It’s been a long campaign for Newcastle United with so many sagas that happened inside the club in season 2019/20. Apart from that saga, they were successfully holding their Premier League club status after securing the 13th place in their fourth time in last season. However, this does not mean they can celebrate it, as most pundits anticipate that Steve Bruce will bring the team into the Championship. Looking at the 2019/20 squad, it is very clear that the club management needs to do something for the squad improvement.
Newcastle’s top scorer last season in Premier League was Jonjo Shelvey, playing centre midfielder for the Tyneside club. With just six goals for last season, this is the lowest tally from a Premier League player since John Barnes in 1997/98. Based on this issue, clearly, Bruce needs to find a proven PL goalscorer this summer to enhance their attacking department and survive another season in the Premier League.
Hence, in early September, Newcastle United has announced a 29-year old centre-forward that has gained many experiences in the league, which is Callum Wilson from AFC Bournemouth. Through this scout report, we will look into understanding Wilson’s strengths and weaknesses and how he fits into Steve Bruce’s tactics.
In this tactical analysis, we will consider his time spent at Bournemouth. He started 32 from 35 matches for now-relegated Bournemouth and played in 2911 minutes, the most minutes played by a Bournemouth player after Aaron Ramsdale. In his Bournemouth tenure, he always played as a true striker due to his goal-scoring ability. Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth is synonymous with a robust formation of 4-4-2, or alternatively in a 4-4-1-1 shape. In those formations, it is obvious that Wilson was used as a top striker with Joshua King as his attacking partner, or playing as a lone forward if they are against top opposition.
From the heatmap image shown above, even though it looks like scattered around, we could say that Wilson always tries to get into the opposition box for better shooting opportunities while sometimes adrift wide to give space for his teammates. His heat map also gives an overview he is always holding the ball in his preferred areas while finding a way to position himself in the penalty box as a centre-forward. Having a forward who knows how to position himself well in the penalty box will be a relief for Newcastle United’s gaffer to improve their attacking chances.
Arguably, we expected to see Callum Wilson as the top scorer for his club due to his position as a striker playing as a poacher in the opposition box. Unsurprisingly, he scored eight goals for Eddie Howe’s team last season. As a poacher, Wilson is asked to do the most important job in a football match, which is put the ball in the net. Poachers work best inside the penalty area as composure, positional awareness, and excellent finishing are a few important traits for a striker.
To know if Wilson has these traits as a goal-scoring centre-forward, we need to analyze his match footage to see if he has what it takes to prove him as a valuable centre-forward for Newcastle United. For the first trait, we look at how his composure can help his team in terms of build-up from a counter-attack. His composure trait can be seen in the below example, where he holds the ball in play after a steal from Joe Gomez. He held it very well while finding his teammate who is free and passed it to create a goal-scoring chance. As we can see, Fabinho is rapidly approaching him to apply pressure on him. Due to his composure and smart decisions, this sequence ends when he scored a goal against Liverpool in the six-yard box.
Besides playing under immense pressure from opponents’ defenders, he also has the credibility to find a spot in the penalty box for higher chances for a scoring goal. As a poacher, Wilson always sits in between two defenders looking at an empty space for him to utilize, shown in the footage below.
In the footage below, Callum Wilson was looking at the empty space on his left side to utilize that space before Spurs’ centre-backs react. His teammate, left-back Diego Rico noticed Wilson’s intention, so Rico decided to do an early cross, hoping Wilson could head the ball and give a goal to Bournemouth. However, it turned out Alderweireld also noticed the space behind and marked Wilson closely. Wilson won the ball and gave his teammate the first shot on target for that match.
This scenario is one of the examples in his whole career that he always found a better position for him or his teammate to capitalize on the empty space in the opposition’s penalty box. This proves that he is aware of his position in the final third and his surrounding before damaging the opponents with shooting the ball towards the goalkeeper.
The last trait that I mentioned in the previous section is excellent finishing. For this part, I will use the data from FBRef.com and whoScored.com to analyze Callum Wilson’s statistics in front of the goal. I will also use Newcastle United’s centre-forwards (played minimum 500 mins) as a comparison for Wilson to see if Newcastle’s new acquisition is an improvement to their arsenal or vice versa. Basically, the variables used for this are total goals, xG or expected goals, No. of shots per 90 mins, and % of shots on target. Heading ability also needed to be included in this exploratory analysis because most PL centre-forwards uses their heads to score a goal too. To study offensive heading ability, I used offensive aerial per 90 mins and aerial win percentages.
Wilson had an impressive goals tally as he scored eight goals for Bournemouth last season while his xGoals was also the highest in this visualization as the value is 10.0. All of Steve Bruce’s boys are inside the lower left quadrant. The nearest top scorer after Wilson is Dwight Gayle with 4 goals and 4.5 xGoals. Sadly, Andy Carroll is the lowest with zero goal to his name and the value for his xGoals stands at 0.9. Joelinton only scored two goals last season with 4.8 xGoals for Newcastle, slightly higher than Dwight Gayle.
From the above visualization, we can say that Callum Wilson is indeed a better improvement for their attacking although he is underperforming with the difference between his goals and expected goals is -2.0. With the quality of Callum Wilson, Newcastle United really need him to score more goals and improve their chance of survival in this season.
