Friday, 10 January 2014

The State of Newcastle United’s French Revolution

Last January, languishing in 15th position and still in the Europa League Newcastle United looked across the channel to bring in fresh faces in an attempt to stave off relegation and strengthen a paper thin squad. They ended up bringing in 5 French players, bringing the total number in the squad to 9.

To some extent the plan worked, the club stayed up and reached the quarter finals of the Europa League. But at times losses and rumours of a divided dressing room were attributed to the influx of French players, the French revolution was hardly a complete success.

Given the strains of the Premier League and how it differs from Ligue 1, in terms of the demanding schedule and its physicality it’s hardly surprising that the January signings took a while to settle in. Here we look at the impact the five players have had and whether or not their signings have been a success.


Massadio Haïdara

Haïdara is certainly one for the future, he’s just 21 and the left back has looked impressive when he’s been given chances by Pardew. The battle for left back could be an intriguing one in the coming years, with the emergence of Paul Dummett and Haïdara looking to challenge Davide Santon’s current stake for the position.

He’s made just 5 substitute appearances this season and injuries have rather plagued his Newcastle career, most notably the one following a strong challenge from Callum McManaman at Wigan last season which caused a touch line fracas. Against Stoke his balls in to the box caused all sorts of problems and he certainly has the advantage over Santon in that he is left footed.

Given that Newcastle paid a reported £2m for the French Under 21 player it’s likely that he’ll be given chances in the future and it’s up to the player to impress when he does. With the injury to Coloccini and suspension of Debuchy he could get his chance in the coming weeks and it’ll be interesting to see whether or not he can make a real impact.


Mathieu Debuchy

Debuchy was probably the most recognisable of the 5 players brought in, given his exploits for France in Euro 2012. Despite his international pedigree, at times last season he looked less like an international footballer and more like a non-league player.

This season, however, he has been a revelation. He’s started 19 of Newcastle’s 20 league games, missing one through suspension. He’s been part of a relatively settled back four which has conceded just 25 goals. Making 3.2 tackles per game, the second highest in the squad, behind Tiote, Debuchy has established himself as an integral part of the Newcastle defence.

Debuchy has been equally impressive going forward, he’s added another dimension to Newcastle’s attack and seems to have developed a strong understanding with Moussa Sissoko. He’s averaging 1.2 shots a game, an improvement from the 0.4 he averaged last year. He has also scored his first competitive goal for the club in the Tyne Wear derby defeat to Sunderland and has provided 2 assists whilst going forward (in the 14 games he played last year he provided 0 assists). Equally important his average pass completion has improved from 69.3% per game to 73.0% from last season. 

If there is one problem in his game it’s certainly his disciplinary record, he’s received 6 yellows already this season and his dismissal in the game at West Brom was partly to blame for the defeat. This means he’ll have missed 4 Premier League games through suspension so far this season, which will hamper both his and Newcastle’s progress. In the 14 Premier League games Debuchy played for Newcastle last year he received 2 yellow cards and 1 red, so there’s no real sign of any improvement there. This is something Pardew will surely be looking to address.

It’s strange that last season he had competition with Danny Simpson for the right back spot but this season he is the only out and out right back in the squad but his performances have flourished. Perhaps it’s just that it took him time to settle into the Premier League or maybe the lack of competition, the playing regularly and the responsibility that this entails has driven him to reach his full potential. Also with the World Cup looming on the horizon, he’ll be wanting to deliver top performances to ensure a place in Les Blues squad, although at the moment this doesn’t look like being a problem.

Moussa Sissoko

Moussa Sissoko burst on to the scene at Newcastle and was particularly impressive in his first few games last season. Scoring twice against Chelsea to secure a 3-2 home win and providing two assists against Villa on his debut many thought Newcastle had signed a real star. After that he went off the boil somewhat and looked lethargic at times.

This season he seems to have recaptured some of his earlier form and has been one of Newcastle’s more consistent performers. The fact that he has featured in all 20 of Newcastle’s Premier League games says something about the levels of performance the Frenchman has put in. He has been consistently one of Newcastle’s better performers and is someone Pardew has come to rely on.

He’s managed to keep fellow Frenchman Hatem Ben Arfa out of the team, this seems to be due to his defensive capabilities and whilst he doesn’t have the flair of Ben Arfa he has strength and power in abundance and has clear ability going forward. This is shown by the fact that he has scored one goal and provided 4 assists for his teammates, the most in the Newcastle squad.  This season has seen the regular deployment of Sissoko on the right of a more advanced midfield 3, I think this accounts for the decrease in his goal tally and increase in the number of assists as from a wider position he has been able to provide quality service for his team mates. 


