1. “It Absolutely Will Not Stop…”
By golly that was relentless stuff, what? Sends you out with a song on your lips, to see a Tottenham team spend around 89 of their allotted 90 hammering away at the door. Having had two weeks off to sun themselves and whatnot, one would think the Swansea mob will need another fairly lengthy lie-down, not to mention a bracing snifter or two, because they were subjected to an absolute non-stop barrage today, the poor mites. I have not witnessed such an incessant pummelling since – well, truth be told we did something fairly similar a couple of days ago against Fiorentina, but nevertheless. Our heroes appear to be well and truly off the leash.
It was all akin to the relentless, remorseless, unflinching pursuit of a Terminator, except that rather being saved by a plucky chap from the future who happened to be his own father or some such gubbins, this time Skynet battered away until they won. Rather a shame for humanity, and it would leave the machines with little more to do than pootle along playing checkers with one another, but the thread of the thing is that having once resembled a gaggle of playful little lambkins, our heroes now rattle along with fire in bellies and the scent of blood in their flared nostrils. Which is by and large the stuff of you-know-whats.
2. Recovering From Losing Positions
Falling behind was not exactly in the game-plan, and the vaguely fortunate manner of the ‘assist’ one would have understood if our heroes had taken a minute out of proceedings to congregate in the centre and throw their arms aloft as one to bemoan their wretched luck.
Not a bit of it. These days, the hows and whys and wherefores seem not to matter to our lot, to the tune of 17 points rescued from losing positions so far this season. As such, the reaction to going one down was a collective up-rolling of sleeves, and muttered oath of re-commitment to Plan A, namely the incessant piling forward of every man and his dog, and slinging along the kitchen sink for good measure. Thirty-four shots on goal is testament to this, and whereas in previous weeks I have taken the liberty of politely clearing the throat when the topic of Final-Third Ingenuity is raised, this time the flow of events suggested that an equaliser was as inevitable as night following day.
3. Dembele-Replacement Techniques
The ongoing absence of Dembele no doubt threatens to send the Title challenge skidding fairly drastically off-course, for one cannot simply pluck such a beast from the midst of things and expect the regulars to continue nibbling the profiteroles and making polite small-talk. Mercifully, and without wanting to be too unkind to the chap, young Carroll is also off-radar at the moment with a broken thumbnail, so whereas Carroll-for-Dembele has been the curious default option of Pochettino in weeks gone by, ‘twas not an option today, ye gods be praised.
Moreover, instead of slotting in one of the more typical terrier types to do their best Dembele impression (a Bentaleb or Mason, if you will), Pochettino rather charmingly decided that precious little further back-four protection and midfield steel would be required today, and dispensing with all niceties about showing respect to the opposition and suchlike, he dropped Eriksen a little deeper, threw in Son and Lamela, and unleashed the battle-plan marked ‘All Guns Blazing, What?’
Naturally, here at AANP Towers such attack-minded fare was greeted with an eardrum-splitting thumbs up, and as it transpired it was a jolly successful ploy. The need for a Dembele-esque bulldozer was minimal, given that there was barely a midfield battle to be won – the gist of things instead following a pattern of lilywhite bombardment upon a ten-man Swansea defence.
Eriksen it seemed to me rather enjoyed skipping around in the deeper areas, his little grey cells ticking over as he slipped in weighted passes hither and thither, prodding for an opening. In tougher matches – this Wednesday away to West Ham for a start – I would guess that this attack-heavy approach might be weighted a little too heavily towards the gung-ho side of life, but today it did the necessaries.
On days such as these, when life ticks by in a never-ending string of Tottenham attacks, it is easy to neglect the poor chaps at the other end, who silently plod along keeping everything just so, but by golly we owe a debt and a half to Monsieur Lloris today. In truth we owe him just about every game, but the saves he so delightfully modelled at either end of proceedings were a gentle poke in the ribs to all observers, reminding us that any binge at the Title requires a fairly nifty guardian of things at the uncomfortable end.
And there’s the rub, if you stop and squint at it. Six wins in a row, eleven games left, and so on and so forth. I rather fear that the six-game winning streak might cough and splutter somewhat, away to West Ham on Wednesday, but who knows? There are fewer better places to be on this mortal sphere than sitting on the shoulder of the leader as we rumble into the finishing straight.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint
1. Who’s a Naughty Boy?
Every man and his dog in the television studios greedily lapped up the opportunity to pontificate like there was no tomorrow over Dele Alli’s latest indiscretion, and in truth one can understand it. The seasoned lilywhite observers will no doubt be well aware of young Master Alli’s penchant for the naughty. The furtive elbow into the ribs here, the trailing leg there and a generally irresistible urge to start a push-and-shove with anyone in the vicinity at least once per game.
