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Opinion

Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Sung-yeung are best Newcastle midfield partnership – Swansea stats back this up

3 months ago
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Jonjo Shelvey was forced off in the 52nd minute of the Watford match 11 days ago.

Up to that point of the season, he had been pretty much the only player outside of the defence to emerge with any credit this season.

Ironic then that a forced absence for the midfielder, which saw Rafa Benitez forced to pair Mohamed Diame and Ki Sung-yeung, has then helped play a part in consecutive victories.

Now all eyes are on the Burnley away game in 12 days time to see what combination Rafa will go with in the middle of the pitch, providing Jonjo Shelvey is back to full fitness by then after his injury.

There is the theory of never change a winning team but the Newcastle Manager has shown many times in the past that he isn’t afraid to go against that opinion.

Also, Benitez is never afraid to leave players out no matter what their profile/reputation, the NUFC boss having left out the likes of Wijnaldum, Lascelles and indeed, Shelvey, when he has thought it was the right way to go.

Whatever happens for that Burnley match, I do think that this season our best partnership in centre midfield is Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Sung-yeung, unless of course a signing is made in January.

In the summer and earlier this season, when I have seen that particular pairing discussed, almost every time it is seen as a negative, the popular feeling appearing to be that they can’t play together because they are both attacking midfielders. Instead it is seen as a discussion about whether Ki or Shelvey should play alongside Mohamed Diame.

Which is what I am tending to read and hear now as well, with preference for Diame and Ki to play against Burnley because of these last two wins.

Like the rest of you, I was a big fan of Mohamed Diame in the second half of last season, he was unrecognisable from the poor efforts of the previous 18 months.

However, the simple truth is that Diame this season has returned to his normal self.

Against both Watford and Bournemouth he was one of Newcastle’s weakest links and the two wins were despite his performances, not because of them. Maybe he would even benefit from a time out of the team and also be a bigger asset coming on as a sub to help see out games.

With Shelvey and Ki, one of the man arguments is that it would leave Newcastle more open to letting goals in, but has this got any evidence in logic, fact or stats?

The one thing this Newcastle team definitely isn’t short of is defensive discipline via a whole team effort.

What it is definitely short of so far is inspiration, creativity and goals.

I think Shelvey and Ki together would enable Newcastle to improve both at the back and going forward by virtue of the fact that these two can keep the ball far better than Diame and get the team playing better football.

Last season Shelvey managed only one goal and three assists, whilst Diame had two goals and no assists.

This season Diame has no goals or assists, whilst Shelvey has no goals and one assist, this is really poor from your central midfield. Ki of course got the assist for the winner against Watford.

My main piece of evidence in support of using Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Sung-yeung together is by looking at what happened when they were together at Swansea.

Shelvey was at Swansea for two and a half seasons and in 2013/14 Ki was on loan at Sunderland, whilst in 2015/16 he and Ki only started together in five Premier League matches before Jonjo Shelvey joined Newcastle.

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So we are left with the 2014/15 season.

That season, Ki made 33 PL appearances for Swansea and Shelvey 31, they were the first choice centre midfield partnership.

Their personal tallies saw Ki Sung-yeung score eight goals and get one assist, whilst Jonjo Shelvey scored three and got five assists.

Their partnership helped Swansea to their best ever Premier League finish, ending the season in eighth on 56 points.

Rather than weakening their defence, Swansea only conceded 49 goals, the fewest they have ever conceded in any Premier League season.

Playing together in the midfield, Shelvey and Ki helped Swansea to some great results in 2014/15, beating Arsenal at the Emirates and defeating Man Utd home and away.

There are no sure things of course but I do think that on the available evidence, as well as being the two better footballers, Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Sung-yeung are the stronger midfield partners ahead of any combination that would include Mohamed Diame. That is of course unless Rafa Benitez changed his formation and found a space for all three players…
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