The underlying data that will concern Newcastle United - but offer promise to Fulham and Brighton
Newcastle United fans knew it was coming in December. Fast forward four months to now and here we are, the word relegation is back, dominating the conversation on Tyneside.
Steve Bruce, seemingly here to stay, has guided the Magpies deep into trouble. A third relegation under Mike Ashley is looking more likely as each game passes.
But what does the underlying data suggest about Newcastle’s survival chances compared to those in-and-around them in the Premier League table?
Here, we’ve taken a look at each of the United’s relegation rivals, their last ten games and the data behind the results to assess who are the most likely candidates to beat the drop.
We’ve included "six or seven teams”. They are: Southampton, Burnley, Brighton Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle.
Points per game – Brighton and Hove Albion lead the way
The simplest metric to examine is points-per-game (PPG) and which side has averaged the most points in their last ten games.
And in that regard, only Southampton (0.4) and West Brom (0.7) are worse off than Newcastle.
Bruce’s side, winning just twice in that period, have averaged 0.9 PPG. Fulham (1.2), Burnley (1.1) and Brighton (1.5) have all averaged more.
Applying this to the current league table suggests the fight for survival will be decided on the final day of the season at Craven Cottage.
Indeed, if you’re a Saints fan, you might also have cause for concern – and rightly so.
Projected league table (PPG x by the number of matches remaining, added to each club’s current total)
14th: Brighton – 46 points (45.5), 15th: Burnley – 43 points (42.9), 16th: Southampton – 37 points (36.6), 17th: Newcastle United – 36 points (36.1), 18th: Fulham – 36 points (35.6), 19th: West Brom – 24 points (24.3).
Goal difference – Fulham ahead of Newcastle United
As shown in the projected table above, goal difference (GD) could be the deciding factor as well as that final day finale in West London.
And worryingly for Newcastle, Fulham are well on course to better their GD, which already stands at a five-goal swing in favour of the Cottagers.
While Scott Parker's side have scored less (6) than United (10) over the last 10 games, they’ve proven to be a much more solid defensive unit, conceding seven less.
Newcastle’s 16 goals against compared to Fulham’s nine fetches a GD of -6 for the former and -3 for the latter.
It’s hard to look too much into Southampton shipping 27 goals – an average of 2.7 per game – following the freak 9-0 hammering at Old Trafford.
Brighton, meanwhile, have netted the most goals and conceded the least.
Average goals scored per game (over last 10)
Brighton – 1, Newcastle United – 1, Burnley – 0.9, Southampton – 0.9, Fulham – 0.6, West Brom – 0.5.
Average goals conceded per game (over last 10)
Brighton – 0.7, Fulham – 0.9, Burnley – 1.3, West Brom – 1.4 Newcastle United – 1.6, Southampton 2.7.
Expected goals for and against – Brighton and Fulham out in front
When analysing expected goals (xG) and expected goals against (xGA), the common theme is: 1st Brighton. 2nd Fulham.
Much has been made of Graham Potter’s side’s wastefulness in front of goal – except when playing Newcastle – and the xG data certainly backs that up.
The Seagulls have been expected to score 1.97 goals per game over their last 10 matches. Their xGA of 0.79 is very impressive.
Similarly for Fulham, while they are prone to be missing chances (1.53 xG), the encouraging sign is their getting in the right positions. The defensive data is again promising with their xGA a fairly low rating of 0.96.
In comparison to Newcastle, their 1.16 xG suggests they aren’t creating enough, while their 1.49 xGA – identical to Burnley’s – can be susceptible to conceding.
xG and xGA are good metrics to see how effective a team should be, but the reality can often be in contrast to what the data suggests. Just look at Brighton…
Average xG (over last 10 games)
Brighton – 1.97, Fulham – 1.53, Southampton – 1.31, Newcastle United – 1.16, West Brom – 1.1, Burnley – 0.84.
Average xGA (over last 10 games)
Brighton – 0.79, Fulham – 0.96, Burnley – 1.49, Newcastle United – 1.49, Southampton – 1.55, West Brom – 1.57.
The verdict – who goes down?
Many believe it is between Newcastle and Fulham and based on the data, it’s hard to argue with that prediction. Let’s be honest, it’s looking pretty bleak for West Brom.
The Magpies simply need an improvement in all areas because Parker’s men are outperforming them.
Bruce, like a number of United fans, will pin the club’s survival hopes on Miguel Almiron, Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin – hopefully starting with Tottenham Hotspur a week on Sunday – but more needs to be done.
Without taking a glance at the underlying data, it is assumed Southampton are as good as safe but if their current plight continues, they should be watching on nervously.
If there were any team to completely discredit xG then it’s definitely Brighton. Everything points towards Potter’s side being anything but relegation candidates.
Unless there are any telling changes during the final few months of the campaign, the battle to beat the drop looks all-but-certain to go to the last game of the season – a Craven Cottage showdown.