Steven Taylor v Mapou Yanga-M’Biwa
With the boardroom summer circus in full swing once more, Newcastle United fans can be forgiven for discussing little other than the club’s transfer activity and the lack thereof.
As we cross the days off our calendars and begin to wonder if a single loan signing will be our fill, the season opener draws ever-nearer.
Alan Pardew and his troops begin their 2013/14 campaign with a trip to the Etihad, one they will make without new man Loic Remy. The Frenchman’s injury is bad news for Toon fans, though could be good news for either Jonas Gutierrez or Yoan Gouffran, one of whom will start in the wide attacking spot that Remy will surely claim once he returns to full fitness.
The lack of new recruits thus far means that the rest of the team more or less picks itself, with the exception of one position.
Fabricio Coloccini will of course start against City, though who will partner him at the heart of United’s defence is very much up for debate.
It is safe to assume that Mike Williamson’s chances of getting the nod are slim to none at the moment, leaving Pardew with a straight choice between Steven Taylor and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.
Taylor has become a real fan favourite in recent years for obvious reasons – his blood-and-thunder style, his Gallowgate fist pump moments before kick off, his admission that he’d rather collect stamps than play for Sunderland, and his accent. Yes, we all love a Geordie wearing the black and white, but should that really be a factor when it comes to selection?
Taylor is good at what he does, there is no denying that. In fact, his performance against Anzhi in last season’s Europa League was one of the best I’ve seen from a centre half at St. James’ Park. He put his body on the line for the cause, something he does every time he pulls on the shirt.
Certain stats actually suggest that his performance levels were consistently high last year – almost 90% pass completion in open play is something to be proud of.
Most of these passes were across the back four however, and we all know that, stats aside, the big lad is prone to the odd clanger. His needless and ultimately costly handball in the box away to Benfica springs to mind. He does seem to be given a bit of a Geordie pass at times.
If Pardew decides he needs a calmer head in there alongside Colo, in will step Yanga-Mbiwa.
What the ex-Montpellier captain lacks in size he more than makes up for with technique. Fancied by Arsene Wenger (who quite typically threw his toys out of the pram when Newcastle picked him up during the winter window) and a handful of Champions League clubs, Mapou is unlikely to finish his career on Tyneside. He will either establish himself in the premier league with Newcastle then leave for a big fee, or he will grow frustrated at his place in the pecking order and end up leaving anyway.
As comfortable under pressure as he is with the ball at his feet, Mapou is undoubtedly the better footballer. Whether he is a better partner for Colo remains to be seen.
Of course, there is a distinct possibility that both Taylor and Mapou will make the team sheet on Monday night, and it won’t be at Colo’s expense.
Pardew has a tendency to accommodate certain players in unnatural positions. Shola on the wing caused more than a few eyebrows to be raised last year, Jonas seemed undroppable at times, and then there is the riddle of Moussa Sissoko and the number 10 spot. All of this may not bode well for Davide Santon.
The young Italian’s expansive style has come under fire from certain sections of support, perhaps unfairly, perhaps not. In his eagerness to get forward he does sometimes leaves gaps, but does his attacking contribution outweigh his immaturity?
Yanga-Mbiwa has been deployed at left back on more than one occasion since his arrival in January, and if Pardew cannot bring himself to pick a central defensive pairing then don’t be surprised to see three centre backs start with a left back on the bench.
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