The talk surrounding Newcastle United's season-reviving victory over Chelsea on Saturday has centered understandably on a two-goal, could've-been-even-more performance from Moussa Sissoko. We were thrilled by Sissoko's outing, but not surprised, having watched him outperform his statistics at Toulouse this season as detailed here last week. The surprise was out to Sissoko's left, in the person of his French compatriot and fellow Newcastle new boy Yoan Gouffran.
Toon supporters could be forgiven for viewing Gouffran as a consolation prize after QPR snatched Loïc Rémy from the St. James' threshold, even though Gouffran had quietly slipped into Ligue 1's top 10 scorers while Rémy nursed a nagging thigh injury in the nightclubs of Marseille. I'll confess to not having noticed much of Gouffran in what little I'd seen of Bordeaux in league play; I remember him faintly as a guy with pace and not a whole lot else. If that sounds familiar, read what you wish into who I'm quoting next.
"He is a powerful, explosive forward who is really quick," said Gouffran's former Bordeaux and new NUFC teammate Gabriel Obertan, in an interview on the NUFC web site after Gouffran's signing. "His pace is his main quality and he will be a real asset for us this year." Alan Pardew provided an echo: "I liked the look of [Gouffran] when we played Bordeaux at St. James' Park earlier this year: pacy, direct and intelligent and those are qualities I like in a footballer."
That praise feels faint for what we saw out of Gouffran against Chelsea. Pacy, for sure: Chasing him is next to futile, making him lethal in space and on the counterattack. But there was plenty to like at the ends of his runs too, as he played a role in four chances including the shot that sprawled Petr Cech and gave a fat rebound to Sissoko, who handled a tricky bounce to knock in a second-half equalizer. (Credit on the play also to Papiss Cissé for the delicately placed ball that started Gouffran's charge.) Perhaps equally impressive was what Gouffran didn't do: make a mistake. From what I could see he literally didn't put a foot wrong all match, an accomplishment for someone new to the amped-up demands of the Premier League.
Gouffran brings fiery personality as well as pace to his new club. Ligue 1 broadcast and online commentator David Crossan has tweeted - citing colleagues covering Bordeaux - that Gouffran may chafe at playing anywhere but the middle, and according to French media accounts he can become testy when he feels he's not seeing enough of the ball. Hopefully the quality of his chances at Newcastle will trump the raw quantity, especially if Hatem Ben Arfa is on the other side of Sissoko rather than place-holder Jonas Gutierrez (not to discount Jonas' crazy header against Chelsea). If your mouth isn't watering at the prospect, you're not a Newcastle fan or you need to see a doctor.
Meanwhile Rémy, according to accounts this morning, will miss two months with another upper-leg aggravation suffered in training at QPR. There but for the grace of God and a sane wage structure go we. Sissoko is grabbing the headlines now, and rightly so. But the true stroke of transfer genius and luck that saves Newcastle's season may turn out to be a fellow French target who wasn't a first choice.