It would have been the perfect, well-needed start to scratch 3 points on the board in the opening game, wouldn’t it! And for long periods of the game it looked as if a revitalised United were both going to do it and deserved to.
As it was, a point each was a fair result in the end against a very well-drilled and prepared Southampton team who managed to create a fair few more clear openings in the game that NUFC did.
Here’s 10 things I picked up:
1) There is a clear change in style and philosophy in NUFC’s play.
Possession of the ball was far more controlled and attacks weren’t rushed. 55% majority possession, even at home, to a good Southampton side is not something to be sniffed at, and at 82% pass completion over their 78% – a significant improvement on last year’s numbers, generally. There is also a clear objective on the team to get the ball wide, something I picked up in the Gladbach game and hence the inclusion of Gabriel Obertan.
81% of NUFC’s attacks yesterday originated from the flanks compared to just 19% centrally and 65% from Southampton’s wide areas. We produced 35 crosses compared to the Saints’ 18, meaning 78% of our attempts at goal came from central areas in the end. With tactics such as this, you can see why the pursuit of forwards like Mitrovic & Austin are key.
2) Georginio Wijnaldum is a player!
2 shots at goal, both heading in, one blocked, one goal and a 95% pass ratio. The performance of ‘Gini’ was superb. This guy has fantastic energy and some real pace that he used on occasion to really burst away from danger with the ball or when attacking space like for his goal.
We started to find it hard to get the ball to him at times though, mainly because as a team we played the game about 30 yards too deep and both he and Papiss saturated an already busy midfield.
Here are the touches from the team; notice the lack of possession in Gini’s no.10 area and next to, statistically, the most important and effective area of the pitch – ‘Zone 14’.
And here’s why – Gini showing his ‘box-to-box’ nature, working his socks off all around the pitch to both attack and track. Evidence that a centre midfield position next a good, solid defensive midfielder would definitely be an option for the number 5 should we want/need to play another player at no.10.
3) Chancel Mbemba is a player!
Yes, he was at fault for the first goal and should have positioned himself better, but how many defenders could say that when paying against Pelle, never mind on your first cross and in your first game in the English Premier League. Mbemba was very assured in possession, again, never rushing the ball forward and looking to keep hold rather than take risks – his 42/46 (91%) passing stats back this up.
He has an outstanding leap on him, which allows him, as a shorter centre half, to challenge very adequately in the air. And he has some serious pace, which was imperative to cover a flat-footed Coloccini at times, especially against Mane.
4) Aleksandar Mitrovic is a nutter!
This one doesn’t need too much explanation, for obvious reasons! At a record 2.7 seconds of making his Premier League and Newcastle United competitive debut, he flung himself into a pretty needless challenge to block the path of the ball from Targett.
Now, I don’t agree with McClaren or others that it was a red card. If I was an excited 20 year old coming on in front of 50,000 for the first time, I think I would be pretty hyped too! Plus, he barely made any contact with the player.
He looked pumped and aggressive throughout the time he was on the pitch, but the life had been sucked out of us by then and we never really saw the Serbian get out of second gear.
It was refreshing to see a big, powerful and almost angry forward in the black and white stripes up front and we all look forward to seeing how his story unfolds this season! He will need some real mentoring and guidance, I feel.
5) Papiss Cisse will score goals.
The old cliché – ‘right place, right time’. It may be one of the easiest goals he’ll ever score, but watch his movement and anticipation as the ball from Haidara is delivered. He’s the only one who takes a gamble and predicts the outcome of the cross. Like him or not, Cisse is our best out-and-out finisher and I fully expect him, if he stays fit and is chosen, to get 10/15 goals for us again this season and finish as our top scorer.
On a negative note; you can see why the club have been tracking other ‘no.9 types’. Cisse is far too mobile and doesn’t hold his position at the tip of NUFC’s attack anywhere near enough. Look…
How many times did you see one of our players just roll the ball into his feet on the edge of the box or even try and slip him in with a clever through ball? It’s his style; always has been, but we need someone up there who can take pressure off at times and hold the ball better and longer so to bring other players into the game and allow us to play another 30 yards up the field. Will he continue to start? Watch this space!
6) Moussa Sissoko is best out wide.
