The wait is almost over. The time is almost upon us. The preseason is (thankfully) behind us. After nine, somewhat eventful, years since last gracing the Premier League, Steve McClaren will lead Newcastle United out for his first competitive game against Southampton.
McClaren will hope to rid St James’ of the toxicity which suffocated the club both on and off the field towards the end of the previous campaign. The clean slate of joining in the summer has allowed the former England manager the chance to implement his ideology and vision onto the side, with minimal association to last season’s failure.
“As I’ve mentioned before, a new philosophy and a new style take time to evolve but I hope you will see the character and commitment you expect from the off. Each match over the first ten-game period will give us a real indication of where we are as a club and what we can accomplish this season and from there, we will continue to assess and develop.”
-Steve McClaren’s email to fans ahead of the clash with Southampton
Much has changed within the club’s coaching hierarchy since the victory against West Ham on the final day of the season. However, fans could quickly make their minds up on McClaren should he fail to change little on the pitch by Sunday lunchtime. Given the string of difficult fixtures throughout August, many would have preferred an easier opener than a tough test against Ronald Koeman’s Southampton.
After an exodus of star players last summer, the Saints continued to establish their Premier League credentials and fluid style under Koeman, and it’s likely they’ll aim for more of the same this season. With fewer departures, the Dutchman in the dugout for his second season (albeit once he has recovered from ankle surgery) and competitive European fixtures over the summer, you can expect the visitors to be sharp off the mark, looking to add to their impressive record over Newcastle. Scoring 10 against the Magpies in the last three meetings, conceding just one in reply, fingers crossed Williamson and co have been well drilled on how to plug the goals.
Janmaat – Taylor – Williamson – Haïdara
Anita – Colback
Sissoko – De Jong – Wijnaldum
McClaren has tinkered with his side throughout the summer to determine who is worthy of start, and he will have been given a selection headache when it comes to certain spots on his team sheet. Many are predicting similar line-ups, but positions such as the left wing, centre back and centre forward are still up for contention.
Georgino Wijnaldum will be hoping to extend his pre-season form and may prove to be United’s key man this season, adding drive and decisiveness to a midfield which was lacking in creativity last year. Along with the return of Siem De Jong, the Dutch pair could cause Koeman’s side problems in what will be a compressed midfield. Wanyama may have his hands full if everything goes to plan for the Magpies.
Failing to score within four of our last five opening games is something McClaren will also be looking to address. With the likes of Cisse, and specifically Perez and Aarons, he has options should Mitrovic fail to hassle Fonte and new defensive partner Steven Caulker.
Newcastle’s defence frailties are more than likely to rear their ugly heads sooner rather than later, and our poor record against the Saints could quite easily undo McClaren’s preseason defensive work. The coach’s reiteration of building from the back and the fact “you don’t win anything with a bad defence” are all things fans like the sound of. But, as always on Tyneside, we’ll believe it when we see it.
With Nathaniel Clyne swapping the South coast for the North West and Ryan Bertrand likely to miss Sunday’s clash through injury, the Saints may not display the same attacking width they did last term, allowing Janmaat and Haïdara to press high and give service to whichever frontman is selected.
Expect a nervy start from McClaren’s men as they find their feet against a tactful Southampton side. The front four will all be biting at the bit to hit the ground running, aiming to impress both the fans and coach, in what will be an electric atmosphere at St James’. Let’s just hope the back four can prevent Southampton from doing likewise.
Prediction: 1- 1