Is the Newcastle United Squad too big, too small, or about right?
If you look at the figures from the last three seasons on the number of players used by each Championship team over the entire season, you can see a couple of interesting things.
First of all, there is a very clear relationship between the number of players used and the success of the team – the teams that finish at the top almost always use the fewest players over the season; those at the bottom use the most.
So, in 2013-14 the two teams using the fewest players (23 in total) were Leicester and Burnley – who finished as the top two.
In 2014-15 the two teams who used fewest (24) were Bournemouth (who finished top) and Brentford (who overperformed massively and finished 5th). The team who used the most – Blackpool (50!!) finished bottom.
Last season the teams who used fewest (25) were Burnley (who finished top) and Derby (5th).
That’s sort of what you would expect – clubs who are doing well tend to have a fairly well-settled team; or, well-settled teams tend to do well – whichever you like.
We all hope and expect that good things lie ahead for NUFC this season now that we finally have somebody in charge who knows what he’s doing. However, that leads us to the second interesting point which those statistics throw up.
If we hope that Newcastle are going to finish in the top two this season, history suggests that they will have a well-settled first team squad of somewhere between 23 and 27 players.
History shows that the fewer players you use over the season the better – but you do need to use at least 23 and usually a couple more than that.
And the other side of the coin – if you are doing well, have a well-settled team, and are not chopping and changing things every week, you aren’t likely to use more than 27 players. If you are carrying more players than that, they are likely not to be getting any game time at all, and aren’t going to be happy as a result.
So, looking at our current squad:
In recent seasons we have been really unlucky with injuries to goalkeepers – but normally you wouldn’t expect to have more than two goalies turning out over the season. At the moment we have four first team keepers on the books, with young Woodman coming through. That’s obviously too many.
I wouldn’t expect Tim Krul to be with us for long, and once Elliott is fit again I expect he might be looking elsewhere. Sels and Darlow are likely to be the two fighting for the position
As a figure to work with, let’s say we should be looking to have about 25 outfield players. If most of the time you’re playing some variation of 4-4-2 that would work out at about 10 defenders, 10 midfield, five strikers.
If we take the core group as Dummett, Lascelles, Mbemba, Janmaat (who looks like he might be staying), Gamez, Hanley and Hayden that is seven. Rafa clearly rates Sterry so we can assume that he’ll get game-time. That’s eight. Mbabu and Haidara would bring it to 10.
That’s probably enough if we have a good season with a settled team and not too many injuries – but there isn’t any slack there. If you look further down the squad, you are looking at players like Curtis Good and Satka. So I would expect Rafa to be looking maybe for another new defender.
The core will be Colback, Anita, Shelvey, Aarons and Ritchie. I assume that Tiote and Sissoko will be gone. Next down the list would be De Jong, Thauvin and Saivet. Even if we rely on all of them for game time, that only brings us to eight. After that you are looking at Ameobi, Bigirimana, Vuckic and the like.
The clear conclusion which I expect Rafa will draw is that if Tiote and/or Sissoko and/or Thauvin leaves, then they will have to be replaced. Otherwise, we won’t have enough bodies in midfield.
Also, there are a couple of players on that list (Aarons and De Jong) who have spent a lot of time injured over the last couple of years. I don’t expect Rafa would be wanting to be reliant on getting a full season out of either one of them.
We have Perez, Mitrovic and Gayle. Hopefully Rafa will keep hold of Armstrong and give him a decent amount of time on the pitch. Next down the list we have Gouffran, Toney and Riviere. Heaven forbid we see anything of Riviere.
Toney will most likely go on loan. Depending on what players come available he might be looking at 1 more striker – or he might use Gouffran as back up.
Have I forgotten anybody? I expect so.
From that it looks like we’re not a million miles off. Replacements for Tiote/Sissoko/Thauvin if and when they go. Replacements for any other unexpected departures. Maybe one more defender. Maybe one more striker.
Ship out as many as possible of the fringe players who aren’t in his plans – either permanently or on loan.
And bearing in mind of course that there is always the January window to fill in any holes in the squad which develop.
Bring it on!