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3 things Tottenham must do to overturn poor form against Newcastle

For most of the 106 days that Celtic went without a permanent manager in 2021, Eddie Howe was the favourite to take over.

Howe eventually rebuffed the offer after it became clear that he wouldn’t be able to bring his entire fleet of backroom staff to Parkhead, forcing the Scottish giants to turn to the next name on their list: Ange Postecoglou.

The “sliding doors moment”, as Postecoglou put it, preceded a pile of five trophies in two years. “I haven’t thanked him,” Postecoglou joked ahead of his first managerial meeting with Howe, “I probably should.”

The pair find themselves in the Premier League these days, with Howe’s Newcastle United travelling to the home of Postecoglou’s Spurs on Sunday afternoon.

Each squad has been ravaged by injury and slumped to defeat on Thursday night but Tottenham’s rut runs deeper, with Spurs taking just one point from their last five matches. Here’s how Postecoglou may be able to thank Howe for a much-needed victory as well as the Celtic job.

Pape Matar Sarr

Pape Matar Sarr could be in line for his first start in a month / Harriet Lander/Copa/GettyImages

Postecoglou has won his game of chicken with the Premier League’s dissenting pundits. It’s obvious that he will stick to his playing principles regardless of the circumstances, so there would be little point in suggesting a deviation from his grand plan.

However, there is scope for minor fiddling within the philosophy.

Tottenham’s left-back and right-back spend little time on the left, right or at the back. Pedro Porro – the nominal right-sided member of a flexible back four – has taken more touches in the attacking third than centre-forward Son Heung-min.

For all the threat that this rotation adds going forward, it can leave Spurs exposed. No team in the division’s top seven have conceded more goals than Tottenham’s 22. Newcastle are perfectly placed to exploit any space on the flanks, offering danger from both wings with an in-form Anthony Gordon opposite the double-act of Miguel Almiron and the Premier League’s leading assist provider Kieran Trippier.

Postecoglou is never going to put a leash on Porro or Destiny Udogie but he may be inclined to deploy a midfield that can cover their wandering teammates. Pape Matar Sarr could be in line for his first start since the November international break after being eased back from injury, preventing Yves Bissouma from putting out all of the fires on his own.

However, that isn’t the only change in midfield available to Postecoglou.

Dejan Kulusevski

Dejan Kulusevski is an option through the middle for Tottenham / Harriet Lander/Copa/GettyImages

Even at the peak of Tottenham’s rapid start to the new season, Postecoglou warned: “I still think particularly in the front third, a lot of our movements are still not natural and fluent like we want them to be.”

The cogs have only gathered more rust in the absence of the team’s creative lubricant James Maddison. No one else in the Tottenham squad – or the Premier League – can offer Maddison’s unrelenting torrent of chance creation.

Giovani Lo Celso has been tasked with shouldering this burden in recent weeks but Postecoglou may be tempted to return to a previous solution; moving Dejan Kulusevski into midfield.

The Australian deployed Kulusevski as the team’s number ten for the visit of Aston Villa at the end of November. Spurs subsequently recorded their highest xG figure of the season (even including Maddison’s appearances) yet only scored once before falling to a pair of cheap goals from the visitors.

Despite ending on the losing side, Kulusevski was thrilled. “I felt so good, I felt like the real Dejan,” he beamed post-game. “I felt like myself. The coach decided where to put me. I enjoyed it and I had real fun playing. It was a great day for me.”

If the hard-running Swede – who won’t shirk any added defensive responsibilities – is moved back into midfield, Richarlison could slip into the front line, with Brennan Johnson potentially shifted to Kulusevski’s right flank.

Eddie Howe

Eddie Howe’s Newcastle have endured struggles of their own / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

For those in N17, the overwhelming narrative understandably revolves around Tottenham’s slip back towards that haunting ‘Spursy’ tag. Admittedly, becoming the first club in Premier League history to squander the lead in five consecutive games fans the flames of this familiar jibe, but Tottenham’s opponents are hardly a picture of assured confidence.

Newcastle can boast just one point won from losing positions this season – a tally only relegation-threatened Burnley (zero) can’t better.

The Magpies have been lumbered with even more fitness absences than Spurs. The few intact bodies that Howe can call upon looked desperately weary in a wretched 3-0 loss to Everton on Thursday, with that decline epitomised by the wholly uncharacteristic pair of blunders from Trippier.

A force at St James’ Park, Newcastle’s underwhelming record on the road has perplexed Howe. “It’s a difficult one to understand,” the Magpies boss sighed. “We want to play the same way [as at home], to take the initiative.” But Newcastle have earned just one away league win this season.

Tottenham’s players need just look to their manager if they feel as though they are wobbling more than their fragile visitors. “I’ve been through this many times,” Postecoglou confidently declared ahead of the contest. “So I know, unequivocally, what we need to do.”


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