While clearly a hugely talented ball-playing midfielder, the 29-year-old’s lack of mobility has often been an issue, particularly with pressing becoming more and more frequent throughout the Premier League.
Still, as inconsistent as the former England midfielder has been during his time on Tyneside, yesterday’s loss to West Ham United saw him turn in an impressive individual performance.
According to WhoScored data, Shelvey contributed a key pass, 5 long balls and Newcastle’s only through ball. When deployed as a deep-lying playmaker with willing runners in the shape of Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson ahead of him, his quality with his distribution is evident.
There are, of course, structural problems around him. Isaac Hayden was shunted into an unfamiliar forward role (something surely likely to change when Joe Willock is available), depriving Newcastle of a defensive shield. As a result, the middle of the park was overwhelmed, allowing West Ham’s full-backs to wreak havoc.
That, however, isn’t necessarily all Shelvey’s fault. Clearly, there have been question marks in regards to his application over the course of his career but expecting him to pull the strings as well as protect the defence does seem somewhat ambitious and the fact he couldn’t stop a team who finished sixth in the Premier League last season shouldn’t be the entire reflection of his performance.
FBREF‘s statistics also suggest he won one tackle, so it’s not as if he was completely anonymous. Although that might not sound like a lot, only four of his teammates also managed that and Shelvey did not enjoy the luxury of a full pre-season.
Shelvey, as frustrating as it can be at times, has lead the way in terms of key passes per game from a central position since Newcastle returned to the top tier in the summer of 2017. Never in his Newcastle career has he consistently had an attacking line of such potential to find with his passes and, with Willock still to come in the 5-3-2 split strikers system, Shelvey can be a potent threat from deep if the structure around him is sound.
Now, it’s up to the club to search for a solution to properly unlock him.