Admittedly only a friendly, but nevertheless one of those jamborees to have you climbing a rooftop and ringing a bally great big bell. A performance and comeback with an almighty amount of biff, and against no lesser opponents than the world champions, this felt like one to get the rowdier members of the parish council standing up and paying heed.
1. Tottenham Core
During an international break it takes a particular breed of toothsome fruitiness to stir AANP from the wine cellar, but the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the quill has indeed been applied to parchment. At the nub of the thing is a sentiment that cannot have escaped every beady eye – namely that the best England performance in a month of Sundays was founded upon a core of players that had a distinct lilywhite gloss to them.
The high pressing, high-tempo approach to life, which just about throttled the life out of the Germans, will have looked mighty familiar to anyone who has pootled along the roads of N17 in recent months. This, oddly enough, was an England team playing the image of Tottenham. Every time they lost the ball they swarmed as one to win it back, looking every inch like a team of excitable beasts let off the leash, and having served Spurs to the point of a Title-pop this season, the same recipe dashed well appeared to put the World Cup winners to the sword.
As if to add a pinch of subtlety to the comparison, this England team was fashioned from a backbone of Dier, Alli and Kane, who pretty much set the standard for things by putting into effect a meaty combo of ball-winning, harassment and some gloriously slick interplay. This Spurs core, right down the centre of the pitch, set the tone, and while it struck me that Henderson, Lallana, Welbeck and chums were not quite charging their glasses with quite the same gusto, they certainly got the gist of things.
2. Back Four (And In Particular The Centre-Backs)
So when piling forwards our heroes certainly seemed braced for matters, cane in hand and hat tipped just so, but at the back one could not help feeling a less enthused by matters. The first goal was to a large extent just the way the cookie crumbles, what with poor old Butland having to alternate between broken ankle and unbroken ankle for an unfortunate minute or so. A black mark against young Dier, it should be noted, in failing to prevent the Kroos shot, but in the grand scheme of things this was not one to bring civilisation to its knees.
The second goal, however, was a different kettle of fish, not least because it was of the ilk that England seem to concede so dashed regularly. Against Balotelli and Suarez in the World Cup I seem to recall relatively straightforward balls into the area causing no end of bedlam within our back four. And as sure as night follows day, on Saturday night the England centre-backs again paraded around like toddlers in blindfolds, befuddled to within an inch of their lives by the combination of leather orb and lurking top-notch attacker. Not an easy task for them, granted, but progress in an international tournament will require a somewhat tighter padlock around the rear entrance, because Europe’s finest do not hang around for a snifter and cigar when presented with half a sight of the England net.
3. The Rooney Conundrum
Pop into your video box a flashback to Euro 2004 and its qualifiers, and I dare say you will rub your eyes in a heightened state of wonder, near enough agog at the sight of a young Wayne Rooney tearing through various European defences like a young bull doing his best to destroy a china shop in double-quick time. Fast forward a few birthdays, and Rooney’s performances tend to veer a little closer to ridiculous than sublime. The occasional eye-goggling volley does certainly ping into the top corner with the sweetness of a ripened nut, but as often as not the chap’s first touch seems to have packed its travel bag and wandered off for an extended sabbatical.
Given the general aplomb with which the England front five (or so) swagger this way and that as they go about their lawful business, one spots the issue at a pretty nifty rate of knots. This England attack is dashed well primed, with Alli behind Kane, pacy options in the wider areas and substitutes offering various combinations of speed and trickery. Barrelling Rooney into the midst of this is rather like attempting one of those awkward long-division sums as a child, that ends up with an answer of 17 but with a calamitous remainder of 13 or so, that just causes headaches whichever way one stares at the paper.
All eyes then on wise old Corporal Hodgson, who on the one hand has pledged understandable allegiance to his captain – who did after all make a habit of finding the net during the 100% qualifying campaign – but on the other hand will not be oblivious to the strengths of this new-look, all-singing, all-dancing England.
One notable addendum to this is the fact that despite his appearance as a kindly grandfather with no particular clue about how to operate the remote control, Hodgson does actually have a history of turning his baseball cap back to front and making some eye-catching calls. Cast your minds back to the last World Cup, and when James Milner appeared to offer the safety-first option in our opener against Italy, Hodgson inked himself a tattoo on his arm, moodily answered back to his parents and threw Raheem Sterling into the thick of the thing. The chap, it seems, moves in mysterious ways his team selections to perform.
1. Fast Start
No time to bed in and have a few early sighters, not with our lot. The opening toot of the whistle was the signal for the hounds to be released, and before one even had time to pour a stiff something into a tumbler and give it a swirl, young Kane was already racing away to dish out back-slaps and “What hos”.
