Last year saw Newcastle United bring in a lot of new players to overhaul their squad, including the likes of Joelinton, Rose, Krafth, Lazaro, Willems and Bentaleb.
After also joining the Magpies last summer, the French attacker Allan Saint-Maximin started proving his worth to his new side right from the start and has been arguably the best signing of them all so far. The skilful Frenchman quickly became the main entertainers of the league and the personal favourite of many neutral fans. His Neymar-esque style of plscoutay attracted many eyes and brought back the days of Hatem Ben Arfa to Newcastle fans, who have been enjoying another technically-gifted player in their attack.
In this tactical analysis, we are going to see exactly why he is so important to Steve Bruce’s tactics and I am going to focus on Saint-Maximin’s ball progression abilities, his shooting and defensive efforts, as well as using some data in the end to signify his importance for Newcastle.
Newcastle’s offensive woes
Newcastle United, despite many people’s huge concerns about their possibilities of staying up in the highest division, are currently sitting in the 13th position, with the risks of going down vanishing with each passing Premier League game. They don’t have the most entertaining kind of football, with the manager Steve Bruce putting a bigger emphasis on the defence, not the offence, and thus far it proved to be the right strategy.
However, some issues have to be addressed regardless of the team’s table situation. Despite the situation looking quite good for them, sitting comfortably in the middle of the table, more advanced metrics show that they are not quite rightly in their position.
Below you can see the chart showing the relation between their points in the table on the y-axis and expected points on the x-axis. Newcastle United have gained 35 points, and their expected points, which are derived from the xG for and xG against metrics, actually show that they should have 21,88 points, which is a little more than 13 points less than they have now.
If we look at it from the offensive point of view and compare the expected points for each team and their expected goals, the hidden problems begin to manifest more clearly. In the chart below you can see that the Magpies are the worst team in the Premier League in terms of expected goals and expected points, and while their defence has been somewhat steady(even though there are many issues there too), their attacking output has been horrific.
With the Brazilian forward Joelinton failing to replicate the form that he had when playing for Hoffenheim, getting himself only one goal and two assists in 29 Premier League appearances, the players who are pulling the strings in this Newcastle team offensively are Miguel Almirón and Allan Saint-Maximin. In this scout report, we will discuss the French winger and his creative importance for his team by delving into how he creates chances as well as looking into some other aspects of his game.
With Steve Bruce unable to create a steady structure for his team in the attack that can provide the offensive players with regular chances, Saint-Maximin’s attacking abilities become vital for Newcastle. His ball progression through the passes and carries is one of the main ways for his side to get up the field.
Saint-Maximin became the focal point of Newcastle’s attack a lot of times during the game, especially in transitions. He plays as a left-winger/left midfielder in 5-4-1 or 4-1-4-1 formation, which depends on the opponent, game state and so on. During the build-up phase and in the transitions, he mainly occupies the left flank closer to the touchline, and from there he can drive with the ball at his feet in any direction. Below you can see the example of one in-game situation in the match against Chelsea, where Saint-Maximin is about to receive the ball on the left. His wide positioning allows him to oftentimes be open when the opposition defence gets narrow or too much focused on the ball.
All Premier League teams quickly realised the constant attacking threat coming from Saint-Maximin and the huge reliance Newcastle has on him in the attack, and, as a result, it became normal to double-team him when he has the ball on the left flank. However, his speed and dribbling ability help him to find the way out of these situations pretty often.
When receiving on the left, Saint-Maximin has two main ways of delivering the goalscoring opportunities for his team – cutting inside for a shot or pass, or driving all the way to the left side of the 18-yard-box for a cross.
The unpredictability in his movements comes from these two patterns that both occur on a regular basis and defenders can’t tell until the last moment which decision will the French forward make. Saint-Maximin is a very pacey and agile player, and a quick change of direction is oftentimes enough for him to get away from his marker.
With the ball at his feet, the 23-year-old firstly starts moving at the defender and then he decides whether it is best to cut inside or to go for a cross.
The more recurring action for him is to go for a cross, as the zone 14 is often congested with players.
When he is up against one or two players on the flank, usually he is able to bypass the opponents with a quick burst of speed and with a couple of stepovers, and that gives him the opportunity to execute a cross into the penalty area.
Saint-Maximin’s deliveries into the box are rarely high crosses, he prefers to get low crosses with high power. When entering the penalty area, he quickly scans his surroundings and tries to lay the ball off for a striker with a pass. In the shot below you can see a good example, with the 23-year-old arriving in the penalty area with two players on his back and passing the ball to Gayle for a finish.
Saint-Maximin has good crossing ability from both feet, especially when it comes to low crosses, but with high crosses, he prefers to prepare the position for the cross with the right foot.
In other instances, he cuts inside and goes for a shot, and he does this more rarely and with less success. We will discuss it in more detail in the next section of this scout report.
Saint-Maximin is the third in the league in terms of dribbles attempted per 90 minutes, with only Adama Traoré and Wilfried Zaha ahead of him in this category. His dribbling ability and his pace come in handy for Newcastle in transitions, and in the build-up as well, with the Frenchman able to create something out of nothing a lot of times a game.
Apart from positioning wide in the build-up and transitions, Saint-Maximin also helps the team with his link-up play. He plays in the half-space and drops a little deeper to help the midfielders with ball circulation. You can see his movement in the example below, where he drops deeper and plays one-two pass with Jonjo Shelvey. Saint-Maximin drags two players out of their positions, creating more space centrally for other Newcastle players to get into and receive the ball. His ability to progress the ball forces teams to get several players to mark him, which we saw previously and that opens up an opportunity for him to create space for his teammates with a simple movement.
