Newcastle’s lack of goals is hurting their push for the Champions League | Newcastle United
For the most part, Newcastle fans have been experiencing a magical season. They were in the relegation zone when Eddie Howe took over in November 2021. After guiding the club to an 11th-place finish last season, Howe was backed with a new contract in the summer and his squad was boosted with reinforcements to continue what he had started. He exceeded expectations in the first half of this season, making Newcastle genuine top-four contenders and taking them to their first major final since 1999.
But their fortunes have turned since the turn of the year. Newcastle have won only four games in 2023, with just one of these victories coming in the league and the other three in the League Cup. They also bowed out of the FA Cup at the first time of asking, losing 2-1 to the League One side Sheffield Wednesday.
Of course, what is going on at St James’ Park is a long-term project that will face blips along the way, as the new owners look to take the club back to the top of English football. But their current form is slightly concerning. The defeat at Wembley was tough to take. Manchester United did not play particularly well but they scored twice before half-time and defended their lead well. Missing out on the club’s first trophy in 54 years after coming so close makes this current dip feel a lot worse.
For the first few months of the season, Newcastle were able to put out a settled team. In fact, exactly 11 of their players have registered more than 1,000 minutes in the league so far this season. But sticking with the same side causes tiredness and fatigue. Newcastle have had to deal with injuries throughout the season – including the £59m record signing Alexander Isak, who missed nearly three months of action – but those issues have stacked up in recent weeks.
Bruno Guimarães, the creative heart of their midfield, was suspended for three games, and Joe Willock, Miguel Almirón, Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson have also had spells out of the team. Nick Pope’s red card cost them in an otherwise impressive performance against Liverpool and meant he missed the final at Wembley. These absences have caused slight imbalances across the pitch and knocked the players out of their stride.
Almirón was at the forefront of Howe’s attack earlier in the season and he has scored an admirable 10 goals this season – only seven players in the league have scored more – but only one of his goals has come since the start of the year. Inconsistency up front has become a big problem, especially as their next highest scorer in the league is Callum Wilson with seven goals, followed by Guimarães and Isak with three each.
Nine teams have scored more goals than Newcastle’s total of 35, including 15th-placed Leicester. Since the start of 2023 they have scored the fewest of any team in the league – three goals in seven games – which has played a big part in the decline in form. Only three teams have picked up fewer than their tally of seven points in 2023.
Newcastle are still creating chances, but just not finishing them. They rank sixth for shots in the league, but just 10th for percentage of shots on target (33%), 11th for goals per shot (9%) and 12th for goals per shot on target (28%). There are exceptions in the team – especially the ever consistent Kieran Trippier, whose 71 key passes this season is second only to Kevin De Bruyne (78) not just in the Premier League, but in Europe’s top five leagues – but their forwards need to start finding the net. Newcastle have missed 44 big chances in the league this season – ranking third behind Liverpool and Manchester City.
Their lack of goals was not such a problem earlier in the campaign as their defence was so solid. Pope and his backline were sensational in the first half of the season. They still boast the most clean sheets in the league (12) – six of which came in a row between mid-November and late January – but they have started to leak goals in the last few games. In fact, of the 24 goals they have conceded in all competitions this season, 25% have come in their last three matches.
If Newcastle go behind in games – as they have done in their past four games – opponents know they lack the firepower to break them down. That is what happened in the League Cup final. After Manchester United took the lead in the first half, Newcastle huffed and puffed without ever truly threatening David de Gea’s goal. They had the majority of possession and took 17 shots, but only two of them were on target.
Newcastle fans should not feel too gloomy. They have lost only three league games this season – and just one at home – a record they share with current leaders Arsenal. They have conceded 17 goals in the league (eight at home and nine away), which is remarkably low for this stage of the season, especially as the next best tally in the league is 25 (Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City).
The problem is, however, their lack of a cutting edge is costing them valuable points. No team has drawn more games than Newcastle (11) and they have now slipped to sixth in the table, albeit with two games in hand on fourth-place Tottenham. One win in their last eight league games is a worrying run, especially given the form of the teams around them, Liverpool being the prime example. They leapfrogged Newcastle on Sunday after their 7-0 win over Manchester United.
This was meant to be a transition season for Newcastle and, despite hopes being raised after their quick start, that is what it could be. Howe is a young, talented manager with a strong core of players at his disposal and he is creating something exciting for Newcastle supporters. However, if he is to take the club back into Europe for the first time in more than a decade – which looked like a certainty just a few weeks ago – he must find a way to turn performances into points and help his side to overcome their current slump.