Tiote backed by Pardew
Alan Pardew is backing Cheick Tiote to return to his destructive best as he attempts to re-establish Newcastle as a Barclays Premier League force.
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9. Cheick Tiote
The Magpies found themselves engaged in a desperate fight for top-flight survival last season a year after a memorable surge into the top five, which secured an unexpected return to European football.
Continental action provided a fresh challenge for Pardew's men, but took a significant toll on their domestic commitments, and Tiote in particular struggled to reproduce the form which at various points had seen him linked with Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea.
A calf injury has limited Tiote's involvement so far this season, but having appeared as a late substitute in Saturday's disappointing 3-2 home defeat by Hull and started the 2-0 Capital One Cup third-round victory over Leeds on Wednesday, he is ready to begin his campaign in earnest.
Referring to his contribution in midweek, Pardew said: "On transition when we were attacking and we turned over the ball, we were more solid, and Tiote had a lot to do with that.
"He was back to near his best. He was a lot more comfortable in possession than last year. He looks more like himself and I am hoping for a big season from Cheick.
"I didn't think last year went well for Cheick in terms of the player he is, and that coincided with the team.
"When he's at his best, I think we are at our best and defensively on Saturday (against Hull) he could have made a difference.
"He gave us a little lift at Villa when he came on, so the signs are good. He has been unlucky to be out of the team because of injury and he has a chance now to reaffirm the quality he has."
Tiote's absence for much of the season to date has been mitigated to an extent by the form of Dutchman Vurnon Anita, who has quietly gone about establishing himself in the team.
Pardew has taken his time to assimilate the 24-year-old, a £6.7million signing from Ajax during the summer of 2012, into his team, but his emergence this season has given the manger a new and different option.
More of a ball player than a ball winner, he has slotted into a midfield trio along with Yohan Cabaye and Moussa Sissoko, and played on Wednesday in a two with the more defensively-minded Tiote.
Pardew said: "He's an economical user of the ball. He does a lot of work, a bit like Tiote, which doesn't always go detected.
"But he has his nose in front of Cheick at the minute, and Cheick will be desperate to address that.
"That's what you want, that's the competition. Vurnon is under pressure to play well because he has Cheick Tiote, one of the best in the last few years in the Premier League, breathing down his neck.
"But it's his economical use of the ball which has been beneficial to us in recent games."
Anita and Tiote are likely to find themselves in direct competition for a place in the starting line-up for Monday night's league trip to Everton.
Pardew rested Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Davide Santon, Cabaye, Sissoko, Hatem Ben Arfa and Loic Remy for the Leeds game and all six are likely to return at Goodison Park.
That means only one of the pair is likely to get the nod and with Anita the man currently in possession, it could be Ivory Coast international Tiote who has to remain patient a little longer.