3. Player Accountability
Steve Bruce deserves most of the blame for the current crisis on Tyneside, but not all of it. In an interview a few months ago, midfielder Isaac Hayden noted that he observed complacency in some players. That complacency comes as a result of feeling they are undroppable. This is where man-management comes into play, and it is an area where Bruce has failed.
The nice guy approach and simply stating “we will move on to the next one” in interviews after poor draws and defeats does not work at Newcastle United. Players need to be called out for their mistakes, inconsistency, and lack of energy on the pitch. Prospective managers eyeing Bruce’s role at St. James’ Park are certainly aware of this issue and will aim to correct it from day one.
Newcastle United have never won three consecutive league games under Bruce. How does a club expect to break into the top ten with a mixed record every few games? Rafa Benitez was able to claim three consecutive games on three occasions in two seasons with a weaker team, so what is Bruce’s excuse?
He can scapegoat players, officials, VAR, and anything else all day long, but he has never developed or settled on a true strategy for this team. He has spent the last 18 months experimenting with ten different formations.
That type of experimenting only complicates matters and is the key recipe for inconsistency. Most managers with decent football acumen will have one or two go-to shapes, and that is what Newcastle United need right now.
5. Defensive Awareness
Ever since earning promotion four seasons ago, Newcastle United were known for their scoring woes, but now their defending has become problematic. Last season, the Toon conceded 58 goals, which was the sixth-most in the top flight, and this term they have already conceded 22, which is the fifth-most in the league.
Here is the catch, though. The core defenders have remained unchanged since the Benitez era, so how is the defending worse? The answer is simple and overlaps with the point above: frequent experimentation. Bruce does not trust his players and is constantly changing the shape with three at the back, four at the back, and five at the back. He also tends to play midfielders on the back-line. Once again, any manager with some sort of football IQ will not make those mistakes.
6. Mental Toughness
Last, but not least, is this concept of mental toughness. Newcastle United have none of it at the moment, yet that is something the club was known for in the past. It is normal and expected to show some respect for superior opponents, but not to completely bow down from fear. The problem is much worse than that, though, as Newcastle United are afraid of nearly every opponent.
The recent games against Fulham and Leeds United, who have the worst defensive record in the league, are perfect examples of this. The Magpies let relegation-threatened sides walk all over them last season, too. Those are must-win games for a mid-table side like Newcastle United, but Bruce does not know how to generate confidence and optimism, especially in his press conferences.
It is for this reason that so many fans are calling for a manager like Eddie Howe or Steven Gerrard. A while back I wrote an article advocating for Darren Moore. There are good candidates out there who have the mentality of trying to win games first and not trying to lose them. The front office needs to part ways with Bruce and get a progressive manager on the books ASAP.