Eddie Howe’s Newcastle United have certainly ruffled a few feathers this season.
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag recently branded Howe’s side as “annoying”, while Jurgen Klopp has previously been critical of Newcastle’s perceived time-wasting.
In fact, ever since the takeover, it has often seemed like it’s a case of ‘us against the world’ on Tyneside. Given the nature of the club’s ownership model these days, there will always likely be an awful lot of people who simply do not like Newcastle.
Now, that matters little in the grand of scheme of things. As Howe himself has said, we are not here to be popular, we are here to compete.
Still, one particular criticism still wrangles. Not only because of the slightly left-field of source of it but because the content is flatly wrong.
Ruben Neves and his bizarre criticism of Newcastle
Back in August, a Newcastle team beset by injuries drew away at Sunday’s opposition, Wolves.
Allan Saint-Maximin, fresh from a stirring performance against Manchester City, scored a brilliant late volley to take a point from Molineux which, on the balance of play, was probably a fair result.
Ruben Neves, however, took exception to the manner in which Howe deployed his team.
Minutes after Saint-Maximin’s goal, Neves said (via Football Daily): “Their style of play is like that. Just long balls and second balls. They are not a team who wants to have the possession too much, we knew that.
“We prepared for that.”
Why Neves is – and was – so wrong about Newcastle
Whatever opinion someone has of Newcastle is of course their right to have.
However, the statistics simply do not back up what Neves was saying. After all, a quick look at WhoScored’s match data from that day at Molineux tells you that.
The Portugal international played the most long balls (granted, he would likely call them long passes) out of anyone on the pitch (6.7). Teammate Craig Dawson, meanwhile, also ranked within the top three with 4.5 and Howe’s side played many more passes than their hosts (503 to 287). Possession wise, the Magpies dominated (63.9%) in the Black Country.
In fact, taking a wider view, Newcastle rank seventh for average possession (51%) across the entirety of the Premier League this season. Moreover, Wolves sit third for accurate long balls per game in the division (26.8), whereas Howe’s team are way down in ninth (24.7).
Sadly for Neves, his argument simply does not stand up to scrutiny.