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Palace 0-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Lackadaisical From Top To Bottom

The quickest route from A to B, so the boffins used to instruct me, is in a straight line, which seems a reasonable enough way of approaching that particular conundrum; but if you are a member of the good ship Hotspur it pretty much is a condition of employment these days that anything resembling a straight line gets tossed out of the window, and the most convoluted and complicated way of doing things is instead selected. Be it Juve or Liverpool, or Newport or Rochdale, our lot have recently been quite taken by the idea of drawing out matters and increasing the tension minute by minute.

So, rather than scoring a couple of goals in the first ten minutes, as was briefly threatened, nerves were frayed, fingernails gnawed to bone and curses flung around like confetti, until the 89th minute for goodness sake.

Despite being utterly dominant from first bell to last, we managed also to be incredibly slack and error-strewn throughout. And whereas this is normally the cue to take a deep breath and launch into a tirade against Sissoko, today the culprits were the much-feted A-listers in our ranks, which makes the mind boggle a bit.

Eriksen and Dembele, upon whom one would normally bet one’s right arm to keep possession ticking over, kept gifting the ball to Palace as if they’d been practising it all week. Harry Kane, upon whom would happily wager the life of a less-cherished cousin to stick away a couple of six-yard chances, made rather a pig’s ear of his opportunities in the opening 88 minutes.

Just about everyone else in lilywhite was similarly careless (young Sanchez can maybe be exonerated). It was almost as if the collective attitude was a carefree shrug, and the general sentiment that “Accuracy doesn’t really matter, Kane will presumably pop up at the death and we’ll win anyway, what?”

2. Aurier Finding New Ways To Be A Liability

As mentioned, Sanchez got his lines right throughout, which is no mean feat when up against a robust soul like Benteke, and alongside him, while his distribution certainly veered towards the errant, Dier nailed the bread-and-butter of keeping Palace forwards at bay.

Come to think of it, Ben Davies also mixed rough with smooth in a passable sort of way. The chap’s crossing tends to have a success rate that lurks in 50-50 territory, but as the game wore and the second half became one-way traffic he at least had the good sense to set up camp well inside the Palace half and provide a left-flank option.

And on that note, of picking a respectable position and giving the opposition something about which to brood, one should probably give Serge Aurier his due; he was always available. Here at AANP Towers we also noticed Aurier execute an impeccably-timed sliding tackle to spare our blushes, which beforehand I would have ranked as about as likely as a flying dinosaur landing on the pitch, so it just goes to show.

But whereas Aurier is normally an absolute liability in defence, he picked today to demonstrate that when it comes to fouling things up in the most ghastly and imbecilic manner, he is as capable of demonstrating these abilities in attack. Taking multiple foul-throws is really the sort of rot for which a professional footballer ought to have a finger lopped off, as well as sacrificing his entire weekly packet. Just to hammer home the farcical nature of Life as Serge Aurier, the blighter then managed to miss an open goal from around three yards by treading on the ball or some such nonsense.

3. Dele Alli: Dives and Penalties

There was an unsightly moment midway through the second half when young Dele flung himself to ground over the onrushing goalkeeper, with not an opposition limb in sight.

I do not have much problem with he or anyone else rediscovering the joys of gravity if – and it’s rather a crucial if – an opponent has bludgeoned, belted or even gently brushed against him. After all, referees will not award a free-kick if a chap stays upright; and if contact is made with man rather than ball, then a jury has every right to convict.

As it happened, Dele might have had a penalty not long beforehand, when a Palace defender (van Aanholt?) tried to dispossess him with a fairly wild swing of his peg. But the dive over the goalkeeper was an attempt to cheat, and while he is unlikely to be shoved in a dungeon and have the key lobbed into a nearby moat, the young buck will hardly be able to complain if he is politely told to biff off and amuse himself in other ways for three games.

Aside from the charge sheet against Dele himself, it is probably worth pointing out that we had an absolutely nailed on penalty (the goalkeeper against Davies) turned down in the opening moments, for no discernible reason other than that goalkeepers are sometimes granted licence to clatter folk. Kane might also have had a penalty, on a technicality, but life sometimes gives us these crosses to bear.

4. Team Selection

While most of the game was spent huffing, puffing and misplacing, the choice of personnel at the outset did make me arch a quizzical eyebrow or two.

The absence of Vertonghen was fair enough – a man is allowed to be injured every now and then – but while the same can officially be said of Alderweireld, it seems that the latter’s days in lilywhite might be numbered, which is a dashed shame.

Now I don’t really know the ins and outs of these contract negotiations, and while I would love to imagine that it is simply two men sitting opposite each other and shouting numbers back and forth, I suspect the truth is a little more complex; but could we not just find a way to give the chap the dosh he wants, through bonuses or hidden treasure or whatever it is? Heck, and do the same for the rest of them, if it means parity of payment. Seems a tad simpler than trying to identify another world-class centre-back at a bargain price, but then I’ve always been pretty nifty at solving all of life’s problems from this particular armchair.

Getting back to the teamsheet, I had actually swallowed a gulp or two when I saw the back-four announced, neither Dier nor Aurier being exactly the most watertight in the business, but I need not really have worried on that front, as Palace struggled to get over the halfway line.

