Newcastle’s 1-0 victory over West Brom may prove to be a defining moment in their season, as Jonjo Shelvey’s superb performance from central midfield confirmed his significance in their battle against relegation.
Steve McClaren is finally in possession of the controlling, composed midfielder needed to instil his preferred tactical style. Chelsea, who with Cesc Fabregas in the team do not apply much pressure in midfield, may be in for a surprise.
Steve McClaren was brought to Tyneside to instil the short-passing possession football that he oversaw at Derby County, but abandoned this tactical philosophy after the first few games of the season.
His players failed to adapt to an approach that sought to build slowly from the back, leading McClaren to revert to the Pardew-esque counter-attacking style that comes easily to these players.
Put simply, Newcastle have not had the personnel to dominate games. Before the West Brom win they had earned just three points from the seven matches in which they have held the majority of possession (0.42ppg) and 18 points from the 17 games in which they have enjoyed less than 50% (0.94ppg).
But last Saturday, they held 64% possession and won 1-0 thanks to a neat through ball from Shelvey, who made 65 passes with 90.8% accuracy (most of which were smooth, calculated passes into the flanks where Newcastle’s pacey wingers can dominate). After four matches he is already Newcastle’s top passer by some distance (57.5 per game – 17.1 more than Daryl Janmaat in second).
Cesc Fabregas has been in excellent form under Guus Hiddink, largely because he has been relieved of defensive responsibilities. The Spaniard doesn't possess the work-rate, speed or tactical intelligence to function as a deeper central midfielder, but when given a free role in attack he takes up superb positions between the lines.
However, his presence in this position also means that the opposition central midfielders are not pressurised in possession (Chelsea tend to back off and only attempt defensive actions in their own third).
In Chelsea’s last five league games, Darren Fletcher (47 passes), Ben Watson (69 passes), Michael Carrick (60 passes), Muhamed Besic (71 passes), and Aaron Ramsey (66 passes) have all been given plenty of freedom to control central midfield - Shelvey could dominate Saturday’s encounter.
But Shelvey’s inclusion brings its own problems. Newcastle have struggled to tighten up between the lines of defence and midfield this season, partially explaining why they concede more goals from outside the box (eight) than any other Premier League club.
Shelvey’s work-rate mimics Fabregas’s and whilst the Spaniard may allow Shelvey too much time on the ball, the reverse will also be true. The key battle in this match is not difficult to spot.
Chelsea vs Newcastle United LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone
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