Many Newcastle United supporters expected Jonjo Shelvey to become a casualty of the £300m takeover when the Premier League finally passed the monumental deal last October. As Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi watched their first game in the stands, the midfielder introduced himself to the new regime with two needless yellows and an early bath.
As Shelvey slowly trudged off the pitch, only 23 minutes after being introduced from the bench, the feeling inside St. James’ Park was that the former Liverpool man was set to face an uphill battle to keep his spot in the side. Since then, he has silenced those doubters with professionalism and a host of stellar performances.
The statistics show that Newcastle have fared much worse this season when Shelvey hasn’t been involved – and every win so far this term has been achieved with the player starting from the outset. Before the drubbing at the hands of Tottenham, Newcastle had averaged 1.6 points-per-game with Shelvey in the team, compared to 0.3 without him.
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Goals-per-game stood at 1.4 with Shelvey and 0.8 without, while the goals conceded averaged at 1.4 with and 2.8 without.
Shelvey missed seven of the opening nine Premier League games of the season with a calf injury. Like many of his United counterparts, the 30-year-old looked off the pace and lacking in match fitness. Speaking back in December, Callum Wilson admitted : “We weren’t fit enough and we weren’t in the right place. The pre-season is massive for the way it sets you up for the season.”
In those opening nine fixtures, Newcastle failed to win but scored four goals in the two fixtures Shelvey started. In comparison, they managed just seven in the seven games he didn’t play a part in.
Upon his return to full fitness, results started to pick up. Although the Magpies didn’t secure a win until their 15th attempt, Shelvey’s return to the starting line-up saw them draw with Norwich, Brighton and Brentford, as well as losing to Arsenal. Further defeats would follow but against the likes of Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester City – all games Newcastle weren’t expecting anything from.
After Christmas Newcastle and Eddie Howe revitalised their season, with Shelvey playing each and every minute of the nine-game unbeaten run between December 27th and March 10th, captaining the side on four occasions. Wins against Leeds, Everton, Aston Villa, Brentford, Brighton and Southampton in that period helped transform the season and catapult United away from danger.
The midfielder wasn’t in the matchday squad for the back-to-back defeats with Chelsea and Everton as Newcastle failed to breakdown the opposition defences. He did return for the 5-1 mauling at Tottenham, in which no Newcastle player impressed.
Shelvey quietly went under the radar at St James’ Park during the 1-0 victory over Wolves on Friday, playing balls from deep and sticking to his position at the base of the midfield as Joelinton and Bruno Guimaraes were given the freedom to express themselves and drive the ball forward.
Howe’s biggest selection headache comes from the middle of the park at present. Guimaraes has hit the ground running in England and is already one of the first names on the teamsheet. Joelinton has enjoyed a remarkable revival since his struggles as a striker, looking more at home as a box-to-box midfielder.
Joe Willock and Sean Longstaff continue to scrap for one of those positions, with Isaac Hayden still on the injury table. But there is now an argument to be made for Shelvey being part of Newcastle’s long-term future. If he can keep up these performances, a contract extension looks like a no-brainer.