As I watched the goals pour in for Southampton on Saturday, a thought popped into my head. What was the worst goal differential in Premier League history while still finishing in the Top 10? Newcastle goes into their final six matches with a goal differential of -9. This isn't even close to the worst, but there's still time.
|Sunderland/Aston Villa (9/10)
|West Hame (10)
These are the instances of a Premier League team finishing in the top half of the table while having a negative goal differential of at least 10. Assuming Newcastle continues their horrid pace, they will add to this list.
So, why is this historically mediocre? Well, there's good. These are top half finishes for these clubs. Considering Newcastle barely avoided relegation a year ago, a top half of the table finish could be seen as a massive improvement. On the other hand, having a goal differential that bad usually spells doom for teams. In fact, the year Wimbledon finished 9th with a -17 GD, Norwich City was relegated with the same GD. Crystal Palace was relegated with a -15 GD that year. These are teams that despite finishing in the top half of the table, are not that far away from getting relegated. They simply got a nice run of results to put them in the clear. Sound familiar?
Newcastle got a great run of results early in the season and put them in a solid position to contend for Europe. From November 2 till December 26, the Magpies won 7 matches, losing 1 and drawing 1. 22 points in 9 matches was an unreal form. Since then, Newcastle has only scored 9 goals and their shot at Europe has faded. But, the club is also safe from relegation and should find themselves sitting on 50 points at season's end (I think they can manage a win and a draw from Stoke and Cardiff City. The other four matches: Manchester United, Swansea City, Liverpool and Arsenal....not so much).
Further more, the goal scoring that HAS come is from very limited sources. Commentators love to talk about how much of Newcastle's goals come from Frenchmen. This is highly annoying and doesn't highlight Newcastle's problem. That problem is....no one is scoring at all.
Once Newcastle gets past Loic Remy's 13 goals in the Premier League, no one else has double digits in their account. The next highest league scorer is Yohan Cabaye who had seven and is no longer with the team. Yoan Gouffran has six goals. No one else has five.
This has been Newcastle's problem for a number of years. The club relies on one player to have some unreal form and then rides that to safety. It began with Demba Ba, and then Papiss Cisse, and now Remy is asked to carry the load. Even in the year that Newcastle finished 5th, Ba and Cisse had 16 and 13 goals respectively. Only Ben Afra had even five goals. There is no scoring depth and hasn't been for some time. To compare, let's look at this year's Southampton squad. Jay Rodriguez and Ricky Lambert have 15 and 10 goals each (2 double digit scorers to Newcastle's one) and Adam Lallana has nine. In all, eleven Saints have scored this season. Newcastle's had nine goal scorers. Three of those goal scorers have one goal.
Newcastle can only rely on one goal scorer. When Remy has been out, Newcastle haven't just not scored. They haven't looked interested in scoring. Take Saturday's match for example. Newcastle made 5 attempts at goal. 2 were blocked.
All of this adds up to a decidedly mediocre team. Even when Newcastle had their great run of form early in the year, it was Remy netting five goals in the seven wins (he did score two against Stoke). Without him, there has been no offense. The last time Newcastle won a game in which they had scored was the derby match in Sunderland. Since then, they've been blanked 11 times (they did manage one draw).
Unless some player starts adding to their account in a hurry, Newcastle are sure to become the seventh club in Premier League history to finish in the top 10 (they hold a six point lead over 11th place West Ham to stay in the top half of the table) and have a goal differential of at least -10. But can they break the record? To get to -18, they would have to have a -9 goal differential over the last six matches. Considering the run-in to the end of the season features both Liverpool (88 goals on the campaign) and Arsenal (56 goals) it seems almost likely. After all, between Everton and Southampton, Newcastle achieved a -7 goal differential. With no signs of offense and little effort to maintain possession, another onslaught like we witnessed on Saturday seems likely. Newcastle also has matches with Swansea City (prone to the occasional goal burst) and a Manchester United team that will be desperate to get into Europe again...it seems as if Newcastle has an excellent chance of getting to the historic low. They could even achieve a win against Cardiff or Stoke and still reach -18 goal differential on the season.
For what it's worth, Sunderland is staring relegation in the face with a -19 goal differential. Despite the climb up the table, Newcastle is truly no better off than they were a year ago. If the problems are not addressed over the summer, Newcastle could find themselves in a relegation battle again next season.
It's up to the brain trust of the club to see it coming and fix it now.