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Huddersfield 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1: Exhausted Harry Kane

Until only a few days ago the red-hot topic of conversation in all the nattier establishments of London seemed to have revolved around Harry Kane and his energy levels – or lack thereof, to be precise. Indeed, AANP, never having been one to miss a passing bandwagon, was peddling this very line with gusto.

Others suggested he was injured, one or two went down the Lacking Confidence route and a foolish, misguided few even insisted that the chap was actually fine, and if we just left him well alone to earn his weekly packet he’d bang them in from all angles soon enough.

Fast forward to the present day, and one cannot cross a road for the U-turns being effected en masse across the land, as we Kane-Watchers adjust our narratives to match current events. For, beginning with a few hints during the second half against Brighton last week, and continuing in no uncertain terms yesterday, young Master Kane was barrelling his chest, shrugging off all-comers and racing towards goal like a stallion in the prime of its life.

The despatched header and penalty certainly lent a pleasing gloss to the argument – which is a little odd, given that they are two finishes that depend precious little on one’s state of health and fitness. However, the proof of the pudding was the manner in which he repeatedly latched onto the ball from pretty much anywhere north of the halfway line, nipping there in front of the nearest defender before charging towards goal like a bull with one heck of a score to settle. It was the Kane of old, and had our polished arguments about his fatigue and need for a rest rather dying on our lips.

Mind you, this nevertheless remains the same chap who wandered around during the latter stages of the World Cup, and then again during the earlier stages of the season, looking a little bereft, seemingly overwhelmed with the effort of it all.

1.5: A Suggested Explanation for The Kane Renaisance

The AANP theory? That when the chap is asked to hang back around the halfway line, with his back to goal, shielding the ball and winning more free-kicks than you can shake a stick at, while some speedy young menace is employed to do all the running some ten yards ahead of him, one rather limits his capabilities.

So as Sterling was employed to go scampering further upfield during the World Cup, and Lucas similarly during the first few thrusts of the season, Kane was decidedly muted. Yesterday, by contrast, with Son and Lucas deployed as support acts, Kane positively revelled in the starring role, through the middle, atop the formation and with every opportunity to beeline his way goalwards.

2: Central Midfield Watch Part One: Eric Dier

The counter-attacking nature of proceedings certainly played into Kane’s hands as if the whole thing had been carefully scripted by some evil genius weeks earlier. The fact that Huddersfield were blessed with precious few attacking ideas of their own beyond the Long Throw Gambit rendered the game pretty prosaic stuff from the moment our second goal went in.

AANP therefore, being an eagle-eyed and proactive sort, took the opportunity to conduct a forensic analysis of Eric Dier’s performance. The reason being that for nigh on a year now, the blighter’s performances have had me harrumphing away like nobody’s business.

With magnifying glass in hand and notebook at the ready I therefore studied Dier like a particularly devilish eagle giving some would-be prey the once-over. I can report that the chap seems to thrive on holding a slightly non-threatening position at all times, around 10 yards away from the ball. He rarely seems to anticipate danger, but instead watches on from his sentry post, and scowls.

At times this can prove a suitable deterrent. I, for one, would think twice about getting up to too much mischief if I glanced up and spotted Master Dier giving me the stern eye. On the other hand, the Dier 10-Yard Stand-Off does not actually offer much practical value to the rest of Team Hotspur, primarily because it contains the glaring flaw that the hard-boiled egg is always 10 dashed yards from the action.

When the ball enters his sphere of influence Dier does, as has been well-advertised over the years, enjoy crashing in to take ball, man, passing strangers and any other object within the vicinity. This may win possession; it may earn a yellow card; it almost always disrupts nature’s gentle flow.

And frustratingly, Dier’s passing can veer from pretty darned effective forward passes that bisect several opponents, to egregiously bad sideways fare that gifts the thing straight to the enemy.

All told, yesterday’s offering from the lad was not the most efficient defensive screen ever beheld; until the second half, when he was moved to the left-hand side of the back three and actually did a highly effective job, albeit against limited opposition.

3: Central Midfield Watch Part Two: Winks and Wanyama

The half-time shimmy involving Vertonghen and Dembele sloping off, and Dier shuffling into defence, meant rare outings for Messrs Winks and Wanyama. It seemed rude not to study their performances similarly.

Wanyama did at least have the decency to abandon the idea of a 10-yard no-go zone, and proactively go out to meet danger nose-tip to nose-tip, as it were. This did occasionally mean that he drifted out wide and left a gap in the centre, but by and large it made sense and worked well enough.

