2015/16 Season Preview
Wind back the clock to 2:59pm, 24th May 2015. 52,094 fans sit on the edge of their seats hoping for the best but most expecting the worst. John Carver stands in the technical area and we all watch on with our hopes pinned on Williamson, Gutierrez and Riviere.
When you think back to your journey to St James Park that day or to you lucky spot on the couch or in your favourite spot in the pub you probably missed the Mike Ashley 'cart and horse' speech on Sky. Or even if you did see it you would't have believed a word of it!
Almost 3 month later and has anything really changed? Did the close shave that was us dropping like a stone under Carver's guidance and the potential loss of untold riches in the 2016/17 season jolt NUFC's hierarchy into action?
As Newcastle United kicked off that nervy afternoon, had I told you we'd stay up, change our manager, bring in some 'bright new things' to the coaching team, spend £35m on 3 top class players (including a centre half and a striker) and all without a single sale of a significant player you'd have chomped my arm off!
Fast forward to today. And how are you feeling?!
Pre-season has been a bit of a non event. Or has it! The evidence of the games we've seen suggests that there is no quick fix to years of 'hoof ball' under the previous management team.
Gone is the automatic, 'everyone push up to the half way line so Krul can try and hit the head of X player' tactics (inexplicably even Anita in one game at the end of the season). No, this season we will feast our eyes on a controlled, deliberate passing game with a healthy serving of slow, slow, quick, quick, slow McClaren would have us know.
For the purist this will make a welcome change, but we are pretty sure it will come at a cost.
Firstly, it IS going to take some time for such a big change in playing style to take effect. Whilst 3 new faces have arrived, all three far more used to a controlled style of play than our existing crew, this method of playing will be a shock to the system for many. McClaren himself said after the Shef United games that he had learned a great deal about his player over the few weeks of the USA tour and UK friendlies - both good and bad. To add to this our first 8 fixtures don't do us any favours at all. Indeed by the time the first International Break is upon us we will only have played 4 of those including tricky games against Southampton on the opening day and against Man U away and Arsenal at home.
Secondly, the hoof ball style can be effective, especially against those sides who traditionally struggle against a more direct approach. You only have to look at our results against Chelsea over recent seasons to see evidence of that. Playing this new brand of football against teams who do the same, but will better players will usually only have one result!
All in all don't be surprised or too upset if we are in the bottom 6 after 4 games or even 8. To change a management team, new players (all be it brought in a bit too late) and a style of football is a BIG ask. Everyone as NUFC needs to give this time. THERE WILL BE EASIER TIMES AHEAD!
But....and here is the upside....gone are the days of struggling to beat the bottom teams week in week out (or at least that is the theory).
As we push into mid October (yes, it may take that long) McClaren and his management teams vision will be set and understood. The new guys will be in full flow and the team should finally be looking up. Who knows, they may even have been able to hold onto mid table by this point too.
Pre-season has given us a glimpse of our new and re-discovered talent too. For us Aarons has been one such shining light. With a run of games don't be surprised if all we talk about between now and Christmas is getting one of England's brightest young talents signed up on a contract extension before he is poached. Elsewhere this would also be a big season for deJong, who has the class to make a real difference to our starting XI.
So what will that XI look like once everyone is fully fit and in full flight.
To the right is our view of McClaren's best team. And this is why.....
Goalkeeper: Krul, on his day, is a top class shot stopper and decent all around keeper. Last season he undoubtedly suffered a lack on confidence more than most as with a lack of leadership and class in front of him he struggled. This season his biggest challenge (assuming we can tightened up the defence and organisation in front of him) will be his distribution. Playing teams that don't play a high pressing game won't be a problem, but against teams like Swansea, Liverpool and others that push their forward onto the keeper he is likely to be found out. Only time will tell if he is good enough to adjust to what is going to be required of him. But right now he is the best we have.
Defence: Janmaat has looked solid since he signed, although as with so many fullbacks seems to enjoy going forward more than his defensive duties, a balance and discipline McClaren and his team must get right. On the other side Newcastle look weak. Haidara has potential but some even say as a winger rather than a full back which tells you all you need to know. Dummett on the other hand lacks the pace and skill of Haidara but perhaps is a safer pair of feet in that space depending on the opponent. Then there is the Centre Half problem! Mbemba has to be in there, if for no other reason than the rest are just, well, take your pick of a four letter word! Or are they? For us Coloccini is the pick of the rest, which we know won't be popular with many. Given the style of play McClaren has adopted Colo is as adept as anyone. We have to trust our coaching staff to get the organisation right, and if he stays, we would see the experience and composure of Coloccini next to the raw talent of Mbemba as the ideal mix with what we have to work with.
Midfield: Colback looks a shoe in, although for us the jury is still very much out on him. DeJong, if fully fit, would make our team for his class of link up play, strength and heading ability, this meaning we've put Wijnaldum in centre mid, although with his engine he will pop up just about anywhere and looks a fantastic addition already. With the youth and raw talent of Aarons on the left we also think this season could be a big one for Sissoko. Out of favour with many, and for good reason, we think playing alongside better players may just get the best out of him once more. And if he does start to fire again, this looks like a midfield we could have only dreamt about least season.
Up font: Do we even need to have the Cisse conversation. No? Good! Let the beast that is Mitrovic loose, stand back, and let god knows only what ensue! I for one, can't wait.
League: Top 10 would suit us just fine with not even a thought of relegation this time out. And our course at least 4 points from that lot down the road!
FA Cup: Some bloody home draws damn it!
League Cup: Final, hell why not!
League: 11th -13th but feeling more comfortable that last seasons finish
FA Cup: Away to Arsenal and out despite McClaren being true to his word and putting out his best side.
League Cup: Out after two rounds (away to Chelsea), although we only lose by one goal the two serious injuries to first team players have the hacks wetting themselves over us taking cup competitions seriously!
OVERALL: This should be judged as a season of transition. We all know we need another centre half, left back and a striker. Let's hope that is what we see between now and Christmas leads us to believe that that is all we need to seriously start looking up the table again rather than down. Season 2015/16.....BRING IT ON!!