Will Rafa Back Shelvey?

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Jonjo Shelvey is now fit and the debate over his value to Newcastle United is well underway.

The 27-year-old is a bit of enigma, a man with clear talent and an eye for a pass that few in the game have but at the same time he can be frustrating.

The second half of last season showed Shelvey at his best - three assists and a goal as United finished 10th. The change came after his needless sending off against Everton which earned him a two-game suspension. He returned against Manchester City, and from that moment his attitude and discipline shifted.


The petulance that sometimes sneaked into his game had gone, he was more controlled and disciplined in his approach which allowed him to not only concentrate on his football but flourish too.

An injury suffered in pre-season has hampered Shelvey this campaign - even when starting, he's never been 100 per-cent. After five full games between September and October, the thigh injury returned in the clash with Watford on November 3.

Since then Shelvey has featured four times - three in the league, and once in the cup - for a collective 101 minutes.

It was felt by some that he came back too soon for the FA Cup clash with Blackburn, and he hasn't featured.

United refused to rush him back, wary of an injury that could easily flare back up again.

'Fit but not match-fit' was what Benitez told the press pack before the defeat to West Ham, as he revealed Shelvey wasn't going to be involved in the game.

Indeed the midfielder had volunteered to play for the U23s against Fulham that evening and he scored the winner.

The injury to Sean Longstaff - the youngster who has come in and taken the Premier League by storm - suffered in that West Ham game has thrown Shelvey's short-term future back into the limelight.

With Longstaff, and Isaac Hayden playing so well over the last six weeks, many were accepting of the fact that Shelvey was not the first choice. Even Benitez admitted that the former Liverpool man was essentially the fifth choice behind Longstaff, Hayden, Mo Diame and Ki.

"You have Sean [Longstaff] and Hayden doing well, still you have Ki, still you have Diame - they were ahead of him, and they are not in the team so you have five midfielders now for two positions Ki has the quality, Diame has the physicality so for Jonjo to go ahead of them he has to do really well and be the right one."

But the partnership of Hayden, and Longstaff - one that had produced accuracy, and effort - looked beaten in the first half against West Ham, and has now been broken up due to injury, meaning that Benitez's decision on Shelvey has become a tad more pressing.

For some the United XI plays with more freedom without Shelvey, players come to the front and take responsibility for the ball. The team without Shelvey doesn't rely on one man.

For others, Shelvey is the key. They will allow eight out of ten passes to go astray, or a mistake from the midfielder when tracking back if one or two of his passes come off.

The question for United's game against Everton this Saturday is simply, Ki or Shelvey.

Benitez will take-in a host of factors before making his decision - is Shelvey match-fit? Are Ki's set-pieces more beneficial? The effort in training, and of course stats - and they do make for interesting reading.

It's largely assumed that Longstaff's place will be taken by either Shelvey or Ki - given that a centre midfield with Diame and Hayden as the pairing would be too defensive.

Both Shelvey and Ki have clocked up a similar amount of minutes this season - Shelvey, 749, and Ki 845, but it is Ki who comes out on top for accuracy.

The South Korean has made 354 successful passes this season (85.7%) compared to Shelvey's 334 (68.58%). Heading forward, Ki has once again shown his importance; 186 successful passes in the opposition half, with Shelvey complete 183. Interestingly, it is Mo Diame who comes out on top here with 229.

But when looking at those passes which were successful in the final third, the reason many are flying the flag for Shelvey's return becomes clear - 112 successful passes compared to 94 for Ki, Diame's 95, Longstaffs 57 and Hayden's 72.

However, successful passes in the final third per 90 minutes puts Ki top of the list with 10.01, compared to Shelvey who lies only on 0.15 - emphasing the claims by some, that he isn't accurate enough.

Of course, Shelvey's ability means he's always likely to create chances - and in just 11 games, has created 20 chances - six more than Ki, and 18 more than Diame.

The decision over Shelvey becomes even more difficult when you take into account that the current defence has two men with a great passing range - Florian Lejeune and Fabian Schar. The fear from some is that by bringing Shelvey back into the XI, the threat from those two is nullified.

The stats show the dilemma Benitez is in - and of course, stats aren't everything but they will play a role in Benitez's thinking for this weekend, and they show a mixture of brilliance and inconsistency.