Steve Bruce used the international break to work on a new shape ahead of the promising draw with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday according to The Athletic.
What’s the story?
Chris Waugh’s report claims that, after being backed by those above following the humiliating loss to Brighton in March, the 60-year-old opted to work with the players who weren’t away on international duty with a specific game plan in mind.
Why is this a big deal?
Granted, the idea of a coach using the international break to work on something new isn’t exactly revolutionary but, in the context of Steve Bruce this season, it is.
Back in November, The Independent suggested that those close to the former Wigan manager did not feel as if he devoted a huge amount of time to specific game plans and largely followed the idea that the team who have better players will win more often. While there is an element of truth to that, football is littered with stories of the underdogs rewriting the script and, frankly, it’s hard to suggest the quality of player in the Newcastle squad ranks within the Premier League’s bottom three or four.
In Callum Wilson, they have the league’s second-most prolific scorer in the bottom half. Last season, goalkeeper Martin Dubravka made more saves than anyone (via FBREF) in the entire division while only Adama Traore made more successful dribbles per game than Allan Saint-Maximin.
Could we see it again this coming weekend?
It would seem silly to throw this new system out after a promising performance but the returns of Wilson and Saint-Maxmin (who could only manage 19 minutes) may complicate it somewhat.
The two players averaging the most goal-creating actions per 90 minutes for the club this season, Wilson may have a natural role in replacing one of Dwight Gayle or Joelinton but Saint-Maximin has never played as a right-sided full-back for the Magpies since joining, so it’s hard to see where he’d fit in a 3-5-2.
Prior to the injury crisis Newcastle suffered in February, Mark Thompson of Twenty3 did point to a 4-4-2 diamond formation after the wins over Everton and Southampton which allowed Bruce’s team to morph into a 3-4-3 on the break, so perhaps something more akin to that could be an avenue to explore.