Newcastle vs Barcelona – 1997 UCL Group Stage Data Analysis

Newcastle United 3-2 FC Barcelona

UEFA Champions League Group C

September 17th, 1997

St. James’ Park, Newcastle

By Alistair Bain (@allybain)


To give us some context on the data here is a quick overview of each team:

Newcastle Attacking Structure

  • Newcastle set up in a 442 system defensively, but would morph into a 4132 in attack in periods of the game, with Batty holding the space infront of the back four and the remaining midfielders narrowing.
  • Dahl Tomasson worked between the lines to link the game more and was a decent foil for Asprilla, who’s ability to lead the line was really on another level.
  • Beresford was more attacking in his movements than Barton, however with Barnes often moving inside like a central midfielder it gave Beresford the spaces to advance forward into.
  • Lee would attack from deep in this match, often running beyond the line of the ball to stretch the central space when the ball was in wide areas.

Barcelona Attacking Structure

Barcelona’s 433 was almost a mirror image of the current Manchester City set up, which on paper was a 433, however through the prism of a positional play model.

Both full backs would narrow to form a three man screen alongside Ivan de la Pena, in front of Nadal and Celades. De La Pena build up play was very positive, looking to play penetrative passes into Rivaldo or Enrique where available, as they’d typically position themselves in advanced areas between Newcastle’s lines.

Amunike was more of a true winger and would stretch the left wing space consistently, however Figo started wide and would drift inside and being replaced with Luis Enrique who’d peel wide, providing a rotation that was hard to pick up.

Anderson dropped to link the game like a false 9, peeling into the spaces between the lines and enticing the Newcastle center backs to come out and press the ball.

WHAT DO THE NUMBERS TELL US?

Value of Chances

xG Timeline:

While Barcelona would record just over double the amount of attacks than that of their opponents, it would take until the 73rd minute for them to surpass Newcastle in the overall valuation of their attack play. The first thirty minutes was a cagey and tentative match, seeing 4 attacks in total (between both teams) whereas after this initial period of feeling their way into the game it would be Barcelona who would launch attacks on a far more consistent basis, yet it was the hosts who’d attack in a far more clinical nature, scoring 2 goals from only 4 1st half attacks.

There is a period between the 55th and 75th minute that we could argue the hosts rode their luck, as Barcelona would unleash a blitz of attacks that would total what Newcastle created in the entire match.

Chance Value:

This is where Newcastle’s performance really comes to the fore, as they would create 3 big chances in the match from only 11 attacks, and all of which would result in a goal. In a match where Newcastle were probably expected to have less of the ball, the way they advanced forward on the counter and were able to foster attacks on target was impressive, but more so was their ability to turn these efforts into goals at key times.

Barcelona would only create 1 big chance in the match, an effort which also resulted in a goal, but their overall attack play did see a solid amount of upticks. There were a decent amount of blocked efforts, which perhaps suggests they weren’t able to make the best use of the attacking space available to them, albeit compacted by the Newcastle defence, but overall Barcelona matched their actual goals with their xG numbers, which often suggests a fair outcome.

Type of Chances Created

Examining Newcastle’s approach play it is almost immediately apparent that they favored counter attack play through Keith Gillespie on the right wing. Further to that I’d also add in that Gillespie was up against arguably one of the most athletic players on the field, Barjuan Sergi, who was almost always in a defensive tussle with the Northern Irish winger. This shows us that not only has Gillespie performed well, but done so under sever duress from an International level defender. Gillespie would create 4 key passes from crosses into the box, all highlighted in black from the right wing area, with three of these creating attacks on target, and two of these efforts resulting in a goal. Overall from Newcastle’s 8 Key Passes (creative movements that would result in a shooting opportunity for a teammate) we’d see 4 of them hit the target, which is a solid return considering they’d only have 11 attacks overall.

Barcelona’s key pass locations would be more spread out, however a sizeable portion would also come from the right hand side. This side was manged by Figo in the first half, but in the second we’d see more actions from substitute Ciric in this area, as well as Luis Enrique pulling into the wide area to create movements to goal.

