Steve Bruce, who took over from Rafa Benitez after his contract was run down, has lead Newcastle to the quarter-final of the FA Cup and currently sit 13th in the League, only 5 points away from guaranteed safety.
Although he is on course to having a successful first season as Newcastle head coach, he has had a difficult time winning over the fans: His tactics has come under scrutiny and the fact his last Premier League job was Hull City which resulted in relegation, doesn't favour him greatly.
Rafa Benitez had Newcastle organised defensively but the team could be conservative, keeping a compact 3-4-3 which baited in the opposition and hit hard on the counter-attack. Rafa previously tried used a 4-4-1-1 in the Championship campaign and throughout the 17/18 Premier League season. But, after not being backed in the transfer window and a thrashing against West Ham, Rafa enabled a switch from 4 at the back to 3/5 at the back, which Bruce would then adopt and try implement his own tactics.
Bruce's initial idea was to introduce a 3-5-2 (5-3-2) which would see Almiron and Joelinton play up front together and Ki Sung-Yueng would be the extra man to anchor the midfield. But after conceding 4 goals in 2 games; the enforced 3-5-2 was abandoned. Bruce quickly lost confidence, he didn't believe the set of players that he inherited are capable of playing in a different system. Therefore he resorted back to the 3-4-3/5-4-1 and resorted to play "ugly": with instructions set to actively drop off, defend from deep and transition the ball from defence to attack with long balls. These tactics are delivering results but the manner in which the football is played at times has looked dysfunctional, scattered and unorganised.
Bruce's mags defend in a 5-4-1 mid block with one of the two central midfielders dropping between the centre backs to complete the low block. The wide-men cut inside to compact the space in the middle and only press the ball when the ball is out-wide, mainly Almiron and the right-wing back.
After watching five full matches, this is the only form of pressing that I could find, Newcastle are happy to concede possession and drop off and tackle when the ball is played in the central areas, which leads to Newcastle having an average possession stat of 40.8% in the Premier League.
Despite the defensive style, Newcastle concede a lot of chances. This is partially because of the amount of possession they give u, Martin Dubravka has the most saves in the league this season at 117 and currently conceded 41 goals, without Martin Dubravka, the goals conceded could be far worse.
The extra man in defence has however, made Newcastle better at defending and scoring from set pieces. 9 of the 25 goals this season are from centre backs: (2) Fernandez, (2) Clark, (2) Schar, (2) Lejeune, (1) Lascelles and although not all 9 are registered as set piece goals, they were from a loose ball or a second cross that incurred seconds after a set piece was taken.
Newcastle create their attacks from inside their own half, a passing sequence leading up to chances created involve attackers dropping deep into space where they combine with a wing-back who is moving forward and a central defender while the attacker (who started the sequence) makes a run in behind the defence. The way in which Newcastle build attacks don't always come off as fluid and are reliant on individuals carrying the ball out of defence which has resulted in loss of possession.
The ball is distributed long from goal kicks, aimed for the target man: Joelinton or Carroll, gambling on winning the second ball. Newcastle have looked better at this when Carroll has been the target man and Joelinton has played alongside him.
When in possession, Newcastle tend to pass the ball side to side or backwards, which creates gaps in behind the oppositions advancing forwards for the ball to be passed into. Regardless of formation, Newcastle play with two central midfielders - one of these are normally Jonjo Shelvey, who plays a big role in making transitional and progressive passes.
The two central midfielders push up to support in attack, mainly occupying the space on the edge of the D.
Newcastle's attackers are good technical players but all lack Premier League experience. This is a massive for Newcastle because even when teams are tactically poor, an experienced forward still knows the physical expectations.The signing of Andy Carroll could've been a key figure in the attack this season and help take pressure off Joelinton but his recurring injuries have halted his career from progressing.
Allan Saint-Maximin is an excellent dribbler but doesn't always get his decision making right. Miguel Almiron pulls off good runs when given space to attack yet struggles to show consistency in front of goal, and Joelinton can hold up the ball well but finds himself isolated from his team mates.
Jonjo Shelvey was not a favourite of Rafa Benitez is now Newcastle's leading goalscorer with 5 goals.
It doesn't help Newcastle that they have to start attacks from deep positions. The three forwards all have technical ability but are never close enough to play off each other and Joelinton needs that type of support. What this has lead to is, three forwards with huge potential, playing as individuals and not as a team.
Newcastle are still having a good season and are still in the FA Cup. Bruce has assured the fans that he's going to experiment with a back 4 after successful trials against: Burnley, West Brom and Southampton. A 4-2-3-1 with Joeltinon, ASM, Almiron and Lazaro could be devastating against more accident prone and slower defences.
While they have been competitive in most games, it's hard to recall many games that we've won by out playing the opposition with sublime football, but Newcastle brought in Bruce presumably because they feel his style suits our current set of players. Historically coaches that specialise in defensive football eventually end up taking a club down and with Bruce's track record and football constantly evolving, we've seen little to suggest Bruce is the man to take the squad to the next level.
Should Steve Bruce be backed in the next transfer window or should Newcastle try find a new coach?