Thankfully England’s cricketers have just regained the Ashes wrapping up a pathetic Australia in just over two days, meaning that this historic moment isn’t overshadowed by the start of the Premier League.
The early start because of Euro 2016 leaves open almost four weeks of transfer window, plenty of time to build on this summer’s slim gains but the flip side is time to lose one or two of our senior professionals.
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One of our most senior professionals, and a player who’d I’d expected to be departing from SJP in July, was Tim Krul. The World Cup Final showcased his amazing talents – if very briefly – and no one could have blamed him after a decade of loyal service if he decided to cash in and check out of the inevitable grind that NUFC have to come.
So it was heartening to read an interview this week with him in the Dutch stablemate of Sky Sports News, Fox Sports, in which – all things considered – he seemed reasonably bright about his future on Tyneside. He seemed committed to the club and hearteningly, to want to play for a team apparently now ready to do this season that in which they have so far this year failed.
Perhaps even more interesting were his comments on the new manager, Steve McClaren, showing a great deal of apparently respect, with his comments here perhaps worth quoting in full.
“He’s made a good impression on me. With his experiences at FC Twente and Wolfsburg he’s not your typical English manager. You can see that in his approach.
“We’re working much more on building up from the back line and applying much less the long ball game. There’s a wind of change here, and that’s what this club needed. I am delighted with the appointment. It all seems extremely promising”.
That quotation clearly sums up the challenge that we’re facing to succeed this season. The $64m question is whether McClaren can apply this more continental approach at Newcastle, given the personal bugbears that he faces.
It’s quite different to Newcastle’s recent style of play, although with the right side combinations building on Daryl Janmaat, we’ve had quite some success in linking the back line to the midfield without relying on mindless long balls.
But what seems currently untested at the moment is our capacity to build up attacks through the central defenders. There has in the past been an apparent lack of self-confidence leading to far too many balls going back through Krul for clearance without drawing the opposition backwards, leading to turnovers and easy scoring opportunities.
We’ve clearly now got a good set of defensive midfielders who can take the ball into the middle third. It’s particularly pleasing that McClaren seems committed to allowing De Jong the time to recuperate and adapt to the higher level, because if he can make the step up, then he’ll singlehandedly transform our midfield capacities.
But what still seems to be the issue is the centre halves, something the club has at least implicitly admitted with the marque signing of Chancel Mbemba.
The pre-season comedy capers we experienced at Sheffield United reinforced once more that neither Williamson nor Taylor are the solid last man we need to co-ordinate McClaren’s new approach . Without another signing before the deadline, we might struggle here.
That brings us back to McClaren’s Achilles heel, a slow ebbing of self-confidence in his natural inclination for possession-based attacking football. Pressure builds quickly in the Premier League, and more so at Newcastle where fans are impatient for the green roots of recovery after almost a decade treading waters.
We’ve a hard opening set of fixtures, including a rejuvenated Manchester United away and a threatening-looking Arsenal at home. A couple of points from four and he might panic, leaving us with a poor man’s Allardyce, sending players out to aimlessly tap it backwards before Krul hoofs it downfield hoping for a lucky bounce.
As an expat (currently based in the Netherlands), I’m really looking forward to getting to SJP for tomorrow’s opener, and I certainly don’t expect to know/discover then whether the Board did enough this summer to definitively turn the corner.
But I am hoping to see a more solid defence asking questions of the Saints, to give us all some confidence that the McClaren revolution has really arrived on Tyneside.