On the back of a 3-1 defeat against Norwich and a serious media inquest during the week, Tottenham were next up. Spurs had enjoyed a fine start to the season, beating Villa in the opening game and coming back to secure a draw against Man City. The Magpies’ record against Spurs in recent times hasn’t been great. In the last five outings Newcastle have managed just one win and four losses.
Steve Bruce made two changes to his side on the day, dropping Ki and Shelvey for Sean Longstaff and Allan Saint-Maximin. More importantly, Bruce changed from 5-3-2 to the more familiar 5-4-1, moving Almiron and Saint-Maximin to the wings leaving Joelinton to fend for himself up top.
91% of Tottenham’s passes qualified as being “short”. That is, 738 of their 805 completed attempts fell into that category.
In other words, they preferred a methodical buildup. As most possession-dominant sides do, Tottenham would cycle possession along their backline, probing for gaps in Newcastle’s shape.
The focal point of their attacks was finding Lucas Moura deep in the right channel, although he was shadowed closely by Matt Ritchie.
In the clip below, Tottenham utilises short passing, so that the ball finds central midfielder Moussa Sissoko, who has dropped deep to engage in buildup. He lays it off to the right back, Kyle Walker-Peters, who immediately scans for Lucas.
On this day, there was no easy path down the right channel, so possession cycles back in the other direction.
Tottenham regularly employed counter-press strategies against United. Upon turning the ball over, both midfielders and attackers would close down the opposition player that recovered the ball.
In the clip below, Longstaff receives a pass from Schär, and struggles to control the ball. Sissoko is already on his heels, and he’s able to capitalize on the poor technique, and bring the ball back into possession for Tottenham.
Newcastle United Analysis
Allan Saint-Maximin’s injury revealed two slightly different approaches for Newcastle.
When Christian Atsu subbed on in the 17th minute, Newcastle’s most successful attacks traveled through the left flank that had Ritchie & Atsu combing. In fact, the left channel commanded 50% of all Newcastle’s attacks.
Atsu’s assist came from there, as well as other key passes that were played from both Ritchie & Atsu.
However, in the opening stages with Saint-Maximin on the pitch, Newcastle tended to build through the middle of the pitch, as shown in the clip below:
In a bit of a “throwback” to the Rafa era, Newcastle’s defensive shape resembled his 5-4-1 layout, settling into the low block. Joelinton would harass the centre backs and, for the first time this season, the wide attackers (Almirón and ASM/Atsu) were able to apply defensive pressure to the opposition’s fullbacks.
The defensive shape was fairly compact, with challenges for the ball being dormant until Tottenham approached the final third.
However, as under Rafa, players seemed to be given license to close down as they saw fit:
The Tactical Sequences of the Match
Kick-Off to 17′
In the opening stanza, the phrase “midfield scrum” comes to mind when describing the action. While Tottenham dominated possession at once, neither side attempted any shots in the first 17 minutes.
Tottenham repeatedly showed their hand by funneling the ball toward Kyle Walker-Peters, who was constantly trying to deliver the ball to the winger in the right channels. However, Dummett & Co. weren’t having it:
17′ to 27′
Allan Saint-Maximin re-injured an ongoing hamstring issue, and he was subbed out for Christian Atsu.
Almost immediately, the balance of play tilted to Newcastle. The passing accuracy went from TOT 91%-77% NEW, to TOT 87%-82% NEW. Nothing too drastic, but its indicative of Newcastle growing into the game and evading Tottenham’s intense counter-pressure.
The first warning shot came from Sean Longstaff. Tottenham’s attacking shape had become too spread out, and once Sissoko turned it over they didn’t have the tight cluster of players to effectively press.
In this clip, Newcastle exploit the gaps in Tottenham’s shape to eventually work the ball down the pitch to Longstaff:
GOAL – Joelinton 27′ (TOT 0-1 NEW)
Joelinton’s goal came after a decent spell of possession where Newcastle were able to build up play using short passes with Spurs not applying defensive pressure. After working the ball up the right, a string of short passes moved it over to Ritchie on the left flank. Ritchie made a short pass to Atsu who looked up to find Joelinton 18-yards out from goal. Joelinton managed to create space between Sanchez and Rose with clever movement. Atsu chipped a pass, weighted to perfection, through to Joelinton who touched it into space with his right and fired off a left-footed shot to beat Hugo Lloris in goal.
