Very few Tottenham Hotspur supporters would expect an opening day win against a team of Newcastle's quality. If you add in the facts that this is a Spurs side that is beginning the season under a new manager, was playing without its best player (Luka Modric), and still doesn't have a true line-leading striker, then many would give the club even less of a chance.
However, Tottenham looked good for long stretches in the game, particularly in the first half. Finishing, while not embarrassingly awful, did let the team down though. Both Gareth Bale and Jermaine Defoe were denied by the woodwork in the first half and had either of those gone in this might have been a completely different game.
Unfortunately, all we have to look at is what actually transpired. Let's first take a look at how the teams lined up.Formation
Newcastle initially lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, but at the half Alan Pardew made the adjustment to a formation more closely resembling the one you see above. The change allowed the Magpies to control the game using their hardworking three-man midfield. Tottenham Hotspur, playing (as previously mentioned) without Luka Modric, were unable to cope with the change and suddenly found their early dominance being flipped around on them.
This is a worrying sign for Spurs as many of our rivals have very strong midfields and most play some semblance of a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation. It was evident that in the current 4-2-3-1 system that Tottenham are using that it will be difficult to cope with teams that play this style without a more active and attacking spine.
The problems that I noticed were two-fold. First, Gylfi Sigurdsson was not quite good enough. He was certainly active, moving all up and down the pitch attempting to win the ball, etc. However, he played much to far forward to work as a link between the very defensive midfield pairing of Sandro and Jake Livermore. When Rafael van der Vaart came on he began to come deeper to pick up the ball and Spurs started to attack a little better. The other problem was the pairing of Sandro and Livermore. Livermore has shown in the past that he is a decent passer, but he's no Luka Modric. Throw a player like Modric along side Sandro and suddenly he is the link between attack and defense, and Gylfi's more advanced positioning is a moot point.
Another thing I noticed was that Tottenham was indeed playing a much higher defensive line. Against Newcastle this seemed to work well because both Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse were pinned much higher up the pitch. The two goals that were conceeded were not a result of the high line. That's a positive right?
Something else that I was very pleased to see was the play of Aaron Lennon. Not only did he complete all of his passes, but he was also very involved in the buildup and seemed quite happy to take people on. Gareth Bale on the other hand looked a bit off. Perhaps it was a result of the knock he took in the Wales match earlier in the week, but Bale never really got it on track during this match.
Finally, the thing many of us were most worried about, the striker play. Jermain Defoe did a decent job. He's not a true number 9, but you'd be hard pressed to say he didn't look dangerous throughout the match. He was consistently able to get in behind the Newcastle defense and get his shot away. Only an unlucky hit off the post prevented him from having a brace. Sure, Defoe doesn't hold up play well and his finishing isn't the best, but the man put the ball in the back of the net and I'm not going to fault him for that.
This is the portion of the article in which I would normally show you some cool passing chart that I made, but because The Guardian no longer does it's Chalkboards feature I cannot find the data needed to make them. Trust me I tried. So, until I figure out a way to get access to that sort of data you're just left with my musings and the formation chart that has some of the stats in it. I'm sorry there's not more too this, but it's early in the season and I'm sure I'll find some other things to put in here as we go along.