N’Golo Kante, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Fernandinho, Christian Eriksen, Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho.
As baptisms of fires go, Sean Longstaff’s introduction to life a as a Premier League midfielder was warmer than a late-February afternoon in London.
His first five league starts for Newcastle- against Chelsea, Cardiff, Man City, Spurs and Wolves- forced the 21-year-old to decipher some of the best midfield minds the top flight has to offer.
Newcastle’s tally of seven points from those five games, including a 2-1 win against Man City in which Pep Guardiola admitted ‘we could not deal with Newcastle’s holding midfielders’, tells you all you need to know about how well Longstaff did.
Longstaff has since played all but five minutes of Newcastle’s consecutive 2-0 wins against Huddersfield and Burnley.
In the latter, Rafael Benitez withdrew him with five minutes to play in order to inhale the adulation of the St James’ Park faithful, in front of whom he’d just scored his first Premier League goal.
Not bad for a player who spent last season on loan at Blackpool, and the campaign prior to that battling it out in the Scottish Premiership with Kilmarnock.
Much was made about Miguel Almiron’s record-breaking arrival, but Longstaff emergence has given equal reason for cheer on Tyneside. This is, after all, a local lad born in North Shields.
Longstaff is a rare breed. He’s an English youngster starting regularly in the Premier League who is yet to be capped at any level.
When you watch him play, it’s quite easy to see how the midfielder has gone under the radar internationally.
Longstaff does everything with maximum efficiency and minimum fuss. There’s nothing particularly flashy about his game, but at the same time there’s no screaming weaknesses.
Unless you were specifically tasked with watching Longstaff, you could come away from a game without realising he’d played.
But then you would miss the composure with which he operates. One moment in which he opened his body to resist De Bruyne’s press sticks out. It was nothing major, but it showed a player who constantly has a clear mental picture of what’s happening around him.
His first league goal was another prime example of what he’s all about. The youngster stepped into midfield to rob Burnley of possession, played it simple and early before moving into the box, where he finished with two authoritative touches.
One man who definitely would have been watching, in one form or another, is Gareth Southgate.
International football runs in Longstaff’s family. His father’s cousin, Alan Thompson, is a one-cap wonder, although a career spent mostly at Celtic deserved more international recognition.
With England lacking for options in the centre of midfield, something will have gone very wrong if Longstaff doesn’t quickly eclipse Thompson’s international tally.
One thing is for certain: Longstaff is no longer flying under the radar.
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