Well, a new season is upon us and already the premier league is proving to be exciting, the Mackems’ 4-2 defeat at this point being the most pleasurable aspect (I am writing this on Saturday the 8th). In fact, I am watching the Chelsea-Swansea match and it is currently 2-2 with Courtois sent off, rock and roll.
Who cares about that though, we are here to discuss the Toon. I am conducting a little experiment with myself here, and am probably about to expose my complete naivety, but here it goes: I am going to predict tomorrow’s outcome, then return after the match and dissect where and why I was wrong. You’re going to have to trust me!
It is very difficult to predict what Steve McClaren will do in his first match, for precisely that reason, he has no ‘form’. So I am using a hint of pragmatism coupled with sheer guesswork.
Keeper: Krul. Ok, that was easy. Neither Darlow nor Elliot look like deposing the undisputed king of the sticks for the time being, so I’ll move on to defence.
Was I right? Of course I was, and Krul made a couple of breathtaking saves, the one with a stretched out foot almost certainly saved the game for us.
Right Back: Janmaat. This isn’t really as hard as I thought so far. The fact he is the only right back currently at the club gives him something of a head start, but I doubt there are many that would argue with the view that he is the best right back we have had since, um, Warren Barton (Debuchy is dead to me).
Was I right? Yes, and he was brilliant again. His work ethic is second to none and he often found himself sweeping up in the left back position.
Centre Back Pairing: Now it gets tricky. My heart says Colo and Mbemba, but Colo hasn’t played a minute of pre-season and Mbemba only managed to squeeze in a few minutes at right back, so I can’t see them being thrown in as an untried pairing, especially with Mbemba not yet given the chance to acclimatise to the new league he finds himself in.
The pre-season duo of Taylor and Williamson seems more likely (grimace), but I’m going to go for a little bit of realistic wishful thinking and say that Colo will start alongside Taylor with Mbemba on the bench.
Was I right? Nope. I was spectacularly wrong, I should have listened to my heart! Colo seemed almost back to his best, and played very well considering he hasn’t had a minute of pre-season.
The real bonus was Mbemba, who was my man of the match. He was winning balls he had no right to win and generally defending very sensibly. He looks like he wants to burst forward and there were a couple of occasions he could have done but checked himself, I hope he does in the future, this lad is going to be a star (and he turned up in a tux, class). I don’t think either defender was at fault for Pelle’s goal, sometimes you just can’t win headers against someone like that.
Left Back: Hairdryer. Dummett is a fitness doubt and hasn’t played much (at all?) in pre-season, so, as the only other left-back Haidara must get the nod. While he is very good going forward, I still have doubts about his defending, he does tend to stick a foot in where it isn’t wanted, or pull someone down, so the Saints will inevitably push down their right.
Was I right? I was, and unfortunately Haidara didn’t cover himself in glory. Wingers can’t be allowed to get crosses in when there’s a massive bloke in the middle, and the Saints did that too often. I think the priority for the club could very well be to bring in a player of Janmaat’s quality on the left. Jose Enrique anybody?
Holding Midfielders: I think we will see (have seen) Colback and Anita as the dual core processors. Colback has the tenacity necessary to do the jobs nobody else likes doing, and with Anita alongside him clearing up what he misses, there is a good balance of defensive solidity and forward-looking vision.
My reservations are mainly with Anita’s size; he played very well at the end of last season, and has looked good in pre-season, but through no fault of his own he is often easily muscled off the ball. Southampton are a technical team, but they aren’t short of strong lads either and I hope Anita can use guile rather than relying on brawn. This is a key area, and could be the difference between winning or drawing (the only options).
Was I right? Yes, and I was right about it being a key area. When Anita went off injured the game changed, Tiote came on and while he was able to do the defensive job, he would just spin on the spot and play a sideways or backwards ball where Anita had been looking up and passing to a player in space. Colback played reasonably well without being spectacular.
On the left: There are two options here I feel. Release Aarons (no apostrophe) on an unsuspecting Saints, or go with last season’s success story Ayoze Perez. It’s lovely to have these kinds of dilemmas, of course, there is always the possibility Gouffran will sneak in, but I am fairly convinced Aarons will start, he has looked brilliant in the warm up games and I predict he will fly out of the blocks.
Was I right? Again, completely wrong. Despite playing a lot pre-season I completely discounted Obertan, and in this game he continued to confuse me. He has pace, he has strength, he has the ability to cross and he tracks back well, so why is it that he isn’t better than he is?
He was instrumental in Wijnaldum’s goal, and Cisse’s if I remember correctly (which I often don’t), but I still had him marked as a definite half-time substitution. Fair play to him though, he played 90 minutes and put in more than enough effort throughout.
On the right: Although not a natural winger, I think Sissoko is the no-brainer here. We might as well use him before he moves on come transfer deadline day (unless he wants to get in the France team next summer).
I haven’t always been too impressed with Moussa, and while I disagree with those who say he doesn’t work hard enough, he does have a propensity to give the ball away at times. However, his ability to surge seemingly unchallenged into opposition boxes will frighten most left-backs.
Was I right? Yes, and he played very well, with several trademark bursts up the right wing. He was inventive going forward, strong on the ball, and looked every part a Newcastle player. I hope he sticks around.
