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Newcastle’s 1% possession: the tackles, blocks, clearances and 10-minute wait for a completed pass


The oles started early. In the second minute of Newcastle United’s visit to the Etihad Stadium, Bruno Guimaraes robbed the ball from Ilkay Gundogan’s toes and, 60 seconds and 18 passes later, they still had it. For a little while, Manchester City were being out-passed and the away end was loving it. It was a glimpse of good.

This is the kind of team to which Eddie Howe, the head coach, aspires. It is the club Newcastle want to be, capable of taking on the world’s best in their own backyard, asking them questions beyond, “How many goals would you like to score today?”

It was also a mirage.

As the game progressed, and long after an opening 13 minutes when Newcastle had seen an impressive 57.1 per cent of the ball, another statistic emerged. From the beginning of the second half, Newcastle’s share of “possession” dropped to just one per cent over an eight-minute period. It was an extraordinary figure, prompting Gary Neville, on commentary for Sky Sports, to remark, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.”

Yet, nor did it feel quite right. Newcastle rarely have more of the ball than the opposition — they average the lowest share in the Premier League this season with 38.9 per cent, which has only increased slightly to the third-lowest (39.6 per cent) since Howe was appointed in November — and there have been occasions when their limitations on the ball have been painfully obvious.

Last May, during a 4-3 defeat at St James’ Park, Newcastle failed to touch the ball for three minutes throughout an uninterrupted spell of passing from Manchester City. During that match, they enjoyed just 17.9 per cent possession, their lowest in a Premier League match since promotion in 2017.

Newcastle’s possessions vs Man City

Match Date Possession share

Manchester City 5-0 Newcastle United

May 8, 2022

28.6%

Newcastle United 0-4 Manchester City

December 19, 2021

28.2%

Manchester City 2-0 Newcastle United

December 26, 2020

24.9%

Newcastle United 2-1 Manchester City

January 29, 2019

23.8%

Newcastle United 0-1 Manchester City

December 27, 2017

22.0%

Manchester City 2-1 Newcastle United

September 1, 2018

21.9%

Manchester City 3-1 Newcastle United

January 20, 2018

19.5%

Newcastle United 3-4 Manchester City

May 14, 2021

17.9%

In fact, the 28.6 per cent of the ball Newcastle saw at the Etihad was the most they have had against the defending champions in a game since returning to the top flight. It is also just the sixth-lowest share of possession Newcastle have had in a match this season, comfortably eclipsing the 20.8 per cent they had against Chelsea in October.

Newcastle’s lowest possessions, 2021-22

Match Date Possession share

Manchester City 5-0 Newcastle United

May 5, 2022

28.6%

Newcastle United 0-4 Manchester City

December 19, 2021

28.2%

Chelsea 1-0 Newcastle United

March 13, 2022

27.2%

Liverpool 3-1 Newcastel United

December 16, 2021

25.8%

Crystal Palace 1-1 Newcastle United

October 23, 2021

25.0%

Newcastle United 0-3 Chelsea

October 30, 2021

20.8%

As dominant as Manchester City were, particularly during that period, it did not quite feel like the embarrassing episode some have made it out to be. Yes, Manchester City were awesome in possession, but Newcastle were not simply passive.

“I remember a game under Rafa Benitez (in December 2017), when I was very critical of Newcastle’s approach, but it doesn’t quite feel the same here,” Neville said during commentary on Sunday. “Newcastle are trying to do the right things, but City just aren’t making a mistake on the ball.”

Yet, in terms of how possession is measured by Opta, the statistic was correct. For the first 10 minutes and 30 seconds of the second half, Newcastle failed to successfully complete a pass, until Guimaraes found Miguel Almiron with a short ball, prompting another 12 successive passes.

Opta measures possession from the moment a team has a “sequence” on the ball. “A sequence starts with a player making a controlled action on the ball,” Opta says. “This includes passes but not defensive events such as tackles and interceptions, unless these events are followed by a controlled action such as a pass or dribble.”

However, it was not that Newcastle failed to touch the ball between the restart and the 56th minute. They actually had 24 “involvements” — 10 separate players made tackles, interceptions, blocks, enjoyed touches and attempted passes — but they failed to accurately find a team-mate with a pass.

Still, during their period of 99 per cent possession, Manchester City did not score — they were already 2-0 up and their third did not arrive until the 61st minute — and managed only one shot, which was blocked, despite completing 116 of their 127 attempted passes.

Here, The Athletic outlines exactly what happened during that remarkable passage of play, highlighting why it shows both the good and bad of Howe’s Newcastle…


45:01 — Manchester City restart the match

Gabriel Jesus passes the ball back towards his defenders from kick-off, as Manchester City begin their dominance of early second-half possession.

Newcastle’s possession share by period

Time period (minutes) Newcastle’s possession share

0-15

46.7%

16-30

39.7%

31-45

26.9%

46-60

12.8%

60-75

22.4%

75-90

27.4%

Newcastle sit off in their defensive shape, which is 4-5-1 out of possession, and the visiting supporters audibly chant, “Eddie Howe’s Black and White Army”, despite their team not touching the ball.

46:45 — Newcastle’s first, second and third second-half involvements

After being denied a single touch for 105 seconds after the restart, a Newcastle player finally makes contact with the ball. Jesus frees himself of Jamaal Lascelles in the area, but Dan Burn sticks out his leg to block the City forward’s shot. Guimaraes then inadvertently knocks possession back to Burn, who manages to get it clear, but only as far as Rodri, who can continue the attack.

47:00 — Fourth involvement

Raheem Sterling flicks the ball back from the byline, preventing a sliding Matt Targett from tackling him, and then centres a cross. Joelinton sticks out his left leg and deflects the ball into the air, above Martin Dubravka, and away.

