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Chelsea 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Rodon’s Debut

Presumably during the upbringing of young J. Rodon Esq. there were one or two wild nights around the campfire, but it is difficult to imagine that his clan would have been much more a-twitter than today, with one of their gang thrust into the spotlight, from the off, and against one of our principal challengers for the end-of-season jug.

Given the much-vaunted success of our summer shopping spree, and the consequent strength in depth across the board, the prospect of enforced changes at N17 have generally been met with a fairly care-free shrug at AANP Towers, as if to suggest that there is no need to panic because the next cab on the rank is a pretty reliable sort.

You get the gist – a Lamela twists a knee and a Lucas bounds into view; a Reguilon stubs a toe and a Ben Davies is wheeled into action. Some reserves are better than others, but in general the fellows on show are of the tried and tested variety. The panic station claxons need not be sounded.

However, when Toby limped off last week a distinct shudder passed down the spine, because if there is one area in which we have a few cracks it is centre-back. None of the current mob are in the “Top Notch” bracket, with Toby himself the best of a middling bunch, and while the passage of time might reveal young Rodon to be one of the game’s all-time greats, one still gulped at the news that his first start in lilywhite would be away to Chelsea.

Naturally, no judgement can be passed after one game – but observations abound.

Evidently AANP was not the only indulging in a nervous gulp or two at the prospect of the Rodon limbs being flexed, for in the opening exchanges the lad himself – understandably enough – gave the impression of one trying hard not to show how nervous he was. A few simple passes went astray, which were duly noted in the debit column; but he displayed an early knack of toddling forward a few paces to intercept usefully, bringing himself into credit.

As was well documented, he used up a couple of lives, to top and tail the game – losing possession in an ill-judged mooch forward early on, resulting in the Chelsea offside goal, and then the weak header that let in Giroud at the death – but frankly such mistakes have been made on multiple occasions by other centre-backs stationed not a million miles away from him.

All told, in dashed difficult circumstances Rodon seemed alert and did not shirk the challenge. While I formally cough up my penny for the thoughts of Japhet Tanganga, this seemed promising enough.

The longer-term test, as ever, will be whether Rodon progresses a level or six, à la Ledley, or fails to eradicate the flaws and improve notably – in which respect he would join a pretty crowded gang, including all sorts from Gardner and Thelwell to Wimmer, Foyth and, dare I say it, Sanchez.

2. Dier

Meanwhile, a few yards to the west, Eric Dier once again dined out on what the tomes will record as a clean sheet, but which left the AANP lips pursed and arms folded, in a manner that sharper minds will recognise as communicating displeasure.

Dier has the advantage of being part of a unit that is greater than the sum of its parts. Under Jose, the back-four functions practically as one single entity, existing to keep marauders one heck of a distance away from goal and crowding the spaces into which trouble can drop. (I use the term ‘back-four’ pretty loosely, because Sissoko and Hojbjerg see to it that it’s often a back-six, with no shortage of additional helping hands from the attackers.)

No doubt it’s a successful operation, but this seems to owe more to the collective and its organisation levels, than to any outstanding quality from the individuals concerned. And in fact, when it comes to Dier, the quality repeatedly strikes me as a hefty distance away from outstanding.

On two notable second half occasions his passing from in or around his own area was unnecessarily risky and just plain inaccurate, gifting Chelsea possession that turned into half-chances; and his marking of Abraham for one cross was abysmal, featuring as it did Dier not even looking at the ball but watching the striker. That Abraham fell over rather than tapping in will inevitably wipe from many memories the pretty glaring error.

Throw in a couple of mistimed, lurching challenges that left him out of a position, and one may understand why the lips-pursed-arms-folded routine began to kick in at AANP Towers. This is not the stuff of a defensive lynchpin upon whom title-winning teams are built. The compactness and organisation (to which, in fairness, Dier presumably contributes) has given us the meanest defence in the division, but Dier himself instils precious little confidence.

3. Tanguy’s Lovely Touches

With caution making its masterpiece from the opening gong, this stuff was not exactly easy on the eye, but bless him, Tanguy Ndombele is the sort who to whom wriggling out of unwriggleable spots comes pretty naturally, and amidst the tactical proddings his little cameos lit up the place.

Given the current vogue for passing out from the back it’s just as well, because he often receives the ball in rather hairy spots and with opponents homing in on him like vultures. More fool them. Via the blessed combination of quick feet, low centre of gravity, general upper body strength and whatever other tricks he has up his sleeves, no position seems too tight for Ndombele, and like some mesmeric conjurer he’s away.

4. The Final Ball (In The First Half)

In the second half we barely laid a glove on our foes; but the pretty comfortable first half was lit up by the occasional forward foray. Alas, whereas in recent weeks, “Clinical Finishing” has been the mantra of all in lilywhite, this week the final ball was either poorly selected or not quite correctly executed.

Bergwijn’s shot over the bar, or Sonny trying to pass rather than shoot when haring towards the penalty area – these were moments that were impeccably and ruthlessly popped away in previous games, but today, with the radar not quite in full working order, the moments came and went.

I confess I expected them to come and go again in the second half, but with the emphasis on preserving what we had rather than venturing out for the win, the whole thing petered out about as unspectacularly as these can.

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Spurs 2-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Jose’s Tactics

It says much about the tactical scribblings of Our Glorious Leader that after a match in which all 14 players used can be congratulated for performing to the absolute peak of their powers, the first roses are strewn in the direction of the manager.

But no doubt about it, Jose and The Brains Trust did not leave a stone unturned in this one, with every slightest tactical eventuality seemingly taken care of. Everywhere one looked on the pitch there seemed to be a tactical tweak with Jose’s name scrawled over it, from the switch of Sonny from left to right, to the use of Sissoko as an additional defender in between right-back and centre back, via Hojbjerg’s more central berth and Kane’s deeper role.

I don’t mind admitting that The Angst of Over Three Decades of Spurs Supporting was weighing pretty heavily upon me in the first half, as our tactic became clear. Sitting back and soaking up pressure is one thing, but trying to do so for ninety minutes against a team as nifty on the ball as Man City struck me as a dashed dangerous game to play, and the wildly escalating AANP blood pressure during that first 45 no doubt bore provided sound medical evidence of this truth.

Looking back however, it is a testimony both to Jose’s masterplan and the concentration of troops invovled that City’s only clear shots at goal were two headers from set-pieces – and even then, the first was from quite a distance, on account of the delightful high defensive line now deployed, which cunningly acts as a safety net against our inability to man-mark.

On top of which, every time we touched the ball – which admittedly seemed only to be around once every ten minutes – we looked like scoring. City, for all their pretty patterns in possession, resembled a gang of schoolboys in a playground when it came to defending, all bluster but precious little strategy, and were duly cut to ribbons.

Our opening goal itself was a thing of beauty, each of its constituent parts worthy of some pretty gushing praise; and then the offside effort would have been one of the goals of the season if Kane had not rather unnecessarily strayed forward a moment too soon (one does wonder if that lad will ever cut it at the highest level) – but the gist of the thing was clear enough in the first half, and hammered home in the second, that ours were a menacing mob when attacking.

2. Ndombele (and Lo Celso)

Much has been made, by the chaps paid to opine on these things, of the contribution of Kane to the first goal. And no doubt about it, Kane’s novel ruse of jogging five yards towards the ball pretty much seemed to cause the heads of both City central defenders to explode, leaving a red carpet down which Sonny was able to saunter.

But what went largely overlooked was the contribution of Ndombele (not least by the Sky Sports bod in charge of the pictures, who displayed that modern pandering to the cult of managers’ personalities rather than the actual football, by zooming in on Pep instead of showing the blasted game).

Ndombele’s ability to take several players out of the game simply by swerving his upper body is fast achieving the sort of mesmeric status previously reserved for David Blaine and others of his mind-boggling ilk. It was a trait previously exemplified in lilywhite by Mousa Dembele, and rarely was it better demonstrated, and to better effect, than by Ndombele in assisting Son, when he received the ball facing his own goal, and then took a leaf out of the Kane Book of Making Opposition Heads Explode by ducking in one direction and weaving off in another.

That done, he then drizzled a little icing on top, in the form of a chipped pass weighted with backspin, all of which meant that young Sonny, who rarely needs to be told twice to rev up and motor, barely had to break stride.

While that was arguably Ndombele’s most eye-catching contribution, the impromptu applause which greeted his every touch – and body swerve – thereafter was reflective of the fellow’s remarkable ability to create space where previously there was none, simply by a wiggle of the upper body.

Others around him may have put in more relentless, non-stop running shifts, but Ndombele’s brief was more around positioning, availability and shielding of the ball when collecting it from defensive chums, each of which qualities feature fairly prominently on the Tanguy CV. While this is admittedly a little like praising a sedated polar bear for its sensible conservation of energy, that role of being the first available option when ridding the ball from defence was an important one, and the man did a sterling job.

