Originally posted on Finishers Forum  |  Last updated 2/10/13
With no matches pitting top 4 teams against each other in the Premier League this weekend, I’ve picked out a match between two sides who generally play an entertaining brand of football as our MOTW. Both teams were coming off big wins last week as Tottenham dispatched West Brom to continue an impressive run of form and Newcastle had what they hoped might be a momentum shifting win against Chelsea as they struggle to stay above the relegation zone. MOTW Tottenham vs. Newcastle at White Hart Lane Alan Pardew went with an unchanged starting XI from the side that beat Chelsea in an entertaining come from behind win last weekend. Included were three of the club’s January signings poached from Ligue 1, notably man of the match against Chelsea, Moussa Sissoko. More surprising was the way Tottenham lined up, with Clint Dempsey playing in the false number nine role utilized by Spain at this past summer’s European Championships. Despite the return of Emmanuel Adebayor from the African Cup of Nations, the Togolese striker was left on the bench.  The first 25 minutes of the match lived up to expectations and were quite entertaining, with Tottenham having gone ahead early on a superb free kick by Gareth Bale, only for Newcastle to level through a deflected strike by French-import Yoan Gouffran in the 24th minute. Both sides were excellent in possession, mixing in a nice balance of short, intermediate, and long range passes, including some perfectly weighted cross-field diagonal balls from the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Scott Parker. However, after Newcastle got their equalizer they seemed to sag back into a more defensive posture and Tottenham enjoyed the majority of possession. Often Tottenham are able to exploit other teams playing defensively against them by spreading the ball wide to Bale and Aaron Lennon, who have the pace to get to the end line and the quality to serve plenty of  crosses into the box. Today, a combination of factors were working against them in trying to execute that game plan. First, credit where credit is due, Newcastle were generally quite organized in the back, with their wide midfielders fully aware of their defensive duties, more often than not tracking back to help double team Bale and Lennon and keeping them from getting to the byline and whipping crosses in.  Furthermore, the lack of a true striker hurt Tottenham, as on the few occasions when crosses came from the wings, there were precious few white shirts in the penalty area. As discussed in this space a couple weeks ago, for all Clint Dempsey’s attacking talents, he’s probably not best suited to play up front by himself. He is far more comfortable checking back into space in front of the opposing defense and combining with the midfield to get in behind. Deployed ostensibly as a false-nine today, he and Tottenham seemed to run out of creative attacking ideas after the first 30 minutes of the match. Again, credit should go to Newcastle’s defensive organization, but to be honest, the only team that’s had proven success playing without a true striker is Spain/Barcelona. I don’t think I need to tell you that no one will be confusing Moussa Dembele, Scott Parker, and Lewis Holtby with Xavi, Iniesta, and Xabi Alonso anytime soon. Without two or even three top 5 in the world central midfielders on the pitch, it seems a difficult system with which to create lots of scoring opportunities. Lucky for Tottenham, they do have arguably one of the top 5 wingers in the world and a man who can win a match by himself in Gareth Bale. As the match wore on, you could see Bale becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of opportunities influence the match, with Newcastle’s successful double-team strategy proving mostly successful. Given a free role by his manager during the second half, Bale went and found the match and made his influence tell, popping up all over the pitch to receive the ball, turn, and run at defenders. The creativity he showed in finding space to exploit the Newcastle defense was highly important for an otherwise lacking Tottenham attack. His persistence paid off in the 78th minute as he latched on to a clearance by Clint Dempsey and took advantage of rare poor positioning by the Newcastle defensive partnership of Fabricio Collocini and Steven Taylor. Once in behind, Newcastle had no chance of catching Bale and his finish was well picked out, beating Tim Krul through the Dutch keeper’s legs. The chance was created because Bale was seeking the ball in the middle of the field, rather than hugging the left wing and his electric pace allowed him to burst through the middle of the pitch though a tiny crease in the Newcastle defense. Bale was unlucky not to complete his hat trick twice in the closing minutes, stopped only by a couple of fine saves by Krul, both chances also coming through areas of the pitch other than his berth on the left wing. It was another case of a special player picking up his team during an otherwise disappointing attacking afternoon. Bale is extraordinarily important to Tottenham and they must push on for a Champions League place this season, so he has every incentive to stay at White Hart Lane when the big bids come in for his services over the summer. Three other observations/thoughts from the match: Alan Pardew seems to have found some excellent value in Ligue 1. While Moussa Sissoko looked lethargic in today’s match, he was outstanding last week against Chelsea. His French compatriot Yoan Gouffran played very well today before being stretchered off with a nasty looking leg injury. I was looking forward to seeing Lewis Holtby in action for the first time today, having read some rave reviews of his play for Schalke in the Bundesliga. However, the German-born midfielder wasn’t influential in the match and scuffed a few decent chances before being subbed off in the second half Papiss Cisse looks extremely short on confidence for Newcastle, having taken a back seat to  Demba Ba during the early portion of the season. With Ba in the fold, Cisse was often thrown out on a wing, but now he must take up the mantle of striking center piece for Newcastle. He was up to the job after his January transfer last season, but it remains to be seen if he can recapture the scoring form that saw him net 13 times in 14 league appearances for Newcastle last season.
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