47:14 — Fifth involvement

Gundogan whips a deep right-footed cross in from the left, which Lascelles heads away, allowing Allan Saint-Maximin to pick up possession midway inside his own half.

47:15 — Sixth involvement

Saint-Maximin drives forward, dribbling into the Manchester City half and holding off Gundogan’s challenge. The Frenchman miscontrols as three defenders surround him, yet he spots Chris Wood’s run through the centre, only to misplace the pass too far to the left, thwarting the counter Saint-Maximin himself had started.

47:59 — Seventh involvement

Kevin De Bruyne is pressured by Guimaraes and, as the Belgian tries to play a pass into the Newcastle area, Targett hooks a left-footed clearance away, but only to Rodri.

48:22 — Eighth involvement

Gundogan feels forced to shoot from 22 yards, as Newcastle’s defensive discipline holds and prevents Manchester City from finding a gap, and Joelinton makes a block.

49:48 — Ninth involvement

Ensuring he wastes time first, Dubravka sends a goal kick long towards Wood, but De Bruyne wins it ahead of the Newcastle forward. Dubravka is an excellent shot-stopper, even if he fumbled the ball for Manchester City’s second, but distribution remains an issue for him. While Ederson enjoyed an 84 per cent pass success rate, completing 16 of the 19 he attempted, Dubravka’s was just 50 per cent, with 20 of his 40 passes going astray.

49:56 — 10th involvement

Burn nicks the ball from Gundogan near the halfway line and tries to play a pass to Wood, but Jesus intercepts.

49:59 — 11th involvement

Within seconds, Joelinton wins the ball back from Rodri and does well to use his body to shield the ball and draw a foul from the Spaniard for shirt-pulling.

50:32 and 52:01 — 12th and 13th involvements

Dubravka takes the free kick, from just inside his own half, which he floats towards Lascelles just outside the Manchester City area. Lascelles mistimes his jump, however, and Fernandinho half-clears it to the Newcastle right. Emil Krafth thinks he has won the ball from Jesus, but is penalised for fouling the Brazilian. Shortly afterwards, Fernandinho overhits a pass towards Joao Cancelo, handing Dubravka another goal kick, but his long ball goes straight back to Manchester City’s defenders.

52:20 — 14th and 15th involvements

Cancelo’s cross from deep on the right is headed away by Lascelles, towards Targett in the left-back position. But the loanee cannot control it, under pressure from Cancelo, and gives away a throw-in.

52:40 and 53:03 — 16th and 17th involvements

Shortly after Cancelo throws the ball in, Guimaraes slides across and intercepts, but cannot keep it in play. From the following throw-in, Manchester City work the ball out to the left, where Almiron gets a toe to Oleksandr Zinchenko’s pass, but cannot prevent it from reaching Jack Grealish.

53:13, 53:23 and 53:57 — 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st involvements

De Bruyne puts in a loss cross from the left that Burn clears towards Almiron in the right-back position. Retreating towards his own byline, Almiron hits a clearance, but only to Aymeric Laporte. As Manchester City try to play it forward, Sean Longstaff tries to win the ball from Grealish, but Zinchenko ends up taking possession. Eventually, the home side then attack down the right flank, with Grealish running at Krafth, who manages to get a nick on the ball, but cannot dispossess his opponent.

54:09 — 22nd involvement

Jesus, on the edge of the Newcastle D, sees a host of bodies in front of him, with the visitors remaining compact to frustrate their opponents. The Brazilian tries to spread play to the right of the box, but finds Saint-Maximin, who attempts to carry possession forward. He gets beyond Cancelo and appears to slip over, but is awarded a foul, relieving pressure.

55:00 — 23rd involvement

More than 10 minutes into the second half and Newcastle are yet to complete a pass since the restart, while Manchester City players have successfully found their team-mates on 108 occasions already. Dubravka, though, takes the free kick that Saint-Maximin won, launching the ball forward towards Wood, who does not really get off the ground and is beaten to it by Laporte. During their long spell without “possession”, every Newcastle player has at least one involvement that sees them touch the ball, except Wood, the centre-forward.

55:09 — 24th involvement

Manchester City clear long towards Jesus, who tries to control, only for Lascelles to get a foot in and then send a clearance out for a throw-in inside his own half.

55:30 — Newcastle successfully complete a pass in the second half

After 10 minutes and 30 seconds of failing to find a team-mate with a pass that registers as “successful”, Guimaraes nicks in to intercept Grealish’s header on halfway and plays a short ball to Almiron on the near touchline. The Paraguayan then passes inside to Longstaff, who completes a nice triangle back to Guimaraes. Finally, Newcastle have control of possession.

56:04 — One pass turns into 13

Once Newcastle have possession, they actually carve out an opening for themselves, albeit one from almost 30 yards. Having worked the ball from right to left, all in the same 34-second passage of play, Saint-Maximin plays an inside pass to Guimaraes, who wildly fires high and wide, completing the move he had started.

Still, in that short passage, Newcastle showed signs of the passing phases Howe wants to see from his team more regularly as he begins the next stage of their evolution.

Newcastle’s survival has been built on their defensive solidity and off-the-ball work, and it is in possession where they must improve. It is little surprise that it was Guimaraes, signed for an initial £34 million in January to help improve the team’s composure on the ball, who provided a moment of coolness in possession when his side needed it most.

“I don’t necessarily want a team passing for passing’s sake, but I want to see a team that is very progressive and wants to score,” Howe said last month. “Possession for me is important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. It’s having the right mentality and making the right decisions with the ball, to try and entertain and attack and score, which is ultimately what we’re here to do. But the solution is clear, we have to improve individually. We’re a long, long way from the team I want us to be.”

The one per cent possession statistic may not be quite as humiliating as it first appears but nor is it something Howe wants his team to replicate.





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