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How Yohan Cabaye is making Newcastle Tick

Yohan Cabaye might not be getting the acclaim that Papiss Demba Cisse has been receiving, but the French midfielder is having a standout first season at Newcastle. After being in the centre of Alan Pardew’s 4-4-2 with Cheick Tiote, the switch to 4-3-3 has set Yohan Cabaye free and the move is paying dividends. The Frenchman has two goals and four assists in his last three matches, as Cabaye’s eye for the through ball has been exploited to the full.

Yohan Cabaye in a 4-3-3

Playing in central midfield with Cheick Tiote in Newcastle’s 4-4-2, the Ivorian was tasked with playing the holding role to win the ball back and distribute it. Yohan Cabaye would operate slightly further forward looking to gain possession from Tiote and set up the Newcastle attack.

Since moving to a variation of the 4-3-3 formation six games ago, Yohan Cabaye now has the luxury of playing with two deeper lying midfielders. This now affords him the opportunity to relinquish some of his defensive responsibilities that he had when playing with just Tiote and get forward more.

With the two deeper lying midfielders in place, Newcastle are able to let their attacking players go and play, whilst having the comfort of six in defence behind.

Newcastle win the ball for Cabaye

Without the ball, Newcastle play what Jose Mourinho calls a ‘bridge press.’ The four attacking players of Ba, Cisse, Ben Arfa and Cabaye can apply pressure up the field in order to try and win the ball back after losing it. After this initial ‘light’ press from the attacking players, who may not be in the best positions to win it back, there is a gap to the six players behind.

These six, which combine the four defenders and the two deeper lying midfielders, are the main focus of regaining the ball. Once they have reclaimed it, they can get it to the attacking players through Yohan Cabaye to do the damage.

If we take a look at the last few matches, we can see this in action. Against Stoke, the game was actually played 32% of the time in Newcastle’s final third, compared to just 17% in the Stoke end. The Magpies almost invited Stoke on to them, so that they could force interceptions through having two deeper lying midfielders and spring in to attack. Of the 13 interceptions forced by Newcastle, Jonas Gutierrez and Cheick Tiote, who were occupying these roles made 7.


In the previous match with Bolton we had a similar thing going on. The game was again played more in the Magpies’ end (31%) to Bolton’s (24%), but Newcastle were able to force more interceptions through their initial press.

When Bolton got through this and up the field, the two deeper midfielders and defenders were able to halt the Trotters’ advances to keep a clean sheet.


Cabaye can play with more freedom

With two deeper lying midfielders and four defenders to win the ball back, Yohan Cabaye is free to focus his game on three main areas.

Firstly, once the defence and deeper midfielders have won the ball back for Newcastle, Yohan Cabaye can pick it up from them and spread the play. Secondly, without having to partner Tiote in the middle of a 4-4-2, he can drift out to either flank to link up with Hatem Ben Arfa and Demba Ba. The final area is the most important and where he has done the most damage, which is playing penetrating through balls to Papiss Demba Cisse.

We can see this in action against Stoke, where Yohan Cabaye receives the ball from the defensive players and plays horizontal passes to move the ball wide (1).

He can then drift out to both flanks to exchange passes with Hatem Ben Arfa and Demba Ba (2), whilst looking for the killer through ball to Papiss Demba Cisse (3).

Yohan Cabaye attempted four through balls in the match, two of which were successful and one, a beautiful reverse pass, created a goal for Papiss Demba Cisse.


In the match before against Bolton, we can see similar things happening. Again, Yohan Cabaye is able to pick the ball up from the defenders and start Newcastle going forward (1). He actually creates the pass for Hatem Ben Arfa’s long mazy run for the opening goal after picking the ball up from the defence (yellow line).

With Bolton a playing five in midfield, space is limited, but Yohan Cabaye is still able to play longer balls out to Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa in wide areas (2). He actually puts the ball out to Shola Ameobi on the right wing to cross for Papiss Demba Cisse to head home the second goal.

Just as in the Stoke game, he tries four through balls in this game as well, with only one this time successful (3).


In the game against Swansea, with Newcastle only having 22% possession, Cabaye’s touches of the ball were significantly reduced, but his eye for a through ball wasn’t.

He was still able to pick up the ball from the defence and attempted to get it wide with his limited opportunities though. Yohan Cabaye usually plays 40 passes per game in the Premier League, but with Newcastle’s reduced possession, he is restricted to just 23 this time.


Despite not enjoying a large amount of possession, the Magpies are effective with it. Their two goals on the day were both created by through balls from Yohan Cabaye to Papiss Demba Cisse, as he split the Swansea defence wide open.


The first is created after receiving the ball off one of the aforementioned deep lying midfielders, Jonas Gutierrez. The second after receiving a pass from Hatem Ben Arfa out on the wing, which was beautifully chipped home by Cisse. The Frenchman’s eye for dissecting a defence cannot be underestimated.

In a 4-4-2 formation, Yohan Cabaye was completing a through ball every 116 minutes on pitch. Since moving to a variation of 4-3-3, he is completing one every 60 minutes, almost twice as many as before. The result is Cabaye doubling his assist tally on the season in just the last three matches.

The new Newcastle formation is not only allowing Papiss Demba Cisse to flourish in front of goal, but also permitting Yohan Cabaye to pull the strings all over the park.

Written by Mark Redford (The Statician) –

About Harry Savill (Editor) (418 Articles)
I am the Editor of 'The Spectator's View'. I set up the website so that I could combine my two passions: Newcastle United and writing, and I hope for it to be a platform where fans can express their views on the club. History Graduate from Durham University. Junior Account Executive at M&C Saatchi.

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