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Spurs 3-0 Norwich: Three Lilywhite Observations

1. Kane

Naturally enough much is made of young Master Kane, but on this particular corner of the interweb we tend not to focus so much on the chap’s bread-and-butter of thrashing the little thing into the net and jogging off to general acclaim. His link-up play, his strength, his work-rate – all pored over at various times within the dank four walls of AANP Towers, but his goalscoring I tend to take for granted.

It’s a wrong that ought to be righted, and yesterday’s second goal seems as good a prompt as anyway. When Dele Alli rolled him the ball there was a definite whiff in the air of something promising, but nobody in their right mind would suggest that chance of any description had been slapped on a plate and slid his way. There was plenty of work to be done, and plenty of opportunity for things to go awry.

All credit to the chap then, for plucking from thin air half a yard of space, by virtue of a little shift in balance and some nifty feet, and before either Norwich defender or goalkeeper had set themselves he had lashed the thing inside the post. Mighty impressive, in various respects. Hardly goal of the season, but a cracking self-made effort, which practically screamed “I’m a striker in form and feeling pretty perky about life, what?”

2. Set-Piece Routines

Our much-loved lilywhites are famed for many things, virtually bursting at the seams with tradition and all stuff of traditional ilk, but in one aspect we have been fairly painfully and conspicuously negligent over the years. I speak of the fad for set-piece delivery, and more specifically, for goals gotten by virtue of set-piece wizardry that is plucked straight from the training ground and imitated, just about verbatim, in the stadium itself during show-time. In years of watching our lot the only time I can remember this whole concept bearing any fruit was the Anderton-Sheringham two-step of a couple of decades back.

Well you can consider the 2015/16 vintage to be negligent no longer, for the Set-Piece Routine is emerging as a most pleasing additional shoulder-cannon in the armoury. Admittedly there was no such goal scored yesterday (I’m not sure that purists would consider a penalty to be a bona fide member of the set-piece club), but we came within about nostril hair’s breadth of one in the first half. And the eye-catching thing was that it was straight from the conveyor belt. Definitely a song-and-dance that I had clocked before. You probably know the one yourself by now – Eriksen whips in a corner with an extra dollop of venom, and one of Dier or Alderweireld gets the bit between their teeth and positively roars their way towards the front post to biff one from forehead towards netting before the opposition know what has hit them.

It seems to have brought about a good half-dozen freebie goals already this season, on top of which there have been a number of incidents such as that which occurred fairly early in proceedings yesterday, whereby the Eriksen-Alderweireld combo is rattled off but concludes only with a save of the smartest order from the opposition ‘keeper.

A moot point on all this, is how the devil we get away with it on a weekly basis. Every team in the Premiership seems to cart around at least a dozen supporting staff, and the TV coverage alone appears to record just about every conceivable statistic and angle, from the direction in which the striker parts his hair to the number of times the reserve full-back surreptitiously picks his nose while on the bench. It is beyond me therefore as to how on earth no opponent to date has either spotted or come up with a reasonable counter-measure to our devastatingly effective yet fairly straightforward corner routine. Not that I’m complaining mind, but it seems an odd one.

3. Showboating

Our heroes did a commendable job yesterday of first weathering an early jab or two from Norwich, and then turning the screw with two goals before half-time. The visitors could hardly be said to have run riot in the opening exchanges, but they certainly did wave their arms around and cause a spot of unrest, and concession of the opening goal would have complicated matters. Credit then to our lot for keeping the sheets clean in the first place, and thereafter not throwing away the lead, as has happened before.

Nevertheless, the curmudgeonly old crank in me still baulked a little at the sight of the fancy flicks and tricks being wheeled out when the beast still had more than a breath of life in it. Two-nil is not really the time at which to be slipping on a posh frock and playing for the cameras. Lamela’s latest rabona was actually excusable, as it made sense for a heavily left-footed type to twist himself accordingly, but the general gist of the thing was to party like it was 1999 and as if we were 5-0 up and cantering. I would much rather they collectively put their heads down and focused upon strangling the life out of things, dash it, by going four or five ahead, before breaking open the party bags.

But maybe that’s just me.

