The Premier League returns with a bang this weekend, no fixture more appetising than Tottenham Hotspur’s trip to Newcastle United.
A lack of activity and shock comments from Danny Rose see Spurs travel to Tynside under a dark cloud, and although Newcastle’s limited summer recruitment has raised some eyebrows as well, Rafa Benitez’s boys will be backed by a buoyant St. James’ Park delighted to welcome back top flight football.
It all suggests an upset could be on the cards, but that may well depend on how referee Andre Marriner officiates proceedings from the middle of the park. Although he’s mostly famed for the notorious case of mistaken identity between to Arsenal players, the 46-year-old is one of the more experienced referees in the division and always tries to let the game flow as much as possible – in fact, from the Premier League’s 19 referees last season, he ranked 17th for fouls per game and 19th for fouls per tackle.
In theory, that should benefit Newcastle more than Spurs as the underdogs, expected to put in a rear-guard display that will allow them to attack space on the counter. Although the Magpies ranked 18th for fouls in the Championship last season, they’ll likely be doing the majority of defending this Sunday and the stats suggest Marriner will let them get away with a few dark arts and risky challenges that would be punished by other referees. That leniency could be vital in a positive result for Newcastle.
That being said, Manchester United were the only top-six side to foul more consistently than Spurs last season, albeit ranking tenth on that front throughout the Premier League, and for a referee who oversaw 28 games last term, Marriner’s away win bias is exceptionally high – 42.9%. Only two referees, one of which officiated a single game, had a higher away win percentage last season.
If there’s another positive for Spurs to take into the game, it’s that Marriner has recently proved to be a bit of a lucky charm for them. The last four games with Marriner officiating have resulted in three wins, including a 7-1 drubbing over Hull City on the final day of last season, and a 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium – a pretty good result on the road.
Of course, other factors will be at play than simply how Marriner calls the match. So, Newcastle and Spurs fans, how do you think Sunday’s 1.30pm kickoff will pan out?