Alan Pardew is ready to go on the attack at the Stadium of Light on Sunday – and keep faith with Hatem Ben Arfa in an attacking role.
The Newcastle boss had privately questioned Ben Arfa’s suitability to play in an attacking system away from St James’ Park, and axed the forward at Cardiff in an attempt to stop his team from being so open.
But the United manager is ready to retain the offensive system which prompted one of their best performances for months on Saturday, and that will mean Ben Arfa will get another opportunity to shine against Newcastle’s deadliest rivals.
It would be a major show of faith in Ben Arfa, who was one of Newcastle’s quieter players in their draw against Liverpool. The coaching staff came to the conclusion that they were giving the ball away too much in areas where he was playing but Pardew recalled him last week after seeing a major upturn in his contribution on the training ground.
It looks like he has done enough to retain his position in the team as Pardew looks to avenge last season’s 3-0 reverse.
Ben Arfa is likely to be partnered by Youan Gouffran and in-form Loic Remy in a repeat of the three-pronged forward line that looked so promising against Liverpool. That will spell disappointment for Papiss Cisse, whose continued struggles in front of goal are a cause for a concern in the Newcastle camp.
Picking Ben Arfa would be another bold move by the Newcastle boss, who believes that Gus Poyet will have to attack in his first Wear-Tyne derby. In his appearance on Goals on Sunday earlier this month he warned that Poyet’s team would carry a threat because he would set them up in an attacking style – but privately he believes there will be opportunities to catch them on the counter-attack.
Not that Pardew is expected to stoke the fires of the derby. The Newcastle boss has ordered his players to concentrate on their football in the run-up to Sunday’s game in order to avoid stoking up derby passions, and avoid a repeat of Steven Taylor’s explosive pre-derby interview last season.
Even skipper Cheick Tiote is pledging to take some of the sting out of his game after a return to form that has been in equal measure unexpected and welcome.
He acknowledged that there had been criticism levelled at him and his team-mates in recent weeks but said he was relishing answering back. “There is no escape from the criticism if we lose games. It is hard. But we know we have good players in this team. If everybody is focused we will do well,” he said.
“The only way we can answer people is by winning. If we lose we have to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes. We have been trying to do that in the last few games. We must stay compact as a team and stay together. If we do we’ll win the game.”
Meanwhile, it has been reported that Fabricio Coloccini may face eight weeks on the sidelines with his groin injury.
United are yet to officially comment on the timescale of his injury but The Journal revealed on Tuesday that he is back in Argentina, having picked up the groin problem while away on international duty.
It is understood that the defender has the club’s permission to be away from Tyneside but the injury appears to be more severe than first thought.
Coloccini has been a tower of strength so far this season, but his presence in Argentina is bound to spark fresh fears about the player’s homesickness, which brought him to the brink of a St James’ Park exit last year.
The club have stressed that he has their permission to go.