Premier League 2020/21 Team-By-Team: Newcastle face relegation under Bruce and Ashley

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce
Bruce did very well last season, but the wheels are coming off...

Alex Keble continues his Premier League previews by predicting that Newcastle United's poor form towards the end of 2019/20, coupled with their deflation following the failed takeover bid, means relegation to the Championship...

"Leeds United should be strong while Aston Villa, West Ham, and Crystal Palace are on the up. Meanwhile Newcastle aren’t spending money, ended the season on a low, and have a manager who is often guilty of lacking ambition."

A turbulent few months for Newcastle United has ended in more bitter disappointment. Supporters have moved from hope to despair, from daring to dream of a future as one of Europe's super-clubs to facing the harsh reality of yet another year of stagnation under the cruel and disinterested Mike Ashley.

It's a situation that has left Steve Bruce and the current squad in a difficult situation, too, not least because the manager had been preparing for new owners and acting accordingly, embracing more openly attacking tactics in a bid to see off the threat of Mauricio Pochettino.

But now all that is over, and Bruce can get back to preparing Newcastle for another year of mid-table obscurity at best. It will hurt. The danger is that the deflation caused by the failed takeover will lead to a drop in performance levels and a relegation battle. A worrying lack of transfer activity suggests a difficult second season for the manager.

State of play

Newcastle ended the campaign on a six-game winless run, picking up just nine points from their ten post-lockdown matches. It is an alarming trend, and - whether distracted by takeover news, or simply struggling without fans inside St. James Park - whatever caused the slump will still be around when the new season gets underway.

Then again, across the campaign as a whole Bruce performed superbly, taking Newcastle to a higher league position and higher points tally than under fan-favourite Rafael Benitez the previous year. His defence-first 3-5-2 got results, and perhaps now his job is safe under Ashley, Bruce can revert back to that tactical approach - having failed to keep things tight after switching to a more attacking 4-2-3-1 during Project Restart..

Strengths & Weaknesses

What best defines Newcastle is their potent threat on the counter-attack. Bruce holds a deep line and coaches rigid positional discipline, before expecting his wing-backs to bomb forward and join Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin in attack. Their two wingers are a joy to watch and will be relied upon to keep Newcastle out of the bottom three.

However, aside from these two Newcastle struggle to create chances. Joelinton has been a huge disappointment up front, and apart from Jonjoe Shelvey's long balls into the channels this is a team that are very poor at progressing the ball into the final third. They only scored 38 goals last season, fewer than relegated Bournemouth. They are a good bet at 9/2 to be this season's lowest scoring team.

Steve Bruce, newcastle manager 2.jpg

That isn't the end of their problems. Newcastle's workmanlike midfield could do with an upgrade and they lack a left-back after Danny Rose returned to Tottenham Hotspur.

Transfer business

The only new arrival so far has been Jeff Hendrick on a free transfer, and there is no doubt Newcastle must act fast to bolster the squad and avoid beginning 2020/21 as they ended 2019/20. A new left-back is a top priority but options are severely limited, and unfortunately that is also the case in Bruce's hunt for a new winger after Eze joined Crystal Palace.

Callum Wilson or Odsonne Edouard are reportedly being targeted to fill the gaping hole at the top of the pitch. Bruce desperately needs a goalscorer to avoid a fight for survival, although with just £30 million to spend in total, per The Athletic, Newcastle will struggle to buy quality.

What supporters expect

Ashley out: that is what the fans desperately need, and it must be difficult for them to focus on anything else given that the club will be stuck in limbo until that happens. Finishing 17th is good enough in the circumstances, especially with many of their bottom-half rivals spending considerably more money this summer.

Look out for...

A serious relegation battle: Leeds United should be strong while Aston Villa, West Ham, and Crystal Palace are on the up. Meanwhile Newcastle aren't spending money, ended the season on a low, and have a manager who is often guilty of lacking ambition. It seems unlikely they will repeat the form in the first half of 2019/20 that ensured their survival. Back them to go down at 2/1.

Vital start to the season: If they are going to stay up, Newcastle need to draw a line under their poor form in July. Facing West Ham (a), Brighton (h), and Burnley (h) among their opening four games, Bruce has the perfect chance to do so. Failure to win any of these will give Newcastle a mountain to climb.

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