The key issues facing under-fire Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce with Premier League champions Liverpool on the horizon
The Etihad show was nowhere near as bad as the three performances that went before. West Brom was OK, so count that out. Leeds United was a joke defensively and hardly any better going forward while Fulham was inept in every single department, a point saved against 10-men thanks to a questionable refereeing decision. And Brentford, well the less said about that one the better.
So in that sense – with the bar set remarkably low under Steve Bruce – a game in which United did not threaten, did not look like gaining anything and allowed the opposition to cruise in first gear, never mind second, is seen as a small step in the right direction. Ambition itself.
Bruce has A LOT on his plate right now at Newcastle United – but here’s FIVE areas the manager needs to consider with Jurgen Klopp’s men just around the corner.
Get the message right – stop with the contradictions
For too long the message at Newcastle United has been confusing. And a lot of that comes from the manager.
Fans know Mike Ashley’s ambitions have always been for Newcastle to remain in the Premier League, any further achievement has been by accident and never capitalised on.
But Bruce dared to go beyond that. He told everyone his United was a ‘work-in-progress’, they could and would get better. He said at Newcastle it had to be about more than survival, the cups mattered and could be won and his club would be aiming for a top 10 finish in the Premier League, as that is where they belong.
This week that all went out the window. He admitted what we knew all along, that his remit is to remain in the division with United. The problem, though, is he painted a totally different narrative with his public utterances.
Now, when the heat gets turned up, he is changing the tune – and it is not something that has gone down well with United fans.
In one breath he says he will take all the criticism that comes his team’s way, then he says it’s mass hysteria among the United fanbase.
Bruce needs to be honest, know his limitations and accept the situation. Turning on the fans when he doesn’t like what they say is the beginning of the end for most.
The contradictions in public are concerning, but what he is saying on the training pitch and how players are taking that are even more worrying.
Set the team up to win – in whatever manner that may be
Newcastle United are dull and predictable at the moment. But they have the players at their disposal to offer so much more.
Bruce desperately needs to find a way of unlocking that – that’s why he is in the job.
Does he have the skills to do that? That has to be called into question. He’s had 18 months at the club to create a team in his own image and in almost every metric the club have been in reverse.
The players look drained and frustrated, they don’t look like a bunch enjoying their work.
Not for one second am I suggesting they are cut loose against Liverpool, but if they know there is a clear plan to get points – not just rely upon a top class goalkeeping performance and some individual brilliance – they’ll no doubt buy into it.
Selection bravery required
Bruce’s decision to throw Matty Longstaff into the side at Man City, without even making recent benches, didn’t really reflect well on the manager or his treatment of the young midfielder.
Only the manager will know the true reason why he did it, but from the outside looking in, it appeared to be simply a move to keep other players fresh, ones he values more for the first-team, than anything about Longstaff’s own development. Surely if it was about the latter, he’d have been used well before now, or even made the odd bench, or substitute appearance?
What Longstaff did prove though, was that he is worth a place in the side – something I have been saying for months – and Bruce needs to be brave and stick with the player and Isaac Hayden alongside him. They did well. Reward them by sticking by them.
Get the system right – no more square pegs in round holes
Whether it is five at the back or four, two up top or one, Bruce needs to find a system to not only counteract the opposition, but also to complement his own players.
The ones employed lately have just not ticked enough boxes.
For me, at Man City, Miguel Almiron was absolutely wasted – he is no left winger. He was also wasted at Brentford. If you can’t find a place for him, they he needs taking out of the team. If I were the manager, I’d always have a place for the Paraguayan, but the systems deployed and his role in them have seen him look a shadow of the player who broke on the scene at United and showed real signs of improvement last season.
Solve the problem down the left
Matt Ritchie is another major issue. He is NOT a left-back. He cannot play the role, particularly not against the better sides, as he is just nowhere near good enough defensively.
Man City had free run down their right. Liverpool can’t be allowed the same.