After his goal in the 1-1 draw at Manchester City earlier in the season a small number of Newcastle United fans, tongues somewhat in cheek, dubbed Deandre Yedlin the best right-back in the Premier League.
That goal demonstrated the attacking qualities which give him the ability to play as a wing-back or as a traditional right-back if required. And though he doesn’t actually score many, his pace is always a threat.
It can be difficult for a young, inexperienced player to break into the first-team at such a club, but a move to the Championship with Newcastle – following a loan spell at rivals Sunderland – gave him the game time he needed at a level where he was able to progress.
The United States international started 21 games during the 2016/17 campaign, claiming five assists and scoring one goal as the Magpies were promoted to the Premier League.
A tenth place finish last season was considered one of the outstanding performances in the whole division, but getting to that level was often a struggle and much of the credit goes to their manager Rafa Benítez, whose tactical acumen saw the team perform above expectations.
Yet this term off-field issues have affected the Magpies, a club with top ten potential who are struggling in the bottom half of the table.
It could be said that it’s easier for a player to stand out in such a team, and that any hint of positivity can be amplified, but at the same time it can sometimes be difficult for good players to shine in a side which is struggling.
Yedlin isn’t the best right back in the Premier League, but he’s slowly growing into an impressive top flight performer.
In a team of players often described as punching above their weight, Yedlin looks like he belongs in the top tier.
“It is funny with the media because when we were in the Championship we were a Premier League team in the Championship,” he said at the end of last season.
“Then when we were in the Premier League, we were a Championship team in the Premier League.
This term he already has a goal and an assist to his name, but Newcastle find themselves in the relegation zone after six games.
It’s probably safe to say the club’s main aim, sadly, is to avoid the drop once again. Their problems off the pitch are well documented and until that area of the operation is sorted then they will continue to play beneath themselves.
But while this is going on they will need players to play above themselves. Yedlin is one such player, but rather than playing above himself it could well be that he has found his level.
Last season he was the fourth best full-back in the league when it came to successful take-ons with 30, and also third in his position for accurate pull-backs.
While Newcastle may be a team battling to survive in the Premier League, there are hints in Yedlin’s game that he could help them be much more than this further down the line.
Below compares Yedlin’s Football Whispers’ Player Persona from this season (blue) and last (yellow).
It will come as little surprise to Magpies fans that this term his game has been based more on active defending; tackling, intercepting and making clearances.
Newcastle’s struggles have required as such from their backline.
That too is reflected in the pure stats with the American making more tackles per 90 this season compared to last (2.2 to 1.8) and more interceptions per 90 (1.6 to 1.42).
What is telling, and a mark of Yedlin’s greater impact in the attacking third this term, is that his total scoring attempts per 90 has increased to 0.4 from 0.19 and that he is averaging 0.4 touches in the opposition area per 90 compared to 0.38.
The task for Newcastle is to now get the 25-year-old higher up the field with greater regularity. He is proving he can be a threat when in the right areas, so it’s crucial the Magpies ensure he is in them.
Newcastle finishing mid-table this season would be an even bigger achievement than it was during the last, but if there is a glimmer of hope further down the line you’d image Yedlin will be part of that brighter future.