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Spurs 3-0 Apoel: Four Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Big Night for Llorente

Greeted with half-hearted shrugs and myriad empty seats though this meaningless dead rubber might have been to the naked eye, last night’s joust was absolutely loaded to bursting point with meaning for various members of the supporting cast.

Chief amongst them was senor Llorente, who, pretty much since stepping through the hallowed gates of N17, has been haunted at every turn by the ghosts of Messrs Janssen, Soldado, Postiga and various others, all giving him knowing looks and pointedly clearing their throats every time he misses a gilt-edged chance.

His frightful lack of goalscoring form has really not done anyone any favours, because while he was never about to bustle Harry Kane out of the starting line-up, as sure as night follows day we needed someone confident and at least minimally capable to strap on the pads and hold up an end for meaningless cup fixtures and maybe the occasional straightforward league jamboree. In short, the chap needed a goal like bally-o, and we all needed it every ounce as much.

Fortunately, cometh the hour, cometh the meek kitten that obligingly rolled over to have its tummy tickled. Forget the pre-game civilities – Apoel peddled absolute rot throughout. So far, so good. However, the whole operation still required Llorente himself to raise a finger and press the button at the appropriate junction, and mercifully he did so with élan. His first touch, swivel and execution were all right on the money, and while he might not win any Goal of the Season competition for his strike, it was still a nifty piece of duck-and-weave, and one he won’t object to seeing replayed a few times back at casa Ll.

An honourable mention too, to his general all-round play, although we all knew about that already. As at the Bernabeu a couple of months back, the strapping blighter displayed a remarkably delicate – and geographically-minded – touch about him, producing all manner of weighted lay-offs and cushioned headers for his strike partner, to the tune of one goal and one assist. I’m not sure he will ever fit the uniform of a bona fide impact sub, but as a Sheringham played from the start he has a definite value.

2. A Big Night for Foyth, Aided and Abetted by Sanchez

Life in the heart of our defence has been subject to some pretty merciless scrutiny ever since Toby Alderweireld limped off a few weeks back, for the whole defensive cast has had the look of The A-Team without Mr T since his departure.

Quite rightly, our glorious leader opted to treat Messrs Vertonghen and Dier to a night out at their nearest watering hole rather than put them through another 90 minutes of injury-risk, and as a result we switched to a back-four, and a central defensive pairing, of young Messrs Foyth and Sanchez.

First things first, they were certainly not up against Neymar and Messi, but one can only play the ball one is bowled, and to their credit those two rarely put a foot wrong. Sanchez may have been the senior partner, but Foyth demonstrated the confidence to bring the ball out, or occasionally step forward and intercept, and all was relatively rosy in the defensive garden.

It does not really solve the problem of replacing Toby, but we now at least have a pairing who can spare Dier and Vertonghen the need for duty during FA Cup engagements, so this was another box ticked.

3. A Big Night for Georges-Kevin N’Koudou

To date, GKN’s appearances have tended to take the form of a desperate wish for him to be the sort of impact sub he really isn’t. Every time his spring is wound up, and then released as he enters the pitch, I get the impression that this might literally be the first time he has every played football with team-mates. This chap has been brought up on a strict diet of the playground game of “Wembley Singles” (other names presumably exist), whereby each player is on his own, and is tasked with dribbling past literally everybody else and scoring, in order to progress to the next round. Passing is eradicated from the exercise.

Thus it was last night, and thus it ever was, with GKN. There’s an uncut diamond lurking inside there, if you get my drift, for the chap has pace, and a trick or two, but there is a crushing inevitability about the fact that ultimately it will all come to nought. Apart from the time his shot caught a rather natty deflection and landed proudly in the net.

Congrats to him for living the dream, but whatever the question (and I think it is “How the devil do we unpick a massed defence – do we have a dribbler who could peddle his wares to drag opponents out of position?”) GKN is still not the answer.

4. Son > Dele?

In a season that has begun to drift pretty dangerously in recent weeks, one of the absolute blazing beacons of light within the whole shipwreck has been everyone’s favourite Korean. He was at it again yesterday, buzzing around hither and thither, and showing the sort of movement in between the opposition defence and midfield that presumably had the aforementioned defence and midfield scratching their heads and saying “What ho, who the devil is supposed to be marking that blur of movement?”

While Dele continues that same tired trick of hanging on to the ball for far too long and then being disposed while trying something fancy, Son, in the same supporting striker role, makes the opposition work for their wage, and chips in with a lovely line in curled finishes, which start outside the post and spin inside the net.

He was at it again yesterday, in much the same way as he is at it every time he is selected, and it would be a thoroughly understandable call if he were selected as the support man to Kane, leaving Dele on the sidelines, to contemplate the physics of a fall from grace.

What ho ho ho! AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, would make quite the stocking filler, and is available at Amazon.

Dortmund 1-2 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

There will be a cheery whistle on the lips today no doubt, as this was a vastly more satisfactory pitstop than Saturday’s rot. Not perfect, but on the scale of things this was far closer to click-the-heels-and-hat-at-a-jaunty-angle than morning-after-grogginess-and-for-the-love-of-all-things-please-close-those-infernal-curtains.


1. General Attitude: Commendable

Stand-out performances were evident all over the place, which does create something of a mathematical contradiction if you think about it, but the broad swish of things was that the knives were being sharpened, and an en masse reaction was rather urgently needed.

For our heroes to do so, and from a one-goal deficit away from home, was pretty much the sort of thing for which choirs of angels were introduced. Cast your minds back to the sepia-tinged days of last year, when we could not tiptoe from one Champions League fixture to the next without tripping over our shoelaces, and this sort of measured performance looks pretty mightily impressive.

