Tottenham leapfrog Man City into second place with a last-gasp 1-0 win over Newcastle in the Premier League.
Neither side could break the deadlock in the first-half, Spurs coming the closer of the two with a couple of glorious aerial chances. Unfortunately for the home fans, Lucas Moura glanced wide from just a few yards out, before Erik Lamela rattled the woodwork.
After the restart Newcastle continued to weather the storm, but in typical Spurs fashion, the north London club breached the Magpies in the closing stages after Son Heung-min’s low strike nestled under Martin Dubravka’s grasp in the 83rd minute.
It was a tense affair at Wembley, but what did we learn?
1. Sensational Son
Spurs must have breathed a huge sigh of relief when South Korea were knocked out of the Asia Cup, as it meant the prodigiously talented Son Heung-min returned to their ranks, and he has proved once again just why he is invaluable to Pochettino.
The silky inside forward doesn’t just pop with important goals, his movement and dribbling ability wreak havoc in the final third and completely change Spurs’ style of play; they have more energy, more penetration, and play with far more urgency.
If Harry Kane is the fulcrum, then Son is the creative catalyst, pulling the strings alongside Christian Eriksen to try and unlock doors, find pocket-sized gaps, and ultimately penetrate unyielding defences.
His importance can never be understated as he has now been directly involved in 14 goals across his last 10 matches in all competitions for Spurs, with nine goals and five assists.
2. Benitez’s bulwark breached
Benitez has forged a reputation for his tactical nous and will never approach a match without a well-thought-out gameplan, and that is exactly what Spurs encountered this afternoon.
Newcastle were disciplined and organised in a five-man defence, stifling the attacking threats of Lucas, Son and Lamela, while launching deadly counter-attacks of their own. The deep and compact positioning of the Newcastle players meant that Spurs’ best chances came from deliveries over the top – not ideal when none of their attacking players are over 6ft, until Llorente came on.
Man City even struggled to break down the resilience of this defensive structure, and Spurs had similar problems trying to find space and split the back-five despite their dominance in possession and creativity. Make no mistake, there were chances, but not from the panache of their free-flowing football.
It took a late blunder from Dubravka to settle to tie, and that will hurt Benitez, who set his side up expertly to thwart the Tottenham attack.
3. No Llorente, problem
Spurs like to play football. We know this. Pochettino espouses free-flowing football and has a penchant for aesthetics, so the inclusion of Fernando Llorente the past few weeks has been paradoxical to his beliefs; and it has showed in matches as the north London club have been seemingly reluctant to play to his strengths and pump balls into the box.
However, Pochettino learned his lesson quickly, and since the defeat to Chelsea in the EFL Cup, the number of offensive aerial duels won in matches has incrementally increased. And so, this afternoon, featuring an attacking trident of diminutive flair players, Spurs bizarrely continued to improve their crossing game, and ultimately squandered a number of glorious aerial opportunities.
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There were not quite as many crosses delivered into the mixer against Newcastle as in matches against Fulham or Watford, but there can be no denying that Llorente would have stuck at least one of them in the back of the net before his introduction. First, Lucas’ header glanced agonisingly wide of the post, before Lamela struck the bar, and Lucas once again headed off target in the first-half – Sanchez also had a headed opportunity after the restart.
In a match so condensed, given Benitez’s tactics, sometimes the best way to get through a defensive bulwark, is to go over it, and Llorente soon entered the fray. But in the end, it took a goalkeeping error to settle the score here.
4. Vertonghen solves left-back concern
Spurs fans have been pining for a new left-back with discernible question marks surrounding the capabilities of both Ben Davies and Danny Rose, but that concern may have just been answered with stalwart Vertonghen having an exceptional game out wide.
The Belgian has played at left-back before, many times throughout his career – this was not a tactical masterstroke from Pochettino – and he was sensational today, surging forward with a fervent energy, and whipping in some extremely dangerous crosses.
Of course, the 31-year-old is most required at centre-back; the Alderweireld-Vertonghen acquaintanceship is one of the league’s most formidable centre-back pairings, if not the best in the English top-flight, but with Davinson Sanchez gaining more experience every minute he plays, Pochettino may be tempted to utilise Vertonghen out wide more often.
It is telling that despite Davies being unavailable, Rose still couldn’t stake a claim in the starting XI, and while he came on in the second-half, he will have doubts about his Tottenham future if veteran centre-back Vertonghen is above him in the full-back ranking.
5. Draw record achieved
Spurs still remain the only team across the top four divisions in English football to not draw a single game this season, and they have now set a Premier League record for most consecutive games without a draw (29).
On top of that, before this afternoon, none of the last 20 matches Spurs played against the Magpies in the Premier League at home ended in a draw, with the north London outfit winning 12 and Newcastle claiming eight victories – and that has now extended to 21, with 13 wins for Spurs.
Spurs had been teetering on the brink of ending those records in recent weeks, but late goals against Watford and Fulham respectively had prevented that from happening, and it was another goal in the dying embers that clinched three points for Pochettino, as well as keeping one draw record intact, and breaking another.