Cheick Tioté

Newcastle XI for Sunday's 6-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. Typically British, this scene depicts one of many Steve Harper punts upfield for Andy Carroll to flick on at Kevin Nolan or Wayne Routledge. Carroll won most of his duels with Kieran Clark, creating space for Nolan's - slow - bursts. However, Hughton's bizarre insistence on playing a ridiculously high-line allowed the likes of Stephen Warnock and Stylian Petrov to play quarterback-passes over to Ashley Young or Mark Albrighton. Tioté's athleticism may help United maintain this tactic, as less loose-balls in the midfield will land at the feet of the opposition, and even if they do, the Ivorian offers a better recovery option than the one provided by Alan Smith.

Unlike the majority of their Premier League counterparts, Newcastle United’s squad seems to askew cosmopolitanism. Buttressed by an English spine, you can almost taste its Carling-flavoured depth.

This isn’t to suggest Geordies are a xenophobic bunch – rather, it’s a reflection on a monotonous birthplace-list nestling in a league where Wigan Athletic don’t include a single Englishman in their first-team.

With the signing of Cheick Tioté all but complete, Chris Hughton’s squad is gaining the seemingly-mandatory globalisation-embracing feel the 20 items in Richard Scudamore’s Premier League basket encompass.

The Ivory Coast star will line-up alongside an Argentine midfielder – both of whom will then be in front of a defence boasting a floppy-mopped chap from Córdoba, and a speedy Spaniard.

Tioté joins Alan Smith as the only man on Tyneside to have played under two England managers – Steve McClaren (FC Twente), and Sven-Göran Eriksson (Ivory Coast).

Physically, the centre-midfielder will have no problem in adjusting to the frenetic pace of Premier League life: Tioté is strong, powerful, agile, quick and possesses great balance. Continue reading

Ajax 4-2 Vitesse

Ajax 4-2 Vitesse, 14/08/2010. Two vastly different interpretations of 4-2-3-1.

Vitesse’s euphoria at an opening day victory over ADO Den Haag was short-lived, Ajax – admittedly uncomfortably – returning to winning ways.

Despite Luis Suárez’s suspension and cover in the midfield conspicuous by its absence, Martin Jol was still able to construct a strong ‘2-3’ as he restored his side to 4-2-3-1.

The 4-3-2-1 deployed against Groningen was shelved because another negative mob of wave-breakers lay in wait for this clash. Yet it wasn’t the formation that cost Ajax in Round One – rather, defensive lapses at set-pieces proved their undoing.

Fortunately for the Fulham-lusting tactician, his rearguard was at full-strength; Jan Vertonghen returning in place of Oleguer. Their opponents from Arnhem were also virile in the personnel department. Well, sort of….

Theo Bos has a minuscule squad, and this *strong* XI had a midfield with an average of <20. Stalwarts Piet Velthuizen (GK) and Dalibor Stevanovič (left-sided attacking midfielder) were excluded, both on the verge of book-balancing departures. Continue reading

Roda JC 0-0 FC Twente

The systems deployed. Only one out-and-out winger apiece, both intriguingly deployed on the same side. Eric Addo was often caught by the more direct Emir Bajrami, whereas Laurent Delorge had too many defensive duties to really test Luke Carney on the other side.

This early-round scoreless draw was a bitty, bitey affair that failed to reflect the enjoyable attack-friendly mantra of Holland’s highest-tier.

Roda’s minuscule Limburg Stadion hosted this Eredivisie 2010/11 curtain-raiser in a Friday evening kick-off, but if followers of the two clubs or casual fan anticipated goals, they went hungry.

Under Michel Preud’homme, Twente look to be continuing in the same unspectacular vein ingrained by the Belgian’s predecessor, Steve McClaren.

2009/10s champions showed their superiority in spells, but Roda’s dogged determination and impatience at the away side’s cynical melina succeeded in its discomfort-inducing mission.

Both sides were guilty of littering this contest with fouls, and although Twente’s midfield trio all invaded the ref’s book, they brutally impeded any swashbuckling counters from the hosts. Continue reading

Marko Pantelić

Pantelić's position in a typical 2009/10 Ajax XI.

It’s unlikely anyone has a passport bearing more wrinkles than the Serbian striker’s.

Cravings for a long-term deal went unfulfilled by cash-strapped Ajax and leave the veteran hunting what would be his 12th club.

Changing team doesn’t just involve moving city for Pantelić, as the 31-year-old tends to combine a change of scenery with a change of country.

His passport has also been stamped in exotic climes while on international duty – summons which have only arrived in great frequency recently.

Capped 34 times, Pantelić has scored for his country in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Algeria, and South Africa.

Goals have also been scored in European club competition; outfits from Albania, Croatia, Moldova, Romania, Russia and Slovenia the victims. Continue reading