January 26, 2022, 19:49

Newcastle transfer plans: Which areas must Magpies strengthen in January to stay in the Premier League?

Newcastle transfer plans: Which areas must Magpies strengthen in January to stay in the Premier League?

Since Newcastle’s takeover was completed in early October, the club’s supporters have been eagerly awaiting the January transfer window and debating who the club will bring in. Eddie Howe may have been equally keen for the window to open for the opportunity to reinforce his squad. 

Newcastle, after all, are in a perilous position. They have just 11 points from their first 19 Premier League games this season, which equates to their worst-ever start to a season. Of the 15 teams to record just this many points or fewer at this stage in a Premier League campaign, 14 were relegated.

It makes January a crucial period for Newcastle. An opportunity to address their weaknesses and try to find some inspiration to kickstart their survival bid.

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Fourteen of the 15 teams with Newcastle's points total or lower at this stage have gone down

But which areas do they need to address? We look at the stats from defence to attack to discover where Magpies boss Howe could look to make improvements.

Goalkeeper

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Newcastle's three goalkeepers have the worst save percentages in the Premier League

Newcastle have used three goalkeepers this season: Martin Dubravka, Karl Darlow and Freddie Woodman. And those three players have recorded the three worst save percentages by goalkeepers in the Premier League this season (minimum four appearances).

It is a stat which does not make happy reading for the goalkeeping department at St James’ Park and the form of Nick Pope, who has recorded the 11th-best save percentage, despite playing for another struggling side in Burnley, underlines there is room for improvement.

However, Howe may look at Dubravka and his experience in the Premier League and for Newcastle and feel he can stand by a goalkeeper who was the club’s player of the season a couple of years ago. The Expected Goals Against stats also suggest Dubravka is only letting in as many goals as he would be expected to, given the quality of chances the opposition are creating.

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Perhaps the bigger problem for Howe and Newcastle is the fact these goalkeepers are playing in a team which has allowed more shots at their goal than any other Premier League side this season.

Defence

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights as Manchester United fought back to claim a draw against Newcastle in the Premier League

Bolstering Newcastle’s backline will surely be a priority for Howe. Newcastle have conceded 42 goals in their 19 games – only eight teams have ever let in more after that many games in a Premier League campaign. And the 80 they conceded in 2021 was an unwanted record for a Premier League team in a calendar year.

That leakiness is costing Newcastle and undoing any good work they do further up the pitch. They have now lost 19 points from winning positions this season, with the draw at home to Manchester United last week the latest example.

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Keith Downie reports that Newcastle are hoping to complete a deal to bring Kieran Trippier to the club in the next week

With no significant improvement in defensive stats since Howe took over from Steve Bruce, the issue is increasingly looking like a personnel problem and the club will surely be looking to add leadership, experience and quality to this defence in January. Kieran Trippier certainly ticks those boxes.

Midfield

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Newcastle are struggling to create chances from central midfield

Of course, Howe’s Bournemouth team were a side which conceded lots of goals too – although they were often able to score their way to safety. However, another attribute of that team, which Howe will surely like to bring to Newcastle, was their strength in possession. In three of their five seasons in the Premier League, Bournemouth ranked in the top 10 for possession.

But that is a major area of weakness for Newcastle right now, as they have the lowest possession stats in the top flight. And it is having a knock-on impact in the creativity that is coming from their midfield.

Matt Ritchie – who was at Bournemouth with Howe – is their top chance creator from open play but is way down the rankings among Premier League midfielders. He has played at left-back at times this season and it can be debated whether Allan Saint-Maximin should be classified as a midfielder or a forward, and Joelinton’s performance in a deeper role against Manchester United was encouraging. But the point stands: Newcastle are not producing enough with the ball from the centre of the park.

Opta’s progress stats, which measure how well a team advance up the pitch in a spell of possession, rank Newcastle third-worst in the league.

The issue is compounded by their struggles out of possession too.

Those same progress stats, when adapted for defensive performance, show Newcastle allow teams onto them more easily than any other side.

With and without the ball, Newcastle need to be better in the middle of the pitch and a defensive midfielder will surely be on Howe’s shopping list. He may well be keen to bring in a ball-playing midfielder too, similar to Jack Wilshere, who he had at Bournemouth.

Attack

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Newcastle have struggled in attack this season, even when Callum Wilson was fit

Until last week, Newcastle’s area of strength was Callum Wilson and Saint-Maximin in attack. However, their injuries sustained against Manchester United will almost certainly force Howe to add to his squad in this department too.

Wilson, in particular, will be a major miss with his calf injury set to keep him out for some time. He is the club’s top scorer this season and was their top scorer last season. Of the 20 Premier League games Wilson has missed since he joined the club in the summer of 2020, Newcastle have failed to win 18.

But even with Wilson and Saint-Maximin in the squad, Newcastle’s Expected Goals figure was the third worst in the division, underlining their struggles to create meaningful openings in and around the opponents’ penalty area.

Howe will be desperate to bring some magic into the final third.

Yes, Newcastle now have big resources – but they also have problems all over the pitch to address. Their success in finding those solutions in January could be decisive for them this season.

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