Steve Bruce signals change at Newcastle United
Another game, another formation. Steve Bruce’s teamsheet at Molineux was certainly bold.
Bruce changed system again for yesterday’s game against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and went with a 5-3-1-1 formation, with Allan Saint-Maximin in a free role behind Callum Wilson.
The inclusion of Ryan Fraser and Miguel Almiron – and Saint-Maximin’s new role – got fans talking before kick-off time.
But what caught the eye during the behind-closed-doors game was the doggedness and determination of the team without the ball in the Premier League fixture, which ended 1-1.
Newcastle, without the injured Jonjo Shelvey, threatened sporadically on the counter-attack.
Bruce’s side had been all over the place in the 4-1 defeat to Manchester United at St James’s Park eight days earlier – and it was this “resilience” which pleased Bruce, whose tactics have been closely scrutinised this season.
“I’m delighted with the resilience especially, considering the (injury) problems we’ve had,” said United’s head coach. “We needed to show that resilience – and stop conceding.”
Newcastle were put under a lot of pressure at Molineux, but limited Wolves to just three shots on target. Some of that was down to the home side’s prolifgacy, but some of it was down to the visitors’ defending.
And that was just as well given that Karl Darlow, the Premier League’s busiest goalkeeper this season, had been patched up to play following his collision with Marcus Rashford the previous weekend.
Bruce has been trying to turn United into a more attacking side since succeeding Rafa Benitez at St James’s Park, but that has left his team “too open”.
“We’ve had some poor performances, I’m not disputing that,” said Bruce. “But you have to have a certain resilience in the Premier League.
"We’ve been too open, and we weren’t today. First and foremost, we have to give ourselves a platform. This season we’ve been a tad open. So it was good to see that resilience.”
One thing United were under Benitez was resilient, and some of that resilience – and organisation – has been lost over the past 15 months in the push to be more attacking.
Nuno Espirito Santo labelled Newcastle as a “very organised” team in his post-match Zoom call.
Benitez always strived to get the balance between defence and attack right – he used his “short blanket” analogy – and Bruce, having opened up too much, is going the other way.
Bruce wants to play with a back four, but, against Wolves, he fielded a back five. His also wants to use the pace he has out wide, but team was also narrower and more compact.
Newcastle, it seems, can’t yet play the way Bruce wants to against the better teams in the division, though they can match up well against the likes of West Ham United and Burnley.
The resilience of the team at Molineux was welcome, though there are still more questions than answers in terms of the team as an attacking force, and, presumably, we’ll see a similarly cautious, counter-attacking approach for Sunday’s home game against Premier League leaders Everton.
Bruce, reluctantly, is seemingly going back to the future at United.