1. THAT Goal
Hoddle-esque. Gazza-esque. A goal so good you would let it marry your daughter. Words cannot really do justice to the strike and technique itself, so instead I’ll waft over a couple of associated thoughts. The move in its entirety for example, had the jolly pleasing aesthetic quality lent to it by the fact that the ball did not touch the ground from the moment Kane swirled in his cross, to Eriksen’s cushioned header, to Alli’s one-two-three touch, swivel and shot.
On a separate note, young Alli must have one heck of a brand of confidence flowing through his veins, to even contemplate trying a gag like that. ‘Instinct’ seems to be the buzzword, but if he had had the general blues about his game, the way the match had treated him or life in general, he may well have looked simply to shovel the ball back whence it came and let someone else take responsibility. Mind you, he’s never exactly come across as a shrinking violet on the field.
One lilywhite chum messaged me to say that if you look at the ‘onrushing’ Palace defender tasked with blocking the shot, he decides against flinging himself body and soul into the path of the ball, and turns his back on the shot. Channelling his inner Vertonghen, if you will. Now this seems a rather joyless way to critique one of the finest ever lilywhite goals, but on watching the replay I take the point. Let’s not spoil the thing though, what?
2. Blur of Movement
Stepping out onto the balcony and taking a more panoramic view of things, this should go down as another cracking little win, one which hammers home the point that this 2015/16 vintage are not as green as they’re cabbage-looking. For a second consecutive week, the rasping injustice of falling behind in a game we were absolutely dominating was deemed nothing more than a minor inconvenience, and they ploughed ahead with the policy line of jinking one-touch passes around the opposition area. There is nothing particularly new to our heroes about having to work right from the first toot on breaking down two defensive banks of four – our reputation evidently precedes us. What brought a rosy glow to the cheeks on observing events unfold was the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed manner in which they set about the task yesterday.
There have been times in weeks gone by (at least one of the Leicester games, maybe Newcastle at home) when our attempts to penetrate the impenetrable have essentially been, when broken down into raw constituent parts, a series of sideways passes. Earnest and willing, but a little lacking in creativity – more akin to repeatedly shoving a blunt knife at a lock and hoping something will give. Yesterday however there was all manner of off-ball movement, right from the moment the curtain went up. This lent itself fairly naturally to the full range of slick, short, first-time passes; and the gist of the thing was that we buzzed around with intent throughout, and particularly in the first half. Worth lobbing an honourable mention for this week’s chosen full-backs too, who set up camp firmly in the final third of the field, meaning that we also had a cracking spread of busy options spanning the width of the field from right to left. And by extension, the weekly tip of the hat to Dier, whose immaculate positioning enables the attacking juices of the aforementioned full-backs to flow so liberally.
3. The Latest Team Tinkerings
While one broadly understands the gist of things when it comes to Pochettino scribbling down the names of the chosen ones, there are an increasing number of spicy little sub-plots bubbing away under the surface. The full-back hokey-cokey for one thing, and in recent weeks, the choice of Dembele or Carroll (which is hardly a contest at all, but became a matter of concern when the Belgian was returning to fitness). The latest tete-a-tete has been between young Sonny jimbo and Eric Lamela. Son’s bravura midweek performance earned him the nod, and I was jolly glad to see it , for te much-vaunted Lamela Resurgence of 2015-16 has yet to utterly convince in these four walls of the interweb. Yes he certainly beavers away with the right attitude, chasing back and scrapping for things like anyway Pochettino minion should, but the chap’s principal role is as one of our resident Magicians-in-Chief, and in this respect he always seems to underwhelm a tad. Son, however, seemed to work things out pretty quickly, and set out taking on his man and thumping in his shots tout de suite. Given the strength of Chadli’s late cameo as well, I wonder if Lamela has suddenly been bumped down the list of cabs on the rank.
Generally out glorious leader seems to enjoy a degree of structure to his life. Who knows, maybe he is the sort to neatly fold his clothes on a chair the night before, and opt for a couple of Weetabix every morning with a banana for elevenses. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, he tends to avoid tearing up the teamsheet and trying all manner of new and exciting permutations if a like-for-like substitution is available. A polite ripple of applause then, for his decidedly more proactive move yesterday when we were one down, in hooking the ever-dependable Eric Dier, instructing Dembele to operate ten yards further back, and introducing Chadli into the attacking maelstrom. Most obviously, Chadli duly created one, scored a beauty (and delivered an absolute peach of a crossfield ball in the dying moments); and more broadly, it left us with eight outfield players blessed with a natural urge to burst forward and create (plus two ball-playing centre backs).
