Newcastle 0 Spurs 4: three box-to-box midfielders key

A highly open and exciting game brought about three more Premier League points, as it finished Newcastle 0 Spurs 4 at St. James’s Park.

The key to the victory was attacking the Newcastle full back zones and getting midfield runners between the lines. This exposed their lack of a true holding player.

Tottenham set up and tactics

Eyebrows were raised when the Tottenham team sheet was released due to the inclusion of a defensive midfielder and the exclusion of a playmaker. Tim Sherwood went with Etienne Capoue and left Christian Eriksen on the bench. He opted for a 4-1-4-1 formation that included three box-to-box midfielders – Bentaleb, Paulinho and Dembele – but in front of a defensive midfielder, something we’ve not seen so far.

After recent slow starts in matches, the idea was to get going from the off and use these three runners to get up with and burst past Emmanuel Adebayor.

Capoue swept up in front of the defence whilst Nabil Bentaleb and Paulinho shuttled up and back in front of him. Moussa Dembele was deployed on the right, but drifted inside to get three box-to-box players (and more crucially four ball winners) in to the central area. This allowed us to win possession back and break forward quickly.

Once the ball was regained, our midfielders were looking to get between the lines. Without a true defensive midfielder like Cheick Tiote, we looked in the Tottenham tactics at how the Magpies have been vulnerable here.

After getting our midfield runners forward, we were then working the play in to or behind the Newcastle full backs. Both Davide Santon and Mathieu Debuchy are used by Alan Pardew to get forward and cross, but can be exposed in transition.

In the early going, Moussa Dembele got in-behind Davide Santon as he pulled the ball back for Emmanuel Adebayor to go close. Kyle Walker got round the back of the Italian to square for Aaron Lennon charging in at the back post. The winger was only denied by a sliding tackle. Even Younes Kaboul got in on the action as he set up Paulinho from the by-line for a fearsome near post drive.

It was no surprise to see Santon replaced at half time and overall three of our four goals came from the full back zones.

Newcastle goes over the top

Alan Pardew went 4-4-2 with a striker that can win headers and knockdowns in Luuk De Jong and one that can run in-behind in Papiss Demba Cisse.

In an attempt to squeeze the play and pressure an under-strength Newcastle side, Tim Sherwood went with quite a high defensive line. The decision to play the quicker Younes Kaboul over Michael Dawson was obviously in his thinking behind this tactic.

In Spurs 0 Newcastle 1 at the Lane earlier this season, Alan Pardew went with two strikers and had them looking to run in-behind at every opportunity. The Newcastle boss knew AVB would go with his patented high line and so wanted to exploit this.

Tim Sherwood hasn’t been the advocate of a high line, preferring to have his centre backs drop off and concede space between the lines of defence and midfield. Here the tactic of two strikers and going ‘over the top’ had some degree of success due to Sherwood’s higher line.

These weren’t just pumped forward long balls from Newcastle though, but measured chipped or lobbed passes that put players in to space.

Newcastle could have opened the scoring after De Jong was hit with a pass. He headed down for Cisse who had sneaked in completely unmarked and had the goal at his mercy, only to fluff the shot.


De Jong nods down for Cisse.

At 1-0 down, Sammy Ameobi chipped a ball in behind our back four for Cisse to run on to, but his lob over Hugo Lloris fell wide.


Ameobi goes over the top to find Cisse.

In the second half, a short, lobbed pass released substitute full back Paul Dummett over the top, as he raced in-behind to fire a shot across Hugo Lloris’ goal.


Dummett outpaces Walker to fire just wide.

At 2-0 down, Alan Pardew replaced Luuk de Jong with Hatem Ben Arfa and then Newcastle became a crossing side, with the substitute playing a big part.

Ben Arfa’s cross saw a fine header from Debuchy acrobatically tipped over by Lloris. THe same two players were then heavily involved again moments later. Another Ben Arfa cross was only partially cleared out to Debuchy who put teh ball back in for Papiss Cisse to miscue another glorious chance in front of the net.

Spurs attack the full backs

With us looking to get our box-to-box midfielders between the lines and then move the ball out wide, we created three of our four goals from the full back zones.

The first arrived after Nabil Bentaleb won the ball back in our half. It was then quickly moved forward to Aaron Lennon who had got between the lines along with Bentaleb.


Lennon and Bentaleb get behind the Newcastle midfield.

A flick around the corner from the winger sent the teenager in to space in the Newcastle right back zone. He then shrugged off Moussa Sissoko before putting in a cross.


Bentaleb crosses from the right back zone.

Bentaleb’s ball in to the box was palmed by Krul in to the path of Emmanuel Adebayor, 1-0.

The second arrived after Mike Williamson headed Kyle Naughton’s clearance down. Without Cheick Tiote, there was no defensive midfielder to clear up and Bentaleb had once more got between the lines with Adebayor.


Adebayor and Bentaleb get between the lines.

The play moved through Adebayor and Dembele out wide before arriving back at the feet of Bentaleb. He then found Paulinho in space between the lines this time.


