This Article was originally written for the Summer 2014 edition of True Faith.
Alan Pardew has been at Newcastle for three whole seasons now. Rather than look at the statistics for last season in isolation I think some interesting questions can be asked about the direction the team is going under his guidance by looking at how the numbers have changed over his time. Injury crises, formations and players come and go, but over three years a manager must own what has developed within the team he took on, he must have done something to implement his vision of what a football team should be. We all know how bad things have gotten on the pitch having seen it with our own eyes, but we’ve all heard from elsewhere “You’re 10th, why are you moaning?” Can digging down to the more detailed numbers provide any insight to a less regular visitor to St James’ Park as to why a 10th place finish just wasn’t good enough?
Overall League Performance
Across every measure that forms the basis of the league table, Pardew peaked in year one.
- The number goals scored has worsened year on year to the point that we scored just three more than relegated Fulham this season.
- The number of games lost worsened in 12/13 when only the three relegated teams lost more than Newcastle. We lost just as many games again this season.
- The number of games drawn, which had been maintained at eight halved to four this season and was the lowest in the entire league (not just in the Premier League, in all of England).
- Only five teams conceded more goals than Newcastle this season, which is an improvement on last season when only three conceded more, however, both are way down on 11/12 when Newcastle had the 9th best defense in the league.
- It’s only on games won and points that the numbers match our top half status. Pardew has turned four draws from 12/13 into victory in 13/14 to improve the points haul. However, that is the short term change, long term the trend at Newcastle since Hughton left is for draws to be turned into defeat, as this table shows.
As can be seen, despite the inconsistent nature of victories (blue), there is a very definite pattern that we draw less (red) and lose more (green).
What has changed about Newcastle’s game that means we’ve conceded so many more goals in the last two years (127) than in the two years previous (108)?
The number of tackles, interceptions and fouls vary without any pattern, but there has been a year on year reduction in the total number of shots conceded. This could very easily be equally as random as the other three measures, rather than the result of an improving defense, however the fact that Newcastle conceded over 10% less shots on goal this season than we did two seasons ago would suggest on first glance a more organized defensive unit, not allowing teams through as frequently. If that were true, the resulting number of goals conceded should not have been so much higher though.
Tim Krul is not making the same rate of saves he once was, but it could be that 11/12 was an incredible season no other keeper could touch and his more recent seasons a return to average. Checking the numbers suggests not though, only Aston Villa (12.3%) Fulham (12.6%) and Southampton (12.6%) conceded a higher percentage of goals from shots conceded in 2013/2014. The average for the year across all teams was 10.2%, a number Krul only just beat in that one season we finished fifth.
Perhaps a big money offer for Krul should be pursued, if a better replacement than Elliot can be found. But before jumping at the first offer, another thing to consider before rushing to find a replacement would be that the defense isn’t actually as well organized as the reducing shots conceded suggests, they certainly don’t look it to me watching games. Perhaps teams are actually finding it easier to cut through the Newcastle defense into goal scoring positions and because they have a lead sooner, they don’t attack as fervently through the remainder of the game, preferring to hit on the break.
On the face of it Newcastle’s Offensive play has improved under Pardew.
Almost a 20% increase in the number of shots taken over three years and a similar increase in shots on target, so why the consistent drop off in conversion rate and accompanying reduction in the number of goals scored year on year? There is clear evidence as to what causes this.
- Shots from outside the box are up over 20% (from 33% to 54%), no other team in the league took as high a percentage of shots from outside the box in 2013/2014.
- The number of shots within the 18 yard are box down 15% from (55% to 40%), no other team in the league took a lower percentage of shots from within the 18 yard box in 2013/2014.
- The number of shots within the 6 yard box halved from 12% to 6%.
Under Pardew, Newcastle have almost completely avoided playing the ball into the box any more. Pardew prefers his players to either have a shot from long range, or to lob a ball into the box over the top for a knock down. He has abandoned all creativity and rather than take the time to break down a defense and create a few good chances, instead he trains his players to create twice as many poor opportunities to get lucky.
