Only the most myopic of MLS fans expected Miguel Almiron to head from Atlanta United to the Premier League and create with the same sort of prolificacy he did for the Five Stripes.
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But despite his lack of goals and assists for Newcastle United, there is no doubt that Almiron has been a game-changer for a club which could defend with anyone but lacked the electricity to attack Premier League defenses.
“He was massive for us from day one,” Benitez said. “He was giving everybody a lift with his pace, work rate, and his assists.”
Almiron, 25, scored 22 goals and added 21 assists in two seasons with Atlanta, but had yet to find the back of the goal or score a direct assist in 763 minutes with the Magpies when he suffered a presumed season-ending hamstring injury over the weekend.
But he’s also been the proverbial straw that stirs the drink for Newcastle, who has 41 points on the season.
Their record before Almiron? 6W-6D-13L
Like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Brendan Rodgers‘ tenures as managers of their new Premier League clubs, we should be careful to measure those numbers against weaker schedules, but throwing in Atlanta’s massive struggles post-Almiron makes for an easy if over-simplified line to draw.
Benitez verbalized what we’ve all seen: Newcastle’s best attacker prior to Almiron’s arrival was Salomon Rondon and the big Venezuelan has been more productive, and Ayoze Perez has been freed up to do what he does best as a creator.
“We signed Almiron, then Rondon was playing better, and Ayoze was playing better. Why? Because Almiron can run in behind, provide assists, and then Rondon has more time. Ayoze is the same, too.”
How will Newcastle fare without him, presumably the rest of the way? Fortunately, it’s doesn’t matter too much. Brighton, Liverpool, and Wolves will be pleased to face the Magpies without Almiron, and Benitez may go into a shell against two of the three.