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Nailed on Steve Bruce could wreck Newcastle next season in mad pursuit of beating Rafa – This is where we are now

3 weeks ago
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I have to admit that I was gutted when Steve Bruce got the Newcastle United job.

It was bad enough losing a skilled operator such as Rafa Benitez, not perfect, but an excellent CV and even with Mike Ashley refusing to honour promises on transfer funds, he had put together a solid foundation that could be built on if money was belatedly spent and the right decisions made.

It added insult to injury though when Steve Bruce was appointed.

Plucked from Championship mediocrity with a CV of zero success in over two decades of management, his key asset (for the club’s owner) being that he would accept he had no power beyond training and picking the team, a patsy just like so many before him (Pardew, Carver, McClaren etc).

Incredible luck followed as the number of points defied logic, game after game the opposition had more and better opportunities to score and yet Newcastle were accumulating enough draws and wins against the odds, that would surely equal survival.

Steve Bruce recently admitted that privately within the club, they all agreed that after the 1-0 win over 10 men Southampton, Newcastle were safe from relegation, 35 points from 29 games.

The 3-0 win over 10 men Sheffield United in the first game after restart, meant 38 points from 30, mot definitely safe with a big handful of clubs at the bottom with so few points.

Three days later the alarm bells really started to ring though.

Ahead of football restarting, Steve Bruce had repeatedly said that it was vital to look after players after such a gap without games, not to overplay them and do everything you can to protect them from injury.

However, three days after that win over the Blades, Bruce played exactly the same 11 players in the 1-1 draw against Villa.

It was astonishing that he was not rotating and doing his best to protect from injury but also with safety now assured, surely the only game that mattered was Man City in the FA Cup four days later.

Instead we saw players such as Dubravka bizarrely rested for what was the biggest game of the season and ridiculous overly negative tactics where Newcastle never really ever tried to get into the game, even at 2-0 down.

At that point I became convinced that definitely Steve Bruce and almost certainly Mike Ashley, were only focused on one thing.

A mad pursuit of trying to beat the Rafa Benitez points total and league position of last season, so that Ashley could ‘prove’ he had been right and Bruce and his mates in the media could then point to the ultimate ‘proof’ that Steve Bruce had done ‘better’ than Benitez.

There were signs earlier in the season that Steve Bruce was taking risks with players, Allan Saint-Maximin in particular, Bruce started him away at Tottenham even though the winger had returned to full training only two days earlier, ASM lasting less than twenty minute and out for an extended period.

As the games after restart have continued and Newcastle playing matches that aren’t important, certainly not important enough to risk anybody who isn’t 100%, we have seen Steve Bruce talk about injury and fitness concerns about various players BUT then still play them. The likes of Almiron, ASM and Lascelles amongst them.

Yet the head coach still ends up picking these players time after time.

It was nailed on that Steve Bruce could wreck Newcastle for next season and this is very much the situation we are now in.

After defeat to Tottenham, Steve Bruce now finally admitting:

“With the turnaround being so quick we have to look at being ready for next season.

“Fabian Schar has dislocated his shoulder and Jamaal Lascelles had an operation on his ankle yesterday.

“To have eight or nine people missing is awful.

“We don’t want to put a timescale on Jamaal’s injury but you’d think with any ankle injury would be six to eight weeks at least. We’ll have to monitor him.

“Saint-Maximin has injured his calf so that’s a problem too.

“I was delighted with the way we played. Unfortunately we’re struggling defensively with the players we have missing. I don’t want to make that an excuse…”

You will always get SOME injuries but at club after club Steve Bruce has had similar situations.

Now at Newcastle United, it simply makes no sense how he has used / misused his squad, unless it was indeed all about ‘beating’ Rafa at all costs.

Amongst the other injuries Newcastle currently have, are Isaac Hayden and Sean Longstaff out for the rest of the season with hamstring injuries.

Ciaran Clark, Andy Carroll and Florian Lejeune also out.

The question is, if Steve Bruce doesn’t change his ways now, how many more could end up injured and missing pre-season and possibly the start of next season.

With only eight weeks between seasons, it is especially reckless taking chances in these meaningless games.

Why hasn’t Steve Bruce given the likes of Lazaro, Muto, Matty Longstaff, Atsu, Yedlin and some of the under 23 players some / more time on the pitch?

As well as protecting key players from overplaying and risking long-term injury, it would be a chance to have a look at certain players and also put others in the shop window if looking to move them on.

Instead, Steve Bruce insists on picking from the same pool of players for these largely meaningless matches.

During games it is also woeful, regularly not using substitutes effectively to help keep players free from fatigue and increased chance of injury. Against Tottenham only three subs were used and one of those was with four minutes to go, against Watford only four used and three of those in the final 12 minutes – including Lazaro on 87 minutes.

In these last couple of games, I could easily imagine Steve Bruce doing something such as throwing Florian Lejeune back in, despite the games being meaningless and the French defender’s injury history. Why not give one or two of the under 23 defenders a chance, what is there to lose by giving them the opportunity, as well as protecting more senior players.

With Liverpool up last, I will be very interested to see what team Steve Bruce puts out against Brighton on Monday, surely his final chance to get the three points to ‘beat’ Rafa.

It will be shocking if yet again he takes similar risks on the same players and if say Almiron and / or ASM ended up getting injuries as bad as Lascelles, or even worse. Next season would look ever more daunting, especially with no sign of a takeover conclusion, before the inevitable (thankfully!) replacing of Steve Bruce.

Amongst his other attributes, Rafa Benitez made a point of being what some said was overly cautious when it came to bringing players back from injury or deciding not to risk those who weren’t 100%, but it is no coincidence that in his time at the club we never saw anything like the shambles that we have seen unfold under Steve Bruce.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Newcastle 1 Tottenham 3 – Wednesday 15 July 6pm

Goals:

Newcastle United:

Ritchie 56

Tottenham:

Son 27, Kane 60, 90

(Half-time stats in brackets)

Possession was Tottenham 47% (51%) Newcastle 53% (49%)

Total shots were Tottenham 8 (4) Newcastle 22 (12)

Shots on target were Tottenham 5 (2) Newcastle 6 (3)

Corners were Tottenham 4 (3) Newcastle 5 (4)

Referee: David Coote

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Krafth, Fernandez, Schar, Yedlin (Lazaro 55), Shelvey, Bentaleb (Matty Longstaff 86), Almiron, Ritchie, Gayle (Joelinton 69), Saint-Maximin

Unused Subs:

Darlow, Muto, Manquillo, Atsu, T. Allan, J. Young.

Crowd: 00,000

(Match Report – This demonstrates how much work has to be done at Newcastle United – Takeover or no takeover – Read HERE)

(Jermaine Jenas joins lunatic fringe: ‘Steve Bruce has come in and shown he can do a better job’ – Read HERE)

Another false dawn as Steve Bruce makes it only 4 wins in 18 games after Newcastle 1 Tottenham 3 – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 1 Tottenham 3 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Wednesday’s defeat – Read HERE)

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