All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Southampton 1-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Full-Backs Exposed

I think it’s fair to conclude that that did not really go as planned. Instead of taking the game to our hosts from the off, we were a tad off-colour and distrait, and the early initiative having been up for grabs for any willing taker, Southampton had a whirl at it.

In the first 45 they opted to drill away at our flanks, which made them hay by the absolute shedload, and it would not be stretching things to say that certain members of our all-star cast rather obliged them in this endeavour. Messrs Son and Sissoko simply peered over at their full-backs and decided that they would rather give the whole jamboree a wide berth, offering precious little more than moral support, and leaving Davies and Aurier to fight the actual physical battle on their own.

When these things are discussed over port and cigarettes later this evening, the full-backs might make the point that that was really not quite cricket, and should they be feeling particularly fruity might even introduce, as Exhibit A, the goal that we conceded, its genesis indeed arriving from a waylaying of Aurier. All deeply unsatisfactory, even if the weeping and gnashing off teeth lasted only around a minute or two.

2. Conditions. Which Affected Both Teams Equally, Mind

This slight dereliction of duty on the part of Son and Sissoko was indicative of a wider sloppiness across the ranks. Presumably when accustomed to playing on the sort of pristine lawn on which one would normally crack open the croquet set and get boshing, one raises an eyebrow or two if instead presented with a sodden bog being lashed upon from the heavens.

Our heroes certainly did seem to approach the task as if having just had the rug whipped from beneath them, and to suggest that they struggled a tad through the conditions would not be overstating the case. Passes as often missed their targets as hit, control became a near-mythical entity and anyone trying to run with the ball at feet quickly came to curse the decision as they stumbled and bumbled like an entire squadron of Moussa Sissokos.

The current vintage are at their best when nudging first-time passes to one another, and that particular brand of quality output was in desperately short supply. All the more galling that Southampton seemed to adjust better and do the first-time thing rather more niftily at times (although that might just be a view coloured by the mournful, pessimistic lenses of an observer who has seen two points frittered away).

3. To Absent Friends, Part 1: Eriksen

Can’t really blame the chap for sitting it out with a hot drink and some paracetamol, because man-flu is scientifically proven to make one’s head explode if not kept in check, but Eriksen’s all-seeing eye and unique brand of sorcery was most certainly missed. As lamented earlier, our one-touch game was replaced by a giant bowl of stodge, and whereas these things usually have Eriksen at their hub, like a human heart doing the decent thing and keeping every other organ on top of its game, today there was simply an awkward impotence about the place.

Replacing Eriksen with Sissoko is like being told on entering the gladiatorial arena that your sword and shield are being replaced by a scrunched up ball of paper but best of luck anyway. One is inclined to make a fist of things, but cannot escape the sense that the odds have been rather cruelly reversed and things are about to take a turn for the nightmarish.

Pre kick-off I had, with what turned out to be fairly outrageous optimism, opined that I would rather Eriksen were missing for this game than the upcoming ones vs Man Utd, Arsenal and so on. Quite the misjudgement. We simply do not have another of his ilk in the ranks. Personally I would have opted for Lamela over Sissoko – although in truth, I would have volunteered to play myself rather than pick Sissoko. The point is that we are too reliant on Eriksen, and lacking a suitable deputy.

4. To Absent Friends, Part 2: Lloris

Monsieur Lloris was also sniffling his way through proceedings from his sick-bed, meaning the rarely-spotted Vorm was duly trotted out. I have to admit I did not envy the chap, who appeared to be on a hiding to nothing with the heavens flung wide open and every drop of rain available being sloshed around the surface.

Credit to the bean then, for getting his mitts onto everything that came his way. The own-goal left him with little in the way of an escape-route, but in addition Southampton fired in a handful of low shots that slid across the tur, and had the AANP heart leaping the odd somersault or two, and it was to Vorm’s credit that he snaffled up everything with a decent slab of assurance.

5. Dembele: Frustrated and Frustrating

If there were one man who perhaps might have conjured up a little inspiration, it was possibly Dembele. He seemed to have been encouraged to run with the ball and do as he pleased, and briefly it looked like this might do the trick, for he certainly does it have in him to glide past two or three of the opposing fish with barely a sideways glance.

