At the time of writing, Newcastle find themselves in the aching abyss of a relegation battle. 18th-placed Fulham’s Saturday evening victory over Sheffield United, coupled with the Magpies’ 3-1 defeat away to Manchester United have swiftly ignited fears of a return to the Championship.
Now with merely a gap of three points separating the two sides, it is difficult to dismiss relegation as an increasingly-distinct worry, especially considering Newcastle have only triumphed twice in their last fifthteen outings.
Over the course of the campaign, Steve Bruce’s side have lacked an attacking edge and a dynamic approach.
It would be fair to attribute this to the frequent absence of star forward Allan Saint-Maximin, who has missed chunks of the 2020-21 season due to a succession of injuries and the long-term detriments of coronavirus.
Saint-Maximin is, without a doubt, the most naturally gifted footballer on Tyneside. Possessing an awe-consuming sense of flair and skill rivalled by few, the Frenchman is a real joy to watch at his devastating best.
A telling of his phenomenal ability to drive forward and beat defenders, only one player across Europe’s top five leagues has bettered the Newcastle winger’s 5.3 successful dribbles per 90 according to PlanetFootball.
Coming second to Brazilian superstar Neymar holds no shame and Saint-Maximin eclipses the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Sadio Mane to cement his reputation as one of the Continent’s deadliest dribblers.
And enrapturing showmen of Saint-Maximin’s kind are a dying breed in the sport. Instead, there is an ever-growing emphasis on robotic-like efficiency, making him one of football’s last true entertainers owing to his unpredictable nature and destructive take-ons.
The joy of Saint-Maximin is you can never anticipate his next move. He offers a mystical, mercurial edge which highlights his presence as a laborious one to contain.
Along with this, the former Nice flyer possesses one of the great exhilarations from a supporter’s view: speed. It is always a compelling sight to watch a player bombing down the flanks at great pace, leaving defenders in a dusty trail and widening the eyes of audiences to maximum. And when the wheels are in motion, his electrifying, energizing velocity is truly remarkable.
Such gleaming distinctions have left many to ponder how Saint-Maximin would fare in a team who see more of the ball, deploy a higher tempo and have players on the same wavelength.
Quite often, the 23-year old cuts a frustrated figure due to his limited options in the attacking areas. After all, he tends to be the director and orchestrator of a large majority of Newcastle’s attacks.
One critique that audiences sometimes blemish Saint-Maximin with is his end product. In his time in the North East, Saint-Maximin has found the back of the net six times and laid on a further eight goals across 46 appearances.
It is far from an abject output though, and the blessing of time is still prominent for the former French youth International.
There are plenty of considerations to highlight, too. Quite frankly, Newcastle are a side starved of creativity and goal-scoring prowess.
This season, only Wolves and West Brom have created fewer big chances than the Magpies’ 20, whereas the Baggies are also the sole side to average less possession a match than Newcastle. As of present, the Magpies average a measly 38.1%, restricting forwards to little time to weave their magic.
Furthermore, there is a stark deprivation of attacking opportunities at St James’ Park; bottom-placed outfit Sheffield United are the division’s only team to have won possession in the final third less times than Newcastle’s 72.
But when Saint-Maximin is gracing the field, Newcastle are a much better team.
Despite starting less than half of his side’s matches this campaign, five of Newcastle’s seven wins have come when the fleet-footed wide man has been on the pitch, illustrating his direct, inventive dynamic that is absolutely instrumental if the Tynesiders wish to avoid relegation.
Though Saint-Maximin appears settled in Newcastle- telling the club’s official website “I feel like it’s my home” as he penned a six-year deal back in October, it seems implausible that he would desire second-tier football should Steve Bruce’s side fail in their safety bid.
Even still, I for one would suggest that the rocket-heeled starlet will not be short of suitors come the Summer transfer window. Perhaps, a team like Leicester City would be a perfect fit.
The Foxes – renowned for their youthful core and player development- could well prove to be a great aid to Saint-Maximin’s progression. Currently flying high and occupying third place, Leicester have earned plaudits for their expansive, enthralling style of football which has seen them only outscored by Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United.
However, it must be stated that they have encountered challenges with their strength in depth and maintaining a frequent feature on the wings. Whilst Harvey Barnes has starred, the likes of Marc Albrighton, Cengiz Under and former Magpie Ayoze Perez have all underperformed over the current campaign.
Barnes, who has emerged as one of Brendan Rodgers’ key performers, significantly differs in contrast to Saint-Maximin. Although the Englishman beholds a pivotal creative force and a prolific nature, he lacks the ball-carrying quality of the Newcastle forward.
In fact, Barnes’ role primarily resembles that of an inside forward, tasked with the responsibility supporting the striker, creating space and finishing off attacking plays. The England International’s ability to beat his opposing number does not inspire captivation, told by his 46% dribble succession rate.
Although he is far from a natured goal-scorer, Saint-Maximin draws defenders in, subsequently opening up space for his teammates and can also stretch backlines with his speed and directness.
And there is no other player amongst the Leicester ranks who injects that raw, bedazzling expertise that Saint-Maximin does with ease. They have tasted an abundance of successes over the last few years, but a player of his mesmerising marvel just may be the missing piece in the puzzle.
In a more free-flowing, positive style of play with increased facilitation for attacking exuberance, there can be little doubt that Saint-Maximin would prove to be a hit in the East Midlands. And with a top-rate coaching team to eradicate the flaws in his footballing prowess, a potential move could really construct a transformation.
With no insult to Newcastle, a move away could prove to be the heightening of Allan Saint-Maximin.
featured image credit sky sports