16 Conclusions from Newcastle 4-0 Spurs: Van de Ven, Gordon, Isak, and some very silly numbers

Dave Tickner
Anthony Gordon scores Newcastle's second in a 4-0 win against Spurs
Anthony Gordon scores Newcastle's second against Spurs

Newcastle put the cat among the European pigeons with an absolute demolition of Spurs, easily the most humiliating experience the North Londoners have had at St James’ Park for almost a year.


1. The good news for Spurs fans is that it was still 0-0 after 21 minutes this time. You’re still thinking about the bad news, aren’t you?


2. That really was sensational from Newcastle. Arguably a better performance than last year’s slightly freakish dismantling of a side at its very lowest ebb. This was different: this was a team set up and sent out to very specifically deal with one that poses a unique set of challenges. And they did it flawlessly. You’ll hear (and read, here as much as anywhere else) an awful lot about how utterly abysmal Spurs were and that’s fair enough because they were absolutely that structurally, tactically and individually. But Newcastle were the exact opposite.

Spurs’ football always straddles a line between bravery and foolishness, but it takes bravery of a different kind to face them down. Newcastle have just shown everyone else the exact way to play this Spurs team if they were still in any doubt. Their midfielders dominated the middle of the park, denying Destiny Udogie and Pedro Porro any of the space in which they wreak havoc. Yet in doing that, Newcastle never took their eyes off the obvious dangers posed out wide by Timo Werner and Brennan Johnson or more centrally by James Maddison and Son Heung-min. Newcastle’s players were ready for Spurs’ unorthodox attacking patterns and suffocated them.

None of those Spurs players played well, but none of them were allowed to. With no easy outlet for the attacking players, Spurs were too often and too easily dispossessed in attacking positions and that allowed Newcastle to hit them with counter-attack after counter-attack.


3. What made all this most impressive was that Newcastle were without a host of first-choice players in defence and midfield, areas where all the spadework for this performance would be required. Yet the back five and midfield pair of Bruno Guimaraes and Sean Longstaff were exceptional to a man. All had specific jobs to do to stymie Spurs’ unorthodoxy, and after a couple of early scares they did so with an ease that really no other side has managed this season.


4. Fabian Schar scored the fourth goal, which was a fitting performance-capper for a man who had genuine claims on man-of-the-match honours despite the more eye-catching activity going on at the other end of the pitch.

The rest of Newcastle’s defending was tenaciously exceptional – very much a thing that has not always been the case this season – but Schar was the key to it all. So often it was his head, or his foot, or his jockeying that cut Spurs down and set Newcastle on their way again. Spurs could very reasonably have been expected to ask more difficult questions of their hosts, but Schar had every single answer he required.

He had more interceptions (four), clearances (five) and blocked shots (two) than anyone else on the pitch.


5. But let’s not pretend the real stars of this weren’t to be found at the other end of the pitch for Newcastle. There was a lot of very worthy groundwork and foundation building going on behind them, but that would all have counted for far, far less without Harvey Barnes, Alexander Isak and especially Anthony Gordon adding some magnificent finishing touches.

All three were brilliant, but Gordon was the clear standout. He created the first, harrying Udogie to win back possession before with calm precision picking out the run of Isak and scored the second moments later having first correctly anticipated Porro might be about to do something stupid and then putting Micky van de Ven on his rollerblading arse for the second time in three minutes.

We may never have been more wrong about a player.


6. Gordon was absolutely the catalyst for this Newcastle performance and win, perfectly encapsulating everything the strategy demanded from the all-action pressing and harrying to making the correct decisions once the busy work had yielded its rewards. But Isak was the scalpel. He took the first goal wonderfully well and the third was never in doubt from the moment he left a baffled Van de Ven standing still and trying to remember the rules. Van de Ven is very fast, but is not fast enough from a standing start against Isak, who again gave Vicario no chance.


7. Poor Micky van de Ven. It’s fair to say his third Premier League defeat might be one that lingers longer in his mind than the others. Having limped off injured at 1-1 against Chelsea when the banter was only just beginning, the only previous Spurs defeat this season in which he’d played anything like a full role was the 2-1 loss to Wolves.

He certainly played a full role in this one. We made the Dutch centre-back our player to watch this weekend, and in a way that was correct, wasn’t it? He was certainly worth watching. Especially for fans of slapstick farce. We can’t pretend our reasoning was that he was going to get skinned alive twice in the first half (by our count more times than in his other 20 Premier League appearances combined) before forgetting that a striker can’t be offside from their own half early in the second.

Having spent the season being the safety net that allows Spurs’ chaotic, high-wire football to just about work, and one whose absence has seen some catastrophic tumbles, Van de Ven was probably entitled to one bad day. But this was a spectacularly bad day.

