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.