With the Premier League enjoying an international break as countries resume their World Cup qualification campaigns, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew will be hoping none of his key players come back crocked from their national exploits.
Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sissoko and Mathieu Debuchy were all included on Didier Deschamps’ France side for their crucial games against Georgia and Spain, while Papiss Cisse jetted to Africa to join up with Senegal for their clash against Angola. Cheick Tiote also played for Ivory Coast when they took on Gambia.
Perhaps the biggest international news for Newcastle though was Steven Taylor’s inclusion on the England squad for the games against San Marino and Montenegro. Taylor was finally given the call after the Rio Ferdinand debacle and Michael Dawson’s withdrawal from the squad, giving him his second call-up after being included as a 21-year-old almost seven years ago.
Taylor has been outstanding since returning to the Newcastle starting lineup after injury in January, and the call-up is something Magpies fans have been waiting on for their man. However, with the first qualifier being against lowly San Marino before the crunch game against Montenegro, the likelihood of Taylor getting some pitch-time for the Three Lions was minimal.
Roy Hodgson opted for Chris Smalling and Joleon Lescott against San Marino, and neither were tested as England ran out 8-0 winners against the team ranked joint-bottom of the FIFA rankings.
The simple victory—which resembled a training match for the most part—would have been a perfect chance for Taylor to make his international bow, as the chosen pairing barely had a tackle to make as San Marino defended for 90 minutes.
But it seems like Hodgson is doing all he can to avoid choosing Taylor for his squad, after choosing to call up Steven Caulker before the Newcastle defender when Rio Ferdinand controversially dropped out of the original squad.
Caulker, along with Lescott and Smalling, is not playing regular first-team football for Tottenham this season, leaving Taylor as the only centre-back on the squad that turns out for his club on a weekly basis. This doesn’t seem to bother Hodgson though, as he sticks with his out of favour options over fresh blood.
The decision baffles Montenegro striker Mirko Vucinic too, who said:
“I certainly do see that [the choice of Lescott and Smalling as centre-backs] as a weakness because, if they do not play for their own clubs, I don’t see why their national coach should pick them for the team” (quote from www.skysports.com)
With Hodgson also reportedly flirting with using Michael Carrick as an emergency centre-back if needed, Taylor may have to wait longer for his maiden international appearance.
It was better news for Tiote and Cisse though, as the former played the full 90 minutes for Ivory Coast as they enjoyed a comfortable 3-0 win over Gambia. Cisse played the final 15 minutes for Senegal as they played out a 1-1 draw with Angola, replacing former club teammate Demba Ba, but his team was unable to grab a late winner.
The majority of Newcastle’s concern was regarding France though, as three of their star players were involved in Deschamps’ squad for the game against Georgia. Moussa Sissoko entered the action with little over 20 minutes remaining, while Yohan Cabaye was an unused substitute and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa failed to make the match-day squad.
There have been some interesting quotes from Deschamps too, as he warns Sissoko that he will not play the same position for France as he has been for Newcastle. The former Toulouse man has been playing as an attacking midfielder for the Magpies while Alan Pardew is short of options, but Deschamps hasn’t missed the chance to get into Sissoko’s head as he stated he shouldn’t count on playing behind Karim Benzema on the France team.
This seems a pointless uttering from the France boss, as both Sissoko and Newcastle know the position being taken by the midfielder at the minute is not his favoured one. Putting doubts into the mind of Sissoko about his place on the national team seems completely unnecessary from Deschamps, as he risks straining relationships between club and country and damaging future relationships.
Yohan Cabaye is set to be the only Newcastle player starting for France as they take on Spain on Tuesday night, and Pardew will be hoping his star man comes through unscathed after missing the game against Wigan with a groin injury.