Sean Longstaff is rapidly developing into one of the elite midfielders in the Premier League, as he strikingly continues to go from strength to strength within Eddie Howe’s exceptional Newcastle United side.
Having recently made his 150th appearance for his beloved boyhood club and captained his team to a famous 3-0 win over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup, as well as playing a key role in side’s ousting of Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal, this serves as a further testament to just how brilliant his progression has been.
With his future at the Magpies seemingly in doubt roughly two years ago, the way he’s rekindled his career at St. James’ Park since the takeover and Howe’s subsequent appointment has been remarkable.
“Considering probably where me and a lot of the lads were two-and-a-half years ago, to think you’d be sitting in this position and doing a press conference before a Champions League game seemed nearly impossible, I would say,” he said recently after Newcastle’s masterful triumph over PSG, a game in which he bagged a memorable goal.
“I think now we’re just trying to enjoy the momentum and enjoy the good times. A lot of it has been a long time coming and probably something that we didn’t think would happen, so for us to be in this position now is a real privilege. To get to experience great nights in massive competitions is what every player wants and one we’re really grateful to be a part of.”
Tireless, tenacious, a real leader and playing with immense confidence, it’s been a joy to watch the 26-year-old fulfilling his potential, which has been a fitting reward for all his patience, perseverance and hard work over the years.
Such an instrumental figure on both sides of the ball for the Magpies, and one who sets the tone with his relentless energy, intensity and outpouring of effort, it’s little wonder he’s now in the conversation to be selected for Gareth Southgate’s England.
“I haven’t spoken with Sean in any great detail about the England squad or his dreams and aims, but I’d encourage it for him because I think he is good enough,” Howe insisted.
“I think he’s got everything depending on what system you want to play, but for us, he perfectly fits the number eight role that we’re using him in. I’d love to see him score more goals and get in more goal scoring positions because I think he is a very good finisher – you saw the other night with a really good goal – so hopefully there’s more to come from him. But he’s certainly done very well at the start of this season.”
Uncompromising, dedicated, ultra-fit and always up for the challenge, his defensive work has been of the highest order. A ball winning machine with his intelligent reading of the play, coherent decision making and physical and athletic qualities, there’s been much to admire about his stopping exertions.
A fierce presser and counterpresser, who reacts sharply to triggers and is an expert at hunting down his targets while using his cover shadow to block passing lanes behind him, opponents have found him a real menace.
Never afraid of putting his body on line, how he uses his rangy arms and legs to impede opponents and reach in to apply interventions has added to his worth.
Moreover, his adherence to marking assignments, regular support of his colleagues, loose ball recovery prowess and usually solid timing of his tackles elevate his worth.
Meanwhile, in an offensive sense, the combative midfielder holds his own here too, with his crafty movement, tactical awareness and slick distribution standing out especially.
To begin with the former, and his devastating runs into the final third have been an integral weapon in his arsenal, for his marauding runs catch backlines by surprise to add an extra man and element of danger to foes – much like Lorenzo Pellegrini has done over the years for AS Roma.
Timing and directing these surges outstandingly to take advantage of gaps between preoccupied defenders, Longstaff’s penetrative bursts usually ensure he’s ideally placed to be an option to launch shots or cause havoc for opposition markers with his box crashing that leaves defenders with dilemmas whether to leave their man or stay put.
Smartly spotting when the conditions are right to make his move, there’s been countless occasions where he’s wreaked havoc here both for himself and when creating space for colleagues to exploit.
Upon parlaying the aforementioned with his effective finishing, and he’s unquestionably heightened Newcastle’s threat in the area and given them another dimension.
Some extra reasons for positive arise from his crisp midfield rotations, which sees him often operate in the 6 slot, his support of build-up, assistance of the wide players, the fantastic partnerships he’s formed with Kieran Trippier and Miguel Almiron and knowledge of when to get dangerous between the lines or in the half spaces while evading detection.
Then, in possession, his passing has really come to the fore, for he’s been particularly successful with his progressive passing, which has seen him astutely feed attackers to breathe life into attacks.
So good at switching the play to feed the wingers and full-backs so their runs can be obliged and in order for them to be isolated, he’s shown tidy vision and execution in such cases.
In addition, his incisive through balls in behind, clinical line breaking forward passes, that frequently eliminate many defenders from the equation, tidy crosses and cutbacks and slick interplay have only increased his attacking threat.
By the numbers, upon comparing him to Arsenal star in Martin Odegaard this season using Wyscout data, Longstaff admirably holds the ascendancy over the Norwegian in a host of metrics such as key passes p90, progressive passes p90, shooting accuracy, conversion rate, crosses p90, passes into the final third p90, through ball accuracy, forward passes p90, long passes p90, defensive duels p90, successful defensive actions p90, defensive actions winning percentage, shots blocked p90 and tackling effectiveness.
Growing into an indispensable piece of Howe’s puzzle and nailing down a starting berth ahead of big money, now suspended new signing Sandro Tonali, he deserves enormous praise for turning around his fortunes.
A real home hero, who the fans absolutely love cheering on, there’s no reason to suggest he can’t keep riding the crest of a wave to keep up his elite level.
In the best form of his career, bringing so much to the table in all aspects and with still plenty to prove, surely an England call-up is the next thing to tick off on his agenda.
But the humble and supremely dedicated Longstaff won’t be letting that draw his attention away from his responsibilities for Newcastle. Instead he’ll be solely focusing on the immediate future and doing all he can to keep doing everything in his power to propel the high-flying Magpies to great heights while ensuring he’s wholeheartedly contributing and fulfilling his manager’s demands.
If he can do that, the rest will take care of itself.