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Death & Tactics: Analyzing Newcastle United 1, Tottenham Hotspur 1

As you know by now, for the second week in a row, Newcastle gave up an equalizing goal in stoppage time to settle for one point instead of three.  If, by chance, you're reading this and somehow didn't know that, you should probably check out RKW's match review before reading on.  Done that?  Good.  Here in this post, we'll try to break down what each team was trying to accomplish on Saturday and evaluate how well they did it.  This isn't meant to be a full tactical breakdown, but we do want to use the tools at our disposal in our evaluation.  I don't want to just say, "I was very happy with Fabricio Coloccini's performance."  I want to be able to say why.  Nobody here is claiming to be a tactical expert, so if you have something to add, please do so.  Follow the jump for a long, image-heavy post...

The First Hour - All Prologue

Tottenham's Attacking Strategy & The Newcastle Response

The interactive chalkboards that The Guardian provides on their site are a fantastic tool, but they are so thorough that often it becomes hard to see the forest for the trees.  We can focus on Jonas Gutierrez's seeming lack of crossing ability (and we will, later), but that fact alone will not likely tell the story.  The story, I believe, begins with Spurs' strategy to stay away from Jose Enrique Sanchez and Fabricio Coloccini and focus on attacking from the other side of the pitch, coupled with Newcastle's defensive response.  There are several ways to illustrate how this happened, and I think the simplest is to show where on the field Harry Redknapp's central midfielders spent most of their time:


 by Guardian Chalkboards

.  by Guardian Chalkboards

Rewatching the game confirms this as well. First, an establishing shot of Jose Enrique causing Aaron Lennon some frustration:


Lennon sets up a 1-2 with Jermaine Jenas...


...but Enrique has no trouble with it at all.

The next couple of shots makes it clear that the right side of the TH formation are not confident in their ability to create anything on their side of the field.


This is right after Leon Best hit the crossbar (note the time).  Spurs are trying to counterattack, but they got held up in midfield and allowed Newcastle plenty of time to retreat.  Aaron Lennon has just tried making a run with the ball at Jose Enrique, but found no way through, so he passed it out.  Lennon, Alan Hutton, and Rafael Van der Vaart are on the right side of the pitch, and even though the three defenders (actually 1 defender and 2 midfielders) have good positioning, they're clearly in a better situation than the other forward players.  Rather than set up a triangle to try and move through, VDV elects to switch field.  Eventually Tottenham settles for a weak Steven Pienaar cross into the box, where as you can see here, they are outnumbered 2 to 5.  Notice that Coloccini feels entirely comfortable leaving Guthrie, Jonas (not exactly known for his defensive prowess), and JE to their own devices.

The next series is impossible to depict with screenshots, and I doubt would be happy if I made a video, so this chalkboard will have to suffice.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

This is actually after Newcastle have gone up on the scoreboard, but I think it illustrates my point perfectly.

Spurs have attacked down the left side.  Luka Modric's cross is thwarted by Kevin Nolan (who, along with Joey Barton, spent a lot of time helping Simpson and Williamson out in the back), so Pienaar passes out to Jenas.  Jenas attempts to switch field through the dribble, but immediately turns around and dribbles the other way despite the fact that they have more attackers on the right side.  After a 1-2 with Pienaar, Jenas crosses over to Hutton.  Hutton passes back to Lennon who moves to his left and makes a run on goal.  He finds himself alone with the ball, shakes Mike Williamson and shoots wide. 

The Spurs players here passed up two opportunities to take advantage of their numbers on their right, preferring instead to press on the left side where there was more defensive help present.  The crazy thing is that that ended up being the correct decision in the end.  In fact, it is just the first out of three times that Lennon (who started the game on the right wing) will break through the left side despite being double-teamed.

I'd like to think that Spurs' collective reluctance to take on Jose Enrique and Fabricio Coloccini has a lot to do with their defensive prowess.  While their performance is to be commended, I fear it is in fact more an indictment on Danny Simpson and Mike Williamson.  I have no problems saying that Tottenham was frustrated at times by Colo and JE, but their desire to focus on one side of the field likely had less to do with fear and more to do with wanting to exploit what they considered to be a weak spot.

