Once Dwight Gayle left, Jonjo Shelvey became redundant
Rafa Benitez has been asked about the position Jonjo Shelvey finds himself in.
Visits to a specialist in Barcelona appear to have helped deliver the midfielder back to full fitness at last.
A thigh injury had prevented Shelvey starting any games since 3 November 2018, fully four months ago now.
However, like many other players, Jonjo Shelvey now finds himself still having to watch on from the sidelines, indeed not even from the bench.
Rafa acknowledges the [nice] problem he now has, a team playing well and winning games, with now pretty much a full squad to choose from.
The manager saying Jonjo Shelvey now needs to prove his match fitness but needs to be able to play matches to do that, a classic Catch 22 position.
“Jonjo needs to prove his match fitness, but match fitness you can only prove by playing games, so it is not easy at the moment [for the midfielder].
“The medical staff keep the players fit and so we have 24 players available.
“The 11 starters are doing well and we can change one or two players, but they are doing well.
“Seven players on the bench leaves six outside [the matchday 18].
“It is quite difficult [for players not in the team/squad] but I praise them, because they are very good professionals training really hard, even though they’re not playing and not on the bench.
“Hopefully, we can carry on doing the same and if I have a chance, I will give an opportunity to people, to be sure that everybody can be involved.”
Whilst Rafa talking about Shelvey’s exclusion from the squad is a great story for the media considering his profile and past automatic starter status, the fact he isn’t walking straight back into the team is hardly a surprise, especially seen as it is now just over a week since he came back into full training with the rest of the squad.
Looking back this season, I think Jonjo Shelvey was made redundant as soon as Dwight Gayle went to West Brom.
It is telling that the only game Newcastle won when the midfielder has started this season, was the Watford one, Shelvey was subbed at 0-0 and Ki came on and changed the game by running with the ball, playing one-twos with teammates to move the ball up the pitch. Indeed it was a one-two he played on the edge of the box that saw Ki win the free-kick which he then put in for the Perez winner.
Jonjo Shelvey is a good midfielder who is then brilliant at one thing, his passing.
For all he got a lot of stick [some justified] for not scoring enough goals [six] last season, Dwight Gayle was essential for the way Newcastle United and in particular, Jonjo Shelvey, played.
The main tactic to get United up the pitch was Shelvey putting the ball over the top of the opposition defence to pick out Gayle, very much in a quarterback role.
With Perez not having any pace and Rondon the same, as for Joselu…, suddenly Jonjo Shelvey has nobody making the runs and so nobody to pick out. No wonder in the eight games that Shelvey started, Newcastle only scored in two of them [2-3 at Man Utd and 1-2 v Tottenham] when the former Liverpool player was on the pitch.
With the signing of Miguel Almiron, Newcastle now at last do have somebody who is perfect for Jonjo Shelvey to pick out as the Paraguayan has the pace.
Unfortunately for Jonjo Shelvey, there are now further complications.
Last season and the start of this one, the norm would be to see Shelvey dropping right back to get a five yard pass off a centre-back such as Lascelles, Fernandez or Clark, then try to pick out somebody…
With no runners and little space in front of him, not helped by Shelvey usually dropping so deep, it was a pretty much pointless exercise.
In Shelvey’s absence, Rafa is now playing the three/five at the back and it is working.
One of the many reasons for its success is the return of Florian Lejeune.
As well as being a very good defender he is also…a very good passer.
His laser-like long-range cross-field balls are a big feature of Newcastle’s play. Fabian Schar is also capable of some superb long-range passing, altough his completion rate isn’t quite on Lejeune’s level.
Jonjo Shelvey is pretty much redundant, I would say Lejeune is at least 90% or so of what Shelvey is capable of with that type of passing.
Of course further up the pitch, the one-time England international is also excellent at other types of creative passing but then Longstaff and Hayden aren’t exactly looking like mugs in that department either. Maybe keeping it a bit more simple than some of what Shelvey is capable of but the percentages are working.
Plus the two in position have far more legs than Shelvey and also carry the ball, something that definitely in’t a big plus for the midfielder who finds himself out of the team.
Things can quickly change but unless injuries strike, it looks obvious that Jonjo Shelvey is no longer essential to this Newcastle team.
However, how he could get back in is the same as the argument as to why he could/should have been in the England squad last summer. Ideal to come off the bench if you are looking for somebody to unlock a defence in the final 20/25 minutes.
I think Rafa Benitez could and should shortly find a place for Shelvey on the bench but as as for the starting eleven, that doesn’t look on the cards for the foreseeable future.
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