An opening day win is a small bundle of joy for which we should all be grateful, so while there are undoubtedly a few polite coughs and pointed looks when we reflect on the manner of the thing, ‘tis probably best to bow humbly, express our thanks and sidle off. Playing a newly-promoted mob on their own patch on the opening day carries a moderate health warning, given that their fledgling enthusiasm is as yet undimmed by an eight-game losing streak, so firm manly handshakes all round, but no celebration much beyond that.
Solid stuff from our new midfield mob, what? Paulino, and then Capoue, looked the sort of chaps who would sit down and order steaks without opening the menu, and for that the cuts of both respective jibs ought to be sincerely admired. One hopes that Dembele’s early withdrawal was not injury-related for he bounded around with pleasing gusto. There are few more pleasing sights in nature than Dembele on the charge, chest leaning forward, opponents bouncing off his burly frame. Between these three, and with Sandro to be sprinkled into the mix, the mental scarring inflicted by the nine-point turns and backward passing of Scott Parker, bless him, ought to be etched from the memory.
That VDV-Shaped Hole
For all the physique in central midfield however, further forward there was a lack of urgency that smelt suspiciously like complacency. The incessant to-ing and fro-ing up the flanks was understandable enough, but there was a conspicuous absence of neck-scruff grabbing amongst our heroes. Sigurdsson spent much of his time been unceremoniously dumped on his derriere, Lennon repeatedly raised hopes by dashing to the by-line before repeatedly incurring exasperation by hitting the first defender with his cross, and Chadli once again looked useful without necessarily terrorising the other mob.
All honest enough, and it was sufficient to despatch today’s opponents – ought to have been more, given the handful of clear second half opportunities - but the pulse only really raced due to nerves in the closing stages. Not for the first time in the past 12 months I found myself wistfully yearning for a chap with a sprinkle of creativity and vision to deliver that killer-ball. That VDV-shaped hole remains unfilled.
Elsewhere on the Pitch
Young Kyle Walker seems to become angrier by the week, which is no particularly bad thing. He more than anyone seemed to show a real urgency to get things done and will to win, and while it might ultimately lead to his on-pitch spontaneous combustion I would jolly well like to see some of his chums demonstrate similar passion.
Master Rose has never been the firmest favourite in this neck of the interweb, and the occasional simple pass did still go frustratingly awry, but by and large he took a leaf out of the Walker handbook and took every opportunity to express his anger, which was no particularly bad thing when it translated into the medium of winning 50-50s and the like.
Heart-warming also to see Kaboul make a gentle cameo, and Defoe running at the heart of the defence. All things considered there may be room for improvement hither and thither, but down the road that laughing-stock would kill for a three-point haul right now.
What ho, and welcome to 2013/14. With our season now literally minutes away this seems as appropriate a juncture as any to push away the second helping of kippers, retire to the favoured reading chair, stuff a pipe and consider the (by no means exhaustive) AANP Towers Eight-Points Wishlist for the new season.
See Rose Bloom
Do you see what I did there? Do you get it? It’s a play on the lexical duplicity of the name… Anyway, we at AANP Towers have never been particularly enamoured of this particular chunkster, primarily because, one wonder-goal aside, he has generally resembled a Kabaddi player who has been tossed a pair of football boots and told to fit in. Previous appearances in lilywhite have seen him pound around the pitch constantly looking as if he is about to lose control of the ball, his balance and his very limbs, typically making skin-of-the-teeth interceptions by the force of accident and momentum rather than design.
Still, last year by all accounts he had a rollicking time of it at Sunderland, and while I found this dashed difficult to comprehend, it would be no bad thing if some vaguely robust competition were offered to the present incumbent, given that Benny is hardly the very paragon of defensive solidity.
Kaboul On Fire Once More
In truth he is neither poor nor old, but it nevertheless seems jolly rotten luck for the poor old blighter to have missed the entire season through no fault of his own. By a most curious quirk of nature however, the steaming behemoth of two seasons back seems to have been forgotten by just about everyone everywhere, with common discourse now marvelling at how lucky we were not to have sold Daws to QPR after all last season. Such garbled musings baffle me no end, for whole-hearted though he is Daws has failings aplenty. Kaboul is faster, stronger, has better technique and is generally the Six Million Dollar Man to Dawson’s mere mortal who got bashed up in the pilot episode. Whether instead of or alongside Daws, Kaboul should be immense this season – providing he stays fit.
