When I first suggested dropping Papiss Cissé to the bench and playing Yoan Gouffran as a central striker, people mocked me. After watching the two players operate in the 4-3-3 against Aston Villa, something tells me it's an idea more fans are willing to entertain.
In the long term, Cissé should thrive in this setup. But right now, what is the case for him over Gouffran? Even if he is the better player, he's much, much worse right now. From a man management perspective, it doesn't hurt to reward a strong performer. Being dropped could also help Cissé in two ways: it motivates him by showing that he has competition, and it allows him to take a breather and see how he can best contribute in the weeks to come.
As always, I'll start by giving the starting XI I would choose, then conclude the post by predicting the actual starters.
Back five: Tim Krul; Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Fabricio Coloccini, Davide Santon
It's basically a dream scenario for Alan Pardew, as he gets to keep rolling out a defense that has been stellar. Christian Benteke was exactly the sort of striker that Newcastle's center back partnership should struggle with, but Coloccini and Yanga-Mbiwa completely nullified him in open play. It would have been a flawless performance had there not been some serious confusion on the corner which led to Benteke's goal. Hull's Danny Graham is no Benteke, and a clean sheet should be the aim tomorrow.
Midfield: Vurnon Anita, Moussa Sissoko, Yohan Cabaye
Saturday may have been the best performance from Sissoko since his coming-out party against Chelsea in February. He burst past players with ease, completed 57 of his 66 passes (86%), and created four chances. His diagonal ball to Loïc Rémy will be a fantastic weapon this season, as defenses have to worry about the threat of Hatem Ben Arfa on the other flank and can't cover Rémy properly.
Forwards: Loïc Rémy, Yoan Gouffran, Hatem Ben Arfa
If the main knock against Gouffran is that he's not a natural finisher, Saturday's winning goal will do nothing to appease the critics. He's scored four goals in his Newcastle career, with three of those being less than convincing finishes. But do you know how many league goals Cissé has scored since Gouffran joined in January? It's also four!
And outside of finishing, it should be clear what Gouffran offers. He worries defenders more with the ball at his feet, he's better at holding it up (watch the last few minutes of the Villa match if you don't believe me), and his movement off the ball is excellent. There's a reason why, with the same teammates, Gouffran seems to get one golden opportunity per match, while Cissé doesn't. Movement and timing is it. Look at the goal on Saturday: simple finish, but when Brad Guzan palmed Ben Arfa's shot away from goal, Cissé was offside. Gouffran wasn't, and he scored. He deserves a chance to see what he can do with Rémy and Ben Arfa alongside him.
As far as managing Cissé, this is what I would tell the club's number nine: you're coming on for Rémy with 20-30 minutes to go. Make yourself one great chance in that time and bury it. Maybe a simplified assignment will spark something. Maybe he, like Demba Ba last year, will be enraged he was left on the bench and come on determined to never let it happen again. But rolling him out week after week, hoping something is going to click, clearly hasn't worked.
Who Pardew will pick: Krul; Debuchy, Yanga-Mbiwa, Coloccini, Santon; Anita, Sissoko, Cabaye; Rémy, Cissé, Ben Arfa.