Premier League Transfer Review #15: Newcastle United

2017/18 Season

Newcastle had a strong first season back in the Premier League, finishing 10th in the table and on xGD.

Comparing Newcastle’s underlying and actual numbers makes for interesting reading. They heavily over performed their underlying numbers in defence, but heavily under performed in attack. They scored just 75.9% of their xG total – which was the 9th best in the league – while only Burnley and Manchester United out performed their xG against by more than the Magpies.

This may cover up defensive problems in this Newcastle side, who conceded the 6th most xG in the division and, on average, gave away the 4th most valuable chances in the Premier League.

Despite this, Newcastle had some good performances from individuals last season.

Jonjo Shelvey played the most long-balls of any midfielder in Europe’s top five leagues last season, although his 43% success rate wasn’t great (though this doesn’t take into account the difficulty of the pass). Shelvey seemed to be the main source of progressing the ball for Newcastle. In the Premier League he had 4th highest percentage of passes going into the final third, the 7th most vertical passes into the final third and 2nd most long vertical passes going into the final third.

His discipline also seemed to improve last season, while the two red cards weren’t great, he only picked up two yellow cards all season.

Moving forward, Ayoze Perez seemed to have a productive year. His 8 goals and 8 assists is a solid return and right around the same level as his underlying numbers. His xG + xA was 0.515 p90, while his G + A was 0.577 p90. Only Dwight Gayle had a better xG + xA p90 for Newcastle, but Perez played more minutes with less substitute appearances than Gayle.

Newcastle’s third most productive player was Kenedy, who joined on loan in the second half of the season. His xG + xA of 0.451 p90 was a welcome addition and an improvement on the numbers of Christian Atsu, Jacob Murphy and Matt Ritchie.

Given Newcastle’s over performance for goals conceded it should also come as no surprise that goalkeeper Martin Dubravka over performed his xG (using just shots on target and shot quality) by the 3rd most in the Premier League last season, behind just Nick Pope and David de Gea. It’ll be interesting to see whether this was just a bit of luck from Newcastle or whether they’ve found a real gem in Dubravka.

With strong xGD numbers, a whole lot of improvement doesn’t seem necessary for Newcastle, but some quality additions to try and build on their top half finish wouldn’t go amiss.

Incoming

Newcastle added both attacking and defensive reinforcements this summer. Starting with the attacking signings, Newcastle spent £9.6m on 26-year-old Yoshinori Muto from Mainz and loaned 28-year-old Salomon Rondon from relegated West Brom.

Looking first at Rondon, he had pretty strong numbers despite playing for a relegated side. Given he played 2772 minutes, with 32 starts and just 4 substitute appearances, his xG of 0.340 p90 is pretty strong. Joselu and Gayle both had higher xG p90’s, but West Brom also had the 6th worst xG for in the Premier League last season.

Having said that, Rondon’s and Joselu’s numbers closely mirror each other and given they’re both also 28-years-old, it’s questionable how big on an upgrade this is for Newcastle. The table below compares some of their numbers.

Player Mins Chances p90 xG p90 Goals p90 xG per Chance Chances Created p90 xA p90 Attempted Take-ons p90
Salomon Rondon 2772 2.34 0.340 0.227 0.145 0.779 0.127 2.45
Joselu 1716 2.26 0.356 0.210 0.158 0.839 0.087 0.71

Based on the above, it’s hard to see what Rondon gives Newcastle that Joselu doesn’t. Take-ons is the only area where he trumps the Spaniard, so it may be that Rondon is better at holding the ball up and/or bringing others into play, but they both also attempt ~20 passes a game each.

Using WhoScored to look at their aerial duel numbers, in case they deem Rondon a better aerial target and someone to take down Shelvey’s long-balls, last season Rondon won 43.7% of his 12 aeriel duels p90, while Joselu won 54.3% of his 14 aerial duels p90.