The demotion of Son made sense, as the chap has slightly gone off the boil in recent weeks, following his all-conquering winter spell, and Lamela has looked sharp. Given that, one wonders how long before Dele serves some time on the bench.

I had also hoped that Lucas Moura would produce a little more than he did when eventually introduced, but the chap’s engine barely started. Early days though.

5. A Triumph For Football

In truth, the whole affair was fairly forgettable, but having spent the entire game trying only to defend, it struck me as good for football, and mankind as a whole, that the ultra-defensive approach adopted by Palace was rewarded with concession of a last-minute goal. The moral of the story was that being defensive doesn’t pay, and I can’t think of a more noble message to send to the children.

Rochdale 2-2 Spurs: Four THFC Observations

1. Aggression, or Lack Thereof

Should any passing strangely politely enquire whether we have the ability to field two separate elevens they can now be answered fairly emphatically in the affirmative, the evidence being paraded on the pitch at kick-off. Eleven completely different pairs of legs, from those that did the business in Turin, and if pre kick-off our glorious leader allowed himself a private moment of self-congratulation on the fact, who could have begrudged him?
However, should the line of questioning trickle towards the ability of that back-up eleven to bring home the goods as required, there may be one or two shuffles of feet and sheepish sideways glances.

In truth, the ability of the “reserves” paraded today is not in question, as most are internationals and by my reckoning around eight-elevenths of them would do the necessaries if flung into a Premier League game alongside their more vaunted associates. (Sissoko, Llorente and Vorm, since you ask.)

For some reason however, pitch them together at a lower-league ground and they collectively wobble away like nobody’s business, looking rusty even if they aren’t, and slightly bewildered by the pace, and the crowd, and even the very concept of a cup tie for goodness sake.

Now given that the above pretty much hammers home that this was a collective failing, one might opine that I’m something of a rotter for picking on one individual, particularly when that individual is as loveable and honest as Son, but such is life.

Son in fact at least had the decency to look interested and energetic throughout; his motivation was not really in question. Rather, he seemed to be lacking in willingness to get stuck into things and emerge with a few cuts and scrapes for the sake of the greater good. One can imagine that if offered a sword and shield before a gladiatorial biff, he would look at them in horror, and enquire if the whole affair could be settled without any need for physical contact. The spirit, one might say, is willing enough in Son, but the flesh is as weak as they come.

And so, predictably, the young nib could be seen pulling out of 50-50 challenges, getting wrestled off his chosen path and generally being bullied this way and that. And in a way, that was our performance in a microcosm, at least for the first hour or so.

2. Substitutes Raising The Entire Team

That general sentiment of tentativeness and dislike for the less fragrant elements of cup football only really began to change once the substitutes were shoved on. Admittedly young Winks came out in the second half looking suitably mortified for his error, and determined to atone by scurrying around for as long as his legs would obey, but by and large we continued to potter about the place with only a passing degree of interest, and if the final whistle had sounded and we had been eliminated I’m not sure the eleven on the pitch would have been motivated to do much more than shrug shoulders and enquire what was for dinner.

So it was left to the subs to address matters. They were introduced iteratively, and our performance improved in direct proportion. Lamela and Dele brought with them not only energy, speed of thought and some deft touches; they also managed to haul everyone around them up to a fairly similar level.

Quite why we could not have started with that same sharpness is beyond me, but I suppose we should just be glad that it transpired at all. Lamela and Dele suggested the novel concept of picking their way through Rochdale midfield and defence, and the rest of our heroes cottoned on to the idea and joined in, as if it were the first time they had ever heard of such a scheme but by golly they wanted part of it.

3. The Curious Incident of Danny Rose Randomly Upping His Game

If Son’s timidity in the face of a flailing limb or two were frustrating, but mitigated by that willing spirit, the contrast in Danny Rose’s attitude pre- and post-substitutions was downright bizarre. For the first hour or so the Rose locker was utterly bereft of willing spirit. The young bean seemed to do little more for two thirds of the game than go through the motions, as if to wave his arms and wonder out loud why some people were picked to play away to Juventus while some other people were picked to play away to Rochdale.

All of which made some sense, for here, after all, is a man who, when not happy with his lot at N17, will grab the nearest megaphone and broadcast the fact to society at large.

But what followed made for pretty odd viewing, because as Lamela, Dele and Kane popped in to wave hello, young Rose went through the gears at breakneck speed, until he ended up as some sort of Gerrard-esque driving force ploughing straight through central midfield and towards the Rochdale penalty area. Willing spirit, flesh that was anything but weak – by the time our second goal came round Rose had discovered the whole bally lot.

(And then he lost his bearings slightly for the equaliser.)

4. Moura Looks A Nifty Sort

The silver linings in all this admittedly took quite some locating, they not being of the ilk that jostled for position and yelled “Me! Me! Me!” in a desperate attempt to make themselves stand out from the crowd.
However, the newbie looks a fun sort of fish, what? If “Lack of match practice” were the official party line, the memo sure as heck did not reach Moura Towers, because the young buck tore about the place like a kid on Christmas morning.

He managed in the opening ten minutes the sort of feats that nobody at Spurs has done in several season – viz. waltz around opponents for the sheer joy of being alive. A pretty handy type of name to have in one’s address book, if you get my drift.

