by Joshua Moir | 15th June 2020

Newcastle United teams during the 2010’s became counter-attack specialists. Managers often constructed teams in 4-2-3-1’s or 5 at the back variants which entailed compact defending with plenty of bodies behind the ball philosophies.

The role of the ‘deep lying playmaker’ became an essential cog in the machine for these systems to succeed in maintaining a balance. The two standout individuals in this role are Jonjo Shelvey and Yohan Cabaye.

We breakdown their profiles and try deciding on who our preferred player is in this role.

Jonjo Shelvey

Shelvey joined Newcastle during the winter transfer window of 2016 and arrived as a player with the potential to develop into one of England’s finest central midfielders: Now aged 28 the former Liverpool academy graduate has come into his best form since the EFL Championship campaign. As Shelvey is in his prime years in terms of athleticism and experience, we analyze why he’s so valuable to Newcastle..

Physical Profile

With the Central Midfield role being very demanding from a physical angle: the amount of ground to cover depends on the number of players used and the structure of the midfield, but anyone who desires to play here needs to have high endurance levels and good mobility, which are qualities that Shelvey possesses. While his lapse of concentration has been a limitation to his game, he has shown improvements under Steve Bruce’s coaching and has noticeably improved work ethic.

Tactical Profile

Shelvey is a versatile midfielder: he can play as a number 10, number 8, or a number 6/number 4. During his time at Newcastle, Shelvey has often started as a defensive midfielder in a two-man midfield formation, either in 4-2-3-1 or a 5 back variant. Shelvey has started similarly under Steve Bruce, except Shelvey has often found himself playing in more attacking positions this season, his goal against Sheffield United, he was playing in space between the opposition’s midfield and defence, he has also been a threat from set-pieces this season.

Technical Profile

Shelvey ticks all the boxes required to play as a deep-lying playmaker: first of all, he always scans the field before asking for the ball and is aware of where his nearest opponent is. Scanning is a fundamental process in football, especially when a player is receiving with his back facing the opposition: Shelvey has combined this aspect with his technique to compose himself and turn into space, quickly.

Shelvey’s first touch is essentially a dribble that opens the space from his marker and makes it easier for him to play the ball forward out wide; he also alternates these skills with shoulder drops with quick sprints as well as close-control dribbling in congested zones, which can be followed up by a drive if he has enough time and space to run with the ball.

With an average of 0.4 for ‘dispossessed per game’ his awareness/composure makes him ‘press resistant’ which discourages opponents from committing challenges and instead forces them to protect space: In this situation, Shelvey can showcase his excellent passing range.

Shelvey is a progressive passer of the ball and can play all types of passes: line-breaking ground passes, through balls and diagonal balls. He can set a high or low tempo with his passing and combining with teammates in tight spaces.

Defensive Profile

Shelvey’s role in the defensive phase is to tighten up alongside his midfield partner because Newcastle press very little without the ball, the aim is to not get overrun through the middle. There have been times where his defensive work has been poor and looked switched off, but he does make up for setting up counter-attacks with his range of passing.


Yohan Cabaye

Cabaye joined Newcastle during the summer transfer window of 2011, where he arrived coming off the back of achieving a league and cup double with Lille. He signed at the age of 25 for a fee of only £4.3m, another one of Graham Carr’s wonder bargains. The Frenchman spent a total of three and a half seasons with the magpies where he solidified his place in the midfield alongside Cheick Tiote.

Physical Profile

Cabaye quickly adapted to Premier League football, in a time where Yaya Toure and Fellaini were around, Cabaye would struggle to win aerial duels but his bravery and intelligence made up for his small stature, his anticipation and willingness to commit tackles made him a reliable interceptor of the ball.

Tactical Profile

Pardew utilized Cabaye’s versatility: he mostly played on the right side of a two-man central midfield in a 4-4-2 (double 6) or the 4-2-3-1, as the deep lying playmaker alongside the more brutish Tiote. Cabaye would regularly occupy the space in front of Tiote, this allowed Cabaye to pull the strings in the midfield by setting the tempo, making himself available to retain possession and keep Newcastle in control or provide box to box support.

Under Pardew’s counter-attack, Cabaye exceeded at transitional passing and successfully moving the ball up to the target men or diagonally out wide with speed, his standout stats in passing were:

  • 4.4 long balls per game.
  • pass success rate of 80.7%.
  • 1.5 key passes per game.

Technical Profile

Cabaye’s attributes made him the perfect midfielder to play alongside a ‘destroyer’ in a two man central midfield: his suitability for the deep lying role was down to many things that he showcased during his time with Lille – work rate, athleticism, stamina, spacial awareness, scanning and his dribbling technique.

With an average of 0.75 for ‘dispossessed per game’ Cabaye could maintain composure in tight spaces which discouraged the opposition from tackling and forced them to protect space.

Cabaye is a progressive passer of the ball and can play all types of passes: line-breaking ground passes, through balls and diagonal balls. He can set a high or low tempo with his passing.

Defensive Profile

Cabaye’s role in the defensive phase was to tighten up alongside his midfield partner and win the ball back quickly so he could create counter attacks by passing the ball into the spaces. Cabaye was a continually active player in the defensive phase and his commitment to making 2.7 tackles and 2.3 interceptions per game spoke volumes of his dedication to work for the team.

by Joshua Moir