Newcastle are the new outright favourites to be relegated from the Premier League this season after slumping to consecutive defeats in their opening two games.
The Magpies lost iconic manager Rafa Benitez in the summer after he grew frustrated with a lack of investment in the squad. Steve Bruce was parachuted in to replace him and he has endured a torrid start to life on Tyneside. They lost 1-0 to Arsenal on the opening weekend and then a Teemu Pukki hat-trick put them to the sword on Saturday, leaving them on zero points.
Remaining in the Premier League looks like a tall order for the Magpies this season. Benitez was a tactical genius and he made a bang average defence very difficult to break down, but Bruce does not have such a formidable reputation in that department. He has been relegated from this division with both Sunderland and Hull, and he was not a popular appointment among the Newcastle faithful. Ayoze Perez moved to Leicester and Salomon Rondon followed Benitez to China, depriving the team of their two top scorers from last season, so they look as though they will struggle at both ends of the pitch in 2019/20.
Before the season began, Sheffield United were the favourites for the drop, followed by Norwich and Brighton. However, those three teams have all started the season in fine form. According to a Bookmaker review and a search of the best Premier League odds on the market, Newcastle are now the favourites to go down with all the leading betting sites. They have twice suffered relegation since Mike Ashley bought the club, and they could be in line for another miserable campaign.
There are a few glimmers of hope for Bruce. They broke their record transfer fee to sign Joelinton in the summer and he has the makings of a dangerous Premier League striker. Miguel Almiron, the best player in MLS, joined in January and he also looks like an exciting talent. They have struggled to find chemistry during the opening two games of the season, but Bruce has a couple of quality players to work with there. Almiron boasts strong creativity and he needs to play higher up the pitch to support Joelinton and provide the Brazilian with better service.
Allan Saint-Maximin also delivered an eye-catching cameo against Arsenal, and he could ignite the Magpies attack. Sean Longstaff has bags of potential, while Jonjo Shelvey has the ability to thrive at this level if managed correctly. But Newcastle’s biggest concerns are at the back. The 3-5-2 formation proved disastrous against Norwich, as Todd Cantwell and Pukki frequently found themselves in acres of space and the Magpies were duly punished. They often played with three centre-backs under Benitez, but DeAndre Yedlin and Matt Ritchie would sit very deep, turning it into a back five.
Bruce has had Ritchie pushing up on one flank and Javier Manquillo on the other, and it has left Newcastle exposed. He needs to work on tightening that backline up, and he needs to play Longstaff as a deep-lying, holding midfielder to protect the defence. He will not be given long to turn the situation around. Bruce was said to be Newcastle’s 11th choice to replace Benitez, and he was only given the job after everyone else turned them down.
He is also reportedly paid the lowest wages of any Premier League manager, so Ashley could dispense with him quickly if results do not improve. He has been known to get through three managers in a single season before, and Bruce will be feeling the pressure. Newcastle face Spurs, Watford and Liverpool in their next three games, and they could still be on zero points by late September, which would be disastrous for morale, so Bruce needs to generate a massive improvement and do it quickly.