Monday night’s defeat at West Ham United was described as a “wake up call” by Steve McClaren.
For Newcastle United supporters it was like waking up in a time where the team was managed by John Carver.
For all the positivity amongst a mixed bag of results so far this season, the 2-0 reverse very much felt like a couple of steps back, having seemingly taken a step forward. It was a stark reminder that, despite an excellent recruitment drive this summer, Newcastle still have an awful lot of work to do to improve on the last couple of seasons.
This was not a performance that suggested that the club has kicked on from the woes of the previous regime, it being an all too familiar sinking feeling as the goals went in and the final whistle blew at the Boleyn Ground.
‘Gutless’ was a term widely used to describe Newcastle’s performance in its aftermath and it is hard to argue.
Unfortunately and worryingly, without ever making it an excuse, as soon as I heard the team were stuck in London traffic I was quick to assume that a lot of the players wouldn’t fancy it out there once the game kicked off.
Andy Cole gave his view that the side is full of “expensive foreign talent” who do not know what it means to the supporters to wear the shirt.
Before the game, having seen West Ham’s line up, I was quick to remark on Twitter that Florian Thauvin had the opportunity to give James Tomkins a nightmare evening down the left side. A big Centre-Half operating out of position against an exciting winger should fear the worst, yet it turned out to be a stroll in the park for Tomkins.
Thauvin turned in an eye-catching performance in the League Cup but, like Sissoko, Cisse, and Anita, didn’t turn up on a Monday night in East London. It was a frighteningly Remy Cabella-esque performance by the Frenchman, who exchanged ways with last season’s flop.
This backs up Cole’s point that for all the international talent, you’ve got to dig in and attempt to put in a performance every time you play in the Premier League.
Newcastle United have spent too long carrying mediocre foreign players who can’t be trusted to provide any sort of consistency. Steve McClaren has his work cut out to improve this.
A major problem for United since the departure of Yohan Cabaye and the isolation of Hatem Ben Arfa, has been a severe lack of quality and creativity in midfield.
It seemed like every time Chancel Mbemba brought the ball out of the defence there was absolutely nobody showing for the ball in the middle of the park; nobody coming to take control of such a key area. Mbemba’s frustration was apparent as he once again resorted to playing it long.
Gary Neville gave a damning assessment of the midfield, highlighting how they were neither protecting the back four, nor supporting the attack. The final ball, as it has been since Cabaye left for Paris, was weak and ineffective, even suicidal; as yet another embarrassing set-piece led to the killer second goal for the Hammers.
There is no risk taking. As Neville said, the front three hardly covered themselves in glory but there was a chronic lack of support, probing, and adventure. Aimless cross after aimless cross made its way towards the vicinity of the West Ham penalty area with an alarming lack of quality.
Other than the right-back Janmaat, who in one game registered nearly all of the season’s shots on target thus far, there was no endeavour to really breach and get beyond the opposition.
It bore a frightening resemblance to early last season, particularly another miserable Monday night game at Stoke City, where the team wouldn’t have scored if they had played all night.
McClaren’s set-up with two holding midfielders and one striker is not providing the desired platform for the team to achieve results and the head coach must surely be plotting changes for the upcoming game against Watford.
Only when Siem De Jong came on and Wijnaldum dropped deeper to link up with his compatriot, did Newcastle look anything remotely like a threat.
De Jong’s gradual inclusion is probably right, taking into account his horrendous fortune with injury last season. Hopefully this will lead to him starting regularly, as he looks like he has the quality to play in the position that Wijnaldum is currently occupying.
From what I have seen of Newcastle’s biggest summer signing, Gini Wijnaldum looks far more effective when he plays deeper than the Number 10 role. Strong on the ball and composed in possession, Wijnaldum has the quality to hurt opposition from the centre of the pitch.
Also, rather than hoping to run onto crosses, passes and knock downs, he can be the man providing the quality for the likes of De Jong and co further forward.
McClaren talked of him being a box-to-box player so is it time to implement that? I think so.
Criticism of Papiss Cisse on the back of Monday’s game is largely unfair. We all know where Cisse’s strengths lie and how he relies on service to provide the goods.
Just look at last season, where sometimes the only balls of quality provided (usually from Janmaat) led to Cisse goals. He is not a player who can work in isolation and hold up the ball and link play as he was expected to at Upton Park. Yes he was poor on the ball but he only ever got it with his back to goal, well outside of the penalty area.
As Alan Shearer said, Newcastle would have fared the same playing with 10 men but that is more the fault of Newcastle’s set up and lack of build-up play than Cisse’s alone.
There will be calls for Ayoze Perez’s inclusion this weekend, and it is hard to argue. His cameo on Monday, as with De Jong’s, brought much needed quality and composure that the side has been lacking. He is a fantastic outlet for maintaining possession and bringing teammates into play.
I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see a link-up between the two substitutes from the start, which will perhaps allow Newcastle to muster more quality attempts on goal.
It is a given that Saturday is a must win game, particularly with the fixtures that follow. If Newcastle want to keep themselves away from a relegation battle this season, they simply have to be winning a game against newly promoted Watford.
As with last season with the victory over Leicester at the seventh attempt, we all know that one win can kick-start a good run. Who thought that Newcastle would go on to register the victories that they did after that first win?
It is far too early in the season to be panicking, just look at Chelsea. But it is also important that the early problems are addressed and are not ignored.
McClaren has himself expressed everybody’s reservations and openly admitted the need to improve. If the solution is not found then indeed it will be a tough season, but there must be confidence that the club can make the improvements necessary.
One win in the Premier League under the new regime can give Newcastle United the stride forward needed to escape the perils of the past few seasons.
Without adapting the current structure on the field however; the goals, clean sheets and victories will continue to be hard to come by.
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