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Spurs 1-3 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bad, But Marginally Less Bad Than We’re Used To

It’s a sign of things, and a pretty damning sign at that, when progress is being measured by how less disastrous the situation now is compared to previous times, but that’s about the rub of it here at AANP Towers.

Once upon a time – by which I mean just about every game – I would use these pages to wail and lament like a banshee having a particularly bad time of it, on the grounds that we just seemed to observe the same damn thing every damn week. Viz. that our lot would take a lead; drop deep and try soak up pressure; fail to soak up said pressure and concede; concede again dammit with five minutes remaining; and then put on an impressive, but futile attacking display in the dying embers in an attempt to claw back the lost points.

Now this week, while most of the above admittedly remains true, the crucial difference is that we did not drop deep and try to soak up the pressure.

As I result, I got to about the eightieth minute or so of this one feeling less of the usual weekly frustration and ire. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. Seeing our lot churn out something not particularly good, but not quite as bad as usual, felt if not exactly uplifting then at least a mite more calming than the usual tortuous fare. Yes, we were dropping points; but at least we weren’t dropping points in a manner quite as negative as usual.

(Or rather, that was the state of things until we conceded the second, at which point I expected our usual punchy, late attempt to salvage something, but this was also strangely lacking. In fact, our lot seemed to settle for defeat even with ten minutes left on the clock, barely able to get a foot on the ball, let alone mount a late charge at the opposition goal. All of which rather soured my mood of previous calm.)

However – and I refer you back to the opening gambit, above – when progress is being measured by things being slightly less disastrous than usual you know you’re in a bit of a spot.

I’m not quite sure what the plan was, it being neither to play on the front foot nor the counter-attacking back foot. We had our moments, but United generally had more of them. I noted to a chum pre-match that I would prefer seeing us go down in flames as in the 5-4 defeat at Everton then meekly limp to the usual 1-1 draws each week; but this felt like neither. The whole thing was a bit odd and uninspiring; and that was even before we conceded two late goals.

2. Hojbjerg

One definite ray of sunshine was the pitter-patter of Hojbjerg’s size nines around the place. Since the turn of the year he’s occasionally dipped below his usual high standards, but today signalled a return to something like peak Hojbjerg (possibly benefiting from a rare midweek rest?).

If there were a playground-style, thrashing tackle to be made, he merrily stomped in and made it. If there were an opportunity to nip in quickly and win back possession only recently surrendered, he did not wait for the Ts and Cs of the deal to be refined.

At one point in the second half he broke up a potential United counter-attack and appeared for all the world to be appealing for some non-existent crusade; until I realised that he was actually bellowing a celebration at having conceded a throw in the cause of stifling a United move at source.

Not much else in lilywhite clicked today, but Hojbjerg’s performance was impressive.

3. Lucas

Scraping the barrel now admittedly, but Lucas showed a few flashes of creativity, when not being bumped from the number ten spot by Lo Celso.

The chap always brims with pretty honest sweat and endeavour, which is decent of him but of itself not exactly blowing up anyone’s skirts. Where Lucas does add value, however, is in picking up the ball just over halfway and jinking away from scything legs, transferring the action from what might be termed Midfield Stodge to what might equally be termed Final Third Potential.

As with Lamela a month or so ago, he seems to be benefitting from a steady run of starts, and while hardly in the same bracket as Kane and Sonny, he does at least provide decent empirical evidence for his position ahead of Bale in the queue for the coveted role of Fun Uncle.

A smart assist for Sonny’s goal today too; and in fact most of those involved in its genesis (Ndombele, Lo Celso and, to a lesser extent, Kane) attracted commendation. Seeing goals like that equally delights (because lovely goals do make the heart leap, what?) and infuriates (because why the devil can’t we peddle such stuff more often?).

4. The Defence

Given the personnel at his disposal, I’m not sure that Jose could unveil any back-four without inducing a groan from these parts, so when the names Aurier and Dier were rattled off I suspect I wasn’t the only one praying for their guardian angels to be on high alert.

As it happened though, and in another indication of that first point in today’s sermon about progress being measured by a reduction in dreadfulness, the back-four were generally not terrible.

Neither United’s disallowed goal nor their first two legitimate goals were necessarily due to the type of schoolboy defending that has graced the turf a little too often in the last few years (I’ll overlook the third as it stemmed from several of our lot being dragged out of position). United’s movement of the ball for these goals was impressive, and I suspect a neutral might have dished out some polite applause. There was not, on first sight at least, a great deal that might have been done about them.

First sight, however, may have been a little generous.

Eric Dier has few obvious attributes upon which to call, but generally fares better in the more static life that accompanies crosses or passes into the box than the sprint-based existence of chasing from halfway. However, both United’s first two and their disallowed goal were fashioned in and around the penalty area, and for both Cavani’s allowed and disallowed goal Dier simply lost track of the striker.

This is not to suggest that I might have done any better; if one is supposed to walk a mile in a man’s shoes before chipping away at his character I’d be an unholy mess at this point. But that’s not really the point, is it? Dier is supposed to be an international defender, and while Cavani is a master at his art, Dier was not just a yard behind him, he was completely ignorant of his whereabouts.

Aurier, inevitably, dozed off for one of the goals (their second, allowing Cavani to breeze past him unbothered); while young Rodon switched off for the equaliser, when he ought to have been first on the scene after Lloris parried away the initial shot.

So there were some pretty preventable errors scattered about the place for the goals, but nevertheless, this did not seem a game in which to lambast those at the back. By and large they did a presentable job of things, and while Dier may not be the most alert soul on the planet, Rodon at least seemed to know his beans.

Who the hell knows which combo Jose will try next, given that his selection method seems to be to close his eyes and pick names out of a hat, but there would seem to be both immediate and at least medium-term benefit in giving persisting with young Joe Rodon.

Newcastle 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Intensity: Only To Be Shown When We Fall Behind

Now don’t get me wrong, one need not be one of those intellectual sorts clothed in lab coats and spewing out formulae to be able to pop a positive spin on this one. There was decent attacking interplay; we created a solid fistful of pretty reasonable chances in front of goal; Lucas continues to look a game number 10, Sonny is back and Ndombele picked a couple of those natty slide-rule passes of which Luka Modric would be proud.

But if you are anything like AANP then you dismiss these so-called silver linings as rot, and your face is as thunder. One might argue that we fared reasonably, and that two goals and a point on the road represents a commendable effort: but don’t be fooled. Newcastle, every time we play them, for all their willing are blisteringly average and we should have been perfectly capable of tearing them to pieces.

Even allowing for the fact that our defence is so incapable of getting their little heads around the most basic precepts of the game that they are basically worth two goals to the opposition every match, we still ought to have made mincemeat of Newcastle. And lest you be in the slightest doubt about this, pray cast your gaze upon Exhibit A, the Tottenham Starting Eleven; and Exhibit B, the five minutes or so after we fell behind.

That starting eleven (Exhibit A, that’s for those who, much like Davinson Sanchez, are struggling to keep up with things going on around them) had enough talent to have one hand tied behind their backs, play in blindfolds and only use their weaker foot, and still be pretty evenly matched with a team as devastatingly mediocre as Newcastle. Alas, our heroes seemed determined to take this challenge literally, and set about the thing as if deliberately doing so at half-pace, just to ensure an even contest.

With Jose seemingly giving instruction that the mega-cautious approach of two holding midfielders was to be torn to shreds for one night only, we were even treated to the most becoming sight of an attacking midfield packed with the delights of Ndombele, Lo Celso, Lucas and Kane, with Reguilon eager not to miss out on the left.

It ought to have had the makings of a mauling. Any two of those alone, in combination, could probably have given Newcastle the run around if sufficiently motivated.

And, as per Exhibit B, once the indignity had been suffered of going behind, the pistons started pumping and all concerned treated us to five minutes or so of their collective A-game, all forward passes between the lines and movement in between defenders. Two goals duly followed lickety-split, and those manning the floodgates sounded due warning that all hell was about to break loose.

And then, dash it all, the half-time gong sounded, our heroes paused long enough to realise that they were actually ahead and all need for intensity vanished as swiftly as it had arrived.

Sure, we made the occasional second half dart, and could pretty easily have increased the lead on the strength of those chances alone; but any manic intensity that would have strangled the life out of Newcastle – and of which the personnel were perfectly capable – was gone.

Put simply, had they approached the second half with that same, aggrieved determination as they had approached the five minutes after conceding the opener, we would have witnessed a rout.

