“Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.” - Donald Trump
Newcastle Manager Alan Pardew has a selection dilemma ahead of his side’s trip to Everton on Monday night with Cheick Tiote fit and ready for Premier League action once again. Newcastle slumped to a disappointing home defeat to Hull City on Saturday when a win would have fired The Magpies into joint 2nd place. Mike Ashley and Joe Kinnear were in the stands of St James’ Park to see their sole summer signing Loic Remy give Newcastle the lead twice yet still manage to throw away three points. For their part, Steve Bruce’s men played well. Sone Aluko scored the goal of the weekend and along with Robbie Brady caused the home team problems all day.
Man of the Match, however, was former Spurs midfielder Tom Huddlestone, who had the freedom of St James’ Park to orchestrate attacks and counter-attacks and if Danny Graham had worn his shooting boots, it could have been worse.
The problem was Newcastle allowed Hull to play.
Where was the closing down? Where was the urgency? Where was the intensity and the man getting in the opposition’s face and breaking up the passing rhythm? I’ll tell you where it was and where he was - on the bench - for Cheick Tiote is the player Newcastle sorely missed on Saturday.
Tiote Is The Answer
Newcastle’s strongest midfield includes Cheick Tiote. The team is crying out for the way he pressures the opposition and doesn’t let anyone settle or have time on the ball. The Premier League is a tough division, you have to earn the right to play before you can do so and on Saturday afternoon, Newcastle simply didn’t do that. Anita doesn’t do enough defensively and Sissoko, as Newcastle fans saw against Chelsea in the 3-2 in March, is at his best when running at the opposition and making things happen offensively.
As a box to box midfielder, he can defend and tackle yet not in the same vein as Tiote, whose entire game is based around stopping the opposition play: a role currently vacant in our line-up. Think back to his Man of the Match display against Man United in the 3-0 when at the top of his game he bullied Wayne Rooney and Fergie’s entire line-up that night. Every team needs a defensive midfielder especially in an ultra-competitive division like The Premier League which is blessed with more exciting, attacking players even in the so-called lesser teams each season.
In Defence Of Tiote
A superb article, ‘In Defence Of Tiote’ by James Bailey shows the Ivorian enforcer actually improved statistically in 2012/3 from his much-hailed 2011/2 performances when he was spoken of in the £20M transfer bracket. He won more tackles and 50/50s both on the ground and in the air than he had done when Newcastle finished 5th.
However, he did make more errors that directly led to goal-scoring opportunities last year than two years previously - 4 in 2012/3 compared to just 1 in 2011/2 – a symptom of Newcastle not playing well. Yet he lost the ball less frequently last year than the previous season – on average every 70 minutes in 2012/3 compared to 66 minutes in 2011/2. His pass completion rate improved from 83% completed in 2011/2 to 84% in 2012/3 and he made more final third passes last season. Critics of Tiote label him a liability due to his yellow and red card record yet at the same time, there are calls for more passion and commitment from the players.
While Newcastle’s defence looks water-tight one week and porous the next, Tiote sitting in front of them providing extra protection and steel in the midfield would go a long way to strengthening the team. His recent yellow card statistic is one booking in 10 games which translates into a player that has learned his disciplinary lesson and is ready to give the team his valuable contribution. Naturally, all good midfield stoppers like David Batty before him in the black and white stripes get their fair share of bookings – it’s an occupational hazard. Yet I’d rather the odd yellow card or 10 over the course of a season to opposition teams playing unchallenged on a match day in Newcastle’s own backyard.
On Saturday, Debuchy was rightly criticised for leaving his right-back post for the opening Hull goal yet he was guilty of sensing the danger posed by the opposition no. 24 – Aluko – running freely on the edge of the area during a dangerous attack. If Newcastle’s no. 24 - Tiote - was on the pitch, he wouldn’t have been sucked into the middle as Cheick would be in his deep-lying midfield place and the team would have its natural defensive shield.
Anita naively dived in and gave the free-kick away leading to the second goal when the attacker was moving away from the goal and was not in danger. Likewise for the 3rd goal, it’s a superb strike from Aluko on the edge of the area yet Anita doesn’t bother tracking back and Sissoko simply doesn’t get tight enough. Tiote provided that on Wednesday night against Leeds when the only meaningful opposition chance arose when Anita allowed Ross McCormack to run past him unchallenged to shoot.
Tiote’s Time Has Arrived
All the qualities that make Tiote an Ivory Coast international with 3 titles and 2 cups on his CV are what Newcastle lack and what he uniquely possesses in the squad.
‘Getting stuck in’ may not be the technical term yet its what Newcastle desperately need right now else The Magpies will be lambs to the slaughter away to an ever-tough Everton side on Monday and be viewed as a Premier League soft touch by everyone. Restore him to the side and watch Newcastle tighten up and kick on to a very good season.