Newcastle United’s form before the international break was inconsistent if anything; encouraging signs in their opening day performance against West Ham United fizzled quickly after lacklustre showings against Brighton & Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur. Beating Burnley brought some confidence back, but it also highlighted a lack of innovation in the tactics Steve Bruce deploys. Now, in their 4-1 reversal against Manchester United, it was plain to see that Bruce must switch up his ideas.
Steve Bruce Needs to Rethink His Newcastle United Tactics
Wanted: Attacking Nous
Steve Bruce acted quickly this summer to bolster his attacking options after his side came under fire for a lack of goal threat. Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser both arrived with much expectation about their potential in the final third. Yet, against Manchester United, Bruce opted to leave Fraser on the bench, as well as Miguel Almirón. The Paraguayan was their biggest goal threat last season and continues to find himself second fiddle. It is understandable not wanting to put all his attacking eggs in one basket, but surely Almirón must squeeze ahead of Joelinton? His energy could have been crucial to forcing mistakes a shaken Manchester United defence.
Fraser, like Wilson, arrived from Bournemouth with his reputation relatively unscathed after relegation. Indeed, much was made of Fraser’s almost telepathic relationship with Wilson with the Cherries, often combining well. Yes, Bruce might still be building his fitness up, but after scoring for Scotland, he seems more than ready for a longer run-out. By setting up with Jeff Hendrick, and using Fabian Schar as his first substitute, it was clear Bruce set up to defend.
Reliant on Lady Luck
Against United, Steve Bruce used similar tactics to Newcastle’s game against Spurs: sit back, soak up the pressure and sneak a goal on the counter. As fortune shone on them to grab an equaliser in London, there was something similarly lucky in their goal against United. Luke Shaw inadvertently directed the ball past a helpless David de Gea. Still, Newcastle must stop relying on luck to get past the traditional Big Six. This was a game they easily could have taken to the Red Devils. They showed for a fleeting 15-minute spell in the second half that they could cause problems for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men. And if not for a brilliant save from de Gea, the game could have had a different look. Yet, spending the other 70 minutes of a game penned in your own third will never amount to much.
Newcastle must find another way to win games than fortuitous goals or an Allan Saint-Maximin masterclasses. As a tactician, Steve Bruce seems out of his depth at a high level. Constantly leaving out Almirón and Fraser seems like an excuse just to have a plan B.
Take a Page from Bielsa’s Book
Understandably, it is a stretch to compare any sides to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United, purely because of how the Argentinian has set them up. However, it still seems that Steve Bruce could inspire some new tactics from the newly-promoted side. The Yorkshire side have, like Newcastle, come up against two of the traditional Big Six. While they are yet to win against the elite, their performances against Liverpool and Manchester City were of the utmost quality. These are two of the best sides to grace England in the 21st century, and Leeds were fearless against both.
Newcastle, as soon as they pit themselves against a ‘big’ side, look like a deer in the headlights. Their reliance on defence is so great that they forget how really push forward. With players like Saint-Maximin, Jonjo Shelvey and Almirón, as well as new attacking recruits, they have the makings of a good attacking side. All Newcastle need is an attacking desire that can outweigh their propensity for defending.
This was the perfect opportunity to claim a huge scalp this season, an out-of-sorts Manchester United side. If Steve Bruce had deployed more fearless tactics, it could have been a much more positive result and could have helped sway some supporters to his side. That is something that seems further and further away each game, though.