Get your daily update and weekly newsletter by signing up today!


Lone strikers, False 9s and Big Man/Little Man at Newcastle United

6 years ago

Very pleasing to see that Steve McClaren has chosen to play with a 4-4-2 formation so far this season, it suits Newcastle United and it always has done.

We are beginning to look really quite threatening going forward, for the first time in a long time we actually look like scoring goals.

The European philosophy that dominates the football world currently – controlling the midfield and possession being the holy grail – has led to our beautiful game becoming extremely dull at times. Football is not a game of chess, it is, at its’ heart, an entertainment business and goals are what it is all about.

Of course tactics must come into any manager’s reckoning before a game, each team presents different threats and weaknesses, and against better teams than Norwich we won’t find it is as easy to score and will definitely concede more if we defend the way we did at times on Sunday.

It is early days though for this team under McClaren and there have already been plenty of positive signs from the players, the manager, and even, the owner (at least he’s finally put his hand in that fat pocket of his).

I grew up in the 90s, and frankly, as long as we look like scoring sometimes, I couldn’t give a toss where we finish in the league. As the song goes, we aren’t likely to win anything for the foreseeable future, but it looks like we are at last trying to play a brand of football that will make it a hell of a lot more enjoyable to follow United.

I don’t want to get too giddy just because we stuffed Delia’s canaries and we are still a long way from being considered a ‘good’ team. We are probably a couple of genuine wingers or a top quality central midfielder away from being completely comfortable with the 4-4-2 system; however, the front four have shown enough in the most recent fixtures to get just a tiny bit excited about.

The problem the manager has is to find the right formula to shoehorn our best players into the same starting 11, particularly finding the best positions for Sissoko and Wijnaldum that exploits their respective abilities without compromising the balance and stability of the team.

Seeing Sissoko glide past players with ease, and pick out the runs of those around him with some lovely passing, suggests he COULD be the one to step into that more central role, and indeed it is hard not to make comparisons with the likes of Vieira/Yaya Toure. Whether he is willing to undertake more defensive duties and to influence the game from deeper – changing the pace of a move with those Rolls Royce raids into opposition territory, or splitting a defence with one incisive ball into the path of another – we would have to wait and see.

Perez is a little genius and we are very fortunate to have him. I have thought so since his first season with us, where some of his finishes and touches on the ball displayed a sublime manipulation of the football and also an instinctive knowledge of where the goal is.

Unfortunately for him (and many other slight attackers), the way the modern game is played with this lone striker/false nine bollocks, players of a smaller stature are undervalued and, more often than not, overlooked regardless of talent in favour of less mobile but stronger strikers.

Packing the midfield out with three in the middle is a negative tactic concerned with not losing, rather than the simple beauty of trying to score more goals than the other team.

Mitrovic was hugely missed during his suspension, his general physicality and strength in the air allows for a more direct, attacking approach that has already caused problems for the opposition this season. Playing two up front, typically with a big man/little man partnership, was so successful for years the world over because… well, it just works. I’m glad to have that back in black and white.

Defensively too, despite the media being at pains to point out our poor record in that department, is showing signs of improvement. I can’t remember NUFC ever possessing one truly convincing centre back – let alone two, yet whilst we still probably need one more, I think Chancel Mbemba looks to be a great acquisition. He is, apparently, still very young which leaves him blatantly positionally naive at times, however his tackling is immense.

I’ll stick my neck out and say that he looks like the best defender we’ve signed since Jonathan Woodgate, let’s just hope that this one actually fulfils his potential on Tyneside.

Janmaat too seems to have settled in this division, and is often the catalyst for a counter attack or offering himself up on the overlap. I hate to say anything too negative about Paul Dummett because he is a local lad, and has been forced to play out of position in most of his appearances at left back, but unfortunately for him, and Haidara too, that area of the pitch has been our weakest link for some time.

I never fully understood why we allowed Santon to leave, but the little we have seen from Kevin Mbabu since his forced inclusion against Chelsea, gives me hope that he is by far better than anything else we have available in that position. He was solid under the not insignificant presence of Pedro in that game, he actually had him in his pocket for the first hour or so, and seems happy to bomb forward down the left, like Janmaat on the right, where both Dummett and Haidara appear timid.

There are holes still in the squad admittedly, and tweaks to be made of course, but if the owner is to be believed there will be further investment over the coming transfer windows.

Maybe lessons have actually been learnt, and maybe, when those that do have the potential to shine here inevitably attract the interest of the big dogs, the profits will be reinvested in the team to replace and strengthen. We may even be able to convince some of them to stay with the promise of incoming names and improved expectations.

McClaren has, contrary to popular belief, done a decent job so far with several things looking better than we’ve had for years. The style of football he wants to play is reminiscent of when football used to be exciting and dynamic, which is fine by me.

Sure he says some strange things in press conferences, and squirts around on the sidelines like he has a violent ferret stuffed up his sleeve, but I like his honesty and simplicity. His complete lack of flash and swagger is, as far as I’m concerned, a breath of fresh air in the manager’s seat.

If he’s given time to develop this young team, and the owner lives up to his word, it might actually be fun to support Newcastle United again.

It is, at least, nice to dream.

(To feature like James, send in your articles for our website to [email protected] – all views those of the author etc etc)


If you would like to feature on The Mag, submit your article to [email protected]

Have your say

© 2021 The Mag. All Rights Reserved. Design & Build by Mediaworks