Bruno Guimaraes' Newcastle United return highlights the player Eddie Howe is really missing
It was a frustrating afternoon for Bruno Guimaraes and Newcastle United as the Brazilian returned from injury.
The pre-match buzz ahead of Newcastle’s Premier League encounter with Bournemouth at St James’s Park was dominated by the news of Guimaraes' return from a niggling hamstring problem that had kept him out of the last three matches.
And just moments after kick-off, the 24-year-old showed fans just what they had been missing as he quickly got on the ball under pressure and attempted to dictate play.
As Newcastle were frustrated by the newly-promoted Cherries, Guimaraes was the calm head in the middle as he shrugged off challenges and won several free-kicks in good positions.
The Brazilian described his performance as ‘average’. But on a disappointing afternoon for Newcastle as a whole, having him back in the side was certainly a positive.
Guimaraes was the only Newcastle player to make an interception during the match and his five tackles were the highest of any player in the game.
In his 71 minutes on the pitch, he had some of the most touches and passes of any player up until that point. But there was still a touch of rustiness on display as he was dispossessed on four occasions, the joint-most of any Newcastle player along with Joelinton.
But what Guimaraes’ return to the side did highlight, perhaps for the first time this season, was the absence of Jonjo Shelvey in the midfield.
With Shelvey injured, Guimaraes has slotted into the ‘number six’ midfield role.
It’s a role he can play and will play for Eddie Howe, but it’s not his preference. And it’s not Newcastle’s either.
Shelvey may divide opinion on Tyneside, but has rarely faltered under Howe and is seen as Newcastle’s ideal ‘number six’ that allows players like Guimaraes to get forward and flourish.
On Saturday, the Brazilian was just too deep to really leave his mark on the game. He has the technical ability and discipline to play in the role but his effectiveness as a ‘number eight’ was there for all to see last season as he scored five goals in just 11 starts.
Sean Longstaff played in the holding midfield position in Guimaraes’ absence but was laboured in possession and – a smart assist against Liverpool aside – unable to creatively influence matches from deep.
After being patient following his arrival at Newcastle in January, Guimaraes has now got to the stage where if he’s fit, he starts.
He’s a vital player in Newcastle’s high-intensity system and is certainly the best available candidate to slot into the ‘number six’ role.
But United neglecting to reinforce their midfield over the summer following Shelvey’s injury has left Howe with a lack of options in terms of how he sets his midfield up.
Shelvey won’t be an option until just before the World Cup break at the earliest, and by then he will have missed months of playing.
The 30-year-old may not be the answer to Newcastle’s problems as such, certainly not any time soon, but it’s slowly becoming apparent how much Newcastle have missed having that extra option in the middle of the park.
There is little doubt Guimaraes will continue to do a good job in the role – but the sooner Shelvey is back fully-fit, the better.