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Opinion

Steve Bruce NUFC reign perfectly shown by XG analysis – A picture is worth a thousand words

1 month ago
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How has Steve Bruce done?

The Newcastle United Head Coach has been at St James Park for 15 months and overseen 43 Premier League matches.

Steve Bruce claims he is doing a great job, Newcastle United fans not so sure…

The Head Coach pointing to a 13th place finish and 44 points last season, as well as seven points from five PL games this time and once again sitting in 13th position.

Newcastle fans though point to the huge amounts of luck Steve Bruce has experienced, the outstanding contribution of Martin Dubravka and now Karl Darlow in somehow keeping the score down and / or winning undeserved points based on all the underlying stats.

Who is right?

Well, there is some pretty overwhelming evidence presented below, courtesy of Expected Goals (XG) analysis over these past two years, October 2018 to October 2020.

Expected Goals is widely agreed to be the best way of measuring how well Premier League clubs play in any particular game.

Expected goals (XG) is a statistic used to work out how many goals should be scored in a match. With every single shot awarded an XG value based on the difficulty of the attempt, with factors including distance from goal, type of shot and number of defenders present affecting the value.

The higher the XG of a particular shot, the more likely a goal should be scored from that shot. The XG value of every shot in a game is then used to calculate the expected goals in a particular match.

So rather than just the usual basic statistics of how many shots each team has, Expected Goals factors in where shots were taken from and how good a chance was and whether defenders in the way etc.

Newcastle United fan Andy Forrester (@AndyForrester1) has put up these Newcastle United XG images on Twitter showing the story of these past two years, basically, you want the green line (expected goals to be scored based on chances created) as high as possible and the purple one (expected goals to be conceded) as low as possible…:

As you can see, the graph starts in October 2018 and that was the end bit of Rafa and NUFC’s poor start to the season, no wins in 10 games.

Then as he got the team together and Salomon Rondon fully fit, the start of November saw improved form starting with three wins in a row, the form and results then still a bit up and down, but as you can seen from the graph above, the green (expected goals to be scored) is edging up and up, whilst the purple line (expected goals to be conceded) is edging down.

This reflects the story of that 2018/19 season, the first 10 games with no wins, then the final 28 PL games seeing Newcastle United with the eighth best form in the Premier League.

The graph above then shows the green line rising far above the purple line, which reflects the fact that in the final 16 matches of that PL 2018/19 season, Newcastle had the fifth best form in the top tier and the fifth highest goals total.

Then you can see what happened once Steve Bruce took over…

Very quickly you see the green line going down and the purple one going up, until for the vast majority of last season there is a massive gap between the purple (expected goals to be conceded) and the green (expected goals to be scored).

This came to a brief half just before the suspension of football in the draw against Burnley and win against 10 men Southampton, followed by a handful of similar on PL restart (beating 10 men Sheff Utd, winning at Bournemouth, draws with Villa and West Ham).

However, that swiftly ended as Steve Bruce went super defensive again and only picked up one point from the final five PL games, the only point from a woeful all out defence away at Brighton.

As the graph shows, the expected goal stats have gone very extreme again this season, the purple line shooting ever higher and the green one ever lower.

Last season showed that despite what the stats said, you can still win games, BUT you need an awful lot of luck and almost certainly a goalkeeper in peak form and individuals such as ASM needing to perform similar miracles going forward, or as we are finding this season, a striker in the right place at the right time such as Callum Wilson who has scored four times from a meagre number of chances.

Steve Bruce has started this season exactly the same as he behaved for the vast majority of last season.

To many fans, these kind of stats are completely unsustainable. Unless Bruce can get Newcastle creating more decent chances and conceding less, it would appear inevitable that this season will be a massive struggle, potentially only saved by there being three or more very poor teams that means not a great points total will be needed for survival.

Maybe the worst thing of all is that many Newcastle fans feel that these players are far better than what we are seeing, that with the right tactics, formation and team selection, under the leadership of a credible manager, we could have better results and far better performances.

Interesting to see how this graph above will look in the coming weeks as Steve Bruce and Newcastle are set to face Wolves, Everton, Southampton and Chelsea.

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