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Barcelona 1-1 Spurs: Five Glorious Tottenham Observations

1. Our Most Significant Result

Now this is what makes it all worthwhile. If you did not bound out from beneath the sheets with a sore head and a sunny whistle on your lips then I rather despair.

This was magnificent. Yes we have convincingly beaten Real, City, Arsenal, Liverpool, United and Chelsea at various points in recent seasons – and while marvellous fun one and all, and richly deserved, and prompting all manner of gaiety and revelry there was nevertheless margin for error on each of those occasions. Failure in those games actually was an option, as we could simply shrug our shoulders and eye up the fixture list for our next joust.

But when push has met shove, and everything has absolutely rested on one single game, with no option of returning next week to make amends – those games in which boys become men and wild animals slink around you with a look in their eye that says “It’s you or me, old mucker, because only one of us will emerge from this alive I’m afraid,” – we have generally fallen short. Cup finals, cup semi-finals, crunch winner-takes-all CL games – that is where wheat is separated from chaff, and a most unwanted reputation has come our way.

All of which makes yesterday our most significant result in as many years as you care to remember. This was the first time we met elite opponents in what was essentially a knock-out tie, and we delivered.

Caveats abound of course – we didn’t win the thing, for a start, as we really ought to have done, and Barcelona obligingly removed a number of luminaries before the bash had even started. But they were still a dashed talented mob, it was still a daunting task in a daunting venue, and our lot still delivered when previously they had failed.
Add this to our late two goals against PSV and the late winner against Inter – again, two more games with no margin for error – and there are finally hints that our heroes now have the mentality to deliver in these crucial one-off matches.

2. Heroes All Round

There were thrilling performances littered all round the pitch. In the first half the front four looked a constant threat, four players neatly approaching their peak form in a fashion so well coordinated it was like they had been rehearsing for weeks. A shame that Sonny left his shooting boots back in Blighty, but from the off one sensed that we would certainly create a hatful of chances – even if the inherent pessimist in me, cultivated by years of watching Spurs, rather fretted that we would miss every blinking one of them.

From my vantage point on the AANP sofa (and with volume muted, such is my distaste for that particular commentator and his off-topic rambles) it seemed that Danny Rose became better with each passing minute.

Greeting everyone in his neck of the woods with aggressive glares and meaty challenges when defending, and springing into action with boundless energy when attacking, it was all a rather nostalgic throwback to a bygone era when our full-backs were our main attacking threat.

On t’other side, the campaign to build a statue in honour of Moussa Sissoko received yet another irresistible boost. That glorious combo of beast-like strength in defence, and powerful – if rather uncomplicated – forward gallops when seguing into attack had the Barcelona types scratching their heads, unsure of quite how to deal with the chap.

On top of which he then went from being a helping hand on the right, to assuming complete ownership of it, after the hooking of young KWP. Admittedly Sissoko never quite knows what to do once he has powered into the heart of the opposition defence, but he might as well have started charging others to enter his little strip of land, such was his dominance of it.

As if to plant a cherry on top of the icing, he then became the one-man answer to the question that’s been unanswerable for the last ten years – how does one stop Lionel Messi? When Messi picked up the ball and began slaloming, it all looked horribly inevitable – until he ran into Sissoko and pretty much bounced straight back off him, leaving our hero to emerge with ball at feet and wild determination in eye.

3. Kyle Walker-Peters

A testing night for young Kyle Walker-Peters, mind. ‘Educational’, might be the mot juste. The chap actually made a start that if not exactly rollicking by every measurement nevertheless seemed to bode quite well, as he confidently went on a little maraud down the right and earned a free-kick in what is legally known as “a dangerous area”.

Alas, the poor fish must have wished he hadn’t, because within about ten seconds he was slap bang in the middle of the sort of nightmarish sequence that usually receives a pretty stern telling-off from the legal bods for having been aired before the watershed.

Naturally enough, KWP’s confidence promptly took a nosedive as he spent much of the rest of the evening looking quite unashamedly like he was scouring the Nou Camp turf for a spot that would open up and swallow him whole. One would rather have felt for him if there were not a job to be done.

