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Perhaps most famous for his disastrous stint in charge of the England national team, Steve McClaren takes over from the departed Alan Pardew at St James’ Park. McClaren is an experienced manager, having enjoyed success at both Middlesbrough and FC Twente in the past, winning a league title with the Dutch club in 2010.
His reputation as an excellent coach precedes him and there is much work to be done on the training ground at Newcastle, after the current squad’s recent flirts with relegation.
Off the pitch, the 54 year-old will also need to placate frustrated fans and local media, the latter still suffering under a bizarre press ban imposed by owner Mike Ashley.
Moussa Sissoko has both inspired and frustrated since swapping Toulouse for Tyneside in 2013, but there is no doubting that Newcastle are transformed when the France international hits his stride.
On his day, the 25 year-old can turn games in an instant with his powerful, direct running and goal-scoring threat: in only his second game for the club after joining, he terrorized Chelsea, scoring two goals in a match-winning performance.
Previously the Newcastle United board have made clear their disregard for both the League Cup and FA Cup, instead demanding focus on finishing on the Premier League and the financial rewards it guarantees. Given the club’s romantic history with cup competitions, this is a sticking point for fans.
A mid-table finish would be considered a success given how close Newcastle came to the drop more than once under Alan Pardew. Expect to see under-strength line-ups in both domestic cup competitions.
Two relatively big name signings have punctuated the Newcastle off-season so far: Georginio Wijnaldum (who joins from PSV) and Aleksandar Mitrovic (who joins from Anderlecht). The former won the Dutch Footballer of the Year award as he skippered his club to the league title last season while Serbia striker Mitrovic is seen as a potential star of the future.
Young centre-back Chancel Mbemba also arrives from Anderlecht, as Steve McClaren continues to clear deadwood from the current squad. Aside from trying to move on fringe players, the former Derby boss will also fight tooth and nail to keep Moussa Sissoko at the club in the wake of fresh interest from Manchester City and Liverpool.
If McClaren and his coaching staff can keep key players fit, Newcastle have shown that they are capable of mixing it with the best teams in the Premier League on their day. Talent and international pedigree exists in the form of Tim Krul, Daryl Janmaat, Moussa Sissoko and Papiss Cisse: all match winners when on top form.
St James’ Park still retains the potential to be a football fortress but that is dependent on the mood of fans: Newcastle supporters are galvanized when they see their side playing with passion and commitment and McClaren would be wise to try and utilize this edge.
A lack of stomach for the fight is a worrying character trait of the current playing squad, with the team’s incredulous dip of form at the back end of last season almost spelling disaster. Keeping a capable group of players focused and motivated will be one of the new manager’s toughest tasks.
Defensively there is a lack of cover despite the arrival of Mbemba, with captain Fabricio Coloccini’s future still uncertain. The Argentine will begin the season on the treatment table and he remains Newcastle’s finest centre-back, with Mike Williamson and Steven Taylor rarely finding form or fitness consistently.
An inability to provide an attacking threat from set pieces –and defend from them – is also a real Achilles heel for this team and addressing this issue is absolutely crucial to Newcastle’s season.
This season is about addressing the basics: set pieces, attitude and consistency. If McClaren and his coaching staff can motivate the club’s best players, Newcastle will quite easily avoid another relegation scrap.
However, there is a pressing need to invest in the playing squad, not least at centre-back and probably up front as well.
Owner Mike Ashley has loosened the purse strings somewhat this summer, but more spending is needed if United are to move forward as a club.
Written by Chris Paraskevas
Follow Chris on Twitter @Cparaskevas
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