EPL

Big names, big budgets – are Newcastle and Everton really both at risk of relegation?

By Sports Desk February 07, 2022

Newcastle United versus Everton may have been ringed on the calendar back in August, but not for the same reasons it is now the source of such intrigue.

Tuesday's fixture could have seen Rafael Benitez return to St James' Park for the first time since quitting as Newcastle manager back in 2019.

However, Benitez is out at Everton – as, at Newcastle, is Steve Bruce, his successor on Tyneside.

Instead, Frank Lampard heads north for his Premier League bow as Everton boss, set to take on Eddie Howe's Magpies in a match neither can afford to lose.

Newcastle remain in the bottom three yet can close to within a point of their opponents with a win that would surely drag Lampard's men into the relegation battle.

Ahead of a mammoth encounter, Stats Perform's Ben Spratt and Patric Ridge examine the issues that have brought the two teams to this point and consider how they can each hope to kick clear of the danger – starting at Gallowgate.

Why Newcastle are in trouble – BS

This has felt like a relegation campaign right from the outset, with Newcastle's positive performances going unrewarded and their poorer displays being ruthlessly punished.

Newcastle led within five minutes at home to West Ham on the opening day, as Bruce attempted to deliver a more exciting, attacking brand of football. He succeeded only in leaving a hapless defence hopelessly exposed.

They lost 4-2 to the Hammers, the first three of 21 points dropped from winning positions, the first four of 43 goals conceded – 10 of which have been a result of errors leading to goals (four), penalty goals (five) or own goals (one).

Those mistakes have continued under Howe, who has also quickly grown tired of a consistent trend of contentious refereeing decisions going against his side at both ends of the pitch.

The assumption from those not watching this luckless outfit on a weekly basis has been that January spending would lift Newcastle to safety. That theory is about to be put to the test, however, with the neutral perhaps anticipating more ambitious targets than Chris Wood and Dan Burn.

Why Everton are in trouble – PR

Benitez was never the right choice at Goodison Park – but not only due to his Liverpool connections. While his disciplined, organised Newcastle side appeared to play to a clear plan, his Everton team were, largely, shocking.

After a 1-1 draw with Manchester United in October, Everton had 14 points from their seven Premier League games – their best start since 2004-05 (16 points), when they finished fourth – but the underlying level of performances always suggested that if injuries hit, which they did, the Toffees may struggle. And struggle they have.

Benitez – who cannot be blamed for all of Everton's issues, it has to be stressed – wanted to play on the counter-attack, yet his team could not defend. Across 19 league games in charge, they shipped 34 goals – including 11 from set-pieces, a problem that persists.

But Everton's issues have not been restricted to one area of the pitch.

From a 1-0 defeat to West Ham on October 17 to Benitez's final match in charge against Norwich City on January 15, Everton ranked 18th for goals (11), 16th for shots on target (46/139) and 12th for touches in the opposition box (259), as well as having the third-worst defence (27 goals conceded), with 20.6 expected goals against the fourth-worst in the division. Their position is in no way false.

Why Newcastle can survive – BS

Newcastle's £90million January outlay – the largest in world football – may not have brought a host of superstars to Tyneside, immediately guaranteeing survival, but their five signings could yet transform the way Howe's side play.

Kieran Trippier, Burn, Matt Targett and Bruno Guimaraes have all been recruited from teams who are used to having the ball – which cannot be said for Newcastle, despite their coach's footballing philosophy. No team in the Premier League have had a lower average share of possession (37.8 per cent), with just Burnley, who have two games in hand, completing fewer passes (4,962).

If Newcastle are now able to move the ball out from the back with greater confidence, their costly mistakes in possession should start to subside.

This has, after all, been a season of such fine margins. The Magpies have not lost to any of the other eight teams in the bottom nine; crucially, however, they have only beaten two of them. A new style of play, operating further away from their own goal (only Wolves have a deeper average starting position than Newcastle), should mean more opportunities created in attack and fewer conceded in defence.

Newcastle have been working towards this Everton game for more than two weeks, although only Trippier of the new faces went on the "team bonding" trip to Saudi Arabia. How quickly and effectively the rest of the signings have settled should be evident in Newcastle's approach – and, perhaps, the result.

Why Everton can survive – PR

Had they carried on with Benitez for much longer, or perhaps even left Duncan Ferguson in caretaker charge, Everton's survival chances may have been slim.

