“He’s not available,” declared our glorious leader of One Aaron Lennon and his jazz-hands. “Other than that we’re not too bad”. Which is laudably upbeat I suppose, but a bit like Sigourney Weaver concluding that although she has looked on as the alien wiped out two entire crews, tormented her waking and sleeping thoughts, indirectly forced her to shave her head and then ruddy well gestated inside her – other than that she’s not too bad.I do of course overstate the case a tad. An orthodox four-man midfield - with Bale sticking to the left touchline and Walker manfully galloping the gallop of two man up and down the right - would probably offer the balance that we lack when Lennon sits things out, but nevertheless you get the gist. In the little man’s absence we have lacked shape, balance and a clear plan of how to outscore the opposition from minute 1 to 90.
Tough enough against Everton and Stoke, but faced with the prospect of a trip to a now officially resurgent Chelski, the denizens of AANP Towers have taken the unanimous, executive decision to shudder to our very cores. While genuinely upbeat that our final eight games really could bring us eight wins, the current trend of woe, brought about by a combination of Lennonlessness and opposition teams hitting tip-top form, looks for all the world like it will continue at Stamford Bridge.
Adebayor is also a likely absentee, but other than that the usual suspects will take to the field, start brightly, take the lead, then sit back and ultimately cave in to two late Chelski goals, at least one of which will be highly dubious. I would advise ‘Arry stops his blasted tinkering with the midfield and desperate shunting of square pegs into round holes, but nevertheless envisage him selecting Bale right, Modders left, with Parker and Sandro/Livermore in the centre (and VDV off Saha/Adebayor up the top). Delighted though I would be to gobble down double helpings of humble-pie come the final whistle, I approach this game with the same gloomy air of foreboding that accompanied a Sven-selected England team trotting out in a major tournament quarter-final. Grab what you can chaps, and then scarper.
Full-blown, undiluted apoplexy does not translate particularly smoothly into the written word, so ‘tis perhaps just as well that after a good night’s sleep and couple of early morning whiskies AANP is now in slightly more philosophical mood than at the final whistle last night, when the denizens of the South Stand took time out from making rude gestures at the Stoke fans to stare in horror and cover the ears of the nearest small child while I emitted an unmistakeable, loud tut. Accompanied, I’ll have you know, by a shake of the head that had been brewing from nigh on the first whistle of the evening.Mercifully, a degree of perspective has settled upon me in the alcohol-fuelled haze. I recall now that on perusing the fixture list a few weeks back, Stoke at home and Chelski away appeared the trickiest of the remaining engagements. With the ilk of Norwich, QPR et al to come thereafter, a slightly cheerier sequence of results beckons – to which end a point against Stoke might not be so bad in the final analysis.
By Golly Last Night’s Proceedings Did Make The Blood Boil Nevertheless
Still smarting from their ludicrous victory over us earlier in the season, my expectations for our esteemed guests were lower than the belly of a particularly depressed rattlesnake, and sure enough their goalkeeper began his time-wasting routine over goal-kicks in the very first minute. After which, they adopted an admittedly well-drilled 9-0-1 formation and bedded in, adding nothing of value to the lives of anyone in the stadium, and pausing only to catapult the ball Crouch-wards. Little wonder that their unfortunate fans include a rugby song in their repertoire.
As for our lot, the usual concerns wearily paraded themselves. Despite creating our last two goals from the left wing, and generally looking like he had the beating of their right-back whenever it took his fancy, Bale was again allowed to spend his time meandering fairly pointlessly wherever the dickens he liked, as long as it posed minimal attacking threat. The memory of his burst through the centre against Norwich several months back has faded; his urges to go central should now be the exception rather than the rule.
On t’other flank the absence of Lennon continues to have ‘Arry et al scratching their heads and staring blankly at the teamsheet. Niko Kranjcar was the beneficiary of the pre-game coin toss to decide who begins on the right, but appeared to be labouring under the burden of an invisible elephant strapped to his back throughout his 45 minutes. Slower and less interested by the game, he seems hell-bent on bidding us “Doviđenja” come the season’s end, and has now even slipped behind Ms AANP on my list of favourite Croats. The ignominy.
