Player Zone: Isaac Hayden becoming Newcastle’s main man in midfield

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Just as Isaac Hayden’s career looked as though it was clicking into place in October 2014, it was ironically two clicks of his ankle that prematurely ended his season.

Hayden was on the verge of making his Premier League debut. Arsene Wenger had confirmed he’d be starting in a league game against Hull but step forward Mathieu Flamini.

The Frenchman raced into a strong tackle and that was that for Hayden. Telling The Guardian in 2017, he said: “I remember coming out with the ball, I passed it and then Mathieu Flamini has come in. He’s come in and caught me on the inside of my ankle, above the bone, and the ankle has just turned. It has clicked. I actually heard two clicks.”

Initially, it didn’t look too serious, but after returning in December after playing for Arsenal’s U23s his ankle had flared up again. It was an injury that was to keep him out for another five months.

Had it not been for Flamini, then Hayden might well still be playing for Arsenal. Instead, he’s now at Newcastle and thriving under Rafa Benitez. It looked for a considerable period of time that the midfielder wouldn’t make it in the Premier League, though.

A loan spell with Hull wasn’t outstanding but the Magpies took a chance, one that has certainly proved worth taking.

Hayden’s composure on the ball and strength in the tackle makes him a valuable asset and in the capable of hands of Benitez, rather than Wenger, he’s come on leaps and bounds.

The 24-year-old left Arsenal at 21, his former boss declaring that he would have wasted his career had he stayed at the club.

Indeed. that may have been the case but the midfielder won’t care now. He’s standing out at St. James’ Park and has been one of their best players during their upturn in form.

Benitez seems to love individuals like Hayden. At Liverpool, he had Xabi Alonso, another player who had wonderful vision and defensive capabilities. It’s a bit of a stretch to compare him to the Spaniard, but there are comparisons to be made in the role he’s playing in at Newcastle.

Last season, the Newcastle manager preferred Mo Diame in midfield. However, with his demise, Hayden has stepped forward.

He’s been the Magpies’ best midfielder of late, but the fact he doesn’t score or claim assists on a regular basis means the midfielder goes unfairly under the radar.

His development has been an intriguing one but he’s finally now starting to realise his potential. Hayden has made 19 starts in the Premier League this term and his best performances have arguably come in the last two matches. Against Southampton, he claimed an assist, whilst he put in a particularly solid display versus Brighton.

In a midfield that sometimes lacks true star quality, the former Hull loanee has been the man to provide them with solidity. Hayden averages three tackles per game, the most out of any Newcastle player, and is only second best to Fabian Schar and Florian Lejeune for interceptions made per match.

Against a Liverpool side who are doing their utmost to win the title, this could prove key at the weekend.

The Reds haven’t beaten Newcastle on the road since 2013. This is a perfect time, therefore, for Hayden to put in a performance worthy of maintaining their phenomenal recent record.

Down the years, much of the talk on Tyneside has been about Jonjo Shelvey in central areas. But they’ve now got someone who can easily surpass the impact he’s had.

Newcastle, of course, also possess the incredibly talented Sean Longstaff in midfield. His burst onto the scene in 2018 was terrific and alongside Hayden, the club look well set for the future.