Tottenham vs Newcastle on Sunday is a clash in which both sides will be desperate for a pick-me-up in the race to secure Champions League football.
Spurs go into the weekend off the back of a 2-1 defeat to West Ham — their fourth loss in five and fifth without victory — while Newcastle are licking their wounds after a 3-0 battering to Everton at Goodison Park. The two sides are separated by just one point in the table, sitting three and four points outside the top four, respectively.
Ange Postecoglou has already started to earn himself a reputation as one of the most tactically eccentric managers in the Premier League during his short time with Spurs so far, consistently shunning defensive or direct approaches for high-octane, possession-based attacking football, regardless of the game state.
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On Sunday, could the Australian make his most bizarre decision yet by instructing his players to intentionally go a goal down in order to help them find the win? That is, of course, a tongue-in-cheek suggestion, but not completely without merit. After all, the Lilywhites have gone 1-0 up in their last five Premier League matches — three times in the opening six minutes — without winning any of them, picking up just one point during that time.
Most recently, they went 1-0 up in 11 minutes against West Ham through Cristian Romero, only to concede two second-half goals to lose 2-1.
It means Spurs have dropped the most points from winning positions in Europe’s seven major leagues (15), with the age-old ‘Spursy’ and ‘bottlers’ shouts gaining traction once again. By contrast, they have gained nine points from losing positions, the joint-fourth most in the Premier League and a third of their current overall points total.
While no manager would ever seriously advocate for his side going a goal down, that does appear to be the point where Spurs burst into life and if any boss in the Premier League right now could take that approach, surely it is Postecoglou.
As for Eddie Howe, the thought of a second away trip in the space of four days must be sending chills down his spine.
Only Sheffield United (0) have won fewer games than Newcastle (1) away from home in the Premier League this season, while the Magpies have conceded just four times at home and 13 times away.
“That’s been the frustration for us because it’s a difficult one to work out,” Newcastle boss Eddie Howe told reporters following the drubbing against Everton. “We want to play the same way, we want to impose ourselves on the game, grab the game and take the initiative.
“I don’t think we did that well enough against Everton. Hopefully, that will change against Tottenham.”
To make matters worse, Newcastle have 13 players injured or suspended right now, which is comfortably the most in the English top flight and enough to field a full team well worthy of Premier League football.
The team in the above graphic would be good enough to mix it in the Premier League in its own right, and there wasn’t even space to include Elliot Anderson or Javier Manquillo.
Despite their lack of personnel, Newcastle remain in the fight on all fronts, in contention for the Champions League knockout rounds, battling near the top of the Premier League, still in the EFL Cup and with the FA Cup yet to come.
Thursday’s defeat to Everton was, perhaps, a sign that tiredness and fatigue are finally starting to set in, with all three of the Toffees’ goals coming beyond the 78th minute, while the usually ultra-reliable Kieran Trippier was at fault for the first two. In the space of seven minutes, Trippier went from flawless this season to having two mistakes leading to a goal against his name; no player in the Premier League has more.
“Listen, it’s one of those where you’ve made mistakes. Players make mistakes – I’ve made a couple today, I hold my hands up, I take responsibility and now it’s about getting on the bike again and getting ready for another big game in three days against Spurs,” Trippier said post-match.
“For me personally, obviously I’m very disappointed because of my own actions in certain moments in the game, but that’s something I’ll deal with. I’m an experienced player and I can handle these things. But the best thing about it is there’s a game in three days where we can try to put it right.”
Of course, it is absolutely possible to be a mistake-prone side and still taste success. In fact, it can often come with the territory of playing a high-risk, expansive style. Just ask Arsenal, who currently top the table by two points despite making more errors leading to goals (5) than any other side in the Premier League.
For all their troubles on the road, Howe can take further solace from Newcastle’s record in London, with the Magpies unbeaten in their last eight Premier League games in the Capital (W4 D4), including a league double over Spurs last season, winning by an 8-2 aggregate scoreline.