Goals and clear-cut opportunities were certainly not the order of the day at a damp and drizzly St James’ Park on Sunday afternoon as Newcastle United and Real Sociedad played out a pre-season friendly ending in a 1-0 victory for the home side.
For Newcastle, the fixture was the final opportunity to fine-tune any areas of their game in which they were lacking before kicking off their Barclays Premier League season at home to Manchester City in one week’s time. For Real Sociedad, the game was still part of building match fitness and avoiding injury to key players, with their season beginning away to newly-promoted and fellow Basque club SD Eibar- though still two weeks away. Real had beaten Scottish club Aberdeen in the Europa League Qualification stage just a few days prior to this fixture 5-2 on aggregate.
Newcastle named a team as close as possible to the one they plan to put out when they host the Premier League champions in a week, missing new signing Siem De Jong and vice-captain and midfield enforcer, Cheick Tiote. Real Sociedad balanced youth with experience in a bid to keep their side competitive in both halves, without leading forward Carlos Vela and new £6.5m signing Alfred Finnbogasson from sc Heerenveen.
The game began tepidly without any side finding an urgency in the final third – Real’s usual talisman, Antoine Griezmann, now of Atletico de Madrid, was a clear omission as was the usually sharp and skilfull Carlos Vela as Imanol Agirretxe laboured around faced with both central defenders without much support from the usually buoyant and magical Sergio Canales. Captain and club legend Xabi Prieto tried his best to inspire the players around him by constantly dropping into areas and spreading play, however Newcastle defended well with two rows of four closing down the man in possession and congesting the play.
The first real “half-chance” of the game fell to one of Newcastle’s nine new signings, Emmanuel Riviere after a decent drilled cross from another new signing, Daryl Janmaat; the Dutch international hitting the ball millimetres ahead of Riviere’s toe, otherwise it could well have been 1-0.
New £10m signing Remy Cabella looked the brightest player on the pitch for most of the first half constantly probing to find an opening in the Real defence but the promising Iñigo Martínez was always on hand, marshalling his back line with a lot of maturity for the young age of 23.
The second half bore a lot more action in contrast. Boosted by the introduction of youngster Rolando Aarons at half-time in place of Yoann Gouffran, Newcastle played with more intensity and desire to find a goal to send off their fans with hope for the upcoming season. Ultimately though it was the introduction of a player often seen as an outcast at the club, Gabriel Obertan who brought with him onto the pitch a willingness to take on defenders and create chances for the forwards who had been starved of them for the majority of the game. Real Sociedad still looked laboured and tired, perhaps understandably considering their workout in competitive circumstances a few days before in Europe.
A raft of substitutions for both sides saw the game become a rather stop/start affair. The first concrete chance at goal fell to Mike Williamson of all players, as Cabella whipped in a corner, Williamson rose to meet the ball and direct it towards the top corner, however the effort was matched by Argentine goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli – a new signing on loan after the departure of first choice Claudio Bravo to FC Barcelona. His opposite number, Tim Krul, had very little if anything to save in the second half as more substitutes were introduced.
The dying minutes of the game saw the only goal, Moussa Sissoko scoring with a well-directed and powerful side-footed effort into the bottom corner of the net after good work from Gabriel Obertan and young Spaniard Ayoze Perez. The referee ended the game in the 90th minute without the opportunity for any more efforts on goal.
Newcastle can now work towards their opening Premier League game whilst Real Sociedad now travel down the country to London to face Chelsea FC at Stamford Bridge. It is evident that both sides need to work more on off-the ball movement and creative play in the final third, as on that showing, albeit in a friendly, both sides could be in for solid, if unspectacular seasons. Of course both were missing key components of their team.
Real Sociedad’s opener versus SD Eibar can be seen on Sky Sports 5 on Sunday 24th August.
Newcastle United (4-4-1-1) ; Krul, Janmaat (Armstrong 83), Williamson (S.Taylor 60), Coloccini (Yanga-Mbiwa 60), Haidara (Dummett 59), Sissoko, Anita (Abeid 60), Colback (Obertan 59), Gouffran (Aarons 46), Cabella (Ferreyra 75), Riviere (Perez 60).
Subs not used: Alnwick
Real Sociedad (4-2-3-1) ; Rulli, Carlos Martínez, Mikel, Iñigo (Ansotegi 65), Yuri, Markel Bergara (Elustondo 46), Barn (Iker Hernández 65), Canales (Oyarzun 65) Xabi Prieto (Estrada 65), Chory Castro (Hervías 65), Agirretxe (Pardo 46).
Subs not used: Bardaji, de la Bella, Oiartzun
Attendance; 19,188 including 2 hardy away fans situated high up in the Leaze’s End Northwest Corner.