Instead, and for apparently the eighth time this season (Eighth! Egads!), we have thrown away points by conceding in the final ten minutes of the season. (I pause at this juncture, for a stiff, Sunday afternoon cordial, to give the necessary strength.)

2. Sanchez

I have a feeling that in each of the most recent half-dozen or so games, I have featured prominently in my post-match ruminations the doings (and, typically, misadventures) of Davinson Sanchez.

If the repetition is grating, then I can only beg your pardon; but let’s face it, the wretched blighter hardly helps himself.

He gave early signal of his intention this afternoon, with a second-minute header into the lap of a Newcastle forward who was still catching breath from him pre-game warm-up, and while that chance was duly wasted (this, after all, is modern-day Newcastle), young Master Sanchez evidently considered that he had found the appropriate level for his afternoon’s work.

Thereafter, seasoned players of Davinson Sanchez Bingo were in for an Easter Sunday treat, as the young blister treated us to his just about his entire array of ignominy, from countless wayward passes to a couple of mistimed leaps, culminating in not one but two tours de force: the clearance (I use the term loosely) that presented Newcastle with the opportunity for their opening goal; and the decision to clatter with his whole body into the nearest chum while attempting to defend (I again use the term loosely) the cross that brought their second goal.

(Although on the subject of the second goal, a dozen lashes each across the backs of Messrs Lamela and Lo Celso for casually and criminally slowing to a halt as the Newcastle attack germinated, and allowing Willock to run beyond them, unmanned, to slap home the goal. Eminently avoidable stuff, and quite possibly indicative of a broader attitudinal issue.)

But back to the lamentable Sanchez, before he thinks he has escaped admonishment. One can only assume that the blighter plays like some sort of holy amalgamation of Ledley King and peak Jaap Stam in training, because little he does on the pitch suggests that here strides a Champions League-level defender.

3. Rodon and Tanganga

Blessed with Sanchez alongside him for company I did wonder what despicable acts Joe Rodon must have committed in a former life to earn the privilege. I must admit that the morbid fascination with Sanchez meant that I did not necessarily pay due attention to the beaverings of young Rodon alongside him, and it generally became a little difficult to match the blame for our numerous defensive mishaps to the appropriate defender.

Rodon gives the impression of one with whom it is worth persisting, on the basis of some well-judged interventions. Whether or not he is an organiser of things, a quality in which we are in desperate need, is an unanswered question at present, but I thought he emerged with some credit.

And t’other side of the lamentable Sanchez, young Tanganga probably reserved his finest moments for the front-foot. When called to defend, not for the first time in his fledgling career his decisions seemed a little too heavily influenced by some positional naivety, not least in being sucked infield to help out Sanchez, and leaving in the lap of the gods those activities in operation behind him.

With Toby’s use-by date just about upon us, and Dier operating at precisely 0.5 times the speed of every other professional in the game, the grim conclusion is that we are pretty desperately need of at least one prime centre-back to slot straight into the starting line-up and liven the dickens out of the rest of the defensive mob.

4. Kane

Mercifully, when all about are losing their heads – and, more pertinently, their slim leads in the final five minutes – one can always seek (and find) solace in the quite astonishing outputs of Harry Kane.

For a player at pretty much the opposite end of the Natural Talent Spectrum to the game’s true greats, the quality he delivers game after game is absolutely unreal. His first goal was hardly a lesson in the finer arts, but as exemplars for persistence, presence and a striker’s instinct to gamble it was something from which young Master Vinicius might have taken copious notes, Vinicus being one found a little too often rocking casually on his heels for my liking.

Kane’s second, however, was an absolute dream, contact so sweet one wanted to football’s governing bodies to compose for it one of those special anthems they insist on blaring out as the players line up for every game.

For Kane to be top-scorer in the league, and near enough top assist-provider, within a team that is as inclined to defend their own penalty area as to attack the opposition’s, makes the man a pretty strong contender for player of the season (particularly given the fact that the success of the runaway leaders is not really due to the stand-out efforts of any particular individual).

All of which still does Kane a disservice, because to judge the honest fellow purely on the basis of his goals and assists is to ignore most of what he does in a game. Even the chances he misses are ripe for study, given the manner in which he so frequently shifts the ball between his feet and then lashes a shot that nutmegs the defender and leaves the ‘keeper rooted to the spot (note today’s effort that hit the post).

On top of all of which, the chap has even taken to modelling his looks upon AANP’s lockdown, swept-back, no-longer-giving-a-damn haircut. A most becoming choice, if I may so.

5. The Awkward Subject of Kane’s Free-Kicks

If there is one, gaping in flaw in Kane’s DNA it is his comically bad free-kick taking ability. I have a feeling that one of, if not his very first league goal for us, might have been a free-kick, but an equally strong suspicion that it was deflected (which would make a heck of a lot of sense, because nature’s elements alone will not divert the ball from its wild trajectories towards goal).

Now it seems that on the basis of this one, freakishly fortunate, close-your-eyes-and-thwack effort half a decade ago – albeit probably in conjunction with his standing as the greatest striker of his generation – Kane’s general ineptitude when presented with ball, wall and twenty yards is no impediment. His teammates simply present him with the ball and sidle off to their positions in preparation for the coming goal-kick.

It is quite the oddity for one so plainly dedicated to every element of his craft, but his abilities seem to drain from him as he soon as he spots the ball from twenty-plus yards – to the extent that the greatest PR agency in the world would struggle to sell Kane on free-kick duty, unless the aim of the exercise is the bloot the thing into the wall, into the orbit or into any other vacant space not occupied by the goal webbing.

That aside however, the lad is worth his weight in the 24-carat stuff, and we should cherish his every contribution.

The occasional AANP tweet to be found hither

Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Attitude

The attitude of the players seems to be the major gripe amongst the masses today, and that particular narrative certainly gets my vote, because from the AANP vantage point last night the attitude of the collective from first whistle to approximately the 115th minute stunk the place out.

And while the countless individuals thrust into the limelight yesterday should all be publicly flogged for their pitiful efforts, I do wonder what the hell Jose is doing to earn his weekly envelope. If the players’ attitudes are rummy, or their confidence low, then the manager is presumably tasked with inspiring the requisite changes in mindset, and sharpish. And if the manager is incapable of drumming into their thick skulls the need to buck up and get the pistons firing, then one might say he is incapable, full stop.

It would not quite be accurate to say our lot picked up where they left off on Sunday, because strictly speaking, on Sunday we perked up considerably once the odds had lengthened to enormous levels (anyone else notice a theme emerging here?) via throwing away a lead, going behind and going down to ten men. At that point the place was choc-full of fire in the belly.

No, more accurately, our heroes picked up pretty much where they started on Sunday, or perhaps a regressed a step or two from that point. The approach last night from the opening toot seemed to be to hope that the game would stagnate into nihilism, actively trying to ensure that nothing happened each minute so that we could hurry along to the final whistle and qualification, preferably without the need to break sweat.

Now strictly speaking, in logical terms, there was much to applaud about this approach. If nothing had happened, we would indeed have qualified. Very clever stuff. If the entire match could have been spent by Winks and Sissoko passing sideways to each other and occasionally backwards to Sanchez, as seemed to be the dedicated aim, then we would indeed have coasted through. In fact, I got the impression that our lot were hoping that the ref would decree that there was no need to play a game at all, and that he might just instruct everyone to sit quietly on the spot for 90 minutes, after which results would be recorded with minimal fuss.

However, while fool-proof in theory, if anyone wanted practical evidence of flaws in the tactical approach of “Let’s hope nothing happens for the entire 90 minutes”, then last night their cup overflowed with the stuff.

The galling thing was that one goal would have neatly ended the contest, and one goal against these willing but limited opponents was eminently achievable. Had our heroes gone up the necessary gears they would almost certainly have fashioned enough chances to kill the thing.

Instead, as per the headline, the attitude stunk the place out. Our mob presented themselves as fully converted to the doctrine that they needed only be present and the game would see itself through to full-time in their favour. No effort was exerted in search of a goal because no need was seen for a goal, and the sound of a million Spurs fans banging their heads against the nearest brick wall back home did nothing to amend this.

2. Jose’s Future

It has been widely suggested that Daniel Levy has sacked numerous coaches for less heinous crimes than the rap sheet currently pinned to Jose. Whether or not this is true, one would imagine that the Paymaster General is now casting his mind back a little nervously to Jose’s assurances on contract-signing day. Where Poch’s appeals for funds were often ignored, Jose was invited to dive into a cartoon bathtub full of money at the first opportunity.