If Rondon was much younger than Joselu I’d understand it a lot more, but signing a 28-year-old who’s numbers are almost identical to a 28-year-old you already possess just feels a bit odd. Unless Rondon’s all round game is a lot better than Joselu’s and that’s not being captured by the numbers, this doesn’t feel like much of a step up from Newcastle.

The second forward to be brought in was Yoshinori Muto. Looking at Rondon, Gayle, Joselu, Perez and Muto, only Perez had a lower xG p90 than Muto, but Perez had a much higher xA p90 than Muto. Muto’s xG + xA p90 was lower than any of the previously mentioned names.

Honestly, I just don’t really understand these signings. It’s not that they’re bad players or have terrible numbers, but Newcastle’s attacking numbers were pretty solid last year and players like Gayle and Perez had a strong return, while Joselu’s return was also respectable. None of the two players they’ve signed seem significant upgrades on what they already had.

Two players who did have better numbers than the players Newcastle signed, and are both younger than Joselu at 25-years-old, are Kevin Lasagna from Udinese and Niclas Fullkrug from Hannover. I talked about these two in relation to West Ham back in January and their numbers remained strong until the end of the season.

Another interesting name is 25-year-old Adama Niane who had an xG + xA of 0.535 p90 while playing for relegated Troyes in Ligue 1 last season. He’s also in the last year of his deal and started 25 of his 33 appearances last season.

There’s every chance Rondon and Muto go on to have a great season and I look like an idiot, but just judging off the numbers I’m not too keen on these moves.

In midfield Newcastle signed Sung-yong Ki from Swansea on a free transfer. This isn’t a terrible signing on a free, Ki is pretty tidy on the ball, has a positive xP Rating and good completion rate on his long-balls, but again I don’t think this a particular upgrade from Newcastle.

Finally, given the long-term injury to Florian Lejeune, Newcastle went out and bought two new centre-backs. The first being 26-year-old Fabian Schar from Deportivo La Coruna and the second was 29-year-old Federico Fernandez from Swansea.

Of course this isn’t just down to the individual, but it won’t be encouraging to Newcastle that Swansea conceded the 2nd highest xG against in the Premier League and Deporitvo the 3rd highest in La Liga. I can get behind signing Alfie Mawson from Swansea given his age and strong passing ability, but £6m for a 29-year-old Fernandez doesn’t fill me with confidence. I’m not sure whether he’s deemed as a starter or whether it’s just cover due to the injury, but I’m not keen on the move.

As I’ve said throughout my transfer review pieces, I really don’t know how to rate defenders and there’s every chance a manager like Rafael Benitez can get the best out of them, but I don’t really feel enthused by these signings. Encouragingly they both had good xP Ratings, but we’ll just have to wait and see if they can improve Newcastle’s defence.

Outgoing

Newcastle’s outgoings are pretty disappointing this summer.

Alexsandar Mitrovic seemed as though he was always going to leave for Fulham, but Dwight Gayle had the highest xG + xA p90 at the club yet was loaned out, while Mikel Merino had some great passing numbers and defensive numbers (which I talked about in the Bournemouth review), is still just 22-years-old and was sold for just £10.8m.

Given Newcastle’s centre-back and defensive problems it’s interesting that 24-year-old Chancel Mbemba has been sold rather than given another chance in the first team, particularly as Newcastle to Porto is a step up – unless the player wanted a move away.

All the other Newcastle outgoings make sense, it just seems to be fringe players and those deemed not good enough moved on.

Conclusion

Should they have done any more business?

I don’t think Newcastle needed any more signings, they’ve added two forwards, a midfielder and two centre-backs, seemingly giving them two players for every position.

Verdict

I’m really not keen on this Newcastle window, it doesn’t feel like they’ve strengthened well at all. It doesn’t feel as though any of the players coming in will be a big improvement on what already possessed. Despite the strong xGD numbers last season, I can see them struggling this campaign, especially as lots of other clubs have strengthened well.

This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.

All transfer fees from TransferMarkt.

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