Steve McClaren has had a lot to think about ahead of tomorrow’s home game against Watford in the wake of Monday night’s 2-0 defeat to west Ham United at Upton Park.
Here are five issues that need to be addressed by Newcastle United’s head coach.
CAN JACK COLBACK AND VURNON ANITA PLAY IN THE SAME TEAM?
One of the biggest issues for supporters is the Jack Colback-Vurnon Anita midfield axis in front of Newcastle’s back four.
McClaren has used a 4-2-3-1 formation since taking charge at the club, and he settled on the pair to protect his defence.
But are they too similar? Are they dynamic enough? And could one player do the job?
It’s not as if Anita and Colback have played particularly badly, individually, over the past five games, but the midfield didn’t function against West Ham. Is that their fault? Or the fault of the system itself?
Since the departure of Mehdi Abeid to Panathinaikos, the only other candidate to protect the back four is Cheick Tiote, and he has little to suggest that he should dislodge either player in his appearances so far this season.
Tiote – who then-manager Alan Pardew claimed had become “unsettled” last summer – still doesn’t look settled at the club he has served for the past five years.
So McClaren’s options are limited, and one solution would be to tweak the system.
For me, Colback, one of the few players to emerge from last season with any credit, must start, but we need to see him on the ball higher up the pitch.
WHAT’S UP WITH Newcastle No 9 PAPISS DEMBA CISSE?
Steve McClaren has talked up Papiss Demba Cisse – and his goalscoring record – over the past few weeks.
Cisse had been built up, but he didn’t knock down West Ham at Upton Park. Anything but.
And Ayoze Perez could well take his place against Watford.
The striker, admittedly, didn’t get much in the way of service, but he was wasteful and careless with the ball. He was wearing the club’s hallowed No 9 jersey, but didn’t play anything like a No 9.
Cisse admitted late last month that he “didn’t know” whether he’d still be at Newcastle once the summer transfer window closed.
The 30-year-old had had seemingly been open to a move away from the club, but it didn’t materialise.
Now Cisse must quickly get his head around the fact that he will be a United player until January.
Maybe the arrival of Aleksandar Mitrovic has put his nose out of joint, but he is still Newcastle’s No 9, and he should wear the shirt with pride – when he next gets a chance.
GEORGINIO WIJNALDUM NEEDS TO HURT TEAMS IN THE FINAL THIRD OF THE PITCH
Of all Newcastle’s summer signings, Georginio Wijnaldum looked the one most capable of hitting the ground running this season.
The midfielder joined in time to travel to meet his new team-mates in the USA, and he quickly impressed in pre-season.
And the superb headed goal Wijnaldum scored against Southampton on the opening weekend of the season looked to be a glimpse into the future.
McClaren had worked on moving the ball forward quickly and attacking the box, and the move – Gabriel Obertan broke up the right and crossed for Wijnaldum – was a joy to watch.
Signed as a No 10, Wijnaldum – who captained PSV Eindhoven to the Eredivisie title last season – is a key player for McClaren.
But the 24-year-old got bogged down against West Ham, and he wasn’t making the kind of runs we saw a few weeks ago.
Wijnaldum looks to be capable of playing the kind of role Kevin Nolan excelled in during his United career. He can time his runs, find space and put the ball in the net.
And the sooner he gets back into his stride, the better.
MOUSSA SISSOKO SHOULD FORGET ABOUT THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FOR NOW – AND FOCUS ON UNITED
If Moussa Sissoko really does want to join a Champions League club, then he’ll have to play better, much better.
Sissoko has done a lot of talking about his future, especially in France, over the past 12 months, but he hasn’t backed his words up with actions, and the midfielder, in common with many of his team-mates, was found wanting at Upton Park.
At his best, Sissoko is a powerhouse, capable of driving the team into the final third of the pitch.
The 26-year-old – who has been played on the right by McClaren – can also finish, and Newcastle certainly need his goals.
Sissoko’s best position has often been debated on Tyneside, and many see him as an outright box-to-box midfielder, though for that to happen McClaren would have to change his system.
That said, he played some of his best football on the right with the over-lapping Mathieu Debuchy behind him, and he is often used there by France coach Didier Deschamps.
Certainly, he should be capable of having more of an influence on a game than he did at Upton Park.
IT’S NOT ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK FOR MASSADIO HAIDARA
Victor Moses certainly enjoyed his West Ham debut.
The winger was up against Massadio Haidara, and he gave the left-back an uncomfortable evening.
Haidara hasn’t looked particularly comfortable this season, and Paul Dummett’s imminent return from injury will be a relief to McClaren, who likes his full-backs, above all else, to defend.
And that’s what Haidara needs to do. Defend.
The 22-year-old was able to get forward at times at Upton Park, but he’s first and foremost in the team to stop balls into the box, and that’s something he’s struggled to do so far this season.
With goals at a premium so far this season, Newcastle need to tighten up at the back if they are to start climbing up the table.