It’s taken a long time, a little too long for some, but it looks like Steve Bruce has finally found Miguel Almiron’s best position at Newcastle United.
Almiron has had his fair share of critics since joining Newcastle from Atlanta United back in January 2019, thanks largely to his relatively low goal and assist output.
But Almiron’s influence on this Newcastle side goes far beyond goals and assists. The Magpies enjoyed a marked jump in creativity and excitement in the final third shortly after his initial arrival when Rafa Benitez was still in charge, even if Almiron himself wasn’t the one finishing moves.
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But since Bruce’s appointment, Almiron has been shackled, going through brief patches of goalscoring form rather than having a decisive say, game by game.
This is in no doubt due to Bruce playing Almiron out of position. Under the former Manchester United captain, Almiron has been largely fielded on the flanks as a defensive winger. Such is Newcastle’s defensive shape, this role charges the 26-year-old with an immense amount of defending in his own half, with little chance to get forward and affect things in the final third.
Being the honest worker he is, Almiron has got on with his job by making the second-highest number of tackles (32) among Newcastle players this season. He also ranks third for interceptions (16) and has made more recoveries (80) than any other outfield player. However, by tasking Almiron with this sort of defensive output, Bruce is denying himself one of his most effective attacking talents.
Almiron an ‘atypical’ No.10?
During his successful spell in MLS with Atlanta United, Almiron was very much fielded through the middle as a No.10, with former manager Tata Martino once describing him as ‘atypical’ player in that position, but very much effective.
“He’s an atypical No.10, because he gives you everything that a number 10 gives you and he probably dispossesses players like a defensive midfielder,” said Martino.
During the early stages of Atlanta United’s 2018 MLS Cup-winning campaign, the Five Stripes were a ferocious pressing team, hunting in packs high up the pitch to force mistakes from their opponents. As the season wore on and the Playoffs approached, Martino adjusted his side into a more defensive block. However, in both systems, Atlanta were very much at their best in transition, using speed and mobility to catch their opponents in transition.
Playing through the middle behind lethal striker and good friend Josef Martinez, Almiron was central to almost everything Atlanta did well in 2018, using his defensive output to win the ball in dangerous areas, his pace to drive at the heart of the opposition defence and his clinical edge to total up 13 goals and 13 assists across all competitions.
A long-awaited solution
Over the past two games, Newcastle fans have arguably seen Almiron’s best appearances for the club so far and it’s no coincidence they came with Bruce playing him more centrally, with the freedom float across the pitch wherever he felt the best space was, rather than being restricted to one touchline.
Against Leeds, the Paraguayan scored the Magpies’ only goal of the match and created three chances for his teammates, while no Newcastle player made more tackles (4) or successful dribbles (3). Then on Sunday at Everton, Almiron once again topped out among his teammates for chances created (3) while only Javier Manquillo (4) made more tackles (3).
Time and again, at Goodison Park especially, Almiron won the ball back and got it up toward Callum Wilson as quickly as possible, while the manner and frequency with which he drove at the heart of the Leeds and Everton backlines was truly something to behold.
Neither Marcelo Bielsa nor Carlo Ancelotti (two of the game’s greatest tacticians) had a definitive answer for Almiron, with their defenders off balance and backing away, terrified of his pace and directness.
Newcastle’s 2-0 win over Everton has moved them eight points clear of the bottom three and offered a massive boost to their survival chances, but there’s no way that happens without Almiron. Whether by fluke or design, Bruce has finally figured out where Almiron is at his best, he’d be a fool to move him out of position again.