Updated: Oct 23, 2020
When Miguel Almirón arrived on Tyneside it looked to be the beginning of something exciting. An attacker who has so much energy, covers every blade of grass and constantly pesters the opposition. Although Almirón had to wait a long time to notch his first assist, and even longer for his first Newcastle United goal, supporters could see just how much he offered his side.
Last season, Almirón started 35 of the 38 league games and was therefore consistently available to play in an injury-stricken squad. Over the course of the season, he finished towards the top of a number of both defensive and offensive charts. In other words, he did a bit of everything and to finish towards the top of so many categories showed his importance to the team. In a distinctly average Newcastle team, having that player who contributed a bit of everything was a real bonus. At times, he provided life to an otherwise lifeless team.
Almirón has seen Rafael Benitez, the manager who brought him to Tyneside, leave the club and be replaced by Steve Bruce. So far this season, Bruce has used Almirón sparingly at a time when his Newcastle side are desperately lacking any kind of energy in midfield. The Paraguay international has started just once in the Premier League so far this season. Bruce has opted to play the likes of Joelinton and Jeff Hendrick ahead of Almirón, suggesting he has fallen out of favour with the Newcastle manager.
Anyone who saw Newcastle’s feeble surrender against Manchester United at the weekend could see that both Joelinton and Hendrick offered very little to the side. The midfield was desperate for some energy, someone to give the Manchester United players a hard time. Instead, Fred and McTominay enjoyed a stroll in the middle of St. James' Park and Almirón wasn't introduced until the 87th minute, which was around 87 minutes too late.
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Bruce has opted to play Joelinton ahead of Almirón so far this season. Almirón has played 130 minutes compared to Joelinton’s 285, which makes the following stats all the more interesting. Almirón has a pass completion rate of 88.5% compared to Joelinton with 81.9%, but perhaps one of the more alarming stats is that Joelinton has only delivered one cross over the course of his 285 minutes, compared to Almirón who has delivered six in 130 minutes. The former Atlanta United player has also managed to get an assist to his name, whereas Joelinton is yet to do so. Both players have had just two shots so far this season, a worrying stat to say the least.
In case this is seen as an attack on Joelinton, I have also compared Almirón’s stats with Hendrick so far this season. As was the case with Joelinton, Almiron’s pass success rate is superior to Hendrick who has an 80.8% success rate. The former Burnley midfielder has only managed to deliver one cross during his 432 minutes. However, Hendrick has provided one assist and scored once so far this season.
With Ryan Fraser, Almirón and Saint-Maximin supporting Wilson, Newcastle would have a very dangerous attack. However, Newcastle have been so passive and put little to no pressure on their opponents. Having Almirón in from the start would mean Newcastle have a player to pressure the opposition, usually when one player presses others follow and it sets an example for the rest of the team. Newcastle are simply better with Almirón in the side, with his natural instinct to put pressure on the opponent, Newcastle would be a more difficult team to play against.
To back this up, there is a statistic called 'plus/minus net per 90 mins'. This is calculated by the net number of goals per 90 minutes while the player is on the pitch minus net goals allowed per 90 minutes while the player is off the pitch. It is essentially a statistic intended to show a player's individual influence over team success or, to put it another way, how does a team fare both with and without a player in the line-up. Last season, unsurprisingly, Allan Saint-Maximin topped this category with +1.58. Almirón was second with 1.19. No other players had a score of 1+.
Newcastle supporters are understandably bemused by Almirón's lack of playing time so far this season and these detailed statistics from last season show the all-round value he brings to the Newcastle team:
NUFC squad 2019/20 Premier League season
Goals scored: 2nd
Shots on target: 2nd
Number of passes: 3rd
Number of crosses: 2nd
Shot-creating actions: 2nd
Number of touches: 2nd
Number of carries: 1st
Fouls won: 1st
Number of tackles: 2nd
Number of pressures: 1st
Number of blocks: 2nd
Despite only playing for 130 Premier League minutes this season, if we look at per 90 minute statistics we see a similar story for an important category - shot-creating actions. In a Newcastle team that finally has a box-dwelling, natural goalscorer the importance of creating opportunities that lead to a shot has never been more lucrative. Allan Saint-Maximin leads this category with 3.69 but Almirón is a close-second with 3.46. No other player is recorded as having 3+ per 90 mins (Joelinton 1.89 and Hendrick 1.05).
The stats prove just how important Almirón is to the Newcastle side, which begs the question, why does Bruce continue to leave him out? It is clear that Almirón would offer a lot more to the team than Hendrick or Joelinton, his inclusion would also be of great benefit to Wilson, who would receive more support. The season has not gone to plan for Almirón so far, and he will be wondering what he has to do to grab Bruce's attention. Almirón is not the sort of player to down tools when things don't go his way, he will continue to train and work hard in hope he catches the manager's eye. One thing is certain, Newcastle supporters will be hoping that Almirón is back in the starting line-up sooner rather than later.