Those of us who have been brought up on a strict diet of powderpuff Tottenham midfielders who can spray a delightful pass but would rather run for the hills than go crunching into a 50-50 will frankly be delighted with the attitude of young Alli. The last thing anyone wants is for the chap to retreat into his shell and pootle along in the shadows of each game – and in all honesty the chances of that actually happening are just about nil. More than likely, we will probably have to resign ourselves to the fact that every now and then Alli will be yanked aside by an eagle-eyed ref and told in no uncertain terms to remove himself from proceedings. So be it, for as anyone who has ever stared up at a guillotine will know, there comes a time in life when you just have to take the rough with the smooth. (Whether I will be quite so sanguine when picking up the pieces of his red cards is another matter). On a related note – worth a wager, for those who are that way inclined, on the fellow getting himself sent off at the Euros, what with the continental referees and all that nonsense.
2. Confidence – A Preference to the Habitual Voyeur
I have not paid too much attention to the vagaries of Italian club football since the halcyon days of Gazza, Winter Signori et al, to the glorious soundtrack of “GOOOOOOLAAAAAZZZZOOOOO” back in the early ‘90s. As such I have absolutely no idea what sort of standard Fiorentina are these days, or the strength of their XI that toddled out. Either way, it was pretty striking that until the (dashed fortunate) equaliser our heroes looked relatively comfortable. In the first half in particular we looked every inch the home side, such was our level of possession, and confidence on the ball. Given that we started similarly against City on Sunday, it did make me wonder, when exactly was the last time we played an away match in the traditional style of an away team? The point I’m harping about is that it seems a further testament to the progress of our heroes, that irrespective of opposition, venue or general prevailing social norms, even as an away team they tend to yank hold of initiative, confidence positively coursing through the veins, and just strut about like they own the place.
3. Protection for the Back-Four & The Bentaleb Scenario
For all that first half dominance, there were nevertheless a couple of occasions when Fiorentina worked their way jolly close to our goal, even at nil-nil and nil-one. The usual Dier-shaped protection that hovers in front of (and alongside) the back-four was rather conspicuously absent, and neither Mason nor Carroll quite delivered the same meaty chunks of goodness. There is no parallel universe in existence in which the replacement of Carroll with Dembele is a bad idea, and naturally enough the latter’s demonstration of muscle proved a marked contrast to the neat, tidy but lightweight bits and bobs of the former. Nevertheless, the point was made – Dier reaches the parts that various other central midfielders cannot.
Amidst all this the absence of Bentaleb was a curious one – it may be that he was simply injured? But if not, conspiracy theorists the world over will be shelving their moon-landing projects and tucking into the Great Bentaleb Disappearance story instead.
Pochettino for all his lovely cuddliness evidently does not suffer fools gladly, so it may be that Bentaleb has fallen foul of the law. Obviously heaven forbid that anyone should question the judgement of the great man, but it would be a wistful AANP who digested such a decision, if indeed such a decision has been made, because Bentaleb bears his canines with a darned sight more menace than Mason or Carroll when patrolling in front of the back line.
Cruise control was rather rudely interrupted in the second half, by that deflected goal. It would be rather rich of us to complain about bad luck after Sunday’s events, but nevertheless we are probably entitled to take thirty seconds out of our rigorous daily routines to feel sorry for ourselves for the manner in which that equaliser looped in. Somewhere in the mists of time, Paul Parker and Peter Shilton are no doubt offering sympathetic inclines of the head.
That said, Mason could have broken into a gallop and worked up a full-blooded body-fling in an attempt to prevent the shot; and while Vorm’s travel bag is no doubt full to the brim with benefit of the doubt proffered from all sides, I am inclined to think he might have done better than that tangled flap. But then here at AANP Towers we always did prefer the stick to the carrot.
Once the goal was scored the match changed fairly dramatically. Credit to our heroes for weathering the initial storm that followed, and as the game edged towards its final toot events panned out in a manner that could be appropriately described as ‘To and Fro’, but the whole binge was far less comfortable than it might have been. Without exactly being overrun, we could well have lost the thing.
