A thoroughly enjoyable trip to Germany watching Newcastle United play.
The trip started with a 2-1 defeat to Mainz in which Rafa put out a weakened side against a team who have languished in the bottom half of the German top flight for a few years. Granted, Germany sides are a week or two ahead of English sides in their preparation, but Mainz were far superior to us, and the likes of Colback, Dummett, Diame, Mitrovic and De Jong looked way off the pace in the opening.
Not to worry, as we all know the results in pre-season don’t mean a lot and I expected Rafa to field a team against Wolfsburg that would better resemble what we will see against Spurs on the opening day.
Following Mainz, we made the trip to Hamburg. If we didn’t realise we were on a budget for this trip, then we did once we arrived in Hamburg and realised our hostel was so cheap because it was in the centre of the red-light district, just above a sex house to be precise.
Luckily, the area had enough Irish bars and German beer to last the whole month. There were also a few groups of West Ham and Stoke supporters in the area following their sides, as well as Hamburg and St Pauli fans.
On the day of the game, we travelled back down south to Wolfsburg. Although a detour was made along the way via Hannover to visit the grave of a friend’s brother, who sadly lost his life serving in Germany.
It is always nice to be able to follow Newcastle on the continent, mainly because it is likely that we may never have that feeling in competitive competition for a long time. Arriving in Wolfsburg in the blazing sun, it was a great setting for the final away game of pre-season.
I for one am glad that in the 2012-13 season we managed to fit in all of the European games, it took a lot of persuading money wise, but I managed to convince my mam that Newcastle were rubbish, and if she gave me the money to follow Newcastle in Europe then, I promised she would never have to ever again because we would never be there again. I hope I am wrong!
The Germany trip also provided a great opportunity for foreign Mags from the likes of Poland, Denmark and Germany, as well as local ex-pats to get the chance to see us play and share conversations with us ‘locals’.
After the defeat in Mainz, many fans seemed over the moon that we had managed to beat a team like Wolfsburg so comfortably, although it must be noted that Wolfsburg are a lot worse than people may think and we weren’t exactly playing their best team, so lets not get ahead of ourselves.
If there is one criticism I do have pre-season it is that I have been disappointed with the standard of teams we have come up against. It is easy to remember that Wolfsburg won the league recently…but that was 9 years ago now! Since then they have struggled and were almost relegated last season. I tried to have a few conversations about a Steve McClaren… but they didn’t seem to want to talk about him, I wonder why?
The results are never that important in pre-season but the football, and individual performances, are!
I think most of all, what this pre-season has shown is that we are still lacking in the transfer market. I think it is fair to say that the quality of signings at the moment leaves a lot to be desired. There are players that have potential, such as Merino and Murphy, but I don’t think that will be enough this season. It is crazy to say, but a heavy defeat (3-0, 4-1 etc.) on the opening day would already put the pressure on the board, manager and players to deliver something better before the end of the window.
In real terms, we are still yet to sign a proper central midfielder and a striker. It was mentioned to me by a friend that we are yet to sign a player this summer that is anywhere near as good as Gayle or Shelvey, and I think that’s true. I thought at the start of the season we would need to add at least two or three players of a similar ability to Shelvey, but I don’t think we have signed one. That worries me.
Even from the players we do have at the moment, there are still a lot of question marks going into the final few weeks of the window and the start of the season. Siem De Jong has been given a lot more time to prove himself, but to me, he hasn’t shown anything different from the player that we have seen since he signed.
Aside from his goal against Wolfsburg (a tap-in) Mitrovic looked off the pace again with a few poor touches, poor hold up play and the obvious yellow card against Wolfsburg for losing his rag. Now, it looks like he is going to stay, but he must be in the last chance saloon by now. I would like to see less talk from him off the field, more talk from him on the pitch.
Most impressively over the two games, Florian Lejeune looks like he could be a great signing, and a sure starter alongside Clark for the game against Spurs. On the other hand, Paul Dummett struggled big time over the two games. Yes, we need a striker and a number 10, but we are also desperate for some healthy competition at left-back. I’d even give Colback a go, just to put some pressure on Dummett.
If we don’t buy a striker better than Dwight Gayle then I will be worried. Of course, money isn’t everything, but I will be amazed and a little bit angry if we don’t break our transfer record this summer. It’s not as if £16m is a lot!
A lot of people talk as if the likes of Gayle and Ritchie will definitely be Premier League players, I am not so convinced. We saw last season that they are definitely good players, and Ritchie for sure, he is too good for the Championship. However, that doesn’t always translate into being a good Premier League player, which is why I am worried that we haven’t improved on the likes of Gayle, Ritchie and Shelvey.
You only have to look at Paul Dummett, who was probably one of the best full-backs in the Championship last season, but we all know how good he is at PL level.
My point is that, not that Gayle and Ritchie aren’t good, they’re great players, but if their ability is where we are setting the standard for our signings then I fear that might not be good enough to keep us in the Premier League. We must be buying players better, or at least on the same level as Gayle and Ritchie. So far we have not.
With Verona up next, I am a little disappointed again in the standard of opposition, given that this friendly appears to be set up as a favour to Fabio Peccia, rather than top opposition.
I would have really liked it if we could have played a top team, I think of games in the recent past against Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Juventus… and if not, then the second rate teams like Lyon, Villarreal, Leipzig, Roma.
A lot of the other PL teams have either been facing bigger teams in competitions, or at the very least, facing other PL teams!
Finally, following a night in Wolfsburg, on the day we travelled home we made a short stop to the Bergen-Belsen Concentration camp, a place where over the course of WW2, 52,000 people died (everyone in St James Park to put that into context).
A once in a lifetime opportunity to realise how lucky we all are to live the lives we live today, a thought provoking end to a great trip.
I cant wait for the first game of the season.
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