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Newcastle season preview: Can the Magpies shake off their shackles under Steve Bruce?

Fans of the club have long yearned for more than relegation battles and mid-table obscurity – but is Bruce really the coach to elevate them?

Newcastle players embrace head coach Steve Bruce

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<p>Newcastle players embrace head coach Steve Bruce</p>
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<p> (Getty)</p>
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Last season

Newcastle finished 12th in the Premier League but spent much of their campaign in the bottom six. A mid-season run of eight games without a win – including four straight losses – saw Steve Bruce’s side precariously positioned above the relegation zone, and they entered their final four matches in 17th place in the table. The Magpies won three of those last four fixtures to surge up the table, thanks in large part to an impressive purple patch by Arsenal loanee Joe Willock, but make no mistake: fans were hugely disappointed by their team’s season. That feeling was augmented by a third-round exit in the FA Cup – though Arsenal away admittedly did not mark the easiest of draws – and a quarter-final defeat by Championship side Brentford in the Carabao Cup.

Transfer window so far

Aside from the protracted and, as yet, unresolved £22million saga involving Willock, it’s telling that the most significant move for Newcastle this summer has been Andy Carroll becoming a free agent. Some fans of the club were desperate last season to see a Saudi-led takeover completed, but Mike Ashley remains the owner – which means little investment in the team for the foreseeable future.

Manager

Newcastle coach Steve Bruce

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Newcastle coach Steve Bruce

(Getty)

Bruce is generally defensive-minded but has a few players with genuine flair and creative capabilities – most notably Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin. Former centre-back Bruce has actually struggled to get his team to thrive up either end of the pitch, with 62 goals conceded in the top flight alone last season, compared to 46 scored, and just seven clean sheets in the 2020-21 Premier League campaign. With no additions to his squad so far this summer, the onus falls on Bruce and his staff to improve this team.

Key player

Saint Maximin. The French forward is one of the most exciting players to watch in the country. He only managed three goals and four assists in the Premier League last term, however, and – although part of the reason for that was a lack of clinical edge from his teammates – the 24-year-old must kick on this season and channel his abilities into more direct goalscoring opportunities.

Allan Saint-Maximin in pre-season action

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Allan Saint-Maximin in pre-season action

(Getty)

What would be success?

A top-half finish, realistically. While Newcastle fans deserve much more, it is hard to see how the Magpies can achieve greater accolades than that without proper investment. A proper cup run should not be too much to ask, though, especially with seven Premier League teams playing in Europe this term and prioritising those competitions.

First three Premier League fixtures

(h) v West Ham, Sunday August 15, 2pm

(a) v Aston Villa, Saturday August 21, 3pm

(h) v Southampton, Saturday August 28, 13pm

Predicted first-choice XI

Dubravka; Krafth, Fernandez, Lascelles; Murphy, Shelvey, S Longstaff, Ritchie; Joelinton, Almiron, Saint-Maximin.

Bookies’ ranking

15th (500/1 to win the title)

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