Under Rafa Benitez, Newcastle tended to sit deep, absorb pressure and play on the break. The 5-4-1 formation didn’t always strike gold, however, it was favoured by the Spanish coach and was routinely deployed during his final season in charge at St James’ Park. When Steve Bruce arrived, he opted to follow a similar blueprint, and although it proved extremely effective against Spurs and Manchester United, it did have the tendency to leave the Toon a little light in attack. Following a barren run which saw the Magpies find the net on just four occasions in seven matches, the former Sheffield Wednesday boss decided to revert to a back four. That tactical switch has seemingly helped improve the club’s productivity in the final third.
Despite his failure to convince many of the locals, Bruce has managed to gradually improve the club’s fortunes in recent months, and they’ve suffered just two defeats in their last 13 outings across all competitions. It’s a run which has helped ease any lingering relegation fears and they now have an eight-point cushion on the bottom three. Although some pundits were tipping them for the drop this year, their odds for relegation in the outright Premier League betting market have gradually started to lengthen, and most supporters would surely now welcome mid-table mediocrity.
The change of system has seemingly sparked Miguel Almiron into life, with the Paraguayan now able to play in his favoured position. He netted twice against Championship promotion hopefuls West Brom in the FA Cup, and also put in a tremendous display at St Mary’s on March 7th. He has been deployed in the number ten role which has subsequently afforded him a little more freedom. Playing off striker Dwight Gayle, the former Atlanta United man has been able to run at the opposition defence as well as create several decent chances for his teammates. This has also resulted in goal-shy Joelinton moving out to the left-hand side, a position that he regularly occupied during his time in the Bundesliga.
Bruce trialled his new system against Burnley at the end of February, and although the game ended goalless, the hosts looked far more dangerous going forward and fired 21 shots across the 90 minutes. They also hit the woodwork and had the Clarets on the back-foot throughout the duration of the contest. The unpredictable Allan Saint-Maximin was drafted in for the Southampton game with the Frenchman netting the winner ten minutes from time. The Tynesiders also missed a penalty and managed seven shots on target, something they’d failed to do in any of their previous seven away trips.
Although it’s still early days, Bruce’s decision to shake things up has certainly helped Newcastle become more potent in the final third. The 59-year old has recently suggested that he could be tempted revert back to a more conservative 5-4-1 for games against top-six opposition, however, he is likely to stick with the 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 for the time being. The Magpies have scored the joint-fewest goals in the top flight this season, however, they appear to slowly improving in this area, and that certainly bodes well for the remainder of the campaign.