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Opinion

No idea what to do with £60m signings so Steve Bruce plays zero ambition journeyman instead

1 week ago
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Steve Bruce has selected four players to start every Premier League game so far.

Those four being Karl Darlow, Federicio Fernandez, Jeff Hendrick and Callum Wilson.

Altogether, Steve Bruce has used 20 different players already in only eight PL matches, including those who have only made substitute appearances.

What does using so many players in so few games tell us about what is going on at the club?

Well, it points to there having been a number of injuries

It also though points to Steve Bruce not having a clue as to what his best starting eleven is.

The more unkind of you might say it also also points to Steve Bruce not having a clue…

Which brings me to Jeff Hendrick.

It is transparently obvious why Darlow, Wilson and Fernandez have started all eight matches, they have comfortably been Newcastle’s best three players.

What about Jeff Hendrick though?

When Newcastle fans expressed scepticism about signing a player who Burnley were happy to let go on a free transfer, a midfielder with only nine goals and five assists in four Premier League seasons, the journalists loyal to Steve Bruce were quick to jump to his (Bruce’s defence).

Newcastle fans lectured as to how this was actually a brilliant signing by Steve Bruce, an experienced Premier League midfielder picked up for nothing (apart from the far higher wages you pay when signing a free transfer who has ran down their contract and left for nothing), we were told a great signing to have as cover for our better midfielders.

Hmmm.

Jeff Hendrick was chosen as first choice for that first match at West Ham and has never left the starting eleven in the months that have followed. He did kind of ok generally in that first game and was right place right time to score and get an assist, though a quick glance at his overall playing career would tell you that involvement in those goals would have amazed nobody more than Hendrick himself.

Certainly since that opening match of the season, I have watched in complete bemusement the 28 year old chosen by Steve Bruce week after week, wondering what on earth Bruce sees that I / we don’t?

My only conclusion is that Jeff Hendrick represents the limits of what Steve Bruce is capable of understanding, he would probably admit in private, in an ideal world he would have a team full of Jeff Hendricks. An uncomplicated player who gets on with the job, that job being running around a lot and the odd time you are involved with the ball, pass it backwards at the first opportunity.

I always find it amusing that the pundits follow the same kind of path as Steve Bruce.

If you get any of them talking about the problems Newcastle United are having this season, in terms of having next to no attacking threat apart from hoping a ball drops kindly for Callum Wilson, none of them will mention Jeff Hendrick. Instead they will sympathise with Bruce because of how little he is getting out of players such as Joelinton and Miguel Almiron.

Never will they question why Miguel Almiron and Joelinton are getting so little out of Steve Bruce…

Miguel Almiron instantly helped transform the way Newcastle played after he signed on 31 January 2019, Rafa Benitez intelligently using him as the spark that could help create a far more attacking dynamic with his pace and direct running at the opposition, when teamed up with Perez and Rondon. Given pretty much a free role in most games, before injury came along, Newcastle won five and drew one in the nine games Almiron started in the second half of that 2018/19 season. His contribution helping Rafa’s Newcastle United finish that PL season with the fifth best form in the final 16 games and fifth highest number of goals in them.

Steve Bruce last season mainly used Miguel Almiron as an additional defender on the right side, all but completely shutting the player off from using his key attributes in transition.

This season, Steve Bruce only selected Almiron to start one of the first five PL games of the season, not having a clue what to do with him basically. The Paraguayan a little more complicated for Bruce to deal with than Jeff Hendrick…

As for Joelinton, Steve Bruce handed the £40m+ signing and told to play him by Mike Ashley.

Last season, week after week, we watched on as the Brazilian became less and less effective. Steve Bruce eventually admitting that Joelinton was not a centre-forward and saying he would look to use him more as an attacking wide player on the left.

Finally, at last, Steve Bruce told where the then 22 year old Brazilian had been playing when Newcastle United / Mike Ashley decided to buy him.

In his final season with Hoffenheim, Joelinton started 29 Bundesliga and Champions League matches (plus four sub appearances) and scored eight goals, as well as getting six assists – on average, directly involved in a goal in every other game he started.

For Newcastle under Steve Bruce, the now 24 year old has got two goals and two assists in 45 Premier League (and Champions League…) appearances.

Steve Bruce has started Joelinton in only three of the last twelve Premier League matches.

He has totally given up on trying to work out how to put a team out that gets the best out of this £60m pair.

The Brazilian left sitting on the sidelines, whilst when Miguel Almiron got back in the team, it was as a defensive midfielder…

I watched Jeff Hendrick playing for the Republic of Ireland and the only time he stood out was when getting a red card against Wales, when I checked I saw he has only two goals in 60 games for Ireland and having watched him this past week, I can’t imagine he’s had many, if any, assists.

Yet on Saturday against Chelsea, I have little doubt that Jeff Hendrick will line up on the pitch, Joelinton wondering what on earth he is doing here as he sits in the stand at St James Park, whilst Almiron if selected, will no doubt be seeing a lot more of Karl Darlow than he will of the halfway line.

We know Miguel Amiron is far better and effective than what we are seeing now, to hit the ground running and play so well in those first nine PL starts under Rafa promised much to come.

Joelinton simply cannot be anywhere near as bad as we are seeing, never would I believe he was ever a £40m player but never either would I believe he should be on the bench whilst Jeff Hendrick gets a game.

The Brazilian clearly has ability as he showed in both Champions League and Bundesliga BUT needs a manager / head coach to set up a team that gets the best out of the players available, just as Almiron does.

Instead, we have these ultra defensive tactics and Jeff Hendrick the perfect personification of how he (Bruce) sees football being played.

Yes we desperately need Mike Ashley to move on BUT Steve Bruce is also a seriously significant part of the problem now at St James Park.

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