Time might consider itself the great healer, but it is about to find itself shoved out of the way in pretty unceremonious manner, because no sooner have our intrepid heroes shipped six goals in one fell swoop than they find themselves farmed off to Antarctica, or that frozen planet in the Star Wars film, or wherever the dickens this lot play their trade. This, of course, is because the Europa League waits for no man, and as sure as eggs is eggs we find ourselves now on the cusp of the greatness that is qualification for The Next Bit Of This Slightly Tortuous Saga.
Qualification has already been successfully navigated by our superstars, and a couple of well-timed nods and winks will apparently guarantee us top spot in the group, and whatever riches that entails. However there is nevertheless an entertaining undercurrent to this distraction, because AVB has a coin to toss. Tradition dictates that he rest just about everybody involved last Sunday, with a view to keeping them fresh for another thrashing this Sunday – but given the debacle and all its trimmings one wonders whether he might be tempted to drag last Sunday’s lot back out for more. Not as punishment you understand, but as an opportunity to right some of the myriad wrongs. Certainly the likes of Paulinho, Lamela and Dawson to name but three have a few lashings of professional pride to restore, so our glorious leader might consider shoving them back out onto the greenery, and asking them as he does so to show a bit of decency and buck up a few notches.
Alternatively, this might be an opportunity for a spot of formation tinkering. Four months too late admittedly, but an opportunity nonetheless. Glenn Hoddle seemed to have caused a bit of a stir amongst Spurs-supporting chums of my acquaintance, by suggesting just prior to the City game that we dabble in a 5-2-1-2/3-4-1-2 looking number, with wing-backs and a lone chappie in the hole (although it looks a tad light on width and creativity to me, so goodness knows what our umpteen wingers would do with themselves while it played out). Perhaps a little more navigable for our addled minds might be an old-fashioned 4-4-2, as briefly and lamentably dabbled in at the start of the second half against City.
Whatever the decision, it all points towards a team selection with the potential to get the juices flowing. The game itself jolly well ought to be a formality, what?
This ought to melt the internet for a day or two, what?
Aside from any individual mishaps that contributed to the goals themselves (and I think I might have spotted one or two) the thing that really left me wanting to voice a few choice words of opprobrium was the general mentality when our heroes were in possession. Even at three, four or five goals down, and with the outcome no longer mattering a jot, for the sake of my own sanity I needed to see this Spurs team sprinkle just a modicum of creative ingenuity into proceedings, because frankly, aside from the occasional penalty I cannot for the life of me see where the next dashed goal – or even shot on goal – is coming from. Mistakes will happen at the back, but by and large our defence has muddled through this season. However, for all the possession we have had – all season, not just today – you can count the number of slick chances created on the toes of one foot, and it really is becoming a trifle perturbing.
‘Tis a criticism that could liberally be sprinkled across the team, but the lucky chappie attracting the brunt of the AANP ire today is Master Paulinho, for the painfully leaden manner in which he shovels the ball from Point A to Point B. For the first 30 or 40 minutes the deficit was but one, and we had plenty of possession in midfield, but whereas Sandro can perhaps be exonerated for lacking a surplus of creative nous, given that his principal duty is to hunt and destroy, the onus was on Paulinho to make the initial prompts and prods. Alas, Luka Modric he seemingly is not.
Holtby and Lamela were similarly ineffective, the latter in particular bearing the deportment of a young man in desperate need of a few hearty steak sandwiches. The lad is probably best shunted into a box marked “One for the Future” and allowed to bed in accordingly over a period of months rather than years, for at present it seems that a mere puff of wind is enough to send him flying. Dembele at least seemed motivated by the white sticks and netting at the far end whenever he picked up the ball, and given his willingness to take on a man I wonder whether, not for the first time, whether there might be a case for playing him in the hole.
And an AANP match report during season 2013/14 would only be a unconvincing doppelganger were it to omit the traditional diatribe against Soldado, who once again carried himself like a blighter not terrifically familiar with any of those around him, or the ball, or the net, or the most basic concept of the game, particularly when a couple of early opportunities fell his way in those halcyon minutes when the score was but 1-0.
