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Opinion

Talking tactics – Analysing Steve Bruce and Leicester 5 Newcastle 0

8 months ago
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I turned off the game at half-time on Sunday night/Monday morning (Singapore time).

I had stayed up until 1am to watch the first half (I then recorded and watched the second half later) and I am not quite sure why. It is rare I say this but thank god I wasn’t there.

There are a multitude of adjectives to describe the performance but from no.1 to no.11, Newcastle United were clueless and toothless against a Leicester side who yes, are a very good team, but also who we have beaten away from home in the past two seasons and were missing their best player.

Now Steve Bruce was a great footballer and will probably go down as the best English player never to pick up a cap for the national team. However, his managerial capabilities have been proven, especially in the modern era, to be dated to say the least. It remains a miracle that he finds himself in this position.

Tactically, Newcastle are inept. All over the park. They have gone from a team that lacked class but was well-drilled, tactically sound and organised, to a side that lacks class, lacks the ability to break a team down and worryingly looks all at sea defensively.

What is more worrying is that it is not only glaringly obvious to those who know the game but also the average fan. I watched the game with my Canadian housemate, who doesn’t have the foggiest about football, but still managed to chip in with comments like “why is the good guy (Almiron) so far away from the play” and “there are too many players in the defence.”.

You really must ask yourself, just what the fu.. is going on?

Even in goal, Martin Dubravka looks like a bag of nerves compared to the calm and assured goalkeeper who was brought in under Rafa Benitez. His distribution has been poor, but most importantly, when he does have the ball in his grasp, there doesn’t seem to be a plan of what to do with it. Sometimes he plays it short, other times it’s a lump up the field to Joelinton… is there a philosophy in this side that starts at the goalkeeper like with most other teams? Not really… and what your goalkeeper does with the ball actually tells you far more about a team than you may think.

The fact that Martin Dubravka doesn’t seem to know what he is going to do with it until he has lifted his head and surveyed what is in front of him, speaks volumes, and I think that can be attributed to the rest of the team too.

Moreover, although the five/three at the back formation is becoming more popular at the top level again – it arguably makes the wing backs the two most important players in your team. They are the difference in finding a balance in a side that is solid defensively as a back five, but also good enough, and fit enough, to support the attack, and offer enough width to stretch the game. Yet Newcastle find themselves with two wing backs who are neither good enough going forward, solid defensively, or even fit enough to cover the grass in front of them. Sure, when Deandre Yedlin and Matt Ritchie are both fit, they will certainly give the rest of the team a relative boost. Yet for the moment, the decision to continue playing new signing Emil Krafth seems just as bizarre as the decision to buy him in the first place.

Bruce went with four at the back against Leicester and even then it didn’t work – with neither Dummett nor Krafth offering anything going forward. Even in the middle of the park, two players like Hayden and Longstaff, who for the short time they played together were a revelation under Rafa Benitez, continue to look isolated.

Under Benitez, Newcastle were tight, compact and well organised, which meant that Hayden and Longstaff, who perhaps don’t lack either the physical or technical ability to dominate a game, or as I would say ‘take the game by the scruff of the neck’, only had to do their respective jobs. For Hayden that was to break up the play, act as an engine in the middle of the park, and when possible be a part of the counter attack. As for Longstaff, with a player like Hayden next him, who put the hard yards in, it allowed him to do what he does best and keep the game ticking over when Newcastle were in possession.

Now under Bruce, Newcastle are wide open and two players who are by no means world beaters are being found out and left isolated in the middle of the park. Why? Perhaps we miss Ayoze Perez. I never thought I would say that as I was big critic of Perez but Newcastle have no outlet beyond their two holding midfielders. There is no number 10 in the side, nobody dropping deep to link up the play, nobody playing with the back to goal. For two central midfielders, who lets be honest, lack pace and quality, to play with no number 10 in front of them, makes their job impossible and leaves them open to be overran every time they venture five yards past the halfway line.

Are you surprised by the Hayden sending off? It was the act of a very frustrated player and I bet a lot of that is to do with the way they are set up and the effect it has on his own game.

I am sure Bruce would argue that job was supposed to be done by Yoshinori Muto on Sunday but why? Why is that the case when you have the club’s January record signing (before Joelinton), an out and out number 10, sitting on the touchline? It makes absolutely no sense at all.

This wasn’t cleared up by Bruce post-game either as he came out with waffle that Almiron is not a number 10 and instead is an old fashioned inside forward. What on earth is he smoking?

Coming from a guy who I bet you a bottom dollar had never even heard of Miguel Almiron before coming to Newcastle United. Yet here is claiming a player who is the no.10 for his national team, and played at no.10 for his previous club, has never played there. It really does beggar belief and I tell you what, these fans deserve a lot better.

You must play to your strengths and Miguel Almiron is probably the only strength that Newcastle have right now. He will be left to rot under Steve Bruce.

Getting the ball forward is a huge problem – we have only touched the ball 65 times in the box this season… with the closest team to us on that one being Sheffield United with 92. That is a terrifying statistic that you can’t dress up. It makes a mockery of Steve Bruce’s ‘have a go’ comments and must leave poor Joelinton wondering what he has signed up for.

“I have heard a lot of nonsense about tactics” – I tell you what Steve, the tactics related nonsense is coming from your chalkboard.

Of course, Mike Ashley is to blame here, and of course he is the biggest part of the problem, but that doesn’t mean that those who work for him and defend him; Bruce, Charnley, Ameobi etc should not be called out at every single opportunity for the greedy incompetent penny pinchers that they are.

I don’t feel sorry for Steve Bruce. Why would I? It was his decision to come and work for Mike Ashley, he knew what he was signing up for. I said at the time that if Bruce really was a true Geordie then he would never have taken the job. He would never become one of Ashley’s puppets and never work for and therefore defend a guy who has done everything to destroy the football club Bruce claims to love so much.

Bruce isn’t going to be sacked. To sack Steve Bruce would be for Mike Ashley to admit he made a hell of a mistake and we all know by now that Mike Ashley would never admit to that.

I will say it again, if Bruce really is a true Geordie, if he really did love the club, and if he really was a supporter, he would do what is right and step down, and join the fans in doing everything possible to get Mike Ashley out of this once great football club.

You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn

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