What a difference a week makes!
Any form of optimism or hope was non existent amongst us NUFC fans last Monday, with there being ZERO positives to take from our disturbing display at Norwich.
The same cannot be said 7 days later, however, with us putting in a huge performance at Tottenham and coming away with a well deserved win to get our season well and truly up and running.
Here’s some of the positives and negatives to take from yesterday:
1. A monumental win to lift the negativity & ease pressure on Bruce
Even if some may have been over the top in their criticism of Steve Bruce and this NUFC side over the past week, it’s fair to say we had little reason to be hopeful. Not only were we worryingly bad at Norwich last Saturday, we’ve seen several of our potential ‘relegation rivals’ start well, with Sheffield United, Norwich, Brighton, Burnley, Southampton, Palace and Aston Villa all having at least 3 points on the board before we kicked off yesterday. We were in danger of being cut adrift, but this win restores our faith in the side and gives them and Steve Bruce a much needed lift ahead of a crucial double header at St James’ Park against Leicester (Carabao Cup) and Watford (PL) over the next few days.
2. Joelinton silences doubters with outstanding display
After the Norwich game, many were seriously concerned about our new £40m man. It was a ridiculous overreaction from some, but his all round play, non existent hold up play, missed chance and frustrated body language was a concern. A week on and he’s well and truly silenced any doubters with an outstanding display at Spurs. Not only did he take his goal well, he bullied their centre-backs, held the ball up brilliantly, linked the play intelligently and ran himself into the ground. He looked every bit our ‘club record signing’ and will be full of confidence now.
3. A return to 3-4-3 – a system that suits us down to the ground
The 3-5-2 system Bruce used in our opening two games was not working. We looked lost, had no plan and lacked shape or organisation all over the pitch, but the same could not be said about us yesterday after a welcome return to the 3-4-3 formation that worked so well for Rafa. For the first time this season, we looked like a team full of players who all knew their roles in the side, with us doing all the right things both on and off the ball. Crucially, this system seems to give us the balance between a solid defence, a competitive midfield and an attack with has options both centrally and out wide. Credit to Bruce for reverting to a system that suits these players much better – not to mention the fact 90% of our players already know it well from last season.
4. A defensive display Rafa Benitez would’ve been proud of
In terms of our shape, organisation, discipline and individual displays, that has to be one of the best defensive displays we’ve put in over the past few years – and Bruce deserves credit for that after taking a lot of criticism regarding the lack of tactics on display over the opening two games of the season. Dummett was absolutely phenomenal, Lascelles barely put a foot wrong and Schar was a class act throughout, with the full-backs working tenaciously and everyone ahead of them also doing their bit to track back and do the dirty work where required. It was a defensive performance Rafa Benitez would’ve been proud of.
5. Christian Atsu with one of his best displays for NUFC
The Ghanaian deserves huge credit for his display in this one. Many (including myself) would’ve been pretty deflated to see Saint-Maximin come off early on, but his replacement did the business at both ends of the field. He’s often criticised, but he was key to Joelinton’s goal – playing a defence splitting dink to set him up – he got stuck in, looked after the ball well and ran himself into the ground. One of his best games for the club, with him looking fit, strong and as sharp as we’ve seen him look for a long time. A welcome boost for Bruce.
6. Emil Krafth much improved against top opposition
The Swedish international had a baptism of fire away at Norwich last weekend, being part of a disorganised defence that did little to make him look good on his Premier League debut. With that in mind, I feared for him coming up against Son – one of the league’s best devastating wingers – but he dealt with the South Korean superbly. He was rarely beaten in one on one situations, he was good positionally and made several key clearances and looked very solid all afternoon.
1. Saint-Maximin set for another spell on sidelines?
Before kick off, I was not only happy to see us return to a 3-4-3 but excited to see Allan Saint-Maximin on his first Premier League start for the club. Just over 15 minutes in and it was clear he’d suffered a reoccurrence of a hamstring injury that had kept him out of last weekend’s defeat at Norwich. Bruce doesn’t deserve criticism this weekend, but, in hindsight, it was naive to start a player who’d barely trained all week – especially when hamstring injuries are the sort you can’t rush back from. Atsu coming in and playing well is a real bonus, but it’s a real shame that Saint-Maximin has suffered a new setback, with him now likely to miss games against Leicester and Watford over the coming week.