It has been a solid start to the return of football for the team, but Allan Saint-Maximin has been the standout performer.
The Frenchman’s final game before the stoppage showed his ability as he scored the winning goal on the South Coast against Southampton. It would be been easy to lose his momentum, but he has come back in great shape – looking fit, lean and as powerful as ever – and has been an absolute joy to watch.
Across the first two matches, the winger has completed an incredible 17 dribbles. Steve Bruce gives him license to express himself and he is a pain to defend against, with quick acceleration allowing him to burst past opposition defenders.
During the 3-0 win over Sheffield United, he was dispossessed six times, which suggested there was some rustiness in his decision making – despite him being our man of the match, biggest threat all game and opening scorer. The improvement in the Aston Villa game was obvious, however. According to WhoScored, the 23-year-old wasn’t dispossessed ONCE during Wednesday’s game and that highlights the improvement made between the two matches.
Saint-Maximin has attempted four shots and made two key passes across the two matches, but his role can’t simply be defined by attacking contributions. The Frenchman’s ability to carry the ball allows the team to move up the pitch. Meanwhile, the fear that he imposes on the opposition defenders creates space for others to move into.
Bruce has moved him around during the two matches, with Saint-Maximin spending time on the left, right and in central areas. This causes uncertainty in opposition teams, as they don’t know where he is going to be and it is difficult to man mark him. Some of his better moments have come on the right wing and many on social media would like to see him start more in this role.
His contribution of three goals and one assist doesn’t stand out on paper, but two of his goals have come in the last three Premier League matches. There has been noticeable improvement in his output and decision making, as he has adjusted to the Premier League. It would be expected that his tallies increase over the coming weeks.
At times, he has managed to dribble into a dangerous position and deliver a good ball into the box, but he has operated too quickly for a team-mate to get onto the end of it. There are moments when his frustration is visible. However, this is a good sign as he is getting into the right areas and he will be learning all of the time.
Miguel Almiron, Matt Ritchie and even Joelinton have made some positive contributions since the restart. That said, it is clear that Saint-Maximin is starting to emerge as our most dangerous player. He thrives from creating chaos and that makes him such a dangerous player to come up against. There is a growing consistency in his performance level too.
This could be the beginning of the Frenchman making this his team. We provide the perfect platform for Saint-Maximin to continue his development and I hope that we get to witness this for years to come.
In the short term, we have the small task of an FA Cup quarter-final and it could be the latest chapter of the Saint-Maximin story if he inspires us to an unlikely victory!