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English Premier League

The good, bad and the ugly of Newcastle United’s Jonjo Shelvey

Jake Jackman




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.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Leicester City

West Ham and Leicester should pounce for Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri



Photo: Getty Images.

One player certain to be on the move this summer is Stoke City midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, who will put an end to an unhappy spell at the bet365 Stadium, but could still stay in the Premier League to West Ham or Leicester.

Sky Bet offer odds as low as 1/10 that Shaqiri will depart this summer, with West Ham the leading Premier League club in the betting at 8/1 and Leicester City not far behind at 10/1.

That’s not to say that a stay in England is certain, particularly given that the two Milan clubs are favourites with Inter at 6/1 and AC Milan at 13/2, with Lyon also in the running at 8/1 level with the Hammers.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The winger has not hidden his disappointment with the team’s struggles this season and the Potters now face an uphill battle if they are to avoid relegation from the top flight.

The Swiss international will not entertain the idea of playing second tier football after a decorated career has previously seen him play for the likes of Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.

Having failed to live up to expectations since Mark Hughes brought him to England in 2015, he may be keen to make the move abroad, but with finances likely to be more attractive to remain in the Premier League he may not rule out such a move.

Leicester could be forced to sign a replacement for Riyahd Mahrez whilst West Ham will also be looking for options out wide when Joao Mario’s loan spell comes to an end.

His pace, power and strength could catch the eye of both sides but they will have their work cut out to convince him to remain in England this summer.

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Liverpool fans will love who are favourites to sign Mario Balotelli



Mario Balotelli
Photo: Getty Images.

Mario Balotelli is not a man who conjures up fond memories for Liverpool fans, but that could all be about to change if the betting is accurate in forecasting where he could move if he leaves OGC Nice this summer with one Premier League side leading the race to bring him back to England.

Whilst Serie A sides are the frontrunners in the betting to sign Mario Balotelli, there are also several English clubs in the mix, based on odds offered by Sky Bet. Favourites are the side that Liverpool fans would both find hilarious and dread in equal measure: Everton.

Odds on the controversial Italian moving to Goodison Park this summer are as low as 8/1, whilst West Ham are also in the running at 12/1.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The centre forward picked up more yellow cards, seven, than goals, four, during his time on Merseyside but has scored 39 goals in 61 games for his new club in France and insists he’s a new, mature man.

Italy still seems his most likely destination with Napoli and Juventus leading the odds, but a move to Everton would give Balotelli the chance to either redeem himself with Liverpool fans by failing as much as he did at Anfield, or rebuild his reputation in the country where he made his name with Manchester City.

The Toffees are desperate to add firepower up-front, but having been so disappointed by their business last summer it is hard to see how taking a gamble on a player as volatile as Balotelli would be a wise move.

That said, they know that the quality is clearly there within the player and may have the same hope as Brendan Rodgers did when he signed Balotelli for Liverpool, that they can bring him in cheap, get the best out of him and sell him on for a profit.

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Manchester United

Has Romelu Lukaku enjoyed a successful debut season at Manchester United?

The Belgian international has 27 goals in all competitions this season.

Martyn Cooke



Romelu Lukaku
Photo: Getty Images

Expectations at Old Trafford have always been high.

Over the previous three decades, Manchester United have become one of the most successful club teams in Europe with Sir Alex Ferguson creating an era of dominance that brought success and trophies on a previously unprecedented scale.

His successors may not have been able to directly replicate his achievements, both David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal won just won FA Cup between them, but the raised bar that he set remains in place.

Expectations of individual players are also high, especially if you happen to be a striker.

Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robin Van Persie, Eric Cantona, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham are just a small selection of prestigious names that have shouldered the goal scoring responsibility at Old Trafford.

So, it would be fair to say that Romelu Lukaku has some rather large historical boots to fill.

The Belgian striker arrived at Old Trafford in the summer for an initial fee of £75 million after prolific spells with Everton and West Bromwich Albion.

He was brought in by Jose Mourinho to be the focal point of the Manchester United attack and to placate some of the goal scoring issues that the Portuguese coach had experience in his debut season with the club.

(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A big-name striker, following in the footsteps of club legends, at a club that demands success – expectations were certainly high.

So, how do we rate Lukaku’s first season with Manchester United?

On Wednesday evening the Belgian climbed off the bench at the Vitality Stadium to score the goal that secured three points against Bournemouth. It was the 24-year-old’s 16th Premier League strike of the season and the 27th goal that he has netted in all competitions so far this campaign.

In basic terms, this season has been the most successful and prolific in front of goal in Lukaku’s career.

Mourinho has been using the Belgian as a lone striker and the focal point of Manchester United’s attack in a campaign in which the club has struggled to maintain pace with their cross-city rivals.

Lukaku has demonstrated that he possesses the pace, power and strength to become one of the leading strikers in world football and when he is fit, confident and on form the 24-year-old is as good as anyone else in the business.

However, despite his considerable goal return Lukaku has not been without his critics in his debut season at Old Trafford.

It has been suggested that the Belgian is a fast-track bully, a big-name that only scores against the so-called ‘smaller’ clubs and fails to produce when it really matters.

Critics point to the limited impact that he has had in matches against Manchester United’s direct rivals – he has scored only once against a top six-team this season.

Some supporters have also become increasingly frustrated that Mourinho’s reliance on Lukaku has seen game time restricted for players such as Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

(Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

The duo started the game against Bournemouth in mid-week and flourished in the Belgian’s absence, offering a more mobile, pacey form of attack that has often been missing this season.

Finally, it is noticeable that Lukaku has been lagging behind somewhat in the Premier League goal scoring charts this campaign. He is currently the sixth leading scorer in the league and has found the back of the net 14 times fewer than Mohamed Salah and 10 times less than Harry Kane.

However, when analysing the 24-year-old’s performances this season it is also worth remembering the pragmatic style of play that Mourinho has utilised.

The Portuguese coach is renowned for his defensive approach against other top-six teams whilst even against so-called ‘lesser’ clubs Manchester United have struggled to produce an aesthetically pleasing style of play.

The fact that Lukaku is on track to score 30 goals this season given the general approach of his manager should be applauded, not derided.

The Belgian has undoubtedly been a success in his debut season at Old Trafford but there is certainly room for improvement next year. However, Lukaku is still only 24 and he still has an abundance of time to grow, improve and develop his game whilst the peak years of his career are still ahead of him.

Manchester United supporters will be hoping that his significant goal return this season is just the start and that Lukaku will be able to build on the relative success of his debut campaign and push his game onto the next level next year.

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