The day didn’t start well for the Geordies on a bright Sunday full of Premier League action. Not that those were fresh news, anyway, as the Magpies already entered the weekend knowing that Krafth and Wilson would be out no matter what—things got worse by the minute, though—and that newly-signed Alexander Isak wouldn’t make the cut in time to feature for the Men in Black.
Changes were expected, and they were aplenty as news popped up of Bruno Guimaraes also being left from the matchday squad to face Wolves yesterday. All of those things combined forced Eddie Howe to deploy a new midfield trio in which Sean Longstaff was the man picked up to cover for Bruno’s absence, flanked by the classic duo of Joelinton and Willock.
The biggest of changes, though, came up front with Wilson and Isak both unavailable for different reasons. It was Chris Wood, if only because of the lack of any Premier League-caliber option, who was deployed up top to try and get some touches without making the team look too bad while at it.
The Portuwolves started strong creating their first chance barely past the first five minutes of playing time, and it was a rather worrying one because it took the lads in yellow all of one long ball and a low-height cross to create a dangerous chance missed by Pedro Neto on an unnatural position.
Can’t blame Joe Willock when he missed a very clear opportunity some five minutes later as he never expected the ball to fall on his lap following a probable penalty on Longstaff and a blocked-and-ricocheting shot by Wood. Ball to the left of the goal and VAR not conceding the penalty. Cold world.
Funnily enough and after the officials paid no attention to that penalty, another no-call on ASM in Newcastle’s own third could have brought the worst possible news inside the first 25 minutes. Ultimately, though, the Wolves forwards missed on a gifted chance proving incapable of scoring a goal. It was Trippier this time who attempted an ill-advised pass kissing the right sideline only to miss the ball and hand Wolves the opportunity of a cross missed by Portuguese Matheus Nunes with a misdirected header.
With 38 minutes on the clock and Newcastle looking worse by the minute, it finally happened for Wolves. Portuguese Neves found Portuguese Neto on the right wing. The winger dribbled past ASM and moved the ball all the way to the opposite side finding Portuguese Guedes on the left flank and facing Tripps, who was too passive to attempt a tackle, gave the attacker time to move the ball with a pass to the middle... and for Portuguese Neves to meet the ball and rocket-launch it toward the goal with his right foot to put Portuwolves 1-0 ahead.
With the halftime whistle arriving soon after the goal, you wouldn’t believe the numbers if you looked at them. Newcastle had held onto a massive 65% of the shared possession of the ball through the first 45 minutes. They had nine shots to Wolves’ five, five corner kicks to the Portuwolves’ one, and one big chance—that of Willock following the so-called penalty on Longstaff—that could have easily put the Magpies ahead changing the entire outlook of the game.
As I highlighted last weekend, though, this team is one that—at least when healthy and with all/most of his first-eleven players available—thrives on the counter and quick transitions. The 232 passes (84% completed) were good for number accounting compared to the Wolves low outcome of 126, but they proved worth nothing at the end of the first half.
The chart above shows a very glaring flaw: tons of total and completed passes in their own half—most of them sideways instead of advancing, adding wood to the fire—but not so many on the opposition half, let alone completed and into the box.
Eddie Howe decided not to make any changes midway through the game, although it’s not that he had a lot of options available on the bench with the most interesting substitutes already on the pitch because of different injuries and governmentally bureaucratic issues.
That didn’t mean that man-of-all-tasks Dan Burn and giant-only-in-appearance Chris Wood didn’t get sent to the pine as soon as the clock hit 65 minutes. They were replaced by Matt Targett (entering as a substitute after starting last Wednesday logging 45 minutes) and, surprisingly, Ryan Fraser. Surprising, I mean, because Howe went with a full strikerless formation in which no true goal-banger was on the pitch after those changes.
Those two substitutions should be more concerning than anything else—even if the game would have been ultimately lost by a couple of goals or three—for the Magpies' board and their squad-building operation. Yes, Isak is a phenomenal addition and combined with those of Targett (extended), Nick Pope, and Sven Botman those four make for a very solid upgrade throughout the summer transfer market. Is it enough, though? Not so much, I’d say. Those four are instant starters—barring Botman fighting with Burn and Fabian Schar for a starting position—but no depth has really been added to the squad.
They are not displacing any substantial member of the starting eleven as the now-reserve GK Martin Dubravka might leave the team, Targett was playing for Newcastle throughout the second half of last season, Botman is expected to alternate between starting and resting, and Isak might actually be paired with Wilson up front sending Willock to his oft-inhabited chair on the bench.
There is a clear need for roster-boosting when it comes to substitutes and replacement players. There is not a chance in hell this squad, as currently constructed and even with the benefit of a World Cup—smacked right in the middle of the season—happening in November/December making it too deep and finishing above most competitors in the Premier League, let alone reaching the final stages of cup competitions. The depth isn’t just there, and a couple of ill-timed injuries (those could already be there in the likes of Wilson, Bruno, and Jonjo Shelvey missing time) would kill all options.
Anyway. Back to this MD4 game as late as the 80th minute of play.
Newcastle had a corner kick, Targett lofted it, Wolves cleared it and launched a counterattack that looked like his. No cap. See it to believe it.
That’s freaking reckless behavior by the Magpies leaving Tripps all alone on the backline—even on a corner, it’s just unacceptable—to defend against three galloping Portuguese cavaliers and with one and only one clear target in mind: score the game-sealing goal and wrap it all up at the Molineux Estádio.
Somehow, someway, and even though Guolves scored, they did so in a play that was eventually ruled a foul on its buildup phase. Bullet dodged, of course, but that foul might had not been called and the goal could have been ruled good, thus making it 2-0 and finishing all options. The foul was clear, and so it seemed watching it live, but you just cannot be so absolutely desperate to leave Tripps back there covering three players at all, folks.
In a last-minute (84th) heave and praying all prayers he learned as a boy, Howe made two further substitutions bringing Elliot Anderson and Jacob Murphy on in exchange for Willock and a very murky Miguel Almiron. One man stayed on the pitch, though, going by the name of Maximin.
Oh, snap, speaking of Maximin...
That’s the banger, fellas. ASM had no problems taking advantage of Non-Portuguese Hwang’s gift as a ridiculous clearance by the Wolves man fell right on Allan’s foot to connect and leave Portuguese Jose Sá standing and looking the ball blasted past his position and into the net for what was the final 1-1 result.
The Magpies could have actually completed a full comeback with a couple of chances into the stoppage time—the clearest one coming from the Geordie Maradona as he headed the ball straight into the post—but it wasn’t meant to be. At the end of the day, and all things considered, the Men in Black must be happy with the final score considering all of the stuff going on around Tyneside these days including injuries, availability, transfer rumors, and on and on.
A glorious Saint-Maximin, too much noise, and one more point.
It’s now four games in a row without a single loss in the Premier League as Newcastle was able to hold onto a half-positive result thanks to that late goal. Back home to host the is-it-good-or-is-it-bad Liverpool on Wednesday.
Howay the lads!