One could go on. However, between this lot and the English cricket team it just seems that if it is not one ball-based sport engineering the mother of all debacles it is dashed well certain to be another, and rather than wax lyrical about the ghastly lumbering of our defensive troupe I would prefer to bang my head repeatedly against a wall until next season comes around.
It’s a rummy thing, but having spent all season enviously eyeing the opposition net from around 20 yards, we now toddle off to the home of the Champions-elect, where they routinely run rings around all-comers, and I feel a darned sight more upbeat about our chances of finding the net. The primary reason being that old ‘Deep-Lying Opposition Defence’ chestnut, which has become rather a curse at the Lane, but tends to be less of an issue on our travels - and against this free-scoring, attack-minded mob and their glittering array of creative superstars it ought not to be a problem at all. Marvellous!
Furthermore, City will be without Kompany, who as well as (or perhaps because of) being possessed of a most peculiarly-shaped head is also quite the defensive lynchpin for this lot. Minus this chap they start to emanate the distinctive whiff of defensive fallibility. And on top of that, last time out against Newcastle, we actually managed to carve out some genuine, bona fide goalscoring opportunities. Not just the speculative 20 yarders, but actual chances from six yards out. Of course we would not have scored one of them if we had played all week, but baby steps, what?
There is, I suppose, a cloud to this silver lining, for while City’s attacking instincts might theoretically open things up for us at one end, this will be of limited value if we spend the afternoon chasing their shadows. In particular, the notion of Aguero and/or Negredo running rings around Daws rather makes one anxiously take a seat and reach for a splash of the old life-restorer. Regular visitors to these four interweb walls, as well as wading through great bally oceans of spam, will be well aware that our loveable captain is admired for many reasons here, just not for his defensive prowess. Should this turn into a backs-to-the-wall Alamo-style affair played on the edge of our area he will be jolly useful, but heaven help us if any of City’s millionaires decide to put their head down and run at him within the high defensive line. Kaboul, Kaboul and thrice I say Kaboul – get him back in the team.
Eriksen is out, having had a tap on the ankle, which presumably means a starting berth for Holtby, and the continued absence of Rose means that Vertonghen may again do the honourable thing at left-back. It seems rather a shame that we cannot field 15-20 players at once, as Monsieur Capoue is now fit again as well, which leaves AVB needing to select two from Sandro, Paulinho, Dembele and the aforementioned.
I cannot really imagine our esteemed leader suddenly deciding to live by the sword, so presumably Soldado will once again be the square peg at the apex, making runs that nobody feeds and lounging around by halfway when we need him to buck up and charge. Quite why we invested so much effort and money in obtaining the services of a blighter who, four months in, does not remotely fit the system, is beyond me, but ‘tis a grumble for another day. For now let us just close our eyes and hope for another clean sheet and late penalty.
A point at Goodison probably ought not to be sniffed at, even if we cannot help but wonder what might have been, in that heart-warming first half in particular.
Our heroes came out of the traps as if feral animals scenting blood, hunting down the blue mob in packs and shoving faces into armpits like it was nobody’s business. Foremost amongst the cast in this respect were Holtby and Vertonghen, both of whom were particularly prominent as we piled forward in the first half. In the opening 45 in particular Holtby enjoyed one of his finest jaunts in lilywhite, while Vertonghen had the bright idea to saunter through Everton’s fairly flimsy right-hand side at every opportunity, and with Walker’s willingness to overlap meaning Baines was forced to mope around inside his own half, young Townsend bore the look of a man thoroughly enjoying his playground-esque brand of take-on-all-comers football. On top of which Sandro doing what every good beast should do, his repertoire including occasionally shoving aside the man-mountain Lukaku as if he were one of the diddy guests at my niece’s fourth birthday party.
