Newcastle United strengths & weaknesses: A tactical & statistical look at Steve Bruce’s side

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Newcastle United kicked off their 2021/22 season with four games, three losses and one draw. Hardly the start anyone associated with the Magpies would have wanted. And to add insult to injury, Steve Bruce was unable to sign any players in the last day of the transfer window. Here we take a look at strengths and weaknesses that have come to the fore so far.

Increased possession?

This was not the case against Southampton, but United did, however, have closer to 50% possession in each of their other games this campaign, even in defeat.

Against the Saints, United had just 36.3% possession. However, at Villa Park they had the lion’s share with 52.7% and again against the Hammers in game week one they returned a possession share of 46.4%.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

These stats, even to the naked eye, or massively improved on last season, where United averaged in the mid-30s in many Premier League encounters, home or away, no matter the opposition.

This, although a minor one, should be seen as a positive.

The system - is it working?

The 5-3-2 that worked so well for United last season - returning a run of five wins, two draws and two losses in the final nine games of that campaign - has done little to inspire confidence this time around.

At present they look to easy to carve open, especially in the wider areas, the gap between midfield and wing-backs and the corridor between central defender and full-back.

Will the Magpies use the international break to switch things up, much like they did at the last one at the end of last season? Only time will tell, but I think few who have witnessed United this season would argue with a tweak or two.

Too many players out of position?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The decline of Miguel Almiron has been painful to watch. At times in this system he looks like a lost little boy, chasing the ball around, rarely having an impact with it, but equally doing a lot of hard work for the team. It is a thankless task.

This isn’t necessarily backed up by all the stats, with Almiron making on average more passes per game than he was last season, up from 25 to 25.67. However, his much deeper role means he has done little to impact in the final third. He has created zero big chances this season. His tackle success has also dropped from 59% to 55% and he is yet to have a shot on target, from two in total.

Almiron is not the only one who is clearly a fish out of water in this system.

Matt Ritchie and Jacob Murphy are struggling in their wing-back roles.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Take Murphy as an example. Last season he had a tackle success rate of 62%. In the opening three games this season that is just 27%. While Ritchie has created 10 chances already, one of the top players in the division in that metric, but has also been targeted at will by opposition managers, with Southampton pitching Tino Livramento against the former Scotland man one-on-one for much of the opening 45 at the weekend.

More chances created?

United are scoring at 1.33 goals per game, on average that was around 1.21 last season. Shooting accuracy is however down to around 25%, from 36% in 2020/21.

Callum Wilson has been a beneficiary of this, with his two goals already this campaign. He is also ninth in the Premier League statistics for shots on goal this campaign with 10.

Overall, four goals in three games, spread over two, is a decent return. But, as per below, the other end is an issue.

Too easy to score against?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Stats don’t lie, even if it is early days. United have conceded at a rate of 2.67 per game so far this season. Last season, averaged out it was 1.63.

They’re just too easy to score against.

Teams have cottoned on to what made United tick last season and have exploited gaps in their system, as mentioned above.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.