Guthrie won't be a contender for player of the season at Newcastle United. But he deserves to be more than a footnote in the story of Newcastle's surprising top-six challenge.
Where would Newcastle be without Guthrie? Not fifth in the table, I promise you that. Between Cheick Tiote's knee injury and Africa Cup of Nations absence and Yohan Cabaye's current suspension, Guthrie has started nine Premier League matches for United. Newcastle has taken 16 points (five wins and one draw) from those games, a return that's more impressive when you consider matches against Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are included.
Most of Guthrie's playing time has been in relief of Tiote, sitting deeper than Cabaye. In all honesty, he's miscast in a holding midfield role. I don't blame Alan Pardew for using Guthrie in that position, simply because he's clearly Newcastle's next-best central midfielder after Cabaye and Tiote and can play the holding role well enough. Thing is, Guthrie is much better suited to play where Cabaye does, with an athletic destroyer type sitting behind him. That's how it was Saturday against Aston Villa, when Guthrie ran the show from the midfield with James Perch cleaning up the trash behind him.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying Guthrie should play over Cabaye. But the difference between the two isn't as great as most would have you believe. Take a look at how they in some key statistics* in Premier League play this season:
|Pass completion||79 percent||82 percent|
|Pass completion in final third||62 percent||64 percent|
|Chances created (open play)||19||13|
|Ground 50-50s||58 percent||60 percent|
|Tackle success||65.4 percent||63.3 percent|
Injuries have hampered Guthrie's progress over the past two seasons, but it's still somewhat baffling to think he wasn't considered a more integral part of Newcastle's plans going into last season. He was quiety one of the stars of the Championship season, leading United in assists (13) and playing major roles in some of Newcastle's most memorable attacking performances in the second half of that season. That Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton were so influential under Chris Hughton probably didn't help Guthrie's cause.
The presence of Cabaye and Tiote means Guthrie still isn't a part of Newcastle's strongest lineup in Pardew's preferred 4-4-2 formation, which means extending his contract - due to expire this summer - could be a bit tricky. Guthrie, who will turn 25 on April 18, is good enough to interest plenty of other Premier League clubs that could offer him a regular starting role.
The x-factor in all of it is what Pardew does when Tiote returns. His 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 experiment showed promise before crumbling in the second half against Fulham and looking awkward at Brighton and in the first half at Blackburn. But that was with personnel that didn't necessarily fit the formation. In Guthrie, Cabaye and Tiote, Pardew would have a midfield trio better suited for a 4-3-3 based on their passing ability.
Either way, should Guthrie sign a new contract, he won't be a forgotten man going into next season.
*Statistics courtesy of EPLIndex.com.