Alan Pardew said nothing after Newcastle United brought the curtain down on their marathon pre-season with a convincing win over Real Sociedad – but one thing has become loud and clear about the Magpies this season.
For all that the clutch of new signings have added life to a listless black and white squad, it is Siem De Jong who holds the key to Alan Pardew succeeding or failing this term.
As Newcastle’s new-look side strolled to victory over a team that had played in Aberdeen on Thursday, De Jong was a notable absentee. It meant that Pardew handed Remy Cabella a free role in behind Manu Riviere and opted for Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko to patrol the flanks in a narrow midfield.
That set-up had its moments – not least when Cabella got on the ball and started to create things – but De Jong is the one player capable of giving Newcastle an extra dimension this season by playing the number ten role to perfection. Without it, you feel United will hit their head against the same glass ceiling when they play the really top teams.
That said, there was so much more guile about Newcastle on Sunday than at any point during their disgraceful limp over the line last season. Jack Colback has virtually snuck into the centre of midfield unnoticed but he has played more than 100 Premier League games, and his know-how has improved Newcastle’s engine room.
Similarly Cabella’s determination to prompt and pull strings has dove-tailed nicely with Rolando Aarons’ emergence as a winger of pace and potential to give Newcastle more cutting edge than they have had since Yohan Cabaye departed for the bright lights of Paris.
A Real Sociedad side without some of their bigger names couldn’t really cope and when Sissoko, who still looks better breaking from deep areas than on the wing, scored the winner they could have few complaints. They were well beaten.
It was just a shame that we didn’t get to see De Jong as part of the new generation of black and (predominately, in this case) white that was presented at St James’ Park on Sunday.
The former Ajax skipper has been given the vice captain’s role but he will certainly be United’s lieutenant on-the-pitch. He will set the tone, inject creativity and boost Newcastle’s footballing IQ ten-fold if he manages to reproduce the kind of form that he showed during his Champions League outings with the Dutch side over the last couple of years.
After their recruitment drive United can look towards the start of the season with more confidence. Given the players to come back, there will surely be more to come from this new-look side.
De Jong’s last competitive game was during the tour of New Zealand, when he limped off against Wellington Pheonix and it is imperative that Newcastle get the most out of a player who missed a significant chunk of the Eredivise last season. Rushing him back is not an option, but the sooner he returns the better for a manager who needs to start the campaign on the front foot.