Newcastle play a defensive brand of football but they should be doing the opposite
The club likes to sit deep, soak up the pressure, and try the smash-and-grab approach, especially in the big games. This is evident from the fact that they average just 41.7% possession so far this season, which is the second-lowest in the league. (h/t WhoScored)
Playing long balls from the back right down the middle has been a common approach in their matches. You could argue that this is the reason why they average just 75.4% pass accuracy (3rd lowest in the league) so far.
Given the above observation, anyone with an understanding of football can conclude that a team would be forced onto the back foot. Less possession and poor passing accuracy are two things that are inter-connected.
You lose the ball because you don’t pass well, and hence you’re made to defend everything that comes your way and not move forward, once again because your passing isn’t accurate enough.
This is an approach most commonly associated with clubs who look to cancel out a superior team’s attack to get a result. But what’s the point in this approach if you can’t keep the ball when you get it? No team can afford to choose to just defend their way out of trouble for the entire game.
This will eventually lead to goals being conceded at a rapid rate. Newcastle are going through the same problem and the fact that they’ve conceded 40 goals in 24 league games this season is proof of this.
But are Newcastle United one of the small clubs? History suggests the complete opposite.
Newcastle are one of the ‘big’ clubs in England
The Magpies have won the first division title 4 times. They also have 2 European trophies to their name alongside 6 FA Cups. Much of this has come in the mid-20th century.
But trophies are not the only things that can define a club’s legacy. Newcastle experienced a largely successful 1990s and early 2000s. They regularly challenged for the league title, and they looked good while doing it.
Kevin Keegan’s entertainers’ came close to winning the league twice before his departure. His legacy was carried forward by managerial greats like Kenny Dalglish, Bobby Robson and Graeme Souness.
These managers took the club to the edge of success and while they often failed at the final hurdles, Newcastle were one of the teams to fear. The supporters knew this, the players knew this and so did the opposition.
No more sitting back for Newcastle United
One could only wonder what club legends like Alan Shearer and Peter Beardsley feel when they tune in to watch Newcastle now. And you probably cannot blame what has happened at the club. The Magpies endured a shock relegation in the 2008/09 season.
The club was already on a steady decline after Shearer’s retirement, but relegation left a deep scar. Ever since, the club has scored 50+ points in just one Premier League season. Another relegation in 2016 made Premier League survival a more reasonable goal in the upcoming seasons.
And that mentality has stuck with them for a while now. But avoiding relegation is not what they are about. Newcastle have been among the trophies, their fans have seen legends of the game lead their club to the top, but their vision of the great club has been lost recently.
Leeds United can provide the blueprint
Steve Bruce’s Newcastle are not the most expensive team in the league. They do not boast of the same talent and quality of players such as Liverpool or Manchester City. But that surely does not mean they cannot be the best among the rest.
Leeds United under Marcelo Bielsa are very, very attacking. They have scored 40 goals in 24 games so far. Much like Newcastle, Leeds also suffered a decline in the first decade of the 21st century. However, they look fearless now and they love to attack.
They might not win most of their games, but they go down after a fight. They take the game to the opposition. The Whites fans can look at their team with pride and say that they play how a club of Leeds’ stature should be playing.
They stand 5th in the list of teams with most shots attempted in the league so far. Newcastle are ranked 16th in the same list. Leeds also have 15 more goals than the Magpies right now and are 11th in the table.
Newcastle should take a little risk. They should attack more. While it is something that cannot be achieved over just one season, it has to start somewhere. It is a process which is going to be long, but Newcastle is one club who should do it given its history.