A lot has been said about the opening Newcastle United match at Craven Cottage.
A surprise defeat and many theories put forward as to why NUFC stumbled at the first hurdle.
Too many (five) new signings added to the team in one go, a lack of effort, wrong tactics, wrong formation, first night nerves, just not good enough…
However, could one of the most significant factors have been something much more obvious that anybody could have seen before kick-off?
I was reading the article on The Mag which featured what Fulham Fans had to say about beating Newcastle and one comment in particular caught my eye:
‘They looked undersized in the huddle before kick off. I have a feeling that they are going to be facing teams playing for corners and free kicks for a while as the assorted behemoth strikers that are a feature of most Championship squads have their time in the sun.’
After the game, Rafa Benitez also seemed to hint towards a lack of height/physicality, expressing his disappointment at both the failure of his players to retain the ball up front, plus the number of challenges lost in midfield.
Height isn’t the only important factor when it comes to having the physical strength to retain the ball and/or win challenges but it is certainly the most obvious indicator.
These are the heights of the team that started v Fulham (stats taken from the excellent Soccerway website):
191cm (6ft 3) Matz Sels
185cm (6ft) Daryl Janmaat
192cm (6ft 3) Grant Hanley
188cm (6ft 2) Jamaal Lascelles
178cm (5ft 10) Paul Dummett
187cm (6ft 1) Isaac Hayden
175cm (5ft 8) Jack Colback
166cm (5ft 5) Vurnon Anita
173cm (5ft 8) Matt Ritchie
179cm (5ft 10) Ayoze Perez
177cm (5ft 9) Dwight Gayle
As you can see, once you go beyond defensive midfielder Isaac Hayden you have nobody over 5ft 10 and three players 5ft 8 or shorter.
I have to also say, that those five players don’t look particular strong, even ignoring the height factor.
It isn’t a case of wanting a team of giants but you do have to wonder whether it is ideal to play such a diminutive front five in the Championship, or indeed the Premier League if we hadn’t been relegated?
Even when it came to the subs against Fulham, Armstrong and Aarons are only 5ft 8, with Jonjo Shelvey at 6ft the only player of ‘substance’ coming on in that second half.
Newcastle are set to be strengthened (in a number of ways hopefully) by 184cm (6ft) Mohamed Diame being added to the team on Saturday against Huddersfield, whilst of course 189cm (6ft 2) Aleksandar Mitrovic will be free from suspension at the end of the month.
Left-back Brendan Galloway is set to come in on loan and at 6ft 2 he will add extra height to the team, whilst at just half an inch under 6ft Jesus Gamez is another option.
Whatever happens to the team selection on Saturday, I have a feeling that when Rafa does add another striker, we are more likely to see somebody with a physical presence as well as the other qualities we would usually hope to see.