You can’t help but feel a touch of sympathy for Papiss Cisse’s current plight up at Newcastle United. After a stunning introduction to English football in which he scored 13 goals in his first 14 Premier League appearances, expectations were always going to become a little unrealistic for the Senegalese international.
The chances of him being able to keep up the glut of goals was a somewhat unlikely scenario, in the short-term anyway, but things haven’t been easy for the ex-SC Freiburg man. A change of formation from manager Alan Pardew has seen an already struggling Cisse flounder in front of goal, defences have begun wising up to him and as if that wasn’t enough, a dispute with his national team saw him banned from playing in the 2-1 defeat to Swansea on Saturday.
His relatively meagre return of one Premier League goal in 10 appearances this season has led some to cruelly dub Cisse as something of a one-hit wonder. Although that seems reactive, despite not having things his own way this term, he certainly hasn’t looked like quite the player that burst onto our scenes following his move to Tyneside at the start of the year.
So what’s going on with Papiss Cisse?
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His aforementioned run of form since he first arrived in England has certainly acted as a double-edged sword, certainly in terms of the expectation placed upon him. No one expects him to score goals from another planet every week, a la that goal against Chelsea last season, but a return of only three goals in all competitions has left some slightly underwhelmed.
A lack of goals certainly isn’t through a lack of trying, but Cisse has looked a little clumsy in some of his play this season. After 11 months in the Premier League, he’s hardly an unknown quantity anymore and where as once defenders maybe weren’t entirely sure what they were up against, we’ve seen Cisse far more effectively marshalled this term. His tendency to get caught offside especially, suggests that while defenders have raised their game to play against the Senegalese striker, the man himself needs to find a way to mix his up, too.
The looming presence of his more prolific countryman and seemingly continuous man of the moment in Demba Ba, ensures that comparisons are always likely to be made between the two. But while it may seem like a fair enough comparison to make, merely reeling off the superior amount of goals that Ba has put away is a very superficial observation to make at best.
It may be the case that Ba has scored a superb 8 Premier League goals in 12 games, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the entire story. Because given the preferential tactical advantage Pardew has afforded to the former West Ham striker, it should come as no surprise that Ba is far outscoring his team mate.
While Ba may have not been a particular fan of being deployed on the left-hand side of Alan Pardew’s 4-3-3 formation, he wasn’t half effective. He may not have been scoring the goals at the very height of Papiss Cisse’s goal scoring run earlier this year, but he was a vital component in the Newcastle United machine that ended up finishing fifth in the Premier League.
Unsurprisingly, Ba wasn’t a particularly positive advocate of being played slightly further away from goal and earlier on this term, he made his feelings as clear as day to Pardew about what might happen if he continued to deprive him of a central role. Call it a coincidence, but since his outburst, Ba hasn’t strayed too far away from his preferred central role. The legacy of which has seen both Cisse and the team as a whole, struggle to recapture the magic of last term.
When he’s removed from the role of lone ranger up front, Cisse has looked an uncomfortable fit within this Newcastle United side. He doesn’t have the wider talents of Ba to be an effective option on either flank in a 4-3-3 formation and his showings there when he has asked to play the role, has left much to be desired. The perceived compromise seems to be a flat 4-4-2 to accommodate both Ba and Cisse and although it’s been far from a resounding failure, the Senegalese duo haven’t felt like a particularly fluid fit as a traditional attacking pairing.
The biggest beneficiary has of course been Demba Ba, who looks as if he could be on course to rack up a 20-goal season at this rate. But far from just damaging Papiss Cisse’s role in this Newcastle team, it’s looked to have affected the balance and dynamic of the entire XI. It goes without saying that fans would rather finish fifth again with a healthy mix of goalscorers, rather than in eighth or ninth but with a Demba Ba golden boot to their names.
Papiss Cisse’s struggles serve Alan Pardew up something of a dilemma at St. James’ Park. Although by his own standards he’s not been on top of his game so far this season, Cisse is a player who is capable of scoring a hatful of goals for the Magpies, but he’s not going to be able to do that playing alongside Demba Ba in a 4-4-2. Yet Pardew knows only too well the doomsday scenario that comes along with playing Ba on the left hand side.
While Papiss Cisse has had his troubles getting out of first gear this season, his goal drought tells a far bigger story than one of personal struggles. Something has to give up front for Newcastle sooner or later. Just who and what that is, could have very important consequences for the rest of their season.
What would you do about the Cisse/Ba dilemma up front for Newcastle this season? Join me on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me what you think.