For a defender whose confidence is supposedly shot, a return to action against what has swiftly and ominously become known as the new SAS might not appear to be the ideal way of gently reintroducing yourself to the rigours of the Premier League. Yet that is the disconcerting scenario facing Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa as Newcastle host Liverpool today.
The Frenchman is set to take his place back in the side three weeks after a torrid individual performance in the defeat at Everton – he was substituted at half-time with his side fortunate to be just three goals down – that saw him pilloried by anyone and everyone. From Gary Neville calling it “a horror show” in his post-match analysis on Sky to Joey Barton’s indiscreet use of a four-letter word on Twitter to describe 45 minutes the centre-back is unlikely to forget in a hurry. For Yanga-Mbiwa, it has at times been a chastening first nine months adapting to football in this country.
So who better to try and shackle in your first game back than Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, two in-form players at the sharp end of a Liverpool side that scored six on their most recent visit to St James’ Park in April, when the absence of their notorious Uruguayan through suspension proved little impediment to a crushing victory, a self-confessed low point in the game for manager Alan Pardew.
Yanga-Mbiwa’s return is not wholly thanks to a glowing vote of confidence from Pardew, but one equally down to default. Having been left out for the 2-1 victory at Cardiff City before the international break, the former Montpellier captain is pressed back into service due to an injury to Fabricio Coloccini. His natural replacement, Steven Taylor, remains a week away from fitness himself meaning the 24-year-old will partner Mike Williamson, with the daunting prospect of attempting to negate two forwards who between them have found the net nine times in eight combined league appearances this season.
“Mapou will play,” Pardew confirmed after losing Coloccini to an injury sustained on international duty with Argentina. The manager added: “We paid a lot of money for him and you’re looking for a bit of character in a player in this situation. That’s what we’ve seen from him.
“If you take a defender out of the side, you have to say why and give them some solutions. I’d like to think I’ve done that for him and we need to get the kind of performance out of him that he’s put in for this club in the past. It’s very difficult for defenders to adjust to the Premier League, much more so than for attackers because I think the intensity catches them out. He’s come out of the side, had a look at it and now he’s back in again. I’d like to think he’ll show his character on Saturday.”
Yanga-Mbiwa’s far from smooth acclimatisation hasn’t gone unnoticed back in France, with Montpellier’s chairman intimating they would welcome and indeed anticipate the imminent return of their former skipper, who helped guide them to the title last year. Less than 12 months after signing a lucrative five-and-a-half year contract to seal a £6m move from the French club, it is a reunion that Pardew does not see materialising any time soon. He added: “Everybody has the right to an opinion. But that particular one is not an opinion I share.”Reuse content