Carlo Ancelotti’s side will be out for revenge after they lost the reverse fixture in November 2-1 at St James’ Park.
Newcastle are enduring a wretched run of form currently, with no wins and just five goals in in their last 11 matches in all competitions.
Steve Bruce’s side have slumped to 16th, six points clear of the relegation zone.
RBM: Firstly, what is the single most disappointing thing about supporting Newcastle at the moment?
Elijah: I think it’s just the lack of ambition all around. Mike Ashley can’t be bothered investing in the club at the moment, Steve Bruce can’t be bothered with being inventive on the pitch, and the players can’t be bothered playing.
It just seems as if nobody even cares anymore at the moment. It is incredibly worrying because in order to come out alive from a relegation scrap there has to be some fight from the team.
RBM: Given how wretched Newcastle’s recent run has been, how close do you sense Steve Bruce is to losing his job?
Elijah: If he loses two out of the next three matches, he’s probably gone. Graeme Jones has already been brought in as an assistant with a lot of experience under different managers. Jones reportedly was not interested in the jobs if he was going to get fired if Steve Bruce were to get fired.
That sets Jones up in a prime position to take over for Bruce, even if it is temporarily. Ashley knows that if he can’t keep the club up, there is no chance of anyone buying Newcastle, so I think at this point Bruce is on a very short leash.
RBM: It seems that a lot of Newcastle fans have never taken to Bruce, a boyhood Geordie himself, since his appointment in July 2019. Why?
Elijah: There were a lot of things that led to Bruce not being liked from the start, with some of them having nothing to do with Bruce.
That summer, Rafa Benitez and Ashley could not agree to terms on a new deal which saw Benitez head to China. Regardless of how things really went down in negotiations, Benitez was (and still is) beloved in Newcastle and fans have not had a manager of his class in ages.
When he was allowed to walk away, there was already unrest among the fans, and if a manager was brought in that was not as ambitious as a hire as Benitez, fans were going to be upset.
In the case of Bruce, fans were upset with the hire simply because his track record in the Premier League is not great. He was reportedly 11th choice on the shortlist, which actually gave him a little bit of grace from the fans. It was admirable that he wanted to coach his boyhood club, and nobody could really argue with his own intentions of taking the job.
There were a few fans who felt that if Bruce was a “real fan” he would not manage Newcastle, since managing in the Premier League is out of his depth. There were concerns about Bruce’s ability to recruit, his tactics, and his overall manner based on his time at Aston Villa and even how he handled his exit from Sheffield Wednesday. He famously admitted years ago in not believing in tactics, and while that statement was ages ago the product on the pitch for the teams he managed made it appear as if he did not believe in tactics still.
Overall, the general sentiment was that Bruce was not a Premier League manager. He came into this role with that criticism, and it has stuck with him since.
RBM: People sometimes say that Bruce’s Newcastle record isn’t too dissimilar to that of Rafa Benitez, at least in terms of points. What are the main differences between Newcastle under Benitez and Bruce, then?
Elijah: Benitez did not have a £100 million attack. Even when he had Miguel Almirón for half a season, Newcastle’s chances created, xG and xA all improved drastically simply because there was better attacking talent brought to the club.
The other major difference between Bruce and Benitez is that there was a tactical plan with Benitez. Newcastle were well organized in defence, there was a plan in attack, he had players that he brought in that fit his plan, and when Newcastle won matches it felt deserved. With Bruce, there is still no identity, no plan, no strategy at all. If there is a strategy, it seemingly makes no sense.
Bruce will do things like sub on Andy Carroll so that Newcastle can get balls into the box, while also subbing off his best crossing threat. Or he will play Ryan Fraser and Almirón as box to box midfielders when they simply are not. It literally looks like Bruce picking a line-up that he thinks will be a better line-up than whatever the opposition rolls out. This results in genuine confusion as to what line-up Newcastle will play each week.
There seems to be no consistency in formation, the players used, or even just simply who is going to be on the team sheet. Under Bruce, Newcastle have garnered a lot of results due to luck rather than their ability to create chances; Everton fans will surely remember peak ‘Steve Bruce luck’ from last season’s 2-2 draw.
Results like that happen far too often, while we are played off the pitch by relegation fodder and legitimately lower division sides. There never is a plan with Bruce and that is the issue.
When things are going well, the players enjoy the freedom to do whatever they want, but when things are going the way they have been recently, they are incredibly discouraged because it seems as if there is no plan on the pitch or plan to make sure the team remains in the Premier League. With Rafa, people were annoyed at his tactics, with Bruce people are annoyed at the lack of tactics.
RBM: Where should Newcastle be finishing with the squad and resources at Bruce’s disposal?
Elijah: If Fraser, Almirón, Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin can stay healthy, they should be able to at least escape relegation and finish 16th.
I don’t have any faith that Bruce will be able to do anything tactically to get the best out of those players, but last season during Project Restart, Newcastle went on a decent run solely because Bruce figured out that if you play Almirón and Saint-Maximin in their proper positions, they will likely thrive.
If he can replicate that incredibly complex task, then I think their talent alone could propel us ahead of the current bottom three.
RBM: How much of the blame for Newcastle’s current woes do you attribute to Mike Ashley?
Elijah: Right now, it is really hard to blame Ashley. Maybe you can blame him for not firing Bruce earlier, or not snapping up Eddie Howe ahead of this season. But, honestly Ashley has splashed the cash on players that should make Newcastle good enough to be at least a mid-table side.
Newcastle have spent £100 million in their attack over the past three seasons. Fans see players like Fraser, Wilson, Almirón, and Saint-Maximin as players who would start in most Premier League teams. The issue is that it seems our manager has no clue how to use the players, which of course is incredibly frustrating.
RBM: How do you expect Newcastle to set up on Saturday?
Elijah: I would love for Bruce to roll out with the 4-2-3-1 that led to Newcastle’s first goal scored in nearly ten matches. Although Bruce has tended to sit back against teams with wonderful attacking players, he is clearly on the hot seat and at a minimum needs to score goals.
I think he plays all of his attacking cards and rolls out with the line-up fans have wanted to see since the beginning of the season. It also might be time for Martin Dubravka to reclaim his role as Newcastle’s number one. Karl Darlow has been great this season, but there is nothing he has done recently that justifies him being ahead of Dubravka.
Newcastle XI: Dubravka; Lewis, Lascelles, Schar, Manquillo; Hayden, Shelvey; Saint-Maximin, Almirón, Fraser; Wilson.
That being said, don’t be surprised if Newcastle roll out with a back five.
RBM: Which of Newcastle’s players do you think can cause Everton the most problems?
Elijah: Saint-Maximin is a player that draws a lot of attention and even if he does not have a particularly great game, he still is seen as dangerous by nearly every defender in the league.
I’m hoping he draws enough attention for other players like Almirón and Wilson to find themselves in positions to score. Since there will likely be no tactical plan, he will see a lot of the ball and attract a lot of attention.
Even if he does not free up others as I hope, there is always the potential for him to go out and score a wonder goal after cutting in from the wing.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
Elijah: I think Newcastle potentially could get one goal, but the Everton attack is probably going to be too much for an organized defence like Newcastle so I think Everton win this one 3-1.
Our thanks to Elijah for his time.