Newcastle’s early season form was well documented, with countless jokes about their results since the turn of the year making the rounds on social media. With no wins in their first seven games of the season Newcastle have gone on to pick up maximum points in their last three games. The wins away to Tottenham and at home to Liverpool stand out as impressive and suggest Newcastle have turned a corner recently. It is interesting to note that The Toon’s underlying stats, both from an attacking and defensive perspective, suggests their performances in the first seven weeks should have earned them more than they actually achieved in terms of points on the board.
They are ranked within the top 6 teams in the league for goal attempts, attempts from set-pieces, blocked shots and minutes-per-chance. Going forward, they’ve been strong. However, the key element they’ve been missing this season is shot accuracy with just 24.1% (3rd lowest in the league) of their shots hitting the target. They don’t seem to have a problem creating chances it seems to be simply finishing them that has been the problem. These figures haven’t changed much with the recent improvement of results which suggests improvements at the back.
Having conceded 14 goals in the opening seven gameweeks, they have only conceded 1 in the last three, picking up two clean sheets along the way. In the opening seven fixtures, Newcastle were ranked mid-table for most key defensive indicators except from individual defensive errors. They committed 9 defensive errors in the first seven games, 4 of which led to goals (2nd worst behind Everton). However, over the last three gameweeks we’ve seen Newcastle make just one defensive mistake (which didn’t lead to a goal) and concede just 15 goal attempts from within the box and 3 headed attempts.
Defensively, Newcastle have improved in recent weeks and this is what has led to their change of fortunes. They have been conceding less goals, even against teams who have excellent attacking potential and pedigree (Spurs & Liverpool). If Newcastle can find the target more often as well as maintain their recent defensive solidity then they’ll have no problems achieving a mid-table finish this season. Taking all of this into consideration, the obvious investment from an FPL perspective in the Newcastle squad would be in their defensive line. Janmaat (£5m) offers the most going forward but both Dummet (£4.1m) and Steven Taylor (£3.9m) offer incredible value in the back line if Newcastle are able to maintain their defensive solidity allowing you to invest your funds in more crucial parts of your squad. Be aware though that of their next 6 fixtures, only two are at home (which is where you’re most likely to pick up fantasy points) and one of those is against Chelsea (where you’re least likely to pick up fantasy points).
Having picked up just one win from their opening seven matches Everton started the season well below par. With Arsenal, Chelsea (remember that 3-6 scoreline?!), Liverpool and Man Utd in their opening seven fixtures though it was far from an easy start on paper. However, Roberto Martinez would have hoped to take more from his opening fixtures, especially the home games with Crystal Palace and Arsenal. Since then Everton have looked more like themselves, picking up 7 points from a possible 9, including 2 clean sheets. With their tough run of fixtures behind them the last few weeks may be a more accurate indicator of how their season will pan out.
Going forward, Everton were behind only Chelsea and Man City in terms of goals scored in the first seven gameweeks, suggesting they were scoring plenty of goals. This was despite only having an average number of attempts at goal, giving them an excellent shot conversion rate of 14.9%. Everton’s goal threat improved slightly over the time of their superior form as they managed 6 goals in 3 games and an attempt at goal every 6 minutes as opposed to every 7.7minutes. However, the biggest difference once again was in defence.
Having conceded a league-high 16 goals in the opening 3 matches and achieving just 1 clean sheet in that time, Everton then went on to conceded just 1 goal in their following three fixtures whilst picking up 2 clean sheets. There were two issues with Everton’s defence throughout their opening fixtures; the number of ‘big chances’ conceded and the number of defensive errors they made. They conceded a league-high (again) 15 ‘big chances’ in their opening fixtures (the same as both QPR and Newcastle) due to the expansive, open football they were playing. This was then reduced to just 3 in the last 3 gameweeks (behind only Southampton and Arsenal). In terms of errors, in their first 7 fixtures Everton made an astonishing 10 individual errors, half of which led to goals for the opposition. Since then they’ve still made two mistakes, with one leading to the goal they conceded during that time. It appears the Everton team is a little error prone at the moment which is something they’ll need to eradicate if they wish to push on this season. It could be put down to tiredness from playing in the Europa League during midweek since a quick glance at the defensive stats indicates that from the 8 teams to have made the fewest defensive errors this season, none play in a European competition.
We can see from this then that once again, Everton’s change of fortunes has been brought about by defensive solidity, which is great news for FPL players who have one of the game’s key assets in their team. Leighton Baines (£7.2m) always has attacking potential from assists and is Everton’s penalty taker so when that is combined with solid defensive displays he becomes a player too valuable to miss out on, despite his hefty price-tag. An alternative would be Phil Jagielka (£5.6m) who is more affordable and has already scored twice in the league this season (plus another against Lille in the Europa League on Thursday night) as well as offering security of starts since he’s the club captain. Going forward, Steven Naismith (£5.1m) was impressive towards the beginning of the season but has seen his form tail off from what was really an unsustainable start. His overall involvement in Everton's attack has remained consistent however and as long as he remains intergral to Everton's first team plans he'll be in the running for steady fantasy points. Ross Barkley's (£6.7m) return from injury is interesting. He may prove to be an important player in FPL terms as the season progresses, he's a young player with immense talent. He's is one to keep an eye on now he’s played his first full 90 minutes of the season.