Cheick Tiote can be praised as one of Newcastle’s best value for money signings of the Ashley era. When he arrived from FC Twente, the simplicity and ferocity of his play led to almost instantaneous £20 million pound links to the likes of Chelsea. While he showed the capability to lose his head, his dawdling on the ball most noticeably costing Newcastle a goal in a messy loss to Blackburn that saw Joey Barton given a retrospective three match ban. It was testament to his form that fans rarely held his errors against him, as time and time again, his ball winning and ball retention led to many positives for Newcastle. The following season, his partnership with Cabaye was just as important as Demba Ba’s goals.
In a season that has been nothing short of disastrous, Tiote has been a shadow of his former self. Injuries, loss of form, and a lack of intelligence in every respect of his on pitch play runs surprisingly parallel to mistakes the club itself has suffered. While injuries can be described as a factor behind this as he suffered an astonishing 5 injuries affecting calves and hamstrings this season alone. This would easily set a player back in his form, but it is an insufficient excuse to absolve him of blame.
The beginning of Tiote’s loss of form can in my opinion be attributed to comments made by Alan Pardew. His bizzare evaluation of Tiote coincided with a loss of form the next season. Pardew felt that “there is so much more to come from him if we can get him out of just popping it off safely. When he attacks teams and runs at them, he could be as effective for us as Essien is for Chelsea.” It is understandable, to an extent, why Pardew said this. Tiote has always been capable of a lovely cross field pass, and does possess good composure on the ball. However, Pardew has mistaken this as a sign of attacking capability. Tiote does not possesses this capability and ever since his goal against Arsenal, his only noticeable attacks tend to be 30 yard shots high into the stands, or the loss of possession in the opposition half.
While the loss of form of one player can often be expected, it is the wider ramifications of Tiote’s loss of form that has impacted so heavily on Newcastle. One of the key problems for Newcastle has been the shape of the team. With Tiote filled with the idea that he is a midfield maestro, he sprints around aimlessly like a spaniel after a toy. When he does this, Cabaye or his midfield partner is often left alone against 2 or 3 of the opposition midfield alone, and this leads to the dragging of other players out of position. This has led to Newcastle being one of the most easy teams to play through this season. In combination with this, Newcastle’s defense has been truly woeful, lost without the protection that Tiote and Cabaye provided, most memorably in the 2011/12 unbeaten start to the season. Without this cover, Newcastle’s defense has often been inexcusably left isolated. Yet another issue, and the biggest gripe of some Newcastle fans, has been the constant long ball approach of the team. I don’t believe that Pardew has necessarily instructed Newcastle to go long, but the players have been left with limited options to move the ball around. Tiote, in form, is outstanding in constantly going short to players, receiving the ball, and moving it along. By changing his game, and attempting to “evolve” him, Pardew has managed to reduce available options for players, who now panic and boot the ball vaguely in the direction of a forward player, often ineffectively.
The importance of Tiote has been shown this season, both negatively and positively. If Alan Pardew can revert Tiote back to the simplicity he is most effective at, he can go some way towards solving some of the issues that have blighted Newcastle this season, and return one of Newcastle’s most important and talented players to full form.