CHEIK Tiote returns to England from the Africa Cup of Nations later today, with Newcastle manager Alan Pardew facing a difficult decision about whether to install the tough-tackling midfielder straight back into the team.
Tiote's ACON involvement came to an end on Sunday evening as Ivory Coast slipped to a 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Nigeria despite the Magpies midfielder claiming his first competitive international goal.
He will fly back into the North-East later today, and is due to return to training on Thursday ahead of the weekend trip to Tottenham.
He will be available for Saturday's lunch-time kick off at White Hart Lane, and Pardew must decide whether to change the side that beat Chelsea at the weekend in order to accommodate his return.
In Tiote's absence, James Perch has acquitted himself excellently alongside Yohan Cabaye, with the duo providing the firm foundation that has enabled Moussa Sissoko to push forward in support of Papiss Cisse.
Pardew has made a point of praising Perch's performances in Newcastle's last two matches, and for all that Tiote continues to be regarded as one of the Magpies' key performers, it would be harsh on his deputy if he was to be dislodged straight away.
Tiote's performances in the first half of the season hardly merit an instant recall. The 26-year-old has struggled to reproduce the standards he set throughout last season, with his distribution in particular regularly going awry.
However, at the peak of his powers, he remains one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League, and a central unit of an in-form Tiote, Cabaye and Sissoko is a mouth-watering prospect.
Therefore, for all that Perch has developed into a reliable performer, it would still be a surprise if Tiote was not named in the starting XI at the weekend.
The make-up of the rest of the starting line-up will be dependent upon what happens in this week's international matches, with nine of Newcastle's senior players due to be representing their country.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa became the latest player to be called up when he was installed into the France squad as a late replacement for injured Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane ahead of tomorrow's game with Germany.
With Cabaye, Sissoko and Mathieu Debuchy also involved, Newcastle boast more players in Didier Deschamps' squad than any other side.
Yoan Gouffran is not in the 23-man party, but the former Bordeaux striker made quite an impression as he made his home debut at the weekend.
He caused a succession of problems cutting in from the left-hand side, and claims he was always confident his new employers were capable of toppling sides such as Chelsea when he agreed to move to the North-East last month.
"When I came to this football club, the gaffer told me the most important thing was to come out fighting," said Gouffran. "There is no other way.
"I personally don't believe that the team or club deserves to be where we are in the table. That's what we as players remember.
"It was very important to come out fighting and show togetherness. Our team has bonded.
"When you come from another league, you need to get in straight away and there is no time to waste. Most importantly, we have shown we can play together and we can improve. We can work hard, and that's the most important thing."
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