Moving on, we will now look at the total number of shots they got and the percentages of shots on target. This will be determined how many chances in the opposition penalty box they created or supplied and how they performed it. By looking at the visualization above, it shows that Callum Wilson is at the top right quadrant with 1.67 shots per 90 minutes and 40.7% of shots accuracy. The player with a higher number for both variables is Dwight Gayle with 2.44 shots per 90 and 43.5% for shots on target. In terms of shots on target, Andy Carroll has the lowest percentages (20.0%) compared to the others and it correlates very well with his no goal last season. However, he has the second-highest value in terms of shots per 90 (2.14). Joelinton is on average for shots on target percentages which is 28.8% while takes 1.74 shots per 90.
It seems that the biggest issue within Newcastle United’s attacking department is their striker cannot target their shots on a goal. This explains why Shelvey is their top scorer last season. However, with Wilson, Steve Bruce can solve this problem as Wilson has the quality to find shots on target.
The image above shows the visualization of aerial duel per 90 and the percentages of these centre-forwards winning them. As I explained before, a great poacher has the ability to win the ball through a header. Looking at the statistics above, Wilson has 6.6 aerial duels per 90 with winning them 30.5% only. Gayle has a slightly smaller number of winning the aerial battle than Wilson (29.6%) but is involved in more duels than Wilson, which is 13.8 aerial duel per 90. Joelinton is found to fight 7.5 aerial duels last season with win percentages of 42.5%, higher than aforementioned strikers. Interestingly, Andy Carroll has the highest number for both statistics, leaving all of the centre-forwards by far away. He contested 20.2 aerial duels per 90 with 64.7% success in winning the duels, the best by far.
Heading ability is one of the weaknesses found within Callum Wilson. This does not mean that he cannot contribute anything during the attacking phase. He can compensate for this weakness with his skills by finding a better position without contesting with the defenders to win the ball in the air. If he wants to increase his goal tally higher than last season, he needs to focus on improving his heading skills.
How does Callum Wilson fit into Newcastle United for 20/21 season?
After analyzing Wilson’s strength and the players’ goal-scoring abilities, now we can look at how Steve Bruce can utilize Wilson in his tactics. Before that, we need to know the basic formation and tactics being applied in this Tyneside club. Bruce’s Newcastle has changed recently with how they are attacking after adopted again a back four. Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, Newcastle played with a back five and applied to defend deep and counter-attacking style. Now, Newcastle has an upsurge in terms of attacking gameplay after Bruce decided the “back four is a way for moving forward.” With an in-form Allan Saint-Maximin playing very well, they already created many chances for their centre-forward to score. With a new look on Newcastle, this is where Callum Wilson will blossom.
In this new Newcastle, Bruce was using 4-4-2 as his new formation. This formation is also being applied by Wilson’s former club, with two centre-forwards in front. When it comes to Wilson, Bruce can play him where he can do the most damage, which is a centre-forward as a poacher role. Let’s look at the image below on how Newcastle played during the attacking phase.
The image shows one of Newcastle’s attacking transitions during a match against Wilson’s old team, Bournemouth. The ‘new’ Newcastle tends to use a wing play as they noticed that their stronger players are the wingers. Most of the final third entries came from wide spaces. We can see a long ball played by Newcastle’s defender from the deep area into the wide space. Noticed how Newcastle’s centre-forward, Dwight Gayle, makes a run into the corner of Bournemouth’s penalty to prepare himself for finishing the expecting crosses. This is what Callum Wilson usually does; the Newcastle wingers should be able to find him for the last ball with ease. Callum Wilson also does not have to worry too much as Matt Richie and Allan Saint-Maximin had commendable key passes per 90 which are 1.8 and 1.3 respectively.
Another example can be seen in the footage above. Bruce applied the same wing play concept against Manchester City in the quarter-final FA Cup. In the footage, Allan Saint-Maximin can be seen is waiting at the far left side of the pitch, waiting to unleash his dribbling skills towards Man City players. This is to attract defensive players into him so that Andy Carroll has free space that being left by the defenders to exploit. Of course, this tactic failed against one of the best teams in England, as Jesus was dropping down to help their right-back against Saint-Maximin. This sequence ended when he passed the ball into his own half. However, Saint Maximin’s dribbling ability will help Callum Wilson very well as he can find the empty space to position himself well to shoot the ball.
In the same match too, we also can analyze Newcastle’s playing style at the right-wing. Miguel Almiron is holding the ball after collecting it near the touchline. As shown in the image above, three Newcastle players are getting into the spaces to open themselves receiving the ball. With Almiron’s intelligence, he knew that crossing into the penalty box has lower chances of his teammate to receive the ball. He saw the right-back was overlapping him and decided it might be the best course in delivering the ball into the penalty area.
Javier Manquillo, the right-back, crossed the ball outside of the penalty area towards Andy Carroll. This scenario ended with Man City’s defender getting to the ball first, as Carroll was quite slow to getting to the ball. However, in Callum Wilson, there is a high chance that he can get the ball first as he is faster than the aforementioned striker. Based on these wing plays adopted by Newcastle, Callum Wilson will be the most integral part as both Newcastle wingers need him at the right position and the pace to get the ball first. Thankfully, Callum Wilson has both important skills to help Newcastle in attacking the final third.
Overall, Callum Wilson has everything that it takes to perform in Newcastle United and helps them to survive another season in the Premier League. However, he still needs to improve in certain areas such as his heading if he wants to score more goals than last season. Being a proven goalscorer in the most rigorous league in Europe, Newcastle United has signed a decent centre-forward into their dressing room. It is exciting to see how he is going to perform in a Newcastle shirt.