Steve Bruce, Newcastle United, Newcastle Takeover, Mike Ashley

Steve Bruce – The Good, The Bad, The Verdict & The Rating

Premier League

Before diving in, let’s review the highlight of the season.

Now that the most important part of this article is out of the way, let’s have a look at Steve Bruce’s first season in charge of Newcastle United.

I know this is a subjective topic, so before I give my own opinion, I do acknowledge there are strong sentiments on either side of the aisle. I had asked my Twitter followers for their thoughts on Steve Bruce this season and had plenty of responses. There was everything from ‘really good’ to ‘utterly awful’. I believe both sides made decent arguments for and against Bruce’s performance this season, so just to reiterate, this is just my opinion.

In addition, I think it’s worth discussing the environment at Newcastle United under this current ownership – irrespective of who the manager is. In the last 13 years, Newcastle have had some decent managers and a surfeit of poor ones – but one thing has remained constant throughout, inept ownership.

As Kevin Keegan famously said “Newcastle are a real one-off. I don’t know of a club that has been run as badly or with such disregard for people…” additionally Alan Shearer has said “There is a lot of unrest in Newcastle because the life and soul really has been sucked out of Newcastle United…”. Given the foundation at the club, it almost doesn’t even matter who United have as a manager/head coach at United – if the ownership is faulty, the club can never progress.

It doesn’t suffice to say that the synergies between management and ownership are non-existent; managing Newcastle United is like trying to sail a ship with a massive hole in the hull. Eventually, the bucket you’re armed with won’t manage emptying out all the sea water flooding in. Ultimately, managing this club doesn’t just simply boil down to tactics and substitutions. There is added bureaucratic baggage that comes with this job that has rightfully earned it the status of a ‘poisoned chalice’. So, when reviewing Bruce’s managerial performance, it behooves oneself to keep this in mind, as handing out a verdict without this context is futile.

The Good

Newcastle United are still in the Premier League next season. It’s awful that this is the standard for the club, but it is.  Many did favour the Magpies to both get relegated this season as well as for Bruce to get the sack – neither happened. Even with the best manager in the world, I highly doubt, with this squad, that Newcastle could finish in the top 8. On the other hand, I believe a really poor manager would have easily gotten the club relegated. Newcastle fans cannot overlook that Bruce did in fact defy the odds set against him from the onset and he should be duly credited for it.

Additionally, Steve Bruce’s man-management skills, his most powerful asset, were on display this season. I know this doesn’t necessarily make him a great manager, but it can be vital in the development of players and team morale. United’s star, Allan Saint-Maximin recently spoke about the amazing impact Bruce has had on him and I believe this boils down to Bruce’s wonderful ability to connect with his players. Bruce is also extremely loyal & forgiving with his team selection, this worked both for and against him this season. A positive example was his persistence with Manquillo, who I believe was one of the more improved players in the squad.

Steve Bruce, Newcastle United, Newcastle Takeover, Mike Ashley
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The Bad

Steve Bruce was extremely slow to make desperately needed changes throughout the course of the season. This could be seen in two main facets. Firstly, was his perseverance with Joelinton. Unlike Manquillo, Big Jo failed to deliver the goods time and time again. Fans were desperately hoping for Newcastle United’s record signing to adapt and start scoring but it just never came to fruition. In all fairness, this was compounded by poor tactics, where he found himself completely isolated up front for most parts of the season. His goal tally ended on a measly 2 goals, and after spending £40m on him, ‘disappointed’ is the mildest superlative one could use in describing the outcome. It was only after the restart did Bruce switch to Dwight Gayle and it duly paid dividends. He ended up with 4 goals and 2 assists from 9 starts which was a much better return than what the Brazilian offered.

Secondly, the tactics and style of play were subpar. Newcastle played some horrendous football this season, it’s hard to look past this. The persistence of setting up with 5 at the back led to some of the worst performances seen in a while; Manchester City and Leicester are two matches that spring to mind. Bruce also demonstrated himself as largely reactive as opposed to proactive in his use of substitutions. What is meant by that, is that he seldom used his subs to change a game, but rather waited for the game to change and then subsequently brought on players.

To his credit, Bruce did eventually (although not entirely) move away from the back 5 to a back 4 and saw an immediate impact. Our best performances of the season were played with this setup.

The Verdict

Steve Bruce summed up this season in one word, “Okay”, and I tend to agree with him. For many who think it’s been terrible, I hear you and there is grounding for your claim. However, I believe that Newcastle finishing 13th and staying up cannot be overlooked given the circumstances. Had I asked you at the start of this season where United would have finished, I am not too sure many would have suggested anything higher than 15th. Yes, the tactics have been poor for the lion’s share of the season and the style has been tedious, but Newcastle are still in the Premier League and have reached their target – one which has been drastically lowered over the past 13 years.

