Steve Bruce

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Premier League Preview: Newcastle United v. Chelsea

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Chelsea visits surprising Newcastle United in a marquee match Saturday at St. James’ Park (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The hosts have scrapped their way to 26 points, five points both clear of the drop zone and back of seventh place. A draw at Wolves last weekend snapped a three-match league losing streak.

Chelsea maintains a five-point gap over Manchester United in its bid to claim a Top Four place, with the Red Devils meeting unbeaten Liverpool this week. The Blues are seeking back-to-back league wins for the first time since Nov. 9.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Newcastle has had a fair bit of success against the big boys this season, beating Manchester United and Spurs while drawing Man City.

Christian Pulisic stole the ball en route to Marcos Alonso‘s late goal in a 1-0 win when the two sides met at Stamford Bridge in October.

Pulisic, of course, is still out injured for Chelsea and Lampard says the American could return near the club’s February break. Newcastle has electric winger Allan Saint-Maximin back in the fold after more than a month on the sidelines. Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey are also available.


Injuries/suspensions

Newcastle United: OUT — Paul Dummett, Dwight Gayle, DeAndre Yedlin, Fabian Schar, Jetro Willems, Javi Manquillo. QUESTIONABLE — DeAndre Yedlin, Yoshinori Muto.

Chelsea: OUT — Ruben Loftus-Cheek, N’Golo Kante, Pulisic. QUESTIONABLE — Marcos Alonso.


Probable lineups

Newcastle United: Dubravka; Willems, Clark, Lascelles, Fernandez, Ritchie; Hayden, Shelvey; Saint-Maximin, Joelinton, Almiron.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Rudiger, James; Jorginho, Willian, Mount, Kovacic, Hudson-Odoi; Abraham.


What they’re saying

Newcastle boss Steve Bruce on his meeting with owner Mike Ashley: “It went very well. We showed what we are trying to do, and he was fully supportive. We have plates spinning and hope to add to the squad by the end of the month. We have said that the targets have to improve us. He has been fully supportive of the remit. He agrees we buy quality not quantity. That has to be the mantra.”

Chelsea’s Frank Lampard on Newcastle’s many injuries: “It is still an opportunity, but this is vital. Every game brings challenges, going to Newcastle, the emotion of the crowd and they are an organized side. We won’t take it lightly. We have to take every game head-on. We don’t underestimate there. Bournemouth were down to the bare bones and we lost, it can bring out a different feeling. They have done very well and I don’t look at the bare bones.


Prediction

St. James’ Park has been a tough place to play, but the Blues shake off any travel to collect a 2-1 win over the Magpies.

PL managers vent at festive workload as injuries pile up

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It’s tough to know who had the bigger workload during a Premier League festive period perhaps like no other — the players or the clubs’ medical departments.

[ MORE: Klopp backs Ancelotti, “one of the smartest people I have ever met” ]

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce lost four of his players to injury — and was forced to keep on the field a player, DeAndre Yedlin, with a suspected broken hand — in a 20-minute spell around halftime during a game against Leicester on Wednesday.

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe fielded already-injured players in his team’s loss at Brighton days earlier, while Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson acknowledged starting star player Wilfried Zaha against Norwich despite knowing he was carrying a problem.

Across a period where some teams were forced to play four games in an 11-day span, a website that compiles injuries in English soccer’s top flight — Premier Injuries — has calculated that there were 53 reported injuries sustained by players.

[ MORE: Solskjaer: Pogba “out for a few weeks” with ankle injury ]

“Like all things in life, it’s about quality over quantity,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who has been one of the most vocal critics about the workload asked of a modern-day player.

“If you have a good friend and you see him twice a year, it’s brilliant, the best time of your life. If you see him every day, you’ll think after five days, ‘What the heck?'”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, the owner of one of the best and deepest squads in world soccer, also spoke out Friday about the crammed nature of the festive period in England.

“Like I’ve said before, nobody cares,” Guardiola said, referring to soccer’s authorities. “And next season there will be more than 50 injuries in this period again.”

While most leagues in Europe take a break over Christmas and New Year, the Premier League plows on regardless, continuing a tradition in England that saw — at its most extreme — top-flight teams playing on both Christmas Day and Dec. 26 until the late 1950s.

[ MORE: Premier League January transfer needs ]

It’s a dream for soccer-mad TV viewers — in England and around the world — less so for Premier League managers who are left to pick up the pieces as their squads are left in tatters at the heavy workload that often impacts on the quality of the games.

“The boys last night ran 8 miles,” Klopp said, the day after his team beat Sheffield United 2-0 at Anfield on Thursday to restore its 13-point lead. “I can’t tell them, ‘Come on, try to run only [7 miles] so you’ll be ready for the next game.’ It doesn’t work like this.

“It’s more, it’s quicker, it’s more physical, it’s more demanding in more departments. But the schedule is the schedule. That’s the truth.”

Klopp called on all parties — football authorities, broadcasters, managers — to come together and discuss a solution, though he is not holding his breath.

“Try to think at one time in all these negotiations about the players,” he said. “Without the money, it doesn’t work. But without the players, it doesn’t work, as well.”

[ MORE: Premier League player Power Rankings ]

Wolverhampton and Manchester City played two games in less than a 48-hour period (on Dec. 27 and Dec. 29).

City, especially, has the capacity to rotate its lineup to keep players slightly fresher but there was no such luxury for the likes of Palace, Newcastle and Bournemouth, who already had a long lost of injuries to players.

“We have 10 out of 22 outfield players injured. It’s horrendous,” said Bruce, who added that he had never seen such an extreme situation in 40 years in professional football.

