The Hard Tackle takes a deep dive into how has Bruno Guimaraes transformed Newcastle United into a genuine Premier League top-four contender.
Newcastle United’s transformation from a side sleepwalking towards relegation last year to one of the Premier League’s top performers in 2022, and potentially a top-four challenger, is nothing short of miraculous. And it is something the Geordie faithful are still getting used to. But what has been the impetus for the transformation?
The turn of the year marked an upturn in their fortunes. Newcastle’s form changed dramatically after Eddie Howe started to get his philosophy across the board and instilled a belief in players, with the five winter additions adding competition for places. They not only survived the drop but finished comfortably in the middle of the pack with 49 points.
Only Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Tottenham Hotspur have collected more points than Howe’s men during the Englishman’s reign. However, it is their transition from a low-confidence team that more often than not parked the bus under Steve Bruce to playing a possession-based attacking brand of football, going toe-to-toe in clashes against the elite like Manchester City, Manchester United, Spurs, and Liverpool in the current season, that has raised many eyebrows in the Premier League world.
A key factor in this evolution has been the blockbuster January signing of Bruno Guimaraes, who has taken to life in the English top flight like a duck to water following his January switch from Lyon. Fair to say, there were many raised eyebrows.
Bruno Guimaraes is one of the most in-form and coveted midfielders in Europe, a current Brazil international, entering the crucial phase of his career as a 24-year-old looking to take the next step and achieve success at club and international levels. Yet, he swapped European football for relegation-threatened Newcastle United.
In the words of much-mocked talkSPORT pundit Gabriel Agbonlahor, “Let’s be honest, players don’t want to live in Newcastle.” The former Aston Villa striker has had to eat a lot of humble pie for his anti-Newcastle agenda since.
A £40 million price tag could weigh heavy on the shoulders of a newbie, especially when one is under the microscope of Newcastle’s passionate and expectant fanbase. Bruno Guimaraes’s compatriot and teammate Joelinton is a good example.
Yet, it did not take long for him to prove that Newcastle had actually struck gold, a real superstar in the making, and one of the best around for a pittance when compared to the obscene amounts being forked out for even mediocre talent in the bloated transfer market these days.
A huge fan favourite, Guimaraes has already established himself as a cult hero among the Newcastle faithful and shares a special bond with the fans, who can be heard serenading his name, chants, and the wonderful “Magic hat” song. A huge Guimaraes montage has become a regular fixture at the Gallowgate end, highlighting how highly the Brazilian playmaker is revered in these parts.
Guimaraes has delivered countless match-winning displays despite still being very early in his Newcastle career. In addition, his swagger on the ball, his mesmerising close control, notorious flicks, tricks, aggression on the pitch, and flashy nutmegs are unrivalled.
Newcastle have always had the rub of the green when it comes to poaching talent from Ligue 1 like Yohan Cabaye and Moussa Sissoko among others. However, Guimaraes’s talent is on a whole different level thanks to his versatility, flair, connection with the fans, and what he could possibly achieve later down in his career.
He is already regarded by many among the Toon fanbase as one of the best midfielders the club has ever had. And there is some stiff competition. Here, at The Hard Tackle, we take a closer look at How(e) Guimaraes has turned Newcastle into worthy top-four contenders and whether is he the best midfielder in the Premier League.
Guimaraes key to Howe’s entertaining Mags and his changing role at Newcastle United
Since joining the Magpies in January, the Brazilian international’s impact has seen him hailed as a transformative signing for the new regime. Guimaraes has become a midfield lynchpin for Newcastle, and his instrumental performances have been critical in helping them break into Premier League’s top four this season, though his stellar performances have also seen the midfielder linked with Europe’s top clubs.
The Brazilian was predominantly a holding midfielder at the Groupama Stadium. But Eddie Howe spotted his ability to play higher up the pitch, a move that paid instant dividends.
Playing as a hybrid number 6/number 8 in a midfield-three, the Brazilian found the back of the net five times from just 11 starts in the second half of last season. While some may point it out as an unsustainable purple patch or overperformance in goal output – only six arrived in 117 league games for Lyon and Athletico Paranaense – it also proves his tremendous versatility.
Anyways, the number of goals Guimaraes gets does not fully illustrate the difference he has made to Eddie Howe’s team. His ability to pass, move and retain possession brilliantly. Guimaraes is blessed with impressive passing range, flair, and technical ability.
This season, Eddie Howe has utilised him as a deep-lying anchor instead of a box-to-box dynamo in order to compensate for the injury absence of Shelvey. He has fitted into the new role like a glove and has performed at a high level, showcasing his impeccable ball distribution, switches of play, and ability to find teammates with lofted chips, flicks, or swift, zipping through balls along the floor.
However, when Guimaraes is missing, Newcastle have lacked that precision and cutting edge in the final third, especially when playing against a deeper block.
There is another school of thought among the fanbase that their team needs a proper defensive destroyer at the base of midfield to allow Guimaraes to make a bigger impact in advanced areas and churn out chances for the runners in behind due to his high volume and accuracy of vertical passes.
