Newcastle started the 2012/13 season with a home fixture against Spurs. Newcastle started in a 4-4-2 formation with arguably their first choice team, bar missing captain Coloccini, who was injured in pre-season.
New Spurs manager, Andre Villas-Boas had a few selection problems with Parker missing through injury and Modric, who looks to be Madrid bound. They started with their only senior striker, Defoe up front and new signing Gylfi Sigurdsson, preferred to van der Vaart, looking to support the lone striker when he could.
Newcastle outnumbered in the middle
It was a sluggish start to the game from Newcastle, as Spurs dominated the possession early on. As proved on numerous occasions last season, Cabaye and Tiote struggle in the centre of the park against teams who play three central midfielders. On Saturday, the three-man central midfield of Santos, Livermore and Sigurdsson proved too much for the Newcastle duo and Spurs created several chances early in the first half.
Whenever either Cabaye or Tiote were on the ball, their passing options were limited, due to Tottenham’s three closing their angles down. As a result, both players often played the ball long to Ba and Cisse and on more occasions than not, the ball failed to reach their intended team-mate – see (via Squawka.com) below.
In a private talk-in with fans on Monday last week, Pardew talked about if you control the midfield, then you control the game and at half time, he made changes to try to rectify the losing battle in midfield. He moved Ba out to the left-wing and moved stand in captain, Gutierrez into central midfield to match Tottenham’s three in the centre. Towards the close of the last season, the 4-3-3 formation, with Ba and Ben Arfa supporting Cisse from either flank, was Newcastle’s preferred formation and it proved fruitful in the second half against Tottenham.
Straight from the start of the second half, Newcastle looked more composed and whenever any our midfielders had possession of the ball, they had more options around them, as shown below.
Cabaye and Tiote played shorter balls around them, rather than the longer, hopeful passes in the first half. It’s evident from Cabaye and Tiote’s position on the chalkboard below, that with more control and possession of the ball, we started to play further up the pitch and in Tottenham’s half.
Pushing Tottenham back, it allowed our full backs to venture forward and it was only 9 minutes into the second half when Simpson aimed a cross at Ba, that unsettled Kyle Walker and Ba coolly curled the ball around Brad Friedel.
In the first half, Newcastle could only complete 75% of their passes, compared to 81% in the second half, emphasising the effect of the change of tactics had on the game.
Calm on the ball at the back
Despite not having the reassuring and calming influence of Coloccini on the pitch, Newcastle’s two central defenders still looked calm whenever they were on the ball. Between them, they completed 84 out of 85 passes, the much aligned utility player James Perch showing composure and completing all of his 45 passes – Steven Taylor with probably the best pass of the match – a headed backpass to Tim Krul whilst lying on the ground.
It’s a good sign that we’re looking to keep possession of the ball with calm and patient passing, whereas last season, Mike Williamson would be looking to play the ball long more often than not.
Hatem Ben Arfa
At the start of last season, it looked like Ben Arfa was perhaps a luxury player that Pardew was reluctant to use, but since the start of the 2012, he looks to be a guaranteed name on the teamsheet.
He has always been known for his attacking flair, but Alan Pardew has instilled a defensive side into Ben Arfa’s play since his time at Newcastle. Today, he worked hard defensively as well as attacking, winning all four tackles he attempted (3 v Assou-Ekotto, 1 v Bale) and won the ball back in his defensive third on three occasions.
Attacking wise, he looked to try to break down Totttenham’s resilience, as he jinked past several players on his mazy runs (successful in 5 out of his 8 dribbles) – drawing fouls from Livermore and Sandro in the first half that earned both players yellow cards in the process.
He also earned a penalty late on in the game, as he was fouled by both Lennon and van der Vaart, as he tried to squirm between the two as he raced into the penalty area. Not short of confidence, he was adamant that he would take the resulting penalty and finished it with great aplomb.
Not the greatest performance, but it’s always a positive when you can win against a top side when you’re not on at your best. Newcastle were fortunate that Spurs hit the woodwork on a couple of occasions, but Pardew was very positive at half time and changed the formation to rectify the problem of not being able to control the game in midfield.
Next up is an away fixture at Chelsea on Saturday night, after a Europa League fixture away fixture at Atromitos, less than 48 hours before.
Will Pardew revert back to 4-4-2 or match Chelsea’s 5 man midfield, by playing Ba left-wing again?