It is not exactly a secret that this Newcastle United start to the 2021/22 season has proved ‘challenging’ for Steve Bruce.
Only one point from a possible twelve.
The three defeats and the only point from a very fortunate draw against Southampton (who dominated possession and shots), leaving Newcastle United second bottom of the Premier League at this early stage and now one of the three clubs that are favourites with the bookies to be relegated.
One aspect of the troubles at Newcastle United is a real standout but hardly surprising.
In 2017/18 and 2018/19, Newcastle United conceded 47 and 48 goals respectively.
In 2019/20 and 2020/21, that has become 58 and 62 conceded.
After four matches so far, Newcastle United have conceded more goals (12) than any other Premier League team and at a rate of three per game, are destined to concede as many as 114 goals if keeping up the average.
In Mike Ashley’s two relegations (so far…) 59 (2008/09) and 65 goals (2015/16) were conceded, so it is clear that NUFC have already been treading in dangerous waters these past two seasons when it comes to leaking goals.
This season already has all the hallmarks of ending up in an even far worse state in that department, so something urgently needs to be done.
Something, you know, like a plan…
Only Leeds have faced more shots on target (28) than Newcastle United (24) but it is also the quality of chances NUFC are allowing the opposition that is massively concerning. We aren’t talking about shots from long distance that will rarely trouble a keeper, even if they are on target – instead Newcastle United are allowing the opposition far too easy access into the NUFC penalty area and golden chances presented to the opposition.
When it comes Newcastle’s expected goals against (xGA) that figure for 2021-22 is 10.5, easily the highest in the league, with actually Arsenal (9.0) and Leeds (8.9) second and third worst, rather than Watford and Norwich who are currently the other two big favourites to go down.
A lot of fans are turned off by the expected goals stats but the reality is that they simply give a far better idea than the basic old school shots on / off target stats. Expected goals being a combination of how many shots you face and how dangerous the positions were, from where they shot. So for example, Ronaldo’s tap in from a few yards out would have had a far far higher expected goals rating than when Fernandes scored from over 25 yards out. Although there again, the expected goals rating of that Fernandes one would have been significantly higher due to the fact that absolutely nobody in the Newcastle team even tried to block the shot.
So, what to do about this conceding goals for fun?
Well, have a look at the four team selections so far.
Newcastle team v West Ham:
Woodman, Murphy, Krafth, Fernandez, Clark, Ritchie, Shelvey, Hayden, Almiron, Saint-Maximin, Wilson
Newcastle team v Aston Villa:
Woodman, Murphy, Schar, Fernandez, Lascelles, Ritchie, Hayden, Almiron, Willock, Wilson, Saint-Maximin
Newcastle team v Southampton:
Woodman, Murphy, Schar, Fernandez, Lascelles, Ritchie, Sean Longstaff, Almiron, Willock, Saint-Maximin, Wilson
Newcastle United team v Manchester United:
Woodman, Manquillo, Hayden, Clark, Lascelles, Ritchie, Sean Longstaff, Almiron, Willock, Saint-Maximin, Joelinton
Concentrate on the back five.
After only one game of the season, Steve Bruce changed two of his back five, Schar and Lascelles replacing Krafth and Clark.
The defence stayed the same for the Southampton match but then against Man Utd, Bruce changed three (THREE!) of his back five, with Manquillo, Hayden and Clark coming in for Murphy, Schar and Fernandez.
So early in the season and yet so many changes to the defence, so soon.
When quizzed about going off on holiday to Portugal in the first week of the international fortnight, Steve Bruce blustered and got angry that the question had even dared to be asked, insisting that preparations had been ‘meticulous’ for the Man Utd match. Steve Bruce saying they had worked all week on their plan, which was reported to have meant in reality training on Tuesday through to Friday, so four days and not seven days (a week) of training.
You have to ask, just how meticulous were the pre-season preparations when already we have seen so many changes to the defence in only four games? Changes that have seen those left out dropping to the bench, not heading for the treatment room.
As a very successful central defender himself, surely Steve Bruce must recognise that building a disciplined defensive unit who know each other’s games inside out, is the best chance of conceding as few goals as possible.
To add to the problems at the back, at Old Trafford, Bruce actually dropped two central defenders and played a midfielder ahead of them. It proved a complete disaster as Hayden was missed in midfield and out of position playing as a centre-back, he was partly at fault for the first Ronaldo goal when totally static and not reacting, whilst even worse for the second goal when the 36 year old strolled past him and finished from around 12 yards out.
Newcastle United now face a key match with Leeds and a foresee more changes at the back, maybe even as many as three, possibly four, even maybe five!
I think every chance Darlow will replace Woodman after the 24 year old’s error for the first goal, then I think Lascelles is probably the only one who definitely stays in the back five, not that he would be first choice for me but is clearly Bruce’s favourite.
I think Hayden will come out for sure, then you have maybe Murphy back in for Manquillo, whilst I think Fernandez will definitely come in as well, with possibly Schar as well, matters not helped as well by news of injury concerns over Clark. Whilst at left wing-back, Ritchie has been poor all season so far in the four games played, doing ok going forward but weak again at Old Trafford. Bruce’s £15m signing Jamal Lewis has not had a single Premier League start since February but quite possibly the Head Coach finally set to change that with chances and goals continuing to flow for the opposition.
As the title above says, Steve Bruce has to stop rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, familiarity is needed.
If you have to make a change due to injury then that is unavoidable, or even maybe the odd tactical change once in a while.
However, at this stage now, Steve Bruce surely has to stop messing around, decide on his goalkeeper and back five (or four???) and then stick with them. Give them a chance to bond and work together, maybe even give that Spanish bloke a ring and ask for the magic formula…though quite possibly our Geordie legend won’t like the advice, if it is to put more hours in on the training ground, rather than heading off on holiday.
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