Yet that should change under Lampard – and seemingly already has. A clip of the new Toffees manager instructing his players to "enjoy the ball" during a training session last week came as a breath of fresh air to supporters who, under a succession of managers, have become accustomed to their team surrendering possession far too easily.

Evidence of Lampard's impact was there to see in the 4-1 FA Cup win over Brentford on Saturday. Even though Dele Alli and Donny van de Beek were cup-tied and Dominic Calvert-Lewin was out injured, Everton scored four goals in a game for the first time since Carlo Ancelotti oversaw a 5-4 win over Tottenham last February.

Everton had 55.8 per cent of the possession, a share they were only twice able to better under Benitez (both in defeats), with Lampard placing more of an emphasis on his defenders playing into midfield. A duel success rate of 63.1 per cent (53/84) was their best in any game across all competitions this season, as the Toffees noticeably looked to engage higher up the pitch.

Given Newcastle preferred to invest in their defence, Everton – between Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Demarai Gray – should have the strongest attack of those in relegation trouble. With Alli and Van de Beek also to come into the midfield and Abdoulaye Doucoure to return from injury, Lampard's more attacking, intense approach should suit the Toffees moving forward.

Related items

  • NFL Fantasy Picks: George the pick of the bunch for Steelers NFL Fantasy Picks: George the pick of the bunch for Steelers

    In fantasy football, it’s often the ones you least suspect.

    Every week, there are surprise stars who seemingly come out of nowhere to deliver performances that prove decisive in fantasy matchups.

    Unexpected contributors are the theme of this week’s fantasy picks.

    The players mentioned are not unknowns, but they either have matchups that would not be expected to deliver fantasy success or feature for teams that have surprisingly become relevant in both the NFL and fantasy worlds.

    As usual, Stats Perform has backed up its selections of four offensive players and a defense with advanced data that supports their case for inclusion in fantasy lineups this week.
     

    Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans @ Washington Commanders

    Tannehill is approaching the end of his time as the Titans' starter, but he still holds value for a Tennessee team looking to recover from a slow start to win a bad AFC South and for fantasy players eyeing a matchup to exploit this week.

    That matchup comes in the form of a Commanders defense that has allowed over seven yards per pass and has given up 10 passing touchdowns, tied for the most in the NFL.

    With Tannehill delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on 87.6 per cent of his pass attempts – the third-best ratio among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts – he is in a strong position to see his consistent accuracy rewarded on Sunday despite the relative lack of playmaking talent around him.

    Running Back: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers

    Most in the NFL world will be anticipating the Giants to come back down to earth against the Packers in the second London game of the season.

    While the Packers are heavy favourites to slow New York’s fast start to the season, the odds of them halting Barkley's renaissance look slim.

    No player in the NFL is averaging more yards per game than Barkley's 115.8, while a Packers defense that has traditionally struggled against the run is surrendering 4.97 yards per rush, the 11th-most in the league.

    Hopes of progress for the Packers on run defense have yet to be realised, and Barkley should take advantage of their fallibility on the ground.

    Wide Receiver: George Pickens, Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills

    This is less about the matchup, which is an awful one for Pittsburgh, and more about opportunity for rookie receiver Pickens, who figures to be one of Kenny Pickett's favourite targets as the rookie quarterback makes his first career start.

    Over the last two weeks, Pickens has been targeted 15 times, and he enjoyed the best game of his young career so far against the New York Jets, catching six of his eight targets 102 yards in a game Pickett entered for the second half.

    The Buffalo defense is substantially better than that of the Jets, allowing only 4.75 yards per pass play. Yet the Bills are still dealing with injuries in the secondary and Pickens, whose big-play rate of 38.6 per cent is 10th among receivers with at least 20 targets, has the all-round game to turn the attention he will get from Pickett into production regardless of the difficult matchup.

    Tight End: Tyler Conklin, New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins

    There's such a lack of depth at tight end for fantasy football purposes that it's necessary to take a few swings if you're stuck for an answer at the position.

    Conklin represents such a swing but is one you can have more confidence in after his impressive Week 4.

    He demonstrated chemistry with Zach Wilson on the quarterback's return from a knee injury, hauling in three catches for 52 yards in the Jets' surprise win over the Steelers. Conklin was targeted five times and registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when targeted, on all five.

