Newcastle United vs. Tottenham Hotspur: 6 Things We Learned
The North London club took the lead within 20 minutes following terrific, determined work from Nabil Bentaleb on the left.
After maintaining possession in his own half with multiple passing exchanges, the Frenchman held off Moussa Sissoko. His subsequent cross was parried by Tim Krul straight to Emmanuel Adebayor, who prodded it into the gaping goal.
Seven minutes into the second half, Bentaleb and Adebayor were involved in putting their side two-nil up.
The former picked out Paulinho's smart run just in front of the Newcastle defence. The Brazilian flicked it to Adebayor and was then quick on the uptake to tuck away the striker's rebounded shot.
Newcastle showed signs of life at this point, inspired by the arrival of Hatem Ben Arfa. With Spurs sitting back, the home side missed its opportunity to engineer a frantic finish to the game with Hugo Lloris denying them from close range.
Adebayor made it 3-0 with a well-taken volley on the 82nd-minute mark. Substitute Nacer Chadli completed the scoring with a curled effort into the far corner to complete a miserable night for Krul and his team.
Read on for a few things we learned from this midweek, top-10 encounter.
Sherwood Is Sticking to His Guns with Flexible Approach
Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood has shown in word and deed he is not afraid to experiment with the confines of regularly recognised formations.
Asked about his use of a 4-4-2 following the FA Cup loss to Arsenal—here via an article by The Independent's Paul Hirst—he pleaded a form of ignorance, preferring to talk up the merits of individual duty within a cohesive unit.
Against Newcastle his changes could certainly be interpreted as fashioning a 4-1-4-1 or 4-5-1 (or however you saw it).
Save for the typical conformity of a normal back four, it was clear Sherwood wanted his players to operate in a flexible fashion.
Sufficient effort on both sides of the ball ensured Spurs were prepared in all areas and did not fall foul to the indiscipline such an approach could have led to.
Sherwood is not reinventing the wheel in granting his men different levels of freedom. But for a team that earlier this season suffered from staidness, Spurs are enjoying being let off the leash.
Having stuck with this general approach through good and bad in recent weeks, it does not seem Sherwood is in a hurry to change tactics anytime soon.
Lone Striker Adebayor Has Been Handed the Keys to the Spurs Attack
Emmanuel Adebayor's brace against Newcastle took his tally to nine goals in 13 appearances this season.
The striker operated on the periphery for periods of Wednesday's game, but when he did become involved he made his contributions count.
Adebayor's two goals came about from good positioning and an alertness to how his team's attacks were evolving. He had his finger on the pulse of these advances and other situations too, with intelligent link-up play and fine flourishes of skill that allowed them to continue in other areas of the pitch.
Beyond this game, the most notable aspect of Adebayor's appearance was the fact he was again selected as the lone man up top.
Roberto Soldado's part in the front two Tim Sherwood initially deployed upon his appointment undoubtedly helped Spurs pose more of an attacking threat. It paid off in an increased frequency of goals compared with the preceding few months.
For the time being, however, Sherwood has clearly seen enough in Adebayor to trust him to do the job on his own.
It is conditional on quality backing from his teammates, of course. But Adebayor is making it work with his all-round performances reaching levels neither Soldado or Jermain Defoe were able to muster within this current team prior to now.
Bentaleb Is in the Ascendancy in Sherwood's Changing Midfield
It should be noted that Emmanuel Adebayor did play up front on his own against Manchester City too, but barely saw the ball in that 5-1 loss.
What has changed since then—in the wins over Everton and especially Newcastle—is the success the midfield behind him has had in getting the better of their opponents.
Intriguingly, Sherwood has experimented with the look of his midfield between those two games. While this was in part a concession to squad rotation—something he alluded to in a post-match interview with Sky Sports—it was not done for the sake of it tactically.
Mousa Dembele had been handed a more prominent attacking role against the Toffees, but against Newcastle he played right midfield with Aaron Lennon switched to the left in place of Christian Eriksen.
With Etienne Capoue drafted into defensive midfield and Paulinho maintaining box-to-box duties, Nabil Bentaleb was granted more freedom than he had previously seen in his fledgling first-team career.
