Assertive Patience Drives Tottenham’s Win Over Newcastle

Assertive Patience Drives Tottenham’s Win Over Newcastle

While Tottenham has played erratically over the past couple of seasons, it’s hard not to love the team’s play right now.

During their down phases, the Spurs have often looked uninspired, with slow pacing and dull soccer. As they’ve settled into the Antonio Conte era, though, that situation has clearly changed for the better. Sunday’s win against Newcastle revealed a team willing to play slowly when necessary, but that patience always came with an assertiveness that paid off with five goals.

This approach allows for the dovetailing of tactics and personality. As Tottenham struggled to find its form the past two seasons, it became a counterattacking team almost by default. The squad played as if in disarray, hoping that one of the forwards could quickly spring toward the goal (the Kane-to-Son combo being the ideal maneuver).

In response, opposing teams began to settle into either a mid- or low block. Spurs haven’t always had the creativity to manufacture good chances in that situation. Unsettled on wingbacks, they didn’t trust their width, and the patient approach necessary to breaking down the defense became a hangover from the general lethargic play.

This weekend showed us the strength of the style that Conte has been developing. The Spurs were content to play deliberately even in their own end, holding on to the ball not out of uncertainty, but to prod for openings, sometimes even taking risks in the process. Typically the ploy would lure Newcastle players forward, creating the desired space to attack throughout the field.

The tactic centers on the rejuvenated Eric Dier. He maintains steady focus in the back three, but his willingness and ability to play a long, forward ball cause the opponents’ trouble. His ability to connect with a teammate far upfield means that even if opponents can hold the midfield, Spurs can threaten with a quick strike, keeping the opposition off balance at all times. The team’s patient play now enables them to stay consistently on the attack. If the ploy opens up the midfield, the team moves quickly through an extended defense; if other teams resist the temptation to extend, a centre-back creates instant danger.

Two players have immediately benefited from and contributed to the style. Ben Davies and Matt Doherty both look utterly revitalized, and both picked up goals in the most recent match. Doherty’s play has been particularly inspiring, allowing the team to more confidently spread out and switch the point of attack.

Without understating the importance of acquiring Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur this winter, it’s important to note that the tactical approach the team currently employs works largely with the players who were already in place, even as fans ranted about the Spurs’ lack of quality. It plays to the team’s personality by letting it counter quickly when it makes sense, but with the option to utilize intelligent patience to disable opposing defenses. It looked particularly good on Sunday since Tottenham scored so often, but goals aside, the team’s tactics looked wonderful.

Not that long ago, it could feel like Tottenham was facing an internal apocalypse. Now it feels like the team could be one North London Derby win away from returning to Champions League play.

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