Young Winks remains an AANP favourite, so if it’s an entirely objective summary you’re after you might want to look elsewhere. That said, the young fish is not quite fully up to speed, and some doubts linger as to whether he will recapture the top-notch form of which he showed glimpses last season pre-injury.

There were a couple of moments yesterday in which he wriggled away from danger in that Modric-esque way; but equally on occasion he wriggled less delightfully slap-bang into trouble.

Presumably all of the aforementioned need game time, not to mention defined roles within an often-changing system, but we all have our crosses to bear. For what it’s worth, the AANP central midfield pairing of preference at the moment would be Dembele and Wanyama.

4. Gazzaniga

A polite mention to Master Gazzaniga, who did the necessaries in fairly fashion. This might not normally merit too many column inches, but given the yowls of despair that tend to greet Vorm’s every soft-handed error, one might as well laud – or at least greet with an exhalation of relief – the serene manner in which our number three Number One kept the back-gate locked.

Saves were saved, and punches punched, although his short-pass goal-kicks are occasionally a tad wobbly in nature, as seems to be the vogue amongst our goalkeepers. Some nifty saves in last week’s shoot-out too. Not sure I would want him rebuffing Messi and chums this Wednesday, but to date he has done all asked of him.

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

Brighton 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Welcome Win, Slightly Improved Performance

For those of you who have been merrily camping under a rock for the last few weeks, pre kick-off this particular binge had assumed a darned sight more importance than your average ‘Brighton (away)’. Three defeats, fatigue, drink-driving, transfers (or lack thereof) and incomplete building works had all contributed to a general sense that the four horsemen were fastening their buckles and giving their mounts some final instructions.

It was therefore with a mixture that was around one-third surprise and two-thirds relief that I noted the perilous nature of the situation had made itself known to our heroes, as set to work trying to unpick the Brighton lock with sleeves rolled up and concentration etched all over faces.

Our lot prodded and probed, and although there was a conspicuous absence of the sweet, sweet sound of oil being struck in that opening half hour, things were at least a notch or two zippier than in recent weeks.
Brighton, understandably enough, began proceedings in rather cautious manner, supplementing their back four with a couple of midfielders, a striker and just about anyone who happened to be passing through the south coast with half an hour to kill. The massed ranks proved tricky to breach, so thank goodness for the flailing paw of Glenn Murray.

Thereafter, needing to chase the game, our hosts hit upon the idea of doing some attacking of their own, and the game segued from one of history’s more passive chess matches to a harum-scarum game of playground football in which the bell is about to sound and life depends upon scoring the next goal. Gaps duly appeared for our heroes to exploit, and on several occasions we appeared to be one devilishly-executed pass away from sewing up the thing; but at the other end Brighton were rushing around like a pack of wolves that had scented blood, and worried glances were being exchanged like nobody’s business in our ranks, which was pretty telling.

Mercifully, the added layer or two of quality in lilywhite picked a good moment to make itself known. There might have been a bucketful or two more perspiration involved than was entirely comfortable, but given recent history I suspect I’m not the only one glad that we simply made it off the pitch with three points intact.

2. A Good Dembele Day

The sages paid to opine on these things picked Danny Rose as their star man, and one does not want to begrudge the honest chap, but at AANP Towers preparations were being made to pin the relevant rosette to one Mousa Dembele.

This was not so much a game in which he orchestrated everything like a criminal mastermind in an underground lair. It was more the fact that every time he popped up in the centre of the pitch, he simply did the right thing.

If a tackle needed to be made, he went a-crunching. When fed the ball he either glided past the nearest bemused opponent, or rolled it onwards to a chum. And on more than one occasion when a teammate got his feet into a muddle and Brighton looked to pinch the thing, Dembele came racing across, extinguishing materials at the ready, to douse flames and restore calm.

(Quite what the nearby Eric Dier made of this repeated purveyance of well-executed decisions is anyone’s guess, but I rather suspect that he gasped and said “What ho!” In fairness, this was not one of Dier’s increasingly common bad days, and his incisive forward pass to set in motion our second was a useful reminder of that of which he’s capable. Nevertheless, as often as not the chap is errant in his passing and a little ill-judged in his tackling. It all lends a little bafflement to the notion that we bought nobody this summer because there was no room for improvement on the current mob.)

3. Hints of Kane Returning to From

It is impossible to swing a cat these days without crashing into someone armed with their own thesis as to why Harry Kane has not been sweeping all before him in recent weeks like some modern-day Hannibal.

Various theories expounded by those in the know include the fact that Lucas is elbowing him out of position and into a spot somewhere nearer halfway; fatigue has the poor egg in its clutches and won’t let him go; a newborn baby is depriving him of sleep; it’s hardly his fault when the team aren’t giving him much of a sniff of goal; and confidence has drained from him.

