Many Newcastle fans were ecstatic before their recent Premier League match against West Ham when it was announced that, for the first time since August, winger Allan Saint-Maximin would be starting for the Magpies.
The Frenchman was brought in as a replacement for the suspended Bruno Guimaraes, after his red card against Southampton in the second leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final.
However, it’s clear from the fan response and backlash that Saint-Maximin did not live up to expectations, constantly giving away the ball and looking a shadow of what he once was.
It didn’t help his case when his 69th minute replacement, Anthony Gordon, made the most of his short debut following his big-money move from Everton, and would’ve likely grabbed an assist if not for a brilliant tackle by West Ham’s Nayef Aguerd to deny Callum Wilson.
In the next match away to Bournemouth last Saturday, Saint-Maximin would again start and, despite an improvement, his stats were again underwhelming. An injury would force him to be substituted near the end of the game, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be fit to start against Liverpool on Saturday evening despite returning to training this week.
Since Eddie Howe arrived on Tyneside, despite the phenomenal improvement made by players such as Joelinton and Miguel Almiron, the same cannot be said for Saint-Maximin, who has spent the majority of this season on the bench or out injured. So how has it come to this?
Saint-Maximin arrived at St. James’ Park from Nice in the summer of 2019 and almost immediately integrated himself into the starting 11, and his technical ability with the ball at his feet was soon appreciated by Newcastle fans and neutrals alike.
According to Squawka, in his debut season, Saint-Maximin completed 121 successful take-ons. Only Wolves’ Adama Traore and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha completed more, with 183 and 163 respectively, although they both played more minutes than Saint-Maximin.
However, despite his exciting style of play, his end product has often been questioned by the Newcastle faithful. Even in his first season, he would record only three goals and five assists in 26 Prem outings. In the 20/21 season, he would score the same amount of goals and earn only four assists in 25 appearances.
Last season was his most productive season on Tyneside, but even then, he only had five goals and five assists to his name in 35 appearances.
A combined 51 appearances out of a possible 76 in his first two seasons highlights another issue. Saint-Maximin’s Newcastle career has been affected by several injuries, most of them long-term, which has stagnated his progress. Last season, it seemed like these problems had gone away, only missing three league games, but this would be short-lived.
This season started off brilliantly for Saint-Maximin. In August, he produced a mesmerising man-of-the-match display against Manchester City, producing two assists and winning Kieran Trippier’s stunning free-kick in that memorable 3-3 draw at St. James’ Park.
A week later, he scored an incredible last-minute volley to snatch a 1-1 draw at Molineux against Wolves, which earned him the Premier League’s Goal of the Month award.
Unfortunately, he suffered a hamstring injury at the end of the Wolves game, which began the downward spiral. Either side of a 12-minute appearance off the bench in the 5-1 demolition of Brentford in October, he would go on to miss eight games in total.
After returning to the squad, he then spent the next seven games on the bench, coming on in all but one of those matches, the 1-0 victory over Chelsea. But against the Hammers, he finally got the chance to show his true potential again.
However, it was evident he didn’t make the most of that opportunity. According to Whoscored.com, he attempted only 20 passes with a 65% pass accuracy. If you compare this with his opposite winger, Miguel Almiron, who attempted 42 passes with an accuracy of 90.5%, it demonstrates the career trajectory that the two wingers have had this season, with Almiron becoming one of the most in-form players in the league.
Against Bournemouth last Saturday, he made a slight improvement and played his part in Newcastle’s equaliser, passing to Sean Longstaff who forced a save from Cherries keeper Neto before Almiron converted from the rebound. But a pass accuracy of 69.7% from 33 attempts again highlights a significant problem. Yet another injury concern further emphasised his miserable period as of late.
The rumours towards the end of the January transfer window linking Saint-Maximin with a move to AC Milan would also surely not have helped his concentration. Despite these rumours, Saint-Maximin has said, “I’m very proud to be here, and the most important thing for me is to play. I will always try to be in a position where I play every game because no player plays football to be on the bench.
“Sometimes, though, you need to understand the situation. When I was playing, the team did not lose a game and I did my job, but when I was not there, the team kept playing well and didn’t lose either.”
Given the high standards that Howe’s men have set going forward, and the amount of work they put in every game, it’ll be interesting to see whether, despite his recent shortcomings, Saint-Maximin will be given more opportunities to impress from the outset, despite new arrival Gordon’s quest to impress.