Bruno Guimaraes loves the 'freedom' of playing No 8 – but is it best for Newcastle?

Last Update :
Bruno Guimaraes loves the 'freedom' of playing No 8 - but is it best for Newcastle?

If Bruno Guimaraes intends to quieten the noise surrounding his Newcastle United future, then producing match-winning performances such as this in a fresh position will only have the opposite effect.

If his fingers-in-ears celebration was a rebuttal to those “who speak a lot about me”, then he may have also been inadvertently referring to some within his own camp. The persistent rumours about interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid do not merely appear out of nowhere.

Such lofty links seem eminently credible following game-defining displays like this. Guimaraes’ class is always evident. But at the City Ground, he sublimely conducted proceedings from higher upfield, rather than from his regular quarterback role.

“I think I can play No 6, 8, 10…” Guimaraes told Sky Sports following his two goals during the important 3-2 victory over Nottingham Forest, Newcastle’s second-successive Premier League away win. “The gaffer gave me freedom.”

Nominally a left-sided No 8, Guimaraes was given licence to roam and regularly popped up in a No 10 position. No wonder he felt liberated.

Eddie Howe had finally acquiesced to Guimaraes’ request to play further forward. The 26-year-old’s favoured position is as a No 8, but Howe views Guimaraes as his ideal No 6, the deep-lying playmaker around whom everything revolves.

This all-action performance will not only strengthen Guimaraes’ pleas for a more advanced position, it will further fuel those supporters who already feel that a defensive-minded midfielder is required. If Guimaraes is used as a No 8, then a holding No 6 can be more easily accommodated.

“Absolutely no doubt Bruno can play as a No 8 and do well,” Howe said. “But then we need to find a solution for the No 6 and that needs to work for the team. So I’m always stuck in that situation where I’m trying to work out what is best for the team, not the individual.”

On this occasion, it was Lewis Miley, the 17-year-old, who dropped into the deep-midfield role for the first hour — “he did excellently for someone so young,” Howe said. Intriguingly, to assist the teenager, Kieran Trippier was a prominent presence coming inside as an inverted right-back; the vice-captain has done so on occasion, but never as often as against Forest.

Howe feels that, while Guimaraes, Miley and Sean Longstaff are performing well individually, they are not a naturally balanced trio. To combat Newcastle’s present structural shortcomings — partly personnel-based, given the volume of injuries to key players — Howe tinkered, aiming to protect his centre-backs while also unshackling Guimaraes, who teams have been targeting and man-marking.

When it comes to end product, it undoubtedly worked. Guimaraes had scored one goal in 22 league appearances; against Forest he trebled that tally.

The first was an (enhanced) replica of the set-piece goal Guimaraes scored against Brentford last season, with Miguel Almiron playing a short corner to Trippier, who whipped in a majestic first-time cross to provide his 10th top-flight assist of the campaign. A late-arriving Guimaraes met it on the volley, almost caressing the ball across goal.

For Newcastle’s winner, Guimaraes had actually just shifted back to No 6, but he intercepted Anthony Elanga’s stray pass on the edge of the area and curled a low shot into the bottom corner, which Matz Sels was unable to keep out.

When Guimaraes’ superb outside-of-the-right-foot assist for Trippier’s goal against Luton Town is also considered, alongside the Brazilian’s near-identical cross for Jacob Murphy’s late chance, then the temptation to harness his talents higher upfield grows.

“When we can get him on the ball higher up the pitch, he has undoubted quality,” Howe said, “It’s a difficult challenge when I’ve only got three recognised midfielders. There were a couple of attacks where our midfield was too open and exposed our back four. The balance isn’t 100 per cent right in the team.”

Newcastle have conceded 39 goals in 24 games. Since December 7, Newcastle have shipped 25 goals, six more than any other top-flight side, from an expected goals against (xGA) return of 27.84, which dwarfs the figure for the next-worst team (West Ham, 19.12). Their fragility has become a persistent theme and opposition sides are aware of their deficiencies.

One of those alarming phases brought the first equaliser when Forest went from back to front with just three passes and Morgan Gibbs-White was given space to thread a through ball to Elanga.

Once more, this match felt chaotic in parts, and Howe actually pulled Guimaraes deeper for the final half-hour “to try and get some control back”.

Against Forest, Guimaraes had 68 touches and completed 42 passes. Five Newcastle players had more of each, with Sven Botman topping both charts (124 and 104 respectively). Normally, only Trippier (96.5) averages more touches per 90 than Guimaraes (75.3), while just Trippier (67.8) and Botman (59.8) complete more accurate passes (55) per 90.

So while Guimaraes’ offensive authority grew from a higher position, the volume of his involvements was diminished compared to when he plays deep. It is unsurprising, then, that Guimaraes naturally drops back looking for the ball when he is deployed upfield, given his desire to direct proceedings.


Guimaraes celebrates the winning goal (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Deprived of Joelinton and Joe Willock, Howe must carefully select when to play Guimaraes as a No 6 or as a No 8; the Brazilian can be influential from either, so shifting his role permanently appears unlikely.

In his 71 league appearances for Newcastle, Guimaraes has a win ratio of 56.3 per cent (40 victories). He has missed seven matches since his Premier League debut and Newcastle have failed to win any of them. They score more, concede less and collect three times as many points per game (1.9 to 0.6) when Guimaraes plays. Guimaraes is absolutely vital.

With and without Guimaraes

MetricWith GuimaraesWithout Guimaraes

Games played

71

7

Wins

40

0

Draws

14

3

Losses

17

4

Avg goals for

1.9

0.6

Avg goals against

1.1

1.3

Win %

56.3%

0.0%

Points per game

1.9

0.6

That is why there is such trepidation about what appears an almost inevitable upcoming two-match suspension. Guimaraes is on nine bookings and has to get through a further eight matches without picking up another yellow card. He was perhaps fortunate not to receive one when he leapt onto the advertising hoardings and stuck his fingers into his ears once he scored the winner.

Far from silencing the speculation, Guimaraes has pumped up the volume. He is indispensable for Newcastle, regardless of where he plays.

(Top photo: Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)