On top of which, the Pocehttino applecart was duly upset further by the hobble sustained by Vertonghen, which meant that for the first time this season our sacrosanct centre-back duopoly was separated, and young Master Wimmer was introduced. He did well enough, in increasingly frantic circumstances, but certainly had a solid game vs Leicester in midweek.
5. Lady Luck
One to remember next time we don the sackcloth and ashes, and bemoan the way of the world – at one apiece Palace managed to slap the crossbar twice in around five seconds. Crumbs. Mind you, Alli gave the crossbar a hefty thwack himself, so for those who keep track of these things I suppose there is much to ponder.
In the final analysis however, this was a victory well earned, built on superiority rather than good fortune. The first half in particular was absolutely one-way traffic, punctuated only by that blasted own-goal; whilst our three goals were all, in their own ways, absolute snorters – and a five-point gap is now in evidence, between us and the fifth-placed mob.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
The Return of Dembele
Coincidence? Around these parts we certainly think not. For the last couple of weeks young Master Carroll has been hopscotching around the place, with pretty passes a-plenty and a very serious expression, which does not make him look any less like a 10 year-old but is noble enough. However, if a Dembele performance were to comprise pretty passes and hopscotch I think we could all legitimately worry that some deviant had stolen his very soul. The difference between a Spurs midfield powered (and I use the term in the loosest possible sense) by Carroll and one built on Dembele is pretty noticeable, and with the former traded for the latter we were back to winning ways. Yes he gave away free-kicks, and at times possession, but Dembele also shoved opponents aside and drove things forward. There will potentially be a time and a place for Carroll, and we all ought to get used to his waif-like frame as he is evidently one of the little brood of younglings that Pochettino is – creditably – trying to integrate into the big wide world. And N17 is after all the spiritual home of the pretty passer with lovely technique. However, the relief at seeing Dembele’s name back in the starting line-up was justified by his general air of belligerence throughout. Between him and Alli that notoriously soft and squishy Spurs underbelly is being given a few layers of reinforcement.
As the first half wore on, and Sunderland’s dogged 10-0-Defoe formation proved quite the immovable object, the AANP cogs started to whir out a point about Eriksen’s effectiveness – or lack thereof. Then he went and scored, and scored again, which rather showed me, but I will conveniently ignore the small matter of those two fairly critical goals, and hammer home the point anyway. The chap seems to have lost that alchemist’s touch in recent weeks, what? In games like this particularly, and in the opening exchanges vs Leicester (Cup) last week, when a sprinkle of subtlety was needed about the place as a matter of urgency, to thread a pass through the eye of a needle or some such jiggery-pokery, the chap’s creative juices seemed to run a little dry. In fact, he went down a notch further in the first half hour today, and started misplacing straightforward six-yard passes.
The goals, naturally were welcomed, and it would probably be the decent thing of me to let bygones be bygones and simply slap the chap’s back and ask about the health of his family, but where’s the fun in that? He does seem to have gone off the boil a tad in recent weeks. I don’t mind lobbing into the air the theory that this might be at least partially due to being nudged out of his spiritual home, slap bang in the centre. Dele Alli appears to have dibs on the Number 10 role, while Dembele, as mentioned, does a fine job prowling up and down either side of the centre circle. All of which seems to leave Eriksen forced to set up camp in an inside right or left position. It ought not to make a difference to the price of eggs for a player with his natural ability, but somehow things just aren’t quite right with his size nines. None of which would be too concerning, but there appears to be a sort of pattern to things at the moment, whereby we start a game like a team of wild horses unleashed, fail to get an early goal against a massed rank of defenders, and gradually allow the opposition more and more oxygen, damn their eyes. Someone somewhere needs to find a way to unlock a packed defence, lickety-split.
It would appear that the Brains Trust have not tired of their Christmas toy, a shiny new full-back mix-and-match kit. An interesting one this, as quite a few debates have been thrashed out amongst my chums this season weighing up the relative merits and concerns around our various right- and left-backs. It is not entirely clear to me whether Pochettino is selecting them on a suitability basis – horses-for-courses, if you will – or simply deciding that one-game-on, one-game-off is the decorous manner in which such things should be done, but either way the four in question are being kept on their toes. And then elbowed back to the bench.
