This is it folks. After a successful season in the second tier last time out, our eagerly awaited return to the Premier League has finally arrived, with a date with Tottenham Hotspur awaiting at St. James’ Park tomorrow lunch time.
We return a different team, with new found heart and character, however tomorrow’s opposition are all too familiar, with our last Premier League game to date being that bittersweet 5-1 win over Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
Pre match thoughts ahead of the new season
Let’s get one thing straight. The ‘Rafalution’ has the potential to be many things, but long term success can only be achieved by consolidation and that’s what this season, for me, is all about.
As we all know, the transfer market has not been how we or Rafa Benitez first envisaged it. We have been unable to facilitate some of the big money buys and marquee signings we desire, leaving many to question the capability of this current crop in a league full of devastating quality, however one thing we do not lack is spirit, heart and commitment to the cause – a trait we’ve so often been missing in recent history.
This group of players may not be able to throw the punches like some clubs will be able too, but they certainly won’t throw the towel in. That spirt, combined with our clutch of capable players backed by Benitez’s know-how, tactics and experience, give us every chance of competing this season.
The form and newfound fitness of Jonjo Shelvey looks to be a huge bonus going into the game and I am also liking the look of new signing Florian Lejeune and Christian Atsu, with the former looking like a classy centre-back and superb bit of business, whilst Atsu looks to be full of confidence after a lively pre-season.
I expect Rafa to make us compact, disciplined and hart to beat, and those three traits must be on show on Sunday if we’re to have a fighting chance against Spurs.
They have the ability to hurt us, so we must be smart both defensively and offensively, utilising any opportunity that may arise for a quick counter attack.
I say counter attack because it would be naive to go toe to toe with them. Let’s be aggressive, get in their faces and take our chances to spring an attack, but over commit and the likes of Eriksen and Alli could have a field day running at our back four – and that’s forgetting the illustrious Harry Kane who’ll be sniffing for scraps that he tends to take more often than not.
We must also remember that we have a big part to play in each and every game at St. James’ Park this season, starting with Spurs tomorrow. On countless occasions Benitez has called for our backing and unconditional support and that is no coincidence – we are stronger together. Last season we expected to see off the opposition and nine times out of ten we did, but this season requires a very different approach.
We know the impact 52,000 screaming Geordies can have in that stadium, and we also know the reverse impact it can have when things become hostile and hairy. Let’s stay with our team and help make St. James’ Park a fortress again.
The visitors may have failed to add a single senior signing this summer and Danny Rose’s comments will have done little to settle the Spurs camp ahead of this one, but we must not forget this is a team who have scored the most goals, conceded the least and won the most points over the past past two seasons combined.
Harry Kane is, in my opinion, the most devastating finisher in the Premier League at present, and is set to spearhead the Tottenham attack, backed up by the equally impressive Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli.
With issues at full-back and the fitness of midfield powerhouse Victor Wanyama in question, they could be missing a few first team regulars, but the spine of their side remains firmly intact, with the Rolls Royce of a midfielder Moussa Dembele set to screen the sturdy centre-back pairing of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
A big boost ahead of tomorrow’s game is that star striker Dwight Gayle has trained and is available for selection. He has been struggling with a reoccurring hamstring complaint towards the back end of pre-season, but Benitez deemed him ‘OK’ to play in his pre-match presser yesterday.
We will have to do without last season’s first choice right-back DeAndre Yedlin for this one, with the former Spurs speedster picking up a hamstring injury in pre-season and Javier Manquillo is expected to make his competitive debut in place of the American.
Spurs looks set to be short on full-back’s with Kieran Trippier (ankle) and Danny Rose (knee) ruled out, whilst first team regulars Son and Wanyama are doubtful after suffering injury setbacks over pre-season. Erik Lamela has failed to recover from long term a hip problem and will miss out.
Newcastle United XI – (4-2-3-1) – Elliot – Manquillo, Lejeune, Clark, Dummett – Hayden, Shelvey – Ritchie, Perez , Atsu – Gayle
Tottenham Hotspur XI (3-4-2-1) – Lloris – Dier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen – Sissoko, Dembele, Winks, Davies – Eriksen, Alli – Kane
Head to Heads
The 5-1 hammering we handed to Spurs at St. James’ Park was our last game in the Premier League to date, and could perhaps be playing on the minds of Pochettino’s men, who threw capitulated that day.
With 3 wins in our last 4 Premier League encounters with Spurs, this fixture has been kind to us over the last few seasons.
I see us putting up a real fight here, and don’t see us disgracing ourselves by any stretch, but think Tottenham’s quality may just shine through. The absence of Rose, Walker (sold), Trippier and (potentially) Son, strips some of the pace and width from their side, however they often move the ball well and will do damage if given enough space to operate in.
They are a slick side who often give little away but take every inch of what they are given, so little lapses in concentration cannot be afforded.
I see them enjoying large periods of possession, us pressing and pushing for a counter attack, but fear their telepathic front three will unlock the door, as hard as we try to slam it shut.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham
Let us know your pre-match thoughts and predictions!
Howay the lads!