5. The Attack
For all the energy, and confidence, and possession, and all those similarly positive epithets that seem to be plastered over our every performance these days, the nagging concern remains at AANP Towers that when it comes to the final third, our lot are still one or two kippers short of a full English breakfast. An attempt was made to beef things up in the closing stages by bringing on Kane for Son, but it’s the supply-line as much as the anointed striker - we still lack a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to carving up an opponent as if gutting a fish. The occasional neat diagonal pass does not an irresistible force make.
In fact, the majority of our attacking thrust comes from any of our four full-backs, and Davies and Trippier certainly flew the flag with gusto today, at least when on the front foot. Davies’ latest forward burst brought a penalty, and by the end of the game Trippier appeared to be our principal attacking outlet, pitching up every sixty seconds or so on the corner of the opposition penalty area with a cheery wave, ready to whip in his latest offering.
6. “Vital” Away Goal
It is, of course, a legal requirement that any away goal scored in the first leg of a European tie is automatically classified as “vital”. Non-vital away goals simply do not exist. Which makes it all the more regrettable that the whole fabric of the European away-goal continuum could have been broken if we had capitalised upon our opening hour serenity by pilfering a couple more away goals, rendering them all non-vital, and turning things into a straightforward three-goal lead to defend at the Lane.
I’ll start again. In the grand scheme of things, one-one away from home can be greeted with cautious optimism, but this does feel rather like doing things the traditionally Tottenham way. Advantage lilywhite, but plenty of perspiration still to go. The nifty squad rotation was a qualified success, but next week will be no cakewalk and so on and so forth. You get the gist.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
1. Dreamland (For Now)
As my ill-treated cardiovascular system desperately creaked its way through those wretched “four minutes” of injury-time, I noted today – and not for the first time - that watching Spurs will presumably one day be the death of me. Having been in something approaching rude health at kick-off (a brief social binge to Malta will do that to a man), by minute 94+ I was little more than a slab of meat slung over a chair, fingernails gnawed into submission, and oxygen collected only by the most rudimentary gasps that sounded like a radiator from a bygone era.
A nerve-shredding finale, is what I’m driving at, but heavens above, take a step back and look at the end-product. For the first time in my life - and presumably a decent percentage of lives of the wider Spurs-supporting public - we can dare to dream about the title. Probably not much more than “dare to dream” at this stage, what with the night of a thousand Cup ties waiting to hurl our way key injuries and whatnot, and plenty of meaty league fixtures still standing in our way with folded arms and menacing scowls.
But nevertheless. Only one team in the country would not sidle up to us behind closed doors and surreptitiously offer to trade their position for ours. Twelve games to go, the final straight if you will, and we sit on the shoulder of the leader. Probably best to enjoy the moment, what?
2. A Different Breed These Days
It’s been said many a time in recent weeks and months, but this Tottenham vintage truly is a group that knows how to fry their eggs. A tad short on final-third wizardry they may have been, but in all other areas they functioned like a team of particularly well-oiled robots, rather like in corking 70s flick Westworld before (spoiler) they all went loopy. Ball lost? No problem, ball won back. By about half the team functioning in unison. Tight spot? A moot concern, for in a blur of white movement several players avail themselves – or Dembele just turns and turns again until the spot is considerably more airy. And so on.
All a mite deceptive admittedly, because in a first half that strangely resembled a giant game of moving chess, City actually made the better of the chances. That said, it was still encouraging to see the general control and composure being wafted around by our heroes in a game of this magnitude.
However, what really sent the mustard flying was the fact that City reacted to the injustices of life by flicking the switch marked “Warp Speed” and raising their game approximately eleven hundred notches, our heroes absolutely refused to curl up and die like so many of the insects from that experimental period in my primary school days. Whereas Spurs teams in just about every season I have ever watched would ultimately capitulate, gloriously or otherwise, somehow this lot clung on. And then went and won the bally thing.
3. The Lamela Pass, The Eriksen Finish
All season long, over in this corner of the interweb we have viewed the supposed Lamela renaissance with a fair degree of suspicion. The blighter undoubtedly works hard, but moments of creative magic that make one go weak at the knees have tended to be in fairly short supply, and if the chap isn’t doing that then what the heck, if you get my drift.
But credit where due. For whatever reason, those City players in the vicinity did not seem unduly concerned when he sauntered forward, and simply ushered him further into the meat of the thing. So further he duly biffed, before delivering something of a pointed gesture to all his doubters, by threading a delicate pass that could not have had more cheek if it had pulled down its trousers and waggled its exposed posterior. Well weighted, well-targeted and through the legs of a defender for good measure.
On top of which, the resurgent Eriksen appears to have picked up a thing or two about applying a cool coup de grace when the occasion merits. To this untrained eye it appeared at first that the chap had got the thing muddled in his feet, but instead, with all the cunning of a particularly Machiavellian fox he was simply inviting the monstrous Joe Hart to over-commit, before dabbing the ball past him. Slyly done.
And doesn’t he just have the happiest smile when he scores?
In a state of affairs that rather typifies the season, it seems a little inappropriate to single out one chap or another, for this was one of those occasions in which all eleven seemed to blend into a single, slightly compact beast. (Albeit a beast that had a Danny Rose in lieu of a left arm.)
That said, I have absolutely zero problem in contradicting myself in the blink of an eye by singling out several of them. The young chap Wimmer for a start. Rather sharp intakes of breath greeted the sight of Vertonghen being led off Stage Left a few weeks back, but Wimmer has done an admirable job, against some of the sharper tools in the striking box, and it was another intelligent performance from the oddly-shaped Austrian, particularly in the frantic dying embers.
Young Walker was another one who caught the eye. Up against Raheem Sterling he was happy enough to sacrifice the usual upfield gallivant, and instead put all his eggs in the basket marked ‘Deal With That Sterling Blighter’. And then he threatened to ruin it all in the closing stages of the match by unleashing his best Kyle Walker impression and repeatedly tapping the ball to the nearest opponent whilst falling over and generally endangering everything for which we had worked so hard, but isn’t that just part of his charm?
Rose, in the first half in particular, also caught the eye, albeit in the more traditional role of the ultra-attacking full-back (a phrase which comes dangerously close to making no sense). With everyone else in lilywhite jostling to cram themselves into a narrow strip of turf through the centre of the pitch, young Rose seemed to be high on a diet of 80s action heroes and spent the first half in particular getting so caught up in everything that he was quite possibly quipping one-liners with each piece of involvement. If he wasn’t blocking shots by throwing his body full-length at the thing at one end, he was pelting volleys off his own at the other, and so on.
7. Lady Luck
And so to the elephant in the room. As one of the more blinkered, one-eyed, Spurs-tinted spectacle-wearers, my take on the penalty is relatively predictable. However, one or two sages from various ends of the interweb have pointed out that Lady Luck does not look kindly (nor, evidently does Mark Clattenberg) upon multi-million pound footballers who attempt to block a cross by turning their backs on it. Had young Sterling taken a leaf out of the Danny Rose 80s Action Handbook every man and his dog would tonight instead be debating whether Yaya, Yaya Yaya might have got away with a bookable offence or two.
Thus ends one of the best weekends we have had in a while. The next few days at AANP Towers will be spent gazing lovingly at a picture of the Premiership table. The bubble may well burst in time, but for now this is absolutely rip-roaring stuff.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
Amongst they many sunny innovations introduced by our glorious leader into N17 is the fact that when it comes to attacking, just about every man and his dog is heartily encouraged to fasten his bayonet, clear his throat and charge straight in. Admittedly Monsieur Lloris is excluded from all the fun, but at any given time we have at least seven men sniffing blood and yowling at the moon. That Kane and the three behind him will be primed to attack is a given, and Dembele is never particularly averse to puffing out his chest and bulldozing forward; but with Eric Dier obediently filling in as a third centre-back whenever we are in possession, licence is also duly granted to the full-backs to go hurtling forward at the merest whiff of an attack. (The casual reader ought to be made aware at this point that the strategy of employing a defensive midfielder to act as a locum third centre-back was first introduced by AANP on Championship Manager in the late ‘90s - albeit to slightly less devastating effect than the current Spurs vintage, as relegation was only avoided on the final day of the season as I recall.)
Back in the realms of the real world, young Messrs Davies and Trippier duly got stuck in like a pair of kids granted the bonus of opening a present on Christmas Eve of all things, as neither could be restrained from tearing forward into the final third. Davies in particular scurried forward like a man possessed, channelling is his inner Bale to set up camp in a position about twenty yards from the Leicester by-line, and the afternoon quickly became notable for the sight of him haring off into the area at approximately every thirty seconds.