I am not sure what diabolical dark arts are involved in this ‘Zonal Marking’ sorcery, but at AANP Towers we nervously drain our whisky tumblers and gasp for more every time the whistle blows around our area. There presumably are iterations of the Zonal Marking system that work absolutely tickety-boo, but already in pre-season there have been groans from all sides as our heroes have diligently stuck to their allocated zones, allowing cunning opponents to saunter unopposed into the gaps in-between, rending poor old Lloris (again, neither poor nor old) and his ear-piercing shriek of “Awaaaay” little-to-no chance.
There seems to be a fairly basic flaw of physics around the concept of allowing opponents a running leap, while our lot try to defend from standing starts, but while never again conceding a corner or free-kick in our own half would be one solution, a potentially simpler and more feasible approach would be to find a better way to defend these set-pieces.
Lennon’s final ball
Time, it would appear, waits for no man, and hot on the heels of the jettisoning of Hudd, the awkward realisation is beginning to dawn that neither is young Master Lennon the spring-chick he once was, and that the time for fulfilling his youthful potential has now begun to slip by. Where once he shaved go-faster lines into his eyebrows – an emblem of the carefree insouciance of youth if ever there were one – now the speedy imp is cultivating a hirsute visage, a more traditional badge of advanced years. Where once it was easy enough to assume that Lennon would eventually learn to deliver his final ball once he matured, the uncomfortable truth is that the bounder simply has not mastered that particular art, despite season after season in which that particular failing slapped him repeatedly in the face with a wet fish. Skinning the opposing full-back is manageable enough, but whether his cross makes it to the danger-zone seems to be largely a matter of chance. Get that final ball right and he will be a world-beater – as we have all been murmuring for years.
Hang on to Bale
He might have his uses, and as the laughing-stock down the road have illustrated all summer, oodles of cash is no substitute for having a chap actually kitted up and scuttling around on the greenery.
The Delivery of Defence-Splitting Passes Around the Edge of the Area
No arguing with the spine of our team, which now consists entirely of genetically-engineered monster-beasts, but here at AANP Towers a drum we’ve been banging throughout the ages has been around the merits of that most cherished of footballing gifts, the Defence-Splitting Pass Around the Edge of the Area. Often – though not necessarily – delivered via the medium of diagonality, ‘tis the sort of tool that can unlock any defence, and prove particularly useful against those infernal weaker teams who arrive at the Lane to set up camp on the edge of the area. Behind Soldado our creative trio will be formed of three from Lennon, Dembele, Sigurdsson, Holtby, Townsend or Chadli – each of whom are blessed in their own particular way, but none of whom are necessarily cut of the Mata/David Silva cloth. While the sideways-and-sideways-again approach does reflect admirable patience on the part of the players, all too often it ends with a cross from wide or reversion to the Bale gambit. The occasional, devastatingly cunning defence-splitter would most certainly not go amiss.
Tom Carroll to Establish Himself
Sackcloth and ashes are being worn, and a flag and flagpole have been hastily created in order that aforementioned flag can be flown at half-mast –all in doleful commemoration of the passing of Hudd and his dreamy brand of passing. Discreetly glossing over the subjects of his weight, immobility and speed (or lack thereof) the AANP bottom lip has positively quivered at the thought of that impeccable technique no longer being the lawful property of THFC. However, a pint-sized phoenix might yet rise from the Huddlestone flames, for in his brief cameos young Tom Carroll has done enough to suggest that he has the vision and technique when pinging a pass that elevates him above the mere mortals of the Premiership. He is highly unlikely to dislodge the man-machines of Paulinho, Sandro and Dembele, but with Cup games of various sorts coming out of the goddam walls in the coming weeks this might yet prove to be Carroll’s season-long moment.
Hit The Ground Running
The start of last season appeared to take all concerned in N17 somewhat by surprise, featuring as it did a renegade Modric and unwanted VDV, and a paltry point was gleaned from the opening three fixtures (I think) as a result, as our heroes a little too gradually awoke from their summer slumbers. Alas, that wretched start had cost us dear come mid-May, when we missed out on the Top Four by a single point. It may not be rocket-science, but a marginally more sprightly start this time round could make a world of difference later on in proceedings. Player-for-player newly-promoted Palace represents the sort of three points we need to wrap up to make the Top Four, so opportunity rather bangs on the door today for a fast start to 2013/14.
