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Match Reports

Newcastle v Fulham: Complete Statistical Breakdown & Analysis

8 years ago
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It was far from a vintage performance on Saturday afternoon but Newcastle United have now started their season with a win, a draw and a loss. Exactly the same record as this time last season.

Newcastle now have two clean sheets in the Premier League, both at home, which is already a third of last season’s six.

Fulham were poor, with Dimitar Berbatov turning in a truly terribly 90 minutes. The Cottagers were set up to defend deep and soak up Newcastle’s pressure, happy to let the home team dominate possession and attempt to hit NUFC on the break.

It almost worked and Fulham looked good for a point until the introductions of Gouffran, Remy and Cabaye – the latter to a mixed reception – gave Newcastle the extra edge of pace and quality and Ben Arfa scored in the 86th minute and gave the Magpies a much needed three points.

FORMATIONS

With Fulham playing 4-2-3-1, there was a chance Newcastle could get dominated in the midfield with Sidwell, Parker and Berbatov lining up against Anita and Sissoko, especially with Sissoko’s liability to break forward and leave Anita as the lone midfielder. Pardew combatted by having Marveaux and Ben Arfa, neither of whom are known for their work rate, drift inside and pick up Berbatov at the sacrifice of consistent width from his wide players.

Berbatov dropped incredibly deep at times in order to see more of the ball with Fulham manager Martin Jol trying to get some attacking creativity out of the Bulgarian. It failed miserably with Bent, a transfer target of NUFC over the summer, looking incredibly isolated alone up front and long balls over the top (Fulham attempted 72 long balls) were rarely threatening. Bent saw just 20 touches of the ball and completed 10 passes, the least on the field for any starter and didn’t make a single attempted shot, something Alan Pardew will be proud of.

Alan Pardew stuck with the same starting eleven that ground out a rather insipid 0-0 draw with West Ham, Shola Ameobi again starting alongside Papiss Cisse up front. Newcastle, although they were comfortable on the ball, lacked any forward incisiveness with it, bar the direct running of Ben Arfa (more on him later). Instead, in an attempt to utilise Ameobi’s strength in the air, there were a number of long balls aimed towards the back post, most of which were ably dealt with by Hangeland, who performed well.

POSSESSION/MIDFIELD BATTLE:

Over the course of 90 minutes Newcastle had more of the ball (54%-46%) and had it in better positions, with 115 passes completed in the attacking third compared to Fulham’s 43. Overall just 17% of the game was played in Newcastle’s defensive third of the pitch, a stat that will please Alan Pardew as the defense passed it competently between them, looking to stretch Fulham’s defense, or draw players closing down out of position.

Key to Newcastle’s domination of possession was Vurnon Anita. The diminutive Dutchman is well versed in recycling possession and on Saturday afternoon he completed 92% of his 51 attempted passes, eight of those in the attacking third. Steve Sidwell for Fulham meanwhile only completed 34 passes and just one of those was in Newcastle’s attacking third.

Anita let his more intimidating midfield partner Sissoko do most of the defensive duties and they appear to be striking up a good relationship in central midfield – something Newcastle suffered without last season.

This was easily Sissoko’s best performance of the season, the pre-season fitness work hailed by Pardew seemed to finally pay off as the Frenchman kept his energy up for 90 minutes and delivered a great performance in the middle of the park. There are still questions about his decision making in the final third but Sissoko created three chances, had four successful dribbles and made three tackles.

Scott Parker played well in his first full game for Fulham, running with the ball (bringing an expertly timed tackle from Debuchy),  recycling possession and generally putting himself about the pitch. Outnumbered, he was swimming against the tide for most of the 90 minutes and as the match wore on he became less of a factor, with Newcastle often passing around him.

Newcastle’s width was well provided by the full backs (whoscored.com)

WIDTH

The Magpie’s width was provided by full backs Santon and Debuchy. Both maligned for their defensive duties at times this season and last, Fulham’s happiness to cede possession allowed both the chance to impress and they did. Debuchy won 100% of aerial battles while Santon racked up 87 touches of the ball, the most for any outfield player on the pitch.

