All Action, No Plot

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Sayonara Suckers - Who’s Leaving Spurs This Summer?

Like the Ferrerro Rocher Ambassador, we at AANP Towers are rather spoiling you today. Not only are we providing a hastily cobbled-together list of potential Lane departees, but we’re also implementing the flawless, scientifically-proven Who-Would-Buy-Them guide to the standard of team they would attract, thereby ascertaining whether they’re worth keeping.The Hudd
Primarily on this list because he’s yapped a few times about needing regular first-team football. Opinion may be split about quite how good he is, but I don’t think anyone in lilywhite would want to see him leave. Problem is, he needs more strings to his bow in order to command that regular starting-berth. He needs to boss games against the Premiership’s bigger teams. A bit of energy wouldn’t go amiss either. I suspect ‘Arry will stick with Jenas or bring in a new, first-choice midfielder, and such straws would break this well-fed camel’s back. Rather a shame.
Exit Potential: 6.5
Who Would Buy Him? Fulham, West Ham.

David Bentley
Don’t pelt me with rotten tomatoes, but I rather like the lad. He’s obviously got oodles of talent beneath all that hair gel, but from day one it just hasn’t worked. A regular (ie 10 consecutive games) on the right-wing may well have seen him crack it, but instead he’s had to sit on the bench and mutter curses to his reflection in his pocket mirror, as Aaron Lennon has gone from strength to strength on the right. Whenever he has had the chance he’s tried far too hard, the Pele impressions rather unnecessary when he just needed to keep it simple. We’ll rue his absence if Lennon gets injured next season, especially if we do bring in the sort of big centre-froward who would thrive upon Bentley’s crossing ability. However, ‘Arry himself has said

‘David is obviously going to think, “hang on, I’m not in the team even when Aaron Lennon’s not fit, and maybe it’s time I moved on”. Which rather spells things out.
Exit Potential: 9.5
Who Would Buy Him? Villa, Man City, EvertonDarren Bent
Poor sod. 17 goals in 42 appearances – precious few of which were 90 minutes in length – is a healthy record, yet we’ll probably remember him more for that miss against Pompey, and Mrs Redknapp comparisons it drew. He’s really not a bad striker, but neither is he the perfect foil for either Keane or Defoe, so it appears that another forward is on the shopping list this summer. Worth sticking a tenner on him to score against us next season.
Exit Potential: 8.5
Who Would Buy Him: Sunderland, Blackburn

Roman Pavluychenko
We’d all like to see him start at the Lane next season, refreshed and with a command of the vernacular that rivals Stephen Fry’s, but the straight-down-the-tunnel hissy-fit that accompanied his substitution vs Man City, at the tail-end of last season, left ‘Arry decidedly unimpressed. Whether or not he would be first-choice remains to be seen, but every now and then there have been flashes of class (Burnely at home, for example), and offloading him so soon would be a bizarrely impatient move.
Exit Potential: 6
Who Would Buy Him? Ooh, shiny foreign teams in the Champions League, that’s who.

Didier Zokora
The defensive midfielder’s position is now very firmly moulded into the barrel-chested shape of Wilson Palacios, and the Scott Brown rumours suggest that ‘Arry is looking elsewhere for an understudy. Do-do-do Didier is unlikely to want to stick around as fourth-choice right-back either, so it appears that the elusive goal will, like the contents of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, remain tantalisingly unseen.
Exit Potential: 7
Who Would Buy Him? Monaco, Nancy. Or Wigan.

Jamie O’ Hara
Full-blooded, bulldog-spirit, never-say-die, heart-on-his-sleeve and other such tedious clichés are all well and good, but the scales tip rather heavily towards graft over natural skill with young Three-Touch O’ Hara. Not that I’d like to see the back of him – far from it. His energy, bite and left-footedness are valuable commodities in the Tottenham midfield, and his introduction vs Burnely in the Carling Cup, and goal vs West Ham, were indications of what he brings to the team. However, he is on this list because the Lennon-Palacios- Modric-A.N.Other midfield will leave little scope for regular starts, and this young man’s feet may soon start to itch.
Exit Potential: 5
Who Would Buy Him? Sunderland, Wolves

Giovani dos Santos
Would love to have seen him given a chance – Giovani left, and Modders in the centre would have been interesting - but ‘Arry doesn’t seen to fancy him, and he was apparently one fax away from joining Pompey in the January transfer window. Having all drooled over the Barca way in midweek, it seems a shame to let a Nou Camp alumnus wander merrily out the exit door, but such is the Tottenham way.
Exit Potential: 9
Who Would Buy Him? Villarreal, Deportivo. Or Ipswich.

 

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From Iniesta To Jenas In The Blink Of An Eye - (Tardy) Champs League Musings

Well how on earth did that happen? Ten minutes after the Champs League final had ended I found myself ranting to my Dad about Jermaine Jenas. As is becoming an increasingly essential modus operandi here at AANP Towers I shall take a leaf out of Craig David’s book, and rewind a tad. Bo indeed.As expected, Barca had everyone purring. The Iniest-Xavi love-in is becoming a tad sickly, but I’ll give them a couple of hundred words (which, after winning the league, cup and Champions League, will no doubt put the icing on their cakes). These chaps seem quite happy to keep possession for the sake of keeping possession. Rather a contrast to the English style, whereby gaining-possession immediately equates to going-on-the-attack. And, lest we forget, ‘tis this English style which makes the Premiership so ruddy entertaining. I mean that in all seriousness. It’s flawed for sure, but I love the gung-ho English mentality. Just look at the title of this blog.