Admittedly there is a vague whiff of pointlessness about musings on a pre-season friendly, but what else to do while swinging from the AANP hammock?
Starting at the top, the lad Soldado seems to know his right from left and other requisite basics. The upper-body strength he showed in shielding the thing from opposition defenders met with a decisive nod of approval from this corner of the interweb, and his movement was also suitably nifty. He will presumably face penalties under greater pressure than yesterday, but nevertheless it was good to see the lad adopt the Shearer approach of blasting the thing into a corner, as opposed to, for example, the Adebayor jig-and-spoon.
The AANP Verdict: Jigging merrily on the threshold of striking eminence.
The cut of Paulinho’s jib is also to be tentatively admired. The imp had the air of a Rottweiler that had actually gorged itself on raw human flesh but three hours previously, and was therefore content to lurk and snap with menace, without ever fully committing to the unspeakable acts of clinical savagery of which he is no doubt capable. He also displayed enough technique and attacking intent to elicit excited murmurs of “a complete midfielder” from the sages of N17.
The AANP Verdict: Looks entirely capable of holding his own when the club’s midfield contingent engage in high-stakes Scissors-Paper-Stone
Of young Master Chadli the prognostications are a little less ecstatic. The excitable bounder did seem decidedly happier with life cutting in from the left, as opposed to his more central role in the Monaco debacle last week, although the trick of cutting onto his right foot did wear a little thin after its umpteenth production. It may not therefore be the worst idea in the long and illustrious history of the club to bend the young whippersnapper over the knee of Brad Friedel and give him half a dozen hearty lashings, as a means of conveying in a friendly and constructive manner that gazing around and occasionally flicking the ball towards a fellow lilywhite is a viable alternative to keeping his head down and trying to take on everyone.
The AANP Verdict: Not yet the irrepressible dandy one would hope is being primed for a full season in one of the triumvirate of attacking roles, but that glint in his eye is encouraging.
Beyond the new arrivals there were also frequent opportunities to charge glasses and toast the returns of a veritable gaggle of highly-esteemed luminaries.
Monsieur Kaboul was released from his year in captivity looking older and wiser, but every inch as capable of cracking open skulls by the mere puff of his chest as he ever was pre-injury. So giddy am I at the prospect of Kaboul and Vertonghen undertaking central defensive matrimony this season that another dram of bourbon is absolutely in order tout de suite.
Spirits also soared, and no doubt unborn infants leapt for joy in their mothers’ wombs, when Sandro bounded back onto the turf and looked around for an unsuspecting Spaniard to crunch. The winning combination of boyish enthusiasm and gladiatorial aggression remains undimmed, and he earns a bonus point for that engaging Beard-Bald combo.
Young Master Rose has never ingratiated himself into the inner circle of AANP favourites, and considering that said inner circle is now populated by several dozen bodies it says much of the askance eye with which I view him. All momentum and dubious ball-control, rumours of his improvement last season at Sunderland do not wash with this particular Park Laner.
The Townsend cameo, for a second successive week, had the juices flowing. As with Chadli he does not necessarily always pick the Distribute option when Dribble ‘Til The End Of Time remains on the table, but the lad has sparkle-dust in his boots, mistake ye not, and I rather hope that his contribution in 13/14 extends to more than just a flurry of fleeting substitute appearances.
The rarely-vaunted AANP Pre-Season Wishlist will follow in the coming days, but until then a hearty adieu.
My goodness these have been busy times at N17. A striker has finally been brought into the fold, seemingly only two and a half years too late, and reportedly a bit more in the poacher mould than the brick outhouse we have craved, but this is not the time to pick nits. Young Chadli has also arrived, and although the assembly instructions that came with this lad suggest that he is for squad depth rather than tearing up the Premiership week in and week out, he being of the jolly handy coterie of Belgians currently invading our shores we can probably express some optimism.
