Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham: Pochettino vindicated as Dele and Vertonghen secure win
Tottenham seemingly overcame their World Cup hangover as they leave Newcastle with all three points.
Mauricio Pochettino was vindicated in his decision to start five of his nine World Cup stars as goals from both Dele Alli and Jan Vertonghen secured all three points from a scrappy afternoon at St James’ Park.
Tottenham had a high tempo, lively first 45 minutes under reasonable control as Newcastle frequently struggled to find a way out of their own half, save for Kenedy. And their possession told in the eighth minute as Vertonghen opened the scoring from a well-worked set piece routine, taking a page out of Gareth Southgate’s book.
The Belgian centre back got on the end of Davinson Sanchez’s flick on, and there was something seemingly poetic in Vertonghen — who has previously had a few goals ruled out for offside — scoring via goal line technology for his first in the league in five years.
The Magpies responded immediately — Joselu catching Sanchez and Serge Aurier napping and guiding Matt Ritchie’s brilliant cross beyond Hugo Lloris — though parity lasted all of seven minutes. Aurier made amends for his lack of alertness in the equaliser with a perfectly weighted first time cross that Dele — whose trademark late run created a pocket of space at the back post — headed back across Martin Dubravka.
As if Tottenham needed reminding that a third goal was essential, the second half began just as frenetically and Spurs found themselves on the back foot.
Aurier’s positional ill-discipline came to the fore again — as Mohamed Diame got in behind and struck the frame of the goal — whilst Joselu’s incisive pass sent Kenedy through, only for his poor first touch to let him down, however.
Newcastle’s pressure continued to build as the second half progressed — Lloris was repeatedly called into action — although Dele did have a chance to make it three in-between Newcastle’s two efforts, and Dubravka made a fantastic reflex stop to deny Moussa Sissoko.
As Tottenham’s previous intensity escaped them in the final 20 minutes — with Mousa Dembele introduced in an attempt to restore superiority — a Salomon Rondon equaliser seemed inevitable. And he went as far as hitting the bar in the 85th minute, but that was as good as it got as Newcastle, too, faded and the Lilywhites earned what felt like a valuable three points.
A mini-break in Newcastle
Although Newcastle is a lovely destination for a mini-break within England, it was all business for Tottenham’s World Cup stars, as Mauricio Pochettino saw it fit to reinstate five of the nine semi-finalists, irrespective of their summer excursions.
All of Lloris, Vertonghen, Dele, Eric Dier and Harry Kane started at St James’ Park, and — whilst this decision could rear damaging consequences in the long-term — Pochettino will at least be smiling in the immediate aftermath to this game as both Vertonghen and Dele got themselves on the scoresheet.
Whilst Tottenham collectively were the superior side, Kane’s performance up front will be of some concern. The England captain — fresh off the back of a Golden Boot in Russia — was uncharacteristically off the pace throughout. And not just because it was August.
It makes for worrying viewing given it’s only the first game of the season, but Kane seemed mentally exhausted after an unnecessary full 90 minutes.
A far-cry from his usual standard, Kane’s touch let him down on occasion, whilst his passing was somewhat sloppy and he was second to loose balls in the final third, eventually picking up a yellow card. Evidently over-worked after an intense summer, it’s clear that Kane would benefit from an extended break.
Anything to fear?
Much has been made of Newcastle’s comparatively poor transfer window and Mike Ashley’s cautious investment in the club, but the Magpies were unfortunate to lose this afternoon and there were certainly promising signs to take away from St James’ Park.
Dubravka — joining permanently after arriving on loan in January — impressed between the sticks with a handful of saves, whilst Kenedy found great joy on Newcastle’s left against the positionally unaware Aurier.
Yoshinori Muto and Salomon Rondon both made cameo appearances towards the end of the game, and the latter arguably could have equalised when his deflected effort hit the bar. Rondon looked strong in the air and used said strength to his advantage in gaining a yard on his markers.
The caveat is that this was a half-fit Tottenham side that played this afternoon, but on first looks, there’s nothing overtly ominous to fear for Newcastle as they more than held their own. More performances of this quality and they will avoid a dreaded relegation battle.
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