Having a lead with which to play, the Barca style had Man Utd chasing shadows. Few players in the world are capable of simply playing keep-ball the way their midfield does. I guess it’s immaculate touch, married to wondrous balance. The ball seemed to be glued to their feet at times - and this meant that even when in trouble, even when no pass was available, they could simply turn and shimmy out of trouble until a pass was available. I presume Iniesta and Xavi have vision to die for as well, but it does not particularly matter, because they both have such good close control that they can afford to take the time to look up and find someone, without losing possession.

Why, I moaned, can’t we do this at Spurs? And this, my friends, is how I ended up ranting at Jenas. He does not have the touch of a Barca midfielder. Consequently, he needs several touches to get the thing under control, and when he gets his head up he spends so long looking for someone that he gets robbed of the ball. The most sensible option for him, therefore, is to pass five yards, backwards or sideways.

However, even I can admit that this is stretching things to a ludicrous extent. To chastise Jenas for not being as good as Iniesta/Xavi/Messi is ridiculous. It would be tantamount to criticising All Action No Plot for not being some sort of flawless amalgam of Wodehouse, Austen, Chandler and Hunter Davies, or knocking Terminator 2 for its lack of realism and absence of romantic sub-plots.

I’m not even sure I would want Spurs to play the Barca way, if it means performances like those in the Champs League semi-finals of both this year and last year, when their intransigent refusal to shoot had me tearing my hair out. (That said, they got the balance right in the Final - the first goal saw them eschew any semblance of faffing, and sweetly get inside the area in the blink of an eye; moments later Messi even had a shot from outside the area; and rubbing my eyes and blinking in disbelief, I saw the third goal created by an early cross from outside the area).

So Jenas is off the hook this time. Instead, I look forward to the season after next, when we get the opportunity of a keep-ball master-class from Barca, in the Champions League.

Barca - Man Utd Champions League Final Preview: All Action, Please

Ah The Champions League. That inescapable anthem. The meaningless group games. The same teams each year - some of whom actually are indeed national champions. And money, everywhere. Advertising money. TV money. Salaries. Transfer fees.The All-Action Way

With this thick layer of cynicism building up around the Champions League I find it genuinely refreshing to look forward to tonight’s game. Two teams who generally play the right way. The all-action way, full of movement, interchanging and technique that has grown men drooling.

It’s all action for sure, but, at least in Man Utd’s case, there is a darned good idea of plot too, in the form of Rio and the Serbian psycho, protected by the beaverish midfield three. The excellent Radio 5 Live preview last night made an interesting point, namely that in the absence of their suspended, ridiculously over-attacking full-backs – Abidal and Alves – Barca will be forced to field a couple of understudies at right and left-back, and therefore might be more cautious, and consequently a darned sight tighter at the back than they usually are. Interesting point.

Other sub-plots of note: Van der Saar has gone all Obi Wan Kenobi – an old man, whose powers are waning. His flaps and fumbles are increasing in frequency. I’m not convinced that Giggs is an adequate understudy to Fletcher in the role of midfield hustler-and-harrier. Barca’s insistence on passing to death outside the area rather than have a pop from distance (an affliction which curiously hampered Spurs in the spring months) has generally proved detrimental to their cause against English opposition. Pretty to watch though.

Early Goal, Please

Naturally, there is the worry that after all the anticipation, this game degenerates into a dour, disappointing affair. However, an early goal ought to do the trick, and really open up the game. Although last year’s final was watched through an increasingly hazy cloud of alcohol, I do recall it being a generally entertaining affair – thanks, in no small part, to the early-ish opening goal. A pleasant contrast to the FA Cup Final between the same two teams the previous year.

Rooting For Man Utd. Sort Of.

I won’t particularly mind who wins, as it doesn’t concern Spurs, but I suppose I’ll be edging towards Man Utd. As with many of the greatest arguments of mankind, my reasons are threefold:

1) The patriot in me always likes to see English teams win European trophies. (Unless it’s l’Arse. Or Chelski).

2) Rooney. The man’s a genius, and I’d love to see him boss the game of games.

3) Generally a fan of the Man Utd style of play. Liquid football. In last year’s Champs League Final they produced one of my favourite pieces of football ever – Rooney picked up the ball at right-back (!), motored forward 40 yards, then pinged a diagonal cross-field peach of a ball to Ronaldo, who pulled it back for Tevez (I think) to diving head, saved by Cech, before Carrick blasted the rebound goalwards, where it was headed clear by a defender. Or something like that (alcoholic haze, remember). Absolutely awesome football. I just stood there ogling, as if it were a svelte brunette tying knots in a cherry stalk with her tongue.

Then in the semi vs l’Arse there was something similarly mesmeric in Ronaldo’s second goal – the backheel, Park’s burst, Rooney’s perfect pass, and Ronaldo again, sixty yards from his starting-point, finishing it.

More of the same tonight please.

