Tottenham Hotspur’s 2017-18 campaign begins Sunday against newly promoted Newcastle United. After two seasons where Spurs have challenged for the league title, a season at Wembley awaits before opening the new ground in north London once again. It will feel weird to see the club playing at the English national stadium the entire season, but we have plenty of time to talk about that. Joining us this week on the first edition of Know Your Opponent is David from Coming Home Newcastle. We talk about life under Benitez, what ol’ DeAndre Yedlin is up to, memory loss, and expectations for Sunday.
CFC: Did you have a summer full of signing players and strengthening your squad? Or are you taking a nice long nap like it seems Spurs are doing right now?
CHN: It certainly feels like the latter, but truthfully the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. We made improvements to the defensive side by adding Florian Lejeune from Eibar as a likely starting center back, Mikel Merino on loan from Dortmund as a starting-caliber holding mid, and Javier Manquillo as depth at both fullback positions. We also brought on Jacob Murphy from Norwich, a winger who shows pretty impressive pace and directness, and made the loan of Christian Atsu from Chelsea permanent. The one glaring missing piece is another striker - we currently have only Dwight Gayle and Aleksander Mitrovic, as Rafa has preferred to play Ayoze Perez underneath, and with Gayle's injury history and Mitro's...reputation...it's less than a solid bet that at least one of the two will be dressed for a given match.
It's been a long time since our two teams met. Were you surprised when they ended the 15/16 season one march early denying us the chance to play Benitez's team?
The only lasting evidence that that game did actually take place and wasn't just a dream was Mitro being suspended to start last season - par for the course. Seriously, though, that match was incredibly cathartic for us after spending most of the season with Steve McClaren at the helm and then going down, so I appreciate how selfless Spurs were to throw the match. Who says Daniel Levy doesn't have a heart?
Can you not play Ayoze Perez? Please and thank you.
I think you might just get your wish, at least to start the game - we'll likely see Gayle up top and de Jong underneath him, but I would personally love for him to get the start. My dude just makes winning plays.
Any chance we can swap you Sissoko for Yedlin? We're trying to move him anyways.
What's a Sissoko?
Speaking of Yedlin, how's he doing and how has Benitez utilized him?
DeAndre really came into his own last season and began playing with confidence I haven't really seen before. The start of the season, Rafa was using him as energy off the bench, playing as a winger when protecting leads and occasionally coming on at fullback to provide more attack when chasing points. He eventually got a pretty firm hold on the starting position and showed not only the attacking prowess and pace that's always been there, chipping in a goal and five assists, but also an increased awareness defensively. One of my big questions for the upcoming season is how that defensive improvement translates to the Premier League. DeAndre picked up a knock in the preseason and is likely out for a few more weeks, so we probably won't be seeing him on Sunday, unfortunately.
Is Dwight Gayle going to start? How differently will the team play if Gayle or someone else like Mitrovic is starting up top?
The question of whether Gayle starts is whether he's healthy - he's been nursing a bit of a knock, but is supposed to be ready to go, in which case he'll likely get the nod. With Gayle up top, the attacking three behind him are given the keys to the attack, since he's such a good poacher and doesn't need chances manufactured for him. He's also great off the shoulder of the last defender, so you tend to see a lot of balls from Shelvey over the top for him to chase. Mitro is much more the traditional 9, acting as a pivot and providing link-up play.
Speaking of Mitrovic, how many red cards is he going to have this season?
Surely I have no idea what you mean (four, three of which will be deserved).
Who is your best midfield right now?
After last season's performance and given the shape he came back to training in, Jonjo Shelvey is the first name on the lineup card for me, sitting in the double pivot of Rafa's preferred 4-2-3-1. Who plays next to him is subject to some debate - I've been really impressed with how Mikel Merino has played thus far, and he performed well in limited chances in Dortmund last season, but Isaac Hayden was also very good last season and would bring continuity.
On the wings, Matt Ritchie out right is a given, while the left is a bit of a mystery with Rolando Aarons and Jacob Murphy playing well, but I'll give the nod to Christian Atsu. The central attacking spot will likely depend on who starts up top as Perez and Mitro have some truly great chemistry, but in the event Gayle starts it looks likely to be Siem de Jong back from countless injuries. You could also see Ritchie kick into the middle to open room on the wings for one of the players left off.
Are you sad that you don’t have the ability to pip Sunderland to promotion this season or is there joy in knowing that you're one division above them?
Newcastle has had a terrible run in the Tyne-Wear derby of late, only taking a point from the last seven meetings - in all reality, it's probably because they didn't have six points from us last season that Sunderland went down. For now, I'm resting easy knowing that they're down a division.
How does Newcastle line up on Sunday?
I think we'll see a 4-2-3-1 with Karl Darlow in net; Paul Dummett, Florian Lejeune, Ciaran Clarke and Javier Manquillo as the back four; Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden as the holding pair; Christian Atsu, Siem de Jong and Matt Ritchie across the attacking midfield; and Dwight Gayle up top.
The recurring nightmare I've been having is Newcastle going up a goal from a Ritchie free kick, only to give up a brace to Sissoko. 2-1 to Tottenham.
We’d like to thank David and Coming Home Newcastle for joining us this week. I did an interview for them over on their site, so check it out when you get a chance!