As Newcastle struggled to find a scorer to complement Loic Remy, Yohan Cabaye’s importance to the Magpies grew. Coming into today’s game, the Paris Saint-Germain-bound midfielder — the team’s main creative presence — was second on the team in scoring, his seven goals reflecting the team’s increased dependence on his scoring as well as his creativity. How Newcastle played against Norwich on Tuesday would be our first chance to assess whether they can cope with him.
While the 0-0 final was discouraging, the underlying play wasn’t. Newcastle dominated for most of the game, and while they were only able to put three shots on goal, a series of near misses meant finishing chances, not generating them, was the problem. With Moussa Sissoko playing at the tip of a midfield triangle, the Magpies saw Loic Remy hit the post twice while Hatem Ben Arfa skied a cross over the bar from close range in the first half. Add in the other decent chances the team created (like a shot from the middle of the box Remy put at John Ruddy), and Cabaye wasn’t completely missed.
Sissoko deserves much of the credit for those chances, with his movement off Rémy crucial to much of Newcastle’s first half success. Moving right early, Sissoko generated a chance for his striker after he was fed toward the byline. In a similar situation near half time, he opened the goal up for Ben Arfa. With five assists on the year, it wasn’t a complete shock that Sissoko was able to create so many chances. That he did so on the day Cabaye left provided Newcastle fans with some timely encouragement.
The Ben Arfa miss, however, showed Cabaye’s absence isn’t all about chance creation. Ben Arfa, in the team because Cabaye was in Paris, put Sissoko’s cross into the stands after his countryman left him with an open goal. It’s no stretch to imagine Cabaye in that spot instead of Ben Area. Had he been there, Newcastle may be returning home winners.
It’s a bit of a loaded standard, though. To expect a team to lose a $33 million player and not see any effects is something you can only hope of the Chelseas of the world. A team like Newcastle is going to feel the loss of their best player, particularly if you choose to define that loss by one, aberrational moment.
If Tuesday’s performance was any indication, the effects of that loss may not be as drastic as some anticipate. In fact, they may manifest in different areas than predicted. Whereas losing a player with Cabaye’s on-the-ball skill hints creating chances will be a problem, Newcastle came close numerous times against Norwich. Finishing, however, was the problem. Without their second-leading goal scorer, Newcastle may be forced to seek a complement to Rémy.
Of course, as we try to make some quick assessments in the wake of Cabaye’s move, there is another possibility. The way Norwich played, so willing to retreat into their own half, Newcastle may need another opponent before drawing any conclusions about their Cabaye-less squad. That next opponent, however, is rival Sunderland, with the season’s second Tyne-Wear kicking off Saturday at St. James’ Park.