Cast your minds back a mighty two years, to our last trip to Dortmund, when, to put the point delicately, we were royally stuffed from every angle and in every manner conceivable, and suddenly “mightily impressive” comes across as one of the great understatements of our age.

On falling behind, there was no desperation or rush to sever selves at the neckline and do the headless thing. They simply stuck to the gameplan, ticked the boxes and burrowed their way into the lead. Bravo, chaps.

2. Eric Dier Scrunches His Eyes and Concentrates Hard

You sometimes hear about these thoughtful types, who on experiencing a major life event, down tools, leave a note on the fridge and take off to Tibet or similar climes, to have a sit-down and a jolly long old think, returning with all the jigsaw pieces neatly laid out and edges squared away.

One can only logically assume that after the minor miscalculation against Man Utd a few weeks ago, Eric Dier managed to find time between international duty and training and social media to crack off to Tibet for his half hour of zen, because the chap’s defensive focus has rarely looked sharper.

Admittedly, as a unit, communication was awry between the back-three and full-backs, in the opening 20 minutes or so, but individually, Eric Dier was crossing t’s and dotting I’s like nobody’s business. Sliding blocks, covering challenges, towering headers – the young nail was dashed sure he got his full quota.

His passing range is not quite that of the lamented Toby Alderweireld, but as and when the moment arrived he was happy to bring the ball out of defence, and generally gave a happy balance to things on the right of the back-three.

3. Winks And His First Touch

Every day is Valentine’s Day here at AANP Towers, with lovestruck odes and rhyming couplets of adoration being flung around like confetti, all in honour of Harry Winks. The chap is like a tiny metronome sitting in front of the defence, shoving things along and keeping everyone honest.

If he can go forward he will, but if circumstances demand that the dashed thing just goes back whence it came because frankly life is like that sometimes, well then so be it, Winks is still the man for the occasion.
Particularly noteworthy is his judgement of whether his first touch should just kill the thing dead, or take him a yard away from trouble. If opponents are snuffling at his heels the chap does not need to wait for a telegram to announce the news, he just makes sure his first touch sends him away from the foreign legions and closer to friendly climes.

Working back to Point 1, above, re the general sense and patience with which the whole troupe approached things, especially after going behind, Winks set the tone and things pretty much followed from there.

4. Rose Gradually Gets Up To Speed

Having taken a deep breath, contacted the relatives and made the necessary adjustments for life after Danny Rose, following his not-too-subtle elbowing from proceedings on Saturday, I don’t mind admitting I had quite the shock on observing the barrel-chested young buck bounding out onto the pitch last night with not a care in the world. Much as I understand Macbeth felt when, having put an end to Banquo’s innings, he looked up while mangling a spot of lunch and spotted the ghost of the chap, of all things, knocking back the hors d’oeuvres at the far end of the dining table.

But back in the fold Danny Rose most certainly was, nailing that Banquo impression. And, much like Banquo’s ghost, Rose was looking like he might have raided the larder at some point, because that figure-hugging shirt seemed to betray a spot of extra timber around the waist.

Nothing wrong with Rose’s confidence though, as evidenced by the bizarre moment in which he opted to use his shoulder of all things to find a teammate. However, in those early stages he did seem one teaspoon short of his full set of cutlery. Rusty, if you will. Rough around the edges.

To his credit, the young whelp seemed to remember his lines better the longer the game wore on, and by the end of proceedings he gave the impression that he was rapidly approaching tickety-boo.

5. Ever-Dependable Son

Son is a dependable chap, what? One imagines that if Dele Alli’s tap sprung a leak, or Ben Davies was missing the appropriately-sized screwdriver to hang the family portrait, Son would drop whatever he was up to and dash over to casa Alli or Davies, as the case may be, with the necessary tools and a cheery grin.

Yesterday, he bustled around with all the energy one has come to expect, and we appeared to have an added dimension to our attacking play. Dele has been a little off-colour of late (although to his credit yesterday, while still struggling to strike oil, he made a couple of game-changing suggestions), so Son’s presence was all the more important. Because let’s face it, the chap is a pest. He also seems pretty keen to buzz around Kane as a bona fide supporting striker, rather than the Number 10 attacking midfield role, or whatever label the kids are using to describe Dele these days.

Quite right then, that he should have the honour of applying the coup de grace, a subtle first touch followed by a pretty emphatic swish to get the job done. Food for thought for the Brains Trust, because the chap delivers the goods every time.

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

Arsenal 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Off the Boil

No doubt about it, that performance stank like the rancid contents of last week’s lunch, left to its own devices in the AANP refrigerator. No man (bar the boy Davinson Sanchez) escapes censure. Despite having successfully negotiated the tests of Dortmund, Liverpool and Real blinking Madrid for goodness sake, by the oh so devastatingly subtle technique of sitting back and then countering like the dickens, the slightly more dubious ploy yesterday appeared to be to go into it toe to toe, and trust that good would triumph over evil.

All well and good, but the plan swiftly morphed into close-eyes-and-keep-fingers-crossed territory, which admittedly is often sufficient to overcome that incompetent rabble – but which yesterday missed the mark like a wild Sissoko swing at thin air.

This being their cup final they threw the kitchen sink at us, pressing us all over the pitch and capitalising upon the mistakes, dash it. Our heroes simply failed to muster sufficient nous, wiles or good old-fashioned gung-ho to make a spectacle of the thing. No excuses, that horrible lot bettered us tactically, and fought for the thing tooth and nail, while our strangely subdued heroes seemed a little perplexed that they did not simply roll over and invite us to tickle their tummies.

2. Alli Anonymous…

Another day, another fairly impotent showing from young Dele. No doubt some of the great thinkers of our age lock themselves away in secluded spots to ponder the mysteries of ethics, aesthetics and the specifics of Dele Alli in the Number 10 role.

To date this season he has chugged away to pretty minimal effect, his outputs primarily notable for unsuccessful dribbles, unsuccessful nutmegs and that toddler tantrum routine whereby he flings himself to the ground then flings his arms skywards, with a particularly grieved expression delicately etched all over his visage, while life just meanders on around him uninterrupted.

But the crux of the thing with this particular scamp is that on the rare occasions (this season) when the planets do align and he ticks his necessary boxes, the result tends to be a goal, which in a way makes the whole laboured fandango worthwhile.

Which obviously sounds marvellous, that being pretty much the nub of the whole exercise, but unless he chips in thusly, he essentially mooches around for the rest of the game like a deaf, blind mute. One might qualify yesterday as Exhibit A in all this, except that it sits alongside multiple other, similar Exhibits from this season. Something must be done.

3… While Son Sits It Out

Which leads seamlessly to the substitutes’ bench where young Sonny twiddles his thumbs. Given that Dele’s contributions seem to be fading from natural sight much like that picture of Marty McFly when things got rather hairy, one wonders whether he might be snaffled from view and sneakily replaced by Son, before anyone notices.

This sort of mild slap on the wrist might do Dele some good, while Son has rarely made it his business to let anyone down when called upon. More specifically, the energy and movement offered by Son would not just have been welcomed yesterday, it would have been clasped to the bosom in a fairly tender embrace, such was the remoteness that existed between defence and attack.

A better technical footballer Dele might be, but at present he neither avails himself sufficiently nor uses the ball with requisite shrewdness.

4. Midfield Protection

If one were to feistily counter that it is a little harsh to single out the boy Dele when barely anyone else sloshed themselves in glory then I would reply in similarly spirited manner, “Well, that is fine by me, and frankly I laud both your honesty and your eagle-eyed sense of observation.” One could not swing a cat without hitting a chap in lilywhite delivering a sub-par performance.

Kane in truth never looks sharp, simply by virtue of his paradoxically lumbering manner, but there seemed to be a consensus that he was decidedly unfit yesterday. Eriksen cut a strangely peripheral figure, as often running away from the action as demanding to hog the limelight and orchestrate the binge; and while Sissoko saw a fair amount of the ball, and applied himself with his usual eagerness, his ability to misplace short passes continues to eat away at my very soul.

On top of which, the absence of Toby meant that Dier was shunted back into central defence, and as a result the protection afforded to the defence was rather negligible throughout.

Where once Wanyama, or latterly Dier, patrolled the middle like nightclub bouncers with chips on their shoulders, yesterday the Arsenal mob were able to play all manner of little diagonals behind our full-backs, with their runners haring away into space like a team of young bucks exploring a great big spring meadow. The runs were neither prevented at source nor tracked during their lifespan, and it was little surprise to the nation’s soothsayers when one such sequence brought about a goal.

Neither Dembele nor Sissoko are the types of midfielder whose neuro-wirings are typically set to Protect and Defend, and we suffered for it yesterday.

5. The Curious Incident of Danny Rose

So not really an episode with which to regale the grandchildren in years to come, and as well as the limp showing on the pitch, there was also some rummy old business off it.

The exclusion of Danny Rose from the entire matchday squad was one of those that is pretty much guaranteed to raise an eyebrow or two amongst the baying masses, and Our Glorious Leader’s explanations did little to tighten the loose ends. The young blighter is not fit apparently, which makes fair enough grammatical and conceptual sense, but pause to examine the evidence and suddenly one heck of a mystery starts to simmer amongst the eagle-eyed.

For Master Rose played near enough 90 minutes against both Palace a fortnight ago and Germany last week, and while one does not want to work the chap into the ground so soon after his return from the desert island on which he had been stranded during injury, the whole business has a decidedly unnatural whiff to it.

His ill-chosen words during the summer might well have made him persona non grata chez Pochettino, but if that were the case then why the devil was he back in the fold in recent weeks? All terrifically mysterious, but one imagines that the blighter is unlikely to live happily ever after at N17. A rather unhappy footnote to a deeply unsatisfying weekend.

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

Spurs 1-0 Palace: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Ongoing Labours Vs Defensive Types

If there were a dawn chorus this morning the last folk you will want to ask for a blow-by-blow account of it will be the eleven who began for us, because when the sun peaked and the midday kick-off loomed, our heroes were still emerging from the mists of sleep. And in truth there they stayed throughout the first half. Now while I am not one to knock the benefits of nature’s sweet restorer, the thought did strike me that this approach did not really contribute anything towards the principle aim of the exercise.

However, like many of the choice fairytales of our age, the thing can be deemed a success by virtue of having ended well, and no doubt come the May harvest few in lilywhite will care a hang for how three November points against Palace were ground out.

Nevertheless I don’t mind admitting that watching the troupe make such dashed hard work of things – and indeed flirt a little too publicly with the notion of conceding the opener – gives the whole coronary network a going-over that is far more robust than could possibly be desired on a Sunday lunchtime, not to mention adding a handful more grey hairs to the clan.

The sages who know such things have not been slow to unpick the rationale behind this effortless switch between vanquishers of Real and labourers against Palace. Physical exhaustion has been identified, the injuries have been noted, and the dreadfully modern concept of “emotional tiredness” has also been lobbed into the ring, which strikes me as utter rot, but there you go.

Whatever balderdash is identified, the fact remains that every time a struggling team pull up at our shores and sit back in numbers, our lot labour like the dickens to break them down. My personal solution would be to give the ball to Eriksen, position Son/Alli/Whomever five yards from him, and let the pair one-two their way through the minefield like ballerinas, but smarter minds than mine are presumably applying the grey matter to this issue.

2. Gazzaniga Earns His Corn

While the loss of Lloris was greeted with dismayed groans throughout the land as might be expected, I must admit to feeling decidedly more sanguine about the news of Vorm’s absence, greeting it with the sort of carefree shrug one reserves for a moderate weather forecast. The chap has rarely blown my skirt up, saving some, conceding as many, and generally rolling through life with the air of one who might in another universe be Swansea’s first choice.

Step forward Paolo Gazzaniga then, a man who in name at least has taken a few sensible steps towards winning favour with the patrons of N17. The early signs may not have been massively encouraging, as he wasted little time in emerging from his line to deliver a massive flap at thin air, landing a meaty punch upon the head of an opponent in the process – which might, on another day and under stricter supervision, have had a calamitous outcome.

Things improved no end thereafter however, with a couple of saves of the full-stretch, aesthetically agreeable variety, as well as one or two well-judged decisions to rush from his line and scoop up the bits and bobs.
Hardly a challenge to Lloris’ supremacy, but nice to know that there is some competition for the rank of First Reserve.

3. Dier in the Back Three

In the land of the blind and so on and so forth, so with most of his other chums generally employed in scratching their heads and sucking their thumbs, Eric Dier was able to enjoy a rare day in the sun.

The young nib’s lack of pace generally makes him persona non grata as a centre-back, particularly within a traditional back-four. Such a sin is generally more forgivable within a back-three, but the whole critique was rendered fairly redundant by Dier suddently finding within himself the gift of a clean pair of heels and nifty turn of pace. Where it came from one knows not, although presumably the whole thing was aided by the rather stinging criticism meted out in his direction last week when he rocked on his heels during the slow-motion car-crash that was the United goal.

Whatever the mechanics of it, what ended up on the plate was an Eric Dier in pretty formidable mood. Zaha was an obvious threat, but Dier did a sterling job of proving himself not as green as he is cabbage-looking, shackling the scamp, notably on several occasions through the medium of the no-holds-barred sliding tackle. The absence of Alderweireld had had the potential to get right in amongst our lot and gnaw away from the inside, like those unpleasant microbes one occasionally hears about, but Dier’s no-nonsense of the rear entrance did much to soften the blow.

4. Aurier’s Buffoonery

Honestly, this chap and his predilection for the ghastly, what? While the wealth of pinged hamstrings and strained muscles tumbling from every nook and cranny rather hammers home the point that our heroes have been flogging themselves to the bone and therefore dashed well deserve a little squad rotation, and the omission of Trippier can therefore be logically sequenced, I would personally twing my own hamstring and strain every muscle in my body if it meant that Serge Aurier were kept well away from affairs on the lawn.

The chap is a liability, as any jury in the land would unanimously agree. For a start, all the willpower – and sage counsel from his betters and elders – in the world seemingly cannot prevent him from hurling himself feet first at the nearest foe, with little regard for the likely success of the operation. The chap just wants to fling himself through the air feet first, consequences be damned. Having restrained himself for a good half hour yesterday he could restrain himself no longer and shortly before half-time performed the usual brainless lunge, and was jolly lucky to do in front of a particularly benevolent referee, who generously kept his cards hidden from sight.

Then as the second half ticked agonisingly by, and we sought to break the deadlock, the blighter dashed well opened the back door and ushered through Palace’s speediest and most menacing threats, with appallingly misplaced six-yard sideways passes. Heavens above, remove the chap from the premises and hack his limbs apart. At least ensure that the next hamstring or muscle pinged or strained is his.

5. Squad Depth

On the bright side, yesterday again provided some evidence that the shelves are healthily stocked at HQ when it comes to squad depth. It was not so long ago that the absence of all of Messrs Lloris, Alderweireld, Wanyama and Alli – not to mention Lamela, plus a less than entirely chipper Dembele – would have been greeted with mass protests, clenched fists of fury, doleful wailing in the streets or some combination of the above.

Now however, Our Glorious Leader simply peers over his shoulder and gives knowing nods in the directions of Gazzaniga, Sissoko, Winks and Son. My spectacular distaste for Aurier I have mentioned, but should a piano happen to fall upon his head we have Walker-Peters to deputise for Trippier. Rose and Davies can slug it out on the left. Llorente may not exactly be a blur of limbs, but he can give Kane a rest for fifteen minutes, and has a deft touch about him. The arrival of Sanchez and versatility of Dier provides ample cover at centre-back, with Foyth waiting in the wings – and so on and so forth. One gets the gist.

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

Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid: Seven Lilywhite Observations

1. Bright Moments From Dele

Young Dele has been smothered in fuss for around two years without a pause for breath, so naturally the young fish is today being feted as the second coming, after one scrappy poke, a heavily deflected second and an open goal miss.

A curious specimen this chap, because his performances frequently feature errors strewn about the place like confetti, alongside the glimpses of match-winning élan. Dives, attempted nutmegs and a bizarre tendency to channel his inner Moussa Sissoko and overrun the ball have generally been in evidence this season, and a selection of the above again made themselves known in the opening minutes last night, prompting me to raise an eyebrow or two.

But lo, when the planets align the young imp becomes something of a force of nature. His timing of runs, slap bang into the meat of an opponent’s soft underbelly could not have been more effective if he were waving an axe and yelling “Ho!”. Whether as a supporting act to Kane (arriving those critical few moments later and when defenders are already preoccupied), or as a temporary central striker(when the leading man had gone snuffling away down the flanks) Dele got his numbers right yesterday.

It certainly helped that Real adopted the Shrug-And-Scatter art of defending, but our man had his green cross code down to a t, knowing almost instinctively when to stop and when to pelt it forward.

On top of which, he made a far better fist of life as a midfielder than he has done to date this season. As mentioned, the dribbles have rarely struck oil in 2017/18, but yesterday his twinkling little toes were deployed to cracking effect, notably in the build-up to the third goal.

2. The Other Side of Kane’s Game

So we can all take a deep breath and get used to another nine months or so of press hysteria about Dele leading us to World Cup glory, but in the meantime there was a slightly more subtle demonstration of things great and good from Harry Kane.

Not one of those days on which he rams home his ability to flick through the A-to-Z of goalscoring and score literally every type of goal invented, instead this was a game in which he beavered away for the cause, like one of those unsung heroes in a black and white war epic on a Sunday afternoon.

The harassment to win that early throw-in that led to our opener – and the presence of mind to keep the metronome clicking away by taking the aforementioned throw-in swiftly – were early indications that he would scrap away for everything, because you never quite know.

Then when haring away, to have the awareness and skill to pick out Eriksen with a pass weighted to perfection, again suggested that this was a man who knew when to stick, when to twist and when to do the honourable thing by his chums.

Moreover, I quite enjoyed the fact that when high balls were lobbed into his general vicinity, opposing defenders simply bounced off his ample frame, possession was retained and an air of brute-like superiority was established.

3. Trippier Bosses Things

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Our Glorious Leader likes to alternate his wing-backs pretty much every game, but I dashed well wish that Aurier would be tucked away at the back of the cupboard and forgotten about until the next spring clean. Not that I wish ill upon the chap, but whereas he has the letters L-I-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y stamped across the back of his shirt, Trippier busily does everything required of him by contract, then goes back and pointedly exceeds each one of his duties, as if curious to ascertain precisely how devastatingly effective one single right wing-back can be on a field with 21 others.

The result was that while memories of Aurier flying in feet first hovered in the air, Trippier got down to brass tacks and delivered an absolute masterclass in spying a downed opponent and applying his foot to said opponent’s neck. As solid as dutifully required when defending, Trippier delivered a tour de force going forward, which on a night of counter-attacking frolics was precisely what the doctor ordered.

The first time volleyed deliveries across the penalty area ought really to belong in a museum, and even though he had a bucket of luck tipped all over him in being adjudged onside for the opening goal, here at AANP Towers we were too busy drooling over the technique to care a hang. Fingers are firmly crossed that Pochettino finds a sneaky way to ensure that Aurier is employed against the small-fry, and Trippier gets the nod for every crunch game.

4. Eriksen Makes Hay

A couple of weeks ago I lamented, if that’s the word I want, that our magnificent Dane forgot to take his magnificence with him when he travelled to the Bernabeu, and delivered about as anaemic as a an earthworm having a particularly pallid time of things.

It was very much consigned to the annals yesterday, however, as the bizarre tactics of Real allowed Eriksen to have an absolute blast, like a teenager whose parents have vacated the premises for the weekend and allowed him to run wild.

Given that Modric had bested him at the Bernabeu, there was something particularly poetic – and downright hilarious – about seeing the Croat desperately try, and fail, to prevent Eriksen poking in our third. It was a goal that did as much credit to the Dane’s indefatigability as to his technique, those little legs going like the clappers to carry him just about the full length of the pitch at breakneck pace.

5. The Defence Just About Holds Firm

An air of mystery still surrounds the absence of Davinson Sanchez from proceedings at the weekend, the blighter having done little wrong in previous excursions, but normality was restored to her throne last night, and as it happens Davinson and chums as one made a pretty solid fist of things.

It would be rather glossing over things a tad too enthusiastically to suggest that the defence were in supreme control throughout, their 90 minutes unsullied by the weight of duty, because while the balance of play seemed to be firmly lilywhite, there were a number of close calls in front of – or indeed level with – Monsieur Hugo, which had the heart leaping out of the chest, beyond the throat and embedding itself within the mouth.

Nevertheless, by hook, crook or by one Real attacker slamming the ball against another but a yard from the goal-line, our heroes just about kept the visitors at bay, which in the final analysis was joly well deserved both ways.
The loss of Alderweireld will have to be classified as collateral damage, sustained within the great swathe of fixtures that currently envelops, but the international break might help to the various sinews and muscles to return to former glories.

Alderweireld’s unscheduled exit meant a nifty shuttling of Dier into the back three, and the young mass of muscle did a sterling job. The whole troupe did likwiese in fact, with Vertonghen picking a few moments to provide Ronaldo with a delicate welcome back to these shores, and Sanchez showing a little more guile on the ball than in recent weeks.

6. Winks Assisting Assists

Naturally enough, a celebratory AANP Towers would not be the same without a few splashes of the good stuff in honour of current flavour of the month, Harry Winks. Rather like a poor lamb diving headfirst into his GCSEs, it has been one gruelling test after another for Master Winks in recent weeks, and the engine just about ran out of juice in the second half.

The chap does seem fond of an errant pass or two, but by and large he fought the good fight, and it was marvellous to see that instinct for a useful forward pass bearing fruit, not once but twice. In setting up the first girl he pinged the ball wide to Trippier, when easier, less risky options abounded. Then for the third goal, it would be easy to overlook that from within his own area, rather than blast the thing into orbit, he picked out Dele, who skinned his man, fed Kane, and Eriksen was in.

Few folk care too much about the man who assists the assist, but five years on I still remember fondly that when we beat Milan at the San Siro, the man who set Aaron Lennon away on halfway, to assist Crouch, was one Luka Modric. Whisper it, but Winks may have something similar about him.

7. This Game’s Sissoko Moment

Naturally enough, a celebratory AANP Towers would not be the same without a few splashes of the good stuff to calm the nerves following the latest Sissoko farce. A couple of weeks ago it was his errant last-minute pass when we counter-attacked 4 vs 1. At the weekend it was his shot vertically into the air after De Gea fumbled.

Yesterday it was his wild air shot when the ball was gently rolled into his path, a napkin attached around his neck and gleaming cutlery placed in his hands. I realise that Winks did the same, but Winks then redeemed himself by dribbling through half the Real defence, as well as setting in motion two goals. Sissoko decidedly did not.

One can only assume that Sissoko plays like Pele in training, because there is little other reason for him to be so heavily involved in things.

Sissoko’s guff mattered not in the end, for this was right up there with the very best in our history. The upward trajectory continues, and players, and particularly the manager, deserve all the acclaim going spare.

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

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Struggles Without Kane

Having spent the last 48 hours or so confidently assuring friend and foe alike that we are plenty more than a one-man team, and the loss of Kane would be swatted away with the care-free insouciance of an elephant dispatching a few errant flies on its muzzle, you can well imagine the awkwardness at AANP Towers as events unfolded on Saturday.
Naturally there was no shortage of huff, puff and elbow-grease by the bucketload, but having opted for a team without a recognised, bona fide striker, funnily enough we rather turned in the performance of a team without a recognised bona fide striker.

Son, Alli and, heaven help us, Sissoko, were each in their own way relatively willing to meander forward and cautiously poke their noses into the opposition area every now and then, but each seemed set on playing a supporting role, seemingly forgetting that Harry Kane was not amongst the troops.

After the scratchy opening 15 minutes or so in which we barely touched the ball, we had a fair amount of possession, without ever looking remotely threatening. Our lack of an imposing central striker was utterly, glaringly obvious. And curiously it was not a matter massively improved when Llorente waddled on either, the chap lacking the imposing Untameable Beast-like quality of our absent friend.

It all had the sombre gloom of a Greek tragedy, dealing a sharp slap to the AANP face into the bargain, for all those churlish, positive, pre-match suggestions that we would handle Kanelessness like billy-o. Against lesser teams I imagine either Son and/or Llorente will do the trick, but this time out the whole masterplan had that same nagging flaw about it that one feels when one trots off to the office and discovers en route that a machete is embedded in one’s back and blood is draining out like nobody’s business. It hinders things.

2. Opting Against The Forward Pass

No doubt operating without a designated forward was limiting in the way that operating complex machinery without a head on one’s shoulders can prove quite the obstacle, but I felt that matters were exacerbated by a curious snese of caution that seemed to envelop our heroes as they plied their business.

The two may well be interlinked of course, but time and again it seemed that when the ball was at the feet of Eriksen, and a world of possibilities opened up before him, promising health, wealth, happiness and allsorts, he rather moodily about turned and sucked the joy out of life by seeking a sideways or backwards pass.

This exercise in pessimism and gloom was all the more curious given the gay abandon with which he and chums had torn into Liverpool last week, and indeed puffed out their chests and gone biff-for-biff with Real at the Bernabeu. As mentioned, perhaps the acute awareness of the Kane-shaped hole up the top of the pitch wormed its way into their subconscious.

3. Sissoko and Dembele

To general acclaim so far this season I heroes have muddled through without either Dembele or Wanyama with admirable stiff upper lips and the positivity in the sense of adversity that one hears went down a storm amongst those Christians when they were thrown to the lions and left without a bally hope.

All well and good, but I feel that the narrative takes a fairly hefty swerve when the great and good start waxing lyrical about the alleged improvement in Moussa Sissoko this season. The fact that he is being picked each week does not in itself constitute improvement. To my admittedly heavily biased and untrained eye, it simply reflects the fact that the all the other cabs on the rank have been temporarily pulled from service or are elsewhere employed.

Anyway, the hour came, the man came, and the limbs entangled once more. The chap is simply not up to scratch, seemingly as uncertain about what will happen when he approaches the action as any of the rest of us, due to the disconnect between his brain and limbs that stretches the very boundaries of human biology. This week’s Sissoko Moment was the wild slash of a ball vertically into the air, when the goal gaped, in the first half.

And as if to emphasise all of the above, he was replaced by Mousa Dembele who, while not faultless, demonstrated a level of control and smooth technique on the ball that a whole team of Sissokos would not achieve if they were left at typewriters for an eternity.

4. Rare Mistakes at the Back

By and large, there is rarely much to say about our back-three, which in itself is quite the compliment. They rather diligently just put heads down and get on with things, snaffling attacks, sweeping up messes, crossing t’s and dotting I’s.

All of which renders the more galling the subtle combination of errors that brought about our downfall yesterday. Messrs Alderweireld, Vertonghen and, I thought in particular Dier, were making a fairly decent fist of things, but each put a foot slightly wrong in the blur of events that was the United goal, and before you could splutter “But that is literally just a straightforward punt down the centre of the pitch” the ball was in our net and things had gone abruptly south. Just goes to show.

Why this could not have happened on one of those days when we were already four goals to the good I don’t know (I suppose if you were being clever you could say it actually did happen on one of those days when we were already four goals to the good, just last weekend, against Liverpool, so there). However, happen it did, and losing to a goal as soft as that was a bit like seeing two rhinoceroses going toe-to-toe only to have the clash settled by a stubbed toe.

But as I like to think in these situations, I would rather win one and lose one then draw two, so to have three points and a couple of goals in the bag from two fixtures against Liverpool and Man United is passable.

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

Spurs 2-3 West Ham: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Lethargy, Via His Master’s Voice

A tad difficult to burn with passion either way about this one. Our heroes sleep-walked into a lead, snoozed through to half-time and then sleep-walked into defeat. At no point before, during or after did anyone appear to care a hang for the thing, which had all the intensity and passion of a toddler’s morning lie-down.

While it would be easy to jab a digit of blame towards the players for their complacency and resolute determination to avoid moving into anything higher than third gear, I do wonder if at least a smidgeon of responsibility ought to lie with a higher power. Take, as a starting point, Exhibit A. Out glorious leader, waxing lyrical a prior to yesterday’s game. “Our objective is to try to win the Premier League and the Champions League. For me, two real trophies. That can really change your life.” So far, so reasonable. “And then the FA Cup, of course, I would like to win.” A little off-piste, but still making sense I suppose. “I would like to win the Carabao Cup. But I think it will not change the life of Tottenham.”

Notice anything? Do you get the sense that, for a man whose veins course with steely determination, there was something of a laissez-faire attitude about this competition? Well whether or not you or I picked up on any hint of ambivalence, the players dashed well tuned into his master’s voice and nailed their colours to the mast of not giving a jot either way.

One does not need a degree in rocket science to snaffle the gist of the thing, straight off the bat. Real and Liverpool last week, Man Utd and Real again next week, with Arsenal and Dortmund to come – these are sizeable fish that need frying, in competitions that it makes perfect sense to prioritise.

Nevertheless, some sort of nagging voice seems to carper away, in much the same way one’s conscience might if you turn a deaf ear to the homeless chappie asking for spare change. Was this really the right way to go about our business?

2. Llorente and His Silky Caress

Clear – or, indeed, cunningly subliminal – though the orders may have been to lay down arms, wave a white flag and read a good book while letting nature take its course, for the first hour or so at least, we were treated to a glimpse of what happens on the training ground, as some of the lesser lights took the opportunity to peddle their wares.

With Harry Kane being delicately covered from head to toe in cotton wool, Senor Llorente was amongst those given the opportunity to perform for the baying public. And perform he did, with all manner of light touches and silky caresses.

The chap might not be able to break into a sprint if the future of mankind depended upon it, but shunt the ball towards him in ungainly fashion while he has his back to goal, and he will perform some glorious footballing alchemy, turning the thing into an opportunity to progress with an array of exquisite flicks, straight into the path of an onrushing chum, and with impeccable weight on the pass too.

As if to emphasise the balletic nature of the man, the gods saw fit to place the indelicate lump that is Andy Carroll on the same pitch, for everyone to indulge in a game of Compare-and-Contrast.

3. Danny Rose Back in the Fold

On which note, one of the highlights that briefly me started me from all that dozing me was the sight of Danny Rose sending Andy Carroll flying, without breaking sweat.

The notion of resting the first-choice mob in preparation for scaling the heights vs Man Utd and Real rather sailed out of the window when it came to left-backs, with both Rose and Davies employed for the best part of 90 minutes. Still, it was the perfect opportunity for Rose to rev up the motor once again, and the young bounder seemed to enjoy himself, taking fairly literally the licence to roam forward and consequently finding himself as central midfield playmaker and auxiliary centre-forward at various points.

His hair might have undergone a rather discombobulating change, but he remains barrelsome of chest and appears still to have fire in his belly, so Rose-tinted spectacles make this a successful comeback.

4. Sissoko Turns A Corner. Maybe.

Seasoned visitors to these parts will now that Moussa Sissoko has never exactly been the plat du jour at AANP Towers, and even this supposed renaissance season has appeared to me be something of a sham, with onlookers tripping over themselves (much like the man himself) to laud him when no laud is deserved. Ungainly is fine if married to effectiveness – see Kane. H, Esq. Sissoko this season has continued to churn out barrel-loads of ungainliness, but his outputs have barely improved from last season.

Until yesterday. It may only have been West Ham reserves, who in the first half at least truly looked the worst team we have ever faced, but Sissoko at least had managed to untangle his feet, and started to look quite the attacking force. His powerful running has long been his saving grace, but yesterday it appeared that he had finally got his head round the most basic elements of physics, and started to understand the basic mechanics of a ball.

He was at the heart of much that was good, and, crucially, did not trip over his feet or collide with a lamp post or overrun the ball once (that honour went to poor old GKN, in his over-enthusiasm to impress).

5. Son, Dele And The Number Ten Role

Word reached me during the game yesterday, via the medium of a chum on whatsapp, that somewhere in the world Stuart Pearce had apparently been pontificating that Son was a better Number 10 than Alli.

It struck me that the broken clock was doing its thing, because to date this season I would say that that is more or less correct. Dele has pottered around hither and thither when employed behind the front man, but to little meaningful effect. A lot of attempted dribbles and nutmegs, and too many dives and exaggerations for my liking, but not as much impact as ought to be the case when collecting the weekly envelope.

Yesterday he was again shifted southwards into central midfield, and Son took the more advanced scoop. And, yet again, he did a decent job – particularly in the first half (for some reason his radar went awry in the second half, and he struggled to strike oil with even the most basic six-yard pass).

Son buzzed around, beat his man and played intelligent passes (until he was rendered incapable of passing accurately), generally doing all that one would hope Dele would do when similarly requested.

It seems sacrilegious to suggest that England’s Next-But-One Great Thing be dropped, but with big games on the horizon, I wonder if our grand fromage is considering starting with the more reliable man on current form. Something for the great and good to ponder, perhaps.

Spurs 4-1 Liverpool: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Kane, A Thing of Awesome Wonder

It is not meant at all as a slight to say that Harry Kane simply does not look like a footballer, rather more like God intended to make a manual labourer but a mix-up at HQ resulted in him being slapped onto a football pitch in a shirt two sizes too small.

But by golly, for a man fairly bereft of any semblance of balletic grace or easy-on-the-eye technique, he repeatedly proves himself to be more effective than Alan Shearer, who was arguably the most complete striker of my three and a half decades. I simply wave my hands in incredulity, for Kane is fast proving to be utterly, incomprehensibly, brilliant.

Jolly decent-seeming chap to, for what it’s worth. We are thoroughly lucky to have him. Fingers crossed that that hamstring strain was nothing too sinister.

2. Managerial Tinkering and The Liability That is Aurier

Our glorious leader will presumably make quite the children’s entertainer should this whole top-level football management lark not quite work out, because he simply cannot resist springing a surprise upon his unsuspecting public with his selections, in much the manner of a chappie suddenly yanking a rabbit from his sleeve and turning it into a bunch of flowers, at little Timmy’s 4th. Yesterday’s treat featured a right-back at left-back while two left-backs sat it out on the bench, as well as the central midfield rejig, more of which later.

In that we beat a supposed equal at quite the canter, I suppose Operation Aurier at Left-Back could be considered a roaring success. Empirical evidence however, makes a fairly deafening case to the contrary.

Why the dickens the bounder cannot go five minutes without taking a running leap and landing on his posterior is quite beyond me, but it does nobody the darnedest bit of good. The term “hit-and-miss” may well have been invented for this technique, because Aurier’s sliding tackle success rate seems pretty much to verge on 50-50. Not the odds one wants a defender to carry into Premiership or Champions League clashes, particularly when one of those 50s is liable to involve conceding penalties or picking up a card or two.

Aurier would do well to elevate Jan Vertonghen to the top of his Christmas card list, and bundle in a bottle or two of the good stuff at various other points in the year as well, because the Belgian ended up playing babysitter to the blighter time and again. Liverpool’s Salah had the beating of our lot for pace, which was bad enough, but with Aurier’s decision mode consisting of “Lose A Straight Foot Race” and “Dive In Like Bally-O” poor old Vertonghen ended up marshalling the left-back pasture like a traffic warden. And a sterling job he did of it too, but it rather goes to show.

As for Aurier? Haul him out of the team and hammer some sense into him, leaving the full-back berths to Rose, Davies, Trippier and Walker-Peters.

3. Managerial Tinkering and Midfield Discipline

Having become so accustomed to seeing responsibility lie on the shoulders of Eriksen, Alli and chums to unpick a stubborn opposing defence, it made an interesting change to observe these fellows adopting more of the wait-and-see approach. “Tactical masterstroke” I think is the term, as these two natural attacking types sat back, kept their shape and let Liverpool collectively take aim and fire at their own feet, before picking them off.

It would not have worked if either Eriksen or Alli had deserted their post and gone storming up the pitch in search of neon lights, fast cars, loose women and headlines, so caps should be doffed. Dele in particular has seemed to struggle somewhat to control the urge to go wandering off and making up his own rules, so he jolly well deserved his goal. Nice to see him throw in a few party tricks as well.

4. Dependable Son

Having been curiously limited to a two-minute cameo against Real, I thought Sonny was a little unfortunate to be hooked around the hour mark yesterday. The chap was tireless, providing an excellent foil to Kane and contributing heartily to that mauling of the opening 20 minutes.

If anything, he should probably have had a first half hat-trick, but a hearty round of applause will suffice for the half-pitch gallop and controlled finish that brought him his goal.

The use of Son with Dele and Eriksen in a deeper role, following the use of Llorente up top on Tuesday, rather hammers home the versatility and options which Pochettino is somehow unearthing in this squad, like a loveable alchemist choc-full of bright ideas. If he can find the time I would rather like to see him manage the Ashes squad and oversee Brexit too.

5. The Wembley “Curse”

Those frenzied press witterings about a Wembley “curse” or “hoodoo” or whatnot had always struck me as rot of a pretty high order, and psychologically at least, yesterday’s rout ought to do our heroes good by the truckload when it comes to glancing at the fixture list and drinking in the “open bracket, h, close bracket” at the end of each line.

But poppycock though the notion of a curse may be, life on the hallowed turf is likely still to present some problems. Liverpool yesterday pretty much offered a step-by-step illustrated masterclass in how not to play the mighty Spurs. Pouring men forward, defending with a high line and leaving the back-door guided by a chap who resembled one of those harmless, aged, partially blind shaggy dogs that is kept around on this mortal coil strictly for sentimental purposes only, Liverpool well and truly gifted the thing to us.

The concern then, or at least the food for thought, is around how we deal with other guests at Wembley who are not quite so obliging. Liverpool and Dortmund were lured into something of a trap, invited to pile forward and then counter-attacked with all the rapier-like thrusts of a team of particularly sprightly musketeers. A loosely similar plan, of soak up and counter-attack, was effected, creditably enough, at the Bernabeu, and will presumably be adopted again in a couple of weeks.

But what we do with against the dross of the bottom half of the Premiership table remains a concern. Such blighters will not be quite so accommodating, but will doubtless sit back themselves with 9 or 10 behind the ball. One for the Brain’s Trust then, but at least Wembley has now become a place in which we can tear an opponent limb from limb.

6…

And finally, nothing to do with our heroes, but I happened to catch, on Match of the Day 2 last night, possibly the most brilliant goal I’ve ever seen. If you can, check out the random Southampton bean, Boufal I think he calls himself. Utterly incredible goal.

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.

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