Having been duly backed, we find ourselves outsiders for the top four and peddling some pretty dreadful fare on the pitch; and really at least one of these – results or performances – needs to be in place to justify this whole wretched experience.

In the interests of fairness it should not be overlooked that we have at least started beating the teams at the lower end of the table, as the recent run of victories evidences. Nevertheless, the nagging suspicion remains that, armed with Kane, Bale, Son, Lucas, Dele, Lamela, Ndombele and Reguilon at their disposal, most managers ever to have walked the earth could probably have conjured up a win at home to Burnley.

It is being suggested that a Cup Final win against City would be enough to keep Jose in post, and Levy presumably would concur. After all, the whole point of the Jose exercise seemed to be to bring in some shiny pots. I’m not sure that the t’s and c’s included doing so at the expense of our footballing souls, but if it’s pots that Levy is after, then at least one pot Jose now has an opportunity to snaffle.

The AANP tuppence worth is that this would not be sufficient. Should Jose win the Carabao then let that be a triumphant, if ill-deserved, coda to a pretty ghastly tenure, and let’s have him shoved out the door while bleating about his knack for winning titles wherever he goes.

As suggested above, Jose does not appear capable of coaxing, cajoling, hypnotising or blackmailing the players into playing with the requisite attacking feist. Blessed with arguably three of the most talented attacking footballers of their generation, not to a mention a supporting cast that would be the envy of most teams across Europe, he has fashioned a team that seems convinced the road to glory is paved with a counter-attack every half hour.

The style is only bearable if we are top of – or perhaps challenging for – the league. In this context, winning a trophy (via a bye, a penalty shoot-out and wins against two lower-league opponents) hardly cures all ills.

I spent much of last night trying to avert the bleeding of my eyes by working out whether we are a decent team that is occasionally dreadful, or a dreadful team that is occasionally decent. Neither of these seem good enough for a manager having wads of cash thrust into every available pocket, yet who, eighteen months in, is yet to present a plan for future improvement.

All that said, it is difficult to imagine Levy giving his man the elbow unless we spin down into the bottom half. For unfathomable reasons Levy seems pretty obsessed with Jose, having near-enough stalked the man until he agreed to hop on board. It seems unlikely that he will turn on his back on him now, with the Top Four and a Cup Final win both still within the realms of possibility.

3. Son and Kane’s Futures

But to hell with Jose, what about Sonny and Kane?

I’m no student of body-language, but Kane’s demeanour as he exited the crime-scene last night did not strike me as that of a man bursting with the joys of life and all it has to offer. My spies tell me that the fellow turns 28 this summer, and one would therefore not blame him for using his quieter moments to pause and wonder where the heck his first winners’ medal might come from, and whether any more might follow.

Things would be different if, as were the case in the prime Poch years, the club were elbowing its way into conversations about the top prizes, and appeared to be in with a shout. Kane presumably is not hanging his hat on this particular season being one of triumph, but, one suspects, he would at the very least want to see that the vehicle as a whole is heading off in the direction of success.

Alas, under Jose there is precious little indication of any such thing. The current lot are pretty accurately-seated, being somewhere between sixth and tenth, and with every step forward having pretty promptly been followed by one in the opposite direction.

Kane undoubtedly has affection for the club, and it’s a safe bet that he is well aware of being within a season or two of Jimmy Greaves’ record, but one would hardly be surprised if he announced that he would rather not spend his prime years working up a sweat on Thursday nights in Zagreb. This is not to denigrate Zagreb: I dated a Croat for a while in my youth, and can attest to the fact that the city has its fair share of delights; but regular Champions League involvement is not amongst them. Kane will rightly feel that he needs to be sharing a stage with Lewandowski, Mbappe and Haaland, and the clock is ticking on his career.

While Sonny may be inclined to wait a little longer, I imagine he will have less of an affinity to the club than Kane, and it’s a pretty safe bet that he will be almightily cheesed off if Kane gathers his possessions and pootles out the door.

Nights like last night are happening a little too often; much more of such rot and the whole dashed thing will unravel.

Arsenal 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Most Lamela Performance Imaginable

If you want to describe the mood at AANP Towers as “sombre” that will be fine with me, because that was pretty rotten stuff. Since the final whistle I have mostly just aimlessly wandered about the place: not as a devastatingly accurate tribute to those in lilywhite today, but because there was precious little about which to cheer.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, pretty much the sole beacon of light amidst this gloom was – or at least, was until he wasn’t – Erik Lamela.

Quite unperturbed by his rather hurried introduction into affairs, Lamela just set about the game as I imagine he sets about dressing himself in the morning, or eating his breakfast: viz. with high energy, sneaky fouls and a total reliance on his left foot.

It would be a stretch, and in fact a plain untruth, to say that he brimmed with creativity, but as ever he seemed pretty keen to engage in robust exchanges of views with just about anyone clad in red who wandered anywhere near him.

The highlight, of course, was his goal. Has any mortal ever held his right foot in such disregard as Lamela? Not that I’m complaining of course, because I suspect most of us would happily retire after scoring a goal like that, in a game like this (and for added delectation the shot also nutmegged some lost soul en route to goal). For a while it seemed that Lamela had done the most Lamela thing imaginable.

Except, alas, there was more classic Lamela to come. Any game of Lamela Bingo requires a yellow card borne of a fully determined but slightly mistimed tackle, and being the excitable sort of fellow he is, this duly followed. However, on this matter I have a healthy dollop of sympathy for the man, because the sequence of events that earned that first yellow card involved, in chronological order, i) Lamela winning ball, and ii) Lamela flying into opponent.

One might argue that this is simply the manner in which games are officiated these days, and that would be a pretty irresistible point; but in the latter stages I’m pretty sure Xhaka went flying into a challenge on Doherty, taking first ball and then clattering man, and earning nothing more than an unconcerned shrug from those in authority. Scandalous stuff.

Frankly I thought Lamela’s second yellow was also rather soft. Not the wisest course of action from a man already cautioned, ‘tis true, but the supposedly flailing arm could pretty reasonably have been construed as a fairly harmless attempt push away the chest of his opponent. Spilt milk now, of course.

And thus we had every aspect of Lamela, in an hour-long microcosm.

2. Doherty and Bale

Lamela’s goal, and Lucas’ diligent beavering in the final fifteen, were about as uplifting as things got.

Just about everywhere else on the pitch there seemed to be a pretty hefty dereliction of duty, as all involved misplaced passes (Hojbjerg being oddly culpable on multiple occasions), wandered into dead-ends or generally turned in curiously lethargic performances, as if the current state of affairs in the world were weighing on their minds a little too heavily today.

In the first half in particular, much of the success had by the other lot came down our right. I had neither the energy nor inclination to try to diagnose the problem, but the quartet of lilywhites covering that patch of land (Doherty, Bale, Hojbjerg and Sanchez) between them seemed pretty ill-equipped even to understand what was happening around them, let alone address it.

Doherty in particular gave the impression of a defender on life-support, repeatedly outfoxed by his opponents’ mind-blowing tactic of kicking the ball past him and running. The excuse repeatedly trotted out for this pest is that he is a wing-back, not a full-back, as if this is akin to asking a right-handed fast bowler to design a spaceship, and not something that should be expected of him. Utter rot.

In my calmer moments I actually consider that Doherty is someone who has shown enough in recent seasons to suggest that he will, if still around next campaign, eventually come good. Today, however, he was a shambles, whether in possession or trying to defend.

(Bale, it seemed, took one look at the car crash unfolding behind him and decided to steer well clear. One understands the sentiment, I suppose, but it’s hardly mucking in with the boys.)

3. Sanchez

Another week, and another blot on the Davinson Sanchez escutcheon. Apparently some are arguing that the penalty should not have been awarded; and by the letter of the law perhaps it should not, I did not stick around for the debate. My misgiving about the whole incident was that Sanchez saw fit to clatter into an opponent in the penalty area. Irrespective of what other events were unfolding, that course of action stacked the odds against him. Pull off a stunt like that and immediately the ref has a reason to take action.

It was actually something of a shame, because while Sanchez never has and never will inspire me with the slightest confidence, he was somehow getting things right. Blocks, headers, timing of challenges: all the parts of his game that have me covering my eyes with hands and muttering fevered prayers, in these this afternoon he seemed to emerge triumphant.

But such is the lot of a centre-back. I’m not sure it does much good to turn in an impeccable 89 minutes, if you fill your remaining 60 seconds flattening opposing attackers in the penalty area.

