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The only four Newcastle United questions that ‘expert’ pundits need to ask themselves

2 weeks ago
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It is a strange one with Newcastle United.

When pundits / ‘experts’ discuss pretty much any other team, they suggest ways that they could potentially improve.

However, when it comes to Newcastle United, the usual discussion is to explain why they can’t improve!

We are of course back into this never ending battleground of supposedly deluded Newcastle United fans and their unrealistic hopes / expectations.

The usual and not so usual suspects lining up ahead of this international break to explain to the daft Geordies how this football thing works, amongst the cast of educators / experts they have included Robbie Savage, Roy Keane, Chris Sutton, Mark Lawrenson and Tony Pulis.

So, we all know that Steve Bruce is popular with his peers, but do they have a point?

There are only four Newcastle United questions that ‘expert’ pundits need to ask themselves and they are all inextricably linked…

Does Steve Bruce employ ultra negative tactics in the vast majority of Premier League matches?

Even most of Brucey’s mates don’t / can’t contest this one.

The stats are all there (for example, only 20 efforts on target in the first eight PL matches) in terms of how he lays his team out and you can’t deny what you see with your own eyes.

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Are Newcastle United entertaining to watch?

Another one very easy to answer and what I said above for the first question equally applies.

I haven’t heard any of the pundits claim they are looking forward to watching the next Newcastle match.

Are the ultra negative tactics essential so that Newcastle United can avoid relegation?

This is where we get more to the nitty gritty and opinions will diverge.

The ‘experts’ would appear to be overwhelmingly of the opinion that this is the case, arguing that Steve Bruce has no option but to play football this way. Minimal attacking threat allowed because this would lead to the opposition having far too many chances.

This totally ignoring the fact that restricting the opposition to 13 goals so far (seventh worst defensive record in the PL) in eight games, has been due to the usual Brucey luck, Karl Darlow, woodwork, opposition wasting chances etc etc, with Newcastle having had to face 132 shots (on and off target), more than any other PL club so far.

If using more progressive attacking tactics, are this group of Newcastle players capable of playing better football AND getting better results?

A Sky Sports betting expert when analysing Newcastle United so far this season, said before the Southampton match, it was ‘unsustainable’ what was happening at NUFC. That the tactics leading to so many shots against and so few attempts at the other end, meant that the points picked up so far wouldn’t be repeated over the course of the season, unless something radically changes.

This happened last season, Bruce carrying massive luck in a run of five wins in eight games around November to December time, then ending the season with relegation form, the final 20 games seeing only four wins.

Even without looking at whether this Newcastle United group of players are capable of better football and results, we should accept that these ultra defensive tactics have to change regardless. It is difficult to imagine Karl Darlow having to face even more efforts on goal than he is doing already, more than Fulham, West Brom etc are facing.

Newcastle fans would argue that the pundits are wrong on this one, that attack is definitely the best / better form of defence compared to what we are currently seeing AND of course a focus on attack would lead to certainly more of a threat at the other end.

I don’t want to make this into the other constant argument of Rafa v Brucey but the point has to be made that until Miguel Almiron arrived on 31 January 2019 and teamed up with Perez and Rondon, it was very difficult to argue that he had the personnel available to be anything but focusing on defence first.

Having to rely pretty much on his Championship squad of 2016/17, with only budget buys and short-term loans to supplement them, Mike Ashley made the situation all but impossible.

Newcastle having to rely on players such as Ritchie and Gayle who are class in the Championship but struggle to provide attacking threat in the top tier, supplemented by the likes of Stoke reserve striker Joselu for £5m.

The following season was more of the same, loan striker Rondon not fully fit until the November, Joselu struggling even more to be a goal threat, Kennedy returning for a second loan spell but deciding he couldn’t be bothered this time. With then a collection of midfielders as well who rarely score goals, what else could Benitez do?

Steve Bruce of course inherited the £20m Almiron who Rafa had only got nine starts out of due to his late signing and then injury. Then a £100m+ net spend allowed by Mike Ashley during Bruce’s 16 months AND a willingness to pay (relatively) high wages to attract higher end free transfers has meant that the NUFC Head Coach found himself with the likes of Wilson, Fraser, ASM, Almiron, Joelinton, Carroll, Ritchie and Gayle all at the club.

Contrast that with Rafa in 2017/18 when after promotion he had Joselu, Gayle, Perez, Ritchie, Atsu. and Murphy.

I honestly can’t believe that many, if any, Premier League managers would be playing so negatively and inviting the opposition to control games and chances, if they had attacking options at the club such as Wilson, Fraser, ASM, Almiron, Joelinton, Carroll, Ritchie and Gayle.

Not only is what we are seeing terrible to watch, it is also completely unnecessary.

Yes I know injuries will play a part at times, but the truth is, Steve Bruce appears determined to play negatively even with everybody fit.

When you have the likes of ASM, Wilson, Almiron and Fraser, why wouldn’t you play to your strengths and look to use their pace and mobility to really press the opposition and put them under pressure, rather than sitting so deep and inviting other clubs to do that to you? With quick and mobile wing-backs in Lewis and Murphy now, they can also be part of a high press and more attacking formation.

The record books show that Steve Bruce is a very negative manager / head coach, his Premier League record shows teams under him score on average exactly one goal per game.

Last season Newcastle United scored 38 goals in 38 PL matches, exactly one goal per game.  You had to go back over 20 years to when (1997/98) they had scored less.

No matter how much money is spent and which players are added, Steve Bruce will do the same and sadly…his friends in football / media will continue to say he is doing a great job, as well if not better than anybody else can do in the circumstances.

However, that is just not true, even now.

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