The Jonjo Shelvey quote which raises questions about Steve Bruce's Newcastle United team selection
“If you don’t run for him, you’re not playing the next week.”
That was what Jonjo Shelvey had to say about playing for Steve Bruce at Newcastle United last month.
“One thing he says is ‘if you’re not having a good game, you work your socks off’,” added Shelvey. “He’s big on the stats side, and how much we run.”
Yet two of the relegation-threatened club’s hardest runners haven’t kicked a ball since January.
Sean Longstaff hasn’t featured since Newcastle’s 1-0 defeat to Sheffield United on January 12, with the midfielder having seemingly been blamed for the club’s defeat at Bramall Lane.
Longstaff has been an unused substitute in recent weeks.
Matty, his younger brother, hasn’t played since the club’s Premier League defeat to Arsenal on January 18, and last week turned out for the club’s Under-23s.
It was suggested that the 20-year-old was being readied for a first-team recall, but he was again left out of Bruce’s squad for last week’s home draw against Aston Villa.
How times change. The siblings were the poster boys of the club’s 1-0 home win over Manchester United in October 2019.
Yet now, two of the club’s brightest talents can’t even get a game.
They also put in the hard yards which Shelvey says Bruce – who is favouring experience over youth – demands of his players.
Sean ran 12.69km in last season’s home game against Everton – no United player covered more ground in a game in 2019/20 before football went behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic – and he regularly outran his team-mates in the first half of the campaign.
Matty also covered a lot of ground during his brief post-Christmas run in the team.
Yet Sean, a target for Manchester United the summer Bruce arrived at the club, has been reduced to running up and down the touchline to warm up – and Matty, a phenomenal athlete, hasn’t even got that far over the past month or two.
Matty signed a new two-year contract at the 17th-placed club, which takes on Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Saturday night, last August.
Speaking at the time, Bruce said: "It's an important time for Matty now.”
Matty, presumably, didn’t envisage only playing a handful of games when he committed his future to the club last summer, while Sean – who signed his contract before his first-team breakthrough – will surely wonder what he has to do to get on the pitch.
Ironically, the pair would suit the system brought in by Graeme Jones following his appointment as assistant to Bruce in late January.
The 51-year-old wants the team to play from the back – and press high up the pitch.
Jones favours a midfield diamond in front of a back four with split strikers – and loanee Joe Willock was moved to No.10 when Miguel Almiron suffered a knee injury last month.
Willock, certainly, has covered a lot of ground since joining from Arsenal, but Jonjo Shelvey and Jeff Hendrick, signed last summer as a free agent, have struggled for form in recent months – and fans have questioned their workrate.
Jones, however, doesn’t pick the team – that’s Bruce’s call.
And Shelvey is seemingly one of the first names on Bruce's teamsheet.