This is not to lambast his overall performance mind. He toiled away earnestly enough, generally avoided any further mishaps and made one pretty crucial block at 1-0 in the second half. But in general he did look exactly as had been advertised, namely a fish slightly out of water, gasping away appropriately.

All of which suggests that his career could go one of two ways, as he will presumably either push on and become a terrific player, or fizzle away into obscurity. Shove him into the starting eleven against Newcastle and he can produce a man of the match performance; do the same at Barca and he can make a crucial mistake. It’s far too early to pass judgement on the chap. As with young Foyth he will need more chances and be allowed to make more mistakes.

It is worth remembering a skinny young mite named Ledley King making a terrific pig’s ear of things inside his own area in the 2002 Worthington Cup final, costing us the match – and then making an identical mistake the following week in the league for good measure. The young people will do such things, and luckily for them, Our Glorious Leader is quite a forgiving sort in these matters.

4. Eriksen and Dele

Back to sunnier matters. As caution was picked up and hurled at the wind, we ended up in a glorious throwback to the Ossie Ardiles reign, as just about every soul in lilywhite bar the centre-backs and ‘keeper became an attacker. Sissoko and Rose became wing-backs, Winks was replaced by a forward, and rather thrillingly it became clear that even our deep-lying midfielders were now forward-thinking sorts, as we were treated to the sight of Dele and Eriksen dropping deep to dictate matters from around the centre circle, a task they each performed with aplomb.

Dele looks a man reborn these days, presumably having benefited from the enforced rest brought about by his injury. He brimmed with energy, and his touch looked most appropriately top-notch, given the surroundings.

We have come to expect nothing less from Eriksen of course, who took to reminding me of Modric in his White Hart Lane pomp, assisting the chap who provides the assist, if you get my drift.

5. Substitutes and Substitutions

Having berated Our Glorious Leader a couple of weeks ago for his curious decision-making against Arsenal, I now heap praise upon him by the sackload for his management not just of this game, but Leicester a couple of days ago.

The omissions of Kane and Eriksen on Saturday were perfectly gauged. The introduction of substitutes last night were perfectly timed and achieved precisely the desired effect. Lamela injected fresh energy, ideas and aggression; Moura’s directness ultimately brought him his goal. Even throwing on Llorente for Winks ensured that the pressure remained firmly clamped down upon the Barca back-line. I rather start to get the impression that Poch is getting the hang of this management lark.

And as pleasing as the contributions of the personnel was the approach used as the game wore on. While the AANP heartrate reached dangerously unsustainable levels, the calmest gang out there were the Spurs personnel themselves. There were no desperate long balls or speculative long-range efforts; our heroes remained remarkably level-headed and kept playing as they had done throughout, with quick, slick passing and off-ball movement. Barcelona’s best moments came from individual brilliance, which is fair enough when you fling £100 million plus at a player; ours repeatedly came from neat and incisive team moves.

Naturally, this being Spurs, it could have been done so much more easily – in recent weeks and last night – but it just adds to the fun of the thing, no?

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Leicester 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

I’m not sure how public opinion will come down once the votes are in, but by my estimation this ranked amongst the best results of our season.

Before you gather your rotten tomatoes and start flexing your throwing arm, consider the evidence. Leicester, though not world-beaters, are no slouches, and had been in pretty rare fettle prior to last night’s events. On top of which, this rather cruel habit of the Fixture Gods, of scheduling a game every five minutes or so, continues unabated. Barcelona await on Tuesday, and to that end, most crucially, we entered battle with our two key weapons safely ensconced in training gear on the bench.

Throw in the usual raft of injuries – Dembele, Sanchez, Trippier, Lamela, Wanyama – and by the time the preliminaries were done I was fully expecting our heroes to drop a couple of points at the minimum.

