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Liverpool 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

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

1. Davies

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

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

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

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

2. Dier

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

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

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

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

3. Resources

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

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

4. Dembele

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

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

5. Discipline

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

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

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

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

Man City 2-2 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Observations

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

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

1. First-Half Troubles

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

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

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

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

2. Wimmer Woes

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

3. Lloris

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

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

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

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

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

4. “Character” etc

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

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

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

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

Spurs 4-0 WBA: Four Lilywhite Observations

Enjoying Themselves

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

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

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

Eriksen

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

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

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

Cracking Goals

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

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

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

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

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

Vertonghen Injury Repurcussions

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

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

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

Spurs 2-0 Villa: Five Lilywhite Observations

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

1. First Half Snoozing

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

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

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

2. Cissoko

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

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

3. Janssen. Sigh.

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

4. Alli and a Change in Fortune

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

5. Other Semi-Bright Spots

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

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

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. A Distinct Lack of Energy

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

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

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

2. Backwards Passing

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

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

3. Lamela and the Pressing Game

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

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

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

4. Sissoko, Unlikely Near-Hero

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

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

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

5. Strange, Muted Times

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

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

Chelsea 2-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

Defeat maybe, but there was at least a smidgeon of honour about this one, rather like a chappie still swinging away even as his limbs get hacked off and arrows pierce him at every juncture. After the bizarre Champions League capitulation that boasted all the spine of a gloomy jellyfish, here was at least a whiff of fight.

Making Dominance Count

Rarely had the pre kick-off mood at AANP Towers been more sombre than yesterday, as I trooped to the viewing chamber with all the joie de vivre of a chappie during the French Revolution who has been reliably informed that a brand new guillotine has been rolled into place complete with extra sharp blade.

A Chelsea mob who had won around 800 games in a row, not conceding a goal in any of them, up against a lilywhite team that has looked decidedly iffy all season, and missing key personnel to boot. The omens were not good.

But lo and whatnot, our heroes started off at an absolute rate of knots. Chelsea heels were snapped at, pockets of space were darted into, and while the Chelsea mob were lazily trying to swat us away like flies we made a couple of early thrusts for the jugular, striking oil around ten minutes in. It did not stop there. To describe it as “one-way stuff” would admittedly be rather stretching the bounds of credulity, but our lot definitely held the aces during the first 45, and any jury worth its salt would have voted for 0-1 at the break as a minimum.

But there’s the rub, dash it all. Against Man City we were in the ascendancy, and we jolly well made hay while we could, sackloads of the stuff. On that occasion we turned early dominance into a 2-0 lead, and it did the trick. Here, as we snatched at chances and marginally misplaced the final ball, that 1-0 lead looked a mite wobbly – and on the stroke of half-time the whole bally thing wibbled back down to earth and that was that.

Dembele

It struck me that if you peeled back the layers, the key factor in all that first half dominance, was Dembele. Like the young imp of nursery rhyme fame, when good Dembele is very good, and when bad he rather drifts into the periphery of things. Yesterday, without being at the peak of his powers, he pulled out that party trick of his on several occasions, of picking up the ball somewhere deep, and loping forward with it 20 yards. Simple, but marvellously effective.

Admittedly he drifted a long way off the boil as the game progressed, and was duly hooked off, but with Wanyama feisty in the tackle alongside him, our midfield core appeared to have matters fairly well sussed.

Eriksen

Nice of Christian Eriksen to treat us to a rare glimpse of his A-game, now generally adorning the side of milk cartons having not been seen since elsewhere since spring. The chap struck his goal like an exocet missile, and evidently realising the good that could come of such things he made a grab for the bit, carefully clasped it between his teeth and took the fight to Chelsea for much of the first half. Such were his efforts that his immaculate hair even started to fall out of place, and Chelsea had the dickens of a time trying to contain us.

Alas, the point remained that we simply did not make the most of these good times, and the stuffing was duly knocked out of us – and back into Chelsea – by that equaliser.

Wimmer at Left-Back

There was still plenty of the race left to run after half-time of course, but the whole bally thing had a different look about it, no doubt. Chelsea came back after the break with a spring in their collective step, and our makeshift back-four were subjected to quite the interrogation.

