Rafa Benitez admits Jonjo Shelvey can “make the difference” and that Newcastle United have been missing the midfielder’s “technical qualities”.
The simple fact is, despite what Rafa came up with, he didn't have the player to replace the former Liverpool midfielder.
Newcastler is not a one-man-team ... but not far off it.
They are better with Shelvey ... PERIOD!
The 24-year-old has missed the Magpies’ last four matches due to suspension, with United picking up just a solitary victory in all competitions during his enforced absence.
Most particularly, United have appeared devoid of creativity and a cutting edge in the final third without their playmaker.
However, Newcastle’s trip to Brentford on Saturday will be the final game of Shelvey’s five-match ban, meaning the England international will be available to make his return during the FA Cup replay against Birmingham City at St James’ Park on Wednesday.
“I was a little bit disappointed,” Benitez replied when asked if he has been surprised by just how much the Magpies had missed Shelvey’s invention.
“The team was doing well but, because of his technical qualities, he can make the difference with a pass or whatever.
“I think we did enough to win against Blackburn. If you play 99 times [like that] you will win.
“I think we’ve been a little bit unlucky. We’re missing Jonjo in terms of the style of football and the way that he plays, but we knew before it could be like this.”
Shelvey’s last appearance came almost a month ago against Burton Albion, so the midfielder will be short of match sharpness and could feature in the FA Cup replay in order to bring him up to speed.
Yet Benitez is adamant Shelvey’s base fitness remains just as good, if not better, than ever.
“Jonjo is fine,” Benitez added. “This week he will finish his suspension, he has been training really well.
“He was training even harder. We had a specific plan for him to improve him physically.
“In the last [fitness] test, he was even better than before.
“We will see if we have to use him or not. I will say that he’s been training well and physically the team is well.”