Hosts Southampton were coming off a 0-0 draw with Bournemouth, sitting in 16th place. Their struggles for finding the back of the net were well-known, and they had shipped 8 goals in the 3 games before the B’mouth draw.
Newcastle arrived at St. Mary’s with 3 straight losses in tow, and were dead last in the table. Their goal differential was identical to Southampton’s, with 8 goals for and 14 goals against.
When Newcastle Had Possession
Newcastle showed their hand right out of the gate; Ayoze Pérez kicked back to Shelvey, who immediately booted the ball into Southampton’s final third. (Tellingly, no one latched on the end of it.)
Southampton initiated their defensive pressure the moment possession was gained by Newcastle. The emphasis in this phase tended to be more on closing down than it was about retaining shape. Southampton would have their players press even if Newcastle had possession deep into their own third.
When Southampton Had Possession
Southampton preferred to a short passing style, as that type comprised of 80% of their total passes. They tended to move down their left channel, as evidenced by 49% of all attacks being funneled through that flank.
In defense, Newcastle had 3 distinct layers: Muto and Pérez lightly pressed the Saints’ backline, the midfield band would press when possession reached Newcastle’s final third, and the full backs would break shape at the back if the midfield were bypassed.
At 23’, Yoshinori Muto registered Newcastle’s 1st shot attempt of the match, which was an awkwardly taken after a right-spin with the left foot. By that moment, Southampton had already taken 4 shots, one of which forced Martin Dubravka into a tense situation. Possession had been split between each side evenly, and passing accuracy was also comparable. Yet the Saints were reliably breaking deep into Newcastle’s final third.
At 39’, Mario Lemina hit the woodwork. In the last 16 minutes, Newcastle had their 2nd shot attempt – a blocked shot from Kenedy. This divergence in shot volume and quality would continue: at halftime, shot attempt count was SOU 7-2 NEW, and the xG rating was SOU 0.4-0.1 NEW.
At 63’, the match had its first substitution, which saw Southampton’s Charlie Austin make way for Manolo Gabbiadini. At this point, the shot attempt count was SOU 13-3 NEW. Southampton had completed 6 dribbles to Newcastle’s lone one (DeAndre Yedlin in the 25’), and they had 50 more final third passes than NUFC.
At full time, the score was 0-0, but that was about all that was even between the two sides. Southampton owned the following: shots (22 to 6), key passes (20 to 5), shots on target (4 to 0), completed dribbles (9 to 2), xG rating (1.2 to 0.3), corners (7 to 2), and aerial duels won (29 to 22). Newcastle’s highest-rated shot attempt didn’t arrive until the 94th minute (via Rondon), and its xG rating was a paltry 0.13. It was a thoroughly anemic attacking display from the Magpies.
Key Analysis: Newcastle’s Midfield
Disclaimer: This post-match analysis carries different stripes compared to past ones – there are systemic issues in the squad that demand context the match. From here, it will have a bit of a “stats study” flavor.
There is a deviation in form from Newcastle’s run in from last campaign to the first quarter of this season, even though the tactics are similar and the starting XI is roughly the same.
The issues seem to be stemming from the midfield quarter of Kenedy-Shelvey-Diamé-Ritchie, in terms of production in all phases of football. Let’s start by looking at their attacking production.
The Midfield’s Offensive Prowess
Last season, even though Newcastle United saw a minority of possession throughout the season, the squad ranked 7th in chances created. This season, they are ranked 18th in chances created.
(For a deeper understanding of ‘chances created’, here is a study we did: https://nufcdigital.co.uk/2018/03/advanced-stats-chances-created/)
Last season, Newcastle ranked 9th in NPxG (expected goals but without penalties & own goals). This season, they are ranked 19th.
(Again, for a deeper understanding of ‘expected goals’, here is that study: https://nufcdigital.co.uk/2018/08/advanced-stats-expected-goals-xg/)
In other words, Newcastle is substantially worse at creating plays that lead to shots and, also, the shots that are created are of poor quality.
To measure how effective a side’s attack is, we essentially want to measure how reliable they are in causing breakdowns. Events that are likely to cause breakdowns are: forward passes, long balls, chances created, and successful dribbles. By comparing these events between the 2017-18 & 2018-19 campaigns, we should be able to identify the deviations in productivity.
Here is the 2017-18 grouping of Kenedy, Shelvey, Diame, and Ritchie:
And here is the 2018-19 production:
Interestingly, Shelvey is quite nearly identical in his production. Also, Kenedy’s long balls & take-ons are also on par.
Otherwise, Kenedy, Ritchie, and especially Diamé have experienced a steep drop-off in productive attacking moves. In ‘created chances’ alone, there has been a combined 73% fall-off from last season to this one. Also, there is a 60% decline in forward passes from this trio so far.
Perhaps, there is a telling clue beneath all of this: as a team, Newcastle is averaging 40 fewer completed passes (per game) this year compared to the ‘17-’18 campaign…. Even though the possession splits are nearly identical. (Some would point out that our passing accuracy is 3% less, but that is essentially the same point.)
In theory, if possession share is consistent, but total completed passes, forward passes, and chances created are down, this would suggest that Newcastle aren’t getting up the pitch nearly as well as last season.
To possibly explain this, let’s now look at this quartet’s defensive contributions.
The Midfield’s Defensive Prowess
The analysis here will be straight-forward; we want to see the difference in “defensive actions” between the two campaigns. By looking at pro-active defensive metrics such as fouls committed, tackles lost, tackles won, and interceptions, we can roughly determine who is productive in closing down the opposition.
For the Kenedy-Shelvey-Diamé-Ritchie quartet, here is their ‘17-’18 production:
And here is their 2018 production:
- Mo Diamé’s stature as a defensive stalwart might be dated. While he still leads in some categories, his production isn’t nearly on ‘17-’18s level.
- Kenedy is putting in some really strong production on the defensive side.
- Shelvey & Diame are 58% less productive than last season, in terms of tackles won & interceptions.
Another way of putting all of this — our central midfield has experienced a huge drop-off in defensive intensity. This means that Newcastle is generally winning the ball back in deeper positions compared to last season, which means there is more opposition to bypass to get into dangerous positions.
Couple the reduced defensive pressure with this quartet’s drop-off in attacking production, and the struggle for form begins to make sense. All four of these positions need to execute at a higher level before a turnaround can be reached.
By The Numbers
NUFC MotM: Martin Dubravka
As per usual, Martin’s command of the 18-yard box featured some of the most assured goalkeeping Newcastle has seen since the Shay Given days. Beyond his superb goalkeeping contributions, Dubravka has also seemingly been demonstrating more captain-like qualities with each passing game. Another gem of a showing, all in all.
SFC MotM: Jack Stephens
Whether shoring up the back, catalyzing attacks, or providing a threat in corners, Stephens had a very sound game for the Saints. If Soton had taken the full points, Jack would’ve certainly deserved the match ball for a dynamic, all-around performance.
In a vacuum, drawing at St. Mary’s is by no means a failure. Southampton have quality, and Newcastle have historically struggled in their stadium. As Rafa says “I think we have to consider the circumstances, going away from home at the bottom of the table, getting a clean sheet and a point.”
However, there is a worrying trend of decreased attacking & defensive productivity from the midfield four. It seems as if the poor form will continue unless that group turns it around, or if alternatives are found elsewhere in the squad.