Tottenham Hotspur 2008-09: The All Action No Plot Awards

Suffering withdrawal? Desperately seeking an unnecessarily nail-biting one-nil win? Confused by the absence of someone at whom to scream “F*ck sake Jenas”? Then knock yourself out with the All Action No Plot Awards, and re-live Tottenham Hotspur, season 2008-09Two-Points-Eight-Games Award For Completely Turning Around His Season
Step forward Heurelho Gomes. Firmly established as our number one now, but by Jove not so long the streets of White Hart Lane were filled to bursting with fans tripping over one another to hold the exit door open for him. As well as an almost vampiric inability to deal with crosses there was the fumble v Villa, the suicidal dribble vs Udinese and the hot-potato-style nadir vs Fulham. However, a jolly impressive comeback has seen him become central to our record-breaking defensive form at the Lane, and saves such as those vs West Ham away, and Chelski and West Brom at home, were each worth goals. Although he was rubbish in the Carling Cup Final penalty shoot-out.

The Manuel Que? Award For Not Understanding A Ruddy Word of English
While the passport-wielding likes of Corluka, Assou-Ekotto and Modric seem to understand what’s going on, and are presumably sufficiently au fait with the English language, poor old Roman Pavluychenko has all season wandered the pitch with the air of a man who has absolutely no idea what anyone is saying to him. Indeed, in one of ‘Arry’s first games in charge, Pav’s translator was instructed by our glorious leader to tell him “Just f*cking run about”. Mercifully, he has a sound understanding of the game in general, hopefully will lead to better things next season.

The Big Girl’s Blouse Award For Wearing Female Accessories On A Football Pitch
Not so much an award as a naming and shaming. Aaron Lennon in tights is one thing, as one can – just about – see the medical reason for this. However, Jonathan Woodgate and Luka Modric ought to be docked half their wages for that alice-band nonsense. Man up, for goodness’ sake. (Corluka escapes this ignominy, by the skin of his teeth, for doing the decent thing and getting a haircut.)

Defender-Who-Looks-Most-Like-That-Croatian-Doctor-From-ER Award
Only really knew Vedran Corluka by name when we signed him at the start of the season, but although a little one-paced, his rapport with Aaron Lennon on the right has bordered on the psychic at times. None of which has anything to do with his most uncanny resemblance to some chap called Goran Visnjic of the tellybox. He plays a doctor in ER, and apparently auditioned for the role of James Bond too (Visnjic, not Corluka).

The Fat Frank Lampard Award For Eating All The Pies
The Hudd
, by a country mile. He could give Luka Modric a few tips.

The Louis Armstrong Award For Jazz-Hands
A simple one, this. His go-faster eyebrow stripes may make him down wif da kidz, but little Aaron Lennon’s jazz hands routine, every time he revs up, is straight out of the 1920s. Further dainty effect is added by that delicate hop and skip of anguish, whenever he loses the ball. Bless.

The Oliver Reed Award For Fondness Of The Bottle
I have to admit that a piece of me died when news broke of Ledley King’s arrest for getting tanked and trying to lamp a bouncer, or whatever it was. At the risk of sounding like my own mother, he always seemed so quiet, mild-mannered and well-behaved. Such a nice boy. We all turned a blind eye to the post Carling Cup-win celebrations, and even when tabloids printed other pictures of him stumbling out of clubs, we tried to ignore it. Bit difficult to ignore now though. It’s always the quiet ones, eh?

Most Likely To Get Away With Murder Award
Let’s face it, Robbie Keane has been near-enough getting away with murder in the last few weeks anyway – picking up more in a week than we do in a year, for generally loitering around the centre-circle, pointing and shouting, and doing his damnedest to stay away from the opposition area. No matter what he does (or, perhaps, doesn’t do) it seems he can’t be dropped or substituted - which has me wondering quite how far his shield of immunity stretches.

The Chris Bridges Award For Most Ludicrous Haircut of The Season
Mercifully, not too much competition here, if you exclude the long-haired alice-band pansies. Jermain Defoe dabbled in a dubious Maltesers-on-the-head Craig David-esque effort for a few weeks, but then got injured and reappeared with an eminently more sensible short back and sides. Young Bostock may offer some competition next year with that spikey Mohawk thing, but as he’s only 14 or whatever he can get away with it. However, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, we salute you. Unbraid your braids, and give us more of that frankly awesome afro.

Michael Ballack Award For Being The Biggest Loser Of The Season
Last year Herr Ballack captained the losing team in the Euro Championships final, lost on penalites in the Champs League final, was runner-up in the Premiership and lost the Carling Cup final. However, Gareth Bale would probably settle for any of those, having now failed to win a single league game with us in the two seasons since he joined us. (Honourable mention here to Jamie O’ Hara, who was in tears at last year’s Carling Cup Final after being left out of the squad, and then missed in the penalty shoot-out of this year’s final).

Begbie From Trainspotting Award For Being A Truly Terrifying Scot
Joe Jordan’s inscrutable stare reminds me of the more ferocious breed of militant teachers from back in the day, but I think Alan Hutton wins this one, for reportedly beating up his own Dad or some such business. Cripes. Rather looking forward to seeing him lose the plot on the pitch one day, and batter the life out of some random unknowing opponent.

Christopher Columbus Award For The Most Directionally-Challenged Player At The Club
Assou-Ekotto almost scored a 30 yard, volleyed own-goal away at Burnley, but as regulars will know, we at AANP Towers were only ever going to award this title to one person. He passes backwards, he passes sideways; he passes sideways, he passes backwards (even though he’s actually a pretty talented footballer); inevitably, it’s Jermaine Jenas.

