The departure of the hugely popular Rafa Benitez from Newcastle United to Chinese club Dalian Yifang in the summer sparked a wave of supporter protest at St James' Park.
The subsequent appointment of Steve Bruce as Benitez's successor was met with derision by many. Knowing very well he had big boots to fill replacing Rafa Benitez, Bruce vowed to give it everything as the Toon Army head coach.
After a turbulent start to the season, just six months into the job, Bruce finds himself leading Newcastle United into February with a respectable points tally.
United are currently six points better off than they were at the same stage last season and seven points better off than in the 2017/18 season.
Bruce was widely expected to struggle at Newcastle. Instead, he has surprised a lot of people this season.
So it begs the question: is Steve Bruce doing a better job than Rafa Benitez?
Wins and Draws
Bruce has won eight in his opening 24 matches, compared to Rafa’s six at the same time in the last two seasons. In terms of drawn matches, Bruce’s men have drawn six as opposed to Rafa’s five and six in the previous two seasons.
Bruce has also lost fewer matches than Rafa. Bruce’s team has lost ten compared to Rafa’s 13 and 12 in the past two campaigns.
Goals Scored and Conceded
Newcastle has scored more goals under Steve Bruce. However, they have conceded slightly more than Rafa’s team. In terms of a direct comparison of goal difference, Steve Bruce sits with a -12 record as we speak, whilst Rafa Benitez was minus 11.5.
As for possession, neither of them are dominant in that respect. Rafa had 44%, while Bruce’s team has 39.1%. Bruce’s possession stats might be low, but they still are managing to sneak points. One gets the feeling the players are going the extra mile for him.
Despite the obvious improvement under Steve Bruce, one must not undermine Rafa’s work at Newcastle. Bruce has opted against changing too much and has continued with Rafa's 5-3-2 system, realizing the players were comfortable with the same formation as last season. One could safely say Bruce has built on the foundations laid down by Rafa Benitez.
Benitez had endeared himself with the Newcastle fans by guiding them to a return to the top-flight at the first time of asking, before securing 10th and 13th-placed finishes.
Undoubtedly, Bruce still has a long way to go. He knows he will get credit from the supporters if delivers a strong finish to the season. A top-ten finish will go a long way in proving his doubters wrong. The big question for many of them will be: can he deliver?Published 25 Jan 2020, 17:37 IST