Newcastle went from relegation contenders to one of the Premier League’s leading sides over the second half of last season – but what was the catalyst of change?
Thirty-eight points from their final 19 games ranked third-best in the table, behind only Liverpool and Manchester City, and 27 more than they took from their opening 19 games.
That tally is also the most Newcastle have accumulated from any 19-game Premier League sequence in a decade. Clearly, Eddie Howe’s side have made dramatic strides during his short time on Tyneside, and not solely in terms of results.
Assessing off-the-ball metrics from the opening two weeks of the season, Newcastle feature as a surprise leader in several categories: high turnovers, pressed sequences and possession won in the final third. They have also started their sequences higher upfield than any other side, excluding Manchester City.
This is in stark contrast to recent seasons. Appearing low in these categories often indicates a side prefers to sit deep and cede possession, as Newcastle have long been associated with doing. However, that style has been ditched under Howe.
While it is unwise to draw too much from such a small sample size of two games, a look further back confirms how this gradual change in style has accompanied Newcastle’s upturn in form.
Since the start of last season, Newcastle have been incrementally keeping more of the ball and relinquishing their previous tendencies to play so deep.
This has also coincided with a more proactive approach off the ball. A year ago, Newcastle averaged five high turnovers per game from their opening six Premier League fixtures but have doubled that figure from the previous six games.
A key factor in this transition has been the signing of Bruno Guimaraes. Off the ball, in particular, the Brazilian provides his manager with the tools to implement this shift in approach.
The midfielder has made more tackles and won more duels than any other Premier League player since making his first start – leading his club’s new-found approach to winning possession.
With the ball, the 24-year-old is the ideal focal point for more sustained periods of possession. He currently averages 70 touches and 11 successful passes in the final third per 90 minutes – totals no Newcastle player has managed in the last four seasons.
Guimaraes has also been one of the division’s most prolific dribblers, winning more fouls than any other player, with opponents struggling to dispossess him. Additionally, only Kevin De Bruyne has made more through-balls.
Newcastle’s recent success is considerable, and has come hand-in-hand with Guimaraes’ arrival. The midfielder has won 12 of his 19 league appearances – as many as his club won in their previous 55 games across three seasons.
Sunday’s clash with Manchester City provides the ultimate challenge to this burgeoning style. Newcastle lost both games by an aggregate score of 9-0 last season – although few sides will face the champions in more consistent form this year.
The bar of expectation will be raised even higher if Newcastle produce a result this weekend.