The questions regarding the Defensive/holding midfield position for the 2013-14 edition of Newcastle United do not at all revolve around "who' but are more in the vein of "if". Since his purchase from FC Twente in August of 2010, he has been as ever-present as injury, suspensions and the "we're going to switch the pattern of the Africa Cup of Nations so we'll just have it every year for a while" situation have allowed. Tiote is about as divisive a character as there is in the current squad. Folks either love him or loathe him.
Make no mistake - when Cheik Tiote is at his very best and is not encumbered by his reputation with the Premier League refs (who seem to card him based on reputation instead of what has actually occurred on the pitch) he is nearly without peer at the holding midfield position. /Aside: Ref prejudice case in point: I believe it was Howard Webb who watched a situation, blew for a foul and then several beats later, after seeing Tiote's number, pulled the yellow card./ When the Newcastle defense has been at its best over the past two years, it is no coincidence that Tiote is playing at his best in front of them.
The difficulty with Chiek is that when he is off, he is really off. He mistimes challenges, which is a problem when refs are looking for a reason to card you anyway. When he is off, it would not by hyperbole to say he is terrible on the ball. Frequently last season you would see him being dispossessed in the Newcastle half of the field (or make a bad pass to turn the ball over) which would turn into a goal-scoring opportunity for the opposition. If Tiote doesn't get back to his best... it's pretty thin if you're set on playing a CDM.
Bigi has been picking up call-up after call-up for the England U21s (if not cap after cap) and really sits as the only true CDM on the roster for Newcastle at this point. The early summer sale of cult favorite James Perch seems to be an implicit endorsement by the club of exactly where they feel he is development-wise and he certainly showed flashes of why they might feel that way in some of the playing time he was given in the 2012-13 season. He to this point is still the only player I've ever heard of that is willing to take Cheik Tiote on in training... so that's got to say something, right?
The difficulty with Bigi is that he was sometimes exposed by better opposition - perhaps not in terms of skill or knowledge but maybe more in terms of the naivety of youth. (For instance, the second goal in the December match v. Man Utd) If he is able to get up to speed, you really wouldn't feel very bad about him stepping in for Tiote.
The purchase of the Dutch midfielder from Ajax was immediately interpreted by Newcastle supporters as paving the way for Cheik Tiote's departure. Two things have happened since then. 1) Cheik Tiote has not left. 2) Vurnon Anita has been shown to not be a CDM. Part of this is they physicality of the Premier League. Part of this is that he has exhibited other skills - attacking prowess, movement... ability to pick out passes and play useful attacking balls. Alan Pardew is stubborn, but I don't think that he is that stubborn.
More from Coming Home Newcastle:
- Newcastle United aren't anybody else: When comparing Premier League teams to their American counterparts goes wrong
- Premier League 2013-14 Team-By-Team Preview: Liverpool
- Newcastle United Left Backs: Young But Talented
- Premier League 2013-14 Team-By-Team Preview: Tottenham Hotspur
- Fabricio Coloccini And His Band Of Merry Men - Eleven Days of Newcastle #3: Center Back