4. Negative Approach

I have no idea who gives the orders to our lot as they limber up, as I am scandalously excluded from the inner sanctum of the club at such times, but after games like these the anthem on my lips is, “Accident, or design?”

That is to say, is it simply an unhappy stroke of fate that our lot mooch gormlessly around the pitch for an hour showing minimal intent to break forward (until they eventually, inevitably, concede and have to)? Or do they conduct themselves with such apathy because someone in the upper echelons has force-fed them the instruction to act in precisely such manner?

All neither here nor there of course. It wouldn’t make much difference if the instructions were being delivered by a booming voice from the clouds, as the net effect is one we have witnessed pretty regularly. We defend, and defend, and only bother attacking once behind.

While at least avoiding the ignominy of defending along the edge of our own area, our heroes did not cover themselves in glory for the first hour or so, by seeming oddly indifferent as to whether or not they had the ball. Whereas the other lot gave the impression of familiarity with the equation that the scoring of goals facilitates the winning of games, those in lilywhite appeared pretty relaxed about the flow of events. “If Arsenal want to attack”, went the thought process of our eleven, “then who are we to interfere?”

That our only shot in the first half brought about a goal seemed to be taken as vindication by those involved that all was well with the world. However, the fact that the other lot twice hit the woodwork during this period, rather than jolting anyone into alternative action, was seemingly taken as further evidence that everything was under control, and even after they equalised the plan remained unmoved: just bob gently about the place, and everything will be alright in the end.

That it took the unholy combination of falling behind and having a man sent off to prompt any change of approach was about as frustrating as these things get, not least because thereafter came the astonishing discovery that if we went and attacked our chances of scoring improved exponentially.

One is tempted to suggest that there is a salutary lesson in there, but it would be a stretch to assume that the combined brain power of those strolling the corridors of power will do anything to change this approach in the next big game we play.

Fulham 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Front Four

Not sure how well versed you are on your scripture, but as I recall there’s one wheeze in The Good Book along the lines of Character A bumping into Character B, who – and this is crucial to the plotline – happens to be pregnant, with the punchline that on seeing Character A, it is reported by Character B that “the child in her womb leapt for joy”.

A pretty rummy line, and not something I can personally relate to, having, for various reasons, not experienced a child or indeed a womb myself – but had I been so blessed it is absolutely nailed on that the child would not just have leapt but would have performed an Irish jig at seeing the teamsheet yesterday. The universal reaction amongst all lilywhites of my acquaintance on learning of the starting eleven was one of barely containable excitement, as the star-studded quartet of Kane, Son, Bale and Dele was unleashed.

That said, the gratification was not quite instant, with Fulham inconsiderately deciding to start on the front foot for the first 10 minutes or so, and our lot revealing a pretty sizeable disconnect between defence and attack. However, when things did click it was pretty fruity stuff, and the fact that Fulham were still waltzing into our area a little too easily when in possession simply added to the feel that this whole thing was an Ossie Ardiles ’94 tribute act.

It will be interesting to see how stronger teams cope, but when our front four did purr last night there wasn’t a great deal Fulham could do to stop it. In time one would imagine that their interplay will improve, if the telepathy between Sonny and Kane extends to the other two; and, being an indulgent sort, I’d rather like to see the various band members interchange positions and go a-wandering.

As it was, Sonny obediently stayed out on the left, presumably because Bale had announced that he intended to stick to the right, with Kane varying his longitude if not his latitude. I’m not sure of the extent of the tactical coaching this mob received, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose simply told them to toddle out there and do as they please, relying on their individual quality to do the necessary. It certainly brought about enough clear first half chances to have more than just the single goal.

In that respect Harry Kane deserves a slap on the wrist and a spell on the naughty step, as he was guilty of the sort of basic errors in front of goal that, had they been committed by Vinicius, would have had us booting him out the door and hurling a suitcase and his passport after him.

2. Dele Alli

The star of the show was probably Dele. While the headlines have been grabbed by his glaring miss that turned into an own goal by the chap next to him, the existential point he made by simply popping up in the area at that moment, with a good sense of dramatic timing, did a lot to justify his inclusion.

In a team so heavily reliant upon Son and Kane for the beginning, middle and end of its goals, Dele’s presence and natural inclinations to tiptoe forward immediately open up new routes to goal, and as such give fresh headaches to opposing defences.

On top of his attacking threat, I feel legally obliged to mention that he also knuckled down to the meat and veg of a midfielder’s role, performing such unglamorous tasks as tracking back, making tackles and helping to dab possession about the place. However, the principal benefits he brought were in the attacking spots, which does make one wonder why the hell Jose saw fit to kick him out of the squad for the first two thirds of the season, but I suppose life is full of such mysteries.

3. Ndombele

Having missed out on parity by a whisker with the last kick of the first half, Fulham decided to try the same approach in the second, with the result that we spent a full 45 minutes clinging on for dear life against a team that for all intents and purposes is from the division beneath us. From the Championship they came, and to the Championship they will return, but this did not stop them relentlessly attacking us and coming within one rulebook absurdity of equalising.

Every time our defence desperately thwacked the ball clear it came back at us, as the concept of hanging onto the thing seemingly lost on those members of the collective who were stationed further north.

The whole nerve-shredding spectacle did make me stop and wonder about the role of Ndombele in these scenarios. No matter how many times and how large the phrase “Defensive Midfielder” is stamped across his frame, it does not alter the fact that here is a chap who looks longingly at his attacking chums on the other side of the halfway line, desperately wanting to remove himself to such sunnier climes.

This seemed to be emphasised by the fact that he raced forward over halfway at every opportunity, not even really caring about the specific destination as long as he could glimpse the sight of the opposition goalposts and take a few gulps of oxygen from the Fulham half.

Which is all well and good, and is the sort of back-up act that makes the dreamy front four even more irresistible; but when he is stationed as one of two chappies sitting in front of the back four, there is something of a statutory requirement that he puts on his defensive hat and offers some protection.

Alas, he didn’t offer much in this department. If anything I noticed Dele’s defensive contributions more than his. This is not so much a criticism of Ndombele himself, more an observation that if we are going to field a stardust-sprinkled front four then we probably do require something a bit more solid behind them.

4. Davinson Sanchez

For the second successive game I was struck by the thoroughly disorienting sensation that Davinson Sanchez was, just about, doing an adequate job of keeping intruders at bay. Much though I would like to, I cannot really bring myself to describe him as a reassuring presence back there, as he does give the impression that calamity is only one opposing stepover away.

However, he stuck to his task yesterday, and by and large emerged in credit with a number of solid interventions and tackles to his name. There were a couple of moments, notably one at the very end of the first half, when it seemed that the ghost of Gundogan had returned, and threatened to leave him writhing on the floor again, but he recovered well and generally did the necessaries.

Ultimately, I thought his night was rather summed up by the disallowed goal: an agricultural clearance (which is better than no clearance at all), combined with a spot of luck, with the net result that the clean sheet remained intact.

In the final analysis it is a bit difficult to get one’s head around things: two consecutive wins is excellent stuff; albeit the opposition have been relegation strugglers; the front four could potentially light up our end to the season; yet our defence remains pretty wobbly at best. Luckily the games come so quickly these days there isn’t much time to dwell on these imponderables.

Spurs 4-0 Burnley: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Dream Front Three: Son and Kane

Admittedly it was six months overdue, which does take the gloss of these joyous occasions, but now that the third member of the trio is just about fully fit this could be considered the official unveiling of The Dream Front Three, and they delivered all the traditional punchlines and crowd-pleasing moments that were legally required of them.

Burnley, it must be said, were pretty accepting of their part in the spectacle, dutifully approaching their roles of Lambs Being Led To Slaughter with all the obedient passivity of a mob of extras who are fully aware that their part in the thing is purely to make the superstars look good. When the Dream Front Three needed to combine for the cameras, Burnley gave them all the space they needed; when the Dream Front Three needed to score, Burnley were at pains not to inconvenience them, at one point even subjecting each other to meaty off-the-ball challenges in order to ensure that the day’s neon-lit narrative was not disturbed.

Tougher tests will therefore await, but this was still rousing stuff.

Sonny, who appears to have adjusted his coordinates to pop up less centrally and more towards the left since the renaissance of Bale, made a welcome return to his sprightly self after a bit of a lull in recent weeks. This geographic shift perhaps lends itself to being Creator rather than Finisher, but Son appeared to have no objection to the modification of his job description, and was at the heart of many of our quicker and more penetrating routines.

