Three big issues for Steve Bruce at Newcastle United

Steve Bruce has a lot to “dwell on” during the international break.

Wednesday, 11th November 2020, 4:45 pm

Bruce’s Newcastle United side, having previously taken two steps forward, took a big step backwards at the St Mary’s Stadium last week.

Southampton won 2-0, and the margin of defeat would have been greater had it not been for Karl Darlow in goal.

“I’ll dwell on it,” said an unimpressed Bruce after the final whistle. “There’s certainly positions up for grabs, that’s for sure.”

Steve Bruce.

Newcastle return against Chelsea at St James’s Park on November 21.

In the meantime, Bruce has to hope that his international players return unscathed, though he also has concerns closer to home.

Here, we look at five pressing issues which United’s head coach must address over the break.

Callum Wilson’s fitness and injuries

Andy Carroll replaces Callum Wilson against Southampton.

Bruce’s most immediate concern is the injury suffered by Callum Wilson.

Wilson limped out of the game with a hamstring problem, and the striker – the club’s leading scorer with six Premier League goals – has since had a scan.

The early indications are that the problem is not as bad as first feared, though Bruce could well be without Wilson against Chelsea.

Bruce doesn’t have a like-for-like replacement for Wilson, and that was a concern for fans when the transfer window closed without United bringing in another striker.

Allan Saint-Maximin.

Andy Carroll is the obvious option for Bruce, also without the injured Dwight Gayle.

Then there’s Ryan Fraser, who missed the Southampton game with a hamstring injury. The problem also forced the winger to withdraw from the Scotland squad for this week’s Euro 2020 play-off final against Serbia.

Fraser hasn’t been starting regularly, but he’s already shown what he can do – and he’ll be missed.

United’s formation and tactics

The injuries to Wilson and Fraser are worrying for Bruce – and the club’s fans. However, supporters are also concerned about the team’s identity after months of chopping and changing.

Bruce went for a more defensive, counter-attacking set-up after the 4-1 defeat to Manchester United last month, and that switch paid dividends against Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

However, Newcastle were unable to deal with Southampton’s high press, and fans saw Ralph Hassenhuttl’s side intelligently play between the lines as the visitors struggled to keep the ball.

The team has long looked most comfortable on the counter-attack, but United had a particularly uncomfortable 90 minutes.

Bruce, keen to play with a back four, wingers and one off the front, still hasn’t yet found the right balance between defence and attack – and this brings us to Allan Saint-Maximin.

Allan Saint-Maximin’s position

Saint-Maximin is Newcastle’s most dangerous player. The winger’s pace – and trickery – put team after team on the back foot last season.

This season we’ve seen glimpses of Saint-Maximin’s talent, but he’s been largely anonymous through the middle in the last three games.

Bruce switched Saint-Maximin inside when he changed formation, and it’s a role that the 23-year-old is keen to play.

“He wants to have the flexibility of being able to go down the middle – and go both ways,” said Bruce.

Saint-Maximin, up to now, has been most dangerous wide on the left, but Bruce sacrificed that width to give his team, which had been too open, a better shape.

Bruce, somehow, must square the circle.

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