EPL

Saint-Maximin has chance to show he can be first 'superstar' at new Newcastle

By Sports Desk October 15, 2021

Karl Darlow, Ciaran Clark, Matt Ritchie and Isaac Hayden all started for Newcastle United in the final game of the Mike Ashley era. Dwight Gayle appeared from the bench.

Those were five of Newcastle's 12 most-used players in the Championship in 2016-17, appearing for a combined 14,122 minutes. Gayle, with 23 goals, was their leading scorer.

Steve Bruce, in charge against Wolves, regularly cited this longevity as a positive as the team battled relegation.

Like Bruce, though, clinging to his job ahead of his 1,000th career game in management against Tottenham, their stays are highly unlikely to be extended long into the ownership of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, which last week purchased 80 per cent of the St James' Park outfit to become the richest football club owner in the world.

Amanda Staveley, whose PCP Capital Partners bought 10 per cent of Newcastle, has already talked of matching Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, who this year respectively became the first British club to make a £100million signing and recruited the greatest player in the history of the game.

The mere thought of Jack Grealish or Lionel Messi might make steady, unspectacular centre-back Clark a little dizzy.

"We are in the market to compete for world-class players," Staveley said in another interview, before generously adding: "We already have world-class players."

One-paced right-winger-turned-left-back Ritchie certainly cannot be counted in that group. But Allan Saint-Maximin, with a little time and some elite coaching, might yet be.

Key like Kompany

It is easy to imagine Newcastle's bottomless budget allowing them to cast aside their entire existing XI.

A viral social media post shared by Gary Lineker last week showed a video clip of an alternative Magpies team lining up for the Champions League anthem on EA Sports' FIFA: Mohamed Salah, Messi, Kevin De Bruyne, Neymar, Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe, Son Heung-min, Karim Benzema, Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo, bolstered by N'Golo Kante in goal.

But if City's 2008 takeover provided the blueprint, it showed how some players already at the club can have vital roles in the years ahead.

In their final game before the Abu Dhabi United Group took charge, Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany both started. Pablo Zabaleta was signed the same day.

Kompany (358), Zabaleta (333) and Hart (308) to this day rank third, fifth and seventh for City appearances in all competitions in the Abu Dhabi era, each sticking around for at least two of the club's five Premier League title triumphs.

So, who might be the Newcastle equivalents?

"I don't think anyone has lived up to their potential," former Newcastle captain Rob Lee told Stats Perform. "You've got to be brutally honest and say we wouldn't be in this position we're in [19th] if they'd played as well as they can."

However, he added: "Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson I'd leave out of that."

Wilson and Joe Willock were both reportedly of interest to Staveley's group before they were brought to Tyneside, but Saint-Maximin is the genuine jewel in Newcastle's knock-off crown.

In fact, if not for this takeover, Newcastle fans would have been fearing a January exit for their exciting number 10.

A year ago, Saint-Maximin said: "If the club is developing well, and it's in line with my desires, staying is a possibility. Afterwards, if things don't turn out like that, obviously the question of leaving will arise."

Since that interview, Newcastle have earned the joint-fewest points of all ever-present Premier League teams (41 – tied with Southampton). Saint-Maximin, on the other hand, has gone from strength to strength.

Maximin impact

Saint-Maximin arrived at Newcastle with a reputation as an entertainer, equal parts exhilarating and frustrating. Across his first two seasons at St James' Park, he lived up to that billing.

Among players to make 10 starts in that time, the winger ranked third in Europe's top five leagues for both dribbles attempted (9.1 – behind Neymar and Sofiane Boufal) and dribbles completed (5.7 – behind Neymar and Adama Traore) per 90 minutes, but his end product was too often lacking.

Three goals and four assists in 2019-20 represented a goal involvement every 267 minutes, ranking between Jonjo Shelvey (265) and Matej Vydra (271) in the Premier League. When he reproduced the same figures again the following season, Saint-Maximin improved to an involvement every 224 minutes – just behind Danny Welbeck (221).

However, with two goals and three assists already this term, he has an involvement every 126 minutes, which puts him directly between Bruno Fernandes (125) and Son (130).

Indeed, only seven Premier League players have this season created more than Saint-Maximin's 16 chances – Ritchie (21) is actually joint-second – which include 15 from open play and four 'big chances', from which Opta would expect a player to score.

These attacking statistics are all the more impressive given the role Saint-Maximin is asked to play for Newcastle.

The Magpies start their possessions just 39 metres from their own goal on average – third-deepest in the league – meaning Saint-Maximin, of late playing as a central striker in either a 3-5-2, 5-4-1 or 4-3-3, is tasked with taking the team up the pitch.

That is why Saint-Maximin has carried the ball 1,950m, further than any other player in the league, including 1,212m upfield – trailing only Traore (1,267m). His 99 carries upfield are the most of any attacking player.