And then, when the last drop of fuel was wrung from his frame, Lo Celso replaced him with strict instruction to treat the ball with the same paternal care, but with a few additional dollops of energy – as immediately demonstrated by the forty yard sprint for his goal, a feat, one suspects with the greatest goodwill, of which Ndombele would not have been capable.

(As a side note, another stellar performance from P-E Hojbjerg was discreetly gilded with the interception that led to him being fouled – from which free-kick Ndombele swerved and Sonny scored. Easy to miss, but it was further evidence to support the general theory that Hojbjerg’s Every Contribution is Immense.)

3. Aurier: Pleasant Surprises From The Usual Scapegoats, Part 1

Those familiar with the AANP way of things will know that at this juncture, the drill tends to be to add another splash of bourbon and set about lazily chiding Serge Aurier for abandoning his post to dive two-footed into the nearest moving body.

But as if to illustrate through one real-time example quite what a difference Jose can make, Aurier behaved impeccably throughout. I rubbed my eyes, and pinched myself, and poured another splash for luck, but could not doubt the evidence of my eyes: not one reckless challenge, not too many misdirected simple passes, mostly staying on his feet – mostly – and a general positional discipline of which the chap has not once in his career previously shown himself capable.

It was surreal stuff, which seemed to suggest that either the arrival of Doherty has spurred him onto greater heights, or, as seems vastly more probable, he has been kidnapped, cloned and a positionally-aware doppelganger now occupies the space where once Aurier leapt towards calamity.

4. Dier: Pleasant Surprises From The Usual Scapegoats, Part 2

A couple of steps to the left, and Eric Dier seemed similarly determined to avoid his weekly AANP berating. Pundits have been clambering over each other to insist that Dier is now a defensive colossus, seemingly on account of that one (admittedly impressive) twisty, headed, off-the-line clearance a couple of weeks ago – but over in these parts we remain vastly unconvinced of his worth as an elite centre-back.

Make no mistake, Dier will mooch around in the right vicinity, and is relatively vocal, but as I repeat on a weekly basis, he is neither the quickest nib nor the most alert to opposition movement, and his passing as often misses as hits.

Yesterday however, the fellow shirked no responsibility, and made not one false move. It was as close to flawless as such things get. I suspect that defending deep benefits the man, as it removes from the equation any test of his pace (or lack thereof) – as was the case with John Terry, a few years back – but even so, much had to be done positionally, and Dier did not miss a trick. Be it a block, interception or tackle, the lad was not to be beaten.

5. Our Title Parade in May

It would be easy to recline, light a smug cigar and lovingly ramble on about the contributions of all involved, but as there are another six months until we are eventually crowned champions there seems plenty of time to single out each of the individual title-winners before the white and blue ribbons are eventually tied around the thing.

It is such a formality that there seems a pretty strong chance that the league will just be called off now and the silverware packed off to N17 immediately, and few around the country would quibble.

The only things that can possible prevent our title parade – and they are but minor details – are our central defence, and the potential (nay, inevitable) injuries to key personnel.

With regards to centre-backs, the audible twang of Toby’s groin was the only blot on yesterday’s escutcheon. I don’t mind admitting that I don’t trust any of our gaggle of central defenders, but I probably mistrust Toby the least, even if he is not quite the reliable rock of old.

But with Sanchez yet to convince that he can complete 90 minutes without at least one costly aberration, Rodon untried at this level and Tanganga very much categorised as ‘Promising But Flawed’, one does rather bite the lip nervously at the prospect of one of the above manning the gates in our coming fixtures.

Moreover, where Toby has fallen foul of muscle-based woe, you can bet your mortgage that one or two others will follow in due course. And while our squad depth is like nothing previously seen around these parts, long-term injuries to any of Hojbjerg, Kane or Son in particular would considerably weaken the whole.

Rather a shame to speculate on this, as the title would otherwise be ours at a canter, clearly, but into all lives must some rain must fall, as the chap blathered.

Nevertheless, after such a pleasing afternoon’s work as yesterday’s, the only reasonable point of debate now seems to be whether Ledley will be allowed to lift the Premier League trophy in May.

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Royal Antwerp 1-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. ‘Squad Depth’ and What It Actually Means

Generally in my relentlessly advancing years there’s not much that moves me to the state of excitable animation. The 90s output of either The Prodigy or Arnold Schwarzenegger; a well-weighted pass played by literally anyone inside the opposing full-back; and a decent bourbon – this would probably fill that list in its entirety.

Recently, however, a further addition was made, when someone sent me an image of the current Spurs squad by position, featuring at least two pretty decent, international players in each spot. It would be deceiving my public to say that I salivated, but the thought certainly occurred that if ever there were a time to rub one’s hands in glee then that was it.

Much has been made of the strength in depth of the current Hotspur vintage, as enabled by the oddly generous spirit of giving that overcame the resident purse-string holder this summer. And quite rightly too, as the view here at AANP Towers is that as long as the defence can find a way to muddle through each week then we might all be able to head over to N17 next May for one heck of a shin-dig.

However, ‘Squad Depth’ is a potentially misleading term. What it suggests in this corner of the interweb is that should a couple of players pick up knocks – or worse, be absented for longer periods – then fully functional and relatively able reserves can seamlessly slot in, and the general equilibrium of the whole operation remains unsullied. Life goes on; day follows night; and where once a Lo Celso picked the midfield passes now a Ndombele does so.

What such squad depth does not do is give licence to The Brains Trust to change all eleven (or near enough) in one crazed swoop, and hope that nobody notices. The England team has done this often enough to teach anyone with a smidge of good sense that swapping out more than half of the regulars for a bunch of capable substitutes simply will not pass without a dip in quality. The individuals involved might all be good enough, but the spine of the team is gone, and instead there stands on the greenery a bunch of fellows who presumably have never once played together en masse.

Changing maybe four of the line-up ought generally to be manageable, whilst retaining the core of the team. But sticking with Lloris and hoping that a jumble of the rest of them will cope is a bit like holding onto the Ace, throwing the rest of the cards into the air and expecting them to fall in order.

The complete absence of first half fluency was therefore lamentable but fairly unsurprising. A new back-four, a new midfield three and a new front three predictably enough all looked around for someone else to take the lead.

Which is not to excuse them from blame – the lack of movement from those not in possession was fairly criminal stuff, and presumably most of them will at some point in the coming days have their heads flushed down a nearby toilet as a pointed reminder that a professional footballer ought to run until his lungs burst.

But nevertheless, I’m not sure what miracle Jose was expecting, having fielded a brand new eleven.

2. The Ongoing Struggles of Young Master Dele

Fair to say that Dele Towers will have witnessed happier times. The young squirt is clearly not Jose’s preferred tipple, which must be tough enough on a chap who not so long was being feted as The Next Big Deal.

But as if to really twist the knife, whenever he does get a start these days, the planets do anything but align, he scrabbles around for his best form and the it’s a safe bet that by half-time he’ll be invited to model some of the exciting THFC bench-warming garb.

Dele’s performance tonight sat somewhere between Terrible and Brilliant. In truth it was pretty typical Dele fare. Some nice touches and a few attempted cute passes were interspersed with him dwelling on the ball longer than necessary and flinging his arms in the time-honoured fashion of a toddler who can tantrum like the best of them. Personally I thought his work-rate was acceptable enough, and he was a little hard done by to be hooked at half-time; but such is life.

Part of the problem is that he does tend to swan around the place with the air of one who would like the team to be built around him. Dele, one sometimes suspects, would like to be the superstar flair player, or if not The Main Man then dashed well first amongst The Supporting Cast. And once upon a time that was indeed the case, with Dele the foil to Kane’s leading light.

At present, alas, he is being required simply to roll up his sleeves and put in a shift like the rest of the plebs. This does not appear a role for which Nature has fashioned him.

One wonders how long the impasse will last – or at least one would if this were a transfer window, but it isn’t, and presumably a few more opportunities for redemption await in the Europa.

3. Ben Davies, AANP’s Nemesis

Few things get the juices flowing like a pantomime villain, and as such I sometimes wonder if Ben Davies was put on this earth purely to give yours truly someone at whom to vent after five minutes of gently simmering discontent.

In truth he’s a pretty honest trooper – but when the reasonable fan has half an eye on title celebrations next May, then ‘Honest Trooper’ does not cut it.

As a full-back his crosses typically hit the first man (think back to the delicious Reguilon cross for Kane vs West Ham, and imagine how many attempts it would have taken Davies), and as a centre-back he seems best when in amongst a three.

