HE is the record-breaking £21m signing that was supposed to herald a new dawn, but just two games into the new season, and Miguel Almiron is already being held up as an emblem of Newcastle United’s plight.

When Alan Shearer delivered a damning assessment of Almiron’s performance at Norwich City on Saturday night’s Match of the Day, he was flagging up a key issue that Steve Bruce has to resolve if he is to prevent Newcastle’s season from imploding before it has really begun. Hailed as a game-changing acquisition when he arrived from MLS side Atlanta United in January, Almiron currently looks more of a liability than a leader.

Twelve games into his Newcastle career, and the Paraguayan is still to come up with a goal or an assist. A degree of acclimatisation was always going to be necessary, but almost eight months on from his arrival in England, and the 25-year-old’s statistics make for grim reading.

There have been glimpses of the talent that made him such a huge success in the United States, although the vast majority of those came when Newcastle had their collective tails up towards the end of last season.

Almiron’s two performances in the current campaign have been bereft of an attacking threat, and while the forward was able to contribute in the final third last season even if he was not directly responsible for creating a goal, he looked like a little boy lost as he wandered aimlessly around Carrow Road at the weekend.

So what has changed to render him so ineffective? When it comes to the areas Almiron has been trying to impact, not a lot. Compare a heat map of the South American’s runs and touches in Saturday’s game to a similar assessment of a similar game from last season, say March’s 2-0 defeat at West Ham, and it is striking just how little has changed. Almiron is pretty much doing the same things he was doing under Rafael Benitez. The key difference is what is going on in front of him.

Last season, Almiron tended to play in an attacking left-midfield position as part of the 3-4-2-1 formation that Benitez settled on in the second half of the campaign. He was afforded a fair degree of attacking licence, and tended to use that to drop deep in order to pick up the ball from Newcastle’s defenders or defensive midfielders before bursting forward to feed those in front of him.

Quite often last season, Almiron would be picking up possession close to the halfway line, breaking forward 20 or 30 yards, then looking to feed the ball into the box. That worked because, even if he found himself alongside Isaac Hayden or Mo Diame, there were still two attacking players ahead of him. Salomon Rondon was the central striker, while Ayoze Perez was a ‘number ten’ who liked to do most of his work on Rondon’s shoulder.

Perez rarely dropped out of the attacking third, even when Newcastle were not in possession, and when the Magpies broke, the Spaniard would be straining every sinew to get into the box. As a result, Almiron was able to sit in a deeper role, linking with those behind him as well as those in front.

This season, with Rondon and Perez both gone, things are different. Joelinton has arrived to replace Rondon, and while the £40m Brazilian is yet to prove he is a match for the Venezuelan in terms of outcomes, he is performing broadly the same role. Perez has not been replaced though, with Newcastle’s recruitment team opting to sign a winger in the shape of Allan Saint-Maximin rather than a natural ‘number ten’. That decision has had major repercussions for Almiron.

To all intents and purposes, Almiron is now being asked to do what Perez was doing last season. With Bruce having tweaked Benitez’s formation to more of a 3-5-2 – “You’re only ever as good as your forwards,” said the Newcastle boss last week. “That’s why I always like to play with two up front” – it is essential that Almiron supports Joelinton in the final third.

Instead, as Shearer illustrated on Saturday night, he is often 40 yards behind his fellow forward. Time and time again at the weekend, Joelinton found himself battling against two Norwich centre-halves, with no team-mate within at least 20 yards of him. Almiron should have been plugging that gap, but he was either sitting deep in the hope of being able to embark on a dribble or making the kind of run that might pay dividends as a deep-lying midfielder, but that does not enable an out-and-out attacker to cause problems in the 18-yard box.

Almiron looks as though he would benefit from another player playing in front of him, but with Andy Carroll unavailable, Yoshinori Muto is really the only squad member capable of performing such a role. Muto might have to play at Tottenham if Joelinton is injured, but swapping one forward for another will not solve Almiron’s dilemma.

The Paraguayan is going to have to start playing much higher up the field, even if the evidence so far suggests that does not really play to his strengths. Less dribbling from the halfway line, more link-up play and precise movement in the penalty area.

This is not a Newcastle side bursting with attacking threats. So if Almiron does not start producing goals and assists soon, the Magpies will quickly find themselves in serious trouble.