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Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. The Eriksen-Modric Fantasy Clash

I don’t mind admitting that the heart skipped a lovestruck beat when I saw Messrs Modric and Eriksen line up in opposition in the centre of the Bernabeu. It was like one of those classic films in which an inspired casting director has called in a few favours and pulled a few strings, with the result that he has managed to obtain the services of two absolute giants of the silver screen, to peddle their muck alongside one another for the first time. Think Expendables 2 and you have the idea.

So there, in glorious technicolour, were Modric and Eriksen. Master and Apprentice if you will, of the control panel at N17. Creator Extraordinaire Past and C. E. Present. Even the dullest, most heartless observer would have salivated uncontrollably at the prospect.

Alas, what transpired was quite the mismatch. Modric, unsurprisingly, stuck to his part of the deal, and duly ran the show from first toot to last. All that we had known and loved on the hallowed turf of the Lane was blazing away again, from the man once voted Real’s Worst Ever Signing. The exquisite technique, vision and execution, all allied to an impressive degree of hither-and-thither scurrying. It was A-Game stuff, and our heroes had to be on their toes throughout to prevent the chap running riot (which, to their credit, they did with aplomb, but more on that later).

But alas, I said, and it’s worth repeating: alas. For Eriksen, who by any loose estimation has hit quite the heights already this season, was dreadfully off colour. The heir to the Moric mantle seemed to have attached left boot to right foot and vice versa, and possibly then tied the laces of both boots together for good measure. He barely struck a right note the whole evening. Dashed odd, and terrifically frustrating, because if ever we needed our String-Puller-In-Chief to earn the monthly envelope it was away to the European Champions.

He will have better days – in truth he can barely have worse – and his work-rate was as earnest as ever, but there could barely be fainter praise for the chap.

2. Harry Winks’ 60 Seconds Worth of Distance Run

Seasoned visitors to these 4 walls will know that the AANP cup overfloweth with good honest man-love for young Master Winks. That he is one of our own and lives the dream is certainly pleasing, and poetic and whatnot, but pleasing and poetic alone does not win football matches. But by heck what does win football matches is receiving the ball and instantly spinning the needle Northwards to see what is available, then ploughing forward via the best transport mode available, be it pass or dribble.

The chap is not faultless – his loss of possession on halfway resulted five seconds later in a one-on-one for one of the greatest goalscorers in history, not the sort of error of judgement one wants to make too readily.

But allowing for the fact that young Winks is mortal, and that to err will very much be an occasional part of his DNA, he held his own in the face of arguably the stiffest midfield test in world football today.

The assorted boxes ticked included “Body Strength to Protect the Thing”, “Defensive Awareness (Both Positioning and Tackling)” and, as mentioned above, a pleasingly anti-Jenas ability to prompt a forward move. Those doubting the young bean’s ability would be advised to soak up a replay of our goal, featuring Winks shrugging off a challenge and playing the short but effective forward pass which set the thing in motion down the right flank.

3. Aurier and Sissoko

A propos that right flank, quite the eventful evening for those on patrol. Aurier’s greatest hits in lilywhite now include an assist vs Real Madrid, a penalty conceded for a wild lunge, a red card for two wild lunges, and an absolute hatful of other wild lunges delivered at regular intervals, executed with groan-inducing wildness and as likely to succeed as the toss of a coin.

A rough diamond then, as a particularly kindly diplomat might put it. The cross for our goal was scrumptious, and after the initial 20-minute bedding-in period in which every member of our back-five had evidently been instructed to remain within spitting distance of our own penalty area upon pain of death, he gradually began to don his marauder’s hat and go marauding up the right with the best of them.

The link-up play with Sissoko certainly did have the occasional look of ‘Accident’ rather than ‘Design’, but effective is as effective does, and Aurier caused them problems.

That said, watching him perfect the needless art of the Wild Lunge did make me want to reach out and offer a consoling pat to the head of Kieran Trippier.

Elsewhere on the right, the broken clock that yesterday told the right time was Sissoko and his limb collection. The consensus is that the chap did a decent job, and he certainly contributed to the unlikely double-act with Aurier. However, I would hardly number myself amongst the converts. For every extravagant scorpion-kick control-on-the-run there was a wild swing and miss on the edge of his own area. It did the job, he played his part, so credit where due, but every passing day – and every errant pass – makes me yearn more for Dembele and Wanyama.

4. Lloris’ Disdain for Physics

To date this season Monsieur Lloris has been cultivating quite the eye-catching collection of monumental aberrations, but such big tent capers can be forgiven in an instant when one observes the frankly physics-defying stunts he pulls off in the name of the last line of defence.

As with the left-hand scoop vs Bournemouth at the weekend, his leggy block of Benzema’s header yesterday seemed to cause a rip in the very fabric of space-time. The thing just did not seem possible, and was worth toasting to the rafters every jot as much as a goal at t’other end.

The save from Ronaldo’s volley, while slightly more aligned to the laws of physics, was nevertheless similarly first-rate. The chap is a keeper, if you get my drift.

5. Pochettino’s Tactics

AANP has no bones about attributing the rightful name to a digging implement, and when our glorious leader erroneously gambled on Son at left wing-back vs Chelsea in the Cup last year, a bashing was duly administered which no doubt still makes the chap cower to this day.

Last night, the assorted absentees forced him into another tactical gamble, and a startling one it was too, with the teamsheet prompting around 18 different interpretations from seasoned onlookers of what shape and arrangement might transpire.

5-3-2 as it happened, in a pleasing throwback to AANP’s failed experiments on early 90s Championship Manager, but credit by the truckload to Pochettino for deciding upon it, and the lilywhite troupe for executing it.

Admittedly, the deep-defensive approach does induce palpitations by the bucketload amongst the observing throng, but by and large it worked. In the first half, after the early woodwork scare, Real struggled to get their paws into the meat of the thing, viz. our penalty area. Admittedly we in turn struggled to prevent the ball returning straight back at us, particularly at the start of the second half, but with Real looking vulnerable at the back, the “2” element of 5-3-2 proved a smart move, and we should have toddled off home with more than just the one goal.
Credit, on that cheery note, to Llorente, who, while no whippet, showed both strength and a delicate touch in his role as Robin to Kane’s Batman.

Other observations were that Son was surprisingly underused, and Danny Rose seems to have spent his entire rehabilitation period deprived of any grooming products, but in the absence of 4 of our first choice 11, a point away at the European Champions was a fantastic result. Qualification is all but guaranteed, and in the grand scheme of things, the development of this bunch continues apace. Marked progress from last year, the upward trajectory continues.

Huddersfield 0-4 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Kane

Crumbs. Every man and his dog is chipping in with his tuppence worth on the blighter at the moment, and by and large here at AANP Towers we tend to scoot past his heroics and instead commit pen to parchment on the rights and wrongs of our midfield cogs.

But it is becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss his ware-peddling as simply business as usual. The chap is scoring just about every type of goal conceivable at present, from every angle and distance conceivable. Unnervingly, his second yesterday had a hint of the Gareth Bales about it. And he does it all while still somehow conveying the impression that he is not one of life’s natural footballers, if you get my drift. Fingers crossed the young bean never grows old. Or gets injured.

2. Winks

Moussa Sissoko presumably has his fans – primarily within the Sissoko household one would imagine – but I’m sure mine was not the only heart that skipped a joyous beat when I saw Harry Winks’ name on the teamsheet. Lots of good, honest man-love is directed towards that young egg, and while it was hardly the most taxing afternoon of his life, it was nevertheless good to see him look the part throughout.

To the credit of the entire troupe, the absence of Dembele has not been felt too keenly in recent weeks, but although just about irreplaceable, the nearest thing to him seems to be young Winks. Admittedly they are very much man and boy when it comes to comparing physiques, but the general mentality of both on receipt of the ball seems to be to make a forward beeline, as long as physics allows.

Which may sound far from rocket science, but compared to, for example, the dire first half against Swansea, when the default of just about every man in lilywhite was a swift pirouette and backward pass, and The Winks Approach – borrowing laudably from The Dembele Playbook – provides numerous steps in the right direction. Literally, as well as metaphorically, which always reinforces the thing, what?

3. Alli

Not for the first time this season, it was a decidedly rummy offering from the lad. I’m all for the chap assuming the form of a fiend in loosely human shape when it comes to scything his way through an opposing defence like a knife through butter, but so far this season he has mooched around like an indignant schoolboy.

There was one flash of brilliance, which culminated in him hitting the post. And one might point to his assists last week, and infer that his creative juices floweth perfectly well, but dash it, the chap is off colour if ever I saw the thing.

Frankly one of his assists last week was woeful – leathering the ball into the air and forcing a diving header from Kane, when a simple rolled pass would have done the necessaries – and yesterday brought no improvement. The chap just seemed to have a chip on his shoulder, was unable to influence the game in the manner of, say Eriksen or the wing-backs, and not for the first time plumbed a depth with a quite unnecessary dive. Not at our club, thanks very much.

4. Eriksen and the Ardiles-Era Goal

It does not seem so long ago that I sighed like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and fretted over how Eriksen, for a man of his talent, ought really to be bossing games.

By golly, not any more. The chap absolutely runs the show these days, week after week. His first touch invariably takes his marker out of the game, he has the vision to spot a pass from a different postcode – not to mention the ability to deliver it – and on top of it, the chap simply never stops tearing up and down the turf.
Mildly ironic then, that what might have been The Best Goal Since Football Was Created, was demoted to the status of simply A Quite Marvellous Goal because Eriksen of all people did not quite deliver his line to perfection. The Davies goal was simply a thing of beauty. One-touch build-up so dizzying that I managed to keel over while sitting down watching, and finished with a generous dollop of élan by Davies, it truly felt like the appointment of Ossie Ardiles back in the mid-90s had finally borne fruit.

5. Sissoko and the Worst Goal Ever

From sublime to ridiculous. Having gone three up without exerting themselves terrifically, our heroes did the understandable, and hit the Snooze button in the second half. Rather a shame, I thought, because Huddersfield, while game for a fight, were marvellously naïve about things, racing up the pitch to salvage pride while leaving one of the planet’s hottest strikers to amuse himself as he pleased. As such, there were plenty more goals for the taking in the second 45.

Ultimately then, it fell to Sissoko. If the chap were to pour himself a glass of water I fancy he would make it look complicated, so when the moment came to tap in from a couple of yards, naturally he dragged unnecessary limbs, opposing defenders, stumbles, deflections and just about every other utterly needless element into proceedings.

I’m growing rather fond of the blighter, mind. Lots of effort in there, and one of these days the planets will align and he will turn in the best performance ever. But just as, against Dortmund a few weeks ago, Son scored the most Son-esque goal imaginable, yesterday Sissoko produced undoubtedly the most Sissoko-esque goal in history.

Spurs 0-0 Swansea: Four Lilywhite Observations

1. Sideways

So following the triumphant, mature and slightly lucky Champions League victory midweek, the shiny new tactic unveiled today seemed, if anything, to be to bore the opposition into submission. The sideways passes and keep-ball one understands to an extent, for there was little point in flinging hands heavenwards and lobbing passes straight down opposition gullets. But the fervent, unfailing desire to take three or four touches, pause to contemplate the mysteries of life, swivel and pass backwards was as excruciating to watch as it was ineffectual to pursue. It was as if they had decided en masse to pay homage to all that was most frustrating about Jermaine Jenas back in that halcyon era.

Moreover, it seemed that poor old Kieran Trippier was persona non grata in that first half. Quite what he did in midweek to upset his chums is beyond me, but for around the first half hour they only seemed willing to pass to him once hell had frozen over and all other alternatives exhausted.

Urgency at least increased in the second half, and but for the grace of the Almighty we might have had 2 or 3 (it is not generally the policy around these parts to comment on refereeing calls – the old beans make their calls as honestly as the rest of us), but a good few jugfuls of damage were done in that ponderous opening 45.

2. Son

Son will presumably be stroking the chin with a raised eyebrow and a pensive demeanour as he swills the evening whisky. Having delivered a peach of a performance in the guise of Second Striker on Wednesday – including the most Son-esque goal imaginable – the unfortunate young thing found himself square pegged into the cursed left wing-back berth vs Swansea, as the Brains Trust started to get a little carried away with things.

Pre-match I suppose the rationale was understandable. Son at wing-back vs Chelsea is an accident waiting to happen, but at home to a Swansea team erring a mile or so on the side of caution the risk seemed somewhat diminished. And in truth there was precious little defending required of the chap, particularly with Vertonghen behind him. Moreover, given that his Wednesday night goal gestated on the left wing, one again eyeballs the pre-match rationale, and at least understands, if not necessarily heartily endorsing.

As it transpired, however, the plan was utterly rotten, and while Ben Davies peered on from the snug seats, the left wing-back vicinity proved quite the headache.

3 Ever Increasing Levels of Tactical Bedlam

As things wore on, the already convoluted plan was twisted into increasingly unrecognisable form, and alarm bells gonged away like there was no tomorrow. Our Glorious Leader’s every tactical move began to resemble a bleary-eyed AANP desperately trying to wring success out of a Football Manager shambles in the wee small hours of his University days, with plans being ripped up and replaced with something even more outlandish every 5 minutes or so.
Moving the flailing giraffe that is Sissoko to right wing-back, and shoving Trippier out to left-wing back – while Ben Davies peered on from the snug seats – was certainly rather unconventional, but the point of the exercise seemed to be to thrust Son slap-bang into the centre of things.

And credit where due, Son has the size 8s quick enough to make himself a nuisance and conjure up a little magic. Trippier was fairly neutered on the left, and Sissoko fairly ineffective on the right – but at least Son was making a fist of things in attack.

Still no goal, mind, so Pochettino dipped further into his box marked “Curiouser and Curiouser”. In desperate need of a goal, and with Dembele and Llorente available – and Ben Davies peering on from the snug seats – a second right-back was thrown on. AANP automatically reached for the nearest whisky.

And then, with four centre-backs still in residence, and a right-back still at left-back – while Ben Davies peered on from the snug seats – Son was removed. AANP’s head began to throb.

Easy to mock from the comfort of AANP Towers of course, and we did come within a gnat’s wing of scoring one way or another, but le grand fromage has to live and die by these calls, and the decisions not to include Davies, nor involve Dembele at any point, seemed dashed peculiar with each passing minute.

4. Llorente

A glass was raised on deadline day when Senor Llorente was ushered into the fold. A cursory glance was enough to reveal that numerous boxes were ticked by the arrival of a forward with Premiership experience, a clutch of medals, of decent height and strength, and relatively content to peer on from the buffers as Master Kane peddles his wares. On top of which, Llorente allows for the introduction of a conventional Plan B, should we desperately need a goal in the dying embers of a game.

So, cometh the hour and whatnot. With 15 or so remaining, Llorente entered the fray.

And was dutifully ignored by just about everyone in lilywhite.

What the devil is the point in introducing a robust, burly sort into the attack if there is no inclination to loft him one or two via the aerial route and give the opposition a new point to consider? Heaven knows. I think by that stage the tactical instruction was “Every man for himself”, because nothing seemed to make sense and it all made me want to find the nearest wall and bang my head against it.

Such is life. Wembley or not – and the greater expanses of land do seem to impinge a dash upon the whole high-press routine – this is not the first time our heroes have entered into something of a to-do if they fail to score early. On this occasion, however, the AANP finger of blame jabs squarely towards team selection, and our glorious leader.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Everton 0-3 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

After the anti-climactic Wembley jollies, and general head-scratching of the transfer window, this was a welcome return to that which we all know and love, what?
1. Eriksen
Anyone brazen enough to argue against Eriksen being Man of the Match would need to produce a fairly ripping sort of body of evidence. The young bean was at the peak of his powers, managing to roll through a range of party tricks – from deft flicks to incisive first-time passes – without ever giving the impression that he were some sort of mere show-pony or luxury item.
Must be something to do with the way he marries dreamy technique with a workrate that is right up there with all those alpha-males referred to, I believe, as “elite athletes”. Frankly just the sight of Eriksen scurrying indefatigably that way and this is enough to make me want to lie down in the AANP hammock and splash myself a whisky, but I rather suspect that if the whistle did not blow on these things he would still be dashing around chasing things today.
Admittedly Everton hardly beset him on all sides with challenges and whatnot, seemingly preferring instead the rather optimistic approach of leaving his arrest in the hands of Mother Nature. Since she was in no such mood, Eriksen was free to dictate the thing with wild and gay abandon, and even chipping in with a poacher’s goal. The whole team purred, and Eriksen was the preeminent vocal chord.
2. Sissoko

Master Sissoko, however, was a decidedly different kettle of fish. In truth, I am not entirely sure what to make of his performance yesterday, because it was quite the assault on one’s senses.
The poor blighter is frequently pilloried – and I’ll issue a swift mea culpa here and be done with it, because within these four walls we have rarely hesitated to greet his work with a heartfelt yowl of despair.
Yesterday, on the other hand… Well, where to begin? The chap certainly was not lacking in effort, that much is for sure. And in a sense, one can well understand why he was brought into the fold a year ago, and why even now, 12 inauspicious months later, our glorious leader opts to start him, in central midfield of all things. With vast limbs barely under control, advancing in a ball of energy, he absolutely resembles the queen alien from Aliens in particularly irate mood – and who the dickens would want that galloping at them at full pelt? The Everton players facing him were pretty much diving for cover.
Oh that there would be an end-product to complement all that unstoppable stuff that goes before. Yesterday was very nearly the day, as it happened, for he certainly had his opportunities. The first half close-range effort was hit meatily enough, but blocked by a blue leg; the second half flying header was delivered with all the power of a runaway steam engine, but alas, the compass was wildly awry.
And then, in another ball of limbs, the poor egg’s afternoon was over, with some sort of muscle strain, which is rotten luck. Should someone, somehow ever refine those rough edges he could be one heck of a player. Moreover, every now and then one suspects that all the little nuts and bolts will fall into place and he will deliver an absolutely irresistible belter of a performance that will elevate him to cult hero status. By and large however, I suspect that yesterday and all its nearlys, cocooned in limb after uncontrollable limb, will pretty much epitomise the lilywhite career of Sissoko.
3. Davies
It seems a rather dreary prospect to switch from Sissoko’s mesmerising limb-flails to neat little Ben Davies, a man who a chum once described as having the world’s most boring haircut, but Davies was another who delivered a jolly effective performance yesterday.
And not for the first time either, which is pretty darned handy given the unfortunate bobbins that Danny Rose has been spouting to amuse himself. Once again aided by the generosity of the Everton mob, who preferred to sit back and assess rather than thunder in and challenge, Davies was quite the useful outlet, putting the “wing” into “wing-back” at every opportunity, and setting up approximately 1.5 goals in the process. Made at least one notable defensive interception too, which was a handy box to tick.
4. Davinson Sanchez
Another chap you would not particularly want to see haring down in your direction, I suspect. Not a flawless performance, but decent enough for his first start, and he seemed to navigate his way around a brand new back-three without too many problems. One suspects that this could be the start of something wonderful. Beast-like, and wonderful.
5. Lloris’ latest clanger
Everton certainly did not ever look like carving us open, so to jimmy things along a tad Monsieur Lloris took to feeding them an open goal, on a plate. They missed, naturally, but still – this rot needs to stop, n’est ce pas? A couple of months ago Lloris was doing something similar for France, and the mess he made of Chelski’s late winner a few weeks ago was not his first faux pas in lilywhite.
I would never dream of labelling him anything other than a near-deity between the sticks, but these embarrassed coughs at his little concentration lapses really ought to stop now.
So good times rolleth once more. Wembley might once again throw spanners into every available works in the coming week or so, but away wins at a newly-promoted side on the opening day of the season, and then an Everton side widely lauded for making a slew of tasty signings, suggests that our heroes are, broadly, fighting the good fight in the right sort of way.

Spurs 1-2 Chelsea: Four Lilywhite Points

A mathematically-minded chum rather threw me this week when he told me there are 10 types of folk in this world – those who understand binary numbers and those who don’t, apparently – but I presume that 2 more of those types will include those who thought our heroes controlled this particular joust, and those who thought Chelski bossed the thing like a team of evil puppetmasters.

Maybe it is the three decades of bias, but I fall into the former camp (that is to say, backing our heroes, rather than dabbling in binary numbers). Dashed travesty this one, if you ask me. Admittedly there was a slightly odd opening salvo, in which everyone bar Dembele looked like they’d just landed at a foreign airport and didn’t quite know what to do next. Thereafter, however, a switch was flicked, and our lot increased the pressure biff by biff.

For five minutes either side of half-time we gave our esteemed guests a most thorough going over, prodding and poking like there was no tomorrow, lobbing in corners, hammering away and shooting whenever the nearest defender paused for breath. To no avail, naturally, but it seemed to cause a commotion. And generally from then until the Dier-Son swapsie (more on that later), the central thread of the game seemed to adhere to a highly intricate pattern of:

a) Spurs attack
b) Chelski clear
c) Repeat.

But, as mentioned, there is a sizeable element of the population who have quite pointedly made clear they consider this sentiment to be drivel of the highest order, which I suppose means that this one can be marked down as a triumph for democracy.

(If a preamble is longer than the meat of the thing, is it still a preamble?)

1. DEMBELE

If it is incisive and highly original insight you seek I can only really apologise and suggest you amuse yourself in other ways for the next paragraph or two, because this point is not exactly a shock to anyone: Dembele is quite something.

I know it; you know it; just about every team-mate interviewed seems to name him as the most talented chap in the troupe; and I’m pretty sure that if you read any piece of prose ever committed to paper you will find a subtle reference to the same effect – so safe to say it is common knowledge.

But by golly, it is nevertheless still a sight to behold, that astonishing hybrid of ox-like strength and balletic driftiness. All around him took a good half hour to adjust their radars and practise the whole right-leg-followed-by-left-leg routine a few times, but not Dembele. Straight into the action from the off. Marvellous stuff. And whenever spirits flagged thereafter too he seemed happy enough to drop a shoulder and charge into the melee, in that languorous style of his, oppo defenders bouncing off the forcefield that surrounds him like small children off a playground bully. Frankly there are times when I want to abandon the notion of keeping score, and just watch the chap cut a swathe wherever he pleases.

2. WANYAMA

By contrast, this was not one that will go down in Wanyama family folklore. Absent from the starting eleven last week, Wanyama definitely tootled around the place with the air of a chap couple of gins short of his traditional morning snifter.

The usual, violent dispossessing of foes was generally rattled off straightforwardly enough, but when it came to pinging the ball to someone – anyone – in lilywhite, the blighter came across like a man intent upon massively over-complicating the basic principles of binary code. Umpteen touches were taken when he really only needed one – to roll the dashed thing square to a chum. All easy enough to say from the AANP vantage point, admittedly, but thusly do cookies crumble.

Anyway, to top the thing off he then dithered once more, crucially, at the death, allowing our guests to pinch the ball from him once again, fire straight at Lloris’ feet and still score, curse them all.

3. THE DIER-SON SUBSTITUTION

Nothing wrong with it on paper, really, was there? Boxes were ticked, votes counted, experts consulted – and the verdict was pretty uncontroversial: Son for Dier. We were one down, had been hammering away, without making too many entries in the column marked “Clear-Cut and Glorious Chances”, and with Chelski failing to hold up the ball an axis of Dembele, Wanayam and Dier seemed rather to miss the point of the exercise- namely that we needed a sprinkle of je ne sais pas in the final third. Son for Dier (already on a yellow card) made sense.

But oddly enough, things did not quite pan out as planned. Now it would be a little dramatic to suggest that an absolute meltdown occurred, once this change was made, and that women and children ran for the hills as our visitors ran riot across Wembley.

Yet nevertheless, for the 10 minutes or so following the change, the lilywhite grip on things (as much as grips can grip a 0-1 deficit) seemed to loosen. When Chelski repelled our attacks, they starting turning them into counter-attacks of their own, the impudent rotters, and the possibility of 0-2 started to make its presence known, whereas since half-time the case for 1-1 had started to seem near-irresistible. It was pretty disturbing stuff.

4. SILVER LININGS AND WHATNOT

Ultimately, the Son-Dier change became one of the least relevant footnotes of our time. There was an element of risk attached – and we scored anyway. And then conceded. So, ultimately, what the dickens does it matter?

This, however, was one of those defeats that left me genuinely quite pleased with the manner in which we went about things. Actually, that’s an untruth. More than anything it left me incredibly bitter and twisted and snapping at anyone within earshot that the whole blasted thing was JUST NOT FAIR.

But additionally, as I poured the evening whisky, I did muse that we had had a jolly good stab at the thing, so somebody somewhere probably deserved a toast. In the context of a new season, and 20-odd games at Wembley, it was something of a relief to see us boss possession against the champions and generally play much the same way we had done last season. Frankly, I had feared much worse, particularly given the absolute whale of a summer being had by the prophets of doom, who were warning about the larger Wembley dimensions as if they signalled an impending apocalypse.

So 1-2 was not the desired outcome at all, and the manner of the thing was absolutely blinking galling – with the joy, and then the despair, damn their eyes – but there was enough to suggest that this could be another half-decent campaign.

(Apart from the squad depth issue, but that’s a tale for a different day).

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Liverpool 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

Having not strung consecutive passes together since around 2014, and suffered defeats in recent weeks to such behemoths as Swansea and Southampton, there was a fairly morbid inevitability about the fact that Liverpool would rediscover their joie de vivre against us. Of course they would.

1. Davies

Credit where due, our hosts set off like a pack of hyenas spurred into action by the dinner gong at a zoo. Every time one of our lot were in possession they were rather rudely biffed and barged by at least two or three of the blighters in red, and naturally enough the mistakes duly flowed like it was open season on the things.

Our heroes certainly did not help themselves. Au contraire, they seemed fairly intent on doing their utmost to help Liverpool out of their new year slump, going the extra mile as it were. Which was neighbourly I suppose, but, it struck me, seemed to fly in the face of the overall mission imperative. Wanyama started this rot, setting his radar to “Liverpool Shirt” and letting fly with a mind-boggling five-minute spell in which all he did was intercept the ball and ping it straight to the nearest opponent. The brow furrowed.

Or at least the AANP brow furrowed. By contrast, one could almost see the eyes of Ben Davies light up as he noted the errant Wanyama peddling this insanity. Against Middlesborough and Wycombe and the like, Davies is pretty much the man for the occasion – sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but by and large doing enough to force the deal through. However, one suspects that you or I might be the man for the occasion against that lot. Liverpool away represents a different kettle of fish, something far likelier to test the iron will and moral fibre. This was Davies’ opportunity to prove himself as one of those beasts of the jungle who growls “Jump” and has his fellow beasts hopping to it pronto.

Alas, the reality that transpired was bleak, second-rate and error-strewn. Liverpool rather cruelly opted to hone in on Davies, having identified him as the weaker of the sentry guards on duty, and by golly were they were rewarded. Davies resembled a man who did not quite know which sport he was playing. Helpfully abandoned by Son, and without the reassuring presence and pristine side-parting of Jan Vertonghen beside him, the young bean floundered out of his depth and had his head dunked beneath the surface time and again by Liverpool. One would sympathise, but there is not really much room for sentiment in this narrative.

2. Dier

In a touching show of solidarity with his Welsh chum, Eric Dier peddled a similar line in incompetence, from his vantage point at centre-back. Dwelling on the ball, and displaying a turn of pace that would give hope to passing tortoises, he represented another ill-disguised chink in the lilywhite armour, as Christmas came early for our hosts.

The alarming sentiment continues to gain momentum that Dier is a centre-back who is woefully ill-equipped to perform as one half of a centre-back pairing. Within a back-three his lack of pace matters less, and as midfield cover he is able to slot in for his full-backs and mop things up neatly enough. But plant him at the core of a back-four, with little more than a “How-To” guide and his own autonomy, and the chap flounders. And flounder he did with some majesty yesterday, being directly culpable for the second, and generally unable to cope with the red shirts buzzing all around him.

(To his credit he flew in with one glorious sliding tackle to spare various blushes as Liverpool ran rampant at two-nil, but all a bit late at that juncture, what?)

It made for fairly ghastly viewing, but stepping back from things and giving the chin a little stroke, one starts to ponder the broader, philosophical questions of life, existence and Eric Dier. Not good enough to play in a back-four, and displaced in midfield by Wanyama, where does the young fish fit in?

3. Resources

If you don’t mind me veering away from the minutiae of the match itself, and instead trotting a little further down this existential line, the nub of the thing seems to be that our squad is not quite the all-singing, all-dancing, multi-talented troupe needed for the rigours of this lark. The first-choice XI is a match for the very best in the land, make no mistake. But take out Rose and Vertonghen, and we are a dashed sight weaker. Take out Kane, and poor old Janssen lollops on to stumble over his own feet. Remove Eriksen and it’s the uncontrollable limbs of Cissoko. Young Winks has some dash about him for sure, but he’s no Dembele.

And so on. Not exactly a novel train of thought, but while we were able to gloss over things in previous weeks, the lack of squad depth was exposed in fairly pointed fashion yesterday, and it made for some pretty awkward viewing.

