The SEVEN key issues for Steve Bruce to address at Newcastle United in the international break
Newcastle United head into the international break with four points from their opening four Premier League games.
Continue like that and they’re likely to stay in the top flight for another year, but a repeat of the flirtations with the drop will continue right until the dying embers of the campaign.
The win at Spurs was excellent, the Norwich defeat awful. The other two games – defeat to Arsenal and the Watford draw – have been somewhere in between.
Bruce is happy with the start his players have made this season, even with the Carrow Road blot on his copybook, but he accepts there is room for improvement at United.
Here’s SEVEN things for Steve Bruce to consider in the international break, with United next in action against last season’s Champions League winners Liverpool at Anfield on September 14.
Take the heat off Miguel Almiron
Bruce could really do with some of his injured forwards back in contention because it looks to me like the Paraguay international needs taking out of the firing line.
He’s played as a forward but doesn’t really look like he’s got goals in him.
Against Watford the big positive was that he took up some great positions in the opposition box – but his finishing let him down badly.
Some time out the team would be beneficial – the problem is United have limited options at present.
Allow players in his 25-man Premier League squad to leave?
Javier Manquillo could well be subject to interest from La Liga before the closure of the deadline in Spain.
And with United well stocked in that department, when DeAndre Yedlin returns – could Bruce be tempted to let him leave?
Surely the manager would only do so if he knew he would get the funds to further strengthen in January.
It would be a calculated risk, given that he would leave himself a body short, with an injury list as long as his arm in recent times.
Organise a friendly for returning to fitness players
Andy Carroll has not played football since the turn of the year and Florian Lejeune since April.
This break in play could be the perfect opportunity for Bruce to get some minutes under the players’ belts, behind closed doors.
Obviously, they have to be ready for it.
By the noises he’s made in recent days, they might well be – particularly Frenchman Lejeune.
DeAndre Yedlin could also probably do with the minutes, along with some of the new boys who are still feeling the pace of the Premier League after stunted pre-seasons.
Manage injuries in the squad – ASM tops priority list
Allan Saint-Maximin could be the difference for United this season – he’s quick, has skill and can finish.
The problem is we’ve not seen any of it since the football got competitive.
Making sure the winger gets back fit – not just patched up – has to be right at the top of the manager’s priority list over the next few weeks.
Bruce said he’s be out three to five weeks with his hamstring problem – if it takes five or longer, United need him back fit as he has all the tools to be a gamechanger. At the bottom end of the Premier League, where United are likely to be fighting, these kind of players are even more valuable.
Tweaks to system?
Bruce seems to have found a way of getting the best out of most of his players but there are still question marks in some areas.
Is the midfield balance right? Can the balance up front be better?
This system does not feel a million miles away from working – it’s also fair to say it’s a formation born of Rafa Benitez and adopted by pragmatic Bruce after a failed attempt at a 3-5-2.
Find a way to get the best out of Joelinton
The Brazilian looks a class act – but a lot of his good work is done too far away from the opposition goal.
Bruce must find a way of getting the best out of a player who looks like he needs a permanent partner playing much closer to him.
It’s definitely fair to say he looks a perfect fit in the role Salomon Rondon did so well on loan last season – but he needs to add more goals to be the complete package. Chances are rarely falling his way, and that’s a problem that needs addressing.
Work out of Jonjo Shelvey fits at Newcastle, or not
His injury has not helped but Shelvey has not quite looked at the races this season – and I think he knows it after his comments last week.
He was handed an opportunity on a plate at the start of the season to be Newcastle’s playmaker – the team was built all around his strengths. It was one that was not grasped with both hands, rather it was binned after just two outings.
Does he fit at Newcastle or not? It’s a massive call for Bruce to make in the coming weeks, especially with talk of a new deal in the offing.