At the start of the season I, like many others, had Jonjo Shelvey down as the single most important player Newcastle would be relying upon this season.
With our overall lack of creativity and strike potency, his set-pieces and through balls were going to be pivotal in winning points.
Here we are in February and Jonjo Shelvey still doesn’t officially have an assist or a goal to his name.
He’s played a couple of key passes that have led to goals but whatever hope we had that Shelvey could pull the strings in an advanced role, seem like a distant championship memory. Very little has come off for him playing against the higher standard of Premier League defender and without a top level striker to put away what scant chances we do create.
This had been a big disappointment earlier in the season, without that facet on show, Shelvey seemed to be a bystander in many games. He was overshadowed by Merino (and Hayden?), his juniors in the middle of the park.
Recently Diame has come to the fore, he’s come on leaps and bounds and won many deserved plaudits.
Against Manchester United, Shelvey too got much praise for his excellent and much improved performance, but rather than a one off, that game seems to be a culmination of changes in Shelvey’s approach that have proved fruitful over the last month or so.
Whether Shelvey has been told to focus his efforts elsewhere, or something has clicked and he’s more successfully implementing instructions Rafa had been giving him all season, there has been an ongoing trend of significant improvement in his return defensively.
Shelvey’s eight interceptions in the last three games are as many as he had made in sixteen games prior.
His five clearances in the last five games are as many as he’s made in the previous ten games.
He’s made five successful tackles in five games. A number he only achieved across ten games before that.
Most strikingly though, the eight defensive dribbles Shelvey has made in his last five appearances are twice as many as the four he had made in all 15 games in the rest of the season.
Shelvey’s inconsistency is a concern that has followed him throughout his career. He’s always been capable of eyecatching performances but usually for his efforts in a more advanced role.
If this effort to be able to impact games continues, whether we’re on top or not, he may yet become the most important player to Newcastle that many of us hoped he could be.
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