The usual suspects each earned their weekly honourable mention – young Alli once again linked the middle end to the front end with cunning and energy, and his natty combos with Kane seem to improve by the week (although one of these days he will get himself sent off for picking a pointless fight); and Lloris made a couple more blink-and-miss reaction stops. All told, it was a mighty satisfactory bottle of eggs. The pessimist within still mumbles about squad rotation and wonders if Eriksen could turn things up just a smidgeon, but these are worries for another day. A fine piece of work, and the Top Four remains eminently doable.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Spurs 1-2 Newcastle: 3 Lilywhite Observations

1. The Dembele-Shaped Hole

Carroll flitted around the periphery of things looking like a schoolboy, or a ballerina, or a schoolboy ballerina – and with about as much impact as any of the above. Where Dembele (the new improved version) would stick out his chest, grab the game by the scruff of the neck and power from deep straight through the centre of the thing, bludgeoning past all in his way be they friend or foe, Carroll, bless him, hopped and skipped and poked in an occasional dainty foot.

I probably ought to lob up a disclaimer at this juncture, for this is not meant to be a character assassination of the more general sort. I actually have a soft spot for the young pimple, in a Glenn Hoddle sort of way, as he has lovely feet and picks the occasional fruity pass. Something of the Huddlestone about him. (And that goal on Thursday was impudent and delightful in equal measure)

Bother and grumble however, today he started fairly ineffectually and his contribution diminished thereafter, to the point at which in the second half the only sightings of his waif-like figure seemed to be a yard behind the closest Newcastle player. It felt like playing with ten men, with a  hole slap-bang in the middle of the engine, which is a cause for concern because there will presumably be more days when Dembele is laid low between now and May. Young Carroll, I would venture, has slipped beyond Bentaleb and Mason in that particular rank of cabs.

2. Europa Fatigue?

Call me suspicious, but did anybody else notice a distinct air of energy levels sinking to ground level, and not stopping there but burrowing deep within the turf, in that second half? It may have been mental fatigue, it dashed well looked like they were physically spent, but for whatever reason the performance fizzled out entirely.

Neither midfield nor attack seemed capable of holding onto the thing in that second half, and Newcastle snapped up every loose ball going ahead of the nearest shell of a lilywhite. Bless their cotton socks, the poor lambs could barely stick one limb in front of the other by the conclusion, with a couple having to be scraped from the ground at the final whistle by those chaps who wander around afterwards poking the turf with their pitchforks.

Matters this season have revolved rather crucially around the screen in front of the back four. Alas, young Master Dier, the sort of young buck who at the best of times looks like he would rather like to pause events and take a few swigs of O2 to keep things ticking over, waddled around like a car stuck in mud today, second to too many loose balls, and misplacing passes as if in a competition to rack up as many as possible. This unfortunately set the tone for things around him, as nary an attempted through-ball from any one of our fabled attackers did the intended job of slicing up Newcastle like a knife through butter. In fact, more often than not, misplaced ten-yarders outside the Newcastle D tended to be the starting point of one of their counter-attacks.

Europa fatigue? C’est possible. Whatever the cause, our glorious leader needs to don his thinking cap and solve it, because this lot cannot sustain the all-singing, all-dancing, high-octane, full-throttle approach for 90 minutes twice a week until the end of the season.

3. Time for Fresh Legs?

The team has pretty much picked itself all season, barring a Davies here and a Son there, but whichever one of numerous staff in the dugout is responsible for ringing the bell that summons fresh pairs of legs ought to dust off his best suit, because his services are required pronto.

Bentaleb might have been shoved into the thick of things at some point today, to stick out an elbow, shout a rude word or two and generally ignite the thing like the cantankerous young pup he is. Given that he is now presumably fit enough, it might be peeling off the protective layers and playing him from the off in the coming weeks, if only in the interests of saving Dier from collapsing to his knees like the sorry chap in Platoon.

Kane too might be a candidate for an afternoon with his feet up and a good book, as his run of having played a competitive game every day since he was 4 years old stretches on. His spirit is certainly still willing enough, but today he was not quite the exemplar of hold-up play. Although I am not particularly convinced that any of Chadli, Lamela, Son or the boy Clinton are exactly the sort of centre-forward one would expect to roll off the conveyor belts at the factories that churn out these things, the festive fixture list will presumably see one of them don the cape and deputise for a game or two.

No need to don sackcloth and ashes just yet, but a few too many draws and now an awfully flat defeat have temporarily burst the bubble that was floating around the place. Such is life, but the first half was fairly sunny and spiky, and a return to such ways next weekend would cheer the soul no end.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

WBA 1-1 Spurs: 3 Lilywhite Observations

1. Lloris Worth A Goal A Game

Once upon a time, in the big, cuddly teddy bear days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name), there ran a theory in AANP Towers that between them, Paul Robinson and Ledley King (even blesseder be his good name) were worth a goal to us every game, by virtue of their last-ditch heroics. Not a particularly watertight theory, you understand, no randomized control trial or pivot tables or anything like that, but certainly one spouted with the greatest seriousness in the watering-holes of North London by yours truly.

Fast forward a decade or so, and a similarly evidence-lite theory is beginning to surface around Monsieur Lloris. We come to take these things for granted now, in this halcyon era of unbeaten runs and all-action pressing and whatnot, but last week against Chelski and yesterday, quite remarkably, against West Brom, he pulled off saves of the absolute highest order. Both of which seem to have drifted a little past the public consciousness, ensconced as they were in the midst of a couple of draws that ranked slightly higher on the huff-and-puff scale than on the corresponding blow-your-skirt-up-with-non-stop-pulsating-action axis. But the point remains – Lloris has done the preventative equivalent of scoring a sensational goal, in both of the last couple of games.

2. Absence Makes The Heart Grow A Mite Fonder

Those of you cursed to have been within muttering distance of yours truly last weekend would have had to put up with assorted grumbles along the general line of young Mason’s energy and enthusiasm are all well and good for general Premiership fare, but the blighter has always seemed to lack that dose of je ne sais quoi that elevates a man to the higher echelons of these things in the crunch fixtures. He certainly puts in a shift – last week being a case in point – but in the biggest games of the season simply tearing around the place is not sufficient. As a replacement for Dele Alli, in a game against the champions, the decisive spark he failed to provide. Hardly a damning criticism, more just the genera way of things.

Yesterday however, with Mason trussed up in swathes of bandages somewhere off-stage, it dawned on me as the second half wore on that by golly we could use some of that energy, bite and young incandescence with life, with which he typically bounds in either headless or head-bearing fashion.  West Brom were beginning to win every loose ball, and when even Eric Dier’s trademark trundle was failing to win us the 50-50s, the thought occurred that maybe we might have benefited from removing one of the front four, who deal more in sparkle and fancy trickery, and bringing on a man like Mason, who has somewhat more about him of the canine straining at the leash. Just to wrest back control of the thing.

All academic of course, but funny how absence makes the heart grow stronger in these situations.

3. The Centre-Backs – Only Human

In a train of thought that veered rather dramatically off the rails, I ended up last night wondering what the opposite of ‘invincible’ might be. Just plain ‘vincible’ seemed to tick the boxes, except that it’s not really a word, which seemed a fairly critical stumbling block. All of which came about as I observed Messrs Vertonghen and Toby going about their gainful employment yesterday.

No doubt about it, this pair are as solid and reliable a centre-back combo as we have trotted out in many a long year, but this is not to suggest that they are entirely without flaws. Witness the moment when Vertonghen was outpaced and then rather easily barged aside by a thundering opponent in the first half yesterday, after the pair of them failed to deal with a fairly unceremonious punt down the middle. Exhibit B was Toby’s decision to leave to the gods of the six-yard box a ball he could easily have cleared in the closing stages, presenting a chance for a West Brom winner that had Kyle Walker scrambling to hack the thing clear.

‘Only human’, as the chap said to Keanu Reeves towards the end of The Matrix, when holding a gun to his head, and it captures the gist of the thing about Vertonghen and Aldeweireld. A fine pair they are, but such has been our solidity at the back this season that it has been easy to forget that their little Flemish axis will occasionally be breached.

And maybe that’s the nub of the thing – few sides are pootling along in quite such fine fettle as our lot this season, but they are only human, and jolly young humans at that, so mistakes will be made. Back in August few of us dared to hope for much more than a top-five finish, so it would be remiss to chide them for failing to meet heightened expectations. They’re getting there. It remains ill-defined precisely where ‘there’ is, but they most certainly are getting there.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

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