At the same point last season, I wrote about Yohan Cabaye and how the early signs looked promising for our newly acquired French midfielder. With a difficult start to the season, including a visit from Arsenal on the opening day of the season and a Tyne-Wear derby to boot as well, by the time the international break came at the beginning of September, Cabaye – alongside Tiote – looked composed and influential as the central hub of the team.
It has been a slow and sluggish start for Cabaye in his second season at Newcastle – funnily enough, Tiote experienced similar last season. After a busy first season, where Cabaye played 38 games in all competitions, he then played in the European Championships, where he featured in three out of the four matches and as a result of a busy summer, he has only managed limited playing time in pre-season.
With Cabaye not yet up to match fitness when the season kicked off, he has managed 71 minutes against Spurs, 77 minutes against Chelsea and finally completed a full game against Aston Villa on Sunday – although neither game has seen his usual busy self.
It is noticeable in the games this season that he’s struggled to influence the game further up the field (see below). In particular against Fulham last season, Cabaye spent the majority of the game in Fulham’s half, spreading the ball across the midfield, creating chances and controlling the game.
On the first day of this season, Tiote and Cabaye struggled to gain control of the midfield, being outnumbered by Spurs’ central midfield trio. Pardew changed the formation at half time, to match Spurs’ three in central midfield, which then allowed Cabaye to play further forward with Tiote and Gutierrez protecting the back four.
Against Villa, he was ineffective in the middle and after Bigirimana came on, Ben Arfa drifted into a more central position and consequently, Cabaye was shifted to the right hand side of the pitch and was unable to influence and dictate the pace of the game from that side.
One other noticeable aspect is the lack of chances being created by Cabaye. In his first three games last season, he was Newcastle’s most creative player, making a quarter of Newcastle’s chances (5/20) compared to this year, where he has only created one solitary chance for his team mates.
Defensively, the statistics suggests that his energy levels are not up to the high standard that he produced in the same period last season.
He successfully made more tackles in the same period last season (11/16 v 7/12) and was significantly more successful in his ground duels as well (20/29 v 13/25). Last Sunday against Villa, he was only successful in 36% of his ground duels and was one of the contributing factors in Newcastle not being able to get a control of midfield. Although, Newcastle’s midfield was experiencing a bad day at the office, as Ben Arfa was successful in 31% (4/13) and Gutierrez in 36% (5/14) of their ground duels. One of the few positives that day was debutant 18 year old Gael Bigirimana who completed 75% (3/4) of his ground duels.
It’s a shame that Cabaye has been called up to the French squad this international break, as it would have been beneficial for the player and club had he remained to work on his fitness. Along with the Premiership fixtures, he has also travelled away to Greece in the Europa League as an unused substitute.
“You ask about some of my players not in form, Cisse and Cabaye have been playing almost 11 months. That is a lot of football. We have to rest them and get them back to form.”
It’s hard to see when Cabaye and the others will get that chance. With important games, including the Europa League coming thick and fast this season – it’ll be a test not only for Cabaye, but for the whole of the Newcastle squad, who have already experienced injury worries at this early stage of the season.
Personally, I think Cabaye would be better suited in a 4-3-3 formation. In the modern game of football, where 4-4-2 is pretty much a thing of the past, teams are playing with five across midfield and previously, Cabaye and Tiote have struggled to cope with three central midfielders – see Tottenham on the opening day.
By adding Gutierrez into central midfield, it allows Cabaye to play further up field and concentrate on feeding balls through to our forward men. But as with Tiote’s poor start to last season, I’m sure that Cabaye will regain his full fitness and start to play to his ability.
Cabaye Pitch Maps for 12/13 season via Squawka.com
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