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Spurs’ Transfer Window: 6 Tottenham Talking Points

Yes it’s a tad late, but quite appropriate for Spurs’ transfer window, n’est ce pas?

I’m not normally one for piping up about the comings and goings. Largely because one just ends up speculating, and then looking rather an oaf when the chappie one praised to the heavens turns out not to know his right foot from his left when he eventually trots out onto the field. Better to lay low, I’ve found, and let the various cast members pickle their own insides. Much easier to cast judgement on a fellow with the benefit of hindsight after all, what?

This time, however, I do feel moved to act. Not to such extremes as penning a violently-worded letter to The Times, you understand – there is, after all, a time and a place. But dash it all, packaging off Bryan Gil? Forsooth! Erasing from existence Matt Doherty because of a last-minute administrative error? What the devil?

Not to distract from the fact that we’ve ended up making a couple of natty moves, but one does sometimes look at our lot and find there’s no other thing to do but scratch the loaf and goggle a bit.

1. Pedro Porro

First the spiffing stuff. He may sound like the headline act of a nursery rhyme, but young Pedro Porro ought to be precisely the cog this particular machine has been yelling for. No need to insult anyone’s intelligence by banging on about how Conte-ball absolutely positively must, as a matter of the utmost urgency, deploy fizz-popping wing-backs in order to work. The problem has been staring us all in the face for months now, but finally the great purse-string holder in the sky has flung a bit of money at the problem.

Not that a thick old wad of notes is any sort of guarantee to solve this sort of frightful mess. After all, upon flogging Kyle Walker we threw half of the winnings on Serge Aurier of all people.

But in this instance, I’m willing to go out on a cautious limb and suggest that we haven’t necessarily bought ourselves a complete dud. (Which is pretty high praise around these parts.) Two Champions League games doth not a comprehensive dossier of a chap’s abilities make, but I do remember thinking when he played against us something along the lines of “Golly, I’d rather have that bounder than Emerson plugging away on the right”.

Admittedly the chap may not know the first dashed thing about defending for all I know, but on the front foot he seemed rather handy, and goodness knows our lot our screaming out for that sort of muck from a wing-back. Indeed, the notion of Messrs Romero, Bentancur, Kulusevski and – if he lives up to the billing – P.P. all ganging up together to cause a spot of mischief on the right, makes the AANP heart sing a bit.

Porro (Pedro? Some ludicrous nickname?) appears blessed with a burst of pace and a rather fruity right foot, which ought to help. On top of which he gives the air of one of those old boys who was rather miffed to be cast as a Defender when the jerseys were being handed out back at school, and has spent every day since pointedly charging forward into the final third in an ongoing act of pique.

There is, naturally, a Bissouma-shaped disclaimer here. For no matter how competent a laddie looks when coming up against us in days gone by, there’s a fair old chance that on arriving in N17 and donning the lilywhite he will immediately morph into an incompetent charlatan who is not entirely sure what shape the ball ought to be.

But nevertheless. We needed a right wing-back who a) is well acquainted with the do’s and don’ts of the wing-back trade, and b) Our Glorious Leader could actually tolerate. We now have the aforementioned. Time to get down to brass tacks.

2. Danjuma

I feel something of a fraud here, as there’s not much I can add about Danjuma that I didn’t rabbit on about at the weekend, following his Preston jolly. In short, never having set eyes upon him before, I was happy enough to witness him roll up his sleeves and muck in. No shirking from this one. He waded into the thick of things from the off, seemed nimble of foot and bludgeoned himself a goal by virtue of insisting that he ought to have one rather than any particular finesse.

Positionally, he appears to be rubbing shoulders with Sonny and Richarlison in the little tub of bodies marked “Kane’s Backup”, and apparently can also wander off to the left if the need arises.

With Conte evidently deeming young Gil the sort of egg whose exit from the premises couldn’t come soon enough (more on that anon) we seemed to need an extra pair of attacking legs, and in sharp contradistinction to the unfortunate young Gil, Danjuma seems to come with a few additional slabs of meat and muscle plastered about his frame.

I’ll be honest, the whole thing has more than a whiff of the Bergwijn about it, but that, I suppose, is no bad thing.

3. Bryan Gil

At this point, however, things take a turn for the rummy.

A couple of potentially handy signings (or, more specifically, one potentially crucial signing and one potentially handy one) is all well and good, but for Conte to haul up Gil by the ear and kick him out of the country seemed a bit thick. I liked Gil. Gil made the pulse quicken. In a team that too often lapsed into endless sideways and backwards passing, Gil seemed forever gripped with the notion of simply tearing around the place and seeing what good works came of it.

Still, for all his fine efforts and endless energy, Gil did rather lack in the physique department. Conte, slippery eel that he is, had given the impression post-World Cup that he was actually coming round to the young pill – consecutive starts and whatnot – but it was all a spot of dastardly misdirection. All along Conte had him down as no more than skin, bone and hair, so off he bobs.

Mercifully it is but a temporary arrangement, and with a bit of luck the young specimen will return in the summer beefed as well as bronzed. But the element that really grates is that he is returning to his former digs, at Sevilla.

No concerns there, one might think – until recalling that in order to obtain the chap in the first place, we gave the very same Sevilla one serviceable Erik Lamela plus somewhere in the region of £25 million. And now, as a result of this latest spot of jiggery-pokery, Sevilla find themselves in possession of Lamela, approximately £25 million – and Bryan Gil, dash it! I mean really, what the hell sort of deal is that?

4. Matt Doherty

If the mechanics of the Bryan Gil deal seem to be slathered on a bit thick, it’s a mere bagatelle compared to the absurdities seeping from every orifice of the Matt Doherty fiasco.

On the face of it, the release of one of multiple right wing-backs, in order to facilitate the serene entry of a new, more advanced model, seems about as neat and tidy as they come. Firm handshakes all round would seem to be the order of the day.

Peel back the layers however – and one really doesn’t have to peel back too many, the top layer here will suffice – and a spot of mind-boggling incompetence takes shape. The rub of the thing is that the original plan was to slap a sign saying ‘Loan’ on Doherty’s forehead and bundle him onto a plane bound for Madrid, where he would stay until the summer, by which point a state of perfect equanimity and sense would have engulfed the running of THFC.

This being Spurs, however, such a straightforward course of action was never going to land. It turns out that, loosely speaking, these days clubs are not allowed to loan out more than 8 players at a time. A new one on me, I admit, but then I’m not a major European football club, for whom the loaning of players is part of the routine. For any such club, this ought not really to have been an issue as long as they were able to grasp the basics. Our lot, however, seemed to sally along blissfully unaware that such a rule existed; or perhaps fully aware, but not staffed by anyone capable of counting above 8.

Either way, the upshot was that with literally an hour or two until the deadline passed we found ourselves in possession of one excess Doherty, and at a bit of a loss as to how to shift him. At this stage I would have thought that, having only last season spent £15 million to bring the fellow in, simply cutting the cord and letting him drift off elsewhere would pretty much be the nuclear option. I mean to say, the chances of us recovering a full £15 million for him might have been thin, but the chances of us recovering something for him seemed middling-to-fair.

Incredibly however, the grands fromages of the club – presumably the same mob who are down in folklore for haggling into the wee small hours of deadline days gone by for a pittance here and a desultory payment there – just casually wiped off this £15 million asset in its entirety, tearing up Dhoerty’s contract, one imagines with a gay old smile and cheeky wink, and elbowing Doherty out of the club’s existence without much more than a muffled “Adio– ah, Pedro!”

My mind, which until then had been boggling away like nobody’s business at the combination of incompetence and absurdity, at this point gave up and simply melted away. It was simply too much to wrap the bean around. Irrespective of Doherty’s virtues or otherwise as a player and employee, I simply couldn’t fathom how a professional establishment could be that unaware of a key regulation; leave until literally the eleventh hour that for which they’d had a month to prepare; and then write off a multi-million pound asset with little more than a shrug.

As for the footballing side of all this, it certainly crept up from behind and shouted ‘Boo!’, but with the dust – and, more pertinently Pedro Porro – settling I’d qualify this as one I can stomach comfortably enough.

Poor old Doherty never really got to grips with things, for which he only takes a small portion of the blame in truth. There was a point, towards the end of last season, where he seemed to find his straps, and went on a run of half a dozen or so consecutive games at right wing-back, during which he did a decent impression of a chap who knew what he was about. Cutting in towards the area, popping up at the far post as an auxiliary attacker – that sort of good, honest muck.

Alas, that was all ended by the footballing equivalent of being attacked by a maniac with an axe, against Villa I think, and thereafter the chap never really managed more than an hour here or a ten-minute stretch-of-the-legs there, before being written out of the script in most peculiar fashion. Curious stuff, if no great loss.

5. Djed Spence

The other major outgoing was the no doubt pretty bewildered Djed Spence, a young flower to whom Our Glorious Leader seemed to take an instant dislike, and then made it his mission to ensure everyone knew it too.

A little green behind the ears he may presumably have been (I say ‘presumably’ because the lad never got to play long enough for anyone to find out), but given that Conte worshipped at the altar of attacking wing-backs it seemed pretty dashed rummy that he should have had quite such an aversion to the chap.

As far as anyone could make out, Spence was one of those coves who thinks that if he’s on a football pitch he might as well be attacking the opposition’s goal, and in each of his little cameo appearances he pretty clearly lived by that mantra. In the absence of anyone else doing much better at RWB, his repeated omission certainly made one remove the hat and give the hair a contemplative ruffle, but there we are. At least until the summer, young Master Spence is no longer of this establishment.

(As an aside, I admire his beans in opting for Rennes, rather than some more glamorous locale. The young bounder wants minutes; and, one imagines, at Rennes, minutes he shall have.)

6. Deals Not Done

While I suspect a few of us could debate long into the night the wisdom of ditching Doherty and Spence while retaining Emerson ruddy Royale, by and large this seemed a transfer window in which the stated aims were more or less met, and as such it’s one of those Satisfactory Enough type of gigs.

That said, however, AANP is the sort of chap who, on being gifted a dozen gleaming sports cars, would pause and question why it wasn’t a dozen and one. And as such, I’ll happily pop a hand on each hip and bleat about the wisdom of ending the transfer window without reinforcements in key areas. Viz, a goalkeeper, a centre-back, a creative midfield sort and another centre-back.

I know the official party line, of course. We all do. There was no way Monsieur Lloris was going to suffer some Doherty-esque ignominy and be cast aside mid-season with nary a mention on the club website. Severely in need of a goalkeeping upgrade we might be, but it is not happening any time before the clocks go forward.

Similarly at centre-back, Eric Dier will get to make as many more bizarrely off-kilter attempted clearances as he likes, because Conte seems taken by him, and that is sufficient. The Davies-Lenglet hokey-cokey will continue likewise. Come the summer, one would expect some serious signings in these areas to be discussed (before those targets head elsewhere and we settle for second-best); but for now, we’re stuck with what we’ve got.

Such is life. In truth I’m grateful that some new blood was brough in at all, particularly at right wing-back. And with Conte’s future still up in the air it may be just as well not to bring in too many of his acolytes. A dashed peculiar transfer window, then, but all told, one that was not too shabby. On we bobble.

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Spurs match reports

Preton N.E. 0-3 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Son

“That’ll do,” would presumably be the anthem at Casa Son this weekend, after that rousing exhibition. Those in the broadcast studios seemed pretty eager to advertise this as something far greater. Itching to herald the return of Peak Sonny, it seemed to me. Which one understands I suppose, for nothing attracts the masses like some overbeefed headline, but the reality struck me as being a tad more mundane – to wit, this was good, wholesome stuff but still some way from the Sonny of recent years.

Not to denigrate the young lemon’s goals, for they were amongst the finest of their vintage. ‘Aplomb’ doesn’t really do either justice, as both were despatched with a whole glut of plombs.

The warning signs had been there. In the first half on a couple of occasions he had adopted that pose of old, squeezing the ball from his feet, giving himself a yard or two and whipping the thing for all he was worth. The Preston goalkeeper had made a bit of a drama of blocking them off, seeming to dance all around them even when they were being rammed straight down his gullet. His closest chums had no doubt feared for him in anticipation of a moment when such shots were directed to more eastern or western extremes.

And in the second half it came to pass. Sonny married dead-eyed, bottom-corner accuracy to that whippy technique, and at that point one would have forgiven the Preston GK bod for stuffing his possessions into a bag, slinging it over his shoulder and clocking off for the evening.

Son’s first was absolutely top-notch stuff by just about any metric you care to think of. The poor old Preston defender who trotted out to challenge him would probably have thought that from about 25 yards the chances of significant damage ranked somewhere between ‘Moderate’ and ‘Low’, but this did not take into account the fact that Son was about to unleash a shot for the ages.

It was one of those that starts its journey gaily swinging well outside the line of the post, and then injects one heck of a plot twist, veering back into focus and inside the framework. For added panache it even ended up in the bottom corner, the footballing equivalent of shooting someone a look of quiet superiority. I can’t quite remember whether the Preston goalkeeper bothered to throw in a dive, but if he did it would have been strictly for ornamental purposes only.

The second goal was less about artistic merit and more a tale of clinical goalscoring. A scribe who simply wants to communicate the essentials and get on with their evening might sum it up as “Left-foot, close range”, which I suppose would get full marks for veracity, but would rather short-change the public. It may have all happened in the blink of an eye, but there was actually a decent amount of spadework to be done from the moment Perisic flicked the ball into Son’s path. A touch to control, a pirouette to shift the old balance from hither to thither, another touch to set the thing just so – all this was crammed into a single frame, and before you knew it Sonny was leathering the thing. By this point one rather felt for that hapless Preston goalkeeper as he dabbed a mournful glove at the ball whizzing past him.

So in terms of goals scored and the manner in which the aforementioned was undertaken, this was pretty sparkling stuff. Focus only on the goals, and you could – as did the BBC mob – make quite the song and dance about how all of Son’s woes were now behind him and he was now once again the master of all he surveyed.

However, not to put too great a dampener on things but while his finishing boots clicked smoothly into gear in that second half, various of the other crucial elements seemed not quite to have landed. The fleet-footed dribbles through crowded areas did not quite strike oil. Those gallops of his from deep and into wide open spaces rather spluttered and came to a halt. In short, this seemed not so much the Son of old as a pretty impressive attempted clone, which on the surface had it nailed, but on closer inspection still required that a few glitches be ironed out.

Nevertheless, a couple of goals against lower-league fluff were the sort of thing any capable doctor might have ordered. Bash out something similar in a week against Man City and we really can give the hands a gleeful rub and start referring back to his output of seasons past.

2. Sessegnon

And perhaps the gentle nature of the opponents fed the thinking of Our Glorious Leader in opting for Sessegnon on the left, as an opportunity for the young fellow to cast aside his cares and make a goodish bit of hay.

Alas, with each passing game Sessegnon strikes me increasingly as one of those eggs for whom no amount of assistance will make much of a dent. One can only bang on about potential for so long, what? At some point the fellow will have to puff out his chest and start playing like a wing-back of near-enough Champions League standard. As with Sonny, one would have thought that lower-league fluff would provide a decent platform.

Instead, I noted fairly early on in proceedings a rather gloomy correlation between Sessegnon arriving Stage Left to deliver his lines, and our move, whatever it happened to be, immediately breaking down. If he tried to take on his man, he failed. If he tried to deliver a cross, he failed. I didn’t witness it, so cannot be sure, but have a feeling that if he had tried to write his own name or recite the alphabet, he would have pretty quickly come a cropper, and trudged off with that usual, melancholy expression that is becoming so familiar.

If this is to be his lot in life – I mean filling in on the left in the occasional low-stakes jaunt – then I suppose we can all muddle through. Make polite noises and avoid any awkward conversations about where the hell we would be should the Perisic engine ever splutter to a halt. But if Sessegnon is ever to develop and progress into a first-choice ripsnorter of Rose-esque quality then he really needs to get a wriggle on.

The occasional 8-out-of-10 would be a solid start, and really, by this stage he ought to be stringing together several of those consecutively. Instead, Sessegnon seems rarely to elevate himself above a 6, and more typically, as last night, he registers a performance so ordinary that it feels kinder not to rate him but to gloss over his presence altogether, and bang on a bit about Son and Danjuma and whatnot instead. With that Destiny fellow apparently crossing t’s and dotting i’s out on loan in Italy, it might be that the remaining few months of the season represent Sessegnon’s last stand in lilywhite.

3. Subs

With the game near enough won, Conte did what any right-thinking bean would do, and swapped around the pieces on the board. In fact, Conte had already licked his lips and exercised his creative juices, with the selection of Perisic as the central attacker, but the second goal brought a slew of changes that frankly had me struggling to keep up.

Of course, Danjuma was the most fascinating sight, the entirety of AANP’s knowledge of the chap prior to his arrival deriving from one of those computer games one ought to know better than to dip into.

He seemed to make a solid stab at things, what? Full of beans, and no qualms about waving a few angry limbs at whomever was in earshot and calling a spade a spade. His very first involvement was pretty breezy stuff – giving and going, that sort of jolly rot, and very nearly finding himself clean through.

He didn’t have to wait too long for his moment of glory either, and while even his closest family members would struggle to build an argument suggesting that his strike was an aesthetic masterpiece, his goal was nevertheless a triumph for such virtues as arriving in the designated spot at the designated time, and generally sharpening one’s elbows and showing a willingness to pop into the area and have a sniff.

Less glamorously, and a fair few yards further south, I thought this was the best little cameo from young O. Skipp Esq. to which we have been treated all season. Having looked quite the appropriate fit whenever he featured last season, this time around things have been more stop than start and more miss than hit. A lack of game-time has obviously not helped, but last night he popped up with all the usual willing, and then, impressively, proceeded to get just about everything right every time he touched the ball.

One doesn’t read too much into these things of course, as there can be few gentler introductions in life than coming on when two goals up against a lower-league side, but nevertheless, having witnessed Bentancur shimmy about the place for an hour looking comfortably better than all around him, it was heartening to see young Skipp similarly do all that one would hope of the competent, modern midfielder.

And finally, as ever, young Gil came on and tore around like an over-excited puppy. A few neat passes, some quick feet and a handy contribution to the third goal represented a decent ten minutes’ work from the likeable young sprout. Despite a few eye-catching recent performances it appears that Gil remains a few notches down the pecking order, with rumblings of a loan move echoing about the place. Such is life, I suppose, but I do rather enjoy seeing these glimpses, and would welcome more.

All things considered, this was a pretty satisfying evening’s work. A second successive clean sheet, a rest for Kane and goals for Sonny, a debut goal for Danjuma and some decent substitute contributions make for as serene a Cup away day as one can imagine. I don’t mind admitting that I put in a worried gulp or two when I saw we’d been drawn away to a Championship side, but even during the slightly stodgy first half there was never a point at which we looked in danger of fouling the thing up.

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Spurs match reports

Fulham 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane

Decency dictates that we start with this chap and do him a bit of homage. It’s hardly an unusual script – great swathes of tepid dross punctuated suddenly by a moment of quality from Kane completely out of keeping with the rest – but even more remarkable for it.

Covering the specifics first, and when Kane received the ball one would have hardly expected the Fulham gang to sound their klaxons and generally lose their heads. Admittedly, Kane receiving the ball just outside the area is not ideal for any opponent, but contextual factors at least seemed to be stacked marginally in their favour.

He received the thing with his back to goal for a start. This by no means neuters him, but one would have expected the Fulham ‘keeper at least to allow himself a short puff of the cheeks, for the immediate threat of a shot seemed pretty low on the Risk Assessment.

On top of which, Fulham had their back-line in position and ready to get down to brass tacks. The chappies on Sky Sports took to whining that one of the centre-backs might have moved half a yard more to the left or some such guff, but when such intricate witterings are being voiced it is time to block the ears and move on. Our attacking move was in what rugby bods might call its third or fourth phase, and Fulham were fairly well organised, with banks of four and five and whatnot all neatly arranged.

Moreover, on receiving the ball in this position of fairly bleak promise, it is not as if Kane then dipped a shoulder, unleashed a Cruyff and was suddenly clean through on goal. He, understandably, collected it and set off on the scenic route, around the outside of the area. If those in Fulham’s Control Room had started shooting each other quizzical looks, with hands hovering uncertainly over the button marked ‘Panic’, one would have understood, because through this manoeuvre Kane was, if nothing else, setting himself up on his right foot. Nevertheless, there was a whole gaggle of bodies stationed between him and the goal, so if alert levels had remained low one would have sympathised.

Kane, however, being of a different plane, cared little for any of the above, and simply spanked the thing, without even bothering to look. To repeat, it was a piece of skill entirely out of keeping with what any of what had gone before, and well worthy of winning a match of high quality, let alone this onerous dirge.

While the chatter in some quarters is that Greaves has two Charity Shield goals that have not been credited to his account, which would bump his tally up to 268, I am happy for the pedants to tie themselves in knots over that one. Kane would no doubt have settled for a deflection of a lesser-used body part while he looked the other way if it had added to his numbers, but for him to equal our record in this particular fashion felt particularly satisfying.

On top of which, sources of good repute have been reporting that the curious bean is actually interested in extending his contract at N17, which, while welcome news, does make me wonder if the poor fellow has lost his mind. Still, it all made for a match-winning innings and rounded off a fun night-time jaunt. Who knows, it might even make those who once considered him a rotter reconsider their stance.

2. Our Passing (First Half vs Second Half)

To say that things started poorly is to speak rather kindly of affairs. We were, as is so often the case, pretty dreadful from the off. Fulham sorts seemed to scurry down the flanks at their convenience, producing a steady stream of crosses into our area throughout the first half, with which our heroes dealt with varying degrees of assurance and success. I suppose the important stat is the big fat zero in the ‘Goals Conceded’ column, but this vulnerability did make me sweat a bit, or at least would have done if I had had any optimism left in me while watching Spurs these days.

Anyway, aside from the free pass Fulham received down our sides, I found myself registering considerable bafflement at the passing display by our lot in the first half. Obviously, this being Spurs, one is used to seeing experienced international players set about their tasks like they’ve never seen a football before, but even by our standards the errant passing on display was pretty tough to digest.

Of course, nobody is perfect, and the occasional pass that doesn’t reach its mark one tries one’s best to shrug off. There tend to be mitigating circumstances – proximity of an opponent, lack of options, pressure to clear danger – that sort of stuff.

But as I watched on with ever growing incredulity in the first half hour or so, our lot seemed routinely to pass straight to opposing players. Sometimes under pressure, sometimes under none. And not those near-miss passes, the sort when an attacking nib is trying to thread one through the eye of a needle to set a chum clean through on goal – this was just basic five-yard stuff inside our own half. For the life of me I couldn’t fathom what was going on.

Anyway, whatever the mysterious goings-on afoot, we made it through to circa minute 44 unscathed, at which point we then turned up the dial a few notches and gave Fulham a few things to think about for a pretty impressive spell of about three minutes, culminating in Kane’s goal. Which did make me wonder quite how things might have panned out if we’d found our range and given them a bit of going-over a little earlier in the piece, but sometimes it is best not to overthink these things.

In the second half, our heroes tightened things considerably, and Fulham barely had a sniff. As impressive as the defensive arrangements was the fact that having blunted any approaching danger, our troops, in eye-catching distinction to the first half, started passing the ball around opponents and out of defence as if pinging it through a field of mannequins.

It was jolly impressive stuff per se, but particularly in light of the nonsense that had preceded it in the first half, I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. Put it this way, if you were in the market for thirty seconds of crisp, one-touch diagonals, you need not have looked much further.

After a while, these little moves stopped happening in any real attacking sense – the on-field consensus seeming to be that one goal ought to be enough – but whenever possession was won in and around our own area, the impressive little triangles would kick off once more.

3. Son

Those who care about such things would probably hammer home the fact that Sonny, strictly speaking, set up our winner. This I suppose is true by the letter of the law but does have about it the sense of one claiming to be a chef after producing a plate of beans on toast.

Still, it is one for the tally, so good for him. But if anyone were to point to that and use it as a defence of his performance, I would personally lean over and give them a pretty meaningful eye.

Make no mistake, Sonny continues to struggle through matches well below par. Every attempted dribble ended in a calamitous ball of limbs as he was pretty much snuffed out at source. In fact, every time he simply tried to run with the ball it looked as if either his feet or the ball, or all of the above, were drenched in treacle and then deposited in quicksand for good measure. In short, this vexing trend of things just not quite clicking for him continued to vex.

The gentle pass into the path of Kane, for his goal, was something of a highlight, not just because it led to the goal, but simply by virtue of it being an instance of him successfully finding a teammate.

Now I doubt there is a soul alive of lilywhite persuasion and sound mind who advocates any particular draconian fate ought therefore to befall the chap. Nobody is calling for his head, or suggesting we slap a price-tag on him and cart him off to the highest bidder.

But given that we have invested in a fellow of the beans of Richarlison, it does not seem too radical a proposition to suggest we swap the two of them around every now and then, what? If Sonny is simply not firing as programmed, so be it. Let him sit out a game or two, and there will hardly be a dip in quality if we shove Richarlison on in his place with instructions to do his worst. Different sorts of laddies no doubt, but the Brazilian seemed pretty bucked while on World Cup duty (albeit playing as central striker), and more to the point he would do no worse than the Sonny of Season 22/23.

If Richarlison is still labouring under whatever the latest ailment might be, then one grudgingly accepts that he is best left on the bench for now. Otherwise, however, the whole bally approach makes little sense. If he is not started now, when Sonny is at his lowest ebb, then when the hell will he be started?

4. Our Travelling Fans

A note in passing on the racket kicked up by our lot in the stands. Dashed impressive, I thought. High energy and relentless from first whistle to last, the only shame being that it did not occur to the eleven on the pitch to emulate them, but one can’t have everything I suppose. At one point our fans even cleared the throats for a rendition of McNarama’s Band, which had me raising a particularly impressed eyebrow.

On this business of the polite requests for structural reorganisation within the corridors of N17, AANP waves a weary hand, happy to let those better informed exercise their democratic right. But I was certainly taken by the din produced, back-slaps all round.

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Spurs match reports

Man City 4-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bentancur

A slightly different hobnob from the norm, this one. Same old outcome, of course, but whereas these things – Spurs matches, I mean – tend to start a certain way (with us going two down), and then adopt a very specific trajectory (of waiting until approximately minute 60 before sparking into life and actually looking pretty impressive on the front-foot), this one, in the interests of variety, flipped all that on its head.

In this instance we didn’t start terribly, which was curious enough. And then for the rest of the first half, we occupied a space somewhere in between ‘Managing Okay’ and ‘Clinging On A Bit’, while crucially avoiding the concession of goals before half-time.

Most curiously of all, we found ourselves two up rather than two down, come the mid-innings break. Hardly merited, but one learns to take the smooth with the rough.

And fairly critical, if easily overlooked, in both goals, was the contribution of Master Bentancur, a bean I would have welcomed back with the most warm and vigorous of handshakes if circumstances had allowed.

As ever, it is easy for the eye to be drawn towards the goals, and other critical moments, when passing judgement on the contributions of the assembled, and as stated, Bentancur rather subtly wormed his way into affairs for both of ours.

But beyond this, and while matters pootled along at nil-nil, he occasionally hove into view like some friendly spectre, to remind us how much better he is than the rest of our midfielders. Shimmies and turns to escape a pack of baying City players, that sort of thing. An ability to receive the ball under a decent spadeful or two of pressure, and still keep his head and get wriggling.

There were a couple of ill-timed lunges too, which were a little less impressive admittedly, but given his ability in possession I was happy enough to churn out that guff about ‘Rough’ and ‘Smooth’ again, and pine for a world in which Bentancur has a bit more support around him.

As mentioned, he played a role in both goals. Firstly, in haring up to the City laddie who received the ball inside his own penalty area.

I must confess to a little shiver of fear, on second viewing, that VAR might stick in its nose and submit Bentancur’s challenge to forensic detail, being concerned that the proportions of man and ball he contacted were weighed towards the former. But apparently it was tickety-boo. So, smooth with rough once more. Bentancur’s eager press had done enough to force the City fellow to wash his hands of all responsibility, and rather oddly gift the ball straight to Kulusevski.   

A minute later, a clearance of some description dropped from the heavens, and Bentancur casually plucked it from the sky with his foot, much like a wicketkeeper might do with a pair of oversized gloves.

That in itself elicited an approving noise to emanate from the AANP voice-box – the sort of sound one would make if one said “Oh, I say!” but without actually using words. Ignoring the odd looks I received from those around me, I remained glued to the screen, to see Bentancur pop the ball off towards Kane. The pass, admittedly, was not quite as pristine as one had hoped, but Kane did enough, as did Kulusevski out on the right, and in a couple of shakes of a lamb’s tail the ball was in and Emerson Royal of all people was taking the acclaim.

The Brazilian’s might have been the name on the scoresheet, but the AANP heart swelled with admiration for the real hero, he of the earlier input, Rodrigo Bentancur.

2. Emerson Royal

While the selection of Bentancur was greeted with unfettered joy around these parts, I would be wilfully deceiving my public if I suggested Emerson’s appearance prompted a similar reaction. Still, there he was and there we were, so might as well hope for the best and get down to it, what? 

And he did a decent enough job, in truth. Should an uninitiated visitor ever pitch up and request the lowdown on the chap I fancy I would outline 3 key features, viz:

  1. He genuinely thinks he’s brilliant 
  2. He adopts good positions
  3. His outputs tends to be dreadful

And he more or less stuck to the script yesterday. The incredible self-belief remained in situ and undimmed (and good for him – I’m by no means a fan, but don’t subscribe to this business of booing the blighter).

Defensively he was adequate, which may sound like faint praise but frankly was a few notches up from Dier, Davies and one or two others. 

And in the other direction his eyes rather lit up whenever the attacking gong sounded. One of the few joys of Conte-ball is seeing one wing-back arrive on the end of a cross from the other, and if you don’t mind me butchering this definition a bit, his presence at the far post from a Ben Davies cross in the first half very nearly freed Kane for an unmarked pop.

At one point in the second half I had to rub my eyes and look down at the contents of my tumbler in some wonder because it seemed for all money that as we attacked Emerson was sprinting straight through the middle in the centre-forward role (referring us all neatly back to point number 1, above).

And then of course there was his moment of glory, the curious egg briefly morphing into Lineker to poach a dashed difficult header for our second.

No doubt about it, the goal was masterfully taken, but that aside Emerson’s outputs were as Emerson’s outputs generally are. As ever it was clear that any joy to be had on the right would not have as its genesis one of his crosses.

Still, no calamity befell, and his goal was a triumph both of endeavour and skill, so I’m happy to file this away as one of his better days.

3. Perisic

Any regular suckler of the AANP sauce will know the drill by now – plenty of pointless fluff, a finger jabbed with meaning into the ribs of one of the usual suspects and a spot of gooey fawning over the crosses that emanate from either sacred clog of Ivan Perisic. But really, if your team is as lacking in creativity as our lot, who wouldn’t stand and purr at the sight of I.P. hoisting the thing as if on a string, into the single most devastating spot in the opposition area game after game?

I fancy I’ve heard that he has 8 assists to his name in lilywhite this season, which a) sounds about right, and b) even if not right is believable enough. Either way it hammers home point – namely that the chap is a dashed useful sort to have patrolling the left, either to deliver his own customised outputs or to pop up for the provision of helpful input when crosses are delivered from the other side.

All of which renders even more startling the stat – for which I’ve admittedly used a healthy swig of dramatic licence and made an educated guess – that the blighter has yet to score for us. It feels like he has come pretty dashed close to so doing, at various points this season, having regularly arrived as the auxiliary forward for countless attacks, to deliver the coup de grâce, only to be foiled at the last, in cartoon style, by countless unforeseen interruptions. 

A perfect example materialised yesterday as a City bod who wasn’t even looking managed to deflect Perisic’s shot onto the post, a routine he would not have pulled off if he had been attempting it for weeks.

The flip-side to the rich attacking harvest offered by Perisic is that he treats defending as if a completely different sport, and one entirely foreign to him. Blame could be shared around pretty liberally for the various goals that rained down upon us from various angles last night, but Perisic was woefully at fault during at least three.

In one instance Mahrez waggled a foot or two and that was enough to prompt Perisic’s resignation from the task at hand, he pausing only to dangle an insincere leg as the chap sped past him.

For another, he tracked Mahrez as the ball was lofted aerially towards him, but seemed to consider this sufficient, the concept of challenging the chap, or shoving him off balance, or in any other way inconveniencing his attempt to head the ball seemingly well off the Perisic radar.

And then for another, Perisic almost comically over-committed himself to a 50-50 just outside our own area, seemingly motivated by the prospect a full-pitch counter-attack rather than focusing on the more pressing concern of stopping City from pummelling us once more.

So one of Mother Nature’s select defenders he is not. But not for the first time the whole sorry debacle takes my mind back to the Croatia team of the World Cup, a mob that set up in 4-3-3, with 3 preeminent passers absolutely controlling business in midfield (Modric, Brozovic and Kovacic); Perisic left of a front-three, with not too much defensive onus; and only lacking a decent centre-forward to make hay. Should I ever be gifted a 30-second audience with Our Glorious Leader, that is the tale I would tell him.

4. Lenglet

A substitution to which Signor Conte seems peculiarly wedded when we are, inevitably, chasing a game in the latter stages, is Lenglet for Davies, or vice versa. An odd one, if you ask me. Maybe something about fresh legs or whatnot.

Anyway, it happened yesterday, like clockwork, achieving nothing in an attacking sense, as always. What caught the eye, however, was that even though he barely had time to work up a sweat, Lenglet still managed to distinguish himself as amongst the very worst of our comfortably bad coterie of defenders.

At one point he tried a casual 5-yard pass inside his own area, pretty inaccurately, towards a chum whose coordinates had been identified for attack by a City sort. And then in the dying embers of the thing, he failed to deal with that most challenging of situations for any footballer – the football.

There it was, spherical as they come, lobbing towards him without anyone in the way of it, courtesy of an uncultured heft from Ederson. Now one would imagine that any human who had demonstrated basic motor skills while still being bounced on their mother’s knee would have the capacity get their body in the way of a ball, and kick, head or otherwise interact with it in order to send it off in the opposite direction.

So what the hell possessed Lenglet to let the thing apologetically skid off his frame and into the path of Mahrez right behind him is anyone’s guess.

I suppose if there was one redeeming feature of this absurdity it is that the game was already lost. But honestly, it’s just not cricket, what?

5. Lloris


Of course, while on the subject of ghastly errors that are scarcely credible amongst professional footballers, poor old Lloris popped up again.

Rather a shame, because his first half had some impressive qualities to it. He dealt – just about – with a few crosses of the high and swirly variety, whilst being jostled by various genetically-engineered City goal-beasts, and also made one particularly natty save, changing direction just so to avert a shot that caught a pretty angular deflection. Things appeared to be looking up for the fellow.

Alas, there then followed the second half, and his run of good form and fortune ended rather abruptly. For City’s first he came flying out horizontally to give the ball a reassuring pat, but inevitably miscalculated and landed within a heap of limbs – some his own – and facing his own net, which seemed an impressive feat. Anyway, he having missed the ball completely and by some distance, the upshot was that it pinged around a bit before someone or other poked it in – there no longer being a goalkeeper present to prevent this – and Lloris’ day had taken its usual turn for the worse.

And then to seal the deal, he was beaten on his near post for the third. A deflection was present, ‘tis true; but this does not alter the fact that he had left a significant gap through which any shot, deflected or otherwise, might squirm.

Lloris’ sorry fortunes might be deemed emblematic of our current woes. Or they might not. Either way, while it does at least keep Woolwich reined in a bit, it was another pretty shoddy collapse, and from a position of unexpected superiority too, dash it. Ah well. On we bobble!

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-2 Arsenal: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

After yesterday’s mess, anyone in the market for a spot of finger-pointing would have no shortage of options, for “Sub-Par” seemed to have been the motto adopted by our lot throughout. Nevertheless, even Hugo Lloris’s own family members would probably have to accept that their man played a pretty critical role in the whole sorry affair.

It would be a stretch to say that we were on top of things, or even matching Woolwich, at the time of his main clanger. Although the scores were level, they were making good use of their extra man in midfield, passing from the back and through our press a little too niftily for my liking and having oodles of joy in that Saka-Sessegnon mismatch.

But nevertheless. The scores were still level, and our lot were showing a bit of willing going forward. On top of which the atmosphere in the place, while hardly confident, was at least still hopeful. When a first-minute pass into the path of Sessegnon on halfway is greeted by a roar the like of which is normally reserved for a goal, you know that the watching masses are suitably bucked. Anything, one felt, might yet happen.

Alas, what did happen was Monsieur Lloris treating us to the latest malcoordinated flail of his limbs. Maddeningly, he had signposted that he was in the mood for a clanger just moments earlier. A back-pass of the harmless variety had landed his way, and rather than just deal with the thing through means cultured or otherwise, he went down the bizarre route of assuming that he would be allowed to saunter unchallenged across his area for as long as he fancied.

Well, it didn’t take 10 years in the Premier League, 100+ international caps and two World Cup Finals to see that that the scheme was doomed. Barely had Lloris started dribbling the thing than an opponent was at his back, and routes to escape were fast disappearing. Lloris sought solace in the form of a countryman, but popping the ball at Lenglet’s right peg added a further layer of complication.

Not that Lenglet should have had too much difficulty in simply blasting the ball to safety, whichever foot was required, being an international footballer and whatnot. But, perhaps taking a cue from his captain, he botched the operation further by giving the ball straight to a Woolwich player in the six-yard box, of all things. In the panic that followed, Lloris at least had the dignity to save at point-blank range, but the awkward glances were already being exchanged.

And sure enough, calamity soon struck. Which is to say a fairly straightforward undertaking was required, and Lloris made a pig’s ear of it again.

One might leap to his defence by pointing to the various mitigating factors about the place. Sessegnon might have done better than simply stepping aside and waving Saka through; the cross when delivered caught a deflection of the small-but-critical variety; and it also came flying in at a rate of knots.

And if the blister charged with minding the net had been a ten year-old, or perhaps an elderly and overweight sort whose hand-eye coordination has always been a bit off, these might well have been acceptable excuses. But for a chappie whose life is dedicated to catching footballs, and who, as mentioned above, has more Premier League and international appearances than one can shake a stick at, such excuses do not wash. Catch the bally thing. Or at the very least buffet it off into a safe space.

Watching Lloris instead pat the ball upwards and backwards into his own net really did have the will to live seep from every pore of my being.

Thereafter, all the saves in the world would have done little to rectify things, because in a game in which we were second-best anyway, it was pretty crucial to avoid gifting them a goal, and similarly crucial to keep the atmosphere charged and hopeful.

Not that Lloris did make all the saves in the world thereafter. Romero was to a large degree at fault for the second goal – first in not bothering to close down the chappie, and then turning his back on the shot, forsooth – but from 25 yards or so one would expect a luminary of the goalkeeping trade to cover his bases and extend a sturdy paw sufficiently. Lloris was beaten too easily, and I imagine there are now few about the place who expect him still to be in situ come the start of season 23/24.

2. Sessegnon

For young Sessegnon already to have been chastised twice above in a sermon about the failings of another player entirely is rather telling.

His selection certainly gave the eyebrows of all in N17 a bit of a pre-match jolt, but one could at least attempt to explain it away, loosely on the grounds of the vivacity of youth – Perisic, after all, while a bit of a specialist with the ball at his feet and the masses howling for a cross, is not the sort of chap at whom one would point and say, “There’s the fellow on whom I wish to build a defence, particularly on account of his breakneck speed”. With Saka in opposition, I presumed that Conte saw in Sessegnon a young bean with enough to pace to thwart Woolwich’s right-sided threat.

A nice idea in theory, but pretty wildly off the mark in practice. How Perisic might have fared in that first half against Saka we’ll never know, but the berth was Sessegnon’s and it was pretty obvious from even casual observation that he was pretty powerless to stop Saka doing whatever he damn well pleased. With neither Lenglet nor Son particularly inclined to help out, we pretty much just resigned ourselves, at least in the first half, to that flank being wide open for business and as good as unmanned.

Sessegnon did show some early inclination to carry out the more attack-minded elements of his role, but even there, having made the necessary gallops into threatening territory, he was let down time and again by a string of crosses that seemed to give up on their mission as soon as they left his foot.

In the interests of fairness it should be noted that his dash infield, which brought about the first-half chance for Sonny, was impressively bobbish. It showed a spirit of enterprise and adventure we otherwise lacked, and was topped off with a surprisingly crafty little diagonal through-ball. What the devil he was doing there, in some sort of Number 10 slot, is anyone’s guess, but it was much-needed.

He also combined neatly with Kane for his one-on-one in the second half, but whatever merit he earns for making the run, he rather loses for failing to bury the chance.

Those two little jaunts aside, I saw precious little in his performance to impress, and even before half-time I was constructing the argument for his removal and replacement by Perisic.

3. Sarr

The other selection of considerable note was that of Pape Matar Sarr. One rather sympathised with the young bounder, for as long Conte sticks with his 3-4-3 then the central midfield pair will almost always find themselves outnumbered, which seemed a rotten hand to deal a fellow on his full debut.

I suppose if one were to cast a cursory eye over a narrative of the first half, and digest that the Woolwich mob cantered through the centre pretty much at will, one might conclude that the Sarr selection was a failure on a par with that of Sessegnon.

However, I am inclined to launch a fairly robust defence of young Sarr. Given that Woolwich employed a midfield three, often supplemented by a fourth in Zinchenko, Sarr admittedly spent a lot of time simply chasing shadows, but, as I have thought of Messrs Benancur and Hojbjerg at various other points in the season, the lad can hardly be blamed for being outnumbered.

When Sarr was able to intervene, he did so well enough. He took to his tasks with plenty of zest, shuttled the ball along to others sensibly and seemed pretty composed when dwindling options forced him to quicken his feet and dance away from trouble.

He is by no means the finished article, and his yellow card was evidence of the fact that this was a midfield battle we definitely lost. On top of which, for all his positives, he is another in the depressingly long list of hard-working but rather functional sorts, when our midfield absolutely screams out for some creativity. However, both in terms of being outnumbered in midfield, and populating said midfield with functional bods, the blame lies squarely with Our Glorious Leader.

All things considered, I thought Sarr bobbed about pretty well. Quite where he stands in the midfield hierarchy is a little unclear – I heard a whisper that Bissouma had a knock, and Bentancur will certainly waltz straight back in, but Sarr, it appears, is now a credible alternative to and possibly preferred option above young Master Skipp.

4. Kulusevski (and Son’s Ongoing Struggles)

If Sarr’s performance was one of our better ones by virtue of being acceptable enough, Kulusevki’s was possibly the best, by virtue of offering an occasional threat.

Not that you’d have known he was playing in the first half, during which time our heroes struggled to string three passes together. Naturally, beginning the second half with a two-goal deficit was the prompt for a slightly improved performance, and it seemed little coincidence that we were far more threatening once it occurred to those in lilywhite that they were allowed to pass to Kulusevski.

He did his usual thing – running literally around opponents, and yet doing so in surprisingly effective fashion; standing up crosses towards the back post; cutting in to curl efforts with his left foot. And on another day, one or two of those little adventures might have brought slightly richer harvest, but even though the conclusion of his little incursions repeatedly fell a little short, his presence and involvement at least sparked us into life.

By contrast, on the other flank, poor old Sonny once again laboured away like the less talented twin of the chappie from last year. As happens every week, he simply failed to run up a head of steam in any respect. Be it a dribble, shot or attempt to shield and hold up the ball, his bright ideas repeatedly came a cropper at source, and not for the first time we were as ten men and one passenger.

Injury and conditioning no doubt forbad an earlier appearance from Richarlison, but the AANP line from pretty early in the second half was to hook Sonny and plop the Brazilian in his place.

5. Conte’s Role In All Of This

For all of the above, however, my principal grumble is not so much the individual performances as the masterplan (a term with which I play pretty fast and loose) from Our Glorious Leader. Yesterday was a neat illustration of how we are getting on under the chap.

The formation, and in particular the use of a back-three, irks the dickens out of me. I suppose in theory one might argue that the more defenders one thrusts onto the pitch the less likely we are to concede. And perhaps amongst most right-thinking folk, this would work out swimmingly, one fellow covering the next fellow, and so on. If the back-three were watertight and achieved clean sheets every week, the case for it would be pretty compelling.

Amongst our lot, however, the back-three is anything but watertight. And not only is it a pretty flimsy structure, its very existence also weakens our midfield. Deploying three central defenders means deploying only two central midfielders; and as evidenced yesterday – and in almost every match this season – our central midfield pair are routinely overrun by opponents with a midfield three.

On top of which our midfield pair offer precious little creativity because their principal role is to destroy rather than to create. In fact, I often wonder if their principal role is simply to gulp down great mouthfuls of oxygen at every opportunity and recover after galloping around trying to do between them the work of three men.

Aside from the formation, The Conte Way irritates because it seems the general philosophy being peddled is to defend rather than attack or entertain. The strength of our squad is undoubtedly its attacking riches, yet Conte’s primary goal each week seems to be to focus on shutting out the other lot. All of which inclines one to fling up the hands and implore them just to attack for heaven’s sake, what?

The fellow seems to be steering our ship until something more to his liking comes along. One year in and his brand of football is neither fun to watch nor particularly impressive on paper (fifth we may be, but we’re pretty comfortably beaten by all of our ‘rivals’). As I saw it put last night, “Conte’s priority appears simply not to mess up”, and this isn’t much fun to drink in every week.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-0 Portsmouth: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Gil

AANP has never really been a dog person. No objection to the fine beasts, you understand, I’ve just not really got much connection to them. As such, happy to let them go about their business, and have them extend the same courtesy back. ‘Non-aggression pact’ about sums it up, and that’s the way it’s been for a few decades, until my sister recently came into possession of a pup of some breed unknown to me.

I mention this gripping aside because the sister’s pup’s behaviour is most prominently characterised by boundless energy and unshakeable optimism, in relation to whatever task it is approaching. And watching young Bryan Gil treating his every involvement in today’s game as if it were the most fun he had ever experienced, I was struck by his similarity to the aforementioned bonhomous canine.

Gil has now been a lilywhite 18 months, in which time he has not yet made 18 appearances – but if anyone thought that these deliberate oversights on the part of the Top Brass would dampen his spirits they will have some pretty comprehensive re-thinking to do. Rather than let week after week of inactivity (and a release on loan for six months) chip away at his mood, it seems simply to have heightened his excitement. I get the impression that each time he was omitted he simply became even more beside himself with elation, reasoning that his big chance was therefore even likelier to arrive the following week.

A charming attitude, and one he seemed determined to advertise to the entire viewing public once the game started. If he were not in possession he eagerly buzzed around seeking it; and once he received it he wasted no time in flicking through the repertoire to find the most effective means of making a positive dent in things. Watching his infectious enthusiasm I rather wished someone would throw a stick in his radius, just to see if he would bound after it.

Enthusiasm on its own, however, is not worth a great deal unless married to a certain degree of effectiveness (thought processes around this hypothesis might be aided by reflection on Oliver Skipp’s recent performances). Merrily, Gil was, for the second consecutive game, amongst the more eye-catching young pills on display.

We were treated at various points to stepovers and whatnot, and quick jinking feet, but also crisp and aware shot passes, the sort that bisect opposing bodies and give a sense of urgency.

Gil has pretty swiftly elevated himself to the sort who quickens the pulse every time he receives the ball – and given that a fortnight ago he had not yet made a League start for us, this is one heck of a trajectory. All sorts of complications stand in the way of him becoming a regular any time soon, and I doubt that any amongst us would try arguing against Kulusevski waltzing straight back into the cast list for the visit of Woolwich next week, but Gil has taken his opportunities with aplomb, and is looking an increasingly viable option.

2. Sarr

A spot of post-match hobnobbing with various Spurs-supporting beans suggests that I might be ploughing a slightly lonely furrow with this one, but I thought that young Sarr once again earned himself a respectful salute.

“Neat and tidy” seemed to be the anthem on his lips, and not a bad philosophy either, to bring into a day’s work as a slightly defensive-minded midfield bod. His midweek cameo had featured ticks in such columns as ‘Interceptions’, ‘Tackles’ and ‘Passes (sub-heading: Unfussy and Prompt)’. And, clearly one of those fellows who thinks that if he’s onto a good thing he might as well just keep peddling it over and over, he brought that approach from his substitute appearance vs Palace into his starting appearance vs Pompey.

With Skipp seemingly keen to elbow his way into the final third at every opportunity, Sarr played yang to that particular ying, positioning himself back at basecamp as something of a security guard for the midfield.

As against Palace, who were dead and buried by the time he emerged, one is hesitant to lavish too much praise upon a performance against a team that I don’t think managed two shots on target. Nevertheless, one can only hope, when one flings a young buck into the arena, that he will do all asked of him and to a decent standard, and in this respect it was a pretty successful afternoon’s work for Sarr.

3. Kane

Nevertheless, this was yet another of those performances that was drifting slightly aimlessly in the first half. One could see that various in lilywhite were remembering vague ideas and trying to apply them – Sessegnon popped in a stream of crosses that didn’t really hit the mark; Davies repeatedly trotted forward with a determined look on his map, before passing harmlessly sideways; Son dipped his shoulder and put his head down, before being robbed off the ball and left in a heap. And so on. Things were not really clicking. Things were not even doing whatever it is happens in the moments before they click. Life was just passing us all by.

So yet again it was left to Kane to drop a little deeper and perform his weekly alchemy. When he received the ball, 25 or so yards from goal, it appeared that a scene regularly witnessed was about to unfold yet again, for many in lilywhite had had possession in these sort of spots, and faced with pretty much every Portsmouth player stationed between ball and goal.

And yet, somehow, where all others had tried and failed to make any useful inroad, Kane simply forced his way through with that curious mixture of brute force, classy touch and sheer act of will. Before one could say “Was that an intentional one-two?” he had in one movement received the ball back from Sessegnon, escaped his marker, dug the ball out of his feet and set himself for a shot.

I suppose it hardly sounds like rocket science when spelled out like that, but yet again it was all of a level a country mile above that being produced by anyone else.

There then, of course, followed a shot like an Exocet missile, the sort of finish that would have had us gasping in a giddy mix of shock and joy if it had come from the clog of pretty much anyone else in our number – but when produced by Kane simply prompts a knowing nod, as if to say, “As expected, what?”

It was a moment worthy of winning a game, and helpfully changed the dynamics of what might potentially have been an awkward scrap, the sort that prompts dubious murmurings about the players, manager, chairman and so on. It also sets the chap up nicely to become our record scorer against slightly more notable opponents next weekend.

The second half in general did see an improved performance, the general sense after the opener being that we were more likely to score again than concede. While an all-singing, all-dancing, multi-goal salvo would have been fun, safe negotiation of these early rounds is pretty much all that is needed.

(Not that any of this detracted from the giddy excitement of three younger members of the AANP clan, visiting from Australia of all places, to see their first ever Spurs game – a charming reminder of how the lifelong attachment begins.)

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Spurs match reports

Palace 0-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Were we actually any good? Are we actually any good?

Given that the pre-match mutterings at AANP Towers were to wonder how the devil we would ever score again, the output a couple of hours later could not have been a more pleasant surprise.

By the time Doherty popped up to make it 3-0 the matter was essentially concluded, all remaining perspiration being expended merely because regulation required it, rather than out of any sense of mystery as to how matters might resolve. But here’s a thing – Doherty’s goal, sealing the game, came 20 minutes after Kane’s opener, meaning that the entire operation was essentially contained from start to finish within that short burst.

Thereafter Palace simply shrugged collective shoulders and moped about the place waiting for the final bell – you know the spirit of willing has disappeared when your centre-backs are being outmuscled by Sonny of all people.

And while that 20-minute, three-goal blitz was absolute manna from heaven, it did make one tilt the head at an inquisitive angle, and wonder whether our heroes have it in them to string together a full 90-minute performance.

Casting the mind back a bit, we started fairly punchily. Combinations here, corners there – it might not exactly have been thrill-a-minute stuff, but at least we took the starter’s gun as a prompt to bob onto the front-foot, rather than the usual business of sitting back, dozing gently and waiting to concede twice.

Disturbingly, however, this early fizz lasted somewhere between 15-20 minutes before going the way of all flesh. Thereafter, Palace pinned us back and the rest of the half seemed to consist of them pummelling away at us, with our heroes occasionally emerging to gasp for breath before the sequence was repeated. And this rather sorry pattern appeared likely to continue in the second half – when out of nowhere we took the lead and the 20-minute blitz ensued.

With our tails up and a healthy lead tucked away, our lot, naturally, looked transformed. And if we continue to look that way, and play that way, then not a whisper of complaint will emanate from these parts. But with the second half blitz coming from nowhere, I do still give the lip a nervous chew, because the general pattern of things at the end of that first half was no improvement on previous games.

Twenty-minute jollies are all well and good, but they won’t bring a three- or four-goal harvest every week. The rub of the thing is that our heroes need somehow to learn the mystical alchemy that is performing well for an entire 90 minutes. In a curious way, the random blitz of Palace in the second half – coming against the run of play, and yet doing enough within a short period to completely kill the match – highlighted what’s wrong as well as what’s right with our mob.

2.  Kane

Of course, only bothering to turn up for twenty minutes is a dashed sight easier when you’ve got leading the line an unstoppable beast operating at the peak of his powers and revving up all four cylinders. A rotter he may forever remain in the eyes of AANP, but by golly Harry Kane does sometimes elevate his play a good few levels above the mere mortals surrounding him.

One might be tempted to dismiss the header that got things going as the least of his contributions, and in a way I suppose it was, but even that was a pretty impressive feat. In particular I was rather arrested by the natty fashion in which Kane proceeded with take-off nice and early, then just sort of hung around in the air for about a minute and a half, taking in the South London sights from his vantage point of approximately ten feet up.

By the time Perisic’s cross actually reached him he was already well established as master of that particular realm, and merely took time out to flex a muscle or two and send flying the nearest Palace defenders, whose own measly attempts at doing the aerial thing had them no more than about six inches off the ground.

It was mightily impressive stuff. I’ve seen that Ronaldo chap do something similar. Heaven knows how it’s done – I’ve always found gravity, and physics and whatnot get in the way whenever I attempt it – but from the moment Perisic’s cross took flight there was a joyous inevitability about the way things would pan out.

The second looked even better. Young Bryan Gil fairly pinged the ball at him (which is by no means a criticism of the young frijole, for the situation absolutely demanded that the ball be pinged at a decent lick, or it would not have reached basecamp).

The ping having been effected, Kane’s task may have looked simple enough on paper – “Control the thing and spank it” – but all constituent parts of the exercise were actually mightily taxing, and the odds for most strikers would have been long. As it happened, however, Kane made it all look about as difficult as tickling the tummy of sleeping kitten.

For a chap whose close control often seems to me, at close quarters, to be a rather glaring fault in his DNA, that first touch was scarcely believable, consisting as it did of simultaneously killing the ball and delivering sufficient nudge that he didn’t have to break stride before lamping it. And then, as if simply to show off, Kane did not even bother to surface for a quick three-sixty, to find his bearings and locate X on the map. He simply put his head down and blasted the thing, into the best possible spot and at the hardest possible force.

Thereafter, with goals to his name, he unstrapped the pads and grabbed the new ball, so to speak, experimenting with his creative side by dropping deep and spraying the ball hither and yonder, for his chums to get in on the act. His pass released Sonny for what eventually became Doherty’s goal, and officially he also has his name pinned to the assist for the fourth – although that was possibly the least remarkable of all his contributions.

All told, it was one heck of a performance, an absolute masterclass.

3. Gil

Meanwhile, off to the right, young Senor Gil delivered possibly his longest and quite likely his best display in lilywhite.

As ever, from the off he was all buck and vim, bounding around like a lamb being released into a meadow specifically designed for the frolic. As mentioned above, our opening fifteen or so actually constituted something of a highlight, and at the centre – or, more accurately, the right – of much that was good was young Gil.

His interplay with Doherty, although rough around the edges, as befits a newly-formed and rarely-practised double-act, had about it plenty of energy and invention; and when left to his own devices Gil seemed delighted to have the opportunity to throw in a few stepovers and whip in something meaty.

He missed as well as hitting, particularly in the first half, various attempts to hoodwink or simply outrun his man ending in a battle lost, but the cut of his gib certainly ranked amongst the more likeable on display.

Like ten others in lilywhite, he faded as the first half wore on; but it was the second half that really was the making of the man. For a start, that opening goal, advertised above as “Coming from nowhere”, more accurately came from the size fives (presumably) of Gil. Receiving the ball centrally, with back to goal and a good 30 yards from goal, and, more pertinently, with no fewer than three Palace sorts in close attendance, Gil ducked and weaved a bit, held onto the ball, held off the Palace search party, and played into space the advancing Perisic.

It may all sound simple enough, but I was rather taken by it, given that he might easily have been muscled out of things, or opted for the safer option of simply popping the thing back towards halfway. (As a fun aside, watch the replay of Kane’s header and you might also spot both Gil and Perisic themselves jumping as if to head, at the critical moment, which rather tickled me.)

As mentioned, Gil also played to perfection the pass that set up Kane’s second. Here he deserves shiny little gold stars first for spotting the opportunity; then for having the nous to realise that the ball would have been to driven at Kane at a fair lick, in order to bring home any harvest; and thirdly for taking the risk to attempt it, when the slightest inaccuracy for that eye-of-the-needle stuff would have ceded possession.
 
And thereafter Gil rather enjoyed himself, and we him. Shimmies, shoulder-dips, quick passes – the young bean managed the game without getting carried away. He will presumably remain for some time one of the lesser cabs on the rank, but who amongst us wouldn’t want to see more of him as the weeks roll on?

4. Skipp

Less impressive was young Master Skipp. Not to chide the honest fellow, for he has delivered the goods often enough, and frankly he did well to clamber out of all the extenuating circumstances that engulfed him – recent injuries, and lack of match sharpness, and so on.

In the opening seconds Skipp actually hinted at great things, picking the ball up on halfway and setting off on a hike deep into enemy territory to set up a half-chance. I duly gave the hands a rub and settled in, for great things appeared to await.

Alas, they’ll have to come another day. Thereafter, Skipp couldn’t take two steps without making a wrong decision. He did not lack willing, which is always good to see, but generally erred in just about everything he did. I did feel for him when received his yellow card mind, Perisic having fed him an unnecessarily obscure sort of pass, forcing him to have a bit of a lunge, but it summed up his evening.

A shame, because with Bissouma miles off his own high standards, Bentancur out and Hojbjerg rarely given a chance to catch his breath, an on-song Skipp would be akin to a pretty handy new signing. He will, presumably, have a chance to atone in the Cup on Saturday.

5. Sarr

As if to hammer home the fact that Skipp was a long way below par, young Sarr came on and didn’t put a foot wrong for thirty minutes.

AANP being a man of honour and principle, in the same way that I excuse Skipp his aberrations and acknowledge the mitigating circumstances, I similarly caution against too much enthusiasm for Sarr, whose admittedly strong performance came in pretty welcoming circumstances. He bounded on at 3-0 and with Palace having thrown in the towel and begun looking rather longingly at the ref to put an end to things, and in that context one would hardly say that this was ever going to be the most fraught half hour of his career.

Nevertheless, where Skipp was mistiming tackles and being caught in possession, Sarr nailed his t’s and made sensible use of p. Again, one would expect him to feature at the weekend, and I hope he does so from the off, rather than a 30-minute cameo.

Sarr had barely featured in thinking at the start of the season, when the Bentancur-Hojbjerg-Skipp-Bissouma quartet were widely cast as our midfield options, but if he can make a better fist of the ugly stuff than any of the aforementioned then he’s a pretty useful option in the second half-and-a-bit of the season.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-2 Aston Villa: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Not The Worst Opening Hour

Family commitments being what they are, AANP spent yesterday afternoon watching Disney princesses until the eyes bubbled, and as attempts to shield the self from the final score for 24 hours inevitably came a cropper, I found myself in that curious situation of settling down today to watch in its entirety a game the outcome of which I already knew.

Admittedly I was already pretty used to challenging viewing, following the marathon of wicked stepmothers and whatnot, but I naturally braced myself. The gist of the communication received overnight had been that, while not necessarily our lowest ebb, this performance was making itself quite at home amongst the great heapfuls of decidedly low ebbs we’ve had to experience in recent times.

But oddly enough, as the game unfolded I though our lot did reasonably well, albeit without being particularly good.

I probably ought to take this opportunity to duck out of the way of any rotten fruit being hurled my way by whomever is reading, for I suspect this is not a popular opinion. The masses, one fears, will not approve. Nevertheless, having expected the usual business of settling in for minimal possession until two down, or forlornly shuttling the ball along the back-three from east to west, and then west to east, each of the principals dwelling on their opportunity as if trying to get through a chapter of War and Peace before playing a pass, I was taken aback to note a degree of urgency throughout.

While there was a definite blank in the column marked ‘Creativity’, there seemed to be a consensus amongst our lot that if we were going to explore dead-ends we might as well do it snappily. (As an aside, I attribute much of this to the absence of Eric Dier, a chappie who, when in possession, does not consider his day’s work worthwhile unless he has wasted about half an hour rolling the ball from one foot to the other while contemplating his next move.)

In the absence of Dier, and in a general spirit of hurriedness, our lot managed at least to roll the ball from A to B within two touches each time. This struck me as a few notches up from rock-bottom, so I welcomed it happily enough. Moreover, but for some pretty iffy refereeing calls in the opening ten minutes, we might have been through on goal a couple of times. Before half-time Perisic found himself clean through, leading to the Kane header that was cleared off the line, and we started the second half looking far likelier to score.

Obviously things fell apart pretty spectacularly thereafter, and in an odd reversal of recent history, on finding ourselves two down with 30 to go our lot gave the shoulders a collective slump and dialled their efforts right down – but here at AANP Towers we viewed the first hour or so, if not exactly with uncontained enthusiasm, then at least with a degree of optimism. The urgency of that first hour was a welcome sight.

2. Bissouma

The flip-side of this, apart from conceding two more goals that made eyes bleed and soul weaken, was that for all our urgency there was no attacking spark.

The absence of Bentancur from central midfield does not help matters in this regard, but I suggest that the problems run a little deeper. Talented soul though he is, Bentancur alone is not the solution to our lack of midfield spark.

We seem to lack a fellow of ingenuity and whizzy ideas, slap bang in the centre of the stage (or perhaps ten yards advanced of that spot). And this seems to come back to the formation, the use of three central defenders meaning that we are restricted to two in central midfield – and while Hojbjerg and Bentancur have been amongst our starrier sorts this campaign, neither really are the creative masterminds whose reputations have been built on creating and scoring goals through an array of shoulder-dips and defence-splitting passes.

There has been a fair amount of chatter in recent weeks about the similarities between England and Spurs – I found it instructive to note how the national team nailed its colours to the Back-Four mast, thereby adding a sprinkle of creativity to midfield, and as a result died fighting, as it were, rather than waving a white flag in meek surrender.

Back to our lot, and in the absence of Bentancur, young Master Bissouma had another crack at the big-time. Alas, as with most of his previous appearances, nothing quite seemed to work for the chap. Not being one of those creative mastermind types alluded to above, his raison d’être could reasonably be concluded to be more along the lines of a defensive sort – collecting scraps, making tackles and intercepting Villa moves at their genesis.

And while he occasionally did each of the above, he just as often seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Villa attacks bypassed him; he picked up a booking essentially for being out of position and tripping a fellow from behind; and in possession he again seemed oddly uneasy with the physics of a sphere, seeming a little too easily confused by its propensity to roll, and bounce, and whatnot.

His nadir came with the second Villa goal, when for the second consecutive game the notion of tracking his man into the penalty area appeared a long way down his To-Do list, leaving the bounder in question with more space in our box than was reasonable to afford. One would understand – not accept, but understand – if a born-and-bred centre-forward made such an error, but here is a chap whose job title essentially reads “Defensive Midfielder”. To neglect the first rule of defensive midfielding, twice in consecutive games makes ones eyes bulge a bit, what? And it’s not as if he has a whole sackful of attacking party tricks into which he can dip to atone, at the opposite end of the pitch.

The fellow needs to get himself up to speed, and pronto. Frankly, if he is not going to carry out his defensive duties as if his life depends on them, I’d sooner he were politely shoved from his spot and someone more creative used in his stead (admittedly a practical problem or two emerges here, given that we have no-one matching that description in our ranks, but you see my point).

As it happened, I thought that the young lad Sarr looked a bit more familiar with things in the defensive midfield vicinity during his ten-minute cameo than Bissouma did during his eighty minutes, but the pecking order seems well established.

3. Lloris

If a few stern words can be bellowed in the direction of Bissouma, decency forbids elaborating upon the suitable punishments for Lloris after his latest hare-brained input.

Cast your minds back to the World Cup and the Lloris on display looked every inch the seasoned professional, carrying out his duties correctly and with minimal fuss, neat-and-tidying his way to the Final. Of the various clangers magicked out of thin air in our colours every few weeks there was no sign. It would be a stretch to describe him as ‘The Best on Duty’, but a reliable sort of egg he most certainly was.

What the hell happens to him once he pops up for our lot is therefore anyone’s guess, but this rot he springs from nowhere is simply too much. Fully paid-up members of the Lloris Fan Club may warble about the ball moving, or the ball bouncing, or the ball turning a somersault en route, but that guff won’t wash at AANP Towers. The chap’s job is first and foremost to catch the dashed thing, and if he can’t master that particular basic then I’m at a bit of a loss to understand what purpose he serves.

These mistakes are far too frequent. Moreover, while one of the johnnies of yesteryear once came up with a decent gag, that to err is human, the gist being that just about every player will make the occasional mistake, the goalkeeper is well aware of his lot in life. There’s little in the way of safety nets or bail-outs in that position. Either get it right or be off, is pretty much the AANP message to the goalkeeping fraternity, and Monsieur Lloris has now created quite the catalogue of foul-ups for our lot.

4. Gil (and Perisic)

If absence makes the heart grow fonder it pretty much bursts through the ribcage and howls for Dejan Kulusevski at present. Still, no use complaining, what? The absence of D.K., plus a couple of the other preferred options, meant that young Senor Conte had to dip his hand into the box marked ‘Last Resort’, and pulled out a Bryan Gil.

I suppose the one-line summary is that we found out nothing that we did not know before. He was full of willing, itching throughout to unleash a trick or six and, containing practically zero in the way of muscle about his frame, was always liable to come out second-best in any man-on-man combat.

I thought the young nib made a decent stab of things. If points were awarded for body language he’d have needed a decent-sized bag to carry off his prizes, because he seemed to burst with enthusiasm for the task at hand. There were a few good link-ups with Matt Doherty (who I thought also fared well enough, certainly incurring less rage in his decision-making than the other fellow) and a few moments when he dipped a shoulder or two to create space for a cross. Alas, Gil continues to look like a boy in a man’s world. A delightful and earnest boy, the sort who would take great pleasure in doing his mother’s bidding – but a boy nevertheless. Still, I was glad to see him get a game, combine with Doherty and buy into the general mentality of urgency.

And on the other flank, I thought this was one of Perisic’s better days, at least when on the front-foot. The ‘Back’ part of the wing-back role is, as touched upon before, not one to which Perisic attaches too much concern, but going forward he is a pretty nifty so-and-so. His ability to choose from right or left clog when it comes to swinging in crosses is a bit of a blessing, even if his only targets tend to be Kane and Doherty, and as often as not he was our most advanced forward.

However, for all the silver linings and first half urgency and whatnot, this was another dreadful defeat. A couple of opportunities await to right these wrongs, before a few rather alarming fixtures come flying at us later in the month.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Brentford 2-2 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Same Old Same Old

For those of us so distracted by all that World Cup guff that we forgot how the good souls of N17 go about their business, our heroes helpfully wasted no time at all in reminding us of their preferred Don’t-Bother-Until-Two-Down gambit.

No point in fighting it at this stage. Best just to shrug the shoulders, stiffen the upper lip and accept. They’ve had a whole month to chew over the tactics, practise their drills and so on, and this is the result, so no matter how nonsensical it seems to those of us in the outside world, the plan – of waiting until two down and then going full throttle for the final 30 – is evidently here to stay.

There is of course a temptation categorise our performance as only fitting the extremes of Gubbins on the one hand and England-vs-Holland-at-Euro-96 on the other; but actually there are plenty of nuances in between, and I thought our lot hit a few of those yesterday.

In possession in the first half, even at 0-0, I thought we at occasionally least tried, to force matters. It was not as turgid and sideways as it has sometimes been. Hojbjerg in particular seemed struck by an urge to get through his day’s work in a hurry, and generally tried to shovel the ball along tout de suite, often looking for a diagonal pass “in between the lines”, as they say, which seemed a pretty progressive idea.

Of course, behind him Eric Dier was doing his best to negate any such urgency, the fellow seemingly deciding that, having spent a lifetime receiving the ball and taking approximately 23 touches before distributing it, he would be damned if he were going to change the routine so soon after Christmas. So this was a bit of a spanner in Hojbjerg’s plan, but help was on hand from other quarters, notable Sonny, who at least seemed to recognise what the Dane was attempting and bobbed up in space to receive the thing.

Short we may have been on clear-cut chances in the opening hour or so, but intermittently there were clearly recognisable attempts from various members of the clan to insert themselves deep within enemy territory and fashion something. Nevertheless, it wasn’t quick or inventive enough, until we conceded the second and the whole bally lot of them reacted like a bunch of Roman slaves being freed from their shackles and given the run of the town.

2. Dreadful Goals Conceded

Beavering about in slightly uninspiring fashion might have been bearable, but married to defending so bad that one wondered if some of them had spent six weeks actively un-learning how to play the game, it made for some pretty serious lip-chewing from the galleries.

For the first goal, I apportion little blame to Forster (big man). The deflection was unhelpful, and he displayed adequate reflexes in simply blocking the thing as it flew at him. Of course it would have made for a pleasant festive treat if his hands like a frying pan had scooped up the thing, but we can’t have everything, and he at least did the basics.

Which is more than can be said of those in snazzy sky blue around him. The initial cross picked out a Brentford forward on the right, who appeared to have been gifted the freedom of the Tottenham penalty area, or at least half of it. One appreciates that this was something of a counter-attack, but really, to leave the chappie unattended in his own acre of land seemed to be laying it on a bit thick, even for the first game back.

Perisic was barely in shot on the TV cameras, while Bissouma, having tracked the fellow’s run stride-for-stride, had rather maddeningly veered off towards the centre rather than sticking with him to make a challenge, evidently attracted to the ball like one of those less intelligent moths you see going hell for leather at a flame.

So much for part one of the attack; the sequel, picking up immediately after Forster (big man) had parried the shot, was pretty much entirely contained in a single act, comprising a Brentford chappie strolling up to the ball and tapping it in, not one objecting soul anywhere near him.

Rewind the VHS and one sees that the Brentford bod in question started his gallop forward at the same time and from the same starting point as one P-E Hojbjerg, only for the Dane to keep his jog carefully within the limit of ‘Slow and Steady’, rather than busting a lung or two to ensure he stayed with his man.

Crosses will be made and shots will be taken, one accepts this; but simply to stand – or jog – around and watch the aftermath, rather than trying to muscle in and prevent ensuing calamity, is just not cricket.

And if that first goal had AANP crafting a few choice curses, the second had the air turning purple. For a start, Dier’s shank to gift the corner in the first place inflamed the passions of the watching masses.

And then, once the corner was delivered, Hojbjerg was again at fault, incredibly waiting for the ball to bounce towards him on the goal-line rather than charging towards it like a frenzied bull determined to clear all in its path. Rather inevitably, a more alert opponent was vastly more proactive about the whole thing, and simply trotted a couple of steps forward, a manoeuvre sufficient to earn him pole position ahead of Hojbjerg, Lenglet and Perisic.

The whole business of zonal marking has a rationale to it, but I rather fancy that if those involved take literally the business of staying in their zones, and simply do not budge from their allotted spots, then the entire system crumbles like a house of cards. One cannot overstate the obvious flaw, that if the defenders in a zonal system do not move at all, then the opponents will pretty swiftly learn to pop the ball around them. It is breathtakingly empty-headed, and yet this is precisely what each of Hojbjerg, Perisic and Lenglet – seasoned internationals – did in allowing Toney to mooch past them and tap in.

3. Perisic’s Crosses

On the subject of Perisic, few in our ranks are quite so maddening in the way they go about things. Credit where due, first of all, his crosses are things of beauty. Be it with right foot or left, he ticks every box you can think of in the Crossing Department, whipping in the things with pace, curl, elevation, top-spin and whatever else is relevant.

I don’t mind admitting that there have been times this season when I have watched our lot labour to get the ball anywhere near the penalty area, and been struck by the thought that we should simply abandon all pretence of subtlety, give the ball to Perisic and queue up in the six-yard box.

On the flip side, bar these crosses (and occasional long throw-ins) the chap seems to do little else at all. Of defending he wants no part, seemingly viewing that particular exercise as little more than the pause that exists in between attacks, a chance to catch his breath and ponder with which foot he might deliver his next cross. As mentioned, when Brentford pushed forward for their first, Perisic was a good ten yards behind the action.

Of course, this is the consequence of buying a wing-back who is a little long in the tooth. As AANP knows any too well, the march of Father Time is pretty relentless, and anyone expecting Perisic to motor up and down the flank is in for an unpleasant surprise.

All of which would be pretty vexing – but by golly, he does whip in some glorious crosses.

4. Tanganga

If Perisic can at least point to his crosses as justifying his participation, young Tanganga has no such get-out. Now one ropey defensive performance doth not a dreadful centre-back make, and the young bean will doubtless have better days, but alas this was a stinker. If there were an opportunity to make a pig’s ear of a contribution, Tanganga was first in the queue every time.

His headers were wildly mistimed, which was as peculiar as it was ghastly to observe, and he fared little better on terra firma. Even his distribution was below par, passes to Doherty often delivered with too much force or too little accuracy for the wing-back to do much more than scramble to keep the dashed thing within the confines of the playing surface.

His selection was understandable enough – he has featured in recent friendlies, and one would have supposed he were possessed of the sort of assets that would be useful enough in a tete-a-tete with a fellow like Ivan Toney.

Alas, you know you’ve had a pretty miserable afternoon when you look up to see your number raised and the awkward figure of Davinson Sanchez giving those limbs a swing in preparation to replace you; and it speaks volumes of Tanganga’s contribution that Sanchez of all people seemed a clear upgrade once stationed within the back-three.

5. Doherty and Kulusevski

On any other weekend this season, the news that Doherty had been preferred over the wretched Emerson would have been pretty sensational front-page stuff, but in truth when the team news filtered through, such had been the gap between fixtures that the seismic relevance of this pick failed to register in the AANP loaf.

And in fact, for much of the first half it didn’t have a particularly big impact either. I suppose one forgets quite how much the endless faux pas of Emerson prompted howls of rage and despair in those pre-World Cup days, and instead the sight of Doherty keeping his head down and not really doing anything particularly wrong or right in the first half just drifted by me.

But in the second half, once the concession of the second goal forced all concerned to buck up their ideas, Doherty’s assets as an attacking wing-back gently surfaced, not least in bobbing up at the back post as an auxiliary forward, when Perisic or Lenglet or whomever delivered crosses across the box.

However, the real star of the right flank was undoubtedly Kulusevski. Probably our brightest spark in the first half, he was a pretty key figure in the second as well, setting up our equalizer and generally thrusting himself slap bang in the middle of events whenever they unfolded on the right flank. The Kane-Son-Kulusevski triumvirate has still not quite clicked, but this seemed to be due to no fault of his.

With Doherty appearing vastly more attuned to what ought and ought not to be done as supporting act on the right, one imagines that Kulusevski will continue to play a pretty major role in the second half of the season – and Emerson, with a little luck, will have to make do with guest appearances from the sidelines.

6. Hojbjerg

A word in passing on Hojbjerg. At fault, to varying extents, he may have been for both goals conceded, he did a lot to atone for these mistakes in the rest of his game. As mentioned above, in that often lacklustre first half he seemed motivated to push matters along rather than wait for death to reach him, and in the second, as if to ram home the point that he was taking the gig seriously, he popped up with an extremely well-taken goal.

Hojbjerg’s all-round contribution was much-needed too, given that Bissouma, in the first half in particular seemed not to know what sport he was playing. His touch in the first half was oddly appalling, the ball bouncing off his size nines as if allergic to them, and the memory of a few imperious performances for Brighton last season seemed all the more distant.

Mercifully, he picked up a bit in the second half, but there could be no doubt that, particularly in the absence of Bentancur, Hojbjerg was the boss of the central areas yesterday.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-2 Liverpool: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Boos And The Improved Performance

The good gentlemen and women of the press would have it that our lot were booed off so venomously that the whole of North London quivered to its foundations and we were but a hop and a skip from cracks appearing in the sky. In truth I didn’t discern much more than a bit of a grumble on the half-time whistle.

Granted, all eleven in our ranks began proceedings with the usual, vexing caution, and for a while it appeared that that oft-repeated script was to receive another airing. For around ten minutes or so, their lot hogged the ball, our lot sat deep and AANP’s will to live began its bi-weekly course of ebbing away.

Indication of our stance on this matter was provided in those opening ten minutes on each flank, when counter-attacking opportunities presented themselves, but instead of carpe-ing the diem, the principals pirouetted one-eighty and set about shovelling the ball backwards, until it ended up at the feet of Lloris to bunt off into the wild.

Mercifully, the usual 45 minutes of this rot was bunged on its head pretty early. Our heroes thoughtfully hit upon the radical idea of conceding well inside the first act, a turn of events that had the pleasing consequence of jolting everyone into action a darned sight earlier than usual. Where normally the rich tapestry of life is pretty funereal for the entire first half, this time our heroes had the shackles removed as early as minute 11.

Proof that they had been yanked from the collective reverie was provided in the very next counter-attacking opportunity up the flank, when Emerson, seemingly struck by the realisation that we were trailing, did not even consider relaying the ball back eighty yards, but fed the ball forward to Kane in the move that led to Perisic bundling the thing against the post.

For the rest of the first half, I thought we made a fairly decent first of things. Perhaps not the sort of fare to arrest the attention and turn the knees to jelly, but a step up from the usual guff we peddle of a first half, and notably featuring the fairly rapid transfer of the ball from Player A to Player B at every opportunity. It was just an almighty dashed shame that Eric Dier chose to unleash his inner chump before half-time, because Liverpool, while having a bit about them, were not worth a two-goal lead, and our endeavours merited a little better.

Thereafter of course, the narrative changed course quite drastically and we gave them quite the second half going over; but the notions that we were poor first-half relations, and that the N17 air resounded with a chorus of half-time abuse, struck me as a little wide of the dial.

Oddly enough, in contrast to most games this season, that second half saw us put in one heck of a performance and fail to dredge up a result – the norm, of course, having been to dredge the up a R. but without much in the way of a P. And this having happened, I have to admit I vastly prefer putting in the performance, even in a losing cause.

This is not to say that I’d happily watch us lose by the odd goal every week as long as the patterns are pretty; the point is more that if we play to that standard, and eke out a dozen or so decent chances in the space of one half, then most fair-minded folk would agree that the goals would follow pretty swiftly. A performance of goodish intensity and stuffed with a few handfuls of creativity will be fun to drink in, and by the laws of probability is also likely to generate results. (Of course I have no hard science to support the last point, but were I to make that relate it in the galleries I’d expect a smattering of applause and a nodding head or two.)

2. Dier

As mentioned, Eric Dier’s temporary abandonment of grey matter cost us the game, set and match, so that will be something for him to reflect upon in any idle moments.

Much has been made of the chap’s renaissance within a back-three, pretty much since the dawn of Conte at N17; but by and large I have to admit to never having been fully convinced by the chap.

Yesterday’s moment can probably be popped to one side, in truth, for while fat-headed in the extreme it was nevertheless an isolated mistake. I am more broadly a little unsure of his value as a defender in more conventional scenarios. His worth, I suppose, lies in his positioning. When on the back-foot, the defensive five do tend to operate as one, shuffling hither and jimmying along thither, with nary a yard of space between them for dastardly types to squeeze through – and Dier being slap bang in the middle of those five, presumably deserves a back-slap and some kind words.

The dubious gaze I cast upon him is probably more to do with his conduct when stripped of the earnest fellows to his right and left. Leave Dier to take sole care of an opponent, and suddenly the heart-rate quickens a tad and the odds seem to lengthen. His lack of pace is generally papered over within a back-three, but is a deficiency nonetheless, and he is similarly a little sluggish on the turn. I may do the fellow a disservice, and I would certainly prefer him to Sanchez, but any move to reinforce at centre-back would receive some pretty enthusiastic backing from AANP Towers.

One of the big selling points of Dier is supposedly his passing range, and, as I’ve prattled on about often enough on these very pages, while he does possess a sparkling crossfield diagonal in his size nines, he seems to attempt the trick a little too often and too unsuccessfully for my liking.

Perhaps more irritatingly, particularly in light of recent first half struggles, when our lot meander sideways and backwards like lost sheep, Dier insists on dwelling on the ball as he surveys all around him – rather than just giving it to someone – anyone – and getting on with things. A sideways pass will not blow anyone’s skirt up, granted, but do it with the first or second touch and it at least forces the opposition to suck in a few more gulps of oxygen.

After falling behind yesterday, Messrs Lenglet and Davies seemed aware of the added urgency about the place, and accordingly shoved the ball along sharpish; Dier continued to swan along with the attitude of one of those rather odd fish who insist that time is a social construct and everyone can just get behind them and wait.

In the second half however, Dier, no doubt racked with remorse for his front-page idiocy of a half-hour earlier, set about doing his damnedest to make amends. Presumably under instruction from Our Glorious Leader, he bobbed up in advanced positions on the right, supplementing and occasionally replacing poor old Emerson. His right-sided adventure notably extended to swinging in a handful of deep and meaningful crosses, which no doubt made rather awkward viewing for all concerned when it became clear that they were of vastly superior quality to the Brazilian’s.

It created a most useful additional attacking tool, with he and Emerson able to double up on those in opposition – and triple up when Doherty and Kulusevski were flung on. For all my sharp words about his passing from the deep-lying centre-back spot, I was rather taken by his efforts as an additional pair of attacking legs on the right.

3. Bissouma

Tempting though it is to wax lyrical about the attacking cup that flowed over like the dickens in that second half, the eye was frequently drawn to the neat-and-tidying offered at the base of midfield by Yves Bissouma.

Even his most ardent followers would likely admit that the young bean has flitted a little in his lilywhite career to date. The occasional act of determination in extending a lower limb and raking the ball from an opponent has been greeted pretty enthusiastically, in the expectation of more to follow, only for him to disappear a tad. Comparisons to Harry Winks have not been lobbed around in the complementary way. In short, we have all been patiently waiting for the best of the chap.

And yesterday, the thought occurred that we might have started to see it. The hearty enthusiasm with which we attacked in the second half was great fun to watch, but did leave those at the back stretched out a little desperately whenever possession was lost and Liverpool advanced over halfway.

Mercifully, those were the moments that seemed to stir Bissouma into life, and like a particularly well-trained domestic pet he was on the scene no sooner had a distress call been sounded.

Those leggy tackles alluded to earlier became increasingly conspicuous. Rather eye-catching too, he being a nib who prefers not to go to ground if it can be helped, the slide-tackle seemingly considered an imprudent use of resources. Instead, he seems to burrow his way into the heart of the action, wrap a leg around the impostor in question and neatly drag the ball into his sphere, before doing something eminently sensible with it.

And fittingly for a chap who displays few airs or graces in going about his work, once said work is done and signed off, he has much about him of one of those heroic sorts on celluloid, who opt to disappear a little mysteriously into the shadows rather than hang around drinking in the acclaim. I’m not sure he does actually shrug the shoulders in the manner of one wondering what all the fuss is about, but if he did so it would be entirely in keeping with the general air with which he goes about his trade.

4. Kulusevski

Having been much-lamented in his absence, Kulusevski could probably have delighted the masses by his simple act of being present (his introduction certainly earned one heck of a reception), but, determined to make up for lost time, he spent little more than a minute acclimatising before he had seen to it that the ball was in the net and the game was on.

And goodness how his little cameo reminded us of what we had missed. Cutting infield and dabbing a cheeky diagonal pass in between defenders might not sound like much, but when performed live on set it served as a direct illustration of precisely the sort of guile we have been missing.

And that was just the goal; aside from that he had the unique ability to keep guessing friend and foe alike as he took up his spot in that inside-right sort of coordinate, and weighed up the relative merits of shimmying inside or out. With the aforementioned support of Messrs Dier and Doherty, and no end of lilywhited sorts queueing up for a feed in the centre, one got the impression that here was a viable attacking alternative to the effective but somewhat predictable approach of asking Perisic to find half a yard and swing in a cross.

No doubt he will need five minutes or so to restore the tissues to their previous vigorous state, but with Sweden absenting themselves from the World Cup one would hope he will be in pretty rude health come December 26th. A couple more guest appearances in our final two games before the break would whet the appetite nicely, and while it is a little imprudent to shove upon his back the hopes of the entire season, the theory that he is the fellow critical to our success has gained pretty feverish momentum in recent weeks – yesterday’s show-and-tell served only to fuel those particular flames.