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Opinion

Steve Bruce makes cups a top priority – With 26 of 33 changes is this really the truth?

4 weeks ago
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Steve Bruce takes the cup competitions seriously.

That is what we are constantly told and indeed our esteemed NUFC Head Coach repeatedly tells us this as well.

Is it true though?

Indeed, how do you measure if it is true or not?

Well ever since we realised that Mike Ashley only had Premier League survival as his entire plan, Newcastle fans and media have kept a close eye on how many changes are made to the team for cup matches.

After all, every manager, including all those who have managed (or head coached) under Mike Ashley, always say they are putting out a strong team for the FA Cup and League Cup, whatever the evidence might otherwise point to.

So this season, what is the Steve Bruce story in the League (Carabao) Cup?

Round Two – Newcastle 1 Blackburn 0

Steve Bruce makes 10 changes to his Premier League team and these were the end of match stats.

Possession was Blackburn 64% Newcastle 36%

Total shots were Blackburn 14 Newcastle 5

Corners were Blackburn 10 Newcastle 3

Championship Blackburn completely dominating away from home, Newcastle ended up scoring with their only serious effort at goal, Ryan Fraser scoring.

Round Three – Morecambe 0 Newcastle 7

Just the nine changes this time but happily the League Two club collapse after conceding on five minutes, Steve Bruce’s second team punishing what is in front of them.

Round Four – Newport 1 Newcastle 1 (NUFC win on penalties)

Playing for a place in the quarter-finals, Steve Bruce makes seven changes to his Premier League team.

However, it is the League Two opposition who start the better against the weakened NUFC line-up, Abrahams scoring after only five minutes. Newport have the other better chances of the first half before fatigue sets in and they defend ever deeper. Nevertheless, Newcastle struggle to create really good chances and only very late pressure ends with Shelvey scoring a quality goal right out of the blue, with only three minutes left of the game.

Newcastle eventually crawling through on penalties.

Now if I’m stepping back and looking at all this above from a neutral perspective, does this 2020/21 League Cup campaign really say to you, Steve Bruce has thrown everything at it?

Out of 33 selection decisions, the NUFC Head Coach has made 26 changes from his first choice Premier League team that played in the previous game(s).

You can get away this if you then stroll to victory, as was the case against Morecambe. However, in two of three games Newcastle were a poor second best to Championship Blackburn but got lucky with their only proper effort on goal, then took 87 minutes to score against League Two opposition in Newport, to save the game.

There is a quote  that says “History is written by victors” and is attributed to Winston Churchill, though its origins are unknown. It implies that history is not really about the facts, instead it is the winners’ interpretation of them that goes into the history books.

In the case of Steve Bruce and Newcastle United and cup competitions, the journalists are indeed happy to not scratch below the final scores, letting our Head Coach write history and continue with this myth that he is throwing everything at the cups.

Whilst in the odd match he might have played a stronger team (up to a point) than expected, overall that certainly hasn’t been the case.

In the space of 16 days, Thomas Frank won three more cup matches against Premier League clubs than Steve Bruce has done in 17 months at Newcastle. The Brentford boss beating Southampton, West Brom and Fulham.

For Steve Bruce, Newcastle have lost whenever facing Premier League opposition in the cups.

Indeed, his very first NUFC cup game was against a PL club, Steve Bruce making seven changes as Newcastle lost at home in the League Cup to Leicester who made only one change. Defeat to Man City in the FA Cup quarter-final wasn’t unexpected BUT Bruce’s approach to the game was. Despite United already being safe from relegation, Steve Bruce prioritised the Premier League matches and played a weaker side in the big cup match, the only really important game for NUFC after football restarted last season. Even more bizarre, during the match there was no real drive to try and win it, even after going behind, no proper ambition shown. Steve Bruce just going through the motions.

I really do hope that Steve Bruce and Newcastle United emerge victorious once again tonight at Brentford. Why wouldn’t you want a semi-final to liven things up.

However, if Newcastle manage the win from their only shot on target after Steve Bruce has made seven or eight changes, don’t tell me that he approached it just as he would a PL match.

Two big things have led to Newcastle winning a decent number of cup games these past 12 months and neither of these big things are Steve Bruce.

Firstly, the fact that of the seven cup draws to be made in 2020, Newcastle United have drawn lower league opposition in six of them, including four against League One or Two clubs.

Secondly, Mike Ashley allowing a £100m+ net spend since Steve Bruce arrived.

The latter point being that whilst players such as Wilson, Fraser, Lewis, ASM, Joelinton, Hendrick, Carroll and Krafth have arrived, Steve Bruce didn’t have to sell anybody to finance the deals.

This has meant a far bigger stronger squad than previously, so when Steve Bruce makes nine or ten changes…the impact of doing so, is far less than was previously the case.

Far better second choice players from a much bigger squad, up against lower division clubs. Those are the facts of Steve Bruce and his ‘miraculous’ cup exploits.

Here’s hoping Mr Bruce is writing another slice of history as a victor after tonight’s match.

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