Steve Bruce & Graeme Jones' front three conundrum at Newcastle United – the pros and cons of their selection options
Steve Bruce and/or Graeme Jones – I’m not sure which, such are the blurred lines at Newcastle United – is determined to stick with the newly-found system and identity born of the last few months of football.
The false nine, split-strikers, 4-3-3 approach has seen an upturn in chances created, goals scored and points gained, even though it was never going to be hard to beat given the 11 games that went before it.
Still, it hasn’t been enough, with United’s gap to the bottom three eroded from a healthy 10 points in the first weeks of February to just two today. It could be -1 come Friday night with 18th-placed Fulham hosting unpredictable Leeds United at Craven Cottage.
Should United stick, as expected, with their current way of playing, Bruce and Jones still have a number of big calls to make in terms of personnel.
No area concerns more than the forward-line, who have not scored a goal between them in the last three games. For the record, it is skipper Jamaal Lascelles, stepping up to the leadership plate, who has the two goals scored in that time.
So who gets the nod as a front three on Saturday night and who doesn’t? We make a case for and against the SIX names in contention for a spot.
Positives: You could make a case to say the big Brazilian had his best game in black and white against Aston Villa. He was a handful running with the ball at feet, was physical, a threat breaking in from the right and proved a real handful for Tyrone Mings. He was decent in the same role against West Brom, too. Outside of the 18-yard box he produced a very good ‘Callum Wilson impression’, giving the team some of what it has been missing while the England international has been out.
Negatives: Can’t score goals. Doesn’t look like scoring goals. Lacks the confidence to even attempt to score goals when he gets into the box. And there’s a real danger that if United are relying on him to score goals in this team, they will go down.
Likelihood of selection: 9/10
Positives: Is an adaptable player who can play any one of the three frontline roles in this system. Has pace and an excellent delivery. Can score goals too, although we are yet to really see that in black and white.
Negatives: Hasn’t looked interested for most of the season, which raises huge question marks about whether you’d want him in the trenches in a relegation battle. Started to hit some better form but then dipped again against Villa last weekend.
Likelihood of selection: 7/10
Positives: A fully fit, fully firing Gayle can be a threat in the Premier League. A penalty box poacher, he knows where to be when the ball drops in the area. And if the first lockdown Gayle turns up then Newcastle have the best version of the striker they’ve seen in his five years on Tyneside.
Negatives: Most of the time Gayle has spent at United, managers have been looking to upgrade him. Truth is, his best goal tallies have come from seasons outside the Premier League. Also, and this is a biggy, he doesn’t seem to fit into any one of the three positions in this system.
Likelihood of selection: 6/10
Positives: Is the best crosser of the ball at the football club. Gives 100%, bleeds black and white due to his family roots. Has the ability to create, beat a man and can score all kinds of goals, from all kinds of distances with both left and right. Can play off left or right side.
Negatives: Very, very inconsistent and definitely a confidence player. Has come out of his shell this season, but still a player who does not always do enough in games, when called upon.
Likelihood of selection: 4/10
Positives: He’s head and shoulders the best player on the list. The Paraguayan international has goals in him, and plenty of graft and guile, too. Pace to burn and legs that could run all day, he is a dream forward. This new system was absolutely made for him, has looked top class in it recently.
Negatives: Fitness. Plain and simple. He is back and fit, but how fit is another question altogether. The risk of throwing the player in and him breaking down could make or break Newcastle United’s season, which already rests on a knife-edge.
Likelihood of selection: 5/10
Positives: An absolute handful in the air, both in an attacking sense and defensively. Gives defenders a real headache when the ball is thrown in the box, which can also create spaces for others. A cracker of a left boot, he can definitely finish and his form in the month of January was excellent, but has barely been given a kick since. He scored his first goal back in black and white against Leicester City at the turn of the year. It was, however, a consolation. Knows what it means to wear the shirt with pride and a real point to prove.
Negatives: Nowhere near as mobile as you’d want a player to be in this system. For all the effort, the legs just won’t move as fast as they once did. And has just one goal since signing last summer, albeit from limited starts.
Likelihood of selection: 2/10