‘Arry’s England Credentials To The Fore Once Again
Inspired by this cunning tactical nous, our lot invested oodles of huffing, puffing, corners that failed to clear the first man and ultimately a general mentality of frenzied panic, the combination of which at least rescued a point. However, with possession apparently in excess of 70%, and the usual two dozen attempts on goal, it ought to have been more. Most frustrating, and now that blasted lot from down the road are crowing once again. Time for another whisky methinks.
So the football resumes tonight, and it may be, for the players in particular, that having another game so swiftly will be the best way of dealing with Saturday’s events. It would certainly be understandable if the atmosphere at the Lane tonight were a little subdued, but the news of Muamba’s ongoing recovery is positive. One imagines that it is not only in this small corner of the interweb that prayer continues for him, his family, friends and those caring for him.Team News
Adebayor and Ledley are reported doubts, and with Chelski looming in a few days one imagines that the latter in particular is not worth risking tonight. One Aaron Lennon will presumably miss out again, causing all manner of upheaval across the midfield, as standard.
A curious innovation during the brief playing time on Saturday saw Gareth Bale occasionally adopting the novel position of a left winger, even producing a devil of a cross to create a goal. The boy may just have a future on the wing.
It is not the most important thing in the world, far from it, but a win tonight would do our lot the world of good, for various reasons.
This, I am reliably informed is a desperate situation. Quite possibly the desperatest. Handily glossing over the fact that our three consecutive defeats have been to three teams who, for one reason or another, stumbled upon optimum form just as they took to the field against us, the people have spoken in their lilywhite hordes, and this run of form is now scientifically proven to be the most wretched thing in history. Still think we can finish third? A thousand sneering glances in your direction! Forget about our form over the entire season – look at our last three results! We lost them all! People are tweeting and everything! If you’re not bashing your head against a nearby wall and itching to dust off the “’Arry Out” placards from a couple of seasons ago, you have clearly become drunk on common sense. The season is heading irresistibly towards meltdown, and anyone who tells you otherwise has had their judgement clouded by a reprehensible fog of perspective.
“Owen Coyle For Spurs” – Yes, I Really Did…Mercifully somebody somewhere thought of the children, and as a result we handily now get to punctuate our inexorable march towards Premiership doom by trampling our way past Bolton in the Cup. Back at the start of the season yours truly demonstrated his sagacity on all subjects football-related by wisely opining that Owen Coyle should be lined up as an outside bet for the next Spurs manager, a sentiment that is now hurriedly dismissed with a loud clearing of the throat and murmuring of “I probably meant that Swansea chap.”
Once upon a time Bolton existed solely to acquaint the ball with the clouds; then they became rather trendy and pretty, stringing passes together and whatnot under the auspices of Coyle; but now it seems their raison d’être is to make a beeline for relegation. Quite the opportunity then, for our heroes to advance ever closer to faux glory at Wembley.
Injuries (That Matter Not)Poor form or not, our lot should make light work of this. The exhausting and fairly futile search for a solution to the absence of Aaron Lennon is set to continue, the little man still sore of hamstring. Adebayor is apparently also a doubt, and Ledley is unlikely to be risked, but even allowing for these absences and one or two others, elimination here would be an affront to decency.
I do hope that ‘Arry’s comments to his players behind closed doors differ quite significantly to those offered to the gentlemen of the press. After the draw with Stevenage he piped up that he knew they would play that way – rather begging the question why he, as manager, did not therefore do something to pre-empt it – and now after games against Man Utd and Everton he has professed himself clueless as to how we failed to do any better. All of which strikes me as an easy way to earn a few million pounds per year.
In fairness, one appreciates his point on the basis of a second half as one-sided as a midfield sans Aaron Lennon, during which we had one effort after another, a string of corners and quite possibly became the first team ever to record possession of over 100%.
The first half however was not the prettiest sight. At one point the commentators on the deplorable ESPN (honestly, I switched on to watch the football, not random camera shots of some idiot in a wig and blue clown’s nose. What the deuces? Just show the football, you cretins) noted that ‘Arry was exhorting the troops not to sit so deep. Well, quite. Pick both Parker and Sandro in the centre and the chances are they will indeed err on the defensive side of things. Meanwhile confusion made its masterpiece in midfield, in the absence of any semblance of shape or fluidity. Bale resorted to delivering crosses on the right wing with the outside of his left foot, and Modders forlornly wasted his talents out on the left wing, while my eyes sat me down for a long and honest chat about the legitimacy of forcing them to watch such a shapeless mess.
