Newcastle suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time since the beginning of August as Carlo Ancelotti’s new-look Everton side proved too much and enacted what was their only loss at St. James’ Park since the opening day of the season.
Steve Bruce and his side have come a long way since then and may feel slightly aggrieved not to have got something out of the match, as a late push by Djibril Sidibe on Andy Carroll could have been given as a penalty.
The striker proved a menace in the air with a staggering 24 aerial duels won, also assisting Fabian Schar’s goal from a set-piece, but this was a game where Newcastle looked a little powderpuff in attack, registering just five shots on target.
There are key reasons for that.
Allan Saint-Maximin’s absence is still being felt and Joelinton, though not for a lack of trying, simply can’t influence the game from out wide or cause problems in behind the defence. When he played on the flanks against Burnley his influence was typified by a measly 60% pass accuracy.
Miguel Almiron came close to scoring when he struck the post but there was a shortage of chances, and that is mainly because Jonjo Shelvey didn’t meet his usual high standards.
The £16.2m-rated player was rested for the trip to Old Trafford on Boxing Day but he simply couldn’t get going on Saturday, completing just 78% of his passes as he looked to get his team on the front foot, as per WhoScored.
Shelvey has looked rejuvenated at times under Bruce’s management, and he has utilised his license to go forward with great effect, scoring five goals which include winners against West Ham and Southampton.
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On this occasion he was stifled in midfield. He continued to play his natural game and provided two key passes, but the Toffees were effective at shutting him down and reducing his influence, and Newcastle suffered as a result.
His midfield partner Isaac Hayden isn’t suited to that side of the game, either, and although he rarely gave the ball away with 94% pass accuracy, he lacks the killer instinct to create a chance with a defence-splitting pass. The fact he’s only found one assist this term is good evidence of that.
Shelvey, therefore, has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, and it seems that when he doesn’t perform, then Newcastle don’t either.
That underlines his importance to Bruce and the system in place, which is a worry if he is out for a spell. It means the Magpies’ boss must have a Plan B in preparation for such an event, otherwise they could miss out on points.
Shelvey wasn’t the only player who underperformed, with Almiron also struggling, and that could cause Bruce to make a big decision in regard to his playing time.