Match Analysis: Newcastle 0-0 West Ham

Following an insipid display in their Premier League opener against Manchester City at the Etihad on Monday night, Newcastle lined up for their first home game of the new season against a West Ham side that overcame a potentially tricky first fixture against Premier League new boys Cardiff City to take maximum points.

In the dugouts, early pressure has been building on Alan Pardew and going into the game the odds were not in his favour – having faced Sam Allardyce on six previous occasions, the 2011/12 Manager of the Year had failed to win any, losing four.

In response, Pardew made four changes to his starting eleven, including recalling Shola Ameobi to the line-up and shifting to a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation. For Allardyce, the message was clearly one of consistency, with a straight swap of Stewart Downing for Joe Cole the only change as Allardyce stuck with the same team and 4-2-3-1 system that started against Cardiff.

The game itself was a pretty drab affair, with both sides managing to muster only one shot on target between them.

From a tactical perspective, however, there were a number of key talking points that warrant further consideration.

1. Newcastle significantly lacking creativity

Newcastle had 16 attempts at goal, but failed to find the target with any of them. For a home side playing against a side that they’d expect to be finishing close to come the end of the season, this will be nowhere near good enough for their passionate fans. So what is going wrong?

  • Too many shots from outside of the box: over half (nine) of Newcastle’s attempts at goal came from outside of the box. Hatem Ben Arfa was the main culprit. Fans will be aware of the moments of genius the talented Frenchman can produce. However, on this evidence, it would seem that Ben Arfa was trying too hard and too often to be the match-winner.
  • Lack of incisive forward passes: While Newcastle attempted over 400 passes during the game (completing them successfully 78% of the time), their ability to move the ball forward with precision in the final third was telling.Indeed, Papiss Cisse did not receive a single pass in the opposition’s 18 yard box (Shola Ameobi got on the end of a single Marveaux cross), and only FOUR passes were exchanged between the strikers (all coming from Cisse to Ameobi).No doubt the Senegalese striker will receive criticism from angry fans. However the truth is that his while his movement was dangerous, Newcastle were entirely impotent in the middle of the park, clearly missing the vision of Yohan Cabaye. Addressing this must be a priority for Alan Pardew and Joe Kinnear.

2. Vurnon Anita

With not much else to shout about, many Newcastle fans will take at least some heart from the performance of Vurnon Anita. Probably the standout performer (admittedly competition was low), Anita’s display was encouraging if nothing more.

In completing the most passes out of all players on the pitch (57 of 66), the Dutchman’s composure on the ball was clear to see.

Moreover, defensively the diminutive midfielder was impressive, organising his team well and taking up intelligent positions to defend dangerous spaces and protect his defence.

That said, in spite of his solid performance, Anita was not spectacular and there will remain some concerns over his creativity – SIX of his NINE misplaced passes came in the final third. Newcastle fans will be hoping that with more game time Anita will develop a rapport with the likes of Cisse and improve this aspect of his game.

3. Solid West Ham

Sam Allardyce’s Hammers followed up their opening day clean sheet with another on Saturday. While Newcastle fans will bemoan the lack of cutting edge their team showed, West Ham fans should rightly be taking pride in their team’s defensive ability to blunt the home side’s attack.

As an attacking force, the Hammers were nothing spectacular. Excluding passes made by either goalkeeper over 10% of passes from West Ham players were long (the Newcastle equivalent was 6%). That said, while only 60 of 111 forward passes successfully found their target (a little more than 50 / 50 – which is what you’d expect an aimless punt upfield to yield), that West Ham were more effective at creating dangerous opportunities than the Magpies was clear for all fans to see.

With six attempts at goal, including five inside the box (the other from just outside), West Ham will be disappointed that they only managed the solitary effort from Stewart Downing on target. On another day, were it not for some uncharacteristic profligacy from former Geordie hero Kevin Nolan who fluffed a header over the bar in the second half, West Ham may well have returned to London with a maximum points haul.


Consecutive clean sheets suggest that Allardyce is fashioning a side that will awkward to play against and difficult to beat. At times, though, they lacked a presence up front and have now won only once in their last fifteen trips on the road (lost ten). No doubt with Andy Carroll’s return to fitness imminent they will become more prolific in the final third and start picking up more points. On this basis, I’d expect a solid campaign for the Hammers, with an outside chance of a top-half finish.

On the other hand, Magpies’ fans will be increasingly nervous about their team’s ability to create chances and score goals. The future of Yohan Cabaye needs to be resolved as soon as possible, with a replacement brought in in the event he leaves. If not, this is going to be a testing season for the Geordie faithful.


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