Eighteen months on from his appointment, Steve Bruce has quickly become a figure of discontent amongst Newcastle United fans. After a steady start to the season, his team are now in freefall. Results and performances from December onwards have been extremely poor, and the Magpies are precariously close to facing a third relegation from the Premier League since owner Mike Ashley joined the club in 2007.
When Bruce was appointed he had fulfilled his lifelong dream of managing his hometown club but his reign in management has quickly turned into a nightmare on Tyneside.
Newcastle United and Their Premier League Struggles
Recruitment Not Up to Scratch
Bruce has had a considerably higher level of money to spend on transfers than his predecessor Rafael Benitez. However, many of these signings have not been good enough since moving to the club.
In attack, Newcastle replaced loanee Salomon Rondon by bringing in striker Joelinton from Hoffenheim, splashing out a total of £40 million – more than double Newcastle’s previous record signing.
Joelinton has struggled to settle in English football, scoring just three goals in 54 games, spanning two seasons. It seems that Bruce is still unsure on the Brazillian’s best position on the pitch and he has failed to impress in both the wide areas and as a centre forward.
Another of Bruce’s signings up front was forward Andy Carroll, a sentimental signing which may have looked good as a PR stunt. However, the Gateshead-born striker looks a shadow of the young powerhouse Newcastle sold in 2010 and he has mainly struggled for fitness. He has managed to score just one goal Premier League goal since returning to Newcastle on a free transfer in 2019.
In the full-back areas, Jamal Lewis and Emil Krafth have been added, but both have struggled defensively and been prone to errors. Ryan Fraser has also looked sluggish so far on Tyneside and has been a long way off the levels we saw him produce at Bournemouth, where had previously been among the most productive assist makers in the Premier League.
The likes of Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin have been successful signings and add a great deal to the team but, considering the funds Bruce has had, you would feel he should be getting much more out of the team he has at his disposal.
Newcastle United Tactics Limiting Quality on Pitch
Steve Bruce’s first season on Tyneside may have matched Rafa Benitez in terms of placement in the league table, but it was inevitable that at some point Newcastle’s poor performances would catch up with them as the way they were playing had not been sustainable. Since Bruce’s arrival in 2019, Newcastle have faced more shots than any other team in the Premier League. Last season, no keeper made more saves than Slovakia international Martin Dubravka with 140. It has been a similar story this season with back up goalkeeper Karl Darlow making the third-most saves so far with 84.
Newcastle have also played the majority of their games on the back foot, with the Magpies having the second-lowest level of possession in the Premier League with an average of just 41.7%. Their approach under Bruce has been to try and sit back and soak up pressure, in the hope of hitting teams on the counter-attack. Yet, despite this defensive approach, Newcastle have conceded 40 times in 24 games, the third-worst in the division. They have also struggled to create chances, particularly when Saint-Maximin was sidelined with illness during the later stages of 2020.
Callum Wilson Injury
At the other end of the pitch, Newcastle United have lacked potency in front of goal. In total, they have scored 25 Premier League goals this season, the fourth-lowest total.
Throughout the season, the Magpies have been hugely reliant on the goalscoring output of Callum Wilson. So far, he has found the back of the net on ten occasions and provided six assists. Wilson was recently forced off the pitch with an injury during Newcastle’s 3-2 victory over Southampton and has been ruled out for a huge chunk of the season with an injury that is estimated to rule him out for six-eight weeks.
This injury comes at a terrible time for the Magpies following the resurgence of some of the sides below them in the league, particularly Fulham, who have impressed in recent weeks and secured a brilliant 2-0 win away at Everton in their last outing.
Steve Bruce has previous experience of relegation with both Birmingham City and Hull City and will have to be reliant on the likes of Dwight Gayle, Andy Carroll and Joelinton to score enough goals to avoid the third relegation of his managerial career.