This time last year Newcastle United had just two points – and the club was 18th in the Premier League.
Under Steve Bruce, the club is one place higher up the table, but is the team really in a better position that it was a year ago?
Most fans don’t think so.
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When he took charge Bruce spoke about his desire to see the team take the game to the opposition. He wanted to see them higher up the pitch.
Bruce, it seems, has learnt that he simply doesn’t have the players to do that. The first 45 minutes of Saturday’s goalless draw against Brighton and Hove Albion were awful. The visitors, also under new management, were all over Newcastle, who were booed off at the break at St James’s Park, where there were around 9,000 empty seats.
“I know one thing – we can't open ourselves up like we did,” said Bruce, who changed his system during the first half. “What I've learnt is that we can't leave ourselves open and try and get after teams, because people will play through us. There's a certain way the whole group has played, and I can understand why.”
Bruce is only the second Newcastle manager to fail to win any of his first three Premier League home games. The the first was Steve McClaren, and we all know how that ended.
Under Benitez, the team was compact, organised and disciplined. Benitez had his critics, but he know with the players he had, they had to be hard to beat.
Benitez trusted his own process, and the fans trusted him. There was clarity under Benitez. Things aren’t so clear now.
Importantly, the city was also united behind Benitez and his team.
Bruce had wanted a result against Brighton to “take some more of that negativity away”, but the only real positive to take from the game was the return of Andy Carroll, along with the point they claimed.
Newcastle had a strong identity under Benitez. They didn’t have one under McClaren – and, worryingly, they don’t yet have one under Bruce.