Given Barcelona’s patient approach play its not surprising that 10 of their Key passes would be created by passages of build up play, however in terms of efficency we’d actually see a better return on counter attacks. From Build up only 3 of the 10 creative actions would result in a shot on target, where as 2 of the 5 counter attacks would test Shay Given in the Newcastle net. Barcelona’s set up play saw 6 key passes coming from short ball movements, either a set back or a cut back, but they’d also cross the ball 5 times to create attacks, albeit a decent majority of these came from their sizeable set piece attack play.

While it was apparent that Barcelona opted for territory over penetration in their approach play, this at times did leave them very vulnerable on the counter, and the next set of stats will underline that further.

Where Chances are Created

With a player of Rivaldo’s quality in the team, its inevitable that there will be shots from distance in the match, but we’d also see Luis Figo and Luis Enrique chip in with some speculative efforts. The evidence for attempting these strikes is brought forward by the Figo goal late in the game, as the Newcastle defenders arguably blocked any vision the keeper may have had in order to make a save. Overall Barcelona’s performance was in line with their xG, which shows us that their output matched it’s xG value. Yet if we look at the xG from the attacks on target, it shows us that they’ve probably done well to get two goals, especially as the 2nd goal from Figo had such low probability.

If we analyze Barcelona’s performance inside the box, we see that of their 9 attacks 8 of them came from inside the golden zone (central portion of the 18 yard box). 8 golden zone efforts is a solid return in a single game, however only 3 of these would hit the target, two being saved and one turning in a goal.

Overall Barcelona would have 23 shots in total, with only 7 of these testing the keeper, a number that perhaps suggests poor performance somewhere along the line. Yet we also have to consider that 10 of these 23 efforts were blocked by Newcastle, this shows a desire from the hosts to get close to their opponents and make life hard for them. We can of course debate whether Barcelona’s approach play was good enough, but something we cannot deny is how Barcelon’as positioning in attack would leave them open to the movements of Gillespie and Asprilla, both of whom would punish Barcelona for their inability to transition defensively with any real purpose.

7 of Newcastles shots on goal would come from inside the box, with the highest % of these shots (3 from 7) coming from counter attack opportunities. Asprilla was deadly inside the box, showing terrific movement and an unstoppable leap to head home a cross not once, but on two separate occasions. In each of these three counter attacks which ended inside the box Asprilla would test the keeper, with the first of which resulting a goal.

Overall Newcastle would see their efforts on target level out by some missed opportunities from distance (11 attacks overall, 5 on target and 6 off target), but even with that considered their xG on target score was exceptional. 77% of Newcastle’s xG value came from efforts on target, bearing in mind that xG is calculated by the position of the shot not the outcome, the xGOT gives us a better understanding of a teams efficiency infront of goal.  In comparison we see that Barcelona’s xGot accounts for only 38% of their xG coming from efforts on target, it hopefully now gives us a better picture of how impressive this display from Newcastle really was.

Who Created Chances

Newcastle’s best statistical attacker in the match was never in doubt, and is awarded to Faustino Asprilla. His tour de force performance saw him record 8 of Newcastle’s 11 attacks, 5 of which were on target and returned 3 goals. His personal xG was 1.457 for the match, which accounts for 86% of Newcastle’s overall xG value.

Barcelona’s highest statistical performer was Rivaldo, who also wracked up the attacks in the game. He would better Asprilla by recording 10 attacks overall, and a further two key passes for his teammates. Even though only 3 of these attacking efforts would result in a shot on target, he’d contribute a personal xG score of 0.825 and play a considerable role in Barcelona’s comeback into the match.  

Match Predictor

Using our very own Retro Football Analysis Match Simulator, we use the probability rating of each attack to calculate the odds of the matches outcome. Here are the results we got back.

Why not check out the Match Report from this match? CLICK HERE to do so.

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