Revealed! The numbers that justify Alan Shearer's dig at Allan Saint-Maximin on MOTD
Things have been pretty gloomy for Newcastle United in recent times, but generally speaking, if there has been one bright spark on Tyneside, it’s been Allan Saint-Maximin.
The mercurial Frenchman has endeared himself to fans hugely with his tricky dribbling talents and witty social media presence since signing for the club in 2019, and produced enough excitement last season to convince Toon chiefs into handing him a new six-year contract.
The 23-year-old penned the deal to much fanfare in October, but since then, both he and the Magpies have struggled for consistency.
For Steve Bruce’s men, it’s played five, lost three, won one, drawn one, while Saint-Maximin has failed to deliver a single goal or assist in that run.
Saturday’s 2-0 defeat against Chelsea was about as underwhelming as you might expect given the Toon Army’s recent form, and club legend Alan Shearer was quick to deliver his stinging verdict on Match of the Day over the weekend – with special criticism reserved for another fairly lacklustre display from his continental namesake.
"The manager has to take responsibility because he sent the players out", he said. "They were very negative, there were nowhere near enough ideas going forward but also players have to take responsibility.
"They have to be braver in possession, work harder closing people down.
"[Jamaal] Lascelles as a captain and a leader has to stop demanding protection from midfielders in front of him and Allan Saint-Maximin hasn't broken a sweat since signing his new six year contract.”
A cursory glance at the stats would suggest that Shearer might have a point about Saint-Maximin too.
The winger penned his new deal on October 14, 2020, and has started in all five of Newcastle’s matches since.
But across the board, his output has dropped.
The most obvious and exhilarating weapon in the wide man’s arsenal is his dribbling ability. So far this season, Saint-Maximin has attempted 62 dribbles in the Premier League, with 40 of those coming in the five matches since he signed his contract extension – a tally of eight per game.
Of those 40, the wide man has been successful on 20 occasions – an average of four per outing with a completion rate of exactly 50%.
To contextualise those figures, his season average from the entirety of last term was 6.66 successful dribbles from an attempted 11.32 per 90 minutes, with a total success rate of 58.8%.
That means that Saint-Maximin’s likelihood of completing a dribble since he signed his new deal is almost 9% lower than it was in 2019/20.
There are some caveats to that drop-off, however.
For one thing, his manager has experimented with playing him in a more central role as opposed to in his usual berth out on the left flank.
On a number of occasions over the past month, Saint-Maximin has been deployed as a second striker behind Callum Wilson, and it’s only natural that he’ll get fewer opportunities to run with the ball in that role than he would ordinarily if he were allowed to play in his more familiar position.
It’s also worth pointing out that any player deserves some leeway when being asked to make such a drastic change to their usual game, and with Newcastle averaging just 36.47% possession in their last five matches, opportunities to impress have hardly been abundant for their attacking talents.
But whether it be a consequence of Bruce’s tactical alterations or a personal dip in productivity – as Shearer appears to be implying – there’s no denying that nullifying such a central facet of Saint-Maximin’s game is having a domino effect in the quality of his work in other areas too.
The winger’s number of touches in the opposition box has fallen from 2.81 last season to just 1.6 over the past month or so, and his number of shots and shot assists per 90 minutes have fallen by 1.09 and 0.3 respectively.
If anything, you would expect playing in a central role – unfamiliar or otherwise – would allow Saint-Maximin to improve in those areas of his game. Instead, he looks to have regressed.
A lack of service isn’t necessarily at the root of his issues either. In each of his last five matches, the Frenchman has received more passes than his average of 12.27 per game from last season.
Against Wolves in particular – his first outing through the middle this term – he received 17 balls but could only muster one touch in the opposition box.
The 23-year-old has posed a greatly reduced threat in recent weeks, and it’s hard to get away from just how ill-suited he looks to his new central role.
It’s probably no coincidence that Newcastle have looked as toothless as they have during his spell through the middle either.
Bruce’s side have scored more than one goal in a game just once over their past five outings, and even then, one of Wilson’s strikes in the 2-1 win against Everton was from the penalty spot.
Saint-Maximin’s worth as an attacking talent is unquestionable, but with the Magpies regularly lacking a creative spark this term, his importance as their ace in the hole cannot be understated. When Saint-Maximin isn’t firing, Newcastle often struggle to find the inspiration they need to cause their opponents genuine problems, and he consistently fails to find his groove as a second striker.
The issue isn’t just one of a reduced goal threat though. While the Frenchman is hardly renowned for his defensive contributions, even those aspects of Saint-Maximin’s game have tailed off somewhat – perhaps what Shearer alluded to in his analysis over the weekend.
The Toon winger has made 0.6 interceptions per game over his past five appearances, less than half of the 1.36 he was averaging last term.
Likewise, he has won just 0.6 loose balls per 90 minutes over the past month, a considerable drop-off from his average of 1.13 in 2019/20.
Even towards the beginning of this season, prior to signing his contract extension, Saint-Maximin was averaging one interception per game – 0.4 more than he is at the present moment.
A large part of that dip in form is probably a direct consequence of his change in position, however.
Again, it’s only natural that a central striker is going to be met with fewer opportunities to win the ball back for his side than a wide player, and the impact of Saint-Maximin's new role is perfectly illustrated by his ball recovery stats.
Last term, the winger was averaging 2.76 interventions per game, with 65.6% of those coming in the opposition’s half.
In sharp contrast, he has recovered the ball just once per game since signing his new deal and making the move inside, but 100% of those contributions have come in his opponents’ half.
In short, he's playing further forward and not having to defend as much as usual.
Saint-Maximin, of course, is still a young player in just his second season in the Premier League and while he has undoubted ability, his form will fluctuate. It would also be fair to argue the point that nobody in a Newcastle jersey has exactly covered themselves in glory lately, and the Frenchman’s mini-slump is emblematic of a team that so often looks to be stagnating.
Whatever the truth of the matter, the unfortunate reality for the 23-year-old is that he is the star man on Tyneside, and with that adulation comes a higher level of expectation and responsibility.
A bumper new deal only exacerbates that, and Shearer’s argument is further fuelled by the fact that Saint-Maximin’s standout display of the season to date – his goal and assist in the 3-1 win over Burnley back in October – came just prior to him inking his extension.
That being said, it’s worth emphasising again that Bruce gave him a full run out on the left wing that day.
The credit that Saint-Maximin accrued with his dazzling displays last season should stave off the worst of the criticism for a while longer, but unless he begins to adapt to his new role and show some kind of turnaround in his form soon, don’t be surprised to see scrutiny from the likes of Shearer and his punditry colleagues grow and grow.