Jonjo Shelvey is very much a Jekyll and Hyde character on the pitch, which makes him an interesting player to watch on a regular basis. The Premier League has already witnessed both sides of his game this season after only a couple of months. Rafa Benitez will have been tearing his hair out after the opening match against Tottenham, but he opted to recall him on Sunday and that decision looks like it earned Newcastle a point.
There was a lot of discussion about whether Shelvey could partner Mikel Merino in the middle of the park and it was a huge risk to test out that combination against a team like Liverpool. However, Benitez made that call and the midfielder responded with an excellent performance.
Looking at the stats after the game, it doesn’t appear that Shelvey played a key role in the draw, but he did. He was disciplined in his positioning and this was an encouraging sign, as there had been doubts regarding his ability to carry out a defensive role. This was why the selection was seen as a risk, as Liverpool were always likely to dominate possession and they did with 68% of the ball.
Although Shelvey made only one ball retrieval, he kept his position well and put the opposition players under pressure regularly. Mikel Merino was the better ball-winner and the two struck up a good relationship in the midfield. It would be a surprise if they aren’t the first-choice pairing for the long-term.
The 25-year-old was intelligent in possession and regularly made the right decision when the ball was at his feet. His range of passing added an extra dimension to Newcastle’s game and led to quicker transition from defence to attack. That was evident in the goal as Shelvey’s pass was perfectly-weighted and put Joselu through on goal. Although the finish was somewhat fortunate, it was an excellent piece of play from the midfielder to create the opportunity.
His season so far
It is difficult not to watch Jonjo Shelvey and marvel at his technique on the ball. Based on raw ability, he should be playing regularly for England, but there are parts of his game that make him a liability at times. The midfielder isn’t short of confidence and he drew attention to himself during the summer by talking about the national team. The Sun reported the following quotes:
“All I can do now is just show in my performances that I warrant a place back in the England team. If you look at the competition, we’re crying out for a central midfielder. But it’s just a matter of saying the right things in the press and things like that. That’s what goes on these days. It’s the way football is nowadays.”
England are lacking in midfield and would benefit from having a player with the passing range that Shelvey possesses. However, he needs to prove himself and that he has matured as an individual before that becomes a viable option for him. It didn’t take him long to remind the nation of his flaws as a player as he was sent off against Tottenham for a needless stamp on Dele Alli. Lots of pundits, including Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer called him out for his idiocy.
It would have been tough to sit out the opening few matches of the season and he was given tough love by Benitez upon his return. He wasn’t brought back into the starting eleven immediately and that could do him a lot of good in the long run as he has to learn from these incidents. The player himself struggled to explain his actions, which suggests a serious mental problem that he can’t control.
“You can learn from anything but I couldn’t tell to this day what I was doing and couldn’t put my finger on it. It was just a moment of madness – an error. I apologise for it. I have not come out and said anything or done an interview like anything like that. The only people I will apologise to is my team-mates, manager and the fans – nobody else outside of this football club.”
Although the midfielder is trying to show regret for his actions, he comes across as abrasive and doesn’t take full responsibility for the red card. It is this side of his character that makes it difficult for him to be fully accepted in the game. There are few English midfielders that have the passing range and creative spark that he does, but he doesn’t fit well with the FA in terms of his actions both on and off the field.
Rafa Benitez has been a positive influence on his career as shown by his disciplined performance against Liverpool. Shelvey wouldn’t have been able to carry out that role before linking up with the Spaniard and he will need to continue to work hard if he wants to retain his place. The Shields Gazette quote the Newcastle boss discussing his midfielder.
“I told him before the game ‘you know how to play football, you just have to work hard and keep your head focused on the game and you will play well’. If he works as hard as he did (against Liverpool), he will get more chances to play.”
Benitez is clearly a huge fan of Shelvey the footballer and is willing to take him on as a project, but this should be considered a stark warning. If the 25-year-old doesn’t show consistency in effort and performance, he won’t be a regular starter.
Can he fulfil his potential?
It was encouraging that Shelvey performed well on his return to the team, as it suggests he did learn from his time out in the cold. For Newcastle, he is a risk worth taking as he can make game-changing contributions like he did against Liverpool. His vision and passing range add a layer of attacking quality that the side has lacked in recent matches.
This is going to be a huge season in the career of Shelvey, as he is now 25. He is young enough to improve but old enough to know better when it comes to the ill-discipline. At Newcastle, he is operating in a positive environment under a world-class manager that believes in him. This is a great opportunity for him to establish himself as a very good Premier League midfielder, but he needs to stop pressing the self-destruct button. If he doesn’t, he could be remembered as an unfulfilled talent.