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Opinion

New report points to where relegation threatening Newcastle United problem is

4 weeks ago
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What do you think has been the most serious Newcastle United problem this season?

No, this isn’t about Mike Ashley and Steve Bruce.

It is about what has actually happened on the pitch, what you see when the team plays.

A new report after the first nine rounds of Premier League games has for me, absolutely highlighted where that serious NUFC problem is.

I think the issue is serious enough to say that it makes it relegation threatening for Newcastle United.

The report is from  ‘The Other 14’ (who specialise on stats/tables etc on the 14 clubs who aren’t the ‘Big Six’) which shows Premier League clubs’ success / failure when it comes to ‘Team Opposition Press Evasion Success’ in the opening nine rounds of PL matches:

Premier League Team Opposition Press Evasion Success 27 October 2021

As you can see, Newcastle United are only kept off the very bottom of these stats by one club Brentford.

Just in case anybody is struggling to get their head around ‘Team Opposition Press Evasion Success’, what we are basically talking about is how good your players / team are at keeping the ball when under pressure.

We didn’t need this report to tell us that the answer to that question for Newcastle United is that they are overall, abysmal when it comes to keeping possession, whether under pressure or not!

No doubt some people will point to Brentford doing pretty well this season and yet having even worse ball retention under pressure. However, I’m guessing that the substance behind their stats is very different to Newcastle’s. My assumption being that a lot of the time when Brentford are not keeping the ball when under pressure, is in attacking positions, or certainly attacking midfield positions.

With Newcastle United, I know because I have seen every Premier League match with my own eyes, this isn’t the case with NUFC. We have a serious number of players who are so poor / uncomfortable on the ball, they gift possession when they are in their own half and often not when under the most serious of pressure.

You look at the team at Palace last week when Newcastle had only 25% possession. You have to say that pretty much the entire starting eleven are poor at keeping the ball, certainly the back five, Hayden and Longstaff in the middle of the pitch as well. Fraser hardly touched the ball so difficult to tell, the only exceptions really Wilson and ASM, whilst on the day even our French talisman had a stinker.

In normal circumstances, I would say ASM and Almiron, plus Wilson to an extent, are the only Newcastle regulars this season who are keen to still take a pass, even when marked tightly. Maybe Joe Willock as well.

At the other end of the spectrum, definitely not leading by example, Jamaal Lascelles has been even worse this season than usual. We all know it isn’t one of his strengths but so often he just boots it aimlessly up the pitch and out of play, when often he should be realistically trying to keep possession, even as somebody so limited on the ball.

We are particularly paying the price for all these years of not properly investing in essential central midfield players with the necessary skills. Some of you might say Jonjo Shelvey…but he ‘successfully’ keeps possession back next to his own box, not in the areas he should be getting into. You look at pretty much every other PL club and they have mobile central midfielders with good all round games, who are more than willing to make themselves available for passes, even when having a close marker.

The long-term answer is obviously recruiting better quality players with better ability on the ball and the confidence / willingness to always try and play football, to get and give the ball.

In the short term, if I look at last Saturday’s team, I would hope Willock and Almiron will return on Saturday, to help improve ball retention, amongst other things. Whilst maybe also consider players such as Schar and Lewis, who I think can help Newcastle play from the back and keep the ball better in general.

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