On Wednesday evening, Manchester United will clash on Tyneside with Newcastle United during a Premier League match at Sports Direct Arena. Ahead of that tie, our friends over at Coming Home Newcastle -- the Toon fansite here on the SB Nation network -- have agreed to do a Q&A exchange with us once again. If you're a regular reader of our site, then perhaps you'll remember the superb answers provided last time by John Murphy prior to the reverse fixture in late Novemeber. Once again, the majority of the questions were provided by you -- our readers -- and I supplemented them with a few of my own. Here's the Q&A:
TBB: Talk seems to be heating up about Chiek Tiote potentially moving, either to Old Trafford or elsewhere. Your thoughts? Is there a price that you would be happy to sell him for or do you feel he's needed to stick around to build on? Do you feel that he will be playing for Newcastle in February... or how about next September? Do you think he's good enough enough to succeed at the highest level? Personally (reader: doc alex), I get the idea that he's a solid enough player but not necessarily good enough to match up against Real Madrid or Barcelona. Agree or disagree?
CHN: I advocated strongly at the beginning of the season after Kevin Nolan's departure that Tiote should get the armband. He is a fierce, raw competitor with fantastic touch, football prowess, and incredible defensive abilities in the midfield. I realize all of this sounds vague, like a drafting expert, but at least I've avoided the terms "wingspan" and "upside." Tiote has been one of our best and most consistent players since his arrival. He is the heart and soul of Pardew's system (in my opinion, though I may be being hyperbolic).
As far as his potential departure goes, I'd certainly be much, much happier if he stayed, but we could recover if he left. He signed a pretty lucrative six year extension at the end of last year, and has never once expressed publicly any interest in leaving. I think he is genuinely happy playing for Newcastle, and we obviously adore him. Now, all that being said, and I don't think I represent the majority of CHN when I say this, but I'm always willing to sell a player in today's footballing climate if the price is right (and even more so now, with Fair Play Rules still looming on the horizon... it'll be interesting to see how those are enforced). I would like to see Tiote playing in the black and white for a long while, but I understand the business aspects of the game. I think Tiote is a very fine Premier League central mid, especially from a defensive angle (though he plays a regular CM role, often times he and Cabaye form a CDM/CAM kind of back of forth with one another). As for his ability to compete in Europe, on the biggest stage, I think it's a bit up on the air. I could see him having success, I could also see him disappearing on the rosters of some of the more loading teams.
Finally, as far as a fair price... I'm being agressive here, but it's the January window, so prices are inflated. I think that Tiote's value to our club, especially given our recent success (which inflates his worth, obviously) is around 10Mil. Tranfermarkt has him at 7, but I don't think Newcastle would be willing to part with him for anything less than 10 (given Ashley's track record, however, this may be wishful thinking).
TBB: When we last talked, Newcastle was arguably the story of the Premier League season up to that point. Injuries have obviously ravaged your squad. Thoughts on your season now that your form has dropped a little? Where do you hope to finish? Where do you expect to finish?
CHN: The drop in form has been rough going, and getting crushed at Anfield was certainly a crappy way to finish out an otherwise successful first half of the season. I think if we improve from our finish last year, 12th, we'll have to consider the season somewhat of a success. I fully expect us to finish in the top 10, especially with the form we've shown thus far, anomalies like the Norwich City game notwithstanding. As far as hoping and wishful thinking go, I would love to see us make a push for Europa. We've discussed frequently at CHN what the best way to go about this is: push for 7th, or push for the FA Cup? Personally, I'd rather see some silverware in our trophy case, so fighting for the Cup would make me much happier, but I understand if Pardew and co. decide that trying to get ourselves up on the table is a more manageable action plan. With both City and yourselves out of Champions League, more focus will be placed on the FA Cup, meaning that Newcastle will have to pull out some pretty amazing stops to get themselves the trophy. Still, miracles can happen..
TBB: Who have been your standout players at this half-way point of the season? Who have been disappointments? Thoughts on Yohan Cabaye? Do you think he would be a good signing for us? How much love for Tim Krul do you have after his stellar performances this season?
CHN: As far as standouts go, Demba Ba has done everything we could have asked for and more. He has netted an astonishing 14 goals already, and has done so with limited support in the attack. Colocinni has been an absolute rock in defense, and has proven his worth as captain tenfold. In limited time, Davide Santon has also impressed mightily, proving a worthy replacement for Jose Enrique when Ryan Taylor has come off or been unavailable.
For disappointments, I think Danny Simpson has been mostly a train wreck at Right Back, and with Steven Taylor hurt the entire right side of our defense has been hemorrhaging opportunities for the opposition's attack (Mike Williamson, thankfully, is finally back to full fitness). Our right side altogether has been mostly disappointing, as Gabriel Obertan often finishes breathtaking runs by giving the ball directly to the opposition.
As for Cabaye, he was an absolute steal over the summer. He does a wonderful job setting up the attack, maintaining possession, and has a fantastic touch on flicks into the penalty area. Given the opportunity, he has a pretty nifty shot as well (I don't think he pulls the trigger enough, personally). I think more so than Tiote, Cabaye has the potential to play successful at the highest levels. I reckon he'll be a French international in the 2012 World Cup, and that he will most likely leave Newcastle for big bucks within the next two seasons.
Krul has been incredible. Absolutely incredible. Most people think goalkeepers get better with age, but as Krul, De Gea, Hart, and Szczesny are proving, sometimes having a young, intense, and highly athletic keeper can be a benefit. I think Krul is going to be the Netherlands first choice within the next three years, a position I think he'll hold for quite a while.
TBB: How big a miss is Steven Taylor? A fantasy question (haha)... Now that you have started letting in goals, do you think I should keep Ryan Taylor in my Dream Team (I'm favouring yes because because he loves a goal or two)?
CHN: Steven Taylor's absence is going to significantly weaken our defense. Taylor's presence in the back cannot be overstated, and he made the entire back line more stout. Him going to down to injury was a serious lowlight of the season. Though Colocinni and Williamson will be OK, it is clear that our back line needs some serious bolstering come January.
TBB: With all the injuries, has there been any tactical tweaks since we last met at Old Trafford? Can you offer up a predicted starting XI and formation for Wednesday?
CHN: There are murmurs that Obertan won't be starting against his former club for this return fixture, which are a tad upsetting since he played pretty well on the first leg. Sammy Ameobi, younger brother of Shola, is expected to get the nod. In our last match, Newcastle was able to sit back a little bit and weather the storm, especially in the last ten minutes as ManU mustered attack after attack. This time around, expect Newcastle to be a tad more agressive, as we can't afford to sit on our heels without Steven Taylor.
Projected Starters (Courtesy of CHN Contributor OthersideofthePillow): Krul | Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, RTaylor | Obertan, Tiote, Cabaye, Jonas | Best, BaAgain, though, look for Sammy Ameobi to potentially unseat Gabby.
TBB: Prediction for the match?
CHN: This is pessimistic of me, but I expect Newcastle to get throttled by an angry and rejuvenated ManU. 4-0... with no St. James' Miracles this time around.