Newcastle United play host to a creative Tottenham Hotspur this weekend in a game that is set to underline just how good this squad actually is and where it is capable of going this season.
An unbeaten 7 game start to the campaign has seen us sitting pretty amongst the league’s elite in 4th place on 15 points. Spurs got off to a slippery start following heavy, yet understandable losses to the two Manchester sides.
Since then they’ve rallied around and have now won 4 on the trot sitting in 6th place on 12 points following good solid wins against the likes of Champions League rivals Liverpool ad Arsenal. A win for us would signal a real intent to challenge for Europe this year, whilst a loss would bring Tottenham level with the Toon on points with momentum on their side having got most of the top sides out of their fixture list for now.
If Harry Redknapp is to believed, then Adebayor is rated as 50/50 for the game following a slight pull of the hamstring against former club Arsenal. He has scored 3 goals and laid on 2 for Van Der Vaart (VDV) so far this season, so if he is out it will be a big bonus for the Magpies. However, I reckon it is all an attempt to get us to lower our guard by Harry and would expect the Togolese forward to feature.
Niko Kranjcar and Vederan Corluka are doubts out after being withdrawn against Latvia in midweek due to injury with the latter only lasting 32 minutes on the clock. Sandro (Calf) is touch and go. Meanwhile Dawson and Huddlestone remain long term absentees with achilles ankle ankle problems respectively. Gallas (Calf) also falls into that bracket.
There has been talk of VDV struggling with his hamstrings but again I’d expect him to be involved. Lennon is still looking to gain a bit of match sharpness and his form has been indifferent since March, but he could well feature at some point. Most of these absentees are ‘fringe’ players however, so Spurs will have plenty to throw at us.
On the Black and White Stripes’ side our injury slate is looking pretty clean. There were doubts over Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye (Ankles), Ameobi (Shoulder), Smith (Hamstring), Vuckic (Broken Hand) and Williamson. The only player we can safely rule out is the latter, meaning we will be struggling for cover at centre back due to his ankle issues.
Apparently Ba was rested as a precaution by Senegal due to a poor playing surface raising concerns about aggravating his dodgy knee, whilst Cabaye went on to feature for 60 minutes for Les Bleus in their lacklustre midweek draw following his ankle scare against Albania and admirably flew home a day early to make sure he got well prepared for this game. Good lad! Smith wont feature as the competition for a place is too good for him, whilst Vuckic and Ameobi have both recovered.
During the International break Italian fullback Davide Santon featured in both of the U21 games and is now fully fit. Hatem Arfa and Sylvain Marveaux have both looked impressive in training this week and could be pushing to make a start depending on tactical decisions. Although Jonas Gutierrez has done a lot of travelling for Argentina over the last 10 games, he is expected to play.
Stats and Facts:
Newcastle have hosted Spurs 17 times so far in the Premier League, winning 10 of those games and drawing 4. The average result over those years has been 2-1 to the Toon.
Tottenham will be looking for their first win at St. James Park since 2004.
A repeat of our 7-1 success against Spurs in 1996 would be most welcome!
Brad Friedel is the leagues 4th most consistent goalkeeper with 23 saves and a saves to shots ratio of 72%.
Yohan Cabaye is the 4th best tackler in the league with 27 so far and a success rate of 59%.
Spurs make their shots count with 49% hitting the target as opposed to our 40%. They have scored 2 more than us…
This season we have began to make the progression from a workmanlike side to a more technical, continental one. Our passing has improved and we seem more comfortable on the ball than we have in a long time. However, Newcastle are up against a Tottenham side that has built its team around technical excellence for a number of years now and is very good at keeping the ball. They can distribute the ball effortlessly across their whole midfield and often use one of their strikers to drop deep and interchange with the midfield. Wolves did that against us and it caused havoc.
In Adebayor, they have a striker that can do everything. He can head the ball, finish with both feet, turn on the pace, score the goals and lay them on. If Lennon makes a comeback down the right then they may well go for a 4-5-1 formation with VDV playing just behind the front man. However this season they have been having success by playing VDV on the right and using Defoe to drop deep from the front line of a 4-4-2.
If Aaron Lennon does play, I would fear for Ryan Taylor at full back and maybe Davide Santon would be better suited, however is this the game to bring in somebody with no Premiership experience? He will have little grasp of English yet and his introduction could cause communication problems at the back when our defenders will need to be fully concentrated and listening to each other as they look the stifle the relentless pressure that Spurs are capable of putting us under.
Our 4-4-2 formation has seen us do well so far and it is difficult to change a winning formation. However, with Marveaux and Benny both looking to push on now I would seriously consider a change of tactic. Our midfield is good these days, but Spurs’ is better. They have made 2158 passes so far this season as opposed to our 1673. That is a big difference.
My concern is that if we chose a 4-4-2 system, our forwards will not see the ball and will become redundant as the midfielders struggle to get hold of the ball. If we do stick with a 4-4-2 formation, we will need a lot of support for the full backs from the wingers. Bale is capable of tearing anybody to shreds on his day and either Lennon or VDV will no doubt be supported down the flanks by the ever impressive Kyle Walker.
We would have to rely on a stern defensive display and fast counter attacking by our wingers in order to catch the Spurs full backs out of position and put pressure of the creaking Ledley King and not so convincing Younes Kaboul.
Personally I would rather see us go for a 4-5-1, dropping Best and allowing Benny or Marveaux to have a go from deep as the link between midfield and attack. This would mean Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye could stifle any opposition attacks and only need to move forward when necessary (always leaving one behind just in case).
I am also going to be controversial and say that Simpson should actually get narrower and stand off Bale a bit in order to force him out wide and cross the ball in under a bit of pressure. This is because if he gets tight against Bale, he is toast. Not a personal criticism as Bale can do it to anybody, but allowing our fullback to be left for dead with Bale, VDV, Adebayor, Modric and one other bearing down on our remaining defenders will be hard to deal with. Also allowing him to cut inside and get a shot in is just not a good idea – ask Inter Milan.
If there is one area we are better than Spurs in, it’s the air. Lets deal with headers from crosses and not give them chances from passing the ball along the ground, as 9 of their 11 goals this season have been from open play.
The match official for this game will be Lee Probert. He has been a pro for 9 years and is regarded as one of England’s best. This season he has been involved in officiating in European football at both club and International level. If we need a lucky mascot for this game, look no further than this man! He has taken charge of 3 of our games so far and we have not conceded in any of them, managing 0-0 draws against Man Utd and Fulham last season and a 3-0 win over Reading in 2008.
Tottenham do not have such luck with him however… Of the 7 league matches he has taken control of for Spurs, they have lost 4 and drawn 2, scoring only 6 goals and conceding 13 in the process. If any of the players think about getting moody, this guy will draw a line under it quickly – having dished out 30 yellows and 1 red in the 7 games he has bossed so far this season.
So there you have it. Two in form teams that know this game could really define the first half of their season. It promises a lot of flair, a few chances on goal and proper footballing entertainment – so 0-0 it is then!
Lets hope this game is good enough to pull in those 7,000 fans that have been missing for recent matches and make St. James’ a real cauldron of atmosphere and banter to really get behind the boys on the pitch and get a result…
Newcastle United vs Tottenham Hotspur.
Venue: St. James Park.
Kick off: Sunday 16th October at 16:00.
Howay the lads!