When I found out there was interest in bringing Rob Holding to St. James’ Park on a season long loan I was curious – Newcastle’s trouble last season wasn’t really on the defensive side of the game, it was scoring goals.
Steve Bruce often employed three centre-backs in his 3-5-2 system flanked by two wingbacks to provide width. Even more so, the club has depth in the centre-back position, so it’s not like bringing in another player who can play in that position is a priority. Fabian Schar, Jamaal Lascelles, Federico Fernandez were the three used the most, but Newcastle have Ciaran Clark, Florian Lejeune, and even Paul Dummet who could do a job should an injury crisis take hold.
So, over to SmarterScout I went to see if there was anything to be gleaned from the data. Turns out, there was…
Defensive Unit Summary
From looking at the data above, on first glance Newcastle’s back three did an alright job defensively, with Fernandez and Schar having decent ratings for disrupting the opposition play. The same two players were just average when it came to contesting the ball in the air, with Fernandez having the better ratings for successful ground duels (Jamaal Lascelles also looks to struggle with ground duels but makes up for it having better success in the air).
Where it looks like this back three is most in need of improvement is with advancing the ball out of the defensive third of the field and linking up the play. Let’s see what Rob Holding’s stats look like in comparison.
Rob Holding’s Defensive Stats
The data above is populated from the 2018/19 Premier League season since Holding didn’t make many appearances last season. What’s immediately obvious is that the player offers much improved link up play and bringing the ball out of the back.
In addition, it looks like the player is not only able to disrupt the opposition, but also distribute the ball effectively after having won it. Similarly Holding would add both strength in the air and on the ground, while also having superior ball distribution ratings than all of the current preferred Newcastle back three. A ball playing left-sided centre-back who can win the ball? What’s not to like?
Who Makes Way?
Fernandez and Schar are very similar players and more cultured than club captain Jamaal Lascelles, however the latter is much more successful defending aerial balls, so is unlikely to make way. Looking at the two players in more detail it’s hard to separate them – so based on what the data shows, as well as what Holding would bring to balance out the back three, I would most likely select Fabian Schar – what Lascelles provides is strength aerially, and Schar is an improvement on Fernandez when it comes to winning individual ground duels.
In looking at the data it’s hard to argue against Holding adding balance and distribution to the Newcastle backline, but a major influencing factor in determining Holding’s success will be the quality of the players and the team’s style of play. Going from a fluid Arsenal passing game to a more direct Newcastle will have it’s challenges.
It’s safe to say that Newcastle are going to have to play well on the counter if they have any chance of avoiding a relegation fight, so does this suit Holding’s game or would he be instructed to play a little safer and build through playmaker Jonjo Shelvey? It’ll make an intriguing watch as Steve Bruce works to figure it out.