Traore is the sole player in Europe to successfully take on more players (49) than Saint-Maximin's 33, although only five of the Newcastle man's 54 attempted dribbles have been in the box – some way shy of Mbappe's leading 18.

Saint-Maximin is Europe's outstanding counter-attacking creator, forging 11 chances from carries (two more than Traore), but he might be even more effective a little closer to goal in a better, more progressive team. That opportunity should now arise on Tyneside.

"Imagine what these players must be thinking," Lee said. "I'd love to be a player at the minute at Newcastle.

"I'd be thinking, 'If I win something here, there'll be statues of me everywhere'. That's what you've got to look at. The first people to win something after that long are going to be idolised forever."

Saviour, then superstar?

There will undoubtedly be some high-profile, high-cost arrivals to come at St James' Park – Lee, doing his best Kevin Keegan impression, "would love it" if Newcastle signed Sunday's opponent Harry Kane – but Saint-Maximin must first lead his side to Premier League safety.

Newcastle are without a victory in seven this season and winless in four at home against Spurs.

But City also found life tough in 2008-09, tumbling into the bottom three at Christmas despite being afforded a single day in September to sign Robinho following the takeover.

Three goals from Robinho across the next two games provided a little breathing space going into January, when City were able to spend again and finish the campaign comfortably in midtable – their form from Boxing Day onwards the seventh-best in the division.

For now, Saint-Maximin is the closest thing Newcastle have to a Robinho, who provided a goal involvement (14 goals, five assists) every 139 minutes in that campaign.

Across the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, Newcastle won 42.9 per cent of the 42 matches in which Saint-Maximin started, earning 1.5 points per game, versus 14.7 per cent of 34 without him, collecting just 0.8 points.

That puts into context their awful start to this season, in which Saint-Maximin has been one of only two Newcastle players – Ritchie the other – to play all 630 minutes, a bright spark in a gloomy stretch.

If the Frenchman can continue to stay fit, he will be key to ensuring results quickly turn in this new era – starting against Tottenham.

"I'd love to see superstars [at Newcastle] – that's what we all want to see," Lee said. "'The Entertainers' was all about having a very, very good team but also signing superstars, like Alan [Shearer], Tino [Asprilla] and David Ginola."

Forget Kane, Philippe Coutinho and Mauro Icardi; Saint-Maximin is primed to be this team's first superstar.

Related items

  • 'I want to be here, I am happy here', says Liverpool forward Firmino 'I want to be here, I am happy here', says Liverpool forward Firmino

    Liverpool and Brazil forward Roberto Firmino has said he wants to stay at the Premier League club.

    Firmino is out of contract at the end of next season, as are fellow attackers Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

    Salah said at a media conference on Wednesday that he will still be at Liverpool next season, though stopped short of committing his long-term future to the club, while Mane said he will reveal his plans after Saturday's Champions League final against Real Madrid.

    However, speaking to TNT Sports Brasil, Firmino was less cryptic, making clear his desire to stay on Merseyside.

    "I am very happy here," he said. "I am grateful to God that I am here playing for a great club with great players, winning trophies, and I want to stay here. I want to be here.

    "I'm happy here, so that's all that I can say."

    Firmino has struggled for game time at Liverpool this season, partly due to injury and partly due to the January signing of Luis Diaz, whose arrival has seen Mane deployed in Firmino's usual role through the middle.

    There was also the early season form of Diogo Jota, but the Brazil international has still made 34 appearances (17 starts) in all competitions, scoring 11 goals.

  • Man Utd CEO promises 'relentless' effort in bid to restore club to former glory Man Utd CEO promises 'relentless' effort in bid to restore club to former glory

    Manchester United are confident change is coming and they will be "relentless" in attempts to bring long-term success back to Old Trafford, according to CEO Richard Arnold.

    United have become accustomed to not challenging for the Premier League title since Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013, but the 2021-22 season saw them plumb new depths.

    Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, caretaker manager Michael Carrick and then interim manager Ralf Rangnick, United accumulated just 58 points, their worst record in a single Premier League campaign.

    But on top of that, champions Manchester City's haul of 93 points meant United finished the season 35 points adrift of the summit – that is comfortably the furthest off the top the Red Devils have ended a term in the Premier League era.

    It was also the first time since 1989-90 that United failed to finish a league season with a positive goal difference, as they scored and conceded 57 goals.

    United looked to get their preparations for next season started early by confirming the appointment of Erik ten Hag in April, and he has already taken up his role with a view to having a head-start when pre-season begins in late June.

    And CEO Arnold, now in charge following the departure of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, insisted club chiefs share the fans' frustrations but was keen to emphasise the board's confidence in bringing success back to United with their long-term strategy.

    Speaking at an April fans' forum from which the minutes were released on Thursday, Arnold said: "Suffice to say, we are not happy with where we are in terms of performance on the pitch.

    "We understand fans are frustrated and want to see change and improvement. I can assure you that we share that frustration very intensely within the club.

