During an interview on Wednesday, Jamaal Lascelles revealed that the coaching staff was experimenting with different styles of play during training this week.
This revelation doesn’t come as much of a surprise since Steve Bruce mentioned the word ‘changes’ several times after the Crystal Palace defeat. The Selhurst Park display coupled with two losses on the trot has led Bruce to the conclusion that things just cannot continue as they have been.
While the performances before the Arsenal defeat weren’t convincing, the players were at least doing enough not to lose. But that has changed since the winter break, and if anything, the lads look even more uninspired.
Some of that has to do with Bruce starting the three new lads without much time to settle. The most glaring issue is the lack of any semblance of a threat in the final third.
The Athletic’s Chris Waugh has written an article detailing two formation changes that Bruce is working on in training.
The first is the 3-5-2 that Bruce has transitioned to on several occasions. He started the season in this shape but abandoned the system after the Norwich defeat in August. He has since put it to use a few times when making adjustments during a game.
Waugh also says that Bruce tested this dual striker formation in training last week before deciding to stick with the 5-4-1/3-4-2-1 he’s used for the bulk of this season. The fact that it was an away game may have impacted his decision.
The other formation under consideration is the 4-3-2-1 favored by Rafa Benitez before he adopted the five at the back system in the second half of last season.
However, Waugh doesn’t think Bruce has reached the point where he’s willing to go to a flat back four just yet. Although, he is testing several formations with only four at the back.
We think Bruce will go back to the 5-3-2 formation he started the season with. Bruce could feel more comfortable returning to this formation at St James Park rather than in an away fixture.
Bruce is also likely to significantly rotate his squad after the Crystal Palace display, which saw just one forced change from the 4-0 thrashing at Arsenal the week before.
Dwight Gayle, Isaac Hayden, Matty Longstaff, Matt Ritchie, and DeAndre Yedlin will all be hoping for starts after only getting places on the bench last Saturday.
Depending on how they fare in training this week, both Javier Manquillo and Jonjo Shelvey could also make their long-awaited returns to the pitch.