It has been an indifferent start to the season for Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote, but after five games of the Premier League season the Ivorian’s performance away to Aston Villa has been his best match so far.
It started off with a turbulent pre-season for Tiote. After the tour in America, there were problems with his visa and, as a result, he couldn’t travel with the rest of the squad back to Newcastle and instead travelled to Ghana to resolve the situation. He missed the rest of the pre-season friendlies against Leeds United and Fiorentina and instead trained with Newcastle physio Derek Wright. With Cabaye not being able to travel to America (visa related), our two central midfielders did not have a single pre-season game playing alongside each other and played for the first time together in our season opener at home to Arsenal.
As you can see from the statistics above, Tiote’s average pass completion rate this season of 74% is poor in comparison with last season’s average of 86%. In addition to this, his 50/50 ground duels (42% v 50%) and tackling success (70% v 76%) are also down on last season. Adding to that, on average this season, he has lost possession more often – every 56 mins v 68 mins – and is dribbled past nearly twice as much per game, compared to last season.
Another possible reason for a dip in form could be the festival of Ramadan.
During Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar), Muslims are expected to refrain and abstain from taking in food or liquid, smoking and sex, from dawn until sunset. This year it ran from 1 August to 30 August – three games into the Premier League season.
Although this might not be the definitive answer, other Muslim players such as Nicolas Anelka have noted a difference in their fitness from the effects of fasting and Jose Mourinho substituted Sulley Muntari after 30 minutes stating that Ramadan was a factor.
From the Guardian chalkboards above, you can see that Tiote was more precise with his passing in the game against Arsenal last season (far left). Even though we were down 4-0 at half time, Tiote completed 24 out of 26 passes – an impressive 92%. Our opening game against Arsenal this season, with a poor pre-season and possibly suffering the effects of Ramadan, sees his passing uncharacteristically poor – only 62% of passes reaching their intended recipient.
The far right chalkboard shows Tiote’s debut for Newcastle against Everton at the same time last year with a pre-season and a few league games under his belt, for his former team FC Twente, and also a week after Ramadan. In this game he made 46 out of 47 passes – a near perfect 98%.
Against Aston Villa, Tiote showed signs he was returning to his best form. His passing rate of 84% was his highest of the season, he made 8 interceptions and was successful in all of his tackles. He also created the chance for Leon Best, which ultimately led to his goal. Although his reputation of a hard man precedes him, his 50/50 ground tackle rate has been poor in both seasons – this season at 42% and last season at only 50%. Compare this to Yohan Cabaye who already has a success average of 59% in his debut season, and Steven Taylor who has the highest at the club with a success rate of 64%.
It is encouraging to see that Cheick Tiote is improving with each game. He had an excellent game last Saturday that saw him touch the ball more times than Aston Villa’s central midfield partnership of Stilian Petrov and Fabien Delph put together, although there were still a few times where a slack pass or being caught in possession lead to a Villa attack. Hopefully, now with enough games under his belt and the end of fasting for Ramadan, we will see a return to form for Cheick Tiote, as he and Yohan Cabaye can possibly form one of the best central midfield partnerships in the Premier League this season and help Newcastle United improve on last season’s 12th place finish.
Author: Colin Chow - Newcastle United supporter and blogger. Lover of all things football, especially the tactics and stats behind the game.
Twitter: For more from Colin you can follow him on Twitter: @avaehe
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