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Opinion

Steve Bruce to return to a back five in this Newcastle United team – There is no alternative

3 weeks ago
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Ok, that Newcastle United team suffered a mini disaster against Brighton last weekend and it was a game where no positives could be gleaned.

The big thing we need to see is Steve Bruce learning from the experience, something in which he unfortunately seems unique, in that he doesn’t seem to learn from any experience he gains.

You would expect any manager the age of Bruce to have a wealth of knowledge and be able to use such experience better, the closer he gets to the end of his career, than he did when starting out.

We are not seeing the benefit of that with this Newcastle United team though, quite the opposite.

Our defence was all over the place against Brighton and must surely be now priority number one going forward. We are limited up front as it is but if we are going to be conceding goals for fun, then we’ll be finished as a Premier League side come the end of the season. We need to sort the backline out.

Steve Bruce’s pig-headed stance of ripping up the Rafa Benitez playbook in pursuit of his own ‘style’ has eroded the solid defence we had under the Spaniard and this was witnessed as the season went on last term.

The stats were never great under Benitez and he certainly could get low scores for entertainment value but an often referenced game I always bring up was one I was in attendance for, a 0-0 draw over relegation rivals Fulham in 2018/19. A turgid affair that had me questioning what the hell I had just watched, because football it wasn’t.

That said, it was a means to an end and we got the point. Steve Bruce also got a point in a 0-0 home draw last season against Brighton which helped us finish above them come the season’s end.

Looking back, Bruce deployed Dummett, Lascelles and Schar as centre backs with Manquillo and Jetro Willems as wing backs and it worked. Why change something just to distance yourself from your predecessor?

I like many others have severe reservations about Bruce’s ability to manage injuries and I’m perplexed as to why he can’t see the obvious but first things first, he needs to at least get the system right. It’s no coincidence that when he changed the formation mid-season to go more “on the attack”, things started to fall apart and we went on an horrendous run of form at the end of the season. I would venture that the personnel available to Bruce is not the best but after recruiting Callum Wilson this summer, we at least have no excuses to persist with goal shy Joelinton or Andy Carroll.

There is no sure fire solution to fixing our Newcastle United team as the squad is disjointed and under prepared for this season. It’s gone from being over stocked with centre backs to being overloaded with midfielders, or attacking midfielders, regardless of their quality.

Bruce made (another) mistake in letting Florian Lejuene leave on loan this window as that further limits our chances of playing a back three. Unfortunately, he also couldn’t name a substitute centre back on the bench against West Ham and the muddled mess against Blackburn wasn’t punished by the Championship side even though they had far the better of the game, with the Newcastle starting eleven having three right backs in its back four.

Then came Brighton last weekend and you would hope that debacle would be a nadir for the season, unfortunately I don’t believe it will be. There will be many defeats this season and in order for Bruce to navigate the choppy waters he needs to marry up both defence and attack in a manner that was afforded the previous man in the dugout for only a few months at the end of 2018/19.

I’m not saying this is an ideal team I’d like to see once everyone is fit but it’s the best one I can come up with from those still at the club.

That leaves a fairly healthy bunch of Darlow, Gillespie, Dummett, Clark, Manquillo, Hendrick, both Longstaffs, Ritchie, Carroll and Gayle to select a bench from.

Bruce has a half decent set of players to pick from but must see that a flat back four is NOT going to keep the goals out to such an extent that sees Newcastle United survive this season. Forget keeping the defence tight against the top sides, it was cut to ribbons against Brighton.

I’ve previously stated that I think the club will avoid relegation so that Mike Ashley can roll the dice again next summer but that prediction was based on the Head Coach at least seeing sense and not tearing up the defence to such an extent that performances like that against Brighton become the norm, for if they do, relegation will be nailed on.

The signing of Callum Wilson should be one to secure enough goals to get the club safe but it’s pointless scoring a few goals here and there if the back door is left swinging open at the other end. The injury to Martin Dubravka (another own goal from the club’s coaches) was an alarm bell that should have sounded loud at the Newcastle training ground. Ripping up the solid defence was NOT the way to silence it.

If Callum Wilson can be to Steve Bruce what Salomon Rondon was to Rafa Benitez then Bruce may have a lifeline with which to cling onto. Whether he sees it is something else I have reservations about but one thing is for sure, it’s time to revert to five at the back with this Newcastle United team.

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