A (near-enough) debut goal will also do the honest fellow some good, I imagine. And a propos that equaliser – and at the risk of having the universe collapse under the weight of absurdity – I must commend Monsieur Sissoko for a perfectly-weighted through ball for our newest recruit. Odd, isn’t it?

Juve 2-2 Spurs: Six THFC Observations

1. That Calamitous Start

As calamitous starts go, this one was the poster-boy of a generation. It felt like just off-screen there must have been dodgy fitting collapsing and pipes springing leaks, because on the pitch every conceivable error in the book was being dredged up and paraded to the paying public in the most ghastly manner.

A doff of the cap to Juve, mind, for that inventive free-kick sorcery, straight out of the France ’98 Argentina vs England Manual. Beneath his simmering rage, I wondered if our glorious leader appreciated the irony.

And while on the subject, a further admiring tilt of the old bean to Higuain for the over-the-shoulder volley.

But from our lot it was slapstick of the highest order, an impeccably-observed if curiously-timed homage to the opening five minutes of the Naked Gun sequel. Entertaining fare, I suppose, but one did rather get the urge to murmur, “Not really the time, chaps, nor the place, come to think of it, what?”

In truth, we have some history in the department of Beginning The Biggest Game of Our Lives in Utterly Kamikaze Manner – see the Young Boys qualifying jaunt a few years back, under ‘Arry, which was redeemed after an appalling first half; or indeed the opening ten against Real Madrid the same season, which was most decidedly not redeemed.

Most irritating to AANP was the fact that we were 2-0 down without having been outplayed in any real sense. If Juve had torn us apart one would have been pretty morose about life, but one would have accepted a 2-0 deficit. But simply to hand them a two-goal lead, before anybody had broken sweat, struck me as simply complicating life for the hell of it. These young people, eh?

2. Eriksen Cracks It On The Big Stage

But at the nine-minute mark, the change in mentality from our heroes was the sort of stirring stuff that awestruck children learn about in classrooms. Utterly unfazed, unpanicked and with a steely determination, and confidence in their abilities that one more typically associates with swashbuckling heroes in adventure yarns, our lot simply knuckled down and went about righting wrongs like nobody’s business.

And chief amongst wrong-righters was Christian Eriksen. I feel like I now need to spend a good day and half in a confessional when I think back to the days, a year or three back, when on these very pages I penned odes of mild protestation against the chap for his seeming inability to step up on the biggest stage.

“The young sport simply isn’t hot enough when things get shaky” was pretty much the gist of it, circa 2015, “Dash it, he needs to take a game by the scruff of its neck and show the bally thing who’s boss.”

Well, loathe though I am to take credit for these things, Young Master Eriksen has clearly been poring over his AANP annals, because the chap set about unpicking the Meanest Defence Ever Seen like a master locksmith last night. Clever diagonals, whipped crosses, long-range shots, deft feet, off-the-ball scurrying and rasping long-range shots – Eriksen had the complete package last night, and no praise is too high for the rascal.

3. Dembele Cracks It On The Big Stage. Again.

If Eriksen were creator-in-chief, Dembele was some sort of similarly-ranked chappie keeping the engine well-oiled throughout – which may not sound like high praise, and I suppose isn’t really, so I should add that his performance, for the fourth crunch game in a row, was world class.

The Juve midfield, who my spies tell me are no assortment of mugs and dunderheads themselves, could not get near him, and in that respect have some stories to swap when they next get together with the Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal midfields, for an evening of bourbon and blackjack.

It has long been a habit of AANP to chew the fat with my old man AANP Senior, and opine rather wistfully that a man of Dembele’s talent could be a terrific asset to the whole show if he were just nudged a further fifteen yards up the pitch and started assisting and scoring. Making more of an impact, don’t you know?

Tommyrot, as it transpires. The chap pretty much manages the rotation of the earth on its axis from his position in and around the centre-circle, creating a base upon which Eriksen and chums can crack on with things in the final third.

4. Hustle

The Eriksen-Dembele double-act stole the show, but the supporting cast to a man (well, near enough, but more on that anon) backed them up with the sort of lung-busting performances that sweep the board in awards season.
It was very much a night for the troupe as a whole to demonstrate their boundless energy. This was rarely better exemplified than in the general pandemonium spread by our heroes in the home midfield and defence, in the build-up to our first goal.

In the minute or so preceding it I’m fairly sure Lamela and Dier flew in for a thumping challenge on each other, such was the feistiness emanating from every lilywhite pore; and for the goal itself, Eriksen pretty much slung a Juve player to the floor before feeding Dele, for Kane’s goal.

If Juve thought that the two-goal lead in eight minutes was the precursor to a night of gentle revelry and japes they were pretty wildly off the mark.

5. Aurier: A Liability

That said, the Achilles’ Heel in the whole set-up was, as ever, Serge Aurier. Just the sight of the name on the teamsheet inspires nothing short of unsullied dread in the AANP bosom, and so it transpired, with a typically block-headed lunge for the penalty, and an inevitable second-half caution, which Juve ought really to have exploited.

One gets the impression that Pochettino subjects a bag of fruit to pretty microscopic analysis before purchasing it, so he presumably has some pretty weighty dossiers on Monsieur Aurier, but egads the chap looks undercooked at present.

