A mathematically-minded chum rather threw me this week when he told me there are 10 types of folk in this world – those who understand binary numbers and those who don’t, apparently – but I presume that 2 more of those types will include those who thought our heroes controlled this particular joust, and those who thought Chelski bossed the thing like a team of evil puppetmasters.
Maybe it is the three decades of bias, but I fall into the former camp (that is to say, backing our heroes, rather than dabbling in binary numbers). Dashed travesty this one, if you ask me. Admittedly there was a slightly odd opening salvo, in which everyone bar Dembele looked like they’d just landed at a foreign airport and didn’t quite know what to do next. Thereafter, however, a switch was flicked, and our lot increased the pressure biff by biff.
For five minutes either side of half-time we gave our esteemed guests a most thorough going over, prodding and poking like there was no tomorrow, lobbing in corners, hammering away and shooting whenever the nearest defender paused for breath. To no avail, naturally, but it seemed to cause a commotion. And generally from then until the Dier-Son swapsie (more on that later), the central thread of the game seemed to adhere to a highly intricate pattern of:
a) Spurs attack
b) Chelski clear
But, as mentioned, there is a sizeable element of the population who have quite pointedly made clear they consider this sentiment to be drivel of the highest order, which I suppose means that this one can be marked down as a triumph for democracy.
(If a preamble is longer than the meat of the thing, is it still a preamble?)
If it is incisive and highly original insight you seek I can only really apologise and suggest you amuse yourself in other ways for the next paragraph or two, because this point is not exactly a shock to anyone: Dembele is quite something.
I know it; you know it; just about every team-mate interviewed seems to name him as the most talented chap in the troupe; and I’m pretty sure that if you read any piece of prose ever committed to paper you will find a subtle reference to the same effect – so safe to say it is common knowledge.
But by golly, it is nevertheless still a sight to behold, that astonishing hybrid of ox-like strength and balletic driftiness. All around him took a good half hour to adjust their radars and practise the whole right-leg-followed-by-left-leg routine a few times, but not Dembele. Straight into the action from the off. Marvellous stuff. And whenever spirits flagged thereafter too he seemed happy enough to drop a shoulder and charge into the melee, in that languorous style of his, oppo defenders bouncing off the forcefield that surrounds him like small children off a playground bully. Frankly there are times when I want to abandon the notion of keeping score, and just watch the chap cut a swathe wherever he pleases.
By contrast, this was not one that will go down in Wanyama family folklore. Absent from the starting eleven last week, Wanyama definitely tootled around the place with the air of a chap couple of gins short of his traditional morning snifter.
The usual, violent dispossessing of foes was generally rattled off straightforwardly enough, but when it came to pinging the ball to someone – anyone – in lilywhite, the blighter came across like a man intent upon massively over-complicating the basic principles of binary code. Umpteen touches were taken when he really only needed one – to roll the dashed thing square to a chum. All easy enough to say from the AANP vantage point, admittedly, but thusly do cookies crumble.
Anyway, to top the thing off he then dithered once more, crucially, at the death, allowing our guests to pinch the ball from him once again, fire straight at Lloris’ feet and still score, curse them all.
3. THE DIER-SON SUBSTITUTION
Nothing wrong with it on paper, really, was there? Boxes were ticked, votes counted, experts consulted – and the verdict was pretty uncontroversial: Son for Dier. We were one down, had been hammering away, without making too many entries in the column marked “Clear-Cut and Glorious Chances”, and with Chelski failing to hold up the ball an axis of Dembele, Wanayam and Dier seemed rather to miss the point of the exercise- namely that we needed a sprinkle of je ne sais pas in the final third. Son for Dier (already on a yellow card) made sense.
But oddly enough, things did not quite pan out as planned. Now it would be a little dramatic to suggest that an absolute meltdown occurred, once this change was made, and that women and children ran for the hills as our visitors ran riot across Wembley.
Yet nevertheless, for the 10 minutes or so following the change, the lilywhite grip on things (as much as grips can grip a 0-1 deficit) seemed to loosen. When Chelski repelled our attacks, they starting turning them into counter-attacks of their own, the impudent rotters, and the possibility of 0-2 started to make its presence known, whereas since half-time the case for 1-1 had started to seem near-irresistible. It was pretty disturbing stuff.
4. SILVER LININGS AND WHATNOT
Ultimately, the Son-Dier change became one of the least relevant footnotes of our time. There was an element of risk attached – and we scored anyway. And then conceded. So, ultimately, what the dickens does it matter?
This, however, was one of those defeats that left me genuinely quite pleased with the manner in which we went about things. Actually, that’s an untruth. More than anything it left me incredibly bitter and twisted and snapping at anyone within earshot that the whole blasted thing was JUST NOT FAIR.
But additionally, as I poured the evening whisky, I did muse that we had had a jolly good stab at the thing, so somebody somewhere probably deserved a toast. In the context of a new season, and 20-odd games at Wembley, it was something of a relief to see us boss possession against the champions and generally play much the same way we had done last season. Frankly, I had feared much worse, particularly given the absolute whale of a summer being had by the prophets of doom, who were warning about the larger Wembley dimensions as if they signalled an impending apocalypse.
So 1-2 was not the desired outcome at all, and the manner of the thing was absolutely blinking galling – with the joy, and then the despair, damn their eyes – but there was enough to suggest that this could be another half-decent campaign.
(Apart from the squad depth issue, but that’s a tale for a different day).
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint