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Newcastle's Cheik Tiote: The Defensive Midfielder's Importance

Tioté after scoring Newcastle's fourth goal against Arsenal.
Tioté after scoring Newcastle's fourth goal against Arsenal.Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Harrison PriestContributor IFebruary 12, 2011

During halftime at St. James Park on Feb. 5, Newcastle United trailed 4-0 to a rampant Arsenal squad. Merely days after the sale of star striker and England international Andy Carroll, the club was set to taste an especially sour loss.

However, after Arsenal midfielder Diaby was sent off in the 50th minute for an unfair challenge, Newcastle rallied to score four straight goals to tie the game. The last of the goals was a spectacular volley, courtesy of the promising Cheik Tioté, who has become a player to watch.

Tioté, 24, is an Ivorian defensive midfielder in his first season with Newcastle.

As a boy, he played soccer in the streets without shoes until the year 2001, when he was 15 years old, playing in his third season for an Ivorian youth team called Bibo.

Newcastle signed Tioté from Dutch side FC Twente on Aug. 26, 2010 for 3.6 million pounds, and has since more than justified that price tag. Tioté has greatly impacted Newcastle's strong run this season since his impressive debut on Sept. 18, when he completed all 64 of his attempted passes.

Standing at a sturdy 5'11" and 174 pounds, Tioté is a physical presence on the field, completing tackles all across the pitch. His natural strength and tendency to tackle hard have earned him eight yellow cards (and one red card) already this season, tied for second in the league.

However, Tioté is not a vicious player, he is a passionate player, determined to help his side win games. He provides a stability that the top Premier League clubs strive to find, especially by the likes of Manchester United.

Although Manchester United have only lost one game in the season thus far, they have been accused of not reaching their highest potential. When studying the Manchester loss last Saturday to Wolves, one notices a lack of power in the United midfield.

The squad is full of talented midfielders, such as the combo of Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick (who both started in the loss), but none of them provide the brute strength that some their rival clubs have in front of their defense.

As soccer players continue to get bigger and stronger, the defensive midfielder has become a more important position. Having a reliable option in this role is essential to a club's success.

For example, Arsenal's Alex Song, Chelsea's Michael Essien (whom Cheik Tioté has often been compared to), Manchester City's Yaya Toure and Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso play pivotal holding roles in their respective team's midfield. When these sides use other options, there is an obvious lack of strength.

When Liverpool sold Javier Mascherano to Barcelona and Xabi Alonso to Madrid, the lack of strength was blatant and the team fell from an elite status.

Manchester United also do not have great options in this particular position. Sir Alex Ferguson obviously notices this problem, and inquired about the availability of Real Madrid's Lassana Diarra during the January transfer window, but made no formal offer for the Frenchmen.

Once the summer transfer window arrives, Ferguson will be on the lookout for talent in this position, and Cheik Tioté would be the perfect addition to Manchester United.

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