The Karaoke Award For The Player Who Most Deserves His Own Song
6 November 2008. White Hart Lane. Darren Bent has just scored his first hat-trick for the club, and whose name are we singing? Jermain Defoe’s, even though, at that time, Defoe was still a Portsmouth player. And when the “Defoe” choruses finished, our salutes rang out to John Bostock, who at that point still hadn’t yet made a senior appearance for us.
 
However, poor old Bent doesn’t actually receive this award. In a momentous act of goodwill and peace, I award it to your friend and mine, Jermaine Jenas. One of the problems with JJ is the lack of the confidence-bordering-on-arrogance that inspires an attacking player to take a gamble and try to be a match-winner. He’s capable, as he occasionally demonstrates, but all too often he’ll take the safe option (as ranted about above). Maybe if he had his own song he would be a bit more adventurous? And start passing forwards?

Terminator 3 Award For Being Expensive And Eagerly-Awaited But Ultimately A Complete Letdown
There are a few contenders here, which is testimony to the misjudgement of Comolli and his clowns last summer. Pav will hopefully come good eventually; Giovani is unlikely to be given a chance in lilywhite; but the most disappointing has been poor old pretty-boy David Bentley. Not really his fault, as he’s not been given too many games in his own position, but he’s hardly helped himself by trying Maradonna impressions every time he’s been on the pitch and received the ball. Just keep it simple lad. At £15 mil or so, and with that reputation, we expected more.

Jurgen Klinsmann Award For Being The Signing Of The Season
Corluka has been steady, Gomes has found his form and Defoe has looked razor-sharp in the handful of games in which he’s featured. After a brief teething period, Luka Modric has become our creative hub, and is rightly revered at the Lane, but in a photo-finish the barrel chest of Wilson Palacios gives him the award. He’s what we’ve needed for years – and whatever criticism we level at ‘Arry, there can be no doubt that this was an inspired signing.

Ole Gunnar Solksjaer Award For The Most Inspired Substitution Of The Season
This may raise a few eyebrows, as ‘Arry would generally stick with his starting XI even if his life depended on making a change or two. However, cast your minds back to Sunday 15 March, away to Aston Villa, when poor old Didier Zokora’s blood was turned inside-out by Ashley Young. Do-do-do Didier had already been booked, when he was brutally but rightly hauled off by ‘Arry. Corluka kept Young quiet, and we went on to win 2-1, an away day which, at the time, ranked amongst our best results of the season, and was part of our run of tip-top spring form.

The Saving Private Ryan Award For The Most Mental, 20 Minute, All-Action-No-Plot Sequence Of The Season
What the hell happened in the second half against Man Utd? Admittedly the penalty awarded against us was harsh, but that was just one goal. Yet the entire team took it as their cue to stumble around like headless chickens as the champions ran riot, and a 0-2 lead became a 5-2 deficit in under half an hour. (An honourable mention should also go to the team that pitched up away to Burnley, although that torment was dragged out for a good 90 minutes.)

Nelson Mandela Award For Humility and Modesty
Truly a man for others, our glorious leader ‘Arry Redknapp has, since the day he arrived, made sure that everyone understands that our turnaround is entirely due to the players. Never short to sing their praises, the frequent references to Two-Points-Eight-Games™ are always followed by the conclusion “And it’s to the players’ credit that they’ve achieved this”. Unfortunately, the scandalous editing processes of Sky, Setanta, the BBC et al, mean that these closing sentiments tend typically to be edited out.

 

More fond reminiscences on season 2008-09 are imminent. Meantime, by all means do the Facebook thang, or follow the AANP lifestyle on Twitter.

Liverpool 3-1 Spurs: Ending With A Whimper, A Disappointing Finale

Well that, frankly, was pretty disappointing. I know it shouldn’t matter – far wiser heads have been calmly pointing out the various reasons why:

·         Context – We spent the first half of the season avoiding relegation. Anything above 18th was to be welcomed. Moreover, while victory would have taken us into Europe, today’s game was hardly the must-win affair that other teams found themselves facing. The guaranteed mid-table spot was fine.

·         Not Qualifying For Europe – Pride aside, this will undoubtedly benefit our League campaign next season, when top six should be mandatory, and top four could be guiltily whispered about behind the bike-shed. The benefits were exemplified this season, after our exit from the Uefa Cup, when Ledley became a regular and we went one-nil crazy.

·         To Be Fair, It Was Liverpool Away – I guess we’ve been spoilt by impressive form in the last three or four months, coupled with something approaching a hex on the top four, but let’s not forget that this was the Premiership’s form-team (ten wins in eleven) and probably one of the top four or five teams in Europe. On top of which they have been unbeaten at home all season.

·         Injuries, Absences, No Absolutely Urgent Need To Win – All mitigating factors. A full-strength Spurs team, with more at stake than a last-day procession, would arguably have made a better fist of it.


Yes, yes, all very good points, probably all quite true – but being sore losers, we at AANP Towers have been in no mood to buy any of it, and have instead moped angrily around the place today, stamping on old ladies’ feet and furtively elbowing small children in the head.

