Friday, November 4, 2011

Weekend Preview: What to Make of Newcastle?

Newcastle is 3rd in the table and one of two unbeaten teams in the league. This wouldn't have been a big surprise not that long ago, but given the disastrous tenure of owner Mike Ashley, this is a huge shock. Ten weeks in, the punditry are finally forced to accept they need to take a look at Newcastle. Some see a fluke, some a genuine contender. But which is it?

Unfortunately for Newcastle fans, it's a fluke. First off, I feel I need to make the somewhat obvious point that being unbeaten is meaningless. In this league, a win and a loss is better than two draws. Saying you're unbeaten sounds great, but it really doesn't make you a great team. Moreover, if we analyze the four drawn matches that Newcastle has had so far, only in one of them has Newcastle produced more shots on goal than the opponent, meaning they were the more likely loser in the other three. If they had lost one or two of these, I doubt Newcastle's start would be that big of a deal.

The more common argument for the unbelievers has been that Newcastle haven't played anybody good yet. Newcastle have played the easiest schedule out of any team in the league. Their opponents have average 1.04 points per game. Averaging 1.04 points per game for the whole season would put a team below the 40 required to avoid relegation. Moreover, Newcastle's toughest two games (Arsenal and Spurs) were both at home. Suffice to say Newcastle have been a little lucky on the scheduling front so far.

That wouldn't be as much of a concern if Newcastle were dominating their opposition, you can only beat the teams in front of you after all, but they're not. Though they are tied with Chelsea for third in goal differential, they are only sixth in SOG differential, and that is with an absurdly easy schedule. In fact, their average goal differential is higher than their average SOG differential, something that is usually untenable.

Just to be clear, Newcastle are not a bad team. I think they'll end up fighting for 7th with Everton and Sunderland. However, they are not better than any of the top six and their easy early schedule hasn't given us the best indication of their true talent level. We'll see what happens after their next four games of Everton, City, United, and Chelsea.

Gambling Picks: Everton over @Newcastle 11/5 and Sunderland over @Man United 12/1. Okay, so I love picking against United as a City fan. Maybe too much. But seriously, has United ever looked this bad since the formation of the Premier League? (All caps warning) THEY'RE PLAYING ROONEY IN CENTRAL MIDFIELD! Has Sir Alex lost the plot? I would take a lot of teams 12/1 to beat United at this point in time. Everton tough schedule, thus underrated; Newcastle easy schedule, thus overrated.

-Nothing irritates me more than losing a bet because of a red card or a penalty. Last week, I picked Bolton who ended up getting a red card AND giving up a penalty. Note to self, don't bet against Swansea at home. Somehow, Swansea are unbeaten at home and yet winless on the road.

-Games to watch: I'm thinking about making this a regular feature, although I worry that I'll be telling you to watch the same teams all the time. Anyway, this week I recommend Fulham/Spurs and advise missing out on Villa/Norwich.

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