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Opinion

Does this Newcastle United formation give the best chance of success (survival!)?

3 weeks ago
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A five at the back Newcastle United formation has been regularly utilised by Steve Bruce during his Newcastle United tenure, particularly last season.

Much has been made of the fact this was the preferred formation of Bruce’s predecessor, Rafa Benitez, and that the players appear to be comfortable with this set up.

However, over the past few months, Steve Bruce has opted for an allegedly more attacking 4-3-1-2 and this has seen mixed results.

There have been impressive performances, namely the 2-0 victory away at Everton and the 3-2 home win against Southampton.

On the other hand, there has also been some dreadful performances in 4-3-1-2, most prominent being the 3-0 defeat away to Brighton, where we looked very much like a team destined for the Championship.

The shift to this claimed more progressive approach came after Newcastle’s toothless defeat against a Sheffield United in January, when the Blades recorded their first win in 21 Premier League games, having lost eighteen and drawn two of the previous twenty.

Steve Bruce publicly stated that he was ‘doing things [his] way,’ and this was followed a couple of weeks later with Graeme Jones joining his coaching staff.

From this point, Newcastle almost exclusively opted for a 4-3-1-2 formation in every single match.

Despite Bruce’s apparent faith with his new system, performances such as the defeat against Brighton and the impact of injuries appear to have convinced him to reverse his decision. The Magpies lined up with five at the back last weekend against Spurs, for the first time since the 2-0 defeat away to Aston Villa on 23 January.

Of the face of it this set up is arguably more defensive, yet Newcastle appeared to have more of a threat against Spurs. Both Dwight Gayle and Joelinton causing problems for Mourinho’s side throughout, with the latter producing one of his best performances in a Newcastle shirt, getting on the scoresheet in the Premier League for the first time since our away win at Crystal Palace way back in November.

In addition to the strikers, Newcastle’s midfielders also posed a threat. Almiron and Longstaff found themselves in the Spurs box on a number of occasions, as did Joe Willock when he came on as a substitute in the second half. It was Willock’s eagerness to get into the area that allowed him score the equaliser on 85 minutes.

When the team news was released an hour before kick-off, I, like many others, believed that Bruce had opted for the five-man defence as a means of damage limitation. In the past, Newcastle have set up in this system and proceeded to sit back for the entire game.

Now, this could have still been Bruce’s intention but Newcastle posed much more of a threat than I expected.
On the back of this performance, Bruce must now consider whether to stick with this Newcastle United formation or revert back to 4-3-1-2 for the journey to Burnley on Sunday.

The availability of both Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin will certainly give Bruce more of a selection headache, as the 4-3-1-2 formation was particularly effective when both were fit, supported by Miguel Almiron as an attacking trio.

Whilst this was the case, Bruce would be taking a huge risk if he threw Callum Wilson back into the starting line-up at Turf Moor, particularly if we want to be confident of his availability to play a part in the other seven games left of the season.

One man that Newcastle fans will expect to be involved from the beginning on Sunday is Allan Saint-Maximin, with the Frenchman making a substitute appearance against Spurs last weekend.

With Wilson’s fitness in mind and the knowledge that the 4-3-1-2 formation is more effective with him in the team, it is more likely that Bruce will keep faith with the system he utilised last week if Callum Wilson is on the bench.

On a positive note, if Bruce does opt for a five at the back Newcastle United formation on Sunday and it happens to be less effective than the Spurs match, the return of Wilson to the Newcastle squad means that he then has the alternative possibility to change mid-match to a 4-3-1-2, and be confident that it could have the desired impact.

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