Under-pressure Newcastle boss Steve McClaren had his midfield to thank for the win over Norwich City – and they can be the key to keeping his job.
Holland international Georginio Wijnaldum will undoubtedly take the plaudits thanks to his four-goal haul in the 6-2 victory, but Moussa Sissoko also starred with three delightful assists of the highest quality.
In fact, the midfield four of Wijnaldum, Sissoko, Jack Colback and Cheick Tiote which McClaren was able to start with should be more than good enough for a team in a relegation battle.
In the first half the quartet were full of energy and helped establish the platform required to allow the genial Ayoze Perez – deployed in the number 10 role – to sparkle in attack. The Spaniard scored the third goal and was a constant menace for the Norwich defence.
The only problem being that over the first hour they also showed the deficiencies which explain why Magpies fans were feeling so worried in the first place.
Wijnaldum and Sissokho are perfect Premier League players – all blood and thunder and box-to-box energy. In an era when many are obsessed with registas and trequartistas, it is refreshing to see a midfield duo who instead choose to be everywhere.
In the past the enigmatic Sissoko has been linked with Arsenal, and today he showed exactly why. The France international was dominant throughout, winning tackles, releasing pressure on the defence by carrying the ball into the visitors’ half, and showing exquisite quality by laying on two of Wijnaldum’s goals.
Similarly, the goalscoring hero’s class should be of no surprise considering he has appeared in a World Cup for Holland and captained PSV Eindhoven in Europe. The Dutchman’s clinical finishing seemed to spread to the often erratic forward-duo of Perez and Aleksandar Mitrovic, who showed impressive composure in adding further goals.
Despite the imposing scoreline, the Canaries were still in the match with half an hour left to play due to the worrying lapses in concentration from Newcastle’s midfield. First Sissoko was too slow to track the run of Martin Olsson, who crossed for Dieumerci Mbokani to prod home.
The 26-year-old did learn his lesson and proved so to devastating effect as he disposed Stephen Whitaker in his own half, before driving forward and producing the pass of the afternoon to allow Mitrovic to add a fourth.
However Wijnaldum also blotted his copybook by failing to follow Nathan Redmond into the box, and the England under-21 international volleyed home to reduce the deficit to 3-2.
It may seem harsh to highligh such errors but these mistakes can prove much more costly against better opponents, and are part of the reason the Toon have won only two of their last 20 Premier League fixtures.
A question mark remains over the future of Tiote, who made his first start since New Years’ Day, but was subbed off at half-time. In September McClaren had to deny the Ivorian is a “bad egg” in the dressing room after suggestions the 29-year-old’s knee injury was not serious enough to prevent him from playing. Having rarely appeared this campaign it is understandable Tiote was off the pace. His withdrawal was the safest option considering he had been booked after only five minutes for a bad challenge on Redmond.
Tiote is another who has been linked with Arsenal in the past, so he definitely has the attributes to be an important cog in the engine room. If McClaren helps the combative midfielder back to his best, then he will have just the type of player required to get the Toon Army on their feet and provide the fight required for a relegation scrap.
Knitting things all together is the diligent if unspectacular Jack Colback. The 25-year-old has been one of Newcastle’s most consistent players since his arrival from arch-rivals Sunderland last summer, and was even described by Roy Hodgson as the “ginger Pirlo”.
Such claims might be somewhat overzealous, but every team needs a player like Colback: industrious, economical and reliable. If he can avoid injury or suspension – he has already racked up four yellow cards – then Wijnaldum and Sissoko will be allowed the time and space to shine.
With Tim Krul out for the season, a defence looking anything but convincing, and the jury still out on the hot-headed Mitrovic, McClaren is going to have to count on his midfield to keep him in a job. If they are to do so they are going to need to be more Dr Jekyll and less Mr Hyde.
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