A day is a long time at Newcastle United. On Tuesday morning, ahead of their clash with Premier League champions Manchester City, Tyneside’s collective mood was as grey as the skies overhead. But the news that Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron was en route for a medical ahead of a potential club-record transfer lifted it before kick off.
Salomon Rondon and Matt Ritchie then turned the game on its head in the second half after Sergio Aguero gave City the lead just 25 seconds in. Suddenly, the Magpies head to Wembley to face Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday with great confidence, especially considering Spurs’ growing injury list. As they close on another transfer window with no signings, at the time of writing, Mauricio Pochettino’s men will again be without top scorer Harry Kane and Dele Alli at the weekend.
Neither Spurs’ absentees nor Newcastle’s recent win should change the fact that a home win is most likely in this one. All of the pressure will be on the Champions League chasers, though, which will suit Rafael Benitez perfectly. As he so often does against the bigger sides, the Newcastle boss will set up to sit deep and look to frustrate, before looking for Rondon to bully the defence up front.
But as Pep Guardiola pointed out indirectly, a lot of Newcastle’s approach depends on the midfield. Sean Longstaff, an academy graduates and local boy who is set to make his fourth Premier League start, and Isaac Hayden more than held their own against Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Fernandinho. Newcastle’s own injury crisis shows no sign of easing, with Mohamed Diame, Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Dummett out and unlikely to return in time.
Longstaff and Hayden led the press in a crucial area of the pitch, and will be hoping to do the same again in this one, provided no other midfielders are fit enough and Hayden doesn’t make his desired move to Aston Villa. Harry Winks, former Magpies man Moussa Sissoko and Christian Eriksen will be their likely opponents.
The one shining ray of light for Pochettino is Heung-Min Son. The South Korean is back from the Asia Cup to lead the line with Fernando Llorente in Kane’s absence. Both players scored in Wednesday’s narrow win over Watford, and they’ll be out for a repeat.
But should Son play out on the left of midfield and face up to former Spurs fullback DeAndre Yedlin? His positional sense is not always the best and Son has the pace to give the United States international real problems if he can get in behind him. As you can see, using Twelve’s statistics, Yedlin has been rather error prone at times this season.
Rondon against a back three or back four?
Newcastle aren’t likely to bombard Spurs going forward, but they will try to get up the pitch as often as possible through Rondon. He is averaging a goal in every three games for the Magpies this season, but he has shown himself to be the ideal number nine for Newcastle from a defensive point of view. As you can see from this Twelve graphic, the Venezuelan is vital in keeping the shape both in the middle of the pitch and out on the left.
The may dictate whether Pochettino plays a back three or a back four. While he has often preferred a four-man defence recently, a back three could be the difference when it comes to stopping Rondon. He is often 30 yards ahead of his supporting network when the ball is in the air for him to chase, and three defenders can crowd him out because he won’t be able to go one-on-one with any of them.
Longstaff must play the ball forward quickly
The difference between the first half and the second half on Tuesday night from Newcastle’s point of view was huge. Before the break, Manchester City’s poor finishing and lack of penetration was all that kept the score down, but the home side regrouped and one of the huge reasons for their growth in the game was Sean Longstaff.
He may only have a handful of Premier League games under his belt, but he has taken to the top tier like a seasoned pro. The way he keeps the ball and thinks about his passes before playing them has helped Newcastle survive without either Shelvey or Ki Sung-Yeung.
Here is a Twelve graphic that shows just how impressive he is in possession, winning the ball and moving it on. That will be crucial to breaking the Spurs press.
Martin Dubravka must perform well
Perhaps he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but Martin Dubravka has been Newcastle’s Mr Reliable this season. A stunning save from David Silva showed his importance on Tuesday, and earned him a spot in Twelve’s team of the week. He’ll need to perform again here if the visitors are to take anything from the match.