Whilst the unwelcome distraction of international football goes on, I’ve had time to dwell on the start that Newcastle United have made this season.
Hardly spectacular but not a disaster either. There have been some decent flourishes (Southampton) and some resolute defending (Man Utd), with signs that Steve McClaren just might have found a decent combination of defence and attack that has so far eluded all the luminaries that have occupied the manager’s chair at St James Park.
This all depends on a few things.
First, we need to keep 10 men on the field. It would’ve been a great point at home to Arsenal last week, if Mitrovic hadn’t had his latest moment of madness and got sent off.
If you can take points off the big lads and then take care of the chaff of the league, you won’t be far off top 8 and who knows, nick the odd win against a Champions League hopeful and you could be looking at Europe yourself.
The draw against Southampton represents an improvement on last season, as does the point at Old Trafford- Positives if you like. Whilst we managed to nick a draw last season at Swansea, this season surrendering before we’d even kicked off.
The biggest difference I’ve witnessed has been the change in style that we appear to be adopting under McClaren. He seems to want us to pass the ball and retain possession- a marked shift from last season where even the games we won were drab affairs, with our possession percentage often down in the 30’s.
Whilst possession isn’t the be all and end all, it does help your scoring chances if you actually have the ball to start with.
An article was written this week talking about Newcastle’s engine room and it’s this point that I’d like to highlight also. Steve McClaren (or one of his coaching staff) need to realise that the best formation for the players we have is 5-3-2.
I am loathe to mention this formation as just about every manager has tried it at some point at Newcastle United and…well it’s never worked.
I vividly remember Kenny Dalglish deployed it at Wembley in 1998 and allowed Marc Overmars to run riot. Whilst we saw one of the poorest attacking displays imaginable, when it mattered most.
Looking at the players we have, it seems to make perfect sense.
We have two full-backs that don’t defend well enough to be full-backs, but are quite good at bombing forward. We have a plethora of centre-backs at the club (of varying standard) who can be appeased by being played as a three.
We have a good stock of midfielders (of varying standard) that can be used in a combination of attacking and defensive roles in that midfield engine room; Colback, Sissoko and Wijnaldum being my preference. This also allows the front line to consist of two up top, something which I feel is mandatory, especially at home where the onus is on us to attack.
We can all romanticise with the old fashioned 4-4-2 but the truth is, it’s just that, old fashioned and hardly used anymore.
Teams use flexible formations like 4-3-3, which was the one we used for much of 2011-12 when the side was quite good – Ba, Cisse, Ben Arfa and Cabaye causing havoc.
You need to play to your strengths and at Newcastle we don’t have too many of them.
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