Is former Sunderland boss Steve Bruce getting his tactics right at Newcastle United? Our writers have their say

Newcastle United’s tactics have come under the microscope in recent days following the shambolic home show against Brighton at the weekend.

Friday, 27th September 2019, 7:00 am
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Steve Bruce, Manager of Newcastle United signals during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion at St. James Park on September 21, 2019 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Is Steve Bruce getting it right? Here our NUFC writers Miles Starforth and Liam Kennedy analyse the topic ahead of the weekend visit to the King Power Stadium.

What have you made of Steve Bruce's tactics so far this season?

MS: “The biggest thing, for me, is that the team doesn’t yet have an identity under Bruce, who said he wanted to get at the opposition more after taking over at the club. Bruce – who started the season with two up front – has been tinkering with his tactics ever since as he has learnt more about his team. Bruce needs to settle on a formation that suits this group of players.”

LK: “A little bit all over the shop. He started wanting to play Jonjo Shelvey in a quarterback role, then binned it in favour of a Rafa Benitez type formation. We saw four different systems on Saturday – and while some will say that's agile coaching from Bruce, I’d suggest it was more a case of clutching at straws having been given a bit of a schooling by Graham Potter early on. I am not sure Bruce knows what he wants his team to play – and I think that feeling is evident in the body language of the players out on the park.”

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Should he tweak things again at Leicester City again this weekend?

MS: “Yes. As Bruce himself admitted, Newcastle were far too open against Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend. This group of players is best when they are compact and playing a counter-attacking game, especially away from home. They have the pace to hurt teams on the break, and the Tottenham Hotspur performance last month should be the blueprint.”

LK: “I think he has to and he will. It won’t be the tweaks made this weekend which will define United’s season, though. Bruce is likely to revert to the 5-4-1 which served the team reasonably well at Anfield, and secured the win against Tottenham. We will probably see the same again v Manchester United a week later.”

Rumours suggest Bruce will drop Miguel Almiron. Is he getting the best out of the player?

MS: “Not yet. Almiron has caused problems for teams this season, but we’ve not seen the best of him this season, either as a second striker or on the right side of midfield. Almiron’s at his best when he’s running from deep and starting counter-attacks. He can carry the team up the field, and Bruce will surely be tempted to adopt the formation fielded by Benitez last season.”

LK: “No. Nowhere near. I know Bruce sees the player every day but I can’t help but feel he’s got it all wrong when it comes to the Paraguay international. To me, Almiron’s main strength is his pace. So get him wider, or even deeper and let him have the space to take Newcastle from A to B quickly – that’s what he did last season. Bruce has talked this season about getting Almiron further forward. In all fairness, we are yet to see evidence he would benefit from that.”

And what of Jonjo Shelvey? Have fitness, form or the system contributed to his underwhelming campaign so far?

MS: “Shelvey’s not been an influence with or without the ball, and that’s a concern. We all thought his thigh injury was behind him, but Bruce suggested last weekend that it was still troubling him. Certainly, that would explain a lack of mobility. Shelvey again worked hard on his fitness over the summer, so he should be peak condition.”

LK: “Fitness has clearly been an issue for the player, but this a problem which runs much deeper. No matter the system or formation, getting the best out of Shelvey in black and white has proven illusive for three managers on Tyneside.”

Having signed for £35m in the summer, should we be expecting more out of Joelinton, or again are the tactics partly to blame for his lack of goals?

MS: “It’s hard to expect too much from a player in his first season in English football. It can take players weeks, months or even a year to adapt to the pace and intensity of the Premier League. Joelinton, more than anything, just needs time. We can’t expect too much, too soon from him.”

LK: “I can’t help but feel sorry for the striker – he really must wonder what he’s walked into. The only service the player seems to get is high balls from front to back. The style is not suiting him at all. We all just need to hope Andy Carroll can get fit, and stay fit, as the Brazilian’s confidence looks to be fading. That said, for £35million you expect the finished article – Joelinton is not that.”

What do you think is Newcastle's best system?

MS: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Benitez’s system worked last season. And the players were comfortable with it. Benitez went with a 5-4-1 formation for much of the season, though this changed, very quickly, to 3-4-3 when the team had the ball.”

LK: “I actually wouldn’t mind seeing United go to a four at the back. That is a little controversial but I just don’t think the Magpies look like scoring enough. Would a four allow another player to be used in a forward area? Maybe. What I do know, the current formation (5-4-1) is not working, or the one tried before by Bruce (3-5-2), is not working.”