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Analysing Jonjo Shelvey’s midfield masterclass for Newcastle on Saturday

Newcastle have recovered from a disastrous first two matches to finish before the international break in 4th position. On Saturday evening, they overcame a good Brighton side, who are expected to challenge for promotion again this season. A red card to Sam Baldock made Newcastle’s task easier in the second half, but Rafa Benitez’s side deserved the three points and they are beginning to build the winning mentality that they will need to win this league.

The man-of-the-match was arguably Jonjo Shelvey on Saturday, who gave his best performance in a Newcastle shirt. He will not have been expecting to be playing in the Championship at this stage of his career, but he is working hard and received his rewards against Brighton. Although he has been in-and-out of the team under Benitez, he has the talent to become a key player for Newcastle this season and it will be this level of performance that he needs to deliver consistently.

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He ran the show in central midfield, dictating the tempo and making driving runs into the final third. It is this kind of positivity that Newcastle’s midfield has lacked this season, which is why Shelvey’s performance stood out against Brighton. The midfielder showed the quality that earned him a place in the England squad, but he won’t receive the plaudits that he deserves as it came in the Championship.

Shelvey enjoyed an 89% pass completion rate and made one key pass in the match. The midfielder looked a cut above the other players on the pitch and showed why he should be playing in the Premier League. Newcastle are more threatening with him in their midfield, as he always looks forward and isn’t conservative in his passing.

He also has the potential to play long balls to the flanks, which is why Benitez is looking to bring in attacking full backs. Teams will set up to frustrate Newcastle and they need to have a player like Shelvey to unlock defences. He showed on Saturday that he can be the man to do that. Shelvey is capable of carrying the ball forward and creating space for himself, as he showed with his 100% dribble success rate on Saturday. He only attempted two, but both opened up the Brighton defence and created promising situations for his side.

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In the first few matches of the season, Shelvey struggled to make an impact as the holding midfield role restricted his attacking influence. However, Benitez moved him forward into a central role in a 4-1-4-1 formation on Saturday and Shelvey thrived as a result. He was able to influence the match more and managed to score his first goal for the club. It came from a free kick, which was curled beautifully into the back of the net. He nearly added another goal was a low drive, but it was well saved by David Stockdale.

During the summer, Shelvey has worked hard to slim down and looks in much better shape this season. He has been criticised for his attitude in the past, but he has been a model professional this summer and his career will benefit from playing under Rafa Benitez. The midfielder hasn’t settled at any club in his career and that hasn’t helped his consistency on the field. Newcastle appears to be a good fit for him and this performance should be the start of Shelvey making himself integral to the club’s promotion push.

Only one outfield player (Isaac Hayden) has started every league match this season, which shows that Benitez doesn’t know his best team yet. The competition in the squad should lead to improved performances as players try to secure a starting place. There is still Premier League quality in the squad, but they shouldn’t be complacent in the Championship, as they perhaps were in the opening two matches. Shelvey has showed that he is taking the league seriously and if he continues to perform like he did against Brighton, he could be set for an excellent season.

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