Newcastle’s failings in full view as Bruce’s boys get sucked into relegation battle
Newcastle suffered another defeat at the weekend and the mismanagement of the club over the past few years has finally started to have an impact on the pitch.
Newcastle are one of the most fiercely supported clubs in the country and, even when the Magpies were relegated to the Championship in 2009 and 2016, crowds of 50,000-plus were still being attracted.
When Rafael Benitez led the north east outfit back to the Promised Land in the 2016/17 campaign, there was a sense owner Mike Ashley finally had aspirations to take the club on after appointing a world-class manager.
However, what followed over the next two seasons was a struggle between the Spanish tactician and the board, with a lack of funds making life extremely difficult for the former Liverpool boss to do anything with the squad.
Incredibly, Benitez led the Magpies to 10th and 13th-place finishes – a fantastic achievement with what he had at his disposal – before he left when his contract expired last summer after failing to agree terms on a new deal.
This sparked huge protests from the Geordie faithful, who have seen numerous takeover bids come and go, and the appointment of ex-Sunderland manager Steve Bruce did little to lift the mood at St James’ Park.
Ashley did fork out a club-record £40million to sign Brazilian forward Joelinton in the summer, while a further £20m was spent on French winger Allan Saint-Maximin, who has been the brightest thing to come out of the season so far.
Initially, Bruce was doing a good job and it seemed the owner’s decision to allow Benitez to leave and bring in the former Manchester United defender was in fact a shrewd one.
However, the Magpies are currently on a dreadful run of form and there are serious worries about the club’s stay in the top flight this season, despite there being a seven-point gap to the relegation zone.
When you look at all 20 Premier League teams over the current 27 games, Newcastle have played the worst football out of all of them, even rock-bottom Norwich City are putting on more of a spectacle for their fans.
On all accounts, the Magpies’ statistics are that of a team that should be in the bottom three. Bruce’s men have been painfully poor in the final third and are the joint-lowest scorers with Watford, Crystal Palace and the Canaries on 24.
It is well reported that Benitez rejected the chance to sign Joelinton from Hoffenheim and it is clear to see why, with the Brazilian scoring just one league goal all season and he has gone over 1,900 PL minutes without scoring.
Newcastle have the lowest average possession in the top flight, they have made the fewest passes with just 8,662 to their name, and have the joint-fewest shots (265) alongside Palace.
If it were not for goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, they could be in serious trouble. The Slovakia international has made the most saves in the division (114) and he has managed to keep seven clean sheets.
The Magpies also lead the clearances department with 731 while they have had to rely on their defenders to score exactly half of their paltry 24 goals.
Worryingly, Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace extended Newcastle’s poor run to just one league win in their last nine outings and the club are slipping further into a relegation fight.
Looking at some of the results this season, Bruce’s side have been fortunate, and it has often been determination and grit that has got them points. In the clash at Everton, the Toffees were 2-0 before conceding twice in stoppage-time.
Steve Bruce on defeat at Selhurst Park.
"We're disappointed. We gave the ball away in good areas so cheaply. It breaks down too often. Maybe it's time for a change and maybe it's time that we tried something different to have a look at." pic.twitter.com/2wz1EOp8ds
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) February 22, 2020
Newcastle were battered at Sheffield United but somehow managed to come away with a 2-0 win in a game marred by VAR controversy, while the last-second 1-0 win at home to Chelsea was another lucky victory.
The lack of investment and the right recruitment is really starting to hit the squad hard and, if they are not careful, the Tynesiders could be spending next season in the Championship.
In terms of matches against relegation rivals from now until the end of the campaign, Newcastle play Burnley, Southampton, Aston Villa, Bournemouth, West Ham, Watford and Brighton, and failure to come away with decent points from these fixtures could be catastrophic.