Why Howe has swooped to sign Kelly for a second time

By Alex Keble 13 Jun 2024
Kelly, Newcastle

Alex Keble explains how versatile defender will fit into Newcastle's squad

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As Lloyd Kelly joins Newcastle United from AFC Bournemouth, Alex Keble looks at what the versatile defender will bring to Eddie Howe's squad.

It is no surprise that Eddie Howe has swooped to sign AFC Bournemouth defender Lloyd Kelly - because it isn’t the first time he’s done so.

Howe brought Kelly to Bournemouth from Bristol City back in 2019, and although the then-teenager only made seven Premier League starts before Howe left the club at the end of 2019/20, the Newcastle United head coach has clearly admired his progress from afar.

Like Tyrone Mings and Nathan Ake before him, Kelly, who has excelled at Bournemouth this season across 17 Premier League starts, is a left-footed centre-back with a calm yet powerful presence at the heart of defence.

Here’s why he will fit in well at Newcastle.

Familiar tactics

“With Lloyd, I truly believe he’s got everything he needs to be a top, top player,” Howe said of Kelly in July 2020. “His career is out in front of him. If he can stay free from injury then he can achieve so many great things.”

It has been a relatively slow rise for the 25-year-old, but Kelly has come to life under Andoni Iraola, a head coach whose desire to pass out from the back, draw out the opposition press and attack quickly in the transition is not dissimilar to Howe’s tactical approach.

Howe, Kelly

That suggests Kelly will settle quickly at St James' Park. Among Newcastle centre-backs, only Fabian Schar, with 3.92, played more progressive passes per 90 minutes than Kelly’s 3.24 last season.

That being said, despite the tactical similarities between Newcastle and Bournemouth, Opta stats show that Iraola’s side are faster and more direct.

That explains why Kelly’s pass completion is lower than that of Newcastle’s centre-backs, while his passes into the final third are higher.

Kelly v Newcastle defenders' passing 23/24
Player Pass completion Passes into final third/90
Lloyd Kelly 74.3% 4.39
Fabian Schar 82.7% 4.28
Jamaal Lascelles 86.4% 3.17
Sven Botman 90.6% 2.48

Howe may wish to rein in this quality, or perhaps use Kelly’s longer distribution from left-back or centre-back to make Newcastle a more transition-based team - as they were in their successful 2022/23 campaign.

Versatile Kelly gives Howe options

The Newcastle player most similar to Kelly is Dan Burn, a tall and powerful centre-back who has frequently played as a left-back under Howe.

It is likely that Kelly will be expected to understudy Burn at left-back for those matches when Howe effectively plays with a back three, shuffling the left-back inside to join the centre-backs.

Kelly is in the 90th percentile for aerial duels won, with 1.62 per 90 minutes, among left-backs in the "big five" leagues over the last 365 days, suggesting he can fill in for Burn.

Kelly v Burn

But Kelly will also be playing centrally. Sven Botman is the only left-footed centre-back in the Newcastle squad and he remains sidelined with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury until at least October, meaning there is space for an assertive, front-foot defender who is able to open his body and feed Anthony Gordon.


Kelly fits the bill for that role, too. He created nine chances last season - more than any other Newcastle centre-back - and is in the 96th percentile for shot-creating actions, with 1.67 per 90 minutes, among centre-backs in the "big five" leagues over the last year.

He might not become a regular starter, but Kelly’s versatility, suitability to Newcastle’s tactics and history with Howe suggests this is a smart piece of business.

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