5 Observations – Aston Villa (a)

Saturday saw Newcastle register their first away victory of the season, as Newcastle beat Aston Villa 2-1 to continue their good run of form.


The much maligned Mathieu Debuchy arguably had his best game in a black and white shirt against Aston Villa. His tough tackling, no nonsense type of defending has caused him trouble in the past.   In his short Newcastle career, he has conceded a couple of penalties and also earned himself a red card last season.  However, on Saturday his tackling was precise and he was very effective in nullifying Villa’s attack down their left flank.

Debuchy tackles stopping  Villa attacks down their left hand side

Debuchy tackles stopping Villa attacks down their left hand side

Debuchy made 5 successful tackles down Villa’s left hand side and stopped attacks from entering into the box.  Adding to that he made 8 successful clearances, 6 in the centre of Newcastle’s defensive third,  One thing that he needs to work on is his passing.  Last year, he was Newcastle’s poorest passer with only 69.3% of his passes finding a teammate – the lowest percentage from any outfield player.  Against Villa, this rose to 71% and overall this season his pass percentage is 73%.   Still one of the lowest at the club, but it is steadily improving.  To put into context, pass success rate of his defensive colleagues are much higher; Coloccini 87% , Yanga Mbiwa 81% and Santon 82%.


Overall, Newcastle did very well in stifling Villa’s attack on Saturday. At the start of the season, they caused Arsenal and Chelsea all sorts of problems with their pace and movement. Villa’s focal attacking threat revolves around in-form striker, Christian Benteke. Playing a 4-3-3 formation, Benteke often drops deep to receive passes, either long balls from defence or quick, short passes from the midfield, taking the central defenders with him in the process. Once Benteke receives the ball, he has two options; either pass it onto the flanks for the attacking wide men, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann or feed it back to the midfield and they play the pass into the space vacated by the central defenders for Agbonlahor or Weimann to bomb into.

For the majority of the match, Newcastle defended well against this tactic. In particular, Yanga Mbiwa being tight on Benteke when he dropped deep and Coloccini reading any of the runs coming forward.  The only time our guard slipped, when Lowton fed the ball down Villa’s right wing for Weimann to run into space behind Santon.   Weimann crossed the ball to the far post, only for Agbonlahor to screw his shot wide.  Newcastle defended so well in the first half, that Villa only registered their first shot towards Tim Krul’s goal on the 41st minute.  As you can see from the heat map below, Newcastle defended well and restricted the majority of Villa’s shots to outside of the area. The only one central shot in the box came from Benteke’s headed goal.

Newcastle restricting Villa's shots to outside the area or awkward angles.

Newcastle restricting Villa’s shots to outside the area or awkward angles.


Much of the blame for Villa’s goal can be placed at Moussa Sissoko’s failure to keep track of Benteke.

As you can see, there isn’t much movement from Benteke previous to the corner being taken, however as soon as the corner is taken, Sissoko loses his man, as he is concentrating on the flight of the ball and estimating where it’s going to land. However, Benteke’s is pro-active and seeks to head the ball at its earliest point.   Although, it could be argued that Tim Krul should have stayed in goal, rather than chasing an outswinging corner into a pack of players.  Benteke’s header flew into the middle of the unguarded goal, where Krul would have been if he stayed on his line.

I noticed in the opening fixture against Manchester City, Sissoko was a bit slow getting out of our defensive third after challenging Yaya Toure in a 50/50 ball. As you can see below, Yaya Toure (green) sprints back to midfield to get back into position. Sissoko (red) is languishing in defence and is playing Aguero (blue) onside. Silva gets the ball, but Sissoko isn’t in position to tackle or block (red area) and as a result, Silva feeds Aguero, who goes onto score past Krul. 

Sissoko's poor defensive awareness.

Sissoko’s poor defensive awareness.

His defensive awareness is something that can be improved upon.  However his creativity stats – 4 key passes creating a scoring chance, the most from the Newcastle team – shows which area of the pitch he more effective in.


The French mercurial genius, who has turned defenders inside and out so early in the season, continued his rich vein of form against Villa.  His confidence and his team mates confidence in Hatem is clearly shown by the heat map below.

Newcastle focus their passing on right hand side in the final third.

Newcastle focus their passing on right hand side in the final third.

The majority of our possession in the final third of the pitch came down our right hand side. He took 4 shots, 3 on target, scored 1 goal and Brad Guzan parried one of his other shots onto the path of Yoan Gouffran to score the eventual winner.


A couple of pieces I’ve recently read looks at the ratio of shots from the total game to look at how effective a team has played during the match.  The below graphic was produced by 3-6-1 Experimental and shows how each club has fared in the number of shots they’ve taken per game and the number they have faced.

3-6-1 Experimental's club-by-club comparison of shooting in the Premier League so far this season

3-6-1 Experimental’s club-by-club comparison of shooting in the Premier League so far this season

The graphic shows that Newcastle are placed in the bottom right quadrant – a busy attack, quiet defence.  Below is a breakdown of the shots for and against and including those that were on target for the season so far.

Total Shots Ratio (TSR) for each game this season so far

Total Shots Ratio (TSR) for each game this season so far

Other than the nightmare at Eastlands, we’ve been attacking better than our opposition – although, it helps when you play shot-shy West Ham and Fulham.  While we’re taking more shots, our shooting precision could be better.  Since the opening day, Newcastle have taken 63 shots, with only 18 on target and scoring a measly 3 goals – that’s less than 5% scoring rate.  But more impressively is that we’re attacking better than our opponents, as highlighted by the Total Shots Ratio (TSR%).  Basically we’re outshooting our opponents, and although this doesn’t guarantee that you will win the game, there’s definitely a greater chance if you’re taking more shots than the opposing team.  Even though Villa had more possession in the match (54% v 46%), it shows that Newcastle were more effective with the ball. I’ll be keeping an eye on this for the rest of the season.

Next up Hull City and according to the chart, they’ve got a quiet attack, busy defence. Promising, but don’t taken anything for granted, as current league leaders, Liverpool are also in the same quadrant.


2 responses to “5 Observations – Aston Villa (a)

  1. Pingback: 5 Observations – Newcastle v Hull | NUFC Visualised·

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