Newcastle United defeated Sacramento Republic 1-0 despite playing with 10 men for a good portion of the second half. Having defeated the mackems in their previous international friendly by the same 1-0 scoreline the USL side were hungry to claim victory over a second Premier League side. It was evident that there is plenty of individual skill in the Republic side who troubled Tim Krul several times in the first half, most notably from two very well struck free kicks that he had to tip over the bar on the first instance and barely around the post on the second.
It is still relatively early in the preseason, but we are seeing some expressions of Steve McClaren's ideas regarding how this team will play. They are intent on moving the ball forward on the ground, which is a welcome sight. The players look much more comfortable on the ball. It seems that every spare moment the coaching staff have set up small coned off areas in which the drill is to avoid a "man in the middle" with quick, close quarter passing. It does remain to be seen whether this new attitude will be able to withstand the Premier League week in and week out, but against a Sacramento side that was willing to press the ball to some degree, the progress is evident if not staggering.
It was evident during the match that off-ball positioning has been another point of emphasis for McClaren. When in possession, Newcastle would always take a very specific shape, particularly in the back. He clearly intends for Haïdara and Daryl Janmaat to play forward in the attack, leaving the CBs to cover the back. In the Sacramento match, Jack Colback and Vurnon Anita played a discernible pivot providing additional cover with the CBs which seems to be an advancement over where we were have been in recent times. Also encouraging is the form of the two midfielders. Colback looks set to take things up a level from last year while Anita looks – small sample size disclaimer – much closer to the player we thought we were getting when he was brought in from Ajax.
On top of the tactical improvements (well... we hope they will be improvements), there were some encouraging individual efforts.
- Tim Krul and Freddie Woodman both made several very very good saves, although Woodman did exhibit a worrying tendency to fumble balls that he had claimed well. One led to the ball being in the back of the net, but the Republic player who put it there was offside. For his part Krul looks like he is back near his shot-stopping best.
- Massadio Haidara looked confident and influential up to the red-card incident, which has been mostly greeted as being a harshly given call. If he can make good on the flashes that we've seen from him, it can only lead to good things.
- Rolando Aarons was electric after he came on. You think he's fast when you see him on broadcasts... but in person he. is. so. fast. Republic were not shy to put a body on him and would frequently double team him when he got in an advanced position. He still has that certain knack to squeeze through those double teams, and knows how to get toward goal. The only drawback to his game yesterday was that, once they did start bodying him, he tended to start fishing for calls, which isn't going to play long term.
- Jamaal Lascelles was pulled at halftime for some reason. Maybe it looked different from the broadcast, but I came away impressed with the confidence he showed and his positioning. He made several very good tackles in dangerous places. I don't know if he is the short-term answer, but if he is it feels like he would be up to speed sooner than later.
- Moussa Sissoko. Moussa. He has every bit of the ability that we have seen from him at his best. He just doesn't always 100% apply it. This is not news... but watching him from pitch level you are left feeling that he is one of those in FM that "Seems disinterested" on a regular basis. When he turned it on, Sacramento didn't know how to stop him. He wasn't turned on very much.
CHN Headquarters is relocating from Sacramento to Portland so road progress must be made.
The game turned on a gifted goal from Republic defender James Kiffee who provided a nice finish to a teasing cross from Massadio Haidara in the 48th minute..