Either way, he is just running the show for the Toon Army currently, tearing apart opposition lines for fun with his raking defence-splitting passes and always looks to dictate the tempo of the game in pockets of space located between the lines, which makes the Brazilian a vital cog in Howe’s current system and future plans to convert Newcastle into a more ball-dominant, technical team.
The Ripple effect
Others at Newcastle are benefiting from Bruno Guimaraes’s presence as well. When the Magpies are in their attacking shape, with midfielders and the right-back flooding forwards to make up numbers, he acts as a pivot around the edge of the opposition box, knitting up the plays, and creating attacking sequences with quick interchanges, lay-offs, crisp passes in behind, or those lovely dinks over the top.
All of Almiron's goal for the month October. 🚀
A goal of the month category of its own. 🔥pic.twitter.com/T0UewjZWV0
— FPL Zh0u (Joe) 🇲🇾 (@ZhouFPL) November 2, 2022
The Paraguayan baby-faced assassin, Miguel Almiron, for example, is flourishing, adding goals to his game. This is because of the South American duo’s wonderful chemistry, with Guimaraes spotting a buzzing Almiron in open space behind opposing backlines to exploit. This is how a handful of his eight goals in 14 league games have arrived this season. And then, of course, Almiron’s incredibly gifted left-foot pulling off goal-of-the-season contenders every single week, making a mockery of Jack Grealish’s shameful jibe.
Sean Longstaff also looks to have taken another step forward in his development. The 25-year-old central midfielder, known for his ability to mop up the ball, defensive work rate, and the incredible amount of ground he covers, has forged an understanding with Brazilian and drops into the No. 6 role when Guimaraes forays forward in attacking situations or the other way round, with the Geordie midfielder great at making shadow runs in behind.
Compatriot Joelinton, whose own redemption arc on Tyneside runs parallel to Guimaraes’s Newcastle career, has that Samba bromance with him, with the pair dovetailing well on and off the pitch.
In a nutshell, Press monsters Joe Willock and Joelinton serve as powerful midfield runners who suffocate the middle of the park with Guimaraes with their high number of defensive actions, successful pressures, ball recoveries, and turnovers, forming an impregnable second line of press. They also drift out to the flanks to stretch the opposition, allowing inverted wingers to cut inside on their favoured foot and excel at those vertical lung-busting runs that ensure Howe’s team’s attacking patterns never get too predictable.
There is a good balance to the Magpies’ midfield three right now. Guimaraes is also excellent at shielding his backline which is his primary job but is not talked about enough for some reason. His ball control, delicate touches, and exceptional ability to draw fouls through body movement and ball shielding come into play here.
The addition of talented centre-back Sven Botman at the back, Fabian Schar’s imperious form, and Dan Burn’s no-nonsense approach mean their backline also looks to be in good shape. In fact, it is the stingiest defence in the Premier League with only 10 goals conceded to date. All this has led to suggestions that Newcastle might challenge for the Champions League spots this season.
They are currently sitting third on the table after 14 matches and underlined their improvement with a dominant 2-1 win over third-place Tottenham Hotspur a couple of weeks back, in which Guimaraes put in one of the most imperious midfield performances you’ll see.
He has been doing it in all the games he has featured in so far this season, not only offering a solid base for the attackers but actively being involved in build-up and creation phase. It is no wonder Newcastle are brushing teams aside, and have scored at least four goals in four of their last seven games.
Put simply, Guimaraes is the heartbeat of Newcastle’s well-oiled machinery, and the teams’ efficiency more often than not tends to somewhat reduce in his absence. He is the bow and arrow of this Newcastle team.
Is Guimaraes the best midfielder in the Premier League?
Here comes the most controversial of the questions. Guimaraes has certainly established himself as one of the most exciting and top-performing central midfielders in England at this moment in time and he has the potential to do a good job for any of the established elites, including Manchester City.
It would be criminal to put him in a certain category of a midfielder since he does so many things so effectively. A holding midfielder, a destroyer, a pass master, a box-to-box high-tempo enforcer, and creator-in-chief, he’s a jack-of-all-trades who can do an admirable job in all of the aforementioned roles, which makes him one of the most well-versed midfielders around.
Guimaraes’s versatility, press-resistance, ability to advance with the ball, make progressive passes, manoeuvre his way out of tight spaces, deft body movement, and find defence-splitting passes, are what enable him to operate in so many roles with ease and make him such a deadly weapon.
If statistics from FBRef are anything to go by, the Brazilian international is in the elite company of midfielders, ranking above the 85th percentile for passes under pressure, progressive carries, progressive passes, passes into the penalty area, dribbles completed, and shot-creating actions.
🇧🇷 Bruno Guimaraes has now been involved in five Premier League goals this season for Newcastle United.
— Mozo Football (@MozoFootball) November 6, 2022
In short, Guimaraes is among the top players in almost every criterion used to quantify a midfielder’s distribution attacking and progressive attributes, in the top 97th percentile for through balls and 99th percentile for fouls drawn. These aforementioned metrics and eye-test could fool you into thinking he might be one of those luxury playmakers who lack work ethic, but his defensive stats are even more phenomenal.
