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The Art of the Assist

“It is more blessed to give...” — Acts 20:35

Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images

On Jan. 30th, 2010, Real Madrid took on Deportivo La Coruña in La Liga.

In the game, an assist that some call the greatest assist of all time (at least up until that point in time) occurred then and there.

Kaka slipped the ball into Guti putting him 1v1 with the goalie and a defender closing from his left side. Guti eased the play slightly to his right and the side of the goal pulling the defender/goalie with him and then with a blind back-heal, passed the ball to Benzema who struck for the goal with a one-timer into the open net.

On Apr. 22nd, 2013, Manchester United were in the final run of their Premier League title-winning season and were taking on Aston Villa. Villa were struggling at the other end of the table so the match was important for all.

In open play, Wayne Rooney collected a pass on the defensive side of the halfway line and slightly to the right side of the middle of the pitch. He steadied himself and then struck an over-the-top pass to Robbie Van Persie in the left-sided channel who, with a left-footed volley, struck the ball past the hapless goalie for a goal. Rooney later called it the best goal in EPL history.

On Feb. 12th, 2014, Liverpool were taking on Fulham at The Cottage.

Steven Gerrard took possession of the ball around midfield and with the outside of his right boot, struck the ball with backspin over the top of the defense and into the path of Daniel Sturridge who took the ball in stride, dibbled, and struck it into the net.

A blind back-heal, a pass over the top from deep, and the outside of the boot pass around/over the defense. There are other impressive types of assists that have occurred but, maybe with the exception of a rabona, these three types of assists are arguably the most awe-inducing versions of assist possible. And these three examples above are, again, arguably regarded as the best of each of those versions.

So why this walk down memory lane?

Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images

There are many reasons to recall NUFC’s demolition of Tottenham at St James’ Park on Apr. 23rd, 2023, but, over time, this might become the quintessential game for the best assists ever provided on a football pitch. Each of the above examples was recreated by our boys in Black & White.

With the score already 1-0, Schar took an apparent innocuous pass near the right sideline inside his own half of the field, steadied himself, and then sent a sublime ball 30+ yards over the top to Joelinton who had perfectly carved his run on the left wing to be clearly onside but then at full speed behind the stationary Spurs defenders. The ball perfectly led Joelinton, coming to him in his full stride in the center of the pitch. He opened his torso slightly to deftly ‘catch’ the ball with the inside instep of his right boot. His RIGHT foot... incredible. The control was sublime. He touched the ball once to round the goalie and then sent the ball into the net just off the ground so the sliding defender could not get to it.

This play is equal to the Rooney-RVP play. Van Persie’s volley was audacious but Joelinton’s taking the ball down in stride with his right boot with a sublime touch is arguably more difficult than a full-throttle volley. Schar’s part in this play was at least equal to Rooney’s in his.

After a second goal by Jacob Murphy (more on this in a moment), Bruno passed the ball into the path of Joe Willock about 10 yards short of the mid-stripe on the left-hand side of the pitch. Willock one-timed the pass with the outside of his right boot. Watch the rotation of the ball if you can see a replay. The ball is rotating sideways like a globe. It flew 35+ yards over one defender and perfectly around a second and landed in front of Alexander Isak for him to take in stride and slip the ball low and across the keeper to his right and into the net.

This may be the greatest assist I will ever see. A one-timer. The spin of the ball. The distance covered and the arc the ball traveled. Each piece is incredible on its own. It is better than Gerrard’s ball because the curve is necessary to get from the left side to the middle of the pitch. That is not to take anything away from the Gerrard ball as it required a deft backspin and a precise strike. That is just how much better Willock’s ball was.

Moments later, Sean Longstaff had the ball slipped into him on the right-hand attacking side of the goal mouth. He blindly back-healed the ball to a trailing Isak who slotted the ball across the goal and into the lower left-hand corner. I will not go so far as to say this episode quite equaled Guti’s assist as his play took defenders out of the equation before making the pass and so Benzama had little to do with an open net. Isak had much more work to turn the pass into a goal but Longstaff’s no-look aspect of the pass was equal.

These are three of the greatest assists of all time and they happened in a single match, occurred within 20 minutes of play, and were all achieved by Newcastle United.

As stated above, there are many reasons to remember this match. Tottenham had not been competitive against top-tier squads all season but were still only 3 points behind Newcastle on the table. This match’s outcome created the beginning of the end for Tottenham’s season and served as a clear herald of Newcastle’s deserving their position in the top 4 if the victory earlier in the month against Man Utd had not been enough for some.

You may have other personal reasons this match is memorable such as the banter with a spouse, friend, or co-worker who is a Spurs fan. Please share your reasons in the comment section below!

Also, this match had three of my favorite post-goal reactions of all time. Joelinton’s “roar” after the above-mentioned goal was one for the ages.

My new favorite reaction of all time is Jacob Murphy’s face after his second goal of the day. He sent in his somewhat floating/dipping effort from 25 yards catching the goalie flat-footed. He runs off to the right corner of the Leazes' End and opens his mouth more and more to no end and into the biggest “joyful smile” possible.

And as an honorable mention after that goal, catch Perisic’s face afterward. It is priceless.

Newcastle 6. Tottenham 1. What a match. What assists! What a beautiful game!

Howay the Lads!