The natives were restless after Geordie boy Andy Carroll wasn't replaced, but new Frog on the Tyne Yohan Cabaye has put the va-va-voom back into Newcastle.
Newcastle underwent more upheaval during the summer much to the fans’ chagrin, but the capture of Yohan Cabaye has heralded a French-inspired renaissance.
Given, Bassong, Bramble, Duff, Enrique, N’Zogbia, Barton, Jenas, and a certain Mr Carroll. They all left Newcastle United in the hope of bigger and better things, and today they’re all staring up at us in the table. Most of them from a bench.
Bet you didn’t see this coming, did you?
After a(nother) summer of intense turmoil and upheaval, that I’m sure was of great enjoyment to most of you, Newcastle United sit 4th in the Premier League as they approach that all important 10th game of the season. The 10th game being important because, only after that does Match Of The Day’s Lothian Buddha and “Action Man: School Run Extreme” Alan Hansen, allow us mere mortals to even look at the table.
A hefty defeat for us and a victory for Spurs and we drop to 5th, a win and further slip-ups for United and Chelsea and we’d go 2nd. A simply astonishing position to find ourselves in.
Well, sort of astonishing. A number of journalists, myself included, wrote last season about how Alan Pardew looked to be slowly turning Newcastle United away from the direct, physical style of Chris Hughton, into a far more fluid, and pleasing to watch, passing side. After all, you don’t sell the best target men in the entire leage, if you’re not planning on keeping it on the floor in future.
If you’re a little sceptical on this one then look no further than Newcastle’s three best results last season, The 5-1 against the Mackems, the 4-4 with Arsenal, and thumping Villa 6-0. Contained within the 15 goals we scored in those games are three penalties, five corners, two crosses, three long balls humped into the box and nodded down, and two wonder strikes – one of which was lashed in directly from a poorly cleared free-kick.
There’s nothing wrong with playing this way, and indeed we may have struggled to stay in the league last season if we’d been too romantic with the ball, but those were Hughton’s tactics and, whilst I was sad to see the back of him, I feel no such loss for his gameplan.
So, it’s been viva la revolution at St James’s Park this season, albeit a tactical one. Long balls, bypassing the midfield and a reliance on set-pieces have been replaced by a pleasant one-touch, direct running and far more fluid brand of football. I’m delighted, not only because it’s getting us some great results and is much better to watch, but because I called it.
His defensive duties have stopped Tiote being isolated behind the ball and, as a result, the Ivorian is picking up less bookings.
Without tooting my own cock too much, way back in May I wrote an article in which I suggested that Newcastle may have to offload Kevin Nolan if they were to progress as a football team. He’d arguably been our best player for large parts of the season and was, if memory serves, still the first or second highest English goalscorer in the top flight. Naturally I got panned for it.
Friends mocked me in the pub, family members told me to “give yer heed a shake” and even one member of the North-East regional press referred to it as “ridiculous”. But my point was simple, Kevin Nolan was an exceptional player in a direct and physical team, but we were moving in another direction now, and trying to include him in a system that had nobody like Andy Carroll to bring him into the game simply would not work.
Here we are then, some six months later and sitting pretty near the top of the table. And why? Well, partly because we did turf him out, but mostly because of the player brought in to replace him.
Ladies and gentleman, Yohan Cabaye – a man who’s guaranteed a place in the midst of both your football team and your wife’s thighs. With the passing abilities and tempo dictation of Luka Modric, the dead-ball mastery of Robin Van Persie, the vision and imagination of David Silva and the determination and work-rate of Dirk Kuyt, he’s pulled the strings for us in almost every game this season and is fast on his way to becoming something of a cult figure on Tyneside. He’s our very own Geordie Xavi – and he’s considerably easier on the eye than Peter Beardsley.
Whilst the emergence of Tim Krul, the stability of Fabricio Coloccini, the dependability of Cheik Tiote and the timely goalmouth contributions of messers Ba, Best and Ameobi have all played a part, it’s been our French midfield general who’s provided the critical piece in Alan Pardew’s tactical puzzle. Where Kevin Nolan was almost totally dependent on the efforts of Andy Carroll to bring himself into a game, “Dreamboat” is one of those players who quickly becomes the warm centre of a footballing universe that everything else orbits around. Always wanting the ball, and always knowing what he’s going to do with it.
He’s also got the tenacity and self-discipline to help protect his back four, being better able to get about the field and help in his defensive duties have stopped Tiote being isolated behind the ball and, as a result, the Ivorian is picking up less bookings. He’s created something like half of Newcastle’s goal scoring opportunities this season, as well providing three assists and a winning goal. I think I’m in love.
Two weeks ago, and after having only played seven games for the club, news filtered through of a potentially nasty ankle injury he was reported to have sustained on international duty with France. Hearts were in black and white mouths as we waited for news of its severity and tried to remember if Danny Guthrie existed or not. Mercifully it was just a knock, but after a summer of hearing my fellow fans repeat the necessity to blow a hunk of cash on a centre-forward, the cold sweats that greeted the thought of being Cabaye-less for a prolonged period were testament to the instant impact he’s had here.
For almost the exact price that West Ham United boss and jovial imploding walrus, Sam Allardyce, was willing to pay us for our cult Scouse landlord, we’ve replaced him with one of the classiest central midfielders in Europe. So in that sense, a begrudging acknowledgement must be made to the club’s scouting network, transfer policy and new-found refusal to waste money on big-name marquee signings.
Dare I say it? But Mike Ashley might be onto something here…
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