When Steve Bruce was first appointed as Newcastle’s head coach two summers ago, he implemented his 5-3-2 system during that pre-season. After a dreadful defeat at newly-promoted Norwich in the campaign’s second game, he turned to a 5-2-3 which he stuck with for the majority of the season.
After tinkering with the shape for much of this past campaign, the 5-3-2 returned with a bang last April. Newcastle amassed 17 points over the final nine matches to finish the season on the upswing.
According to Chris Waugh with The Athletic, the early signs this pre-season are that Bruce is sticking with the 5-3-2. This is what Waugh writes in his latest report:
The pursuit of a new, ball-playing centre-back is set to increase in intensity, with early indications from pre-season being that Bruce will stick with a similar formation to the one used during the latter part of 2020-21, meaning a three-man defence.
Newcastle are currently trying to get Joe Willock back for another loan spell and that seems to be the priority right now. Waugh expects Newcastle to intensify their search for a new ball-playing defender soon.
We’ve apparently missed out on Bruce’s preferred target Kristoffer Ajer, with newly-promoted Brentford reportedly winning the race. Another top target was Arsenal’s William Saliba, who has chosen to return to France on loan with Marseille. Though a loan deal for the Frenchman would have ruled out one for Willock.
Waugh cites Tottenham’s Cameron Carter-Vickers as a realistic target as the 23-year-old has been recommended by Graeme Jones. Recent reports have his price tag at £5m which would be a bargain.
Bruce is also monitoring the situation of Manchester United’s Axel Tuanzebe. Bruce signed him on loan at Aston Villa in 2018. Tuanzebe played sparingly last season and reportedly is pushing for a loan move for first-team football.
Any additions to the position could be accompanied by some departures. Bruce has a surplus of options already with seven central defenders on the books. Kelland Watts will be hoping to break into the squad this season with another season-long loan also an option.
Waugh indicates that Newcastle will listen to offers for Florian Lejeune as well as Yoshinori Muto. Lejeune escaped the injury nightmares that plagued his previous two seasons on Tyneside with a successful loan spell with Alaves. The Frenchman is entering the final year of his contract with no talks of an extension.
Newcastle have two friendlies on Sunday at York and Harrogate Town. The squad will be split with the matches both kicking off at 2PM. Despite this, Bruce should be able to go with the 5-3-2 in both matches should he wish to.
A couple of defenders are yet to return due to international duty in Emil Krafth and Fabian Schar. Bruce has Federico Fernandez, Florian Lejeune, Paul Dummett, Ciaran Clark, Jamaal Lascelles, and Kelland Watts available.
He also indicated some of the U23s will be involved so we could see new signing Remi Savage or Bradley Cross come in as cover at the back. We’ll soon find out what formations Bruce is toying with as the two friendlies are just a day away. NUFC TV will stream the one at York City live.