If there has ever been one critique of Newcastle in recent years, it has always been the unwillingness to provide and compile assets to take the Magpies above the annual relegation scrap. The fantasy impact of such a move up the table would be increasing value. Mike Ashley still sits atop his perch as team owner, still waiting for a lucrative purchase offer that he could not pass up. However, during the January transfer window the Magpies reneged on their tightfistedness by breaking the club transfer record to buy Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron from MLS side Atlanta United. The terms of the deal come to $27 million according to Tom Bogert of MLSSoccer.com. The deal also set a record for the most expensive sale of a player from an MLS team.
Almiron’s Record and Style of Play in MLS
During his time in the US, the 24 year old made 62 appearances over two complete seasons. Along the way, he registered 21 goals, 28 assists, and a 100% returns on penalty attempts (5 for 5). It is worth noting that MLS awards assists in a manner similar to hockey, where two players can be awarded an assist on a given goal, somewhat distorting his overall total. His season totals were good enough to finish fifth in the league in 2017, and sixth in 2018. Not only did he prosper for his club over that time span, but he blossomed into one of the prime assets in the MLS Fantasy game. Everything that Almiron was able to provide for Atlanta fills a deficiency that Rafa Benitez’s side desperately need if they’re to separate themselves from the relegation fight.
When evaluating the fantasy prospects, there are two specific means by which a player should be vetted: individual skills and team context. From a skillset perspective, his pace and playmaking ability are Almiron’s most esteemed qualities. Atlanta liked to set up tactically to play on the counter, a style in which the young Paraguayan excelled as the team’s #10. He did have the good fortune to play with one of the best strikers ever in Major League Soccer, Josef Martinez. Almiron has a knack for playing balls in behind defenses either centrally where strikers can run on to them or on the flanks for his fellow wingers.
If there is one prevalent weakness in his game, his touch is sometimes imprecise. He will occasionally cost his team a chance to score by over- or under-hitting a relatively simple pass. The caveat with that, though, is that he played all of his home games on artificial turf. So, it will be interesting to see if his skill improves as he moves to all grass.
Backing up his play as a playmaker is his penchant for shooting his fair share of chances as well. Over the course of two MLS seasons, Almiron attempted 216 shots. 40% were on target, and of those 24% were converted into goals. Given Rafa Benitez’s gameplan, we can surmise that the quantity of chances taken will decline, but those rates are still levels that all fantasy managers can appreciate. Along with the penalties mentioned above, he showed competence handling all types of set piece.
Almiron also has optimal mental makeup to compliment his physical abilities. While there is no concise way to quantify that appeal for fantasy, he has a blend of decision making skills that further enhance his ability to impact a game. His vision allows him make the proper choice between attacking or maintaining possession. For fantasy managers, the most appealing part of his makeup is his attacking state of mind. Almiron is not afraid to challenge defenders 1-v-1, nor is he timid about taking a shot when play opens up for him.
Projected Impact at Newcastle
When we zoom out, the team perspective provides plenty of opportunity for Miguel Almiron to have an impact. The first question will center on what role he will take in the formation. Rafa Benitez could very easily slot him into a position very similar to where he roamed for Atlanta. Versus Tottenham, Newcastle deployed Isaac Hayden and Sean Longstaff in the central midfield of the 5-4-1 formation. Placing Almiron into one of those spots is an automatic improvement for the United spine. Alternatively, the Paraguayan could be pushed out to the left midfield role, which would provide some much needed balance to the Newcastle attack. Simply put, there is plenty of room in the starting eleven for Almiron to collect consistent minutes, even when the likes of Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Sung-yueng return to full fitness.
From a tactical perspective, Almiron is slotting into a system that will very much emulate the style rolled out by Tata Martino in Atlanta. The strength of the attack will come mostly through the ability to hit on the counter. He will have to assimilate into a more defensive posture than was required of him in MLS, though. Rather than being the dominant side in a given game, as Atlanta often was, Newcastle approach the game with a more passive, perhaps self-conscious, style.
All in all, when you add the player and the team circumstances together, Miguel Almiron comes in as the second-best transfer of the January window, behind only Gonzo Higuain moving to Chelsea. To his benefit, the pieces around him are competent Premier League players. It is a far better scenario than being dropped into a disheveled Huddersfield outfit. The Almiron move rates so highly because the specific offerings of the player fit perfectly into the needs of the team. When a move makes sense for both player and team, the possible results, especially from a fantasy perspective, can be alluring. For example, recall Virgil van Dijk and/or Alisson to Liverpool, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Arsenal, the aforementioned Higuain to Chelsea, or Danny Ings to Southampton. The common link for all of these transactions is that the purchased player enhanced what was already in place without disrupting the team’s existing assets, formation or style. The situation will be nearly identical for Almiron. Knowing what we know about transfers and the Premier League, there is still the ominous question about how quickly he will adapt to the physicality and pace of the league.
From an analyst’s perspective, I always approach the game with caution. I always want a prospective asset to prove that he can perform to the expectations that the community, myself, or his price command. Miguel Almiron is still awaiting some issues concerning his work visa, making wait-and-see a little easier. The schedule for Newcastle through the end of the season features only two Big Six clubs, furthering his appeal. His £6.0m FPL cost is fair, in my opinion. I think the midfielder could easily earn back that value, given appropriate playing time and good health. The difficulty for most managers may finding funds to squeeze a player into the fifth midfield position at that price, as a majority of that game’s best earners have converged into a single position. I like to see two or three good performances before buying into a new player, but with Almiron it may only take one.
What do you think of Newcastle’s big January signing? Do you plan to bring him into your side? Do you think he will be regarded as a fantasy success, or failure, at season’s end? Please let us know in the comments below!