13:30 KO (BST); Sunday 13th August; St James’ Park (Newcastle, England) Sky Sports
In the last game that Tottenham faced Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle side at St James’ Park, Spurs were resoundingly beaten 5-1 against all expectations.
Benitez has since managed to steer Newcastle back into the Premier League at the first time of asking and despite media speculation constantly linking him with a long walk into the sunset before the season starts, he’s still firmly in the hot-seat after a challenging summer transfer window.
Whether he’s able to engineer another surprise result in Newcastle’s first game back may well prove to be an altogether bigger challenge though.
Tottenham have faced their own set of problems during this summer, most notably through a former and a current wing-back. With Mauricio Pochettino so close to winning the title for Tottenham in the previous two seasons, this is beginning to look a lot more tricky, especially considering Spurs won’t have their fortress at hand having temporarily swapped the Lane for Wembley.
A game against a newly promoted day may seem like an ideal way to start your campaign in theory, however, things don’t always go the way they’re expected to, especially it seems, for Tottenham.
Last Time Out
Newcastle United 2 – 0 Hellas Verona (Friendly)
A comfortable victory against the Italian side could prove deceptive as Newcastle’s opponents failed to threaten with any quality during the 90 minutes. A 5th minute goal from Ayoze Pérez followed soon after by a Christian Atsu strike gave the home side an early advantage was rarely in any danger.
What will concern for Benitez was the number of chances that Newcastle spurned, with Aleksandar Mitrović particularly wasteful in front of goal. While Dwight Gayle was rested with the aim of protecting him for the opening weekend, Newcastle looks short of clinical players in his absence.
While Atsu and the defence looked solid in this game, there will be many sterner tests for them in the coming season, especially when they face Spurs in their opening fixture.
TOTTENHAM 2 – 0 Juventus (Friendly)
A solid performance and a good result were marred by an injury to Kieran Trippier which rules him out of action only a week before the Premier League’s opening weekend.
Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen both scored to add to their goals earlier this summer against Paris St-Germain and continue their run of good form as Tottenham brushed aside a Juventus side featuring a strong line-up.
Moussa Sissoko was also provided a start for Spurs amid speculation he will soon be making a move to Turkey and the £30m outcast had a strong game for his side which may play into Pochettino’s thoughts.
What was probably the most pleasing aspect of this display for Tottenham and their fans was the fact that they managed to win at Wembley and to win against quality opposition.
With their new home seemingly casting a hoodoo over their recent exploits within this stadium, the location of the victory seems as important as any other single factor.
Newcastle United Lineup
DeAndre Yedlin (hamstring) will be the only player missing from the match day squad as Benitez has a range of choices to make ahead of his first game back in the Premiership.
Captain Jamaal Lascelles may be one surprise exclusion from the team having played through injury at the end of last season and only featured a limited amount for the side in pre-season.
Spurs will be without both first choice full-backs for their opening game as Danny Rose (knee) and Kieran Trippier (ankle) look set to miss the next few weeks.
With Erik Lamela (hip) also unavailable and both Georges-Kevin Nkoudou (foot) and Heung-Min Son (arm) unlikely to start, Pochettino will be hoping this is not the sign of things to come this season after many have already highlighted his squads perceived lack in depth.
Key Battle: Mikel Merino vs Mousa Dembélé
The engine room of the team is often the most demanding, but publicly unrewarding part to play, however, the players manning their respective team’s controls will have a large say in the outcome of this game.
Newcastle’s new signing may only have made 9 appearances for Borussia Dortmund last term, but he has a strong mentality to go with an impressive passing ability which he showed off in exquisite style against Wolfsburg.
He also won 18 of 19 attempted tackles in his limited Bundesliga appearances last season and has a reasonable physicality which saw him win 60% of aerial duels whilst he was at Osasuna. Whether he can build on these statistics in England remains a subjective question.
Facing the young Spaniard will be the experienced and imposing figure of Dembélé. His displays in the centre of the pitch last season were a major factor in Tottenham’s control over many of their games.
Maintaining possession and driving play forwards has become second nature for the Belgian midfielder and he will again do so with a sense of composure which makes playing the game look easy.
Controlling the purse strings
Much of Rafa’s problems this summer have revolved around a perceived lack of action in the transfer market. While nobody could’ve predicted how mad the summer window would be, many people have assumed that Newcastle had a small fortune close at hand to strengthen his side with.
Mike Ashley was quoted as saying that all available funds would be supplied to Benitez this summer to ready the side for the Premier League, although few counted the true cost that a season in the Championship inflicted upon their finances.
With a season spent paying top-flight wages and receiving Championship income (albeit with a parachute payment) most of the available funds appear to have been already used up.
There’s still an argument that the side are in need of another striker and another number 10, however, shifting unwanted players seems to be the clubs current priority to count up exactly how much is left in the pot before the end of the month.
Always the bridesmaid…
With a squad that many people believe contains the strongest starting XI in the league, Tottenham and Pochettino will have many neutral fans willing them to success again this season.
They have also slowly inched their way up the standings in recent years which suggests that by going one better again this year, they will claim the trophy. However, with only two league cups to show for the last 25 years of football, Spurs are more recently becoming in need of claiming some silverware to reward their efforts.
With Pochettino universally lauded as a great coach from many quarters of the game, the team he has assembled and developed at Tottenham is certainly capable of achieving great things together. While it’s always been regarded that their time will soon come, they need to stand up and collectively grab what’s in front of them before their time runs out.
Controlling the wage bill
While Tottenham have regularly been able to spend large amounts of money on acquiring their transfer targets, the club’s wage structure has often been viewed as the main sticking point for many players.
Danny Rose made the same point to a major tabloid recently, though it appears from the outside looking in that the problem is actually growing as their players receive greater recognition for their recent endeavours.
With several rumoured targets linked to Spurs before news was quietly swept under the carpet, it could be that this wage cap is proving to be a continued problem for Tottenham in the current window. It’s also well known that Daniel Levy does not like news of his intended business to be aired in public prior to being confirmed though, so it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction within these whispers.
What will help determine the scale of the problem will be the situation Tottenham find themselves in at the start of September, although it could be a nervous few weeks for fans before we get to that point.
PREDICTION: Newcastle United 1 – 1 Tottenham Hotspur
While I can’t see Newcastle white-washing Tottenham this time around, I can see them pulling off a surprise draw. Many people, Newcastle fans included, are expecting Benitez to be handing out tin hats to his starting XI as they enter the pitch on Sunday but they will be a well-drilled outfit and a tricky proposition for last year’s runners up.
Furthermore, if Tottenham don’t get a quick start to this game, Newcastle’s probable counter-attacking game-plan will slowly begin to work in their favour.
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