These young folk and their peccadilloes. Rumour has it that young Master Bale is toying with the quite preposterous notion of plying his trade elsewhere, as if the prospect of weekly Europa League action is not enough for the hottest young property in British football. Someone talk some sense into the lad.
Still, heart-warming consolation has been offered in recent weeks by witnessing the fruits of that ‘special relationship’ of bonhomie and understanding with Madrid, which was struck up a year or two back as part of the Modric sale. Those fun-loving rogues have injected much-needed humour and amity into the summer’s proceedings with the decorum of their enquiries. On a frivolous note however, I do sometimes wonder if the prestige of Real slightly obscures the reality that they have not won the Champions League for over a decade. Something like a more glamorous version of Liverpool, over-dependent on reputation and history? Just an idle thought.
Back o the Bale nonsense, for here at AANP Towers we men of honour consider such parchment as Four-Year Contracts – of the ilk signed by Bale last summer – to be more than the mere fashion accessories, and as such I am all in favour of Messrs Levy and V-B politely clearing their throats and bluntly refusing to let the lad scarper. This coming season I want to see our heroes make the Champions League, and this seems a darned sight likelier with Bale than without.
On the subject of £80 mil, I can hardly see us using it to bring in a player worth £80 mil, or for that matter two worth £40 mil. In fact were we to sell Bale this very evening I would be amazed if we brought in two £25 mil players by the end of the transfer window. No matter how many bags of cash are flung in our direction, the players brought in will not be as good as Bale, because we have neither the lure of CL football nor of sky-high wages. The party line in this neck of the interweb is therefore to reject all offers, hang on to Bale and make the Top Four next season, which might at least then give us another bargaining chip when attempting to bring in top-notch purveyors of the trade.
This was a rummy one. Admittedly Caulker trails Vertonghen, Kaboul and possibly Dawson in the centre-back pecking order, and at present he has the flaws in his game one would expect of an Under-21, but with Europa games flying at us from all angles and Caulker a work in progress there would have been a fairly solid case for his retention. Still, one presumes the Brains Trust have a something up their sleeve on the central defensive front.
My Spurs-supporting chum Ian was not presumably not alone in expressing a sentiment nearing full-on delight that we will no longer be treated to any more 20-yard volleys looping off the Dempsey shin and into the North Stand. A little unfair on the blighter I appreciate, for if nothing else he had the knack of poaching jolly important late goals against Manchester clubs. However, his exit is vaguely akin to the demise of a minor supporting cast member within the first 30 minutes of a half-decent action film. And when we have Hudson, Vasquez, Hicks et al manning the barricades, who particularly cares about the various nameless marines who were dragged to their doom in that early carnage scene?
Tactically however one might raise an eyebrow at the Dempsey sale. Goodness knows who fits where within our attacking axis, what with Bale potentially thither rather than hither, and Adebayor potentially extending that languid stroll all the way to the exit, but between Lennon, Chadli, Sigurdsson, Holtby, Townsend and potentially Dembele I suppose we ought to have enough bodies to fill those attacking spots, albeit not necessarily of the quality of title challengers.
The Monaco Defeat
Somebody somewhere is presumably banging on the door of the N17 ticket office and demanding a full refund for their season ticket following yesterday’s muddle in Monaco. Precious little can be read into a game that had the look of a Europa qualifier at kick-off, and went downhill from there, with one of the few seniors (Defoe) limping off early, and AVB seemingly plucking lads from the travelling lilywhite support to scurry around as subs by the time the clock ticked to 90.
Lloris, Walker, Lennon and Dembele played most of the game - but Daws and Vertonghen were injured, as was Holtby; Sandro and Kaboul are not yet fit; Paulinho and Soldado are apparently still too sparkling new to be allowed to run around and get dirty; while all sorts of intrigue surrounds the non-appearances of Bale and Adebayor.
For what it was worth, Livermore and Zeki Fryers found themselves promoted to first-choice centre-back pairing, and looked suitably flummoxed, the poor lambs having to contend with £50m of that Falcao chap amongst others. Further up the pitch the new lad Chadli pottered around a little forlornly, and Harry Kane’s legions of admirers will have been thrilled to observe their hero for almost the entirety of proceedings, even nabbing himself one of those goal things. But ultimately the whole episode was fairly pointless. I’m rather impatient for the real thing to begin now, truth be told.