For the second straight match, Jonjo Shelvey started in central midfield, this time in a constellation that included both Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson. It was a deserved appearance in the eleven for the young English midfielder, who's found little playing time after being recalled from a successful loan spell at Blackpool. He was one of the lone bright spots when given a start at Newcastle last weekend, and yesterday he again showed that he's more than capable of having a place in the Liverpool squad going forward.
One of the main weaknesses on display for most of the season has been a lack of movement and creativity, and it was never more apparent than in the 3-0 derby win over Everton. For one of the first times in the current campaign, the forward men were supported by a willing and able runner, and it made Liverpool's attack look far more effective than it's been at any point this season.
Sadly that proved to be an isolated occurance, with Steven Gerrard shrinking in influence since his hat-trick and what seemed like a lack of personnel that are able to have any sort of similar impact coming from the midfield. But with Shelvey finally given a start at St. James' Park, we saw a midfielder that was willing to get forward confidently and turn in the work rate required to bridge possession with attack. Unfortunately for Shelvey he found few as willing around him, and his day was perfectly summed up in his brief but notable interaction with Andy Carroll.
Yesterday Jay Spearing was taken out of the equation, which left Shelvey to partner Jordan Henderson deeper in midfield with Steven Gerrard given more license to roam. Both young midfielders had good showings, with Shelvey doing much of the searching and Henderson tasked with ticking things along in possession. Former regular commenter and current Paisley Gates contributor Grubb has a nice breakdown of Henderson's performance, which you should take a look at so you can continue to shout about how much of a waste he is and when you were 21 you were so much better because you sprayed 60-yard impregnators across the pitch and didn't play things so safe even though it meant you retained possession and his career's over because he's not 25 year-old Steven Gerrard yet. Or to just say, yeah, he's alright and stuff.
Anyhow, Shelvey's managed to fly under the radar when it comes to the criticism that's been directed towards Henderson, partly because of his cost (initial fee of £1.7m) and partly because there's a sympathy factor for the lack of chances he's been given. But he's also mostly performed when called upon, which is less a criticism of Henderson than it is a comment on where and how Shelvey can be used. He's clearly the more adaptable of the two, and at only 20 years old, he appears to have far more confidence in possession and is more willing to take risks in attack.
In any other season, Henderson would have been afforded more patience, both from management and from supporters, and Shelvey would likely still be out on loan. With a confluence of factors more or less forcing both into action---managerial choices regardless of tactical fit with Henderson, injuries with Shelvey---we're bound to witness some growing pains, and we're left to hope that one of the few positives to emerge from such a disappointing league campaign is the development of two promising central midfielders.
Video by Mostar