What a difference £17m worth of French talent can make.
At the start of January, Newcastle were struggling. From a team chasing a top four finish to a club worryingly close to the relegation places, manager Alan Pardew has turned the whole atmosphere of the club around.
The winter window signings have certainly helped improve the mood and the results at St. James' Park, but the return of Yohan Cabaye has been central to the upturn of fortunes on Tyneside.
The Geordies are still only six points from the relegation places but three wins from four leagues, including an impressive turnaround against Chelsea at the beginning of February, indicates all will be well come the end of the season.
Cabaye picked up a groin injury on November 11. At that point, Newcastle sat 10th in the table. When the Frenchman returned in the middle of January they were 16th and in the middle of a relegation dogfight.
Newcastle missed the ex-Lille playmaker’s creativity, his control on the ball, as well as his assists and goals. He scored against Reading, the 2-1 win over Aston Villa (a first win in six matches) and in the 4-2 win over Southampton yesterday.
Signed for a bargain £4.3m in June 2011, Cabaye was integral to Newcastle’s stunning early season form and eventual fifth-place finish. Moussa Sissoko may be injecting much needed fresh blood into the Newcastle team this year, but his headline grabbing goals are a result of Cabaye’s clinical play.
The addition of more Frenchmen to the team has lifted some of the responsibility from Cabaye’s shoulders and also helped divert the attention of the opposition, giving more space for Cabaye to stimulate the play.
With Cheick Tiote struggling to replicate his form from last season, James Perch a willing but less able player, and Vurnon Anita yet to produce his best in a the black and white shirt, Cabaye has been a big miss in the heart of the Newcastle team.
The attack lacked fluidity that comes with Cabaye’s passing, positioning and reading of the game, while he is not afraid to get stuck in and mix it up in one of the world’s most physical leagues.
The France international’s good work often goes under the radar – hence Newcastle signing a French league winner so cheap – and while others make the headlines Cabaye appears happy to keep playing his game.
The addition of a few goals will no doubt make Pardew a happy man, and probably praying his talisman does not get injured again.
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