For many this season, Jonjo Shelvey has been the real stand out performer, and whilst Dwight Gayle will deservedly get the majority of the accolades for his form in front of goal and being the leagues top scorer, it is Shelvey who has been crucial to the success of Newcastle at the beginning of the season.
For example, almost half of Gayle’s goals came in one game (3/7) vs Norwich, which was undoubtably a fantastic and crucial performance from Gayle, yet it is not belying of a consistent scoring touch so far this season. The consistency that is so crucial in the championship has not been evident in many players, Hayden has shown early signs of promise but is not yet a real match winner or force in midfield. The goalkeepers have had to be changed due to inconsistent form from Matz Sels, who although made mistakes, has not been so bad as to merit any form of online abuse, let alone the torrent the he received. Whilst Lascelles and Clark have not looked bad, (especially Clark who had his critics early on) , they still conceded 2 goals against Wolves and 3 against Norwich, and with Chacel Mbemba and Grant Hanley in and out of the team, there is not yet an established back line. However, Jonjo Shelvey has been a constant in the midfield, and is involved in the majority of goals this season in some manner.
For example in the 96th minute against Norwich, it was Shelvey’s raking 60 yard pass pinpointed onto the head of Mitrovic that allowed the ball to be brought down for Gayle to sweep home, much to the delirium of the home fans. Furthermore, in Newcastle’s most impressive victory this season (away at QPR) Shelvey was crucial, scoring the first goal to start the rout, and then the third straight after half time to crush any ideas of a fightback. As such, for me it is the ability of Jonjo Shelvey that has been key so far, it seems ridiculous that when watching Newcastle, one is no longer surprised to see a 60 yard pass land perfectly on the boot of a winger or striker, and look back to see Shelvey starting to follow his perfectly weighted ball. Shelvey is simply too good for this league.
Although, it would be unfair to give Shelvey the credit for all of Newcastle’s success so far, as his moments of magic are usually interjected between periods of inactivity, yet his passing and shooting range has shown him to be a key player so far in the season.
As there will undoubtably be games in which Shelvey misses due to injury, suspension or simply does not perform, one must look at who else can be truly counted on. The most simple answer is Matt Richie, who whilst not quite having the impact of Shelvey’s magic moments, has shown ability in almost every game he has played in, and is fast becoming a fan favourite due to his fantastic work rate, and clear threat on the wing. However, Ritchie seems to have found competition in Christian Atsu, who looks extremely lively due to his pace and scored a wonderful goal on his full debut at Rotherham, and if Atsu gets more game time, he seems to be a great attacking option. Furthermore, another player breaking into the team very promisingly is Deandre Yedlin, whose pace down the right wing is a another attacking avenue which looks very threatening, as shown by his involvement in the goal at Villa park. Finally, perhaps the most unexpected option is that of Yoan Gouffran, who has been truly revived this season, scoring crucial goals versus Norwich, wolves and Derby, and is a real grafter, whose defensive commitment is clear to see, which must be truly appreciated by the team. As if to back this up, there is the bizarre statistic that Newcastle have not lost with Gouffran in the team yet this season, and that he now also has a taste for the spectacular volley, scoring against derby and wolves with great technique, and having a further volley cleared off the line at rotherham. It seems that if all of these players can hit their stride at once, then results such as the thrashing of QPR will come around more often.