Not many footballers have the cheek to wag a finger at Sir Alex Ferguson. But in September 2012, a young Liverpool player did not just wag his finger at the Manchester United boss, he also gave him an earful while walking off the pitch after he got a red card. Jonjo Shelvey was a feisty 20-year old back then. He is now a feisty 25-year old in Newcastle’s midfield.
Shelvey recalled that incident a couple of years later and remembered how Sir Alex Ferguson commended him on his courage. That courage or feistiness let him down in the first game this season after it earned him a red card against Tottenham. But the same temerity is one of the reasons why Rafa has been talking about bringing Shelvey back in his starting eleven for Sunday’s game against Liverpool.
Here, we take a look at the three top-most reasons why Shelvey needs to start against his old club.
As Jermaine Jenas mentions in this BBC piece, Shelvey was Newcastle United’s prime creator in the Championship last season. He created 87 chances and assisted eight goals. Overall in his career, as a defensive midfielder his expected assists per 90 minutes is 0.13 i.e. there is a 13% probability of him assisting a goal per 90 minutes. But, when played in an advanced midfield role, his expected assists per 90 minutes increases to 0.32. Similarly, from open play his probability of assisting a goal in 90 minutes is 11%. Only Matt Ritchie has a better xA per 90 for Newcastle United this season than Shelvey’s average as an AM.
Long Ball Passing
WhoScored lists Shelvey’s long ball passing as his strength. Indeed, overall in his career, Shelvey averages 6.3 accurate long balls per 90 minutes. For Newcastle United in the 2015-16 season in the Premier League, he averaged 5.9 accurate long balls per 90 minutes. Normally, long ball accuracy may not be a key stat that would indicate a player’s utility. But, against Liverpool long ball accuracy is a key metric. Especially, with Joselu or Aleksandar Mitrovic upfront, long balls can be a very effective method of attack.
One of the characteristics of Newcastle United this season is their young squad. In fact, three of the five youngest starting XIs this season in the league are from the Magpies – ranging between 25 years 77 days and 25 years 150 days. Their captain and top scorer Jamaal Lascelles is 23 years old and has made only 24 Premier League appearances. Youth is generally good but when playing a top team like Liverpool, experience is required – especially in a key role such as midfield. Jonjo Shelvey has made 144 Premier League appearances and in Newcastle’s squad, he is the third-most experienced player after Mo Diame and Jack Colback. His experience will be essential if Newcastle intend to steal a point or three from Liverpool.
As Rafa prepares to take on his old club, he will need his players to play with courage. In Jonjo Shelvey, Newcastle have a player who has the skills to make an impact against his old club. His history with Liverpool will also spur him to use his skills with more application. Rafa definitely intends to use his feisty young midfielder against their ex-club and Newcastle fans will be hoping that Shelvey responds with courage and intelligence.