On Saturday Newcastle United head to London, not to forcibly remove Demba Ba's name from Harry Redknapp's mouth, but to attempt to prove their credentials as a genuine contender for European competition. The task is significantly steeper than it was when Newcastle hosted Spurs at St. james' Park, a match in which the Mags' midfield of Jonas, Cabaye, Tiote and Obertan stood up to the test of the Spurs' "Best In the Premier League" midfield of Modric, Livermore, van der Vaart, Parker and Bale. This time around, however, Newcastle will be without the services of both Yohan Cabaye and Cheik Tiote in addition to the long-term injury absence of Steven Taylor.
Sitting in fifth place in the Premier League on the downhill slope of the season, sights are being adjusted to and fixed upon European qualification. As such, no points are expendable, but the points that are on offer at White Hart Lane are points that even the most ardent of Toon supporters would be hard pressed to look you in the eye and say they felt 3 points would be Coming Home.
Interestingly, there is not too much different in terms of league position between this time around and the first match in week 8 of the season. The first match found the Toon in 4th place hosting a 6th place Spurs squad. Now a 3rd place Spurs squad host a 5th place Newcastle squad. Some points:
- White Hart Lane is the away venue at which Newcastle has had the most success in the Premier League Era with 6 victories. On the flip side, Spurs have lost only once in their last 29 home matches.
- On recent form, the road has been feast or famine for the Toon with 2 wins and 4 losses in their last 6 trips away from St. James' Park, and further Newcastle have not drawn in 11 matches.
- Conventional wisdom says that Papiss Cisse will get the start at White Hart Lane in lieu of injured Leon Best, but Alan Pardew was very coy about that possibility. Don't be surprised to have to suffer through another 45 minutes of Shola Ameobi on Saturday. In all fairness, though, Shola did score in the reverse fixture at St. James' Park earlier in the season.
- Emmanuel Adebayor has not scored in Spurs' last 7 matches. History dictates to us that he will score 11 goals on Saturday and setup perennial Golden Boot contender Louis Saha for a half-dozen more. Of course on the opposite side, Demba Ba has, of course scored 16 since Ramadan and Papiss Cisse has scored 1 in his last 1.
- There have been goals at White Hart Lane- 14 in total over the last 6 matches. That's the good news. The bad? 11 have been for Spurs.
I really can't sugar coat this very much... one can't figure that a Perch Guthrie CM combo is going to have nearly the success against the Spurs midfield that Tiote Cabaye would have. On the flip side, we may come out a tiny bit better with Davide Santon's emergence at LB versus Aaron Lennon (if he passes fit) Gareth Bale (if he switches to the right as he did for the first match) or Niko Krancjar. Danny Simpson will need to have a good game on the right, with Gareth Bale having played on the left for Spurs in their last several matches. Two matches ago, Bale produced in a massive way against Wigan, scoring 2 very high quality goals.
This match has all the hallmarks of a match that a different squad would walk into and pack it in, playing for a draw. There are two reasons that this is not likely to occur: A) It has proven to not be Alan Pardew's style. We have marched into similar situations and (to our credit) attempted to play our attacking style. B) Especially without Steven Taylor (and it should be mentioned NO CB COVER FROM THE JANUARY WINDOW), we just don't have the defense to try to do that. We're not necessarily locked into a "We have to outscore them" kind of mentality (Think Mike D'Antoni-era Phoenix Suns), but if we go in and play specifically not to concede, you know we'll concede. That said, our trademark defending like our hair's on fire will be necessary on Saturday. #SimmoOffTheLine wouldn't hurt, and Mike Williamson will have to be a notch above solid. Spurs' strikers are not going to beat our defense with speed (as we've shown susceptible to), but their wings sure will. We're definitely going to march into London with our high line, so we're going to make sure we take brilliant angles in recovery because their midfield will find the through balls.
The more I sit and think about how Spurs can pull us apart, the less good I feel about this match... although unlike most talking heads I do believe that Newcastle are good value for their league position. I could see us going out and playing a blinder and something positive happening, but I'm not going to count on it.
Newcastle United FC
Currently: 5th place, 12-6-6, 42 pts
Projected XI: Krul | Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon | Obertan, Guthrie, Perch, Jonas | Ameobi, Ba
Projected Subs: Elliot, Ferguson, Gosling, Abeid, Ben Arfa, Lovenkrands, Cisse
Currently: 3rd place, 15-5-4, 50 pts
Out: Bentley (knee), Gallas (calf/shin), Jenas (achilles), Huddlestone (ankle/foot)
Doubtful: Defoe (hamstring), Lennon (hamstring)
Probable: Kaboul (knee), van der Vaart (calf/shin)
Projected XI: Friedel | Assou-Ekotto, King, Kaboul, Walker | Livermore, Parker | Bale, van der Vaart, Modric | Adebayor
Projected Subs: Cudicini, Nelsen, Khumalo, Luongo, Lancaster, Rose, Saha
While it is difficult to look at this match with positivity, I will leave you with this:
When these two squads met the last time, it was supposed to mark the start of our imminent slide down the table to "where we belong". 17 matches and nearly 30 points later, we're still here. My point is that this team has something special, and you really can't rule out something special happening this weekend.
Tottenham Hotspur 2 (Adebayor, Bale) - 2 (Ba, Cisse) Newcastle United