I did say I was going to try and do this for every game and here's the second one of the season: QPR V Newcastle.
Newcastle obviously second in the league table but a win from us would catapult us ahead of them (shocking to hear based on the feeling of the forum at the moment).
Both us and Newcastle are likely to go in with a 4231, meaning the game is going to be slow paced and patient. This could benefit us if we rotate intelligently as we can end up pressing them into making mistakes. Here's the thing about football. The only way anyone ever scores a goal is through a mistake. That's an absolute fact, if a goal isn't scored through a mistake, it means the opposition wanted to concede and that's never true. Since we know goals are coming from mistakes, everyone likes to slow down the play so they don't make that mistake. But if you press, you'll force a mistake, and when a mistake happens, the only thing between us and a goal is our own ability as a team. When you've got 2 teams playing a 4231, this is even more prominent.
Newcastle for example, will be playing a slow, calculated game. I know this because I've looked at the stats of it. They played 437 passes away at Derby last time out. Just for the purpose of comparison, Derby played 478. This will ultimately be irrelevant because Derby played a 442, but it does show the difference in pace of play. Now, of the 437 passes, Newcastle targeted the defensive third 107 times, and the final third only 123 times, with the remaining 250 targeting the mid third. Even more prominent, they hit 60 of those 107 passes into the defensive third backwards. So, that means that 24.5% of all their passes were played in their defensive third. Only 28.1% were played into the final third. Now, by comparison, Derby hit only 17.2% of their passes into their defensive third. 32% made it into the final third. If we want more comparison as the the pace Newcastle play at, we only have to look at ourselves. We played 431 passes at home against Blackburn. We played 21.6% of our passes within our defensive third and a phenomenal 37.4% in the final third. Think about that. All our fans are complaining about how boring our play is and how non penetrative it is, and yet we're playing a crazy amount of passes in the final third compared to Newcastle. My belief is simply the finishing isn't there just yet.
Right, beyond that, let's take a look at the players to look out for.
Five of the best
1. Chancel Mbemba
Their main man at the back, Chancel Mbemba is a phenomenal athlete with a developing defensive mind. Big and strong, with lightning pace, you'd think he has to have some weakness, but he's technically great as well, getting an 88.2% pass success from centre back this season. More impressive is the fact that only Grant Hanley in his one appearance this season has made more passes in a game than Chancel. However, as good as he is on the ground, his (relative) weakness comes in the air and whomever our striker is will need to be going up against him because they'd have another issue to deal with if they try and go for his centre back partner. I'll get onto him in a moment.
2. Yoan Gouffran
The left winger has made a strong start to the season, getting a goal and assist in 4 appearances. Wasn't consistent enough in the prem, but looks comfortable at this level, winning plenty in the air and contributing a lot defensively. However, he has yet to deliver an accurate cross this season. A strong shooter as well, Gouffran has already scored this season and has hit the post with an effort. We cannot afford to give him the space he needs to shoot. He likes to float in the midfield area as well, playing flick ons to players around him. Eliminating him from the game will be difficult, but necessary. Him coming into the starting 11 coincided with Newcastle's 4 match winning streak and with the quality of his performances, it's no surprise to see the team doing well.
3. Isaac Hayden
The youngster from arsenal has had a phenomenal start to the season, Looking like a real all round threat. Scoring a goal and getting an assist already this season, he's also had a great defensive role in the side, winning a lot of tackles and making interceptions. His size is something to worry about from set pieces and he'll certainly have a big involvement in the match. The only thing we can do to stop him is to really aggravate him. Get in his face and make him nervous. Force him to give away silly free kicks in dangerous positions and we might be able to take advantage.
4. Jamaal Lascelles
The Centre Back Partner, Lascelles has been described by scouts (according to the book "The Nowhere Men" as the best raw all rounder since Rio Ferdinand and watching him play this season, it's no surprise. This is a man built for football. Standing tall at 189cm, his passing is great, his play in the air is great, his focus is fantastic. He doesn't need to do much defensively because his positioning is so spot on. BUT, for us, this could be his weakness. He's only had to make 6 tackles this season in his 6 appearances. He's been dribbled past 2 times as well. Running at him and taking him on will really create issues for him, while attacking Mbemba in the air will do the same for him. Being aware of this combination is what will give us a great chance in the match.
5. Matt Ritchie
One of their big summer signings, Richie has been a superb addition to an already strong Newcastle side. His ball playing from the wing makes him a huge asset for the side. He doesn't need to run with the ball, because when he plays a pass or takes a shot, it usually creates problems. He likes to cut inside and take long shots, but putting him under pressure will lead to mistakes from his side, with him taking 2.5 unsuccessful first touches per game. The way around him is not giving him the space to play his passes. Force him to run with the ball and he can be tackled fairly easily. He's attempted 7 dribbles this season, being unsuccessful in 4 of them. That's something we need to take advantage of.
An honourable mention goes to Alexander Mitrovic, who's expected to return to the starting 11. A strong, imposing and aggressive figure, he's a real danger in the box, but getting tight, playing aggressively on him and even giving away a few fouls in non threatening positions might get him to snap, and when mitrovic snaps, a card usually follows.
Also consider that there may be some rotation on their part, they still have Ayoze Perez, Christian Atsu, Achraf Lazaar and Daryl Murphy who could get involved and have big games. This is our biggest challenge yet on paper.
The team performance
Newcastle like through balls. Playing through the defence and keeping it on the ground. Playing as high a line as we do, Caulker or Onuoha (depending on who plays centre back with Hall) will need to cover for Hall a lot more than usual. Giving away free kicks around the box is effectively suicide on our part, with Dwight Gayle likely to take one of those opportunities to score. But what can we do to get an advantage? Play it high, play it wide. It's really that simple. Newcastle's full back's haven't been great defensively this season and getting it to the wing gives us our best chances of scoring. Assuming Sylla starts because of the injury to Polter, Keeping it high will do the most damage to Newcastle's defence.
Newcastle come here on the back of 4 consecutive victories and 3 consecutive clean sheets. Their away form is 2 wins and one loss. Our home record is Win, Loss, Draw. There have been under 2.5 goals in our last 3 games and there have been under 2.5 goals in their last 3 away games. My thoughts is that if there's a winner, they'll keep a clean sheet, but more likely I think is the 1 - 1 draw. In my opinion of course.
QPR v Newcastle