Alas, things did not really click for him today, and he was as likely to be swarmed upon and diverted as he was to do any good wholesome damage. In the end he reverted to bundling folk over and waving his arms around, and the whole drama ended rather soberly with a booking and a substitution.
If we cannot ping quick passes we need someone capable of beating a man, and today we had neither.

So the Top Four is still eminently doable, but equally looking quite the delicate operation, if you follow. The next month or so will require some deep breaths, rousing performances – and Eriksen restored to full health.

Spurs 4-0 Everton: Six Tottenham Conclusions

1. A Half-Hour of Vintage Dembele

One of my cohort of Spurs-watchers was fairly underwhelmed by the entire binge yesterday, which rather goes to show that you can never be too sure of things; but I fancy that if you had been sitting close enough you might have heard me purr at certain points.

Not vintage lilywhite, but we pinged the thing about pretty quickly, and whereas on occasion previously the hills have been alive with the sound of Spurs players meandering around thoroughly unable to unlock a packed defence, yesterday the cup at times overfloweth with bright ideas and nifty passes.

Central to this in the early stages was Dembele, who for whatever reason had evidently woken up thinking that he was going to teach everyone around him a lesson they would dashed well never forget, and spent accordingly spent the first half hour imperiously brushing aside the Everton midfield.

For a bean so brimming with talent it can be pretty frustrating to watch him languidly knock the ball sideways and then shove off behind the bike shed for a quick smoke, but yesterday brought out the best in the man. He ran with the ball, picked some lovely passes and, of course, shoved folk left and right like a particularly hefty jungle beast with little time for the weedier species.

As well as being an aesthetically pleasing sight of itself, this also served the useful purpose of giving his ten chums an act to follow, and the whole thing buzzed with a decent energy.

Dembele faded a little thereafter, as more advanced teammates took the hint and started to run riot, but it was nice to see him rediscover a little of that old swagger.

2. Use of Aurier

Serge Aurier cannot defend, cross or shoot; that much is uncontroversial. However, our glorious leader is clearly one of those “Waste not, want not” types, who will make a soup out of last night’s leftover vegetables through sheer force of habit, and seeing that Aurier simply exists, Poch rather niftily wrung some value out of him. Accordingly, the whole cast was on strict orders yesterday to yank Everton all over the place, by switching play towards the reckless right-back.

Everton, obligingly, spent that time scratching their heads and observing in fairly statue-esque fashion as Aurier roved forward time and again, and although he was as likely to cure cancer as he was to do anything useful with the ball, the tactic helped us to away at our guests.

The opening goal, when it came, was from a shot that might have been arrowing towards the corner flag (and that after a first touch that nearly took him into a different time zone). When one factors in the appalling cross he delivered a few weeks ago that ended up in the back of the net, one starts to wonder if the safest place to be when Serge Aurier is pointing a gun at your face is actually right in front of him.

3. Eriksen

If Dembele were the man to burst through the heart of Everton in the opening exchanges, Eriksen found a niche hovering around him and sprinkling the piece with all manner of glorious flicks and diagonal passes.

When he is at his best, he does not really tend to stand on argument, but instead nudges the ball this way and that in the blink of an eye, in a manner that can muddle even the most organised of opposition.

He was on song in those crucial early stages yesterday, and his goal was rather fitting, for the romantics amongst us. More on that anon.

4. Counter-Attacking at 2-0 And Beyond

After the good honest toe-to-toe-ing of the first half, the second goal about a minute into the second half gave the dynamic of the whole thing a fairly concerted shift, as Everton, understandably, became rather flustered, and in the pursuit of goals lost their sense of space, time and defensive composure. Our heroes obligingly applied boot to throat and squeezed until the last bubbles of life quietly departed them. It was fairly ruthless stuff, in truth, and those of us with a blood lust were well satisfied.

Having looked chipper enough from the outset, by the time we had stretched into a lead, the whole game was just a series of pauses before our next thrilling counter-attack. Son, Eriksen, Alli and Kane appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, having discovered that toying with those vastly inferior can actually bring endless entertainment.

I suppose in moments of sobriety we can reflect that making hay, knocking back drinks and generally indulging in revels of the highest order has never been a problem for our heroes once a couple of goals to the good. The issue tends to be more around fashioning that opening goal, and that was a problem overcome yesterday.

5. That Glorious Fourth Goal

Whichever chappie it is entrusted with maintaining the much-vaunted record books must be a dreadfully dull sort, because his output yesterday would simply have read “Son, Kane, Kane, Eriksen”, with maybe a footnote on the attendance, and unused subs, and other such dreary fluff.

Which I suppose is the sort of honest stuff one needs in life, but it seems to have wandered off around a mile in the wrong direction simply to describe the fourth goals as “Eriksen”, what? That goal was the sort about which lovestruck youths ought to pen odes.

It was glorious, from inception to delivery. In particular the interplay between Son, Alli and Eriksen had me off my feet and hollering “Encore”, three sublime touches, which looked picture perfect on the Wembley turf. Son’s dink and Alli’s backheel could not have been better delivered, and Eriksen’s shot had all the clean contact of leather on willow on a sunny morning at Lord’s.

6. Son

If Son were named Sonaldinho he’d probably be worth around £236.5 million in today’s slightly squiffy market. The chap is current Asian Player of the Year, which I guess isn’t bad given that there are at least a billion to choose from, and is currently motoring along like one of those fellows in a fast car on a country lane, who is feeling top of the world and doesn’t care who knows it.

Oddly enough, his run in the team has come about as a result of the injury to Toby, and the consequent switch from a back three to back four, which, if you do the maths, cunningly opens up a job opportunity in attack.

Be that as it may, it’s quite the bag of tricks he now slings over his shoulder and brings along to each bash. Quick feet, boundless energy, a lovely clean shot, and yesterday, a couple of glorious touches – notably the spin that set him off for the Kane assist, and the flick in the build-up to Eriksen’s goal.

On top of which, the young chap’s attitude marks him out as something of a champion. After his screamer against West Ham, when the television bod shoved a mic in his face and demanded superlatives, Sonny looked utterly broken – due to the fact that, wonder goal or not, we had failed to win. And no praise can be high enough for that sort of thing.

Spurs 1-1 West Ham: Five Lilywhite Observations

strong>1. These Sort of Games: A Lament

Times, as the old bird murmured, are a-changing, and he may have had a point. It would not have happened in the day of WG Grace and chums, but in the modern game it is virtually the norm for one team to help themselves to 70% plus of possession and still spend the entirety scratching their heads as to how to win the dashed thing.

As recently as ten years ago, any team dominating the game thusly would rack up a hatful of goals and have cigars out long before time was called. These days however, there are pretty much 14 teams in the Premier League who are perfectly content to set up with nine or ten at the back and high-five their way home with a point in the bag.

It’s a riddle facing each of the Top Six, and at a loose guess I would suggest that our heroes drop points once in every half dozen or so of these games. If you expect that I have the solution you can dashed well eat your hat, but sometimes these things need to be said, and AANP may have been called many things, but a man to shirk his civic duty is not one of them.

It all seems to have sprung from the sackfuls of Champions League money hoovered up by the Top Six or so, creating in effect a league within the Premier League – or indeed two leagues, if you want to be particularly clever. And the whole bally thing is ruining the spectacle, because teams rarely go toe to toe any more. Further proof, if ever it were needed, that we should bring back the ‘90s.

2. Formation: A Complaint

As for the game itself, one would have to be particularly mean-spirited to chide our heroes for failure to triumph. The Wembley turf, one imagines, is bedewed with the good honest sweat of a race run, just forty-eight hours after ploughing through the swamp at Swansea.

If I have any recrimination, it is squarely aimed at our glorious leader. Having made the fairly progressive decision to use 4-1-4-1 away to Swansea, I can grudgingly accept that the reversion to 4-2-3-1 made a degree of sense at kick-off. This, after all, was West Ham’s Cup Final, and therefore one might expect them to pack some sort of punch. A midfield screen of Sissoko and Dier was, one accepts, not entirely the sort of insane guff that would have one led to the nearest padded cell.

