Steve Bruce should brutally axe Jonjo Shelvey from Newcastle’s midfield to face Manchester United on Sunday.
The ex-Liverpool playmaker has been a mainstay of the Magpies unit for much of the season but could only hold his side back in Monday’s 2-0 defeat at Chelsea.
Shelvey offered a lethargic and often lazy performance at Stamford Bridge while earning his 15th start of the Premier League campaign, and stretching a run of seven unbroken outings in which the 28-year-old has played the full 90.
Newcastle fans would have been forgiven for forgetting that Shelvey was on the pitch at times in south-west London, as the game frequently passed the £13m-rated former England international by.
Shelvey showed no interest in closing the Blues down as they began pinging passes around the pitch in the lead up to an early Timo Werner chance, which the German could only send agonisingly wide of Karl Darlow’s post.
It set the tone for Shelvey’s performance, as the £70k-per-week Bruce favourite happily stood off and watched his United teammates get picked apart, on a night where Thomas Tuchel’s side could easily have produced a cricket score with a bit more accuracy.
His performance improved marginally after the break, but by that point, the game was gone with Chelsea two goals to the good after finishes from Olivier Giroud and Werner.
Shelvey has struggled to break an average WhoScored rating of 6.56 over his last two league outings, whilst in matches against a trio of top-six pushing sides in Villa, Arsenal and Leicester City, the Toon star failed to manage above a mediocre 6.67 with a lowly 6.06 coming against the Foxes, which only goes to show that he’s holding them back more often than not.
The Magpies now prepare for a trip to Old Trafford on Sunday to face Manchester United, who will be desperate to rediscover the fluidity that made them title-contenders only a month ago.
Shelvey’s disinterested display at Chelsea was a distant cry of the player Bruce lauded him for being toward the end of last season, when the Newcastle boss singled his midfielder out for buying into the system United were trying to develop.
“It’s always difficult for a manager to single out an individual, but if there’s anybody who has took on board what we require and what we want, then it’s Jonjo,” Bruce said. “Jonjo has always been blessed – it becomes easy, the game of football, like a game of golf to him. He’s blessed with a natural ability. He can see a pass that other people can’t, he can deliver a pass, he can score a goal.
“What we’ve just tried to do is get him in as good a physical shape and mentally well, and physically and mentally he’s bought in to everything we’ve tried to put over to him, and fair play to him. At the minute, he’s reaping the benefit of how good he looks, and of course he’s playing at the top of his game, which is always good to see because he has been outstanding in the last few.”
But that Shelvey has gone, and Bruce is sacrificing results by keeping the six-cap midfielder in his side. The Toon boss should realise that after Monday’s loss, and call on players who will bring energy and drive to the role against Manchester United.
If not, the Magpies could easily be picked apart by Bruno Fernandes or allow the Portuguese maestro enough space to create a moment of magic, having only needed one chance to make a difference against West Bromwich Albion last weekend after a largely quiet performance.
As ruthless as it would be, Bruce simply must chop the long-serving midfielder from his starting XI this weekend.