Somehow, Newcastle United aren’t fighting for relegation currently. Steve Bruce’s appointment as Magpies boss was met with criticism by fans but he’s taken the club to a respectable 14th position- seven points clear of the relegation zone. But their approach has rightly come under scrutiny as it is far from sustainable in the long-run. Many a sports brokerage are shortening their odds on Newcastle staying up this season given their current form.
Bruce was meant to be an appointment that rebuilds the club after the exit of Rafa Benitez. If he was supposed to be a long-term approach is something only Mike Ashley knows. But the side from the North East of the country won’t last long with the approach that they currently have.
It is important to note that Newcastle have scored as many goals (24) as Norwich and Watford, who are both in the drop zone currently. But they have let in 41 goals and that is the fifth-worst record in the division so far. That is a reflection of how things aren’t as safe as the table makes it look like.
It can be said that a lot of the points that they’ve picked up has been down to their pragmatic approach. They’ve relied on the randomness on football, in that sense.
By the Expected Points tally, Newcastle are rock-bottom in the Premier League. They have a tally of only 17.32 points- less than West Ham’s tally of 21.41. The gap with the second-bottom in that regard being so low is concerning. The real-time sports API tells us a lot in this regard, and it isn’t massively positive.
But the Magpies have overperformed on their XP by a huge 13.68- second only to Liverpool. That has come because of their overperformance on XG by 2.62 and overperformance on XGA by a big 9.76.
Bruce’s tendency to set his team up very deep in a defensive shape makes the opposition come up with multiple shots on target. They’ve, as a result, let in 15.9 shots on target and that’s the second-highest in the Premier League. The way they play by keeping just 39.8 percent possession, they’re bound to concede that many shots on target from the opposition.
The strangeness increases on realising that while they’ve let in ten goals from set-pieces, they’ve also scored 12 from them too. Technically, a bit less than half their goals have come from set-pieces.
It is in attack that they’ve relied on randomness that the game brings. Joelinton’s signing hasn’t gone too well, while Miguel Almiron has just two Premier League goals. They’re over-reliant on Allan Saint-Maximin’s pace, but the Frenchman has underperformed on his XG and XA himself.
It is Jonjo Shelvey’s contributions though, that have been key. The former Liverpool man wasn’t meant to be a big goalscorer but he has been and has come up with crucial goals. He’s overperformed on his XG by 3.92 and two goals have come from outside the box.
Both have been crucial to getting the side a point against Manchester City and three points against West Ham. The shots carried an XG of 0.04 and 0.02. The randomness in them going in is way too high.
He’s also scored a goal each against Southampton and Sheffield United. Both goals helped the team win games despite being behind in XG. If Shelvey hadn’t scored those lucky efforts, the Magpies could easily have been in the bottom three.
The likelihood of Matty Longstaff scoring in a 1-0 win against Manchester United was 0.03. The likelihood of summer signing Jetro Willems scoring in big games against City and Liverpool was a combined 0.10. It just proves how Newcastle have managed to get immense luck out of unlikely goalscoring positions.
Bruce is aware that the approach he’s been taking isn’t meant for the long-run. After a smash and grab 1-0 win over Chelsea, he said:
“We can’t compete like that at the minute. We have to stick with what we are doing, and that suits us. I have tried to change and we are not ready. I won’t put the club in jeopardy just for a nice style.”
This is a club that has played this way over the last three years, thanks to Rafa Benitez. They thrived on this style and it gave them an identity. But even Burnley play a lot like that, using two strikers upfront but they deserve to be where they are by any metric available.
Newcastle might not have the players to play two strikers though. Joelinton’s move was a failure and Andy Carroll is hardly fit to play regularly. Dwight Gayle is hardly seen as a regular either. If they don’t want to sink even further in the table, drastic changes in their team is needed.
While luck is an inevitable part of the game today, teams can rely on it for a limited phase only. Perhaps, that is why Newcastle have won just one in their nine Premier League games. And maybe, reality is finally catching up and the fans were right about Steve Bruce after all. The signs are already ominous.