However, by half-time it was pretty clear that the dreadful bilge being peddled by our guests rendered fairly redundant a defensive screen of two heavyweights. Moreover, while our lot were looking feisty enough, and producing the occasional slick passing combo, an extra attacking threat would have been welcomed aboard with gusto.

In short, the game was screaming out for a switch to 4-1-something-something (either 4-1-4-1 or 4-1-3-2), but Poch, as is his wont, kept his arms folded and persisted with one too many defensive types, until we were one down.

3. Sissoko: A Rant In No Uncertain Times, I Assure You

I have tried rather valiantly, in recent weeks, to identify the silver linings around the worthless, malcoordinated cloud that is Sissoko, but yesterday’s performance was utter tripe, even by his low standards.

How he is a professional footballer at all beggars belief, let alone an ever-present in our team and a member of the French international squad. The chap lumbered around like he understands the game less and less with each passing minute, comfortably the worst lilywhite on display. There might be some value in switching him to central defence, where his principal strength – namely, well, his strength, and general speed and power – can be utilised without having to torture onlookers with his rampant inability to control the dashed thing.

Such were my levels of apoplexy last night that I had to steady the nerves with an extra splash of bourbon, and hum the lines of one or two of the less aggressive arias. This rot simply has to stop.

4. Alli Improvement

On a brighter not, young Dele seems gradually to be rediscovering what it was that had everyone running around in a flap last season.

Let there be no mistake, his penchant for dwelling on the ball every time he touches it continues to try the soul, but he bobs about the centre with a bit more purpose than in previous months, and is beginning to make those marvellous Platt/Scholes-esque dashes into the penalty area that have the pulse quickening and one shouting an excited “Hoi!”

I admit I groan rather when one of our much-vaunted counter-attacks lands at his feet, for he will as sure as dash it suck all the speed out of the process. Broadly speaking, however, his dial is pointing back in the right direction, and this bodes well.

5. Eriksen Replacement

Difficult not to open one’s heart and reel off sweet nothings at the chap, no? His technique, his wicked dead-ball delivery, his sheer vim and eagerness to pick a match-winning pass – most of what is good at some point or other will pass through his bloodstream.

It makes the inner pessimist rather fret of what might happen should some malady befall him. With the Transfer Window now once again open I would like to see a creative type leap aboard the good ship Hotspur (and no, I don’t mean the chap Barkley).

Even in rude health it is probably unreasonable to expect Eriksen to mastermind all things creative, week in and week out. The return of Lamela is certainly welcome, but there is definitely scope for another blighter capable of dipping his shoulder and producing a spot of ooftah from nowhere. Particularly in games such as these, when our lot have to sit around the camp fire and work out how the devil to unpick a ten-man defence.

Three wins and a draw is not the worst festive return. We sit on the shoulder, as, famously, did Dame Kelly in 2004, and things worked out fairly sparko for her.

Swansea 0-2 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Observations

1. Mighty Great Big Swathes of Luck

Ask any young oil of my acquaintance and I’m pretty sure that they would report back to you that AANP is a well-rounded young nib, who helps old ladies cross the road, pays his taxes, and above all, has a keen sense of honesty (aside from that whopper of a fib I was forced to tell at Uni regarding that errant pint of beer and the charity pool tournament, but that’s one for another evening). And it is this precise understanding of the virtue of truth-telling that enables me to reel off, as insouciant as you like, that yes, we did indeed benefit from the rub of the green yesterday.

Llorente’s goal? Offside, as clear as day. Davinson Sanchez? Well, if one factors in that the first yellow was perhaps justifiable as a punishment for rank stupidity, a sort of mini-episode of Darwinism, then dash it, yes – he should have been sent from the premises for a second booking. Penalty for Swansea? I don’t see why not. Lloris clobbered the chap like a gangster taking issue with a debtor’s kneecaps.

