Key tactical & player decisions for Newcastle United head coach Steve Bruce

Tactics and personnel are again on the agenda at Newcastle United as our writer Liam Kennedy takes a look at the key decisions facing Magpies’ head coach Steve Bruce ahead of his side’s trip to Watford this weekend.

Will it be sixth time lucky for Newcastle United at Watford this weekend?

Five Premier League games have so far returned just two draws and two points, as well as three defeats and an instantly forgettable Carabao Cup exit to Burnley, too.

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But Steve Bruce & Co go again this weekend when, fresh from their latest point against Leeds United, the Magpies look to claim all three points at the sixth time of asking at Vicarage Road.

Here we take a look at the key decisions and dilemmas on Bruce’s agenda this week.

Rinse and repeat: The formation question

“You can do one of two things, change system or change personnel”. That nugget of wisdom came from Bruce last week when he was asked about his side’s 5-3-2 struggles.

He did neither against the Whites, well initially. However, with half an hour or so on the clock Bruce, sparked by Graeme Jones, changed the formation to a more easy-on-the-eye 4-2-3-1 system.

Did it work? It is hard to say really as United didn’t win, and tired badly in the last half an hour, but I suppose it is fair to judge that from maybe 30 minutes to the hour and slightly beyond they were the better team, limiting Leeds to less chances than the bucket load gift-wrapped for them early doors. And importantly, the Magpies were a threat at the opposite end, with Joelinton off the left, Sean Longstaff pushed to the No.10(ish) role and Allan Saint-Maximin central.

Will he stick or twist? That’s the biggest question facing Bruce this week.

Kalvin Phillips of Leeds United vies with Allan Saint- Maximim of Newcastle United during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Leeds United at St. James Park on September 17, 2021 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Risk and reward: The Callum Wilson dilemma

Bruce has refused to put a timeframe on the potential return of striker Wilson, with the player so far missing the Magpies’ last two Premier League games.

However, noises suggest the player is edging closer to fitness. When fit, he starts, plain and simple.

It will be interesting to see if Bruce will have him back, or Wolves seven days later is a more realistic, less risky target for the player.

Even in a switch of system, Allan Saint-Maximin provided a real threat as the central frontman against Leeds United.

Defensive personnel: Is the backline functioning with current players?

Bruce has chopped and changed his personnel in this department near weekly this season - it seems he does not even know himself who makes up his best, preferred backline.

At present Jamaal Lascelles, Ciaran Clark and Isaac Hayden are his three, but Emil Krafth, Federico Fernandez and Fabian Schar have all had a turn in their, too.

Switching to a two would obviously cut the numbers down in this department, but even in that scenario questions must be asked about Lascelles and Clark’s form, especially with Fernandez, arguably United’s best defender, benched.