I have found it fascinating listening to fans, pundits and journalists all commenting on how we missed Jonjo Shelvey against Wolves last week. I have listened to the podcasts and read the articles about Shelvey being the only creative midfielder we have, and that without him we lack invention. I am sorry but that is nonsense. If Shelvey is the answer then we are asking the wrong question.
Back in 18/19, Jonjo Shelvey played 16 games and with him in the team our points per game was less than one (it was 0.94). From January, when he only played a couple more games under Rafa, we went on our best run, scored 27 goals, and conceded 21. Other midfielders, who between then you would not consider particular creative, Longstaff (9 games at 1.44); Diame (29 at 1.10); Hayden (25 at 1.52; Ki (18 at 1.39). To sum this up, we were a more creative team when he was not playing. Rafa knew.
Enter Steve Bruce and his front foot Mags. Bruce is a big Jonjo fan. If he is fit, he plays. Last season was Jonjo’s most successful (fruitful) with 6 goals and two assists. He made 26 PL appearances with a PPG ratio of 1.31 points per game. This assists number is really interesting, and yes I know we had Joelinton playing as a striker last season, but let’s look at Shelvey’s career – and remember, he is our ‘creator in chief’. Shelvey has amassed a mighty 20 goals and 25 assists in 218 career PL games.
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I thought I would look at some other players who I bet that if you asked some people; they would take Shelvey “every day of the week’ over. Let me start with Mark Noble. He is not what you would describe as a creative midfielder; 386 games, 46 goals and 42 assists. In addition, he consistently scores – every season since 2006/7 he has scored at least 2 goals. Shelvey in contrast, aside from last season and 13/14 for Swansea when he score 6 as well, he has managed 3 (in 14/15) 1 goal in 5 seasons and 1 in 3. His assists do not fare much better, 3 seasons with none, 2 with 1 assist, 3 with 3, a 5 and a 7 (both these season where when he was with Swansea). Let us keep in mind here that Shelvey pretty much takes ALL our set pieces. He is our creativity.
What about James McArthur, who is a defensive midfielder, 286 appearances with 23 goals and 21 assists. I could go on, however it is getting depressing looking at the other ‘creative’ midfielders with considerably better.
My point is that people seem to be confusing creativity with hitting long balls either to a lone striker or in to the channels for a winger/striker to run on to. That is not creativity. It is an out ball to alleviate pressure.
Bruce has made a rod for his own back in my opinion. Shelvey is not a ‘box to box’ (whatever that is), midfielder – he is either immobile or he cannot be arsed. If it is his mobility then he should not be playing professional football at this level by the way. I digress; so if he cannot get up and down the pitch then his only option is to sit deep, take the ball off the centre halves and hit these ‘long passes’ over the top. Creative eh?
Does anyone remember when we used to score from corners and set pieces? That was Matt Ritchie. In 18/19 Ritchie got 8 assists – all while playing at left back.
Most attacking free kicks we win Shelvey takes them. Around the box where we have an opportunity to test the keeper. Well, I can remember one that he has scored – now, I have a poor memory for games so it may be more however, with only 23 goals to his name in the PL I definitely think more have gone in to row Z than the top corner.
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We have some very good creative players; ASM; Miggy; Fraser and I have liked the look of Murphy this season too. With the right formation, and I like 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, we can bring these players in to the game more. The team selection against Wolves was ridiculous. Completely exposing Hendrick and playing wingers on either side of him (note that Miggy made more tackles in that game than Shelvey has for the past two seasons – sorry, I forgot Shelvey is a creative midfielder and not a defensive one, wait what is Miggy then?). We could have played one of the Longstaff’s to help him out. What was also noticeable was that Wolves set up in exactly the same formation. There always seemed to be a Wolves player available for the pass and there did not seem the need in hitting long balls over the top – which apparently is precisely what we were missing in that game? Surely, that was not the issue. Surely, we have players that can make themselves available for a pass by getting in to space. Surely, we have players who can find a teammate 15 yards away and not 70. Alternatively, is it the coaches that are not fit for purpose – maybe that topic is for another piece for another day?
In giving Shelvey a start every week I think Bruce is playing in to the hands of the opposition. If the opposition press Shelvey, we do not leave our own half and we concede possession. We all know Shelvey cannot tackle and, as such, he cannot win the ball back. In playing Shelvey, Bruce, is limiting how we can get forwards and unfortunately many fans, pundits and journalists are so used to seeing us play with 10 men behind the ball they believe Shelvey to be our creative flare – when it’s simply just a clearance.
The way you hear people talk about our number 6 it is as if he is Newcastle United’s very own Andrea Pirlo (119 Serie A appearances for Juventus 16 goals and 33 assists by the way). The stats do not back it up and neither do his performances. We would be a much better team if we set up properly and Shelvey was left out of the starting XI.