Oddly enough, I have never once made the wrong call with the benefit of hindsight, so I can confirm 24 hours after the event that Wimmer at left-back did not work. (In truth, Wimmer has not worked for much of this season, but that’s a different kettle of fish).

At kick-off however, the rationale was understandable. Up against Costa, and without the sweet, reassuring presence of Toby, a centre-back pairing of Dier and Wimmer had ‘TROUBLE’ daubed all over it in that giant graffiti font that one sees rather bafflingly in the most awkward spots along railway tracks.

It is difficult to imagine the conflab around this selection having taken more than around a millisecond or two, and thusly Vertonghen trotted out at centre-back, which left little option (though Kieran Trippier may beg to differ) than Wimmer at left-back. The same left-back slot that was rather woefully neglected as Moses was granted the freedom of the penalty area as he slammed in Chelsea’s second.

The Glass Half-Full Perspective

Apparently we are by and large at the same points tally as this time last season, which suggests that the thing is not dead, buried and having lilies strewn over it just yet – but last season was largely redeemed by a couple of winning streaks that seemed to stretch on for months. Something similar would be frightfully welcome this time around, and if we can perform like the first half yesterday, whilst cannily wriggling our way out of any further European commitments, the thing might just start to take shape…

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

Arsenal 1-1 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Three at the Back

Arched eyebrows all round at kick-off, as the meanest defence of all 92 clubs in England swivelled from its traditional back-four to a terrifically trendy and fashionable three-man troupe. Eagle-eyed as ever, AANP was onto it like a flash, and did the only logical thing there is to do in such radical times – I made a list of Pros and Cons.

Pros: In the absence of Toby in midweek, all common sense made a dash for the nearest exit, and the entire back-four took to playing like a team of mechanical wind-up toys that were left to cart around in any direction they pleased, with ball control and retention purely optional. Life could not go on in that Toby-less state, particularly against hot opposition, so the change to a back-three gave a rather meaty extra layer of protection.

Cons: Granted. Not much of a Con there really, what?

Pros: Moreover, every time one of the back-three stepped forward into midfield, the Arsenal mob looked like they had been hit across the money-maker with a sledgehammer. ‘Discombobulated’ does not quite do it – they simply could not comprehend what was happening.

Cons: Until about the 20 minute mark, when they worked it out and started piling into us.

Pros: You speak sooth. However, the use of a back-three also allowed our full-backs to fulfil lifelong ambitions, and bomb forward like bona fide wing-backs. It was a switch they embraced like a caterpillars discovering wings on their back of all dashed things, and fluttering off with all manner of gaiety. At one point Kyle Walker even went on a crossfield dribble that ended up in the inside left position.

Cons: The opposition got wind of this, and ended up going 2 vs 1 down the wings when they attacked. Admittedly it might have been the role of Wanyama to help out in such circumstances, but the point remains – with the wing-backs bombing on, we were a tad vulnerable down the flanks.

And so on. One gets the gist – there were positives, negatives and all manner of things in between, but mercifully the whole gambit did not backfire, and off we toodled with a fairly hard-earned point.

2. Dembele’s Attacking Ability

After Dembele’s slightly rummy cameo on Wednesday night, I am not afraid to admit that I gave the chin and its elegant whiskers quite the concerned rub. Mercifully today, lions can once again lie with lambs, and sickly orphans smile through their tears, because the young behemoth is clearly back on track and inflicting damage once more, and the world seems that much righter.

It has been a rarely sighted beast this season so far, but the combination of downright elegant slaloming with mind-boggling upper body strength was enough to make even the most hardened old bean purr in appreciation. I am all for zipping the ball hither, thither and yonder in an effort to move things from A (back at base) to B (somewhere in the region of the final third), but all that pretty passing can be neatly sidestepped when a ball-carrier of the ilk of Dembele gets it into his head that by golly, if he just charges forward like a man possessed – albeit bearing an almightily languid gait – then no force on heaven or earth stands much chance of dispossessing him. As if by magic, Dembele has the unique capacity to single-handedly shift the action thirty yards forward and have the opposition back-pedalling and panicking as if their lives depend on it.

And lo, as a passing archangel might have commented, when Dembele was possessed with the idea of the Forward Surge all the way into the opposition area, the result was as gratifying as one might expect. An errant opposition leg here, a referee’s toot there – and we had ourselves a penalty.

