Newcastle vs Tottenham: 3 weaknesses in Spurs’ opening day XI

It's a repeat fixture of last year's opening weekend as Tottenham make the trip to St James' Park.


Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

Tottenham begin their 2018/19 campaign amid a cloud of turmoil. Mauricio Pochettino was ultimately denied the ‘transfer war chest’ promised upon signing his new contract at the end of last season, and Spurs became the only club in Premier League history not to make a signing in the summer transfer window.

READ: The winners and losers of the summer transfer window

On paper, the squad that ended the 2017/18 season is strong — and a fully fit Lucas Moura with a full pre-season under his belt adds strength in depth — but with injuries continuously mounting and nine World Cup stars only recently returning to training, it leaves the Argentine with something of a selection headache on the weekend. The wrong sort, that is.

This assumes that Spurs use a 4-3-3, although the same points apply for a 4-2-3-1. Moreover, the caveat is that Pochettino could rush back his World Cup participants or spring a tactical surprise or two, but here are the three perceived weaknesses in Spurs’ potential starting XI:

  1. 1 Fernando Llorente up front


    REUTERS/Denis Poroy

    Given Harry Kane's exertions in Russia and the fact that he hasn't looked the same player since rapidly returning from an ankle injury at the start of April, it's unlikely the England captain will start, despite his insistence.

    Pochettino could deploy Son Heung-min as a central striker — a role he has fulfilled on numerous occasions — but a dearth of wingers means this option requires Georges-Kevin Nkoudou to start out wide.

    The expected scenario, therefore, is that Son starts on the right, Lucas on the left, with Fernando Llorente spearheading the attack. And here we find weakness number one.

    Tottenham have regularly used a 4-3-3 in pre-season.
    A formation used sporadically in 2017/18, Pochettino frequently set up in a 4-3-3 in pre-season, with this particular front three seemingly first choice given current availability of personnel.

    Llorente may have scored twice in pre-season — a brace in the International Champions Cup against Roma — but these games must be taken with a pinch of salt. Remember when Darren Bent scored twice against the same opponents in summer 2008...? Exactly.

    The Spaniard scored just once in the 2017/18 Premier League, largely due to the fact Spurs never played to his strengths. A dominant force in the air, Llorente thrives on early crosses and high balls played into the box, but Tottenham often prefer to work the ball into dangerous areas, subsequently playing it on the ground.

    His hold-up play is decent, but he's not the striker to play a through ball on the turn into space for a wide forward running beyond him.

    The issue is that without Llorente dropping deeper to pick up the ball, there's no focal point to Tottenham's build-up play. But, in doing so, this stops him from getting into the box and isolating defenders for aerial duels.

    Unless Tottenham focus on crossing into Llorente — with Son and Lucas resisting urges to cut inside, instead taking the outside and aiming for the byline — and ease the pressure on him to link play, expect a similar struggle against Newcastle.

  2. 2 Luke Amos in midfield


    REUTERS/Denis Poroy

    "I’m in my fifth year, do you think I am going to be scared to play him?"

    Pochettino bravely asserted that Luke Amos was in line for a surprise inclusion in Tottenham's opening day starting XI after impressing in the International Champions Cup campaign.

    Coupled with Victor Wanyama's expected recurrence of the knee injury that kept him in the same purgatory as former player Sandro Ranieri, and Eric Dier's lack of match sharpness, Amos is one of few central midfield options available.

    If Spurs set up in a 4-2-3-1, Amos and Sissoko form the double pivot, with Eriksen ahead.

    He was one of Spurs' best performers in pre-season and Pochettino himself noted that "desire and energy" can compensate for a young player's lack of experience. However, mental traits can only get you so far. You need the techinical ability and knowhow to match, especially in a top-level fixture.

    A lot depends on what formation Spurs use. In a 4-2-3-1 — although not the best and most reliable partner — Moussa Sissoko is at least present alongside Amos to pick up defensive slack and provide additional cover to an already vulnerable-looking back four.

    In a single pivot, however, Amos is the sole holding midfielder as Sissoko bombs forwards to join attacking moves. It puts significant defensive responsibility on the 21-year-old's shoulders and Newcastle will likely target the centre, specifically Amos, as a means of breaking Tottenham down.

    Whether Amos sinks or swims is as of yet unknown — and his pre-season displays are indicative of the latter — but he's nonetheless an obvious weakness in the starting XI compared against Wanyama or Dier.

  3. 3 A makeshift back four


    REUTERS/Eric Miller

    With Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose all returning to training only this week, none are probable starters against Newcastle. This leaves Pochettino with very few options.

    Serge Aurier will start at right back, whilst Davinson Sanchez fortunately had an early exit from the World Cup.

    It's the left side that is more concerning, however. Without any other centre backs, it seems as though the Ben Davies experiment will continue, whilst Kyle Walker-Peters — the third choice right back — will assume duties on the left.

    Ben Davies made one appearance as a centre back last season and three overall in four years since joining Tottenham.

    Despite his brilliance, Sanchez's one weakness is that he struggles aerially against strong strikers, whilst Davies — a five foot nine left back — is categorically not suitable to play centrally in a for a four-man defence.

    Both could have a tough time dealing with balls over the top or specifically against the aerial prowess of loan signing Salomon Rondon if isolated one-on-one.

    Davies, in particular, looked lost in the 4-1 defeat to Girona and his poor positional discipline as a centre back was repeatedly exposed, such is his natural inclination to advance. Sanchez isn't the most vocal of defenders either, and it's immense pressure to put on a 22-year-old to orchestrate a defence.

    Aurier, similarly, was a defensive liability and was never too far from a costly mistake, whilst Walker-Peters could find life hard on the left if forced to defend his weaker side.

    Final balls for Llorente

    Aurier's final delivery, too, was disappointing last season, whilst Walker-Peters — if used as a left back — is a natural right footer, which means wasting time in having to cut back onto his strong side to get a cross away, or firing tame efforts off his left.

    This links back to Llorente's challenges up front, and could hinder his efforts in the final third if he's not receiving the delivery his style of play dictates. To make matters worse, Trippier — arguably Spurs' best crosser — is likely unavailable.

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Oli Stein

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Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_

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