Newcastle United players have worked this week ... and they do care says Steve McClaren

Newcastle United forward Aleksandar Mitrovic

Newcastle United forward Aleksandar Mitrovic

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Steve McClaren has challenged his players to prove they are big enough to play for Newcastle United after a “feisty” week behind the scenes.

McClaren held an inquest into last weekend’s dismal 3-0 home defeat to Leicester City early this week.

The club’s head coach tore into his players in an attempt to provoke a response on the training field ahead of this afternoon’s game against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

One criticism of United’s players, after years of under-achievement at St James’s Park, is that too many do not care about the club and its plight.

Asked if the players cared, McClaren said: “Yes.

“It’s up to us to tell them the reasons why we lost. That’s been pointed out, that’s been worked on. Day in, day out.

“We’ll always have weeks like that. We always sail close to the wind in terms of competitiveness and kind of what we want ... passion.

“We need to transfer what’s out there to a Saturday with a little bit more consistency.”

Former Newcastle player and manager Kevin Keegan this week gave a damning assessment of the squad McClaren inherited.

“I don’t think Steve McClaren realised how poor the squad was when he took over,” said Keegan.

“Those players remind me of when I took over all those years ago when they were in the second division.

“The players’ biggest problem was the club was too big for them.”

Asked about Keegan’s assessment of the club’s playing staff, McClaren said: “There’s been a lot of speculation and comments from a lot of people.

“We know the truth. I can understand from the outside them comments. We also understand from the inside. We need to focus on what we can do.

“As I say this has been a feisty week.

“With a lot of good coaching, hopefully we’ve got it out of our system. If you watched any team over the years, you’ll know that, if you lose, the next week you get back to basics. That’s what we’ve done.”

Meanwhile, McClaren has defended striker Aleksandar Mitrovic from an accusation in his native Serbia that he is “sluggish and overweight”.

McClaren said: “Don’t worry. We’ve checked, like we do everyone. His body fat’s very good. That’s the way Mitro’s built.”