It ought not to have mattered tonight, but just as the simmering discontent began to make itself felt, there was Davies to clatter over his own feet and pretty much usher in Antwerp with a route to goal.

Alas, we are hardly blessed with talent in the centre-back area at present, and if anything will halt the title parade next May it’s that particular berth. However, having incurred the AANP wrath from his general lack of threat as a bona fide left-back, I need hardly describe how the passions were stoked by his faux pas tonight.

4. Bale’s Lack of Fitness

Another game, and another underwhelming showing from our resident Galactico.

As ever, one is reluctant to chide Bale for the crime of being dreadfully undercooked, but it is difficult to tell how effective he might be at full-blast when he shows reluctance to break sweat, as is currently the case.

Bale currently ambles around the place with the air of one paranoid his muscles might snap if he approaches anything near a sprint – which may well indeed be exactly his mindset. And if that is indeed the case then there’s not much anyone can do but fling him into the pit on Thursday nights and hope that the cylinders begin to fire before too long.

It didn’t help the cause tonight however, not least given that, as articulated above ad nauseam, he was one amongst a group of relative strangers all looking to each other for inspiration. Moreover, one got the impression that young Lo Celso was in a similar boat of being a little wary of stretching the limbs as far as they would go, being also freshly returned from injury.

The net result was a team that looked like they were carrying one or two passengers, which certainly stuck a few spanners in the works.

On top of which, it remains nigh on impossible to gauge what sort of Gareth Bale we find ourselves in possession of. He is still capable of lung-busting gallops? Is his sole purpose in life now to lamp the ball at goal from thirty yards? There is no way of knowing at present.

5. Oddly Reticent Full-Backs

No doubt that the game was lost in that oddly neutered first half. The glut of half-time substitutions nearly had the desired effect in terms of result, and certainly bucked up things performance-wise, with Messrs Sonny, Lamela and Hojbjerg each offering the levels of energy one has come to expect.

It was notable in that second half that Monsieur Aurier in particular was suddenly struck by the whim to attack down the flank. Quite why he didn’t do so in the first half was a rummy one to me, with Reguilon on the other flank similarly shy on the matter.

A failing in that first half was the narrowness of our lot, alongside the absence of movement and general lethargy about the place. But a key component of Jose’s Spurs has generally been the willingness of the full-backs to push forward, allowing the forwards to shuffle infield, and generally sprinkling the place with options.

As noted, Aurier did so in the second half, but it was all lacking in the first. Maybe it was due to the slow tempo of the build-up play, maybe not, who knows? It was not the only failing, and certainly not the only reason we lost – but as with all the shortcomings, it left the interested observer with a sense of irritation.

Spurs 3-3 West Ham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Second Half

What with the early carousing in which everything turns to gold, followed by a feeling ultimately of feeling sick to the stomach, this had all the hallmarks of a particularly exuberant night out for which one pays pretty heavily the next day. ‘Moderation’ is generally a watchword at AANP Towers until the drink starts to flow, and between you and me there has been more than one occasion on which I have woken bleary-eyed on the bathroom floor, still wearing the previous night’s layers, with head pounding like the dickens and a ghastly taste in the throat, leaving me to wonder at precisely what point things went from Rip-Roaring-Fun to Oh-So-Terribly-Wrong.

I mention this regrettable morning-after sentiment because that same question – of the point at which things went from RRF to OSTW – seems pretty ripe here.

It would be easy to suggest it was half-time – and the trail of breadcrumbs certainly points to our lot failing remotely to match West Ham’s second half lust for battle.

But here at AANP Towers there were one or two mutterings of discontent even in the first half, even amidst the Kane-and-Sonny double-act, because whenever West Ham probed down the flanks our lot seemed to make quite the song and dance about simply putting out the fires and getting on with life. While it was true that every time we attacked we looked like scoring, and a three-goal lead ought to have been plenty, our back-four could hardly have been described as hammock-swinging and cigar-puffing at any point.

Nevertheless, with a three-nil lead at home to middling opposition, the decent thing to do would have been to shuffle off with all three points. But whereas in the first half we cleared the set-pieces and had some generous spells of midfield possession – with occasional breakneck forward thrusts – in the second half it seemed the urgency levels were gently dialled down as the clock ticked towards 90. Where Ndombele, and Hojbjerg in particular, were pulling strings in the first half, they gently faded into the background in the second.

I suppose, just as one can identify the precise Jagerbomb on the night-before as the moment at which events suddenly veered south, one can point to the removal of Son and his energy, or Sissoko’s failure to challenge for a header at a set-piece, as turning points here. And such individual moments certainly did seem to contribute to the general malaise.

However, unlike the Newcastle last-minute equaliser a few weeks back, we can hardly claim that this was a bolt from the blue – our lot allowed West Ham to have too much of the game in the second half.

2. Aurier and the Void Between his Ears

This was probably one for ‘Collective Responsibility’ rather than zooming in on the obvious, traditional cause of calamity, but as we were increasingly on the defensive in the second half, and given that most of the damage was being done on the flanks, I took it upon myself to conduct a thorough study of Serge Aurier’s second half activity; and, unsurprisingly, the results made for pretty dubious viewing.

It may have been tactically ordained from on high, but Aurier constantly seemed to be ten yards further forward than the rest of the back-four. This obviously accommodated his impulse to attack, which made sense, and Sissoko more often than not slotted in behind him to cover.

This in itself seemed reasonable enough. Not a tactic with which I was terrifically thrilled, but one accepts such things with good grace. What irked no end, however, was that when possession was lost and the defensive gong had clearly sounded, Aurier tended to do little more than watch events unfold from ten yards away. When he ought to have been busting a gut to return to his quarters, he rarely did more than saunter back.

It was disturbing quite how often he was simply in the wrong position. This seemed to be compounded by his urge to race into tackles in midfield – simply because he happened to be in the vicinity. A dollop or two of defensive nous might have encouraged him to leave midfield battles for the midfielders, while he hurried back to his right-back post, but such thoughts rarely seemed to occur.

It was all a little odd, and I rather wish I had studied Reguilon on the other flank to see if similar events were unfolding there.

And then, to compound matters, in the dying seconds Aurier managed in a single movement to segue from being comfortably in possession to needlessly losing possession and conceding a free-kick, from which the equaliser was scored. All the attacking benefits in the world cannot convince me of that man’s worth as a defender.

3. Early Thoughts on Bale

Whisper it, but the much-heralded return of Gareth Bale proved to be one heck of a damp squib, as tends to be the case when one wanders onto the pitch and sees things immediately fall apart at the seams just in time for the final whistle.

Not since the signings were announced of Edgar Davids, and before him Jurgen Klinsmann, has the excitement at AANP Towers reached such giddy levels. For ten mind-boggling minutes we were even treated to the Son-Kane-Bale axis in all its glory. Nothing happened, as all three, in their own unique ways, all looked pretty shattered – but there it was! Actually unfolding!

In time, one suspects those three will absolutely blitz some poor, honest souls who amble up on the wrong day. This, however, was not that day. Bale, frankly, did not look fit. I suspect no-one begrudges him that, and at three-nil with twenty minutes to go it ought not to have mattered, but I suppose we will simply have to wait a few more weeks before that front-three fires on all cylinders.

A dashed shame that Bale fluffed his lines when the big moment arrived, particularly having done the hard work, but he seemed to receive an untimely shove that knocked him off his axis at the crucial moment. The good times will presumably roll soon enough.

4. Deep-Lying Kane

On a brighter note, the japes of the first sixteen minutes were all sorts of fun!

What seemed to begin as a mere whim or flight of fancy of Harry Kane’s, to drop deep and show off his passing range, now seems to have evolved into a bona fide plan, which presumably has files saved online and a ring-binder containing notes and coloured post-its in Jose’s inner sanctum.

When our lot begin passing from our own goal kick, Kane now stations himself in midfield as a matter of permanent residence, in order to collected the lofted ball and make merry.

Things are a little different when we’re in possession around halfway, in which case normality resumes and he’s as likely to be the attacking spearhead; but if the opposition defence is pushed up to halfway, Kane’s drill is to sow his wild oats from a deep-lying starting position.

And why not? His passing is sublime, and his runners willing. Teams will presumably suss this out and deploy appropriate counter-measures – but in a way this will be where the fun really does begin, because we have the option of simply having Kane wander back into attack, and dragging opponents with him.

5. Clinical Finishing

The heading ‘Clinical Finishing’ rings a little hollow now, admittedly, but in the opening twenty minutes or so our finishing was the very dictionary definition of clinical.

I recall several years ago in an away Champions League match – possibly Barcelona, possibly Dortmund – when Son was clean through and shot straight at the ‘keeper, I gave the blighter an absolutely rollicking for several weeks afterwards. Not much point, of course, as he couldn’t hear me, but I was convinced at the time that the lad was not one of nature’s born finishers.

