Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Crisis at Newcastle? The issues engulfing Steve McClaren's side
Last Updated: 26/09/15 5:38pm
Newcastle's dismal start to the season took a turn for the worse as they were knocked out of the Capital One Cup at home to a second-string Sheffield Wednesday side on Wednesday night.
And having only taken two points from Newcastle's opening six games in the Premier League, Steve McClaren admitted their latest setback puts them "very close" to a crisis.
With the anger on the St James' Park terraces reaching new heights, Nick Wright takes a look at the myriad of issues engulfing Newcastle…
Crisis of confidence
A negligible return of just three wins from 25 Premier League games since the turn of the year has left Newcastle's confidence at rock-bottom. McClaren says they are still carrying "mental baggage" from their miserable finish to last season under John Carver, while defender Daryl Janmaat admits the situation is getting desperate.
"I can't talk for other players, but it looks like the confidence is not too good," he told the Newcastle Chronicle after Saturday's 2-1 defeat at home to Watford. "Those types of game we have to be winning. We were flat. We can't accept it. It is how it is at the moment - but we must change."
Newcastle's long-suffering supporters are beginning to wonder where exactly that change is coming from. The club hoped to put the trauma of last season behind them after appointing McClaren and spending close to £50m in the summer transfer window, but their aimless performances this season have gone from bad to worse.
"Is the job harder than I thought? Absolutely," McClaren told Sky Sports after their Capital One Cup exit. "People say it's a crisis and it's getting very close to it. We deserve to be criticised." Asked if he was embarrassed having been booed off by angry Newcastle fans, he added: "I've been in football too long to be embarrassed. Angry, disappointed."
Their hard-fought goalless draw at Manchester United last month already feels like a distant memory. Recent defeats to West Ham and Watford were worryingly poor and against Sheffield Wednesday they only mustered one shot on target. With Chelsea and Manchester City next up, things could get worse before they get better.
Newcastle's problems have been particularly striking in attack. Only a marginally superior goal difference to Sunderland keeps them from the bottom of the table, and the statistics make grim reading. The Magpies have scored fewer goals (three), had fewer shots (37) and created fewer chances (37) than any other side in the Premier League.
The 1-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday means they have failed to find the net in five of eight games under McClaren in all competitions. Janmaat's goal against Watford was their first since their 2-2 draw with Southampton on the opening day of the season, and when your right-back is your biggest goal threat you know are in trouble.
Aleksandar Mitrovic talked about emulating Alan Shearer after his £13m arrival from Anderlecht, but in three appearances to date the Serb has received more cards than he has had shots on goal. His sending off against Arsenal earned the 21-year-old a three-game ban and showed an alarming lack of discipline.
Papiss Cisse, meanwhile, looks a shadow of the player who scored 11 goals in 22 Premier League appearances last season, and Sky Sports pundit Phil Thompson pulled no punches on the Senegal international after the Watford defeat.
"The biggest disappointment is Cisse," he told Soccer Saturday. "I questioned whether he would play, or should play and he was on from the start. He was off at half-time. He was dreadful, he probably had the best chance besides the goal they scored."
New signings' struggles
Mitrovic is not the only newcomer who has failed to make a positive impression. Dutch international Georginio Wijnaldum has regressed since scoring on his debut against Southampton, while Florian Thauvin and Chancel Mbemba have been accused of lacking respect for showing up to home games wearing tuxedos.
Thompson said Wijnaldum was "nowhere to be seen" in the first half against Watford, and he has been even less impressed by Thauvin. "He's awful, he just runs with the ball all the time, there's never any end product," he said. "He looks very lightweight, and gets pushed off by a lot of physical players. He runs down a lot of blind alleys. There's no sort of creativity from him at all."
Thauvin showed glimpses of his quality with a fine goal and three assists in their Capital One Cup win over Northampton Town, but his Premier League form has fallen well short of those standards, and he was hooked at half-time against Sheffield Wednesday after another hapless showing.
The £13m man was brought in to add penetration and creativity, but in four Premier League appearances he has only created three chances, had three shots on goal and completed four of 16 attempted dribbles. His pass completion ratio of 71 per cent is also one of the lowest at the club.
A floundering side is not an easy environment for new signings to find their feet, but Newcastle's net spend was the second highest in the Premier League this summer. They need to see some return on their investment sooner rather than later.
"We are still searching for our best team." McClaren made the stark admission that Newcastle have no identity at the weekend, and their abject defeat to Sheffield Wednesday provided further evidence.
"We're also searching for the best identity within the personnel we've got," he added. "We have to find a way of playing. Can we be free flowing? Can we be this or that? It's about results. We have to be pragmatic."
There are no excuses - back in the morning, Chelsea Saturday, it's the fighting mentality we need.
Newcastle have no discernible playing style, and at the moment they don't even look like they are up for the fight. The meagre 33,986 attendance on Wednesday suggests the fans agree.
"We have said to the players, 'You can't feel sorry for yourselves," said McClaren. "You have got to come out on Saturday and be a fighter or a victim', and it's one or the other, and we can only have fighters on there now."
"There's not a lot you can say. There are no excuses - back in the morning, Chelsea Saturday, it's the fighting mentality we need."
McClaren will be hoping his rallying cry does not fall on deaf ears.
Watch Newcastle v Chelsea live on Sky Sports 1 HD from 5pm on Saturday