Newcastle United couldn’t put an end to their run of poor form at Old Trafford last Saturday, with a 4-1 loss to Manchester United extending their run of consecutive Premier League defeats to three matches.
However, losing to a title challenger is no great blow to Rafa Benítez’s side. And there was reason for optimism in the form of several good individual performances, one of which came from young winger Jacob Murphy.
The 22-year-old, who was making only his second league start of the season, was arguably his team’s greatest hope going forward. No other Newcastle player completed more dribbles or had more shots on target, while he also played one key pass.
Murphy went close to putting his side 2-0 up after Dwight Gayle had given them a surprise early lead. Running through on goal, he dragged his shot just wide. Later on, he forced David de Gea into a fingertip save with a powerful drive from long range.
One of Newcastle’s major issues this season has been finding the net on a regular basis. In five of their 12 Premier League games they have failed to score, while only five teams in the league have scored fewer than their total of 11.
If Benítez’s side are to survive and thrive in English football’s top tier, they could do with improvement in the final third. Murphy could help in this respect.
MURPHY THE NEWCASTLE FAN
Murphy was the most expensive of Newcastle’s summer signings upon returning to the Premier League in the summer, arriving for a fee of £12million. The transfer completed a startlingly quick career progression from League One to top tier inside three years.
After a successful loan spell with Coventry City in 2015/16 he returned to Norwich City last term and established himself in the first team. Ultimately he made 37 league appearances during his team’s failed bid for a playoff spot.
Murphy showcased his quality on the wing for the Canaries, averaging 1.9 dribbles and 1.2 key passes per game. In both categories he was one of the club’s most consistent contributors; indeed in terms of dribbles he was one of the top 15 players in the Championship.
That form prompted interest from Newcastle, who just so happened to be the club he had always supported. Speaking after his move, he said: “It is nice to wear these colours, looking down on your chest and seeing the badge. My first game was in 2004, a UEFA Cup game against PSV Eindhoven, a 2-1 win. It captured my imagination from that moment…I used to wear a Newcastle shirt down in Norwich.”
MURPHY’S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Murphy’s dribbling statistics reflect his playing style and primary assets. He is an adventurous player who is always looking to get on the ball and run at the opposition defence, utilising his pace and skill.
He is, in many respects, an old-school winger who prefers holding a position near the touchline, from where he can get into one-on-one attacking situations up against full-backs.
The youngster credits Benítez for valuing his style and wanting to get the best out of him, stating: “[Benítez] is brilliant, especially his knowledge and I have learned so much already.
“He will develop me in my career. He wants my directness. My approach to the game is to go full on. I am a quick player and I have to use my pace and work hard.”
Murphy’s desire to get on the ball and confidence once it is at his feet is clear in the positivity of his runs off the ball, as well as his willingness to take a shot when the goal is in sight. He plays with the full belief that he can make something happen, while also being prepared to undertake vital defensive work.
Benítez will appreciate the winger’s attitude when without possession, as he often drops deep to take up a position that helps the team defensively and tracks back at speed when necessary.
This work ethic and engagement in the defensive phase is crucial considering Newcastle will often approach games this season with a defence-first approach.
SHOULD MURPHY START MORE OFTEN?
The 22-year-old understands that it may take patience for him to win a regular starting berth, saying: “Game time is massive. That will come. There are good wingers already here and I have to bide my time.”
Fortunately, Murphy’s manager is confident about his chances.
“In every training session there is improvement from him and he is working hard trying to get better,” Benítez said. “I am really pleased with everything. I think he will be a good player for us during the season and also in the future.”
Newcastle have quality in the wide areas, with Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie the clear first choices on the wings. It was only an injury to the former that allowed Murphy to start at Old Trafford, though a more permanent spot could come at the expense of the latter.
Murphy has completed significantly more dribbles per 90 minutes than Ritchie this season. He also has a slightly higher pass completion rate and attempts far more shots on average while his shot accuracy is only five per cent worse off.
Those numbers show the former Norwich man to be a more direct and aggressive winger than his Scottish team-mate. And, with Atsu on the left, his presence on the right would give Benítez two similarly skilled wide men who look to stretch the opposition in attack and provide real pace on the counter.
Murphy showed glimpses of his talent away to Manchester United. If he can build on that performance and perform well consistently, he could be the old-fashioned winger Newcastle need.