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Spurs 4-1 Liverpool: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Kane, A Thing of Awesome Wonder

It is not meant at all as a slight to say that Harry Kane simply does not look like a footballer, rather more like God intended to make a manual labourer but a mix-up at HQ resulted in him being slapped onto a football pitch in a shirt two sizes too small.

But by golly, for a man fairly bereft of any semblance of balletic grace or easy-on-the-eye technique, he repeatedly proves himself to be more effective than Alan Shearer, who was arguably the most complete striker of my three and a half decades. I simply wave my hands in incredulity, for Kane is fast proving to be utterly, incomprehensibly, brilliant.

Jolly decent-seeming chap to, for what it’s worth. We are thoroughly lucky to have him. Fingers crossed that that hamstring strain was nothing too sinister.

2. Managerial Tinkering and The Liability That is Aurier

Our glorious leader will presumably make quite the children’s entertainer should this whole top-level football management lark not quite work out, because he simply cannot resist springing a surprise upon his unsuspecting public with his selections, in much the manner of a chappie suddenly yanking a rabbit from his sleeve and turning it into a bunch of flowers, at little Timmy’s 4th. Yesterday’s treat featured a right-back at left-back while two left-backs sat it out on the bench, as well as the central midfield rejig, more of which later.

In that we beat a supposed equal at quite the canter, I suppose Operation Aurier at Left-Back could be considered a roaring success. Empirical evidence however, makes a fairly deafening case to the contrary.

Why the dickens the bounder cannot go five minutes without taking a running leap and landing on his posterior is quite beyond me, but it does nobody the darnedest bit of good. The term “hit-and-miss” may well have been invented for this technique, because Aurier’s sliding tackle success rate seems pretty much to verge on 50-50. Not the odds one wants a defender to carry into Premiership or Champions League clashes, particularly when one of those 50s is liable to involve conceding penalties or picking up a card or two.

Aurier would do well to elevate Jan Vertonghen to the top of his Christmas card list, and bundle in a bottle or two of the good stuff at various other points in the year as well, because the Belgian ended up playing babysitter to the blighter time and again. Liverpool’s Salah had the beating of our lot for pace, which was bad enough, but with Aurier’s decision mode consisting of “Lose A Straight Foot Race” and “Dive In Like Bally-O” poor old Vertonghen ended up marshalling the left-back pasture like a traffic warden. And a sterling job he did of it too, but it rather goes to show.

As for Aurier? Haul him out of the team and hammer some sense into him, leaving the full-back berths to Rose, Davies, Trippier and Walker-Peters.

3. Managerial Tinkering and Midfield Discipline

Having become so accustomed to seeing responsibility lie on the shoulders of Eriksen, Alli and chums to unpick a stubborn opposing defence, it made an interesting change to observe these fellows adopting more of the wait-and-see approach. “Tactical masterstroke” I think is the term, as these two natural attacking types sat back, kept their shape and let Liverpool collectively take aim and fire at their own feet, before picking them off.

It would not have worked if either Eriksen or Alli had deserted their post and gone storming up the pitch in search of neon lights, fast cars, loose women and headlines, so caps should be doffed. Dele in particular has seemed to struggle somewhat to control the urge to go wandering off and making up his own rules, so he jolly well deserved his goal. Nice to see him throw in a few party tricks as well.

4. Dependable Son

Having been curiously limited to a two-minute cameo against Real, I thought Sonny was a little unfortunate to be hooked around the hour mark yesterday. The chap was tireless, providing an excellent foil to Kane and contributing heartily to that mauling of the opening 20 minutes.

If anything, he should probably have had a first half hat-trick, but a hearty round of applause will suffice for the half-pitch gallop and controlled finish that brought him his goal.

The use of Son with Dele and Eriksen in a deeper role, following the use of Llorente up top on Tuesday, rather hammers home the versatility and options which Pochettino is somehow unearthing in this squad, like a loveable alchemist choc-full of bright ideas. If he can find the time I would rather like to see him manage the Ashes squad and oversee Brexit too.

