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If Newcastle United fans needed a reminder that they were back in the big time, today’s game against Spurs was just that.
The Magpies lost 2-0 to last season’s runners up in front of a sell-out crowd of over 52,000. Dele Alli and Ben Davies were on target for the visitors, while the Toon had skipper Jonjo Shelvey sent off for a stamp.
As well as the red card, the game also contained two injuries for United; nothing short of the drama which Newcastle fans have been accustomed to throughout the years. Reflecting on the match, we picked out some talking points.
Moment of madness cost Newcastle
Up until the 48th minute, Newcastle looked composed and were very much in the game. However, one moment of madness proved costly as Jonjo Shelvey, captain for the day, was shown a straight red for a stamp on Dele Alli.
United looked odds-on to get some sort of result prior to the sending off, reducing Tottenham to limited opportunities. Spurs however, exploited the extra man advantage expertly and punished the Magpies. It was unnecessary from Shelvey, who was irked by Alli holding onto the ball.
Shelvey’s action was not that of a captain and he himself will know that. The midfielder has had some disciplinary issues in the past, and, the Geordie faithful will hope that this is the last of them.
Creativity is needed
In the Premier League, especially newly-promoted clubs such as Newcastle, offence is the key.
United spent the majority of the game on the back foot, with the biggest threat coming from counter attacks and set-pieces. With Shelvey on the pitch, Newcastle always have the opportunity to create chances and, had he stayed on, the scoreline may have been different.
However Newcastle are now left devoid of creativity for the next three matches, with Shelvey’s passing and delivery being heavily relied upon.
One problem United have is that they sometimes depend too much on Shelvey as he is their only creative central midfielder. They now have to explore other options and may look to the wings for inspiration.
They do possess some talented wide-men; Matt Ritchie, Christian Atsu and Jacob Murphy can all threaten defences on their day and they will now need to step up to the plate on the big stage.
Rafa may even seek to bring in another central midfielder, which would not be a bad move. One thing for certain though is that United need more productivity in the centre of the park if they want to establish themselves in the Premier League.
Thin squad made thinner
In terms of quality, United have a thin squad.
After injuries to centre-back Florian Lejeune and left-back Paul Dummett, their squad now looks extra delicate.
The only like-for-like replacement for Dummett is Massadio Haidara who Rafa has made available for a transfer away, while Lejeune was brought in to be a regular in the starting XI.
Newcastle have just less than three weeks to complete their transfer business and, with Rafa eyeing at least two new imports, the number may increase due to today’s casualties.
Tough to break down
Rafa Benitez, being the master tactician which he is, places an emphasis on his defence with all the teams he has managed being notably difficult to break down. Rafa has been as St James’ Park for over a year and has had time to work his magic.
The first half of the match showed exactly what he has brought to Newcastle. United defended deeply and kept their shape well in the first 45 minutes, while seeking to play on the counter with the pace of Atsu, Perez and Gayle.
There were no real clear-cut chances for either team in the opening half, with Newcastle restricting Spurs to shots from distance. United were happy for Tottenham to keep possession in the midfield while it accounted for nothing and tried to counter at all opportunities.
Until the red card, the Magpies kept their discipline and game plan which was to hamper Tottenham’s attack primarily; an indicator of what is to come this season perhaps?
Summer signing Christian Atsu was one of the few positives from Newcastle. The winger was sharp and looked threatening whenever he went forward.
After Shelvey was dismissed and United’s foot in the game dropped, Atsu was the only willing runner on the ball and could have even found the net but for a deflection. As Newcastle are well covered out wide, this competition looks to have found the best out of Atsu, while fans will hope that he will excite this season.
Newcastle received a ruthless welcoming back to the Premier League and know they will now fare against quality opposition every week. Tottenham are arguably one of the best teams in the league, and there are some positives to take away from the game.
Rafa will analyse the match and will no doubt look to repair the issues. We hope that Newcastle’s fortunes change quickly, starting with next week’s trip to Huddersfield.
Written by Dawud Arshad
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