by Ryan Rosenblatt
When Tottenham Hotspur take to the field at St. James’ Park on Saturday, it will be 97 days after their last match. It was a 2-0 win over Fulham on the final day of last season and secured fourth place for the club, but six days later, Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich in the Champions League final to steal away Spurs’ Champions League place for this season.
The summer has not been kind to Spurs. Beginning with Chelsea’s win and continuing on with the drama of Luka Modric’s imminent transfer, the drawn out manager hiring of Andre Villas-Boas and the team’s inability to sign a striker, seemingly nothing has gone well at White Hart Lane.
But on Saturday in Newcastle, the summer will come to an end, or at least the football summer will. The transfer window won’t be shut and there will still be work to do off of the pitch, but the season will start anew, the summer will become a memory and on-field results will take precedence again.
Considering Spurs’ inability to sign a striker or resolve the Modric situation, opening away to the Magpies might not look very good at first blush, but it isn’t nearly as bad as it looks. That is mainly because Newcastle look like a MASH unit.
Hatem Ben Arfa will not play in the opener because of injury and Chieck Tiote and Demba Ba look like unlikely bets to play. Yohan Cabaye and Davide Santon are struggling to get fit and if they do play will not be ready for 90 minutes. There is also Papiss Demba Cisse and Fabricio Coloccini, both of whom are expected to play, but are neither fully fit nor in top form.
All of a sudden, the Magpies don’t look so formidable. This is still the same team that battled Spurs tooth and nail for the fourth place all of the way down to the last day of the season so there is no chance that they just roll over, but Tottenham’s unsettled squad stands a fair chance against a team as beat up as Newcastle’s.
Jermain Defoe will be tabbed to start up front because there is nobody else. He doesn’t excel as a starting striker, but he will have the newly signed Gylfi Sigurdsson at his disposal, which should give him sufficient service even without Modric.
It will also be worth keeping an eye on where Gareth Bale plays. He will almost assuredly start on the left, but he likes when he has the freedom to drift in and without many options up front, it wouldn’t be a shock if Villas-Boas moves him to striker at some point. No, that isn’t a joke. This is what happens when it’s Defoe and Defoe.
But for all of the concern about Modric, Defoe or whatever else goes on up front, the match will likely be determined by what happens in defense. Specifically, it comes down to what happens to Jan Vertonghen.
Spurs will be happy to take a point and even if Cisse, Cabaye, Ba or whoever is fit for Newcastle have a knock, they are a threat. The Belgian has has problems adjusting to his new team in the preseason and while the defense can be among the best in England, that is assuming he catches up to speed. Younes Kaboul, Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto should all be up to snuff, but if Vertonghen falters, the defense will get taken advantage of by a team that is plenty capable in front of goal.
The summer is finally over and while nothing is settled, the points earned on the first day are as valuable as the points earned on the last day. With the team as is, a single point would be awfully valuable. Getting that point won’t be easy, but do it and for at least a couple days, the summer from hell will be a distant memory.
Newcastle vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Game Date/Time: Saturday, August 18 – 12:30 p.m. ET, 5:30 p.m. local
Venue: St. James’ Park, Newcastle, England
TV: Fox Soccer Channel (USA), ESPNUK (UK), Sportsnet One (Canada)