    "But we also feel confident that change is coming because of the action being taken to drive long-term success. The appointment of Erik ten Hag was the most visible example of that action, and the most important. We're pleased to have got that done early and we can't wait for Erik to get started.

    "Success won't be achieved overnight but we are determined to get there, and we will be relentless in our efforts to achieve it. The support of fans will be crucial, and we accept that we have further work to do to strengthen that relationship, aided by the work of this forum."

    When things are not going well on the pitch for United, frustrated fans quickly turn their attention to the club's owners, the Glazer family.

    Thousands of supporters protested the Glazers' ownership during United's last three home matches of the season, but Arnold is convinced the club is doing more than most to engage with and listen to fans.

    Additionally, he is hopeful an improvement in on-field matters next season will breed wider positivity.

    "As stated earlier, everyone at the club, from the owners down, accepts that performances this season have been well below what we expect," he continued. "We are taking decisive action to improve things and there is huge commitment and passion across the club to return to where we think we belong: challenging for, and winning, titles.

    "We are very aware of how fans are feeling and understand their concerns and frustration. Football is a game of passion and we fully respect fans' right to make their feelings known, as long as this remains legal and peaceful at all times. We have a duty of care to the fans who come to enjoy games, and to our staff who enable games to go ahead, and their safety will always be our priority.

    "I would very much hope that all fans within Old Trafford approach next season with renewed optimism and confidence as we look forward to a fresh start under Erik ten Hag.

    "We have the best fans in the world and when Old Trafford is at its loudest we have a significant advantage against our opponents. I hope this unrivalled passion will be used to support the team and the new manager as we start this exciting new chapter together.

    "As a club we are doing more than ever before – and more than most of our peers – to engage with fans and listen to your views. We have strengthened and expanded this fans' forum, set up our new fans' advisory board, and continue to engage directly with [fan] groups. We are committed to listening to our fans and working collaboratively to improve the fan experience and keep the club strong and healthy. We need fans to keep engaging with us to be able to do this."

  • French Open: 'I stopped playing for years but never gave up' – rookie Jeanjean revels in Pliskova upset French Open: 'I stopped playing for years but never gave up' – rookie Jeanjean revels in Pliskova upset

    Leolia Jeanjean became the lowest-ranked woman to beat a top-10 player at the French Open since 1988 as the world number 227 stunned Karolina Pliskova on Thursday.

    French player Jeanjean was a promising youngster whose career looked to have been scuppered by knee trouble, but at the age of 26 she is making her grand slam debut in Paris and is through to the third round.

    On Court Simonne-Mathieu, she crushed last year's Wimbledon runner-up Pliskova 6-2 6-2, surprising herself with the way she brushed off the eighth-seeded Czech.

    It made Jeanjean the lowest-ranked woman to beat a top-10 opponent at Roland Garros since a 16-year-old Conchita Martinez upset ninth seed Lori McNeil at the 1988 tournament.

    The then little-known Martinez would go on to win Wimbledon in 1994 and reach number two in the world.

    As a teenager, Jeanjean reached 676th in the world in 2013, but she had slumped to 1,180th by November 2020. A once-promising career looked set to end with Jeanjean sliding into obscurity, but she thrilled the Roland Garros crowds with her dismantling of Pliskova.

    Mixing her studies in finance with college tennis at Lynn University and the University of Arkansas has helped Jeanjean climb inside the top 250 on the WTA Tour, and her big-stage breakthrough has finally arrived in her homeland.

    "I'm very, very happy," she said. "What's happening right now is something I never imagined before. When I stopped playing for four to five years I never imagined I'd be in the third round of a grand slam.

    "The fact I never gave up and always believed in myself is probably why I'm here today. Now I'm 26, and it's my first grand slam. I thought I would have lost in the first round in two sets and I find myself beating a top-10 player.

    "I don't know how it's possible that it's happening."

    It was after Jeanjean sustained her knee injury that she chose to go down the US college route with her career, knowing many tennis stars have come through the system.

    "I wanted to give myself another chance," she said.

    Pliskova lost on clay to a player from outside the WTA top 200 for the first time since going down to Arina Rodionova in qualifiers for a tournament in Fes, Morocco, more than 10 years ago. Irina-Camelia Begu awaits Jeanjean in the third round.

    Pliskova's exit was the latest in a string of shocks which have meant that for the first time at Roland Garros, six or more of the top 10 seeds have been eliminated in the first two rounds. She joined Barbora Krejcikova, Maria Sakkari, Anett Kontaveit, Ons Jabeur and Garbine Muguruza on that list of casualties.

    The 30-year-old Pliskova said Jeanjean's variety made her an awkward opponent, and suggested the courts played slowly.

    "I think this court is a bit too brutal,," Pliskova said during a news conference. "My serve was not working. I don't have a horrible feeling but, of course, like you lose, so of course I'm not happy about it, but I just want to give credit to her, I think she played a great match."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.