All of which does beg the question of why the blighter does not do exactly that each time he touches the ball? Or at least once per game. Instead of haggling over an extra million in transfer fees here and there, could Daniel Levy not write into Dembele’s contract that each game he plays he is legally obliged to carry the ball into the opposition area, at least once per half?

3. Kane and Janssen.

Marvellous to see Kane back, and biffing around like he knew what the job entailed. That first half header was almost glorious; he rather missed out on the winning lottery ticket in both the first half (Son cross) and second half (sliding in at close range); but by and large the chap seemed to know his apples from pears, and everyone around him seemed far happier with life knowing that he was up there and making a fist of things.

Then Janssen entered the fray, and we rather started to settle for a point. I suspect the entire lilywhite population of Christendom absolutely wills the chap to get it right, but things simply do not work out for him. The sensational volley hit his standing leg; the cheeky nudge was pulled up as a foul; and while his earnestness and endeavour deserve firm handshakes, this is most decidedly not yet his time. Next week, maybe but not right now.

4. Son & Eriksen – Too Polite By Half

It would be remiss to describe the Pochettino vintage as a soft-touch, and that squidgy underbelly so cherished by Spurs teams of yore is more or less a thing of history – but by golly one or two of our heroes need toughening up.

Son has racked up goodwill by the sackload in recent weeks, and well deserved it is too. But the Pavlovian response I mutter each time his name is mentioned is “Too dashed lightweight”. Not a fan of a chappie who smiles when he has just made a mistake on the football pitch either, but that is a chunter for another day.

But heavens above, pulling out of a 50-50 challenge with a goalkeeper who is approximately eight miles outside his area, and with the net beckoning invitingly behind him like some sultry temptress of the night – it was too much.  All manner of invective thundered from the AANP lips, the air turned purple and a passing thunderstorm backed away in terror. Give that man a damn good thrashing, because that was game, set and match, right there – and he jumped out of the challenge like a neutered puppy. Dashed sickening to witness.

(I find Eriksen a rather soft sort of bean as well, hence the sub-heading).

All told however, that was a hard-earned and decent point. Admittedly this run of seventy-six consecutive draws is becoming a mite tedious, but in this instance, and with several key figures out injured (plus one comedy figure suspended) it can be officially marked down as “Satisfying Enough”, and positives duly drawn.

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

Spurs 2-0 Man City: Four Lilywhite Musings

As I dip the nib into the ink-pot and absorb the sparrows outside gaily linking arms and tangoing the afternoon away, I can’t help thinking that the mood in these parts is just about as perky as it has ever been, for this performance was right up there.

On the attack from literally the first toot, and impeccable in defence throughout (but particularly in that nerve-riddled final 20 or so), all against an all-conquering mob who generally blitz the dickens out of opponents with four or five goals per game – when have our heroes every played quite so well?

1. Son Up-Front

Poor old Janssen has lumbered around with the weight of the world on his shoulders since biffing up at the Lane, and it was no real surprise that on the biggest stage of all he was taken to one side and politely asked to shake hands with the unemployed. He snuffled things out on the bench, young Sonny was asked to fight the good fight upfront, and within twenty seconds the decision was vindicated with a blast of trumpets, for Son had already nutmegged the nearest City stooge and slammed a shot goalwards.

It set the tone. Harry Kane Mk II he may not be, but Son came armed to the gills with a different set of bells and whistles, and buzzed around the place from first minute to last, worming his way up the noses of any City defender within a stone’s throw and generally being a complete pest.

One does not really begrudge him for shooting rather than passing whenever he had the faintest whiff of goal, given his current form, and in general it was glorious to watch. On top of which, the reverse pass for the Alli goal prompted a chorus of delighted coos from across North London too.

When it was mentioned last year that in the absence of Kane we would pootle along just fine because Lamela, Son and the like could fill his boots, I rushed for the nearest wall and banged my head against it in exasperation. Well that rather teaches me, what? Son might not be the archetypal striker, but the chap will certainly make any back-four think twice before kicking off their shoes and settling in for a snooze.

2. The Pressing Game

Son’s gung-ho charge in the opening seconds set the tone for an attacking performance that could not have been more Pochettino-esque if it had started spouting slightly broken English with a cherubic grin.

