There’s lots of talk these days about Benitez having difficult decisions to make as the manager of the mighty Toon, but if truth be told these problems are usually just click-bait being stirred up by journalists who have, basically, sod all else to do.
It was definitely a bit of a quandary a few months ago. I’ve no doubt Rafa had many sleepless nights trying to decide if he was going to pitch Mitro, Joselu or Gayle in against the likes of Chelsea, City and Liverpool. Hmmmmm. A tricky one, but then Rondon came along and Rafa caught up on his sleep.
Things may be slightly different these days, with Rafa having a comparative embarrassment of riches to choose from. For example, when he opts to play 9 at the back we do seem to have 11 or 12 that he can choose from. Always a good sign! I say a comparative embarrassment of riches. When all you’ve had in the house for years for musical entertainment is a flatulent dog with a kazoo and suddenly your 7 year old starts learning to play the trombone, at least now you have options. Comparatively you’re better off.
And let’s not forget Almiron. Did any of us really believe that drivel that the Crinkle (the Chronicle!) were peddling about him more than likely starting from the bench against Burnley, with another 25 minute cameo? Not for a minute. The fans knew we needed him to start, and we knew that Rafa knew the same, but the Crinkle needed us to read their hogwash so from their “cupboard under the stairs” office in Eldon Square, they gave Rafa another difficult decision to make. Yes, I know Rafa says a lot of things but many are managerial blether and the rest is designed to hopefully whip up a little doubt in the opposition camp. He tells us what a a great job Joselu does for the team, but I don’t see the Crinkle stopping the presses on that one.
When the team is picking itself, again, that’s hardly a difficult decision. Automatic choices for me? I’d have to go with Dubravka, Lejeune and Schar, with Longstaff on current form (and crutches now), Almiron for sheer pace and Rondon as the only one in the squad who seems to know where the goal is. I never thought I’d ever say this but I might even go with Perez, because I think Almiron has somehow energised him, maybe lightening his load a little and freeing him up to more self expression. I put Lejeune in because of his abilityto spray it around, switching our attack from flank to flank at the drop of a hat, and Schar gets in probably for his penchant for having a pop at goal.
I don’t have Lascelles down as an automatic choice as I’m probably the only Toon fan on the planet who doesn’t rate him, and while I’m stirring the pot here I’ll say the same thing about Ritchie. My view on Ritchie is that he shares too many similar attributes with Joey Barton and Craig Bellamy. There’s just something about the three of them that suggests you wouldn’t leave any of them alone in a room with your Rottweiler.
So that leaves four of those “difficult decisions” to be made.
Now let’s get down to the crux of this little piece. Hayden on current form or Shelvey on his ability to provide that killer pass? What about Ki and Diame? NaahhH! Hayden or Shelvey, that’s it. When I started writing this piece it was fairly straight forward. Hayden or Shelvey? But since Longstaff took a clattering there’s a fair chance we’ll see them both over the next few weeks.
Back to the plot!
Again – just look back a few months and if you wanted somebody who could open up the game with a pass you could be pretty sure it was going to be Shelvey. But things have changed. Lejeune, Longstaff and Almiron can all change the game with their vision. Does this reduce Shelvey’s effectiveness? Not at all. For me, if he’s fit I’d just throw Shelvey straight in without a second thought. Longstaff gives us many of the pluses of Hayden and you can never have too many players on the park with creative talent. In all honesty I’d love to see Shelvey splitting the defence, or lobbing diagonal balls into space for Almiron to steam onto. With a bit of luck, by the time you read this we will have seen it, to great effect, against Everton.
There’s another reason I think Shelvey should get the nod. Hayden, on form or not, has informed the entire planet that given the chance he’d be off south faster than Ashley buys up failing high street department stores. It surprises me that the fans still have time for him. Whatever happened to the requirement for our heroes to “want to wear the shirt”? There’s also talk in the rags that if Shelvey can’t get playing time he’ll be looking elsewhere in the summer too.
Part of me says we can’t be fussy and should be playing the best possible team available, but there’s a big chunk in there that says it would be inexcusable to select a want-away average midfielder while at the same time driving out one of the best passers of the ball in the EPL.
Of course, survival in the Premier League is essential but Rafa needs to look a little further ahead to next season and the possible consequences of a miffed Shelvey.