The only frustrations in that first half were that we were left to rue using up our quota of penalties for the week; that Lennon evidently eyes his left foot as something completely alien, planted there by mysterious forces while he slept last night; and that poor old Soldado presumably suffers from halitosis or some such similar affliction, which means that no-one dared wander within 15 yards of him. Understandable enough, for these are delicate moments amongst chums – but aside from the awkward social context it does create the dickens of a problem because not a soul appears able to offer any support to Soldado in attack – and should he himself peel out to the right then we might as well aim for the corner flags, because nobody will pop up in the area.
Alas, albeit rather inevitably, life was not half as bright and breezy in the second half, as Everton upped their game and for significant periods we found ourselves penned further and further back. On the bright side, deep defending is grist to the Dawson mill, a world in which his lack of pace cannot be exposed, but his heart-on-sleeve penchant for last-ditch heroics come in handy.
To their credit our heroes continued fighting the good fight, and the intermittent second half attacks looked threatening, but as ever any shots of note were catapulted in from at least 20 yards.
‘Tis an issue that segues neatly into the ongoing Soldado issue. The blighter simply does not fit our system. Or maybe our system does not fit him? Either way, there are two crucial components to this - Exhibits A and B if you will, with the former being Soldado and the latter Our System - and no matter how we try to sugar-coat the issue they still remain about as successful a combo as two chaps trying to negotiate a particularly intricate transaction over the telephone while hindered by the fact that neither speak the same language.
It’s a muddle of a thing at the moment, because when he wants the ball fed into the channels we are busy recycling it in midfield, and when we need him to hold the thing up with a bit of sweat and body-strength he seems to be running away from the ball as if allergic to the thing. The end-result of which is that I can only remember about one and a half chances falling his way from open play all season.
Over in this part of the interweb I am still inclined to think that if we are in the Top Four by 1 Jan we will be there come the season’s end. Still, this goalscoring issue gives our intrepid leader something to ponder over in the coming weeks, in case it has passed him by in the last few months.
It’s a pretty dashed confusing time to be a denizen of N17, what? On the one hand we have statistics, and results, and the league table, and all those other things that I spent hour upon hour poring over as a student armed with Championship Manager (as it was then) – and they all point towards our heroes making a jolly good fist of things. On t’other hand however, the evidence of the eyes has us chuntering away, sages that we are, about creativity and lethargy and those blasted defensive teams who sit back with their umpteen players and taunt us.
As it happens these latter problems ought not to be quite so prominent this weekend, as Everton do not really come across as the sort of troupe to spend their weekends camping around the edge of their area. Presumably their game-plan will involve occasional attacks, and as such there ought to be some wide open spaces for our heroes to counter-attack. Touché, and a suitably evil laugh, for this should therefore be a more straightforward kettle of fish than those we have wrestled with in recent weeks.
There is, alas, a less salubrious element to this prospective sequence of events, which is that, in short, Daws will be going toe-to-toe with that Lukaku chap – if we were partial to a flutter around these parts we would be jolly well be telling Ray Winstone that our weekly shilling will be on the hulking chap in blue. The chances of Monsieur Kaboul being drafted in seem remote, so Lloris had better be on top of his game and ready to mop up the mess that Daws will inevitably muddle himself into at some point.
Sooner or later one would expect Lamela and Eriksen to flick through their respective back-catalogues and stumble upon those lashings of awesomeness that prompted us to hurl around buckets of cash with such gay abandon this summer. The AVB mantra however, appears to be ‘Softly softly catchy monkey’ (or, more accurately, ‘The minor cup competitions for you young scamps’) when it comes to embedding these chaps into the lilywhite m.o. Presumably therefore Messrs Lennon, Townsend, Sigurdsson and Holtby will have a polite scuffle in the changing-rooms to decide who starts proceedings. These little games of starting line-up bingo do at least make for a fun distraction as the clock ticks down to kick-off.
Given our travails so far this season, and the healthy start made so far by our hosts, I must concede that the heart does not quite brim with sunny optimism ahead of this one, and as such I might grudgingly concede that a point would be adequate – but fie upon that, it blinking well feels like time our lot made a statement, and as mentioned, away days such as these ought to be viewed as an opportunity for three points.