Miguel Almiron has found himself slightly out of favour at the start of the new 2020/21 season, failing to start in either of our opening two Premier League games.
As I considered him our most likely to break out star this season, this has surprised me.
Allan Saint-Maximin is seen as the key attacker by many, but it could be the Paraguayan that breaks out in terms of end product. That has certainly been backed by his start to the season, even if he has had to settle with cameos from the bench.
During his first 18 months at the club, Almiron scored four and assisted twice in 3,797 Premier League minutes. It isn’t a great return and it will be an area that the 26-year-old would want to improve in. In the MLS, he was one of the best players in the league, with 13 goals and 11 assists in his final season for Atlanta United.
His debut promised so much, as he looked full of confidence and caused Huddersfield Town a lot of problems. Almiron caused a red card and struck the bar with an audacious chip. It feels like a sliding doors moment, as his confidence dipped following that match, as he continued to struggle in the attacking third.
The problem for players at our club is that we haven’t created a lot of chances in recent years. There was a focus on defence first under Rafa Benitez, while Steve Bruce claims he wants to play a more attacking style, but performances on the pitch state otherwise. He has struggled to find a defined style and on Sunday, we were not well organised and we struggled to create anything of note. There wasn’t a single shot on target.
Almiron was on the pitch for the majority of the game. Although he wasn’t at his best, he did look the most threatening. He is the player that Bruce should look to build around, not leave on the sidelines.
In 201 minutes of football this season, he has already got THREE assists and a goal. He also had a chance to score against West Ham in the opening match, with his pace causing a lot of problems against a tiring defence. That was likely the logic behind leaving Almiron on the bench, as Bruce believed that he could be a huge threat as an impact substitute.
A total of three shot creating actions in his first 43 minutes of Premier League action underlined the creativity that Almiron can provide to the team. Meanwhile, in the second round of the Carabao Cup, he played a sumptuous pass to Ryan Fraser for the winning goal.
We were poor in the game against Blackburn and didn’t deserve to progress, but a moment of quality from Almiron proved to be the difference – and that theme carried into the Morecambe game, with him setting up Joelinton’s goal and scoring our second with a smart run and finish.
His assist for Jeff Hendrick against West Ham put the game beyond doubt and ensured the final minutes of the game were comfortable. In this short season, he has already made FOUR big contributions in attack.
Out of possession, there are few players in the squad to provide more energy. During the first two matches, he has 19 pressures to his name. If we scale this up, he would be averaging 31.6 pressures per ninety minutes, a higher rate than anyone else in the squad.
If he was starting regularly, it would be unlikely to remain at this rate, as he would have to conserve energy. However, it does show what Almiron can bring to the team out of possession. Neither Ryan Fraser or Allan Saint-Maximin are known for their ability to press an opposition back line. If we are to fit both into the team, we need Almiron to balance them out.
Against Brighton, it was too easy for their centre-backs to pass the ball out to launch attacks. We gave them too much space across the pitch and it was a complete mismatch. Only Isaac Hayden was able to press and offer any sort of a challenge to them.
There are merits to playing a front two of Andy Carroll and Callum Wilson against the right opposition, as we saw on the opening day. However, in fixtures that we are not going to have much of the ball, we need to have Almiron on the pitch to unsettle the opposition defenders.
This weekend, we will be facing Tottenham who are likely to dominate the ball again. However, they aren’t as effective as Brighton in this style, with Jose Mourinho preferring to counter attack. Meanwhile, Davinson Sanchez and Eric Dier can both be pressed into making errors.
It is the perfect game for Almiron and he needs to start. In fact, he probably needs to start regardless of the opposition. He has shown his quality in the final third with three or four big moments already this season and out of possession, he offers qualities that nobody else does in the squad.