24/04/2024

The Newcastle Jets celebrate their 4-0 win over Wellington. (Photo: Newcastle Jets/Twitter)

The Newcastle Jets have proven to be 'the entertainers' of the 2021/22 A-League Men season. However, should they be proud of this new title?

Every season, there is at least one team labelled ‘the entertainers’. Perhaps a condescending title – this is often given to the side that plays exciting, attacking football, while giving them an excuse for their defensive issues. 

It’s not a bad thing to be ‘the entertainers’ of the league. More clubs would want that title than to be floating in lower half obscurity.

This title has been disturbed very early in season 2021/22, and it has been given to Newcastle Jets. After their first four games saw goals aplenty, they’ve shown the promising signs of a must-watch team. 

With the likes of Valentino Yuel, Beka Mikeltadze, Olivier Boumal and the dynamic and mercurial Daniel Penha, and Arthur Papas at the helm, it’s not surprising the scintillating football that the Jets are playing. 

They have been given this title very early on – and with their lack of glory over their history, should the Newcastle Jets be proud of their new title, especially in the pursuit of success?

How does Newcastle play?

To be ‘the entertainer’ you need to play some exciting football. So, let’s look at Papas’ system both in attack and in defence. 

In possession, Newcastle sets up in a conventional 4-2-3-1. Initially, the Jets play a methodical and patient build-up, before heavily upping the tempo once the ball reaches the final third.

They very rarely play ‘long ball’ football, wanting to always keep the ball on the ground. Their 489 accurate passes per 90 (being ranked first in the league) as well as their 2.3 accurate crosses per 90 (ranked 12th in the league) is a testament to that. 

Positionally, they attack in an asymmetrical system, with the left-sided winger staying wide and hugging the touchline. This allows for the left full-back to execute underlapping runs to get into the box. 

On the right – it’s the opposite. The right-winger cuts inside and occupying the half-spaces, allowing the right-fullback to execute overlapping runs, maintaining width in attack. 

The interesting role that Daniel Penha plays complements this. Starting in the central attacking midfield position, he plays a relatively ‘free role’, given a licence to roam the pitch and create overloads or fill space wherever he sees fit. 

When looking at the role of the number nine, his role is to facilitate. The striker tends to drop deep to cover Penha, whilst also picking up the ball and creating space for the wingers to make runs in behind.

The double-pivot in midfield maintains their position throughout the attack. This ensures that the Jets are covered in central areas should they turn the ball over.

These positional and structural attributes suit the squad make-up of the Jets, as well as the coaching style of coach Arthur Papas. This has led to Newcastle being very effective on the attack, scoring the most amount of goals this season with nine and creating the most amount of big chances with 12. 

They have also been very effective in attack, having the best goal per shot ratio with 0.13 and goals per shot on target with 0.36.

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Out of possession

One of the traits you need to have to be given the title of ‘the entertainers’ is, unfortunately, a poor defensive record. Before we look into the stats of this, let’s look at how the Jets set up out of possession.

Without the ball – they maintain their 4-2-3-1 shape. They don’t sit too deep or too high, being able to adapt to the opposition or the circumstances in the game.

They defend in an overall aggressive manner. The double-pivot occupies a proactive position, sitting in front of their direct opponent in an attempt to cut off the passing lane. 

They press in a relatively aggressive manner, with one key pressing trigger being to restrict the ability for an easy switch through the centre-backs. This forces a longer pass that has a higher chance of turning the ball over. The structure is narrow, forcing the opposition out wide, restricting space centrally.

Unfortunately for the Jets, they are as susceptible to conceding goals as they are scoring them.

They have the second-most goals conceded this season with six, and only have one clean sheet this season. They have also conceded the second most shot this season with 17.5 per 90. This shows their vulnerability without the ball – living up to their ‘entertainer’ title. 

Do entertainers win titles?

Well, unfortunately for Newcastle, history doesn’t lie. ‘The entertainers’ don’t win the league very often, if, at all.

There has yet to be a team to make it to the Grand Final with a negative goal difference. While Newcastle might not be in that company, they won’t be far off towards the business end of the season.

With that saying, it is still very early in the season. Papas has every opportunity to tweak the defensive structure of Newcastle and take his side’s game to the elite level. It might come at the expense of their attacking flair, but if it brings any form of success, Jets fans won’t care all too much.

Is this system sustainable?

It depends on the ambitions that Newcastle has this season. It currently seems likely to make finals. The Jets have unbelievable quality going forward that should cover for their lack of real quality in defence. 

Is it sustainable for a real title push? History has taught us that it probably isn’t. If Newcastle wants to sustain a real push for the title, then a change or at least tweak of the system is very necessary.

The question remains, should Newcastle be proud of its newfound title? Well, it has given the Jets some spotlight and the entertaining football that they are playing is going to put bums on seats. For the time being, it’s not the worst thing in the world.

However, if a title push is in their immediate plans, they should steer far away from this title as soon as possible.

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