Winner: Christian Atsu
With all the hype surrounding the new signings, especially Allan Saint-Maximin, Atsu fell even further out of contention for the wing positions. By the time he joined up with the squad, Atsu was injured and therefore, unable to properly stake his claim for one of the attacking slots in the side.
When the lineup and bench for today’s match was announced, everyone was stoked to see Bruce had deviated from his preferred 3-5-2, and Atsu’s presence on the bench flew under the radar. In the early moments, Atsu was thrown straight into the fire when Allan Saint-Maximin came off injured. From the get-go, the Spurs side engaged in the gegenpress, and Atsu was truly thrown into the fire. He had little chance to get a feel for the game, as Spurs were already playing with such a high intensity.
To his credit, he did not back down from the battle and instead did his part by helping Newcastle maintain possession. Before he came on, Newcastle had little time with the ball and were penned in at the back. When he took to the field, Newcastle looked much more composed and settled on the ball. Atsu was able to absorb the pressure and retain possession to help Newcastle march up the pitch. This positive influence was capped off with two delightful crosses that he sent Joelinton’s way, one of which ultimately helped put Newcastle over the top.
Loser: Jonjo Shelvey
Jonjo Shelvey watched from the bench today as Steve Bruce adopted the 3-4-3 formation. Early on this season, it became apparent that one of the few benefits of the 3-5-2 was that it allowed Jonjo Shelvey to play alongside Longstaff and Hayden. With the 3-5-2 experiment officially on the back-burner, switching to a 4-3-3 seems like the only reasonable way to accommodate Shelvey while simultaneously maintaining a formidable attacking presence. However, Steve Bruce’s decision to play the 3-4-3 today reiterates his preference for three at the back.
With 3 points now on the board, Bruce will likely continue with this setup. Longstaff and Isaac Hayden have thrived as a midfield pairing, and they look set to continue their formidable partnership in the heart of midfield.
Just like he did last season, Jonjo Shelvey will likely have to miss out. Undoubtedly Newcastle’s best passer, Jonjo Shelvey just can’t get himself an extended run in the squad, and his consolation goal against Norwich likely to be his last contribution to the team for a while.
Winner: Two of the New Boys
Prior to today’s match, the only gripe that Newcastle fans likely would have had against Bruce’s team selection was the inclusion of Emil Krafth. With Son returning for Spurs, concerns about who would deputize as the right wing back were serious and understandable. Many thought that Krafth’s initial inclusion against Norwich, an action which saw in-form Javi Manquillo dropped to the bench, was unjustified. To make matters worse, he did little to justify his inclusion in the starting 11 against Norwich.
The idea that Krafth would have to face one of the most potent attackers in the Premier League, Son, on the back of that horrific display against Norwich struck fear into the heart of many Newcastle fans. However, Krafth had himself a good game, and he certainly proved himself worthy of Steve Bruce’s faith. Son indeed had his moments today, but for the most part, Krafth did well to keep him relatively quiet. In hindsight, the horror-show that was Emil Krafth’s debut was likely more reflective of Newcastle’s poor display overall than his personal ability.
The other “New Boy” Joelinton had himself an incredible game. After two frustrating, tame performances, Joelinton definitively showed Newcastle fans what he is capable of. Throughout the game, he did well to link-up with his teammates in tight spaces. This, along with the buildup to his goal, helps to demonstrate that Joelinton possesses a good touch. In addition, he proved himself to be incredibly comfortable with the ball. He never looked flustered in possession and was nearly impossible to knock off the ball.
After missing an easy chance last week, Joelinton did well to make the most of his chance today. He also impressed with his willingness to drop deep and help out on defense.
This type of performance is exactly what everyone involved would have hoped for. With a 40 million pound price-tag looming over his head, Joelinton let everyone know why Newcastle shelled out so much money for him.
Winner: Steve Bruce
The need for Newcastle to deviate from the 3-5-2 was apparent to most in these past two weeks, but Steve Bruce seemed blind to it. Today, he did the right thing by switching to the 3-4-3 even if it was at the expense of his favored 3-5-2. With this change, Newcastle looked much more potent in attack and looked solid at the back.
In contrast to the Norwich match, the Newcastle players possessed sensational desire and urgency today. Essentially, all the outfield players worked their socks off on the evening and ran themselves into the ground. Though it was just the third match of the season, the players seemed to treat it like a cup final. After an unconvincing display last week, Steve Bruce deserves immense credit for rallying his troops in this manner.
One moment that was particularly emblematic of the dogged spirit of the players came close to the end when Atsu was cramping. Ritchie and Schar both approached him and encouraged him to get back up and continue to fight, and that’s exactly what he did.
Since Steve Bruce took over, Newcastle fans have asked for something to be positive about. Given Newcastle’s tough schedule, Bruce’s chances of proving himself were seemingly dwindling. After the defeat to Norwich, it looked like Newcastle’s next real chance to pick up points would be against Brighton. Bruce and his players had not given fans much to be happy about in the past two weeks, but today, Bruce orchestrated the perfect response.