How Newcastle United have adapted to Allan Saint-Maximin’s injury absence
The Frenchman was routinely tasked with conjuring up a piece of magic to drag his side back into the game with his teammates forced to sit-back out of fear of the opposition. It was a role that Saint-Maximin often managed to fulfil during Steve Bruce’s time at the club, but they’re over-reliance on the 25-year-old was unsustainable.
Under Eddie Howe, he still remains Newcastle’s most exciting player and averages more completed dribbles per game than most other players in his position across world football. There’s no denying Saint-Maximin is one of Howe’s key players, but it is the way the whole team have adapted during his recent injury worries that have meant his absence hasn’t been too harshly felt.
There is an argument that at Old Trafford on Sunday, a fresh Saint-Maximin against a tiring Manchester United defence could have flipped the game for Newcastle and whilst the Frenchman is out injured, those arguments are valid and won’t go away. However, the bare fact that they were still in with a chance of winning on Sunday shows just how much the team have been able to cope in their star man’s absence.
Although lacking the flair Saint-Maximin brings to the table, Jacob Murphy has been a good option on the left and with Miguel Almiron to the right, the two wide men offer a lot of workrate and endeavour. These efforts out wide means Bruno Guimaraes, who has been in a rich vein of form, is afforded more space in attacking areas.
The whole team working as a pressing unit out of possession allows Newcastle to regain the ball further up the pitch - something they woefully lacked under Bruce. That, in turn, means players like Saint-Maximin, Murphy and Almiron aren’t being asked to produce a bit of magic miles away from the opposition’s goal.
Instead, Newcastle are beginning attacks in dangerous positions with plenty of players committing themselves forward. Guimaraes’ second goal against Brentford and strikes from Almiron and Murphy in the same game are perfect examples of this.
In the past, Thomas Frank’s side would be allowed to progress into Newcastle’s half and if the Magpies were able to win the ball back, someone like Saint-Maximin would then be tasked with driving the team forward from his own-half. This time around, however, saw United win the ball high up the pitch and score within seconds of regaining the ball - all without needing the Frenchman’s trickery.
That isn’t to say that there is no place for Saint-Maximin when he does return from injury however. His main strength lies in running at defenders - imagine how more threatening he would be knowing he has to run just ten or 15 yards with the ball to get a strike away at goal or find a pass to a teammate, rather than having to travel the full length of the pitch?
Saint-Maximin’s injury record this season has not been ideal, but, in truth, there are very few teams in world football that wouldn’t miss a player of his calibre. Newcastle have done very well to minimise the impacts of his absence thus far - hopefully it isn’t too long till he is back in the black and white.