Top four after a quarter of the season - and in a team sans Dembele, Kaboul, Adebayor, Parker, BAE and Lloris - there ought really to be few grounds for grumbling. And yet… Asking any Spurs fan not to grumble is like asking a 1920s dandy to stay in for the afternoon and peruse some Descartes – it rather flies in the face of that whole raison d’etre jamboree. Thus it transpires that top four though we may be, one jolly well hopes that AVB’s tactical genius extends to more than these slightly desperate attempts to cling on against teams skipping around the relegation zone. Our glorious leader can hardly be judged on 10 or so games, but performances to date have hardly been of the ilk of the majority under ‘Arry.
First Half Fun
In that joyous first half of course things were so entertainingly one-sided it seemed almost cruel, and the two-goal lead was the half-time minimum. Recent mumblings about lack of fluidity were merrily shoved back down the AANP gullet as Hudd had a whale of a time in those midfield acres, Bale did his usual thing and Lennon’s form continued to be as sparkly as many can remember in his lilywhite career.
The use of Lennon in particular in that inside right channel also has the merry side-effect of unleashing the increasingly angry young Master Walker to gallop up the flank, and while his form this season has not quite been what it was, one imagines that opposing left-backs would rather he just stayed in his own half and picked his nose.
Second Half Regression
So all tickety-boo by the break, prompting ill-advised musings in the AANP cranium as to whether this might be the day on which we racked up four, five or more. Wrist-slappings have been duly administered for such churlish optimism about our heroes’ capacity to get from A to B in the simplest manner possible.
Naturally enough, what followed was not the hiding of Southampton lives, but the gradual regression of our lilywhite lot (or black and grey quarters, or whatever the blinking heck that pyjama outfit is supposed to be. Quite what relevance those colours have to anything in our history is beyond me. Honestly, young people these days.).
Presumably the AVB order was not to drop back ten yards en masse and be a distant second to every other loose ball (at least one jolly well hopes that that was not the AVB order) but in the finest White Hart Lane tradition they certainly contrived to make dashed hard work of it.
Whatever the problem was, poor old Livermore did not seem to be the solution, but in calmer moments of reflection one expects he will improve in time. The overall contribution of Dempsey also remains a little mysterious, and Sandro has some way to go before he can be classified as Dembele-esque (although that close-range, near-decapitating head-block certainly go the juices flowing – good lad).
Plenty of room for improvement then, but one way or another we are picking up these wins, which is the nub of the thing I suppose. Not exactly comfortable though, is it?
Sniffing around the Top Four is probably just about where we would have wanted to be when the clocks changed, so bravo to our troops, but if focus is switched from the numbers to the pittering and pattering of multi-coloured boots on lush greenery then the outlook is not quite as rosy. Wins have been won, but by and large in slightly unconvincing fashion, with sparks of fluid attacking genius all a bit too rare.
A fixture against second-bottom Southampton, whose shipping of goals left, right and centre is turning into a trademark feature, ought to give our heroes a chance to find some fluidity. Dembele-lessness continues, which means the slightly less energetic frame of Hudd will be lumbering around the centre, but he has it in his armoury to boss the game, particularly against one of the division’s weaker outfits. Elsewhere Adebayor’s injury means that Defoe will again be the lone man in attack, but Bale is back and that alone ought to be enough. For all the adages and pre-match comments for the press, anything less than victory would represent shoddy work. Over to you, chaps.
Still not really clicking, which is just about grumpily bearable against the European champions, but a darned sight more irritating against Slovenia’s finest. The lack of cutting edge in attack had me thumping my head repeatedly against the nearest wall from around midway through the first half. Injury to Adebayor was a shame, for this game had ‘Two-Man Attack’ scrawled across it in the sort of chunky font normally reserved for unintelligible graffiti. Elsewhere a couple of campaigns were given more scarcely-needed impetus, as the ‘Without-Bale-And-Dembele-We’re-Worryingly-Impotent’ brigade were given a second boost within a week, while the ‘VDV-And-Modders-For-Sigurdsson-And-Dempsey-Is-A-Slightly-Rubbish-Trade-Off-When-You-Think-About-It’ movement, which first stirred into life in August, is gaining credibility by the game.