So was Walker’s omission today his purgatory for the sins of just about every game in which he has ever played, when he has had that brain fade and gifted an opportunity to an opponent? Is Rose seen as the better option against weaker opposition because of his willingness to hare forward? But isn’t Davies just about doing exactly that anyway? Does it count for anything that young Trippier looks ever so slightly like a young, squashed up Wayne Rooney? Whatever the deep-lying narrative, all four of them seem to be pretty happy to have been given licence to slap the words “Gung-Ho” on their family crest and go flying up the flanks to provide 90 minutes of width to proceedings. Frankly it is dashed difficult to call a winner on either flank at the moment, and maybe that’s exactly the point. As sub-plots go, it is perhaps not quite on a par with Karl looking to avenge the death of his brother in Nakatomi Plaza, but nevertheless a useful conundrum has been added to the lilywhite mix.
Not wanting to sound like a broken record, but at some point before man colonises Mars will we need to rotate some of these chaps? Vertonghen, Alderweireld in particular (apparently the only game he’s missed all season was Arsenal in the Capital One Cup, which feels I’m pretty sure was played in black and white, it was so long ago), Dier and Kane seem to be reeled out come hell or high water.
There are no doubt associated risks with rotating, not least the likely drop in quality that they entail, what with every point being so vital. It is a truth fairly universally acknowledged that we simply do not have an adequate substitute for Kane; and the fleeting glimpses of Wimmer have not exactly screamed that he is such a watertight deputy for Alderweireld or Vertonghen that the casual viewer would fail to notice the difference. Moreover, the eagle-eyed will have spotted that there is only one of him, so half of the centre-back combo will always be required (in common with the club management, I am assuming that Fazio is absolutely the last option conceivable).
Dier, one would have thought, could be allowed an afternoon off at some point with Bentaleb wrapped up on the bench each week, but this does not seem to be the way that Pochettino butters his bread. I would guess that one of the centre-backs plus Dier will start again against Leicester in midweek, which is all well and good, but we still have half a season to play, and sooner or later these chaps’ limbs are going to start dropping off.
There is, I suppose, a counter-argument that these chaps ought to be perfectly capable of playing twice a week. It is, after all, what a Champions League season would require. I nevertheless would like to see the aforementioned quartet occasionally yanked out of the spotlight every now and then, because if a tendon snaps or some similar fate befalls then we won’t look half as clever. And even if all tendons maintain fine working order, mistakes will presumably creep in (Alderweireld, for example, looked a little more fallible than usual last week in the Cup against Leicester, and while Kane has been blessed with a natural expression of exhaustion, his recent performances have not been quite polished).
In closing however, and dealing again with the present moment, it was another good day at the office. The response to defeat last week and to falling behind today was as positive as we could have hoped. 4-1 was a fair reflection of the way the cutlery was laid out, and the goal difference continues to prompt rubbed eyes and double-takes from seasoned Lane-goers across the land. The Top Four remains realistic.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
1. Casting A Dubious Eye Over Tom Carroll
Carroll does have a dreamy touch, and if Premiership football were all about popping four-yard passes sideways, and backwards, and actually dispensing with boots and ball and just drawing pretty pictures of trees, then one suspects he would be revered far and wide as some sort of deity. But occasionally, the central midfield waltz seems to require hefty dollops of blood and thunder. Not to mention winning tackles, effecting clearances, tracking opponents and other fittings of similar ilk. And in these respects it seemed from my distant perch that Carroll was wafting his bat but missing the ball by a good foot or two, if you get my drift.
Now it may be that I have pre-judged the chap. You know how it is, you mark a blighter down as ‘nay’ rather than ‘yay’, and thereafter, even if he covers every blade of grass, and rescues a yelping maiden from a burning cottage for good measure, you still dock him points for messy handwriting. So maybe having knocked Carroll as a lightweight, waif-like, toothless, shadow of a lad by about the halfway stage, I may have been far too blinkered in my judgements thereafter. The TV folk certainly sung his praises, which rather goes to show.