Newcastle v Tottenham: Alexander Isak scores as Micky van de Ven eats grass
Alexander Isak scores as Micky van de Ven eats grass


8. There were plenty of more conspicuous examples to be found of Spurs’ vulnerability, but perhaps not a more significant one. Son Heung-min had a miserable day. The best teams follow the example of their leader, and Spurs certainly did that today. He was unforgivably sloppy, all too often losing possession – or more accurately having it taken from him – in promising positions. Two of those occasions led within seconds to the ball being in Guglielmo Vicario’s net.


9. Arguably the most compact summary of this game came relatively late on. The contest was long over by this point, but Newcastle were not about to tinker one bit with the gameplan that had delivered them to that point. Spurs kept the ball for what felt like 15 minutes but was probably in reality a mere six or seven.

At no point during that time did they ever provide the slightest hint that they had an idea of what to do with it, or how they might go about negotiating a path through, around or over Newcastle’s defence.

When Newcastle got the ball back, they hurried forward greedily and could have scored twice within about 15 seconds before having to settle for yet another corner.


10. Corners. While we’re on the subject. Another thing we need to talk about. Because Spurs defend them terribly and have done for a while now. It cost them points at Everton and could have led to an even more embarrassing scoreline here. They’ve got to solve this problem. They have in Vicario a ‘keeper pretty much perfect for their style of play, but something is going badly wrong from corners. He is too easily isolated by a single opposing player, too easily blocked off and kept away from the action. This is in part clearly a Vicario problem, but there must be more to it than that. No other ‘keeper finds themselves so frequently both without assistance and reduced to a passenger from set-piece situations.

The mystery was how, given Newcastle did everything else right all afternoon, it took them until the 87th minute and their 16th corner to finally actually score from one of them.


11. Meanwhile, if you want statistical evidence for the difference between the Spurs and Newcastle approach to today’s game and the efficacy thereof, it’s all there in the passing data.

This was the most one-sided game between these two for, well, for very nearly a year, yet if you looked only at the passing numbers you might be forgiven for getting it all a bit the wrong way round.

Newcastle attempted 185 passes in the entire game, and succeeded with barely two-thirds of them. Gordon was the only Newcastle player to achieve a success rate above 80 per cent having attempted more than a single pass.

Spurs, meanwhile, made 567 passes with a success rate of 85 per cent. Only Vicario and substitute Pape Sarr (who came on in the 56th minute and attempted more passes than any Newcastle player) finished under 80 per cent, while eight Spurs players were above 90 per cent.

There could be no clearer example of what matters and more importantly when it matters and even more importantly where it matters.


12. If you want one more passing stat to encapsulate an entire football match, then you’re a greedy, greedy bastard. But we’ll give you one anyway. Anthony Gordon made 13 passes in this game. Eight of them were judged key passes by the WhoScored boffins. Eight key passes, Anthony? Eight? That’s insane.


13. It occurs to us that Newcastle v Spurs at St James’ Park may now be the fixture with the most absurd formline in English football.

Spurs have, on the face of it, a healthy enough record here. They’ve won on six of their last 10 Premier League visits, which is pretty good. One of the others was a perfectly respectable 2-2 draw. The other three have been ended 5-1, 6-1 and now 4-0 to Newcastle.


14. And really this is a combination of such relentlessly banter football teams with such a propensity for the absurd that it doesn’t even require the St James’ Park qualifier. In the space of the teams’ last five Premier League encounters there have been 6-1 and 4-0 wins for Newcastle and 5-1 and 4-1 wins for Spurs. It really does all feel enormously on brand for both clubs.


15. While we’re playing ‘let’s have fun with numbers’, let’s look at a few more. This is a win that moves Newcastle, temporarily at least, up to sixth and a defeat that sees Spurs slump back to fifth.

The talk during this late stage of a challenging Newcastle season has been whether they could succeed with a push for Europe. The nature of this win, the performance that created it, and the opponent so utterly destroyed inevitably leads one to ask if it might yet even be something more.

If one was minded to mischief, one might observe that Newcastle now find themselves 10 points behind Spurs having also in one game wiped out the goal-difference chasm that previously existed between them.

Now 10 points is still a huge gap to overcome at this stage of the season, but not quite so huge when you’ve just done something like this. This was a performance to give a rejuvenated Newcastle further cause for celebration and left Spurs questioning everything they thought they knew. If Van de Ven is mortal, then can anyone be certain of anything in this crazy, mixed-up world?

But more importantly even than any psychological or physical blow landed is this. Spurs’ next three games are at home to Arsenal and away at Chelsea and Liverpool; Newcastle’s next three games are against Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Burnley.

It’s clearly going to take Newcastle longer to wipe out a 10-point lead than it did a seven-goal difference. But it really might not take much longer.


16. We’re not silly enough to make the case that Spurs’ horrendous performance could be in any way attributed directly to that grey-brown-turd of a third kit they were wearing, but equally there seems to be no point taking any chances and we would wholeheartedly recommend all remaining stock be burned down.