If you find yourself underwhelmed at the sight of Jake Livermore in Gareth Southgate’s recent England squads
As Southgate prepares the Three Lions for what will surely be another inevitable World Cup exit on penalties, everything points to a desire for his side to be, first and foremost, defensively minded.
The 3-5-2 formation he favours means the onus is on the two midfielders sat in front of the back three to spark attacks, something which makes the inclusion of Livermore all the more baffling.
Firstly, let’s look at Livermore’s West Bromwich Albion side, who are spiralling out of the Premier League at a rate of knots. They have scored a league low 26 goals in 33 matches and while the blame can’t be laid squarely at Livermore’s feet, the 28-year-old isn’t exactly helping.
In his 29 Premier League appearances this term Livermore has failed to find the back of the net and is registering just 0.44 shots per 90 minutes. Shelvey finally bagged his first league goal of the campaign, but at least he is trying with the former Charlton Athletic star attempting 1.81 shots per 90.
But goals aren’t the be all and end all in this debate, what about creativity? A quick look at the passing stats show Livermore is more accurate than Shelvey, completing 78.53 per cent of his passes compered to the Magpies’ midfielder’s 72.88 per cent. However, Livermore’s assists sit at 0.04 per 90 minutes while Shelvey comes in at 0.1.
Neither figure is hugely impressive in truth, so maybe Southgate is favouring Livermore’s defensive duties. Thanks to West Brom’s struggles he has certainly been busy, making 2.42 tackles per 90 minutes.
But Newcastle have often been on the back foot in games this term too and Shelvey, apart from during the defeat to Bournemouth, hasn’t shirked his defensive responsibilities.
He has registered 1.55 tackles per 90 minutes and his 0.98 interceptions per 90 is higher than Livermore’s 0.88. So if England want to stay defensively sound before hitting sides on the break this summer, Shelvey has the edge.
Speaking of edge, it is exactly that which may mean the Newcastle No.8 isn’t trusted by Southgate. The Magpies’ return to the Premier League was marked by Shelvey stamping on Dele Alli on the opening day of the season, which earned him a red card. He was then sent off again in a 1-0 defeat to Everton just before Christmas – having more red cards than goals is never a recipe for success.
These suspensions, coupled with injuries, mean Shelvey has played just 1,734 minutes this campaign, compared to the 2,225 that Livermore has put in. But after receiving stinging criticism from former England midfielder Frank Lampard, Shelvey appears to have turned a corner.
Ahead of a big clash against fellow strugglers Southampton, Newcastle boss Rafa Benítez had as good as ruled the 26-year-old out of the game at St James’ Park. He had suffered knee damage in a collision with his goalkeeper in February and there were fears he’d be ruled out until the summer.
But one thing Shelvey doesn’t lack is commitment. He worked tirelessly to make sure he could play his part in what would be a huge match in deciding who falls out of the Premier League come May. And the work was worth it.
During his time on the pitch Shelvey created five chances for his team-mates, two of which were put away by Kenedy and Matt Ritchie in the 3-0 victory. He lasted 82 minutes and went off to a standing ovation. Keep that form up and he becomes difficult to ignore ahead of the World Cup.
Which other members of Southgate’s squad has the range of passing Shelvey possesses? Sure, they might be conservative and strict in sitting in front of the back three, but Shelvey’s artistry and imagination, especailly if England play on the counter, could bring the best out of Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling.
The last of his six England caps came back in September 2015 against San Marino – a game which the Three Lions won 6-0 and Shelvey was named man of the match.
At that stage Livermore had just the one England cap. But while Shelvey has failed to collect another, the West Brom man has added six more international appearances to his CV to overtake his rival.
That alone should spur Shelvey on. There is no disputing he is the better player, in terms of raw talent there’s little comparison. What has let the Newcastle star down, far too often, is his temperament.
Improve that and come the end of the summer perhaps Shelvey will have ousted Livermore once and for all.