Newcastle vs Spurs is how we kick-off the new Premier League season, as we travel to the far north for the first game of an eagerly awaited campaign.
Uncertainty remains over the Spurs formation and line-up, given the lack of players being added for key positions, most notably upfront. However, Andre Villas-Boas will be looking to get off to a good start by beating a Newcastle side that is also struggling with injuries.
Last season saw us draw 2-2 at St. James’s Park as Shola Ameobi snatched a late equaliser after Jermain Defoe and Rafael van der Vaart had given us the lead. Can we take the three points this time?
Here are five key points to ponder for Newcastle vs Spurs this weekend.
1. Newcastle vs Spurs Opening Day Records
Opening day hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for Spurs over the years. Last season we weren’t involved in the first round of fixtures with our home match against Everton postponed. On the other nineteen occasions we have kicked off a Premier League season, our record reads like this.
Fortunately it doesn’t look much better for the Magpies, having faired only slightly better. Their opening day record in the Premier League reads.
So it looks like a draw on paper and our last five trips to St. James’s Park in the Premier League would make that a decent result.
2011/12 Newcastle 2 Spurs 2
2010/11 Newcastle 1 Spurs 1
2008/09 Newcastle 2 Spurs 1
2007/08 Newcastle 3 Spurs 1
2006/07 Newcastle 3 Spurs 1
Without Aneobi’s late leveller last year, we would have won at Newcastle in the Premier League for the first time since the 2004/05 season. That day saw Thimothee Atouba’s pile driver win us the points in a 1-0 Lilywhite victory.
2. How Newcastle will play?
Towards the end of last season, Newcastle switched to a 4-3-3 and it really paid dividends. The move from a 4-4-2 allowed Yohan Cabaye to move from playing in a midfield two with Cheick Tiote, to having two players behind him in Tiote and Jonas Gutierrez. This set him free to supply Papiss Demba Cisse with passes, as we’ll see in a minute.
The team not only switched formation, but also started to operate a ‘bridge press.’ This relied on the front three of Demba Ba, Papiss Demba Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa, combined with the advanced Yohan Cabaye, to apply pressure up the field. Whilst these four may not be in the best positions to press after attacking, there was then a gap, or bridge, to the six defensively minded players further back.
We can see this in action using Stats Zone when Newcastle were at home to Stoke at the backend of last season.
Newcastle won 3-0, but the game was actually played 32% of the time in the their final third compared to just 17% in Stoke’s. The Magpies utilising their light press up the field, but then making the bulk of their tackles and interceptions in their own half with their six more defensively minded players. Of the 13 interceptions in the game, Tiote and Gutierrez made 7 of them.
A week earlier at home to Bolton, we can see a similar thing happening as the game is again played 31% of the time in Newcastle’s final third to just 24% in Bolton’s. When the Trotters got through the early light press by the front four, they ran into a wall in the other six defensively minded players and lost the match 2-0.
Saturday should see Newcastle continue with this 4-3-3, but Alan Pardew is without Hatem Ben Arfa and has been playing mainly 4-4-2 in pre-season. Without the Frenchman, who is vital to play the right wing role, we could see Gabriel Obertan come in, or he could go 4-4-2 with Cisse and Ba upfront.
Newcastle did go 4-4-2 for their trip to The Lane back in February, but getting battered 5-0 by us that day prompted Pardew to switch his formation to a 4-3-3 for the rest of the season. Will this scare him from going 4-4-2 again and risk being over-run in the midfield?
3. Watch out for Yohan Cabaye’s through balls
The switch to a 4-3-3 by the Geordie boys allowed Yohan Cabaye to move further up the park and look to slide balls in for Papiss Demba Cisse. This is something we have to watch out for on Saturday.
If we look at Newcastle’s games with Stoke and Bolton again, we can see just how much Cabaye looks for the Senegalese international.
In a 4-3-3 formation, Cabaye is able to influence the game in three main areas.
Firstly he is able to pick up the ball from the two deeper lying midfielders and the defence.
Secondly, he can move out to exchange passes with the two wide forwards in Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa.
Thirdly, he can play through balls for Papiss Demba Cisse.
Against Stoke we can see these three main active areas and the four through-balls he attempts to play for Demba Cisse, one resulting in a goal.
In the match with Bolton we can see a similar thing happening. Cabaye creates an assist in zone one this time, by picking up the ball from the defence and playing it through to Hatem Ben Arfa who scores after a long mazy run.
Newcastle’s second goal on the night comes from Demba Cisse after a Shola Ameobi Cross, but Yohan Cabaye is able to get the ball out to Ameobi in zone two.
He also tries to get four through balls in to Papiss Demba Cisse in zone three, but only one is successful.
Against Swansea he is also able to pick out the run of Papiss Demba Cisse for both Newcastle goals, as the Magpies beat the Swans 2-0 at the Liberty Stadium.
Spurs must be alert to Yohan Cabaye looking to split the defence with a through ball.
4. Newcastle vs Spurs: Tottenham Line-up
Andre Villas-Boas would like to go 4-3-3 but will probably go 4-2-3-1 as he has been in pre-season. He has been starting Jermaine Jenas with Jake Livermore as his double pivot at the base of the midfield, which would see Spurs line-up like this.
Rafael van der Vaart has been coming in to games from the bench, so it will be interesting to see if AVB puts him in with Gylfi Sigurdsson. The two could play together, with the Icelander operating from deeper as looked it in the article ‘Can Rafael van der Vaart and Gylfi Sigurdsson exits in the same midfield?”
5. Newcastle vs Spurs Team News
Scott Parker is out until mid-October and Sandro looks set to miss the opener after playing For Brazil in the Olympics. Gareth Bale is 50/50 after aggravating the back injury that saw him miss out on representing Team GB but should be ok to go.
Newcastle may also resemble the walking wounded with Hatem Ben Arfa set to miss out with a knee injury. Demba Ba, Papiss Demba Cisse and Fabricio Coloccini all missed the Geordies’ last pre-season game in an attempt to make it this weekend. Yohan Cabaye is also short of match fitness but is expected to play, so Newcastle may not be at full pace just yet.
Newcastle vs Spurs Match Prediction: 1-1
What do you reckon the score will be?