The win against Bournemouth was very welcome but the game still showed up the biggest weakness in the team in my opinion – central midfield.
Sissoko, Wijnaldum, Perez and Mitrovic can do damage going forward – although consistency is still needed – but in the middle, especially with such an attacking formation, Newcastle lack a dominant central midfielder to protect the back four and a link between defence and attack.
Jack Colback has made some good last ditch blocks this season but does not possess the athleticism and pace to provide a shield for Newcastle’s vulnerable defence, nor the passing skills to link things together effectively going forward.
While he did not play against Bournemouth, I’d use the Norwich game as the most glaring example. He could not get near the ball and Norwich popped it around him like he wasn’t there. I believe he gets a free pass by a lot of people because he’s a Geordie and if McClaren sees him in his first-team plans long-term, then that is very worrying.
Vurnon Anita can move the ball quicker at times but also lacks that dominating presence and athleticism needed. Against Bournemouth he couldn’t even do that, instead he gave the ball away constantly.
Cheick Tiote in his debut season was the player Newcastle could badly do with right now but injuries and a downward spiral in form since, mean there’s a big question mark as to whether he can get back to that level again.
His Bournemouth performance was also terrible. There was one moment where he just forgot about his man, showing absolutely no concentration, and allowed him to run free into the box. I really don’t understand this lack of focus and McClaren should be flying off the handle at such slackness.
The club sold midfielder Mehdi Abeid in the summer despite some good performances last season. Capable of being a box to box player, Abied would surely have provided more presence in Newcastle’s midfield and the decision to sell looks to be an error of judgement.
Georginio Wijnaldum can play central midfield but is most effective in the final third, making runs into the box – we badly need a new midfield partner for him in the middle.
While some may point to Sissoko as the alternative, I don’t believe he has the touch or footballing brain to operate in there. He looks to me like a player who needs constant motivation and is better off playing on the right, using his pace to get in behind full-backs.
Steve McClaren is a ‘member of the board’ at Newcastle United and it is down to the ex-England manager to prove such a title comes with clout, that enables him to plug the gaps in his squad if the right players are attainable in January.
After 3 years of poor football at St. James Park it is clear McClaren is trying to implement positive change; there has been an improvement in the passing and movement, and the goal against Bournemouth was a good example of that.
But the good work will continue to be let down by a vulnerability through the spine of the team if such weaknesses are not identified and solved.
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