Tottenham left St James’ Park bitterly disappointed this afternoon, after they lost 2-1 to Newcastle despite putting on a performance that had many merits. Newcastle took the lead just after half time when Demba Ba curled in a magnificent far post shot. Jermaine Defoe equalised after a short scrap in the six yard box a little while later, but Newcastle sealed their win when Hatem Ben Arfa won and converted a penalty kick with ten minutes to play.
There were both upsides and downsides to this Spurs performance. Lets start with the former. Several players put in fantastic performances that show they’re completely ready for the new season. Aaron Lennon and Gylfi Sigurdsson were the creative force behind nearly all of Tottenham’s attacking opportunities, and have already got a fine working understanding of each other. Jermaine Defoe did his best to make up for the lack of strike support, and whilst he’s never going to be able to act as a target man, he did what he does best – pouncing on loose balls and letting off unpredictable snapshots. His goal was a trademark poached effort, but he also saw a great low shot hit the post in the first half.
The two goals conceded belie the strength of Tottenham’s defence this afternoon. William Gallas captained the team, partnering Younes Kaboul in central defence. The pair were heroic, stopping Newcastle from creating chances for the entirety of the game. Gallas in particular showed that he’s got plenty of life left in him despite his age, sprinting to the ball and making powerful runs when the game needed some urgency injected into it. Defensively, AVB displayed some interesting tactics. Walker and Assou-Ekotto pushed incredibly high up the wings, even further than they did under Redknapp. To offset this, Sandro rarely ventured far into the opposition half, choosing to stay back. When Sandro was back, Kaboul and Gallas would spread wide to cover the wings, effectively meaning that when in possession, Tottenham played a strange 3-6-1 hybrid. It worked for most of the game, as other than the first goal Newcastle didn’t have many other clear-cut opportunities.
Tottenham dominated the first half, with Gylfi Sigurdsson having several good chances and Gareth Bale’s header hitting the crossbar. Unfortunately, a change of formation meant Newcastle came back into the game after half time, and there wasn’t much anyone could do to prevent Ba’s wonderstrike going into the net. There was, however, more Aaron Lennon and Van der Vaart could have done to prevent Hatem Ben Arfa winning such an easy penalty. Ben Arfa was the difference for Newcastle today in a game that otherwise lacked attacking influence.
The negatives of this performance, then. Gareth Bale had a decidedly average game by his high standards. He was selfish on the ball, often choosing to cut inside for shots and easy passes, instead of using his pace to beat Stephen Taylor, who looked helpless to cope with him. Despite Defoe’s good game, his lack of ability to hold the ball up showed just how badly Tottenham need Adebayor or some other equivalent. Ade’s contribution to the team last year was in more than his 17 goals – it was his ability to hold up the play whilst Lennon, Bale and VdV stormed forward to join him. Defoe hasn’t got this talent, and so all chances came from snapshots and set-pieces, rather than the carefully worked plays we saw so much last year.
Tottenham need to sell Luka Modric and use the money to either pay Adebayor’s absurd wage demands or find someone who’ll do the same job for less. This is obvious to anyone with a working tactical brain. It’s the glaring weak link in the Tottenham squad. Had this been rectified in time for today, Spurs could have converted their first-half dominance into a two – maybe even three – goal lead. It speaks volumes about the state of the club that Jermaine Jenas and Harry Kane made the subs bench. A disappointing result all in all, but not entirely unexpected. I just hope that by this time next week, the creases in Tottenham Hotspur FC will finally have been ironed out.