Toon Trending Topic: Newcastle United's 'lack of identity' turns the heat up on manager Steve Bruce
The odds on Steve Bruce getting the sack at Newcastle United have tumbled this week after the Leicester City debacle – but the word from the club is the former Sunderland boss will get time.
In our weekly Q&A feature – Toon Trending Topic – our NUFC writers Miles Starforth and Liam Kennedy discuss Bruce, his future and analyse what’s gone wrong at St James’s Park this season.
Steve Bruce has more points than Rafa Benitez did at the same point last season, why the panic?
MS: “The bigger picture, that’s why. This time last year had just two points, but there was little or no panic. Why? Because of Rafa Benitez. The team had an identity, a plan, and fans were united behind the manager and his players. Also, Newcastle hadn’t just been beaten 5-0. Apart from a 2-0 home defeat to Leicester, they had competed in every game.”
LK: “The process. The players may not have always got on with Benitez, but they trusted his methods and his coaching. Do as the manager says, and the results will always be the same – survival and then some. With Bruce, I’m sure there’s not the same trust. And whatever your thoughts on the manager, the players’ body language out on the pitch is telling. The organisation and identity of Benitez’s United seems like a distant memory.”
Marks out of 10, rate Bruce's performance since taking the Newcastle job...
MS: “In Bruce’s defence, he didn’t come in for the start of pre-season. He was up against it from the moment he joined up with the team in mid-July. He’s been playing catch-up. It’s too early to give him a fair managerial mark, but unless there’s an improvement soon, he would get a lot less than five out of 10.”
LK: “I’m not one to sit on the fence – a fortnight ago I’d have gone with a 5/10, after Brighton and Leicester, that’s dropped to a two. United’s only win of the season has now been shown to be out of the ordinary, rather than the norm.”
Confusion seems to have reigned supreme so far this season - is Bruce getting the best out of his players?
MS: “That’s the key thing, for me. He hasn’t so far got the best out of his players. He hasn’t yet found a way to play - and win. The team doesn’t have an identity - or a coherent plan. Do United want to get at teams? Or are they an organised, counter-attacking team? Or something in between? Newcastle have scored just four goals so far this season - and that’s nowhere near enough.”
LK: “No. Not even close. This team looks starved of chances at one end and gives them away in bundles at the other. At least under Benitez the team was solid and hard to beat, they gave every team a game in the Premier League, home and away. Every player who performed well under Benitez – Martin Dubravka, Fabian Schar, Paul Dummett, Miguel Almiron, Sean Longstaff and others – has seen their levels drop. One player and you can make excuses, a group and there is clearly a common denominator.”
Is Bruce's team lacking a clear system, style of play and identity?
MS: “Unquestionably. Bruce spoke about getting on the front foot when he took over the club, but the team has spent most of its time on the back foot. What’s the plan? Benitez was meticulous in his preparation and attention to detail - too meticulous for some players - but everyone knew their jobs.”
LK: “As mentioned earlier, I think they’re seriously lacking. I’m not certain Bruce knows what his best XI or system is, hence why he changes it so much. There are mitigating factors here, which were out of Bruce’s control. He did not sign the players brought in, and he was appointed when the team had already started pre-season. The manager is still finding his feet – but the honeymoon period is well and truly over.”
Is it too early to be talking about the manager's future?
MS: “Yes and no. It’s very early in the season, but things, clearly, aren’t working. Bruce inherited a disciplined and committed group of players, but they were all over the place at the King Power Stadium on Sunday. The warning signs are there, and we need to see an improvement this month, though the fixture computer - Manchester United and Chelsea are the club’s next two opponents - has not been kind to Bruce.
LK: “Sacking a manager this early is not unheard of, so applying football logic it’s not unreasonable to be discussing Bruce’s future – and people in the game know that, too! The thing is, Mike Ashley and the men employs to help make ‘football’ decisions do not work within these usual parameters. People in football often want discount the views of fans, but they can’t all be wrong. You’ve all seen enough football in your time – bad and good – to know when the writing is on the wall.”
Will Bruce get time to turn things around?
MS: “Yes. Bruce, we know, still has the support of Ashley, who’s personally invested in the appointment. Bruce was more his choice than some of his predecessors, and a sacking this early would be an admission he got it badly wrong. Bruce will be given time, but can he use that time wisely?
LK: “It sounds like that will be the case. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. If he can get a few results then he may live to fight another (in the fans’ eyes). But the football basics lacking in this team are front and centre at the moment – and sadly for Bruce, that’s a stark difference to last season. The players, largely, haven’t changed. The man taking them has.”