Kaboul Learns From Last Week’s Mistake. Well, Not Really
The eagle-eyed may have noted that the goal itself came about when Kaboul charged in and sold himself with all the over-eagerness of a first-time lady-of-the-night – a decision presumably prompted by the criticism he received for backing off for United’s second goal last week. Heartening though it is to see Kaboul living by the mantra of the T-800 (“The more I interact with humans, the more I learn”) he is still a few correct decisions away from being the pinnacle of defensive magnificence. But progressing nicely, and on a day of general grumpiness ‘twas mildly cockle-warming to see his reaction to Saha hitting the post (check out a replay if you can), and to see him lying flat out and distraught on the turf at the final whistle. Good to see he cares.
Defoe’s Big Chance
Elsewhere, Jermain Defoe finally got the chance to stray offside for a full 90 minutes. To this amateur observer he did as good a job as anyone else, constantly giving the Everton defenders food for thought, and generally working the goalkeeper whenever the faintest whiff of a chance wafted his way – nobody else in lilywhite offers that. That said, his next tattoo really ought to be Law 11 of Assocation Football, preferably etched backwards across his forehead, so that every time he looks in a mirror he reads precisely what it is to be offside. Heaven help us.
The Aaron Lennon Factor
Ultimately, this latest minor catastrophe appeared to revolve around the lamentably absent Aaron Lennon. Admittedly, yours truly would probably be among the first to chide the young man should he misplace but one cross or choose the wrong final-third option when he returns to the team, but, as is commonly the case, his value increases in his absence. Without him the whole midfield was reshuffled, to ill effect, and we struggled to string three passes together in the first half. ‘Tis a problem that ‘Arry must solve tout de suite, and the issue of right-wing back-up (along with reserve left-back) probably ought to be addressed in the summer.
More generally, there is cause for concern at our heroes’ recent inability to slip back into the groove of lightning quick one- and two-touch passing, accompanied by busy off-the-ball movement. Bale and Modders look a tad jaded, no longer possessed of so many sudden bursts of pace and ingenuity, which may be a consequence of the lack squad rotation earlier in the season. A few consecutive wins would soothe the nerves and dispel the fears, but at present AANP has officially adjusted the state of its brow to “Furrowed”.
Four points from our four big games (Liverpool, Newcastle, l’Arse and Man Utd) is a tad below par, and the gap to the ‘orrible lot down the road has shrunk accordingly, but even the most pessimistic, nihilistic doom-mongerers of our clan are struggling to whip themselves into a genuine frenzy regarding our two consecutive defeats. Disappointing for sure, but not much more. That said, the phlegmatic approach would dissipate sharpish if our cheery odyssey were to unravel further at Goodison today. Losing to l’Arse and Utd is understandable, but our Top Four (Three) credentials darn well demand that normal service is resumed pronto – and continued in the coming weeks. Battling draws at mid-table teams are tommyrot now – we need to return to that swift, fizzing passing style, and the games will win themselves accordingly.
‘Arry’s Lexical Ambiguities
David Moyes has celebrated his 10 years in charge at Everton (crikey) as anyone would, by striking a gentleman’s agreement with our glorious leader, to the effect that Monsieur Saha will not feature today. However, ‘Arry has indicated that there is one small caveat to this agreement – in that it will not apply if he decides to pick Saha after all. Apart from stretching the definition of “gentleman’s agreement” beyond anything any self-respecting lexicographer has ever previously contemplated, the selection of Saha would be jolly rotten luck upon Jermain Defoe, who could probably score a five-minute hat-trick, solve the economic crisis and cure cancer within one substitute appearance, only to find himself overlooked again in the following game.