But the moments that struck me were when he let Barkley wander past him and then wrapped his arms around him to give him a hug - rather than tackling him - to earn a booking; and when we broke on the left, he received the ball twenty yards from goal and produced from nowhere his best Jermaine Jenas impression by swivelling towards his own net and knocking it backwards fifteen yards to groans from across North London; and the astonishingly inept attempt at a clearing header late on, which bounced off the top of his head in a manner completely bereft of any control, to an Everton chappie who lashed a volley goalwards to draw an outstanding palm from Lloris. Rather a mouthful, but gist of the thing is that Carroll gives the impression of a boy who is only loitering there because his parents have forgotten to collect him.
A big day this, for those charged with keeping things under lock and key. Belgium are apparently the best national team in the world at the moment, which ought to have made today’s game about the standard of a World Cup final if you think about it, but irrespective of that curiosity Messrs Vertonghen and Alderweireld had a challenge and a half in front of them, in the shape of the considerable frame of Lukaku. Being the sort of chap who always struck me as likely to be completely at home diving head-first through a brick wall, our two centre-backs needed to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – and by and large they made a solid fist of things. Not all their own way, and the nerves rather frayed a bit towards the end when everything stretched and the pressure ratcheted up several notches, but he was shackled as well as such behemoths can be.
However, if there were one moment that had me uttering a few choice curses it was the goal we conceded. Well, naturally enough I suppose, but particularly Vertonghen’s role in it. I’m not sure he can be faulted for losing the initial header to Lukaku – let us not forget the capacity to headbutt brick walls and suchlike – but why the dickens did Vertonghen turn his back on Lennon as the latter took his shot? This man’s very bread and butter lies in the act of preventing exactly that by any legal means necessary, and he gets paid sackloads for the privilege. Fling every limb at him, dash it. Take one full in the face if you have to.
(While on the topic, it also struck me as a bit odd that Lloris grasped at the thing with his wrong hand (his left), but it seemed a fairly futile cause by that point in any case.)
3. Rip-Snorting First Half
Truth be told, these are relatively minor gripes, and ought not to form chorus and the first couple of verses when the whole thing is eventually committed to song. Our first half was akin to one of those runaway trains that one sees in action films of a certain era, but which never actually happen in real life. Hurtling along at a rate of knots, sparks flying and all sorts. That poor old Kane and Davies failed to strike oil with their respective long-range efforts is to be solemnly lamented, as Kane’s could not have been closer and Davies’ almost ripped the net from its frame. (Although as my old man, AANP Senior is never slow to point out, they only deserve credit if they were aiming for the woodwork.)
Even aside from the close shaves however, our heroes looked at the peak of their powers in the first half. It was as well as they had played all season. The goal conceded was a rotten injustice, but such is life I suppose, and to their credit they kept beavering away until the break. When they play thusly one really does think that they are capable of staying in the Top Four.
4. The Ongoing Ode to Dembele
Not to harp on again about the personnel who were picked in central midfield, but in a quiet moment tonight, as we swirl away our Sunday night bourbons and reflect on life, I suspect many a Spurs fan will wistfully think of what might have been had Dembele been growling around in the centre. Barkley had his moments, and the substitute they brought on had a bit of bite to him, but Dembele when in the mood can snaffle up such opponents like a bulldog chewing at a sausage roll. As the game wore on and Everton exerted more pressure, the heart yearned for yet another Belgian to enter the fray and start barging folk around.
5. Weary Limbs
Pochettino is evidently a man who knows his apples from his oranges, so I would not dare presume the right to criticise - but if I were to be so impertinent I would respectfully clear the throat in the direction of a little squad rotation. Preferably the sort that does not involve young Master Carroll. Our heroes looked a little jaded as events progressed and Act Three hurtled towards its denouement, and Everton almost profited. Something similar occurred a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle, when again the players looked bang out of gas. The brow furrow, what?
Chadli and Son were dutifully thrown on, but might a fresh pair of legs be in order in the engine room? Amidst the evening gloom one could pick out the frame of Bentaleb on the bench, and there might be worse ideas than introducing him for the closing stages, to ensure that angry flecks of spittle continue to fly until the end. Moreover, Harry Kane will sooner or later splutter to a halt and require roadside assistance, although one suspects that the Brains Trust are fully aware of the need to scratch this particular itch.
A closing sentiment? Wonderful, wonderful goal from Dele Alli – the pass, particularly the control, and the very smart execution. Ten festive points is a strong haul. Bonne année.