Steve Bruce has had to field players out of position in all of our pre-season friendlies so far. It’s mainly been the midfield where Bruce has had few options. However, at Rotherham on Tuesday, Bruce had just two forwards to work with meaning Jeff Hendrick was upfront to see out the match.
One area where there is plenty of cover is at the back. Bruce has six center-backs on the books not including Emil Krafth, who finished last season playing on the right side of a back three.
Bruce’s primary focus is to strengthen the midfield though Manchester United’s Axel Tuanzebe is now considered to be a top target. The 23-year-old would instantly improve our backline with his athleticism and pace.
If Tuanzebe comes in, Bruce may feel the need to offload a center-back or two. There may not be enough squad space to register seven central defenders. It’s going to be interesting to see how Newcastle’s backline ultimately ends up.
Local lad Kell Watts has had a very good pre-season after spending the last two seasons out on loan. He was the best Magpie on the pitch by far at York City but didn’t start the next two friendlies.
Bruce was asked about the 21-year-old after his cameo at Rotherham. It appears that Kell has made an impression on his head coach this summer. Here is what Bruce said as published in The Chronicle.
“Kell Watts is the one, I was privately very pleased with him after York, and he hasn’t done himself any harm at Rotherham.
“He came on in the second half and I thought him and Paul Dummett looked at ease.
“You can see Kell has now played at EFL level and he has matured.
“It is difficult to make a decision after two or three weeks but he has been good to watch.
“It’s been good to see the three lads on the pitch (Young, Watts, White) who will enjoy their moment.
“I know it’s only a pre-season friendly but for them it’s great to see them playing for their club.”
Watts adds another element to the backline with his ball-playing ability on the left. He’s also a very versatile player who could step into the defensive midfield role in a pinch. He played there frequently when on loan with Stevenage a few seasons ago.
With Bruce having so many options at the moment, it could be a year too soon for the Alnwick-born defender. He needs to keep playing so if Bruce prefers Paul Dummett or Ciaran Clark, then Watts should head out on loan to the Championship.
If Watts is handed a real chance to play this season, keeping him behind could pay dividends. Bruce would likely have to move at least one center-back on if Watts earns a squad place and Tuanzebe comes in.
The duo would add a different element to the backline with Taunzebe’s pace and Watts’ ability to bring the ball out from the back. It still seems a long shot for Kell the season but he’s definitely getting close to earning his chance.