Burnley Stats Preview - what you need to know

KO: 20:00

Venue: St. James' Park

Let’s be honest. Newcastle vs. Burnley isn’t a fixture you look out for at the start of the season is it? Neither club are renowned for their attractive football and over the last three seasons this tie has averaged just 1.5 goals per game with the points being split evenly between the two teams (2W, 2D, 2L).

Burnley have had a frustrating start to the season and are still searching for their first points after two defeats in two in the league, losing 4-1 to Leicester on the opening day and 1-0 to Southampton last Saturday night. Let's hope they're still searching for those points at 10pm this evening.

Newcastle’s record so far reads four wins, one draw and one defeat in all competitions and, as of writing this, we’re sat 10th in the table and we’ve reached our second QF in three months. On paper, that’s a very decent start to the season but if you dig a little deeper you will find we’ve continued where they left off last season as one of the lowest performing teams in a variety of metrics.

Due to this (and the lack of any discernible style of play) the criticism of Bruce is starting to heat up, but the Newcastle manager came out swinging in Friday’s pre-match presser:

"Look, I have had noise from the day I walked through the door. I don't mind noise at all as long as it's balanced. I can take criticism as long as it's fair.”
"I understand we have not played well enough but, for goodness sake, let's have a little bit of balance to it. If we win tomorrow, then it will be I'm lucky that we win.”

Bruce, Newcastle’s manager for 14 months now, also pleaded his case for needing more time to get his side playing the way he wants:

"To say that I'm lucky, I just find it a little bit insulting but I'll keep trying to try and improve us, try and get better and try and make us play better and that will take a bit of time unfortunately because we're trying to implement change.”
"So all of a sudden we have to think we're Liverpool, do we? The style is we've gone from a back five to a back four,"

As my NE1 ‘s Game colleague (@Andy83H) pointed out yesterday, this line about “we have to think we’re Liverpool” is straight out of the Mike Ashley “can’t compete with Man City” playbook. It’s an attempt to invoke one of the most tired football cliches of all time – that Newcastle fans are too demanding.

Bruce has now at least told us what he’s trying to achieve – a “forward-thinking” 4-4-2, and one man who is no stranger to this formation is Sean Dyche who Bruce was keen to praise when he spoke to journalists on Friday. To be fair, in the nine seasons Dyche has been in charge at Turf Moor, Burnley have spent six of them in the Premier League and you have to respect that, even if you don't like their 'agricultural' approach to the beautiful game.

Some Newcastle fans were concerned (and maybe rightly so) that Bruce was saying he wanted Newcastle to play like Burnley. Well, we’re not actually far off – last season, as a percentage of attempted passes, Burnley played the highest amount of long balls (36%) with Newcastle not far behind in third place (33%). This pattern has continued into this season with Newcastle having played the second highest percentage of long balls (35%) and Burnley the third (33%). This will not be a game for the football purists.

Fresh from his Tim Krul-esq heroics on Sunday Karl Darlow has reminded us all that he’s actually a decent shot stopper. I felt sorry for the lad after we ran a poll on Twitter before the Spurs game asking fans who they would prefer to start in goal and Mark Gillespie ran out a comfortable winner with 62% of the vote (I voted Darlow btw). Gillespie had looked competent in the games against Blackburn and Morecambe but was at fault for Newport’s goal on Wednesday when he fluffed a routine save.

Darlow is currently sat in second place for post-shot expected goals (PSxG) with a score of +2.1 (i.e. he's saved us from two extra goals against) and he’s top of the league for shot save percentage with a score of 85% from 20 shots faced. In contrast, Burnley’s Nick Pope is currently bottom for shot save percentage (28.6% from 7 shots faced) and 14th for PSxG.

Two things both keepers have in common is they like to (or are told to) play long balls. So far this season, Karl Darlow has launched 100% of his goal kicks – the highest in the league – and Nick Pope is in 5th place with 87.5% (and first for % of passes launched).

When you consider Newcastle only have the 12th best aerial duel win percentage (47.3%) it’s easy to see why we have such a low amount of possession – the majority of Darlow’s kicks just end up back with the opposition. As an example, Darlow played four long balls to Wilson against Spurs and Wilson only won one of them. That’s just making it too easy for the other team.