4. Dembele

Still, amidst this rather dank state of affairs there were nevertheless one or two moments to stir the soul, and they typically emanated from the sturdy frame of Dembele. Noting with razor-sharp judgement that he was not about to receive a jot of support from any of his chums in lilywhite, Dembele set about on three or four separate occasions trying to right all the wrongs of the day single-handedly. It was like one of those tragic war-films they show on Sunday afternoons, when our half-dozen heroes are pinned into some sort of bunker by hordes of the enemy, and one particularly selfless old bean decides that the only way in which anyone is going to make it to the end credits is if he makes a noble dash right into the heart of enemy heartland and takes down a few dozen opponents, sacrificing himself in the process.

Dembele had clearly had enough of the imbecilic frippery of Davies, Dier et al, and repeatedly tried to rescue the day be single-handedly weaving his way through massed ranks of red shirts. Alas, he generally made it past two or three before being crowded out and dragged to his doom, but it stirred the loins somewhat to see this will to win.

5. Discipline

Things improved a mite in the second half, to the extent that we were not overrun quite as much, but the game was long gone by then, and we were frankly lucky to be only two down.

There were echoes of Stamford Bridge last season as the game wore on and our lot struggled to make the slightest dent in proceedings, as they instead resorted to losing their heads and lashing out with all the subtlety of a team of raging bulls in the ceramics aisle. Led, naturally, by Dele Alli, half the team got themselves cautioned for a stream of fairly wild and unseemly hacks and stamps (although young Winks can feel hard done by on that count, poor lamb). One should probably tut and pontificate, but in truth they were only doing on the pitch what I rather felt like doing from the sidelines. The whole thing was bally frustrating, and not least because Liverpool have been so poor in recent weeks.

However, just over the mid-point of the season, and with only home games vs Arsenal and Man Utd remaining of the top six, we are fairly well set. A Top Four finish is eminently doable. Quite what fresh madness awaits when the Europa League returns is anyone’s guess, and a couple of injuries could blast our season out of the water, but as long as this defeat does not trigger a slump there should not be too much cause of concern.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Man City 2-2 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Observations

Pretty sure I’m not the only one of lilywhite persuasion who would have biffed up to this pre-kick with spirits a little sunnier than normal. “Complacent” is not quite the term, but there was an unmistakeable whiff of optimism in the air, which is not usually the case when preparing to break bread with this lot.

For a start we were humming the tune of six successive wins, including over the Champions elect no less, while City were licking the wounds of a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of those connoisseurs of middle-of-the-road existence, Everton. Frankly every soothsayer worth her salt was urging a gentle wager on the Good Ship Hotspur ahead of this one.

1. First-Half Troubles

Naturally enough then, all that sunny optimism dissipated in a puff of smoke pretty sharpish once the whistle went and horns were locked.

The whole affair appeared to be a precise reverse of what had happened when we entertained City back at the Lane a few months back. Then we had harried and harassed our visitors from the opening minute, pressing high and not letting either their ‘keeper or defenders a moment’s peace and quiet to dwell on the ball and dreamily stroll through the North London air.

Fast forward a few months and it was Lloris and his assorted chums being hounded down at every opportunity. And by heck did the mistakes duly flow from our boots. Seemingly intent on playing the ball out of defence as if the future of civilisation depended on it, our lot did not let a minute go by without misplacing a pass, or pinging the thing out of play, or trying to dribble around every dashed person in Manchester, all the time doing so within 30 yards of goal.

Steps needed to be taken, and Our Glorious Leader wasted little time in reaching into his bag of tricks for some textbook tinkering. First of all Dier was shoved forward into midfield, and we reverted to a back-four. Then at half-time poor Wimmer was given the hook and Son was tossed into the mix, in a move deliciously reminiscent of Butch and Sundance opting to shoot their way out of trouble.

2. Wimmer Woes

On a side note, life has not smiled much upon young Wimmer this season, what? Having brought the house down last season when asked to deputise for Vertonghen, his fortunes have slid decidedly towards the iffy side of the spectrum this time round. Things pretty much plateaued for the chap with his own-goal versus our arch-rivals, since when he has generally just mooched around like an unhappy walrus, the first to be sacrificed if ever the team needs a lift.

3. Lloris

Having ridden their luck like an entire team of champion jockeys in the first half, as City dominated the thing but shot just about everywhere but the net, in the second half the wheels came off in fairly spectacular fashion.

All the tinkering in the world could not legislate for plain dashed shoddiness from the goalkeeper of all people, and before you could fathom the thing we were just about dead and buried.

It’s a rummy old lot, the goalkeeper’s. Make a mistake in my day job, and the worst that will happen is that I will have to bash out a fairly meaningless email to some jolly on the floor above. Should the waiter take his time in delivering the gammon to my plate, I will give him a knowing eye, the meat will be hurried along and life will pretty much continue apace.

But if a goalkeeper gets his angles wrong when attempting to rush from his line and head clear, or simply take his eye of the ball as a regulation cross bobbles his way, the game is pretty much up for him. Not much margin for error, as within a millisecond Ball is meeting Net and every man and his dog are tutting with disapproval.

Now even the most fickle amongst us Spurs fans would be hard pressed to criticise Monsieur Lloris, who by and large is recognised as one of the best in the business, and regularly displays all manner of physics-based sorcery in the name of keeping things secure at the back. But make no mistake, this was an absolute stinker. (Mercifully, he seemed to get them out of his system and make a couple of saves later that kept the scores level.)

4. “Character” etc

Much will presumably be made of the fact that we came back from two down away from home, as a mark of our character, and tenacity and spirit, and other such terms as trotted out by do-gooders. Not a bit of it from where I sat. Our heroes were by and large pretty awful, to a man.

It did not particularly appear that a marked change in mindset occurred at 2-0 down. They produced a couple of marvellously slick moves to score twice (and by golly they really were crackingly put together), but that aside still looked comfortably second-best throughout. This was not one of those matches where they hammered away and piled on the pressure before finally coming good. All rather rummy, having turned in one of the best performances one could remember just a week ago, but such is life.

To pootle off with a point after that therefore actually feels rather uplifting, in a sneaky sort of way. The disallowed goal – and exuberant celebrations that accompanied it – merely added to the fun of the thing. On top of which, there was also the City apoplexy that greeted their refused penalty appeal. All marvellous fun.