Paulinho gets free between the lines.

The Brazilian’s deft back heel in to the path of Emmanuel Adebayor was sublime. His reaction to follow in the Togolese striker’s shot and hoover up the rebound was instinctively brilliant.

Two became three as we attacked the full back zones once more.

The ball was quickly worked out to Nacer Chadli in Newcastle’s right back zone. As he cut back inside, he had three players between the lines, finding Paulinho.


Spurs overload the channel between the lines.

The Brazilian worked the ball over to Andros Townsend in the Newcastle left back zone, who saw his thunderous drive palmed out by Tim Krul.


Andros Townsend fires from the Newcastle left back zone.

The key was the number of players Spurs had in the box (5) and Emmanuel Adebayor was first to the rebound. The striker miss-hit his shot, but it evaded a despairing dive by Krul to bounce in to the corner of the net, 3-0.

The fourth arrived through the Newcastle right back zone, as we again hit quickly on the counter.

The move started with a ball played forward to Roberto Soldado who shrugged off the Newcastle centre back. As the Spaniard won the ball, we again had two supporting players between the lines in Bentaleb and Townsend.


Soldado, Bentaleb and Townsend are free behind the Newcastle midfield.

Soldado took the ball and slid it through to Bentaleb, who had run in to the vacant Newcastle right back area.


Bentaleb finds Chadli from the Newcastle right back zone.

A neat back heel found Nacer Chadli, who curled an exquisite shot in to the corner of Tim Krul’s net. 4-0 and game well and truly over.

Newcastle 0 Spurs 4 conclusions

After being a bit predictable in his systems and style of play, this was something different from Tim Sherwood here. The use of three box-to-box midfielders in front of a holding player really helped us step up the tempo of our game, whilst also exposing Newcastle’s own lack of a defensive midfielder.

Tim Sherwood emphasised the need for a fast start and we got it: “We’ve been critical in recent weeks about the way we’ve started games, but not this time.

The quick beginning meant the game was very open, with both teams creating chances early on. Several players were noticeably breathing hard or were bent over sucking in the oxygen as a result of the tempo and also having played on the weekend. As the match wore on the influence of Etienne Capoue and our midfield runners grew and gaps started to appear, especially between the Newcastle lines.

The result was three goals scored from the full back zones, but all four involved quick transitions to get runners in-between Newcastle’s defence and midfield.

Overall, it was a great result and an excellent performance, which included our first away clean sheet since Tromso in November.

Final score: Newcastle 0 Spurs 4.

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4 Responses to Newcastle 0 Spurs 4: three box-to-box midfielders key

  1. Graham 13th February 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    Great analysis, although i’m inclined to think we were more 4-3-3 than 4-1-4-1.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th February 2014 at 1:31 am #

      Thanks Graham. It could’ve been 4-3-3 but Dembele and Lennon were playing quite deep so that it would have been an extremely defensive 4-3-3 at that. We were definitely 4-1-4-1 without the ball, but in possession we stayed in the same shape with Lennon, Paulinho, Bentaleb and Dembele often being at the same level going forward. Sherwood has said that he’s not one for formations and more about player roles, so i tend to focus more on what players or the team were doing, but do try and categorise it for my own sanity, open to debate though.

  2. Chu2ks 15th February 2014 at 10:56 am #

    I loved this performance, and can’t help feeling this is what we were meant to see from the start of the season. AVB can point to so many reasons as to why he should have been given time, the greatest of which is seven players foisted on him whom he couldn’t fit in, but this is how he could have blended them in.

    And he could have rotated far easier playing this way, and even Holtby could have stayed.

    I don’t think I’m alone in stating how great a sight it is to see Dembele further forward. Love his technique to bits, but he slows things down too much in the centre of the pitch, and was never a natural Modric replacement, which was how he was regularly deployed.

    Even though I respect him, I think Lennon has stagnated and needs to be dropped or moved on. The wing position/wing-forward position has evolved so much that he offers very little, and has refused to adapt. Dare I say it, wonder-goal or not, Chadli and also Lamela in this same system given a season to bed down will show more efficiency in assisting and finishing than Lennon- I can only imagine how Eriksen could have fared, as this is more of Ajax’s style in which he dominated and profited.

    Bentaleb completely won me over in this match, I was quite apprehensive that he was being hyped too much too soon, but boy, did he school me. He’s so aware of what’s around him, and having Capoue sweep up behind him unleashed the full plethora of his talents. So we DO need a ‘Makelele’ player then.

    All in all, this system/tactic/positioning is the way to go, and TS should work on refining it, as 4231 and 442 with Spurs has such laborious build-ups.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th February 2014 at 3:34 pm #

      It was a good performance and i agree with you about Lennon – although he was played on the left here and we all know he isn’t that great when put on this side. He has been stagnating a bit on the right too recently, but he is a winger rather than a wide forward like Chadli or Lamela, so does offer something different.

      Capoue did allow Bentaleb more freedom and he definitely looked more comfortable here, promising signs!