·         Completely Outplayed – Gallingly, it was one of our most lacklustre displays for some time. The game highlighted quite how important Wilson Palacios is to us, and how important it is that we bring in a decent understudy. The Scott Brown rumour has gathered momentum, and my one Celtic-mad chum has given the boy a vote of confidence, which we AANP Towers are tentatively happy to endorse - a “terrier” apparently, in the Roy Keane mould, although “he needs to develop”, which is a slightly worrying disclaimer. Having waited so long for a midfield enforcer it seems greedy to demand another, but with no Palacios doing the rottweiler act in front of the back four we looked a shadow of our more recent, late-season selves, and scarily similar to our early-season Two-Points-Eight-Games selves.

·         Completely Outplayed – Admittedly it’s not particularly inventive to use the same sub-heading twice in a row, but let that be a warning - I’m so irritated by today’s shoddy showing that I’m even eschewing literary decorum. This time I mean “completely outplayed” in the sense of embarrassment rather than tactics. Losing narrowly after a good performance is gut-wrenching, but does at least leave a sense of pride. By contrast, rather tamely capitulating, as today, leaves me clenching my fist in something approaching anger, and has the old ladies and young children of North London running for the hills. There didn’t seem to be a huge amount of pride in the shirt, more a weary and longing glance towards the Departures lounge at Heathrow. Yes they’ve done well to revive a season that started on life-support, but it’s a 38-game season, and today too many of them were trying to skive off work.

·         Gap in Class – Being a Spurs fan, delusion is in my DNA, so over the last few months I’ve been gradually peddling – to myself – the notion that we really are going to have a jolly good stab at the top four next year. Really. Today’s game unceremoniously highlighted the fact that there is a gulf in class between Liverpool and us. This sets some sort of record, as May 24th is probably the earliest I can ever remember having my perennial pre-season delusions of grandeur shattered. (That said, in the interests of objectivity, I should note that we only have to catch l’Arse, rather than Liverpool, to hit the Champs League, so the top-four delusion can be merrily pieced back together. And, the gap in class will surely narrow once Palacios and Lennon return).

·         Fulham Lost! – Dagnabbit, unlikely as it seemed prior to the game, victory would have seen us into Europe. Instead, the players looked for all the world like they’d been told at kick-off that Fulham were actually five-nil up, and accordingly just shrugged their shoulders and mooched around in auto-pilot.

·         Last Game of the Season – Some say that a team is only as good as its last game, and as a supporter, I’m only as happy as my team’s last performance. This feeble amble in the Merseyside sun is the memory I’ll be taking with me into the summer.


Elsewhere, I rather hope young Gareth Bale doesn’t take his football as seriously as we at AANP Towers, because he’s now gone two seasons without a league victory for us, which would have weaker men scribbling notes entitled “Goodbye Cruel World”. Local media outlets have been inundated with reports of sightings of UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster and David Bentley on a football pitch - the brylcreemed one entering the fray in the first half after Jermaine Jenas broke a fingernail. Neither Bale nor Bentley made particularly compelling cases for their regular inclusions. Instead, as often happens, ‘twas the absentees whose stocks rose today.I suppose I was rather hoping that we would end the season with a bang, and it could barely have whimpered more if it were a sick puppy that had just seen its parents shot. However, it was one tired performance, with not too much at stake, at the end of a decent season, which has included a particularly impressive final few months. It would be unnecessarily pedantic to criticise too harshly – so do as I say kids, not as I do, and while biting our lips at today’s limp showing, let’s cheerily applaud their efforts for the season.

And don’t you all go scuttling of for the summer, because All Action No Plot will keep the flag flying - as well as general transfer ramblings, the Champs League final and England’s match against Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the next few days will see the unveiling of the All Action No Plot Awards 2008-09. Is AANP really going to have something positive to say about Jermaine Jenas? Who will win the much-vaunted Defender-Who-Looks-Most-Like-That-Croatian-Doctor-From-ER Award? And will the players us it as an excuse to tumble into Faces afterwards? It’s the award ceremony that has people across the land literally shrugging with apathy.

 

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Liverpool - Spurs Preview Mk II: The Spurs Soap Opera Season Finale

After yesterday’s supposed Liverpool-Spurs “preview” morphed onto a completely different topic, I spent the entire night racked with guilt. (Actually, that’s a pretty blatant lie – I spent last night pickling my liver and hurling down shapes on various London dancefloors. That new Dizzee Rascal number is rather a toe-tapper).Nonetheless, I thought it best to look in a little more detail at today’s game – it is the last of the season after all. As with any soap-opera season finale, the madcap all-action-no-plot soap opera that is Tottenham Hotspur 2008-09 has its main plot, sub-plots and all manner of character developments.

Main Storyline 

Not that it will be easy. Far from it. While we’ve been stringing together one-nils, Liverpool have assumed the all-action-no-plot mantle, with four-goal salvos against Man Utd, Real, Chelski and l’Arse to name but a few. Even last week, after the title had been lost, their players gave notice of quite how psyched they were for a meaningless game vs Blackburn or someone by indulging in a spot of mid-match fisticuffs with one another. Golly.

Although a win for us is unlikely, it’s nevertheless pleasing to be going into the final day with a goal (that isn’t relegation-avoidance) for which to aim. It just about elevates us above mid-table obscurity. Just.

