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First team

Media view: Expert insight on Newcastle

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to follow up their win over Manchester United when they meet Newcastle United at St James’ Park on Saturday (3pm kick-off).

The Magpies have had a mixed bag during the first three months of the season, winning and drawing three of their opening 11 games in the Premier League.

Steve Bruce’s team registered a 1-0 win at Tottenham in August and beat Manchester United by the same scoreline at St James’ Park in October.

They host the Cherries on the back of triumphing 3-2 against West Ham at the London Stadium five days ago, a win which saw them climb to 15th in the Premier League.

Having conceded only three times at St James’ Park this season, the Magpies boast the joint-best home defensive record in the top flight along with Leicester City.

Ahead of the game, afcb.co.uk caught up with Chris Waugh, who covers the fortunes of Newcastle for The Athletic.

afcb.co.uk: Is 15th place and 12 points after 11 games a fair reflection of Newcastle’s season so far?

CW: Yes, I’d say it is. Newcastle have been up and down, they have struggled for consistency and there have been some very poor performances, like the 3-1 defeat at Norwich and the 5-0 hammering at Leicester.

But there have also been some positive displays, the 1-0 victory over Manchester United, victory over Spurs and the recent win at West Ham so it’s fair in the sense that Newcastle haven’t found a game-plan that really suits them.

They are still searching for form so 15th place is about a fair reflection of how they’ve been so far this season which would be inconsistent.

afcb.co.uk: How would you assess Steve Bruce’s tenure since he was appointed in July? 

CW: It’s been very difficult for Steve Bruce (pictured above). He even admitted himself that although he knew it was going to be difficult to follow Rafa Benitez, he didn’t realise quite how fierce some of the scrutiny and criticism would be.

The anger that gripped the club over the summer has filtered into the season and Newcastle haven’t been able to put off-field distractions behind them.

Bruce has struggled with that to a degree in terms of at some of his press conferences, he’s found it difficult not to address that.

But in terms of the way he’s managed the club, there have been some terrible performances but there have also been some uplifting displays so, on the pitch, the signs are of gradual improvement, albeit they are still lacking consistency.

They are not in the relegation zone after 11 games and, given the fixture list they’ve had so far which has included five of the so-called big six, he probably would have taken this at the start of the season

afcb.co.uk: Newcastle seem to have a wealth of options in central defence – in your opinion, which is the best pairing?

CW: There was some debate among fans this week about this being the best collection of centre-halves Newcastle have ever had at one period. In terms of strength in depth, I think you would probably say it is.

There are six of them, Federico Fernandez, Jamaal Lascelles, Ciaran Clark (pictured above), Florian Lejeune, Fabian Schar and Paul Dummett, all of whom can play at centre-back.

In my opinion, the best of them all is Lejeune but he’s been out with two serious knee injuries so he’s only just coming back and won’t be fit for Saturday. Schar can play out from the back but he’s touch and go for Saturday.

In terms of out-and-out defensive capabilities, I think Fernandez and Lascelles are probably the best.

But what Newcastle have with those six are players who have different qualities and who complement each other, particularly in the back three they are playing at the moment.

afcb.co.uk: What’s the mood among supporters? 

CM: The mood is strange at the moment.

It was quite negative earlier in the season and I think it is gradually beginning to improve, particularly as there was a victory at West Ham on Saturday.

For 70 minutes at least, it was probably Newcastle’s best display of the season so far – certainly in attack – but there are still doubts about how much this team can progress and improve.

Performances at St James’ Park have been average at best. They have struggled to create chances and goals and the atmosphere has been down. It will be interesting to see what it’s like on Saturday and to see if Newcastle can really get the crowd behind them.

I think the crowd inside the stadium are really waiting to be given that spark rather than the other way round where they are being the ones who the players can feed off. They need the players to give them something first.

afcb.co.uk: On current form, who is Newcastle’s player to watch?

CW: I think you would probably have to say Allan Saint-Maximin (pictured above) who they signed in the summer from Nice for £16m.

He's yet to score but against West Ham particularly, he absolutely terrorised their defence on the counter-attack.

He’s very direct, he gets the ball and dribbles and is the player the Newcastle fans get excited about.

His final ball has been lacking and he missed a couple of really good opportunities at West Ham so there is still plenty for him to work on.

But in terms of the person who can change a game and get Newcastle attacking, I’d say he is the one who everyone will look to.

afcb.co.uk: What do you think has been behind the revival since the 5-0 defeat at Leicester in September?

CW: I think there was a lot of introspection after that game and the players knew it was unacceptable.

Steve Bruce made the bold decision to call out his players in public and managed to get a reaction from them.

He also switched from playing a four-man defence at Leicester to playing three centre-backs and wing-backs and Newcastle have looked a lot more solid playing like that.

They almost cover their own limitations by doing that and I just think there is a more defined game-plan now.

When they can, Newcastle are looking to try to use the pace of the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almirón on the counter-attack.

As they have a more defined game-plan and more of an idea of what they are trying to achieve, they are gradually starting to improve.

They are not the finished article by any stretch of the imagine, certainly at St James’ Park where they are still struggling to score goals but they are far more solid defensively than they were earlier in the season.

afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?

CW: I’m usually quite pessimistic from a Newcastle point of view but I’m going to be optimistic and say 2-1 to Newcastle.

I think they are going to score more than once at St James’ Park for the first time this season and go into the international break with a decent tally of points.

You can follow Chris on Twitter – @ChrisDHWaugh

Match officials: Martin Atkinson (referee), Lee Betts (assistant), Nick Hopton (assistant), Ben Toner (fourth official), Peter Bankes (VAR), Darren Cann (assistant VAR).

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