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Opinion

I don’t do this as a Steve Bruce hater or to pour scorn on Mike Ashley – I write as a concerned fan

5 months ago
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After watching the last two shocking Newcastle United performances, I couldn’t help but attempt to analyse our game plan, or lack of it.

Over several pints in the Strawberry, a number of us came to the conclusion that Joelinton simply wasn’t good enough, Yedlin cannot cross the ball on the move, Dubravka has won us more points than any other player this season and Saint-Maximin is a loose cannon.

This is probably the same conclusion that many of the Geordie faithful came to after watching us scrape two 0-0 home draws in a row against two extremely poor teams.

However, once the beer cleared and I had further time to consider, I began to think a little more in depth about our performances and about just why we struggle against the ‘so-called’ smaller teams, yet seem to have an uncanny knack of taking valuable points from the big six.

Now to me, watching on Saturday, it was clear and obvious where our issues regarding our blunt attack were stemming from. Our set up, or ‘tactics’, which Steve Bruce doesn’t believe in, were wrong from the start, and in some aspects mirror our complete lack of ambition from both owner and manager.

The below graphic shows our starting line up, I have added some arrows where, in my opinion, the players actually played. Our two full backs played more as wing backs, our left and right midfield played more as wingers and our central midfielders both played as defensive midfielders.

Newcastle Norwich Who Scored Map

This line up meant that we were null and void as an attacking force, we have a huge gaping hole between our two defensive midfielders, our two wide wingers and Joelinton playing as a lone striker with virtually no support.

So as a fan with zero football management experience, watching this, I thought it was strikingly obvious, so if I can see it why can’t our coaching staff and manager?

Maybe I was incorrect, maybe the glaringly obvious tactical inefficiencies that I could see with the untrained eye were in fact just a figment of my imagination. So I thought I would look at the detail a bit further.

I found the heatmap for the game on www.whoscored.com and, quite frankly, I was right.

Newcastle Norwich Heat Map

The data quite clearly shows a rather large gap in the central attacking midfield area, this leaves us with an isolated striker and our only really attacking force coming down the wings.

Now in the days of Keith Gillespie tearing down the right hand side, getting to the by-line and whipping in a perfectly floated cross for Les Ferdinand to power home, are well and truly behind us. In fact we now have Joelinton up top, a man who has ZERO headed goals for Newcastle and Hoffenheim,. In fact, Joelinton has not only never scored a goal with his head in top level football, he has never scored a goal from outside of the penalty area either. So we are reliant in our attack on getting the ball to our lone striker, however, if he is to score we must get the ball to him on the deck, in the penalty area, and actually the majority of the very few goals he has scored over the last three or four seasons have been from inside the six yard box, therefore we are now even more reliant on our wingers or full backs having pinpoint accuracy when whipping in those crosses.

However, when we do whip a good one in, we have one lone striker and no midfielders arriving early or late into the box to back up Joelinton. This isn’t just a one-off, it wasn’t just against Norwich and Oxford where we have started with negative tactics, in fact it is the majority of games now under Steve Bruce.

I have picked a varying range to analyse below.

Leicester 5-0, we started with a different formation, 4-2-3-1, however the result was a shocker and the heat maps are the same, huge gaps to the striker.

Everton away 2-2, same formation, same results, a last ditch draw down to some heroic work from our defenders at set-pieces yet again.

Chelsea at home, a 1-0 victory, again down to a last minute winner from a defensive minded player.

Sheffield United away, 0-2 win and probably the biggest ‘tactical’ changes we have seen from Bruce all season, a rare start for Manquillo and Carroll, the former producing a phenomenal cross for the first goal and the latter producing a brilliant and clever assist for the second goal in typical Andy Carroll style.

However, in all of these games the same worrying heat maps crop up, time and time again.

Newcastle Norwich Heat Map

I don’t write this as a Steve Bruce hater, to pour scorn on Mike Ashley or to be a Rafa Benitez sympathiser, I write it as a concerned fan.

I do not claim to know everything about the game but I have played it myself for over 25 years and I have had a season ticket for 30 years, so I do have some knowledge.

As one of my fellow drinkers in the Strawberry said after the Norwich game:

“I cannot see how we could be any worse with myself or anyone else in this pub standing on the sidelines, masquerading as a manager.”

Sadly that rings true. We look clueless, aimless and at times hopeless, we look to be safe this season and that, to me, just papers over the cracks.

Maybe we even have enough to be safe next season as well, but one thing I know, with this current set up and current regime the day will come when we do not have enough anymore and our luck runs out and we will be relegated (again).

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