Yoan Gouffran

When he was signed from Bordeaux for just £500,000 not much was known about Yoan Gouffran and expectations weren’t particularly high. He was seen as a stop gap and certainly no replacement for Demba Ba. Last season he scored 3 goals in 15 appearances, which did little to dispel this opinion. Also he was unfortunate enough to look a bit like Obertan, which hardly helped matters.

This season he’s featured in every Premier League fixture, starting 16 games and appearing as a substitute 4 times, underlining his importance to Alan Pardew’s team. His current run of form will make it very difficult for Jonas Guttierez to break his way back in to the team.

 Gouffran’s scoring record is considerably better than that of his Argentinian colleague, Gouffran has scored 6 goals this season, that’s one every 3.67 games and as many as Guttierez has scored in 140 Premier League games. Five of these came in five consecutive games at St James’ Park, a feat only achieved by Alan Shearer previously. He is currently the squad’s second highest goal scorer and has provided two assists and has an impressive average pass accuracy of 84%. Defensively he’s more impressive than Ben Arfa, although he is at times sacrificed for the attacking talent of his compatriot. His work rate has won him many fans and he is averaging 1.3 tackles per game, which is good for a more attack minded player. 

A consistent run in the team has allowed Gouffran to achieve his potential and he’ll be hard to leave out of the team at this rate. With Gouffran it’s certainly been a case of allowing him time to adjust to the English game, but now he seems settled in well and fits in well with the current system employed by Alan Pardew. He should get in to double figures for the season and if his good form continues he may attract attention from larger clubs. Given the small amount paid for Gouffran, Newcastle have found a real gem and he could be priceless to Pardew in the coming months.

Mapou Yanga Mbiwa

The 24 year old centre back was seen by many as the natural replacement for Coloccini, who last year seemed destined to return to his native Argentina. However, Alan Pardew persuaded club captain Coloccini to stay and that alongside the impressive form of Mike Williamson has rather limited the opportunities for Yanga Mbiwa.

In his time at Montpellier, Yanga Mbiwa won the Ligue 1 trophy and showed his pedigree in Champions League fixtures. The player certainly has the assets necessary to develop in to a top centre back and this is something Pardew and Newcastle will be hoping happens. The number of tackles he has made has dropped from 2.4 per game to 1.5 per game this season compared to last, whilst the number of interceptions per game has increased from 1.4 to 1.9. This indicates more positional awareness which comes with maturity and a better reading of the game.

He’s one perhaps for the future, earlier in the season Pardew said he thought centre backs reached their peak in their 30s so the manager will certainly think so. When he has had to deputise due to injuries or suspension he has at times looked a bit naïve and calamitous. Especially in the games against Everton, where he was torn apart by Lukaku and subsequently substituted at half time, and Liverpool where he was sent off.

That said, there is a lot of potential there, he has shown he can fill in anywhere along the back four and has played in all positions so far this season. His versatility is something that should stand him in good stead in the future, as it will give him a better understanding of the game and should improve his reading of the game. He also put in an excellent display in the one nil victory away at Spurs and helped to keep a clean sheet against Chelsea as well. In the games he has started this season Newcastle have kept 4 clean sheets.

By playing alongside the experienced Coloccini you’d expect him to pick up a few things and I think when the Argentinian does move on it’ll be the Frenchman who’ll replace him. With the Argentinian out with a knee injury for up to 6 weeks it’s likely that Yanga Mbiwa will get a chance to deputise and should he impress he could well keep his place in the side. I think the club would look at him as one of their stars of the future and ­he is certainly someone who could be key in the coming weeks and months. What he really needs is to add consistency to his game and this is something that’ll come from playing regularly in the team. The signs are there that the young man will occupy the centre of Newcastle’s defence for years to come.


This season Newcastle have 33 points from 20 games, just 8 less than they managed in the whole of last season. It’s safe to say that this is down in part to the settling in of the French players brought last January (although they aren’t entirely to credit for Newcastle’s performances).

Alan Pardew seems to be fostering a real team spirit in the club and the French influx of players is central to this, whether or not this current contingent of players will be added to in this transfer window remains to be seen, but if the quality is similar to those who have been bought in previously I’m sure not to many Newcastle fans will be complaining.  

Statistics courtesy of

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