On Sunday we look for a third consecutive victory at White Hart Lane against Spurs, in a game which many considered might be Steve McClaren’s last in charge of Newcastle United, a surprising but warranted victory against Liverpool last weekend meaning that his sacking is off the agenda until after Christmas at least.
His team’s performance last weekend once again showed their critics that they can put in the required effort to win games but seemingly only against the top teams which they probably want to impress.
Others say that the players in black and white only perform in live TV games, for the same reason presumably, the players are happy to disappoint 50,000 Geordies but don’t want to show the watching Chelsea, Milan or France manager how rubbish they can be.
Well then, for the game at White Hart Lane this weekend the omens are good; the players have won there before, we are playing a good team who seem genuinely interested in buying at least one of our players and the game is on live TV, so it looks like our heroes will put another shift in and could get a result.
With the victory against Liverpool fresh in their minds the game in London should be very similar, Tottenham have many of the characteristics of Liverpool so we shouldn’t expect a game a million miles away. Both teams are slowly recovering from the loss of their one top class player and the subsequent wasting of the riches gained. Both teams are at the top end of the table, play a quick pressing game, have highly rated foreign coaches, are in good form and an expectation of a top 4 finish.
As for Spurs, they are undoubtedly a better team than last season and manager Mauricio Pochettino is undoubtedly a better manager.
‘Pochettino: Who you calling Danny Dyer’
It didn’t take a genius of Kinnear standards to work out that last season Spurs shipped too many goals, had too many under-performing players and didn’t have any consistent goalscorers to share the burden with Harry Kane.
Throw into the mix Pochettino’s ineffective substitutions and for last season it was a case of either Plan A worked or Tottenham lost. Additions to the defensive set-up have made Spurs more solid this season, jettisoning the likes of Paulinho and Stambouli means they don’t carry anyone now and Pochettino has made better substitutions that enhance rather than detract from the collective effort.
Getting rid of the wasted talent of Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor probably means that Pochettino isn’t tempted to bring on a player that will reduce the sum of the parts for the sake of it. They still have an element of if Plan A doesn’t work they don’t win, but now it is more either Plan A works or Tottenham draw, so far Spurs only losses this season were away at Old Trafford and Anderlecht and at home to Arsenal in the cup. This season it looks like the only thing Spurs haven’t really improved, is cover for Harry Kane.
No team in the Premier League relies on one player as much as Spurs and that player is Harry Kane. The striker has scored 10 goals this season and while it is not true that he scores all of Spurs goals, it is certainly true that no one else scores when they play up front, because there isn’t anyone else to play up front.
‘Harry Kane: What you might call a threat’
Clinton N’Jie was bought in the summer from Lyon but so far hasn’t scored, not surprising given his unconvincing record in France. Lucky for Spurs that Kane is turning into the complete centre forward then, the natural successor to the throne of Didier Drogba and Alan Shearer.
That is something we were hoping for Alexander Mitrovic but at the moment that seems unlikely, his throne would be more Henry the 8th than Henry the Thierry, but perhaps more surprising would be the omission of Ayoze Perez. Steve McClaren said this week that the Spaniards form was up and down and so he wasn’t guaranteed a first team slot:
“Ayoze Perez is a fantastic player but sometimes form goes up and down. We have got good players.”
Odd really, given that many seem to be guaranteed a first team slot and their form seems to be just down. Still, McClaren was rewarded for his inclusion of Cisse and De Jong last week with good performances by both and they look certain to continue up front.
I don’t have a problem with our third and fourth choice forward players playing for the second week on the trot, both players worked hard and made a contribution, something which Mitrovic has recently lacked. Indeed Mitrovic could do worse than watch De Jong’s performance from Sunday against the reds. It is possible for a bulky, slow, unfit striker to use his weight to gain advantage and make a contribution rather than just lumbering around trying to cause trouble. For Ayoze though, not playing seems harsh.
Tottenham’s 4-2-3-1 formation means that three genuine attacking players support Kane, whether those attacking players are the talented Christian Eriksen, inconsistent Lamela, powerful youngster Dele Alli or new £22million signing Son Heung-Min. They can all get forward and for NUFC it is how much our ‘3’ get forward which will decide how many points we get out of the game.
‘The Son Always Shines on TV’
Certainly the more Sissoko, De Jong and Wijnaldum are in the game, the more likely we are to score, or the more likely Wijnaldum is to score anyway. It is likely that our defensive twosome of Big Vurn and Jack Colback will have a lot of ground to cover to protect our shaky back four but Spurs defensive midfielders will have to put in the same graft if our ball players can get into the game.
This so far has been the key to Spurs’ success, Pochettino correctly identified that Tottenham would not challenge for the Champions League if they let in so many goals and one part of the changes to the Lillywhites this season has been moving Eric Dier to defensive midfield. Dier has looked perfect for that role and hopefully a “knock” sustained in the Europa League on Thursday will keep him out of this game. Other players in the Spurs ‘2’, Mason and Dembele look to be injured today and Tom Carroll doesn’t yet have the experience to play in that position against opponents like Wijnaldum.
Alli may play in the ‘2’ today and while he looks like he can do it, he looks better further upfield. This part of the field is where the game could be won for us. Getting Wijnaldum, Sissoko and De Jong attacking the heart of the Spurs defence will be the key to us scoring goals.
At the back, our four defenders and keeper pick themselves anyway because we haven’t got anyone else, the improved performance last week perhaps means they keep their places on merit. In my view it is last chance saloon for them though, if Steve McClaren has got any guts he’ll tell them ‘well done last week, play like that this week or you are out.’
For Spurs, new signing Toby Alderweireld will partner Jan Vertonghen – renewing their old Ajax partnership, both good players, both good defenders and Danny Rose and Kyle Walker should see off the challenges of the likes of Ben Davies to make up the Spurs back four.
‘Toby Alderweireld has dinner with Belgian Abba tribute band’
Jan Vertonghen particularly seems to be relishing this defensive stability and has generally ironed out the mistakes that marred his first seasons in London. He still lacks a bit of pace, but so did Philippe Albert and Vertonghen is starting to remind me of the Belgian Prince, without the dodgy tache of course.
Both managers have been talking about keeping players focussed on the game this weekend.
After McClaren’s weekly big-up of the opposition as potential title challengers, Pochettino said:
“For me, it is too early. We need to keep working hard and show the same winning mentality. This is the most important thing because if we start to speak about challenging for objectives at the end of the season then maybe we will be spending energy on things that are not important today.”
Aye it is easy to say that when you are fifth in the table. McClaren on the other hand said:
“A lot of other teams will feel the same and they won’t be thinking of fourth bottom. That’s not our mindset, we’re not thinking of that. I haven’t even thought about where we’d like to finish.”
I’ve thought about it Steve, I’d like us to finish top of the league, that’s the whole point isn’t it? I’m not expecting us to finish there, before Robbie Savage, Garth Crooks and everyone else who knows nowt about being a football supporter pipes up, but I’d still like it to happen. A victory at White Hart Lane would be a good start.
Howay The Lads.