Four issues for Steve Bruce to address at Newcastle United
Steve Bruce didn’t want to wait. He wanted to get back to work.
And Bruce called his players in to Newcastle United’s training ground on Sunday for an impromptu inquest into the club’s 3-1 defeat to Norwich City on Sunday, their day off.
Bruce hadn’t liked what he had seen at Carrow Road, where his team had been well beaten.
“I can't go on to the pitch with them,” said United’s head coach. “The one thing in management I've always tried to instil into my team is we make mistakes, but I can't forgive a performance where, basically, you don't put your boots on.
“Unfortunately, it's happened already, which is the second game in, but I'll do all I can to make sure that changes.”
Bruce seemingly has a lot of problems. But does he – and his players – have the solutions?
Things could get worse before they get better – Newcastle are away to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday – but there are more winnable games coming up, and the club, last season, didn’t win a game until November.
It’s still early, though there’s an impatience on Tyneside.
Here are four issues that he must address – and quickly:
Bruce said he’d “have a look” at his system after the Norwich defeat.
“I'll have a look,” he said. “Of what we've got available, and the way we are, I do think we are better suited to playing it.”
It’ll need to be a long look, as the team was all over the place at Carrow Road, where Teemu Pukki scored a hat-trick.
Bruce has gone with a 3-5-2 formation. He’s retained the three-man defence adopted by Rafa Benitez midway through last season, but tweaked the rest of the formation. There are no longer two holding midfielders, and instead Jonjo Shelvey is flanked by Isaac Hayden and Sean Longstaff or Ki Sung-yueng. at Carrow Road.
Newcastle were far too open. Todd Cantwell had far too much space when he ran at them. Hayden was United’s best player in the defeat – he covered a lot of ground – and he simply had too much work to do. Wouldn’t he be better protecting the defence?
Benitez was able to successfully change systems last season. Will Bruce trust his plan – or instead draw up a new one?
Newcastle, let’s not forget, lost Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez last summer. That’s 25 goals and an abundance of Premier League experience.
Rondon and Perez were long gone by the time Bruce got the job. That’s not his fault.
Those two, coupled with Miguel Almiron, were a threat for any defence. Almiron, signed in January, flourished alongside them. He didn’t score a goal after arriving from Atlanta United, but he helped carry a counter-attacking team up the pitch, where Rondon and Perez were able to do the damage.
Signing Rondon on a permanent deal might have been bad business in the view of Lee Charnley, the club’s managing director. And selling Perez to Leicester City for £30million might have been good business for United.
But there’s a lack of Premier League experience in the final third of the pitch – and that’s a concern. What if Joelinton needs time to adjust to English football? What if Andy Carroll needs a bit more time to get fit? There are more questions than answers.
Almiron has been playing off Joelinton, and Bruce wants him higher up the pitch. But is he really suited to playing as a second striker?
In any case, there might have to be a rethink for Tottenham as Joelinton is nursing a hip problem.
If there was one area which didn’t need strengthening when Bruce took over, it was central defence.
The club has strength in depth in that area. Under Benitez, the back three – or back five out of possession – was organised and disciplined. Everyone knew what they were doing, and defensive lapses were few and far between. Jamaal Lascelles, Federico Fernandez, Florian Lejuene and Fabian Schar all impressed through the season.
Whatever the personnel, there was a consistency about the team’s defending.
United’s defending at Carrow Road, however, was less than impressive.
Admittedly, the team was too open, and the midfield was partly culpable, but Pukki was left unmarked for the first goal, and things unravelled from there.
They were all over the place defensively, and Bruce, a centre-half himself, will have found it very uncomfortable to watch.
A sceptical fanbase
Bruce can tweak his formation and tighten the defence.
However, his biggest issue is arguably off the pitch. Many fans, still angry at Benitez’s departure, aren’t prepared to give him a chance – and are seemingly waiting for him to fail.
The reaction to the Norwich defeat, on social media, was swift and savage.
Benitez, repeatedly, stressed the importance of togetherness during his three years on Tyneside. The club is stronger when its united in more than just name. Bruce himself has appealed for fans to get behind him, but if he’s going to win hearts and minds, he going to need results.
It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario. Bruce has more chance of getting results with everyone behind him. But to get everyone behind him he needs results.
So it’s down to Bruce and his players. The solutions to the problems must come from within the four walls of the dressing room, and that’s why Bruce was so keen to get to work after the Norwich defeat.