Sub-Plot

Then there’s Robbie Keane, a sub-plot containing levels of coincidence that could feasibly have been penned by a particularly predictable script-writer. A game which ought to have been about him making a point to his former employers now sees him rather needing to convince an increasingly cynical Spurs faithful that he does more than point and shout. The man’s stock has fallen this season, and while it would be fitting for him to grab the headlines with something spectacular, recent history suggests his contribution could again be muted. I’d suggest Jamie Carragher is more likely to score from us, at least from open play.

Another sub-plot, which is almost certain to stretch into next season, is Defoe-Keane. They get another run-out today, but it’s a riddle we’re no closer to solving.

Character Development

Some characters exit shows in pretty dramatic fashion, especially if they’re bald doctors in ER, but David Bentley’s likely exit will probably be without fanfare, perhaps just briefly alluded to in an episode next season. Departing characters are par for the course in the world of soap operas, but while some members of the supporting cast are likely to bow out (Bent, Giovani etc), the central figures ought to remain, thank goodness. None of the Berba-esque shenanigans of last time, thank you.

After respectively quiet and downright inauspicious starts, Modric and Gomes have become key members, around whom plotlines regularly centre. If an episode of the Spurs soap opera had opening credits, those two would feature, together with Palacios, Ledley, Woodgate and maybe one or two of the strikers.

(As full-backs, Corluka and Assou-Ek rarely get starring roles in any given episodes, but they’re background presence is reassuring.)

It would certainly be nice to end this season with a bang, and I’ll certainly have an eye, or ear, on the Fulham score, but realistically we’ll need as much luck as we had back at the Lane earlier in the season. Once more unto the breach, dear friends…

 

(nb AANP is now on Facebook and Twitter. Ruddy marvellous).

Liverpool - Spurs Preview: What’s So Special About Home Advantage?

Eighth is looking likeliest, which I think we’d all have accepted after Two Points Eight Games™. While AANP could not be bothered to work out exactly how well we’ve done this calendar year, I’d expect Spurs would be somewhere near the top of any table based solely on 2009 form. Home form all season has been spot-on, the record of only conceding ten goals in nineteen games mildly astonishing.Liverpool’s home record is similarly impressive – unbeaten in the league at Anfield all season - adding a few inches to our already tall order of European qualification (which requires us to win and Fulham to lose at home to Everton).

A Digression Which Rather Hijacks The Entire Article 

So does home support make all the difference? There certainly is something to be said for the full-blown, cacophonous atmosphere of White Hart Lane making the hairs stand up on the back of the neck. Never been to Anfield, but the Kop’s reputation is presumably well-earned. For sure then, the players ought really to get a kick out of that sort of atmosphere. Indeed, even at amateur level, just having a few hot lady-friends chirping in with the occasional squeal can add a little motivation. (Me, shallow? Never.)

However, the cynic in me has been motoring away all season, and is unwilling to yield any ground now by simply accepting that “home advantage” is some sort concrete phenomenon we all accept without demur. It only seems to be a concept, existing solely in people’s minds, much like the notion that ugly people are actually beautiful inside. Home advantage seems to equate to having more bald fat shouty men than the opposition, which might add an extra dose of adrenaline, but doesn’t strike me as a good reason to drop a striker and play five in midfield.

I can appreciate that it would be rather intimidating to play at a ground of 30,000 people, all of whom are screeching abuse – but it’s not a fist-fight. The good souls in the stands don’t get to set foot on the turf, and therefore their contribution ought to be limited.

Star Trek definitely gains something from the big-screen experience, but would still be a cracking action film if watched on dvd in a mate’s living-room. One suspects that the dvd version will have the same plot. And yet, venue influences a team’s game-plan. It’s an unspoken agreement before a match that the onus will be on the home team to have first crack at wresting the initiative. The away team sets out its stall to “soak up the pressure”, “silence the crowd” and other clichés from the beaks of parrots.

It’s not a particular complaint, more an idle musing on a hungover Saturday afternoon. Still, as with suggesting to parents that new-born babies actually look shrivelled and hideous, I imagine it’s not an argument I’m going to win. Accepting that away form will typically be worse than home form is just one of those quirks of life we accept and work around.

(Nevertheless, while some people yearn for nuclear disarmament and an end to third-world poverty, I idly dream of the day when teams dismiss the concept of “home advantage” and instead do their damnedest to come out of the traps all guns blazing every game, irrespective of location.)

The Little Matter Of The Football Match 

The curious question of whether Robbie Keane would have been allowed to play against a Liverpool team for whom he stood to win a Premiership medal is now irrelevant, so we can instead watch again for clues as to what strike-force ‘Arry will adopt next season.

And a scary final note - in 24 hours or so the three-month break begins. Not sure I’m quite ready to go cold-turkey.

Issues For Next Season: The Keane-Defoe Problem

Things We Need To Sort Out, Preferably Before The Start Of Next Season

is likely to be a slightly intermittent series, for, as I’ve mentioned previously, we’re only in need of some gentle tweaking here and there, rather than a full-blown overhaul. However, near the top of the agenda is a problem that is both white and black, English and Irish, has four legs, and can be seen sometimes waving and shouting around the halfway line, and other times shooting on sight around the area.Defoe and Keane. Keane and Defoe.

With Pav last seen disappearing down the tunnel in a stropski and Darren Bent spending more time practising his hands-half-raised-to-head-can’t-believe-I-missed-that look, rather than his goal celebration, there are likely to be changes in attack over the summer - and the problem is compounded by the fact that one of Keane and Defoe will need to make himself at home on the bench next season.