The considered AANP opinon on all this is to offer a generously-sized shrug and wonder if it is some combo of all of the above (apart from the confidence thing, perhaps – the chap’s self-belief throughout his career has been trumpeted throughout the land ad nauseam, on top of which he’s just won a World Cup golden boot and put to bed the whole August-curse nonsense, so it seems rather a stretch to imagine that a couple of goalless games has him laying awake every night riddled with self-doubt).

Whatever the reason, the whole debate struck me as beginning to disappear from view yesterday, as during the second half in particular Kane rediscovered his joie de vivre and, for the first time in around six months, began to hare towards goals, shove defenders aside and effect some nifty footwork as appropriate in order to thump a shot from distance and on-target.

This happened three times in the closing stages, and while each shot was admittedly of the meat-slash-drink variety for the goalkeeper, each episode felt like a welcome return to the Kane of yore. It was of an ilk not seen so far this season, during the World Cup or generally ever since that ankle injury vs Bournemouth in March.

4. Late Concession

Our second goal was Sunday-best sort of material, and allowed us to canter towards minute 90 in pretty rare fettle – but this being what it is, and our lot being who they are, there was naturally one of those plot twists that is advertised as “Unexpected”, even though one had a pretty hefty inkling it was coming all along.

Brighton’s goal was the latest in a pretty meaty catalogue of Fairly Soft Goals Conceded By THFC In Season 2018/19, on top of which there was still time for us to lose possession and usher them in for another shot at goal, despite there only being around 90 seconds on the clock.

I suspect if that had gone in cracks might have appeared in the sky and an impromptu riot begun by Spurs fans across the land, so thank heavens for the safe hands of young Master Gazzaniga.

More broadly however, something does need to be done to stop this particular brand of rot. If we have a lead, and a game is meandering fairly aimlessly towards a victory, the Brains Trust and all involved dashed well need to find a way to ensure that the meandering continues apace and victory ensues with minimal fuss.

Both Watford and Inter were allowed back into games that no casual observer would have believed would finish as anything but a lilywhite victory, and last night we came within a gnat’s wingspan of making an almighty muddle of things yet again. Yesterday’s victory was deserved, but this habit of complicating the serene march to victory really must stop, dash it.

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

Inter 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Absolute Gut-Wrenching Frustration, Dash It

Back in the mid-90s, if you had suggested that there is no shame in losing away to Inter, I’d have yelled “Gollazo”, thrust my false ID in your general direction and agreed vigorously. However, things – as sometimes happens – have changed. Inter’s stripey ensemble might retain a certain appeal, but their 2018 on-pitch vintage is pretty crushingly average.

Accordingly, most of the trouble we faced was overwhelmingly of our own doing – and more grumbles on that particular topic below – while our hosts did little more than huff, puff and complain about this and that.
In fact, by around the 70-minute mark Inter had fairly unashamedly thrown in the towel, and simply mooched around the place, killing time until the post-match snifters at the nearest Milanese watering-hole. Our heroes were required to do little more than light cigars and apologetically keep possession as the game and all around it drifted towards a happy conclusion.

In a group like this, three points away from home would have swung the odds pretty handily in our favour. Even one point would have been accepted, albeit sniffily in the cirucmstances. But to have the larder so completely raided, barely ten minutes after having been in complete control, was about as rotten a conclusion as one can imagine.

2. The Morbidly Fascinating Tactic of Repeatedly Trying to Pass Out From The Back

Mind you, it was a good 30 or 40 minutes before one cottoned on to the fact that Inter were not quite the prowling behemoth of yore. In the opening thrusts, we seemed to have our work cut out to keep them at bay, and it is no exaggeration to say that one pursed the lips with concern.

On closer inspection however, it became pretty evident that the nub of all these problems were our own dashed heroes – and in particular the ludicrous tactic of repeatedly trying to pass the ball out from the area at goal kicks.

To say that the plan had a mild flaw or two in its mechanics is to make a pretty fruity bid for Understatement of the Year. Time and again the ball was passed to one or other of the centre-backs, who promptly staggered around it like men who had been drinking in the city centre since mid-morning.

On the rare occasions that they managed to dispense with the thing, it only bobbed around ten yards further up the field, where either Davies or Aurier were on hand to pass it straight to an opponent or trip over themselves while the ball gently rolled out of play. Precious little assistance came from midfield either, where every lilywhite in sight was determined to add their own glaring miscontrol or errant pass to the collection, and the whole thing made football look like the most complex operation imaginable.