28′ to Half Time
After the goal, Newcastle were able to build a couple more attacks, though Hayden’s blocked shot & Schär’s long range effort did little to bother keeper Hugo Lloris.
In addition, Son Heung-Min started to take command of the Tottenham attack.
In the stretch from Joelinton’s goal to half time, Son completed 2 of Tottenham’s 4 dribbles, and also produced a high xG value shot attempt here:
Half Time to 62′
Both sides started the half relatively unchanged; the only notable tweak was Son & Lucas switching flanks more frequently.
For Newcastle, Atsu & Ritchie each contributed key passes from their left flank while providing excellent defensive pressure.
In what became the overriding theme of the match, Tottenham continued their 80% possession share and were accurate on 94% of their passes – and yet they produced zero shots on goal.
In fact, the only lethal shot came from Joelinton in the 61st minute:
62′ to 82′
After a dominating spell with nothing to show for it, Tottenham made a pair of substitutions – Eriksen for Lamela, and Lo Celso for Walker-Peters. Moussa Sissoko slid to right back to cover Walker-Peters exit, Eriksen took Sissoko’s centre mid spot, and Lo Celso slotted directly into Lamela’s attacking mid spot.
The differences were apparent almost immediately. They produced 5 shots during this timeframe, and Newcastle’s pass accuracy was essentially halved to 38%.
Through Eriksen’s guile, Tottenham produced increasingly dangerous moments in Newcastle’s final third, eventually leading to this moment for Lucas in the 80th minute:
82′ to Full Time
Jamaal Lascelles, having suffered an injury trying to mark Harry Kane (and leading to a firm penalty shout), made way for Fede Fernandez.
The sub had little impact on the balance of play, as Tottenham continued to mount persistently lethal attacks. They had 6 shots on goal during this phase.
However, Newcastle’s defence was up to task. Of those 6 shots, 4 were blocked. And while Tottenham attempted 10 crosses, Newcastle tallied upwards of 16 clearances in the final stages.
The bend-but-not-break mentality couldn’t have been more evident than on this huge chance for Kane (a shot with a gargantuan xG value of 0.44):
By The Numbers
Men of the Match
The former Magpie takes the cake for Tottenham. Sissoko distributed play well, although doing nothing fancy, and broke up play when needed. Playing as a make-shift right back out of necessity, he managed to connect 5 crosses and had a 98% pass success rate.
Honourable Mention: Harry Winks
The midfielder had a hand in most things positive for Spurs with 3 completed dribbles, 94% pass success rate and 3 out of 4 completed tackles. Winks was quick to help close down, win the ball back and distribute play.
Newcastle United FC
It was a very strong defensive performance across the board from the whole team but Dummett has to take the peach. He was unbeatable defending crosses from the box and didn’t put a foot wrong all game.
Honourable Mention: Fabian Schär
A bright defensive display from Fabian on the day. His performance was equal to Dummett’s in many ways and his vision to find space in behind the opposition’s defense is a great thing to have in the arsenal. Schär made 4/6 attempted tackles, 2 interceptions and 7 clearances.
Honourable Mention: Joelinton
Yet another strong performance capped off with his first goal in the Premier League. Joelinton was relentless in battling off defenders, helping out at the back and linking up play for the midfield. Stats will not tell the whole story but notable ones saw Joelinton register both of his shots on target and amass a 92% pass success rate.
Newcastle United traveled to Tottenham, put up more shots on target than Spurs, while also blocking as many of Tottenham’s attempts as Newcastle attempted themselves. It was a sound defensive effort with promising attacking sequences sprinkled throughout.
However, there were nervy moments in the final 30 minutes. Tottenham had a solid penalty shout, in addition to 2 high xG shot attempts. But United held it together, and got the full 3 points.
I think Pochettino put it well:
“We didn’t create – we had possession but we didn’t create enough chances. We didn’t find the capacity to break down their defensive line. They were very organised and defended deep. We didn’t show this capacity when a solid team came to play against us.”