Injury News and the World’s Slowest Makeshift Right Wingers
On the injury that front poor blighter Michael Dawson and the various bits of ligament floating around his leg are out for the season, which makes the return to squad duty of William Gallas frightfully well-timed. If you pardon the cruel bluntness, of greater concern for this afternoon’s jamboree is the absence of One Aaron Lennon and the balance he provides. It seems a lifetime ago now, but once upon a time Bale and Lennon would scamper up and down the left and right wings respectively, allowing opposing defences barely a moment’s rest. These days Bale and his ego roam wherever they please in the ongoing bid to become the new Cristiano Ronaldo, to occasional devastating effect, but quite often to the end of a cul-de-sac. In the absence of Lennon we will presumably attempt once more to use absolute stasis rather than breakneck speed on the right wing, via the heavy legs of VDV or Kranjcar.
That aside, the usual striking concerns need to be addressed by ‘Arry; someone needs to get the crayons out and give the back-four some nice illustrated examples of the causal relationships between ball, opponents, net et cetera; and glory be, Scott Parker returns to the middle. It has been the best of times (Newcastle) and the worst of times (l’Arse) in recent weeks, but champagne football has been our norm this season, home and away, and a return to this vintage would suffice today.
Stumbling over the ball, chasing shadows and conceding possession with almost religious fervour while the scoreboard flashes the eye-watering message “Spurs 0-1 Stevenage” is not really a recommended means of achieving an aim as menial as making a cup of tea, letting alone winning some sparkly silverware, but more wizened sages than I have it that for such competitions as this the ends will justify the means. Hence, if our lilywhite heroes set about making the quarter-finals by the novel method of beginning a football match by abandoning football, then this is tickety-boo as long as they progress in fine.For the most part this season has been a rip-roaring blur of one/two-touch play and zippy off-the-ball movement. Exceptions have been rare – Liverpool away, Chelski at home, l’Arse away. To this list of luminaries can now be added Stevenage, bizarrely enough.
While the outcome was never really in doubt, and the chuntering amongst the masses was of the more frivolous ilk during that first 20 minutes, that a team comprising VDV, Lennon, Bale, Kranjcar and Defoe could find it quite so difficult to string three passes together certainly prompted the occasional scratch of the cranium. However, life became cheerier and the quality of football a tad silkier once lilywhite noses were in front. Should Ledley, Parker or A.N.Other hoist that great silver jug aloft in May, AANP will do its best to desist from interrupting the ticker-tape
fêting of our heroes in order to chide them for three messy halves of football against Stevenage.Standard Stuff From Defoe
Precious little of value can be gleaned from a formulaic victory against lower-league opposition, but AANP always cherishes those fleeting glimpses of young Master Defoe. Uncannily instinctive and gifted finishing? Check. Look of incredulity that there exists in the game the Offside Law? Check. Doing just about all that can reasonably be expected of him – and a tiny bit more – in his limited game time before being shunted back onto the bench at the weekend? Check. Eyeing up a move away from N17 this summer, simply so that he can gambol across a football pitch, anywhere, in anyone’s colours, just as long as it be on a regular basis? Oh golly…
Oh Danny Boy
Young Danny Rose, on t’other hand, is fast tumbling out of favour at AANP Towers. Physically incapable of delivering a decent cross with his left foot(where “decent” may be defined as “eluding the first blinking opponent in his way, for goodness sake”), and seemingly unable on pain of death to use his right, the vast oceans of goodwill earned by that goal are rapidly drying up in this neck of the interweb. He has time on his side I suppose – use it wisely, young man – but for the remainder of the season I would gladly see him confined to the shadow of BAE’s eccentricities.
If you’ve made it this far down I congratulate thee. In their entirety these musings could probably be summarised thus: We progressed; the minutiae matter little.
Apologies for the tardiness…
Speculating about what might have happened had Parker, Bale and/or VDV been fit is the very living, breathing embodiment of pointlessness (although it has not stopped yours truly moping on a near-daily basis about what might have been had Gazza tapped in against the Germans in Euro 96), but for the purposes of perspective following our SECOND CONSECUTIVE DEFEAT (gasp) it might be salutary to note that with the aforementioned gentlemen on board our lot probably would have prevailed. Having effected a mighty convincing impression of being the superior team in general, the addition of any of those three might also have impacted upon some of the crucial specifics of proceedings. Par example, ‘tis hard to imagine Parker or even Bale switching off to fiddle with their hair as Modders did for the second goal, while Parker again might have made a difference when Kaboul backed off for the third. Moreover, all our possession and dominance could feasibly have translated into something infinitely more satisfying than swooshy Sky Sports graphics had Bale or VDV been gambolling across the turf. Desperately frustrating to have to play a game of this magnitude missing such key personnel, but with human cloning technology still liable to misfire we simply have to accept such absences.
