Newcastle are 19th in the table, discontent is rising on the terraces, the bookmakers have Steve McClaren as the favourite to lose his job first and the media are touting possible replacements as manager.
Whatever McClaren’s aims going into the season, they must be revised in order to make his Newcastle tenure a success.
Steve McClaren needs much more from his players, if Newcastle are to beat Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Newcastle have good form in this home fixture, with three wins and a draw in the last five meetings. McClaren needs a victory to keep the wolves from the door. This is how he can get it:
McClaren offered a clean slate to every player in July, but the 5-1 hammering by Crystal Palace has to be a watershed moment.
For Newcastle to beat Liverpool, McClaren needs to drop Moussa Sissoko and Fabricio Coloccini – the two players that embody everything wrong with the club.
Sissoko has been trying to engineer a move away for months. His performances are inconsistent, passionless and arrogant. The three or four good matches a year he produces do not, in any way, make up for the thirty-odd abject displays he serves up. He wants a new contract worth £100,000 a week, despite having almost four years left on his current deal and barely living up to his £1.5m price tag.
Club captain Coloccini has been trying to return to Argentina for two years. With hindsight, Newcastle should have let him go last summer, rather than giving him a new contract. His performances have been a shadow of those from three years ago. His legs have gone, his desire has gone and any leadership skills once possessed, have long dried up.
When Newcastle concede, Coloccini shrugs. When Newcastle concede three, he says nothing. No anger, no instruction, no determination to lead his team in a fightback; he acts like losing matches is part of his job.
Neither player has a future on Tyneside; their on-field presence has become detrimental to Newcastle’s chances of staying in the Premiership. Newcastle do not need Sissoko. Newcastle do not need Coloccini. What Newcastle need is McClaren to remove both from the squad.
Removing Coloccini from the team enables McClaren to name a new captain, an act with the potential to reignite both team and crowd. There are three contenders for the role:
Georginio Wijnaldum: McClaren’s first signing, for the third-highest transfer fee in Newcastle history. Untainted by previous coaching methods, he is a key man in midfield, an established international with Holland, a title-winning captain with PSV Eindhoven and he’s arguably Newcastle’s best player. The man with the strongest claim from a football perspective.
Daryl Janmaat: Newcastle’s Player of the Year, a firm favourite with the crowd for his passionate, tough-tackling defensive style, mixed with incisive, exciting attacking contributions. Also an established international with Holland, he has been at the club longer than Wijnaldum, but has displayed poor temperament on occasion, which has cost Newcastle in terms of results. Right-back is a less favourable position than central midfield for a captain. Probably the player with the biggest crowd backing for the role.
Jack Colback: Outside chance. His importance to Newcastle is underlined whenever he is unavailable. Newcastle-born, he demonstrated his mental strength when joining from rivals’ Sunderland. It is likely he will be at Newcastle for the rest of his career, so he could establish a long-term captaincy. Not the loudest on the pitch; might benefit from being vice-captain to one of the Dutchmen, with a view to taking the role next time.
This is how Newcastle should start, in a Barcelona-style 4-3-3 formation:
Darlow; Janmaat, Mbemba, Dummett, Mbabu; Colback, Wijnaldum, de Jong; Thauvin, Perez, Mitrovic
Elliot; Williamson, Anita, Gouffran, Cisse and two u-21 players.
The time is right to blood Karl Darlow behind Mbemba and Dummett who complement each other in central defence, while Janmaat and Mbabu have been Newcastle’s best-performing full-backs.
Colback sits in midfield, with Wijnaldum deployed in the ‘double-six’ role McClaren signed him for and Siem de Jong slightly more advanced. Up front, Mitrovic plays as the target man, with Perez and Thauvin as inside-forwards either side. This is a formation Newcastle’s individuals are comfortable playing, but it will take time to gel as a team. To counter this, McClaren should keep the tactics simple.
During open play, the front three should operate between the Liverpool goal-line and five yards inside the Newcastle half. As soon as a Newcastle player gets the ball, they should aim either for Mitrovic through the middle, or the corners behind the fullbacks, where Perez and Thauvin have the pace to win the ball, cut inside and shoot. This will pin Clyne and Moreno back, neutralising Liverpool’s attacking width and easing the pressure on Mbabu and Janmaat in defence.
Mitrovic’s hold-up play gives every player, at every moment, the confidence to hit it long. Depending on the pass he receives, the Serbian can lay it off to de Jong, Perez or Thauvin. Mitrovic will dominate Skrtel and Lovren in the air; after winning the first ball, he needs to attack the penalty spot, again, giving every player a target for their final pass. The relentless nature of this attack will break down Liverpool eventually; it only takes one goal to win a football match.
Every attacking set-piece should be taken by Thauvin. Newcastle do not have a set-piece specialist, but Thauvin is their most technically-proficient player. By allowing him to find his range, Newcastle’s chances of scoring increase – he only needs to get it right once. Should Thauvin score a free-kick, it could kick-start his Newcastle career.
When defending set-pieces, Thauvin and Perez should remain on the halfway line. This limits how many men Liverpool can throw forward, while allowing Newcastle to launch quick counter-attacks.
Newcastle’s habit of recalling every man to the box to defend set-pieces has to be broken; it allows the other team to maintain constant pressure, and subconsciously it transmits the message that Newcastle are submissive to their opponents. Counter-attacks are the best form of defence; Thauvin and Perez have the potential to devastate teams on the break.
From the start, Newcastle need to be intense and physical. If Newcastle go in hard on players like Lallana, Sturridge and Coutinho early, the ref will be lenient, especially if a baby-faced player like Thauvin or Perez makes the foul. This is cynical, and could only be used once or twice, but it would be worth it because the Liverpool players won’t produce afterwards.
McClaren should also instruct his team to take at least three long-range shots in the first 20 minutes. This would set the tone for the match, and has the potential to lead to corners, fumbled shots, deflections and goals.
After 20 minutes, Newcastle should revert to playing possession football. This exerts psychological dominance over the visitors, while allowing us to restore and conserve energy and forcing Liverpool to expend theirs. After 5-10 mins, Newcastle should revert to the standard tactics, with the overall intention of going in at the break ahead.
The second-half would continue as the first, mixing narrow, direct attacking football with spells of possession. A double substitution would be made on 60 minutes. Who comes on depends upon the score, but introducing two pairs of fresh legs reinvigorates the team and the crowd at a crucial time in the match.
The third sub would be made after 75 minutes, allowing Steve McClaren to change the tone for the remainder of the match; killing it off if ahead, chasing victory if level or behind.
Liverpool will arrive at St James’ Park with the intention of rolling over a demoralised Newcastle team, but by making the right calls, McClaren can rejuvenate his team and earn the support of the crowd.
Liverpool may enter this match as favourites, but with the right team selection and tactics, Newcastle can send them back to Merseyside a beaten team.
Andrew has his own blog which you can visit at www.disorderville.com and you can follow him on Twitter @LawesNUFC
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