5. The Wembley “Curse”

Those frenzied press witterings about a Wembley “curse” or “hoodoo” or whatnot had always struck me as rot of a pretty high order, and psychologically at least, yesterday’s rout ought to do our heroes good by the truckload when it comes to glancing at the fixture list and drinking in the “open bracket, h, close bracket” at the end of each line.

But poppycock though the notion of a curse may be, life on the hallowed turf is likely still to present some problems. Liverpool yesterday pretty much offered a step-by-step illustrated masterclass in how not to play the mighty Spurs. Pouring men forward, defending with a high line and leaving the back-door guided by a chap who resembled one of those harmless, aged, partially blind shaggy dogs that is kept around on this mortal coil strictly for sentimental purposes only, Liverpool well and truly gifted the thing to us.

The concern then, or at least the food for thought, is around how we deal with other guests at Wembley who are not quite so obliging. Liverpool and Dortmund were lured into something of a trap, invited to pile forward and then counter-attacked with all the rapier-like thrusts of a team of particularly sprightly musketeers. A loosely similar plan, of soak up and counter-attack, was effected, creditably enough, at the Bernabeu, and will presumably be adopted again in a couple of weeks.

But what we do with against the dross of the bottom half of the Premiership table remains a concern. Such blighters will not be quite so accommodating, but will doubtless sit back themselves with 9 or 10 behind the ball. One for the Brain’s Trust then, but at least Wembley has now become a place in which we can tear an opponent limb from limb.

6…

And finally, nothing to do with our heroes, but I happened to catch, on Match of the Day 2 last night, possibly the most brilliant goal I’ve ever seen. If you can, check out the random Southampton bean, Boufal I think he calls himself. Utterly incredible goal.

Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. The Eriksen-Modric Fantasy Clash

I don’t mind admitting that the heart skipped a lovestruck beat when I saw Messrs Modric and Eriksen line up in opposition in the centre of the Bernabeu. It was like one of those classic films in which an inspired casting director has called in a few favours and pulled a few strings, with the result that he has managed to obtain the services of two absolute giants of the silver screen, to peddle their muck alongside one another for the first time. Think Expendables 2 and you have the idea.

So there, in glorious technicolour, were Modric and Eriksen. Master and Apprentice if you will, of the control panel at N17. Creator Extraordinaire Past and C. E. Present. Even the dullest, most heartless observer would have salivated uncontrollably at the prospect.

Alas, what transpired was quite the mismatch. Modric, unsurprisingly, stuck to his part of the deal, and duly ran the show from first toot to last. All that we had known and loved on the hallowed turf of the Lane was blazing away again, from the man once voted Real’s Worst Ever Signing. The exquisite technique, vision and execution, all allied to an impressive degree of hither-and-thither scurrying. It was A-Game stuff, and our heroes had to be on their toes throughout to prevent the chap running riot (which, to their credit, they did with aplomb, but more on that later).

But alas, I said, and it’s worth repeating: alas. For Eriksen, who by any loose estimation has hit quite the heights already this season, was dreadfully off colour. The heir to the Moric mantle seemed to have attached left boot to right foot and vice versa, and possibly then tied the laces of both boots together for good measure. He barely struck a right note the whole evening. Dashed odd, and terrifically frustrating, because if ever we needed our String-Puller-In-Chief to earn the monthly envelope it was away to the European Champions.

He will have better days – in truth he can barely have worse – and his work-rate was as earnest as ever, but there could barely be fainter praise for the chap.

2. Harry Winks’ 60 Seconds Worth of Distance Run

Seasoned visitors to these 4 walls will know that the AANP cup overfloweth with good honest man-love for young Master Winks. That he is one of our own and lives the dream is certainly pleasing, and poetic and whatnot, but pleasing and poetic alone does not win football matches. But by heck what does win football matches is receiving the ball and instantly spinning the needle Northwards to see what is available, then ploughing forward via the best transport mode available, be it pass or dribble.

The chap is not faultless – his loss of possession on halfway resulted five seconds later in a one-on-one for one of the greatest goalscorers in history, not the sort of error of judgement one wants to make too readily.

But allowing for the fact that young Winks is mortal, and that to err will very much be an occasional part of his DNA, he held his own in the face of arguably the stiffest midfield test in world football today.

