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The 10 things I think I know about Newcastle United as things stand…

9 months ago
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We have two and a half months left of this Newcastle United season.

Newcastle up against Burnley this afternoon, as they attempt to bounce back from a poor run of form.

With only one win in nine Premier League games and seven goals in the last eleven.

Maybe time for my 10 things I think I know about Newcastle United, as we are entering a crucial stretch:

Steve Bruce’s lack of tactics is catching up to the club:

I said on Twitter earlier this season that one thing Bruce should be praised for is not messing with the spirit of the players and the tactics they know.

But since then, he’s messed with the spirit by bringing in players that at this point have not shown an improvement on the squad that he had before.

Never a tactician, Bruce promises a change of formation this weekend, which makes me think to …

When Southampton did the same this season:

It was after the 0-9 to Leicester, the club was in the bottom three and the managerial sack odds were low on Ralph Hassenhüttl. But it was after that game that he decided that if he was going to get sacked, it would be playing the way he wants and switched not the players, instead the formation.

Since changing to the 4-2-2-2, the Saints have 26 points from 15 games and moved fast up the table.

There’s one key distinction here compared to Bruce’s plan to change the tactics: Hassenhüttl, before Southampton, led RB Leipzig to two top-six finishes in two seasons in the Bundesliga, then got the Saints out of the relegation zone last season. He’s proved to be able to drill a team tactically and make them improve. Steve Bruce does not have that track record as shown by his …

Midfield changes that have not worked:

Some of it is injury-enforced with no Jonjo Shelvey but benching Isaac Hayden for Nabil Bentaleb has proven the wrong move by just about everyone’s judgement.

Look, there is not one midfield creative force on a top-six level but the inability to stop opponents from playing right through the midfield has been notable. Sean Longstaff’s form has disappeared under Bruce, in particular. Clearly he and Bentaleb do not function as a pairing, which further highlights that …

The winter loans are underwhelming:

I try to avoid comparisons but the past two years a January transfer window move by Rafa Benitez transformed the club.

Two years ago, it was Martin Dubravka and Kenedy pushing the club forward.

Last season, it was the arrival of Miguel Almiron that cemented the ‘Three Amigos’ attack.

This year we have seen Bentaleb not able to control the midfield, Danny Rose’s inclusion has pushed Matt Ritchie out of the lineup to detriment, whilst nothing from Valentino Lazaro has made fans forget either Javier Manquillo or Deandre Yedlin. The poor loans so far come on the heels of a summer where £40million was spent on …

Joelinton, who needs coaching but is not getting it:

Bluntly, if this was a £20million signing by Rafa and then coached properly, he would be a much better player than he is now at the price tag he was bought for and the current manager he plays under.

Whether it’s Joelinton or any player on the current squad, and it may be the most damning thing I can say about Steve Bruce, is have any players taken steps forward this season and become better? I would hestitate to say any have improved, but I know that …

One who has regressed is Miguel Almiron:

I know he has goals this season and last season he did not score but from this viewpoint, his impact has been lessened this season.

The player who got the crowds roaring with every time he turned to start a counter-attack last season, has turned into a player that looks confused every time he has possession lately.

It’s a sad sight for this fan who saw him light up Major League Soccer with Atlanta United and then was the kickstart to Newcastle’s second-half push upon his arrival a year ago. A lot of it comes from being played completely out of position, which is a trend with Newcastle United — a club that knew it had Almiron, who favours being up on the left side of attack, then bought two left-sided attackers this season, seemingly without thinking how they would fit together. It makes sense given that …

There are so many open contract questions:

There are some that I would not expect to be retained, like Elliott, Colback, and frankly any of the loan trio. Andy Carroll would be highly doubtful. I am surprised that Newcastle didn’t sell Karl Darlow ahead of his contract expiring but Federico Fernandez, Manquillo and Matty Longstaff need to have new deals.

The idea that Matty Longstaff would still have contract uncertainty is nothing more than executive malpractice on the part of Newcastle — and sadly, it’s not a surprise. Matty will likely follow his brother as the region’s young player of the year but to be determined is the player of year that will succeed …

Fabian Schar, who has disappeared:

And look, I don’t like comparing Bruce to Rafa a lot because it’s a rabbit hole that helps no one, but Schar was great last year in a three-man back line shielded by a strong midfield duo and for most of this season, the midfield shield has not been as strong and that exposes the defence to a workload that they cannot honestly withstand for a full 90 minutes.

Yes, the hold-up play when clearing the ball has been a downgrade this season but so many times, the reason Newcastle have no possession to speak of is because defenders just hoof the ball upfield like it’s the 1980s. Schar, one player who definitely can pass out of the back, has been moved aside. And as far as I can see from local reports, there’s not even been the suggestion that the staff would try to move him into a defensive midfield shape and provide an additional passing option. Could that work? I don’t know. But I know that …

It won’t happen under this regime:

I may have missed it but after a loss this season, has Steve Bruce ever said he got the player selection wrong?

During the winter break there was lots of talk about bad luck with injuries but what about not rotating players ahead of the holiday period when you did have greater selection among the squad?

Bruce has acted offended at times by the suggestion of Newcastle’s standing in the table being down to luck. But given he hasn’t improved any players or been able to ‘break’ the team of its Rafa style into one of his own, this season has proven a particularly befuddling one.

How many times in the future will Newcastle stay in the Premier League, not because it deserved to, but because it was just lucky enough to have three worse teams than it in the division …

Which leaves Burnley as close to a must-win as possible:

One man’s preference for the lineup in a 4-2-3-1 would be Dubravka; Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Rose; Hayden, Shelvey; Ritchie, Almiron, Saint-Maximin; Gayle

It gives Joelinton a break, restores some key players and allows ASM and Almiron to interplay with each other and cut inside from the right depending on the defence. And should the formation not work, you throw in Fernandez for Shelvey and go to 3-4-2-1.

At this point, all fans can do is hope.

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