Spurs preview: what to look out for on Sunday
Updated: Sep 27
Photo credit: Chloe Knott - Danehouse
A 7-0 victory will do wonders for your confidence, even if it came against a League 2 side who played the majority of the game with 10 men. Let’s be honest, we would have crucified Bruce if his side had struggled to beat Morecambe so it’s only right that we recognise it was a good performance and an excellent response to the disappointment of Sunday. I would just like to see some consistency in our performances – Bruce has been in charge over 12 months now, but I still feel like Forest Gump eating a box of chocolates when I sit down to watch us play.
Sunday’s horror show against Brighton was one of the worst performances I’ve seen from a Newcastle side. The players did not cover themselves in glory but the defeat laid bare my worst fears about our manager – that he’s a relic of a by-gone era when hoof ball tactics and a magic sponge were cutting edge. I even Googled “Steve Bruce tactics” the other day to see what I would find. I came across this Guardian article by Louise Taylor describing how Bruce was a manager who “refused to move with the times … paying little attention to modern coaching methods, technology or tactics”. A fair assessment of his time at Newcastle you would presume. No. That article was written in 2009 after his stint at Sunderland.
Fans have come under some criticism this week for overreacting to the Brighton defeat, but we’re not just reacting to one game, are we? The win against West Ham was encouraging, it really was, and everything was teed up perfectly for Bruce to show his tactical flexibility by tweaking the system to face Potter’s Brighton, a team that offered a completely a different challenge to the one posed by West Ham. What did he do instead? Well, he chose his starting eleven on the basis that he didn’t want to upset Andy Carroll. Give me strength. There is no place for that sentimental BS in elite level sport. You pick the best team for the job. You could accept the 30% win rate if you felt we were moving towards something, anything, but sadly I think the best we can hope for is we have enough talent in the squad to earn the points needed to stay up – it all feels very Alan Pardew-y.
Anyway, on to Sunday’s opponents then, Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur. Mourinho and his team enjoyed an emphatic 2-5 victory over Southampton last weekend showcasing some, quite frankly, terrifying attacking play. Son Hueng-Min grabbed the headlines after scoring 4 goals from an xG of just 1.3 but it was Spurs captain Harry Kane who was the architect of the victory, with 4 assists and goal to boot. The Saints had the better of the first half and took the lead through a well taken Danny Ings goal which was almost a carbon copy of the one he scored against them last season. Ings showed good movement and acceleration on both occasions to latch onto a lofted pass over the head of the central defender – this is something we could look to exploit with Callum Wilson’s pace and movement.
Video credit: Sky Sports.
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl is nicknamed the ‘Alpine Klopp’ because of the way his teams like to press aggressively and he blamed the defeat on the fact his team didn’t put enough pressure on the ball. Jose Mourinho has been around the block a few times and he set his team up to invite the Saints press by keeping his fullbacks deeper than usual. Once Southampton entered the trap, Spurs looked to break their lines with a rapid transition from defence to attack via some excellent direct and one touch passing which led to all four of Son’s goals. In fact, for all of his goals, there was only 3 players or less involved in the passing chain which highlights what a dangerous counter-attacking side they can be. This is my main concern for Newcastle as our defensive shape against Brighton was all over the place – we left to much space for them to work between our lines and our defensive line was more of a zig-zag. Spurs will punish us if we do the same again on Sunday.
This is the build up to Brighton’s first goal when Lamptey was fouled by ASM in the penalty area. Hayden and Shelvey should be closer to the two Brighton attackers that have dropped between the Newcastle lines. This could have allowed Jamal Lewis to get closer to Lamptey.
This is the build up to Brighton’s third goal, granted we were chasing the game at this point, but Lascelles positioning is crazy and he continues to play Aaron Connolly onside right the way into our penalty area where the Brighton player receives the ball and makes it 0-3.
Harry Kane was afforded too much time in similar areas last Sunday and he was able to unlock the Saints’ high defensive line at will. This is a tactic Jose Mourinho also employed against Everton, instructing his centre backs to play low vertical passes directly to the Spurs forwards, however, in contrast to the Saints’ game, Kane wasn’t given as much opportunity to dictate attacking moves because Everton’s defensive shape was compact and narrow with Allan dropping deeper to help out their defenders. This is the kind of defensive discipline you’d expect from a Carlo Ancelotti side meaning Spurs only won 29.31% of their offensive duels compared to 47.37% against Southampton.
