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Opinion

Why Jonjo Shelvey has quietly become the most important player in this Newcastle United team

5 months ago
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Reading through the media publications from the Bournemouth game, all the outlets were rushing to praise Allan Saint-Maximin, calling him out as the ‘Newcastle talisman’ and ‘capable of doing anything’.

A large amount of praise has rightly been given for his performances, however, for me the man of the match should have been Jonjo Shelvey.

Whilst ASM provided three assists, the impact Shelvey had in setting the tone of the match was more significant, despite no one really noticing it.

Why Jonjo Shelvey?

The pundits on Sky Sports and MOTD love to take the easy route, it’s easy to show a reply of the assist for goal two and laud over it and point to the three assists as the reason for the MOTM award.

Yet despite ASM being the star of the show, in this analogy, Jonjo Shelvey was like the director. Everything good about the Newcastle team display was founded on Shelvey. Newcastle were solid defensively, easy in possession, and had attacking impetus all the way through, all could be traced back to Shelvey in the spine of the team.

In the first half he showed discipline, offering Bournemouth’s attack nothing down the middle, whilst directing not only his midfield companions, but also the defence on a number of occasions. A few scurries forward, and a couple of long balls over the top that almost set Gayle away, were the only direct individual contributions from Shelvey in the first 70 minutes. Despite little individual contribution, I like to think for the first 70 minutes Shelvey had a huge team contribution, acting as the glue of the team; bonding together comfortable defensive stability, whilst providing a link forward through his possession and vision.

However, in the last 20 minutes with Hayden on the field, Shelvey was pushed forward into an attacking midfield position, from which we saw the playmaker that we purchased from Swansea. A perfectly timed and weighted pass for Lazaro set up goal number four, some very neat interchanges resulted in a stinging shot from Carroll, and a long-range opportunity Shelvey should have done better with, all in his 20 minutes further forward.

This displayed to me that Jonjo Shelvey can be both Jekyll and Hyde, showing how his defensive intelligence and work rate has developed under Benitez and Bruce, perfectly juxtaposed by his performance late in the game showing he still can pose a danger when released further forward. A real rounded display from Shelvey.

An isolated performance – or a recurring theme?

Owing to the negative tactics from Bruce so far for most of this season, Shelvey has been restricted to the defensive midfield role in almost all the games. If you had said to me two or three years ago, Shelvey would play at defensive midfield, I would have laughed; he’s not hard-working or disciplined enough and will probably pick up more yellow cards than clean sheets. Yet, he has transformed into this alter ego Shelvey, putting in the hard yards, organising his midfield, not over committing to challenges and just picking up two bookings all season in the process.

A game that springs to mind is the 2-2 vs Manchester City. Despite being forced to play defensively all game, he never got frustrated, didn’t dive into tackles, and continued to work hard for the team through the 90 minutes; this restricted City’s success through the middle, which was then topped off with his classy finish to level the match. This disciplined attitude to work for the team I have seen all season so far from him has played a big part in some of the positive results, which will be discussed further below.

Where should we play him?

In the defensive role we have seen Shelvey play this season, he has been very good, but I think on occasion he should be given the freedom to play further forward.

Against Bournemouth, the ease with which he picked out Lazaro for the 4th was sensational, the link up play with Carroll seemed effortless, and he almost picked out Gayle in behind Bournemouth’s defence a couple of times from a deeper position.

That assist for Lazaro was amazingly his first of the season and I think against weaker opposition we have been missing his creative presence further up the field. He can create more chances than any other player in black and white, with the possible exception of ASM. West Ham at the weekend could be the right chance to give him that opportunity further forward and certainly something I would like to see teamed with Gayle or Carroll up front.

If Shelvey was to play further forward, do we have options to replace him in the holding role of the 4-2-3-1? Bentaleb (on loan and poor temperament) and Longstaff (prefers attacking role) would not be great choices in the holding role. However, my choice would be to give Schar a run in the holding midfield role alongside Hayden. We have seen Schar’s potential to play in this role through last season. His ball playing style, bursting runs, and accurate passing, would be a good fit for the midfield role, especially as we have seen Fernandez and Lascelles rightly consolidating their starting roles at centre back.

Our most important player?

Excellent performances have not been isolated incidents for Jonjo Shelvey this year. With Shelvey in the team, Newcastle are a much more solid, organised defensive unit. The stats back this up.

Since the start of October Newcastle concede a third fewer goals per game with him in the team (1 per game vs 1.5 per game without him). That is no coincidence, with Shelvey providing effective defensive cover time and time again. In addition, the whole team works more effectively with Shelvey, averaging 2.0 points per game with him in the team, compared to just 0.7 points per game without him.

My opinion

Whilst I think ASM has been fantastic, especially the second half of the season, Jonjo Shelvey has quietly, without anyone really noticing, become the most important player in the Newcastle team.

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