Wing-back woes, fitness concerns and Gareth Southgate in attendance - Newcastle United analysis

The good, the bad and the ugly of Newcastle United was on show as they lost their Premier League opener at home to West Ham.

Monday, 16th August 2021, 4:56 pm
Newcastle United winger Allan Saint-Maximin. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Here, our writer Jordan Cronin takes you through FIVE key takeaways from the 4-2 defeat:

Joe Willock’s spine-tingling ovation

The deafening noise of the Geordie-faithful is nothing out of the ordinary but after 18 months without them, you begin to appreciate how special and unique it really is.

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Joe Willock felt the full whack as he was unveiled on the pitch to the 50,673 fans inside St James’s Park before kick-off – beating the Toon badge on his chest.

However difficult it was for Willock to leave his boyhood club Arsenal, you can guarantee that standing ovation made him feel right at home.

No other stadium or fanbase is capable of giving a player a welcome like that. This young man is going to be cherished on Tyneside and adored like one of United’s very own.

Allan Saint-Maximin’s world class assist

Newcastle’s success this season undoubtedly rests largely on the fitness of Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Frenchman is capable of winning a game on his own by making the outrageous seem simple.

He did the latter against the Hammers, ripping to shreds Declan Rice, a player that shone at Euro 2020, on the right before Callum Wilson headed home.

Wrap them in bubble wrap because with ASM and Wilson fit, Bruce’s side will score goals.

Gareth Southgate watches on

England boss Gareth Southgate watched on from the directors' box as his star midfielder Rice became the latest victim of Saint-Maximin’s brilliance.

Perhaps he’d have taken interest in Wilson’s performance too, certainly in the first half when he showed there was much more to his game than just goals.

At times, Angelo Ogbonna and Craig Dawson didn’t know what hit them with his strength and pace in-behind.

The wing-backs – getting the balance right

As well as Saint-Maximin and Wilson, Matt Ritchie and Jacob Murphy were key to United’s success in the first half.

The pair powered up and down their respective wings – combining for the second goal when Murphy headed with precision into the bottom corner.

But after the break, it was an area of great concern. As West Ham committed bodies forward, neither could cope with the overload.

Moyes’ side easily exposed the 3-5-2 formation. The likes of Aston Villa and Southampton will no doubt take inspiration from that in the coming weeks.

As much as it can allow United to get on the front foot, work is needed because too many goals are being shipped.

Bruce must find a way of getting the balance right.

Fitness is an issue

West Ham’s second-half dominance coincided with Newcastle’s rapid decline in fitness.

The formation and the high press implemented by Bruce and his coaching staff requires strong fitness levels for 90 minutes but during the second half, most of the United players looked dead on their feet.

That wasn’t helped by Bruce eithe as he waited until the 70th minute to make his first substitution before the next two arrived five minutes before the end.

Of course, it’s only the first game of the season but fitness needs to be significantly improved sooner rather than later.

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