Things have moved on somewhat since then, and now Sonny is as deadly as they come when the frame of the goal looms into view. I did rather titter at the West Ham defender who did not think to prevent his right-footed shot in the first minute – it seems a safe bet that the entire watching global audience could see what Son was going to attempt as soon as he collected the ball – but it’s one thing attempting such manoeuvres and another thing crossing the t’s and dotting the I’s, and these days Sonny just doesn’t seem to miss.

Credit also to Kane for rolling out the double-nutmeg for his first goal, and a slap on the back for young Senor Reguilon and his glorious first-time cross, which practically begged to be nodded home. I cannot imagine that I was the only one who wondered how many attempts that might have taken Ben Davies.

Our lot can barely be contained going forward – if we could just work out how to defend (and no, Eric Dier is not the answer) just imagine where this season would take us. For now, however, it seems all action, no plot.

Man Utd 1-6 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg’s Man of the Match Stuff

When Gary Neville took time out from his 90-minute long soliloquy on Man Utd to toss a Man of the Match award in the direction of the good ship Hotspur, he appropriately enough gave the matter zero thought and rattled off the first name that sprung to his mind, Harry Kane.

Now Kane is a man of multiple talents, just about all of which were on display today – and for those campers who are firmly pro-Kane but a little less decided on all things Hojbjerg, there might be value in skipping over the following few paragraphs and lapping up the Kane-heavy content below.

Here at AANP Towers however, the bouquets were being flung in the direction of P-E Hojbjerg throughout, because in a quiet and understated way the chap absolutely bossed proceedings.

When science progresses to the point that cutting open a chap’s brain to understand clearly how the levers and pulleys work is as regular as flicking on a light switch, I’ll happily petition for Master Hojbjerg to be the first to go under the knife, because his knack for knowing precisely where to be at any given point, on an expanse of land as big as – well, a football pitch – was uncanny.

Depending on any given circumstance in the game, Hojbjerg seemed able to glide into the optimal position to stick his oar into other people’s business. It mattered not whether we were in possession inside our own half, or just outside their area, or on the retreat as the other lot attacked – in much the same manner as one of those time-travelling robot assassins of Cyberdyne fame, Hojbjerg seemed able to whistle through a multitude of options in his head and instantly select the appropriate one, positioning himself accordingly.

At one point towards the end of the first half, first Reguilon and then Ndombele let possession slither away, and as the United dogs eagerly looked up for a counter-attack opportunity they were abruptly stopped by six feet and a few inches of pure Hojbjerg, stomping into view like one of those over-zealous doormen who are oddly averse to sitting down and discussing differences in the manner that decorum demands.

And if the situation called for those six feet and several inches to exert themselves in the muscle-and-sinew department. Hojbjerg was even more game, and at one point his enthusiasm for the lilywhite cause extended to an on-pitch celebration for a tackle by Serge Aurier. And how we have needed something like that at N17.

And then, as his piece de resistance, just when AANP thought that were no more worlds for the young Dane to conquer, he went and delivered – first time and with perfect weight – that pass inside the full-back that is the stuff of deities, to set up Aurier for his goal.

2. Kane Dropping Deep

As has been evidenced in recent weeks, Harry Kane, seems to have decided that he’s proved all he needs to prove in terms of goalscoring, and while everyone else gets on with the day-job he will throw in a spot of extra-curricular work in the Number 10 position.

The pass from the free-kick to release Son for one of the goals early on (let’s face it, it’s a struggle to remember them all, let alone their order) was the sort of stuff of which any lifelong, deep-lying creator would be proud.

He also pinged a couple of Hollywood balls into the path of Serge Aurier – although admittedly United’s defending was such that at times it seemed rude not to pick out Aurier – and even when not directly creating goalscoring opportunities, his tendency to stroll all the way back to halfway and even further gave the impression that here was an egg who was rather enjoying his latest hobby.

With Sonny the ever-willing runner ahead of him, and Lamela finding the whole thing an awfully good jape too, Kane’s drifts into deeper positions were pretty well complemented. Thrown Bale into the mix and I think we’re all going to need a stiff drink and a decent lie-down.

Not that Kane was going to neglect completely the meat and veg, and up he duly popped to score a poacher’s goal in the first half, and a trademark perfect penalty, into the side netting rather than the corner. All seemingly without breaking sweat.

On top of which, he, in common with various others – Lamela, Hojbjerg, Ndombele, Sonny, Aurier, Reguilon – was snapping at United heels like a man possessed from the off.

3. Aurier and Reguilon

Young Senor Reguilon had the sort of debut that will make the crowds gather and beg for more. Beating United 6-1 in their own backyard is pretty much beyond the stuff of dreams – but there it was for him, in black and white.

His own contribution seemed to pick up where he had left against Chelsea in midweek. The directive to go haring up the left-flank was one he seemed to receive as a small child might receive instruction to take whatever the hell he pleased from a sweetshop, and like some sort of little lamb in a nursery rhyme, whenever Sonny decided to stretch his legs on the inside left position, one could bet the mortgage that Regulon would be sure to go in a supporting role, five yards to the left.

Another feature of Reguilon’s game was more of that child-like enthusiasm in chasing down loose balls or opponents at every opportunity, as if absolutely desperate to impress his new paymasters. And quite rightly too, it’s the attitude one would expect from all in lilywhite. One hopes that experience does not diminish this youthful zeal.

On the other flank, Christmas came early for young Monsier Aurier, who was allowed to do whatever the hell he wanted all game. All of this was aided by United not really picking up the gist of the thing, and seemingly dealing with the problem by closing their eyes, putting their hands over their ears and singing loudly. In certain scenarios this counter-measure might prove effective, but today it did little to dent Aurier’s ambitions, and as well as multiple opportunities to cross he was also afforded enough time to score, which really is a nadir for any opposing defence.

Question marks over Aurier’s defending will presumably never disappear, but the suspicion remains that he considers himself an attacking sort, and when the opportunity arises to hit the final third he often delivers.

4. Lamela and the Dark Arts

Most self-respecting folk have had the good sense to acknowledge that rather than turn the game, the red card simply sped up the inevitable, whilst perhaps adding a dollop or two of good, honest comedy to the situation. Already in one heck of a pickle at that stage, United went through various stages of a toddler’s tantrum, by getting everything wrong, then sulkily giving up and then becoming rather aggressive – but at the time of the offence our lot were already leading, had missed multiple chances and were noticeably sharper in almost every area.

That said, the AANP view was that there could have been few complaints had Lamela also seen red. Presumably he didn’t because he struck the throat, whereas the other lad struck the face; and if countless John Grisham novels have taught me anything it’s that the devil is in the detail in these legal matters.

I suspect that not even the most committed United fan could ignore the irony of complaining about a harsh refereeing decision at Old Trafford, but there can be little doubt that our lot benefited a tad from this one (on almost the exact spot at which a missed handball allowed United to score past Heurelho Gomes several years back).

While the Sky studio pundits were racing through the various stages of grief at the whole spectacle, I did rather wonder what Our Glorious Leader made of Lamela’s sudden surrender to the charms of gravity.

One could be forgiven for having missed it, as it was not particularly widely publicised, but a certain channel recently aired a documentary of behind-the-scenes footage from N17, which was in places at least, eye-opening stuff. At one point, which does rather stick in the memory, Jose requested his troops – using the sort of fruity language that would make the elderly swoon, I don’t mind telling you – that they needed to be less courteous in how they went about things. Less pleasant. More unbecoming.

And so, when Lamela took his unseemly tumble, while hardly applauding the young bean, I did wonder if this were evidence of precisely that sort of uncouth stuff that Jose had craved. A small step, one might suggest, on the road to increasing the general savviness about the place – and maybe even winning a trophy?

There were plenty of other positives, and plenty of other highlights (Maguire hauling down Luke Shaw for the first goal; the sight of United players careering off into the wrong postcode every time Ndombele executed a turn; the fake crowd booing off United at half-time). Ultimately however, this has turned into one of our greatest weeks in recent memory. Bumping Chelsea out of the Carabao Cup; securing the Europa group stage with seven goals in the process; signing a striker of all things – and now sticking six past United at their own place.

How does one sum up that sort of narrative? Lads, it’s Tottenham.

Spurs 1-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lo Celso

Odd to say it now, but things started pretty swimmingly.

Our lot, without ever really purring into top gear, were on top throughout. There have been plenty of games in recent years when opponents have sat back to defend, and we have laboured accordingly, passing sideways and backwards without a glimmer of a chance – this was not one of those occasions. For sure we ought to have hit the bottom corners – no fantasy points are awarded to a player for hitting woodwork, blast it – but opportunities were at least being created at a fair old lick.