Size Does Matter, or: Why Shola Should Have Dominated

Following the match, Harry Redknapp joked with Louise Taylor of The Guardian that he'd picked "the smallest team in history."  A little bit of hyperbole never killed anybody, but when it came to aerial battles, 'Arry might as well have filled out a lineup with 11 Eddie Gaedels. 

Case in point: Tottenham had 4 corners (all of them before Peter Crouch was subbed in), and had no chance on the two occasions that they bothered to try to cross into the box.  Steve Harper sent goal kicks down the length of the field all day long, and most of the time Shola Ameobi was there to win the header and start the attack.  By contrast, Carlo Cudicini, who is frankly not good at kicking down the field, got 2 balls past midfield.

What should have been a one-sided aerial battle was not.  (How I wish Andy Carroll had been healthy for this one.)  6'2" Shola Ameobi only won 5 of 8 aerial battles and the one that he got to in the box was no trouble at all for Cudicini.  This failure belongs to both Shola and the ones who were supposed to be setting him up, but we'll get to Jonas in a minute.

Shola turned in one of his mediocre performances that bring the haters out of the woodwork.  Whenever he was able to use his bulk to get into a good position, the chances were wasted.  Shola can sometimes rush his shots, and he had a case of that on Saturday as he sailed three shots over the bar.  There was one exception of course, and it's a quality strike like the one he made in the 72nd minute that keep me from wanting to give up on him.  Still, with such a diminutive lineup you expect more.

Jonas' Struggles

As alluded to above, the lack of opportunities doesn't just fall at the feet of the strikers.  The chalkboards and statistics confirm what we've been saying for several weeks now: that Jonas looks like he's in over his head on the attacking side of the field.  RKW said over and over on Saturday that he doesn't like the way the Jonas "cul-de-sacs" himself by dribbling into danger.  It doesn't bother me as much, particularly because he's shown the ability to split defenders and create excellent opportunities, but what does get under my skin is his lack of crossing quality.  Consider the following chalkboard:


 by Guardian Chalkboards

Jonas was successful on just 1 of his 7 crosses Saturday, and it came from his opposite side.  This isn't just small sample size coming into play; he's only completed 15% of his crosses all season.  If you haven't gone back to watch the game, you may remember that Leon Best's shot off the crossbar in the 27th minute was created because of a brilliant cross from the left, but you may not remember that the cross came about because Jose Enrique raced Jonas to the ball so he could pass it himself.  To be fair to poor Jonas, there was one cross (in the 53rd minute) that should have connected, but he had to work to get it to his right foot because he apparently doesn't feel comfortable crossing with his left. 

Serious question for you to discuss in the comments: Should Jonas move to the right side?  I find myself going back and forth on this.  The 2 attempts he made from over there were miles ahead of anything he produced on the left.  His service into the box seems much more consistent from that side.  On the other hand, he and Jose Enrique do have great chemistry together and you'd hate to break that up.  I have more thoughts on this but I'd like to hear what you guys have to say.

58:15 - Colo's Goal

I'm not going to offer a lot of commentary on this because this post has already gotten a lot longer than I originally intended, but I do want to point out that Danny Guthrie did do something in this game.  Here's a video if you haven't seen it or want to relive the glory:

This goal is obviously the result of a great individual effort by Colo, but notice how Leon Best lingering in an offside position for just an extra tick of the clock pulls the center backs forward, allowing Coloccini to be onside and past Hutton all at once when Guthrie delivers the perfect ball.  Hutton has his hips turned, so he's unable to recover and Colo sends it home.

Flip the Script - Spurs Turn Up the Heat

Newcastle held possession of the ball for 59% of the first 15 minutes of the second half.  Following the goal, Spurs countered immediately with chance after chance, including the one shown above that resulted in a wide, low shot from Aaron Lennon.  The offensive push from the opposition is to be expected, but there were plenty of scary moments and lost opportunities along the way.

Foreshadowing - Modric Hits the Bar

Here, Spurs are counterattacking after a Joey Barton free kick goes awry.  Naturally, they try the right side, but when they are unable to get through, they swing around to the other side.  They try going through midfield, but Barton intercepts a through ball, only to give it back right away.  Lennon collects the ball in the box, and though he is being double-teamed by Danny Simpson and James Perch (who has just come on for the injured Guthrie), he is not under a lot of duress.


