Since returning to the Premier League this season, Newcastle United have shown that England's top flight is where they belong, rising to seventh place, just two points off the top four and ahead of much-fancied Liverpool after nine games.

Much of the credit has gone to manager Rafael Benítez for the way he has been able to organise and maximise the gifts of his squad, despite being denied the kind of reinforcements he sought in the summer transfer market.

Key to the Spanish tactician's ability to guide his team to the upper echelons of the division appears to be his ability to coax the best out of his charges, as Newcastle are not only over-performing on an individual level, but defying key statistical metrics on their rise up the table.

As the use of statistics in football continues to grow, not only among those within the game but amongst fans, too, some of the numbers used to illustrate a side's performance are almost being made a mockery of by the Magpies.

For instance, Benítez's side rank 18th in the Premier League so far this season for average possession (43.2 per cent), ahead of only Stoke City (42.7 per cent) and West Bromwich Albion (40.7 percent). And they are 17th when it comes to average pass accuracy, with Newcastle players picking out a colleague with just 72.5 per cent of their attempts.

The North East club also rank 17th for both total attempted passes (3,104), and accurate short passes (2,023) – despite the Spanish influence at St. James' Park, Newcastle's style cannot be mistaken for tiki-taka.

But, likewise, Newcastle are no purveyors of hit-and-hope, long-ball tactics: they again rank 17th for accurate long balls (228), and are bottom of the Premier League when it comes to total accurate crosses (29).

Indeed, their average pass length (19 yards) puts them right in the middle of the division, with the same average as Tottenham Hotspur. As you might expect, short-passing, possession specialists Manchester City and Arsenal have the lowest pass length (17 yards).

So, in many respects, it could be argued that Newcastle are a team without a distinctive style. Or perhaps one still striving to forge an identity in their first season back among the country's elite following there 2016 relegation.

One thing they are, however, is effective. Benítez is renowned as a master tactician, one of the best coaches in the world at meticulously plotting the downfall of upcoming opposition through studious research, strict drilling on the training field and clear communication of his instructions.

Throughout his career, the former Real Madrid boss' methods have been especially effective when applied to a team with underdog status, such as Valencia's back-to-back La Liga titles or the 2005 Champions League triumph with Liverpool.

Newcastle's numbers reflect the stewardship of a true pragmatist: Benítez is concerned with substance over style, and aims to exploit the weaknesses of opponents while masking those of his own side. The Magpies' comparative strengths and weaknesses will differ depending on the teams they face, therefore it stands to reason that their statistics show no specific area of expertise or focus.

What the numbers do show, however, is a certain ruthlessness, an efficiency. Their 12.5 per cent conversion rate is certainly not outstanding, but it ranks them tenth, just three places below their league position, and shows that they are capable of dispatching chances at this level when they are conjured.

And in terms of creativity, Newcastle fair well. They might not see as much of the ball as most of their rivals, but they are eighth-best for chances created, with 81.

Their expected goals (xG) average speaks to the general quality of the chances they are creating too. With an xG of 11.03 – more than champions Chelsea (10.11), for instance – Newcastle rank a respectable ninth for chance quality. They also rank seventh for both shots per game (13) and shots on target per game (4.9), reflecting their exact position in the Premier League table.

Having been promoted as second-tier champions, Newcastle were widely expected to be able keep their heads above water this season, but few would have anticipated a top-half push for the Magpies, let alone contention for a European place.

Of course, the season is still very much in its infancy, but if Benítez can continue to foster a ruthlessness within his side, accentuating their positives, Newcastle could spring a few more surprises come May.

Premier League