In the latest instalment of our Flashback series, Football Transfer Tavern take a look back at a certain moment in a club’s history, to see what conclusions can be drawn or lessons learnt.
Newcastle United have not enjoyed a stellar start to life under new head coach Steve Bruce, with the Magpies yet to win on home soil in any competitive fixture, while their shock triumph at Tottenham Hotspur occurred just a week after a horrid defensive performance away to Norwich City.
If the Toon are to turn their form at St. James’ Park around any time soon, dominating the centre of the field is where Bruce must look to, as Newcastle have spent 49% of their Premier League encounters fighting in the heart of the field, per WhoScored data.
Away from home, this figure drops to 45%, with time spent in the opponent’s defensive third also falling from 27% to 19%, as the North East outfit retreat toward their own goal line in an attempt to batter down the hatches and keep the surging attackers at bay.
Bruce lost a key part of his midfield going into the trip to Liverpool last weekend, though, when Sean Longstaff turned his ankle in training, and is now touch and go whether he will be fit to face Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Shields Gazette).
Should the North Shields-born prospect miss the Seagulls clash, it would be likely that Jonjo Shelvey retains his place in the starting line-up, having returned to the side at Anfield after watching his teammates put Newcastle’s only points of the league campaign on the board against Spurs and Watford (TransferMarkt).
Shelvey was benched for the trip to north London and not favoured against the Hornets as his form against Arsenal and Norwich had been disappointing, with the former England international only contributing two tackles – both against the Gunners – along with zero interceptions, clearances or blocks (WhoScored).
The 27-year-old registered his first interception at Anfield last time out, but the defeat on Merseyside also saw Shelvey pen his second worst pass accuracy rating of the campaign at 78.1%.
It is in times like these when you look at who else could be on offer further down the pecking order, or toward those who have come and gone in recent years. One name Bruce would certainly benefit from would be Yohan Cabaye, a player Newcastle signed from LOSC Lille for £4.3million (BBC) in June 2011.
The Frenchman was the ideal central midfielder for a side often without possession, as he averaged 4.9 attempted tackles per ninety minutes in the Premier League during his three-and-a-half years at St. James’ Park – an average he has maintained throughout his career, per WhoScored data.
Cabaye, now of Saint-Etienne, frequently ranked highly for interceptions per ninety minutes at Newcastle, as well, while offering manager Alan Pardew one of his most creative options, who preferred to play the ball on than try and carry possession forward on his own.
That did not stop the Frenchman from getting on the scoresheet, though, as Cabaye hit four in his maiden campaign on Tyneside, six the following season, and seven in 19 games before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain in 2014 for £19m (BBC).
Slot Cabaye at his peak in alongside a Longstaff or Isaac Hayden today and Newcastle would be far better equipped in their fight for survival, than if Bruce has to rely on Shelvey.
Newcastle fans, who was the Magpies last top central midfielder? Let us know who in the comments below…Like what the TT have on offer? Sign up for more Newcastle notifications!