Those who follow on Twitter will know my thoughts on this, which is a bigger issue than just flinging that statement above in bold, but I stand firm on the notion. Many say Sissoko was ‘Pardewed’ when he was played out wide two seasons ago, but he ended up being BY FAR our most creative midfielder.
And, while the majority of the squad were awful last season, Moussa particularly looked disinterested and completely out of his depth when playing centrally.
Yesterday he looked back to his best; minimal touches on the ball, driving into space and looking to deliver with cleverness – not always crossing hopefully into the box but cutting the ball back on a couple of very smart occasions.
Having Anita (who was very good) Colback and Wijnaldum, who are top distributors of the ball, in the team means Sissoko’s runs can be found more consistently and often he was forced into some pretty mega sprints with good balls into the corners.
7) Haidara wasn’t good enough.
Notice I’ve put ‘wasn’t’ as opposed to ‘isn’t’. Massadio is a young player who is still learning the game in the ‘toughest league’ in the world. Yesterday was only his 18th start in the Premier League since he transferred 2 years ago and it is clear he has some real potential.
But potential is not what we crave at the moment – we need solid defenders in what, at times, can be a very concerning back four. Haidara was constantly caught out of position, gave away possession cheaply and didn’t close Tadic down anywhere near enough, allowing the ball into the box to happen far too easily. It is no surprise, but not all Haidara’s fault it has to be said, that both of Southampton’s goals came from crosses from the right hand side.
Many will say that Haidara’s contribution to the offense is impressive and I would agree that at times it has been – but not yesterday. 80% pass completion generally and 16 attacking third passes, the majority of which were backwards or sideward. Yes, he contributed to the first goal but by virtue of fortune; nothing more. 2/7 successful crosses outside of that.
Haidara is a good squad player, but as aforementioned, still learning the game. He’s not ready to start every game in my opinion; we need a left-footed Daryl Janmaat to come in. Paul Dummett is not the saviour!
8) Set pieces need to take priority on the training ground.
This is still a huge issue and while none of Southampton’s goals came from set plays, they created plenty of chance and every time the ball went into our box, I held my breath!
We won just 6 of the 20 aerial duels in our half and 1 out of 5 inside our own penalty area. Poor jumping, lack of communication, bad start positions/marking. Whatever the reason, I hope McClaren and his team are on to it and hopefully we will see improvements in the near future.
Offensively, we weren’t much better. We started with Wijnaldum on freekicks. He took 4. 3 of them were put into the box and all 3 were easily won by Southampton which spurned a reversion to Jack Colback.
Jack had a super game, but he has a good left foot. Nothing more. His corners were flat and last season showed he doesn’t possess the quality to trouble teams from free kicks. It isn’t just about the delivery of course, but again, hopefully SM and the team are already on the case with this one. His comments last week certainly suggest they are.
9) Coloccini continues to be a concern.
Short one this, as I don’t want it to be about a battering for our captain. It wasn’t his worst game in a black and white shirt but it most certainly wasn’t his best. 0/2 tackles and 0/1 aerial duels, Coloccini’s ineffectiveness was further exposed in my opinion by the performance of Chancel Mbemba. Caught too often flat-footed and bypassed far too easily 2/3 times by Mane. It’ll be interesting to see how his season unfolds. I hope he improves – he owes us!
10) Odd substitutions.
I’ve mentioned this already on the Twitter feed. I agree whole-heartedly with McClaren than we looked jaded after 75/80 minutes – we were chasing shadows in the build up to the Long goal. But, if that were the case, why bring on our 3 slowest/unfit players? Ok, the Tiote substitution was forced and it is very unlikely that he would have come on had Anita not picked up the injury. But we weren’t getting the ball up the field for Mitrovic to have any impact and with Aarons and Perez on the bench, why on earth did we bring Siem De Jong into the fray?
Anyway, this isn’t a nag and I won’t be ending on a negative pondering. There were far more positives than negatives to take from yesterday’s game against a team who was already 2 competitive games ahead of us and that finished 7th in the division least season. The football on offer was much improved, players rolled up their sleeves and it was exciting to be a Newcastle United fan again.
Isn’t that all we ask for?
Written by @NUFC_Index
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Formerly @NUFC_Stats on social media site ‘Twitter’, NUFC Index was set up by one passionate & creative Newcastle United fan to keep followers up to speed on the statistical analysis of the club and it’s players.
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