To the list of Real Madrid and West Ham can now be added the name of Juve, for beneficiaries of his Fly-In-First, Question-The-Sense-Of-The-Bally-Thing-Later philosophy.

6. Vertonghen, Underrated Hero

Naturally enough the limelight is hogged by the creative chappies up at the pointy end of affairs, and few would begrudge them this. Further back however, on a weekly basis ever since Toby hobbled off stage left with a grimace and a below-par hamstring, Jan Vertonghen has strode around the place like a man possessed.

Both in his reading and anticipation of what fate might befall, and in his speed to deal with any immediate crisis that befalls the back-line, the chap is pretty faultless. It can appear pretty fraught work, because for all the dominance we have exerted in recent games, the opposition have had plenty of attacking talent, and the occasional chance has inevitably loomed.

Vertonghen has taken on the mantle of defensive leader pretty emphatic fashion, and yesterday he once again packed his A-Game and displayed it throughout.

6. Some Musings on The Rather Odd Approach From Juve

This being a strictly lilywhite corner of the interweb I tend never to care a hang for the opposition tactics, grumbles, hopes and dreams. I have to admit however, in this instance I did put myself in the stylish loafers of a Juve fan for a few choice moments, and found the whole spectacle rather rummy.

The questions that leapt to mind, reading from North to South, were as follows:

1. What the dickens were they playing at?

2. Specifically, was the grand plan really just to set up camp on the edge of their own area, unfurl a sleeping bag or two, clink together their flasks of cocoa and simply bed in for 80 minutes and wait for the second leg?

3. Do their fans sit through that sort of bilge on a weekly basis? Do they enjoy it? Because it looked like the most frightful old muck to me.

4. Is their record of not having conceded a home goal since approximately the 1970s a result of channelling the spirit of Sven’s England in the ‘00s, and defending for their lives from minute one? (I confess, that one is more of a rhetorical shot – the answer seems a pretty firm negative, best delivered with an accompanying look of disdain.)

I suppose the point I’m drilling at, in an admittedly roundabout way, is whether Defensive Mode In Extremis was their strategy from the outset, or whether, having stumbled gaily upon a two-nil lead after eight minutes they simply looked around at each other, shrugged shoulders collectively and thought that there were worse ways to whittle away 80 minutes on this mortal coil than adopting a 4-6-0 and playing out time?

So, as mentioned, I’m not in the habit of dipping my nose into the affairs of other teams – but if you’re going to break a habit of a lifetime, might as well do it with gusto. More to the point, while I back our heroes to beat anyone at Wembley, we can probably expect a far shinier, sleeker Juve to knock on our doors in three weeks time. Robert Patrick’s T-1000, to yesterday’s ageing T-800 Schwarzengger. The first leg could hardly have ended better, especially considering how calamitously it began, but the tie is far from over.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is pretty reasonably priced on Amazon…

Spurs 1-0 Arsenal: Four THFC Observations

1. Second Half Performances

I think any jury would agree that the first half was a fairly cagey affair. Not a million miles away from a game of chess I suppose, with one side nudging a pawn forward a step or two, and the other side dangling an experimental bishop to survey the battlefield. Their lot were denied a chance by a pretty rotten call from the linesman; our heroes fashioned one that was a mite too high for the forehead of Kane; and at half-time the thing could hardly have been described as a pyrotechnic spectacular.

When the cast reassembled for the second forty-five however, a completely different kettle of fish was produced. En masse, our heroes went up a couple of gears, took the lead and but for some pretty wayward work in the Finishing-Touch department would have delivered an absolute thrashing.

I wonder if you happen to notice a trend in recent weeks? Against Man Utd, our heroes went at it hammer and tongs in the second half, leaving United to simply wilt away and give up the thing completely at around the hour mark. Then against Liverpool last week, following a fairly mediocre stab at the first 45, we overwhelmed them in the second half, restoring parity and looking odds on to wrap up matters until that slightly madcap final five minutes. And then yesterday, another run-of-the-mill first half was followed in the second by the most one-sided 1-0 hammering you will see.

The gist of the thing is that Pochettino’s current vintage are capable of producing the dickens of a second half performance when necessary. The energy levels shoot off the scale, and three of the best in the country have been utterly unable to live with us.

One might well want to pause on the general back-slapping and cork-popping to ask some pretty salient questions, such as why it takes us 45 minutes to reach these levels (to which the answer might be that the opposition themselves are pretty stoked in the first halves of these tete-a-tetes, but run out of steam while our lot go into overdrive in the second halves); and why we aren’t evidencing our dominance with a whole hatful of goals each time.

But on the back of seven points from these three crunch games, through the use of pretty much identical personnel, it would be miserly in the extreme to wag admonitory fingers and complain about one thing and another.

2. Off-The-Ball Press

Having the privilege of observing yesterday’s narrative unfold in the presence of an Arsenal-supporting chum, I noted that at several points he lamented the manner in which his team surrendered possession.

Well he might have complained, but one need not scratch too far beneath the surface to identify a critical cog in the whole Cause-and-Effect narrative on this point. For as befell United and Liverpool in recent weeks, this was not a case of Arsenal randomly falling apart, but of Tottenham hounding them down until they broke.