Son, Alli, Eriksen, Lamela and just about anyone else who could fob off their defensive duties tore about City defenders like a pack of over-excited puppies scenting a new tree against which to raise a leg. As game plans go it might not necessarily have been rocket science, but our heroes clearly understood the Ts and Cs, and had a whale of a time haring after any City defender in possession.

The whole adventure was aided no end by the remarkably generous clown in the City goal, who resolutely refused simply to hack the ball to safety, but instead insisted on picking the most inappropriate moments to try out his Pele impressions. Looking every the sort of egg who gets his kicks from juggling knives, this so-called Last Line of Defence simply invited trouble at every juncture, and our lot could barely believe their luck.

And on it went, our relentless high pressing game. Indefatigable is the word, albeit with the caveat that they had all fatig-ed themselves out by about the 75th minute, and traipsed around the pitch on empty tanks thereafter, but the ploy was a cracking one and ultimately struck oil.

3. Midfield Bite

While our forwards made merry, the midfield battle was one for the grime-covered, gnarled, unshaven veterans of a muddy Wednesday night in Stoke. Wanyama in particular seemed thoroughly to enjoy the whole notion of clearing out ball, man and any women and children who happened to be in the vicinity, and frankly City’s dandy fun-makers were not allowed to settle.

Our lot wanted it more, ferreting around for loose balls as if they were nuggets of gold, and maintaining the tempo throughout. It really is one heck of a thing that Pochettino is lovingly moulding here, and one gets the impression that if he were to politely mumble “Jump”, to a man this entire squad would roar back at him, “How high, dash it?”

4. Rock-Solid Defence

Like any good action flick, having shot down the enemy and high-fived their way into the closing act, the action then switched to a good old-fashioned defence of the fortress for the finale, at which point Messrs Alderweireld and Vertonghen politely cleared their throats, polished their boots and marched into position.

Sensibly enough, everyone else in lilywhite promptly took their cue from these two, adopted their positions, and flung limbs in the way of City attacks like the things were going out of fashion. No doubt about it, City have a trick or two up their tattooed sleeves when going forward, and Aguero is an absolute force of nature, but our back-line were bound together let a particularly niftily constructed spider web, and there was no way through.

Bar the one that Lloris somehow managed to shovel onto the post, and admittedly bar the other half-dozen that the also had to save – but one gets the gist: our lot held firm, and the villagers were saved. Huzzah!

An absolute triumph then, for Spurs, Pochettino and what feels like the whole of humanity. The art of penalty-taking aside, every aspect was delivered with a whiff of a trooper at the peak of his powers, and against the finest team in the land. We probably will not win the Title, may not even finish Top Four, but performances like this dashed well make a man want to tame a lion, court a maiden and slam back a whisky.

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

Boro 1-2 Spurs: Son, Janssen & Other Lilywhite Thoughts

1. Son’s Unique Brand of Selflessness

In football these days it seems you can’t swing a cat without someone chirping away about new-fangled formations, or all manner of quirky statistics and allsorts. All rather complicated, what?

Enter Son, stage-left, and suddenly football was broken down to playground level again The chap simply gets his head down and sets off on his onei-man mission to dribble past as many people as possible. If there were no white markings on the pitch he would presumably have taken off across Teeside, trying to shimmy around every man, woman and child in the North East. Frankly, once Sone has the ball, neither friend nor foe is going to see it for a while.

Seasoned visitors to these parts will know that this chap is not necessarily my particular brand of cognac, but in a world of neat sideways passing that can often carry all the threat of a neutered rabbit, a quick-footed type like Son can have a well-organised defence thinking to themselves, “I say, this wasn’t in the manual.”

2. Janssen – A Man For Others

I think it’s fair to say we can forget all that rot, peddled on his arrival, about Victor Janssen being some sort of unstoppable goalscoring machine who hits the net in his asleep. The chap is clearly instead more of a great big lumbering giant with a heart of gold, the sort who reunites orphans with their kindly aunts and saves small villages from famine.

He was at it again yesterday, doing all the selfless stuff, with no goal in mind other than the greater good of those around him. The polar opposite of Son, some might suggest.

