Whispers from the terraces for Steve Bruce to change formation, are becoming shouts after yesterday's 0-0 bore draw at home to bottom of the league Norwich City. Newcastle were dominated in the main against Daniel Farke's wasteful side, with the only positive taken from the game by Bruce, was the fact that they didn't lose. So what is going wrong? The failure to bring in a striker in last months transfer window springs to mind, but that wouldn't have changed things yesterday, with Joelinton receiving a pitiful amount of service. Is it down to formation? Would abandoning the tried and trusted five at the back delivered against a side which will more than likely be plying their trade in the Championship next season?
For a while now I've called for a change to a 4-2-3-1, but with the abundance of talent we have in the centre of defence, it would maybe seem fool-hardy to abandon three centre backs. However the 3-5-2 Bruce tried around Christmas time looked an absolute mess. So if a change in formation is needed, then it would simply have to be to a centre back partnership of two. That two would have to be the best defensive two as well, as you can't be afforded the luxury of a Fabian Schar type who looks to get forward at every opportunity. So in my view, you would have captain Jamaal Lascelles, and Florian Lejeune as your centre back two. But with Lejuene's injury record blotted, that leaves the door open for Schar to play regularly, but puts Clark, Fernandez, and Dummett a lot further away from the starting eleven.
Going with a flat back four gives Newcastle a selection headache at right-back. Krafth, Yedlin, and Javier Manquillo, are all inconsistent and have failed to cement that position as their own. New boy Valentino Lazaro is more accustomed to attacking and playing as an out and out right back perhaps wouldn't suit. Danny Rose would have the left-back position nailed down as Matt Ritchie like, like Lazaro is more used to being further up the pitch.
Two centre midfielders in front of the back four plays to the strengths of our centre midfielders perfectly in my view. Isaac Hayden, Sean Longstaff, Nabil Bentaleb, and of course Jonjo Shelvey would work well in any combination of two. A melting pot of great passing range abilities for Bentaleb and Shelvey, as well as great defensive workmanship for the elder of the Longstaffs and Isaac Hayden would add solidity on defensive side of things to protect the back four.
Now the interesting part, and where we have been struggling the most, the attack! Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin give us great pace and a threat on the counter attack but struggle to find an end product as its only Joelinton thats up there in the final third, and is all too often marked out of the game. But with an extra body attacking in the number ten role, this should give the attack extra bite. I believe this role could for now at least, be solved by Matty Longstaff. We've seen Matty deliver flashes of brilliance this season, most notably scoring two goals in two appearances against Manchester United. It even created a tentative comparison to Manchester United legend Paul Scholes. If he was allowed a bit more creative freedom further up the pitch, he could prove to be a real asset in the attack (once he's signed a new long-term contract of course!)
Another option in the number ten role would be Joelinton himself. He has yet to look comfortable as a lone striker, not least in a positional sense. All too often he is caught on the edge of the area, when 52,000 screaming Geordies want to see him in the box! A role behind a central striker may just play better to "Big Joe's" strengths.
The striker is the most important figure in a Newcastle United team. Yes, we have sorely missed Salomon Rondon this season and of course we need a new striker in the summer. For now, it is left for Andy Carroll (when fit) to pick up the pieces and start scoring goals in his second spell for his boyhood club. If Joelinton is playing a number ten role, then Dwight Gayle may even work as the striker up top. Gayle is a finisher, and with more bodies in the final third; more chances should be created for Gayle to put away.
To be fair to Steve Bruce, he does want to change the formation, but quickly realised that the team he inherited was built to play in the current formation, which ultimately does work well against the top sides. When he has changed formation, it has gone disastrously wrong and United have suffered humiliating defeats. But it's my belief that that's purely because he experimented with the wrong formations, and I do think yesterday was an opportunity missed to experiment with a more threatening formation, especially when at home to the side languishing at the bottom of the league.