That horrible lot kept ceding possession primarily because they were subjected to levels of harassment, press and general bother that in other walks of life would border on the uncouth, if not the downright illegal.

Our mob, from front to back, are fast mastering the art of winning back possession high up the pitch, with all the relentless tenacity of a team of rabid dogs, and then haring off into attack once more. It is jolly impressive stuff, and neatly complements the variety and gusto with which we attack when actually in possession.

3. Missed Chances

For all the off-ball press and on-ball creativity, one could not help after a while glance at what was unfolding on the pitch, and then at the scoreboard, and then back to the pitch, with rather a furrowed brow. Dominate a team thusly and we should dashed well have a hatful of goals to show for it. Instead, we squandered chances with all the carefree abandon of a couple of young lambs gambolling in a field without a care in the world.

In a sense it did not seem to matter, for in a second-half that was simply a procession of Tottenham near-things, another gilt-edged opportunity was always just around the corner and the players on both sides knew it. But in another sense, the suspicion started to nag that our heroes were missing the point of the whole spectacle if they kept bypassing one chance, shrugging their shoulders and eagerly bobbing up and down in anticipation of the next one. The logic, I began to suspect, was flawed. There was a simpler way to go about this.

Kane (twice), Lamela (twice), Dele, Son and Trippier all made rather a pickle of eminently presentable opportunities, on top of which Eriksen’s free-kick would have hit the top corner but for a timely paw from Cech.

And as has been well documented, we were jolly well nearly made to pay, which would have made the whole game seem like an act of the basest treachery. The moral of the story seems to be to score and score again, and then once more for luck, when the opportunities arise; but these young folk do like to do things their own way.

4. Dembele, Yet Again

After a collective effort like that, and particularly having just penned reams and reams about the team’s off-the-ball work en masse, it does seem rather a disservice to the majority to single out one or two for particular approval. I imagine the legal bods representing Messrs Kane and Eriksen, for example, might raise an eyebrow and have the headed notepaper at the ready on hearing that praise is being lavished elsewhere. Nevertheless, Mousa Dembele continues to deliver absolute tour de force performances.

If the common denominators across these three distinguished results has been our second half performances, the man at the hub of those second halves has been Dembele.

I suppose in this age of shiny statistics the casual passer-by might poke his head in and wonder what the fuss is about, because the old sport rarely scores or sets up goals. But by golly he makes the world a brighter place, and manages to make the hurly-burly of crunch Top Six games look about as serene and effortless a breeze as simply floating down a river in a paddle-boat with a newspaper over one’s head.

You know the drill – power, control, and a unique ability to retain possession even when baying hordes pursue him at every turn. Injuries never seem far away, poor chap, but when he is in this sort of form he simply purrs, which rather makes me purr, and after a while all there is is Dembele gliding away from people and a heck of a lot of purring.

Whether he will be in any shape to dust himself down and go again on Tuesday in Turin is debatable, but his absence on that stage would be a shame, both aesthetically and in terms of the nuts and bolts of winning the game. We shall see.

Spurs 2-0 Newport: Four THFC Observations

1. Squad Depth Like A Military Parade

Pre kick-off, our glorious leader made every change conceivable to the starting eleven, which, he’ll be delighted to know, was fine by me. Bigger fish await, and all that. Amongst other things this gave the opportunity to parade to the watching world the full extent of our squad depth, as one understands some of our foreign cousins are rather fond of doing, as if to say to neighbours, “Don’t you get any ideas, you bounders.”

While hardly comparable to the bankrolled elite who trouser several hundred thousand big ones per week, when fully restored to health our list of first reserves is nevertheless of respectable ilk. Hardly world class, granted, but enough there to suggest if some players exit stage left while others enter stage right, there will not be any discernible dips in quality in the majority of positions.

Accordingly, when the curtain went up we were able to showcase one of the best centre-backs in the country, a central midfield pairing potentially capable of going toe-to-toe with most in the Champions League, and a couple of inside forwards of nimble mind and fleet foot. Useful tins of muck to have knocking around in storage, as the pointy end of the season beckons.

2. Lackadaisical Start

Having suffered the indignity of having to appear at a lower-division pitch a couple of weeks ago, and almost paid the price for such thinly-veiled snobbery, the replay appeared a more straightforward proposition, given the size and quality of the pitch if nothing else. It did, however, require our chosen few to fasten the bayonets and get into the spirit of the thing, for at least long enough to put the whole ruse to beyond doubt.

In truth, things did not initially unfurl in as hot a manner as was hoped. In the opening five minutes or so, the curiously chosen buzzword was “lackadaisical”. A funny old term, given that it looks like a flower and is routinely mispronounced despite being about as phonetically straightforward as they come; but it pretty much summed up the way of things in our back-line straight from kick-off.

The much-peddled system of playing from the back was rolled out once more, but cast members in defence insisted on taking every chance available, as if convinced that they were impervious to harm. Passes were despatched in errant manner on the edge of our own area of all places, and an ominous sense arose that we were approaching the whole affair in far too slapdash a manner. Newport, in those opening breaths, hared about with decent gusto – and amongst our lot, “lackadaisical” just about summed it up. “A better team,” a voice in my ear seemed to whisper, “might have made hay, don’t you know, and then where would we be?”