‘Twas a night on which, given our lack of personnel to play two up front, our deeper midfielders Hudd and Sandro might have shown more attacking urgency. Lennon too just seemed too dashed nice as he went about his business, seemingly reluctant to embarrass his hosts by tearing them to pieces and instead settling for that pause-and-limply-pass-infield routine that is inevitably met with sighs of relief all round amongst the opponents.
here were a few moments - the lad Falque shook things up a tad on his introduction, and young Masters Caulker and Naughton put in decent performances, but ‘tis rather depressing to clutch at such straws after a bland draw against this lot. Having banged on about what a glitzy, glam competition this Europa thing is, AVB needs to inject some ingenuity and ruthlessness into the training ground protein shakes, and jolly well destroy this lot when they visit the Lane for the return fixture.
Some would possibly consider it poor form to wish a thousand violent and irreversible curses upon the new baby Bale, but new mewling, puking wretch will have a few things to answer for as it comes of age. (As luck would have it AANP’s latest newphew was born in Wales a couple of days earlier, so will be instructed to steal Bale Jr’s crayons by way of retribution, at the earliest opportunity). Every inch the modern man, our handsome young Welshman ignored the folk who churn out his millionaire’s salary each week, and instead prepared for kick-off by scarpering off to the homeland to witness the debut of the fruit of his loins. One can hardly prevent such lunacy I suppose (although as Ms AANP pointed out, come the birthing hour in her native land of Modric the menfolk are consigned to the waiting room anyway, while the fairer sex do the hard work).
So with Bale’s gallops directed elsewhere, and Moussa Dembele already out injured, the game was practically ceded before kick-off. Minus Bale and Dembele our heroes looked fairly bereft of attacking ideas in the first half in particular, particularly given the curious game-plan of carefully rationing Aaron Lennon’s involvement to an absolute minimum. Hudd retains possession well enough, but he does tend to do things rather slowly, and the breakneck counter-attacks on which we have been brought up consequently petered out prematurely, epitomised at one head-scratchingly baffling point when Dempsey opted to spin round and dribble back towards halfway.
Having struggled to put two passes together in the first half our lot did buck up a bit in the second, but AVB will have to earn his corn to solve this little tickler, because without our two leading lights the supporting cast do look decidedly less potent. Matters were exacerbated somewhat by our lot’s complete impotence in the face of Chelsea’s slick passing triangles. Be it their back-four or that jolly dangerous attacking triumvirate of Oscar, Mata and Hazard, there were far too many occasions when that horrible mob simply six-yarded their way out of trouble and right up into our area.
Elsewhere on the Pitch
The returns of either BAE or Kaboul cannot come quickly enough, as Gallas chipped in with his now customary sprinkling of lapses. A handy chap to have around the squad, days like yesterday suggested that the visit of the league-leaders is not really the time to be relying upon his creaking limbs. The sooner Kaboul or Vertongehn can replace him in the centre, the better.
Dempsey and Sigurdsson also still look a bit too much like squad players at the moment; and young Master Walker presented the world and his Twitter followers with the most bizarre brain meltdown in the closing stages to seal our fate; but at least Defoe remains in fine fettle, responding to his controversial axing from the AANP fantasy team with the sort of predatory strike that had AANP Senior murmuring something about Greaves. Seeing Torres fluff his lines at t’other end only made it sweeter.
Irritatingly, the nagging suspicion remains that at full strength we would have fared a darned sight better, but such is life, and by the time Match of the Day started we were still in fifth, which was an unexpected bonus. Already this season we have played worse and won, so one rather hopes that Southampton will feel the wrath – and joys of fatherhood – of the lilywhite heroes next week.
(Apologies again – comments box remains unco-operative)
This horrible lot again. Revulsion levels for Chelski were upped to a shuddering maximum over the summer, when they scandalously denied us our CL spot by somehow flouncing off with the shiny European pot last summer (the moment of their winning penalty – and our CL elimination – as seen through AANP eyes, was thoughtfully captured hither by a chum while on stag in Portugal).
Just about every article printed over the last 24 hours has lathered on interminably about AVB, his former mob, his current mob, the clash of his former against his current mob, and every other AVB connotation at which one can wave a jolly large stick. But really, for the faithful who troop along to the Lane at lunchtime the nub of the thing is whether our lot outscore t’other lot, with relatively little concern for whichever chap wears the suit on the sidelines.
While four consecutive wins is, statistically, about as fine fettle as we could wish for, the on-pitch stuff has not quite been the very model of fluency. A Terry-less Chelsea provides opportunity, particularly with our handsome young Welshman approaching top form at a gallop, but Messrs Sandro and Dembele will jolly well need to have their defensive hats well secured, as the opponents will have all manner of shiny, expensive foreign types charging at our high defensive line.
