Monday, June 17, 2024

Newcastle 6-1 Tottenham Hotspur: Talking points as Magpies destroy Spurs within first quarter to boost top-four advantage

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Newcastle absolutely destroyed Tottenham Hotspur within the first quarter of their crucial clash at St. James’ Park on Sunday, putting five goals past Hugo Lloris in that time through Jacob Murphy (2′, 9′), Joelinton (6′), and Alexander Isak (19′, 21′). The only goal for the visitors was the work of Harry Kane four minutes into the second half, but Callum Wilson came off the bench to score the sixth for the hosts in the 67th.

Stellini’s risky change

It was clear from the very start that Spurs simply weren’t able to defend at all at the start of the game. They were all over the place at the back; the channels were open for the opposition to keep running into and the runners weren’t picked up or tracked, especially the wide players when they cut inside to latch onto long passes in central areas.

But even before the game, the change of shape made by Spurs interim boss Christian Stellini drew attention. The team, neither under his command nor previously under Antonio Conte, had ever started a Premier League match this season with the back line of four.

It was Eric Dier and Cristian Romero who started as the centre-back pair, with Pedro Porro on the right and Ivan Perisic on the left.

First of all, Dier is not a classic centre-back. He was a defensive midfielder who  frequently dropped between the central defenders, strong and good in the air, and it therefore made sense to make the switch permanent – as long as he plays as the middle piece of a back three.

Secondly, neither Porro nor Perisic are classic fullbacks. They are both wingers converted into wingback to spread the team’s passages of play through the entire width of the pitch, players who seek to move forward by default rather than maintain their position in the back line. Consequently, they were frequently too far from the centre-backs, creating perfect pockets of space for the Newcastle attackers to exploit.

It took Stellini a quarter of the match to realize his mistake, and in the 23rd minute, he withdrew Pape Matar Sarr, the midfielder who came into the starting XI instead of the third centre back, and sent Davinson Sanchez in his place. The Spurs defence looked much better immediately, but the damage was obviously done already as the scoreboard screamed 5-0.

So the key question is, why did Stellini decide to make this change for this match? Why did he employ a system obviously unfamiliar to most of his players for the first time, in a game which they started fifth in the Premier League with a three-point deficit compared to Newcastle in fourth? Games don’t get much bigger than that at this point of a season, and going with something untested, especially at the back, was always going to come back and bite the Italian coach.

Lloris was substituted at halftime, and while some believed he was blamed for conceding five goals in such quick succession and others expressed assumptions that he may have gotten into an argument with Stellini in the dressing room, the ex-France international revealed he had felt a potential injury issue which, with the game already lost, probably wasn’t worth risking any further.

Conte’s words

Speaking to the press after the game, Lloris also played down the talk of tactics (though with a mysterious smile which didn’t make him look convincing), and blamed such a heavy defeat on the players themselves. He said they lacked the fight, the pride which playing for this club demands. For his part, Stellini defended his players and said the fault was his.

Meanwhile, the words spoken by Antonio Conte just before his departure from the club about a month ago, where he appeared to have taken a swing at everyone at the club, came back to the minds of many.

The Newcastle rise continues

Newcastle have perhaps the richest owners in the world of football, but manager Eddie Howe has undoubtedly done fantastically well with just three notable additions since the takeover. A goalkeeper – Nick Pope, one defender – Sven Botman, one midfielder – Bruno Guimaraes, and one attacker – Isak; that’s all in terms of newcomers who have made genuine impact, players who have established themselves as regular starters.

But there’s been a considerable rise in the performances of others, most notably Fabian Schar, Miguel Almiron, Sean Longstaff and Wilson, and for that, the credit belongs to no-one but themselves and Howe. There should never have been any doubt about the quality of the manager who took Bournemouth from the lowest regions of the English football pyramid to being a regular part of the Premier League for several years, but Howe has now proven he can do his job well even at a club where more is expected.

Should Newcastle qualify for the Champions League, which now seems more than likely, they will likely made further investment in the squad, and the expectations will rise further. Howe will then face challenges wholly new in his career, and it remains to be seen how he deals with them, but for the time being, Newcastle are on the right track and continuing the rise at such pace could soon see them challenging for the Premier League title.

Top four done?

This memorable victory has taken the black-and-whites above Manchester United to the third place for the time being. They have the same number of points (59) as United, though the 20-time English champions have a game in hand due to being involved in the FA Cup semifinals this weekend. Spurs are still fifth but now six points behind, and like Aston Villa in sixth with 51 points, they’ve played a game more than Newcastle, two more than United.

The gap is now wide and though the race for the places warranting Champions League spots isn’t mathematically over, it looks very close to being realistically over. While the title race between Arsenal and Manchester City appears set to go to the wire, Newcastle and Manchester United appear set to fill the remaining two slots and leave the teams behind competing for places in the other two UEFA competitions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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