The Rating

Taking all of this into account, and given the circumstances of the club, Toon Talk gives Steve Bruce a rating of 5.5/10 this season.

Newcastle United, West Ham, Premier League, Round 33, Newcastle vs West Ham

Player Ratings: Newcastle United 2 – 2 West Hame (05/07/2020)

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Newcastle United were hoping to build upon a fantastic performance against Bournemouth in the week as they took on West Ham United in round 33 of this Premier League season.

This was a slightly scrappy affair with Newcastle United containing the lion’s share of possession (57%). What is clear to see is Steve Bruce’s tactical changes paying dividends, as Newcastle are starting to hold onto the ball far better than in the previous half of the season. It seems to be two touch football as United are far more fluid in moving the ball around.

The tactical change in having 4 at the back as opposed to 5 is something that is also working out nicely for United as they seem far more geared to take the game to the opposition as opposed to waiting for chances to appear. Having said that, West Ham did well to contain ASM (as much as possible) – Moyes rightly predicted United’s approach in attacking down the right hand side and was able (for the most part) to deal with it.

So without further ado, here are your match ratings.

Martin Dubravka: 7/10

Decent game from Dubravka as he pulled off 5 saves, most notably was an excellent stop against Yarmolenko late on. He will be slightly irked with the first goal, that was a result of a defensive mishap from skipper Lascelles. Not much he could do for the second goal as a rebound fell kindly to Soucek.

Javier Manquillo: 6.5/10

Made the joint most tackles with 4 and had a pass completion rate of 78%. Overall a decent afternoon for the Spaniard who has solidified his spot in the team through sheer determination.

Jamaal Lascelles: 5.5/10

Unfortunately a forgettable afternoon for the skipper who committed a blunder for West Ham’s first goal. His attempt to almost, backheel the ball away ended disastrously as the ball fell kindly to Antonio, who duly slotted home. Managed to pick himself up after that, which is testament to his leadership ability and had a decent game there on in.

Federico Fernandez: 6.5/10

Found wanting for the Soucek goal but overall another solid performance from Fernandez. Won 6 aerial duels, the most in the team as he keeps showing his determination for the badge.

Emil Krafth: 7/10 (Assist)

Another good game from Emil Krafth as he continues to improve and find his feet in English top flight football. Put in a wonderful ball for Almiron who scored United’s first goal. He’ll be pleased with his afternoon and so will Steve Bruce.

Isaac Hayden: 7/10

Got injured and was subbed in the 43rd minute but was having a decent game up until then. He made 4 tackles, some of which were crunching encounters. His positional play is fantastic and it just keeps improving. His high football IQ is helping United to better control the midfield and is constantly increasing his value to this side. No doubt, a player Newcastle have to hang on to

Jonjo Shelvey: 8/10 (Goal) – Man of the Match

Newcastle’s best player on the pitch against West Ham. Was spraying the ball about wonderfully and took the situation in his hands to score United’s second, moments after conceding to West Ham. The talent is there, he’ll be hoping to consistently display it.

Miguel Almiron: 7.5/10 (Goal)

Another goal for Miggy who is improving under Steve Bruce. He continues to work hard and run very intelligent lines into open spaces. Always has a smile on his face and put smiles on the faces of plenty Newcastle fans around the globe.

Allan Saint-Maximin: 7/10

Was tightly marked on Sunday afternoon and took some big knocks. Nonetheless, a good performance from Newcastle’s wonder man who is attracting attention from other big clubs abroad. This isn’t surprising as ASM has plenty to offer and is only going to improve as time goes on.   

Joelinton: 6.5/10

Was played out wide again, as he looks much better in a supporting role. Played a creative part in both goals but I am sure he will be itching to get more goals himself. Worked hard as he won 3 aerial duels and made 3 tackles.

Dwight Gayle: 7/10 (Assist)

Decent afternoon for Gayle, most notably as he tee’d up Shelvey for the second goal. Worked hard and had a pass competition rate of 87%.

Substitutes (Must play over 20 minutes to receive a rating)

Nabil Bentaleb: 7/10 (43′ minute sub)
Technically sound on the ball and had a good afternoon on the pitch. Passed the ball soundly with an 88% competition rate.

Valentino Lazaro: 6/10 (69′ minute sub)
Quite afternoon for Lazaro – not much to report on.

Matt Ritchie: 6/10 (70′ minute sub)
Nothing worth reporting back home for.

Andy Carroll: N/A