The Toon Tribune: Why Newcastle must abandon the 5-3-2 formation

With the Premier League season only two games in, supporters of Newcastle United have seen enough to suggest that their current formation is ineffective. 

The Magpies have lost both of their games so far; a narrow 1-0 defeat at home to Arsenal, followed by a woeful display at Norwich on Saturday. 

In both of those matches, as well as in pre-season, manager Steve Bruce has favoured a 5-3-2 formation (which can also be interpreted as 3-5-2), consisting of three centre-backs, two wing-backs along with record signing Joelinton partnered in attack with Miguel Almiron. 

On paper, the formation seems promising. United played with a similar backline last season and have maintained the majority of the squad, with a few more additions. However in reality, it is far from encouraging. Former manager Rafa Benitez’s defensive organisation has seemingly become outdone, with the Newcastle defenders lacking discipline and configuration. 

Not only is the defence troubled, the attack lacks cohesion too, with Newcastle barely creating any chances in the opening fixtures. Club-record signing Joelinton is a gamble, the Brazilian is still raw and needs time to adapt which is highlighted by his average displays thus far. 

On the other hand, Bruce must realise that Miguel Almiron is not a centre-forward. The Paraguayan produced some dazzling displays towards the end of last season when deployed at left-wing; his pace and willingness to run in behind harassed the opposition, as well as freeing up space for former team-mates Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon and allowing the attack to flourish. 

When United have gained possession at the top of the field this season, it arrives to no avail. A huge gap is always present between Joelinton and Almiron, with the Magpies commonly lacking attacking support. Furthermore, attacking runs never seem to be made, with the two attackers attempting to drop deep to receive the ball and subsequently dribble with it. 

The Newcastle team this season seriously lack structure, while the tactical gulf between Benitez and Bruce is clear for all to see. At Norwich on Saturday, midfielder Isaac Hayden appeared in a right-wing berth, which is not his position. A similar situation occurred against Arsenal the week before, whereby three players (Ritchie, Willems and Saint-Maximin) all seemed to play on the left-hand side. 

This lack of shape is a real cause for concern and needs addressing soon before the Magpies find themselves in another relegation battle. The season has only started and there is time to repair and abandon the formation, which is what the majority of supporters feel is the right option, rather than persist and hope for better. 

The formation needs to be more balanced. United’s defence was largely firm last season, while the Magpies do have attacking talent. Summer signing Allan Saint-Maximin looks a handful and showed glimpses of his talent on the opening day. Almiron, in addition, threatened on the wing last season and if the two are paired on either flank, with Joelinton in the middle of a front three then this will be more effective. 

A 5-2-3 or 3-4-3 shape would suit Newcastle more, given this is what was used last season, while supporters will hope that Bruce realises this sooner rather than later, with Newcastle desperately in need of points amidst a difficult opening set of fixtures.