At last, there’s a good feeling around St. James’ Park now. The Toon recorded back-to-back wins for the first time in over a year as they outfought and outrun two of the most hipster teams in the Premier League.
Steve McClaren has some breathing space. By no means have his side been imperious, but they have simply tried. As a result, they downed a rampant Liverpool and ended Tottenham’s 14-game unbeaten run in the league. Maybe they aren’t so bad after all.
Far from getting carried away, it’s at least time to highlight some of the players performing well. Summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum receives most of the plaudits, of course, and Aleksandar Mitrovic is already on the verge of being a cult-hero in the North East, despite his relatively indifferent start.
However, one of the most important pillars of this Newcastle side is defender Chancel Mbemba. It’s been easy to overlook his sterling efforts amid the embarrassing results this term, as the team’s defence has been bombarded and run ragged on more than one occasion.
Still, the 21-year old has shown what a class act he is. The former Anderlecht man has not been imperious though, but he is constantly improving. Paired next to a careless Fabricio Coloccini for most of the season hasn’t helped his bedding in process, but the Congolese centre-back has shown he has some of the raw materials to make it as a top operator in his position.
While he’s prone to the odd rash challenge and occasionally heading out of position, the towering defender is both pacey and powerful in equal measure. His speed and direct running can help recover possession when an opposition striker is seemingly clean through on goal, and he’s shown brilliant ability to read the game. At times.
Never likely to be outmuscled, other than by Jamie Vardy (who’s in superhero mode), the young centre-back is strong in the challenge and can push attackers away from goal. Perhaps it’s been easy to look at results and criticise the Toon rear-guard, but Mbemba has been one of its only bright spots.
Though he’s not always easy on the eye, the African star has shown a great ability to bring the ball out of defence and push the side up the field in order to elevate pressure. Should he sort his first touch out, he could be a great asset to have when backs are against the wall.
His surging runs may put hearts in mouths at times, but they gets backsides off seats and Newcastle up the field. All in all, isn’t that what Newcastle fans what? To be excited, to see people caring enough to drag their team-mates up the pitch when the going gets tough?
Obviously, there’s room for improvement. If he can cut out his tendency to dive in to tackles, stand his ground and track runners rather than go towards the ball, he certainly has the ability to be one of the best defenders in the league. Not since Jonathan Woodgate has St. James’ Park played host to such an exciting central defender.
While he’s not perfect, the £8.5m arrival is beginning to look like one of the signings of the season. The sky is his limit.