Rafa Benitez left Newcastle United with big shoes to fill, but Steve Bruce has done a fine job steering the Magpies away from relegation this season.
Most pundits and fans were extremely worried about Newcastle United’s odds of staying up this season when Steve Bruce was hired as Rafa Benitez’s replacement, but the Manchester United legend has exceeded expectations. The Magpies had their ups and downs this season, but they find themselves 13th in the table and eight points clear of 18th-placed Bournemouth.
Newcastle United have a balanced performance record that is reflective of a mid-table team with nine victories, eight draws and twelve defeats. At this stage last season, Newcastle United were 14th in the table with eight victories, seven draws and fourteen defeats. With Bruce in charge, the Magpies are four points better off than they were last season through 29 games.
Another area in which Bruce has excelled is coping with injuries. I think it is fair to say that the Magpies’ injury crisis this season has been the worst crisis that fans have witnessed. Despite several injuries in every position, Bruce has done well to rotate his lineups to claim positive results without some of his key players, especially in defense.
Some fans have been critical of Bruce’s reluctance to rest players like Miguel Almiron and Joelinton, but he had no choice. The other strikers in the squad have been banged up for most of the season, Matt Ritchie was out for months with an ankle injury and Christian Atsu simply lacks the quality to fill in for Almiron.
One area in which Bruce has struggled as the head coach of Newcastle United is inconsistency, especially against mediocre opposition. The Magpies have stepped up and shocked some of the top teams in the league, such as Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham, but motivation has been a major problem against mid-table and relegation-threatened teams.
Norwich City (20th) and Aston Villa (19th) have both claimed victories over Bruce’s men. Only nine of the Magpies’ 35 points this season were taken against teams currently in the bottom six. It is good that Newcastle United made up for those wasted opportunities by claiming hard-earned points from unlikely opponents, but in order to knock on the door of the top eight the Magpies need to handle business against inferior sides.
Bruce implemented ultra-defensive tactics for most of the season, and, at times, those tactics made it difficult to watch Newcastle United, but the team did frustrate some elite clubs with their disciplined defending this season. In recent weeks, Bruce has decided to alter his tactics and the Magpies are now taking the game to their opponents at home and away.
Grade for Steve Bruce
Steve Bruce’s track record as a manager in the Premier League is far from impressive, but he is turning the corner with Newcastle United, and he has done so with an attacking trio that has only scored five goals this season. Bruce shrugged off the pressure left behind by Benitez and focused on winning over the fans with positive results.
With 35 points from 29 games, Bruce has the Magpies in a position where they only need one more victory to secure their Premier League status with nine games remaining in the season. There is room for improvement, but Bruce has done a solid job with Newcastle United thus far.
We will revisit this topic at the end of the season, assuming the Premier League will vote to finish the season, but for now Steve Bruce deserves the following grade:
- Grade through 29 games in charge: B