The Reshuffled Pack
Such is Parker’s unadulterated magnificence that it literally takes two men to replace him, but Sandro and Livermore performed admirably. Alas, this reshuffling meant that Modric’s myriad talents were not fully exploited, as he struggled to make sense of a job description loosely pertaining to activity on the left, but we nevertheless displayed various shades of wholesome attacking brio. Lennon’s final ball, as ever, lacks a certain refinement, but all the preceding scuttling tends to prompt the ringing of alarm bells and panicked swinging of legs amongst opposition ranks. With Adebayor and Saha again doing plenty to keep United occupied, at the apex of an old-fashioned 4-4-2, we were jolly close to hammering home our advantage.
However, the rather cruel lesson from all of this was that against the elite there is precious little margin for error. By somehow hanging on through the use of assorted fingernails and teethskins, and then taking advantage of the slightest lilywhite lapses, United fairly pointedly illustrated to our heroes what needs to be done to take the next step, from majestic Top Four glory-blazers to actual ruddy champions. The very best teams tend to do eke out such outcomes, having spent all game scrambling to survive. As the resident agriculturalists of AANP Towers have pointed out, thus is the wheat separated from the chaff.
That Cursed Horrible Wench, Lady Luck
That said, the gentlest soupcon of luck would not go amiss just once in a while for our lot. He being Adebayor and they being United it was thoroughly unsurprising that our first half “goal” was disallowed, but in a more lenient mood the ref may have noted that there was precious little means of avoiding a handling of the ball at full speed. (That said, had it been the other way round the howls of protest from AANP Towers would have lingered long in the air). Further ill luck was the decision by United’s part-time clown and resident 8 year-old goalkeeper De Gea to punctuate his season of general amateurishness with an absolutely blinding save from Livermore’s deflected shot in the second half. And while I’m having a whinge, how the dickens did a standard, fairy harmless foul by Sandro earn him a yellow card?
General grumpiness therefore pervades the air around these parts, but this whole sequence of frustrations ought not to derail the third-place push. Our football remains perky, we have outstanding players due to return and our remaining fixtures appear thoroughly winnable each and every one.
A brief perusal of the comments section beneath in the aftermath of the l’Arse defeat rather gave the impression that our heroes are about to nose-dive to the oblivion of the Championship and beyond. Excuse me while I take cover in the battered old AANP bomb shelter, in anticipation of the apocalyptic levels of anguish, vitriol and over-reaction that will rain down if we take a beating from the current Premiership champions on Sunday.
Ahead of Sunday’s game, the principal conundrum here at AANP Towers is where to wager my weekly tuppence. The current lilywhite vintage have looked mighty darned snappy against all and sundry at the Lane this season, with thrashings dutifully distributed to Liverpool and Newcastle, and a pleasing array of other scalps that includes the ‘orrible lot from down the road. However, our labours against the rotters of Chelski rather hurt my eyes, and in general our traditional swash-and-buckle approach has been stymied somewhat by the Champions League-chasers, albeit typically away from home. Excuse therefore the brief lapse into rocket-science, but this home game against Man Utd could potentially go either way…
Alas, we will all simply have to cherish the memory of Scott Parker getting crunched by two Dutchmen and landing groin-first on a camera tripod during the England game last night, for his woefully-timed one-game suspension means that we will have to do without his generous input of heart, soul, sinew and every last drop of blood. No pressure on Sandro/Livermore then.
The Saha-Adebayor partnership has so far wobbled rather dramatically between wondrous and appalling, having sparked the rout of Newcastle at home, and prompted an ugly descent into deep defending and long-ballery last week. Time for ‘Arry to show the world he really knows his 4-4-2s from his 4-2-3-1s, what? Parker aside our heroes ought to be well primed and ready for battle. A difficult one to call frankly, both sides looking notably fallible. Fingers crossed for a lilywhite outcome.