Newcastle United’s elegantly-inconsistent midfield is in danger of becoming a luxury they can ill-afford.
On their day, a combination of Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sissoko and Cheick Tiote should be capable of moulding any match in the land. A potent mixture of gritty endeavour married with attacking enterprise, it is well within their wit to grasp a game and turn it in Newcastle’s favour.
The worry is that increasingly, it is difficult to predict exactly when Newcastle’s day is. From sublime against Liverpool to wretched at Sunderland, Newcastle’s engine room still needs some serious tinkering.
Considering Alan Pardew spent the entire summer trying to come up with a system that would fire Newcastle out of the mediocrity which descended last season, it must be a worry for the United boss that his team continues to perform under their own ability. On Sunday, they looked less than the sum of their parts again – just as they had done at Manchester City on the opening day and Everton last month. It is a major anxiety. The problem for United’s under-fire boss is that his team’s performances do not match the pedigree of their starting XI. Sissoko has a tendency to go missing and it is galling to see a player who carried so much authority at the start of his spell on Tyneside dissolve in the big-match atmosphere on Wearside.
Ben Arfa, too, was a diminished presence at the Stadium of Light. He is a wonderful player but his confidence and influence has eroded since Pardew hauled him off at Goodison Park. He spent much of Sunday on the wing, a role that seems unsuited to him.
Cabaye has been outstanding of late but his performances returned to petulance at Sunday. He does not look like captaincy material at the moment.
It is interesting that Newcastle have benched Vurnon Anita over the last few weeks. The Holland midfielder gave the team some balance and bite when he was in the team but he was dropped after Everton.
Anita is not one of the big noises in the dressing room and is unlikely to kick up much of a fuss at being axed. But it does feel as if Newcastle need to start to inject some balance into their midfield engine room again – or risk further inconsistency.