Sunday, 20 May 2012

Why is Demba Ba firing Blanks for Newcastle?

To be perfectly honest, Demba Ba has been the best free transfer signing of this season. The former Hammers man has scored 16 Premier League goals this term, with 8 coming at home and the other 8 of course coming on the road.

During December, it was perfectly arguable to say Demba Ba was the best signing of the summer. And it was merely stating the obvious that Demba Ba was one of the finest strikers in the Premier League. After all, he was scoring for fun. But when his international team mate Papiss Cisse joined, everyone thought Newcastle now had two brilliant strikers, meaning double the goal action for Newcastle faithful.

But things haven’t worked out exactly like that. 

Indeed, Papiss Cisse has hit the ground running in emphatic fashion. I mean 13 goals in 13 games in the Premier League is unbelievable, especially considering its his first few months in the division too.  And if you’ve seen his recent goals, most of them are just incredible, some of them are worldie efforts. 

But the partnership between Cisse and Ba hasn’t worked out completely to plan. And it’s had its most devasting effect on Ba. In fact, whenever the two have started a game Ba has failed to score in all of those games. 

But why is this the case?

To find out, we’ve taken Ba’s stats from when he was in lethal form playing in the middle as the main man at Newcastle (so stats from August to January). And we’ve also taken his stats from when Cisse joined the club (February till May).
Stats via EPL Index

It’s key to note, one of the first things Pardew did to facilitate Cisse was to shift Ba to a more left sided role, as opposed to playing them both up top. However, the strikers would often swap roles during games. But recently, Ba has occasionally gone up top with Cisse in certain periods of matches. And when this has happened, Ba has looked far more potent, especially if one looks at his final two games against City and Everton. 

Starting off with Ba’s shots stats, the Newcastle’s number 19 went from 60 attempts on goal, to 49.  The decline in shots, could show Ba struggling to get into the key positions or his favourable positions to attempt to score. But the most alarming stat, which further indicates this is Ba’s shots on target record. Prior to the arrival of Cisse, Ba had 30 shots on target, by the end of the season, Ba managed exactly half of that.  Furthermore, since playing from the left hand side, Ba has had more shots blocked too.  This could indicate defenders are more capable of nullifying Ba’s threat from the left hand, thus restricting his effect on the game.  

Ba’s move to the left handside has seen his shot accuracy decline rather drastically. From the start of the season to January, Ba had a 63% shot accuracy. While by the end of the season, it was at 45%. For me, this symbolises just how Ba has struggled to get into his favourable positions to be at his most clinical sharpness.

Diagram of Ba goal placements:

If you look at Ba’s goals placements, most have been placed in the bottom left hand side. This to an extent, reinstates, why Ba has struggled to score in the second half of the season. Ba’s move to a more deeper left sided role has meant he has struggled to get into his most natural and instinctive position to find the net.  After all, if he's playing in a more left sided role, his chances of scoring via the bottom left hand corner are limited, due to his aim being narrowed by his initial position.

To many, Ba hasn’t done a brilliant job in his new role at Newcastle. You can see their point. I mean he has been anonymous since Cisse has joined. But what’s interesting is that in his deeper role, the Newcastle number 19 has won more aerial duals and won more tackles and he has also seen more of the ball too, as suggested by the number of passes he’s made. As much as this shows Ba getting involved in the nitty gritty of the game, Ba has struggled to actually create sufficient chances for his team mates, especially for Cisse. In his deeper role, Ba created just 10 chances, assisting once. But on the same token, when Ba was leading the line he assisted just once again and in fact created fewer chances (9). It’s transparent this is a feature of Ba’s game which he has to improve on. Ba as a target man or as a deep forward, he must be more effective in creating chances for his team mates. 

But what’s interesting is that in his deeper role,  Ba has made less final third passes and he has also attempted less crosses. For me, this along with the drought of goals and the lack of chances created it suggests two things. It firstly suggests Ba has not fully understood his new role in the Newcastle side, hence his anonymity in the second half of the season.  Or it could highlight Ba is not comfortable in the role, which would probably explain why he’s been on such dramatic goal drought this season.

For me, it’s a mixture of not understanding his new role and not being comfortable in it. As Demba Ba is a man who played in the right position can score for fun. Ba knows this himself more than anyone and one could argue, it’s taken its toll on his confidence. 

Now, with statistics, it’s hard to measure up confidence. Actually its impossible. But there are a few indicators. The clear chance conversion rate gives a decent indicator. Ba went from 62% to nearly half of that by the end of the season. Normally, Ba’s clear cut chance conversion should have stayed around 62- 50%, but the big decline shows Ba has lost that spark and confidence he once had in front of goal.
But the most devastating and most alarming stat is his conversion rate. Prior to Cisse’s arrival, Ba had a chance conversion of 33% and now that stat is down to 3%. That’s a huge decline of huge proportions. It demonstrates just how the confidence has been drained out of the player, and it hasn’t been helped by him being played out of his favourable position.  The few goals scored, the clear cut conversion and chance conversion rate worryingly indicate, Ba is not only out of form but it could suggest the player is suffering from fatigue too. One must recall Ba also played in the African Cup of Nations in January, granted it was for a very short amount of time, but the travelling and climate changes could have taken its toll on his body.  

Demba Ba has declined severely since January. The player looks uncomfortable in his new position and he seems bankrupt of confidence. It is crucial in the summer, Pardew devises a plan to finally get the best out Ba again. The Newcastle boss may need to redefine the role for Ba, thus attempting give Ba a better understanding of how he wants him to play in the position behind Cisse. But Ba himself must take a good break in the summer and come back in pre-season with the determination to rediscover his goal scoring touch and adapt to the role Pardew has set him.

However, I believe in order for Cisse and Ba to both be effective. Newcastle may have to do a Chelsea. Newcastle may well have to play one or the other, as opposed to starting them both. Just like Chelsea have done to facilitate Torres and Drogba. As it’s clear both players are at their most lethal when leading the line. Furthermore, with the Europa League to contend next season, it can’t be expected Ba and Cisse can both start all of Newcastle’s games. If the duo are rotated, it could lead to Newcastle having an eye for goal not only in the Premier League but in Europe too.

But so far, Ba’s new role at Newcastle demonstrates he is a player who is uncomfortable in the position he is playing in. It is crucial Newcastle and Ba get back to the drawing board and find a way to get him and Cisse singing off the same hymn sheet. 

(Stats from EPL Index)

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