The assorted boxes ticked included “Body Strength to Protect the Thing”, “Defensive Awareness (Both Positioning and Tackling)” and, as mentioned above, a pleasingly anti-Jenas ability to prompt a forward move. Those doubting the young bean’s ability would be advised to soak up a replay of our goal, featuring Winks shrugging off a challenge and playing the short but effective forward pass which set the thing in motion down the right flank.

3. Aurier and Sissoko

A propos that right flank, quite the eventful evening for those on patrol. Aurier’s greatest hits in lilywhite now include an assist vs Real Madrid, a penalty conceded for a wild lunge, a red card for two wild lunges, and an absolute hatful of other wild lunges delivered at regular intervals, executed with groan-inducing wildness and as likely to succeed as the toss of a coin.

A rough diamond then, as a particularly kindly diplomat might put it. The cross for our goal was scrumptious, and after the initial 20-minute bedding-in period in which every member of our back-five had evidently been instructed to remain within spitting distance of our own penalty area upon pain of death, he gradually began to don his marauder’s hat and go marauding up the right with the best of them.

The link-up play with Sissoko certainly did have the occasional look of ‘Accident’ rather than ‘Design’, but effective is as effective does, and Aurier caused them problems.

That said, watching him perfect the needless art of the Wild Lunge did make me want to reach out and offer a consoling pat to the head of Kieran Trippier.

Elsewhere on the right, the broken clock that yesterday told the right time was Sissoko and his limb collection. The consensus is that the chap did a decent job, and he certainly contributed to the unlikely double-act with Aurier. However, I would hardly number myself amongst the converts. For every extravagant scorpion-kick control-on-the-run there was a wild swing and miss on the edge of his own area. It did the job, he played his part, so credit where due, but every passing day – and every errant pass – makes me yearn more for Dembele and Wanyama.

4. Lloris’ Disdain for Physics

To date this season Monsieur Lloris has been cultivating quite the eye-catching collection of monumental aberrations, but such big tent capers can be forgiven in an instant when one observes the frankly physics-defying stunts he pulls off in the name of the last line of defence.

As with the left-hand scoop vs Bournemouth at the weekend, his leggy block of Benzema’s header yesterday seemed to cause a rip in the very fabric of space-time. The thing just did not seem possible, and was worth toasting to the rafters every jot as much as a goal at t’other end.

The save from Ronaldo’s volley, while slightly more aligned to the laws of physics, was nevertheless similarly first-rate. The chap is a keeper, if you get my drift.

5. Pochettino’s Tactics

AANP has no bones about attributing the rightful name to a digging implement, and when our glorious leader erroneously gambled on Son at left wing-back vs Chelsea in the Cup last year, a bashing was duly administered which no doubt still makes the chap cower to this day.

Last night, the assorted absentees forced him into another tactical gamble, and a startling one it was too, with the teamsheet prompting around 18 different interpretations from seasoned onlookers of what shape and arrangement might transpire.

5-3-2 as it happened, in a pleasing throwback to AANP’s failed experiments on early 90s Championship Manager, but credit by the truckload to Pochettino for deciding upon it, and the lilywhite troupe for executing it.

Admittedly, the deep-defensive approach does induce palpitations by the bucketload amongst the observing throng, but by and large it worked. In the first half, after the early woodwork scare, Real struggled to get their paws into the meat of the thing, viz. our penalty area. Admittedly we in turn struggled to prevent the ball returning straight back at us, particularly at the start of the second half, but with Real looking vulnerable at the back, the “2” element of 5-3-2 proved a smart move, and we should have toddled off home with more than just the one goal.
Credit, on that cheery note, to Llorente, who, while no whippet, showed both strength and a delicate touch in his role as Robin to Kane’s Batman.

Other observations were that Son was surprisingly underused, and Danny Rose seems to have spent his entire rehabilitation period deprived of any grooming products, but in the absence of 4 of our first choice 11, a point away at the European Champions was a fantastic result. Qualification is all but guaranteed, and in the grand scheme of things, the development of this bunch continues apace. Marked progress from last year, the upward trajectory continues.

Huddersfield 0-4 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Kane

Crumbs. Every man and his dog is chipping in with his tuppence worth on the blighter at the moment, and by and large here at AANP Towers we tend to scoot past his heroics and instead commit pen to parchment on the rights and wrongs of our midfield cogs.

