Revealed! The stats that show how Steve Bruce can get the best out of Newcastle United striker Dwight Gayle
With Callum Wilson absent through injury, the 31-year-old was handed his first Premier League start of the season against Chelsea, but his largely anonymous display left a lot to be desired.
In fairness to the striker, picking up where Wilson left off was never going to be an easy task. With 10 strikes and five assists to his name in the Premier League this term, the former Bournemouth man has been directly involved in 60% of the top flight goals that the Magpies have scored so far in 2020-21.
But even allowing him some leeway for his obvious rustiness, Gayle showed little to suggest that he is the long-term solution to Steve Bruce’s striking conundrum going forward – but was he really to blame for his underwhelming showing in the capital?
How did Gayle fare against Chelsea?
The truth is, this was far from the striker’s finest hour.
Before being hooked for Joelinton in the 64th minute, Gayle failed to muster a single shot on goal. It goes without saying that that’s problematic for a centre-forward, but it looks especially bad when compared to Wilson, who has managed 1.96 efforts per game, as per Wyscout.
Even Joelinton, maligned for so much of the campaign, has registered 1.48 shots per 90 minutes.
Granted though, Newcastle’s failure to create anything overly meaningful at Stamford Bridge can’t be blamed solely on Gayle.
Chelsea have conceded just the one goal under new manager Thomas Tuchel, and even then, that was when Antonio Rudiger put the ball into his own net against Sheffield United.
In terms of service, the Toon man was left feeding on scraps against the Blues too.
Prior to the hour-mark, shortly before Gayle was taken off, Bruce’s side mustered just 10 successful passes into the final third at a success rate of 47.62%.
As a point of comparison, Newcastle managed 26 balls into the final third over the equivalent period during their 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace recently.
But while Gayle's relative anonymity comes with a caveat, on first glance he still has to shoulder at least some of the blame for his poor display.
Perhaps the most baffling aspect of his performance was the frequency with which he drifted out the right flank.
According to Wyscout, the Magpies set themselves up in a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Allan Saint-Maximin joining Gayle at the point of attack and Miguel Almiron operating in behind.
Of those three, the last player you would expect, or want, to be pulling out into wide areas is Gayle.
The hitman is, on his day, exactly that – an old school poacher who can hurt teams with just the slightest sniff of goal. It’s why during his loan spell with West Brom in 2018/19 he managed 24 goals from a total xG of just 18.86.
But there’s no way that Gayle can showcase the best of his abilities from the right wing.
A quick look at his pass map against Chelsea shows that five out of his six attempted passes came from out wide, suggesting that he was mainly stationed in that area. The one exception was a kick-off from the centre spot.
Interestingly, however, when Joelinton came on for Gayle, he too seemed to make a concerted effort to operate from the right flank.
Like Gayle, he made six passes, and like Gayle nearly all of them were played from the wing into the centre of the field.
While it is true that the Brazilian is more suited to a berth on the flank, the rigidity with which he and Gayle seemed to stick to that role would suggest that it was at least partially a conscientious tactical decision from Bruce and his staff.
What can Gayle do to make more of an impact?
The solution seems to be a fairly obvious one – if Bruce is to persevere with Gayle, he needs to let him play to his natural strengths.
In this case, that means giving him licence to operate between the width of the goalposts – it’s no coincidence that Wilson has scored as many times as he has this season when his heat map looks like somebody set a chip pan fire on the penalty spot.
Even Gayle himself has shown glimpses of what he can do when trusted with that role as an out-and-out finisher.
The 31-year-old has been starved of minutes this term, but by far his most potent display of the campaign came against West Brom back in December.
The forward had three efforts on goal in the 2-1 win, two of which were on target, and he subsequently scored his only goal of the season to date.
All three of those shots came within the 18-yard box, and the vast majority of his general play was concentrated in that area too.
It’s not simply a case of telling Gayle to copy Wilson’s style of play and positional sense more closely – after all, that would be much easier said than done – but there’s no doubting that compared to Joelinton and Andy Carroll, the former Crystal Palace man is by far the closest thing Bruce has to his injured star turn.
And given that Gayle, like Wilson, thrives best in central positions, it makes sense that he is given a greater opportunity to operate in an area of the field that highlights the natural threat he can pose.
A newly-revitalised Chelsea were always going to provide a stern test for Gayle coming back into the side, but perhaps he can fare better against a Manchester United defence that have looked decidedly porous at times this season, should his manager opt for him again on Sunday – and provided he is allowed to play through the middle.