Just one place separated Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League table last season, yet as the latter have endured a summer of disruption, it is the former that have been written off by the bookmakers as European also-rans despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Quite why there seems to be the impression that last year was a fluke for Newcastle I can’t quite fathom, but odds of 12/1 for a top-four finish for a team who deservedly took fifth placelast season border on the insulting and make no mistake, the Toon are no worse a side than they were last year.
Alan Pardew has held on to all of his top talent in the form of Papiss Cisse, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote and having added further astute buys, Newcastle are set for another assault on the Champions League places.
Vurnon Anita of Ajax is the latest shrewd move on the part of Pardew and his scouting team, and Newcastle boast a squad that mixes pragmatism with star quality – alongside an obvious team spirit – and having finished just four points off the top four last season, the Magpies will be in the mix again.
Only Man City and Liverpool conceded fewer home league goals last season than Pardew’s men. The Toon have won seven of the last 11 meetings with Spurs on Tyneside in all competitions, losing just once.
Quite what Tottenham can achieve this year is dependent on the remainder of the transfer window. Spurs finished fourth last time out but won’t be playing in Europe’s premier competition thanks to sixth-placed Chelsea’s Champions League victory but despite their solid foundations, a few questions need to be answered.
One is about new boss Andre Villas-Boas. With a reputation to rebuild after his chastening experience at Chelsea, AVB does look like a good fit for Spurs and has been typically bullish about his ambitions for the club – perhaps rightly so given that his predecessor Harry Redknapp finished fourth, fifth and fourth in his three full seasons in charge.
However, gaps in the squad must be addressed quickly. Spurs have only one fit senior striker in Jermain Defoe and look light in central midfield now that it seems Luka Modric, who has proved an annoying distraction over the summer, will get his way with a move to Real Madrid and only when the transfer window slams shut will we know what Villas-Boas can achieve.
It means that when the sides meet in the Saturday tea-time match at the Sports Direct Arena, I think Newcastle can take advantage of an incomplete Spurs outfit. The Toon are 31/20 to do just that, with Tottenham at 17/10 and the draw quoted at 9/4.
This match has echoes of Tottenham’s opening game last year, when sufficient transfer business had yet to be completed and a want-away Modric was absent from the team that was battered 3-0 by Manchester United at Old Trafford.
With Modric absent once more and Scott Parker injured, the centre of Spurs’ midfield looks severely weakened and with Defoe their sole option up front, Newcastle have a great chance to steal a march on Spurs when they are not as strong as they may well become.
Newcastle have lost just one home match in 2012, to champions Manchester City in a very even contest in the penultimate week of the season, and only the Citizens and Liverpool conceded fewer home league goals last season than Pardew’s men.
The Toon have won seven of the last 11 meetings with Spurs on Tyneside in all competitions, losing just once, and with many of their stars enjoying a full summer’s pre-season without complications from Euro 2012 and the Olympic Games, they look ready to start this campaign in the manner they spent most of the last.
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