Over recent weeks, I have noticed a bit of talk developing about the imminent return of our midfield enforcer Cheik Tiote.
Now, normally when Tiote is away from our starting eleven, the common consensus is that he cannot come back soon enough as we tend to lack a bit of bite, fight and desire along with the presence Tiote can bring to the side.
This time however, it seems that the level of excitement over his return is muted to say the least. With his African Cup of Nations duties done and dusted, Tiote is expected to be available for selection against Tottenham Hotspur, which leads me to the point of this article.
Our midfield looks as strong on paper as it ever has (in my opinion) and with Hatem Ben Arfa soon to return, the competition for starting spots is going to heat up. Tiote will more than likely earn a place on the bench against Spurs but if he was to start, the axe will inevitably fall on James Perch. This can be considered unlucky for Perch as he has performed admirably and has really done nothing to deserve being dropped.
So does Tiote really deserve his spot back without having to earn it?
To date this season, Tiote had only played in 13 games which include seven losses, one red card and five yellow cards. So his presence and form on the park before he left for the ACoN was not what it has been in past seasons.
Sorely out of form, he has looked a shadow of the player we have come to know. His reputation as a tough tackler has not gone unnoticed by the referees and when you watch Tiote play, he seems to be one hard tackle away from card trouble. I think some of this is born from frustration at our lack of ability to hold possession of the ball in the middle of the park. When we are playing well, Tiote does seem more at ease with his game.
The following is something I have been thinking about in regards to Tiote coming back and I want to put it out there for discussion.
Now that we have another enforcer type midfielder in the form of Moussa Sissoko and a fully fit and firing Yohan Cabaye, will the stress of being the prime ball winner be taken off the shoulders of Cheik Tiote to a certain extent? Will the imposing presence of Sissoko free the shackles of responsibility from Tiote somewhat and will we see a more measured, level-headed player?
I guess time will tell.
Written by Aussie Magpie Fan