There is a saying in sports, I don’t know if it is exclusive to American sports, that defense wins championships. It might not always be true, but its a fun adage to talk about in the world of sports.
In just over a week, Newcastle will take the pitch at St. James’s Park to open its season against Tottenham. It will be a true test for the Toons facing against one of the most prolific attacking clubs in the Premier League.
Needless to say, it will be a tough day for the Newcastle back line and likely starting keeper Rob Elliot. The thought actually makes me cringe a bit.
It is hard to escape the fact that this is not a good defensive unit. Another cliche sports saying is that numbers never lie. And in truth they don’t. Looking at the likely Newcastle starters in terms of Premier League statistics is not reassuring.
Ciaran Clark seems set to start alongside Florian Lejeune at center back. Clark has a wealth of Premier League experience playing for Aston Villa while Lejeune will presumably take the pitch for the first time against Spurs. Despite all of Clark’s appearances, his track record does not inspire confidence. In 134 appearances, Clark has seen 211 goals scored against his side, 1.54 per game. For some reference, former Newcastle man Steven Taylor allowed just 1.22 goals per game during his 194-game career with the Magpies.
Paul Dummett provides a little more hope, with 86 goals conceded in 66 appearances, 1.3 goals per game allowed. DeAndre Yedlin has an even more impressive mark of just 26 goals allowed in 24 games, 1.08 on average. One can expect that number to rise a little as his sample size grows.
Defenses can still be let down by poor play in goal, which is something Rob Elliot is prone to do a lot of. Elliot has allowed 67 goals in 36 Premier League appearances, good for 1.87 per game. For comparison’s sake, Tim Krul was just told he was leaving, but his average is 1.54 goals allowed per game in 157 appearances. That gap is the difference between allowing 58 goals in a season and 70 goals. The former keeps you up, the latter sees you relegated.
It is inevitable that Newcastle will be scored on during the season you might say, but posting a clean sheet is the ultimate goal for a defense. And that is something these boys have rarely done. Between Dummett, Elliot, Yedlin and Clark, they have 43 clean sheets in a combined 260 appearances. For reference, Krul had 41 in his 157 appearances.
There isn’t a tremendous amount of depth in place either. The only other defenders with significant Premier League experience are out of favor Chancel Mbemba, inconsistent Grant Hanley and newly signed Javier Manquillo. Jamaal Lascelles has only appeared 18 times in the Prem. Hanley is on par with Elliot at 1.87 goals allowed per game average. Mbemba has a paltry 1.61 mark. Manquillo is a bit stronger at 1.3.
If there is any hope, it is that Karl Darlow could take over in goal for Elliot. He might not have much experience yet, but in 9 appearances, he has only allowed 11 goals and registered 3 clean sheets. He and youngster Freddie Woodman could be the future in goal.
Rumors are still swirling that Newcastle are in the market for another defender. That better be the case, because the lot that look set to protect our net this season do not inspire all that much confidence. A poor defense saw the Toons relegated in 2016, the same story could be in store barring more reinforcements.
All statistics are from premierleague.com.