Manchester United vs. Newcastle United: Ronaldo returns in style
Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Premier League action will throw the focus to his on field performance after a fortnight where it was anywhere but. The lack of actual matches has meant that Ronaldo’s off field persona has taken center stage. This has both given space for serious and needed discussion of the rape allegations against him, as well as more tedious discussions like the demands that the entire fabric of British sports broadcasting be ripped up so that local fans can watch a 3pm kickoff on television. For better or worse, the international break left Ronaldo’s return feeling more like a great affair of state than the second debut of an ageing, increasingly one dimensional striker.
Still Ronaldo does remain a top tier striker. And as he starts on his return, it matters how he, and Manchester United will fair. He does not create chances for himself like he did in his first spell at Old Trafford but if you create them for him he will put them away. With a supply line of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba it is fair to assume that chances will come his way. That’s especially true against Newcastle, who have put together rather woeful rearguards against inferior opposition. Goodness knows how they will cope against the sheer weight of quality that will be lined up against them in red.
Whilst three Premier League matches firmly falls into the reach of small sample size it is nevertheless remarkable that in such a short space of time Newcastle could allow opponents shots worth a combined 8.97 expected goals (xG, a metric that assesses the likelihood of any shot resulting in a goal). That is by far the worst record in the Premier League so far this season. Yes, even Arsenal have defended better than the Magpies. Southampton had created 0.78 and 0.73 xG in their first two games of the campaign. At St James’ Park they registered 4.08 xG.
West Ham were similarly dominant in front of goal as were Aston Villa. It is tempting to remove from the equation the three penalties the Magpies have handed opponents in as many games but if any team can bait opponents into conceding a spot kick it is the Red Devils. And it is hardly as if the open play goals that Newcastle have conceded augur well for their trip to Old Trafford.
Steve Bruce’s side consistently get the numbers needed back into the box but are undone by late runs into the box, simple flick-ons or attackers gambling where defenders aren’t. In the first of these images below Tomas Soucek does not even have to break into a sprint as he rolls past three Newcastle defenders while the ball is worked from right to left, allowing the midfielder a regulation tap in at the near post.
In the draw with Southampton, Newcastle have eight defenders around the box. Perhaps four of them could have made the run to the danger zone around penalty spot. The only player that does is Mohamed Elyounoussi.
This sort of defending is a recipe for disaster against one of the best there is in the penalty box. If Ronaldo plays against Newcastle expect his opponents to give him the chances to return in style.
Leicester City vs. Manchester City: Defensive issues hurt Foxes
Though these remain firmly the early days of the season, it would be fair to say that Leicester have not exactly burst out of the blocks even if six points feels like a solid return from three games. In each of those matches they have been outperformed on xG, edging past Wolverhampton Wanderers and Norwich City thanks to the finishing of Jamie Vardy rather than their chance creation.
More concerning, perhaps, is a rickety start at the other end of the pitch where Kasper Schmeichel conceded four against West Ham and a further goal to Teemu Pukki in that win over Norwich City. It might have been worse because whilst Leicester’s first three opponents have got into good scoring positions they have not shot the ball that well. According to Opta’s shooting goals added metric (which compares the likelihood of a goal being scored after a shot has been taken with the quality of the effort beforehand) the Foxes’ opposition are subtracting 0.64xG by their actual shooting.