Steve McClaren’s first battle as Newcastle Unite head coach was to eek more than the bare minimum from this transfer window.
It was a battle he couldn’t afford to lose; a battle Alan Pardew did lose.
After an outlay of close to £50 million on Tyneside though, few are complaining. Reinforcements were needed at both ends of the pitch and they’ve arrived in the form of Chancel Mbemba and Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the midfield additions of Gini Wijnaldum and Florian Thauvin are real bonuses.
All four men starred in a gutsy draw at Old Trafford on Saturday. It was a performance typified by the hunger and drive of Mitrovic, but the new recruits offered more than just fight, lifting a side that had looked dreadfully short on quality last term.
With Moussa Sissoko and Paul Dummett injured, Daryl Janmaat suspended, and Siem de Jong and Rolando Aarons sitting on the bench, there now even appears to be some depth to this Newcastle squad.
Unfortunately, there’s every chance that we’ve seen the end of the Magpies’ spending in 2015. McClaren has had his board do more than the bare minimum, but that’s not to say there isn’t still work to do.
The full-back areas remain an issue. Mbemba put in an admirable shift at right-back against Manchester United – arguably matching any showing Janmaat might have posted – but it is a position that is alien to him. The only other alternatives in that role are midfielders, and a Premier League club should surely be better equipped than that.
It is telling that the Dutchman’s first absence of the season was through suspension, as the only fixture he missed last term came due to another red card at Leicester City.
United should have learned from the first half of the year, where Papiss Cisse’s ban left John Carver short of forwards and careering towards relegation. Janmaat, like the former Freiburg front man, isn’t the most disciplined of players, making a back-up an absolute necessity.
On the opposite side of defence, there are options, albeit perhaps not suitable ones. Dummett has a role to play, but McClaren’s is a system that prefers the offensive attributes of Massadio Haidara; once an exciting prospect, the Frenchman has looked out of sorts in the early weeks of this campaign.
Haidara’s struggles could be contributed to Gabriel Obertan’s lazy covering, but it remains that his work at the back is shoddy and in the final third he lacks the ability to consistently make a difference.
In an ideal world, further spending would bring in a left-back who would share the load with Janmaat and Thauvin to supply Mitrovic. Wijnaldum’s friend and international colleague, Jetro Willems, could be one such potential signing.
Following a phenomenal clean sheet at the 20-time champions and a superb transfer window, criticisms are few and far between, but there is an opportunity now to round off the summer with just one or two more fresh faces.