This week, we had a chance to talk to the crew over at Coming Home Newcastle to get their thoughts on Newcastle's start and Saturday's game. So, us being us, we took that chance. We're risk-takers like that!
TSF: Since it's still August, is there anything left on Newcastle's shopping list? How was Newcastle's summer as far as transfers?
CHN: Steve McClaren is taking an opposite tactic to Alan Pardew with regards to transfers. Where Alan Pardew would be saying "We've got two or three more we want to get over the line" at this point in time, McClaren has been in the papers saying "We're probably done." The reality is that it's hard to see us bringing in more inpact first-team players unless Mike Ashley has done a _complete_ 180 so far as investment philosophy. We're already weighing in at nearly £50m invested this summer which is a massive amount for us.
The players we've brought in are largely very young but have not looked out of their depth in the Premier League at all, while newest signing Florian Thauvin made all four goals against Northampton Town in the [insert sponsor here] Cup and looks to be everything he was advertised to be. Ultimately, we are still without a backup to Daryl Janmaat at RB (you know, without playing someone out of position). It would be great to fix that and maybe bring in another CB just in case Fabriccio Coloccini - who has been quite good this season thus far - ends up reverting to his form of last year. Overall, though, based on the £ spent and the quality we've seen from the players in, it's been a very good window.
TSF: Newcastle's start hasn't been great, two points from three games. Was this unexpected, and is there light at the end of this Slow Start Tunnel?
CHN: When the fixture list was finally announced in the summer nearly every article about Newcastle's little slice of that pie read "Newcastle given hardest schedule to start season" or some other slightly doomier variant. Within the fan base, there were plenty - who will likely remain hidden at this point - who were predicting the lofty heights of 0 points after 10 matches. With Steve McClaren coming in and "changing the culture" at the club both on and off the pitch, the start of the season was always going to be a tough ask. Add in the preseason US tour which was scheduled at the eleventh hour of the summer and of the John Carver reign and prep for McClaren's first season could have been handled much better than it actually was.
For his part, McClaren was still telling the press that he was "learning his squad" following the disappointing 2-0 loss to Swansea City. On the whole, 2 points from the first three matches seems about right although I would have thought them collected through draws with Southampton and Swansea City and not Manchester United. If there is anything frustrating about the first three matches, which there's not, it would be that we were in position to take 3 points from Southampton in the opener and conceded late in the match... but we have to be realistic and understand that where we are coming from at the end of the Pardew/Carver era, So'ton are just plain better than we are. Early returns suggest that McClaren is having success in the changes he wants to bring, so yeah... there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it could earlier than anticipated.
TSF: What does Newcastle need to do to restore themselves to being a regular top-half-finishing team again?
CHN: Honestly, it feels like they are on the way as we speak. It's going to take two major things: 1) Addressing shortcomings in the squad, particularly in defense. We have been woefully thin at CB especially but now also RB. It's not going to take much to fix that, but it's been 5 years that this has been a known need that has not been addressed. Newcastle were still starting their CB tandem that played the second half of the Championship year as recently as last season. They were one of the only such clubs (if not the only one) to be doing so since we came back up. 2) Graham Carr and Lee Charnley need to operate with Steve McClaren to ensure that the players that are being brought in fit into what McClaren wants to do. Alan Pardew was given some shiny toys to play with but very few of them fit into what Pardew wanted to do.
As you could see during the second half of last season, a Glen Murray-type target forward off of whose head you can lump the ball from defense is integral to the Alan Pardew method and it was not part of what he was given after Andy Carroll was made The Most Expensive English Player In The History Of EverTM. If they manage to do this, it's not hard to see us regaining that foothold just outside the Sky 6.
TSF: Apart from an improved finishing position, what in your opinion would constitute a successful season for Newcastle?
CHN: Continued progress in the change that McClaren is trying to install. Newcastle fans get kind of a bad rap a lot of times. Our expectations are unreasonable. We're fickle. Add in any number of your own assertions that I'm sure you've read over time. In truth, we are incredibly easy. We would love to see the club win something... but we don't expect it. We enjoy watching an attacking style of play. At its root, we just want to be entertained. Supporters pour tons of money into following the club. They don't want to see mismatched tactics like an insistence on playing long balls when your defense can't handle the added load of attacks that tactic brings with it. As long as we're making progress to the style that McClaren has promised, this season would be successful. (That improved league position would be nice as well, mind you.)
TSF: Fill in the blank: If Arsenal want to beat Newcastle on Saturday, they must (blank)
CHN: Take advantage of their set pieces. A lot of long-term problems in Newcastle's defense have shown signs of progress... defending free kicks and corner kicks are not so much one of those problems.
TSF: Finally, prediction for the match?
CHN: I really feel that this match is going to be much better than most anticipate. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Newcastle manage to steal the win here, but the Order of Things is the Order of Things for a reason. I think I'll go with a wildly entertaining Newcastle 1 (Wijnaldum) - 2 (Giroud 2) Arsenal.
Thanks again to Coming Home Newcastle for taking the time to chat.