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Newcastle squad – Sticking plasters or reconstructive surgery?

5 years ago

At the end of last season there was almost unanimous agreement from the fans, and seemingly the owner too, that Newcastle squad needed dramatic reconstructive surgery.

Perhaps for the first time since our relegation there was a unified clamour for the removal of the deadwood and the requirement for new blood – players with effort, work rate and a desire to play for the football club.

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Back in 2009 it was the inflated salaries of fading stars no longer deserving their reputation which needed clearing out, with players like Owen, Martins, Viduka and Duff being the poster boys for the wanton waste with which Newcastle United had become synonymous.

Now though we face a very different issue, now we have a glut of players who we will struggle to move on/out due to their ability, wages and the absolute fact that without them we would not have a squad.

Through various articles and comments, I have read people expressing how players should be thrown out, moved on, or given a taxi to the airport.

From the obvious targets such as Williamson, Gouffran and Obertan to former favourites whose stock has dropped like Captain Colo, Tiote and even Papiss Cisse.

Well, unfortunately that simply is not going to happen, remember last season when we struggled to field a team of players in the positions that they are meant to play? Well since then we have lost five players from that squad and bought in only two (hopefully soon to be three).

The reality is that reconstructive surgery has not happened, what has happened is that a couple of very expensive sticking plasters have been bought in to try and cover the gaping wounds.

Not that I am complaining about the quality of the signings, far from it, I’m not even joining the majority and expecting three or four more signings (unrealistic?), what I am saying is that anyone still expecting major change in the playing staff should prepare for disappointment.

Ask yourself this, of the following two scenarios which is the most likely…

1)      We unload Willo, Gouff, Obertan and Colo, then we bring in replacements such as Austin, Banega, and the tricky Swiss lad, plus another top drawer defender.

2)      We keep most, if not all, of Willo, Gouff, Obertan and Colo (who have all been heavily involved in pre season with the exception of Colo), then end up selling Sissoko if the right offer comes in late in the transfer window.

Like it or not, the most likely players to leave the squad are the ones we would like to leave the least, with Sissoko the most attractive target for suitors.

It’s an obvious statement that if you took last year’s almost relegated side and gave it two extra quality, players then it would be better, but just how much better and would that be good enough?

I know that many have their doubts after seeing a pre season dominated by bright moments from Wijnaldum, De Jong and Aarons, whilst at the other end defensive errors from those charged with protecting the goalkeeper have been common place once again, and here is where the biggest change is needed.

For me the defence should have been the priority at the beginning of the transfer window, arguably a central defensive partnership is the one which needs the most time to gel and learn each other game. It is the area where responsibility needs to be allocated and strengths as well as weaknesses need to be balanced.

Like most here I have never seen Mbemba play, but reports have him as an athletic and pacey defender who can also play a bit, but he is young (we think?).

The hope currently seems to be that he can slot in at the side of either Coloccini or Taylor to stiffen things up at the back, but I would argue that we will need someone at the side of him not only with Premier League experience, but with the ability to organise and hold the line in the mould of Woodgate, who can also do the dirty no-nonsense part of the job.

During pre season Willo has been Willo, Lascelles has looked like a rabbit in the headlights at times, Taylor has drifted between the sublime and the ridiculous as usual, and the captain has been socialising in Jesmond.

The club expects Chancel Mbemba to get the green light this week, but he would be just another plaster over the biggest wound in the team, if surgery is needed then it is at the back where Doctor McClaren needs to do his work.

We all know that Williamson should be nowhere near the first team, the captain has seen better days but retains good ability if not pace or physical presence, Taylor and Lascelles are big solid lads, but lack the understanding and mentality to organise a defence and Dummett is able back up at best. In short, we have the numbers but lack the quality.

There is renewed talk today of a potential move for Charlie Austin coming through the door this week, and I am a fan of the former brick layer, but given the choice of spending £15m on Austin or on a top quality centre half, I would invest in the defence.

At the other end of the team we have enough in Mitrovic, Cisse, Perez and De Jong to be competitive if the supply line through Aarons and Wijnaldum improves on last season’s dreadful lack of creativity, and how could it not?

Therefore if we really have to apply big, expensive sticking plasters then we should be putting them in the right place if we really expect the team to heal.

Currently it still looks as though our longest inflicted wound could still be the one which kills us in the Premier League next season.


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