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Opinion

Newcastle United challenged on Fitness, Tactics and Leadership

1 month ago
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Amongst all of the vitriol, hyperbole and criticism of the current state of affairs at Newcastle United, for the first time I’ve decided to put fingers to keyboard in the hope that it all makes sense to me.

We can all be armchair critics, and depending on our individual history of football, both playing and coaching, we can all provide our own opinions into where things are going wrong.

So, for what it’s worth I thought I’d do the same, while trying to be rational, although my passionate feelings for the Toon will negate that.

Let’s focus on Fitness, Tactics and Leadership at Newcastle United.

Firstly: Fitness

Why is it that we always seem to have players unavailable because of injury?

Don’t blame Covid – it has been this way for years. The players don’t tend to suffer critical injury during the games – it always seems to be a ‘reaction’ or a training ground ‘strain’. In terms of general fitness most of our squad look too slow, too lethargic on the pitch.

This is evidenced by recent performances when players like Krafth, Shelvey, Sean and Matty Longstaff were tracking back, chasing the ball and looking like they were wading through treacle. The only player who seems fast enough tracking back is Isaac Hayden. Perhaps we should be asking why he is different – surely it can’t be just because he cares more?

What is going on in the training ground? Perhaps Danny Rose hit the nail on the head when he said the players only seem to be there three or four days a week and that they are given too much time off. I’m sure the squad are undergoing a regime of fitness training but it doesn’t show on the pitch.

Second: Tactics

OK, I’ve now got to mention his name (I was trying not to single him out) – what the hell is Steve Bruce and his coaching staff playing at?

I know I don’t have my coaching badges and many of us fans who criticise are in the same hypocritical position, but a blind man on a galloping horse can see, that we are not doing the basics. I have watched all of the matches this season, and in particular have taken note of the teams we have played, where we would have expected to beat them.

My main take – I’m jealous of them!

They look fast, they run well off the ball, they play triangles out from the back (not standing – still triangles, but ones where they move all the time, running rings round our forwards and midfield).

When they attack from midfield there are always at least two options for a pass available (Compare that to us – only having Callum Wilson to aim for when he is always marked by two defenders).

Now – the pass back.

Yes, when you want to control a game, slow it down or grind time out, by all means turn around and give it back to Darlow or the centre-backs. But why does Lewis do it every time? Maybe there aren’t options for him, maybe he thinks possession is key.

Don’t be fooled by ‘changes of formation’ either. You would think that a change from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 means we are going all out attack. Nothing changes because one of the forwards is always defending.

And going back to fitness – Andy Carroll tracks back better than the Longstaff brothers! Every game we look set up to keep to 0-0 and hope to ‘nick it’ at the end. I would bet that most managers in the Premier League prepare for their games by focusing on their own strengths and how they will beat their opponents. We seem to focus on how we can contain the opponents’ threats.

And then we go a goal down and don’t change a thing. Bringing subs on (who are not match fit) with less than 20 minutes to go will have no effect.

Finally: Leadership

Where is it?

I’m not talking about Steve Bruce. What happened to those early days when Lascelles shouted at players, had a go at them in the dressing room, and led by example.

He’s lost his command, two years ago you could look at Lascelles, Shelvey and Ritchie and you could tell when they weren’t happy, and they would rally the troops. Not any more – Shelvey looks like he wants out, Lascelles has lost his way, and Ritchie hardly seems to get a look in.

Give Hayden the armband, surely it’s worth a try? And while we are on the subject of Leadership – too often recently there have been suggestions at post-match conferences that Bruce isn’t happy with his players – how is that motivating them when the root cause is down to him and his coaching staff?

Bruce soon realised that having a go at the fans wouldn’t go down well, and he can’t criticise Ashley, so the players have to take the brunt.

I realise this is just a rant, one of many – but I wanted to close by saying to the pundits – I don’t want Rafa back, I don’t demand Champions League football, I don’t even demand a Premier League title. I just want NUFC management and coaching staff to realise that they need to do things differently and restore a bit of pride back in this squad.

The pundits point to a ‘moderately better’ points haul under Bruce and that stats on possession, shots, tackles, pass completion etc don’t mean anything.

However, the fact that we are, in general, the worst in all of these key performance indicators over the last 10 games means this will come home to roost, the teams around us will overhaul us and we will finish up in another relegation battle.

Steve Bruce has to change or be changed.

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