This is the fourth post in this “We Are United” series with Newcastle United – click here to read from the beginning if you’ve not already done so 👌.
25th October 2020 – In Game 💻
The image below pretty much sums up how things have gone so far – back to back good news! So much for all that two-striker partnerships talk 🤦♂️.
My last post contained three statements/wishes for this save:
Pray that Joelinton is better in FM than IRL
The future is bright in the North East
Don’t jinx it
Update so far?
Definitely not the near future.
Our tactic hasn’t been that bad from a defensive perspective – granted we conceded 4 across two away fixtures with Burnley and Bournemouth, however in both games we conceded late trying to equalise which flattered the result for them. From then on we have been tough to break down and our three at the back (Lascelles, Vanheusden and Schar) have actually played quite well considering we are still the team predicted to finish in 17th place this season.
We just can’t score. 4 goals in 10 games makes us the lowest scoring team in the division. A lot of it is down to the fact that Joelinton and Alfredo Morelos between them couldn’t finish their dinner and although we have had and created chances, overall we aren’t creating enough clear cut goal opportunities and as a result our Cross Completion and Converstion Rates rate are among the worst in the Premier League.
Team Stats after 10 Games
Interestingly and without any logical explanation other than Goalkeepers having worldies against us – we somehow are 3rd in terms of Shots on Target Ratio – does this mean that we are doing everything right except scoring? (Writer’s note – no, we just don’t take a lot of shots).
Something has to be done and this writer is f*cked if he knows how to fix this. Conversion Rate will be hard to improve considering we can’t change our Strikers who wouldn’t hit water if they were standing on a boat, however we start by doubling their training intensity focus (Final Third) and even put them in a Mentoring group with none other than Andy Carroll – what more do they need?
I feel that we collectively are lacking in the quality required to execute our tactical strategy in two main departments:
1. We are trying to always play wide, distributing the ball down both flanks to wingers or marauding wing backs and then trying to get early crosses in to our prolific pathetic Striking duo, however as evident above our Cross Completion ratio shocking (let’s not mention the FM animation of waiting to be closed down before attempting a cross)
2. Our passing and choice of outlet when advancing always seems really poor – constantly giving the ball away and choosing the wrong options leading Manager MaddFM to continuously demand more and try not to put his fist through the monitor screen.
Initially my first action is to create a specific training schedule dedicated towards improving Ball Distribution & Set Piece Delivery, Transition from Defence to Attack, Chance Creation and of course Chance Conversion and goalscoring in the final third. Hopefully our attacking/technical coaches (namely Kevin Sheedy and Dennis Bergkamp) can work some magic here, to be fair it can hardly get any worse.
A team is only as good as the sum of it’s parts. We aren’t good enough for what we are trying to do tactically – trying to play with a style and strategy that clearly doesn’t suit our players and more specifically our player attributes, so we will instead try to focus on our strengths and on choosing the right combination of players when it comes to team selection. There’s only one way to do this – it’s spreadsheet time:
I have chosen the attributes which are most important in our quest to become more attacking and effective when creating and converting chances, and then analysed this for every player that makes up our attacking cohort in a match situation – the results are powerful! We can clearly see that individually and collectively we are really poor in the Crossing department, as well as when it comes to Decisions, Finishing and Composure. On the flip side I am surprised at where we stand when it comes to Technique, Dribbling and Off the Ball. The problem with this? Allow me to demonstrate:
1. We are piss poor at Crossing yet I’ve had “Hit Early Crosses” on all season in an attempt to stop seeing the dreaded highlight where they wait to be closed down before attempting a cross.
2. Dribbling is one of our strongest attributes as a team yet I have had “Dribble Less” on since Day 1 in an attempt to play quick passes to get up the field as soon as possible.
3. Off the Ball is collectively high in this team but we don’t maximise Passing into Space and Roaming from Position etc.
Based on this – it’s time for a tactical revamp, slightly earlier than anticipated considering its only October but hopefully it will mean solving a problem now rather than later! I am stubborn enough to want to maintain the two Striker formation, but seeing as we are so bad in the Crossing department we are going to move away from focusing on width and wing-play towards utilising a tighter Tiki-Taka style, whereby we will focus more on carrying the ball forward as a unit and passing into space as we work our way up the pitch. This means we will scrap the use of Wing-Backs and sacrifice having an extra Centre half in exchange for bringing in an additional midfielder to act as a Ball Carrier for the team – it’s worth mentioning that Jonjo Shelvey has been outstanding despite our poor form (see below), so I’m inclined to try and capitalise on this while the going is good. I’m also impressed to see that new signing Christian Benevente is one of our strongest players based on the attribute analysis above, and with MiguelAlmiron playing poorly and Allen Saint-Maximin on the long-term injury list, he will step in to the AP role behind our two strikers in the hope that he can bring the creativity needed to help us score a few goals at least.
I have no idea if this will work or make a difference but as we’ve already said once in this blog series…it can hardly get any worse? Only one way to find out..
Ok, positives – in 10 games we had only managed 4 goals in total, so we just almost doubled that in our first game with this new tactic. We had 9 shots on target out of 12 and finished with an 82% pass completion. Valeri Qazaishvili started ahead of Joelinton simply because Joelinton is in my bad books, and he scored a screamer to grab his first goal for the club. Oh, and Alfredo Morelos finally scored albeit in the 92nd minute!
On the downside, we’ve conceded 5 goals – again I think the scoreline flatters them a bit given that they only had 3 clear cut chances, but obviously the change from 3 centre-backs to a flat back-four took it’s toll and we were punished heavily for it. As the saying goes, “We took a lot of positives from the game” and that’s exactly how I feel about it – there’s potential for improvement here for sure (cue the realisation that we have Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City in our next 5 games).
The theme continues – bar getting smashed by Liverpool, things definitely start to improve in the goals department however this new more forward thinking approach leaves us exposed at the back and suddenly we are playing more like Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle did back in the day with a “win by scoring more than you” philosophy. Jorginho’s 95th minute equaliser robs us of a win at home to Chelsea, which sets us on a 4 game losing streak – December sees us start to improve both defensively and offensively as we strike a balance between the two, losing only narrowly to Man City and CrystalPalace before finishing out 2020 with 7 points from a possible 9 following wins over Leicester and Watford. Nice to see some of our new signings also finding the scoresheet!
What have we learned?
Play to your strengths. Our change in tactic and approach has definitely made a difference. We were initially set up to dribble less, pass the ball quicker, attack on the wings and hit early crosses to our Strikers who weren’t converting chances. Our analysis showed that Crossing and Decisions are our worst traits, and that we are stronger in terms of Dribbling, Technique and Movement therefore focusing more on these in our tactical instructions (Dribble More, Pass into Space, Cross Less, Work Ball into Box etc) has led to a substantial improvement in our match stats and results compared to earlier in the season. Remember when were were 20th in the league in terms of Conversion Rate?
By the end of it all, we sit in 15th place at the end of 2020 (which I realise is worse than where we were after 10 games 😆) however we enter 2021 in far superior form than when we started the season leaving me much more confident than I was back in September when we couldn’t buy a goal. In our first 10 games we only scored 4 and conceded 13 – the second 10 games saw us scoring 17 goals but conceding 27…life hasn’t been too rosy in the North East and the honeymoon period certainly didn’t last long! In my next post we will see what we can do about our defensive woes – let’s see if January will bring about any transfer business assuming our new Chairman is still team MaddFM after 20 games played.