Isaac Hayden – Newcastle’s unsung hero

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Kieran Harm
Football and NFL Writer. Specialising in the Premier League and Bundesliga

Isaac Hayden, for those of you who don’t know, is a 24-year-old defensive midfielder currently playing his trade at Newcastle United, where he’s played since 2016. He’s tall, rangy and for me, a key and often unappreciated cog in the machine that is Steve Bruce’s Newcastle side.

This season, as he did last year, Hayden has played a vital role in the middle of the park as a ball winning midfielder in a defensive system. In that role, he’s been so important to the team, and this season he’s lead the entire squad in tackles won per game. Hayden wins 2.4 tackles per match, 0.1 more than next best Fabian Schär.

Normally, United play two central midfielders in what would probably be best described as a double pivot system. Usually, there’s one midfielder whose main job is to win the ball back while the other one is more of a ball-playing midfielder such as Jonjo Shelvey or Sean Longstaff.

Hayden and Shelvey
Isaac Hayden and Jonjo Shelvey have forged a decent relationship on the pitch this season, long may it continue eh?

One of the more impressive things I’ve noticed about Hayden is how much he’s developed as a player on the ball in the last two years or so. This season, Hayden has averaged 27.4 passes per game at an average of 78.1% completion – proving he’s not just there to put in tackles, but he can actually play as well.

The fact that only three players in the whole team (Joelinton, Miguel Almiron and Martin Dubravka) have made more appearances than Hayden this season shows just how important he has become to the system that United employ. At this point, I think he is comfortably one of the first names on the team sheet every week for Bruce.

Perhaps my favourite thing about Hayden is his versatility. So far this season, he’s played CM, CDM, RWB, RCB and LCB – that level of versatility is so rare among modern day players. It’s rare you find someone who can play in so many different roles AND be outstanding in each of them.

That said, it’s not all happiness and lollipops with Hayden – he does have drawbacks to his play as well. Most notably, his disciplinary record – while hardly the worst in the league, it has caused issues both this season and last season. This season, he’s picked up three yellow cards and one red card.

The yellow cards, given the role he plays and how much defending he and Newcastle actually do in each game, is genuinely not bad. However, the red card, which came away at Leicester, had a big impact as the team went on to lose 5-0 at the King Power. He was also then suspended for three games which meant Bruce had to cope without his best ball-winning midfielder for games against Manchester United, Chelsea and Wolves.

How does he match up against other Premier League midfielders? Currently, he ranks 12th in the league for tackles with 44. When compared with fellow English midfielder Declan Rice, he comes out on top in a few areas such as blocks and aerial duels won. However, the Hammers midfielder has the edge interceptions, tackles and clearances. That may come from the fact Rice is part of a team who have conceded nine more goals that Newcastle in the league this season (33;24).

Declan Rice has become a regular in the England squad, but is he a better defensive midfielder than Hayden is?

Another obvious comparison to make is Manchester United’s Scott McTominay. This term, Hayden has made 18 appearances to McTominay’s 17 in the league. In those games, Hayden has accumulated more interceptions, tackles, tackles won and has made no errors leading to a goal whereas the young Scot has made one. They have the same amount of blocks but McTominay has more clearances and has won two more aerial duels than Hayden.

Given that Declan Rice is currently a part of the England set up and McTominay was said to be in-line for a call up before he switched to Scotland, it’s very impressive that Hayden’s stats compare so well to that calibre of midfielders.

Based on that, the question should be asked. Should Isaac Hayden be in line for an England call up for the upcoming internationals in March? Let us know in the comments section below.

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