Newcastle United: In Defence of Cheick Tiote

 

Image used under Creative Commons (c) Ailura

Image used under Creative Commons (c) Ailura

Much has been made of Newcastle’s poor performance in the Premier League this season. Following last year’s overachievement and fifth place finish, expectation coming into the new season was high. Yes, it was disappointing that the club failed to add extra quality to the squad in the summer but they did hold on to the key stars that helped the club qualify for the Europa League.

One such star was Cheick Tiote, but his performances this season have come under significant criticism from the Geordie faithful. Indeed, a number of sports polls have indicated that his form has been one of the top ten disappointments across the league this season. This just 18 months after Tiote dominated the Manchester United midfield in Newcastle’s 3-0 victory in January 2012. So what’s changed?

That Newcastle have underperformed this season is obvious. The total points total is a massive 24 points fewer, the goals have dried up at one end (45 goals for versus 56 last season) yet poured in at the other (68 goals against versus 51 last season).

As the club’s number one holding midfielder, Cheick Tiote is primarily responsible for breaking up the opposition’s play and initiating attacks from the defensive third. The following statistical analysis compares Tiote’s key defensive and passing stats from this season to those of last season to help determine the extent to which the criticism of Tiote’s performances this season are fair.

Breaking up play

From the comparison of key defensive stats it seems that Tiote continues to attempt to tackle and break up play with broadly the same frequency as last season. However, that Tiote wins a greater percentage of ground 50-50s (47% this season compared to 42% last season), aerial 50-50s (55% and 42% respectively) and tackles (75% success rate versus 67% last season) is surprising. While this could be a function of Newcastle being on the back foot more often and thus requiring more from their midfield man the stats would appear to suggest that Tiote has actually improved his game in this respect.

Chieck Tiote defensive statistics comparison between 2011 and 2012

tiote statsSource: Opta

Initiating attacks

On the terraces there is a perception that Tiote is a bit of a liability on the ball. It is true he has made more errors leading to immediate goal-scoring opportunities for the opposition this season (4 versus 1 last season). However, this season Tiote has lost possession, on average, every 70 mins compared to 66 mins last season, and has been dispossessed with less frequency (every 44 minutes rather than every 30 minutes last season).

Tiote’s open play pass completion has marginally improved (84% this season compared to 83% last season). However, it is worth noting that the frequency of passes made by Tiote into the final third has increased from one every 7.4 minutes last season to one every 6 minutes this season. Furthermore, the success of passes made by Tiote into the final third has decreased from 63% to 57%.

Verdict

It is clear that Newcastle have had a poor season and that frustration has crept onto the terraces. Fans are entitled to their own views, and some have identified the form of Cheick Tiote as one of the many reasons for the club’s poor performance over the past twelve months.

My view is different. Based upon the statistics presented above it is obvious that Newcastle’s problems have been more widespread than Tiote. Indeed, an argument could be made that Tiote has actually upped his game this season. He wins the ball more regularly and retains it with broadly the same frequency as last season when he was lauded.

If there is to be a criticism of the midfielder then it might be that he has been caught in possession in dangerous parts of the pitch too frequently, or that he has too readily sought to pass into the final third. Perhaps this is a result of his own frustrations, over compensating for the regular absences and poor form of Yohan Cabaye, or even because he is carrying out a more direct instruction from Alan Pardew. Either way, while Tiote should seek to improve these elements of his game if he is to develop as a player and perform to the level of others in his position, such as Carrick, Luiz and Arteta, the positives still outweigh the negatives.

If Newcastle repeat the feat of keeping their so-called big players on Tyneside this summer then Tiote could still have a big role to play as the club looks to bounce back next season.

 

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