Newcastle’s Half Time Conundrum Needs Solving

 • by Stefan Bienkowski
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Newcastle United fans may be feeling slightly buoyant after an impressive 3-0 win over Southampton earlier this month, but with eight games left of the Premier League season and just four points separating them from a relegation spot, most supporters will undoubtedly hope they can continue picking up important results between here and May.

Although Rafa Benítez’s side face Tottenham Hotspur this weekend and still have to lock horns with Arsenal and Chelsea before the end of the season, there are clashes against the likes of Huddersfield Town, West Bromwich Albion and Watford which should offer an opportunity to pick up points.

However, the real problem facing Newcastle is a simple one in theory but perhaps a little trickier to fix in practice: Benítez’s team just can’t seem to see out games of football and it is costing them dearly.

In the 30 league games the Magpies have played this season, they have gone in to the half-time break level on goals in 16 of them. Yet in those 16 matches, Benítez’s team have gone on to win just five. And the six they have gone on to lose gives them a worse return from that point in the game than any other side in the division, bar Huddersfield.

Similarly, Newcastle haven’t yet managed to completely overturn an initial setback in the Premier League this season. Of the nine games they’ve gone in at half time losing, they have only managed to turn the result around once – a solitary 2-2 draw away to West Brom in November. Or to put it another way: if you are in the lead against the Magpies at half time, that almost always means you will go on to win the game.

Impressively, Benítez’s side also haven’t lost a single game they’ve been winning at half time either. In the six Premier League matches that saw them take an initial lead after the opening 45 minutes, they have won three and drawn three, which contrasts quite nicely with just how abject they seem to be when they don’t land the first punch.

So why is this? Intriguingly, it has very little to do with Newcastle’s defence. Although a team’s failure to see off or even rival games in the second half of matches is often put down to routinely conceded goals, Benítez’s side actually have the seventh best goals conceded per game record in the Premier League this season – at just 1.25.

While 40 goals conceded in 30 games isn’t exactly anything to sing and dance about, Newcastle actually enjoy a better defensive record than five of the 12 teams above them in the division at the moment. And although it isn’t excellent, it’s far more impressive than the 50 or 55 Everton and Watford have already shipped respectively this season.

No, where Benítez’s side have faltered in this current campaign is in attack. Much has been made of Aleksandar Mitrović’s departure from the club in January and when we look at the stats there’s certainly a case to be made for needing a more clinical striker to lead Newcastle’s line.

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Despite only scoring 30 goals in 30 games, Newcastle currently sit ninth in the Premier League when it comes to shots created per game. And when you shift that metric over to shots on target Benítez’s team actually move up to seventh. They sit just below Manchester United in hitting 4.1 shots on target per game compared to José Mourinho’s side, which is firing 4.9.

To put that in to context, the data is pointing out that Newcastle tend to hit just one less shot on target per game than a side that have scored 28 more goals than them this season and currently sit rather comfortably in second place.

It will come as no surprise to any Newcastle fan to hear that their side have scored more than one goal in a league match just eight times this season and within those eight games they have won four, drawn three and lost just one. Simply put, when Newcastle score, they tend to win.

Of course, that sounds like a gross simplification of the problems at Newcastle but it is at the very heart of their problems. When Benítez’s side don’t take advantage of the numerous chances they’re creating from one game to the next they don’t put the ball in the back of the net.

When they don’t score goals, they narrow the margins between winning, drawing or losing a game. And when those margins begin to narrow we see stats like the ones pointed out earlier which show the club failing to either fight their way back in to games or keep a hold of a level scoreline in the second half.

Benítez has built a team that will probably avoid relegation with a few points to spare and one that defends and attacks with impressive stats on paper. Yet their inability to turn chances in to goals is undermining the good work that probably goes unnoticed from one week to the next.

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