With a mixture of World Cup runs and injuries, just three starters from their last pre-season friendly – a 4-1 loss against Girona a week ago – remained to face the Magpies. As it turned out, the only Tottenham youth player who got a sniff was Luke Amos, coming on in the 88th minute.
At the start of the match, it looked – astoundingly – like Mauricio Pochettino’s side might have slipped easily into their high-pressing best. In the first 15 minutes, they made six of their seven ball recoveries in the Newcastle half. They hit five shots, averaging one every 14 passes, a rate from which they quickly slowed down.
Dele Alli’s goal to put them 2-1 ahead – after Jan Vertonghen and Joselu headers cancelled each other out – meant they were able to pace themselves, and pace themselves they certainly did.
They (and Newcastle, for that matter) took four shots during the remaining half-hour of the first period, and for Spurs, this was at a rate of a shot for every 50 passes.
Newcastle vs Tottenham
Successful passes per shot taken
For the most part, Tottenham slowed down in their pressing; they upped the pace a little for periods in the second half, but where once these had resulted in turnovers and possession in dangerous areas, now they were mainly just fouls.
It was more a case of coasting, pacing themselves, than shutting the game down. Although Newcastle only had two ‘shots on target’, Rafael Benitez’s team hit the woodwork another two times, and had a total of nine shots inside the box (although Spurs themselves had 12).
Newcastle struggled to get away from Spurs’ high press at times, particularly during the opening part of the match, partly hindered by the way that their ball-far full-back would tuck in-field when they had the ball on one side of the pitch.
With the ball stuck deep on the right, for example, the left-back would only be pulling wider as the ball came back towards the centre. Had they been wide the whole time, Newcastle could have used them as an out-ball; as it was, they tended to be too close to their marker for such a pass to be worth it.
Those moments where they struggled to break through the high press aside, Newcastle were effective with the possession that they had. Their shot count kept ticking over – rarely dominating for lengthy periods, but always popping up with chances.
As an opening game of the season, fans of both teams can probably take some heart from the match.
For Newcastle, a decent performance against a strong team may give Magpies fans hope that they’ll fare well against other sides in the league. Several individual players showed flashes of quality when flying up the pitch attacking as well, and Joselu getting his first goal since January is a bonus.
For Tottenham, the main thing might just be that they have points on the board at a time in the season when they might have been expected to struggle.
The return of so many key players might be a reminder that their squad depth is severely lacking, but the fact that they seemed to manage the game relatively well will – they hope – mean that they won’t collapse of exhaustion at some point during the year.
A true, start-of-the-season tentative drawing of conclusions. Both played similarly to how they did last campaign; both did fairly well, without being great.
The Premier League is back, and so are the run-of-the-mill 2-1 type of matches.