Jonjo Shelvey looks set to return to Newcastle’s starting line-up in the next few weeks, as Ki Sung-yueng has accepted a call-up to South Korea’s Asian Cup squad.
The international tournament begins on January 5th, and if Korea go the distance, Ki could miss up to eight Premier League games.
South Korea’s final group game is on January 16th, meaning even if the side don’t progress, Ki is still likely to miss most of Newcastle’s January fixtures.
FIFA rules also state that Ki must join his national squad at least 15 days before the competition. That means Saturday’s match against Fulham may well be his last of 2018.
It’s a huge blow to Rafa Benitez and supporters, as the 29-year old had become a fan favourite in recent months.
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Against all odds, he’d ousted star player Jonjo Shelvey from the side and become the key cog in Newcastle’s midfield.
But the Toon must now prepare for a period without Ki and Shelvey must make sure he is a worthy replacement.
Huge pressure for Shelvey
As one of Newcastle’s better performers at the start of the season, their current upturn in form must be bittersweet for Shelvey.
The Englishman was one of the only positives in a team which failed to win any of their opening 10 matches.
But ironically, without him in the side they have prospered, and won four in their last seven games.
An injury to Shelvey against Watford saw Ki replace him in November, and the South Korean seized his opportunity.
Ki changed the temperament in the middle of the park, and keeping possession suddenly seemed possible.
The team as a whole even looked more confident going forward thanks to his presence.
Before then they always seemed to be waiting for Shelvey to come up with the goods. It often meant the side suffered in possession, with Shelvey consistently attempting his trademark long balls.
Although Ki has perhaps been less creative than Shelvey, he’s certainly been less frustrating.
The pressure is now on for the Englishman to match the performances of Ki, and improve his possession play.
Annoyingly for Shelvey, his return will coincide with a run of incredibly tough fixtures.
Newcastle will play Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea in their Premier League matches in January.
There’s also a tricky PL clash with Cardiff and an FA Cup third round match versus Blackburn.
It’s a busy schedule, and Shelvey will have to be prepared for when it comes around.
But in a case of bad timing, the midfielder is currently suffering from a thigh injury.
He is not expected back until late December, meaning his will be in question come January.
It’ll be a shame if he cant get back to full fitness in time, as he’ll never get a better to chance to win back his place in the starting eleven.