We may be down to third, but four points from two games versus City is not to be sniffed at, particularly given the general dreariness of our performance yesterday.

Spurs 4-0 WBA: Four Lilywhite Observations

Enjoying Themselves

Have you ever seen a set of players just enjoying life as much our lot did yesterday? While the pre-match prognostications had naturally been cheery thoughts of how West Brom derailed us last year, and we rarely beat them, and wouldn’t it just be so very Tottenham to follow up a win over Chelsea with a pickle against WBA – our heroes sauntered onto the pitch as if they had been having the mother of all jollies in the changing room, and were determined that nothing as irrelevant as a referee’s whistle was going to interrupt their fun.

West Brom trotted out with miserable countenances and a 6-3-1 formation, rather like a chap who sits next to you at a dinner party and spends the night complaining that he loathes nothing more than being at dinner parties. Mercifully, our lot could not have given two hoots, and spent the afternoon running rings around them. Such was the merriment that Wanyama was bursting through the middle to create the opening for the first goal; Danny Rose was racing around in the right wing position to set up the second; and a pre-injury Jan Vertonghen was lapping up every opportunity to bound forward in search of whatever glory was going spare. It was an absolute riot.

West Brom, with their hangdog expressions, dutifully chased shadows, but I cannot remember seeing a team dominate possession quite as much as our heroes, in that first half in particular. Seasons changed and empires rose and fell before West Brom got a foot on the ball. In years gone by our heroes have struggled against brick walls and locked doors when faced with these defensive mobs, but yesterday it seemed they could carve out chances at will.

Eriksen

‘Derided’ is a strong old term, but the chap has certainly taken the odd verbal biff from these quarters, in months gone by, for not really turning his abundant talent into the full twenty-four carat once on the pitch and in the thick of battle. But by golly there were no such concerns yesterday. If there were a whiff of magic in the air, Eriksen was more often than not in the vicinity, wand in hand.

Admittedly charging down free-kicks in his capacity as a one-man wall was not really in the remit, but in so-doing the well-mannered young bean seemed to reinforce the view that pretty much everything he touched would turn to the bright stuff. There were tricks and flicks, scything diagonals, and generally puppet-mastery of the highest order.

And it has been thus for several weeks now. The chap does occasionally seem to stumble upon these purple patches, and for a couple of months makes the game look as easy as the nabbing of candy from a minor. Which is obviously marvellous stuff, and six wins in a row smacks of us making balefuls of hay while this particular sun has shone. The nub of the thing is that Eriksen keeps up this form. The whole system is working dreamily at the moment, and there are creative options a-plenty – as West Brom will wearily testify – but an on-song Eriksen does make the various bits and pieces tick in most pleasing manner.

Cracking Goals

When up against a six-man back-line – not to mention a goalkeeper who struts around with the air of a man who knows he has in fact been sired by one of the gods – that early opening goal is pretty dashed crucial. All that dominance might have become something of a millstone if we had trundled up to half-time without a breakthrough, and as such any old opening goal would have been gratefully received.

We were rather spoiled then by a selection of goals which may not necessarily live too long in the memory, but which were classy enough to be waved into clubs with strict dress codes nonetheless. The little pinged passes and precise finish for the opener were slick enough to be presented to visiting dignitaries.

Admittedly the second had as much luck about it as guile, as the persistence of Rose and Dembele were rounded off by the umpteen deflections, but if you ping 20 shots at the opposition goal, one would expect one of them to be coated in good fortune.

As for the third, I have already sent my application for membership to its very own fan club. The accuracy of the drilled Walker pass was bona fide eye of the needle stuff; and one would have to be a particularly curmudgeonly sort – a West Brom player perhaps – not to enjoy the acrobatic scissor-kick finish.

Then there was the scooped Dele Alli pass for the fourth. Frankly, there should be a law against such stuff.

Vertonghen Injury Repurcussions

Alas, there was a blot on this particular escutcheon, in the right-angled shape of Jan Vertonghen’s ankle. The beauty of this current all-conquering vintage is that the entire XI seem to play their roles to perfection and gel with one another absolutely dreamily. Remove one part, and… well. One rather wonders.

Ben Davies performend the role commendably enough during the Euros, and the alternative would presumably be Kevin Wimmer, whose performances so far this season have not quite matched the impressive heights of last season. I rather hope that the last cab on this particular rank is reversion to a flat back four, because unless Vertonghen and Alderweireld are at its helm this is not a structure exactly oozing infallibility from its every pore. One for the Brains Trust to ponder over.

The injury to Vertonghen does also direct a little attention towards what is, if not exactly an elephant, then certainly a mammal of relatively conspicuous proportions. This starting XI has an all-singing, all-dancing and frankly all-conquering feel about it. However, once the reserves are called upon – and the Europa League soirees kick off once more – I fear that cracks might appear in this thing. Worries for another day perhaps. This was arguably our finest, and most enjoyable performance of the season.

Spurs 2-0 Villa: Five Lilywhite Observations

From the sublime of the markedly, almost scarily professional dismantling of Chelsea, to the pointedly less sublime of an FA Cup 3rd round win against lower league gubbins. This looked every inch the performance of reserves that was advertised in the trailer.

1. First Half Snoozing

The first half was marvellously soporific stuff, as players, fans and the viewing public alike settled in for a gentle Sunday afternoon nap. Naturally enough our first-reserves could not be faulted for effort, but for all their busy scurrying the product tended generally to be little more than a pass to the left, followed by a pass to the right. Even Mike Dean seemed rather uninterested by events on the greenery.

The most notable element of that snoozy opening 45 was the sight on the Villa bench of one Stephen Clemence, a man who once had the pleasure of sharing a nightclub urinal with AANP back in the 90s heyday. It was that sort of half really.

