Pardew opted for more secure 4-4-2 to begin the game, which didn’t really cause too much panic to Spurs in their defensive third. But a shift to the 4-3-3 which saw Newcastle produce some scintillating displays at the back end of last season duly produced the goals the Toon needed.
The old line goes as saying “I don’t like to single out individuals”, but I think there were 3 or 4 very key players in the victory to Spurs, players that are going to be required this season to perform consistently in a bid for NUFC to reproduce the success of last season.
The Ivorian been continuously hit with speculation for a long time now on his Newcastle future, a quite complementary gesture considering the clubs linked and rightly so after some superb performances for NUFC over the last couple of seasons.
No player made more passes than Tiote on Saturday – he completed 67 (more than any other player on the field attempted) of his 81 passes, over double that of midfield compatriot Yohan Cabaye. Just 21 of his passes were played backwards and all 21 of those were successful.
Furthermore, 38% of those passes were forward, which was the highest of any midfielder of forward in the game. Tiote also produced attacking half & final third passes than any player on the field as well as a 100% aerial duel rate (5/5) and joint most shots at goal for Newcastle alongside Demba Ba.
Tiote has instated himself as NUFC’s heartbeat, regularly being the team’s/game’s top possession player last season and continuing in the same vein this campaign. Alongside his combative, play-playbreaking attributes, Tiote really is a key player for Newcastle and if he can polish up his disciplinary record and take a few less risks in possession, he could be the difference in some crucial games this season.
Hatem Ben Arfa
We all know of the ‘magic’ than Ben Arfa beholds and that he has the potential to be nothing less than a world beater – but Hatem still has ‘that’ temperament, that was seen during the Euro’s, which continues to stem his development.
Against Spurs, it was as simple as ‘get Hatem the ball and watch him come alive’! He produced 8 dribbles, which is more than DOUBLE any other player on the pitch (Bale 3) and at a 63% success rate. This led to him being the joint 2nd most fouled on the day (3 times, Bale 4), but it isn’t that side to his game that I praise him on this occasion.
Ben Arfa produced 4 tackles in the game v Spurs and all 4 were successful, more than any other player – a 100% tackle success rate, not something we’ve said a lot about our mercurial Frenchman! He also participated in 22 ground 50-50 duels, the most in the entire league in PL gameweek 1 (alongside Gervinho) and won 12 (55%).
Let’s not forget too, that Hatem Ben Arfa was the match winner on Saturday – first winning the penalty with some fabulous individual skill, then in typical ‘I-have-a-point-to-prove’ Ben Arfa fashion, coolly slotted home in the bottom right hand corner. Keeping fit, keeping quiet and keeping confident will ensure Ben Arfa consistently rolls out the same standard of performance over the season – we shall wait and see…
There’s no doubt that when Ba curled home the opener on Saturday, that every Geordie experienced that relieving tingle down their spine! Only Ba’s 2nd goal alongside Papiss Cisse in 16 games – a stat that was getting fans talking about Ba’s roll and attitude in the team. However, they could be forgiven, as it wasn’t just goals that was lacking (See graphic below). Ba went from a 31% chance conversion rate before Cisse’s arrival to just 3% after – pretty damning by all accounts!
What can be proven incorrect though, is the notion that it was the fault of the implemented 4-3-3 formation that changed Ba’s performances. The following graphic shows the position of Ba when receiving the ball pre Cisse at NUFC and post during the Premier League 11/12 season.
If anything, Ba was actually more involved centrally after Cisse arrived than on the left hand side where he starting in the formation. Newcastle have evolved into a very fluid side and just because Ba was ‘starting’ in amore left sided attacking role, his allowance to rotate on top of the movement of player like Ben Arfa, meant he wasn’t ‘stuck’ out there and could play alongside Cisse on many occasion.
It was certainly the change to 4-4-2 which appeared to brighten Ba and the whole NUFC team up against Spurs. See below how more involved the forwards got, thus increasing NUFC’s ability to make the ball ‘stick’ in the final third.
Demba Ba had over double the possession in the 2nd half (37 secs) as he did in the 1st half of the game (16 secs), yet he received the ball more times on the left hand side in the 1st half (7) to the second (6).
The most important statistic for Ba though, is his 1 goal. A quite majestic finish, showing the Demba Ba we all know from earlier last season, and if he can produce a similar goal target this season alongside Cisse doing the same, it should NUFC to the summits of the table once again.
Although I believe the above 3 were the top performers for NUFC on Saturday, there are couple of others who deserve mention.
Newcastle United’s ‘marmite’ Jonas Gutierrez put in a good defensive shift again, regularly fouled because of his superb ability to keep hold of the ball and gained yards for NUFC by dribbling on many occasions.
James Perch also looked an assured figure in the centre of defence – something very few of us would have said 10-12 months ago!
He never looked under pressure and definitely didn’t stand out as a ‘lesser’ player. His pace was equal to anything thrown at him and he managed to complete all 46 of his passes – no player in Premier League in the first games completed more passes at 100% accuracy!
So, great start, but far too early to get ahead of ourselves. That all too familiar trip to London awaits next week after our first game in Europe for 5 years. Would we have it any other way though…. Probably not! HTL