If there were a ball to hold up, he would manfully roll up his sleeves and hold it up. If possession needed shielding while team-mates galloped up in support, I’ll be damned if he were not shielding the thing like his life depended on it.

Naturally enough then, when Sonny decided he had gone a good 30 seconds without trying to dribble his way out of the North-East, Janssen once more did the honourable thing, holding off his man – with back to goal, naturally – and timing his lay-off just so, for Son to gather up without breaking stride and ping home.

And that rather summed up the chappie. If we are hoping for a van Nistelrooy sort of egg, who will loiter in the six-yard box resolutely folding his arms until the scent of a goal wafts his way, and consequently poking and prodding in 20-odd goals a season – well we had better make ourselves comfortable. Janssen’s strengths seem to lie in running defenders ragged away from goal, peeling into spaces to allow Alli and gang to grab the glory.

3 Squad Rotation

After last season’s team selections – which had all the reassuring consistency of the sun rising, right on cue, each morning – this season our glorious leader has chopped and changed as if discovering a shiny new toy with all manner of bells and whistles to keep him entertained.

This makes perfect sense. Ploughing into the Premier League one minute, and then Champions League and whatnot five minutes later, requires a pretty delicate set of fingers and toes, and Pochettino is duly doing his bit with some natty midfield tweaks.

Last season, dabbing on the war-paint with neither Dier nor Dembele in sight would have some of the weaker members of our clan hurling themselves out of the nearest window in despair. This time round however, the Brains Trust barely break sweat, and simply slot Messrs Wanyama and Cissoko into the middle.

Wanyama duly set about doing his best Dier impression, and although the chap tends not to concern himself too much with covering the full-backs, as is a particular signature of Dier, he put himself about with a healthy set of blocks and crunching tackles, to help things tick along.

Son, as mentioned, got the nod further forward, and this time Lamela was left to twiddle his thumbs on the bench – and so on. The gist of the thing is that this is rather a charmed life, what? The handful of signings made over the summer might not have caused robust types to go weak at the knees and reach for the smelling salts, but they have contributed to a healthy gaggle fit for the rigours of a midweek-weekend binge. Before you can turn to a nearby soul and remark “This squad depth lark is not such a bad thing after all?” we seem to have hit upon a formula that allows us to take down a lower-rate Premiership team and then turn our attentions to the CL meat, without breaking sweat.

4. Cissoko’s Room For Improvement

That said, I thought the boy Cissoko fluffed his lines at rather crucial junctures yesterday. I don’t really see the point of being built like a fortified tree trunk, if at the vital moment you allow some other soppy chap to clamber all over you and nod the ball apologetically into the net. Clamber right back at him, dash it.

On top of which, the instruction manual suggested that the whole premise of Cissoko is to burst forward from midfield scattering every man, woman and child in his way. Yesterday I would suggest the young bean did no more than dabble in this, which was fair enough given that we had Boro penned back for much of the game anyway, but nevertheless. All the more galling then, to see Boro bring on a substitute, the Traore chap, who promptly out-Cissokoed Cissoko with a full-length gallop which tore a sizeable strip through the heart of our team.

5. Quietly Mooching Into Second

Still, such things are minor quibbles. It was only Middlesbrough, and so on and so forth, but win these irritating little away days and the Top Four – or more – starts to take care of itself. Almost without anyone realising we’re up to second, and while there will be tougher tests, not least next weekend ,things have pootled around pretty darned serenely to date.

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

Stoke 0-4 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Musings

A curious sport seems to have broken out amongst our heroes, whereby they amuse one another by replicating exactly all results from last season. I must confess I have come across more entertaining gags in my time, but if it means meeting Stoke away and treating that impostor with a disdainful 0-4 then I am all for it.

1. Strength in Reserve

AANP is not really one of those chappies who spots a single, lone swallow on the horizon and drops what he is doing to give the gong a good thrashing and announce that summer is here and in rude health. As such, when Erik Lamela is deemed not quite ripe and ready, and the next cab is duly hauled off the rank and produces a nifty two-goal salvo, I am not about to pop the nearest champagne cork and proclaim that our strength in depth is such as to make us nailed-on Title favourites.

For a start, as swallows go, Son is the type of young sport who will perform all manner of eye-catching party tricks when he first hits town, but then rather slink out of view as matters progress. Be that as it may later on in the season, his input yesterday, as Lamela’s replacement, was jolly handy yesterday.

One knows what one is getting with Son. Eagerness to impress, some fancy footwork and rather a talent for neat finishing, but all packaged within a frustratingly lightweight frame that is liable to see him picked up and deposited elsewhere by a particularly fruity gust of wind. He carefully paraded all facets of his character yesterday, but in this instance being routinely bumped off the ball was eminently excusable because his goals – and the second in particular – were a delight to behold.

2. Good Fortune

This being Tottenham, at 1-0 up things could certainly go either way. Granted, the Pochettino vintage is made from much sterner stuff than many of the variations that have gone before, but one never really gets the impression that things are bobbing along with the serene majesty of a Greek goddess in one of her more idyllic moments when the score is but 1-0.

And there but for the grace of the Almighty would we have tip-toed, if the day’s arbiter of proceedings had decided that the fairly obvious second yellow card offence committed by Master Wanyama – the body-check of an opponent in full counter-attacking flow – ought to have merited the flourishing of a second yellow card. For reasons that nestle firmly in the unfathomable, the long arm of the law awarded a foul but opted against a second yellow. We continued with eleven vs eleven, our glorious leader sneakily took the opportunity to remove Wanyama before he could destroy anything else in this particular chinashop, and our heroes promptly ran riot.

3. Fine Young Things In Midfield

To date this season young Master Eriksen has loafed about with the moody air of a teenager being forced to wear a suit, flitting in and out of things and occasionally waving a talented leg, but generally wishing he were elsewhere.

Mercifully however – and by sheer coincidence just a matter of days after his weekly corn has been doubled – the young bean was back to something approaching the peak of his powers yesterday. His touch was once more that of a man with more a hint of the footballing deity coursing within his veins, his vision and execution were up several notches on previous weeks, and the occasional snap-shot hinted at something of the ice-cold marksman. The net result of all this was that when the whim grabbed him he led Stoke a merry dance, transformed from whining schoolboy to bearded solider quicker than one could say, “But how are Stoke letting in goals left, right and centre when they have literally six bodies – plus the goalkeeper – back in their own area at any given time?”

Heart-warming also to note that Dele Alli also seemed a dashed sight happier with his lot yesterday. His rather natty diagonal set Eriksen on his merry way to assisting the opening goal, but more than that, his movement and inclination to introduce himself to all and sundry within the confines of the Stoke penalty area helped to cement the impression that this was our binge and we were going to do as we pleased.

4. Kyle Walker and His Three Lungs

Pre kick-off I don’t mind admitting that I had chewed a nervous fingernail at the prospect of young boyo Ben Davies stepping into the Danny Rose-shaped whole at left-back. Davies is now proud owner of a hat bearing the inscription “Bona fide Euros Semi-Finalist”, but I am not yet convinced that he is possessed of quite the same level of verve as Rose, particularly when it comes to the forward gallop.

Frankly though, as Minute 1 ticked into Minute 2 and so forth, I gradually forgot about Davies, Rose and whatnot, my attention arrested by Kyle Walker out on the opposite flank. Whether it was recovering to block a shot with his face, or steaming forward to make merry in the opposition area, the blighter put on a bravura performance.

The pièce de résistance was his assist for the Dele Alli goal, an assist which began with him guarding his own post at a Stoke corner, of all things. From there he absolutely hurtled forward, literally from his own post, over halfway and into the opposition area at full pelt, to deliver on a plate for Dele Alli.

5. Kane Breaks His Duck

If Pochettino could have hand-crafted his own fairytale ending to a dreary afternoon in Stoke, it would presumably have involved a goal from approximately one yard for Harry Kane. This being that sort of day, the gods duly obliged, and Kane pored over the opportunity in forensic detail before doing the honourable thing. Cheeks were duly puffed all around, and that was that.

Given that our performances to date this season have resembled those of a new-born foal desperately trying to fathom the purpose of its long spindly underlimbs, to stroll up to Stoke and swat them away with quite such ease is frightfully cheery stuff. To limber up thusly for a CL return renders it all the cheerier. And to nudge and nurdle back into form a couple of key personnel in the process is just about as tickety-boo as these things get.

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

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