Jonjo Shelvey picked up a knee injury in Newcastle’s 2-2 draw with Bournemouth on Saturday, and the Magpies could potentially be without the play-maker for the trip to Liverpool.
We saw the best and the worst of Shelvey at the Vitality Stadium, with the 26-year-old providing a sublime pass to unlock the Cherries defence and allow Matt Ritchie to set up Newcastle’s opener.
However, we also Shelvey’s lack of defensive awareness as Bournemouth came from two goals down to take away what would have been a vital away win for Rafa Benitez’s side.
Whether or not injury played a part in Shelvey’s failures on Saturday is irrelevant as it cannot change the result, but the big question is who will replace our number eight, if injury rules him out, as we head to Merseyside to take on Shelvey’s former side.
It is a straight fight between two players: Isaac Hayden and Mikel Merino.
On the face of it, Spanish midfielder Merino seems to be the obvious choice, as the Magpies will still need a ball-playing midfielder if they are to have any chance of scoring at Anfield, and the 21-year-old is the only player with the passing ability that can almost rival Shelvey’s.
Merino might not be as spectacular or Hollywood, but he does have the vision that could unlock a steadily improving Liverpool defence.
As for Hayden, it might have to be another appearance off the bench for the former Arsenal man, as he sadly does not have the ability on the ball to be able to allow Newcastle to take the game to Liverpool.
Hayden is strong in the tackle and is capable of breaking up play, but so is Merino, which is why the summer signing should be the one to play alongside Mo Diame.
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder did well when Newcastle took on Jurgen Klopp’s side at St James’ Park, but that was alongside Shelvey. At Anfield, the pressure will be on Merino to pick up where Shelvey left off and put on a passing display that could give the Geordies a chance of some points on Merseyside.
Of course, this could all be meaningless and Shelvey could shake off a knee injury and take his place alongside Diame, but until then…