NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 17: Swansea player Joe Allen is challenged by Cheick Tiote during the Barclays Premier league game between Newcastle United and Swansea City at St James' Park on December 17, 2011 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
It almost seems silly to grade individual performances in a 0-0 draw. The defenders met their main objective, which was to keep a clean sheet. The attacking players failed in their main objective, which is to score goals. Of course it's more nuanced than that, and we know better than to judge everything simply based on results, but I do have to admit that this exercise feels a little too clinical for my tastes. Maybe your tastes don't match up with mine, though, and that's fine. For you, I'll rate the players. They're all between 6 & 8, because games with no score deserve boring ratings. Hopefully, the descriptions will be a bit more exciting than that. As always, I solicit your criticisms in the comments, as well as your own ratings.
Tim Krul - 8
Newcastle almost could have gotten away with not playing a goalkeeper Saturday. Swansea City managed just 3 shots, all of them off target. Of course, that original statement is silly - the defenders used him as an escape route plenty, and he cut off a couple of crosses before they were able to turn into anything. Mostly, though, Krul's lack of activity reminded me of what it was like the one season I played keeper as a youth - all the action happening down on the other end of the field, with me hoping that my own team would turn the ball over so I could touch it for once. (Our team was pretty good that year, which probably says more about my lack of skill as an outfield player than my skill as a keeper.) Ahem. We can only hope Krul is just as bored next time out. The 8 is because...I don't know, did you want me to penalize him because the Swans played such a negative game?
Danny Simpson - 7
The biggest play of Simpson's match was when he was forced to clean up his own mess in the 74th minute. A smart sequence of quick passes by the Swansea players ended up with Scott Sinclair one-on-one in the area with Simpson. The defender stood his ground and Sinclair was only able to get off a weak shot that dribbled wide on the far side. On the American broadcast, Shaka Hislop (what an awesome color commentator he makes, by the way) praised Simpson for his defensive awareness on the play, and rightly so. He neglected to mention that Simpson had created the mess himself just moments before on a spectacularly woeful clearance attempt - either head it down to the man next to you or control it and boot it all the way down the pitch. Such is the play of Danny Simpson - a lot of the great-looking plays he makes can truthfully be avoided if he would only take care of the ball.
James Perch - 7
Perch was adequate in this game, and at this point in time, I'll take that every day of the week. I really hope that Perch recovers from his abysmal opening season in the Premier League, much like one Coloccini, but for now, if he can play the type of game where I don't notice him a whole lot, I'm incredibly happy. In other words, I'm grading Perch on a curve here, because I don't think he makes anybody around him better, and the Toon were lucky not to concede very many set pieces in their own end, where he can really be exploited. He almost got burned a couple of times by the high line Newcastle played all game, but he recovered nicely when he needed to and even made one or two nice tackles. I wish he wouldn't hoof the ball so much, especially when it works against the manager's tactic.
The high line enabled Coloccini to serve as an extra midfielder, which is great because Coloccini is a technically proficient passer. He even hustled forward on several plays and almost scored a header on a set piece (though I wonder what would have happened if that ball had been allowed to reach Demba Ba, who was waiting just behind him). Colo completed 46 out of 50 passes, which is ludicrous. Is there anything he can't do?
Davide Santon - 8
Even in light of Demba Ba's blistering goalscoring pace so far this season, I've still never once gotten the impression that the club has truly replaced Andy Carroll. On Saturday, Davide Santon had me forgetting all about Jose Enrique. Even if you can't quite get there with me, and I certainly understand if that's the case, at least admit that Santon should without a doubt be playing over Ryan Taylor. He won't contribute on free kicks like Raylor can, but his forward play is just as positive, and most importantly, he's not a black hole on defense. A breakout performance from a player who once upon a time was supposed to be the next big thing.
Gabriel Obertan (OFF 82') - 7
Did you know that Obertan completed 2 of his 5 crosses Saturday? As much as we kill Obertan in the game threads* for failing to finish plays, I expected that number to be lower. I was lamenting the lack of Hatem Ben Arfa in this game on Twitter after the match, specifically saying that he should have taken Obertan's or Best's spot (but mostly Obertan), and here's one reply I got back:
Thanks for the tweet, Drona. Thought-provoking indeed. Okay, so I'll grant that Obertan does cause problems for the opposing defense, often drawing multiple defenders to his area, wearing them (and himself) down with his pace, and generally creating confusion. But if, after all that work, he can't get the ball to somebody else so they can do something with it, what has he truly accomplished? I think that a player like Obertan has utility for a squad...but maybe not as a starter if there are capable players behind him (and there are). Put another way, I don't think 1 in 10 is good enough. Respectfully.
Setting that aside, Squidward actually did better than I thought he did, at least statistically. Maybe I'm venting my frustrations with the way this match turned out on him because I have the least invested in him out of all the midfielders.
*If you're not in our game threads while the match is going on, why not? They're reactionary, they're real, and they're spectacular. Once you try it, you'll never go back to broadcasting your thoughts to the 17 people that follow you on Twitter (no offense).
Yohan Cabaye - 7
Cabaye's heat map is ridiculous. He was everywhere. Given where this club has been, it seems like a luxury for Newcastle to have a player that is both willing and able to work all over the pitch, so I don't want to underrate Cabaye's performance. Having said that, he gave away the ball too much. I actually think that playing in such a compressed area limits his effectiveness. Cabaye needs space to play lobs and through balls, and there wasn't enough of it this time around.
Cheik Tiote (OFF 82') - 8
Tiote showed the world why Newcastle missed him so much (and why they'll miss him if he leaves next month) as he completed 61 of 70 passes and pretty much shut down any attack before it had a chance to get started. He did have a couple of key turnovers, looked rusty at times, and I wish he would never listen to the crowd when they beg him to SHOOOOOOOOOOT from 40 yards out, but overall he was the dominant force we've come to expect. The Swans played some awfully passive football, but even when they tried to go on the attack, Tiote shut it down. It's easy to see why Alan Pardew was being so cautious with his knee: When Cheik plays, he plays all out. He had immediate chemistry with Yohan Cabaye - I think they connected on more passes in 81 minutes than Cabaye and Guthrie did the whole time Tiote was out, and I'm not exaggerating - and he showed that his football mind hadn't missed a beat on a sublime sequence in the 15th minute when he followed his own pass to provide the perfect touch Gabriel Obertan needed to progress down the touchline (and then continuing to follow the play to be Obertan's outlet when he ran himself into trouble). It was a case of a little thing being a huge thing, and if you're able to watch a replay, I urge you to do so. If you're a regular reader of this blog, I think you're aware that I'm in love with Cheik Ismael Tiote, and if you're not, I think you may have figured it out earlier in this paragraph. As long as he is in the squad, I believe Newcastle have a chance against anybody.
Jonas Gutierrez - 7
Jonas was more aggressive Saturday than he has been all season long. It makes sense when you realize that he wasn't forced to play second left back. Of course, with the good you have to take the bad, and if I'm going to criticize Obertan for poor crossing, it's only fair I do the same for Jonas. 3 out of 12 is simply not acceptable. The 12 is impressive in and of itself, though I do take issue with some of the passes that were considered crosses by whoever was doing the charting.
Leon Best (OFF 71') - 6
Other Side of the Pillow raved about Best's performance in his match review, and while I think he's got a legitimate argument, I don't agree in this case. Best and Ba have an undeniable chemistry, and it shows whenever they're both on the pitch. However, I felt as if Best were half a step wrong all game long. His passes, while technically completed, were often behind their intended target just enough to slow them down. His headers, while on target, were either too flat or too palabra-esque (BURGAFLICKLE). His runs were either just offside or too late. While I don't think Best played poorly, to me he looked every bit the player that is shaking off rust from an extended layoff.
Demba Ba - 8
Ba totaled 8 shots on the day. 1 hit the post, and 2 others were on target, but they were never going to beat Michel Vorm. Those numbers perhaps make it even more frustrating that there were no goals to be found on the day, but Ba's work rate cannot be ignored. He did everything but put one in the back of the net, and with a bit of luck, likely would have on another day.
Shola Ameobi (ON 71') - 6
I've always been a Shola guy, but he's too inconsistent. Even on Saturday, he was hot and cold in the same 20 minutes. He had an immediate impact when he came on, making an excellent run and receiving an even better through ball from Jonas that he directed right at Vorm. He disappeared right away, failing to touch the ball for another 11 minutes. That's why I wrote what I did in the Post Game thread about needing another striker.
Haris Vuckic (ON 82') - INC
I was hoping for heroism from Vuckic when he replaced Tiote, not just because I wanted the team to win, but because I believe in Haris and want him to get more chances. Alas, he didn't really get into the flow of the game until right around the 90th minute, which is just another reason to question Alan Pardew's substitution usage.
Sammy Ameobi (ON 82') - INC
Sammy replaced Obertan and did his best Obertan impression, impressing with his take-ons but not doing much else. Sammy, you don't have to emulate the guy you replace. Just be you.