Many a sage has trotted out the slightly peculiar adage that the best time to score is just before half-time – I’ll be pickled if I know quite why – and there certainly can be occasions when an early goal actually has a negative effect – disrupting game-plans, spurring on the opposition etc (I’m looking at you, England-Germany in Euro ’96).
But on this occasion a goal in the opening 44 seconds was happened to be the exact scribbling on the doctor’s prescription, absolutely verbatim. This Sunday kick-off business by and large means that every time we kick off we are already a decent glug behind Leicester in the timetable, and the tension around the place was lingering in a none-too-healthy way as the clock ticked down to 4pm today – so credit in abundance to Messrs Walker and Kane for coming up with the idea of scoring in the first minute. For thereafter our lot oozed confidence, Bournemouth looked like a team who would willingly run for the hills if the laws of the game allowed such things, and the whole jamboree resembled a fairly breezy cakewalk.
2. Top-Notch First Half
The first half was very much the stuff of the new-look, consistent and effective Tottenham. A world away from the Spurs who made my childhood such dashed agony, it appeared that confidence, rather than perspiration, oozed from the pores, as our heroes kept the ball for what seemed like full ten-minute stretches at a time and ground down the opponents with relentless efficiency. The full-backs set up camp alongside the midfielders, chances were carefully created, every man in lilywhite bobbed along with a spring in their step and all was right with the world.
Understandably enough the energy and enthusiasm dials appeared to be turned down considerably in the second half, as frankly the first half contained so many spoilers that we all knew how things would turn out fairly early on. And as our heroes dozily toyed with Bournemouth in the second half, every inch as flies to wanton boys, the thought struck me – ought we to have demonstrated the more clinical edge, of say a City or Chelsea of yesteryear? In their title-winning pomp, City have not simply gone through the motions in such instances, but instead put opponents to the sword and racked up five, six, seven.
Or did it make more sense simply to do as our lot did, take no risks, avoid any over-exertion, and simply see the thing out? Given that our goal difference is already comfortably superior to the other mobs, there is a strong case to be made for suggesting that our heroes got things absolutely spot on today. Three nil with minimal effort is more than enough at this stage of the thing.
Not a criticism, you understand, more of an idle musing as things wound down in the latter stages. (Although during those latter stages, we still came dashed close to scoring one of the goals of the season – that moment with the nifty Eriksen footwork and a few one-touch passes, before Alli got himself in a muddle and shot wide.)
With the game up before the hour mark, the next point of interest was the substitutes’ bench, as seasoned people-watchers subjected Pochettino to the usual scrutiny. I must confess I found myself raising an intrigued eyebrow as his first action was to give young Lamela the hook, particularly as the game was won. With Dier having been an injury doubt beforehand, and Alli, Demebele etc fairly critical to the upcoming denouement, it surprised me a smidge that one of the supporting cast was deemed ripe for plucking.
Still, Pochettino has demonstrated many a time and oft that he knows his apples from his oranges, so I will graciously allow him the benefit of the doubt. He will, no doubt, be thrilled.
4. What Now For Full-Back Rotation?
There are few sights in nature more eye-catching than young Kyle Walker flicking the switch to Turbo and absolutely steaming forward 50 yards to join an attack, and having struck oil with his very first foray he remained in the mood throughout.
The routine of swapping him and Rose for Trippier and Davies appears to have worked well enough, ensuring that all of them have enough puff in their lungs for their weekly assignment – but with our heroes now having been unceremoniously elbowed from European competition, I am intrigued to see what the official party line will be for full-backs in the coming weeks. There is now but one game a week, yet Pochettino is a man who will swap his full-backs if his own life depended upon retaining the same ones. An interesting little sub-plot, and for what it’s worth I think he will stick with Walker-Rose as the games tick by and push meets shove.
5. Vindication for Rotation
On the subject of rotation, Pochettino is far too polite a sort to brag, but having been subjected to various snuffles of disapproval (not least from within the four walls of AANP Towers) for abruptly deciding to wave the white flag at Dortmund in the last few weeks, our glorious leader will presumably allow himself a discreet nod of satisfaction that the resting of various luminaries in midweek paid off so handsomely this afternoon.
Credit where due, and if our lot do indeed wave the shiny thing around come May, nobody will care two hoots about squad rotation in Dortmund.
6. Wimmer Tribute
The whispers from behind the bike-shed suggest that Jan Vertonghen will be ready to burst back onto the scene, singing, dancing and looking immaculately coiffured, after the international break. Should that be the case he would, naturally enough, be welcomed back with a manly handshake and possibly a rugged back-slap, but if events should indeed transpire thusly, it seems only right to pay a brief but heartfelt tribute to his young deputy, Kevin Wimmer.
Despite appearing oddly like he ought to be wearing a tux and playing the bassoon in an orchestra somewhere, the chap has managed to put barely a foot wrong in the last few months. When Vertonghen limped off against Palace there were furrowed brows across N17, as we wondered whether our Title push was limping off with him, but Wimmer has patrolled the grounds with considerable aplomb.