There was a dreadful lack of that neat trickery just outside the penalty area that Messrs Eriksen and Alli have turned into such a dreamy artform. The quick shifting of the orb, and busy off-the-ball buzz, was woefully absent. That Villa fielded literally a back-six did not really help matters, but that was almost the point of the thing, for they were hardly about to rock up to the gates, wave a white flag and politely request to be butchered.

2. Cissoko

Amongst those given a rare chance to flaunt his wares was Cissoko. One moment in the first half rather captured the chap in a microcosm, as he picked up the ball just inside his own half, surged past two or three opponents like some sort of warrior buffalo, then trod on the ball whilst running at full pelt, squirting it onto an opponent whereby it flew straight back off his shin and catapulted fifty yards forward into touch. Not something you or I could have done if we had practised for weeks.

Credit where due however, and the chappie’s day improved a notch or several in the second half. He will probably never be the subtlest bean on the counter, but that head-down/chest-out/limbs-everywhere/charge-right-through-you approach reaped a dividend or two as the game wore on. On a couple of occasions he managed to burst right through the Villa defence like a fist through a paper bag, and while he fluffed his lines after fashioning for himself a one-on-one, he did nifty job of setting up Son for our second.

3. Janssen. Sigh.

It was case of the old plus ca change and whatnot for poor old Janssen. Everything we have seen before, from the plodding attempts to outpace his man, to the well-weighted lay-offs, the look of a man who won’t score if he plays for another thousand years, right through to the early withdrawal. Nothing a seasoned watcher would not have predicted. Poor egg.

4. Alli and a Change in Fortune

Insult duly toddled along and positioned himself next to injury, as Janssen’s replacement, Dele Alli, promptly brought with him a change of tempo and fortunes. Alli offered oodles more movement and creativity on the ball, and the win pretty much took care of itself.

5. Other Semi-Bright Spots

On an underwhelming afternoon, there were a few half-decent performances. N’Koudou as ever looked like a lively sort of pup when he was flung on; young Winks gave another mature and feisty performance; Carter-Vickers at the back did little wrong, albeit without enduring the most testing afternoon.

Frankly, the point of the exercise was probably three-pronged: avoid a replay; avoid injuries/suspensions; win the dashed thing. As such, and with a welcome break for the regulars, this can go down as that most curious of beasts – an eminently forgettable, unqualified success.

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. A Distinct Lack of Energy

Well I can’t say that did much to whelm me. It’s not yet Christmas and the whole bally season already feels dreadfully flat. Even the 5-0 win last week was an oddly muted affair, with all and sundry still lamenting the Champions League debacle. Today it seemed that our heroes simply turned up and expected to walk off with the thing, with a distinct lack of hum or ding about them.

The peculiar game plan seemed to be to construct a series of pretty triangles between our own goalkeeper and defence, before losing the ball around halfway. To their credit the players seemed to nail this. A triumph of sorts then, but not really of much value in the grand scheme of things when all and sundry return to the ranch and compare notes.

The principle of playing out from the back is of course noble and gallant, but when not a smidgeon of creativity exists further forward one does rather wonder why they bother at all. More often than not it seemed to be left to Dembele and Wanyama to provide the creative spark, but with little movement around them it was a fairly lost cause.

2. Backwards Passing

Eriksen in recent weeks seems to have rediscovered his joie de vivre, and as such we peered eagerly in his direction for a little to joy to spread around the place, but today he seemed content to pass the ball backwards as often as not.

By and large the malady spread throughout the team, only really punctuated by such a bevy of misplaced passes that one wondered if some sort of private, festive game were underway within the dressing-room, in the finest tradition of footballers’ japery. If this were indeed the case then Kane presumably wins for striking the jackpot with a six-yard pass straight to an opponent that set up the winning goal. Bingo.

3. Lamela and the Pressing Game

That inadvertent assist appeared to be one of only a two or three occasions on which Kane touched the ball at all, which summed up the dreary state of things. Both he and Alli seemed to decide that today was absolutely 100% not the day to play the Pochettino high pressing game, and when the two furthest forward scoff at the notion the whole idea rather loses its way.

As such, I suddenly found myself with the most peculiar yearning to see Lamela back on the pitch. The young imp has never exactly proven himself to be a game-changer of the ilk that one would expect for £30 million, but he dashed well knows how to hurtle towards an opponent with the express intention of hurrying him along and breathing down his neck, what?

The absolute archetype of the pressing game was our win against Man City earlier in the season, and in a fixture like today’s, with a chance to put some daylight between ourselves and our nearest challenger, it would have seemed appropriate to replicate that particular formula. Alas not. No Lamela, and little in the way of high-pitch press from Kane, Alli or any of their chums. Instead, a gentle and harmless drift towards defeat.

4. Sissoko, Unlikely Near-Hero

Things perked up briefly around ten minutes into the second half, but by and large there seemed little likelihood of our lot stumbling into parity, until Sissoko of all people tripped over himself and landed on the pitch. To date, Sissoko has come across as a chap who can neither bat, bowl nor keep wicket, if you get my drift, so his introduction did little more than elicit a standard groan or two from the watching faithful.

But I’ll be dashed if the chap didn’t suddenly look the most threatening lilywhite on the pitch. Whether by accident or design is debatable, but as sure as day following night he managed to bundle his way past the full-back every blinking time he touched the thing. Moving like the alien queen in Aliens, all tangled limbs and awkwardness, he suddenly seemed the likeliest route back into the match. While he sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from, say, the silky touch of Son, he has a darned sight more brute force, and today gave an injection of pace and power that had been lacking throughout.

Quite what this means for the future is a little terrifying to contemplate, but after a series of displays that have been comically poor it was nice to see him bulldozing his way forward to some good effect.

5. Strange, Muted Times

It has been such a peculiar season to date that I rather than try to make sense of it I would prefer to pour myself a bourbon and have a lie down. A 5-0 win followed by defeat at Old Trafford is, all things digested, marginally cheerier than the relentless series of draws previously being churned out. The defeat at Chelsea was actually one of our better performances. The Champions League campaign has been as disastrous as these things can get without bursting into flames. What the deuces is it all about?

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint. One for a Secret Santa, what?

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