We know all about Tottenham’s danger men, Harry Kane and Son Hueng-Min, however, it was in the introduction of Giovani Le Celso at half time that turned the tide for Tottenham according to Jose and the Spurs’ fans. Argentine Le Celso was brought on in place of Tanguy Ndomble to the surprise of some but he finished the game with the third most progressive carries, the most progressive passes and 2 pre-assists (the pass before the assist). Not a bad day’s work considering he only played half of the game.
One of the main worries I have with our squad is the lack of dynamism in central midfield – none of our options have great mobility and I can see Spurs hurting us in this area with progressive players like Le Celso and Ndomble. Hayden is the closest we have to a true defensive midfielder and I expect to see him closer to our back line than he was against Brighton – he should screen the back four and pick off any Spurs players that try to find space in this area.
Le Celso's pre-assists:
Video credit: Sky Sports.
Video credit: Sky Sports.
Spurs have only lost 1 of their last 10 games so they’re coming into this encounter as overwhelming favorites. They added another win to their record in the Europa League on Thursday evening, a 3-1 win over Macedonian team Shkëndija 79. Mourinho will need to rotate his squad on Sunday to freshen things up whilst also having one eye on the Carabao Cup tie against Chelsea just 48 hours later. In terms of injuries, some good news for Newcastle fans is that Gareth Bale won’t feature in the Premier League until mid-October and new signing Sergio Reguilon is also unlikely to feature due to lack of match fitness. The other doubt they have is fellow summer signing Pierre-Emile Højbjerg who was left out of the Europa League clash due to an ankle injury picked up against Southampton.
Spurs are likely to line up in Mourinho’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation and will rely heavily on their full backs to provide the width. Matt Doherty was signed from Wolves in the summer where he’d been used to playing as a right-wing-back and tasked with providing width and attacking intent. He’s now in a back four at Spurs but Mourinho uses an asymmetrical back four meaning one fullback (usually the right back - Doherty) pushes forward whilst the other fullback stays deep and creates a back 3. This allows Spurs to create an overload down the right side of the pitch and, bearing in mind what happened to us there against Brighton, this is something we need to look out for.
As for Newcastle, there are doubts over Allan Saint-Maximin and Jamal Lewis who both picked up injuries last weekend. Saint-Maximin was pictured in training so I do expect him to feature although if he’s not 100% fit I wouldn’t risk him. If he is fit, then he must start because he’s still our best player, despite one poor performance. I’m hoping Lewis will also make the team sheet but, if not, Javier Manquillo will likely move across and fill in at left-back with Emil Krafth slotting in at right-back. In attack, I would be flabbergasted if our player of the season so far, Miggy Almiron, is not restored to the starting line up in place of Andy Carroll – Almiron’s tenacity and pace will be key if we are to earn a result from this game.
Judging from Bruce’s pre-match comments I don’t think Ryan Fraser is ready to start a game yet, so I’d like to see Jacob Murphy given a chance on the right after his stellar display on Wednesday – I’ve got a lot of respect for the way Murphy has handled himself after a difficult few years at his boyhood club, but it’s now or never for him. That would leave us with a strong looking bench to change things up with Andy Carroll, Ryan Fraser and Joelinton among others.
I’ve been back and forward all week in my own mind as to what formation we should use whilst also trying to second guess what Steve Bruce is thinking. My preference would be for us to revert to the 4-2-3-1 shape that we used at the end of last season which would become a 4-5-1 when we’re defending. The key to earning a result at Spurs will be to keep things tight and compact through the middle of the pitch with our 2 central midfielders dropping deep when we don’t have the ball. In my line up I’ve gone with Hayden (no surprise there) and Sean Longstaff. My thought process with Longstaff is he’s ranked in the top 5% for successful pressures for a central midfielder across Europe’s top 5 leagues and neither Shelvey nor Hendrick (despite a decent start to his Newcastle career) offer that kind of defensive output.
I think Bruce would like to play with 3 centre backs, but injuries will force his hand with Ciaran Clark having to be subbed at half-time on Wednesday due to a thigh injury. Paul Dummett was pictured in some of the training pictures, but Sunday will come too soon for him and Fabian Schär is still out injured. Bruce could go for a nuclear option and that would be to use Krafth as a third centre back with Matt Ritchie being drafted in as left-wing-back – this would be a bold move and he would come under a lot of criticism if it doesn’t work, but what’s new!?
In GW 3 last season we played Spurs away and won 0-1 which was straight after one of our worst performances of the campaign – a 3-1 defeat away at Norwich. This could be an omen so let’s hope we can do the same again this time around... although I would like us to see more than 19% possession this time!
HOWAY THE LADS!