One in, one out: Are Newcastle United upgrading with Harvey Barnes?

The Hard Tackle takes a deep dive into why Newcastle United replacing Allan Saint-Maximin with Harvey Barnes makes a lot of sense as Eddie Howe prepares his squad ahead of their first Champions League campaign in two decades.

It is all going on at Newcastle United at the moment. They looked to be chugging along nicely, especially with Sandro Tonali arriving at St. James’ Park for a reported £55 million deal in the early stages of the transfer window. Since then, though, Newcastle United have struggled to do much more in the transfer window because of Financial Fair Play restrictions but are set to sign Harvey Barnes.

A bombshell update dropped in recent days, suggesting Newcastle United were willing to sacrifice star Allan Saint-Maximin to fund a move for Eddie Howe’s top target Harvey Barnes. They followed reports which claimed that the Frenchman was edging closer to signing for Saudi Pro League heavyweights Al Ahli after he was left out of the squad that beat Rangers on Tuesday evening.

Eddie Howe later came out to explain the situation in his post-match conference and confirmed the winger is in talks with another club and will not be flying to the United States for the club’s pre-season tour.

RMC Sports reported that their initial offer came in around the £22 million mark, which fell way below Newcastle’s valuation. But an improved bid of £30 million plus add-ons has now been accepted by the North-East outfit, according to

Next, reports emerged that Newcastle United had made a breakthrough in talks with Leicester City for Harvey Barnes, with the 25-year-old set to replace the Saudi-bound Frenchman. After Newcastle agreed a hefty £38 million fee for the England international, fans are split on whether it would be a significant upgrade and what it means in terms of squad depth.

And below, the Hard Tackle looks at why Newcastle are forced to sell their once-talismanic winger and why Barnes in and Saint-Maximin out would represent a positive move for the club this summer.

Newcastle forced to sell Allan Saint-Maximin to break FFP shackles

Regarded as one of the best dribblers in the Premier League, Allan Saint-Maximin’s explosive pace and tremendous skills with the ball at his feet have captivated the Newcastle supporters ever since his arrival at St. James’ Park from OGC Nice back in 2019. The mercurial Frenchman is a bit of a cult hero on Tyneside and a hugely exciting talent who fans love to watch.

There are question marks surrounding his defensive output, end-product, and injury issues. But Saint-Maximin remains one of the best dribblers around on his day, and the Frenchman’s X-Factor could be crucial when Newcastle comes up against sides that deploy low-block or when you need someone to step up against top-quality opposition in the Champions League—if he stays fit.

The 26-year-old’s natural talents are dribbling and ball carrying, beating a man one-on-one, getting his side up the pitch, drawing fouls, and attracting markers to create space for others. His unpredictability and knack for creating something out of nothing are almost unparalleled.

Even if he plays a bit-part role, his skillset offers a brilliant Plan B to Eddie Howe and a useful option off the bench, especially in Champions League games under the lights. So it may come as a surprise as to why Newcastle are offloading such a unique asset. The answer is in the FFP rules, which hinder the Magpies from consistently splashing the cash on new stars to complement their growing stature in English football.

Since the Saudi-backed takeover of Newcastle and the appointment of Eddie Howe as manager, the Magpies have spent over £300 million net in three and a half transfer windows on quality acquisitions that have drastically improved the squad and fortunes.

The likes of Bruno Guimaraes, Alexander Isak, Sven Botman, and Anthony Gordon have all arrived for sizeable fees, while Newcastle’s latest marquee signing is Italian midfielder Sandro Tonali, who moved to St. James’ Park from AC Milan for around £55 million last month.

Although their player recruitment has been top-notch, Newcastle are now locked by Financial Fair Play restrictions and have no real sellable assets other than Saint-Maximin to boost the budget.

It is no secret that they are having difficulty shifting their deadwood to free up funds. Isaac Hayden, Jamal Lewis, Jeff Hendrick, Karl Darlow, and Ryan Fraser are all subjects of interest to Championship clubs but remain on inflated, lengthy deals struck under the previous regime.

In an ideal scenario, Howe would not want to lose Saint-Maximin, who has not handed over a transfer request either. But Newcastle are forced to trade or, in the words of the Toon boss, they will be “stuck” owing to the Premier League’s Financial Fair Play regulations.

The hope is that securing a substantial upfront fee for Saint-Maximin — albeit subject to increased scrutiny from rival fans and clubs, as Al-Ahli is one of four Saudi Pro League clubs owned by the majority shareholders of Newcastle United, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund — will help to further unlock Newcastle’s summer transfer activity, with Premier League Financial Fair Play regulations causing a transfer logjam in recent weeks.

With the way amortisation works in FFP calculations, it would allow Newcastle to not only sign a replacement (Harvey Barnes) but, potentially, one or two others. Howe will certainly need those reinforcements to compete on all four fronts next season. And that is why the mercurial forward has effectively been sacrificed given that he is no longer as vital as he once was to the team.

Why Harvey Barnes is a clear upgrade on Saint-Maximin?

‘Goals win you games’

You can have all the skills in the world. But if you don’t know when to pass, shoot, or track back, it’s almost meaningless. Unfortunately, the same has been the case for Allan Saint-Maximin, for one reason or another.

