Both teams fought to overcome narrow defensive setups to get the ball wide, as our opening Premier League clash finished Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham.
Mauricio Pochettino and Rafael Benitez both sought to control the centre of the pitch so that they could launch their attacks in the wide spaces. Pochettino went with a central midfield trio. Benitez had his team play with a narrow midfield four. The result was a hat trick of goals from the flanks as it ended Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham.
Control of the centre
Tottenham lined up in our new 4-3-3 formation. As we’ve seen in preseason, the objective of this formation in the defensive phase is to be narrow and take away the centre of the pitch.
Newcastle played their usual 4-4-2 counter attack setup. Benitez equally wants to keep the opponent out of the centre and therefore he played his usual narrow four-man midfield.
The issue for Benitez was that the Tottenham trio, combined with Christian Eriksen floating in from the left, could overrun his midfield. As a result, both Ben Davies and Serge Aurier could get forward and be heavily involved in the attack.
Aurier put in several decent crosses and created a goal. Davies did equally well, including creating a guilt-edged chance for Moussa Sissoko. The former Magpie saw his shot on the swivel well saved by Martin Dubravka at full stretch.
Set piece start
For all of the work by both teams to control the centre of the pitch and attack in the wide areas, Spurs took the lead from a corner. Eriksen drifting inside in to a central position to overload the Newcastle midfield won the set piece.
The corner itself was well set up by Tottenham as we sought to isolate Davinson Sanchez and Harry Kane on the edge of the box. The team achieved this by putting three aerially strong players in Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Jan Vertonghen in the six-yard box. Newcastle had to mark them and so Kane and Sanchez were left with plenty of open space to attack
Lucas Moura made a nice run to lead Kenedy away from where the ball was going. Jonjo Shelvey, who for some reason was marking Sanchez, then gave the centre back far too much room. Shelvey was no match aerially for Sanchez. Davinson won the header and Jan Vertonghen nodded the ball in off the underside of the bar with a little help from goal line technology.
Mauricio Pochettino loves the ball in to the front post at corners. This set play was another example of how to achieve it by clearing out for a single player to get in and win the first ball.
Newcastle equalise from wide
Spurs defensive setup had been highly interesting. Taking away the middle of the pitch, the team slid over as a unit to try and hem Newcastle in on the sideline.
The issue for Spurs was that when Newcastle could switch the ball quickly to the other side then they had the ability to take advantage of the resulting space. It was this ploy that saw the Magpies back on level terms.
Newcastle initially begun by attacking down their left. Straight from a throw-in they were able to avoid the pressure and move the ball to Matt Ritchie on the right. In the process of the switch, Dele Alli was sucked out towards Jonjo Shelvey. As a result, Ben Davies was left one-against-one with Matt Ritchie.
Ritchie immediately cut back on his favoured left foot and whipped in a wicked cross before Davies could get back to him. In the centre, Davinson Sanchez had let Joselu run off the back of him. A gaping hole was therefore now evident between Sanchez and Aurier. The full back didn’t tuck in to get close to his centre back with the ball on the other side.
Joselu had the freedom of the penalty area to nod home and tie the score back up at Newcastle 1-1 Tottenham.
Spurs back in front
Seeing the early lead wiped out, Tottenham were quickly back in front. Once more the space in the wide areas caused by narrow defending teams was exploited.
Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen had a fascinating dovetailing of positions going on. Eriksen started as the wide forward in and Dele as the outside man of the three central midfielders. However, both players made moves to pop up in unexpected places. Eriksen constantly drifted into the centre, allowing Dele to assume the wide forward role.
The intertwining of the pair lead to Tottenham taking the lead. Eriksen had drifted centrally and with Newcastle so narrow, Dele was afforded space out wide.
Eriksen was repelled, but Serge Aurier was first to the loose ball. Aurier swung in a peach of a delivery for Dele arriving at the back post to head home. The unfortunate DeAndre Yedlin was caught narrow, concerned by the presence of Harry Kane.
Dele’s run in to the space where Eriksen originally was caught the Magpies off guard. His goal made it Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham as we took the lead for the second time.
Newcastle attack the right back
Down by a goal, Newcastle made a concerted effort to attack down our right side. Serge Aurier and Moussa Sissoko were often on different wavelengths as they frequently allowed space to Kenedy and Paul Dummett.
Mo Diame burst in and rung a shot off the outside of the post to cause us a major scare. Kenedy then had Newcastle’s best chance of the match with Aurier caught narrow and not paying attention.
The Brazillian swept in with acres of space to move in to. However, a poor first touch allowed Hugo Lloris to scamper from his line and block any shooting opportunity.
The biggest scare came from Salomon Rondon. Rafael Benitez had brought new signing Yoshinori Muto on to attack the space Aurier was leaving. He combined with Jonjo Shelvey to find Rondon’s run off our other full back, Ben Davies.
Rondon shrugged off Davies before unleashing his shot. However, Jan Vertonghen arrived from nowhere to block the Venezuelan’s effort. The ball squibbed up on to the bar and bounced back out for Sanchez to clear.
Spurs had survived the scares with a gutsy effort to run out winners. Three vital points in the bag as it finished Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham at St. James’ Park.
Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham overall
A tremendous effort from a number of the players, several of which had just returned after a World Cup break.
As in preseason, the new 4-3-3 formation was once more susceptible to teams that can quickly switch the ball wide and then cross. That didn’t change here as we once more concede from a ball in from the flank. It is something to keep an eye on as fitness improves, as does opponent’s tactical intelligence of our system.
Whether Pochettino makes tweaks to ensure the full backs aren’t so isolated in the defensive phase is also something to watch. Serge Aurier had a good game going forward, but a very mixed bag defensively. Ben Davies was better than Aurier, but his vulnerability to speedy opponents was also flagged up here.
Overall, an excellent three points with half the team running on empty near the end.
Final score: Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham.
MOTM: Jan Vertonghen.