On the first weekend of the Premier League season there are certain matches that quicken the pulse. Not necessarily familiar clashes between two of the division’s longstanding juggernauts, but games that fall in line with the invigorating refreshment of a new term.
Newcastle United vs. Tottenham Hotspur is one of those encounters.
The hosts, back in the Premier League after a one-year hiatus, will conjure a stirring atmosphere at St James’ Park on Sunday. Although some will be perturbed about their summer business—manager Rafael Benitez is one—those anxieties will be shelved when the Local Hero theme blurs out in the top flight.
Those supporters and players will be delighted to be back. And it’s always good to have Newcastle around; the amalgamation of passion, ambition, bravado and inevitable breakdown always makes for a fascinating watch in the north east. With Sunderland and Middlesbrough relegated, it’s important to have a top-flight team in the league from that part of the country too.
They’ll feel as though there’s something poignant about playing Spurs on Day 1. In their previous Premier League game, Tottenham fell apart at St James’, losing 5-1 and surrendering second place to Arsenal. That having chased Leicester City for the title all season.
Newcastle will take on a curious Spurs side on Sunday. One that has made progress under Mauricio Pochettino since that meltdown, although not shifted too much in terms of personnel. Much to the disdain of some, Danny Rose included, the north-London outfit have yet to make a single major signing this summer.
With those simmering tensions in mind, this is a crucial one for Tottenham. Lose here and the calls for investment will only grow louder.
Where to watch Newcastle-Spurs on US TV and streaming
There has always been a precarious feeling to Benitez at Newcastle. Even last season, when they were clear at the summit of the Championship table, there was talk of unrest and tension. The Spanish coach, throughout his career, has always felt one dispute away from walking out the door.
Yet they managed to preserve a good thing. Newcastle, after an inconspicuous start, proved themselves as one of the two standout sides in the second tier and although they were only crowned as champions on the final day—perhaps Brighton’s celebrations had something to do with that—few would deny their status as the division’s best side.
And previews and predictions up and down the country are predicting the Magpies, with their illustrious manager and fanatical backing, will stay up comfortable. Though returning to the Premier League is never quite so easy.
Benitez himself has already admitted he is “not happy” with the club’s recruitment too. Florian Lejeune, Javi Manquillo and Jacob Murphy have been the major additions, while Mikel Merino looks to be a smart loan pickup from Borussia Dortmund. It appears Benitez still feels the squad is short, though.
What will encourage Newcastle supporters is that they have a balanced squad intact already. In midfield they’re particularly strong, with Jonjo Shelvey and Matt Ritchie no doubt desperate to show their Premier League class. The same goes for Dwight Gayle, one of the most prolific players in the second tier last term.
And of course, they have Benitez. A meticulous coach who has shown throughout his career that he can always find a formula to get 11 players through a football match. That knack will be critical as Newcastle plot their way towards Premier League survival.
Given there will be so much focus on Spurs on “home” soil this season at Wembley, you sense Pochettino will be delighted to begin the new campaign with an away clash.
There should be a massive sense of optimism from Tottenham fans on the brink of 2017-18 too, even though the positivity has been punctured somewhat by Rose’s interview with a red-top newspaper. That’s because Spurs, despite no senior purchases, still arguably have the best XI in the division.
They undoubtedly have the best defence, with the watchful Toby Alderweireld and the marauding Jan Vertonghen both magnificent in their craft. A midfield packed with power and poise knits the team together brilliantly, providing a sure footing for Spurs’ attacking stars to blossom.
It’s at this end of the pitch where Pochettino will want to see his side kick on again this term. Of course, that’s not to say Dele Alli and Harry Kane were underwhelming in 2016-17, rather they appear to be ready to take another step forward; to go from potential world-class talents to thoroughbred world-class talents.
If they can do that, Spurs have a fine chance of going close this season. And while some will lament their lack of activity in terms of acquisitions, Pochettino is a man who cherishes continuity and familiarity. They’re traits his style of football breeds. That should shine through in Week 1 of the season.
It’s a test for Tottenham. They will have bad memories of black-and-white shirts running riot the last time they made the trip to Newcastle and will be on the end of a hostile reception as you’d anticipate. What a chance to show how far they’ve come.
Key Battle – Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden vs. Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen
While Kane’s stellar goalscoring grabbed plenty of headlines late last term, the work done by those in support, particularly Alli and Eriksen, did go a little unnoticed.
At times Alli was utilised as a split striker, pushing on in support or beyond Kane to get on the end of opportunities in the penalty area. Eriksen, who had the best season of his career, was the orchestrator of opportunities, dropping into space, caressing delicate passes into dangerous areas and firing off shots from distance.
It’ll be the job of Newcastle’s midfield duo of Hayden and Shelvey to nullify their impact on the contest. Granted, the latter’s game is more to do with creating instead of constricting the opponent, although he will need to follow the example of the combative former; Hayden is committed, physical and smart at chopping down gaps in the defensive shape.
It’s imperative the Newcastle duo use the ball well too, as Alli and Eriksen will trigger the Tottenham press along with Kane. If possession is surrendered easily and frequently, Spurs have the class to run riot.