Talk about being undercooked. Tottenham Hotspur would ordinarily travel to St James’ Park on the opening day of the season with a swagger; expecting rather than hoping to return south with a comfortable three points. Just as they did this time last year when sweeping the Magpies aside 2-0. Yet this time it’s different, and football betting fans should take note.
Nine of their key players were involved in the World Cup semi-finals, and have subsequently played no part in any of the club’s pre-season friendlies. Among them, Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Kieran Trippier, Moussa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen are all usually nailed on starters.
With zero match practice since their exploits in Russia, that gangs’ participation at St James’ Park has to be in doubt this weekend, leaving Mauricio Pochettino with no choice but to field a significantly weakened line-up. Last Saturday his back-ups were destroyed 4-1 by Spanish minnows Girona in a far from ideal curtain raiser.
And even if the Argentine head coach can’t resist the lure of selecting a handful of those who have only just returned from their well-earned beach breaks - Christian Eriksen would fall into that category - their potential sharpness has to be questioned. So it is safe to say that Newcastle United could not have wished for a better time to host the North Londoners.
At a price of 14/5 with 888sport they are a relatively attractive proposition. The hosts would likely be a far shorter price had they been bouncing into the new campaign with a renewed spring in their step. The truth is, it’s more of a trudge. Friendly form has been poor and morale is low on the back of another entirely predictable summer of Rafa wrangling with Mike Ashley, begging him to dust off the cobwebs from his wallet.
Poor old Benitez can’t be surprised at the relative disinterest from the club’s owner, but the budget he was given will still have irked him and Newcastle United head into a testing opener without a key defender too.
Florian Lejeune ended last season in fine form, developing a quality understanding with Jamaal Lascelles at centre-back, but he is out injured with a serious knee problem. Kieran Clark or new boy Fabian Schar will step in, but neither is as reliable as Lejeune. Backing the Magpies to win to nil at 11/2 with Ladbrokes feels like risky business.
If you’re the type that looks for a story bet you might want to think about taking a punt of Jonjo Shelvey to grab a goal. Harshly overlooked by Gareth Southgate earlier this summer, he will be eager to begin 2018-19 with a bang; not least because he was red-carded in this fixture on the opening day last year for an impetuous stamp.
With a full season behind him, hopes are high that Shelvey can be the Magpies’ talisman this term. Always capable of the spectacular (if only a few times per season) Shelvey is rated as a 9/2 chance to score anytime with Genting Bet.
Another headline-waiting-to-happen would be a debut goal from loanee Solomon Rondon. He under-performed at West Bromwich Albion, but there is a terrific striker hidden in there somewhere. Providing he gets the right ammunition from the flanks via excellent crossers Matt Ritchie and Kenedy, he has the aerial prowess to hurt the visitors. Rondon is 6/1 to score first with Genting.
As for Pochettino’s men it is unclear over who will be ready to feature. Harry Kane is an unlikely starter (and never scores in August anyway) so it may be prudent to look elsewhere for value in the goalscorers’ market. In-form Lucas Moura has impressed in pre-season (13/2 to score first, BetBright) and Fernando Llorente should get a chance to impress to (13/10 to score anytime, BetBright).
Personally I believe there will be goals. Both sides have leaked plenty during the warm-up matches, and with a lack of game time an issue too, I don’t envisage a pair of watertight defences. The last goalless draw between these two was in 1971 (no I don’t remember it either) and both teams have scored in this St James’ Park fixture eight times in the last ten encounters.
With a new-season buzz on Tyneside – despite the frustration with the board – I anticipate a fantastic atmosphere on Saturday afternoon that should play into the hands of the home side. Having put Chelsea and Manchester United to the sword with inspired displays last season, the belief should be there for Newcastle United to get their season off to a flyer.
With such limited match practice and so many key absentees I just can’t back Spurs. My tip is a shock 2-1 success for Rafa’s boys (12/1 at Sportnation). They will never ever have a better opportunity to take Tottenham Hotspur’s scalp.