Steve Bruce’s naïve plan to afford the Newcastle United first team six days off from nine over the March international break will only hold Matty Longstaff back.
Reports by the Daily Mail have claimed that the Toon will only train for three days this week, as Bruce and the Tyneside hierarchy have decided to minimise the number of times that players will train together in hopes of easing the pressure on the squad.
United enter the international break after an apathetic and gutless 3-0 defeat to relegation rivals Brighton & Hove Albion to leave the St James’ Park natives only two points above the drop zone.
Is Bruce right to schedule six days off from nine?
Yes, the players need a break
No, they should be training
Only three of the six Newcastle players who have been called up for international duty featured at the Amex Stadium, but the entire squad’s ‘mental and physical wellbeing’ was the deciding factor in pencilling in a limited number of sessions.
Some of the Magpies first team are noted to have grown increasingly concerned at the number of days off Bruce and his staff have given amid a relegation fight, and were not surprised when they heard his latest plan.
Tuesday represents the first time that Newcastle will reconvene since being beaten comprehensively at Brighton, but will only stay together until Thursday before having a further four days off.
Attentions will soon turn to United’s next Premier League fixture once players return to Darsley Park next week, with Tottenham Hotspur visiting St James’ Park on April 4 to begin a brutal run of games including encounters with Burnley, West Ham, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leicester and Manchester City.
Expectations of Newcastle taking many points in that run will be low given their current streak of two wins in 18 top-flight matches, and leaves the final two rounds of the season as extremely must-win games against relegation rivals Sheffield United and Fulham.
In the meantime, Bruce and his staff having limited opportunities to work with the squad will prove unlucky for some, as they will not have as many chances to earn a place in the side as they otherwise could have.
Longstaff is one who falls into that unfortunate trap, as a place in the Newcastle midfield is likely to be up for grabs against Tottenham after Isaac Hayden sustained a potentially season-ending knee injury at Brighton on Saturday.
Bruce has not fielded Longstaff for a single second of Premier League football over the Magpies’ last 11 games and opted to omit the 21-year-old from his matchday plans on six occasions, including each of United’s last five fixtures.
His stance has left Longstaff on just 377 minutes of top-flight action all term – only Elliot Anderson (three minutes), Dwight Gayle (295) and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka (360) have featured less for Newcastle this season.
Reports by The Athletic earlier in the month claimed that Longstaff’s perplexing omission from Bruce’s plans, despite being fit, has been to the bewilderment of teammates and the academy product himself.
What Bruce sold to him last summer to see the 21-year-old sign a new contract has not come true, and now the midfielder – who Martin Keown once likened to Paul Scholes – is likely set to miss out on a potential recall due to the Magpies manager’s mistake of sanctioning extra time off rather than working tooth and nail to somehow inspire a turn of form at a time of despair.
AND in other news, Newcastle are tracking a 20-year-old talent who has “played out of his skin”…