Christian Atsu has conceded that he has entered into a crucial year of his career, and one that could make or break his time at Newcastle United, as quoted by The Northern Echo.
The 27-year-old is now in his third full season at St. James’ Park after his initial loan deal from Chelsea was turned permanent in 2017 for a fee of around £6million (The Guardian), but the Ghana winger is yet to secure a consistent spot in the Magpies’ starting line-up (TransferMarkt).
Atsu has featured in 99 games for Newcastle across all competitions and will be looking to make his century against Liverpool at the weekend, but the 60-cap international has only started 52 of his Magpies appearances.
Consistency is what the left-winger puts his struggles down to, and the Ada Foah-born forward feels he must start to live up to his reputation after entering the final two years of his £30,000-a-week contract (Spotrac) in the North East.
Allan Saint-Maximin’s absence through injury for the past few top-flight games has given Atsu the chance to prove himself under Steve Bruce, in which the Ghanaian assisted Joelinton’s winner at Tottenham Hotspur and laid on a further three key passes against Watford, as well as three crosses, one shot and three successful dribbles, per WhoScored data.
“I think this is going to be an important season for me,” Atsu said. “I have been here for four years now – I have had some good times and played some good games, but I still don’t really think people have been able to see the best of me, certainly not on a consistent basis.
“That is the challenge now, to make sure this season is different. I am very happy with the way the team is playing and the way we are trying to press teams – I think that will help with my game.
“I am playing a bit further up the field under the new manager, and I am happy about that. I think it suits the way I play. The manager has said he really wants me to press defenders, and I think that suits me. I think it will help me create things because if the opposition lose the ball, I am already in front of it and that makes it easier to get forward and attack. Hopefully, that will mean I am assisting more.”
Assists have been a rare occurrence of Atsu’s career at Newcastle, with the FC Porto product only credited with six throughout his 99 appearances to date.
The 27-year-old also failed to achieve any during what proved to be Rafa Benitez’s final season at St. James’ Park, in a campaign that also returned his fewest goals in a single term across all competitions.
Bruce will certainly need to see his numbers increase over the upcoming weeks in the absence of summer signing Saint-Maximin, but the Toon boss should be encouraged by Atsu’s start to the season, as he never averaged more than 1.7 key passes per ninety minutes under Benitez and is currently on 3.5 (WhoScored), while also improving his number of dribbles (5.2 to at best 3.8 – achieved in the Championship in 2016/17).
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