It is common for a player to be forgotten about after a lengthy period outside of the match-day squad and that was true of Henri Saivet at Newcastle United. The midfielder signed for the club during January 2016 and he is approaching the two-year anniversary of his time at St James’ Park. It hasn’t been a very memorable one in the slightest and he would have been one of those surplus to requirements heading into the transfer window next month. However, a combination of injuries and suspensions led to the Senegalese international being drafted into the starting eleven for the first time this season in the Premier League.
There was a collective groan among Newcastle United supporters when they saw the team-sheet for the visit to West Ham. The club had taken one point from their previous nine matches and it was imperative that they returned to winning ways, but a central midfield partnership of Mo Diame and Saivet gave them little chance of doing that. Or so they thought.
The two midfielders worked tirelessly in the middle of the park and offered good support to the attack. They may not be the midfielders that Benitez wants to build a team around, but they showed encouraging signs on Saturday and they have provided their manager with food for thought. Both of them got on the score-sheet to help the Magpies win an end-to-end contest with one of their rivals at the bottom of the table. The three points moved the club back outside of the relegation zone and it will be interesting to see what role these two players have to play in the immediate future.
Saivet’s performance against West Ham in numbers
It was a rocky start for the 27-year-old as he gifted West Ham an early lead inside the opening few minutes. He horribly misjudged a pass, which went straight to Marko Arnautovic. The only Newcastle defender behind the ball was Ciaran Clark and some good feet from the Austrian international took him out of the game. It was a lapse of concentration from Saivet that was indicative of his lack of playing time this season. Although there remained a lot for the Hammers’ attacker to do, the goal was a direct result of a mistake from the Magpies’ midfielder.
At that moment, Newcastle supporters would have been bemoaning the selection of Saivet as he showed why he hadn’t been picked very often. It would have been easy for the midfielder to go on to have a nightmare match, but he showed great spirit to fight back and deliver a very good performance after the initial mistake. Within minutes, he was stepping up to take a free-kick and took the responsibility over more senior players in the team. The result was extraordinary as his shoot on goal was perfectly measured and found a way past Adrian. It was a great response and it will have pleased his manager.
Saivet came through as a winger in Ligue 1, before being switched to the central midfield role. There were signs when that was evident against West Ham, but it was his tenacity when winning the ball back that stood out. The Senegalese international completed five tackles, four interceptions and made eight clearances. He more than played his part in a battling Newcastle performance and helped the team come out on top against a physical opposition.
In possession, it was clear that there was some rust in his game, as he completed only 63% of his passes. Benitez will want his midfielders to have more control in the middle of the park, but there were encouraging signs in Saivet’s intentions. He often looked to make forward passes and had the energy to get up and down the pitch.
Does he have a part to play for Newcastle United?
It looked impossible for Saivet to come back and play for Newcastle this season. The midfielder left after relegation to join Saint-Ettiene on loan, but failed to impress their then-manager Christophe Galtier.
“A playmaker? I thought I’d found him with Henri Saivet. But if he did not play in England, now I know why: he is no longer hungry. At all.
“We had lost sight of who he was. We concentrated on what he had done against us with Bordeaux in the days of Willy Sagnol and René Lobello. But the Henri of Bordeaux and the Henri of England were no longer the same. It’s an example (for us).”
These were troubling quotes at the time and shed some light on why Newcastle were unable to sell Saivet during the summer. He has big wages and he has been unable to show his quality for the last two years. The comment about hunger is interesting, as the player that delivered an eye-catching performance against West Ham was committed and fighting for the cause. He looked a completely different player to the one that floundered during his early days as a Magpies player.
Realistically, Benitez will not look at Saivet as a player that has a part to play in the long-term future of Newcastle United. He has already passed his judgement of the player and it will take a lot more than one encouraging performance to change that. However, in the short-term, he has done enough to earn more minutes in the first-team, whether that be as a starter or substitute.