It was mind-boggling to behold. Our heroes peddled a solid demonstration of the definition of madness, wondering why a different outcome was not materialising, and seemingly oblivious to the presence of alternatives – the concept of simply blasting the ball into the half being pretty firmly off the agenda. I’m not sure we managed serene progress to the halfway line from a single one of around a dozen first half attempts to pass our way out from the back.

These persistent, determined attempts to stuff the same square pegs into round holes, and the consequent bother they caused us in conceding possession on the edge of our own area, rather distracted from the fact that going forward our front four or so were quietly burrowing their way into the Inter ranks.

Nothing too blistering, heaven forbid, but the little dink from Eriksen to Kane; the occasional over-elaboration from Lamela; the odd dribble from Dembele over halfway – one started to get the impression that Inter were actually there for the taking, if we just applied ourselves. And cleared the lines from goal-kicks, of course.

3. Moura The Impact Sub

Lucas Moura seems not to have received the club-wide memo that all in lilywhite must trudge about the premises looking like they have been flogged half to death all summer. Sprightly whenever he has started a game so far this season, he hit upon the terrific idea of displaying precisely the same degree of spright when introduced as a substitute, and it produced exceptional results.

Credit to the manager were due – and he has a sizeable portion of blame heading his way soon enough – it was a decision that could not have been better timed if he had been rehearsing it for weeks. We led by a goal, Inter were beginning to over-commit and their general energy levels were sapping away like nobody’s business.

Enter Moura, and every Inter defender in sight began queuing up to have the dickens twisted out of them. The only shame was that it did not bring about the second goal that it merited.

4. Aurier Turns In A Half-Decent Display

Frequent visitors to this parish – and indeed, any man, woman or child alive, who has ever cast the merest glance in our direction over the past season – will be well aware that Serge Aurier is a man of questionable defensive prowess.

“Liability” has generally been the mot juste, as the blighter has conceded penalties, earned red cards, sliced clearances and misplaced passes in a pretty determined attempt to establish himself as a dashed nuisance, and raise the blood pressure of approximately half the population of North London.

He started proceedings in typical fashion yesterday – albeit in common with most of his defensive chums. A miscontrol to concede a throw, a wayward header to concede a corner – so far, so Aurier.

Come the second half however, the chap got his act together like a man possessed. Filling in behind the centre-backs like a seasoned sweeper, he cleared up the occasional mess at the back, whilst also channelling his inner Kyle Walker by bombing up the back as if wing-backing were his specialist subject.

All in vain ultimately, and a genuine shame that he was the AWOL marker for the winning goal, but having taken every opportunity to hammer the chap over the past year, it is only fair to applaud him when he remembers his p’s and q’s, so to speak.

5. Poch Decisions

If one were to spot a gentleman going about his business with an umbrella tucked underneath his arm, and then cast a glance skywards and spot cloud formations of the murky variety – well, while one would hardly burst into spontaneous applause, one would nevertheless understand the chap’s rationale, and accept that decision as acceptable enough.

Thus did the replacement of Lamela with Winks strike me. I don’t mind admitting that I eyed the progress of Messrs Son, Eriksen and Lamela with an enthusiastic eye every time they broke over halfway to sniff out glory, and when Lamela was hooked a gentle sadness struck me. Not one of those deep, sighing sadnesses; more of a mildly disappointed shrug. Nevertheless, like the gentleman preparing for rain, one followed the thought process – we led away from home, and Winks, on paper at least, was the sort of egg who could offer a little more protection as the clock ticked down.

However, one can only judge these things in hindsight, and on results. We did lose a sliver of that attacking thrust of the previous twenty minutes, and – while neither goal had much to do with young Winks – we did concede twice. As if Our Glorious Leader did not have enough on his plate, he now has AANP raising a disapproving eyebrow at his mid-game switches.

To say nothing of his pre-game choices. The omissions of both Toby and Trippier rank amongst the most deeply suspicious of our time. Rather like one of those young brides one reads about who convinces her new octogenarian spouse to alter his will and leave her the whole dashed inheritance mere days before his death, this was a fishy move. And once again, hindsight and the result ultimately points to Poch making the wrong calls. Heaven help him if he engages in a game of Scissors-Paper-Stone, for every choice he makes this week, while honest and well-intentioned, ultimately brings about a soggy ending.

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

Watford 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Pretty Dashed Ordinary Fare

In truth I could point an accusatory digit at any one of around half a dozen of our mob today, so I’ll dish out a collective fingerwag instead. In the opening exchanges the most that could be said was that our back three looked neat and tidy. Lucas pottered around, and countless corners were swung in and headed away, but it was all about as inspiring as a view from one of the lower decks of the Titanic.

