Work in progress
As part of our new Premier League Snap-shots feature, Peter Fraser examines Newcastle's 2-1 win over Andre Villas-Boas' Tottenham
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Last Updated: 19/08/12 6:59am
Andre Villas-Boas began life as manager of Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League with a defeat at Newcastle United.
A superb Demba Ba goal and a Hatem Ben Arfa penalty sandwiched Jermain Defoe's equaliser but it was not all doom and gloom for a Spurs work in progress.
Newcastle captain Fabricio Coloccini was ruled out with a slight thigh strain but strikers Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba both passed fitness tests to be included in Alan Pardew's starting XI. Centre-back Steven Taylor returned from injury to play his first Premier League game since last December. Vurnon Anita, the Magpies' new signing from Ajax, was on the bench. Substitute Shola Ameobi suffered a hamstring injury in the pre-match warm-up and had to be replaced by summer arrival Romain Amalfitano.
Gylfi Sigurdsson was handed his first Premier League start for Tottenham as head coach Villas-Boas' men aimed to get the season off to a good start. The signing from Swansea went straight into the Spurs starting line-up but Rafael van der Vaart and fellow new boy Jan Vertonghen were among those who had to settle for a place on the bench. Former Arsenal skipper William Gallas was surprisingly named captain. Luka Modric was not present as transfer negotiations continue with Real Madrid.
Pardew continued with the 4-3-3 formation which he developed last season in order to accommodate Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba. But clearly worried by the pace of Tottenham's Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon on the counter-attack and having been hammered 5-0 by Spurs in their last meeting, midfielders Yohan Cabaye, Cheick Tiote and Jonas Gutierrez all dropped very deep and were outnumbered. Moving Ba to the left-hand side gave Newcastle greater control in the second half.
Villas-Boas will be a little bemused as to how Tottenham managed to lose the game having dictated matters for the majority. A three-man central midfield in a 4-5-1 formation gave Spurs an extra player in the middle of the pitch and Jake Livermore, Sandro and Sigurdsson dominated. Sigurdsson is the man who will fill the Modric role and he took all set-pieces and was at the heart of Tottenham's build-up play. Jermain Defoe, though, was isolated at times in his lone striking role
Former Ajax man Anita was given 19 minutes for his debut when coming on in place of Cabaye and he immediately looked at home in a deep midfield role. It is, however, difficult to see how he and Tiote would start in the same side. Gabriel Obertan was introduced simply to give Ba an ovation from the Gallowgate End.
Harry Kane and Van der Vaart were both introduced in the latter stages of the second half for Tottenham. The former only had five minutes to sample his Premier League debut in place of Sandro, while the latter looked a little miffed to have only been on the bench in favour of the man he replaced, Sigurdsson.
Neither side have been particularly prolific in the summer transfer window and so there were minimal new faces on show at St James' Park. But Newcastle did send on Anita and he looks like a positive acquisition. Shortly after being introduced, the midfielder showed good power to hold off a challenge from Livermore and then spray a pass wide to the right.
Sigurdsson ran the show for Tottenham in the first half and has clearly been primed by Villas-Boas to fill the boots of the outgoing Modric. Playing in an advanced midfield role with a freedom to roam, the former Swansea City man looked comfortable. Perhaps his communication with Defoe has room for improvement after the pair were on the wrong wavelength on a couple of occasions. Sigurdsson also needs to build his fitness after running out of steam before being substituted in the 68th minute.
Martin Atkinson had to deal with sending Pardew to the stands after the Newcastle boss was guilty of pushing referee's assistant Peter Kirkup in the second half. There was nothing malicious in the incident but it was a clear breach of the rules and Atkinson made the right decision. Atkinson was also correct to award the penalty from which Ben Arfa scored Newcastle's second after being clearly fouled by Lennon.
It obviously remains to be seen whether Newcastle can repeat or better last season's impressive fifth-placed finish and they did look a little rusty. There was not the free-flowing style to their football which was a hallmark in the 2011/12 campaign. Pardew also needs to try and figure out how to get Cisse and Ba to click in the same game. It is rare they both do the business in the same match. Cisse was hardly involved against Tottenham while Ba's goal was his first in 14 Premier League starts with his compatriot.
Despite suffering defeat, Villas-Boas' tactics worked against Newcastle. It was only defensive mistakes, a wretched attempt at a header from the still very defensively questionable Kyle Walker and Lennon's foul for the penalty, which undid Tottenham. Villas-Boas' style of counter-attacking football is far better suited to the players at Tottenham, who have flying wingers such as Bale and Lennon, in comparison to Chelsea. But they desperately need to sell Modric as soon as possible and use the money to bring in a striker. Defoe had his work cut out.