That said, the daredevil thrillseeker in me cannot resist suggesting that Llorente was later incorrectly flagged when clean through on goal, and that both Dele and Son had what looked like fairly reasonable penalty claims laughed out of the valleys. With a couple more slices of luck we might have reached double figures.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that the biggest decisions of the game went our way. I recall lobbing a few choice toys out of the AANP pram back in autumn when the Arse benefitted to the tune of a couple of pretty ropey judgement calls, so having lost some then, we have I suppose won some here. But as when l’Arse beat us back then, in this instance the general balance of the thing seemed to tilt anyway towards the team that benefited from the dodgy calls. That is to say, the iffy decision-making only really seemed to hasten something that had all the inevitability of the Titanic taking a dip southwards.

2. A Job Well Done In Those Conditions

When AANP casts his mind back to those formative, teenage years at the alma mater, the principal memory seems to be a whole slew of attempts to drive our teachers to insanity through what might the kids nowadays might loosely term “japes”. Frogs in pencil cases, buckets of water on doors, aerosol cans turned into flamethrowers through use of lighters – all good, honest fun.

But in addition there were also the football and rugger sessions out on the fields (which have since been transformed into Spurs’ state-of-the-art training complex, no word of a lie). And there, by approximately mid-October, the “pitches” such as they were, pretty much resembled the lashings of mud through which the T-Rex strode in 90s animal caper Jurassic Park. With zero drainage, and egged on by some good old-fashioned British downpours, stringing three passes together on those pitches was like curing cancer, and we would return to base absolutely caked in mud.

I delve into this reverie because observing yesterday’s heroics rather took me back a bit. Puddles on the pitch, and the ball refusing to roll as directed, it rather killed the spectacle from the warmth of AANP Towers, but rather than chastising our heroes for failing to purvey anything resembling the Brazil ’70 vintage, I spray them with champagne for splashing their way through and getting the job done.

The dubious early goal doubtless helped, and sans Kane it was difficult to see us threatening the goal too often, but if ever there were a time for a bottom-of-the-division team to flip the tables and smartly yell “Ha!” it was during yesterday’s downpour. Our lot did not shirk the task, beavered away, and were good value for the win.

3. Llorente Just About Delivers

I’m not sure the good Lord Himself could have picked a more obvious moment to field the decidedly less gifted supporting cast member, this being against his former club, and with a second game looming but 48 hours hence. On top of which Harry Kane has a spot of man-flu (a touching act of solidarity with the currently bed-ridden AANP and AANP Snr), so this was most definitely Llorente’s moment.

And to his credit he got his goal. It should not have stood, but the record books tend not to brook too much argument on these points. He did little else of note in truth. With an attack-minded quartet behind him eagerly snuffling away for opportunities, Llorente did not exactly pull the Swansea back-line all over Wales in a blur of non-stop movement, but then I suppose that has never been his forte. He delivered some of those neatly-weighted lay-offs, waddled offside a few times, and then exited after an hour to hearty applause all round. But he bagged a goal, on an evening that might well have become an increasingly frustrating goalless affair, so it can be considered a job well done.

This penchant for players not celebrating against former teams really must stop, however. It shows a lack of respect to his current fans, and the mortified look on these blighters’ faces suggests that they have sentenced the entire fan base to death, rather than kick a ball in the net for a squillion pounds.

4. Welcome Return For Wanyama

All told this was pretty forgettable fare in truth, but amongst the more encouraging moments was the return to action of the irresistible force that is Victor Wanyama. Half an hour sliding through the mud will do the man a world of good, and as well as admiring the views he also found time for a couple of notable contributions – the clearance after the Swansea penalty shout was his work, and at one point later on, when one young Swansea mucker was trying to shimmy this way and that, Wanyama intervened in no uncertain terms, sending the ball into orbit and ensuring the opponent also flew a good couple of feet skywards for good measure.

Our glorious leader will no doubt know best how to continue easing him back into the fold, but with some meaty clashes approaching in a month or so, the return of Wanyama is marvellous news.

Heartwarming also to see young Lamela starting proceedings. Not really a game for him to showcase his most balletic feats, but the young cherub got stuck in from the off, setting the tone for the rest of them, and did well to last.

