What's happened to Miguel Almiron? Analysis of the out-of-form Paraguayan who has acted as the sacrificial lamb to Newcastle United's Premier League success
Take one for the team. It’s a phrase we hear a lot in football. Needed by the many, rarely, if ever, wanted by the individual. Sacrifice for the greater good.
It might come in the form of a Fabinho shoulder barge – which was a red if ever I’ve seen one – or a striker substituted when a side has a player red-carded.
But for Miguel Almiron it’s come in a totally different form.
Almiron was one of the catalysts for Newcastle’s resurgence when Graeme Jones threw the cat among the tactical pigeons.
A switch to a 4-3-3, not seen under Steve Bruce, combined with a high press and a role absolutely tailor-made for the Paraguayan forward – as a false nine – saw Almiron become United’s diamond in the rough.
His ability to drop between the lines and run beyond them is nothing quite captured since Ayoze Perez – well, the end of season one, not the start.
Injuries to Callum Wilson and Almiron himself rendered the system useless, with Ryan Fraser, Joelinton and Dwight Gayle failing to fill any of the three forward positions with any degree of certainty.
With United’s frontline triumvirate out, results faltered and the slide to the bottom three began. For seventeen nervy April minutes United dipped below the water. They haven’t since and are unlikely to do so again, if logic conforms between now and mid-May.
That safety buffer rebuilding – the gap now nine points – the foundations of which were built on a move to 5-3-2, has come at a cost.
And while beneficiaries have been Matt Ritchie, Sean Longstaff, Jacob Murphy and others, Almiron’s form has dropped through the floor.
Almiron is being asked to play much deeper in a midfield three, to the left or the right depending on the opposition. This has called for a more pragmatic version of the South American workhorse.
His line-breaking runs have turned down blind alleys. Goals, assists have turned into tackles and winning throws ins.
And while Almiron’s form is a concern, his value is not in doubt. The sacrificial lamb act has allowed others to prosper.
There’s joy in that. Eight points of it. Long may it continue, even if that Miggy smile isn’t quite so wide. At least now it’ll be a Premier League one.