Newcastle boss Steve Bruce can build on his promising start to life in the United dugout by pinning his plans around Jonjo Shelvey, and making the former England midfielder key to his intentions.
Things were looking promising in the first-half against Arsenal on Sunday, as the Magpies fought valiantly against last season’s Europa League finalists with a three-man core of Shelvey, Isaac Hayden and Sean Longstaff.
Unfortunately, the result soon looked out of hand following the break despite the narrow scoreline, as we no longer held the same shape once Shelvey was forced off through injury and wide players were brought in to the centre, as Bruce opted to name four defenders on the bench to cover potential injuries at the back.
Shelvey’s absence was the clear turning point, but basing the team’s first competitive performance under Bruce by what was displayed with the 6-cap man on the field suggests there is a core foundation that can be improved on.
In the 54 minutes preceding his departure, we fashioned the same number of efforts on goal and shots on target as the visitors, while also boasting a higher percentage of completed dribbles; having snuffed out 56% of the Gunners’ attempts while completing 67% of our own. The game started to open up more once Bruce was forced to begin changing his side and searching for an equaliser, however.
With Shelvey alongside Hayden and Longstaff, there is the potential for United to grasp a foothold on proceedings by stifling out the opposition’s play and controlling the centre of the field.
What Bruce needs to work on the most for this to work, though, is how he will include Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron and Joelinton in the starting line-up, as the boss showed against Arsenal that he was not ready to deploy our French summer arrival on the wing and instead forced Almiron to drop into a deeper role.