Steve Bruce has Newcastle United in a good place at the moment, but he is repeating the same tactical mistakes as Rafa Benitez.
Newcastle United currently occupy 12th place in the Premier League standings and have 31 points after claiming a point against Norwich City on Saturday. Seeing that the Canaries are in the league basement with 18 points, and that the game was played at St. James’ Park, fans were expecting the Magpies to take care of business and break into the top ten.
Once the final whistle was blown, a roar of boo’s could be heard from every stand in the stadium, and rightfully so. When questioned about his tactics, Steve Bruce went on to make the following statement, which can be found here:
"It’s been difficult to dominate (matches). We’re not in a situation where we can dominate anybody. We hope we can dominate Oxford, but in this league (Premier League) it’s not been possible. It hasn’t been for a long while."
There have been many times this season where I felt that Newcastle United supporters have been too harsh and too impatient with Bruce, but the aforementioned statement he made yesterday is completely wrong. Newcastle United have sufficient talent to dominate a game against a few teams in the Premier League, and Saturday was one of those opportunities.
The tactics are all wrong, especially against opponents that are considered inferior or around the same level as the Toon. When I say the tactics are wrong, I am not referring to the formation. In my opinion, the 3-4-3 formation is the best possible setup for this team, but the problem is that it is not being properly utilized. How so? Well, a 3-4-3 formation presents a team with an opportunity to get forward up the middle and out wide quite regularly, yet Newcastle United are only averaging 34% possession in Premier League clashes.
On paper, the Magpies line up in a 3-4-3 formation, but a minute into the game that shape transforms into a defensive 5-4-1 formation. I can understand that being the case against a team like Liverpool, but come on that should not be the case against Norwich City, who are pretty much destined to go down this season. With players like Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin out wide, high-energy players like Matty Longstaff and Isaac Hayden in the middle, and quality wing-backs in Matt Ritchie and DeAndre Yedlin, Bruce has players he can rely on to orchestrate an attack.
Moreover, Bruce also said that this team is used to playing defensive football. That is true, but this is his team now and he needs to realize that the status quo can, and must be, broken. The Magpies have a favorable list of fixtures coming up against multiple mid-table and lower ranked sides, so I hope Bruce learns from the boo’s he heard on Saturday and, for the lack of a better word, spices things up a bit. Playing the back-line slightly higher up the pitch and spreading the ball out wide to his playmakers can make the world of difference.