Last weekend was a tough watch, as it is on a weekly basis with Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United.
The team selection was interesting, with Jacob Murphy, Ryan Fraser and Miguel Almiron all coming into the team. However, it was more of the same dour football.
Bruce deserves credit for the team being a lot more solid, as we conceded just 0.76 xG. However, the team were offering little going forward, creating just 0.25 xG.
It was a reminder of the short blanket metaphor used by Rafa Benitez. There are clearly issues with the playing squad, but I’m not sure if Bruce can plead poverty in the same way as his predecessor. The squad is as strong as it has been since promotion. Performances like this one are the norm, but they shouldn’t be.
One positive to emerge from the match was the performance of Jacob Murphy.
During the summer, I wrote a piece on how he still has something to offer with quotes from a Sheffield Wednesday fan who noted his improvement over the last 12 months. On Sunday, we saw that for ourselves, as he was good in both halves of the pitch in a new role as right wing-back.
We haven’t seen him in this role before, but it was one that he made his own during the latter stages of last season at Wednesday. During this period, he became one of the team’s best players and regularly contributed goals and assists. Louis Shackshaft, author of ‘Very Wednesday: The Extraordinary and Unprecedented 2019/20 Season’ said the following about Murphy as a right wing-back.
“He played there towards the end of last season and thrived in that area.
“He became one of our best players in that position.
“He still had freedom to get forward, but became more consistent with goals and assists.”
Based on the above, it seems that Murphy was a slow burner at Wednesday, but the right wing-back role allowed him to grow in confidence. He certainly looks a different player than the one that struggled in the top flight following his big money move from Norwich City.
Although his biggest contribution was an excellent free-kick that wasn’t related to his right wing-back role, his energy and concentration was impressive. Murphy rarely let the Wolves attackers down the left get any joy and showed an impressive concentration level that attackers playing in a defensive role rarely show.
It was also pleasing to hear his comments about the research he did on Rui Patricio. Murphy seems to be determined to make the most of his second chance at St James’ Park and is willing to do everything in his power to be a success.
In the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see whether Bruce continues with Murphy in this role. Some supporters won’t want to see him continue with three centre-backs, but the formation isn’t the issue. The players need to be more positive out of possession and press higher up the pitch. At times, we can be too passive, but that is true in any formation.
With two attacking wing-backs in Murphy and Jamal Lewis, it could be the right decision to play with three centre-backs. Few would have expected Murphy to be at the forefront of team selection conversations at the beginning of the season, but he deserves more minutes.
Fringe players at St James’ Park have struggled to make the most of their opportunities in recent years, but Murphy took advantage of his at the weekend.