Sunday of Gameweek 9 in the Premier League saw Newcastle United put on a swashbuckling show of attacking verve and defensive frailty that harked back to the Magpies’ near-glory days under former manager Kevin Keegan. The 6-2 win over Norwich City was extraordinary, but not just for the scoreline.
Leading the charge against the Canaries was Georginio Wijnaldum, who found the back of the net four times to deliver a 25 point haul for the 1.6 per cent of Fantasy Premier League managers who started him. Priced at just 6.8m, the Dutch international’s success has already prompted 20,000 FPL managers to draft him in – but are they right to do so?
I am delighted Wijnaldum had an impact in Gameweek 7 because otherwise I would have had to revise my decision to repeat colours on an eight-week cycle. While his Goals scored statistic looks great, the rest of his shooting stats are not so hot. Wijnaldum has scored with 86 per cent of his Shots on Target, a conversion rate he is unlikely to sustain for long.
Despite playing all but 22 minutes of Newcastle’s first eight fixtures, Wijnaldum was sat joint fortieth for Shots on Target among midfielders prior to the Norwich game, putting him in the company of players such as Almen Abdi of Watford and Dan Gosling of Bournemouth. His four shots in Gameweek 9 has lifted him just inside the top 20. In terms of chances created, Wijnaldum remains outside the top 40 midfielders in the Premier League.
The obvious counter to these arguments is that Newcastle’s fixtures in the first eight weeks were really tough (SOT, swa, mun, ARS, whm, WAT, CHE, mci), while the next six (starting with Norwich) are much easier (NOR, sun, STO, bou, LEI, cpl). The upcoming fixtures do look good for returns, however we need to keep this in some kind of perspective. These are Premier League teams, even if Norwich didn’t defend like one. Most of the teams Newcastle face in Gameweeks 10-14 are worse defensively than those faced in the first eight, but how much worse are they?
Over first eight games, the teams Newcastle faced averaged 3.13 clean sheets, 9.63 goals conceded and 33.63 Shots on Target conceded each. Over the same first eight weeks, Newcastle’s next five opponents averaged -2.33 fewer clean sheets, 2.78 more goals against and 6.58 more Shots on Target conceded.
Breaking away from the statistics, what I noticed about today’s game was Newcastle’s third, fourth, fifth and sixth goals were all scored on the counter as Norwich pressed forward looking to cut the deficit. This meant the Magpies’ goalscorers took their chances facing a defence lacking shape and numbers. Not all future opponents may be so obliging. What was extraordinary about the game was that Newcastle had six Shots on Target and scored with each of them. Norwich also landed six shots on goal, but only scored twice, and actually out shot the hosts 18 to 11 in total.
Newcastle United have a nice run of fixtures and their players have shown they can break with speed and finish clinically. They will probably score some goals and Wijnaldum may register on the score sheet in one or more of those games, but I suspect the Norwich game will be an exceptional performance rather than the norm.