1. Life Without Kane and Eriksen

After his disastrous Foyth-For-Toby gambit around this time last week, I don’t mind telling you that AANP was in unforgiving mood when the teamsheet went up in lights, revealing both Kane and Eriksen to be surplus to requirements. The eyebrow shimmered upwards with displeasure, make no mistake.

Now admittedly, ever since the World Cup, yours truly has been near the front of the queue of those yowling that Harry Kane needs to be given the occasional night off with his feet up and a mug of something warming in his hands. Pretty rich, you might therefore say, of me to yowl with equal displeasure when that very same wish is granted. And you would in fact have a fairly watertight point.

But the nub of the thing is that to drop one key player at a time might seem like common sense, but to drop two in one go, dash it, is really taking one heck of a chance.

Or so the argument ran pre-match.

As things transpired, Our Glorious Leader played his hand to perfection, keeping our star men about as fresh as a particularly buoyant couple of daisies ahead of the date with Barcelona, whilst maintaining league form that, if not quite relentless, feels like it’s about seven eighths of the way there. A mumbled apology duly falls from the AANP lips and wings its way Pochwards.

That said, for around 45 of 46 first half minutes we did scuttle around with a distinct absence of cut and thrust.
Kane’s absence, while hardly something for which one can compensate with an insouciant shrug of the shoulders and a carefree whistle on the lips, is nevertheless one of those trials in life with which one learns to cope. Not even Sonny’s own parents would suggest that he has the bulk and build to hold up the ball like Kane, and indeed the chap seemed to present all the physical presence upfront of a particularly wet piece of card, but with his pace and trickery he is at least capable of posing a threat as a striker. Lucas similarly has enough about him to make an opposing defender scratch his head and curl a lip or two.

Eriksen’s absence, however, is an altogether thornier subject to broach over post-prandial coffee. Nobody else in the team can pick and execute his brand of scything chances, and while we can tinker with formation and personnel until blue in the face, we look a darned sight more ordinary without him. That we ultimately won at such a cigar-puffing canter is a credit to Sonny for his quite marvellous opener, and Dele for a fabulous all-round performance.

2. Dele

Dele has never quite blown my skirt up as one would expect of a 50-goal midfielder, but by the time the curtain came down on proceedings yesterday I was one of the first out of my seat strewing the stage with flowers and yelling for an encore.

Eriksen he might not be when it comes to unpicking a lock with minimal fuss and a hefty dollop of suaveness, but the young imp still has a heck of a lot of technique and good-old fashioned schoolboy skill in his size eights. Last night he took the opportunity to rattle through a back-catalogue of his Greatest Hits, doing a passable impression of a young Gascoigne in the process.

What really made the world a sunnier place was that his dribbling and flicks were integrated within a pretty sound all-round display of decision-making. Whereas previously he has simply hogged the ball for the heck of it, ignoring the imploring pleas of better-placed colleagues, last night he seemed surprisingly alert to the fact that passing the thing was a real and credible option, and he hit a healthy balance between solo dribbles and well-judged distribution.

One still gets the impression that he would rather gnaw off his own arm than dish out a pass, but he mixed it up to good effect. In the absence of Kane and Eriksen, he seemed quite happy to take the lead, and his goal – though marginally the wrong side of the law, if we quibble about these things – was as richly deserved by the individual as by the team.

3. Full-Backs: No Longer A Forte

I saw this point made in one of last week’s evening papers, so if you already caught it yourself you might want to potter off and pour yourself a cheeky whiskey at this juncture, and rejoin the action in a couple of paragraphs’ time.

It’s the old gag about the current vintage of full-backs vs the circa 2015/16 vintage. Back then, Walker and Rose struck the fear of God into just about any opposing wide-men and managers you cared to name. They genuinely were amongst the best in Europe, and in a team full of assets and prized individuals had made a pretty solid stab at being the pick of the bunch.

But, as the cliché so neatly puts it, what a difference a couple of seasons, a huge transfer fee and personal ambition in a right-back, and a bout of depression, homesickness and injuries in a left-back makes. Walker is off dancing with the stars, Rose is a puzzlingly neutered version of his old self, and whichever personnel we use these days one’s instinct as an onlooker is to hold the breath and fear the worst.