(It should be pointed out that Newcastle were absolutely appalling, seemingly incapable of executing even the most basic facets of the game.

Lob a ball gently at one of their lot, and it would bounce off them as if hitting a concrete wall. Invite them to roll a six-yard pass under no pressure, and they would instead ping the thing out of play. At one point one of their number tried to turn approximately ninety degrees in a clockwise direction – a skill that most able-bodied folk manage to execute breezily enough – but succeeded only in falling to earth like a collapsing tower, and, for added comedic value, grabbing the ball with his hand on his way down.)

No doubt Newcastle’s players are better than their performance today indicated, but even with our umpteen missed chances I did not at any point have the slightest concern about our profligacy (until Carroll biffed along, and the aerial bombardment began). Until that point there seemed no way on earth that Newcastle would trouble us. Bar the goalkeeper, collectively they had a stinker.

Back to our lot, and they put on show some pretty decent fare throughout. For this, I give much of the credit to Lo Celso. He might not necessarily be as naturally gifted as Christian Eriksen, but where Eriksen would quietly fade out of existence during games, Lo Celso, like some annoying, attention-seeking youth, seemed pretty eager to be at the centre of things.

Taking up a possession neatly in between midfield and attack, much of what was good went through his size nines, a sure sign that here was a bounder in no mood to shirk responsibility.

Moreover, he appears to be one of those rare beasts whose natural instinct on receiving the ball is automatically to pass forward. This might not sound particularly revolutionary, but after the diet of midfield sorts who seem intent on passing sideways or backwards as if their lives depend on it, this makes for pretty refreshing stuff.

Not every pass necessarily hit the mark, but as often as not he tried to pick an early pass in between defenders, for the attacking mob to run onto, and frankly it’s a joy to behold.

2. Winks’ Game of Two Halves

On the subject of sideways and backwards passing, in the first half young Master Winks did not miss many opportunities to swivel back towards home and roll the ball thither.

On occasion, this is certainly no bad thing, but against a Newcastle team both devoid of ideas and pretty lacking in talent this seemed pretty heavy stuff, and unnecessarily so. If Lo Celso’s instinct was always first to seek a forward pass, Winks’ was the opposite, as if created as the precise genetic inverse. It grated.

In Winks’ defence, one cannot fault his energy levels. If a man in lilywhite needed a chum within ten yards, Winks was doing the neighbourly thing. If the ball fell loose, Winks was the one racing in to pick up the scraps. It simply appeared, particularly in the first half, that he was misjudging the mood of the occasion, and adopting a safety-first approach when there was not a whiff of danger within a mile of the place.

Mercifully, whatever pleasantries were exchanged at half-time had a pretty positive effect, and in the second half young Winks emerged with a far more positive take on life. He did not dwell on the ball, nor did he attempt the outrageous, yet simply by playing simple, forward passes he increased the general fluency of the spectacle, and the world seemed a better place for it.

3. Ndombele’s Cameo

A topic of chatter amongst the thinkers of N17 is how both Lo Celso and Ndombele might be accommodated in the same team. At present, with Jose preferring two deeper-lying midfielders, it appears that only one or other can get the gig in the more advanced position.

While very different fish, both Lo Celso and Ndombele appear most effective when granted the licence to wander forward and do their damnedest. Lo Celso’s is a more energetic form of linking attacking and midfield, but Ndombele again showed, in his fifteen or so minutes, that his boots are made of pretty silken stuff.

If opportunity allows for a quick pass Ndombele does not hang around for the formalities, and it is potentially game-changing fare. His cute first-timers visibly rattle the opposing defence, and help create gaps that the mere mortal does not necessarily spot on an initial cursory glance.

Over the coming week, the fixture-list suggests that it will be one or t’other, with two defensive midfielders positioned behind them for solidarity; but in the longer-term one wonders whether Jose might ink his forearm, dye his hair blue and include both Lo Celso and Ndombele in the same eleven, while filming the whole thing on his phone and posting it on social media.

4. Kane Dropping Deep – The Future?

While the cute, eye-of-the-needle passes were the preserve of Messrs Lo Celso and Ndombele, Harry Kane continues to make his case for ultimately becoming Creator-in-Chief of this mob.

I’m not sure anyone in the squad can rival him for big, booming crossfield passes onto the very toe of a teammate, and as the last couple of games have illustrated, his vision and weight of passes typically leave his striking partner with little option but to roll the ball into the net.

One senses from his warblings over the last year that the coming 12 months are fairly critical to him, but should we retain his services in the longer-term, a future might beckon for him in a deeper, number 10 role – andI’m not sure many in the game would be better equipped for it.

5. Handball Rot

And so this dreary slab of nonsense. If, like AANP, you rather enjoying wiling away a couple of hours with the pleasures of an all-no-plot film, you may be familiar with that moment of oddly perfect calm displayed by a sort who realises he’s about to go the way of all flesh and pronto.

Andy Garcia in Black Rain, as an example, was pattering about the place trying to solve several of the world’s ills, until a chap with what appeared to be a samurai sword, of all the dashed things, made a beeline for him. And at that point Andy Garcia, realising his race was run, appeared entirely at peace with things and rather philosophically just accepted it (and promptly had his stem separated from its moorings).

I mention this because it was with that same philosophical calm that AANP exhaled, once the VAR routine kicked off in minute 90+5, and accepted that things were going to end badly. Where Jose stomped off, and Eric Dier presumably screamed out more choice expletives as loudly as comically possible in an empty, microphoned stadium, my sentiment was more along the Andy Garcia lines of “Well I can see where this is going, and there’s not a bally thing I can do about, so might as well just accept it.”

If you’ve toddled this way hoping for some fresh and original pearls on the matter I’m afraid that – much like Andy Garcia, and indeed Jose, Dier et al – you’re bang out of luck. The AANP sentiments are in common with most others. To summarise: the current handball law is a rummy one.

Some have grumbled that the referees ought to exercise common sense, but I’m not having that – if the rules are in place let’s at least apply them consistently so that everyone knows where they stand. I’ll happily throw a blunt object at anyone who argues otherwise on that one.

However, there are a couple of pointers I would lob into the mix. One is that the handball rule is apparently supposed to take into account the distance the ball travels before it reaches the offending limb. While, admittedly, I was not privy to the whisperings between officials as the decision was made, it seems a safe bet that on the issue of ‘Distance Travelled by Ball’ precious little dialogue was exchanged.

The other grumble from AANP Towers is that the award of the free-kick which led to the whole fandango was rummy in the extreme. Watch again and it rather appears that the Newcastle player in question plays a pass and then hurls his body headlong into Hojbjerg – for which curious sequence of events he is awarded a free-kick.

None of it counts for a great deal now, of course, but when the numbers are racked up at the end of the season, should we fall two points short of something exciting I wonder if we might look back on this afternoon and roll out some of Eric Dier’s most choice observations.

Southampton 2-5 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

As 5-2 victories go this one was of the lesser-sighted ilk, that has one slapping the thigh in satisfaction, for sure, but also musing to one’s neighbour that we pulled it off without at any point playing particularly well. It would be a little crude to say that this was simply a triumph of lobbing balls over the top of a fairly clueless opposition defence – but only a little.

1. Ndombele

Premier Sports appear to have hit upon one heck of a market strategy judging by the midweek experience, of pocketing AANP’s hard-earned cash and promptly downing tools. However, in between the blank screens and random Serie A montages during our Europa jaunt on Thursday I did get to see enough of Ndombele’s cameo to suggest that if the stars align he could be the one that gets the pistons firing.

The shoulder-dips to wriggle free of minders were reminiscent of Mousa Dembele – blessed be his name – while Ndombele also appeared instinctively to look for those short, defence-splitting, diagonal passes whenever the aforementioned shoulder-dip had allowed him room.

After the torpor that had preceded, it made for pretty radical viewing, and although one rarely knows quite how the cogs whir inside Jose’s curious little mind it was no massive surprise to see Ndombele given the opportunity to peddle his wares from the off today.

And when he did end up in possession I thought he delivered more of the same. The problem was that he only ended up in possession about five times in the entire half, but it ought not to detract from the fact that each of those occasions made for a pretty pleasing highlights reel. Shoulder-dip-enabled wriggles and diagonal passes were very much the instructions being delivered by the voices in his head, and he held up his part of the bargain.

Early on he played a pass through the middle, and while both Sonny and Kane were each comfortably offside, the very fact that he possessed both the vision and chops to attempt such a thing – in a land in which Harry Winks was haring around demanding the ball just so that he could immediately roll it backwards ten yards – was the sort of encouraging stuff one gulps down.

Ndombele’s piece de resistance of course, was the moment bang on half-time in which he somehow managed to unite in one movement tribute acts to both Mousa Dembele and Luka Modric, arguably our two finest midfielders of the past twenty years.

The strength and control to pirouette was worthy of Dembele, and took out two Southampton defenders at once; the placement and weighting of the pass took out another two. Kane and Sonny delivered their lines with the professionalism one would expect, and we went into half-time with a parity that was barely deserved.

Much of the purring around that goal was directed towards Kane and Son, which was understandable enough, given that each made a pretty difficult task look akin to shelling peas stolen from babies – but here at AANP Towers we have rather the soft spot for those unsung heroes who assist the assist, and Ndombele’s contribution did much to alter the momentum of a game that was drifting from us a tad.

2. Lo Celso

So it was no real surprise to see Jose hook Ndombele immediately and dabble in a spot of Lo Celso for the second half instead.

And credit where due, where Ndombele’s contribution had vitally altered the scoreline, Lo Celso’s altered the general pattern of play. One does not want to massage the ego any more than is absolutely necessary, but a congratulatory nod is probably due to our esteemed head coach.

Lo Celso appeared to pitch his tent a good ten or fifteen yards further north of Ndombele’s stomping ground, and it allowed for a little more subtlety to the general tactic of lobbing the ball over the top and chasing.

With Lo Celso pushing further up the field, and Kane dropping into deeper pockets, the relationship between midfield and attack, which in the first half had been little more than strangers in similar garb exchanging suspicious looks, blossomed into something vastly more convivial. As if to cement the entente cordiale, Lo Celso duly assisted two of the assists in the second half., which obviously made him the toast of the town within these four walls.

The successes – of sorts – of both Lo Celso and Ndombele in their respective cameos in that third midfield slot does make one dizzyingly wonder quite how the cup of creativity might overfloweth if the two of them were paired together. But perhaps we cannot expect Jose’s attacking instincts to extend quite so far, and for the foreseeable it will be one or the other, with two midfield minders in attendance to keep a lid on any frivolity.

3. Dele Alli

Quite where Dele Alli fits into all this is one for the square-peg-round-hole specialists to mull over. Our Glorious Leader does have something of the vindictive ex-wife about him when it comes to picking a scapegoat and slinging some mud, so Dele probably ought not to take his squad exclusion too greatly to heart, but for this month at least he appears to have been identified by Jose as The Cause Of All Life’s Ills, so he had better get used to the feeling.

One might argue, and in pretty compelling fashion, given the evidence of the senses, that Dele’s particular bag of tricks is not quite the right fit for the current formation. However, I am inclined to think that if Jose wanted team Hotspur to include one Alli, D. Esquire then Jose would find a way to do so. It is not so much that the young eel does not fit the formation as that Jose is simply casting his admiring glances at other shiny toys in his box – and Dele will simply have to apply more make-up in order to win back those lost affections.

While there have been some rumbles of discontent about the place at the omission of the chap, it would be remiss to suggest that pitchforks are being sharpened and villages burned in indignation. His absence is not being particularly lamented. When on song, Dele has the technique – not to mention eye for goal – to make himself a nuisance in and around the opposition box.

But when off the boil – and let’s face it, for various reasons this has been the case for at least a season – he appears neither one thing nor another. Unless one of those things is a midfield presence who takes far too many touches in possession, sucking momentum out of attacks, in which case he is absolutely that thing.

The breathless nature of the fixture list in the coming weeks means that Dele need not sulk in the corner for too long, as his services will doubtless be required. The Carabao Cup must, after all, go on. He would be well advised, however, to take a cautionary glance over his shoulder, for with a sudden overload of attacking sorts mooching about the camp he will need to do more than simply go through the motions and attempt nutmegs every time he receives possession if he is to elbow his way back up the midfield pecking order.

4. Son, Kane… and Bale

Son and Kane naturally enough are the names in lights tonight, what with their clinical finishing and exquisite vision and passing. The humility overload as every figure in lilywhite attempted to pass credit to someone else did nauseate pretty swiftly, but that can be excused. They were five lovely goals, and whatever else is malfunctioning about the place we are dashed lucky to have those two up top.

Given what had gone before, this game seemed like it would result in anything but a five-goal salvo. The evidence of the first half suggested that this was set to be another dubious Jose performance, as low on fight as possession – but such is the benefit of having world-class strikers. Having been second best for half the game, our forwards randomly turned the scoreline into an absolute mauling before anyone had really registered how that midfield struggle of the first half was unfolding in the second.

And with the excitement of Bale’s return in recent days, it has made one reflect that the last time he was in our ranks, our lot were similarly low on a defined system. Back then, the plan as often as not was simply to cross halfway, give it to Bale and sit back in the knowledge that he’d likely find a way to score (typically by galloping forward twenty yards and then leathering it from distance, teammates present for decorative value only).

And in the first half at least, until Lo Celso did the honourable thing, the tactic seemed to be a variation on a similar theme – lob the ball into the final third for Son and Kane, and sit back in the knowledge that they’d likely find a way to score. The tactics barely need tweaking to accommodate Bale.

However, given that the excitement dial has simply exploded into a puff of smoke at AANP Towers, in a fashion not seen since Klinsmann’s signing was unveiled in ’94, one can be excused for simply waving away tactics and dreaming of quite how good the attack might look. If Kane and Son can magic up five goals between them at the head of a fairly rudimentary system, imagine what delights Kane, Son and Bale might provide. The mind boggles.

Spurs 0-1 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. New Season, Same Dross

The cheery new-season optimism at AANP Towers dissipated after around 7 minutes, which feels like it might be some sort of record.

Having raced around immediately post kick-off as though they meant business, our heroes pretty swiftly reverted to type once those initial sprints had been sprinted, and spent the remaining 83+ minutes of the game displaying all those ominous traits that had wormed their way into the fittings at the end of last season.

Mistaking today’s opponents for Barcelona circa 2012 we generally sat off them, genial hosts that we are, and let them do as they please, wherever they pleased.

In possession, ‘Anything But Urgency’ seemed to be the mantra, as the ball was gently plopped this way and that in the slow, soothing and threat-free manner of a lullaby one might hum to a sleepy infant.

Service of any sort to Kane was unapologetically removed from the menu; a goal was conceded from a pretty rudimentary set-piece; and having gone behind our lot appeared to down tools and relax, seemingly under the misapprehension that this was a two-legged affair, and there would be plenty of opportunity to correct things at a later date.

Since his arrival Jose has seemed to enjoy reeling off a chorus along the lines of ‘Give me a pre-season and I’ll show you a team in my image’ – but the evidence of our eyes was that of a team whose dial has been set to ‘Underwhelming’ and is absolutely not for deviating from that course.

2. Hojbjerg

Since I write this thing under oath I might as well come clean and admit to my public that when Hojbjerg signed up, while not exactly moved to dancing a jig, I nevertheless went out of my way to nod in approval and insist to those within earshot that here was a smart purchase.

On paper, everywhere you cared to look there was a ticked box. The chap was evidently fond of a tackle, had the good sense to position himself in the sort of positions that upset opposition attacks at source, had run a lap or two in the Premier League and was reasonably well priced. A cure to all life’s ills he might not quite have been, but a dashed handy addition to the rack he most certainly was.

And, continuing the spirit of Bible-sworn honesty, I thought that his opening quarter of an hour in lilywhite did much of what was scrawled on the tin. He tackled, he positioned himself usefully within spitting distance of the back-four, he poked his nose in Everton’s business. It was low-key stuff admittedly, and no bones were shattered or worlds set alight – but it seemed to be the good, honest stuff of which behind-the-scenes midfield minders are made.

The commentary bods evidently disagreed, and with considerable strength of feeling, but in the early stages at least I thought it was all palatable enough. Being Tottenham through and through, one is inclined to give the newbies the benefit of the doubt, plus a little extra. To do otherwise would not be cricket.

However, as the hands of time continued on their relentless march, so Hojbjerg’s contributions became by turns less remarkable, then more ordinary, and then downright ragged, if you pardon the fruity language.

Now one does not slander one’s fellow Spur lightly, and much less on debut, so a little perspective would not go amiss. This was no horror-show, it simply meandered into ineffective territory, which happens to the best of us.

But having been heralded as the sort of bean who would call spades spades and stamp down on any nonsense, it was a heck of a downer to see levels of midfield bite drop to zero, levels of midfield creativity fail to rise above zero and life drain away well before the curtain came down. Hojbjerg remains a good player, and the odds are that the coming weeks and months will demonstrate as much, but this was disappointing stuff.

3. Doherty

The other shiny new toy in the cupboard was shoved about a mile up the right wing and told to get on with it. Hopes were high for young Doherty, and who knows, if he had picked his spot six inches to the east or west when through on goal the headlines might be of the upbeat and celebratory variety.

