Newcastle United’s recent change of manager has, for many, done little to boost the potential of their Fantasy Premier League assets.
The departure of Rafa Benitez was seen as the worst-case scenario for fans of the club and Fantasy managers alike, especially considering their challenging early fixtures.
Now that Steve Bruce has been handed the job, the stock of Newcastle assets is at an all-time low.
In this article, we discuss what impact he will have at St James’ Park and what this means for FPL.
When it was officially announced that Benitez was on the way out, there were wild rumours of Jose Mourinho being touted as a replacement as well as more grounded talk that it would be Manchester City assistant coach, Mikel Arteta.
All of that optimism around the club proved unsubstantial for the Toon Army faithful after it transpired that Sam Allardyce had turned down the chance to have another go and instead Bruce was the man that was ultimately chosen.
Bruce’s appointment as Newcastle manager was underwhelming, to say the least. In many quarters, the former Manchester United captain wasn’t even considered among the top 10 likely candidates, he was an unexpected left-field option.
Choosing him over a plethora of other highly rated names probably hints at the true ambition of owner Mike Ashley. 17th will do by the looks of it, nothing more, nothing less.
To put things into context, Steve Bruce has finished in the top half of the Premier League only once since the 2003/04 season. Except for guiding teams to Premier League promotion on four occasions, he has won no meaningful silverware as a manager. His last stint in the top-flight was during the 2014/15 season with Hull which ended in relegation. The previous year had seen them just about survive with a 16th-place finish.
Crucially, in both of those campaigns, the Tigers failed to score more than one goal per game on average and conceded a combined total of 104 goals, at 1.4 per game.
Perhaps this is the yardstick to which we should judge Bruce by now? If we go further back to his time at Sunderland, he did guide them to a respectable 10th place finish in the 2010/11 season, but as that was eight years ago, it’s hard to glean too much from it.
Overall, Bruce boasts a win rate of less than 30% in the Premier League. Of course, we have to remember that, over the past two decades, when he has managed in the top-tier, his teams were more often than not expected to battle it out at the bottom anyway and therefore did not win many games.
However, it does still highlight his standard and should probably guide our expectation levels for the 2019/2020 season.
What style of football does Bruce use?
It would be fair to say that Steve Bruce is not typically known for free-flowing ‘Champagne Football’.
Then again, he is more attack-minded than many of us would dare to imagine. According to Steve Harper, who played under him during his time at Hull, he remembers how they would often deploy an offensive 3-5-2 formation.
The former Newcastle goalkeeper also insisted in a recent interview that Bruce “is certainly not the dinosaur he has been labelled, that is incredibly unfair”.
Perhaps it’s not all doom or gloom then? Let’s not forget that it was during this time at Hull that he also helped develop some quality youth players too.
After all, it was Bruce that handed out debuts to Andrew Robertson (£7.0m) and Harry Maguire (£5.5m). In a matter of just a few years, these to have become established internationals and have reached the latter stages of the Champions League final and World Cup respectively.
More importantly, they have also enjoyed their fair share of Fantasy appeal in recent seasons too.
The implications of this on the 2019/20 season should be considered. As Bruce is prepared to hand out chances to youth players, this could result in some budget £4.0m or £4.5m emerging at Newcastle, who might get more game time than otherwise expected.
Also, contemporary clues of his style can be found by examining his most recent managerial posting.
Sheffield Wednesday wing-back Adam Reach noticed during the early days of Bruce’s reign that they were playing with an increased injection of pace, which in his own words, gave them “more confidence and we are allowed to express ourselves in the final third, which is always good”.
From an FPL perspective, this bodes well for the attacking prowess of wing-backs under Bruce if he adopts a similar playing style to that of his time at Sheffield Wednesday and backing it up with the forward-thinking formation he used at Hull.
In my estimation, Matt Ritchie (£5.5m) could benefit the most if things clicked seamlessly into place.
What’s more telling is that voices of support have also emerged from Newcastle’s first-team squad.
Their friendly win over West Ham in the Premier League Asia Trophy, saw Bruce implement a change of formation to that Hull-style 3-5-2, resulting in a much-improved performance compared to the opening defeat to Wolves.
