This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Jonjo Shelvey has staked a strong claim for a permanent starting berth in the Newcastle team since Sean Longstaff got sent off against Wolves, and Steve Bruce has a rather big decision to make as a result.
The Magpies boss has experimented with the albeit limited options he has at his disposal in central midfield, though often he has been forced to turn to alternatives, as Isaac Hayden has also picked up a suspension this term.
Hayden has been ever-present in Bruce’s side when available though, and his tough-tackling nature – averaging 2.9 tackles per game – means he is needed in the middle, with the Magpies often operating with a ball-player alongside him.
That’s where Shelvey and Longstaff come into the mix, but with only one place available Bruce has the decision of whether to opt with experience, or allow the latter to continue his development.
Longstaff has become a bit of a fan favourite at St James’ Park, due in part to his Geordie heritage, but the progress he made last season was clear, and led him to be a reported target of interest from Manchester United.
Bruce, however, isn’t completely won over. He believes the 22-year-old still needs to prove why he should be one of the club’s highest earners, with his main concerns surrounding his fitness, having started only seven games this campaign.
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The Magpies boss has showed that he isn’t afraid to deploy youngsters this season and the Longstaff brothers have been of good service to him already.
That means that it would be unsurprising to see them both continue to feature, but given Bruce has to win over the Newcastle faithful, he may be more likely to go with a more reliable and consistent performer in Shelvey in order to win more games.
It is little coincidence that Shelvey’s return to the starting line-up has coincided with Newcastle’s first consecutive victories of the campaign, as having him in the middle is important to Bruce’s style.
As his stats from WhoScored show, he averages more than double the amount of long passes per game than Longstaff, allowing him to find the likes of Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin – making him perfect for the counter-attack.
That is an area where Longstaff needs to improve, but given he keeps possession of the ball more efficiently than his teammate, as per WhoScored, Bruce may be inclined to pick him.
He has more tackles too, but with Hayden fulfilling the role of the ball winner that is probably less important to his manager, and if Shelvey continues his current run of form it is difficult to envisage him being left out of the side.