But it is becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss his ware-peddling as simply business as usual. The chap is scoring just about every type of goal conceivable at present, from every angle and distance conceivable. Unnervingly, his second yesterday had a hint of the Gareth Bales about it. And he does it all while still somehow conveying the impression that he is not one of life’s natural footballers, if you get my drift. Fingers crossed the young bean never grows old. Or gets injured.

2. Winks

Moussa Sissoko presumably has his fans – primarily within the Sissoko household one would imagine – but I’m sure mine was not the only heart that skipped a joyous beat when I saw Harry Winks’ name on the teamsheet. Lots of good, honest man-love is directed towards that young egg, and while it was hardly the most taxing afternoon of his life, it was nevertheless good to see him look the part throughout.

To the credit of the entire troupe, the absence of Dembele has not been felt too keenly in recent weeks, but although just about irreplaceable, the nearest thing to him seems to be young Winks. Admittedly they are very much man and boy when it comes to comparing physiques, but the general mentality of both on receipt of the ball seems to be to make a forward beeline, as long as physics allows.

Which may sound far from rocket science, but compared to, for example, the dire first half against Swansea, when the default of just about every man in lilywhite was a swift pirouette and backward pass, and The Winks Approach – borrowing laudably from The Dembele Playbook – provides numerous steps in the right direction. Literally, as well as metaphorically, which always reinforces the thing, what?

3. Alli

Not for the first time this season, it was a decidedly rummy offering from the lad. I’m all for the chap assuming the form of a fiend in loosely human shape when it comes to scything his way through an opposing defence like a knife through butter, but so far this season he has mooched around like an indignant schoolboy.

There was one flash of brilliance, which culminated in him hitting the post. And one might point to his assists last week, and infer that his creative juices floweth perfectly well, but dash it, the chap is off colour if ever I saw the thing.

Frankly one of his assists last week was woeful – leathering the ball into the air and forcing a diving header from Kane, when a simple rolled pass would have done the necessaries – and yesterday brought no improvement. The chap just seemed to have a chip on his shoulder, was unable to influence the game in the manner of, say Eriksen or the wing-backs, and not for the first time plumbed a depth with a quite unnecessary dive. Not at our club, thanks very much.

4. Eriksen and the Ardiles-Era Goal

It does not seem so long ago that I sighed like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and fretted over how Eriksen, for a man of his talent, ought really to be bossing games.

By golly, not any more. The chap absolutely runs the show these days, week after week. His first touch invariably takes his marker out of the game, he has the vision to spot a pass from a different postcode – not to mention the ability to deliver it – and on top of it, the chap simply never stops tearing up and down the turf.
Mildly ironic then, that what might have been The Best Goal Since Football Was Created, was demoted to the status of simply A Quite Marvellous Goal because Eriksen of all people did not quite deliver his line to perfection. The Davies goal was simply a thing of beauty. One-touch build-up so dizzying that I managed to keel over while sitting down watching, and finished with a generous dollop of élan by Davies, it truly felt like the appointment of Ossie Ardiles back in the mid-90s had finally borne fruit.

5. Sissoko and the Worst Goal Ever

From sublime to ridiculous. Having gone three up without exerting themselves terrifically, our heroes did the understandable, and hit the Snooze button in the second half. Rather a shame, I thought, because Huddersfield, while game for a fight, were marvellously naïve about things, racing up the pitch to salvage pride while leaving one of the planet’s hottest strikers to amuse himself as he pleased. As such, there were plenty more goals for the taking in the second 45.

Ultimately then, it fell to Sissoko. If the chap were to pour himself a glass of water I fancy he would make it look complicated, so when the moment came to tap in from a couple of yards, naturally he dragged unnecessary limbs, opposing defenders, stumbles, deflections and just about every other utterly needless element into proceedings.

I’m growing rather fond of the blighter, mind. Lots of effort in there, and one of these days the planets will align and he will turn in the best performance ever. But just as, against Dortmund a few weeks ago, Son scored the most Son-esque goal imaginable, yesterday Sissoko produced undoubtedly the most Sissoko-esque goal in history.

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