As a result, Dembele suffered to an extent. While his dribbling was utilised well—notably he ripped apart Davide Santon to set up a chance for Adebayor early on—he saw nowhere near as much of the ball.
The good, collective performance of the midfield was not about one man. But in his work both sides of the halfway line, crafting moves and facilitating others, Bentaleb most notably caught the eye.
The teenager seems to be overcoming the issues he appeared to be having with adjusting to the tougher standards in the Premier League—and sufficiently in Sherwood's eyes at least for the manager to hand him this extra responsibility.
The look of Spurs' midfield will likely have changed again by the time they face Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk next week in the Europa League and probably again by Norwich City a few days later. What is increasingly seeming unlikely is that Bentaleb will not be part of it moving forward.
Kaboul Has Staked a Serious Claim for a First-Team Return
Younes Kaboul's start against Newcastle was his first since late November. It was by far and away his best appearance of an injury-hit season.
Both Kaboul and his centre-back partner Jan Vertonghen were caught out when Papiss Cisse strolled in behind them for a free header seven minutes in. Fortunately for them, Hugo Lloris pulled off a reactive point-blank save.
Spurs were similarly troubled in aerial situations by Newcastle a few times in the second half, relying on their goalkeeper to stop the Magpies again.
Besides these instances, though, Kaboul was a thoroughly commanding presence.
When Sammy Ameobi intercepted a careless Kyle Naughton pass across the pitch, the Frenchman was alert to the danger. He kept pace with the rangy attacker and blocked his shot in a situation that could have ended up much worse.
Shortly before half-time he made an expertly timed tackle inside his own box and after the interval was again precise in seeing out the threat of Luuk de Jong down the left.
Kaboul's biggest flaw is a predisposition to nod off, descending into a state of somnambulism that allows attackers undeserved opportunities to get the better of him.
Sherwood's plans for his defence are unclear.
"It is difficult because I had to leave Michael Dawson out tonight but Younes Kaboul came in and did really well," the Spurs boss told Sky Sports.
Whatever he has in mind, the Kaboul who played like this—strong, committed and alert to the task at hand—will be hard to ignore in the coming weeks.
Pardew Cannot Catch a Break Right Now
When teams go on the kind of inconsistent, largely underwhelming runs Newcastle United are currently suffering through, blame bounces like a pinball across all sides.
Most will not have much sympathy with the often blunt, occasionally highly emotional Alan Pardew. It is fair to say, though, he cannot catch a break right now.
Newcastle's seemingly perennial boardroom drama took a latest twist with the recent departure of director of football Joe Kinnear following a largely fruitless January transfer window.
Some of his team's self-belief seems to have gone with the sale of Yohan Cabaye to Paris Saint-Germain. The side that upset Tottenham and Chelsea back in November seems a shadow of itself.
Key players like Fabricio Coloccini and Cheick Tiote are injured, and Loic Remy has been suspended for the past three games.
Topping it all off against Spurs, the same Tim Krul who performed heroics against them in the autumn spilled, parried and dropped just about every ball that came his way to costly effect.
Managers get things wrong, and you could argue against a few of Pardew's decisions. Mostly, though, he just has not a single iota of luck in February so far.
De Jong Offers Hope for Newcastle Searching for an Identity Sans Cabaye
Offering a glimmer of hope to Alan Pardew and Newcastle will be the start to Premier League life made by recent loan acquisition Luuk de Jong.
At Borussia Moenchengladbach, the striker struggled to match his goalscoring feats from his time at Twente. It will be a little while yet before the verdict is in on how prolific he will be in England.
What should encourage Newcastle is the Dutchman's work ethic, and his sensible link-up play in the final third.
De Jong has a good understanding of the intentions of his teammates and is tidy in his control and passing in bringing them into the game. Against Spurs, the latter was partly demonstrated by his 94 per cent completed passing, as tallied by Squawka.com.
The more dynamic Loic Remy—soon to return from suspension—is likely to benefit from the selflessness of de Jong's play. If he can muster a goal or two himself, Newcastle are still a side with the capacity to genuinely cause opposition clubs problems.
For a team missing the influential Yohan Cabaye, any inkling of a method of playing without him should be seized upon. In de Jong, they have that much needed straw to clutch.