I think that a match away to Newcastle United is a better indicator of our potential as a top four side than a win over Arsenal. I am being completely, 100 percent dead serious. I actually put some stock in that whole 'throw form out the window' thing with major derbies. Crap teams can get caught up in the emotions of a rivalry and win. Happens all the time.
That's not to say I think Tottenham Hotspur got lucky against Arsenal. What players are fit on the day and how managers set up their teams matter a lot. More than the emotions of the rivalry, sometimes (read: most of the time). But, that game didn't feel like a normal game. We could have won that game while playing poorly or lost that game at our best. Derbies are weird.
This, however, is a serious litmus test. It's a game that indicates where you are as a club. Going away to St. James' Park to face off against a Newcastle side that is obviously top half, but not Champions League quality is the perfect test for a team aspiring for fourth place. This is the kind of game in which the contenders get results and pretenders do not.
Okay, enough with all this emotional and intangible garbage. Discussion about actual football things after the jump.
Tottenham will still be missing William Gallas and Tom Huddlestone for this game. Sandro is not expected to make the 18, but just has a slight knock and should be back in about a week. Michael Dawson is coming back from injury and is expected by many to make the bench. Aaron Lennon and Steven Pienaar are both back in full training, and both will have chances to feature in the team. Danny Rose is back as well. Emmanuel Adebayor is still being called a game-time decision. BAE has a knock or something dumb like that, but he'll play 90 minutes anyway because he's a boss.
Obviously, not having Adebayor puts Tottenham at a significant disadvantage. The combination of Jermain Defoe and Rafael van der Vaart is often a bad one, while Roman Pavlyuchenko is an even worse option. We've been over this a million times, and I know that most of us just want to see Rafa as a lone striker in these situations to avoid the pain of playing someone who's not very good. Harry won't be doing that. Sorry.
Without knowing whether or not Adebayor will play, it's tough to know what to think of the rest of the team. Lennon and Pienaar are both fit, but perhaps not 90 minutes fit. Rafa's expressed his displeasure with playing on the right, but he might not have a choice. Luka Modric did well in his time on the wing, but breaking up the Modric-Scott Parker partnership against such great midfield opposition makes little sense.
Meanwhile, Newcastle have some slight questions around their stars but should start anyone Spurs are concerned about. Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye will resume their stellar partnership in the middle while Demba Ba, Leon Best, Jonas Gutierrez and Fabricio Coloccini will start around them. These guys make up a seriously solid core of players and there's no doubt that Newcastle is a top half team when healthy.
And they're getting healthier! Both Davide Santon and Hatem Ben Arfa are back in training and should be on the bench in this game, while neither is expected to start. Santon is a terrific attacking right back, while Ben Arfa is a tricky, technically astute player who can play on either wing or as a No. 10 behind a striker. Both could make great potential late game changers for the Magpies.
Personally, I'm expecting Rafa to be moved back into the middle behind one striker and either Steven Pienaar or Aaron Lennon back in the starting lineup. They should go up against a tough 4-4-2 that features a hard-tackling center, two talented forwards and some width. The good news is that both Cabaye and Tiote are not attacking midfield players, and there should be some space deep in midfield if we want to be patient and keep the ball.
Newcastle's weakness is easily their fullbacks, so it will be important that Spurs don't let things get congested in the middle and that they keep attacking down the flanks. Ryan Taylor will be on Gareth Bale, which is a mismatch that Alan Pardew will be mindful of. It wouldn't be shocking to see Jonas on the right and Obertan on the left, as Jonas will both keep Bale mindful of the counter down that side and provide some cover, as Jonas is a much better defensive winger than Obertan. Basically, Jonas is just better than Obertan at everything.
The general consensus between both Spurs and Newcastle fans is that Spurs are favorites to win if Adebayor plays, but if he is unable to start, this one looks like a draw with Newcastle being perhaps the slight favorites.
However, I don't subscribe to that theory, at the moment. I'm obnoxiously optimistic. Usually, around these parts, I'm trying to calm things down and be realistic. I can get sucked into gloomy Spurs fan mode on occasion. But today, I'm really enthusiastic about our chances, even without Adebayor. Defoe looks fitter and more confident than last year. Scott Parker and Kyle Walker are absolute beasts. We've got this. Because I f--king say so.
Prediction: 2-1 Spurs
You can catch this game on Sky Sports 1 in the UK, FOX Soccer Channel in the USA, and Rogers Sportsnet World in Canada. The game will also be on FOX Deportes in the USA in Spanish, if you get that channel and not FSC for some reason.