Trippier, for all his whipped crosses onto the ample Kane forehead, sits rather awkwardly within a back-four as opposed to outside a back-three, as if itching for someone else to do the defensive stuff so that he can motor on into attack.

Aurier, while having generally cut the wild and reckless horizontal lunges from his game, is still neither one thing nor another, being both average at defending his patch and middling at attacking another’s.

As for Davies, the blighter would have my hair going a rich and glistening shade of grey if he had not already caused me to yank out great clumps of it in sheer frustration. His defending, as with the aforementioned, is generally no more than adequate – and quite often a few shades short of even that.

And as for his attacking, I can barely remember the last time one of his crosses hit the sweet spot in the heart of an opponent’s area. The Data Analysts amongst you will I’m sure report that the majority of his crosses bounce harmlessly off the nearest opponent. Even his less adventurous distribution seems oddly ill-executed, with misplaced passes and frequent instances of his being dispossessed seeming to litter the highlights reel.

To his credit, his infield pass ultimately set up our second goal yesterday, but this struck me very much as one to be filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Rule’. The young sore’s calling in life may well be within the safety-netted no-man’s-land that is the left side of a back three.

In general however, whomever one picks from the models on offer, our full-back selection is no longer a thing of menace and threat.

4. Doing Remarkably Well – Despite Evidence To The Contrary

Getting back to the specifics, Leicester were oddly obliging about things once Sonny had struck oil right on the half-time gong, and the second half was about as serene as I’ve witnessed Spurs in seeing out one of these away wins.

Lloris did eventually have to make a couple of saves, but nothing of the ilk to have one clutching feverishly at the nearest friend for support. Toby and Jan were unruffled at the back, which bodes well for Tuesday and makes one yet again rue the team selection vs Arsenal, and while young Winks does often opt to for the safety-first option of a backwards pass when something a little more adventurous would not go amiss, his was a very secure performance, laced with an occasional forwards surge.

One cannot really go into the Barcelona game with any sentiment further north of hope, but even should the worst happen and we fall into the doom-laden pit of despair that is the Europa League, we still find ourselves in remarkably fine health. This despite playing 10 of 16 games away from home; despite ‘home’ itself now emitting a decidedly unwelcome whiff; despite muscle injuries for 9 of our 12 World Cup Semi-Finalists; and despite the fact that aside from one (vs Chelsea) and a half (vs Man Utd) games we have yet to play genuinely well, in the truest sense of the word, all season.

Start actually playing consistently well and good knows where we might end up.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Arsenal 4-2 Spurs: Three Tottenham Observations

1. Outfought

Every now and then there comes a time in one’s affairs when one realises that things have not quite gone precisely to plan, and have in fact fouled up to pretty rotten levels. And at such times one really has little option but to smarten one’s tie, take a deep breath and face the world with a stiff upper lip and some of the honest spirit that was presumably hoovered up with gusto by those bygone era Christians who were spending their days being thrown to lions and other such unwelcome appointments.

This seems to be one of those times. Frankly our lot were outfought pretty much throughout, and there is no doubt the better team won. Unpalatable stuff to drink in, of course, but best digested swiftly.

Right from the curtain-raise Arsenal seemed to want the thing more, and the outlook didn’t really change much from that point. It had the air of those occasional away-days at West Ham, or the visit to Chelsea a few years back when they wanted to stop us winning the title – in short, the opposition’s cut and thrust had the air of stuff on which their last breaths depended.

As we did to Chelsea last week, so, with a neat symmetry did we have done to us this. Anybody in lilywhite who had possession was not given half a moment to reflect and glory in the fact, because packs of Arsenal blighters were swarming all over them, kicking and shoving and generally being a nuisance. Somehow our heroes failed to adjust to this way of thinking, and the whole operation pretty much fell apart at the seams as a result.