Burnley have the fourth leakiest defense as it stands, conceding five goals in two league games and a further three against Man City in the midweek cup game. Leicester put four passed them in GW1 but it was a much closer affair when they met Southampton last weekend with just a single Danny Ings goal earning a win for the Saints.

Burnley’s underlying defensive stats look decent enough – they have the joint best tackle win percentage (45.5%) and the third most successful pressures per 90. The majority of their pressures (46%) are made in the midfield third with Ashley Westwood, Dwight McNeil and Matěj Vydra the busiest players in the team.

Due to an injury for James Tarkowski, Jimmy Dunne and Kevin Long have been Burnley’s centre back pairing in the league so far and between them they’ve recorded a 72.2% aerial duel win percentage – Dunne has won all seven headers he has challenged for, and Long has won 9 and lost 6. In comparison, Andy Carroll (60%), Joelinton (46.7%) and Callum Wilson (33.3%) have a combined aerial duel win percentage of 58% - I do not fancy Wilson’s chances in the air against this Burnley defense.

When Burnley do decide to play it out from the back, they tend to go down the left side more frequently. Left back Charlie Taylor and Left winger Dwight McNeil are a good combination and were one of the top passing links for Burnley against both Leicester and Southampton.

Taylor and McNeil (sounds like an ITV police drama doesn't it?) have covered the most progressive distance with the ball so far this season for Burnley and Taylor has a decent delivery into the box. He has created three shooting opportunities per 90 for his team this season with only Matěj Vydra (5.68) and Jay Rodriguez (3.91) creating more. Taylor and McNeil are also the only two Burley players to have registered goal creating actions (the two offensive actions directly leading to a goal) this season with two each.

In possession, it’s right centre midfielder Ashley Westwood that has the most touches of the ball and he keeps things ticking over in the centre of the pitch. Vydra is top for the number of times he was the intended target of an attempted pass – with Taylor and McNeil as the main suppliers of those passes – although only 35.9% have successfully found him.

It’s no surprise to find that Chris Wood is Burnley’s main goal threat and he currently tops their expected goals chart. Wood scored 15 PL goals last season and notched his first of this one against Leicester in GW1 with a nice finish after good work down the left side from McNeil and Taylor. Wood showed good strength to brush off the Leicester defender before stroking the ball passed Kasper Schmeichel.

Video via BBC Sport - Chris Wood goal vs. Leicester

Newcastle currently boast a 100% conversion rate after scoring 3 goals from 3 shots on target – we’re averaging one shot on target per game (Burney - 3.5) and 9 shots overall (Burnley - 13.5). We desperately need to find more of a cutting edge as we surely cannot keep scoring from every shot we have on target.

We spend so long without the ball (lowest possession in the league – 41.8%) that when we do get it our players looked scared and lost in our attacking build up play. You know something isn’t right when Jamaal Lascelles has the third highest number of passes into the final third per 90 (for context, he wasn’t even in our top twenty last season). We need to assert ourselves on the game more and have better quality on the ball rather than playing sideways and backwards passes just for Lascelles to then launch it long.

With doubts over Lascelles fitness, we could see fit again Fabian Schär thrown in at the deep end with only 30 minutes of competitive football under his belt. Schär will take time to get back up to full match fitness and the physicality of Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes (who has overcome his own injury problems) concerns me – could we see Hayden start alongside Fernandez instead?

Elsewhere on the pitch it sounds like we’ll see Allan Saint-Maximin return to the starting line-up which is good news considering our lack of creativity. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hendrick line up on the right of midfield to face his former team either that or he'll be alongside Shelvey if Hayden does drop into defense. I expect we'll see Almiron playing just off Callum Wilson in attack but Joelinton has had a promising start to the season (I’m not saying he’s set the world on fire, just that he’s improving) and Bruce may be tempted to start him up alongside Wilson to counter Burnley’s strength and height.

Recent weeks have shown it’s not just about the results. Newcastle fans want their team to do more than scrape lucky wins. We want to see Newcastle United taking the game to the opposition rather than sitting back and letting them dictate play.

Bruce backed himself massively on Friday in a combative press conference, so he desperately needs a good performance from his team this evening to back that up – it's the only way the narrative is going to change.


Photo credit: NurPhoto


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