16.10.11 – Sunday 4pm
Location: St James’
Early prospects: A thorough examination.
A largely refreshed Newcastle return from the international break to take on Tottenham Hotspur, looking for a 4th consecutive win (and 13th consecutive game unbeaten) in front of the late Sunday lunch crowds of Sky Sports ‘Super Sunday’.
For once the footballing gods have smiled upon us during international week. Through a variety of reasons only three players from what would be considered our first team squad were involved in earnest in service to their nation, with only Gutierrez, Santon and Cabaye seeing any sort of pitch time – meaning 13 of the 16 players in the match-day squad at Wolves, including key men such as Coloccini, S.Taylor and Tiote, have had ample time to take a well earned breather.
Even as the most disingenuous have cried that NUFC’s position is irrelevant as we have ‘yet to play anyone decent’, this weekend will undoubtedly be the most stern test we have faced yet this season – Alan Pardew equally under no illusions, commenting: “It sets us up for a real blue-riband game with Spurs who are far superior to us individually. They have top international players. But we’re a decent team, and we’ll get a gauge of how good a team we are…”. Performances have been choppy, no doubt, but points have still been ground out (particularly in hostile environments away from home), and with the home advantage of St James’, where Spurs have only two league wins in 10 years, we have some justification to feel a little ambitious.
Lose this game and we’ll still have started the season brilliantly. But if we win…
Team Line-ups and Strategies:
After an unusually low-key pre-season where the concentration was more upon who would leave Tottenham rather than arrive, the lilywhites have re-grouped well and now arguably look a more formidable proposition than the strong outfit which started last season.
Demba Ba looks to be clear to play after he had reported for his footballing national service but took no playing part due to “hard ground” being deemed too risky for the welfare of Demba’s debatable knee. Elsewhere Davide Santon completed the best part of 2 games for the Italian u21’s to go with his reserve outings previous and should now be considered fit for selection – although given the high profile nature of the game and the form of the team as a whole it is likely that Alan Pardew will not change the LB position, nor the remainder of the team providing players report back from international duty entirely injury free. Back on home turf, it is likely NUFC will attempt to adopt a possession game again, but likely with a far more cautious mentality.
Our opposition can call upon most of their healthy squad resource, with only William Gallas and the clumsy Michael Dawson very unlikely to feature through injury, along with the definite absence of Tom Huddlestone. The menacing, on-loan Emanuel Adebayor is rated 50-50 for the game with media darling Harry Redknapp quoting “It’s touch and go for him really” – so expect him to play… After a daunting start to the season where the lilywhites succumbed to the unstoppable juggernauts that are the red and blue halves of Manchester they have managed four wins in a row, scoring 10 and conceding just twice in the process. Much of this, it can be argued, is down to some sensible signings, with the introduction of Scott Parker instantly slotting in as an excellent foil for Luka Modric, and the complete striker (when interested at least…) that is Emanuel Adebayor giving them much needed potency and presence up front. Under Redknapp Spurs really only know to play flamboyant attacking football, so no change in strategy is expected for this fixture.
Opposition strengths and notable dangers:
Naturally with this Spurs outfit, their strength lies in an effective implementation of a heavy passing and possession based game – likely to probe and expose NUFC’s weaknesses like no other team so far this season.
1. Strength in width: In something of a throw-back to the famous ‘entertainers’ Newcastle side, Spurs use the full extents of the pitch to their advantage, stretching and chipping away the sides of the opposition to create both space and chances. The sheer athleticism of Gareth Bale, and trickery of Aaron Lennon is well documented in helping this, but what perhaps is not is the support they both receive from their respective full-backs. Tottenham can attack with ferocity on either flank – flanks which are still looking vulnerable in NUFC’s defence.
2. Modric dictating tempo: The once NUFC target Luka Modric has developed superbly in the PL and now looks every bit a top-class midfielder. With the pitch spread wide, Modric uses the extra space in the centre to dictate play – averaging a pass every 90 seconds of which an impressive 87% of them are completed and 2.2 are key passes.
3. Fluid forward-line: Of late, Tottenham have opted for two men up front in a 442, although even when adopting a 4411 with Van Der Vaart off a lone striker, their attack line has been very dynamic and difficult to track for an opposing defender. Both Jermaine Defoe and Van Der Vaart have been seen to drop deep into midfield this season to offer options and help build attacks – with Defoe (shown on the chalkboard, right) covering large areas of the field in the home win against Arsenal. NUFC showed recently at Wolves the defensive headache caused by the dynamism of a constantly moving forward line and will again need the assistance of the midfield in combatting this.
Nine goals from open play (with two from set pieces) says enough in itself about Tottenham’s abilities – un-reliant on dead-ball situations, goals can come from anywhere, at any time of the game.
The temptation will undoubtedly be to keep the same team and style – but a slight formation and strategy change would surely be more wise to limit the effectiveness of what is a superior attacking opponent, whilst maximising our own effectiveness.
1. Starve Modric and Bale: The latter is easier said than done, but the former is not so much if the midfield is set up correctly. Modric tends to drop fairly deep to begin play (being protected by Parker) and move up with it – it’s within this early phase of play that as much pressure should be placed upon him to limit his time on the ball and ability to pick key passes. As for Bale, much will be about the cover Simpson is afforded by his RM (more about this later), but would be wise generally to position himself a little deeper and narrower – offering Bale the flank (because let’s face it, it’s his if he wants it) but pressuring the cross from the byline rather than the shot or fired cut-back.
2. Defensive vulnerabilities: For all their attacking potency, Tottenham remain shaky at the back and often exposed – something which arguably only doesn’t become a significant problem because of Spurs’ strong share of possession. With both full-backs regularly venturing up field to support the wings, the centre backs are often left a little exposed. Within this the prospective Kaboul and King look vulnerable to our own dynamic forwards, if we provide them with service quickly.
3. 4141?: A bit of thinking out loud here… With the opposition strengths noted, perhaps the adoption of a rough 4141 system would be worth a try, with Ben Arfa and Cabaye able to press high up the field whilst providing creativity and support to the lone striker. With the threat from Bale noted, and Obertan’s insistence on leaving Simpson exposed then perhaps R.Taylor would be better posted back at a familiar RM position – providing greater cover to the wing and helping out in the middle on occasions when required, to squeeze central play.
Final thought and gut feeling:
Newcastle endured a torrid time at Molineux a fortnight ago but still managed to leave with a win despite a clearly desperate home team throwing everything at us. Spurs visit with form and bags of ability, but to a ground where they traditionally do not do well, and face an NUFC morally buoyant and largely refreshed after a week off: tight scoring draw.
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