Mercifully, however, that was about as hairy as things got. Newport ran out of steam, and thereafter our heroes remembered what the whole wheeze was about, and light-heartedly went about sealing the deal.

3. Returnees Picking Up Where They Left Off

No alarms and no surprises, as the chap warbled, just the reinforcing of various stereotypes.

Son and Lamela darted around in good spirits, and were generally at the heart of all moments of inspiration. Lamela certainly seems to have rediscovered his joie de vivre, looking sharp and mischievous, and ended up strolling around the place with rather a swagger, as if this were his game and he would dashed well do as he pleased. It was good to see, and the young buck provides a useful option should any part of the Alli-Eriksen-Son axis fail to motor as advertised. (As, one hopes, will Lucas Moura).

Winks was neat and tidy, if a little reluctant to play some of the more incisive passes of which he is capable, and complemented well the blood and thunder of Wanyama, whose shooting has returned to a more familiar a style.

Of the other key returnees, Rose played with decent energy, and it was nice to see him resuming that habit of yore, whereby he cannot simply stumble to the floor, but has to fly horizontally around three feet off the ground before hitting the deck.

And possibly the most pleasing sight of all, Toby Alderweireld rolled up, not a hair out of place, to amble through proceedings unbothered and unscathed.

4. The Lost Causes

Naturally, some of the less vaunted members of the troupe were also let loose, and, in a manner of speaking, they did not disappoint either.

Sissoko was as clumsy as ever. I had rather laughably harboured hopes beforehand that a lower quality of opposition might make the cove appear more sophisticated – by comparison, don’t you know – but evidently there is just no refining a certified buffoon. He simply did what he usually does, forcing his way through any crowded alley, misplacing as many passes as he nailed, and generally making life seem pretty dashed complicated.

There was a perverse symmetry to the fact that he created a goal by firing the ball straight at an opponent and seeing it ping off him in a different direction.

And Llorente did everything we have come to expect of the chap. Further evidence was offered that in a previous life he may have been an enormous cushion, as he spent the first hour or so gently laying the ball off to nearby chums with warmth and love.

Running, as ever, was rather a tall order for the chap, and made for pretty painful viewing, as his limbs moved one at a time, as if controlled from on high by a particularly nervous puppeteer. Alas, his two golden opportunities flashed inches wide, as if to convince anyone stopping by that he could play football all night without ever scoring.

The suspicion remains that should any ill fate befall Kane, then Son will be pressed into service atop the tree before the siren ever sounds for Llorente.

So no reason to slaughter the fattened calf, but as these things go it was a jolly enough little bash, and the 90 or so minutes achieved by Toby, Rose, Winks, Wanyama and Lamela feel like they could prove useful as sub-plots in the coming weeks.

Liverpool 2-2 Spurs: Six THFC Observations

As just about every living soul on the planet has immersed themselves in the rights and wrongs of the various decisions in those final ten minutes, I might incline the bean towards the various other goings-on.

1. Lloris Playing From The Back

Starting at the beginning, I think the shrewder observers amongst us would have been bang on the money in identifying that, in the first half, all was not well on the domestic front.

For a start, one imagines that unless Pochettino had been in a particularly eccentric mood, “Concede an early goal” would have been nowhere near the top of the to-do list, yet our lot couldn’t facilitate this fast enough, what with Sanchez spinning around like a dog incensed by its own tail, Dier slotting obliging passes to the opposition and Lloris prostrating himself about an hour too early as Salah approached.

So, two minutes in, and things were already squiffy. What then transpired was a farce not seen since the circus act away to Manchester City, as Monsieur Lloris went through the list of his less impressive attributes, picked the very worst one of the lot, and spent the rest of the half showcasing it.

The chap’s distribution is dreadful, with the ultimate destination of the ball often a complete lottery. Poor old Sanchez and Vertonghen had evidently been roped into this little charade against their will, and had their work cut out just keeping the dashed thing in play, as Lloris picked the worst possible time to indulge in his own warped little game of Fetch.

On top of which, even if his distribution were on a par with that of Pele himself, the whole ruse of zipping the ball to the centre-backs when pinned up against their own corner flags was about as ill thought-through as it gets. There was zero element of surprise, which meant that the nearest Liverpool player simply waddled up to the man, and immediately we were under pressure. The ball was desperately hacked to halfway, or less, and came straight back at us.

Honestly, my eyes bled just watching it, don’t you know. And we had got into exactly the same mess against City a few months back. Honestly, is this the grand plan for outfoxing Top Six opponents away from home? Literally backing ourselves into a corner? Heavens above.

2. First Half Possession

All that said, the first half struck me as a geographical game of two halves, if you follow me. What I’m getting at, is that inside our own half of the pitch, our heroes resembled the passengers on the Titanic after things turned sour. General panic and a distinct lack of clarity seemed about the sum of things, and Liverpool accordingly looked like scoring every time they breezed forward.

But once we passed the halfway line, I actually thought we looked rather nifty. Now I realise that this is the sort of statement that will have me pelted with rotten fruit and then trussed up in the nearest strait jacket and hurled into a small white room, as public opinion seems fairly firmly signed up to the manifesto that we were utter rot in the first 45.