Hodgson said his players had done “extremely well during this period to actually get on the field and play.”

“Do you say we need to play what we think is near to our best team, and we put players on the field and risk that they are going to pick up an injury, or do we say we can’t afford to risk it with all the games we have coming up?” said the 72-year-old former England manager.

“It is a dilemma and I am still waiting for some bolt from the blue which will tell me what I need to do to solve the dilemma — but it hasn’t happened yet.”

FIFPro, an organization that represents more than 65,000 professional players, made a series of recommendations in a report — called “At The Limit” — it published last year.

They include introducing mandatory periods of rest, of four weeks in the offseason and two weeks midseason, and limiting the amount of times per season when players have back-to-back competitive games with less than five days of recovery time in between. FIFPro also wants soccer authorities to consider imposing an annual cap on matches for each player “to protect his health and performance.”

For the first time in English soccer, the top flight will have a midseason break this season. It will see one round of Premier League games played across two weekends — five games on one, five on the other — in February to give clubs a two-week break.

The then-chief executive of the Football Association, Martin Glenn, said when the new schedule was announced last year that it would keep the “much-loved Christmas schedule in place” and prove to be a “valuable addition for our players” who will be going into end-of-season international tournaments.

Try telling that to England captain Harry Kane, who came off after tearing his left hamstring muscle while playing for Tottenham against Southampton on Wednesday, or Tom Heaton, an England goalkeeper who is out for the rest of the season with knee-ligament damage sustained while playing for Aston Villa the same day.

Expect managers to roll out largely reserve teams as the English soccer calendar continues this weekend with the third round of the FA Cup.

Bruce: USMNT’s Yedlin possible broken hand amongst five Newcastle injuries

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Newcastle had a historically bad day with injuries, and it’s affected their American right back.

DeAndre Yedlin may have broken his hand in the Magpies’ 3-0 loss to Leicester City on Wednesday, which saw the Magpies play almost a full half with 10 men despite not seeing a red card.

“In the next week or so we hope to get some back (but) we have 10 out of 22 outfield players injured,” he grumbled. “It’s horrendous.”

Newcastle used all three of their substitutions by the time the second half kicked off. Jonjo Shelvey, Javi Manquillo, and Jetro Willems limped off the pitch, and Fabian Schar joined them just after halftime.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

And it was worse than we knew, as Yedlin played through the pain despite his injury. The Magpies were already without Allan Saint-Maximin, Jamaal Lascelles, Ciaran Clark, Paul Dummett, and Matt Ritchie.

“It’s ludicrous, three players with hamstring injuries in a game and it’s because they have to play tired. I said before Christmas that the amount of games is ludicrous and this is the result.”

Bruce: Manchester United ripped Newcastle ‘to bits’

Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce
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Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce had plenty of time to cook up a season quote after his Magpies were stomped by Manchester United on Thursday.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 4-1 Newcastle ]

A former Red Devil himself, Bruce saw his men go up 1-0 early through Matty Longstaff before getting cooked for three goals in 17 minutes en route to a 4-1 final score.

The Boxing Day loss saw Bruce reflecting on the giving part of the holiday season.

“When you come here the one thing you can’t do is gift Manchester United. I know it’s Christmas but we gave away more goals in half an hour than we have in three months. It’s a harsh lesson for us that you cannot make the mistakes we have just made.

The Magpies had done enough in recent weeks to have their players dreaming of a Top Seven run, but the absence of a game-running midfielder was keenly felt on Thursday.

“If you chase it they will rip you to bits,” Bruce added. “We stuck at it but it was a tough afternoon for us.”

Bruce rested Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden in favor of the Longstaff brothers, and the truth is that the club needs a player better than any of the four.

Allan Saint-Maximin and Jamaal Lascelles were also missing, and Newcastle will hope for better against Everton on Saturday at St. James’ Park.

Bruce raves about Almiron after Newcastle striker finally gets goal

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Steve Bruce celebrated Miguel Almiron’s match-winner so hard that he hurt himself.

The Newcastle United manager was as happy as anyone not named Almiron that the Paraguayan finally scored a Premier League goal on Saturday.

[ RECAP: Newcastle 1-0 Palace ]

The Magpies ran out 1-0 winners over Crystal Palace at St. James’ Park, and Almiron’s cool side volley off an Andy Carroll flick did the trick.

That’s when Brucie hurt himself. From The Chronicle:

“I nearly did Jose Mourinho and my hip came out. I’m delighted. Everyone who has seen him play, as I have over 5 months, is delighted. He’s a good player, great pro, great lad and he’s very popular. You want people like that to succeed. He’s got it off his back.”

Bruce loved a lot about the goal and how it was constructed, and the playmaking veteran Geordie center forward was a bit part of it.

Newcastle’s manager says that the finally healthy Carroll is key to both the side’s on-field fate and the growth of record signing Joelinton.

And Bruce says he decided to give Almiron more of a role like the one he played for Tata Martino in MLS.

“Coming from a bit deeper helped,” said Bruce. “We have seen him play there, he played as number 10 for Atlanta for that. He’s no stranger to that role. It was his best performance for a while. It was a great cross from my center back Schar,  I don’t know what he’s doing there with five minutes to go. If Andy stays well he’s going to be a threat for us. He can teach Big Jo for us as well. It’s important for him to respond now as well.”

Newcastle will finish the weekend in ninth with 25 points, though the Magpies are through the soft spot of the schedule. They’ll next meet Manchester United, Everton, Leicester City, Wolves, and Chelsea.