We’ve been rather trying to ignore this, but there’s no doubt it’s a full-on, certified, official problem. It’s been gestating, and by the start of next season could well burst from ‘Arry Redknapp’s chest and go on the rampage, destroying the rest of the team.

Entertaining though it undoubtedly is to see over-paid and over-privileged grown men throwing a good old-fashioned toddler’s tantrum because life is so unfair, it won’t be particularly helpful to us. Discord from within we can do without.

Somehow, both these chaps need to be kept happy. Ordinarily, the gift of the entire DVD box-set of all five series of The A-Team would be more than enough to keep a grown man content, but these two fussy chaps need more. It’s not rocket-science to us at the Lane - each needs a bigger man alongside them. Only then will they feel loved and deliver their best, but such a solution obviously precludes a partnership between the two themselves. It’s one or t’other.

(The issue of who should partner Defoe/Keane is a completely different kettle of fish. I’ll sink confusedly into that one on another occasion.)

Tantrums

 

More recently, the fling with Liverpool turned sour hilariously quickly once he realised that his place in the first XI wasn’t sacrosanct. More strops are a-coming if Keane isn’t in the starting line-up.

Defoe does not have the pedigree of Keane when it comes to whingeing, but we hardly need reminding that failure to start regularly saw him amble off to pastures new 18 months back.

It’s not just that these two need to appear regularly, or even make 25 starts next season – they each need to know that they’re first choice, and will start game after game after game. Neither will be content with regular 60th minute introductions, or starting berths once every three games. We would undoubtedly regret selling one of Keane or Defoe (we need at least three - preferably four - decent strikers at the club) but whichever is not playing regularly is likely to get itchy feet.

The Curious World of Robbie Keane

 

The plot thickens and mystery deepens given ‘Arry’s intransigent refusal to drop or substitute him. This might be because he wears the captain’s armband – a move which did make sense when he arrived, but slightly complicates matters now. There are more rational explanations – ‘Arry may simply have reasoned it made more sense to withdraw a rusty-looking Pav, against West Brom and Man City. Nevertheless, the selection of Keane on left midfield last week was a strange one, and not for the first time had me wondering if there is some sort of “I’m Precious” clause in Keane’s contract, which simply states “Don’t even think about dropping me, Pedro.”

All Rise For The AANP Verdict:

On present form I’d have Defoe. In recent weeks we’ve looked most threatening when Defoe’s been on the pitch. The build-up play might not necessarily be any better (in fact, if Defoe played instead of Keane the build-up would probably be worse), but Defoe has a single-minded and fairly selfish determination to shoot whenever there’s a sniff. I love that about him. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King, and in the land of the shot-shy Spurs of recent weeks Defoe’s willingness to shoot earns him the place on the throne.

Curiously, although it’s fairly commonly acknowledged that they as partnerships go they’re no Stan and Ollie, we’ve probably had our greatest cutting-edge in recent weeks when they have been paired up. Such a combo, lacking a target man, has seen Keane push further forward, whilst Defoe has looked far sharper than any of the other strikers. However, this is more of an indictment upon the Bent-Keane and Pav-Keane partnerships than a recommendation of Defoe-Keane.

So this is one for ‘Arry to sort. Injury to Defoe since the January re-signing of both has meant we’ve been conveniently able to sidestep the problem so far in 2009, but there is no point ignoring it any further. The club badge features a cockerel standing on some sort of basketball, not an ostrich with its head in the sand. Two quality strikers fighting for one position is probably a good problem to have as a manager, but a problem nevertheless.

 

 

 

 

By the by – AANP has now got its own Facebook group and Twitter, um, thing. Amazing what these new-fangled computer boxes can do.

Spurs 2-1 Manchester City: Just What Did ‘Arry Tell Them At Half-Time?

With the season all but wrapped up, preparations are well under way for the AANP End of Season Awards. ‘Twas good of ‘Arry then, to produce a late contender for the Worst Half-Time Team-Talk of the Season gong, because whatever he said between 3.45 and 4.00pm yesterday, brought about a pretty stunning regression.I’ve often wondered what is said behind closed doors in the changing room - whether there is hardcore tactical sophistication from ‘Arry, or something rather cruder. I can certainly picture Robbie Keane shouting and pointing, Bentley relentlessly preening himself, Pav not understanding a word, and so on - but the style and content of ‘Arry’s pearls of wisdom intrigues me.

Whatever he said, one presumes that he didn’t actually instruct them to lose the plot and treat the ball like a hot potato, but nevertheless things just panned out that way in the second half. We somehow muddled through, but it was slightly a botched job, more like the heist in Reservoir Dogs rather than the flawless break-and-enter style jobs Tom Cruise delivers in the Mission Impossible films.

First Half Positives 

Good movement and fluency all round in that first half, Gomes a virtual spectator, and we could well have gone into the break with more than a one goal advantage. If we have learnt anything in 2009 it’s that we really ought to turn periods of superiority into more than one goal, but at least in yesterday’s first half the lack of further goals was not for want of trying.

The deployment of Robbie Keane on the left had us scratching our heads prior to kick-off, and was neither an unqualified success nor an unmitigated disaster. Messrs Bale and Bentley would probably have felt a little aggrieved to have seen the teamsheet, but such is life at the Lane these days, with Keane bizarrely undroppable, and indeed unsubstituteable, if such a word exists. The question of how to accommodate both him and Defoe is simmering away nicely, in time for the start of season 09/10.

