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Opinion

Can this cunning Steve Bruce plan actually work?

4 weeks ago
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We are now a couple of months into the Steve Bruce era at Newcastle United.

Rafa Benitez and his plans are now history, so what do we make of the Steve Bruce strategy?

That’s a bit tricky at the minute.

Basically, I still have no idea of what he is trying to do.

The Head Coach made bold but short on detail claims that his Newcastle United team would always be looking to play on the front foot, the emphasis on playing entertaining and attacking football.

Newcastle fans taking this as a clear slur on what had gone before under Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard always open and honest and admitting that at times he felt he had no option but to play in a certain way, due to Mike Ashley refusing to allow proper investment in the playing squad.

A bit like his pledge to give equal importance to the cups (seven changes for the defeat against Leicester) as the Premier League, Steve Bruce’s front foot football is yet to be seen.

Indeed, Steve Bruce has actually sent his teams out to be more negative than we saw under Rafa, the side defending so deep rather than pressing the ball, leading to the following possession figures against the six opposition teams so far – 38% v Arsenal, 37% v Norwich, 20% v Spurs, 32% v Leicester, 49% v Watford and 24% v Liverpool (stats via BBC Sport).

So what is the cunning plan and preferred team selection/formation for the former Sheff Wed boss?

Well he started the season with his first choice plan being to play a back five, with three central midfielders and Almiron behind Joelinton.

However, after two defeats with no serious attempt on goal v Arsenal and a shocker of a performance at Norwich, that first choice plan was swiftly abandoned.

Despite having named as a key player in his team for this season, Steve Bruce jettisoned Jonjo Shelvey and went back to the Rafa Benitez formation of two central midfielders and then two players supporting the main striker.

A bit difficult to tell how effective, if at all, this has been so far.

Two backs to the wall performances against Spurs and Liverpool have seen Newcastle score with one of their two efforts on target against Tottenham, then scored with the only one on target against the scousers. Against Watford it was a really poor display lacking creativity, apart from a 15 minute spell in the second-half.

Apart from games where his players are simply defending for three quarters or more of the game and having the odd break, I can’t see any plan from Steve Bruce that realistically will deliver enough chances, goals and wins.

It is also a massive disadvantage as well, when we are back to a system of Ashley having a Head Coach who has no say on transfers in and out, instead of a proper manager.

As has been well documented, the signings of Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin were set up long before Steve Bruce arrived, whilst the media have since said that both Willems and Krafth were also both being targeted before Bruce’s appointment.

So we have a Head Coach with a really poor career record in the Premier League, who has spent most of the last decade in the Championship, who then can’t even choose the players he wants to sign, or indeed decide which positions are strengthened. In the past, pre-Rafa, we regularly saw situations where certain positions desperately needed strengthening but Ashley and his people would sign players for other positions, on the basis that they were getting them at a good price. Thinking only about future resale/profit rather than what the team needs.

With limited managerial/coaching ability and all the extra problems Mike Ashley adds to the situation, Steve Bruce needs to come up with something special to steer a path even just to safety this season, never mind progressing the club as Rafa Benitez would have done with decent backing.

I watch the likes of promoted Sheffield United and Norwich City and whether they are successful and/or survive remains to be seen BUT what they do both have is a clear plan of what they are trying to do and how to try and achieve it.

When players are back from injury then I can only see ever more confusion as to what Steve Bruce’s plan is.

If Andy Carroll does indeed eventually get fit enough to be available, then I’m sure at some time we will see the 6ft 4 Carroll up top with 6ft 1 Joelinton.

Whilst I also think it is only a matter of time before the NUFC Head Coach will abandon the three/five at the back and go with a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1.

Rafa wasn’t perfect but overall he certainly knew what he was doing and despite at times his underinvested team/squad coming under pressure and going long spells without winning many games the Spaniard stuck to his guns because he knew what he was doing was right for the players he had at his disposal. That his formation and tactics gave the team the best chance of relative success.

I don’t think Steve Bruce has a clue as to what his best selection and formation really is and unless hitting on a winning solution through pure luck, he will spend the season constantly looking for that elusive regular winning strategy, which to be honest might not even exist considering how little goals and creativity there is in the squad, due to a summer transfer window that delivered nowhere enough of either.

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