Opening up a compact and narrow team earned three points as our Premier League clash finished Newcastle 0-2 Spurs at St. James’ Park.
Patience was the key to opening up a slow encounter at St. James’ Park. Reduced to ten men, Newcastle settled in to a compact and narrow formation. Tottenham responded with brief moments of rapid player and ball movement from between the lines. Two goals were the result as it ended Newcastle 0-2 Spurs in our Premier League clash.
Newcastle’s low block
The opening half was played at a pedestrian pace. Both teams still looked in preseason mode, but classic Rafael Benitez tactics also forced it. The Newcastle manager set his team up in a low block that was content not to engage the ball until it crossed the halfway line.
Once back in possession, the Magpies looked to launch quick counter attacks. Rapid passing out of defence sought to use the speed of Christian Atsu and Dwight Gayle. Whether by design or just coincidence, these passes often targeted Kyle Walker-Peters. The debutant dealt well with initial balls out, showing surprising leaping ability. However, if Atsu had the ball on the deck, then he caused Walker-Peters more problems.
Christian Eriksen breaking the lines
Newcastle’s’ tactics slowed the game, but also made them difficult to break down. In spite of two injuries to their back line, the Magpies held a very solid shape. Mauricio Pochettino tried a number of tactics to try and break it.
The first move came after centre back Kieran Clark went out to left back. Pochettino responded by moving Moussa Sissoko to the opposite wing. Christian Eriksen came across to replace him and drifted inside to drag midfielder Matt Ritchie away. Pochettino was trying to create space for Kyle Walker-Peters to attack the stand-in full back 1v1 off the dribble.
Walker-Peters had some success in his battles with Clark. He won several corners and got in to some good crossing positions. He was a touch too predictable though. Always trying to shift it on to his right foot meant that Clark could position himself to cover this.
Pochettino’s next move was to try and free Christian Eriksen between the lines. Rather than start drifting inside from the flank, Eriksen moved in to the centre, but operated from much deeper.
The move gave Newcastle a problem. The Magpies midfield didn’t want to get drawn out to engage him. The result was space for Eriksen in front of their midfield, but also Dele Alli and Harry Kane in the spaces behind it.
The gaps that started to appear gave Eriksen the chance for several shots, but equally to find the runners with his passes. A neatly lobbed ball for Dele Alli’s run in the first half highlighted the spaces on offer. It also acted as a prelude as to what would happen after the interval.
Shelvey’s red card impacts the game
Jonjo Shelvey’s moment of Jonjo Shelveydom shot his team in the foot. Standing on Dele Alli’s ankle in front of the referee gave Andre Marriner no choice but to send him off.
Stretched, but coping, with eleven, Newcastle then had to play their low block tactics with ten men. There were two key changes to their setup.
Firstly, Rafael Benitez had his side narrow up to congest the centre of the pitch. Space was therefore left in the wide areas. Secondly, Benitez also instructed his wide midfielders, Atsu and Ritchie, to cover any balls out to the flanks. This tactic allowed his full backs to tuck in with their centre backs to keep the middle closed off.
Spurs open the low and narrow blockade
Despite the central congestion that Rafael Benitez had created, Tottenham went straight through the heart of it to score twice. Christian Eriksen was at the centre of both goals, but so too were explosive player and ball movement from between the lines.
The key to both moves was the positioning of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen between the lines. Movement of the ball to the flanks in the initial phase dragged Newcastle’s wide midfielders over on both goals. This resulted in space between the lines for Alli and Eriksen to work their magic. The eventual goal scorers, Alli and Davies, could then run off right back Javier Manquillo to finish.
This pattern was set on the opening goal. Play shifted out to Kyle Walker-Peters in space on the flank. Christian Atsu was therefore drawn over to allow left back Kieran Clark to remain protecting his centre backs. As Walker-Peters passed back inside, Atsu could no longer track Christian Eriksen, affording the deadliest passer on the pitch space.
Whilst Eriksen was working his pocket, Dele Alli was doing the same. Right back Javier Manquillo didn’t want to get drawn forward to cover him. However, he then couldn’t catch him, as Dele darted past towards the back post. Eriksen’s deliciously crafted cross picked out Dele Alli superbly to make it 1-0 to Spurs.
Ben Davies rewarded for runs
Our second goal to make it Newcastle 0-2 Spurs soon followed in a similar manner. This time the ball went out to our other full back, Ben Davies, in space. Newcastle’s wide midfielder, Matt Ritchie, was drawn out. As the ball went back inside to Mousa Dembele, Ritchie was unable to help inside. Isaac Hayden was therefore drawn out from the middle. The result was space once more created in the pockets between the lines for Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen to fill them.
Seeing the space, speed was once more injected in to the attack. Dembele fired the ball into Dele Alli and series of precise one-touch passes ensued. Whilst this was happening, Ben Davies was on the move.
Running off Matt Ritchie, Davies eyed the corridor that had opened up behind him. Javier Manquillo had abandoned orders and needlessly been drawn out by the position of Son Heung Min. As a result, space was left for Davies’ marauding run.
As the ball went rapidly through Dembele, Dele and Kane, it finally found the fleet feet of Christian Eriksen. Nipping inside from his pocket of space between the lines, the Dane skipped across the box and ended up meeting Davies’ run. The left back darted in and rounded off a magnificent move to make it Newcastle 0-2 Spurs and put the match to bed.
The goal was apt reward for Ben Davies’ progress. Remember the days when he seemed scared to cross the halfway line for fear of leaving his defensive post unmanned? Pensive and passive, Davies has been making these careering runs in to the box since taking over for Danny Rose up at Sunderland. A real win for Davies and another pointer to great coaching.
Atsu and Ritchie
In making the score Newcastle 0-2 Spurs the game was all but safe against the ten men. However, the speed and tricky dribbling of Christian Atsu continued to pose a threat.
The Newcastle wide man was giving Kyle Walker-Peters a tough introduction to the Premier League. Atsu’s rapid changes of pace and direction meant that he was a particularly tricky cover for Walker-Peter’s Premier League bow.
Despite being two goals down, Newcastle’s threat came from wide as the pace of Atsu and the deliveries of Matt Ritchie gave the Magpies some hope. Ritchie put in several dangerous crosses from open and set plays as Newcastle sought a way back in to the match. The most precarious of these caused Walker-Peters to scramble in a recovery attempt to block Atsu arriving at the back post.
Harry Kane nearly breaks August duck
In spite of Newcastle’s spirited effort at two-nil down, Spurs almost added a third. The introduction of Son Heung-Min provided a real spark. An injection of speed across the ground with the ball that we’d previously lacked on the pitch. Son’s darting runs in his brief time in the game highlighted once more why we need to bring in another player of this type.
Newcastle was once more opened up straight through the centre. A turnover caught them forward attacking and they couldn’t live with Son’s scampering speed across the turf. His excellently weighted pass found Harry Kane, who was in the perfect position to break his duck of not scoring in August in the Premier League. Sending his shot past the goalkeeper, Kane could not beat the post, as his effort struck the foot of the upright. The score remained Newcastle 0-2 Spurs and Kane still to get off the mark in August.
Newcastle 0-2 Spurs overall
The game was languid with a real opening day feel at times. However, two injections of pace resulted in two excellently crafted goals. Both strikes opened up a narrow and deep-lying Newcastle team that couldn’t stay with the speed and movement going on around them.
The red card helped, as Newcastle couldn’t cover the spaces and track the runners as they had been with eleven. However, the persistence and patience shown were the hallmarks of a classic Pochettino performance against textbook Benitez tactics.
Final score: Newcastle 0-2 Spurs.
MOTM: Christian Eriksen.