Guest post by James Robinson…
If any lessons can be learnt from Sunday’s season opener against Southampton, it’s that Newcastle need to invest heavily in a particular area of the squad – and it’s not the most glamourous.
Paper talk may focus on the pursuit of forwards, in particular Charlie Austin, and to a lesser extent, Sadio Berahino. But it’s clear to many that, rather than splashing out £15 million on another goal scorer, United are in desperate need of reform to their backline.
Whereas we know Papiss Cisse can be relied on if he gets the service, and if their records are anything to go on, we can expect a decent return of goals from both Aleksander Mitrovic and Gini Wijnaldum (had to google that spelling), it seems like a recipe for disaster to replace just one member of a defence which conceded more Premier League goals last season than any team apart from relegated QPR; although it must be said that Chancel Mbemba is a far superior player to the apparently outgoing Mike Williamson – but then again, so are most people’s Nannas
Even so, the man from Anderlecht stands at under six feet tall, and clearly struggled to deal with the physical and aerial presence of Southampton forward Graziano Pelle, and physicality was a problem constantly faced last season, with seemingly no solution found at all – remember Williamson vs Giroud?
It may be controversial to say, but it appears that the rock that was Fabricio Coloccini is rapidly crumbling – he’s certainly lost a yard or so of pace, and he was never outstanding in the air, and this showed when he was easily beaten by Swansea’s Andre Ayew this weekend. If Newcastle can hope to compete for a top half place, a tall, strong, and imposing centre half is desperately needed.
A centre half is not the only issue, however. There is a huge, gaping hole to be filled, and it is in the shape of the departed Davide Santon. Whilst his attacking threat was certainly superior to his defensive capabilities, his departure out of the blue left just two options. And let’s be honest here, they’re both rubbish.
Massadio Haidara may yet come good, but he still has many people to convince, and his performance this weekend will not have helped his cause – he was about as much use at left back as nipples are on a fish. His poor closing down lead to the Southampton wingers having far too much time and space, twice resulting in a dangerous ball into the box that led to a goal. He was quite simply, hopeless.
And then there’s Paul Dummett. Ah, how I want like the Geordie defender – I really do – but he definitely makes a more effective centre back than a left back, and he’s not very good at being a centre back. Yes, he tries hard – but that’s not enough without talent, and Paul doesn’t have much.
I believe letting Santon go was a huge mistake – particularly as there was no replacement made, but then that’s typical of Newcastle under Mike Ashely. Admittedly, there is talk of the impending signing of PSV left-back Jetro Willems, and supposedly he was in the stands for the Southampton game, but I’ll believe it when I see him holding a black and white shirt and smiling for the cameras.
In summary, it’s clear that without two members of a new back four, Newcastle are going to have to revert to the Kevin Keegan tactics of “you score four, we’ll score five” and so on – something that seems unlikely with Steve McLaren at the helm, or with David Ginola being replaced by Gabriel Obertan – which is a bit like replacing your girlfriend with a fleshlight – it does the same job, but it’s nowhere near as good, or as sexy.