How often are Newcastle United going to get caught with their pants down, now Steve Bruce is here?
One thing that I really appreciated about Rafa Benitez when he was at Newcastle United, was the team’s defensive prowess.
Under Rafa, Newcastle were more solid at the back than I can ever remember. True, Rafa’s conservatism wasn’t loved by all fans but in my opinion, given the players at his disposal, I appreciated Rafa’s set-up and it was easy to see what our plan was.
We had a clear, robust identity with our three centre-halves and two wing-backs. Not ideal for football purists but certainly pragmatic in the dark times of Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United Football Company.
I could shout all day about why, in our current plight, Rafa was the perfect manager for us and why his brand of football was the best, most effective approach of smartly competing in the Premier League. However, what I really want to draw attention to is what we maybe took for granted in the past couple of years. We didn’t seem to get spanked anymore.
See, under Rafa Benitez in the past two Premier League seasons we only lost four games by more than two goals. December last year we lost 3-0 against West Ham at home and 4-0 against Liverpool away. In the season prior we lost 3-0 against Watford at home and 4-1 against Man Utd away, again a blip which fell in a single month – November 2017 (ED: Also, in each of these last two season, only two clubs who finished outside the top four conceded less goals than Newcastle, each of the two seasons).
So what’s the relevance? In the Ashley era, among the many blunderous managers we’ve had to suffer, getting absolutely pummeled by teams by multiple goals became a regularity. And results like this run far deeper than the scoreline on the day, they create downward spirals which impact a season at large.
In the season before we last went down, the 15/16 campaign under Mcclaren (before Rafa came in and transformed the side), Newcastle had lost SIX games by more than two goals; Chelsea 5-1, Everton 3-0, Palace 5-1, Leicester 3-0, Sunderland 3-0 and City 6-1. Rafa cut that out. Just like he did his utmost to plug the embarrassment off the pitch, he formulated a plan on the pitch to restore some much-needed pride.
You may also remember the 14/15 season, messrs Pardew and (best manager in the league) Carver were just as bad as Schteve. 3-0 against Leicester, 3-0 against Everton, 5-0 against Man City, 4-1 against Arsenal and 4-0 against Southampton. Leaky to say the least.
Now you may think I’m completely mental here but I’d propose that Mr Steve Bruce, while born in Corbridge and a big toon fan don’t you know, isn’t actually as tactically astute as Champions League and La Liga-winning Rafael Benitez.
I can’t see us, under Bruce, maintaining that same shape and steel on the pitch as what we’ve become accustomed to. See, we currently don’t have the players to play a more expansive brand of football. One thing I expect Steve Bruce to bring is disorder to what, under Rafa, had become identity.
Granted, I’ll hold my hands up and take your criticism – ‘give the bloke a chance, Jamie’ and all that. But let’s face it, if you take the top two goalscorers and elite manager from a team and replace them with a mid-table Championship manager (Bruce was last appointed by a PL club over a decade ago and left that job with a 29.6% win ratio) and no, or even new, signings, it’s highly, highly unlikely that you’ll be able to maintain the standards and momentum formerly in place.
I, perhaps like many NUFC fans right now, expect Newcastle to be relegated this season.
You might say that’s defeatist or terribly pessimistic but hell, that’s only realism in the current climate right? Don’t get me wrong, we do have a selection of talented players; Schar, Almiron and Shelvey spring to mind, while the likes of Ritchie, Dubravka and Fernandez are decent Premier League players.
Plus we saw Rafa bring the best out of Dummett, Hayden (I know he’s off) and young Longstaff. But the crucial thing to remember was that Newcastle United had become greater than the sum of its parts under Rafa. We were a team with an identity, everyone had a job and had to sternly stick to it to pull of a result. We had shape, focus and doggedness. We never had that under the fools who came before Rafa.
Steve Bruce is inheriting a squad with limited potential. To keep Newcastle in the league he will surely have to create his own version of a team which can be coordinated in a way, as Rafa did, that is stronger than its individual talents – a bit like what Dyche does at Burnley. And even if he does manage that, he still needs a striker or two who have that bit of quality to win games on a knife edge. Don’t hold your breath…
I write this having watched the first half of Newcastle vs Wolves in the Asia Trophy. A friendly of course, but a game which nevertheless, serves as a huge warning signal. It suggests that the spankings may well be on their way back. I wonder, how many times will we get caught with our pants down this season? It would not surprise me one bit to see us slip back into our old, pre-Rafa ways.
Prove me wrong Steve. Please.
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