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Newcastle United boss now channelling the spirit of Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish

11 months ago

Where do we begin with Wolves 1 Newcastle United 1?

Having sat through the dirge that passed for a game of football yesterday afternoon, I can only sympathise with those that have watched all or most of our Premier League matches this season.

As from what I have read and the stats I see, it’s a weekly ritual to give the opposition the freedom of the pitch and let them play out the game in practice match conditions, with the opposing side simply tasked with breaking us down and scoring.

There’s a hammering coming if we persist with this game plan.

We keep hearing from Steve Bruce that he’s trying to “change the way we play” and that it “won’t happen overnight” but I’m sure I’m not alone in remaining unconvinced this change will be for the better.

Mind you, the vast majority of the stuff that comes out of the Head Coach’s mouth is waffle and bluster that I hope he himself knows it is such, for if he believes what he says then we really do have problems.

History hasn’t been kind to Newcastle managers that come to the club and try to rip up the form book and drastically change the way the team plays.

In 1997 when Kenny Dalglish came in and tore apart the attacking side that previous manager Kevin Keegan had built, it ended with the side playing incoherent football with dour and defensive displays replacing the free flowing, swashbuckling play we saw under Keegan. No wonder the frequent chant from fans was “attack attack attack”…

In similar fashion, Graeme Souness came in and dismantled Sir Bobby Robson’s entertaining team in little or no time at all and in spookily similar patterns to Dalglish, the side looked directionless, boring and lacking in any creativity until he was eventually put out of his misery, with both Scotsmen leaving the team a pale shadow of what it was in little over a year of both walking through the door.

Fast forward to 2020 and we are seeing the same with Steve Bruce.

Under Rafa Benitez, the football wasn’t great a lot of the time but it was functional.

Once Salomon Rondon and Miguel Almiron clicked the team played some pretty good stuff towards the back end of 2018/19, so it was only fair to assume that whoever the new manager/head coach was, would merely have to tweak things slightly and things would be fine.

Not so with Bruce and in trying to make the change he has missed an almighty open goal. Which idiot changes something that is working all fine and dandy just to prove a point? The culprit comes from Corbridge.

Part of the problem is obvious. Bruce has seemed determined to rid the club of the most creative centre-backs we have and appears steadfast in his attempts to change to a flat back four and this doesn’t involve playing the ball out from the back. In ostracising Florian Lejeune and his reluctance to play Fabian Schar, we are left with centre-backs that just lump the ball forward in the hope that either Alain Saint Maximin can produce something out of nothing, or that Callum Wilson or Andy Carroll (when the latter plays) can get control of the ball.

Both of those things are a hit and miss affair and tend to result in the ball coming straight back at us with attack after attack bearing down on our goal and shot after shot being rained in on whichever overworked soul is in goal.

With this in mind, there’s no surprise that we have deteriorated as a defensive unit and have been overly reliant on whichever goalkeeper is in between the sticks. Last season it was Martin Dubravka having to produce a stormer every week to either keep a clean sheet or simply keep the score respectable, this season Karl Darlow has had the thankless task and has impressed. A bizarre pity that Bruce has played fast and loose with their fitness.

There is no definitive style of play evident with Newcastle under Bruce and this “change” that he keeps saying will “take time” seems a long time in coming, isn’t working in the interim and I’m certain won’t bear fruit when whatever the style is, materialises.

Like I’ve said, one thing that IS clear is his desire to play a flat back four. I personally think a back five works best mainly because if you’re going to play club captain Jamaal Lascelles, you can’t play a back four. Lascelles simply doesn’t play well when part of that system. I’m not convinced that the captain even gets in the team when played in a back five but that’s another story. I’d have Federico Fernandez down as our best defender by a country mile and I’d have him alongside Fabian Schar when in a back four. If you need another centre-half for the back five, I’d rate Ciaran Clark ahead of Lascelles based on ability, so I can only assume the captain plays on the fact that he’s the captain.

I’m not entirely sure what the answer is with the attack, although with Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron as options we still have the resources to play something resembling 5-3-2, something which won’t require the time Bruce keeps banging on about needing to change things.

I’d strongly suggest sticking with a back five and working from there. That way we can keep Jamaal Lascelles in the line up if necessary and partner him with Fernandez and Schar and at least get back to some sort of solid defensive starting point because for much this season we’ve been a mess.

Bruce has missed a golden chance to be an instant success here and he’s done it out of a pig headedness and a deliberate desire to be different, at the cost of both style and substance. He still has the chance to course correct but I doubt he will, so runs the very real risk of falling into the same category as Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness, as two managers that thought they knew better in ripping up what was working fairly well, changing things that didn’t need changing.

In doing so he will go down as a failed Newcastle United manager and one of those that spent fortunes in making the team worse than when they found it.


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