Jonjo Shelvey – Bossing the Liverpool midfield

“Shelvey has shown signs of blossoming into an important player for Liverpool, boasting power and penetration as well as a touch of unpredictability.”

The Guardian’s Paul Doyle describes Jonjo Shelvey after the Liverpool youngster made his debut for England last week against San Marino.

While the early season headlines have mostly gone to 17 year old Raheem Sterling and 18 year old Suso, it’s easy to forget that Shelvey himself is only 20.

Shelvey has started the season in impressive form under new Reds boss Brendan Rodgers, who is clearly a fan of the former Charlton youngster – especially if you’ve been watching Being: Liverpool.

As with many youngsters coming through now, we can trace the roots back to Rafa Benitez when the Spaniard overhauled the academy and began the process of Liverpool acquiring the best young talents in England and Europe (Sterling from QPR; Suso from Cadiz; Pacheco from Barcelona; Wisdom from Bradford; plus numerous others who haven’t made the grade or are yet to make the breakthrough).

Shelvey was igned for an initial fee of £1.7m in 2010 from Charlton Athletic (the fee will rise based on appearances), at which point he’d already made 48 appearances for The Addicks, having made his debut at 16. At the time, Benitez explained:

“We are trying to bring in British players with passion. Players who you can feel what playing for Liverpool means to them. We have this long-term plan in place and we will try to follow the plan.”

After spending some time with the Liverpool reserves and making a few appearances in the first team, Shelvey was sent out on loan for the beginning of the 2011-2012 season to Blackpool. He impressed at Blackpool, playing as a focal point in the midfield of an attack-minded team. Shelvey scored six goals in ten games, including a hat trick against Leeds.

In late November he was recalled to Liverpool after Lucas Leiva‘s knee injury. He went on to start 9 games under Kenny Dalglish. But due to Liverpool’s poor league form and Shelvey’s best position not being clear, he did not have a significant impact, he did score though in the FA cup rout of Oldham and against Chelsea.

This season, however, Shelvey has clearly figured in the new manager’s plans. Rodgers has used him much more often (6 starts so far) in a three man midfield. It is to Rodgers’ credit that Shelvey’s star has emerged and he has become a genuine contender for a starting spot. Rodgers is clearly convinced of the lad’s quality. In Episode 5 of Being: Liverpool, before the Hearts away game, Rodgers pulls Shelvey over to tell him that he sees plenty of quality in him:

“I’m going to put you in the number ten tomorrow. Because what I’m trying to do, I want to get you in the team, a regular. Because what I’ve seen very early and quickly here, from the game Saturday (WBA), is that we don’t have enough people that score goals.

“Be bright, because I need bright. See the three in there? (Gerrard, Lucas, Allen) Like you see Joe, he’s that size, but you see from Saturday the room he gets, because he’s always on the move, always on the move, getting on it, being bright, and that gets you the space.

“I know you’ve got all the tools to play for me for the next ten years, do you know what I mean? So I just want you to get that in your mind, cause I’m doing it for a purpose, because when I see you, I think if I can have Joe, Lucas, you in there then that gives me three midfield players, but one that can get goals, cause I know you can score, cause you’ve got quality”

Clearly Rodgers has identified what Shelvey is good at, and what he’s not. He’s a good creator with nice distribution, good range of passing, skills with the ball at his feet and a penchant for making late runs into the box for goals, a la Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard. He’s not a defensive midfielder and his love for a rough tackle makes him unsuitable for anything but the number 10 role in midfield. But Rodgers clearly realises that, as an energetic youngster with good instinct and technical ability, Shelvey could be the attacking midfielder that powers Rodgers’ Liverpool for the next decade.

Shelvey has been a key player in LFC’s Europa League campaign, scoring twice against Young Boys and once against Udinese. On both occasions, his positional sense and late runs into the box created goals for the team. These runs and these goals are exactly what Rodgers wants from the young attacking midfielder, and Jonjo will likely be chomping at the bit to get another chance to show his manager what he can do.

Shelvey has also been making a splash with the England national team. After setting up one and scoring the other in the England U21’s 2-0 victory over Azerbaijan, Shelvey’s youth and Liverpool form earned him a call up to the senior squad for the match against San Marino at Wembley. Injuries to Scott Parker and Lampard meant a call up for the 20 year old. He came on as a substitute, putting in an assured display for the last half hour. It was a promising debut and hopefully a sign of things to come, but the lad has accepted that it may not be a permanent call up. Former Liverpool great Alan Kennedy, though, said that he believes that Shelvey will go from strength to strength and become an England regular:

“His work rate is good and he makes things happen. He has that ability to pick a pass in the final third and he’s got an eye for goal. I‘m not sure whether his best position is in central midfield or playing just behind a striker but wherever he plays he makes an impact. He has complemented Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen very well when he’s played there alongside them.

“He really benefited from that loan spell at Blackpool last season and has kicked on from there. He doesn’t seem to be fazed by anything.”

Shelvey has an interesting battle ahead of him to establish himself as Liverpool’s go-to attacking midfielder. He currently sits behind one of the best of all time in Gerrard, as well as a very capable Nuri Sahin, whose every touch oozes class. Fellow youngster Suso is also very adept as a number 10, and will likely be vying for a chance as well. However, given Rodgers’ support and Shelvey’s undeniable talent, it is fair to say that he could lock up Liverpool’s attacking midfield slot for the next decade. Only time will tell.

Written by Andrew

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