As obvious from looking at his player influence, the Italian dominated the left side of the game, much more so than the winger in front of him – his final ball being the only real disappointment. The lowest pass accuracy bar Ameobi because of his poor crossing, Santon proved adept at stepping up and intercepting a potential through ball, making five interceptions in the game. He also won 6/9 aerial battles and made three tackles. Newcastle’s best defensive performer in a game where they weren’t asked to do too much.

It’s now three clean sheets in a row, two in the Premier League but Aston Villa on Saturday September 14 will really test not only Newcastle’s aerial ability with Benteke, but also the pace of the back four with Weimann and Agbonlahor. It could well be easier to play Villa away than home this season, with the Villain’s strength on the counter attack.

SUBSTITUTIONS

In the 63rd minute Pardew made a very pro-active double substitution, bringing on Cabaye – to a very mixed reception – and Gouffran, for Anita and Ameobi. Cabaye puts in more of a defensive shift than Anita, so this meant he could cover his marauding fullbacks, Santon specifically benefitting more from this as he played almost as a wing back from then on.

Cabaye is also more accurate than Anita with balls over the top so bringing him on with Gouffran, a threat in behind with his pace, made Fulham’s back four play even deeper, with Newcastle well on top in possession terms but struggling to generate any real chances.

The game was more open after the double change, with Fulham looking to spring their counter attack every time they won the ball but Yanga-Mbiwa and Coloccini dealt with most threats very well. Cabaye gave away a few sloppy free-kicks, one that led to a competent save from Tim Krul in what was Fulham’s only real threat of the game.

The introduction of loan signing Loic Remy for Marveaux on the 83rd minute really changed the game, with Newcastle looking much more dangerous. Despite what to other players would only be time to make an insignificant cameo, Remy demonstrated why Newcastle wanted him so badly in January.

With Gouffran now playing on the left wing, Remy was up front with Cisse and performed very well. He may have only completed 10 passes but five of those were in the attacking third and it was his switch of play to Ben Arfa on the right wing that assisted the goal.

Remy looked to link up with his compatriots well and he gave Newcastle an edge going forward with runs a lot more direct than Sylvain Marveaux, who suffered going forward but showed a willingness to defend.

Anita recycled the ball well, but struggled with the killer pass (Opta)

STAR PLAYER

Goal scorer Hatem Ben Arfa was the star player for Newcastle United. With last year’s horror season with injury long behind him, the winger excelled for Newcastle, scoring the winning goal, running very direct at the Fulham defense and tracking back when required.

Understood to be working very closely with new fitness coach Faye Downey, Ben Arfa performed well for 90 minutes. He had 70 touches of the ball, more than any other Newcastle midfielder and had two successful dribbles. His decision making still needs work,  often trying to do too much himself but his fitness will be key to whether Newcastle have a good season or not.

Ben Arfa had five shots at goal, second only to Cisse, with three on target. All of them were on his left foot, demonstrating his willingness to cut inside and shoot direct, something he did for the goal in the 86th minute.

He wasn’t completely selfish though, he attempted 11 crosses with five finding a Newcastle head, the last of which should’ve seen Newcastle take the lead with Gouffran missing from just a few yards out for the second time in two weeks.

Ben Arfa looks to be forming a good partnership with compatriot Debuchy down Newcastle’s right side, with the right back happy to provide width with overlaps while Ben Arfa cuts inside onto his more dangerous left foot.

CONCLUSION

Newcastle dominated possession but were far too reliant on Ben Arfa to provide any direct attacking impetus in the first 60 minutes. The introduction of Gouffran and Remy added to Newcastle’s ability to run direct against a Fulham side who were set out to try and get a point from Tyneside.

In the end it took a moment of magic from the star player to secure a much needed three points for the Magpies. Poor finishing and a terrific performance from David Stockdale in Fulham’s goal prevented this from being 3 or 4 nil and a performance to be proud of. Work to be done in the international break but lots of positives and a far cry from the absolute train wreck against Manchester City.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @weeklynewsbay

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