Whisper it quietly, but Newcastle looked like a really good side against West Ham on Saturday. Eyebrows were raised when they opted to pay £12m for Jonjo Shelvey, and as a Newcastle fan, I was uncertain about the transfer, but after seeing his influence on Saturday, it is easy to see why the club wanted him. Newcastle have been lacking a quality playmaker since Yohan Cabaye left the club and their central midfield was certainly their weakness in the opening half of the season.
Vurnon Anita and Jack Colback and hard-working professionals, but they both lack the passing range and attacking quality to launch attacks from deep. Newcastle have struggled to create chances this season and this is due to their failure to get the ball to the likes of Moussa Sissoko and Gini Wijnaldum in dangerous positions. The fault lies in the midfield, as they have been unable to play the passes to set up attacks. Newcastle have been over-reliant on Daryl Janmaat to create chances and there is only so much offensive responsibility that a full-back can carry.
The impact of Shelvey on Saturday was evident to every Newcastle fan, as he was roaming around in midfield and launching attacks from deep, as was the case for the second goal. He started the moves for both goals with two very positive forward passes. The first being a pass forwards to Wijnaldum, and the second being a brilliant cross field ball to get Janmaat in behind the back four. Neither Colback nor Anita would have played those passes and the fact each move resulted in a goal highlights the effect Shelvey will have on the side. He provides an ability to start attacks that Newcastle haven’t had since Yohan Cabaye, and he has the quality to unlock Newcastle’s goalscoring potential.
Shelvey has played fewer minutes in the league this season than both Colback and Anita, but he has been far more creative. He has created 24 chances, which is eleven more than the Newcastle midfielders combined. Meanwhile he has played ten more key passes than Colback and Anita. Moreover his average pass length has been 23.13m, which is more than Anita (19.17m) and Colback (19.44m). These stats reflect the point that Shelvey will improve Newcastle’s ability to launch attacks, with the average pass length showing that Newcastle will now be quicker on the counter attack, which was shown by the second goal on Saturday. This is important for Newcastle as they have a lot of pace and power in the final third, and with Shelvey playing the passes from deep, they will be create a lot more chances in the second half of the season. The Geordies have been over-reliant on Sissoko and Wijnaldum’s ability to beat players, but they now have a playmaker who can get the attackers in behind the defence, in more threatening positions than they have been able to get in so far this season.
There has been a lot said about Jonjo Shelvey and his attitude, coupled with his inconsistent performances. However, I don’t think that either Liverpool or Swansea suited his game. This Newcastle side is perfect for him and he has even said himself that he was surprised how well he has settled in, with his team-mates already capable of reading where he is going to pass the ball. Liverpool came too soon for Shelvey, while Swansea prefer to play a patient possession game, which didn’t suit Shelvey’s preference to play long ‘Hollywood’ passes. At the age of 23, Newcastle couldn’t have come in at a better time, as they have a young squad, full of potential and Shelvey has the perfect environment to develop in, under a very talented head coach in Steve McClaren.
I think this deal could turn out to be one of the best transfers of the Mike Ashley era. I know that one swallow doesn’t make a summer and that Shelvey needs to prove he can consistently play at the level he showed on Saturday. However it was one of the best debuts I’ve seen a Newcastle player have and to do so in a side that has struggled to win games makes it even more impressive. Newcastle have been one dimensional this season with Anita and Colback showing that they are unable to play together in the midfield. Newcastle now have a player who can get the best out of an underperforming squad and I fully expect both Shelvey and Newcastle to have a better second half of the campaign.