Joelinton may have been Newcastle’s record signing last summer when he arrived from Hoffenheim for £40m, but it is fair to say Allan Saint-Maximin grabbed all of the attention, at least for the right reasons. The flying French winger was captivating to watch and produced numerous dazzling displays in front of the Toon Army to win himself three Man of the Match awards this term.
But the 23-year-old was more than just easy on the eye, Newcastle did not look the same side without him, which was highlighted by winning just one of the 12 Premier League matches he did not feature in. Furthermore, only Miguel Almiron, ten, was directly involved in more goals than Saint-Maximin’s nine, comprised of four goals and five assists, in all competitions.
Steve Bruce’s tactics often appeared to limit Saint-Maximin’s capabilities, certainly in a 5-4-1 formation, which meant the winger had to travel incredibly long distances while carrying the ball up the field. Nevertheless, only two players in Europe’s top five leagues recorded a higher number of dribbles per match than Saint-Maximin’s 4.7, and they were Adama Traore, five, and Lionel Messi, 5.5, not bad company to keep.
When Bruce did set the Frenchman free in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the results proved to be mightily effective, highlighted in the 4-1 win over A.F.C Bournemouth, where the winger recorded a trio of assists.
After lockdown – excluding the final day against Liverpool – when Bruce primarily stuck with a four-man defence, the 23-year-old contributed three assists and scored one goal in 554 minutes of action, for a goal involvement every 138.5 minutes. The contrast in Newcastle’s attacking play before and after the break was incredibly stark and Saint-Maximin was one of the primary benefactors of the switch in formation.
No longer were his dribbles from so deep that he could not influence play in the attacking third, epitomised by his assist for Sean Longstaff against the Cherries. He set up that goal with a driving run to the by-line and cut the ball back to the midfielder who was ready and waiting to smash the ball in, right where he’d told Longstaff to be. Expect to see more scenario’s like this occurring next term if Bruce sticks with the formation, which could see the Frenchman break the ten goal involvement barrier.