Miles Starforth of The Shields-Gazette is reporting that Cheik Tiote has been declared out for Newcastle's match with Chelsea on Saturday. Tiote, who is dealing with ligament damage - the extent of which is largely unknown - in his knee and hasn't played since October 22 (against Wigan) as a result. Tiote is a key cog in the Newcastle machine, and though they have played relatively well without him, news of the holding midfielder's absence is a blow to their chances to take points from the fifth-place Blues.
Alan Pardew was mostly guarded in the quote he gave Starforth, refusing to commit to a timeline for Tiote's return:
Cheik won’t be involved on Saturday, and I’m not going to say he’ll play a week later. We’ve got to make sure he’s right – he’s a very important player for us.
Danny Guthrie has been Tiote's replacement for the last five games, and though he had an injury scare himself two weeks ago, should be fit for this match. He will play alongside Yohan Cabaye in midfield. Cabaye has a certain chemistry with Tiote that he has been unable to reproduce with Guthrie, as the two slog through games barely taking notice of each other. Alan Pardew has experimented with different midfield tactics to try to get them going, and though they still lacked connection last week at Manchester United, the combination of Guthrie on the left and playing recessed from Cabaye has been the most positive formation.
Whoever ends up playing the more forward role may have the unenviable job of marking Oriol Romeu, who last week played the role of Chelsea's distributor when they built from the back. The other will deal with Ramires, who can play sort of a trequartista role. This job would have been a lot easier done with Tiote, and now it seems Newcastle have even more of an uphill battle when it comes to winning key matchups down the middle.