Kane, for his part, looked thoroughly irked at the indignity of having seen a goal scored within two minutes against Burnley that did not feature him, and set about doing his damnedest to correct that particular clerical error at the earliest opportunity, lashing in shots until one went in; at which point he calmed down and settled back into life within the collective of The Dream Front Three.

2. The Dream Front Three: Bale

Meanwhile Bale, as threatened in recent weeks against Wolfsberger (twice) and West Ham, bobbed about the place with the swagger of a fellow who is one of the best in the business and is pretty well aware of the fact.

He does still wander along with a look of some disdain for those statistics that litter the modern game around yards run, and sprints sprinted, and jugs of breath inhaled and whatnot; but it matters not when a chap has Special Dispensation Because He Is Bale. While not exactly the tireless blur of legs that, for example, defines Sonny, peak Bale possesses a threat that can destroy teams with a couple of well-judged swings of his left tentacle. These have been in evidence in recent weeks, both in the sweet contact for his goals against Wolfsberger but also in the link-up play when drifting in from the right, and all of the above was evidenced again today.

His opening goal was hardly the most spectacular of his career, but was still a triumph for those who enjoy a well-timed run from deep, executed as if some sort of meta-joke in reference to Dele Alli. More usefully, it set the tone for a pretty idyllic afternoon stroll in the sun, taking the pressure of everyone concerned and giving a licence to The Dream Front Three to do dreamy things.

Bale’s pass for Kane’s goal was pretty indulgent stuff, those sprayed, long-range passes being the reserve of those who consider themselves above the rank-and-file of the Premier League, and his audacity to undertake such a project was indicative of an egg who is thoroughly enjoying life.

‘Tis true, he has looked like he has been enjoying life from the moment he re-signed, but more on account of the barrel of laughs that have kept him entertained while watching on from the bench, judging by the televised evidence of him chuckling away on the sidelines every week. While encouraging to see a man in high spirits, he has done little to contribute to the greater good while wrapped up and sedentary, so there was much to welcome about the sight of him today ambling into the spotlight, demanding the ball and spreading play.

Most eye-catchingly, at one point he also treated us to a throwback of Bale at the Lane, when he knocked the ball past his full-back, took him on in a short sprint and comfortably triumphed. This, combined with the absolutely sumptuous technique in his finishing, generously demonstrated again today for his fourth, is the stuff that really gets the masses chattering in excitement, and these little glimpses of the Bale of old bode well for the remainder of the season.

The interplay between The Dream Front Three at times did make the eyes widen with excitement. Stay fit and continue to play together, and one suspects that their understanding and combinations will only improve, which makes the heart race a bit, what?

3. Lucas

AANP is only too well aware that being the youngest of four siblings can at times be a pretty dispiriting gig, particularly in one’s formative years when nature dictates that you are comfortably the least accomplished of the gang. And when perching on the starting blocks and looking up to behold The Dream Front Three scattered around him, I could therefore sympathise with Lucas Moura, who, while possessed of his own set of handy talents, is nevertheless a man whose own mother would have a tough time putting him on the same lofty pedestal as Kane, Son and Bale.

Lucas, one might argue, ranks more alongside Messrs Bergwijn and Lamela in quality, and appears to be scrapping it out with these two and Dele for the coveted Number 10 role, with Senor Lo Celso presumably at some point also due to pop back into frame and offer his tuppence worth.

One therefore had to be careful not to place too much pressure upon Lucas, or, to put it more bluntly, not to judge him by the same standards of his starrier chums. The poor fellow also had to contend with the fact that AANP has made pretty public in recent weeks a level of dissatisfaction with his output, chiefly centring on his obsessions with dribbling past as many opponents as drift into his eyeline. Disheartening stuff for the man to read each week, no doubt.

Today, however, I thought Lucas made a decent fist of things. His energy was impressive, and probably necessary given that scampering around incessantly is not quite the principal virtue of G. Bale Esquire. Lucas also job-shared with Harry Kane the duty of dropping into midfield to help out the frontline staff who were getting their hands dirty, one of the game’s less glamorous undertakings but a box that no doubt needed ticking.

And I am also a personal fan of the young bean’s penchant for treating every opportunity that falls to him without discrimination, but simply lashing it as hard as his little legs allow, and trusting in God to do the rest. On one occasion today this sent the ball into orbit; on another occasion he thumped it straight at the ‘keeper, when any modicum of deftness would have brought about a goal; but the ‘Close Your Eyes And Hammer It’ approach duly struck oil on his other opportunity, so well done him.

The personal preference in these parts would be for peak Dele to make Number 10 his own, or, if tireless industry is specifically required, Erik Lamela. Indeed, a fit-again Lo Celso would also be above Lucas in the pecking order if I had my way on these things; but there can be few grumbles about either Lucas’ input or output today.

4. Davinson Sanchez

Another of our lot whose persual of these pages in recent weeks will have tested his fortitude is Davinson Sanchez. If being left to chew turf by Gundogan a few weeks ago represented the nadir of Sanchez’ Tottenham career, then his backheeled pass to a teammate in the 79th minute might well have been its zenith. Party tricks aside however, in general, this will go down in The Book of Records as one of his finest displays in lilywhite.

Four-nil though the scoreline might have been – and a pretty fair reflection of affairs at that – this was not a game without incident for the centre-backs. Make no mistake, Sanchez earned his weekly envelope today.

Burnley have generally offered a pretty stern physical and aerial test over the years, and this Sanchez (and Toby) withstood well, all the more so given that Lloris’ attitude of non-interference means that he will stay on his line come hell or high water, and that the centre-backs cannot not expect a damn jot of help from his quarter.

And having been given nightmares by the twists and turns of Gundogan on terra firma a few weeks back, Sanchez also deserves credit for sticking to his guns when similar attempts on his dignity were made today. In the areas of both shepherding and blocking, he seemed to meet all challenges thrown his way, and even at one point displayed his rarely-sighted burst of pace.

Now I’ve heard it said that one swallow does not make a summer, and as I understand it the chap who penned that particular gag was referring specifically to Sanchez and the prospect of him turning in a solid performance, the gist being that a clean sheet against Burnley does not mean Sanchez is guaranteed to be the bedrock upon which a watertight Tottenham defence will be built for years to come. And this seems a reasonable assertion, for there is plenty of evidence in the bank pointing to Sanchez being anything but bedrock as he goes about his duties.

Nevertheless, this was encouraging stuff, both in terms of the practical output and the confidence it will give him. One hopes that he can bash out similar fare against Fulham in midweek, because I think we would all breathe a little easier if the centre-back pairing in N17 began at least to look the part.

West Ham 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dier, Lloris and Tanganga’s Role in the Opener

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m of the school of thought that has it that the purpose of a defence is to keep opponents as far away as possible from the goods. Something akin to the attitude of a Test batsman refusing to surrender his wicket at any cost, “Over-my-dead-body” pretty much being the anthem of choice.

By contrast, the attitude of our defence seems to be far more easy-going and liberal, seeming to suggest that if you fancy wandering straight into our inner sanctum then come right in and make yourselves at home. This was strongly evident from the off, as Lloris, Dier and Tanganga were politeness personified, not daring to do anything that might impede the serene progress of West Ham towards our holiest of holies.

The cross for the opener was undoubtedly a decent one, but nothing that a firm application of Dier’s forehead would have failed to remedy pretty swiftly, and at this stage I think most right-minded observers anticipated him taking the uncontroversial step of nodding the ball back whence it came and letting the experts get on with things further up the pitch. Dier’s decision therefore to adopt a policy of non-interference made the mind swim a bit, but this curious experiment in passivity having been executed we at least had Monsieur Lloris to fall back on.

Alas, Lloris clings to his goal-line in much the same way as a toddler might cling to a cherished blanket, and although the ball hove into view within the six-yard box, and Lloris, for clarification, was fully entitled to use his hands to affect proceedings as he saw fit, he instead took a leaf out of Dier’s “Wait and See” book. While this says much for his spirit of intellectual curiosity, it didn’t really aid us in the matter at hand.

For his part, the West Ham forward in the middle of this slapstick, Antonio, reacted with all the incredulity one would expect of a man who had heard much of the fabled spirit of generosity amongst the Tottenham defence but still could not quite believe it was happening. He helped himself to two unchallenged attempts at goal from inside six yards, and who could blame him for filling his boots so greedily?

A word in passing also for young Tanganga for his role in all this. With Dier dragged out of position by the front post runner, responsibility for chaperoning Antonio fell upon the shoulders of Tanganga. It was therefore unfortunate to see him look to his elders for inspiration, and do what Dier and Lloris had done before, by staying rooted to his position with resolute passivity, determined not to influence matters but instead to watch them unfold around him. Oh, Japhet.

