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Opinion

Time to turn to these Newcastle players who care about the club and not just their salaries

8 months ago
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Tottenham Hotspur and Jose Mourinho. A team and manager Newcastle United tend to do well against.

True, Steve Bruce led us to our first ever home Premier League defeat against a Jose led side last season but the Portuguese manager has historically struggled at St James Park.

The stadium that is home to the statue of his former mentor has been a difficult place for him, despite the talented sides he’s marched up north to face us.

Before Steve Bruce took the helm, Jose Mourinho had managed teams at St James Park in the Premier League seven times and had been defeated four times and drawn three. His teams had conceded nine goals and only scored four.

Of course, as predictable as Boris Johnson forgetting to brush his hair in the morning, Steve Bruce managed to put an end to that particular record by losing 1-3 last July. In that game we conceded only one less goal that we had in the previous seven PL home meetings with Jose combined. Good old Steve.

It’s not just the Jose factor that should give us confidence. We have had a decent Premier League record over the years against Tottenham too.

During Mike Ashley’s ownership, the Newcastle players have a record of 9 wins, 3 draws and 11 losses against Tottenham. Sure, Tottenham have had the better of it, but when you consider they’ve been a perennial Champions League qualifying outfit and occasional title contender in that time, whilst we’ve been a nonentity, that’s a pretty good head-to-head. By comparison, our Premier League record against their neighbours, Arsenal, since Ashley took over, reads 2 wins, 3 draws and 18 defeats!

Tottenham and Jose are coming to St James Park again on Sunday and a share of the points could be vital to staying up. So what can we change to give ourselves the best chance of doing this?

Isaac Hayden’s injury is massive. He’s been our only central midfielder to come out of this season with any credit. He’s been a stalwart in the heart of the pitch. Although he may offer little going forward, that’s not his game. He makes tackles, breaks up play and retains possession. With a forward thinking, energetic box-to-box midfielder next to him he’d be even better. Unfortunately, his usual partners are Lump One and / or Lump Two (known to some as Shelvey and Hendrick).

I think most of us can confidently predict that it will be the Lumps that start on Sunday. This will ultimately hand the initiative to Tottenham as their midfield dominate two blokes looking like Medusa victims in the centre of the park.

What’s the alternative? I would do something that Jose won’t have predicted or prepared for. I would tear up this split-striker system that hasn’t worked since Wilson got injured and I’d stick a striker on the pitch. On top of that I would chuck out the Lumps and bring in some Geordie passion.

It sounds like Wilson and ASM aren’t going to be fully fit for this clash so let’s rest them both. There’s no point risking either, as we’ll need them for the Burnley game a week later.

I would keep the back four as it is with Dummett retaining his place over Lewis. I would then play two centre midfielders, an attacking midfielder/number ten and two wingers supporting a focal striker.

Those players would be Sean and Matt Longstaff in the centre, Almiron in the hole, Murphy right wing, Fraser left wing and Carroll up front. I can’t see how the Longstaffs can be any less effective than the Lumps and will at least play with a little pride. Murphy and Fraser can both deliver decent crosses to ensure that Carroll causes carnage in the box. Almiron will do Carroll’s running and can scamper onto any headers that he wins. Big Andy isn’t the force he once was. He’s barely even a fraction of that force. However, we have seen from his cameos that he does still worry defenders.

I also think that Jose won’t see it coming. Bruce has been so unwilling to change for such a length of time that I’d imagine opposition managers are just sticking on videos of previous games and saying, ‘this is what they’ll do. Nice and easy to defend against. Try not to go into second gear if you can avoid it as you need to save your energy for the real games coming up.’

Playing differently might make the game competitive. Playing four local lads might give us a bit more fight and passion.

If we wanted to go even more leftfield, I would drop Murphy out of the equation and have Almiron and Fraser on the wings with Anderson in the hole. Anderson should have gone on loan in January to pick up some experience. At the moment he is training with the first team but not contributing in any games. His development is undoubtedly starting to stall like it has for so many under Wor Cabbage. Tottenham won’t have a clue about Anderson. They won’t know what to expect or how to handle him. Murphy has been most effective coming off the bench anyway so maybe give Anderson the first fifty-five/sixty minutes and then sling on Murphy and swap back to the original plan I outlined.

We need to try something different to stop this being another one-sided, pedestrian display and what better than for Newcastle ‘fan’ Steve Bruce to turn to his local lads. The Newcastle players who really care about the fate of our club and not just their salaries.

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin

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