A tough place to go for many premier league sides, St James’ park welcomes Tottenham Hotspur as the Premier League starts up again, following the international break. Newcastle remain unbeaten after seven games and Spurs haven’t won in Newcastle in the Premier League since 2004 when Timothee Atouba scored the winner and Spurs most regular goal scorer in this fixture has been own goals, with Newcastle having gifted Spurs 4 goals in 10 years. This should prove a real test for both sides. Spurs have won four in a row but were below their best in the derby. Newcastle, unbeaten and with a superb defensive record, face a top team for the first time. Can Spurs make it five on the bounce for the first time in two years? Or, can Newcastle make a statement and prove that they are not sitting in fourth place by accident?
Newcastle have built their success this season on strong defensive performances. They have scored only 9 goals, the same number as last placed Bolton, but that doesn’t matter when they have only conceded 4. Interestingly, statistics seem to demonstrate that Newcastle have been both defensively strong and somewhat fortunate. Having conceded 100 goal-scoring chances and only 4 goals, Newcastle have the most favourable conversion rate in the Premier League. Spurs have allowed the relatively modest total of 81 chances for their 10 conceded goals.
Newcastle may have been fortunate in facing teams without the necessary quality to make those chances count. Spurs will hope that luck runs out on Sunday and, in Defoe and Adebayor, they have in-form strikers capable of making them pay. Between them, the pair has 5 goals from 25 shots. That 25% conversion rate exceeds the team average of 13% and both far exceed what Newcastle have experienced so far this season.
Goalkeeper Tim Krul has also been in fine form this season. He has had 65 crosses/corners to deal with and has claimed 56, punching the other 9. He has made three defensive errors, but none led to goals. He has only received passes from his outfield players 6 times. Contrasting with Friedel’s 1 punch and 0 errors, Krul has been less certain than his fine record would suggest. Krul’s distribution also compares poorly with his opposite number. Spurs distribution starts from the back. Brad Friedel has a better than 50% completion rate from goal kicks. Tim Krul has only 33%. He has also only completed 46% of his passes while Friedel has 57%. Each has created one goal scoring chance.
Centre back partners Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini have played seven of Newcastle’s nine matches together this season, including each of their Premier League matches. This kind of defensive continuity may help explain why a team without a genuine left back has been so defensively sound. Newcastle average 10 -20 more possession duels and 100 less passes per game than Spurs. The contribution of new signing Yohan Cabaye and lauded Ivorian defensive midfielder Cheik Tiote must be noted. Cabaye has made two successful tackles and won five possession duels in each of his seven appearances. Tiote also has two tackles per game and won seven duels as well. Their role in screening the back four appears to be a very significant factor in Newcastle’s excellent defensive record. Their ability to cover the back four helps to explain why 100 chances for Newcastle’s opposition has made only four goals.
The statistics would seem to indicate that Newcastle are likely to find plenty of chances to score with a Spurs defence that has conceded 10 goals in 6 matches. But Spurs’ recent form suggests otherwise. The continued presence of talismanic defender Ledley King, with his 91% passing success rate and 58% success in possession duels brings calm and clarity to the Tottenham back-line. It is interesting to note that King has only made 3 tackles in four games. His positioning and ability to read the game enable him to avoid needing to make tackles at all. He brings balance to his marauding French partner Kaboul. Spurs have conceded only seven chances per game with King in the team. The difference Ledley King makes to Spurs should give them a decisive advantage. Kyle Walker does remain a defensive weakness, he was caught marking empty space for the Arsenal equaliser, but his overall contribution remains positive.
Spurs will travel with confidence to St James’ Park. Spurs have made twice the number of goals (8 to 4) and Spurs create 12 goalscoring chances per game to Newcastle’s 9. Spurs have also scored 11 goals to Newcastle’s 4, despite playing one game fewer. Their pace and strike power should have the necessary quality to penetrate Newcastle’s impressive defence. If they can do that, Newcastle may struggle to match them. The power and strength of Sandro and the impressive Scott Parker will match Newcastle’s tough midfield and give Spurs’ creative players the platform to push on into fourth place.