Steve Bruce tactical analysis: A game of contrasting halves for Newcastle United manager
No goals and few chances created, thousands of stay-a-ways at St James’s Park and boos from the terraces. It’s fair to say Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Brighton was far from vintage.
Tactics was one of the major talking points of the day as the unknown intrigue Graham Potter locked horns with the experienced pro of Steve Bruce.
But how did the more senior man in the Magpies dugout do against the former Ostersunds boss?
Here’s a look at both halves – including chaos, tactical tweaks and a problematic position or two.
First-half analysis – Potter masterclass, but Bruce claws it back
It was clear to see from the opening minutes that Brighton would have plenty of the ball. The Seagulls had possession of the ball more than their opposition in four of their five games prior to their visit to Tyneside.
The problem United had in the opening period was that the midfield of Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden provided little to no protection of their backline – this allowed quite simple straight balls to come right through the centre and into the feet of the forwards.
Brighton also got the ball wide, early at will. Jetro Willems was caught out on a number of occasions by the marauding Martin Montoya, who was playing more like a wide forward than a right-back.
Javier Manquillo was also clearly a target of Potter’s, but he held up better defensively than last week’s Anfield scorer.
Bruce switched shape and formation – at least once – to try and stem the flow. A move to a 4-3-3 did that. It might not have been what United had worked on all week, but it was a sticking plaster on a performance that was only headed one way, even if at times it looked like organised chaos with Willems in midfield.
Second-half analysis – Another switch, United on the front foot
Brighton continued to enjoy possession – but they did less with it in the attacking third this time.
Fabian Schar, as well as making a crucial goal-line clearance, saw more and more of the ball – to me, this is always a sign that United are coming into the game. He barely touched the ball in the opening 45.
The turning point in this game came with around 20 minutes to go, though. Off went Jonjo Shelvey, as poor as he has been in a black and white shirt, and on came Ki Sung-yeung.
Allan Saint-Maximin was also thrown into the mix – which meant United now had a player with a want to take chances and beat a man.
It was only after those two changes that the Magpies looked like a team who could win this one.
Where Shelvey had hidden at times in midfield, even though he is more defensively disciplined these days, Saint-Maximin and Ki wanted the ball, the former more and more as the game went on.
The further introduction of Andy Carroll stirred a sleepy crowd and then United almost edged it, even if their total of 29% possession against a side who will without doubt be fighting relegation at the end of the season, was nothing to write home about.
It looks like both of these sides will have big Premier League issues this season.
While Brighton looked a better, more organised side, especially in midfield, they had so much ball without scoring.
Speaking to those who cover the Seagulls on a weekly basis, they say yesterday’s performance was nothing new under Potter – look good, without the win.
They look like a side who will give you a chance and lack the goal threat to trouble, even if they look good creating those openings.
For Newcastle the concerns are just as real.
They create less chances than any other side in the league, Joelinton’s head is dropping due to the lack of any service never mind balls of quality and United have basically thrown all their eggs in the basket of injury-prone Saint-Maximin and Carroll. It could be a masterstroke, but looks more like a recipe for disaster.
For me, no matter the formation Shelvey does not fit.
He is a player who has a system built around him in the summer and it had to be abandoned after a few games. He plays in a role where United need him to get on the ball and dictate, he never gets close to fulfilling that. And frankly, he wants to play the game at his own pace, sadly that pace is a million miles off Premier League football. Unless he starts producing the goods he will be shown the door at United – and you’d wonder where he would have left to turn, in the top flight at least.
Miguel Almiron and Christian Atsu are hard-working willing runners but neither have the craft or guile of an Ayoze Perez. One can play, not two. They are too similar, both with little to no end product.
And the full-back roles are a concern. United were too easy to exploit out wide, even though Manquillo was an upgrade on Emil Krafth on the day.