Having been beaten 1-0 by fellow newly-promoted side Brighton and Hove Albion in their previous Premier League match, Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez would have been wary and probably slightly nervous when he knew that Liverpool and their impressive attacking quartet of Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah were coming to St James’ Park last Sunday.
The Spaniard certainly made a big decision before kick-off as he welcomed midfielder Jonjo Shelvey back into the starting line-up for the first time since he was sent off at home against Tottenham Hotspur on the opening day of the season for stamping on Dele Alli.
It was a moment of madness from the 25-year-old and as well as his side going on to be beaten 2-0 in that fixture, it meant that he was banned for their next three top flight matches.
So, putting him in the team against another big club – and one of his former teams at that – was certainly a risk, but Benitez obviously trusted the midfielder and believed that he would prove to be influential from both a defensive and attacking sense.
Having appeared as a substitute against Stoke City and the Seagulls, the former Swansea City man replaced Isaac Hayden in the starting XI for the visit of Jurgen Klopp’s men and he partnered Mikel Merino – who is a very, very early contender for the club’s Player of the Season award – in the middle of the park.
While he highlighted one of the weaknesses in his game against Tottenham, we saw Shelvey’s strengths against Liverpool as he showcased his passing range and abilities throughout, including threading the ball between Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren for Joselu’s equalising goal in the 1-1 draw.
According to Squawka, the 25-year-old completed more long balls (5) than any of his teammates, and Ayoze Perez in particular should have done better when controlling some of them.
Jonjo Shelvey completed more long balls (5) than any other Newcastle player vs. Liverpool.
Always looking for those raking passes. pic.twitter.com/tgCN3Jwove
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 1, 2017
Those passes weren’t his only contribution though, and according to Squawka he showed his defensive capabilities by winning both of the aerial duels he contested, as well as making one block, one interception and two clearances.
While he clearly made a positive impact against the Reds, if you were being critical then you would say that he perhaps should have done more to close down Coutinho before he fired home from 25 yards – although it was a brilliant strike.
Nevertheless, Shelvey’s ability on the ball is obvious and when you have players like Matt Ritchie, Christian Atsu and Jacob Murphy in the team, there is no doubt that the 25-year-old has the quality unlock defences to find those players’ runs with his diagonal passing range.
In that respect, the 25-year-old offers something that none of his teammates do and if Benitez’s side are going to need plenty of goals in order to survive this season, then the midfielder must be playing every match.
It is something that could prove to be a key attribute for Newcastle this season when they are playing counter-attacking football away from home, and they have certainly looked as though they need more quality having already been beaten by Huddersfield and Brighton on the road.
Following England’s dismal display against Slovenia on Thursday, the midfielder will also be well aware that he has a real chance of breaking into the squad before the World Cup in Russia next summer as long as he can show some consistent form, and that will only prove to be a good thing for the Magpies over the course of the next few months.
The fact that he was banned last season for using racially-abusive language to Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Romain Saiss and the incident with Alli will always be a worry in the back of Benitez’s and the supporters’ minds, but if they want to secure their spot in the Premier League for next season they simply have to be playing Shelvey every week, whatever risk is involved.