Not that this gung-ho spirit alone was sufficient to win the game, cure cancer and end global poverty, for Davies’ final ball still tends to miss as well as hit – but no doubt about it, the mere presence of a left-back galloping at them in fifth gear undeniably had the Watford back-line exchanging worried looks, as if to say to one another “What ho!”
A dashed shame that Davies’ forays brought little more than wistful groans from the crowd, for he deserved more. Merrily however, out on t’other flank, Trippier similarly took the hint and, having waved a cheery ‘Adieu’ to his chums in the lilywhite back-four, he spent the afternoon making himself at home in the role of de facto winger, flying forward as the right-sided member of our attacking septet. Clearly such things have an addictive edge, for not content with the role of flying winger he then went the whole hog and turned himself into a Number 9, poaching from inside the six-yard box. Young people will do such things. All a far cry from my days as an eminently forgettable schoolboy right-back when any journey north of the halfway line required a brief lie-down to cope with the drama of it all, but Pochettino knows his apples from his pears, and this season every outfield player is buying into the notion that ‘Someone has to score, dash it, so why not get involved?’
Mind you, it’s a good job that young Trippier did indeed take time out from the day-job to treat us to his Gary Lineker (circa 80s-90s) impression, because nobody else seemed to have solved the riddle of putting ball in net. Apparently we pinged in 26 shots during the course of yesterday’s binge – 26! - which really begs the question of what on earth is wrong with our heroes’ radars. Admittedly Gomes in the Watford goal was in elastic mood, but nevertheless. One goal from twenty-six shots is the sort of thing that ought to have the whole lot of them queueing up at the confessional. It is more of a side-note than a grumble, but it occurred to me as Watford won their first corner, with about ten minutes remaining, that by that stage the thing really ought to have been tucked up in bed with a soothing lullaby, rather than still hanging in the balance.
4. Lamela – Chadli
Pochettino comes across as far too good an egg to do anything as naughty as make rude gestures or anything similarly dastardly, but I do wonder whether he might have aimed a meaningful look at one or two observers, as he handed in his teamsheet. A fair amount of hot air and ink has been invested in questioning the depth of our squad this season (not least in these quarters, I should probably admit), but having made a habit of swapping his full-backs around like ping-pong balls under paper cups in some sort of magic trick, our glorious leader took his squad rotation to a new level yesterday by fiddling with the knobs and dials further up the pitch. Out went Dele Alli and Sonny Jimbo, and in came Lamela, the furry rodent that sits permanently atop Lamela’s head and Nacer Chadli.
Lamela and Chadli both did adequately enough without exactly leaving grown men quivering in speechless delight, but the proof of the pudding was in the scoreboard at around 16.52 GMT, and as such we can laud a selection well tinkered. Dele Alli was given some extra time to catch his breath and post on social media, or whatever it is the young folk do these days, and the world was reminded that there are plenty of ensemble members willing and able to slot into the spots behind the front man. And that, in as many words, is just about the point of squad rotation, no?
With Dembele having already had an enforced break this season, and young Wimmer having marked his replacement of Vertonghen with consecutive clean sheets, it appears that squad depth is not necessarily quite the headache that one had anticipated when the clocks went back a few months ago. Indeed, the only chaps whose services seem to be required come hell or high water are Dier (either in midfield or, in the Cups, at centre-back) and Kane. One does not really want to contemplate the consequences of a long-ish term absence of the latter, so we just won’t. The point is, changes can be made but our spine remains strong and the incoming personnel seem capable enough.
5. Second In The League!
And by golly, just look where we are now! Some may suggest that we have been here before, and there would be a modicum of truth in the claim – but not in mid-February, what? At the time of writing we are still at least five points clear of fifth, and still, bizarrely, in with a sniff of the title. Which is simply not a thing I ever thought would happen in my lifetime. My head currently says third, the minimum now must be fourth, and, absurdly, we have an outside shot at the title. A head-scratcher for sure. But given that at the start of the season I had realistically suggested fifth, there already seems reason enough to start sharpening the knives and throwing pointed glances in the direction of the fattened calf. Just about every Spurs fan I know has that sentiment of part-gloom, part-realism deep within their core, and consequently we are all fairly adamant that there something will go wrong between now and mid-May – but I am quite happy to worry about that at the appropriate time. For now, second in the league is a splendid way to end the weekend.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.