The good, the bad and the ugly: Steve Bruce's opening 10-games in charge at Newcastle United assessed
In just three months in charge at St James’s Park, Steve Bruce has experienced some crushing lows, a couple of unexpected highs and some downright dull days.
But what does a forensic look at his first 10 games tell us about Bruce’s ability to both win over his doubters and - more importantly - take United forwards?
What went well:
Newcastle’s defensive stats offer most by way of compensation for a generally underwhelming start to 2019-20.
Bruce’s back five, along with Martin Dubravka, have repelled 17 big goalscoring chances this season and - perhaps surprisingly - have recorded the third most clean sheets of any Premier League club.
And as well as retaining some of the defensive rigidity from Rafa Benitez’s spell on Tyneside, Newcastle’s defenders have also helped out at the other end, scoring half of the Magpies’ goals so far.
The Longstaff brothers have also been a qualified hit, adding energy and identity to Bruce’s midfield, capped by Matty’s goalscoring man-of-the-match performance against Manchester United.
But while Sean has seemingly recaptured some of last season’s form in recent weeks after a tough start came to a head in the heavy defeat at Leicester, his red card against Wolves will temporarily halt the sibling partnership.
What hasn’t worked
Despite a seemingly talented front three it just hasn’t clicked yet for Joelinton, Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin.
And, at a combined cost of almost £70m, that represents a huge problem.
On paper, one goal and no assists between them represents a dismal return from an attack that promised so much.
And with Yoshinori Muto out of favour, Andy Carroll not yet firing and Dwight Gayle out of favour, Bruce doesn’t have many options.
But many fans believe the manager is most at fault for not overseeing a consistent supply line to front players - not least Joelinton - who need quality service.
And Saint-Maximin has shown enough to suggest to those same supporters that he is being sold short by Bruce’s tactics.
That struggle to adapt to game situations has seen Newcastle subside completely in the second half of games, as well as all but from the start away at Leicester.
How to fix it
Bruce must ensure that the attacking trio of Almiron, Saint Maximin and Joelinton stay together - but within a team structure that feeds rather than isolates them.
In particular, Joelinton needs at least one player running in behind him rather than be expected - with minimal experience of life as a target man - to hold up a continuous stream of aimless long balls.
Equally, while he obviously has major doubts about Jonjo Shelvey, Newcastle’s desperate lack of creativity is such that Bruce simply has to try to work out how to get the best from a player currently in limbo.
As for the rearguard, Bruce has switched between formations, but it is surely more than a coincidence that Newcastle’s two league wins have come when playing five at the back.
The manager has seemingly paid the price for changing a winning formula after both those victories.
But what Bruce’s side has also lacked is bite.
In that regard, Matt Ritchie has been a huge miss, for his attitude as much as anything else.
And the return of Florian Lejeune is also a huge potential plus, not only because he promises the stem the flow of goals conceded away from home, but because his presence might offer Bruce options such as supplementing the Longstaff brothers in midfield with Fabian Schar in a holding role.