1. All Hail Sissoko. Again.
Nowhere else to begin, of course. The chap’s stock continues to soar, greeted from all sides with a peculiar mixture of bewilderment and delight. The all-action defensive style, which sees him gallop like a thoroughbred before using a vast array of limbs to wipe out opponents, has been of great value in our two most recent jaunts, in patrolling the right-and-central defensive areas, providing some friendly companionship to Serge Aurier.
But his occasional forays up the pitch, rarely in anything more than a straight line, have been weirdly mesmeric, and yesterday they struck oil when oil was the one thing we jolly well needed to strike most.
To begin at the beginning, once it became clear that Inter were not about to do as Chelsea did, and simply roll over to have their tummies tickled, we became embroiled in one of those tense, suspenseful larks, like the twisty spy thrillers one occasionally reads, in which everyone is actually double-crossing their dearest chum and one never quite knows what is coming on the next page, other than a heck more tension.
Patiently we prodded and poked, and introduced our starry subs, and admirably did not panic – but the problem remained. We needed a spark.
Enter Sissoko, simultaneously the least and most likely hero. His run was, again, little more than a gallop in a straight line – but what a gallop! Inter folk bore the look of a mob who had never quite seen this sort of thing before, torn between being drawn towards him and backing off him.
Mercifully, he ended his little dash by following the instructions that appear to have been hammered home to him by the entire coaching stuff, namely to keep it simple. Keep it simple he duly did, slipping the ball to Dele, and the rest was marvellous, fabulous history.
2. Nagging Concerns About Sissoko
After the rotten start to his N17 career the young fish deserves every plaudit going. He also deserves quite the formally-worded letter of apology, from AANP Towers amongst others, which I am quite happy to pen myself.
In my quiet moments, however, I do still stroke the chin and scratch the head and murmur to myself, “Really? I mean, dash it, really?”
There can be no doubting the empirical evidence: Sissoko is now a crucial component of this team, providing a defensive barrier, of strength and pace, as well as an attacking outlet – also of strength and pace, as it happens.
And as noted above, he is well aware of the need to keep things simple, and that he does, with his awkward, very telegraphed, but successful six-yard passes to the nearest lilywhite.
My concern remains that the bubble looks at any and every given moment like it is about to burst. I would be deceiving my public to say I wake up in cold sweats thinking about it, but I cannot shake off the worry that at any given point his control will utterly desert him, and he will once again become a liability. And by “control” I refer both to his control of the ball, when in possession, and his control of his limbs when moving up the gears. Put bluntly, it always seems as if his control of ball and limbs is as much a matter of luck as design. I sense he is about to overrun the ball, or trip over his own feet, every time.
This may well be thoroughly unfair; it may well just be the inherent pessimistic Spurs fan inside me; but I suspect I will need a few more months of this new, magic Sissoko before I am truly converted.
Still, the chap’s cult hero status is already pretty much secured, what?
3. Irreplaceable Eriksen
I suspect anyone with their ear pinned to the walls of the Away Dressing Room would report back that there were few grumbles from the Italian quarter about the outcome. A tight old joust it might have been, but our lot were superior, and 1-0 seemed about right.
1-0 it almost wasn’t however, because for all our superiority, and the generally more forward-thinking attitude, we did lack that little sprinkle of ingenuity in the final third. In short, we lacked Eriksen.
This is not to quibble with the team selection – more on that below – but just to note that the one, crucial position in which lack a quality reserve seems to be Eriksen’s. Even Kane, if removed, can be handily deputised for by Sonny’s scampering – a different kettle of fish, admittedly, but one that proves effective.
But remove Eriksen, and the wit and devilry of the whole troupe seems to dial down a notch. The nifty one-twos on the edge of the area fall a tad short, attempts to dribble past countless opponents are thwarted at the last, crosses are swung in, shots are fired from outside the area. Sissoko’s burst did the trick yesterday, but the moments of true guile come from Eriksen.
It presents a two-fold problem, of how to cope without the honest chap, and whether we can hang on to him beyond his current contract.
4. Squad Rotation
The pre-match natter was all about Eriksen and Sonny mooching on from the sidelines, with plenty of scribbles in both the Credit and Debit columns on this one.
Hindsight, surprisingly enough, has just about come down in favour of Our Glorious Leader’s position – we won, just, and kept the two imps fresh for Sunday.
The Case for the Prosecution, at kick-off and throughout the first hour or so, was that the front four of Eriksen, Son, Dele and Kane had absolutely shredded Chelsea at the weekend, so why the devil weren’t they being unleashed again here, when victory was essential?
A compelling point, actually. Poch’s Sustitution Gambit was risky, even if ultimately successful, but the philosophical AANP view at kick-off was that simply picking Son and Eriksen was no guarantee that they would replicate their success of Saturday. It is not impossible to imagine that they, like Lucas and Lamela, might have huffed and puffed from a distance of twenty-plus yards and to little effect, if played from the start.
As it happened, Sonny’s impact was immediate. He may well have been as effective if he’d started, or he may simply have benefited from being introduced against wearying limbs. Who knows?
It’s all a little moot now, and it ended well enough. On an uplifting sidenote, the lad appears to have rediscovered that joie de vivre that appeared to be absent in the opening weeks of the season, when he was shuttling across the globe.
And so this most taxing of weeks is beginning to assume a surprisingly sunny hue. A romp against Chelsea, a tough old points-victory against Inter, and just the wretched Woolwich lot left to come. (And then another hundred or so games between now and 2019.)
One thing that strikes me in the final analysis is that our current vintage seem finally to be playing with a generous splash of maturity. The late PSV win, from one-down after a minute, was a triumph for persistence, skill and discipline, when it would have been easy to have neglected any or all of those three.
And here again, to keep ticking along patiently until the 80th minute, without panicking or losing their discipline, and against pretty high-quality opponents, was another little marker.
(On the discipline point – I didn’t really spot what happened with Winks, but Erik Lamela needs to be on the receiving end of a damn good thrashing, because his challenge was appalling. Could have injured the opponent, could have had us down to ten men with a lot of the game to play. But that aside, I thought our heroes kept their heads fairly well.)
Our ability to hang on to a lead for any length of time against top opposition still remains questionable, I suppose, but when we’ve needed goals we’ve found a way. It’s almost the sort of thing that is enough to win a trophy.
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