To his credit Tanganga made an admirable stab at a rather brutal task against Man City last week, when he was asked to keep tabs on the combined might of Sterling and Gundogan, and in general he shown an adequate grasp of the basics to merit some time in the starting line-up, but this was the sort of sizeable clanger it is pretty difficult to laugh off.

2. Sanchez

Elsewhere in the heart of what passes these days for our defence, Davinson Sanchez made one of the smarter decisions of his entire Tottenham career to date by staying well clear of affairs for the opening goal, and entrusting duties to his colleagues.

This was about the only intelligent choice he made all afternoon. He may have avoided anything in the category of ‘Monumentally Catastrophic’, but this is hardly the sign of a job well done. In general there is much about which to shoot concerned glances when observing Sanchez in action, and for anyone wondering to what sort of things I might be referring, the chap kindly provided demonstrations of many of them today, like some grotesque form of Error-Strewn Bingo.

He misjudges the flight of aerial balls; is too easily turned inside out by any opposing attacker who has the temerity to attempt a stepover; is outmuscled too easily; appears pretty petrified of the ball when in possession, typically turning back to the goalkeeper as if afraid that the ball might combust if it moves forward; and at one point was outpaced by Declan Rice. Using the age-old AANP technique of asking who would buy him if he were available, it seems a fair bet that the queue of Champions League-chasing sides would not be stretching around the block – making one ask what the hell is he doing playing for our lot?

When watching two centre-backs struggling to negotiate the absolute basics of space and time, there is a temptation for the absence of others to make the heart grow fonder, and thus I find myself now yearning for a pairing of Toby and Rodon. But realistically, this is unlikely to present much of an improvement either.

Toby’s heart remains willing, but his flesh grows weaker with each passing match; and Rodon’s love of a dramatic sliding challenge rather masks the fact that his positional errors bring about the need for such challenges in the first place.

In short, none of the current bunch are what would you describe as a towering presence at the back, and throw in a goalkeeper whose understanding of his grasp of reality and his place within it is becoming ever shakier, and it’s a heck of a problem. Our defence (and ‘keeper) seem to be worth a two-goal deficit in each game they play.

It is probably a bit much to ask any manager to turn that disjointed and error-strewn rabble into world-beaters, but I had at least hoped on his arrival that Jose might turn our back four into something greater than the sum of their parts. There is precious little indication of this happening, which suggests that the for the foreseeable future the onus will be on the attacking mob to score at least two or three each game simply to give us a chance of a point.

3. Bale and Our Second Half in General

This being Jose’s Tottenham, we waited until two goals down before showing any particular attacking urgency, but when the penny did finally drop we put on a surprisingly compelling show. Given that the combined talents of Kane, Son, Bale, Dele, Lucas and Ndombele were all in attendance one wouldn’t expect much less, but it still made a pleasant change to feel a frisson of excitement as our lot pummelled away at the opposition.

Central to this late rally was Gareth Bale, which is not a phrase I necessarily ever expected to utter again. But there he was, in glorious technicolour, looking as if he cared, and showing an impressive knack for doing mundane things with superstar quality.

His list of merits included link-up play on the right with Doherty (albeit a deployment that was enforced when Plan A, of using Tanganga as a more containing full-back, went up in smoke inside five minutes when we went behind); occasional darts infield; runs behind the defence; and, most stylishly, the deft little flicks and nudges that on paper could be recorded as simply standing in one place and dangling a limb, but in practice amounted to gloriously misleading two or three opponents into setting off in one direction while facing in the opposite direction.

This is to say nothing of the assist for Lucas’ goal (which, by the by, I made approximately the umpteenth example of a goal from a corner since Eriksen left and took his corner deliveries with him) and the volley that grazed the crossbar. Of course, hitting the bar counts for little unless he were aiming for it – and even then it would be a pretty odd objective – but all these elements amounted to the sort of performance that was a notch or two above that of which most of his contemporaries are capable.

It bodes well. No doubt it is tempting to add a grumble that it is about damn time he boded well, having spent the last six months boding anything but, while seeming happy enough to claim his weekly envelope and not giving a fig about how things boded – but for the avoidance of doubt, this was good stuff.

In recent weeks Sonny has been slightly more reticent, as if moved to find a quiet spot out on the left and reflect, undisturbed, upon life; and Kane’s radar today was around six inches away from where it ought to have been at any given moment; but it is now conceivable that all three of these might be about to hit their straps simultaneously, and with Burnley and Fulham looming large on the fixture list, a release of some pent-up frustration would be pretty timely.

4. Lamela

The general upturn in life’s events in the final half hour – in performance at least, if not in outcome – did much to soothe the savage beast that had been unleashed within me at half-time, on learning of the withdrawal of Lamela, a bullet that Lucas rather scandalously dodged.

Lamela, as has been the case on almost every occasion since his return, struck me as the pick of our bunch while in attendance. His little dribble from halfway to a spot well beyond, to set up Kane, struck me as a masterclass in how to run at pace away from would-be antagonists while being spectacularly one-footed and still managing to effect trademark stepovers even though nothing about the circumstances should, by rights, have allowed such a thing.

And in general, he combined his usual urgency with some decision-making that was probably as sensible as the situation allowed. Naturally he also found time for that customary combo of a yellow card for a late challenge aligned with a look of utter incredulity, but there is much to love about an attacker who is so affronted at not having possession that he considers it within his rights to fly into his man with the full force of every available limb in order to win the thing back.

By contrast, and as ever, any good intentions Lucas might have had at kick-off were swiftly drowned beneath his irrepressible urge to be dribbling at any point and in any part of the field, irrespective of whether the situation demanded such an undertaking or otherwise.

We will always have Amsterdam, of course, and there are times when to beat an opponent or two does everyone a service, but watching the chap get his head down and race off mazily into a cul-de-sac I cannot help but feel the I have watched him play the same game for Tottenham about a hundred times.

Of the aforementioned sextet of attacking talent with which we ended the game, Lucas struck me as arguably the weakest link, and in the straight shootout perennially in my head between Lucas and Lamela, the latter is comfortably ahead. I can only assume that Lamela, rather than Lucas, was hooked at the interval because of Lamela’s yellow: but in future weeks I expect to see a front four of Kane, Son, Bale and Lamela.

Wolfsberger 1-4 Tottenham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bale

The Gareth Bale Saga, what? With its assorted triumphs and disasters it’s already been a fairly exhausting ride, which seems to have much about it of the seven stages of grief, with each passing game swinging us wildly between hope and despair. For those struggling to keep up, yesterday’s input ranked amongst the more positive variety, and accordingly wild and fanciful expectations have shot through the roof and off into the horizon.

It’s probably best to get the caveats out of the way early. Wolfsberg, or Wolfsberger, or Pellets, or whatever the hell they were called were pretty game going forward, but seemed only to tick the boxes marked ‘Defence’ because they absolutely had to under UEFA regulations, and consequently offered little in the way of resistance once our heroes began motoring.

This was best summed up by the comedy villain sent sliding into a different postcode by Bale immediately preceding his goal. The chap had much about him of ‘Henchman Number 3’ in one of the old Bond films, his purpose seeming solely to appear on screen in order to wave some ineffectual limbs before being obligingly hurled aside by our hero.

There was much to admire about the artistic direction of that particular scene. That combination of Bale’s speed on the run, balance on the turn and then vicious whip on the shot lent itself to some pretty dreamy aesthetics, the sort of thing that could not have looked better if it had been the product of hours of choreography.

But as well as the splendid entertainment of the goal itself, the fact that this was a glimpse of Peak Bale, for the first time since his return, was what really got the masses chattering.

As has been pretty well documented, the chap has underwhelmed in recent months. No need to dwell on the unfortunate particulars, but suffice to say his most significant contributions have been a couple of headers delivered with feet planted pretty solidly on terra firma, as if to indicate his reluctance to exert himself any more than is absolutely necessary.

If one squinted, and added a pretty generous narrative, one could just about discern the occasional glimpse of a man of talent, but in truth these moments were no more spectacular than any of those provided occasionally by the least celebrated squad members. Even Moussa Sissoko or Steven Bergwijn occasionally sidesteps an opponent; to laud Bale for doing likewise once every few games was straw-clutching at its finest.

So to see the chap raise himself to the heights that are the preserve of only a fairly elite group of players certainly got the heart fluttering. Sissoko or Bergwijn do not and cannot and never will score a goal like Bale’s last night. And I don’t mind admitting that I had resigned myself to never seeing such output again from the man himself.

But if, for whatever reason – be it fitness, or confidence, or simply a whim-based shrug of the shoulders in which the young folk seem to delight – Bale has rediscovered something of that alchemist’s touch of yore, suddenly we might have a potent third appendage to the Kane-Sonny axis.

2. Dele

Sunny optimism clearly comes in twos, because just as we all began happily speculating about the longer-term meaning of Bale’s goal and assist (not sure he contributed an awful lot else, mind, but beggars and choosers and all that) we were treated to a few party tricks from young D. Alli Esq., which suggested that here was a man who considered his affairs to be in order.

Dele, as is well known, loves a nutmeg, and I suppose we should guard against getting too carried away on the basis of one such specimen, delicious in its execution though it was.

But for the purposes of a duly diligent reality check it is probably worth nothing that there was a decent stack of other impressive output from the man.

In possession, a lot of the old swagger had returned. This can actually tend to be a source of considerable frustration, as he often seems to derive ideas above his station and refuse to part with the ball as a result, holding onto it far too long and sapping momentum from our attacks. Yesterday, however, the need for urgency seemed impressed upon him, and he generally combined his trademark love of the elaborate with a good appreciation of the need to chivvy things along.

Moreover, off the ball he seemed perfectly happy to make a generous contribution to the collective act of The High Press. Again, worth noting that these were obliging opponents, but it’s the only fare Dele gets these days, so he may as well make the most of it.

With Ndombele now seemingly entrusted to the deeper-lying role, and Lo Celso still poorly, opportunity potentially knocks for Dele in the Number 10 spot, and a couple more eye-catching flourishes in the Europa would do him no harm.

3. Vincius: Offering Value of Sorts

The curious egg that is Carlos Vinicius was given his traditional airing yesterday, and duly continued to leave us all a little undecided as to whether it was best to castigate or sympathise with him.

The answer, of course, lies in between the two extremes. Passing judgement with moderation is something of a forgotten art in these days of non-stop and ubiquitous news coverage, but there might be value in taking this approach with Vinicius and simply appreciating both what he offers and his limitations.

In the Credit column, his mere existence allows us such luxuries as the complete resting of Harry Kane. I distinctly remember tearing out great big clumps of hair in midweek Cup matches of years gone by, at the fact that we were forced to deploy Kane in pretty meaningless matches, simply because we had nobody else in the squad worthy of the description “Striker”. Kane, of course, never dissented – quite the opposite in fact, the eyes of the honest fellow tended to light up when he realised easy goals were to be had – but that’s not the point. Wheel him out for every game and he will eventually break; so having a Vinicius in the squad affords him and Sonny some respite and saved energies for tougher tests.

On top of which, while Vinicius does have his limitations as an all-round centre-forward, it was good to see him show something of the Lineker about him yesterday in poaching his goal. It’s something of a dying art, but one for which AANP reserves a special place in the affections.

That snaffle aside, Vinicius did not offer a great deal, which seems to point to a couple of causal factors. On the one hand he has plenty of room for improvement. He might have been more alert to pounce when Bale had a shot parried, and he might have used the ball more wisely when it did come his way.

But on t’other hand, this is not the sort of creature who will drop deep a la Kane, or spend his afternoons working the channels. Vinicius comes across as the type who would like a few testing balls to whirl around the penalty area, either along the ground or otherwise, and if his chums are not donating to the cause it leaves him pretty unemployed for sizeable chunks.

4. Lloris

I rather reluctantly offer a mention to Monsieur Lloris, primarily because justice demands as much.

In recent games he has dropped such howlers that one wondered if he were doing so deliberately, but more salutary habits were on display yesterday, with the one-handed first half save, from close range, a particular highlight.

So, having jostled to the front of the queue to pelt the chap with rotten fruit over the last couple of games, the AANP Code of Honour has seen to it that I now similarly commend him for his efforts yesterday.

Elsewhere, the combination of Dier’s poor pass and Sissoko’s poor control contributed to another pretty careless penalty, but in general this was a fair result, and given our recent struggles, against both capable and weaker opponents, it was pretty welcome stuff.

Man city 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

One does not really like to dwell on the misfortune of others, but it would be remiss not to record in the Book of Events the latest series of errors from our resident gate-keeper.

For the first two goals (and some might make convincing arguments also for the third) he seemed to do the hard part, of stationing himself at the appropriate coordinates and at the appointed time, with relevant limb duly outstretched, in order to make the necessary saves. These boxes having been ticked, all that remained seemed to be for him to complete the job by ensuring that aforementioned outstretched limb completed its principle purpose in life, viz. to prevent the ball entering his net.

Of course at this juncture the operation seemed to collapse in pieces. It is pretty vexing stuff, because shot-stopping has tended to be Lloris’ headline trick. One rarely sees him dashing from his line to claim crosses, and his distribution tends not to win too many awards: but for the past however many years he has at least amassed a decent array of saves. Take this away from him and tongues will wag.

And on the subject of his diminishing shot-stopping powers, I’ve noted a recent tendency of his to fall backwards as he attempts to carry out this particular duty. The second and third goals yesterday, and also the first goal against Everton (Calvert-Lewin’s powerful volley, for those struggling to keep track), each featured our man tumbling back onto his derriere.

Now not having been particularly schooled in the art as a whole I couldn’t offer much expertise on the matter, but it does seem a peculiar quirk. One would have thought a chap aiming to spring into action ought to plant his weight on his toes. This business of falling backwards suggests that the chap is more inclined to rock on his heels.

2. Hojbjerg

Regulars in this part of the world will be well aware that the affection for Hojbjerg all season has been strong. Alas, yesterday he dipped below the expected standards.

Following his errors against Everton in midweek, Hojbjerg was at it again yesterday. Some have suggested that the penalty should not have been awarded, but before examining the case for that particular defence I chide the man for getting himself into that position in the first place. The opponent in questions was Gundogan, who, in order to station himself for the aforementioned drama to unfold, had to amble forward into the area, while a chum was in possession; and at this point Hojbjerg simply watched him skip past.

As derelictions of duty go it was pretty thick stuff, and most unlike the chap. Had he tracked this run with the eagerness of a boy scout I dare say the various legs that then became tangled would have remained in tangle-free state.

Personally I had no beef with the decision itself, as it appeared that Hojbjerg kicked the chap’s standing leg, the principal crime here being one of clumsiness. All in all, as bursts of five-seconds-of-action go, this was one of the more flawed exhibits.

3. Lamela and Lucas

While Hojbjerg has been looked upon fondly all season, a more recent favourite at AANP Towers has been Erik Lamela, primarily for his combination of high energy, skulduggery and useful – if heavily left-footed – creative spark. It was also a rare opportunity for Lucas to do his damnedest, and whether by accident or design the pair of them interchanged their first half roles pretty regularly.

However, as with Hojbjerg, this seemed not to be the sort of performance upon which either man will look back with any particular fondness. It was not so much that they made any specific, game-changing mistakes – there were plenty others queueing up to do that.

Rather, it was the fact that Lamela having begun to display his talents in the final third in recent games, nothing really clicked for the young nib yesterday, and Lucas was similarly wanting. Both were guilty of making the occasional poor decision, when the very limited opportunities arose for us to poke and prod at the City back-line.

City defended well, no doubt, but our game tends to rely on correct choices in the counter-attack, to ensure that the ball whizzes from point A to B, and onto C, with blink-of-an-eye alacrity, and while this pair had fairly regular opportunities to bring the ball over halfway, neither seemed to pick the most effective options having done so.

4. Ndombele and the First Half Formation

By the time the last rites came round City were basically toying with us, but in the first half the front-page news seemed to be that Jose had dispensed with the customary tactic against Man City, of deploying a back-six under strict instruction to venture no further than their own penalty area. Instead, while hardly expansive, our lot seemed willing to poke cautious noses into the swathes of turf that lay further north.

This I welcomed. It made a pleasant change, reduced the chances of conceding and was less painful to watch than might otherwise have been the case. In practice, of course, it mattered little, but the symbolism of the thing was duly recorded here at AANP Towers.

And directly linked to this mildly more progressive outlook was the deployment of Ndombele as one of the two deeper-lying midfield souls. Pre-Christmas, the Mourinho Dirge had been founded upon a deep-lying pairing of Sissoko and Hojbjerg, both of whom seemed pretty well drilled in the art of slotting in betwixt full-back and centre-back at the drop of a hat.

