The Magpies overload their right side as our last Premier League match finishes Newcastle 5-1 Spurs but deeper problems are exposed.
Embarrassing, shambolic and disastrous are just three words that sum up this performance. The effort and energy that have been the hallmarks of our season deserted us as we succumbed to Newcastle’s raids down their right side. Four goals were the result of attacks down this flank, as a day to forget finished Newcastle 5-1 Spurs at St. James’ Park.
Running in to Benitez’s shape
The first half started with us running in to Rafael Benitez’s formation, which was set up to head us off through the centre.
Benitez is well known for his deep-lying set up and counter-attacking football. We ran right in to it here. The Spaniard had Jack Colback and Cheick Tiote screening their back four, with the whole formation tucking in and playing narrow. Colback and Tiote have been industrious and real grafters in Newcastle’s unbeaten streak and they were so again here. They hoovered up balls in the middle of the park as we didn’t get it wide often enough.
Lamela, Son and Eriksen, as they usually do, drifted centrally but the clues to get play in to wide areas quicker were there for us. We’d looked at the Magpies’ vulnerability in the left back zone Newcastle vs Spurs match preview and this is where the gaps were. Early on and Lamela picked the ball up centrally, but failed to find Kyle Walker streaking in to the open space where left back Paul Dummett should’ve been.
Later in the half and Harry Kane drew Dummett in, releasing Christian Eriksen down the outside. However, Eriksen could only fire straight at Kyle Darlow covering his near post.
These were rare moments of chance creation. The rest of the half saw us continually run in to Tiote and Colback.
Newcastle right-sided raids
Once Newcastle had won the ball back they, in typical Benitez fashion, hit with quick counter attacks. These were from getting the ball out to Andros Townsend on the right, where Newcastle simply overloaded us. Mousa Sissoko would drift across to aid Townsend and Daryl Janmaat would overlap, creating 3v2 situations as we couldn’t cope.
Once the ball had been worked out here, Newcastle would look to cross for Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksander Mitrovic in the centre.
An early example saw Townsend and Sissoko combine to release Janmaat down the outside. His cross saw Toby Alderweireld slide in with Mitrovic to hinder the Serbian just enough to stop him making contact.
Alderweireld played this one well, but in the next attack, he didn’t. To be fair, his flick-on header, when he should’ve sent the ball back to where it came from, wasn’t the worst offence. That came from Christian Eriksen dawdling on the ball at the halfway line and being shrugged off it by Mitrovic.
The play went to predictably to the right, then the left, before going back to the right again for Janmaat to cross once more. His ball in was flicked on by Alderweireld when it should’ve been sent out. It ended up at the feet of Sissoko who passed it square to Mitrovic to lay it off for Wijnaldum to score. The Dutchman had sprinted in past the ambling Heung-Min Son and Erik Lamela.
You would’ve though that going a goal down in a game that we needed at least a point from would prompt a reaction? But it didn’t. The sluggish tempo, players being caught ambling on the ball and still trying to force a way through the centre continued.
Newcastle then added a second as their quick breaks and moving the ball to the right side paid off again. Andros Townsend skipped past Ben Davies, who struggled to get to grips with marking the former Spurs player, before finding Sissoko overloading once more.
Ben Davies being skinned had mean that Jan Vertonghen was pulled out to try and close Sissoko. Alderweireld was left in no man’s land, half marking Wijnaldum, who had been picked up by Eric Dier. This left Mitrovic running in free as Kyle Walker tried to get back, having spotted the danger.
Sissoko’s cross was straight on to the forehead of Mitrovic, who powered the header past the helpless Hugo Lloris. Two goals down and both from right-sided overloads and crosses.
Half time switches
After a dire first half, Mauricio Pochettino made two changes. Off went Ryan Mason and Son Heung-Min to be replaced by Tom Carroll and Josh Onomah.
The move was a like-for-like replacement, but Carroll played with much more energy and tempo than Mason. His going in for a 50-50 started the move the got us back to 2-1. His challenge caused the ball to squirm loose and as it ran to Cheick Tiote, Christian Eriksen closed the Newcastle man down, stripped the ball and got it moving quickly to Harry Kane.
The speed of the attack had Newcastle off balance and committed in midfield with men now out of the game. These quick transitions from a midfield turnover have been the hallmarks of our season and we were off on the break once again. The ball went out to Eriksen, back in to Eric Dier and then to Erik Lamela as the vacant Newcastle full back area was now exposed.
Lamela drove a shot in at the near post that keeper Karl Darlow stooped under, got too low and could only palm up in to the top of the net, 2-1.
Red mist descends
The game was now beginning to swing. Momentum was with us and we were starting to gain control.
That all changed as the red mist descended, but it wasn’t just for Newcsatle, but for both teams. Aleksander Mitrovic was sent off for a horrendous tackle on Kyle Walker, but our judgement was also clouded. With the man advantage, we chased the game far too eagerly, massively over committing men forward, which gifted them counter-attack opportunities.
The situation wasn’t helped by Mauricio Pochettino’s elaborate change of formation. This was maybe another example of clouded judgement and impetuousness with a good 30 minutes still to go. However, it was a bold move and one I have to applaud him for it. I have criticised his lack of formational flexibility in match situations on this blog this season. Maybe removing Kyle Walker for Nacer Chadli and going with a back three was a bit extreme, but at least he was prepared to change tact.
The move was shot in the foot just 2 minutes after the switch. It also highlighted the removal of our right back as Newcastle broke where Walker would’ve been and Jan Vertonghen sold himself by lunging in. He didn’t need to and it allowed Mousa Sissoko to break free and head for the penalty area. Once he made it there, Sissoko threw himself to the floor, winning a penalty.
Maybe it was a make-up call by the referee or he was just simply conned, but it killed the game as we lost our shape and positional discipline afterwards. Newcastle sat back in a compact and narrow shape, using the speed of Mousa Sissoko and Andros Townsend on the break.
Newcastle had at least three counter attack opportunities which led to good scoring chances, the best being Sissoko’s 1v1 that was thwarted by Hugo Lloris narrowing the angle.
The save by Lloris led to Newcastle’s fourth going in from the resulting corner. It was taken short as they got quickly at our defence before we were properly organised. Andros Townsend hit the post, but the ball was recovered and Janmaat swung another cross in from the right.
Rolando Aarons, who was also brought in to the game for his counter attacking speed by Benitez, ghosted through the lines of our midfield and back four to lash home.
The game was well and truly up by this point, but another sloppy pass and Newcastle raiding down their right added a fifth.
This time it was Josh Onomah with the loose pass, as he tried to square the ball across Newcastle’s central blocking trio of Shelvey (who was on for Tiote), Colback and Aarons.
Rolando Aarons jumped on the pass, sped forward and found the overlapping Janmaat down the right, completing what was a miserable afternoon.
Newcastle 5-1 Spurs overall
An absolutely tragic way to finish what has been an excellent season. Remaining calm and composed in the heat of an adverse situation has been the undoing of our team in recent weeks. Yes we were without Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli, but their bans for petulant behaviour have highlighted our recent impetuousness on the field.
In this match, we played in to Newcastle’s strong centre and didn’t deal with their continual overloads down the right. Danny Rose would’ve surely coped with Sissoko and the trickery of Townsend better than Ben Davies did?
Without a match now until August, there isn’t the chance to put this performance to rest and work it out of the system. It will fester for a while. The only positive spin would be that it serves as motivation to improve and be better next season. A learning experience to chalk up alongside what happened against West Brom and Chelsea, so that we take the next step forward in developing the huge promise of this team.
Final score: Newcastle 5-1 Spurs.