For example Chiek Tiote took 20 shots at goal in 12/13, one every other game, but in 13/14 he hit 44. This is a man that has not scored a single goal in that time. Why is Pardew allowing him to shoot with exponentially increasing frequency? He is not only allowing it, he is encouraging it. The idea is not for Tiote to score a goal, he’s had one slice of luck in hitting Arsenal’s barn door over 4 years. The idea is to hope that either the shot takes a deflection and goes in, or that that there is a rebound to a more capable striker to lap up a tap in. Why play through a defense when you can barge in like that?
Pardew’s inability to set up a team to break down opponent’s defenses is his defining feature and one that has seen him hit a brick wall with some of the most talented players, previously with Carlos Tevez at West Ham and now with Hatem Ben Arfa. There are issues with Ben Arfa’s work-rate, but the major issue is that he completely disregards what Pardew clearly demands from his players in attack. Having a blast from range is not in his nature, nor is pumping in a cross from deep as soon as he receives the ball wide. He wants to drive at a defense on the ground and create real goal scoring chances. This is wasted if the other players are following the drill and not running into the box in numbers to offer support.
Possession and Passing
Alan Pardew took a lot of criticism in the 12/13 season, not just because we flirted with relegation but also because Newcastle hit more long balls than any other Premier League club. It’s criticism that must have stung because this season he has reduced the number of long balls by 20% and increased the number of short passes by almost as much. The team are not hoofing the ball out of defense anything like as frequently as they were before and look to be passing out of defense much more.
However, before we congratulate Pardew, looking at the aerial duels shows that he has only papered over the cracks. Almost a 70% increase in the number contested over three seasons. Almost 90% increase in those won. Football in the air remains to be an area where Pardew is clearly drilling his team most strongly, which tallies with the balls lobbed into the box or long range shots discussion above. Only Stoke, Palace and West Ham won a higher number of aerial duels this season.
Newcastle’s ill-discipline under Pardew has received some attention in the past, Chiek Tiote in particular has committed some of the highest numbers of fouls in the league per game, and received punishments more than most for it too.
On the surface, Pardew seems to have worked on this. The number of yellow cards received by the team has had a downward trend since Hughton was at the club. In 10/11 Newcastle received more yellow cards (78) than any other Premier League club. In 13/14 only Cardiff (49) received less yellow cards than Newcastle (53).
The diagram above shows there remains an issue though, with 6 red cards for the season (up from 2 in 10/11 and 11/12) Newcastle had more players sent off this season than any other club bar Sunderland (7).
The club seem to be cutting out the strong challenges that perhaps go punished but might also be required to win a tough midfield battle, all the while increasing the number of reckless challenges or moments of stupidity (Shola?) that go too far and result in a dismissal. Indeed, 8 of Newcastle’s cards this year were for unprofessional behavior, a number only beaten by Stoke (11).
The indiscipline stretches beyond card situations though. Time and again Newcastle seem to be losing their minds in the second half and throwing games away. Do the numbers reflect that?
In Pardew’s first full season at the club, Newcastle were actually better in the second half than they were in the first. Their staying power was a key factor in winning many close games late on and finishing high in the league. This ability has been lost completely since then though. Points totals and goal difference for the second half have dropped off to a massive degree. Whether this is down to Pardew’s half time talks becoming stagnant in the mind of players that have seen them over and again, whether it’s a fitness issue and the players no longer have the stamina they previously did, whether it’s a tactical failure whereby we are more inclined to defend our position, or a combination of all these factors and more, it is indicative of weakening discipline around the club.
Pardew’s own indiscretions have not set any example to the players whatsoever, if your manager goes about head-butting opponents, calling other managers “cunt” and pushing officials, it sets a tone for the entire club. The standards of professionalism at the club is something that Pardew (and Ashley) will need to improve if the club are to avoid another season of dissatisfaction being voiced from the stands.
All the Newcastle stats used in the article and more figures not quoted are available here: