Sandro Tonali said this week that he felt lost after leaving AC Milan for Newcastle. He is yet to find himself.
There have been flashes — and a brilliant debut fuelled by adrenalin — but, for now, the search intensifies for the player that Eddie Howe was convinced is the midfield upgrade his team needs.
Tonali will be given time to adapt to the Premier League, of course, but the Champions League at the San Siro should have been his stage. He has shone in these conditions before, leading his boyhood club to the semi-finals last season.
He was given the noisiest of welcomes on his return, but the performance that followed was subdued. Maybe the emotion of it all left him drained, for his running was not as hard as it should have been and his cunning was also lacking. He was withdrawn on 72 minutes — again, to much applause — but that was because of his history.
The future is Howe’s concern. The boss has a selection problem now: which of Tonali and Bruno Guimaraes does he leave out? Together, they are not working, and the man they were signed to replace in Howe’s strongest XI outperformed both here.
Sean Longstaff was Newcastle’s best midfielder. As a unit, though, they are not functioning, and have not since the 5-1 opening-day win over Aston Villa.
When Tonali and Guimaraes sat next to each other on the team’s flight to the United States in July, there was much excitement given the pedigree of the pair. But their partnership remains grounded.
Howe is sticking with Guimaraes as the central component of a midfield three but that leaves gaps in behind, and Tonali doesn’t seem the type to plug them.
There were two occasions in quick succession last night when Ruben Loftus-Cheek ran free of Newcastle’s midfield. It prompted anRead on m.allfootballapp.com