Is this how Steve Bruce can ease the attacking burden on Allan Saint-Maximin?
For a while now, Newcastle United’s hopes of points have been largely placed upon two individuals, Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson.
Our number 10 and number 9 have on may occasions scored goals or produced individual pieces of brilliance that have rescued draws and wins when it seemed like all hope was lost.
And with Wilson set to still be out injured until at least October, the burden has been on Saint-Maximin’s shoulders.
Joe Willock, a player who scored eight goals during his loan last season, has so far struggled to replicate that form. Whilst he has shown glimpses of his brilliance in his general play, his somewhat indifferent form has meant more responsibility has once more been placed at the door of our number 10.
Despite this, Allan Saint-Maximin does seem to relish the pressure and his individual run and goal against Leeds earned the Magpies a point, even garnering comparisons with George Best!
Allan Saint-Maximin is an invaluable player for Steve Bruce’s side, of that there is no doubt.
In recent weeks there have also been signs of improvement within the rest of the squad, indications that the Frenchman’s burden may be shared in future matches.
Despite being beaten 4-1 away to Manchester United and having only accumulated a singular point in the last two fixtures, Newcastle have certainly looked a more dangerous outfit than the side that lost the opening two fixtures against West Ham and Aston Villa, then went out of the Carabao Cup in the second round at home to Burnley.
In the opening three league fixtures, Steve Bruce’s side accumulated an average of 12 shots, whereas in their two most recent league matches, away against Manchester United and at home to Leeds, they had an average of 14.5 shots per match over the two games.
Now, this marginal increase may not look like much of an improvement, but it is worth noting that within these two fixtures, Steve Bruce’s side faced Manchester United, who many have tipped for the title this season, and had 12 shots.
Could this be a sign of less fear, and more bravery from a Newcastle side who have over the past few seasons become comfortable entering most fixtures with a reserved, defensive style of play? Quite possibly.
Last season, the injuries to Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson hurt us, NUFC’s style of play became far less progressive when either of the two were absent from the squad.
However, against Leeds when Isaac Hayden pushed into midfield and served as an anchor for Longstaff and Willock in a 4-3-3 formation, Newcastle looked far more threatening.
It allowed both midfielders to be more advanced and provide Allan Saint-Maximin with some much-needed support. On too many occasions last season our striker would remain isolated for the entire 90 minutes, as Bruce would persist with an incredibly defensive 5-3-2 formation.
With Callum Wilson out until after the October international break at the earliest, it is of paramount importance that Bruce finds a system that eases the attacking burden that has been placed on our talented number 10.
We simply cannot rely on the brilliance of one player for every single game until Wilson returns; we need to find an alternative.
Now, changing the system does come with its own risks and will undoubtedly leave Newcastle more exposed in defence (Leeds accumulated 21 shots during their visit to St James Park on Friday).
However, if Steve Bruce persists with a 5-3-2 formation that leaves Allan Saint-Maximin isolated, it will only continue to invite pressure on our defence anyway.
Perhaps on the evidence of the match against Leeds, 4-3-3 is the answer to Newcastle’s attacking woes and could provide the key to kickstart our season.
Whatever the answer is, Steve Bruce needs to find it pronto.
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