I love the type of player that ASM is. So self confident. Quick. Direct. He seems pretty genuine too. Lethal. Draws opposition players to him for others to exploit. But he is these things, when he wants to. And therein lies the problem.
For 10 minutes before he came on against Chelsea, I kept saying he needed to come on and be a threat. Murphy worked hard but at no point (apart from when he should have had a pen to be fair…) did I think he’d create a breakthrough. St. Max can do that in an instant.
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He couldn’t though. He laboured at times trying to take people on when it didn’t need to happen. He ran at people then stumbled over the ball. He created half a yard of space and then went down a blind alley. He knew he had no options, and still he couldn’t keep possession. The ball would be nicked away from him and he seemed irritated to have to track back. I’m not being critical of him as a player here – just exposing his limitations. The reality of him as a player means that he plays for United, in its current incarnation anyway, because he isn’t the finished article. It’s what he needs to change which is the biggest question here, because I’m not sure he’ll be at Newcastle United for the full extent of the ride we are soon to embark on, if he doesn’t change.
There’s the obvious stuff he can do to improve on – offering more off the ball for example. At present Jacob Murphy is keeping him out of the side. Not because he’s better but because he does more off the ball. Howe has made the decision to go with work rate over ability. That says a lot not just about St. Max as a player but also what the manager thinks he can do to manage him.
The rolling around if he doesn’t get a decision, bothers me most. At a point against Chelsea he got closed out of a gap on the break in the latter stages of the game, and to be fair, I thought he’d been fouled. We lost the ball but Chelsea gave it back to us quickly and we had an opportunity to break again all of a sudden. There was space on the left and that was the way to go, but there was no one there. Instead, our star man was still on the ground. He needs to be better.
— True Faith: Newcastle United Fanzine and Podcast (@tfNUFC) March 19, 2022
His decision making is the main concern. I don’t mind the spins and turns and the “greedy” elements of his play because when that comes off and works we have no one like him and he’s often unplayable. Unstoppable. He does sometimes have to remember that there isn’t one ball for him and another for everyone else though. Do the spins and turns but realise when it doesn’t work that others are in space. Trust your team mates as much as they clearly trust you and look to you to be creative. Have that awareness because without it, he can be a bit of a liability at times, giving the ball away in dangerous areas and leaving us exposed.
The final point here, is how we press. Against Chelsea, Newcastle looked their most threatening high up the pitch, chasing harrying and hassling the opposition. Chelsea didn’t like it and it looked like it could yield a mistake. An opportunity. When St. Max came on, Chelsea always had an easy out ball down our left because his press was half hearted and lacklustre. That has to change if he is to be a longer term part of this team.
I’m being critical here, and that’s because he is so important to us when he’s good. When he’s effective. He’s a wonderful player. A Ben Arfa type who can change a game on a whim. Maybe when we have better players around him, he’ll look better and the pressing and decision making doesn’t matter as much. Others could end up arriving who are on his level and that will improve him.
He needs to take ownership of his ability though. He needs to commit to us in a new way. In a Howe way. Otherwise he will end up being a bit part player in our new era.
Dai Rees – @colemans_dream