Newcastle look to be taking on Tottenham at the perfect time
Magpies can avoid getting in a flap
Sky Sports Football & Main Event, 12.30pm Saturday
The habitual low-spenders take on the summer’s no-spenders as the first Premier League Saturday of the new season kicks off with a cut-price clash at St James’ Park.
Newcastle don’t often get the chance to mock their opponents when it comes to splashing the cash but they’ve got a free swipe at Spurs, who are the first top-flight club in 15 years not to buy a single player in the summer window.
Not that the Toon diehards have much to brag about. Indeed, they are absolutely seething that owner Mike Ashley could only hand Rafa Benitez a few meagre crumbs to throw the way of Salomon Rondon and Fabian Schar, although a few hours after the window shut he managed to find £90m to buy House of Fraser.
Such is life on Tyneside, where disgruntled fans are counting down the days before someone buys out the unpopular Ashley. But it’s quite possible those same downtrodden supporters could be feeling a tad perkier by the time this one’s over as this looks a perfect time to be taking on Tottenham.
At full strength Spurs are a force and that’s pretty much what Mauricio Pochettino was trying to say this week as he defended a transfer policy seemingly governed as much by new-stadium commitments as anything else.
But this weekend, with a handful of injuries and the possibility that a few World Cup stars won’t be involved, the visitors look worth taking on.
Given that Benitez likes to set up his side to avoid defeat rather than strive for wins against the top teams, there’s a case to be made for the draw. And if Rondon is leading the line, that case becomes stronger still.
But the Magpies have beaten Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United at home in 2018 and are tempting to support with your money back if it ends all-square.
Newcastle were no worse than Spurs when they met at this stage of last season, a match the Londoners won 2-0 with the goals arriving after Jonjo Shelvey had been sent off.
Shelvey went on to enjoy a season which ended in England talk, Jamaal Lascelles also improved and the late additions of Kenedy and classy keeper Martin Dubravka were pivotal in their end-of-term improvement.
Newcastle, under a top manager, got better in 2017-18 but the pro-Toon stance for this game is more of a thumbs-down for the visitors than a thumbs-up for the hosts.
The Magpies’ pre-season, incidentally, was fairly grim, though Tottenham’s ended in a 4-1 drubbing at Girona which exposed gaping holes beyond Pochettino’s chosen aces.
Some of those stars will not be summoned on Saturday lunchtime. Tottenham had nine World Cup semi-finalists who got back to training only on Monday and one of those – Harry Kane – has subsequently been at the birth of his daughter.
That hasn’t stopped the World Cup’s Golden Boot winner topping first-scorer lists but if he finds the net it’ll be the first time he’s done so in August in a league game.
It is hard to know what side Pochettino will send out but it clearly won’t be their strongest.
Only Manchester City have accrued more points than Spurs in 2018 but if there’s a weekend to be taking them on against mid-ranking opponents, this is probably it.
Newcastle draw no bet
1pt 7-4 general
Defender Florian Lejeune has undergone knee surgery. New signing Federico Fernandez is not in the squad.
Erik Lamela, Harry Winks, Victor Wanyama, Josh Onomah and Juan Foyth are out. Cameron Carter-Vickers (groin) is also unlikely to feature. Mauricio Pochettino has said “some” of his nine World Cup semi-finalists, who returned to training this week, will be involved.
Spurs have failed to score in only one of their last 25 Premier League showdowns with Newcastle.
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