But having seen us labour so excruciatingly in various games this season, when we have hopelessly passed the ball sideways and shown zero off-the-ball movement, I was pretty enthused by how we set about things when we got into the Liverpool half. Admittedly we fell short at the final hurdle, in that we created only the one real chance, for Son – and I admit some might point to that as evidence of a fairly crucial flaw in the plan. However, I nevertheless thought we pinged the ball around neatly, and on several occasions came within but one stretched Liverpool leg of being through on goal.

3. Dembele in Possession

Central to this was the surging of Dembele, from halfway. The chap simply glided straight through the middle, bypassing two or three foes at a time, and apparently was fouled for his troubles five times in the first half alone.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record about the blighter, it’s the same package he delivers with regularity – strength of an ox, grace of a ballerina. His defensive abilities have dipped to the level of simply hauling down whomever has the run on him, but when it comes to turning defence into attack, the chap is a marvel.

4. Dier Something of a Liability

Providing a neat symmetry to the quality of Dembele was the erratic offering from young Master Dier.

It’s not really black and white with this chap, because he has his qualities, and when he gets it right he looks quite the defensive giant. A well-timed Dier sliding challenge can put hair on a man’s chest, and if an opposing team politely enquires if anyone in lilywhite fancies a scrap, Dier will be one of the first to roll up his sleeves. I sometimes think the chap might feel more comfortable taking to the pitch with a giant club in his hands, or some similar bludgeoning instrument.

However, there is something about him that reminds one of a man running through quicksand, for blessed with a lightning quick turn of pace he is most definitely not. This particular crack tends to be papered over by planting him in midfield and closing one’s eyes tightly. Alas, there is no real escaping another fairly critical flaw in his DNA, which is that his ball distribution swings fairly wildly between passable-enough-old-sport and downright horrid.

The back-pass for Salah’s opener yesterday was the one that ended up in neon lights, but at various points the chap forgets to consult his compass and consequently pings the ball in whichever direction takes his fancy.

5. Sanchez

Perhaps it was the sight of Dier in front of him, struggling to align brain and feet, or maybe it was the constant threat of Lloris about to sell him out with another one of those calamitous short goal-kicks, but Sanchez looked like a man to whom shocked deer in headlights turn for modelling advice.

The poor egg has turned in some pretty robust showings in his half-season or so, but yesterday he looked utterly traumatised right from kick off.

Unable to cope with the movement of Liverpool, the trauma of it all fairly inevitably spread to his ball distribution, and we could all be pretty grateful that Jan Vertonghen alongside him had packed his A-game.

The second half withdrawal of Sanchez for Lamela had an obvious tactical glint to it, but nevertheless there was a whiff of euthanasia about the whole thing.

6. Cracking Second Half

Mercifully, things upped about a thousand notches in the second half, culminating in all manner of revelry in those moments before the final gong.

Liverpool ran out of energy pretty much as soon as the second half started, and our one-touch passing began to click like bally-oh. Dembele glided, Son and Dele did a roaring trade in neat first-time-flicks into space, and the full-backs looked at the patches of greenery ahead of them and thought “Wel,l why the devil not?”

I have read some column inches criticising Dele for his lack of input – or, I suppose, output – highlighting that his well of goals and assists is running dry. No arguing with the lies, damn lies and statistics I suppose, but aside from those numbers the chap appears to be rediscovering his joie de vivre, making the sort of runs from midfield that gets the masses chattering. One would hope that this will be the last we see of him hurling himself to terra firma as well.

A quick cap-doff to our glorious leader for making substitutions that pretty directly impacted the storyline, and to Kane for holding his nerve at the death.

As for the penalties, fouls, offsides and decisions – even those of fairly modest deductive capacity should be able to infer the side of the various fences on which I sit.

It was a rip-roaring spectacle, and although coronary failure is now a genuine risk at AANP Towers that our second half display giving some genuine cause for optimism. From two of these three crunch fixtures we now have a home win and away draw. Win at home to our dastardly neighbours and this will amount to a most satisfactory little jaunt.

Spurs 2-0 Man Utd: 5 THFC Observations

1. Perfect Performance, Tens All Round

Well that was an absolute tour de force. It was the sort of pristine performance that the critics shower with praise, and then proceeds to swipe every gong available at the glitzy award bash.

From the rip-snorting first minute to the olé-riddled final few swings, this was about as good it ever gets – and against a mob the statistics suggest know a thing or two about launching a pig’s bladder in between a couple of sticks.

It’s a pretty rare thing that every member of the squadron, to a man, gets an A+ on his report card, but by golly the stars aligned last night. It was ten out of ten stuff all round. Easy to forget, given the carefree manner in which we skipped over the line at 10pm, but Lloris had to make a couple of pretty nifty stretches this way and that in the early exchanges, as well as a smart parry from Lukaku in the second half.

Both centre-backs were on high alert, despite the two-goal cushion, and as if to prove the point each threw in a Moore-esque tackle or two just as the occasional United surge began to look ominous.

And so on. While it is difficult to measure these things objectively, any sound-minded observer would opine that our midfield comfortably had the breeze on theirs, whether it be in the sub-category of muscle, distribution or just haring around the place and rather rudely elbowing others out of the way.

On top of which, any member of our troupe who had the slightest attacking ability demonstrated the stuff in spades. There was an absolute whizz-bang about the quick passing, aided to no small extent by the near-manic off-the-ball movement, and the sum total of it all was a display that bordered on cruelty towards our guests.

