Connect in the back of the net

Newcastle United concluded their pre-season tour of the US with a 4-3 loss to Portland Timbers’ second-string side and we look at five key issues facing manager Steve McClaren ahead of the start of the English Premier League season.

 

Choosing a captain

Fabricio Coloccini has been Newcastle skipper for the past four seasons but his position is now tenuous. Battling an Achilles problem that could see him miss the beginning of the campaign and also linked with a move to Crystal Palace, he has spent the current pre-season on the treatment table.

In his absence, Jack Colback has worn the captain’s armband and the midfielder looks a good chance to succeed Coloccini as captain. The latter has struggled for form over the past couple of seasons and his quiet, stoic leadership style has lost its efficacy since Newcastle finished 5th under Alan Pardew back in 2012.

A lack of leadership direction on and off the pitch has crippled Newcastle and rectifying this issue is one of McClaren’s most important tasks. The identity of his captain will speak volumes for the direction the former England manager will want to take the club.

 

Working on set-pieces

Statistically Newcastle are one of the worst attacking sides from set-pieces in the Premier League. Their defending from dead-ball situations is equally dire and countless points have been thrown away due to a lack of discipline.

McClaren was reminded of this weakness throughout his side’s tour of the US, culminating in a 4-3 defeat to the Timbers. With just over two weeks left before his first competitive match in charge of Newcastle – against a dangerous Southampton side – a great deal of work is clearly still required on the training pitch.

Making sure his players are well drilled and switched on during set-pieces could be the difference between a push for a European place or flirt with relegation.

 

Finding a goal-scorer

The signing of Alexandar Mitrovic from Anderlecht and a consistent link with Charlie Austin will appease Newcastle fans, who have been starved of a regular goal-scorer since the departure of the imperious Demba Ba.

Papiss Cisse remains instinctive, dangerous but largely inconsistent, a combination of his poor discipline and a lack of support. Mitrovic’s arrival will increase competition amongst the squad’s forwards at the very least, but McClaren will also be hoping he has unearthed a gem who will hit the ground running in England.

Ayoze Perez is a bright prospect but to ask the Spaniard to shoulder the goal-scoring burden could hurt rather than harm his development.

McClaren will need to choose between Cisse and Mitrovic and give his full-support to his preferred choice by building his team around them.

 

Repairing media relationships

As it currently stands, all of the north-east’s local newspapers have been banned by the club from contact with staff and players. At Steve McClaren’s unveiling as Newcastle United manager, only Sky Sports and the Daily Mirror were allowed to have a private meeting with the new gaffer.

The ban on press outlets such as The Daily Telegraph and Newcastle Chronicle reflects poorly on the club and has contributed to a poisonous atmosphere with fans who perceive a lack of boardroom transparency under Mike Ashley.

Banning journalists who in most cases seem to have the club’s best interests at heart seems counter-intuitive. McClaren is in an awkward position, having had to deflect requests for quotes by a number of scribes at what should have been his first press conference as Newcastle boss.

Those same journalists will be more inclined to get behind the manager if he is able to foster a give and take relationship with them: something that seems unlikely in the current circumstances.

 

Win over the fans

Newcastle fans have an unfair reputation for being unreasonable in their expectations of managers. Far from being the partisan, obdurate mob they are often portrayed, they only ask that their local team remains competitive and attempts to play a positive, proactive brand of football.

However, McClaren will understand the importance of winning over the Geordies, who have tired from a lack of communication and progress from the club over the past two seasons in particular.

The former Middlesbrough manager is familiar with this football stronghold of England and surely understands the galvanizing effect a vocal Newcastle support can have.

When they get behind their team, the city transforms and the job of Newcastle boss becomes infinitely more enjoyable.

 

Written by Chris Paraskevas

Follow Chris on Twitter @Cparaskevas

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