Reviewing McClaren’s NUFC squad 

Ready to face the storms in the aftermath of an abject defeat against Leicester, McClaren’s powers of spin will come to the fore. Does he have any sort of defence less flimsy than one of Mike Ashley’s own brand brollies? 

Ironically, the best defence for McClaren comes from his immediate predecessor, John Carver. He has already told us that the players signed in the summer were going to be signed, regardless of McClaren’s opinion. Supporters may even wonder if McClaren was pulling any strings when at his previous club. 

Let’s have a look at who is available. The squad breaks down into 2 main components, a maximum of 25 senior players with as many Under 21s as desired. To take advantage of the full quota of senior players, at least 8 must be “home grown”, i.e. having spent 3 years in domestic football before qualifying as a senior player.

Having suffered the indignity last season of Jak Alnwick being thrust into the firing like without even a loan spell under his belt, Krul and Elliot are now supported by the young Darlow and even younger Woodman. Lessons have been learned even if there is still vulnerability. 

Right back
Janmaat is first choice, quite justifiably. Following his 2nd red card of 2015, Mbemba was shifted to the flank. If injuries were to pile up further, Anita is the next logical choice. There is a distinct lack of depth.

 Left back

This position has seen 3 players here so far this season, Haidara, Dummett and Mbabu. Is youth the answer? 

Central defence
With Williamson on loan and Taylor injured, the places belong to players at either end of their careers, Mbemba and Coloccini. Dummett can be shuffled across but options still look limited, Lascelles having a grand total of 90 minutes in the Premier League, spread across 3 games. 

Holding midfield
With 3 senior players available, Colback, Anita and Tiote, McClaren has consistently (aside from Watford) played 2. With 2 of those now injured, it remains to be seen if the perennial futility player, Gouffran will be deployed there again, as he was against Man City. With 3 starts in 2015 before his latest run, Tiote appears well off the pace. 

Wide players
This area provides more than a little interest. Wijnaldum and Sissoko have both played in nearly all matches, Sissoko unavailable for one. Neither are naturally wide, Wijnaldum being more of a number 10, Sissoko at his best in a box to box role. Both have wandered infield or across field. 

The biggest problem that these deployments create is in leaving apace when failing to track back. There is also a lack of ammunition for a striking target to pounce upon. 

Despite impressing against League 2 Northampton, Thauvin has yet to live up to the billing of either Cabella or even Obertan, let alone those great French wingers of yesteryear, Ginola or Robert. In his 3 starts, Obertan did manage an assist in his first game. Otherwise, his processing power to evaluate options is a reminder of the early Sinclair computers. 

Number 10
This is an area of apparent strength. The candidates for the role include both of those currently used as wide players, Sissoko and Wijnaldum. De Jong is keen to stake his claim, Perez could be a natural. The sad fact is that they are all deployed out of their best positions, with the arguable exception of Perez. 

This is yet another area that shouts at a lack of depth. McClaren has moved to 2 up front, Perez having been ignored at the start of the season but slotting in behind Mitrovic. Toney is back at Northampton on loan. 

Before this season, Cisse was the only striker with a decent history in the Premier League with 35 goals, Riviere having only 1 fortunate bobble, Perez now up to 10. The sad fact remains that the 2nd top Premier League scorer remains Steve Taylor with 12. 

We have yet to see a fit Marveaux under McClaren. Who knows where he may slot in, even if he will. He could provide the balance so needed down the left. With the ostensible strength in the middle, his future would not appear to be there. 

Curtis Good has yet to be seen, despite his loan spells earning him a League Cup final medal. 

A number of players, predominantly left sided are also out on loan, Vuckic, Ameobi, and Ferguson. Central midfield cover, Bigiramana has also gone on loan to Coventry, keeping young Armstrong company. Williamson is a near neighbour at Wolves. Cabella is unlikely to return while Aarons awaits yet another comeback in his short career. 

Of the “home grown” players in the squad, it seems somewhat ironic that most appearances this season (9) come from Sunderland developed Colback. 1 game behind is Dutch international keeper Krul with Welsh Geordie Dummett on 5 and Irish Cockney Elliott on 4.Dummett is the only local lad to have broken into the first team squad as a (relatively) regular in the 4 years under Pardew. 

A mere 12.5% of starts this season come from British Isles born players, 13.3% of goalkeepers are included. 

Yet another imbalance in team selection has been the age profile. Yes, it is great that players in their early 20s are getting a chance, Mbemba, the left backs, Perez, Mitrovic are being given a chance to develop. Only Coloccini and the benched Cisse provide deeper experience as 30+, occasionally supported by the off-pace Tiote and Krul as players over 26. 

There are no real surprises. When assessing the squad (here) at the start of the season, the problems that have come to pass were identified.  Combined with a manager whose only successes were when well backed by Steve Gibson and inheriting a coaching staff at Twente, a solitary place and solitary point above the relegation zone were totally expected. 

If the team appears to lack balance on the field, is it because McClaren is picking the wrong players, or is it due to an imbalance in the squad? Remember, Thauvin is the only naturally left sided attacking player as well as being the oldest left footer at 22. Premier League experience is thin on the ground. 

The club have been given a chance to live up to McClaren’s hype about Ashley’s intentions, The work has to be done now to ensure the January window provides what is needed, players with Premier League experience, width, creativity and more. 

Over to you, NUFC!