AVB needs a line-leader and four more lessons from Tottenham vs Newcastle
1. Tottenham lack a cutting edge
Sunday’s result was Krul on Tottenham. Sorry Spurs fan, couldn’t resist. On any other day the home side would have cruised to a comfortable victory, but they came up against a goalkeeper who took any effort on his net as a personal affront.
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Tottenham had 31 attempts on goal – 14 of which Tim Krul kept out with a combination of his hands, feet and face. No goalkeeper has made more saves in a single Premier League game this season. If it wasn’t the Dutchman repelling an effort on goal, it was one of his defenders, who collectively made 7 blocks; Tottenham also had 10 attempts off target.
Alan Pardew’s troops defended valiantly – topping the charts for ball recoveries (Yoan Gouffran, 11), tackles (Yohan Cabaye, 6) and clearances (Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, 11). But ultimately, if you create that many opportunities you have to make them count.
2 Newcastle bullied Tottenham physically
There was a moment in the second half where Kyle Walker and Davide Santon competed for a loose ball on the sideline. The odds were marginally in Walker’s favour, but the Italian blasted through the England full-back’s weak challenge and charged away with the ball. That summed up the difference in physicality between the teams on the day.
Newcastle committed 15 fouls to Tottenham’s 5, with Mathieu Debuchy and Cheick Tiote the most frequent offenders (four apiece). Foul counts may be an inelegant way to judge physicality, but the Magpies also had three of the top five tacklers in Cabaye (6), Tiote (4) and Gouffran (4). Whether it was a shoulder-to-shoulder or a 50-50, Newcastle’s players showed more desire and physical strength.
3 Newcastle's system suited Remy, but Tottenham's didn’t suit Soldado
Instead of setting his team up to defend, Pardew started the game with a 4-4-2 formation, pairing Shola Ameobi and Loic Remy up front. The Geordie operated as a traditional target man and the Frenchman lurked on the shoulder of the last defender.
It worked perfectly in the first half. Tottenham defender Vlad Chiriches couldn’t snare Remy. Twice the striker raced away from the Romanian to face off against Brad Friedel – the American came out on top once, but in the 13th minute Remy rounded the goalkeeper and scored the winner.
Roberto Soldado may have managed 5 attempts on goal, twice being denied by Krul, but his contribution over the 90 minutes was minimal. His pass completion rate was only 75%, he lost all 4 of his aerial duels and failed to create any chances for his team-mates. When you consider that Tottenham had 65% of the possession, you would expect the spearhead of their attack to have had more of an impact.
The Spaniard is a goal poacher, best suited to prowling in the box. When you’re playing a 4-2-3-1 system, you need a striker that can hold up the ball and unsettle the opposition’s back four. Soldado is a penalty box assassin, not an all-action frontman.
4 It’s penetration not possession that counts
The home side dominated possession and registered 31 attempts at goal, but still failed to find the back of the net. This wasn’t just an off day, it’s been a problem afflicting Tottenham’s entire season. In 11 league games, Spurs have managed just 9 goals (of which 3 were penalties): only Sunderland and Palace have scored fewer.
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The home side's advanced midfield trio of Andros Townsend, Christian Eriksen and Gylfi Sigurdsson were often wasteful in possession. The lcelandic midfielder was ineffective, leading to his withdrawal in the second half. Eriksen was especially profligate in the attacking third with just 15 of 26 passes (57%) finding their intended target. In his defence, he did create 8 chances; you could argue there was little more he could do.
Townsend’s directness gets fans off their feet – both in adulation and frustration. He tried 10 take-ons, but lost the ball on 6 occasions. The players, feeling the weight of expectation from the stands, force the play when staying patient and drawing the opposition out of position would be the better option.
5 Tottenham’s back four needs protection
Paulinho and Moussa Dembele are fine footballers, but as a holding midfield pairing they don’t function defensively, and their attacking instincts left the Spurs back four exposed in the first half. To plug the gap Andre Villas-Boas wisely brought on Sandro, but unwisely replaced Dembele instead of Paulinho.
The summer signing from Corinthians had a terrible afternoon, notably losing the ball to Yoan Gouffran, leading to the Newcastle goal. Defensively he was absent all afternoon, failing with one attempted tackle and making zero interceptions or blocks. Dembele had been far more influential, making 3 interceptions and 4 clearances, as well as winning 3 tackles and 3 aerial duels.
Sandro came on and in just 45 minutes managed to make more interceptions (5) than any other player over the full match. He also made 3 clearances and won 2 aerial duels. The Brazilian wasn’t just brought on to destroy, he was also competent in possession, registering a pass completion rate of 88%. He should have been on from the start.