Not that Watford did much of any note either, and when a sequence of stumbles and ricochets resulted in a goal so half-baked it was barely worthy of registering, the reaction at AANP Towers was one of quizzical shrugs and relief that the job was at least being done, albeit with all the aesthetic quality of The Elephant Man on a bad hair day.

Gallingly, it took little more than for Watford to yank one or two of our lot in the cloakroom and demand their lunch money for the whole thing to come crashing down. They bullied us for around ten minutes, which was enough to tootle off with game, set and the whole dashed match. To be so simply bundled out of the way, and for that ten minute spell to be sufficient to defeat us, seems pretty ropey fare.

2. Midfield Impotence

There was something oddly impotent about our midfield throughout. Dembele, who had been making a pretty useful stab of things when hauled from the bench to sprinkle some control onto proceedings in the first couple of games this season, looked, as against United, a tad too casual about life from the off. As if the exact destination of his passing was neither here nor there, so long as one appreciated that in his head he had the right sort of idea.

Neither did he at any point really provide the sort of surge that screams “I no longer care a hang for this, I’m charging straight through the middle and if you want to stop me you’ll pretty well have to grab me by the waist and haul me down.” Young Winks had a stab at the aforementioned, bless him, during his two-minute cameo, but Dembele seemed content to shuttle the ball sideways and backwards, with the air of a man who had somewhere more urgent to be at full-time. Like the Chinese Super League, perhaps.

Christian Eriksen also gave the strangely neutered performance. There were one or two speculative pops from distance, and some token efforts to combine with Trippier on the right, but the suspicion never really disappeared that throughout proceedings he was stifling a yawn.

Admittedly, for one glorious first half moment it appeared that the whole midfield gang had been grabbed by the shoulders and rather violently shaken from their mid-afternoon slumbers, as they popped a series of first-time passes up the field, resulting in Lucas being within a cat’s whisker of a clean shot at goal. That aside, the whole performance had something of the casual about it, and we the viewing public had the right to chunter.

3. Dele’s Multiple Touches

It is hardly fair to pick on an individual, but more for the sake of venting a personal gripe, Dele Alli is doing a terrific job of frustrating the dickens out of yours truly. Throw a football – or even, one suspects, a golf ball, or pebble, or young rodent – at the blighter and you suspect he’ll trap it on his instep with nary a thought, effortlessly flick it up once or twice and nutmeg someone. His technique is not really in question.

However, if our heroes are pinging the ball around hither and thither, once it reaches the Dele size nines it stays with him and life swiftly seeps from the build-up. One- or two-touch jousting is utterly foreign to the young blister. It makes me want to sprint to the nearest brick wall and bang my head against it, such is the frustration. Just pass the dashed thing along! The chap seems physically incapable of releasing it before his sixth touch.

To give him his dues, I find an oddly mesmeric quality to his off-ball movement. On a few occasions in each game so far this season he has channelled his inner Houdini and drifted from the clutches of the nearest foe, to saunter, undetected, into the cauldron of the opposition area, and proceeded to make a nuisance of himself.

It is a pretty nifty skill. It was evidenced today when he was picked out by Toby and looped a header wide, in the first half, and may well be facilitated by the fact that we now have two hardy souls ploughing the attacking furrow.

So pros and cons to the young fish, but the point remains that if I had to swig a dram of the good stuff for every unnecessary touch he applied I suspect I would be slumped across the sofa with my excuses ready for a non-appearance in the office, before the half-time gong had sounded.

4. Kane Similarly Off-Colour

Even the poster boy was skulking around a little moodily, fluffing his lines and trotting down dead-ends, as happens to us all from time to time.

In Kane’s defence, the Job Description ever since the latter stages of the World Cup seems to have been to loiter around halfway wining free-kicks in a Shearer-esque style, so this he obediently does. The presence of Lucas tearing around further up the pitch, while jolly handy for the team, has not necessarily proven the most useful addition to Kane’s own ill-disguised agenda to score all the goals, and as a result one can pretty much count on a single hand the presentable chances he has had so far this season.

Dashed vexing then – and the eagle-eyed will have noticed that vexation is a recurring theme within today’s musings – that when he did finally have a sniff of glory, at 1-0, the young bean, who has spent the last four seasons turning Greed In Front Of Goal into a personal trademark, oddly attempted to pick a slightly unlikely pass, rather than putting his head down and swinging a left clog, or at least having the decency to cut in on his right foot and curl away.

It was simply that sort of day I suppose. No doubt things will be compounded by enemies of the Queen’s English attempting to merge the separate words “lax” and “lackadaisical” in their attempts to describe this afternoon’s lilywhite dirge, and the gloomy mood at AANP Towers will be capped off.

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