Yohan Cabaye – The Long Ball King?
With the East Stand at St. James Park transforming into a French flag before kick-off, there were many potential reasons as to why the PR department at Newcastle decided to label their game with Southampton as ‘French Day’.
Would it help accommodate those 5 new players who had made the journey over the channel? Possibly.
Was it a brilliant PR exercise that would make the back-pages of all the respected French national papers, further increasing French-Geordie relations? Probably.
Despite these motives, there is an undeniably more important reason as to why St James Park was plastered with French flags and why there was (bizarrely) a French rendition of The Blaydon Races before kick-off.
The idea that it might help in persuading Yohan Cabaye to fend off any interest from Champions League teams and commit his long-term future on Tyneside, is crucial in Alan Pardew’s quest of breaking into the top 4.
Since his arrival, Moussa Sissoko has grabbed the headlines and rightly so. Assisting a goal in his first match against Aston Villa, his incredible home debut against Chelsea, in which he made Ashley Cole look the guy who always wears Sambas in 5-a-side, then another impressive performance against Southampton, has led to many ignoring the massive importance that Cabaye has had upon the team during Sissoko’s purple patch.
In regards to Sunday’s game, it was obvious that Newcastle targeted Southampton’s full backs via long balls and pure pace. In order to do that, Pardew deployed Cabaye as a quarterback in the midfield. Apologies, I hate other sporting references within football but hear me out.
During Newcastle’s slump in recent months, what was noticeable was that there was no one connecting defence and attack, with aimless long balls from Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini sailing over the heads of the midfield. During the Southampton game, the long ball game hadn’t truly disappeared, however it was utilised in a much more productive way, playing Cabaye as a deep midfielder and spraying balls from right to left.
Cabaye’s average pass length was a large 30m which seems unattractive as a football fan. However, two of his long balls resulted in two Newcastle goals. The first released Yoan Gouffran on the wing to attack Nathaniel Clyne, leading to a ricocheted shot falling into the path of Sissoko, 1-0.
Later, Cabaye’s excellent vision culminated in a crossfield ball to Debuchy, whose first time cross was handled by Danny Fox and Cabaye tucked home the penalty to make it 3-2.
Many Newcastle fans have blasted Pardew’s long ball approach seeing it as aimless and highly unproductive. It seems though that Pardew was attempting to play the tactic which was essentially created for Cabaye, without him. Pardew’s tactical analysis has been called into question recently and without a genuine Plan B for when Cabaye is unavailable, those concerns have a genuine argument.
Despite that, Cabaye’s role as a deep lying playmaker was highly successful on Sunday and it’s unsurprising that he created the most chances for Newcastle as highlighted below.
Another part of Cabaye’s play which goes largely unnoticed, is his defensive contribution to the team. Playing relatively deep, he was therefore involved as much defensively as he was offensively. As a natural athlete he’s extremely competent in playing box-to-box and with a hint of tenacity, which can sometimes result in a few ugly challenges, he’s more than adept in helping out defensive midfielder Cheick Tiote and the back four. What is surprising is that Cabaye actually made more of a defensive contribution than left-back Davide Santon.
62.5% of his defensive actions were interceptions, which seems even more important when you consider Southampton’s fast-paced direct approach that they had on offer. Opta noted that Cabaye made the most tackles last season in the Premier League, which is a strange stat considering that he’s largely known as a creative playmaker. Combine his tackling with his interceptions, his creativity and his vision, is it too much to say that Cabaye is a near-perfect central midfielder?
Cabaye’s defensive contributions and his clever variation of passing has helped propel the likes of Sissoko and Gouffran into fan-favourites already. Newcastle will find it a lot harder to create chances and hold a firm grip on a match without Cabaye’s contribution.
Alan Pardew said that ‘French Day’ helped to ease any pre-match fears and tensions, secretly he will be hoping that it will help eradicate his fears of Cabaye playing elsewhere come August.
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