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Opinion

This Newcastle United crisis has been 4 years in the making when you look at this evidence

3 weeks ago
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Early this Saturday afternoon we will find out the Newcastle team v Watford.

A disastrous start to the season has seen Newcastle not win any of their first six matches, despite four of those games being at home and generally up against poor to mediocre opposition.

Steve Bruce taking NUFC out of the League Cup at the first attempt after picking a second team including nine outfield changes, whilst only two points from a possible fifteen sees United in the relegation zone.

With two key away matches up next, the situation could easily move into crisis mode if losing to likely relegation rivals Watford and Wolves.

So how did we end up in this position…yet again?

Steve Bruce inheriting a mid-table team from Rafa Benitez and then allowed a £125m+ net spend, how do you make sense of that?

Well, for a key bit of evidence, we should look back four seasons.

Newcastle United travelled to Watford for their third last match of the season, losing 2-1, with Pereyra and Gray getting first half goals, Perez pulling one back in the second half but NUFC unable to equalise.

Rafa and his team though ending the season in tenth place, with Watford back in fourteenth.

So let us have a look at that Newcastle team and subs from Saturday 5 May 2018:

Dubravka, Manquillo, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Murphy, Diame, Shelvey, Kenedy, Perez, Gayle

Subs: Darlow, Haidara, Hayden, Joselu, Ritchie, Yedlin, Merino

I think one word sums up that matchday squad, maybe two…looks familiar.

This is the Newcastle team and subs from Friday 17 September 2021 in the 1-1 against Leeds:

Darlow, Manquillo, Hayden, Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie, Sean Longstaff, Almiron, Willock, Saint-Maximin, Joelinton

Subs: Gillespie, Schar, Lewis, Hendrick, Krafth, Fernandez, Murphy, Fraser, Gayle

As you can see, of the 18 players who featured in that matchday squad four years ago, ten of them are still at St James Park, seven of the first team that day are still NUFC players.

Of the current 2021/22 Newcastle United 25 man Premier League squad, a majority of those players were at St James Park four seasons ago: Darlow, Manquillo, Hayden, Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie, Sean Longstaff, Dubravka, Murphy, Gayle, Shelvey, Dummett, Woodman.

When you wonder why Newcastle have actually gone backwards instead of forwards despite that very high (by Mike Ashley standards) £125m+ net spend these past couple of years, it isn’t difficult to understand why it could happen.

Replace a very high quality manager who has an excellent CV, with a hopeless one who has a terrible CV.

Then have an absolutely chaotic recruitment and retainment ‘strategy’ overseen by clowns like Ashley, Charnley and Bruce.

We have gone from having the seventh best defensive record under Rafa in both PL seasons, only 47 and 48 goals conceded…to one that is currently the second worst, with Norwich the only team to concede more (14) in the first five matches than Newcastle (13). The last two seasons seeing an embarrassing decline under Bruce of 58 and 62 goals conceded in the league.

As well as Bruce’s obvious failings in tactics and team management, just look at the team that played against Leeds.

The most forward four of Almiron, Willock, Saint-Maximin and Joelinton signed for a total of £125m and Almiron the longest at the club, signing on 31 January 2019.

Then compare that to the other seven starts in defence and defensive midfield – Darlow, Manquillo, Hayden, Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie, Sean Longstaff – only around £35m spent on those seven and £12m of that was spent on the now 32 year old Ritchie, actually all of them apart from Manquillo were at Newcastle when promoted in 2016/17.

This ridiculous idea of giving countless new contract extensions to existing players the past year or so, instead of bringing in new players, has probably been the final fatal blow to any chance of stopping the decline in preventing goals.

How long have we been hearing that Newcastle United are looking to sign better quality defensive midfielder(s), yet still the same options. Well, unless you count free transfer Jeff Hendrick who is so poor, even worse than the players Newcastle already had.

The same with a defence that Rafa got playing together as a unit that far exceeded their individual abilities, Rafa has gone and so has that moment in time when those defenders could reach those heights. Things would obviously be better under Benitez than Bruce but you can only do so much with the same players.

The problems have been exasperated by the fact that when the brains trust of Bruce, Charnley and Ashley have spent money on defenders, they have wasted £20m on Lewis and Krafth, two players who can’t even get in the team. To think £15m spent on Lewis who last got a PL start in February 2021, then we are told in summer 2021 that NUFC supposedly can’t even afford a single loan or free transfer alongside the Willock signing?

Up front, Newcastle clearly have better options than four seasons ago and so they should with the money spent, even if £40m completely wasted on our Brazilian superstar.

However, even there, due to Steve Bruce their attacking threat is nowhere near what it should be, compared to cash spent and their overall abilities. The entire attacking strategy of give the ball to ASM and hope for the best.

To give an idea of just how extreme it has been in terms of not refreshing the NUFC squad year after year (apart from the obvious money spent up front), just compare what has happened at Watford in the same four year period.

Watford team and subs from Saturday 5 May 2018:

Karnezis, Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas, Hughes, Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra, Gray, Deeney

Subs: Gomes, Britos, Kiko, Sinclair, Deulofeu, Mariappa, Richarlison

Of those 18 above, only Cathcart and Kabasele were in the Watford matchday 18 on duty last weekend who won 3-1 at Norwich.

They are probably a bit of an extreme the other way, with a relegation having played a key part in that, but as you can see, plenty of players moved out and replaced, the process that all clubs / squads need.

Newcastle United are now in the ridiculous position of having such a massive proportion of their squad either already in their 30s, or now contracted to be still at NUFC into their 30s. With Mike Ashley now seemingly refusing to allow any investment in the squad, certainly difficult to see much / any help arriving in January, we have what we have.

A lot of goals are going to be conceded this season, a lot of matches will see the opposition dominate NUFC, whilst up front we are so massively reliant under Steve Bruce of an injury prone Callum Wilson staying fit and / or ASM producing magic week after week.

Once more and more clubs properly realise just how reliant Newcastle are on ASM and double up on him to deal with the threat, I think the writing will most definitely be on the wall.

Unless of course even Mike Ashley sees the most obvious, bringing in a decent level manager who will at least get this group of players at a slightly better level and with fresh ideas, possibly even raising things a couple of levels and getting the best out of these players.

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