Newcastle United plugged one of their side’s two gaping holes in time for last Saturday’s huge game against Watford.
Chris Wood has made his debut as the club’s only fit senior striker following his £25m move from relegation rivals Burnley.
However, at centre-back, Jamaal Lascelles and Fabian Schar were paired up again, prompting an all-too-predictable final in which the former – Newcastle captain – was beaten through the air for a dramatic Watford equaliser.
Newcastle have been pushing for defensive reinforcements to fit in alongside Kieran Trippier, but Lille insist Sven Botman will not be sold in January and a chase for Sevilla’s Diego Carlos is also dragging on, while the Interest in Monaco’s Benoit Badiashile – another option mooted – has been complicated by his injury.
Either way, the Magpies’ bottomless budget must simply provide a centre-back in the coming days as Eddie Howe’s men – still on just one win this season – risk being cut adrift, in as the richest club in the world or not.
Thin margins foiling magpies
Wood didn’t make an immediate impact, and Newcastle forwards struggled to help their defensive colleagues this season, never once forging a two-goal lead in a game.
But when they managed to score first, doing so in 10 different games, including against Watford, that back line failed miserably to protect their advantage.
Newcastle have dropped a league-leading 21 points from winning positions. With 18 matches to go, an unwanted club record of 31 (in 2004-05) is in sight.
This dismal trend has resulted in nine draws in 20 games, their most at this stage of a season in the competition’s history (beating eight in 20 in 2003-04).
Having lost fewer games (10) than 13th-placed Aston Villa (11) and trailed for just 35% of their time with the ball in play (the same proportion as 10th-placed Leicester City), it will be those draws that relegate Newcastle, with such thin margins deciding their fate so far.
Newcastle have missed at least one ‘big chance’, from which Opta would expect a player to score, in six of their nine draws – including Joelinton on Saturday and each of Sean Longstaff, Ciaran Clark and Jacob Murphy in the Reverse game at Watford (another 1-1) – while their opponents were much less expensive with the opportunities offered by a generous defense.
Generous Geordies Renouncing Gifts
Newcastle have offered a record 10 league goals this season through errors leading to goals (four), penalty goals (five) and own goals (one), accounting for 23.3% of the total an alarming 43 in the goals against column.
It’s a stat that reflects a bit harshly on the St James’ Park side, given Newcastle have only given up eight chances by mistake. Only Everton (six goals from eight errors) were punished more ruthlessly.
But there is no doubt that Howe needs improvement in this area of the pitch.
Not content to squander opportunities at one end, Clark is the only player in the Premier League to have made an error leading to a goal, conceded a penalty and been sent off this season – all in the space of 993 minutes. In fact, his mistake against Manchester City came within five minutes of returning to the squad after being dismissed after nine minutes against Norwich City.
Longtime colleague Lascelles fared little better. He alone has conceded three penalties this season, more than any other player in the division. Meanwhile, Schar is the only Newcastle player to have made multiple errors leading to shots.
There are only weak links in the middle of this defense right now.
No Botman and Robin but a DC superhero?
With Trippier already on board, Newcastle could still sign a brand new defense this month, with Howe saying they want two centre-backs – Botman and Diego Carlos appear to be prime targets – alongside a left-back.
Robin Gosens was the latest name to emerge and be dismissed as an option by his current employers Atalanta over the weekend, but Newcastle must surely land at least one of those lofty goals in time for another vital fixture. at Leeds United on Saturday.
Botman showed on Sunday why he is so sought after and why Lille are so keen to keep him, scoring for Marseille while contributing 12 clearances and three blocks as the 10-man champions earned a draw. It is only the second instance in Europe’s top five leagues this season (also Dante v Rennes in December) of a player making at least 12 clearances and three blocks.
Diego Carlos, it seems, is a more realistic buy in January, despite his importance to a Sevilla side who have conceded just 13 goals in 20 league appearances this season – a common low alongside Manchester City at across Europe.
Brazil’s Olympic champion has started 19 of those games and leads La Liga in blocks (21); Interestingly, Burnley’s James Tarkowski, another interesting player for Newcastle, tops the European rankings with 29.
Diego Carlos should also bring some composure in possession, with his passing accuracy (88.4%) eclipsing that of Clark (79.0), Lascelles (78.2) and Schar (67.3). The Sevilla man ranks second in La Liga in assists (1,298) and sixth in forward assists (411), which matches Howe’s more progressive approach.
Still, Newcastle’s willingness to push their bid towards a club record may well be questioned in some quarters due to the more concerning similarities with their potential new teammates.
No player in Europe has made more errors leading to shots than Diego Carlos, with two of five resulting in goals. Meanwhile, since joining Sevilla in 2019, he has conceded 10 penalties in all competitions – including three for fouls on current Premier League players in Adama Traore, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku.
Sevilla have lost just one of those 10 games, which perhaps shows the difference Diego Carlos can make outside of those reckless moments.
Ideally, Newcastle wouldn’t introduce more chaos into this defence, but they certainly can’t afford to do nothing. If Diego Carlos is the man they want, the pressure is on to deliver him in time for Saturday.