When you consider the fact that this time last season the team that was on everybody’s lips to upset the applecart and break into the elusive top four of the Premiership was Newcastle United, it is a wonder to see how rapid their demise has been in a year. After the same amount of games last season Newcastle had sixteen more points and were sixth, just four points off a Champions League spot. Fortunes for the Toon Army have turned on a sixpence and they now find themselves precariously hovering above the relegation zone. There has been all kinds of speculation as to why this transformation has occurred, one of which is a possible lack of transfer funds to spend in the summer just passed; another was the lengthy contract extension Alan Pardew received not long into the season. Some, including myself, are of the persuasion he might not be quite so tenacious as last season now that he has a bumper deal to fall back on. It might be coincidence or an unfortunately timed twist of fate but the Magpies have hardly won a game since the gaffe but pen to paper.
However, it would be remiss to apportion the entirety of the blame on Pardew; there have been several other factors, both on and off the field, which have added to the shortcomings of the Magpies performances of late. Most notably, in terms of personnel, is the distinct lack of their pivotal and talismanic central midfield pairing of Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye. The two created a formidable pairing last season and were the catalyst for Newcastle attaining a Europa League spot. Since the commencement of the 2012-13 season they have only started seven matches together in all competitions (only four in the league). Newcastle have only managed to win five games out of their twenty-one in the Premiership thus far, and two of those arrived with Tiote and Cabaye playing in tandem. Those kinds of figures don’t lie, without the tenacity of Tiote and craft of Cabaye the Tyneside club look to be much weaker and far more vulnerable.
The latest on Cabaye is that he might not be back until the start of February after there was an exacerbation to the groin injury he picked up in November. What’s more is Tiote will be absent from mid-January on international duty at the Africa cup of Nations. Incidentally, should the Ivory Coast make it to the final, on the 10th February, they may potentially be without their midfield engine until their European game at home to Metalist Kharkiv four days later.
With the way the fixtures pan out Newcastle might not see their inspirational midfield pair back together in the league until a home game against Southampton towards the end of February. All this spells bad news for the Magpies, who are on a rotten current run of form, culminating in FA Cup elimination at Brighton on the weekend. Pardew needs to get his pairing back in cohesion as quickly as possible in order to stem the tide of below Par (if you will excuse the pun) performances.
How does that rhyme go; one for sorrow, two for joy? Well perhaps getting these two Magpies back playing together can restore some of that joy on Tyneside.