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Opinion

6 of first choice 11 Steve Bruce finished 2019/20 with aren’t available 10 days before new season

3 weeks ago
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Steve Bruce was desperate to beat Rafa Benitez.

For a long time it looked for sure that the NUFC Head Coach would overtake the Spaniard’s total of 45 points in 2018/19, enabling his adoring fans in the media to hand him the ‘This proves Steve Bruce is loads better than Rafa Benitez’ trophy.

However, it wasn’t to be.

Abysmal form towards the end of the season saw only one point picked up from the last five matches, leaving Brucey agonisingly one point short of Rafa’s total. Over the season less goals scored under Steve Bruce and more conceded than under Rafa Benitez…but that’s another story.

The point is, that final run of matches, despite Newcastle being safe from relegation (as from when they beat Southampton 1-0 on 7 March 2020 admitted Bruce), saw Steve Bruce clearly play whatever he thought was his best available team in order to desperately try and edge past the Benitez points total.

There was no giving kids chances, or playing a more attacking formation as the season came to a close, instead it was all about trying to grind out those final few points.

Looking back at the very end of the 2019/20 season and Steve Bruce playing his best available team, I looked at final game against Liverpool. That side which lost 3-1 to the scousers, 6 of the 11 Bruce selected aren’t available 10 days before the new 2020/21 season.

Yesterday’s 5-1 hammering at Middlesbrough was missing Gayle (injured), Dubravka (injured), Shelvey (missing, no explanation as to why), Lazaro (not bought after loan), Bentaleb (not bought after loan) and Rose (not bought after loan). Of the five subs used in that Liverpool match at the end of last season, both Joelinton (has missed all pre-season and the club refuse to comment on it) and Watts (now on loan at Plymouth).

The final away game of last season was a shockingly bad / negative 0-0 draw at Brighton, the same story. Dubravka, Krafth (now away on international duty), Rose, Bentaleb, Shelvey and Gayle all started, none of them available yesterday. Three subs were used in that Brighton game, two of them were Joelinton and Lazaro, meaning eight of the 14 used at Brighton weren’t available yesterday for the Middlesbrough friendly.

Third last game of 2019/20 was a 3-1 home defeat to Spurs and a similar story: Dubravka, Krafth, Schar (now injured), Bentaleb, Shelvey and Gayle – yet again six who weren’t available against Boro. None of the three subs used against Spurs could play yesterday either, those being Joelinton, Lazaro and Matty Longstaff (now injured). So nine of the 14 involved against Tottenham could start against Middlesbrough.

The point is, it doesn’t matter who you think should and shouldn’t have been starting last season, the important thing is that Steve Bruce thought these were the best available players / teams.

Yet we are drifting into this new 2020/21 season and the message from the NUFC media is, what’s the panic? Accusing fans of being negative about how things currently stand.

Well, so many of Bruce’s first choice team from the end of last season are currently unavailable, the Premier League kicks off in 10 days time, not a penny spent in the transfer market, the only recruits being the free transfer signings of a new third choice keeper and a midfielder who in four Premier League seasons has only managed five assists and nine goals.

I see journalists pointing out that whilst we are now on day 38 of the transfer window, there are actually still 33 days left of it after today.

That is true. It is also true that Newcastle are now at last being linked with some signings that could potentially improve the first eleven, though getting them over the line might be quite another thing.

One thing for sure though, there is a world of difference in making essential signings long before the season starts so they have a proper pre-season, getting to know their new teammates and how the team plays, as well as integrating into the side and playing friendlies together. As compared to bringing in players just before the season kicks off, or even worse, weeks after matches have started to be played.

Time and again you see clubs who start the season badly, fail to recover. When you don’t have one of the strongest teams / squads anyway, the last thing you want is to be put under instant extra pressure due to early results.

As things stand, Newcastle United look in a fair bit of disarray, with actually less and weaker options than were available towards the end of last season. Especially when it comes to creativity and goals, absolutely nothing has been added to this team / squad in the transfer window.

Mike Ashley has done it yet again.

The NUFC owner has paralysed the club when exactly the opposite was needed, once last season came to a close and the transfer window opened, we needed to see action. Before last season ended, Steve Bruce himself announced that Newcastle had targets identified and he was confident of bringing them in quickly, instead all we have seen since then is it taking over a month to even bring in free transfer Jeff Hendrick. A signing who has played only 60 minutes of pre-season friendlies, hasn’t played a competitive game for six months, is now away for most of the final two weeks of pre-season on international duty, and is in no position to be available to start against West Ham on the first day of the season.

Steve Bruce has disappeared from media duties for over a week now and with no talk and no action, we are left wondering just what state Newcastle United will be in when the Premier League kicks off.

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