Over the past few months, central-midfield has become a real problem for Rafa Benitez.
Injuries and dips in form have meant Benitez has tested several midfield partnerships over the course of the season, with Mo Diame the only real constant.
The manager seemed to have finally found a formula in Ki Sung-yueng and Diame during November, but the South Korean is now unavailable due to Asian Cup commitments.
January was seen as a big chance for Jonjo Shelvey to win back his place in the side, however injuries have put a stop to that.
This has meant the likes of Isaac Hayden and Sean Longstaff have also had to be tested in the role in recent weeks.
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Every Newcastle fan has their preferred duo, with some unimpressed with the ever present Diame and others bemused with Shelvey’s Pirlo act.
But who, statistically, is Newcastle’s best central-midfielder this season?
And more importantly, do these stats suggest who Newcastle’s starting midfield partnership should really be?
The in-depth stats
Bold – best average per game
These stats examine key attributes of both the defensive and attacking play.
Given Sean Longstaff’s lack of game time, his stats have not been included.
Mo Diame: 63 tackles in 21 appearances (best average 3)
Ki Sung-yueng: 8 tackles in 11 appearances
Jonjo Shelvey: 20 tackles in 11 appearances (3rd best average 1.8)
Isaac Hayden: 22 tackles in 9 appearances (2nd best average 2.4)
Mo Diame: 23 in 21 appearances ( 3rd best average 1.09)
Ki Sung-yueng: 15 in 11 appearances (2nd best average 1.36)
Jonjo Shelvey: 6 in 11 appearances
Isaac Hayden: 13 in 9 appearances (best average 1.4)
Mo Diame: 3 in 21 appearances ( 3rd best average 0.14)
Ki Sung-yueng: 2 in 11 appearances (2nd best average 0.18)
Jonjo Shelvey: 4 in 11 appearances (best average 0.36)
Isaac Hayden: 0 in 9 appearances
Big Chances Created
Accurate long balls
There’s some surprising numbers in there from the Newcastle midfield.
While the Toon almost never seem to win with Shelvey in the side, the Englishman still has the best averages per game in four key stats.
In terms of passing and creation, his stats far outweigh everyone else and it’s a shame fitness has cost him in recent months.
Also surprising is Mo Diame’s non-defensive stats.
By now all Newcastle fans are aware of his tackling exploits, but his averages for key attacking stats were actually not too far off Ki’s.
Ki’s stats naturally represent his on-field style, while never the best player, he is always reliable and doesn’t do much wrong.
He had the second best average for three key attributes. This kind of overall consistency is perhaps why he has the best win ratio in the group.
Ki is almost certainly a needed component in Newcastle’s midfield, and they will miss him during his international commitments.
Isaac Hayden meanwhile has come under fire in recent weeks for his lacklustre performances.
Although his attacking stats show a lack of desire to make things happen, his defensive stats are superb.
Diame is easily the more complete player, but Hayden seems to be matching his defensive rate as his understudy.
Who should start? (injuries permitting)
Ki’s departure and injuries to Diame and Shelvey has left Benitez’s midfield in tatters.
But when fit, which of these three top performers should really be starting?
There is of course the argument of all three, but this would cause a lot of formation shuffling for the manager.
Based on the above stats, the midfield partnership should be Ki and Shelvey.
The two previously played together at Swansea, and were a very successful duo.
But Diame appears to be Benitez’s go to man in the middle of the park and has played far more matches than everyone else.
However it’s possible that Ki and Shelvey could complete the same defensive duties as a pair.
Shockingly, Shelvey has a very good tackle rate this season. But even more surprisingly, is that Ki has a better interception rate than even Diame.
Although they are certainly not better defensive midfielders than Diame, they’re definitely better attackers.
Newcastle have had very little problems in defence this season, but in attack they’ve been woeful.
A Ki and Shelvey midfield could solve this, and the defence would arguably not take too heavy a hit.