Spurs cantered to victory over Newcastle yesterday with two goals from Dele Alli and Ben Davies, well-made and well-taken. Kyle Walker-Peters accomplished debut in place of the injured Trippier augers well for the future and on a weekend when I must have missed the new-season PL directive banning defending, our back four were composed and confident.
Tottenham On My Mind has begun the season fearing that Spurs will not take advantage of the opportunities available to bolster the squad and develop this talented team. It was refreshing and frankly a relief to get going and have something substantial to talk about. While Spurs have sterner tests to come, there were promising signs to show we are picking up where we left off at the end of last season. If Dele, Kane and Dier didn’t exactly sparkle, the shape and solidity of the side was evident and Eriksen, the creative hub, is right in the groove already. This is our big advantage, whether by accident or design a settled a side as others scramble to make changes.
After containing Tottenham in the first half, the Geordies wasted all their effort and training-ground planning when Shelvey petulantly stamped on Dele as he sat on the floor after a tackle, in full view of the ref. The Spurs player held onto the ball but there was nothing much going on: the Newcastle captain was obviously on the shortest of fuses. At that point Spurs were the better side but weren’t making serious inroads into the Newcastle box. Eriksen had had a fine match but even he was reduced to shooting from further and further out as the half went on. It made things so much more straightforward.
The real difference between the sides, though, was Spurs’ ability to inject moments of class into a torpid, ordinary game. Two of those moments resulted in goals and won the match. Dele broke the deadlock, making first space around the box and then the run between defenders. Eriksen found him with another of his pinpoint diagonal passes, then Dele made an awkward high touch look the simplest thing in the world. But that pass, curling and precise, was a thing of great beauty.
For the second, suddenly Spurs ramped up the tempo and following an exchange of high-speed short passes Ben Davies popped up to score with a low shot from his wrong foot. Danny Rose’s agent must have been sick at the sight of it.
In the first half, Newcastle looked an organised side able to put Benitez’s plan into action and make the most of their limited attacking resources. They concentrated on our right side where debutant Walker-Peters was unlikely to get much protection from Moussa Sissoko in front of him. If anything, they got to our back four a little too easily at times, looking to get Gayle into the channel between KWP and Alderweireld and stretching us without forcing Lloris to do much more than scoop up a few crosses.
Up front, our movement was fluent with Sissoko and Eriksen swapping sides and Dele finding space but wasting it by being obsessed with flicks and late touches that the centre halves gobbled up. However, this had little impact on the Newcastle goal during a first half where we struggled to raise the tempo.
So that manager of ours tells a few porkies. The very thought of it. Kyle Walker-Peters was indeed ready for the first team and he took his chance with relish. He had a fine game, Sky’s MOM, and looked more nervous doing the post-match interview than he had during the game. He was determined to be first rather than sit back and wait. He won his first header, his second or third touch was a run out of defence because he did not want to concede possession, when he would have been forgiven for wanging it upfield. Later, he made two fearless tackles close to goal, then made sure he was the spare man out wide right. He’s good going forward and crossed the ball well.
I’ve seen him in a few under 21 games but you never really know what sort of impression young players will make until they are in the thick of it. He did himself and Spurs proud.
I thought Eriksen was our best player. He roamed across the midfield, mostly further forward. His shooting made up most of our attempts in the first half but it was his passing that caught the eye, setting up our opener and providing most of our chances.
Walker-Peters’ debut came about through necessity rather than choice. While I am delighted for him, a side challenging for the title amongst avaricious, free-spending rivals should not put itself in a position where a young man has to make his debut this early in the season and after a high-class talent was sold. That said, I can’t recall a debut as assured as this from a home-grown talent for a long while. Phil Ifil, also a fullback, came from nowhere into the side in the opening match of the 2004-5 season and was outstanding. He disappeared from view. I suspect the same won’t happen to KWP. Being an inexperienced full-back coming into the side at the last moment through injury didn’t do Gareth Bale any harm.
That he slots straight in is a measure of Pochettino’s faith in his players and theirs in him. Our manager is supremely self-assured not just as a developer of talent but also in his ability to inculcate a culture and style of play throughout the entire club, so KWP settles right in. Around him, the innovative coaches of his generation are frantically spending fortunes to keep up whereas Pochettino works at improving the young talent at his disposal. I sincerely hope Levy does not exploit this as an excuse to be parsimonious, a thought I can’t entirely get out of my mind.
Random impressions of the new season: Dembele looks slimmer, the away kit looks good, Sissoko at least looked keen (he did OK).
So a solid start, and no better way to sharpen this up than Sunday’s big game versus Chelsea. And Eriksen, back to his marker, beating him by chipping the ball over his head and running onto it will stay in this season’s Spurs showreel.