Posts Tagged ‘League’

“Newcastle will struggle”, they said. “They’ve sold their best players”, they said. “A club in crisis”, they said…

‘They’ were the media and an assorted collection of so-called football ‘experts’ giving their views on Newcastle United prior to the start of the current Premier League season back in August. The club was in trouble, apparently, and would do incredibly well to avoid a relegation battle come next May.

They were wrong it seems, so far at least. Newcastle’s fantastic unbeaten start means that should they win against Wigan tomorrow, they will have amassed a quite incredible and equally unexpected total of 19 points from their opening 9 games. Far from relegation form, 19 points from 9 games would represent an average of 2.1 points per game. To put that into context, that is the exact average that won Manchester United last season’s Premier League title with 80 points, so in other words, title-winning form. Of course, we are only less than a quarter of the way through the 2011/12 season and no one expects Newcastle to keep up their blistering form.

“To put that into context, that is the exact average that won Manchester United last season’s Premier League title with 80 points, so in other words, title-winning form.”

Sterner tests lie ahead for the new-look Newcastle team, that much is obvious. The end of November looks particularly ominous for the Magpies with successive away trips to Manchester followed by a home game against a strong Chelsea outfit at the start of December. That Newcastle have yet to face any of the Top 3 partly explains Newcastle’s excellent start to the season, or does it? ‘They’ were quick to proclaim in the run up to last week’s Tottenham test that Newcastle occupied a false league position, virtue of a kind opening fixture list – it is a claim that is only partly true.

Many said Newcastle's opening fixtures were 'easy' but an away win at local rivals Sunderland was anything but

Yet to play anyone good…

In their eight league matches so far, Newcastle have played no less than five of last season’s top 10 teams (Arsenal, Sunderland, Fulham, Villa & Spurs), taking 9 points in the process including 3 at hated rivals Sunderland. Add to that a home game against bogey-team Blackburn & tough trips to QPR and Wolves and Newcastle’s “easy” start suddenly looks anything but, especially with the televised QPR clash falling on the Loftus Road side’s relaunch night following Tony Fernandes’ takeover and the purchase of several players, not least a certain Joey Barton.

Tottenham would put Newcastle back in their place; knock them down a peg or two, they said. Only they didn’t. The Magpies matched their North-London counterparts every bit of the way in last weekend’s enthralling draw, earning plaudits along the way yet still a minority queued up to knock them down. It seems some may not be able, or indeed willing, to praise a Newcastle side that was deemed by many to be in crisis only 8 weeks ago, until they have faced the league’s elite teams.

Surely though, how Newcastle do against the likes of Chelsea and Manchester’s United & City is largely irrelevant over the course of the season. If it mattered, Newcastle would surely have finished higher than 12th last season, with Man City the only team of the 2010/11 Top 6 to take 3 points from their travels to St James’ Park. Indeed, Newcastle’s problem for many a year has not been matching the best, rather beating the worst. Last season Newcastle failed to take maximum points at home to Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Stoke, Wigan and West Brom – all of whom finished in the bottom half of the league.

This season, it finally seems as though Newcastle have added consistency, as well as resiliency to their game. It is the matches against the likes of Fulham (2-1), Blackburn (3-1) and Sunderland (0-1) that will really determine where Newcastle will finish in May, not the occasional media-worthy match against England’s elite, as Champions League chasing Spurs will no doubt testify to, having lost heavily to both Manchester clubs so far this term.

Some may be reluctant to offer praise, but surely no one can argue that Newcastle have improved under the stewardship of Alan Pardew. Analysing Newcastle’s results so far against those from the corresponding fixtures from 2010/11 offers a good indication of the Tyneside club’s vast improvement over the summer:

The Improvement Table Explained

The table above shows each of the current 17 Premier League teams that participated in last season’s top flight, ranked in order of their improvement upon last season’s corresponding fixtures so far.  Matches against the newly-promoted trio of QPR, Norwich and Swansea have been marked ‘void’ and not included in the analysis. The teams have therefore been ranked by average Points Per Game improved upon the corresponding fixtures from 2010/11.

For example, in Gameweek 2, Newcastle took on Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, gaining 3 points courtesy of a Ryan Taylor free kick. In comparison to last season, where the corresponding fixture resulted in a 1-1 draw, Newcastle improved by 2 points, with Sunderland worsening by 1 point.

The table does not analyse how well or poorly teams are playing this season, rather how they have played in comparison to the same fixtures from last season. For example, Man United’s fairly low placing does not imply they are playing poorly this season, just that they are getting similar results to last season (mostly wins). Likewise Bolton, – suffering their worst start to a top-flight season for more than a hundred years – are remarkably shown to have actually improved upon their corresponding fixtures from the last campaign.

Newcastle lead the league

Liverpool, Spurs and Stoke feature near the top of the table but the undoubted leaders in the improvement table are Newcastle who have improved upon their corresponding 2010/11 fixtures by a total of 10 points. As they played newly-promoted QPR in Gameweek 4, the result for this match was excluded, giving Newcastle a total of a 10-point improvement from 7 matches, or an average 1.42-improvement points per game. Their 10-point improvement haul is nearly double that of 2nd placed Liverpool and demonstrates the consistency that Newcastle have added to their game against teams outside the Top 6.

Newcastle are yet to fail to match the results of any of their corresponding fixtures from last season and with Wigan, Home (2-2 last season), Stoke, Away (4-0) & Everton, Home (1-2) coming up next for the Magpies, they have a fantastic opportunity to continue their incredible improvement and defy their critics. Long may it continue.

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