NEWCASTLE UNITED’S midfield frailties could be further exposed at the weekend with Cheik Tiote struggling to be fit for this weekend’s trip to Chelsea.
The Magpies are still coming to terms with Yohan Cabaye’s departure after he sealed a big-money move to Paris St Germain last month and Tiote is now a doubt for the game at Stamford Bridge after picking up an injury in training.
The Ivory Coast international, who is a summer transfer target of Manchester United, has been one of the Magpies’ leading performers this season, although he endured an off day in last Saturday’s humiliating Tyne-Wear derby defeat to rivals Sunderland.
Even still, Tiote – who has worn the captain’s armband in the absence of Fabricio Coloccini – would be a big miss in his role protecting the back four against Chelsea’s impressive attacking line-up, and his absence would probably mean a switch to a 4-1-4-1 set-up with Vurnon Anita occupying the deepest lying midfield role Moussa Sissoko could also be moved back into the middle, but with Loic Remy still suspended and Yoan Gouffran in his own race to be fit, the lack of midfield options could cause Magpies boss Alan Pardew problems.
Gouffran has missed the last two games through injury, and although he is making progress, early indications suggest the Frenchman is still a doubt for the weekend.
Luuk de Jong has spent a full week training with the Magpies following his loan move from Borussia Monchengladbach, but despite still lacking match fitness, the Dutchman could be handed his first start since arriving last week.
The 23-year-old was a half-time substitute in the Sunderland defeat and Tiote is confident his former Twente team-mate can help the Magpies, who have failed to score in five of their last seven outings.
“I think he's a goalscorer and he can hold the ball up front also,” Tiote told nufcTV “He's a good player and I hope he'll be there a lot because I think we need some good players to score goals.
“At the moment we're not scoring too many goals so I hope he will start scoring for us.”
The Magpies go into this Saturday’s game having won one of their last seven games, but they also go to Stamford Bridge knowing they have already beaten Jose Mourinho’s side this season.
Pardew’s men were 2-0 winners at St James’ Park and Tiote believes his side can spring a surprise having lost once in their four most recent trips to Stamford Bridge.
He said: “It's going to be hard but I think we've got a chance.
“We have some good players in the squad so if we do the right things, we've got a chance to win.
“But it's going to be tough because Chelsea are a good, good, good, good team. It's going to be tough but if we do the right things we've got a chance to win.”
Meanwhile, as the dust continues to settle following Joe Kinnear’s removal, one of Newcastle’s January targets has hinted a move to Tyneside could be beneficial.
Kinnear failed to land Cabella, who opted to remain in France, admits joining Newcastle could provide a springboard for the future.
“I made the right choice to stay in Montpellier. I have goals, I hope to achieve,” Cabella told French broadcaster RMC.
“I was glad that they were interested in me but the most important is being here with Montpellier.
“Our coach says that I should aim to sign for a club that’s more important than Newcastle but Newcastle could be a good springboard.
“If you take Yohan Cabaye for example, he went over there and established himself, then he has come back to PSG.”
Newcastle United's on-loan full-back James Tavernier has been nominated for the Sky Bet League One Player of the Month award.
The 22-year-old is with Rotherham until the end of the season and has been impressing as the Millers continue to climb the table.