After around 20 minutes we did produce a spell of some neat and incisive little darts, and snaffled two goals out of it, which was a roaring return. When allowed to play, we trotted out decent stuff – but there’s the rub. By and large we just weren’t allowed to play, and for all the pushing and shoving we lacked a collective approach to the thing which took the fight to Arsenal and allowed us to get on top of them.

2. Individual Errors

Being a little too meek in the tackle and sluggish to the loose ball is bad enough in such hell-for-leather contests as this, such an approach being pretty much the polar opposite of that ordered by the doctor at these times.

But the whole dashed thing is sent plummeting to new depths when some of the key personnel involved start flinging around like confetti a whole slew of baffling acts of incompetence. Yet there in black and white they were, from minute one onwards. Worse, the specials from this particular list were trotted out by various esteemed members of the defence, behind whom of course there really is little else in the way of a safety net.

Aurier, Davies and Foyth were the principal early offenders, dwelling and dithering on the ball while numerous red shirts homed in on them, setting a dismal tone which their comrades adopted with a little too much gusto. In such circumstance one might have hypothesised that shifting play a good 60 yards up the pitch might have helped relieve the pressure, but the priority appeared to be kamikaze, so whenever he could Monsieur Lloris tried playing the ball out from the back. Naturally, every effort to pass the ball out from goalkeeper to back-four ended in near-calamity.

This sort of over-elaborate nonsense ought really to be swiftly consigned to the scrapheap, but of itself it doesn’t necessarily signal catastrophe. When the ball is lost out wide or in midfield, reinforcements can be summoned and last-ditch tackles made. The matter can be escalated. Disaster need not necessarily be declared. What really leaves matters in an irretrievable state is the most peculiar brand of idiocy that leaves an opponent clean in on goal, as peddled by some of those elder statesmen who really ought to know better.

Vertonghen’s handball as an early example. At a time when we desperately needed to keep our heads down, weather the storm and wait for Arsenal’s early energy to peter out, just about top of the list of Things To Be Avoided At All Costs was to randomly stick out a paw and concede one of history’s least necessary penalties.

Perhaps lower on the scale of Utter Insanity, yet hardly a moment to be paraded as a triumph for wisdom, was Eric Dier’s sliding attempted tackle on Torreira for the fourth goal, which was mistimed by around an hour, and was inexplicably executed behind rather than in front of him.

Moreover, 90 minutes featuring Juan Foyth would not be 90 minutes featuring Juan Foyth without some sort of error both utterly avoidable and seismic in effect, and the young boil duly obliged in the second half, with one of his copywritten moments of daydreaming while in possession, allowing Arsenal to scamper away and score their third.

3. Foyth Instead of Toby

On that note I’m inclined to pass a hand over a pretty fevered brow and wonder what the dickens Our Glorious Leader was thinking in picking Foyth ahead of Toby in the first place.

One understands and indeed applauds the sentiment of easing young Foyth into the rather unforgiving world of top-level centre-backery, but one would equally be fully justified in waggling a finger and protesting that there is a time and indeed a place for that sort of thing. Particularly when the whelp in question has a penchant for rustling up mistakes from thin air, like some sort of magician completely missing the point of his gig.

Would not a saner approach be to let Foyth bed in on home turf, and against opponents a little less likely to challenge for the top of the tree? We have about half a dozen such appointments in the coming month alone. And then, once proven in such circumstances to deliver without fouling up, fling him into an away day at The Emirates?

Evidently not. He made it through 90 minutes against Chelsea, but most certainly got away with his standard error (the unpunished foul on Hazard). On this occasion though, which ought really have to been one for as solid a foundation as we had, Foyth brought his box of mistakes and sprinkled them liberally throughout.

It would be galling enough, but the sight of Toby, fit and well, looking on from the bench is enough to make a grown man sink his head in his hands and wonder aloud where the devil it will all end. (One never knows, of course. Toby might have done a worse job of things, or simply not have been fit enough. The AANP eye, however, is jolly sceptical.)

One defeat does not a disaster make, of course, but with a game every 3 or 4 days until the new year it will be pretty important to bob back into shape at the earliest opportunity.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

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