With Ndombele occupying the berth however, it’s a different kettle of fish. He follows the T’s and C’s of defensively midfielding adequately enough, but coursing through his veins is an urge to pick up the ball and drag it with him over halfway and into opposition territory. In short, his deployment in the role changes the dynamic of our play. This scheme was initially pursued against West Brom last week, which, in the politest terms, was a pretty low-risk test of its efficacy. It was then wheeled out for the manic Cup-tie vs Everton, the sheer lunacy of which game made it pretty difficult to gauge its success, although Ndombele’s breaks from deep did add a useful additional dynamic to our play.

However, then to use Ndombele in the deeper role against the juggernaut that is City struck me a a pretty significant act of faith in his abilities.

The experiment went the way of all flesh in the second half, as Sissoko came on and sat deep, while Ndombele shoved forward, before being hooked – but not before this additional piece of symbolism had similarly had its details taken. Amidst the doom and gloom about the place, I do at least look forward to further use of Ndombele as a deep-lying attacking threat, in coming weeks.

5. Bale and Alli

Funnily enough it flew completely under the radar that we finished the game with something of a fantasy line-up, of Kane, Son, Bale and Dele Alli in attack.

I don’t really keep track of these things but I’d imagine it can’t have been that long ago that a decent proportion of the world’s lilywhites would have given their right arms to see that quartet in action simultaneously.

Now obviously when this dream team is assembled within the circumstances of a three-goal deficit in the dying embers of a match, it loses much of its sheen. But if somehow the best can be coaxed out of Dele, and anything remotely near fitness and form out of Bale, we might potentially have a front four that, frankly, would be far beyond anything Jose has ever done to deserve.

I suspect most of us are scratching our heads at Bale’s odd flurry of non-performances so far, but in one fleet-footed dribble past multiple City legs yesterday he gave a brief flash of hope that perhaps his appetite for such things may not have fizzled out completely.

With transfer speculation about Dele now put to bed for at least the next few months it appears that Jose has moodily decided he might as well play the two-time Young Player of the Year, on the off-chance that he has something about him. There is still enough time in the season for he and Bale to hit some loose approximation of form – and should either, or, God-willing, both do so, and with Ndombele prompting things from deep, our attacking options would suddenly abound.

Everton 5-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. All Action, No Plot

Cut me open and you’ll find me bleeding lilywhite, and so on and so forth; and every defeat for our lot conjures up that hurtful feeling of being bitten in the leg by a personal friend, and so on and forth; but I have to admit, that having felt like my soul was being dragged from my very being while watching our lot resolutely defend their own penalty area for the last six months, to see the return of all-action-no-plot football last night brought a certain satisfaction.

As I will bleat to anyone within earshot, I would much rather see our lot lose while buccaneering like a whole regiment of particularly well-oiled musketeers, than settling for 28% possession and aimlessly hacking clearance after clearance, before conceding in the final five minutes anyway.

It might not be the opinion that has the masses flooding to the ballot box to formalise their support, but give me an-all-action-no plot display any day of the week.

And make no mistake, this was AANP of the highest order. A team denuded of Harry Kane always prompts a few pursed lips and quizzical glances about the place, but from the off our heroes took to the challenge like a bag of cats freshly released. The football in general was one-touch, which is always one of life’s more positive omens, bringing with it, by definition, a rapid shifting of the central orb from points A to B and back again.

Chances were created and shots taken at a healthy rate from the opening minutes onwards, and while it was an annoyance to see just about all of them disappear straight down the throat of the Everton ‘keeper, each routine seemed to be undertaken in the right spirit. The movement of each of the front four was lively; and both the nominal deep-lying midfielders, Hojbjerg and Ndombele, seemed to treat the opportunities to motor forward with all the relish of a pair of teenagers allowed out to their first party.

In short it was pretty unrecognisable from the defensive fare we’ve had rammed down our throats for so long under Jose, and while the first half hour or so brought only a one-goal lead and around half a dozen missed chances for a second, the entertainment alone was ample compensation for an underwhelming scoreline.

Looking back, but for the five-minute burst of defensive howlers before half-time we may have shaded the thing on balance – not that the book of events records such speculation. I suppose we can draw some mild consolation from the fact that we did not concede due to inviting wave after wave of pressure, or being in ragged defensive shape, but primarily due to forming a neat queue of individuals eager to have their own individual howlers given air-time, with Messrs Hojbjerg and Lloris oddly intent on stretching the boundaries of the calamitous.

Having clawed the thing back twice in normal time, it was pretty galling to see it all disappear in smoke at stumps – but while others may grumble, I was simply glad to have at least been entertained. Rather a 4-5 after extra-time, than an impotent 0-1 utterly devoid of invention.

2. Lamela

I must confess it is not immediately clear to me which particular ghost has elected to inhabit the wiry frame of Erik Lamela in these two and a half games since his latest return from injury, but I like the cut of his spectral jib.

In attitude as much as output, Lamela has been a joy to behold, all energy, urgency and will to win. While his actual stats might not necessarily have been flawless, he was the creative hub regularly enough, and his goal seemed a pretty fair reward for a few hours of good honest graft in the last week or two.

3. Lucas

The offering from Lucas was more of a mixed bag. In the credit column, his attitude was also admirable from the off.

Now I appreciate that this is akin to dishing out a sympathetic pat upon the head of the chubby lad in the class, and awarding him a prize for effort, but this upbeat, energetic take on life was pretty critical. Cast the mind back just a week or two, to the utterly lifeless showings against Chelsea and Brighton, and one realises that we cannot simply take for granted that our lot will career about the place like men possessed.

And while Lucas’ capacity to dribble into cul-de-sacs, and dismiss multiple opportunities to pass because he simply prefers to do it all himself, does drive the casual observer to a state of apoplexy, it was pretty vital that he devoted himself with energy to even these hollow pursuits, for this beavering contributed crucially to the general dynamism of the whole.

4. Out Substitutions and the Loss of Energy and Shape

The value of Lucas’ contribution seemed to become clearer once he was withdrawn. To put it another way, cast the mind back to the latter stages of normal time and the entirety of extra-time, when the subs were thrown on, and our energy disappeared along with our shape.

Where Ndombele had repeatedly dragged the ball from defence to attack for ninety minutes, offering a sixth attacking option that helped maintain a constant threat, Winks replaced him and promptly set about chiselling out one of the worst cameos in recent memory, capping off an array of misplaced passes with the concession of possession that led to the Everton winner.

For all his over-elaboration, Lucas was also missed once hooked, with Dele doing little to affect matters.

Most tellingly, the introduction of Kane seemed to slow down a lot of our attacking play, with the high-energy buzz of the opening hour or so replaced by a slightly more circumspect approach. At three-one down one can hardly quibble with the decision to send on the greatest goalscorer of his generation (and both Sonny’s cross and his diving header, for our fourth, together amounted to a thing of beauty), but the front-foot attacking style with which we had swaggered through the first half certainly sapped away.

5. Lloris

Ultimately though, four goals really ought to have been enough, and probably would have been but for the steady stream of individual clangers that littered the place.

Hojbjerg without doubt has enough credit in the bank to be excused his part in the mess, which comprised principally a heavy touch to allow Everton their first. Little doubt that he also clipped his man for the penalty, but I am inclined to exonerate him on the grounds that this did not appear one of those fouls that had been delivered on the back of hours of planning, our man instead seemingly bumping into the chap, as one tends to do in a crowded spot.

Winks, as mentioned, had a bit of a stinker all round, and played himself into trouble when he really ought to have known better.

But the rotten tomatoes ought really to be reserved for Monsieur Lloris. A lame duck might have done better with at least two of the goals; a World Cup-winning goalkeeper ought to have snaffled them with pretty minimal breaking of sweat.

The first was particularly lamentable stuff, given that the ball came straight at him, and that his chosen course of action was then simply to shovel the ball onwards in its journey, while falling backwards into the net. I suppose one can give him the benefit of the doubt with the second, and the penalty left him with little chance; but for the fourth he again struck me as being a little too keen to wave the white flag.

That fourth, from Richarlison, was at a pretty tight angle for the forward, and while it is not really my place to lecture Lloris, I do wonder if the outcome might have been altered if he had thought to display a little less goal, or maybe stuck out a paw in preventative manner as a means of voiding the attempt. Just a thought.

So it’s all slightly unfortunate that there’s a bitter taste in the mouth now that the dust has settled; but whereas in almost every previous week of the last couple of months the grumbles have lasted long into the night on account of having to sit through utterly dire fare, I take some solace in the fact that at least this, and in particular our play going forward, was entertaining fare.

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