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Newcastle netting right targets for survival in Shelvey & Saviet?

Holly Thackeray | January 15, 2016

New Newcastle recruits puzzling purchases for relegation scrap

Understandably, while struggling for Premier League survival, Newcastle United (odds-on at 5/6 for relegation with Coral) have been one of January’s biggest transfer movers and shakers. Though, their unorthodox acquisitions in playmaker Jonjo Shelvey and converted deep-lying conductor Henri Saivet, have raised a fair few eyebrows.

Had these signings been made in summer, they would have been a rightful source of excitement. Yet, for a club that has conceded 38 times in just 21 outings, with a disappointing goal difference of -16 at the crucial halfway campaign point, some glaring weaknesses appear to have been overlooked; namely defence.

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The Magpies still do have time to tinker with a rearguard which has looked decidedly leaky after keeping just one clean sheet in their last eight outings, but latest transfer gossip linking the Tyneside team to Tottenham winger Andros Towsend suggests a worrying trend – a philosophy of trying to outscore their opponents and attack their way out of trouble.

Top-heavy attack at St James’ Park

Goals win games, of course, which Newcastle could certainly do with and forward-thinking is to be commended. But, first priority over winter should undoubtedly have been shoring up defence, or the Toon team will constantly be playing catch-up.

The Magpies’ last match against Manchester United, a lucky last-gasp equaliser in the 3-3 thriller notwithstanding, is a perfect example.

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The Toon Army will have been similarly enthralled and appalled as their team fought back from 2-0 and then 3-2 down, but a next dust-up with dangerous West Ham United could prove just as nail-biting in front of net.

Will former Swansea City man Shelvey, Saivet or Townsend help solve these problems? Hardly. In fact, it remains sketchy as to how McClaren will slot all these attack-minded stars in the starting XI without compromising solidity.

Silky-skilled Saivet and Shelvey have both operated as deep midfielders, with the former only recently converted to that position, but would surely not make for the most reliable anchoring partnership considering their natural attacking instincts.

Defence for struggling sides starts from the front, and the abiding image for most fans will have been Shelvey’s last lacklustre displays in the white of the Welsh club, including an apparent unwillingness to help hound back possession or man mark in the eventual FA Cup loss to League Two Oxford United (which you can watch below).

A midfield trio with one of box-to-box bruiser Moussa Sissoko, who should certainly not be sacrificed, could give a greater balance and tactical options, as terrier Cheick Tiote has been tipped for a switch to China.

Still, the St James’ roster looks decidedly lightweight at the back, with it seeming as though the team will rely on their guile to get out of this sticky situation.

Bargains or blunders?

Somewhat of an unknown quantity (which might just work in his favour), Saivet joins a long list of Magpies Ligue 1 plunders, some successful but ultimately sold for profit (Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Debuchy) and others still to find their feet (Florian Thauvin) or arguably just outright flops (Remy Cabella).

Newcastle (evens to stay up) do not seem to have given up on across-the-channel raids, despite mixed results, and their impressive scouting network and connections in France, with an extensive Gallic presence at the club, mean Saivet has every chance of adapting.

Liverpool v Bordeaux - UEFA Europa League - Group B - Anfield

For a reported £4.5m fee, the midfield man may prove worth the risk at such a low punt, and could thrive with the expectation heaped upon fellow new face Shelvey. Often, while the fanfare focuses on the expensive flair signings, quieter heroes start to steal the show instead.

Deal or no deal?

Meanwhile, to say there are two contrasting pools of thought regarding Newcastle’s flurry of winter window activity would be an understatement, with the camps, those for and against Shelvey, firmly opposed. Is the Englishman’s addition a canny deal, or another dead end?

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Swansea City v Stoke City - Liberty Stadium

It’s always easy to slate a signing before they have even donned the shirt (see, Anthony Martial), but Shelvey, seeking a new start at St James’ Park, will still find himself the centre of attention. For, the drama is still unfolding at the Northeast outfit, who sit just one spot from bottom of the Premier League.

When rumours began circling that the Magpies were to swoop for schemer Shelvey it was somewhat of a surprise; not that ex-England Steve McClaren was to capture a homegrown talent, particularly one he has reportedly had his eye on for some time, but that Swansea (6/4 to be relegated) would sell.

Fellow cellar dwellers the Swans have not fared much better since swapping managers, and that they sold one of their top early season performers to a direct relegation rival rather speaks volumes of Shelvey’s standing at the Welsh club.

The former Charlton Athletic and Liverpool prodigy has always been highly-rated, but is arguably one of those talents ala Jack Grealish who appears to have peaked in potential before barely playing, and arguably handed the rewards before producing the goods.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Watford v Swansea City - Vicarage Road

In fairness, Shelvey had seemed to overcome last term’s temperament and consistency troubles, earning a recall to Roy Hodgson’s England squad after starring for the Swans, before their subsequent slump, when he was somewhat MIA.

Since then, speculation of a poor attitude has abounded, with Swansea seeking to offload his potential in exchange for funds to bring in their own emergency attackers.

This could be the crucial point, however, and a vital piece of the relegation puzzle, should Shelvey crumble under the pressure.

While, if the star that dazzled and dominated against Chelsea to gain recognition earlier this term re-emerges to spearhead and strenghten the Magpies survival bid, former club Swansea could pay the price if their own replacements falter.

Shelvey to star in relegation scrap?

Though, the Liberty Stadium side have recouped more than more than double their reported initial outlay of £5m, and will hope to put their £12m-boosted coffers to good use.

Swansea City v AFC Bournemouth - Barclays Premier League - Liberty Stadium

Former Swansea and Wales winger Leighton James summed up the Magpies’ gamble perfectly, stating: “That’s good business for a player who doesn’t give me the impression that his heart and soul is in Swansea.

“He’s a one-in-five, one-in-six player – a bit like his passing. For me he hits one great 40-yard pass and then the next four or five times gives the ball away.

“He’s not the kind of player I’d want to see battling in a relegation fight.”

While, Newcastle keeper Rob Elliot had the opposite reaction, telling press: “He could prove to be an absolute steal and he could be a legend here.” Only hindsight will prove who was right…

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