After a week of off-field drama, it’s finally time to get the focus back on the pitch. Spurs welcome Newcastle United to The Lane on Saturday in an attempt to close the gap on Manchester United in second place. Newcastle too, will be hoping to pick up points and apply pressure to the more fancied sides around them. Newcastle are just one point behind Chelsea, who face a tricky trip to Goodison Park.
Manager Alan Pardew has maintained the same formation in all but one match this season. The 4-4-2 suits Newcastle when they are at full strength. The combination of Tiote and Cabaye is one of the best central pairings in the Premier League. But with Tiote on Cup of Nations duty and Cabaye suspended, Newcastle will instead play Guthrie and Perch in the centre. They do not have the quality and versatility of that first choice combination. Perch has made 16 appearances without scoring a goal and creating just one chance. He also averages less than one successful tackle per game. Guthrie has not played regularly this season, although he scored a fantastic goal against Fulham.
Newcastle have won two consecutive matches since their defeat at Fulham. That embarrassing collapse seems to have prompted a reaction and a subtle tactical reshuffle from Pardew’s men. Against Fulham, Newcastle made 38 interceptions and 110 challenges. Since then, they’ve averaged only 13 interceptions and 130 challenges. Newcastle have also dropped their passing rate (Averaging 100 less passes) and passing completion rate (from 77% to 69%).
The five goal second half against Fulham prompted Pardew to shift to a deeper set up. Rather than pressing high up the pitch, his midfield has sat back more, inviting their opposition to attack a compressed defence, relying on the counter-attack. This has been a highly effective tactic against two poor sides. It may be that Pardew intended to play that way anyway, not fearing the attacking prowess of Aston Villa and Blackburn. He may choose to adopt a similar approach against Spurs, but that would be dangerous. The inclusion of Jermain Defoe is key to how Spurs will attack Newcastle. His constant presence in and around the box allows Adebayor to roam and create. He and Gareth Bale enjoy switching positions, but when Van der Vaart plays, that can mean there is no target in the box. Defoe solves that problem. While Adebayor and Bale will be flexible, Defoe will hold Newcastle’s defenders in a central position.
If Newcastle decline to press, the overlapping runs of Walker, Assou-Ekotto and (potentially) Lennon will penetrate and Modric will find a way through. The little Croatian averages 90 completed passes per match from around 100 attempts (90% average). He also has 54 chances in 22 appearances. Spurs’ midfield is their strength and remains intact. Modric and Parker will play and their excellent combination allows the wide men to cause trouble. Bale and Lennon are a devastating wing pairing, ably backed up by Assou-Ekotto and Walker from fullback. Spurs utilise tactical simplicity to get the best out of their strong squad.
Papiss Demba Cisse marked his debut from the bench with a winning goal and expectations are now growing about Newcastle’s second Senegalese striker. He and Demba Ba will be the major weapons for Newcastle on Saturday. Neither are particularly creative; Ba has only 10 chances and one assist this season. But, if the players around them can create, both are deadly finishers. Both have scored with at least half of their shots on target this season. In terms of creativity, Newcastle are a little light. Pardew criticised Hatem Ben Arfa’s mentality during the week, but the enigmatic Frenchman could contribute some much needed skill to his grafting Newcastle team. He has 11 chances in just five starts and two goals from just four shots on target. Gabriel Obertan may also make a return to the starting side. The former United winger has undoubted talent, but is a frustrating figure. Despite his penchant for poor decision making, he has 21 chances in 16 starts; potentially worth a recall. It is also worth remembering the quality of Gutierrez and Ryan Taylor who have more than 50 chances between them.
Newcastle have lost four of their last six matches away from home, winning just once. That was their most recent away match, 2-0 at Ewood Park. Evidently, despite arresting their slide in the last six weeks of last year; when they won just once and lost five of eight matches, their away form is yet to fully recover. Spurs have an excellent record at home. Beaten only once, in August, they have won nine at home and drawn just twice. They have also conceded just five goals at home since the Man City game.
There has been little focus this week on the relatively poor performance at Anfield on Monday night. The coverage of Harry Redknapp has overshadowed what was a disappointing result for Spurs. They will hope to bounce back against an impressive and improving Newcastle United.
We’ll leave you with the passing stats from the previous encounter at Newcastle. The match ended in a 2-2 draw. All of the stats below are from the Quick Match section in EPLIndex.com’s Stats Centre. Wish to have access to Opta Stats yourself? You can subscribe now!