Why Jonjo Shelvey deserves England selection for Russia 2018
It's been a difficult few years for Jonjo Shelvey. When your youth career takes you from Arsenal to West Ham to Charlton, it may not be a surprise you must mature the hard way. He wasn't ready when Liverpool signed him in 2010. Eight years on, Shelvey is one of Rafa Benitez's best players. He and Jamaal Lascelles could represent the Geordie Nation at this summer's World Cup in Russia.
Rafa's men are tenth, three points behind Leicester following a 1-0 defeat to Everton on Monday Night Football. There were early relegation fears but a consistent run of form has driven Toon up the table in 2018. They've only lost against league champions Manchester City and Champions League semi-finalists Liverpool since the calendar turned.
Consistency has regularly popped up when describing Shelvey's shortcomings. He displays his technical brilliance at times but can go missing just as often. Following a forgettable home defeat to Tottenham to begin the campaign, Shelvey was sent off for violent conduct. He reacted angrily to Dele Alli, stamping on his compatriot.
Since, he has let his performances do the talking. Shelvey's reputation as a hothead is not always a bad thing. His unpredictable nature can put opponents off their game in a similar manner to Ander Herrera. Predominantly playing as a defensive-minded central midfielder, his contribution to Newcastle's attacks cannot be understated.
With an excellent passing range at his disposal, it's not hard to see why he's able to create opportunities from seemingly nothing. In 25 Premier League appearances this term, he's scored one and added two assists but has conjured 32 chances to date. That speaks to Newcastle's lack of a clinical edge in the final third. Ayoze Perez and Dwight Gayle share the club's scoring honours [sic] with five.
Roy Hodgson gave Shelvey his senior England debut at age 20, in 2012, as a substitute during a 5-0 victory over San Marino. He was viewed as a different option. The Three Lions' squad was still very much a work in progress, seeking a new identity. Fringe players like Shelvey were granted opportunities to impress management ahead of the European Championships.
His bland of skill and nastiness are unique. He hasn't had the opportunity to showcase it at the international level, where only the former is desirable. His last outing was another cameo, this time a 2015 friendly against France. It's no surprise he only has six international caps given the level of competition for midfield places. However, Shelvey emerges from the current crop with plenty of credit to his name.
Injuries have seen both Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley sidelined for sustained periods throughout this campaign. West Brom's Jake Livermore does appear to be much more than an experimental option in the presence of Tottenham's highly-rated Eric Dier.
Dier's club teammate Dele Alli continues to battle for a creative-minded free role behind the striker, which is where Manchester United's Jesse Lingard has flourished this season. Jack Wilshere has benefited from regular minutes for Arsenal this term, as has Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both of whom have shown their capability to create chances from midfield with great effect.
Jordan Henderson continues to divide opinion as to whether he deserves the same privilege, That is where Shelvey enters the picture. Criticism stems from Henderson's reluctance to take risks in midfield, doing any more than the safe option is usually too much an ask for him. Better sides exploit his predictability.
Shelvey averages 10% more in terms of successful take-ons. He even offers a better defensive presence, averaging more interceptions, clearances, and fewer tackles lost in comparison to the Liverpool captain.
Naturally, Rafa believes in him and has stumped for his inclusion in Gareth Southgate's squad. Provided Shelvey stays fit and available for selection, the England manager should find it hard to disagree.
[Stats' source: Squawka's comparison matrix]