Sunday 19 August 2018

Pochettino's Spurs prosper on pitch despite transfer inertia

Newcastle Utd 1 Tottenham 2

Tottenham’s Ben Davies tackles Newcastle United’s Yoshinori Muto during yesterday’s Premier League match at St James’ Park. Photo: Owen Humphreys
Tottenham’s Ben Davies tackles Newcastle United’s Yoshinori Muto during yesterday’s Premier League match at St James’ Park. Photo: Owen Humphreys

Louise Taylor

In Mauricio Pochettino's native Argentina, interest rates have been held at an emergency 40 per cent since May and the plummeting peso has prompted the government to request an emergency $50bn loan from the International Monetary Fund.

It all rather makes the UK's own travails seem a bit tame but has failed to prevent Tottenham's manager saying he feels "sorry for the English people" as Brexit beckons. Warming to his theme, Pochettino subsequently blamed the leave vote for a fall in the pound which led to a rise in the costs of building the new White Hart Lane and precipitated the club's failure to buy a single player during the transfer window.

Tottenham's Harry Kane. Photo: Reuters
Tottenham's Harry Kane. Photo: Reuters

Even by football managers standards it is a creative excuse, but the good news is that Pochettino is an infinitely more convincing coach than an economist and his already-highly-impressive young squad were arguably not really in need of reinforcement anyway.

Warmed by Tyneside sunshine, they were most definitely not at their best but still enjoyed a winning start to the new campaign, with Jan Vertonghen and the quietly impressive Dele Alli claiming the decisive goals on an afternoon of excellent crosses, scoring headers and dodgy defensive cameos.

The day began with Newcastle fans staging a protest against Mike Ashley's stewardship of the club outside his Sports Direct business a five-minute walk from St James' Park. The area was packed with supporters chanting: "We want Ashley out," and waving a giant banner emblazoned with Rafa Benítez's face.

Newcastle manager Benítez claims that avoiding relegation is his target for the season and this rather downbeat assessment seemed vindicated as Spurs assumed a ninth-minute lead from a corner. Christian Eriksen's out-swinger found the head of Davinson Sánchez who flicked it on for Vertonghen to direct a header against the underside of the bar. Goal-line technology confirmed the dropping ball had crossed.

Newcastle United's Joselu. Photo: PA
Newcastle United's Joselu. Photo: PA

Many home fans were a little disappointed to see Joselu leading Benítez's attack rather than Salomón Rondón, newly borrowed from West Brom but, confounding the doubters, the Spanish striker equalised within three minutes.

His goal came courtesy of a fabulous left-footed right-wing Matt Ritchie cross and involved Joselu dodging the suddenly sleepy Sánchez before powering a header beyond Hugo Lloris and into the bottom corner. The intense glare Pochettino subsequently shot his errant centre-half spoke volumes.

Yet that slapdash moment aside, Spurs had begun moving the ball with pleasing dexterity and had largely succeeded in slowing Newcastle's initially ferocious tempo. They restored their lead thanks to an excellent cross from Serge Aurier and fine header from Alli, who had timed his run to perfection. That goal was followed by another glare, this time delivered by Martin Dubravka in the direction of DeAndre Yedlin, who was deceived by Alli's movement

But rather than kick on, Pochettino's players instead relaxed and regressed for a spell. Suddenly, their every other pass seemed badly weighted and Newcastle were permitted a way back into things.

Tottenham's Eric Dier in action with Newcastle United's Ayoze Perez. Photo: Reuters
Tottenham's Eric Dier in action with Newcastle United's Ayoze Perez. Photo: Reuters

It made for a see-saw second half which began with Mo Diamé hitting a post with a 12-yard left-foot shot and later saw Dubravka look relieved to collect Alli's scuffed shot following Eriksen's cross. There was also the fine Joselu through ball which might have led to a goal for Kenedy had the Chelsea loanee's touch been better at the vital moment, and the excellent Durbravka intervention which blocked Moussa Sissoko's shot.

While some of Sissoko's general play failed to live up to the £30m Spurs paid for him, Eric Dier was arguably slightly lucky not to be sent off for a second bookable offence for a foul on Ayoze Pérez.

While Pérez forced Lloris into a splendid save, Rondón replaced Joselu to rapturous acclaim and saw a shot deflected onto the bar. Pochettino's tiring defence wobbled but somehow clung on against an anti-Ashley soundtrack.

How Benítez must wish Brexit was the only thing he needed to worry about.

Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez. Photo: Reuters
Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez. Photo: Reuters

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