Newcastle beat their rivals to secure Champions League football last season, but have lost three of their first four games this season – so what is the cause of the slump?
Three points from four games is not the start many expected at Newcastle, especially after spending another £130m on transfers. However, there are reasons to suggest that a slow start was likely and that regaining the consistency of last season could take some time.
Firstly, Newcastle’s opening games were very difficult. Each of their top four opponents last season finished in the top seven. Eddie Howe’s side collected just four points from these four games last season, just one more than their current total.
After facing ninth-placed Brentford in front of Sky cameras on Saturday, that schedule is about to get even more favorable. None of Newcastle’s next five opponents finished in the top half last season – although these fixtures will now be interspersed with midweek Champions League matches.
Consistency in selection, especially in defence, was one of the reasons for Newcastle’s strength last season. The recent defeat to Brighton was only the eighth time since August 2022 that one of the starting four backs did not start.
The decline, whenever changes were necessary, was striking – not only in wins, points and goals conceded, but also in shots blocked, with an increase of more than 50 per cent.
Newcastle rarely shuffled their lineup last season: Arsenal were the only Premier League club to make fewer changes to their starting lineup. But with those additional European matches looming, lineup changes are likely to occur over the coming months, and Newcastle will need to adapt better.
New signings should help improve this. Howe has given most of them time to settle in, with the exception of Sandro Tonali. The Italian midfielder enjoyed an eye-catching debut but has been less effective in recent matches.
Opponents have found it easier to play through Newcastle’s middle third this season. At the moment, only Bournemouth have allowed opponents to complete more passes between the defense and midfield, while only five clubs have more players cleared by opposition passes – two metrics in which Howe’s side were significantly higher last season.
There were also further declines to come. Surprisingly, Newcastle are 18th in terms of passes played into the penalty area, having finished second in the Premier League last season – suggesting their midfield line-up has yet to find the right balance at either end.
However, despite this slow start, Newcastle’s fundamental metrics suggest it is unlikely to result in long-term frustration. Highlighting a team’s expected goal difference – essentially the number of goals a club is expected to score more than its rivals – is a revealing way to look beyond results and tables and focus on performance.
Last season, Newcastle finished second overall, one place ahead of Arsenal and only behind Manchester City. More consistency in attack – with only one team in the top half underperforming their goal more than Newcastle – would have led to a better finish.
This season, despite a difficult start, injuries and a new midfield mix, Newcastle still sit sixth overall on expected goal difference – above the likes of Tottenham and Manchester United. A more favorable set of fixtures over the coming weeks would improve their numbers further.
Additional European matches will be a new challenge to navigate. This will likely lead to further changes and new signings will be needed to make an impact, which could take some time. A repeat of last season’s finish will be difficult to secure, but there is no sign that Howe’s side will not still be among the teams posing a challenge for European football come May.