Is this the Newcastle team v Tottenham today?
So here we are, the start of yet another Premier League season; one that is particularly significant for Newcastle United football club. For this is the season when Newcastle, recently crowned champions of the second tier, will start the season after a full summer under the guidance of Rafa Benitez.
A lot has been said and written about transfers this summer, especially at NUFC where fans have been eagerly waiting for some ‘statement signings’ to firmly establish their resurgence under the Spaniard. So far, it has been a little, to put it mildly, underwhelming.
However, the tone of the fans could change completely if we can come up with something to show for against our first opponents, Tottenham Hotspur, on Sunday.
Spurs, who ended last season as runners up, and perhaps reeling from the last 5-1 defeat at St. James’Park, will no doubt be looking to attack Newcastle and get their own campaign off to a flying start. With Benitez’ style, he will look to set up the team in a very compact fashion and look to attack on the counter.
So what sort of Newcastle team v Tottenham will Rafa play? Going by the little I have seen of the pre-season matches and news pieces, here is what I think will happen-
It is almost certain that Elliot will start on Sunday. Krul is out of favour with Benitez and trying to find a new club. Woodman is too young and may move out on loan. That leaves Elliot and the younger Darlow and it is no secret who Rafa prefers between the two.
With Yedlin out injured, Rafa has no choice but to turn to the newly signed Manquillo at RB with Ritchie ahead of him.
In Manquillo, who can be termed a like for like replacement for Yedlin, will support Ritchie for deliveries from wide. Ritchie, who is not as pacy as Atsu but much more experienced and hard working, will get back and cover for the right back when needed.
In fact, given Manquillo’s inexperience, it wouldn’t surprise me if Rafa chooses Jesus Gamez over him for this crunch encounter, just to provide that extra bit of impregnability and experience to the back four.
Middle of defence
The heart of defence is surely going to include Lejeune, who has impressed massively during pre-season, and Clark, who is probably the most improved player under Benitez.
I think Rafa will go with Dummett and Atsu on the left flank.
In Dummett, we have a solid if somewhat solely defence minded left back, whose lack of willingness to go on the overlap should compensate in moments when Atsu fails to track back. Atsu, on the other hand, loves to run at full backs and get crosses in. These two should complement each other perfectly.
Centre of the pitch
Shelvey is probably going to be the first name on the team sheet and it is justified after his performances last season and this pre- season.
However, who Rafa chooses to partner Shelvey is going to be interesting.
I personally think it’s going to be a toss-up between Hayden and new signing Mikel Merino. Both are very similar styled players. However, Hayden has the added advantage of having a better understanding already with Shelvey, having played alongside him all of last season.
Either way, Rafa will look at a hard tackling holding midfielder who can provide effective cover to the back four against the likes of Eriksen, Alli and Harry Kane. T
Although I am a big fan of Siem de Jong and want him to perform well for Newcastle this season, Rafa is probably going to start with Gayle as number nine with Perez floating behind him.
I pick Perez over de Jong primarily because Rafa would want to continuously harrow the Spurs defence with players who can keep pressing them. De Jong, classy as he is on the ball, is probably not a runner, unlike Perez. The young spaniard’s energy would also be useful when Newcastle loses the ball in midfield and require an extra covering body.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Perez gets on against the likes of Dembele and Wanyama. However, owing to the physicality of the opposition midfielders and that the no.10 would probably end up defending more than attacking, Benitez may even opt for Diame to play that role. Diame also is a good runner and has the frame to match his Spurs’ counterparts.
All in all, I think we are going to see a very similar side that played at St James Park this past Sunday against Hellas Verona.
Manquillo (or possibly Gamez)
Hayden (or maybe Merino)
Perez (or Diame)
Gayle (or Mitrovic if Gayle not fit enough)
Do let me know what you think about this article. I am no football expert and I’d love nothing more than to learn from people who have followed the game and this team for a long time!
(From one of Newcastle United’s loyal band of fans in India, Samidh Bhattacharyya)
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