Alas, his diem went un-carped, and instead we were left to reflect on a curious sort of performance that was neither one thing nor the other until he ran out of puff and had mercy shown.

He seemed to get the broad gist that his role was as much attacking as anything else, and it is worth remembering that by virtue of not being Serge Aurier he did not contribute anything in the way of kamikaze penalties or red cards from thin air.

At the same time, one got the impression as often as not that a geography lesson or two might be in order, as at times he seemed to be a member of the back-four in name only, being stationed a good twenty yards from the others even when on the back-foot.

Presumably other days will showcase better his crossing ability, but it was a shame that his expertise in this area was rarely used. The dash forward and one-two with Kane that led to his big chance did at least give the watching world a glimpse of the man’s capabilities, and I rather fancy that if the urgency he showed in driving into the Everton area in that instance were to become the norm, then the world would be a better place.

As with Hojbjerg, one would assume that better days will come.

4. Brighter Notes

Still feeling in honest mood I’ll confess that this is gearing up to be one of the shorter paragraphs of the memoirs, but I thought Davies made a passable contribution, and hared forward a few times as if he knew Danny Rose were watching and waiting for fresh material about which to complain.

Lucas also at least had the decency to look interested, even if just about every attempt of his to build a head of steam and become some unstoppable force of nature stalled at take-off.

And, gloriously, we always have Jose’ secret weapon, The Lightning Quick Counter-Attack From The Opposition Corner. In the absence of any other tactic, one deviously wonders if we might start deliberately conceding corners, precisely to create the platform for Sonny, Lucas and Kane to gallop the length of the pitch and fashion a one-on-one. Now if that’s not grounds for boundless, sunny optimism about the future, then frankly I don’t know what is.

Palace 1-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Eric Dier’s Return

Those whose dispositions are hard and eyes unsmiling will no doubt have noted that after three consecutive wins in a team without Eric Dier, his return to the starting eleven immediately brought an end to the winning sequence. Admittedly – and as fans of Jose will be particularly aware – when it comes to proving anything, Statistics are right up there on the rostrum alongside Lies and Damned Lies. That we failed to win with Dier restored does not automatically make him culpable.

However, the fang-baring critics would no doubt hammer home the fact that young Master Dier can hardly be excused blame simply by citing the age-old defence that It’s-a-team-game-and-all-the-lads-are-in-it-together-so-it’s-collective-responsibility-in-victory-and-defeat-what?

Alas for young Master Dier, when the queue forms for those individually responsible for the goal we conceded, the man himself is slap bang at the front, head bowed and not daring to look either way – as such pretty accurately mimicking his behaviour at the corner from which Palace scored. ‘Dereliction of duty’ just about covers it.

Over in these parts, the objections to Dier’s presence in the team have been pretty well documented, but for those who take one look at the AANP pages and decide they’d be better employed in sawing of their own thumbs than bothering to read it, the gist is that for all his bone-jarring challenges and hard-man persona, the young bean appears to have been designed for stature rather than speed, and therefore seems too often to be a few steps behind the breakneck pace of things; on top of which, for one supposedly comfortable on the ball, his passing strikes me as being as frequently off-boil as on.

The case for the defence would doubtless point to much of his performance yesterday, notably in bailing out the excruciatingly average Davies when trouble began to smoulder on the left side of our defence, and also in taking a few opportunities to stride out of defence and play a forward pass.

Commendable moments indeed, and I suppose it goes to show that life is rarely black and white. Dier has his assets; Dier has his flaws. I nevertheless maintain that he is not of high enough standard, particularly within a team that appears set up to spend up to 70% of a game on the defensive.

(As an aside, it’s also worth noting that when Toby is one side of the centre-back pairing, his partner always looks a notch or two better than when Toby is absent. As with Sanchez in recent weeks so with Dier yesterday. The moral of the story appears to be that Toby is a prized asset whose every wish must be granted and every ailment treated with the utmost concern; and that a top-class partner for the chap would not go amiss.)

2. Another Game, Another Kane Masterclass

Another week, another tour de force from Harry Kane. It’s a quirk of circumstance that if he produced such impressive feats only on an occasional basis they might well be greeted by crowds lining streets, strewing of garlands and a zoom call from the nearest available on-the-ball royal. Instead, precisely because he trots them out so regularly, the general reaction now is simply to shrug, playfully punch someone on the shoulder and declare, “Ah, that Harry Kane, eh? Doing the scarcely believable yet again! And by the way, rain is forecast in the Third Test, wouldn’t you know?”

We take his magnificence for granted because he produces the scarcely believable so regularly. So, ultimately, if the chap is underappreciated, I suppose it’s his own fault.

Yesterday, his goal was made to look pretty straightforward fare, when in fact, of the multiple combinations on offer, the one he adopted was just about the only one that could have brought about a goal. With the entire Palace defence around him and the space of approximately one shoebox in which to operate, he had shifted feet, brought the ball under control and planted a shot at the near post before most of us mere mortals had clocked that he had even taken possession.

On top of which, even those moments in which he drops into midfield to ping an inch-perfect, no-look pass hither or yonder are now becoming something of a weekly occurrence. The chap has somehow turned himself into a combination of both Shearer and Sheringham.

3. A Rush of Excitement When We Concede A Corner

Part of this dubious ‘New Normal’ under Jose, within the hallowed gates of N17, is that the jar marked “Priorities” has been opened, tipped upside down and its contents scattered about the place, so that now one is never really quite sure whether they are coming or going.

It’s a world in which 30% possession is good; semi-permanent residence in or around our own penalty area is to be cheered to the rafters; and a key element of The Grand Plan is quite often simply to bloot the ball 60 yards up the pitch and unleash the hounds in attack.

And an adjunct to this curious state of affairs is that now when we concede a corner, the AANP blood begins to rush around the arteries that much quicker, and the excitement begins to build. This, to repeat, when we concede a corner. When near enough all eleven members of the gang are parked inside our own area and the ball is about to go within spitting distance of our own net.

But such is The Jose Way. Concede a corner, and the opposition merrily send all but two or three of their own mob up the pitch and out of position. Bop the ball away from immediate danger – and the chances of doing so are generally at least in 50-50 territory – and suddenly the tables turn Spurs-wards, because the break is on, and Kane, the three musketeers and any other soul in lilywhite who happens to be captured by the whim are haring up the pitch.

And so, to repeat, when we concede a corner, the AANP eyes light up. Our lot have demonstrated often enough that we can sally along from our area to theirs within about ten seconds and three well-placed passes – and if most of the opposition defence are already up north and well out of position then so much the better.

The principal observation on this peculiar state of affairs (besides from creating a brand of football completely at odds with the Tottenham way) is that it’s a pretty dashed risky game. Now I’m as fond of yelling “Pull” and downing a clay pigeon as the next fellow, but if there is one trait of AANP it is that he knows when and when not to take risks, and as such my dalliance with firearms ends about there. Offer me the clay pigeon and I’m your man; slide a loaded pistol into my hand and murmur about the benefits of Russian Roulette, and I’ll have my polite letter of refusal whipped up within seconds.

Jose, however, seems to thrive on this risk-laden scenario, actively encouraging the opposition to come ever closer to our goal, all with the aim of increasing the chances of a breakneck game of cat-and-mouse when possession is turned over. Its success relies upon the opposition drawing ever nearer to our own goal. The risks were laid pretty bare when Palace used one of their corners to score.

On top of which, on several occasions yesterday, rather than simply clear their lines and be done, our lot played themselves into trouble by dallying on the edge of their own area in search of the perfect pass to set up a counter-attack. One understands the thought-process, but the risks seem huge. As I observed this fandango play out with morbid fascination, the thought did occur that there surely ought to be less risk-laden ways of eking out wins, given the personnel on hand.

4. Europa

It seems almost to discredit the tumultuous nature of the season just endured to declare it over with little more by way of summary than the words, “Sixth; Europa” – and yet, anyone uttering such a truth would be right on the money.

There have, of course, been countless other highs and lows, from Sonny wonder goals to Poch exit-shuffles, but the long and short of it is that Europa it is.

Opinion on this seems somewhat divided. In the Credit column, it is, apparently, a tenth consecutive season of European competition, which, as well as having a pleasing ring about it, also suggests that as a club we are in fairly solid shape, and presumably are spoken of in the high-flying smoking rooms around Europe in terms that are complimentary enough.

Moreover, lest Daniel Levy is casting his eye over these pages, I probably ought to mention that qualification also brings with it £10m, to be stuffed into the back pocket at the earliest convenience. So far, so good, and approving nods all round.