Seven Lilywhite New Year Resolutions

Happy new year, fellow lilywhite-lovers. An early apology – while idling away the wee small hours a feature on new year’s resolutions seemed a passable idea, for no doubt a tweak is needed here and a polish there. The sum of parts however, is a rather antsy, whingeing piece, which seems to suggest that I have a bone to pick with each of our heroes. So apologies for that, by and large I think they do a grand old job, and I ought not simply to focus on their possible failings, as I have done. Mea culpa.

Harry Winks – Take More Risks

Young Master Winks has become a firm favourite here at AANP Towers. Seeminly convinced that he is about eight foot six he charges around the place spoiling for a fight, he is not afraid to point his dial Northwards and run with the ball, and he has a range of passing that one imagines would have Luka Modric and Tom Huddlestone nodding in approval.

However, on this latter point, of passing range there is still room for improvement, for the chap will still occasionally play things a little too safe, particularly in those bashes against a team absolutely set on all-out defence. Winks is one who has the talent to set wheels in motion from Point A to Point B – witness his pass that allowed Aurier to assist Dele for our opener against Real. The young buck now simply needs to do it on a weekly basis and we will all live happily ever after.

Hugo Lloris – Sort Out His Kicking

And keep an eye on his near post while at it. But the chap’s footwork does not instil confidence by the sackload, and for a team that seems pretty intent on playing the ball out from the back this is something of a gargantuan flaw in the plan.

In theory, one heartily endorses the approach. A cunning short pass here, a serene ten-yarder there, and before you know it we have scythed through half the opposition and are flying at them from all angles. In practice, however, Lloris has a tendency to take his own sweet time, and execute these things in a manner that actually piles the pressure on his own team-mates. Doing the opposition a service, to put it another way.

On top of which, the clip of Lloris gifting a goal to the opposition with an errant clearance while playing for his national mob rather jars in the memory. Man City have shown that this pass-from-the-back approach can reap some dividends, so it’s time for Hugo to buck up his ideas a notch.

Moussa Sissoko – Anything. Master The Basics For a Start

This chap is a pest. In recent weeks I have willed the blighter to improve, and in a sense he has performed a worthy service, being parachuted into the centre of the pitch and told to run at whichever opponent has the ball, in order to terrify them into ceding possession. Powerful, fast and mean-looking, by and large he does this. But it seems a role more appropriate for American Football than our vintage, where some ability with ball at feet is a prerequisite.

Every game he plays features a wild, swinging miskick. As often as not he will butcher a sure-fire goalscoring opportunity by over- or under-hitting the crucial pass. He could stand in front of goal all day firing in shots, and not one would find the net. And so on – one gets the gist.

How he ever because a professional footballer is utterly beyond me, and the thought of us splurging thirty million on the chap, or some such guff, honestly makes me want to weep, but that is where we find ourselves, so I suggest that Sissoko just focuses on the basics – win the ball, and pass it five yards to literally anyone in lilywhite – and we will be better for it.

Dele Alli – Take Fewer Touches

Some would suggest that this young whelp needs to hike up a mountain and master the art of zen, but here at AANP Towers we consider that Dele’s temper is here to stay, and the occasional three-match ban is simply an occupational hazard. Not what one would wish for, all things being equal, but such is the hand dealt.

Vastly more troubling to this observer is the chap’s tendency to revert to playground mode literally every time he touches the ball, and actively seek out someone to nutmeg. It matters not whether it helps or hinders the broader tapestry, it seems an obsession with the chap.

I would suggest we are at our best when firing off quick, short passes between personnel, but the approach is fairly thoroughly negated when one amongst the number insists on going for a walk, whilst taking half a dozen touches, and then attempting a nutmeg, irrespective of whether ball retention is feasible.

Still, in recent weeks he has seemed to reclaim a little of his traditional swagger and effectiveness, particularly with the switch in formation allowing Sonny and Eriksen to buzz around him, so maybe fortunes are taking an upturn.

Toby Alderweireld – Sign Up

Because it would be a couple of steps forward (Sanchez joins) and three backwards if Toby were to depart.

Wanyama and Alderweireld – Get Fit

We certainly miss these two, particularly in the season’s crunch games. Albeit we somehow beat Real minus Wanyama, with Toby limping off and with Sissoko on the pitch.

Harry Kane – Do Exactly The Same Thing

And one suspects he probably will.

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