• Andy

Newcastle United: Punch-drunk from too many 'Meaningless Statistics'.

Updated: Dec 18, 2020


Possession: 37% - 63%

Shots: 7 - 27

Shots on target: 4 - 11


Possession: 32% - 68%

Shots: 9 - 25

Shots on target: 4 - 9


One from Newcastle United 1-4 Manchester United and the other from Leeds United 5-2 Newcastle United. Two sets of statistics, two months apart, which you can not tell apart.

"They were a handful all night, some of their forward players and their movement we found it difficult. But you stay in it, they scored from a free kick we had and broke away and then towards the end we were a bit naïve. I thought we were a little bit too easy at times to play against. We will go away really, really disappointed because we were 10 minutes away and it could have gone either way when it gets that late. It is work in progress for us. We have tried to change and with that it will take time. The defeat looks worse than it really was."


"We were fine until the last ten to fifteen minutes and then we gave away poor goals. We got caught on the edge of our box, gave away possession. The goals are not unacceptable.

Until the 75th minute we were in it. Then we gave goals away. I was disappointed with the last ten minutes. Up until then you could maybe say they were the better side but the way we've ended the game is not acceptable. We understand that. We've given away two or three poor goals and at this level, you get punished. Until the 75th minute I'd made the changes to try and win us the game and tonight it hasn't worked."


One from Newcastle United 1-4 Manchester United and the other from Leeds United 5-2 Newcastle United. Two post-match press conferences, two months apart, which you can not tell apart.

Against Manchester United, the score was level until the 86th minute. Against Leeds United, the score was level until the 77th minute. Both games ended with Newcastle United losing by three goals and both games are a microcosm of Steve Bruce's Newcastle United - a team that appears equally capable of making a mockery of statistics as it is to being knocked to the floor by them.


People can be dismissive of analytics and refer to league position and points total and that is their choice on how they view football. After all, ultimately, that final column of the table is all that matters. Indeed, Roy Hodgson was recently dismissive of 'meaningless statistics' such as possession and shots, that mean 'nothing' to him.


Newcastle versus Leeds was the perfect matchup for analytics versus simplicity; number crunchers versus the bigger picture; micro versus macro. Coming into the game, Newcastle had taken 17 points from 11 games and Leeds had taken 14 from 12 games. A simple argument for anyone in the 'just look at the table' camp of football supporters, who generally feel that over-analysis of metrics matters little if it does not return points.


The opposite camp, advocates of data analysis, tend to view development, trends and identity with more importance and, as long as the points tally isn't resulting in being in the relegation zone, believe that these numbers will produce results. The law of averages and probability suggesting that, eventually, these metrics will win out.


Newcastle United has not had 50% possession or more in any Premier League so far this season. Leeds United has not had less than 50% possession in any Premier League game.


Newcastle United has had 10+ shots in three games this season. Leeds United has had 10+ shots in nine games, hitting 20+ in four of those.


You simply can not dismiss statistics like this. Although they won't guarantee you points every game, eventually one will produce more points than the other. It is unsustainable to consistently have less possession than your opponent and not have sufficient numbers of shots on their goal.


Bruce can point to the score and claim that Newcastle were in these games but they were in them in the same way that a boxer is in a fight when they have lost ten rounds to punch after punch but somehow remain standing. They might just land a sucker punch (Spurs away) but probability suggests that they're going to be knocked down or knocked out in those final couple of rounds.


Only the most punch-drunk could look at these games, at these statistics, and deny that these beatings are inevitable. Every Premier League opponent this season has out-possessed Newcastle and managed at least ten shots towards Karl Darlow's goal.


Going further back, Newcastle have now conceded three goals or more in twelve of Bruce's fifty Premier League games in charge, conceding five in three of those. For comparison, Newcastle conceded three goals or more only four times in the fifty league games prior to Bruce's arrival.


Many fans have used the word 'luck' when trying to explain how Bruce's Newcastle have picked up points, leading to the manager's infamous rant during the embargoed section of a press conference when this word was used. I actually agreed with Bruce - luck didn't win Newcastle 44 points last season and it hasn't won 17 points so far this season.


A combination of team spirit and fight, an individual moment of attacking inspiration, the opposition's profligacy or man of the match performances by Newcastle's goalkeepers, among other things, can be used to explain points being won from games in which Newcastle were outplayed. Statistical winners don't always win football matches. Luck may produce a positive moment but it does not win 61 points from 50 games.


By the same token, bad luck may also produce a negative moment, such as a poor VAR decision or a shot off the woodwork but does not result in the consistent and persistent statistics regarding low possession, few shots and multiple heavy defeats.


Newcastle United were never winning games because of luck and, equally, heavy defeats are not suffered because that same luck has run out. Newcastle United are doing exactly what the 'meaningless statistics' of possession and shots suggest will happen over the course of a season.


Defenders will be overworked and overexposed, individual errors will start to creep in, confidence will begin to disappear and goalkeepers will not be able to sustain man of the match performances.


You might be able to remain in the fight but eventually, if you take too many punches, you're going to get knocked out.





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