He has been at Newcastle since 2019 but has returned just 12 Premier League goals in 111 appearances in the competition. The Frenchman is close to unplayable at his best and gets himself into brilliant attacking positions. But he has not always delivered the end product.

No wonder the Englishman has outscored the dazzling Frenchman in every single season since their debut. In fact, Barnes’s tally of 13 top-flight goals last season surpasses the latter’s entire Newcastle United career tally of mere 12 goals.

More clinical in front of goal, the Foxes’ winger averages a league goal every 283 minutes, whereas for Saint-Maximin it is a whopping 614 minutes. According to FBref, Barnes is in the top 6% for non-penalty goals, the top 15% for aerial duals won, and the top 17% for non-penalty expected goals, all per 90.

Efficient, effective, and with excellent decision-making, Barnes has very good shot accuracy and is overall a good finisher, exactly what Newcastle needed to add to the front line after some of their profligate finishing last season.

To put it into perspective, the Magpies scored 64 Premier League goals (excluding own goals), underperforming their Expected goals (Xg) number by almost 16 goals. Having another reliable scorer to complement the output of Alexander Isak, Callum Wilson, and Miguel Almiron could go a long way towards fixing the problem.

The wingers’ evolution in football has been well documented; once upon a time, they were only key to creating chances but not scoring goals. The tables have flipped nowadays; almost every elite team has wide forwards, from Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford to Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah to Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior to Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez, among others.

Barnes’s overall goals and assists numbers also very much stand up to some of the elite wide forwards in the game. In the past four seasons, he has been a very consistent performer and has had 57 direct goal involvements in the Premier League, scoring 34 and getting 23 assists.

Rashford, Diaby, Mount, Grealish, or Saka are all in a similar bracket numbers-wise as Barnes, despite playing in better-organised systems, which showcases how underrated and undervalued he is and makes it a no-brainer transfer for Newcastle.

‘Availability Is The Best Ability’

Not only does Harvey Barnes get you goals, but he has also stayed fit on a consistent basis, playing more than 2000 Premier League minutes in three of the last four seasons, while Allan Saint-Maximin has only hit the benchmark once during the same period.

The one time Barnes failed to put up over 2,000 minutes was during the 2020/21 season when he suffered a knee injury and missed 16 games. Otherwise, he has an almost clean bill of health at every turn. He played almost 1600 more minutes than Saint-Maximin last season, scoring 12 more goals.

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Make no mistakes; a fit and firing Saint-Maximin is a nightmare for defences. But too often, niggles and minor issues have hindered the attacker’s consistency. His inability to go long stretches without an injury has hampered his progression in recent seasons. Last term, the former OGC Nice star struggled with injuries and subsequently lost his place in Howe’s plans.

Supporters may recall the thrilling 3-3 draw between Newcastle and eventual champions Manchester City in August last year, where Saint-Maximin starred as the creator for all three Newcastle goals.

Howe tweaked his preferred system heavily to fit in the Frenchman’s skillset at the start of last season. But then, he suffered a niggling hamstring injury, and Newcastle had to find a different way to anchor their attack.

Even though Howe, being a smart manager, adapted his tactics, the up-and-down form and consistent unavailability of your star man affect the chemistry and on-pitch link-ups in a negative manner.

Newcastle fans’ whole obsession with Saint-Maximin is about his potential to be a true game-changer and what he could do if he put a string of performances together. Eventually, it always seemed to be two or three impressive world-beating games at a time and then another knock or loss of form.

Availability is one of the most important attributes a player can have; it’s a manager’s dream, and Barnes’s arrival gives them an edge in this department.

‘Fits (Eddie Howe’s system) like a glove’

The bottom line is that Barnes is the sort of winger Howe prefers in his system, but Saint-Maximin is not. Homegrown with vast Premier League experience and a proven end product, the 25-year-old ticks a lot of boxes in terms of squad building and is a two-way player who seldom misses a game.

His consistency is a huge positive, and his goalscoring record is impressive. He is quick and carries the ball really well. And he can finish well when he cuts inside from the left-hand side.

Saint-Maximin, meanwhile, is now a classic case of a round peg in a square hole. Although he has slightly improved his overall work rate towards the end of last campaign, the 26-year-old is largely a defensive liability and probably cannot be considered a reliable option going forward given his numerous injury issues.

Of course, the Barnes deal is not without risk. He clearly excels in some areas while putting up slightly more average numbers in others. His all-round creative numbers are less eye-catching.

For example, as per FBRef, he only ranks in the top 3% for assists, 3% for shot-creating actions, 37% for progressive passes received, 38% for touches in the opposition’s penalty area, and 42% for progressive carries, all per 90. Saint-Maximin ranks very highly in most of the aforementioned metrics, and his spark would definitely be missed.

But at the same time, it is not something Newcastle can get from other explosive left-sided midfielders such as Joelinton or Joe Willock like they did last season in Saint-Maximin’s absence. That makes this trade-off worth making, as even if Barnes does not improve much, he would still likely score ten-plus goals a season for the side.

Also, at 25 years old, you would give him the benefit of the doubt to improve on those, playing in a more progressive and better-coached outfit.

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