Saturday 18 January 2020

Sunday will show which Fergie acolyte is in a worse spot - Bruce or Solskjaer?

Steve Bruce
Steve Bruce

It's all relative, of course, but for both Manchester United and Newcastle United, their respective Premier League table positions are nothing short of disastrous.

For Newcastle manager Steve Bruce, second from bottom with just five points from seven games, it represents a new low in a robust managerial career marked by many highs and lows.

The Magpies 5-0 drubbing by Leicester on Sunday was the club's worst defeat in three and a half years.

In the eyes of the Newcastle faithful, Bruce has squandered the questing sense of ambition and optimism studiously created by Rafa Benitez over three years.

On Sunday afternoon, Newcastle welcome Manchester United, a club coming to terms with its own reduced status as it languishes midtable in tenth place, 12 points off the league leaders, rivals Liverpool.

Following Sunday's 1-1 draw at Old Trafford with Arsenal, Man United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted his team faced "a steep learning curve."

Solskjaer will be acutely aware that the 49 points he's earned from 28 games in charge amount to two less than what previous manager Jose Mourinho picked up in his final 28 matches before being sacked.

Sunday's tie sees two former Alex Ferguson acolytes squaring up in a high-stakes showdown.

It took Alex Ferguson five years to win a trophy at Man United, seven years to win the league. He retired with 15 league titles to his credit.

On Sunday, both managers need their teams to deliver performances that will raise the spirits of their supporters and scotch simmering unease and negative speculation.

This is a match which both sides desperately need to win.

If ever there was a time to channel the wisdom of Fergie, the manager who guided them to success as players at Old Trafford, this is it.

Bruce, with three league titles and a European Cup Winner's Cup among the honours he won with Man United, has had a chequered managerial career, working with eleven clubs in 21 years. Some may think that things couldn't get much worse for the former Man United skipper than having a cabbage thrown at him by an irate Aston Villa fan but even Villa had a 45 per cent win ratio (over 102 games) compared to Newcastle's 12.5 (over 8 games).

Bruce's dispiriting 5-0 defeat to Leicester came with his team down to ten men so the big man is savvy enough to know how to improve.

"I ultimately accept the responsibility because it's as bad an afternoon as I can remember," Bruce said after the match, explaining: "Too many (players) felt sorry for themselves."

He's been ridiculed by his critics as having thrown out a tactical game in favour of a reliance on pure passion.

Having always fronted up as a Man U defender you'd expect nothing less that Bruce to shoulder his share of responsibility for Newcastle's poor form.

"I'll analyse myself like I always do," he says.

"What have I done? Tactics and all this nonsense, the big thing is to have a go and show some pride."

"Tactics and all this nonsense" is a phrase that rankles with Newcastle supporters used to the adept application of resources that marks the tenure of the ever-astute Benitez.

When Bruce eyeballs Solskjaer before their match on Sunday, he'll know that his team have made the worst start to a season for 30 years, the 1989-90 season.

It's often said that nobody at Manchester United ever wanted to win as passionately as Roy Keane. The Corkman has been dismissive of the current MU squad, stating after the 2-0 defeat to West Ham: "It's scary how far they've fallen."

While bemoaning "a lack of characters, a lack of quality, a lack of leaders, a lack of desire," Keane endorses the current manager.

"I think he has been brilliant, a good, honest guy," he said on Sky after Monday's 1-1 draw.

Last night highlighted some of the problems that confront Solskjaer. Without a clear shot on target, Man United struggled to hold on to a 0-0 draw against Dutch side AZ Alkmaar, bringing their statistic of away games without a win to 10.

Sunday provides both Solskjaer and Bruce with an opportunity to turn the tide and show what they learned from Fergie, Master Craftsman from Govan.

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