    This week, the Jets face a Miami defense that has conceded 7.43 yards per pass play this season. Only the Seattle Seahawks (8.24) have fared worse by that measure. If Wilson and Conklin continue to build their rapport, the latter could prove an astute fantasy play by those managers who take a chance on him.

    Defense/Special Teams: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Houston Texans

    The Jaguars being competitive with the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles a week after stunning the Los Angeles Chargers illustrated just how far they have come in so little time under Doug Pederson.

    Very few thought the Jags would quickly be in the mix for the AFC South but that is where they stand, with a diverse and aggressive defense playing a huge role in Jacksonville's progress.

    The Jags have forced 27 negative plays this season, tied for the eighth-most among NFL defenses. The winless Texans, meanwhile, have seen their offense suffer 26 negative plays for minus 121 yards. Only four teams have lost more yardage on those plays this season.

    Tied third in the NFL for takeaways with nine, look for a defense nobody saw coming to make the most of a favourable matchup and get Jacksonville back on track.

  • 'Playing in Europe is always great' – Arteta relishing Europa League challenge despite Champions League aim 'Playing in Europe is always great' – Arteta relishing Europa League challenge despite Champions League aim

    Mikel Arteta said Arsenal will not take participating in the Europa League for granted ahead of Thursday's tie with Bodo/Glimt, but acknowledges the Gunners have loftier ambitions.

    Arsenal sit top of the Premier League table after a scintillating start to the season; only twice have they bettered this campaign's return of 21 points after eight games in the competition, earning 22 points in 2004-05 and 2007-08. 

    Having missed out to Tottenham in a fierce battle for Champions League qualification last term, however, Arsenal are competing with Bodo/Glimt, PSV and FC Zurich in Group A of Europe's second-tier competition. 

    While Arteta knows Champions League football must be the aim for his team, he said Arsenal will "make the most" of their continental campaign.

    "Playing in Europe is always great. We know we would want to be playing yesterday or today, but that's the next step," he said on Wednesday. 

    "This is the reality, and we have to make the most of it.

    "It's a test for the squad, in terms of the numbers and the quality. If you make changes, how much you notice it, whether you can continue consistently playing at the top level.

    "Everyone's going to have to do that after the World Cup, especially with the schedule.

    "It's a competition that is really important for us, we know how important it is to be on top of the group and the home advantage, we have to use it."

    Meanwhile, William Saliba and Bukayo Saka have both expressed confidence they will sign new contracts after emerging as key components in Arteta's side, and the Arsenal boss says the club is working on deals for the duo, as well as fresh terms for Gabriel Martinelli.

    Arsenal have been forced to sell several stars after allowing them to run their contracts down in the past, but Arteta moved to quell fears of a repeat, adding: "Obviously we have to plan for the future, and we are all working on it.

    "Edu is on top of it, and all the board. We will try to do things in the right way, being fair, and rewarding the players that – in our opinion – have a big future for the club.

    "When we have something to announce, we will do it. Every player is different and what happened in the past, the people that were in charge had the right reasons.

    "We will try to do the same thing and make sure the club is always protected, that the club is always in a good position to move forward, and the players are happy."

    Arsenal saw their first scheduled home game of the Europa League campaign, against PSV, postponed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II last month, and will look to end a poor continental run at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday.

    The Gunners have failed to win any of their last three home European matches (D2 L1), their worst such run since they went six without victory between October 2002 and September 2003.

  • Former Juventus and Inter defender Asamoah announces retirement Former Juventus and Inter defender Asamoah announces retirement

    Former Juventus and Inter full-back Kwadwo Asamoah has announced his retirement from playing at the age of 33.

    Asamoah, who was capped 74 times by Ghana and appeared at two World Cups, most recently featured for Cagliari at club level in the 2020-21 season.

    He confirmed on social media he has officially called time on one chapter of his career and will now become a player agent.

    Versatile defender Asamoah started his career at Udinese and made 279 appearances in Serie A – the most for an African player in the competition's history.

    Asamoah joined Juve from Udinese in July 2012 and won 13 titles across six seasons with the Turin giants before spending two years with Inter.

    Injuries curtailed his time at Cagliari, for whom he made his final appearance in a goalless draw against Milan in May 2021.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.