An adept ball-winner, he is currently averaging 4.5 tackles plus interceptions per 90, putting him in the top 92nd percentile of midfielders. He has ranked in the 97th percentile for tackles, 92nd for successful pressures, 85th for dribblers challenged, and 90th for ball recoveries, amongst his positional peers over the last year.
To be more specific, Guimaraes, like most Brazilian players, is technically gifted with amazing flair and agility. But he is also a snappy, aggressive tackler who loves a battle, flies into challenges and has gritty qualities that can only be attributed to your typical South American defensive midfielder.
An aggressive, all-action presence. One who loves nothing more than shrugging opposition players off the ball before starting quick counters with his pinpoint passing. What stands out the most, though, is the pressing side to his game that constant ball-hunting press rather than sitting and playing a waiting game. This attitude is helping Newcastle create a high number of successful turnovers higher up the pitch, resulting in more chances created by putting the opposition under pressure.
What is more astonishing is Guimaraes’s ability to transition between roles in a game, depending on the situation: when to sit deep and help the defence, when to become an out-ball for the backline, when to choose the right moments to break forward, when to create plays, combinations, and spray the balls around. That explains why he ranks so high in almost every metric, including non-penalty XG (93rd percentile).
It is as if you have a player in FIFA who you can deploy in multiple roles without downgrading his overall rating. Modern football is all about mastering the phase of transitions. And Guimaraes is the cheat code that has made Newcastle so devastating in turnovers with his verticality.
Is it any surprise that Real Madrid wanted him to replace Casemiro last summer, Barcelona was him as Sergio Busquets’s replacement, or City as a possible Ilkay Gundogan successor? – all different profiles but the same solution to plug the holes. It demonstrates his remarkably well-rounded skillset, and how well he’s displayed them during his short stint on Tyneside thus far.
Bruno Guimaraes 🆚 Premier League central midfielders
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) October 10, 2022
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher went into further detail and even described the 24-year-old as the “complete midfield player” in a Monday Night Football segment. Guimaraes is the Premier League’s leading holding midfielder in terms of tackles, the ball carries, chances created, and through balls per 90 minutes. Only West Ham United’s Declan Rice edges him in possession won.
If not the best, Guimaraes is certainly the classiest playmakers in the division. Everything he does on the pitch just drips with class. For instance, his fantastic solo goal in his side’s 5-1 win against Brentford came about as he gathered the ball 40 yards out, progressed another 15, and, when he was met with little resistance, fired into the bottom corner to send the home crowd wild.
And what’s more stunning is that he did it all while chewing gum. He did the same against Southampton this past weekend after a quick interchange with Allan Saint-Maximin.
Bruno Guimaraes' goal for Newcastle vs Brentford. pic.twitter.com/RtrFCPke4K
— A Football Fan (@TheFanLij) October 9, 2022
His flick goal against Southampton last season was also absolute filth. The guy can literally turn water into wine, and he’s been doing that virtually every week since landing on Tyneside. Coming back to our original question, Is he the best PL midfielder? Well, he’s right up there with the best of the best, and playing for this ambitious, top-four contender Newcastle doesn’t hinder his case.
What does the future hold for the dazzling Brazilian?
With big clubs circling for his signature, Newcastle could do well by preparing for a fight to keep Guimaraes. Real Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Liverpool, and Manchester City have all started knocking on Newcastle’s doors to enquire about the sparkling Guimaraes. So it is only a matter of time until someone tables a ridiculous bid in excess of £100 million for the Brazilian midfielder.
However, luring the Ghuimaraes away from Newcastle will not be easy by any means. First of all, Newcastle are protected by a long-term contract, which runs until the summer of 2026. Second, their cash-rich owners are not keen on offloading their star player anytime soon in the near future. As the repeated term in the transfer market goes, he is an “untouchable” commodity.
Guimaraes, after all, has been the heart of Newcastle United’s progress, with the club even reportedly in talks over a new mega-money deal that would make him their top wage earner at around £200,000 per week and extend his stay by two more years until 2028. He is to Newcastle what Vincent Kompany and David Silva were to the Manchester City project when it first began.
Above all, the player himself is absolutely loving life in the Northeast and being adored by some of the best fans in the world, in stark contrast to some radio stations and mainstream media. (Yes, we are referring to poor punditry at Sky Sports and talkSPORT, who claim that moving to Newcastle is akin to moving to the Himalayas and that the Magpies will have to shift their training facility closer to London to attract high-profile talent).
At 24 years old, Guimaraes is just entering his prime, with his best years ahead of him. He certainly has the numbers and potential to be regarded as a world-class player. It is difficult to imagine Guimaraes wanting to leave Newcastle right now. He is playing some of the best football of his career and has expressed his desire to become a “legend” in Tyneside.
He is the poster boy of the club’s exciting project and has the potential to not only take Newcastle to the next level but also challenge the European heavyweights for major honours in not so distant future if their ongoing fairytale resurgence is anything to go by.