Why are Newcastle in no man’s land?

Newcastle’s 2013/14 Premier League campaign was one that supporters will be keen to forget. After a decent opening half to the season, their best player was sold in January with no replacement recruited, Alan Pardew was banned for eight games following an unsavoury incident with Hull City’s David Meyler, and on the pitch the team plummeted into freefall, winning just four of their last 15 games. By the end of the season this sequence of events culminated in strong calls for the manager to be sacked.

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While this article doesn’t go as far as suggesting Pardew is relieved of his duties – indeed, given the level of expenditure on the squad relative to others in the league, a top ten finish is about what can be fairly expected without further investment – it does argue that the Londoner needs to demonstrate significant improvement in his own performance if he is to bring the fans back onside.

In modern day football the primary role of the manager is to prepare the first team appropriately for matchdays. This means working with the resources available to mould a team, develop a strategy and seek to accumulate as many points as possible. How this manifests itself in practice is what makes football the beautiful game – for instance, the likes of Roberto Martinez, Mauricio Pochettino and Brendan Rodgers represent a trio of young managers who play an attractive, offensive brand of football, while Tony Pulis has probably best represented the pragmatic, defensively well-organised end of this spectrum most spectacularly this season with Crystal Palace.

When it comes to Newcastle, after three-and-a-half years at the helm, perhaps the greatest charge that can be levelled at Alan Pardew is that his Newcastle team doesn’t have a positive ‘style’ or ‘identity’ of its own.

Reflecting on last season for instance:

Newcastle struggled for goals – only Cardiff (19), Crystal Palace (17) and Norwich (17) failed to score in more games than the Magpies.

On the one hand, this is surprising – a bald look at the stats indicates that only Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City and Spurs had more shots at goal than Newcastle.  

However, upon closer analysis of shot location, only 46% of Newcastle’s shots came from inside the box – the worst proportion in the league. Given that, in broad terms, a team is almost four times more likely to score from a shot inside the box as from one outside the box, it is reasonable to conclude that Newcastle’s inability to fashion more chances inside the box / their reliance on wonder strikes from Cabaye and Ben Arfa is not a sustainable strategy.

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Furthermore, Newcastle’s closest rivals both scored significantly more goals than them (compared to Newcastle’s 43 goals, Southampton netted 54 times and Everton scored 61). If Newcastle are to close the gap the manager has to find a better plan of attack next season.

Newcastle are far too leaky – only five teams conceded more goals than Newcastle (Sunderland, Aston Villa, and the three relegated teams)

While the likes of Crystal Palace, West Ham and Stoke were able to build fairly solid defensive bases, Alan Pardew’s men appeared to defend with no clear definition or meaningful strategy

Newcastle’s susceptibility to being carved open by the opposition was evident on a number of occasions – only Fulham (16) and Cardiff (12) conceded three goals plus in more games than Newcastle (11). In other words, in almost one in three games Newcastle conceded three or more goals.

One reason for this could be Newcastle’s inability to defend their own box– a whopping 63% of shots conceded by Newcastle came inside their own penalty area. This is the highest proportion in the league and hints at a rather porous backline. This needs to change, and Newcastle need to become a far more solid defensive outfit if they are to improve performances next season.

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All in all, while Alan Pardew may have done enough in Mike Ashley’s eyes to warrant another season in the St James’ Park hotseat next season, the enormity of the task facing the one-time League Manager of the Year should not be underestimated. There is no doubt that further investment in the playing squad may help his cause.

However, attempting to galvanise a beleaguered squad and injecting a more recognisable style and identity into the team – perhaps aided by much-needed player investment – have to be the main priorities for Pardew in his role as first team coach. If he can achieve this he might just win over those fans. For now, the jury is still out.

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