There are many ways that Newcastle United's season has gone sideways in this most current edition of the Premier League. Untimely injuries, chronic neglect of the squad with regards to depth and other related factors have all managed to lump on top of each other and earned us a spot where we sit now. 15th in the league table, out of both domestic cup competitions. On top of all of these factors, players who would have been considered "ever presents" in past seasons and among the more salable assets of the club have struggled to replicate their high level form of previous years. Perhaps the leader of this particular section of the squad is Cheik Tioté. How badly has he struggled for form this season? Let's let Alan Pardew tell you ahead of Cheik's departure to the African Cup of Nations.
"The Cheik of last year would have been a massive miss," Pardew told the Gazette. "But this year he’s struggled a bit. "I’m hoping he can go to the African Cup of Nations and find his best form. "It might not be bad timing for him or us." Teenager Gael Bigirimana – who has impressed in recent weeks – looks set for a run in Newcastle’s team in Tiote’s absence. And James Perch and Vurnon Anita can also play the defensive midfield role normally assigned to Tiote. "We have players who can replace what he’s been doing in Perchie, Bigi and Anita," added Pardew.
I obviously added the emphasis in that quote... but DAMN. After a very very slow start, Vurnon Anita has become one of our better performers this season... a fact that I'm not entirely certain is encouraging. The case could easily be made that this emergence is more related to the lack of form from everyone else as much as it is related to Anita's particular performance even if that might be a touch unfair to the Dutchman. Either way, Old Tiote would have been more than a match for Anita even on Vurnon's best day in a "who should play" competition. How bad has Tioté been? "We have players who can replace what [Cheik]'s been doing in" James Perch and Gael Bigirimana. Bigi is definitely on the star path, although I would submit that his lows have been every bit as low as his highs have been high in recent matches. James Perch... Cheik Tioté replacement. This really tells you everything you need to know.