2. And Mightily Impressive Off The Ball Too

For all the quick wit and flashing badinage that we displayed in attack, the race was probably won when our lot were not in possession, which I suppose sounds an odd concept, but you get the gist. Every time a United player had the ball he was accosted by a small army of lilywhites invading his personal space, which in some quarters would be considered the height of rudeness, but in this instance was met with absolute roars of approval from the adoring public.

Impressively, the work-rate amped up a few thousand notches in the second half. Instead of showing the slightest hint of fatigue, our heroes appeared to become increasingly rabid, haring after just about anything that moved.
Heaven knows how many Weetabix they each stuffed down their gullets beforehand, but it worked an absolute treat, because as well as the practical benefit of snuffing out United attacks and so forth, the whole exercise also brought about the gradual but immensely gratifying result that the United will to live simply seeped out of them and ceased to be by around the hour mark. That in itself is something about which our lot should trumpet at the next parish meeting.

3. Our Defensive High Line, And Coronary Issues

By the time the final gong sounded and carriages arrived the whole party had a marvellous emphatic ring to it, but in the first twenty or so it was not quite the serene breeze that eventually transpired.

Our early goal was all well and good, but on another day we might have been trailing before the clock had hit double digits, which would have been rather a biff to the solar plexus and left us reeling around like a young buck on his first trip to the pub.

The game was flung absolutely wide open in the first quarter, with both sides looking like they might score every time they attacked. “Barnstorming” might be the word. And, while it’s more of a mouthful, “Something of a dereliction of duty in midfield, old sport,” might also sum up things. Quite the spectacle for the unsuspecting passer-by, I suppose, but for the committed lilywhite the whole thing had us clenching fists in dread of what seemed about to transpire.

The high defensive line did little for the cardio mechanics of watching die-hards either, with United mercifully failing to pick the one weighted pass that would have torn down all the scenery.

And even when we rang them ragged in the second half, the nagging suspicion remained that one United goal would turn the game, if not on its head then at least at a 90 degree angle, which is all you really need to invite trouble these days.

Indeed, had you crept disturbingly close to AANP last night you might have heard the muttered refrain, repeated like some sort of fervent prayer, “Next goal wins”, because 2-0 did not appear a secure scoreline.
Utter rot, as it merrily transpired, but such is the lot of a Spurs fan.

4. A Good Night To Be Kieran Trippier

Singling out one individual for praise feels a bit like complimenting one blade of grass in a particularly lush meadow, but when circumstances are right AANP will swim against the tide, while waving a desultory hand at the naysayers, and as a result I invite Kieran Trippier to take a bow.

Now there’s no doubt that United’s slightly baffling left midfield tactic – of completely abandoning any defensive cover, and leaving Trippier to do as he pleased for 90 minutes – aided the chap, but nevertheless, history is littered with examples of horses being dragged to water and then not touching a drop of the stuff.

Trippier, however, did not need a second invitation. Instead, summoning the ghost of Kyle Walker, the chap hared down the right like it was going out of fashion, and then, as the young folk are wont to do, started exploring all manner of modern and new-fangled approaches, which led to him buccaneering straight down the centre at times, like some modern-day Gascoigne.

It was evidently something in the water, because Vertonghen and Sanchez also struggled to resist the urge, leaving me wondering what it was that prevented Lloris from dribbling beyond halfway and taking three or four United players out of the game en route.

Back to Trippier, and it was a job masterfully done. He was always the spare man, and the width he provided rather cunningly left the United defensive mob scratching their heads as to how to stop the supply chain coming straight down the centre as well as that offered out on the right.

On top of which, his cross for the own-goal was both high in quality and provider of cracking comedy, so well done him.

5. Points For Improvement? On A Night Like That?

In a season in which we have beaten Real Madrid and hammered Liverpool, the locals might stop and stare when I declare that this was our best performance yet. In my defence I would emphasisenthat I was particularly taken with how well we took to the thing both on and off the ball.

That said, there were still points to improve. Dembele bossed the midfield, and was absolutely untouchable in possession; so far, so uncontroversial. Again, United’s curious approach of affording him a running start of around 10 yards was hardly the likeliest means of stopping the chap, but nevertheless there are few players around these days who can so effortlessly protect possession simply because they decide it should be so.

However, his disturbing penchant for being rather slovenly in the tackle once more emerged. Rather than win the ball, these days he simply grabs an opponent by the shoulder before they can hare away from him and yanks them down. It earned him a yellow card fairly early in yesterday’s proceedings, and is inviting trouble more broadly.

Dele Alli also blotted an otherwise outstanding game, not only with the inevitable petulant foul, but also a few moments of over-elaboration in the second half. 2-0 was not the signal to down tools and make merry, so he might have been advised to pick the simple pass rather than blasting crossfield 30 yarders of questionable return on investment.

And finally, having taken such pains to tear United apart, someone at some stage really ought to have applied the coup de grace and put the matter to bed. The second half turned into a litany of chances, but 2-0 it remained.
Which was enough, and bodes well. A point at Liverpool and then another win at home to Arsenal would represent a marvellous couple of weeks’ work, before we knuckle back down to the Champions League.

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