It has been difficult to get excited about the upcoming Premier League season. The takeover drags on, Steve Bruce remains in charge and the club has yet to make a first team signing. England had been providing a welcome distraction, but now the focus is back on our beloved Magpies once again.
If the club are going to have a low spending summer, we will need players already at the club to step up. Miguel Almiron has been a first team regular since joining in January 2019, but he has yet to have his breakthrough season in the Premier League.
Regular watchers of the Paraguayan will know that he has the quality to achieve much more in the black and white. However, he has been a victim of his own versatility and enthusiasm. Bruce clearly rates Almiron, but he knows that the 27-year-old will be useful in a variety of roles. Others in the attack need to play in a certain position and that is Almiron’s detriment.
Last season, Almiron was used in a variety of forward positions. He played on both wings, as a number ten, a box-to-box midfielder and a centre forward. Since signing, it has been communicated by those close to him that Almiron favours the number ten role, yet, in the 2020/21 campaign, he started just four matches in this position.
It is a small sample size, but he shone when given the opportunity to play in the advanced number ten position. He started here against Everton (A) and Southampton (H), which were two of our best performances of the season.
The interesting thing about these two performances was that they were very different. Against Everton, Almiron operated as a link between the midfield and attack, tying possession together and creating dangerous openings. He made three key passes during the game. No player made more during the game.
Meanwhile, against Southampton, the 27-year-old was a counter attacking machine. He caused a lot of problems for the opposition with his pace and movement. It was the first time that we saw confidence in his game and he got two goals. Since joining the club, he has eight Premier League goals.
This clearly shows the value of Almiron in the number ten role. It was strange that Bruce rarely used him again in this position, especially as he spoke of how he recognised that it was Almiron’s best position in the aftermath of these two matches.
Bruce clearly rates Almiron’s work rate. His energy in the middle of the park does help cover for the shortcomings of Jonjo Shelvey. That said, there are clear weaknesses in his game when used in a deeper role. Almiron isn’t a great passer and he is better with space ahead of him, rather than operating in tight spaces. This leads to his work rate being praised above all else, but he has more quality than that and we are wasting it.
During the Copa America, Almiron stepped up to be a talisman for his country. He took responsibility on the pitch and took set pieces, something we have rarely seen from him in England. There was a lot of technical ability in his performances and it was reminiscent of his displays mentioned above.
The 3-5-2 formation worked towards the end of last season, but Almiron was wasted. If Joe Willock doesn’t return, we may already have the player to replace his goals from midfield. Almiron doesn’t have the same movement in the final third, but he can certainly carry a bigger threat than we have seen from him.
Bruce needs to trust him. If Willock doesn’t return, it is vital that Almiron, Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson are used in their favoured positions. He can then build the rest of the team around them.