Newcastle United: the feel good story of the year. If you live in Newcastle, at least. Largely, our 15 points from 7 matches thus far have been met with grave shaking of heads, plenty of "Yeah, but..."s and more than a few "It'll not last"s. It seems that our application to the Cool Kids' Club is not only incomplete, but not surprisingly, unwelcome. All jest aside, this is likely to be our first solid test of the year as far as the talking heads and pundits are concerned. So far, we have taken care of business against the clubs that we should have taken points off of-- which very early on is encouraging; few will forget dropping 6 points to Blackpool last year, for instance.
I don't think that there are any of the Toon Army that are sitting out there honestly dreaming of a spot in Europe at the end of the season... yet. 7 matches in a 38 match season (18%) is the epitome of small sample size. As an illustration, if you were to project the numbers across the entire season, we would end up on 81 points, which would have been good enough to win the league last year. The point is I don't think that anyone is getting ahead of themselves save for some members of the media intelligentsia who would, presumably, rather that we just go back to mid-table where they think we belong. Regardless of opinion on Newcastle's worthiness to occupy 4th heading into this weeks match, everyone can agree that we face a tremendous test when Spurs come to St. James' Park.
- Newcastle have lost 3 out of 5 matches against Tottenham in the Harry Redknapp era, drawing once (at home last year) and winning once.
- If halftime results from the matches to this point had held, Tottenham would have had 11 points. They sit on 12 currently, which tells us that Tottenham have only earned 1 point in the second half. On the other hand, Newcastle have earned 5 points in the second half this year-- so if the result changes after 45 minutes, it is likely to change in Newcastle's favor.
- Aaron Lennon was the Magpie killer last year, scoring in both fixtures last year, but he has only made 2 league appearances for Spurs this term, so it seems less likely that he will do so this year. With Joey Barton in the lineup on the right side of midfield, the tendency was for him to tuck in towards the center some creating space on the wing for to operate. This space is less likely to materialize with Obertan patrolling the right, although he does at times drift across the middle. Usually this is a behavior of opportunity rather than habit, however.
- Outside of identity-crisis stricken Arsenal in week one, the Spurs midfield is head and shoulders above any that Newcastle's newly constructed midfield have encountered. Assuming that AP plays Yohan Cabaye, you have to feel pretty decent through the middle with he and Cheik Tiote matched up with Modric and Parker. The match-ups that may end up influencing the match the most are on the wings. Rafael van der Vaart was played on the right of Spurs' midfield vs. Arsenal and has been in superb form, but I feel decent with the van der Vaart v. Gutierrez/Raylor situation. On the other side, however, with Bale v. Obertan/Simpson makes me a little more nervous. Obertan can track back, but doesn't really like to, and then you've got Bale v. Simpson if he doesn't... a match-up that I do not like.
- All three of Tottenham's goals vs. Newcastle last year were from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon. They did not, of course, have Emmanuel Adebayor on the forward line. The recently well-traveled striker has scored 3 goals in 4 matches. He is, however, facing a race to be fit for Sunday, having suffered a hamstring strain in the last game against Arsenal. He is currently listed as 50/50... I know which 50 I'd be hoping for.
Tottenham have done well to bring in Brad Friedel-- his experience and consistency have stabilized Spurs at the back. Tim Krul has been in tremendous form thus far, and he's likely to need every bit of that form this weekend if the Toon are to take anything away from White Hart Lane. Edge: Push
Tottenham have allowed 10 goals so far this season. 9 of those came at the hands of Manchester United and Manchester City. The other goal was allowed to Arsenal in their last match. If you rule out the 9 goals from Manchester, Spurs have allowed 1 goal against a list of teams very similar to the list who have accounted for the 4 goals that Newcastle have conceded to this year. I don't know that there's much to choose between them, and I prefer Newcastle just a touch over Spurs, but my fear that we're going to have one of those games that we have someone just inexplicably fall asleep prevents me from giving the edge to the Toon. Edge: Push
In the early-season blowout losses to both Manchester United and City, the Mancunians exerted tremendous influence through the center of midfield. Each team that has played Tottenham this season has had success passing the ball around, completing 80% or more of their passes in every instance but one. This may play well into the more ball-movement oriented offense that we have seen from Newcastle at times this year. Despite how confident we might want to feel, I think that Bale-Modric-Parker-van der Vaart is going to have a leg up on Gutierrez-Tiote-Cabaye-Obertan. Edge: Tottenham
In 6 matches (one fewer than the rest of the league due to the London riots during the opening weekend), Spurs have scored 11 goals, 2 more than Newcastle have scored in 7 matches. If Adebayor loses his race for fitness, perhaps the edge goes to Newcastle when looking just at Defoe with van der Vaart in support vs. Best/Ba. If Adebayor plays, I don't think there's any way you can rate Best/Ba over Adebayor/Defoe and keep a straight face. . . Edge: If Ade plays, Tottenham. If not, Newcastle. (and yes, it did feel strange to type that.)
Tale of the Tape and what happens when someone without clairvoyance tries to tell the future:
So far in 6 matches, Harry Redknapp has used 6 different lineups, which makes for one of three things: 1) He is confused (unlikely), 2) He is a mad genius (probably), or 3) This a very hard match to preview with regard to lineup and tactic (definitely). If Emmanuel Adebayor ends up out for the game, my best guess is that Harry reverts back to the lineup he used vs. Wigan which was essentially a 4-2-1-2-1 with van der Vaart back into the center of midfield with license to move up forward and support Defoe in the attack, Bale and Modric more out in an advanced wing position and Parker and Krancjar more in the holding-mid region. It's possible Lennon returns to the lineup and Modric moves more central... but it's extremely difficult to make a guess with all the different line-ups and positional changes that Harry has run out this year already. The 4-2-1-2-1 sounds like a rather aggressive lineup for an away fixture, but I have to think that Tottenham are going to feel that they can come into St. James' and grab the points, so why not?
Newcastle United FC
Currently: 4th place, 4-3-0, 15 pts
Probable: Yohan Cabaye (ankle)
Projected XI: Krul | Simpson, STaylor, Coloccini, RTaylor | Obertan, Tiote, Jonas | Ben Arfa | Best, Ba
Projected Subs: Elliot, Ferguson, Marveaux, Cabaye, Sammy, Lovenkrands, Shola
Currently: 6th place, 4-0-2, 12 pts
Questionable: Emmanuel Adebayor (hamstring)
Projected XI: Friedel | Assou-Ekotto, King, Kaboul, Walker | Kranjcar, Parker | van der Vaart | Bale, Modric | Defoe
Projected Subs: Gomes, Corluka, Bassong, Livermore, Lennon, Dawson, dos Santos
Check out this discussion started by Rockets4Life to see ideas on alternate lineups for Sunday's match.
Prediction Guaranteed to Be Wrong:
NUFC 1 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur
So I learned something today-- If you schedule a post at a certain time, there's not a real way to unschedule it :( Apologies in advance for a) jumping the shark and b) any small inconsistencies or inaccuracies that one more proof reading would have caught. Oh, well, the die is cast. --Jim