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Festive Fixtures Taking Their Toll

What a difference a week makes. This time last week we were celebrating a win over Crystal Palace and Miguel Almiron's first goal in the black and white. Since then, back to back defeats still see us comfortable in mid table, but is there now rumblings of concern around Tyneside?

Few would have expected getting anything at Old Trafford, given our record both there and on boxing day, but it was the manner of the defeat which was all the more frustrating. The compact, well drilled, well organised defensive team we have become accustomed to, gifted Manchester United all three points. Yesterday at home to Everton, was similar in that at times we completely lost all shape, and it all just seemed a bit chaotic.

Steve Bruce, like the majority of Premier League managers bemoan the Christmas fixture list, but it's not like it's a new concept, and it isn't going to change anytime soon. Of course injuries in the squad haven't helped either, as Florian Lejuene looked a spent force yesterday, having to play his third came in a week when just coming back from long term injury. Allan Saint-Maximin's pace on the counter is a threat sorely missed too, despite Newcastle looking slightly more threatening in spells.

Another huge miss in the past two games, I feel has been has been leadership. Whether it be the vocal presence of club captain Jamal Lascelles, or the tenacious Matt Ritchie, Newcastle's lack of organisation yesterday could have been solved with a more vocal presence on the field. This past week, Federico Fernandez hasn't been anywhere near the player we've come to expect after his solid form when he came into the team. He was caught out of position numerous times against Everton, and lost Calvert-Lewin for the second goal. I can't help but feel that that wouldn't of happened were Lascelles on the pitch. Jetro Willems is another one who has looked lethargic of late, having been a revelation at left wing back in Ritchie's absence. But with games coming thick and fast in a short period of time, having people like Jamal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie barking are exactly what a team like ours need, to keep energy and concentration levels up.

However, one thing I am convinced of is that the 3-5-2 formation that Bruce has persisted with this past week, is not the answer. It was no coincidence in the game against Everton, that we enjoyed our best spell of the game when resorting back to the tried and trusted 5-3-2 as opposed to the 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 Bruce tried.

When Steve Bruce came in to his boyhood club, he wanted to put his stamp on the team. He did this by trying to accommodate Isaac Hayden, Sean Longstaff, and Jonjo Shelvey in a midfield three. This didn't work, and despite getting away with it against Crystal Palace, the 3-5-2 is just as ineffective.

The need for reinforcements in January is plain to see. Players like Ki and Muto are nowhere to be seen, and Dwight Gayle and Christian Atsu are not giving Bruce selection headaches, due to their lack of showing when they eventually do get on the pitch; their limitations in the Premier League being exposed. We are not short of quantity, but desperately short of quality in the final third. With the first half of the season now complete, the new, big money front three have only one goal each. Andy Carroll has yet to find the net, although he is providing plenty of assists, but can he really be relied upon with his injury record?

This is where Steve Bruce could be defined in his first season as Newcastle boss. Everyone knows January transfers are difficult, even more so for Newcastle, who seem to make every transfer laborious. But If no business is done in January, this could be seen as Bruce being a "Yes man" to Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley, something which every Newcasle manager in the past ten years has had to deny at some point. The Jarrod Bowen links are getting ever quieter, and rumours of another £40 million Brazilian, Everton Soares waltzing through the doors at St James' seem far fetched. After the Everton game, Bruce said the club are "spinning plates" when it comes to transfers, and that talks were ongoing with the likes of Matty Longstaff to extend expiring contracts. One thing is for certain, January is going to be a very interesting month indeed.

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