Newcastle United vs Tottenham Hotspur
Venue: St James’ Park
TV: Sky Sports Premier League
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Newcastle United host Tottenham Hotspur in the early kick-off on Saturday afternoon, in what will be both sides opening fixture of the 2018/19 Premier League season.
Both teams made significant strides on the field last season to cement their relative standing within the league, although turbulent summers have dampened expectations ahead of what could be a decisive season in deciding each clubs future. Despite this, a winning start could turn any offseason worries into a merely a memory.
In his mind, Rafa Benitez will understand the importance of getting at least a point this weekend, if not all three, if his side has any ambition of repeating 2017/18’s heroics, but more importantly transforming the sour atmosphere that has developed on Tyneside of late.
The Spaniard emphatically guided an underwhelming squad to tenth in the Premier League last term, but the cohesion and work ethic that defined Newcastle’s previous season appears to have evaporated before this campaign has even begun.
Although an opening day loss to Spurs wouldn’t be catastrophic, a strong performance could revitalise a club that appears anything but united, from the bench to the boardroom. A poor showing, however, would be a stark reminder of how overly reliant The Magpies have been on their manager.
Benitez has been exceptional during his stay at St James’ Park, but his relationship with owner Mike Ashley is becoming increasingly fractious after some lacklustre recruitment. Don’t be surprised to see the Spaniard edging towards the exit door if he feels he has taken the club as far as he can, relative to his working conditions.
Momentum is a critical factor in putting together a successful season and now is the time to build it, as a slow start would only leave Newcastle suffocated by the pressure of relegation.
As North London rivals Arsenal finally sought to change the clubs direction this season, Tottenham did anything but. Moving to their new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was supposed to be a joyous occasion as they finally transitioned the stature of the club from outsiders to belonging in their surroundings with the elite. Unfortunately, a shadow of doubt has been cast over this transition, due to yet another apathetic recruitment strategy.
In Spurs’ case, it’s nothing short of imperative that they produce a winning performance this weekend to mask their failures in the transfer market. A convincing victory might not silence the doubters; however, it will at least keep them quiet whilst Mauricio Pochettino goes about doing what he does best: improving the ability of the players already at his disposal.
Conversely, dropping points will only heighten the already intense criticism Daniel Levy has found himself on the receiving end of, and it’s possible this negativity could filter all the way down to the pitch. With the top six as competitive as its ever been, missing out on Champions League football would be a disaster for Tottenham; they must start well to avoid playing catch up in an attempt to finish in the top four.
As for the weekend, Newcastle will be without injured centre-back Florian Lejeune, who ruptured his cruciate ligament in pre-season and is expected to be out of action for an extended period of the campaign. His replacement in the starting line-up will likely be new recruit Fabian Schar, recently acquired from Deportivo La Coruna.
Benitez has resigned winger Kenedy on loan from Chelsea after impressive displays in the second half of last season and made the permanent signing of Martin Dubravka in goal. Although the keeper is a slight doubt, both players will attempt to replicate the previous terms form to avoid any selection headaches in their respective positions.
The biggest question facing the Newcastle manager will be who to start up front after recently obtaining the services of Salomon Rondon and Yoshinori Muto. The Venezuelan Rondon has plenty of Premier League experience with West Bromwich Albion and is excellent at holding the ball up, as well as being a dangerous aerial threat. Due to Muto’s inexperience in this division, expect to see him on the bench.
Meanwhile, for Spurs, Harry Winks is the only player definitely out of action with a Malleolar injury to his foot. As well as this though Erik Lamela, Moussa Sissoko and Victor Wanyama are all doubtful of starting. To add to this both Alli and Trippier have only just recovered from muscle injuries sustained at the World Cup.
The biggest concern for Spurs will be that nine of their players featured in the World Cup semi-finals for a total of 5,202 minutes; this has put an enormous amount of strain on Tottenham’s pre-season. A large percentage of their first team regulars coming back late and they will likely not be at match fitness by Saturday’s game. Pochettino is an advocate of the importance of pre-season, due to this it’s plausible he will field a significantly weakened Spurs side to allow the World Cup participants within his squad to regain full levels of fitness.
Predicted starting XI’s:
Newcastle United: Dubravka; Yedlin, Lascelles, Schar, Dummett; Ritchie, Shelvey, Diame, Kenedy; Perez; Rondon
Tottenham Hotspur Lloris; Trippier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Davies; Sissoko Dier; Eriksen, Alli, Son; Kane
Prediction: Newcastle United 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1
Due to Spurs lack of preparation for the encounter, it’s difficult to see them winning the game as you would typically expect against an opponent such as Newcastle. However, The Magpies recent good run of form against the North London side means a draw is a likely outcome, which would suit the hosts.