Saturday, February 9, 2013

Spurs face significant challenge against resurgent Newcastle

Andre Villas-Boas' confident Spurs team will look to cement their place in the top four and apply further pressure on a stuttering Chelsea, when they take on a galvanized Newcastle at White Hart Lane, in what is the fixture of the weekend.

Spurs are on a tremendous run, unbeaten in their last 9 matches since the stunning collapse at the end of the match against Everton at Goodison Park. The streak also includes 4 draws, and while Spurs would ideally have liked to pull clear of Everton and Arsenal in the race for the Champions League with more wins, draws against league leading Manchester United and a resurgent QPR away from home are fixtures where Spurs have tended to lose in seasons past.

English: French soccer player Français : Mouss...
 Moussa Sissoko,  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Newcastle have been transformed from relegation candidates to mid-table challengers in the space of the last week of the January transfer window. Boosted by the arrival of some proven French players purchased at bargain prices, the Magpies have an extra spring in their step after beating Aston Villa and Chelsea in successive games.

In the same fixture last year, Spurs thrashed Newcastle 5-0 at the zenith of Harry Redknapp's popularity. Sadly for the faithful at White Hart Lane, everything went downhill after that result. Newcastle on the other hand recovered fantastically to almost steal a Champions League spot at the end of the season.

After that game, Alan Pardew had admitted that he selected a formation that was too open, and would not make a similar mistake again. Pardew would do well to remember his words, as under AVB Spurs have become extremely compact and difficult to break down. In fact the last time Spurs conceded 2 goals in a Premier League game was exactly two months ago in the aforementioned defeat at Goodison.

Pardew also faces a selection dilemma with Cheick Tiote returning from Nation's Cup duty in South Africa. With Yohan Cabaye back from injury and more importantly in brilliant form, Jonas Gutierrez an ever-present in the midfield, and Moussa Sissoko the new darling of the Toon Army, Tiote might not slot straight back into the starting eleven. If Pardew does want to start Tiote, his best option would be to play Yoan Gouffran on the left and Guiterrez on the right, with Cabaye, Sissoko and Tiote in the centre, the latter acting as anchor.

Deutsch: Lewis Holtby
 Lewis Holtby (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
AVB has some tricky decisions of his own. Could it be that he has stumbled upon a solution in playing Gareth Bale in the centre, or will he reinstate Emmanuel Adebayor straight into the starting line-up on his return from the Cup of Nations? Logic suggests that Villas-Boas won't take Newcastle lightly and won't gamble on either option, primarily because the Togolese forward is probably still fatigued and also because he is likely to continue entrusting Clint Dempsey as an auxiliary forward. That being said, AVB could always switch Bale to the centre in the middle of the game, especially as the Welsh wing wizard faces a tough opponent in French international right-back, Mathieu Debuchy.

Ultimately the game will probably be decided in midfield. Scott Parker will be the defensive shield, with Moussa Dembele and Lewis Holtby providing the guile and creativity in support of the attacking trio of Bale, Aaron Lennon and Dempsey. If Holtby continues to build on his early promise, he can certainly add a dimension to Spurs attacking game by finding spaces in defence through intelligent movement and incisive through balls.

It should be a cracker of a game at White Hart Lane, featuring some artists in midfield and efficient forwards. Newcastle are certainly capable of getting something from the game with impetus provided by the return of Cabaye and the addition of Sissoko, but Spurs themselves are extremely hard to beat at home, and with the holy grail of the Champions League their sole focus, AVB's men should edge out a close encounter.

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