NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has hit back at Allan Saint-Maximin critics, claiming there really is “no-one like him” when the Newcastle United forward is in full flow.
The Frenchman has been a shadow of his former self in his last two appearances off the bench since returning from injury, with late cameos against Chelsea and Everton doing little to convince he deserves a place in the Magpies’ starting XI.
However, former AS Monaco, Nice and Saint-Etienne man Saint-Maximin had only trained twice in four weeks, having just recovered from a long-standing calf issue and illness.
Looking at this weekend’s trip to Tottenham Hotspur, a game in which Saint-Maximin is expected to start, Howe admits he loves working with the enigmatic attacker — and has underlined just how important a player he is in black and white.
“Mentally, he’s very good. Trained very well in the period we’ve had away,” said Howe. “Yeah, we haven’t seen much of him. If my memory is right, he had a calf injury and then he had a bad illness. Whenever a player has time away with that, it’s very difficult to get them back up to speed straightaway. The break has actually been very good for him, he’s trained very well and we’re excited to see him back.”
Saint-Maximin, with the rest of the group, has been working hard to get back up to speed while in a warm-weather training camp in Dubai recently, the club’s second trip to the Middle East this year, following on from the trip to Saudi Arabia in January.
Howe continued: “I’m just looking for the best Maxi. When he is at his best, there’s no-one like him.
“We need him physically to be able to deliver that, and that’s where we’ve been working hard with him. I’ve loved working with him since I’ve been here. He’s a great lad, wants to do well and achieve. We’re just trying to help him to do that.
“He’s such an important player for the team.”
While Saint-Maximin gives Howe more options in the forward areas, he also has some big decisions to make in midfield.
Bruno Guimaraes was in glittering — and goalscoring — form for Brazil in the international break, while Jonjo Shelvey shook off the ill-effects of an illness which kept him out pre-Dubai.
Joelinton, Sean Longstaff and Joe Willock have all proven themselves when called upon in recent weeks, too.
“It’s a great position for me to be in,” said Howe of his selection dilemma in that department. “That midfield area has been the key area for us, it’s been one of the strengths of the team without a doubt. I think we’ve had a really good mix there of technical quality, physical attributes.”
“Offensively, I think they’ve been very, very good. Nice problem for me to have. I’ve got to pick three out of those five if everyone’s fit, and we decide to play with a three (formation).”