Aside from the media frenzy about his former employers, AVB will have to focus on the day job and make one or two sizeable calls regarding personnel. The choice of goalkeeper for a game of this magnitude likely to resonate along the N17 corridors (and while ‘tis neither here nor there admittedly, saving a Cesc Fabregas penalty midweek was a smart move from Lloris, a couple of weeks into his Tottenham career). The other point of interest will be in attack, where Adebayor is by all accounts now back to fitness, and may be deemed a more suitable option as pressure-release in a game like this, despite Defoe’s barely containable gusto of recent weeks. If AANP were in charge the two of them would start, but alas being in charge is a make-believe world in which Gazza’s career would have been saved, 2unlimited would still rule the airwaves and drastic re-writes would have been ordered of the scripts of both Alien 3 and Terminator 3.
Having already bettered Man Utd, through that curious mix of brio and last-ditch defending, our heroes already have one sizeable scalp displayed proudly on the mantelpiece, and that same combo will presumably be required again today. A fifth consecutive win would make this one of the cheeriest crises of the modern era.
(Apologies – blasted comments box still not fixed)
Panathanaikos 1 – 1 Spurs
A curious one, that Greek escapade, to the casual observer at least, as our heroes seemed determined to sleepwalk through the entire episode. Possibly considering the whole Europa evening school beneath them following the vanquishing of more illustrious foes in Manchester days earlier, or maybe distracted en masse by that curious ‘Adebayor Power Horse’ advertising hoarding that kept flashing up, our heroes determinedly flicked the dial to ‘General Apathy’ and half-heartedly ambled their way through the motions – into the lead, back to parity and ultimately rather clinging on somewhat, all the while giving the impression that unless the nearest chum gave a sharp prod they might just curl up into a ball and nap for a few minutes on Greek soil.
Viewed with particular interest from the AANP armchair were the performances of Hudd and Daws, neither of whom are exactly the rocks upon which the kingdom of AVB are to be built. Alas, much though I wanted Hudd in particular to outshine all around him and produce a performance to be immortalised on youtube under the title ‘Ruddy Hudd Masterclass in Dreamy Technique’, it was a rather hit-and-miss affair, with some inch-perfect, raking diagonals interspersed with the odd misplaced pass, against a backdrop of slightly tubby huff and puff.
As for Daws, ‘twas his pros and cons all neatly packaged into one handy ninety-minute demo. A towering, heart-and-soul header for our goal, followed by leaden-footed sluggishiness as the opposing striker disappeared into the distance and equalised, the unfortunate truth was that it justified AVB’s decision to shunt him well down the queue of Premiership starters. In this era of indecently young mangers, high defensive lines and manic work-rates, it is easy to see why Messrs Hudd and Daws are putting in some mighty serious thumb-twiddling time on the fringes.
Spurs 2-0 Villa
Merrily woken from their slumbers by last Sunday, this was still not quite the vintage Hotspur. Once the two-goal lead was established it all became simple enough, and by the time Villa were reduced to ten it was but a merry little training ground exercise (which, the pedants amongst us grumbled, ought to have seen our goal difference upped) but for the best part of an hour there was a conspicuous lack of fluency.
The wisdom of Dempsey/Gylfi playing off the front-man remains debatable, particularly at the Lane against teams we expect to dominate, but if we can ease our way to victory while not at the peak of our powers then this ‘crisis’ remains most welcome.
At the other end poor old Friedel can feel a mite piqued at his omission (although he may want to use the spare time to work on gathering crosses) but there is no particular grumble in this quarter over the use of Lloris. Solid enough from le Frenchman – indeed, a first clean-sheet of the league season – but it will probably require the best part of a season before we can judge the chap. No idea why ‘keepers these days punch everything though, what the devil has happened to the good old-fashioned art of just catching the bally thing?
So as we drum our fingers, teach ourselves new skills (darning, at AANP Towers, since you ask - and very handy it’s proving too) and wait for the international to-and-fro to wind down it’s four Premiership wins in a row, and a Europa campaign that has been a little unnecessarily complicated. And who amongst us would not have settled for such fare when the troops were jeered off against Norwich a few weeks back?
(Frightfully sorry about the invisible comments section by the way – the world’s most over-zealous spam-catcher has taken to the black arts to prevent anyone from posting below. Fret not, the village plumber has been summoned. Should be fixed in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.)