Creating numerical superiority against Saint-Maximin sometimes can be a good thing for Newcastle. When the Frenchman cuts inside, he can play the ball to the central areas for Newcastle attackers to go from there, or he can directly switch the play himself. In the image below there is a great example of that, with several Aston Villa players marking Saint-Maximin, and that creates the opportunity for a promising attack. The 23-year-old passes the ball to the player on the right flank, who is left 1v1 against Villa’s left-back and thus have a great opportunity for delivering the ball into the box.
When Saint-Maximin drives centrally with the ball, timely runs of other Newcastle attackers and his passing delivery can split up the opposition defence. In the shot below, Saint-Maximin drives inside and Almirón makes a run, intersecting with the Frenchman’s movement. Their joint effort leads to Newcastle’s first goal in the game.
The 23-year-old plays 19,42 passes per game with 72.95% accuracy, and the majority of his passes split between the passes in the link-up play and passes to the central areas. As any high volume dribbler, he is more of a selfish player when it comes to passing, and he prefers to get everything done on his own, and when he attempts to get the ball forward through passing, he doesn’t think twice before doing it, playing risky passes that sometimes result in turnovers.
He is not the type of player that will be a great fit for a team that relies heavily on possession, however, I think he can adjust his gameplay, and he is showing some bits of it as well, with movement between the lines and in half-spaces, dragging defenders out of their positions and exchanging passes. In the next section of this analysis, I will analyse his shooting.
Saint-Maximin has scored two goals in this Premier League season, and despite not having the best record scoring-wise, he manages to get himself into shooting positions regularly. He makes 2.06 shots per game, which is a good number considering that he plays in a more defensive-minded team that doesn’t create a lot of chances from open play. Due to his playing style and the playing style of his team, most of his shots come from outside the box.
You can see his shot map below, and there is a clear trend of him shooting more from outside, then inside the penalty area.
In the image below you can see Saint-Maximin cutting inside against two Chelsea players and then shooting the ball, trying to curl it around the goalkeeper. This is his main type of shot, where he cuts inside from the left, and then tries to get it past the goalkeeper. Due to being marked heavily for the most part of the game, Saint-Maximin doesn’t have many chances to get the shot off in the open position, so most of his shots are outside the box after he manages to get past several players.
Newcastle United are playing in 5-4-1 formation when defending, and Saint-Maximin acts as the left midfielder in this system. Regardless of the team he is playing against, his marker is always the right-back of the opposition team.
In the shot below you can see Newcastle deploying 5-4-1 system with Saint-Maximin as a left midfielder:
Below you can see that once a pass is played to the right-back, Saint-Maximin quickly goes to press him and prevent him from advancing into further areas. In contrast to his positioning in the attacking phases, where he most of the time stays really wide, in the defensive phases he positions more frequently in the half-space, probably in order to be able to press the centre-back or maybe it is the desire of Steve Bruce in order for his team to stay more compact.
Sometimes Saint-Maximin fails to be in the right place, and that leads to dangerous breakthroughs of the opposition team. In the example below, Saint-Maximin plays in the half-space, and due to his positioning, he neither can press the centre-back with the ball nor cut off the passing lane to the full-back. In other cases, he would have enough time to get back and be in front of the full-back(like in the shot above), but here he is too far away from Valeri and this allows the 21-year-old Frenchman to receive the ball and cross.
Saint-Maximin makes two interceptions per game, making his defensive contributions to the team. In the image below you can see the example of Saint-Maximin reading the game and intercepting the ball from Özil in the game against Arsenal. This is a more rare example, usually, most Saint-Maximin’s interceptions happen when he is in front of the full-back or player on the wing in general. At some moment, the 23-year-old starts pressing his marker and when the opponent attempts to make a pass forward, Saint-Maximin tries to put his feet in the direction of the pass.
Despite his status of the attacker with quite a lot of flair, he works hard defensively for his team, chasing the opponents until the end. In the game against Crystal Palace, Saint-Maximin made a couple of tackles against Zaha, chasing him down the flank a handful of times in that game. Most importantly, he can’t be called a weak spot in the team from the defensive standpoint, despite him not having the best defensive skills. His work rate compensates quite well for the lack of defending abilities.
From the data perspective
Saint-Maximin is one of the best dribblers and creators in general in this Premier League season. In the shot below you can see the chart with some of his stats for this season. In terms of successful dribbles, the 23-year-old is amongst the very top, the same with open play action that leads to a shot. This is his carries and passes, plus you can see that his progressive distance is 342 yards every game, meaning this is the total length of passes that he plays forward. It shows the importance of Saint-Maximin for Newcastle, as he is one of the main chance creators in the league.
In the next chart, I displayed the attacking midfielders and wingers that have played at least 900 minutes and their output in progressive passes and runs. The runaway leaders in these categories are players from Wolverhampton Wanderers, Adama Traoré and Matt Doherty. Saint-Maximin makes a considerable amount of progressive runs per 90 minutes, 4.19 to be exact. It’s his main way of delivering the ball into the box, leaving him with 2.13 progressive passes per game.
Saint-Maximin’s stats speak for themselves, and the attention that he gets from the defenders of every single team also tells how much creative threat Newcastle have down the left side.
This has truly been the breakthrough season for Allan Saint-Maximin, and his move to the Premier League really put him on the radar for many football fans. He straight away became an integral part of the team, and with the growing rumours about the takeover of the Newcastle United, the 23-year-old is one of the main players that the team would be built around in the next few years. Having such a talented and creative player down the wing and other gifted players, for instance, in Joelinton and Almirón, would allow the possible new owners to build the team around this existing pool of players. It is very exciting to see what the future holds for Newcastle United and for Saint-Maximin in particular, and hopefully, we will soon get to see him working around his magic on the pitch again.