There are ten others who can justifiably feel a tad miffed at having not had their five minutes here at AANP Towers tonight, for this was a top-notch stuff throughout the team. Sterner tests await no doubt, but while we could not win the league today, we could well have lost it had things gone South today. A most professional performance to take us into the international break. Merry Easter one and all.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint
1. A Dampish Squib
I suspect I was not the only one who, as matters progressed yesterday, found myself murmuring “Not so good, not so good.” The opening salvos were dished out well enough, and the ten-minute spell after the red card obviously had us all leaping from our seats like men possessed. Those shimmers aside however, this was decidedly not one that will have us gathering the grandchildren around the knee in decades to come.
The hows and whys of this particular dampish squib will require a fair amount of head-scratching and chin-stroking from our glorious leader. As mentioned, our heroes appeared to have the basics right in the opening few moments – facing the right way, stringing the passes along, slapping a few long-range efforts towards the chap in goal – but none of it was of the ilk to blow up anyone’s skirt. For all the scurrying and scuttling, we just weren’t getting anywhere.
And then before you knew it, we were one-down, it was the second half, and the concept of bludgeoning our way back into the game seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s minds. The brow furrowed.
Mercifully, that horrible lot from down the road had included in their ranks The Village Idiot, and his suitably dim-witted departure was more or less the equivalent of politely opening the door, waving us through, taking our coats from our shoulders and offering a glass of champagne. We could not have been ushered back into the game more agreeably, and at 2-1 with 20 minutes to go against ten men the thing really ought to have been beyond question.
But it wasn’t, and we didn’t, and so on and so forth. Consensus seems to have landed somewhere between ‘Fatigue’ and ‘Nerves’, which is fair enough on both counts. But nevertheless. This was not just supposed to be a toe-to-toe, tentative jabbing sort of affair. This was supposed to be the one in which we ripped Arsenal limb from limb and laughed manically at their bloodied torsos, then marched on irresistibly towards Leicester.
Moreover, I can fairly decidedly mark a big black cross across the phrase “Rotten Luck”, because if anything the gods of these things more or less nodded more in our direction. The goal-line technology moment could broadly be classified as a mite unfortunate, given that around eight ninths of the ball were behind the line, but rules is rules and the incident was little more than a footnote.
Instead, one might fairly validly point out that if the chappie had not got his red card we would probably have continued huffing and puffing all night to no avail. The advantage bestowed was certainly not one of our making.
On top of which, young Master Dier did rather well to keep his head down and wander off into the crowds when caught red-handed, on CCTV and in front of a global audience of near enough a billion. Admittedly one or two others also appeared to escape second bookings – but the gist of the thing was that our luck was decidedly in. And still, we talked our way out of a victory.
Perhaps symbolic of how oddly uncooked they all looked was the performance of Monsieur Lloris. By and large one of the finer purveyors of such things, he pootled along sensibly enough yesterday until given his first significant piece of work – at which point he managed no more than to flap a soggy hand at the source of trouble, and the ball skidded and scuttled its way through almost apologetically.
On a related note, both yesterday and against West Ham, Lloris’ general attitude towards any backpasses nudged his way was to tapdance around the thing and invite all manner of trouble, which does no end of mischief to the constitution of those watching. It is absolutely beyond me why the chap cannot perform absolutely flawlessly for every single minute of every single occasion he plays for us.
4. Bright Spots
A tradition here at AANP Towers in the late hours of a weekend is to pour a glass of bourbon and muse on the standout lilywhite performances of the weekend, but this evening the task is by no means straightforward. The whole thing was oddly lacking in ripsnort, and as a result, of standout performers there are few.
Dembele certainly rolled around the pitch with the languid air of a man fully aware that he is a couple of levels ahead of the rest, but otherwise there were slim pickings. Rose was a self-contained conundrum, pounding forward enough to cause opposition concern, but invariably slapping his crosses against the nearest defender. The back-four dealt with the move which led to Arse’s second with all the alacrity of an elite group of napping elephants, and further up the pitch the whizz and bang of weeks gone by was a little lacking. It was no disaster, but all a mite underwhelming, given building the pre-match crescendo.
5. Kane goal
A dashed shame that Kane’s goal will be lost within the detail, because that was arguably the best of his lot so far. It reminded one of a cocky young sailor stepping ashore and sweeping the nearest young maiden off her feet – and the place duly erupted as if they had witnessed a North London derby winner of the highest order. Oh that the rest of them had read the script, but one must take the rough with the smooth.
A most peculiar barrel of eggs then, with its highs and lows standing shoulder to shoulder, but the nub of things is that chasing this Title has become a darned sight harder. On to the next one.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint