Like a new signing - what can Dan Barlaser bring to the Newcastle squad?

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

For every Paul Dummett there have been several Adam Campbells, so it’s no surprise some are sceptical about whether 23-year-old Dan Barlaser can make his mark on the first team this season. The midfielder has recently signed a contract extension after a successful loan spell with Rotherham United where he was a key part of the team that finished second in League One, winning automatic promotion.

With all hope almost extinguished at this club, it’s sometimes easier (definitely less painful) to be pessimistic about everything, after all – it’s the hope that kills you. Within that context, I can understand why some fans might’ve already written Barlaser off – after all, it’s a big step up in quality from League One to the EPL and, at 23, you would be forgiven for thinking he’d missed the boat.

In this article I use his stats from last season to compare him against our current crop of central midfielders. I want to understand what his style of play is and identify what he could bring to Bruce’s squad. First, a quick bit of background - Barlaser joined the Newcastle academy back in 2006 and played 83 times for the reserves in the Premier League 2, scoring 8 and assisting 10. He qualifies for both England (Mum) and Turkey (Dad) and has played for both countries at youth international level, making 15 appearances for Turkey across U16 and U17, and 2 appearances for England at U18 level.

He made his first team debut for Newcastle under Rafa Benitez on his 20th birthday back in January 2017, a 3-1 FA Cup win against Birmingham City. After making a couple of cup appearances that season, he was shipped out on loan to League Two’s Crewe Alexandra in the 2017/18 season. The promising academy product was called back early from this loan after failing to start a single game, and only making 4 substitute appearances.

Failed loan spells are always a concern; we’ve seen promising players fall completely off the radar after such spells but, to Barlaser’s credit, he picked himself up and got another opportunity the following season to go out on loan to League One side Accrington Stanley where he enjoyed a much more productive spell, playing 39 times, scoring 2 and assisting 1. Eager to keep the momentum gained from his spell at Accrington, he went back out on loan last season, this time hooking up with manager Paul Warne at Rotherham United, and this is where my analysis begins.

Obviously, this isn’t going to be a like for like comparison as Barlaser’s stats are from League One and the Newcastle midfielders are from the Premier League – a big step up in quality. Equally, Rotherham finished second in the league as one of the most attacking teams last season with 51% possession, whereas Newcastle were one of the most defensive teams in the EPL and only had 41% possession. However, these stats will highlight Barlaser’s strengths in comparison to his Newcastle teammates, and should paint a picture of how he can fit in with our current group of players.

Passing is Barlaser’s main strength and he scores highly against Newcastle’s other CMs with only Jonjo Shelvey on a par in terms of progressiveness. During my video analysis it become clear early on that Barlaser has a similar style to Shelvey – both players like to get on the ball and dictate the tempo of a game with their wide range of passing. Like Shelvey, Barlaser is more of a deep-lying play maker – almost a ‘quarterback’ – preferring to initiate attacks rather than being directly involved in them. The Newcastle youngster is ambitious and forward thinking with his passing from deeper positions and often spreads play with long passes over the top, or down the channels. He is constantly scanning his surroundings and has vision plus a quickness of mind that allows him to play first time passes to his more advanced teammates. Whenever he gets on the ball, he’s always looking to progress the team up the pitch.

Even with him playing a high proportion of long balls he has a pass completion rate of 77.5% which puts him just behind the Longstaff brothers and ahead of Shelvey, Hayden and Hendrick in terms of passing accuracy. Barlaser’s passing technique is most like Shelvey’s however, it’s former Magpies midfielder Yohan Cabaye that he reminds me of the most with the way he sprays the ball around the pitch. He has quality from set pieces, which we saw first-hand in the pre-season friendly against Crewe when he whipped in an inch-perfect corner for Fernandez to score. His delivery from wide areas account for a high percentage of his assists and, with Andy Carroll in goal-scoring form this pre-season, Barlaser’s delivery could be a serious weapon for us.

The academy product performs well in offensive duels (1v1 with opposing player), succeeding in over 50% and he assisted 2.2 shots per game - some distance ahead of Shelvey (1.42) who was our most prolific shot assister from CM last season. In total, Barlaser made 5 assists overall and his expected assists (based on the quality of chances he created) was 7.7 so, with better finishing from his teammates, he could have clocked up even more. Barlaser’s not a goal scoring midfielder - with only 2 goals last season – because he often takes up positions in defensive midfield and focuses more on the creative side of the game although, when he does score, they’re usually screamers.

Barlaser is a neat and tidy player on the ball. He’s predominantly right footed and possesses a good first touch and, at over 6”, he uses his body well to retain the ball and likes to drop the shoulder or pull the ball back to beat his man and create space. In an earlier article I wrote about the lack of progressive ball carriers we have in central midfield – we had the lowest amount of progressive carries per touch last season in this area of the pitch. Whilst Barlaser is not a typical box to box midfielder he will carry the ball forward if the opportunity presents itself. Rather than shooting on sight as he approaches the edge of the penalty area, he will usually look to play one of his teammates through on goal.

So far, we’ve focused on what Barlaser can bring to the table going forward, now let’s look at what he offers the team in defense. If I’m honest I see him more as a creative player, so I wasn’t expecting to see such good defensive numbers from him. For starters, his defensive duel win percentage of 70.6% is over 5% better than Isaac Hayden on 65.2% who had the best success rate in the Newcastle midfield last season. Barlaser is not a crunching tackler like Hayden, but his discipline and positioning allow him to break up opposition counter attacks, a key part of his role as a deep-lying play-maker as he is often the central midfielder that sits back while others push forward.

Along with breaking up counterattacks he’s also an intelligent presser and averaged 4.38 ball recoveries in the opposition’s half last season – almost twice as many as Hayden (2.92) who’s in second place again – he has a great engine and covers a lot of ground. Overall, Barlaser performs well across the defensive metrics compared to his Newcastle colleagues – he’s good in the air, reads the game well and doesn’t give away too many fouls – these are all good signs that he can be a useful squad player this season.

How do Rotherham fans rate Barlaser?

We’ve seen what the stats say about our academy product, and I’ve watched a decent amount of the available footage of him, but nothing can replace the knowledge of someone who has watched him play week in and week out. So, I reached out to Rotherham United fan Will Daniels and asked what he thought about the Newcastle loanee and whether he thinks he can make the step up, this is what he had to say:

Dan Barlaser is ready made to be the creative engine at Newcastle United. There are a number of reasons that convinces me of this. Firstly, his ability to graft for the team. Both John Coleman and Paul Warne expect a hell of a lot off the ball, as well as on it. Dan is a player that can cover roles throughout central midfield and is more suited to playing in a 2 rather than a three, as a deep lying playmaker.

Dan Barlaser had a lot of success with the Millers due to his ability to pick a pass. Although it took him maybe 5-8 games to settle into the Rotherham side, he was hitting 40,50 yard Pirlo-esque crossfield balls for fun before the curtailment of the season. In turn, this allowed us to unlock the pace of winger Chiedozie Ogbene and we scored a lot of goals just off the back of this. A similar tactic could be explored via St Maximim.

The Millers were the EFL’s top goalscorers from set pieces last season and this was largely down to the quality of Dan Barlasers technique. In my time of supporting Rotherham, I’ve never seen a better set piece taker than Dan Barlaser and it’s a key reason we’re playing Championship football.

In terms of areas for development, I would just like to see him continue what he is doing because there is so much talent there. In time I think he’ll want to add more goals to his game potentially.

I’m devastated Dan isn’t going to be featuring in our midfield this season. He makes the players around him better. He’s calm on the ball, grafts without it and I have no doubt that if given a chance, would shine at Newcastle. And if you don’t think he’s ready this season, you know where we are ;)

In summary

Hopefully, you feel more informed about what Dan Barlaser can bring to the Newcastle squad this season and how his skill set fits in with the other central midfielders we have. As I said at the start, this hasn’t been a like for like comparison and the step up from League One to the Premier League is huge, however, it’s been successfully done before by players like Dele Alli and our very own Sean Longstaff. One of the criticisms of our youth development over the years has been the lack of game time banked at a senior level by our young players. This is not a criticism that can be leveled at Barlaser – he’s 80 senior appearances over the last two seasons in a physically demanding league and, make no mistake about it, he was probably the best player in his position in League One last season. You only need to read Will’s comments on him to see how highly he’s rated by Rotherham fans.

Is Barlaser ready to challenge for a place in the first team? Probably not. However, if you take Jonjo Shelvey out of our team (he missed 7 games due to injury last season), we seriously lack creativity in the middle of the park – Dan Barlaser has the ability to fill that role. He’s already made a couple of decent cameos in the pre-season games against Crewe and Barnsley and I think he’s ready to play a part as a squad player this year. He will benefit from training with players like Shelvey on a regular basis and, with Bruce likely to play S.Longstaff further forward, this means Barlaser can be the fourth or fifth choice CM option. He will need introduced to the rigors of the Premier League gently but the fixture list is congested this season, so having a homegrown player like Barlaser in the squad is a major positive in my opinion – he could even be like a new signing!

Photo credit: Tim Williams/Action Plus via Getty Images

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