After months of talking, not enough doing and a lot of off field frustration, football finally returns to St James’ Park, with us taking on Spurs for the second season running on the opening day.
It’s been a funny old summer. I’m not impressed and neither will Rafa be, but we have actually improved the squad and a few key areas of the first team – just not quite as much as we’d have hoped.
Rondon and Muto will be an upgrade on Gayle and Joselu and I’m hoping we see both get their first minutes in a black and white shirt. Spurs may be forced to field a make shift back four, so I for one am really hoping to see Rondon’s name in the starting 11 when the teams are announced at 11.30.
He’s yet to prove he can be prolific at this level, but he’s a real handful, a hard worker, surprisingly mobile for his size and someone I back to fit into Benitez’s system very nicely.
Ki Sung-Yeung is also a very smart signing, Schar and Fernandez are two solid and much needed signings after the Lejeune blow and it’ll also be a real boost to have Dubravka and Kenedy for the entire season this time around.
Whilst we’re not coming into this one with a great deal of momentum – with results both on and off the pitch being dubious at best recently – it’s fair to say we couldn’t be playing Spurs at a better time.
With England, Belgium and France all making it to final week of the World Cup, Kane, Alli, Trippier, Dier, Rose, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Dembele and Lloris only returned to Spurs earlier this week – so I’m only expecting a handful of these to start.
Not only that, Tottenham were the only side not to make a single summer signing – something which may have left their fans and players a little disgruntled heading into a new season.
The lack of signings could’ve meant we’d see a settled and well-oiled Spurs side turn up, but injuries, an unsettled pre-season and several star players likely to miss out mean that we have a big chance here.
There’ll be protesting before the game outside Northumberland Street’s Sports Direct, but attentions will turn back to doing what we do best come 12.30pm – getting behind Benitez and the boys in a bid to start the 2018/19 season with a surprise three points.
I fear for us if Joselu starts and am hoping our defence can withstand the loss of Lejeune, however the return of Kenedy will be a big boost – especially if the likes of he, Perez and Ritchie has a new striker to work with up top.
Here’s the team I’d like to see, followed by the side I expect Rafa to go with:
Clark looks set to get the nod next to Lascelles in Lejeune’s absence – for now at least. He’s played most of pre-season, I can’t see Schar won’t be thrown in at the deep end just yet and it’s already been confirmed by Rafa that this one will come too soon for Fernandez
Shelvey and Diame will almost certainly start in midfield, however I expect Ki to be knocking on their door soon enough, having really impressed me keep in our pre-season outing against Augsburg last weekend.
The big question is who will play up top.
Joselu has seen far more pre-season minutes than Rondon and Muto – so I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts – however Lascelles admitted just a few days ago that the Venezuelan was looking ‘really good’ in training.
We could do with a boost before the game and Rafa will know that handing Rondon his debut could give us exactly that – not forgetting that Joselu seems so unlikely to threaten a usually sturdy spurs back line.
Predicted NUFC XI – (4-2-3-1) – Dubravka– Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett – Diame, Shelvey – Ritchie, Perez, Kenedy – Joselu
With several of their star men having only just returned from post-World Cup breaks, you can expect to see a slightly alternative Spurs starting 11 for this one. Aside from the obvious, here’s a few of my ‘one’s to watch’:
Ben Davies– An attacking left-wing back who will put great deliveries into the box and exploit any space that Yedlin may give him.
Lucas Moura – Talented Brazilian winger who’s been impressing for them over pre-season. He’s very direct and tricky so could be one for Dummett to watch down their right.
Serge Aurier – Looks likely to start at right-back, but he’s one Kenedy could get at. Aurier is an impressive athlete but he’s hot headed and has a tendency to dive in and be erratic.
Heung-Min Son – The Korean winger is an absolute menace. High energy and devastating in front of goal. Yedlin can’t afford to leave Lascelles exposed or he’ll cut in and do damage.
Christian Eriksen – Mo Diame needs to be on him like a rash. We all know how good he is. Give him space and he’ll hurt us. His set piece delivery is top drawer too so cheap corners/free kicks need to be avoided when possible.
Predicted Spurs XI – (3-4-2-1) – Vorm – Aurier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davues – Dier, Amos – Lucas, Eriksen, Son – Llorente.
Federico Fernandez will miss out after linking up with the squad for the first time on Thursday. Lejeune is out after a cruciate ligament injury – and will be for the entire season you’d think.
Yoshinori Muto and Salomon Rondon are available after training this week and Mo Diame and Martin Dubravka are fine despite picking up knocks last weekend.
Mauricio Pochettino has admitted that he’ll be be checking on Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier, Eric Dier, Danny Rose, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele and Hugo Lloris in training (Friday) and making a late decision, with all returning late after extended post-World Cup breaks.
Juan Foyth, Erik Lamela, Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks are all out.
If we can get at them from the off, take our chances and keep our focus then I wouldn’t be surprised to see us pull off a surprise win, although a score draw seems most likely to me.
They could be light at the back and short in midfield, but if Kane starts (with Lucas, Erkisen and Son in support), there’s always the chance of us being blown away if we’re not careful.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-1 Tottenham
Howay the lads!