Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce has hit back at claims his team are “lucky” to be where they are in the Premier League this season.
Some of the performances on the field haven’t exactly been vintage NUFC, but Bruce thinks that saying the team are lucky is an “insult to the players”.
Bruce on luck claims
“In the last couple of weeks , we’ve rode our luck. But I can’t see how the accumulation of points over the last seven months of the Premier League is luck. I think that’s an insult to the players, I really, really do,” said Bruce.
“They might not be technically the best but they go out and give us as much as they can give and that’s all you can require. I’ve said from day one, since I walked through the door, I don’t think we’re ready to change.”
Bruce on team shape
There has been a lot of calls for United to change the way they play due to the boring brand of football currently employed by Bruce.
Newcastle currently employ a back five/three with a four man midfield and one up top. Throughout the season, Bruce has attempted one or two other formations such as 5-3-2 and 4-4-1-1 but neither have gone quite to plan.
In the one game the club played a back four this season, they lost 5-0 away to Leicester City – albeit with ten men.
“I could change tomorrow like *this*, open us up, play open and expansive football, play the way Norwich play quite easily but for me, it’s all about keeping the club where we need to be.
“We changed this time last year. Rafa changed to five at the back because with four at the back, they were in big trouble,” said Bruce. “I think with the players we’ve got, we are comfortable with the system we’ve got.
“On Saturday, we didn’t play well enough. We didn’t play well enough because we didn’t do enough with the ball, we didn’t create enough problems for them. It’s just the way its been the past week or so.
“I have to say in defence of the players, in certain areas like the top end of the pitch, where we’re crying out for something a bit different, I haven’t been able to freshen things up and give them a few days off, and it’s been difficult.”
Bruce on Newcastle transfers
Newcastle managed to bring in three players over the course of the January transfer window, but Bruce has warned it’ll take time for him to assemble a team that can play the way he wants to.
“Well, I hope we can get ourselves in a position where we can change, but we’ve just gone through another transfer window. I never count January because I always think it’s very difficult, unless you’re very lucky, to try to improve,” Bruce added.
“I think we have done with the two or three players we have brought in and the quality they will bring. I hope, given a bit of time, that we will change.
“At this particular moment, I can’t see the reason why I should. We will tinker with it tomorrow, but evidence has proved to me that as soon as I open us up a little bit, then we find it a struggle.”
Where do we go from here?
Tonight, United head to the Kassam Stadium to take on Oxford in that fourth round FA Cup replay for the honour of a trip to face West Bromwich Albion in the fifth round.
Realistically, if Bruce wants to get the fans back onside (as much as possible), then Newcastle MUST win this game. For me, given that the reward for winning this game is a trip the Hawthorns, there’s NO excuse for Newcastle not to be in the draw for the FA Cup quarter-final this season.
In terms of the football being played – it’s awful to watch, it really is. However, so far this season it’s been (largely) effective. A lot of fans and pundits alike have pointed out that United are unbeaten in the last seven games – despite playing worse than they have all season in that period.
However, unbeaten in seven includes two draws against League One opposition and a goalless draw at home to the bottom placed side in the division. The better and more logical way to look at their recent run of results is to say they have just two wins in their last ten games – one of which came against Rochdale.
For me, the team Newcastle have suggests that a back four would be the most sensible thing to do. Yes, the team are used to playing with a back five now but there’s always going to be a natural acclimatisation period with a new formation.
If we want to see Bruce and the team switch to a back four, it seems likely we’re going to have to settle for a few bad results while the team get used to playing a certain way.
My personal suggestion would be for us to get to the magic 40 point mark this season and then, once we’re safe, start experimenting and tinkering with formations. Then, use the summer transfer window to find players who will fit that style going forward and implement it in pre-season.
Newcastle have enough options in attack and in the midfield to suggest a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 would work out well for the players. Miguel Almiron in a number ten role, Allan Saint-Maximin wide left, Valentino Lazaro or Matt Ritchie wide right, Joelinton or Andy Carroll central – it makes sense to me.
From a defensive standpoint, there are five good options to play in the centre of a back four. Jamaal Lascelles would be a no brainer as he is club captain, likely alongside Fabian Schar or Florian Lejeune.
For me, Schar works better in a three and will likely be found out a little in a back four, so they could even consider putting him in defensive midfield.
As it is, there are options for those two positions as well – Nabil Bentaleb, Isaac Hayden, Jonjo Shelvey and the Longstaff brother are all more than capable of playing well in that system.
It’s only a matter of time before we do see Bruce shake up the system at Newcastle, but I do see it being quite a ways down the road. Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him try a different style tonight at Oxford – but they’ll be back to a back five when they visit Arsenal in two weeks.