“The fans need to give him a chance because I think, if they do that, if we play like we did on Saturday, we will do well week-in, week-out and they won’t have any reason for complaint.” – Jonjo Shelvey
Jonjo Shelvey‘s (£5.0m) positive sentiment bodes well from a cohesion perspective. Then again, I would not have expected the player to say any different to impress the new manager, especially after featuring in just 16 league games last season.
While such an approach could benefit Fantasy managers somewhere down the line after Newcastle’s tricky fixtures ease up, it does seem as if Bruce could surprise a few with his team selections.
He was quite prone to rotation during his Premier League time at Hull. Across the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons, 22 of his squad players appeared in at least 12 competitive games (FA Cup and Europe included).
Crucially, only five players featured in a minimum of 30 league games in the first of those two campaigns, dropping to just three in the latter.
Hull’s line-ups became increasingly unsettled as they hurtled towards relegation from the top flight.
By comparison, Wolves’ impressive seventh-placed finished in 2018/19 campaign was achieved with at least nine players starting in a minimum of 30 league games,
Given the disparity between the two clubs at present, it is perhaps an unfair comparison to make, but it certainly highlights the strengths of a settled side and the drawbacks of an unsettled one.
So could a poor start and a basement battle for Newcastle in 2019/20 cause Bruce to shuffle his pack more often in an attempt to find a new combination? We will have to see, but if this situation realises itself, it could certainly frustrate Fantasy managers looking to invest.
How busy will Bruce be in the transfer window?
Speaking of investment, there is no doubt that Bruce’s success, or lack of it, will be dependent on whether he is allowed to bolster the squad with quality signings.
As a reference point, if Benitez’s tenure is defined by anything it is the paucity of activity in the transfer market and despite that, he was able to defy meagre expectations.
As a side note, Miguel Almiron’s (£6.0m) transfer last season may have broken the club’s transfer record but in the short-term but he still needs some more time to adapt to the Premier League.
One of the areas Bruce will need to get the board’s backing on will be to address their notable vacancies in the attack. The loss of the 2018/19’s top-scorers Ayoze Perez (£6.5m) and Salomón Rondón to Leicester and Dalian Yifang respectively was followed with Joselu’s move to Alaves.
Still at the club is last season’s forgotten man Yoshinori Muto (£5.5m) and it remains to be seen if Dwight Gayle will maintain his place as a player for Newcastle.
However, there is some encouragement from the signing of Hoffenheim forward Joelinton. There’s no doubt that he is an interesting prospect and played a significant part in Hoffenheim achieving a top-half finish in the Bundesliga last season.
However, Newcastle United need a proven out-and-out goal scorer to fill the void and, unfortunately, Joelinton’s goal-scoring abilities are still at a nascent stage.
Even though he is still 22 and offers lots of promise, the fact he hasn’t scored more than eight league goals in a season should be somewhat of a concern.
The Brazilian shouldn’t be seen as the sole solution to Newcastle’s problems and the club’s fans, as well as FPL managers, should not be overly excited by his arrival.
It’s safe to say that Joelinton is too much of an unknown quantity to even be considered as a Gameweek 1 prospect for seasoned FPL managers and they would be better off considering players from the current squad that have proven Premier League experience, who might potentially be improved by his presence.
To sum up, as a Newcastle United fan myself, I want to be pessimistic and say that it would be no surprise if Mike Ashley, as opposed to head coach, was on the cusp on condemning the club to a third relegation under his ownership.
Like many others, I am still unconvinced by Bruce’s managerial record but when I hear the opinions of his former players, as well as gauging the morale of his current squad members, it is clear that both Newcastle fans and FPL managers need to give him a chance.
Right now, Bruce is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. The bar couldn’t be set any lower for him. But to avoid being the literal ‘Damned United’ in the first instance, he will need to somehow unite the fans behind him and that can only be done with success on the pitch.
I will be shocked if he surpasses what Benitez did for the Toon Army, as many accept his achievements were nothing short of miraculous.
I think Bruce’s early run of games will prove to be more than challenging and could even play a part in his inevitable downfall.
A bad start could see him almost certainly lose the hot seat well before the Christmas fixture rush.
Deep down, I hope that his use of the 3-5-2 formation works a treat and as an FPL manager, I hope to be among the first to jump onto the much-discussed ‘out-of-position’ Matt Ritchie bandwagon.
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