The real reason behind Newcastle United’s recent success as Eddie Howe faces huge Allan Saint-Maximin call
Ryan Fraser is one of a number of players to improve since Eddie Howe took charge of Newcastle United in December.
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Player transformation has been at the forefront of Eddie Howe’s recent success as Newcastle United head coach.
It’s easy for outsiders to argue that the Magpies’ £90million January spending spree is the main reason behind the upturn in results - but that’s not entirely true.
OK, so it’s undoubtedly a contributing factor with Kieran Trippier’s arrival from Atletico Madrid instantly raising the standards on and off the pitch.
You’ve also got Bruno Guimaraes enhancing competition in midfield and Matt Targett and Dan Burn simultaneously slotting into the back line.
Even Chris Wood, although still awaiting his first goal, has played his part with selfless displays for the team.
A story of player transformation - not January spending
But this isn’t a story about United spending their way out of trouble, this is about Howe and his ability to improve players individually.
This is about turning Joelinton from a £40million scapegoat into one of the Premier League’s leading central midfielders - on his current form anyway.
Joe Willock looked lost following his £20m summer move from Arsenal but after some special care and attention, has scored two goals in back-to-back games.
Fabian Schar, someone who started just two games this season prior to Howe’s appointment, is now a mainstay at centre-half.
Joelinton’s goal at Brentford - the latest chapter in his remarkable turnaround - stole the headlines on Saturday evening as he was serenaded by the travelling supporters.
Ryan Fraser’s best game for Newcastle
But another player who shouldn’t go unnoticed is Ryan Fraser, who was United’s man of the match in West London.
The Scotland international’s career on Tyneside until reuniting with Howe was bleak and appeared to be heading only one way.
For 12 months, the 28-year-old looked unfit and uninterested, though that is largely unsurprising given his subtle criticism of the previous head coach.
Asked on Saturday about what Howe has changed since his appointment in November, Fraser replied “everything”.
Howe has certainly changed Fraser’s mentality and ability with the winger simply unplayable against Brentford.
Deployed on the left instead of the right side, Fraser gave makeshift right-back Kristoffer Ajer, a target for NUFC last summer, an absolutely torrid afternoon.
After the Bees were reduced to 10 men, it didn’t take Howe & Co long to work out the hosts’ weakness. Ajer could not cope.
Floated balls out to the left, where Fraser was primed to take on his man before crossing into the box.
It was such a simple strategy but one that stretched Thomas Frank’s side time and time again.
It paid dividends as Fraser’s delivery, one of his 13 during the afternoon, was headed home emphatically by Joelinton. Joe Willock, of course, scored a second on the counter-attack.
It’s a statement that seems to be bandied around a lot quite recently but that was Fraser’s best game in Magpies colours.
What does it mean for Allan Saint-Maximin?
And interestingly, the former Aberdeen man revealed after the game that playing as a left winger is his favourite position.
He told NUFC.co.uk: “I played out on the left for the first time and the gaffer knows that’s my favourite position!
“Maxi (Allan Saint-Maximin) and Murph (Jacob Murphy) have been playing there and I got used to playing on the right.”
If Fraser is producing that level of performance week on week, where does that leave Allan Saint-Maximin when he returns?
There are no guarantees over the Frenchman’s place in the starting XI following his absence, no matter of crucial of a player he is.
At Brentford, Howe also hinted at a way Bruno Guimaraes could fit into the starting XI.
His introduction for Jacob Murphy just after the hour-mark saw Joelinton move over to the right wing, and he remained more than effective.
The likes of Fraser have stepped up in to earn a draw at West Ham and win at Brentford whilst Saint-Maximin is missing.
And Howe has frequently voiced his reluctance to change a winning team as Jamaal Lascelles and Bruno G have found out.
Certainly, United ability to cope without three key players in Saint-Maximin, Trippier and Callum Wilson is another fine example of Howe’s exhaustive management.