The AANP verdict however, is a little more on the cooler side of things. Whereas every game in the Champions League is sprinkled with some Hollywood sparkle, the earlier stages of the Europa have much about them of the boys’ stag-weekend in some seedy corner of the continent.

Moreover, I cannot shake from my memory the recollection of those seasons in which we did make a decent fist of a Title challenge, only to fall away in the final stages, and be bested by Leicester and Chelsea teams that were free from any European football at all. Not that these things can necessarily be quantified of course, but common sense does suggest that their respective gangs might have been a little fresher towards the latter end of the season for the absence of a constant midweek game in the earlier part. As such, I would quite happily have finished outside the European spots if it meant an improved chance of Top Four qualification next season.

5. Jose’s Talk of Winning The Europa

An additional argument in favour of Europa entry is that it’s an eminently winnable trophy, and indeed this line has been peddled by Our Glorious Leader himself in recent weeks. In fact, he’s been referring to it as a given, stating that if we finish sixth this season we will the Europa next. This did strike me initially as making a fairly sizeable assumption or two, but if he liked to put things that way I saw no reason to stop him.

However, on reflection I found myself growing to admire this take on things. Some might call it arrogance, and it would be a reasonable shout, but Jose comes across as the sort of egg who does not sneeze without carefully planning its timing, audience and calculated effect. When Jose says we will win next season’s Europa, I have a sneaky suspicion that what he is trying to do is gently shove a winning mentality into the heart of the club.

After all, that glorious afternoon of Woodgate’s unknowing header was back in 2008 – we are not a club used to winning trophies. Ours is not a trophy-winning mentality. Eke our way towards a Cup Final and we the fans will dolefully peer around at the other teams left in the competition, and play down our chances – it is a pretty fair bet that the players themselves rarely consider themselves favourites.

So maybe Jose is onto something when he drills into the otherwise vacant loaves of the players that actually this is a trophy that they should be winning. Maybe this is all part of The Plan.

Newcastle 1-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactics (And The Great Jose-AANP Stand-Off)

I’m not actually on personal terms with Jose, but I suspect that if our paths were to cross we would hit it off immediately like a couple of the boys – jesting away, opening a bottle of the good stuff, maybe even dabbling in a little of that lockdown Spanish I’ve been aprend-ing as it’s a tongue Jose has no doubt mastered. One would not be able to hear one’s own thoughts for all the bonhomie about the place.

However, once conversation turned to the little matter of Jose’s Tactics At N17, I cannot help but think that the music would stop, the room would fall silent and a pretty sinister air would descend, and sharpish. Any knives about the place would be busily employed in cutting the tension.

A win is a win, and two wins in pretty similar fashion have no doubt lifted the gloom. This, I graciously grant him. There was much to admire about the energy and attitude of the players against that ‘orrible lot from Woolwich – and frankly one got the sense that, albeit with a tweak in formation and a little less fraught in general, the formula employed last night was of the Rinse-And-Repeat variety. Our lot politely nudged the initiative back to Newcastle, kept them at arm’s length and then, having floated butterfly-like while Newcastle huffed and puffed, stung them like a whole squadron of bees when opportunity arose.

Back to the meeting of minds in the smoking room, and while Jose would no doubt rattle off a few truths about the upturn in results, tension would remain – as is no doubt common in the meeting of two such esteemed footballing minds – as AANP would insist that our lot did not create enough pretty patterns.

This remains a sticking point at AANP Towers. I’m not sure of the collective noun for debacles, but this nameless entity appeared in all its glory during the course of the Sheffield United, Everton and Bournemouth games (even though we won one of them), representing some of the worst football we’ve seen over the years. Things have undoubtedly improved since, and there is now at least a strategy in place – but the chap calling the numbers last night stated at one point that Newcastle average around thirty-something percent possession per game, and yet we seemed happy to let them have as much of the ball as they pleased!

Our strategy – Jose’s strategy – still seems to be one of sitting back and countering. There are lies, and damn lies, and whatnot, and the stats apparently indicate that since taking the reins Jose has the fourth or fifth best record in the division – but the evidence of our eyes is that this is not entertaining stuff. Nor is there much to suggest that this will change in the new season. In any future social engagements between Jose and AANP, a frosty atmosphere will remain.

2. Lucas Eats His Spinach Again

The tactics might not have met with the sort of thunderous applause within AANP Towers that makes its foundations quiver, but I had approving looks that I was dishing about the place with gay abandon for the personnel involved.

‘Sore Limbs’ was no doubt the headline about the place following Sunday’s exertions, but the same starting eleven took to the field and did as instructed, to solid effect.

As on Sunday, Lucas set the early tone, displaying energy both in possession and in tracking back. His little twinkle-toed dribbles, while rarely amounting to much, did nevertheless quicken the pulse and keep the Newcastle lot honest, and much of the success of the 4-3-3-cum-4-5-1 was due to the workrate of he and Sonny around its boundaries.

3. Kane’s All-Rounding

Before his goals, Harry Kane had been tossed little more than an occasional scrap in the penalty area, so he naturally enough came sniffing around in midfield to see what was on offer, and not for the first time gave the impression of being the pick of the midfield bunch, even though the smallprint prevents this from being legally correct.

It might be to do with the fact that collecting the ball when coming from attack – à la Teddy – gives a greater awareness of options than when advancing from defence, but whatever the reasons, I feel like I could pour myself a splash and spend hours on end watching Kane pick up the ball from deep and spray it around the place.

On top of which, he then scored two goals that could immediately be stamped as ‘No Nonsense’, made to look pretty straightforward despite both being far from. Such is the talent of the chap.

4. Winks: Good, In His Limited Way

Further south, young Winks was as neat and tidy as his haircut demands. Forever sprinting to make himself available for passes, with all the gay vivacity of youth, he then typically bipped a quick pass to a nearby chum and repeated the process from the top.

Put yourself in the shoes of any of the back four or midfield sorts, and one suspects you’d be pretty glad that whenever you received the ball you’d always spot a Winks-shaped blur of movement in the corner of your eye, availing himself for service.

This being AANP however – now officially graduated to middle-aged grump, since Covid began – I cannot simply enjoy this good news with a joyous skip in a nearby meadow. Winks, in his breakthrough seasons had the potential of a lad who might have a pass in his pocket reminiscent of those great lock-pickers of recent years. Where Carrick, Hudd and Modric once cut through great swathes with one well-identified killer ball, Winks, one hoped, would follow.

Alas, the whelp seems not to dare play a pass if it carries a jot of risk. One understands, but as he is hardly a defensive enforcer either, it means that even when near his best – as I fancied he was yesterday – although a useful sort to have about the place he flits between being one thing and another, fulfilling the key requirements of neither.

Those yearning for Winks to evolve into a Carrick, Hudd or Modric will be disappointed. Winks has value, and yesterday I thought he was possibly the pick of the bunch, but I suspect this is as good as he will get and as much as he will offer.

5. Lamela And The Impact Subs

It was a big day for impact subs, which I suppose we ought to have foreseen given the short turnaround between games.

It turns out that young Bergwijn had one of his less glorious cameos, when one sits down and actually counts all the beans, but one cannot help but be enthused by what he brings in general, and yesterday he delivered the sort of cross (for Kane’s first goal) that I suspect few of us realised he had in his repertoire.

And then there’s Lamela. Quite the curio this chap. Plainly capable of reaching outrageous heights, when signed there was a murmur that he would become for us essentially what Mo Salah became for Liverpool, even though we signed him before Mo Salah became Mo Salah for Liverpool – which does make the head swim a bit.

The gist is that hopes were high. Fast forward six or seven years, and every Lamela performance is so similar that bingo cards can be produced allowing the eagle-eyed punter to tick off his contributions.

A niggly sort, he will undoubtedly hare around and snap at ankles, often in the late fashion that earns reprieves and stern words if not cards, from the resident officiators.

And then there is his on-ball stuff, which typically involves:
A) A promising dribble, segueing into:
B) The realisation that he is still on the ball when several passing opportunities have been and gone, followed by:
C) The roll of watching eyes as one realises that he is still on the ball, having taken half a dozen touches more than were necessary, but is now being swarmed upon and crowded out.

Add to this the fact that he will roll his foot over the ball at every opportunity – even, in defiance of the laws of physics, when passing it – and one can probably yelp “Lamela Bingo!” and claim a small fluffy toy.

But like a broken clock a couple of times a day, the chap does strike oil, and just as it seemed that his latest dribble was about to result in that swarmed-upon-and-crowded-out routine (C, above), he somehow step-overed his way to freedom and teed himself up for a shot. Quite how he did so is still being investigated, but credit where due, it was pretty special stuff. A shame he could not apply the coup de grâce himself, but it resulted in a goal nevertheless.

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