season, Wilson is averaging 0.28 non-penalty xG per shot. Only Jamie Vardy (0.36) scores higher in this metric. If you watch our matches, it is difficult to see how a player could be on six Premier League goals in just seven matches, due to the lack of attacking intent for large periods of matches. However, Wilson seems perfect for the system, as he is able to capitalise on even the smallest of opportunities, due to his movement and hunger to get on the score-sheet.
This takes us back to the first point made in the article. Newcastle have managed to bring in a striker that perfectly suits the system and the decision makers deserve praise for that. There have been a lot of errors made in recruitment during the last two or three years, but this has been an excellent signing that has taken the team to a new level.
For a team like ours, it is okay to be defensively solid and play on the counter attack. That said, there needs to be a focal point and a plan in attack. For long periods of last season, there wasn’t a player to lead the line effectively. There was an overreliance on Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin to make something happen. A slight improvement came after lockdown when Dwight Gayle started to feature regularly, but his injury record meant that we couldn’t rely on him.
Touch wood, the same issues won’t arise with Wilson. Last season, he featured in the majority of Bournemouth’s matches, which suggests that he has managed to get over the serious injuries of his past.
Last season, we didn’t have a striker to rely on for goals. Jonjo Shelvey ended the season as the team’s top scorer with six. Now, we have the player that leads the league in xG after seven matches. It is a stark difference and one that should give confidence that we can have a much better season.