Defoe himself looked sharp and lively. This was particularly welcome, as in recent weeks a lot of excellent build-up play has been frustratingly negated by a vague impotence amongst the strikers, and a consequent habit of rather over-passing in the final third. No such problems yesterday (in the first half at least), as there was a most welcome willingness all round to have a pop, led by Defoe.

The Weekly Jenas Rant 

The most reasonable explanation seems to me to be a lack of awareness of what’s going on around him. Whereas the Hudd or Modric will have a good idea of where they want to send the ball before they even receive it, Jenas seems amazed every time it comes near him. There follows the obligatory three or four touches as he acquaints himself with its dimensions and mechanics. Crucially, he then has to have a look up and around to see what else is going on, and just doesn’t have the vision to pick out anyone who isn’t immediately in his line of sight. The end result generally tends to be the same – turn around and knock it backwards (unless he starts daydreaming and gets caught in possession).

His propensity for the thoroughly un-creative backwards pass was particularly highlighted yesterday by its juxtaposition with Stephen Ireland in the opposition’s colours, a player whose instinct on receiving the ball is always to play a forward pass. A Lennon-Palacios-Ireland-Modric midfield would have me positively drooling with excitement. (See, I told you this would be a little more constructive than my usual Jenas-rant.)

Eggs is Eggs

Anyway, apologies for the digression. The second half implosion complicated things, but eggs is eggs and a win is a win.

The overall sense was that there are one or two areas to be addressed, but that we are in good shape for next season. An understudy for Palacios, a better version of Jenas, a target-man, a solution the Keane-Defoe problem – these are tweaks and adjustments rather than a full-blown overhaul. A gentle makeover, rather than cosmetic surgery. (Although knowing Spurs, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Redknapp sacked, Modric sold and two new right-wingers bought over the summer).

Seventh place is still manageable in theory, but unlikely. Opinion is neatly split straight down the middle on this. The absence of midweek games has coincided with a settled team, regular Ledley and hugely impressive form. A Europe-free season next time really ought to see us comfortably in the top six, and perhaps even pushing for fourth. On the other hand, I have loved our European nights, and our squad is probably big enough to cope. (Unlike Fulham’s, I’d suggest – a tenner on Fulham to go down next season?)

It’s likely to be academic. In the meantime, a generous ovation to the team from AANP Towers, for the white-hot home form. Bravo chaps.

Spurs - Man City Preview: Last-Home-Game Bingo

Not normally a betting man, but I might just stake all my worldly possessions and the lives of some of less significant relatives on Spurs winning 1-0 today. Nothing in particular to do with the opposition or circumstances, it just seems de rigeur at the Lane these days. If Spurs were a cricket team they’d push an early single, then stay on 1-0 for the remainder of their overs.Actually, on a more practical level, this might be a more open game than we’ve witnessed in recent weeks. The continued and understandable absence of Wilson Palacios might leave us a bit flakier defensively than we have been in general at the Lane. To compensate for this, last week the formation was re-jigged to 3-5-2 with wing-backs, and with Lennon also still unavailable this might be deployed again. Either way we’ll be poorer for their absences.

Last-Home-Game Bingo 

’Arry presumably will take the microphone on the final whistle and deliver a few home truths. Never shy of voicing an opinion, he may slip in some sort of reference to the perils of the bottle, in his new-found role as one of Britain’s less likely anti-drink campaigners. Far more probable, bordering on certainty, is a mention or two of T-P-E-Gs. Sigh. With Jamie Redknapp also due on the coaching staff next season, there is at least a suitably tenuous reason now to wheel out Louise, and parade her around to all four corners. Triffic.

We can expect Ledley to be on his best behaviour, but I’m rather tempted to take a thousand photos of him during the game, then sift them for one in which he is caught blinking and stumbling, and sell it to the tabloids, claiming it’s proof that he regularly takes to the field drunk.

Sayanora…?

Get your cameras out too for what might be the last chance to see a few players in lilywhite at the Lane. Chances are that David Bentley will be monopolising the mirrors in someone else’s changing rooms next season, which I personally find rather a shame. Admittedly there was little scope for him to fit in with Lennon in such form this season, but for a player of very decent quality it’s a real shame that the best we’ve seen of him has been only that volley against l’Arse and the youtube clip of him hitting the skip.

Of greater consternation around N17 will be the possible sale of the Hudd. He’s made little secret of the fact that he wants first-team football, and if we play 4-4-2 with Palacios taking one central midfield berth, it’s unlikely that he’ll be a regular starter next season. A 3-5-2 formation today could be his last chance to press that claim.

Fewer tears will be shed for the departure of Darren Bent, particularly if we replace him with a real juggernaut of a centre-forward, but the post-match lap of honour is likely to be his last Lane appearance as a Tottenham player too. Bless him, he’s worked his socks off, never sulked and scored 17 goals despite being in and out of the team, but has not been given his own song. On which topic, this might even be a final farewell for one Jermaine Jenas, if the more mischievous rumour-mongers are to be believed.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself somewhat. There is first a game to be played, and for better or worse, 7th spot to be sought after. For those who are interested, of our rivals for 7th, Fulham are away to Newcastle today, and West Ham travel to Everton.

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