Jonjo Shelvey is a real curiosity. Since his early days at Charlton, he’s been talked about in really flattering terms and, while he has sporadically shown himself to possess the ability worthy of reverential praise, his influence has remained rather hypothetical up until now.
There are a lot of theories about Shelvey, so no consensus will ever exist regarding his imperfections, but at times it’s seemed as if he tries to do too much on the pitch. He is gifted and he is capable of changing games, but his career to-date has seen him veer between highlight-reel moments and anonymity. Within that mix have also been unwelcome flashes of immaturity and his early steps in the Premier League are still more associated with disciplinary issues and emotionally-incontinent outbursts.
For some, that’s necessary. Under-talented players can compensate for their lack of ability with a set of fierce intangibles but, given his very real potential, Shelvey isn’t one of them. His range of attributes are better housed within a calm mind and his associated bluster did little to accentuate any of them.
Last season that started to change. Gylfi Sigurdsson’s arrival in South Wales appeared to shift some of the creative burden from his shoulders and he settled into a comfort zone between the Icelandic international and Ki Sung-Yueng.
Yeung and Sigurdsson are great stabilisers, because they are each reliable in their respective positions. Ki is a wonderfully smooth, balanced player who glides through games without ever changing gear and Sigurdsson is more emotionally suited to the risk/reward balance that comes with being a team’s principal playmaker.
The consequence for Shelvey has been a diluted role - and one which seems to suit him far better. Rather than playing as the most advanced midfielder within the Swansea side - as he did under Michael Laudrup - he now sits in an intermediate position which, allow granting him license to get forward, encourages him to influence games with his broad passing range.
And that works for him.
The above (via Squawka) is his distribution from Stamford Bridge and, presumably, it is exactly the sort of contribution that his manager would have wanted from him. In addition to frequently advancing into crossing positions and taking on the occasional opponent, Shelvey produced a passing display of real diversity.
The graphic is a blend of the economical and the penetrative and it documents Shelvey’s movement away from being a low-percentage player. He undoubtedly possesses the ability to produce final-balls in the last third of the pitch, but his job-description now has greater emphasis on rhythm control than it does creation.
He completed 90% of his passes at Stamford Bridge, compared with a season average 79.1% last season, and attempted only one shot - again down from 14/15’s average of 2 per game.
Collectively, that paints a healthy picture of how far along his development curve he is and it suggests that, with Monk’s guidance, he’s beginning to understand how to extract the most from his abilities.
Swansea supporters who watch Shelvey every week may already be aware of the incremental improvements in his game but, for the rest of us, this was really the first time he had been significantly impressive in a big-game situation. He was clear-headed, patient, and he didn’t try to force the play at any point.
And, actually, he also looked physically bigger. Supposedly, he sacrificed some of his Summer to spend time with a personal trainer and the effects are more than apparent. While also presumably being physically fitter, his shoulders are broader and his upper-body is clearly more muscular; over the off-season, he has properly equipped himself for the attritional landscape of a Premier League midfield.
In combination, it’s all very impressive.
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