Following Monday night’s defeat to West Ham, alarm bells have begun to ring on Tyneside as Steve McClaren’s reign is still winless in the Premier League after five attempts.
However, what’s more concerning is the manner of the defeats.
Newcastle have failed to score since the opening day of the season where they netted twice in the 2-2 draw with Southampton. Monday night’s defeat only served to highlight the Magpies difficulties in front of goal as despite superior possession, the away side never looked dangerous or a genuine threat to the Hammers.
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Part of that is down to how McClaren is setting up his side.
It’s easy to imagine that the former England manager thinks by setting up his midfield with Jack Colback and Vurnon Anita at its heart, that he has a stable base to work from. Fitting Moussa Sissoko into that equation becomes harder; the French international is at his best when running beyond defences with grass ahead of him, not installing a calm and disciplined influence. Still, he doesn't have the required end product to be an influential winger.
Georginio Wijnaldum seems to be wasted in this midfield cocktail. Anita and Colback are effectively doing the same job in front of the back four, and not very well at that. They don’t kick start play, or particularly break up many of opposing attacks either.
This forces Dutch international Wijnaludum to be the creative spark in the middle, but he doesn’t receive the ball in useful areas because of the deep-lying base of the midfield.
Another evident issue on Monday was the quality of delivery into the box. Time after time, Sissoko, and Massaido Haidara from the opposite flank swung in hopeful balls at best. Most of these crosses were blocked in any case, but the ones that did flirt with the box were aimed at two men at a time.
This brings us to the crux of the argument: Newcastle have no set plan of how to score goals.
In light of Aleksander Mitrovic’s suspension, Papiss Cisse has led the line. It's a classic case of a manager going with a system over the players at his disposal.
Cisse cannot lead a line on his own. He’s not particularly good in the air for a target man, nor is he strong enough to hold the ball up with his back to goal. He doesn’t possess enough pace to make runs in behind – which a lone striker in a font three wouldn’t typically do anyway – and isn’t a forward like Harry Kane, who loves the ball into feet and has the ability to turn markers.
Frankly, unless Cisse receives the ball in the box with at sight at goal, there isn’t much he is useful for. The best of Cisse was undoubtedly as a foil for Demba Ba when he first arrived on Tyneside. With the young Serb’s suspension and Emmanuel Riviere’s knee injury, that’s not a viable option right now.
Hindsight is considered a wonderful thing, but every man and his dog knew over the summer Newcastle needed more than just Mitrovic to rebuild their front-line. Not pulling the trigger on Charlie Austin was a big, big mistake.
Austin has continued to score goals for QPR despite an intense summer of speculation and would have been the ideal foil for Cisse if that was the direction the club wanted to go in. He has a presence, scores a variety of goals, sports a hunger in his work ethic and is a threat in the air.
The 26-year-old is the kind of forward who always gives you a chance when he’s in your side – as QPR’s closer-than-it-should-have-been survival bid showed.
If McClaren doesn’t start playing people in their real positions or gives inventive players like Siem de Jong, Rolando Aarons and Ayoze Perez a chance like Crystal Palace have done to their attacking talent, then Newcastle should prepare for a similarly frustrating campaign this time around.
Perhaps more importantly, though, a real goalscorer needs to arrive at St James’ in January. Managing director Lee Charnley has insisted Newcastle will continue to spend in future windows, and if Newcastle are to survive this term, it’s imperative his words ring true.
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