Blackpool & Middlesboro: The Strengths And Weaknesses Of Liverpool's Jonjo Shelvey

Liverpool's talented teen has been linked with a permanent transfer to Blackpool and Middlesboro - but what would they be getting?
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Liverpool's talented teen has been linked with a permanent transfer to Blackpool and Middlesboro - but what would they be getting?

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Liverpool's talented teen may look like Nosferatu but he could yet have a big role to play in Liverpool's Lucas-less midfield this season following this week's recall from a loan spell at Blackpool.

An injury to Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva has impacted on Championship club Blackpool with Liverpool recalling Jonjo Shelvey from his loan. Liverpool fans may think that he has been recalled as cover for Lucas, however, his performances for Blackpool have showed that perhaps his strengths lie elsewhere. This article will reflect on his curtailed loan spell and try and understand the player that is returning to Anfield.

Liverpool recruited Shelvey from Charlton Athletic under previous manager Rafael Benitez. Whilst at Charlton he became the youngest player to represent the club and caught the eye of Premier League scouts with some vibrant and dynamic performances. Since signing for Liverpool he has settled in to the background playing a handful of senior team games. In signing for Blackpool on loan he was given a valuable chance to play football week in week out in an ultra competitive environment.

Blackpool started life back in the Championship in a very inconsistent manner and Ian Holloway had been looking for something extra to add to their side from the loan market. Loans were critical to their success last time around and it appears that may also be the case this time around. Shelvey was a player that Holloway had wanted to bring to the club since the protracted transfer of Charlie Adam to Liverpool had been sealed. In coming to Blackpool, Holloway was given a player who could potentially light up the Championship and he threw him in to the side from the very start and on his debut he scored two goals, one of them from around thirty yards.

Prior to his arrival, Blackpool had averaged 1.4 points per game, scoring at a rate of 1.2 goals per game. In the games Shelvey played their average points rose to 1.6 and their goals shot up to 2.1 per game. It’s hard to attribute this to the arrival of Shelvey alone, but there is no doubt that there has been a shift in Blackpool’s form over the past ten games.

By all accounts he was recruited to play in Blackpool’s midfield unit, going some way to replacing the goals and creativity lost when Adam departed. His first few appearances saw him take his place in the midfield and whilst his positional sense is solid, his attacking instincts can see him lose his shape in an orthodox midfield three. The diagram below shows the positions he covered whilst at Blackpool.

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In a flatter midfield three (1 & 2) he had a tendency to dwell too much on the ball and in an ultra aggressive and competitive midfield Championship battle he was occasionally overwhelmed. As he progressed in to the more attacking midfield role (3) he enjoyed more success, but it was his move to the forward line (4 & 5) that arguably allowed him to really find his place in the Championship. However, as will be explored later, his future may lie as a central forward (6).

Physically Shelvey looks strong and imposing; standing around six feet tall and well developed muscularly, fitting the archetypal model of a young English footballer. He has good pace and his stamina looks strong right to the last minute. There are very few doubts about him physically. However, Shelvey may still be developing mentally, both as an adult and as a footballer. The following quote from him may give an insight in to his mind; “I didn’t know until I got in at half-time and someone mentioned the sending off. I thought they were playing with 11 ... obviously I’m that thick!”

This hints at a lack of intelligent thought on the pitch and is possibly an area of concern and could be retrograde to his development and success back at his parent club. At the level that Liverpool aspires to they need intelligent players off and on the pitch. However, he clearly understands space and exploitation of opportunity and with his physical attributes he can seize moments in games and has already shown his willingness to try to dominate by calling for the ball and attempting to command his team mates. He appears to have a strong drive and winning mentality and perhaps this will override his other mental shortcomings.

Another shortcoming which pinpoints more about why he failed to settle in deeper midfield is his dislike for the defensive side of the midfield role. By his own admission he prefers to be going forward, in an interview with Vital Blackpool he was quoted as saying…“I’ll be honest, I don’t like the defending too much, so playing further forward (at Blackpool) has been better for me.”

What is also a real concern is his recklessness in the challenge. Against Burnley, he went in to a challenge without looking and went over the top of the ball.

What is also a real concern is his recklessness in the challenge. Against Burnley, he went in to a challenge without looking and went over the top of the ball and put his opponent in danger and he should have been sent off.

He has a good range of passing, but his timing and selection of pass is inconsistent. Also, whilst his first touch is good it also lacks consistency. In low pressure games he could easily dominate, however, should a team sense him ponder they could easily throw him off his stride. During the game against Burnley this happened, and he was soon taken out of the midfield as Holloway switched to a conventional 4-4-2 with Shelvey taking up position wide left. Here he looked like he appreciated facing the play with the ball coming on to him and in behind the defence, as well as trying to isolate his opponent in one v one situations.

As has been seen with the goals he has scored he can shoot with both power and accuracy and he appears to be a natural goal scorer, in fact it could be argued that he has the skill set for a central forward role. He can play with his back to goal, he can use his strength to dominate a centre back, drop deep to receive and create both from deep and further up the pitch. He also has a great sense of timing with his attacking runs in to the opponents area making him hard to track and putting him in great positions to score.

Latterly, he had been taking up position as one of the wide forwards, from there Shelvey grabbed a hat trick against Leeds United. The knock on effect has been that Blackpool’s midfield has been a more coherent unit without him in there, but it has also left him in a position which appears more natural for him.

Finally, one point that remains unresolved is his ability to dominate games at Championship level. Granted, he was still finding his feet and adjusting to a new set up, but he never quite stamped his authority on games. He can burst and sparkle for periods, but equally go quiet at other times. Given time he could learn to control games and should he come back to Blackpool or another Championship side then that will be a key part of his development to look out for.

Arguably the recall of Shelvey will cause more harm to Blackpool in the short term that it will do good for Liverpool. Obviously the injury to Lucas is a big blow for Liverpool, however, the recall of Shelvey doesn’t mean he has been brought back as cover. It seems to be a move to secure more squad depth and add more options for Kenny Dalglish to play with. For Blackpool they have lost a player of quality, Holloway has already mentioned that they will try to bring him back.

It remains to be seen how he will be utilised back at Liverpool, Shelvey clearly enjoyed his time at Bloomfield Road and wanted to stay longer, however, he will be fully focused to take his learning from the Championship and try to make a Premier League impact should he get the chance.

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