Premier League

Rafa Needs To Let Newcastle Off The Leash To Survive

 • by Sam McGuire
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Newcastle United have to build on their performance against Bournemouth if they’re to stand any chance of extending their stay in the Premier League beyond just the one season.

The outcome wasn’t what fans wanted but the performance, at least going forward, showed plenty of positives. If they’re able to create chances as frequently as they did against the Cherries then Newcastle will comfortably put to bed the majority of teams in the top flight.

That, combined with the fact throwing away a two goal lead isn’t something Rafael Benítez’s teams make a habit out of doing, is why Newcastle supporters should be positive going into the final ten games of the season.

Yes, a win at the the Vitality Stadium would have lifted the Magpies up to 11th in the Premier League table, just six points behind Burnley who sit in seventh. Instead, Benitez’s men find themselves in 15th position and just two points clear of the relegation zone.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Of the remaining matches this season, only four are against teams in the top six and anything in those will be a bonus. The other six games are against teams close to Newcastle in the table. With so many teams scrambling for points it means the games should, in theory at least, be open and there will be space to exploit.

As shown numerous times this year, Benítez’s team are dangerous on the break. With the likes of Dwight Gayle, Matt Ritchie, Ayoze Pérez and a host of other players all coming to life when the game is stretched. The fixtures could play right in to their hands

Though Newcastle failed to bring in offensive reinforcements during the January transfer window, they do have enough quality at their disposal to put teams to the sword.

When looking at xG across the Premier League Newcastle rank tenth with a score of 33.55, 6.55 more than they’ve achieved in this term. Furthermore, only five teams have scored fewer goals in the league this season. It shows they do have the capability of creating high quality chances, they just fail to put these chances away on a regular basis.

Newcastle are portrayed as a defensive team by the media, but when looking at their xG numbers on understat.com you see that when they fancy it they are dangerous in the final third and will cause a lot of problems for teams.

The match against Bournemouth saw Newcastle post a season high xG of 4.24. They created enough high quality chances to score four goals. It’s true, against Eddie Howe’s men, a number of players in black and white were guilty of missing good opportunities and on another day that’s a comfortable win for the Toon Army.

It’s been the same story throughout the season. Whenever they’ve posted an xG score of 1.5 or over they’ve not lost a match proving that when they attack teams they don’t lose.

In the seven games this season that Newcastle’s xG has been over 1.5 they’ve picked up 15 points – 50 per cent of their total this season. Benítez’s side did the double over both West Ham United and Stoke City while managing to pick up points against Swansea City, Burnley and Bournemouth.

And, after more detailed research, it’s evident that it’s not purely to do with shot quality in these matches but the volume of shots being taken. The season average for Newcastle is 12.1 shots per 90. In the seven matches above they’ve averaged 14.9 shots. It might not seem like a lot but over a 38 game season that’s a difference of 106.4 shots.

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For more context, in those seven matches previously mentioned, Newcastle averaged 1.7 more shots in the penalty area. Over the entirety of the season that’s almost 65 more shots inside the penalty area. Given 92 per cent of their goals this season have come within the 18 yard box it’s safe to say the more shots they take there the greater the chance they have of scoring.

Furthermore, the Magpies have converted 14 per cent of their chances inside the penalty area compared to the 1.25 per cent from distance.

In a recent feature on the Football Whispers website looking at long-distance shot-takers, Ryan Baldi revealed that Newcastle have the top two wasteful players in their team. Jonjo Shelvey and Ritchie have had a combined 61 shots from outside of the area this season without finding the back of the net.

Their defence is resilient so Benítez should let the forward line express themselves. They may lack creativity, as revealed in a Three Minute Myth episode, but there are other ways to create opportunities. In the past, Jürgen Klopp has claimed that gegenpressing is the best playmaker. Newcastle have the players to really get at opponents.

It’s been a theme in their highest scoring xG matches. They aggressively press the opposition and make them make mistakes near their goal. Newcastle pounce and are able to maintain the pressure which, more often than not, results in an opportunity.

Many teams might go into safe mode and look to shut up shop in an attempt to put points on the board but, for Newcastle at least, attack really could be the best form of defence.

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