Through the middle: It has to be Gini. The guy has been an absolute revelation. His eye for goal, and a pass, is what we have been crying out for since Yo**n Ca**ye left, and if he continues in the goalscoring form he has shown since he signed we could be in for a treat.
Siem De Jong is another option in this role, and while the competition is strong I think De Jong will be treated with kid gloves until his fragility is completely overcome.
Was I right? Yes, and again he played well. His goal was a very well-taken header after some excellent work up the right (Obertan with the cross) and he seemed quite pleased with it, especially after missing what looked like a bit of a sitter. He tired in the second half, which is understandable.
His replacement De Jong didn’t seem to touch the ball, and lacks pace. I think he may need some time as a sub to gradually become the player we all know he is.
Up front: Again, tricky. Cisse is our number 9, he scored a respectable number of goals last season considering his absences and should be given an important vote of confidence.
HOWEVER, Mitrovic is a beast. When he came on against BMG he immediately rattled German cages, got in the face of the keeper, and gave the centre backs a headache. It’s a tough one for McClaren, Mitrovic is unproven, but will probably pose the greater threat, whereas Cisse is always a different kind of threat. I suppose he will opt for Cisse and keep Mitro back for a 20 minute assault at the back end of the match (possibly literally).
Was I right? Yes. Cisse missed a couple of chances in the first half, and seemed a little out of sorts. I had just finished saying that he should probably be substituted when he scored. It would have been easier for him to miss, but he was in the right place at the right time. When he finally came off he had done enough to win the crowd over, he gave quite a significant wave, which could be ominous?
The bench: Darlow, obvious back-up choice; Mbemba, can cover right back as well as centre half apparently, plus, it is his birthday; Williamson, with Steven ‘if I don’t get injured I’ll get sent off’ Taylor and Colo’s lack of minutes it is entirely possible both these guys will get game time.
If Williamson starts or comes on I vehemently hope the fans get behind him and support him, the fella wearing the black & white stripes and putting 100% in; De Jong, unlucky not to start; Cabella, if fit, he could be a surprise success this season; Mitrovic, gan on Alex; Perez, another one unlucky not to start (if he didn’t), I expect him, Mitrovic and De Jong to make appearances if things aren’t going to plan, finally! A plan B!
Was I right? Not quite. I hadn’t planned on Tiote being there, it’s lucky he was, but in the end he couldn’t help us maintain our undoubted dominance on the match.
De Jong barely touched the ball, and Mitrovic…I said to my pal that I would take bets on when he would be sent off, before I’d had a chance to finish he upended a Southampton defender and picked up a yellow card.
He followed that up by clearly elbowing Japanese defender Yoshida in the face. The ref gave a free kick, but it could have been a straight red. Apart from that he showed some awesome strength, skill and poise, I can see him being a hit. We still need another striker though to cover for his inevitable suspensions.
The Match: 1-1
The first game is always a bit unusual, with players on both teams trying to impress their manager (and the fans).
Ronald Koeman has Southampton playing an attractive, stylish brand of football, and last season showed how dangerous they are, but having played a match on Thursday night, and with their talismanic manager knackered and out of the game, this is a great time to be playing them.
We have to remember that we have been working on our own attractive passing style, we can give as good as we get. I’m not letting pre-season results get to me, they are completely meaningless, instead I am focussing on the strength of our bench and the buoyancy that a new manager and coaching team brings.
I hope that the Toon Army are back in full voice this season, there has been too much negativity coming from the stands in recent years, and while it may have been justified, it has never nor will ever help the team on the pitch, who after all, are the ones playing the football.
I feel that these teams are actually not so far apart, and with some strength in depth on the bench we might be able to rescue a bad situation. With big Graziano Pelle up front our defence will have to be on their toes, actually, quite a bit above their toes.
Williamson and Taylor are strong lads, so if they play they could handle him physically, but are they able to contain Mane? That’s the question…while I would love a win (obviously), I think a draw is the more likely result, I can’t contemplate a defeat.
Was I right?
Result wise I was close. The 2-2 scoreline was probably fair, although I felt that we were the better team overall. Southampton’s first goal was down to a little bit of poor defending followed by the freakily big Pelle doing what he does best.
We were unlucky not to win, but the injury to Anita turned the game, and their 2nd was broadcast in full colour about 5 minutes before it happened. We were playing nice football at times, and as soon as these players click we are going to have a very good team indeed on our hands.
It only took my neighbours 4 minutes to start complaining, but thankfully the majority of the 49 odd thousand supporters were in full voice behind the team. With one or two more additions I can see this team going far.
Well done Stevie, now lets push on from here. Oh, one more thing, these new programmes are excellent, I love the retro style. Good work by Antony Marshall and the team.
Player ratings totals below from fans so far, add yours and then press submit.
(*Apologies – the system that provides the data has missed Mitrovic coming on for Cisse in the 75th minute, so the Serbian striker isn’t included).
Team: Krul, Janmaat, Mbemba, Coloccini, Haidara, Colback, Anita (Tiote 68), Sissoko, Wijnaldum (de Jong 81), Obertan, Cisse (Mitrovic 75)
Unused Subs: Darlow, Taylor, Aarons, Perez
Ref: Craig Pawson
Crowd: 49,710 (1,250 Southampton)