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Opinion

Zero control of midfield and yet it is Allan Saint-Maximin who is to blame?

1 month ago
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Allan Saint-Maximin continues to be a hot topic of conversation.

Since Sunday’s win over Leicester City, I have seen plenty of comments and conversations about our French enigma.

The debates / arguments surrounding Allan Saint-Maximin are set to run and run.

When there is anything negative about the team, such as a defeat or not a great team performance, the default position for so many of a vocal minority of Newcastle United fans, is to go after Allan Saint-Maximin.

I find it absolutely bizarre.

It has even infiltrated The Mag and the player ratings that are featured.

The collective ratings from fans went up this (Tuesday) morning for the Leicester match and Allan Saint-Maximin was given the lowest mark of all NUFC players, only 5.4 out of 10. Meanwhile, midfielders Jonjo Shelvey and Joelinton were rated 6.7 and 6.5 respectively.

The contrast was even more stark when after Sunday’s match, contributor / fan Jonathan Drape-Comyn did his NUFC player ratings and gave Allan Saint-Maximin only 5 out of 10, whilst it was 7.5 for Joelinton and 8 for Shelvey!

I find the over the top criticism and scapegoating of Allan Saint-Maximin even more laughable, when you consider that he was missing for two months due to injury / illness, Eddie Howe saying ASM was rarely able to train for most of this time, then has only been back in the team these last three matches and obviously still not 100% fit yet.

Despite that, so many of this vocal minority ready to go so over the top on him, when in reality Allan Saint-Maximin has still been our best player this season…

Newcastle United direct goal involvements Premier League 2021/22:

8 Allan Saint-Maximin (5 goals and 3 assists)

6 Callum Wilson (6 goals and 0 assists)

5 Ryan Fraser (2 goals and 3 assists)

4 Fabian Schar (2 goals and 2 assists)

3 Bruno Guimaraes (3 goals and 0 assists)

3 Javier Manquillo (1 goal and 2 assists)

3 Joelinton (2 goals and 1 assist)

3 Jonjo Shelvey (2 goals and 1 assist)

2 Chris Wood (2 goals and 0 assists)

2 Joe Willock (2 goals and 0 assists)

2 Matt Ritchie (0 goals and 2 assists)

2 Sean Longstaff (1 goal and 1 assist)

2 Jacob Murphy (1 goal and 1 assist)

1 Dan Burn (assist), Emil Krafth (assist), Jamaal Lascelles (goal), Isaac Hayden (goal), Jeff Hendrick (goal), Ciaran Clark (assist)

Where would Newcastle United be this season without Allan Saint-Maximin?

I like Almiron and he did a little better against Leicester BUT he hasn’t contributed a single goal or assist, yet I see some fans saying they don’t care if ASM never plays again, play Almiron every week instead. I even see some characters saying they would play Murphy ahead of ASM!!! The lunatics are most definitely trying to take over the asylum!

Eddie Howe has performed wonders BUT I think a lot of Newcastle fans are seeing gigantic improvements in the contributions of certain individuals in recent months, when in reality Howe has brought about serious better results and in a way, far better team performances, with a team of pretty average individuals.

In the real extremes, a player who has been terrible for pretty much their entire time at Newcastle United, has one or two decent matches where they play above and beyond their true ability (Krafth last couple, Murphy a couple / few last season etc etc) and some NUFC fans talking about being happy if they are starting next season.

Bottom line is that this current side needs seriously better quality added, as well as the likes of Trippier and Wilson returning fully fit for next season.

Here are Newcastle United nine Premier League wins (so far…) under Eddie Howe, along with the NUFC possession stat in each match (via BBC Sport):

Newcastle 1 Burnley 0 (48%)

Leeds 0 Newcastle 1 (37%)

Newcastle 3 Everton 1 (39%)

Newcastle 1 Aston Villa 0 (37%)

Brentford 0 Newcastle 2 (63%)

Newcastle 2 Brighton 1 (32%)

Southampton 1 Newcastle 2 (32%)

Newcastle 1 Wolves 0 (41%)

Newcastle 2 Leicester 1 (31%)

Make no mistake, this is Eddie Howe winning these matches. Yes, the Newcastle players of course deserve credit as well, to an extent…BUT these results simply wouldn’t be happening with most previous NUFC managers of the past 15 years or so, with these same players.

I would agree that possession isn’t everything….BUT when you are down to regularly getting less than 40% possession at home, indeed averaging only around a third of possession, against average mid-table teams at St James Park. This isn’t a longer-term situation that is sustainable.

Newcastle United desperately need to get more control of games and by the time next season kicks off, I expect significant changes and upgrades. Though for me, these upgrades will to be to play alongside Allan Saint-Maximin, not instead of him!

Newcastle United’s recent relative success since the mid-January, has largely been built on a far more disciplined side and defensive control. Only Spurs have scored more than one goal in a game against Newcastle, since 19 December, exactly four months ago. The likes of Trippier, Burn and Targett have made a serious difference when playing but it is playing as a unit and the work on the training ground that has brought the change from the shambles we saw under Steve Bruce. January striking recruit Chris Wood is also one of Newcastle’s best defenders, with the work he does when defending from the front with such a phenomenal workrate.

The whole team working hard, with yes, the midfield contributing to that as well.

However, despite them improving compared to the woeful contributions so often under Bruce, I still think both Joelinton and Shelvey have to do massively more, if they are to be considered as ideal to start next season.

Eddie Howe admitted after the final whistle that Newcastle United had no option but to accept a very defensive set up, even though Leicester had made eight outfield changes to their first team. The visitors absolutely dominated the play and in the second half Newcastle even struggled to get out of their own half.

This was despite Bruno G having been the best player on the pitch.

You have to look at the lack of midfield control Newcastle United had and properly look at Joelinton and Shelvey.

As you can see from the stats above, the pair of them have only scored four goals between them, Bruno G already has three and has only started five PL games, plus he has no real record in the past as a goalscorer, only three for Lyon in 71 appearances. Joelinton and Shelvey only have one assist each, once again that is nowhere near good enough.

Schar has four direct goal contributions and Manquillo three!

Shelvey has turned 30 now and I just don’t see him as having the energy to get about the pitch and do what is necessary, or indeed his stats to seriously improve, or him having the overall skill set necessary. As a squad player and an impact sub maybe next season, but nothing more.

Joelinton has shown some unexpected big strengths in his new midfield role BUT needs to add far more. Especially when it comes to goals and assists. He needs to look at how Bruno G showed such desire and commitment to score those two goals on Sunday, that is what he needs to do. Take responsibility as his countryman is doing, step up and get involved in creating and scoring goals.

If that happens, then Bruno G, Joelinton and a new summer signing could prove a formidable midfield trio, a trio who can then start to get Newcastle United taking control of the midfield area and dominating it against the majority of opposition teams.

That in turn will then give a great platform for the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin (and other NUFC attacking signings…) to really do their stuff.

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