Following their poor 1-0 loss in midweek against Sheffield United, Newcastle United had to change something at Arsenal – manager Steve Bruce opted for a 4-4-2 formation, more attacking than his usual formations with five at the back.
Yet, this only yielded the same results; Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners on the night, despite Newcastle keeping it goalless in the first half. It is now 13 hours since the Magpies last scored a goal from open play. Confidence seems to be at an all-time low. This word was the main focus of the post-match press conference, as Steve Bruce, cutting a dejected figure, continues to pick up the pieces for Newcastle United.
Confidence ‘Ebbing Away’ For Steve Bruce and Newcastle United Players
A Question of Confidence
When your side becomes embroiled in a relegation battle, it can be hard to find where the next win will come from. Steve Bruce will have work to do to restore the confidence that has ‘ebbed away’ amongst his players.
In these days of bumper contracts and TV revenue coming out your ears, football is undoubtedly a results business. Winning brings an air of confidence, not just around the players, but around the fans as well.
Though, it is worth asking where the confidence was in the first place? Barring the 2-0 win in the season opener against West Ham United, Newcastle have not seemed confident in a single game this season. They are yet to have more possession than an opponent in the Premier League.
While possession ultimately means nothing compared to results, it stills brings a sense of assurance in the players. And if the attacking stats continue on the same path for Newcastle, there will always be a question of luck in their results. Newcastle is a club that always seems one second away from imploding, and the same goes for their matches.
Dividends on Hold for Attacking Formation
There was a sense of intrigue surrounding the Newcastle formation as Steve Bruce abandoned his usual back five. ‘The gloves are off’ he affirmed before Monday’s match, but in reality, they went down without so much as landing a punch. Newcastle had just one shot on Arsenal’s goal in a relatively quiet night for Bernd Leno.
While 4-4-2 is the formation that has brought the best fortune for the Magpies, it was not to be at the Emirates. All five of Newcastle’s wins have come with two strikers up front, with Joelinton or Andy Carroll playing alongside Callum Wilson. However, it left many bemused as to why the formation returned against Arsenal, but not Sheffield United.
Of the two fixtures, the Blades looked much more winnable, and Bruce paid the price for making the wrong decision. Many consider Newcastle as a side without identity at the moment; Steve Bruce needs to stop tinkering and land on a formation that works with his players.
Bruce talked about ‘getting the balance right’, regarding working on scoring more goals, whilst trying not to leak them. Balance, for him, is the reason why Newcastle defend so deep. Defending deep can work, but it needs to still plug the gaps. Newcastle have conceded 30 goals this season (fifth-worst in the league). Balance is an illusion at this point, Steve Bruce looks to be struggling on the trapeze that looks down to relegation.
‘Doing the Best I possibly Can’
As with every manager who experiences this sort of run of results, questions will arise about job security. While Bruce insists he is doing ‘the best he possibly can’, fans are more and more vocal in their calls for change.
He is right in pointing out this is the kind of run a team in the bottom half will face during a long season. It’s the kind of the run that Wolverhampton Wanderers, one of the division’s more capable sides, are currently facing. But it’s form fans know well from Steve McClaren’s tenure.
Mike Ashley has a huge decision on his hands now, one that will impact on his desired sale of the club. There has not been even a whisper coming out from the club in support of the manager, or a sign he will be on the way out. It is this sort of indecision that could doom condemn the club for a third time under Ashley’s reign of terror.