For Newcastle’s Georginio Wijnaldum shopping trips are no longer simple. The midfielder has said “when I walk down the street or go into the supermarket, Newcastle fans talk with me”, explaining to him the importance of this weekend’s derby game with Sunderland.
The Magpies haven’t beaten their Wear-side rivals since August 2011 and this Sunday’s meeting at the Stadium of Light takes on the added importance of both sides heading into it residing in the bottom three.
If Wijnaldum, a £14.5 million summer arrival from PSV Eindhoven, wasn’t aware of the enmity between the two clubs he certainly will be now with Newcastle desperate to end Sunderland’s run of five straight wins against them.
“They talk directly about this game against Sunderland. I see what they want from the players, we must try to win this game” the midfielder said.
Newcastle know that a win against Sunderland could lift them out of the bottom three after they picked up their first win of the season on Sunday against Norwich. Wijnaldum was the star man with four goals, becoming the first Newcastle player to score four or more in a match since Alan Shearer hit five against Sheffield Wednesday in 1999, and if he can produce a similar level of quality every week, as his manager Steve McClaren is now challenging him to, the 24 year old can drive his team away from trouble and into the higher reaches of the table.
McClaren will also demand consistency from Ayoze Perez and Aleksandar Mitrovic, who both scored their second goals of the season in the victory over Norwich, and also Moussa Sissoko who, in an eccentric performance that showcased the good and bad sides of the Frenchman, managed to provide assists for three of the six goals.
Wijnaldum however was central to Newcastle’s counter-attacking effort, appearing in areas across the whole pitch but touching the ball 54 times (seven Norwich players saw more of the ball and registered more passes than his 37).
The Dutchman ensured he would walk off with the match ball and the man of the match champagne though by becoming effective where it really mattered, seeing four of his five shots hit the back of the net.
The midfielder had perhaps struggled to adapt to the demands of his new surroundings as he endured a spell of six games without a goal for his new club following the powerful header against Southampton that marked his immediate impact on the Premier League on his opening weekend debut.
Another header, this time against the run of play, stooping to convert Perez’s corner against Chelsea, came in late September but there was a distinct feeling that Newcastle, with Wijnaldum criticised for his role in the 2-0 defeat at West Ham, should be expecting more from their most expensive signing for a decade.
On the eve of the game with Chelsea the Dutch playmaker, who last season captained PSV to their first Dutch title in seven years and chipped in with 18 goals, spoke of how adapting to Newcastle’s position in the bottom half of the table was difficult, plus how McClaren’s decision to position him in deep-midfield wasn’t helping.
“I played controlled midfielder, I prefer to play a little bit higher” he said, but his role for the team was understood. “But if the team needs a controller and someone who can make dribbles then that is what I can do.”
Against Norwich Wijnaldum was back on the left-side of a midfield four, the Dutchman given more attacking license with a combative pairing Jack Colback and Cheick Tiote patrolling the central area.
McClaren will now seek more balance and discipline as a failure to track-back from both Wijnaldum and Sissoko allowed Dieumerci Mbokani and Nathan Redmond to punish crosses from the left in a rollercoaster first-half, but the sight of Wijnaldum providing a goal-scoring threat from midfield, severely lacking from Newcastle teams for a considerable while, will surely please the former England boss.
Leaky defence a concern
Despite the win, the openness of the first half will concern McClaren who, with only Norwich conceding more than their 19 so far this season, will have to address Newcastle’s defensive porousness if they are to climb away from the lower rungs of the table.
To do that a collective effort is required and both Wijnaldum and Sissoko won’t be able to exercise the same wilful abandon that led to them combining for just 11 touches of the ball in their defensive half in the first-half of Sunday’s win.
Few supporters inside St James’ Park, one imagines, however, would have cared about that as the Dutch midfielder isolated Steven Whitaker, cut-inside and launched a deflected shot that spun high into John Ruddy’s net for Newcastle’s 6th goal of a thrilling game.
With entertainment scarce throughout the Mike Ashley era they may have found, in the Dutch midfielder who can be the buzz behind Newcastle’s attacking flow, some long-awaited excitement.
If he can do it regularly, and especially against Sunderland, Newcastle fans will be doing more than just stopping him for a chat while he tries to do his shopping.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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