Can Newcastle pick up where they left off and ruin AVB’s Spurs debut?
After a remarkable 2011-12 season in which Newcastle narrowly missed out on qualification for the Champions League, manager Alan Pardew is understandably intent on consolidation.
Newcastle shocked just about everyone by finishing fifth last time out. Fourth place proved just beyond them, but there is justifiable confidence that they can repeat or even improve on that success.
Pardew’s assertion that midfielder enforcer Cheick Tiote is ‘10 times better’ than last season will only heighten that optimism.
The Ivorian was a powerhouse presence in the Toon midfield, and Pardew has warned Tottenham and his other top-six rivals that he could be about to produce even better.
“Cheick looks 10 times better than he did last year, and I absolutely mean that,” Pardew said.
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“He did not come back well last summer, if I am honest. However, he has summered well this time and is in great physical shape.
“It is going to be a big season for Cheick. All my what I would call ‘big players’ are important if we are to progress as a team, and Cheick falls into that category. He is in a good place.”
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That is, perhaps, the best news of the summer for Newcastle fans – although it was tempered somewhat by the midfielder picking up a slight injury in the pre-season defeat at Cardiff City this week, leaving him a doubt for the opening game against Spurs.
That 4-1 reverse was a shock to the system for a side who were unbeaten in six pre-season matches, and came as something of a wake-up call, although defender Steven Taylor insists they will be firing on all cylinders when Tottenham come to town.
“It was a lesson we needed to learn. The main thing is to move on to Tottenham,” he said.
Pardew also has a headache in the form of the Europa League. The club failed in their attempt to switch the legs of their qualifier against Atromitos, so they now make the trip to Greece on August 23, less than 48 hours before they visit Chelsea.
Such hindrances will no doubt irk Pardew, but the manager will also recognise that they represent progress for a club who only three years ago were relegated to the Championship.
Crucially, Pardew has managed to keep hold of the ever-impressive striker Demba Ba, whose �7million release clause expired on July 31.
Similarly, Papiss Cisse set the Premier League alight in the closing months of last season, scoring 13 goals in 14 games for the Magpies after his arrival in England.
Both players could provide a stern test for Spurs, while Pardew can also turn to Sammy Ameobi on the bench.
For Andre Villas-Boas, whose own summer has not quite gone as he would have imagined when he took over at Tottenham, it could be a tricky afternoon.
The verdict: A shaky start but a point on the board at a difficult venue.
Newcastle 1 Spurs 1