Simpson takes a good position, but Perch has come too far downfield and fails to keep Lennon from turning to the inside.  As a result, he is allowed to sneak a pass through to Modric, who hits the crossbar.  This will look very familiar in a moment.

The Second Goal That Never Was

Because Spurs were being so aggressive, there were naturally some counter opportunities for the Magpies, and they failed to capitalize in almost hilarious fashion time after time.  In the 82nd minute, Joey Barton found himself with the ball on his feet just outside the box, but his attempt was blocked and Nolan's follow-up was wanting.  Just three minutes later, Peter Lovenkrands forced a turnover that got the lads running, only to have Shola pass up a one-on-one opportunity and make a sub-par cross that Joey Barton couldn't redeem.  Just a minute later, Lovenkrands made a fantastic run that Shola opted to ignore.  The laziness was so egregious that it may well have been what got him replaced by Nile Ranger.  Nile created an opportunity for himself in the 89th minute, and his shot ended up crossing the mouth of goal.  Judge for yourself whether or not the sequence could have benefited from a Lovenkrands run at goal (seriously, he just stands in this spot):


The final opportunity is the counter that leads to the goal, which led to several people messaging me to say, in essence, "Why were you guys attacking there?"  It's a fair question, and one I don't have an answer to.  One has to think that all of those missed chances led the boys to try to make up for it on one last chance, when what they should have been doing was hanging back and staying in position.  Instead, a failed 4-on-2 going one direction turns into an odd man rush going the other way...

90:23 - Lennon's Goal


Just as before, Simpson sets up to keep Lennon from advancing past him on the outside and his help (this time in the form of Mike Williamson) overruns the play, allowing Lennon to switch direction and whip a shot into the lower 90.

Full-time - "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:"

As RKW said in his match review (linked above), I would have been happy to take a point coming into this one, but after reviewing the tape I am madder than I was when I watched this game live.  Newcastle played great defense for 90 minutes (that's not to say TH didn't have their chances), and to give away the lead after an ill-advised and poorly executed counterattack is just poor.  Looking forward, I'd say that Newcastle should be able to give Fulham all they can handle.  They must fix the mental errors and finish on the attacking end, but there's a lot to like from the midfield on back.

Player ratings:

You'll obviously have a different opinion.  Let me know how stupid I am in the comments.  If you've made it this far, you deserve a medal.

Steve Harper: 8 - The goal wasn't his fault but it still went in.  Maintained a good position to overcome trouble when a clearance bounced off of the back of Barton's head and back towards goal in the 25th minute.  His superior kicking skills set up several attacks down the field.

Jose Enrique Sanchez: 9 - Did everything you can ask of a left back and more.  There was one (!) play that Lennon beat him to the corner, but he recovered in time to block the cross.  That's how good he was.  I wish I had put him on the Man of the Match poll with Colo.

Fabricio Coloccini: 9 - Several interceptions and clearances in the back and maintained good position.  His chemistry with JE is phenomenal.  Of course, there was the goal.

Mike Williamson: 6 - Required help all day long and got caught out of position on the Lennon goal.

Danny Simpson: 6 - You can't worry about your man going to the outside in that situation, even if you have help.

Jonas Gutierrez: 5 - Killed several attacks by himself, though he had moments of clarity.  He's a better defender than you think he is, though.

Danny Guthrie: 7 - Did well covering for Jonas when he got caught in front of the ball.  Good vision and cross on the goal.

Kevin Nolan: 7 - Played his part defensively and as a result wasn't the offensive presence we've become accustomed to. 

Joey Barton: 5 - Again, his help on defense was invaluable, but everything else about his game was off.  I'm still upset with him for screwing up two golden opportunities in the last ten minutes.

Shola Ameobi: 4 - Would have been even lower if it weren't for that one flash of brilliance in the 73rd minute.  The team needs more from him with Carroll out.

Leon Best: 6 - Pretty non-existent with the exception of the shot off the crossbar.


Peter Lovenkrands (66'): 7 - More effective than Best, creating several chances.  I can't get over his lack of support of Ranger at the end.

James Perch (74'): 6 - He was...adequate, which is more than you can say for his play on defense this season.  That showed when he let Lennon cross to Modric on the almost-goal.

Nile Ranger (88'): 7 - You can't give more than a 7 for 6 minutes of work, can you?  I don't understand why a large a portion of the Toon Army has a problem with this guy.  He should probably start the next match.