Newcastle United analysis: Jonjo Shelvey watch – how did Sean Longstaff's replacement perform at Anfield?

Replacing Sean Longstaff like-for-like was never going to be easy for Steve Bruce.

Sunday, 15th September 2019, 2:13 pm
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: (THE SUN OUT, THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Liverpool with Jonjo Shelvey of Newcastle United during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United at Anfield on September 14, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

His energy, legs and passing is unique to this Newcastle United squad – so plugging the gap at Anfield, with Longstaff suffering an ankle injury, was always going to need a slight shift in approach in midfield.

Bruce opted for Jonjo Shelvey rather than Ki Sung-yeung or youngster Matty Longstaff in the middle in the 3-1 Sadio Mane-inspired Liverpool loss – but how did he perform?

Our NUFC writer Liam Kennedy takes a look at Shelvey’s Merseyside show.

What did Shelvey bring to the United XI?

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It’s easy to see why Bruce opted for Shelvey in the middle – his experience was just what was needed. His ability to get on the ball and dictate would also have been seen pre-game as an area United could potentially look to stem the flow of the European champions.

While Ki was a top performer when called upon by Rafa Benitez last season, it’s clear he’s not 100% trusted by Bruce. An awful show against Norwich City earlier this season will not have helped his cause.

Shelvey tucked in deep during the game and we saw very little of the ‘Hollywood passes’ which angered Benitez so much in his time at St James’s Park. Instead we saw a more defensively disciplined Shelvey and that was no bad thing.

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What were United lacking?

One thing Shelvey failed to do on the day was really get on the ball as much as United needed him to.

A player with his experience and skill should really be able to grab games by the scruff of the neck – even against the Premier League’s lesser sides he fails to do that, hence why his position at United is a little uneasy.

Now, no one is expecting him to do that against Liverpool, but when United needed him to keep dropping in and wanting the ball, he didn’t.

How did Shelvey perform overall?

It was a much more reserved Shelvey on Saturday.

Gone was the long-range passing, for a more energetic show – maybe he is hoping to silence the doubters who call him ‘lazy’.

Could he have done better for the first goal? Maybe. Mane was in space galore in the United area having dropped off but Shelvey failed to pick him up, only noticing the player when it was too late.

His tackling was on point. One crunching challenge on Fabinho got the Brazilian particularly worked up. Ruffling a few feathers was a good tactic – and one which someone of his experience clearly thought could be a marginal gain.

His defensive work was much improved too – with Shelvey on hand to make a number of vital clearances when Liverpool turned the screw.

And has he made a case for a prolonged period in the starting XI?If Longstaff is fit, he plays – simple as that.

But can Shelvey work alongside the duo of Isaac Hayden and Longstaff? Definitely.

It didn’t work at the start of the season – when the ‘quarterback’ position was laid on a plate for the former England international – but if given the chance again Shelvey much grasp it as it very much feels like a tipping point in his Magpies career.