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Dortmund 0-1 Spurs Bottlers: Six Tottenham Observations

1. The ‘Thou Shalt Not Pass’ School of Defending

Hindsight being a pretty flawless sort of gem, it is easy for us to playfully nudge each other’s ribs and chortle, “Well that was pretty easy pickings, what?”

But being Spurs fans in general, and having sat through the first 40-odd minutes in particular, I think we can probably all swiftly reach a consensus that this was actually one heck of a delicate operation, and one which, but for six inches here and a millisecond there might have seen us one or two down by half-time and stewing in our juices like nobody’s business.

A three-goal lead we might have held at kick-off, but Dortmund came out of the traps at a fair old lick, and emanated the strong whiff of a team that would go on to nab a second, third and fourth if they could just get that first.

Enormous credit is therefore due to the entire N17 cast for defending as a team, particularly in the first half. Like those rather natty shoals of about a hundred fish that you see weaving this way and that in perfect synchronisation, as if controlled by a single mind, our defence and midfield diligently shuttled hither and thither as Dortmund prodded away like the dickens.

Normally this sort of guff wouldn’t earn a second glance at AANP Towers, where the teeth have been cut on a strict diet of the non-stop, all-action swash and buckle that has lent its name to the place; but there is a time and place for such things, and the drill last night was quite rightly to keep the door shut at all costs during the initial blitz.

This is not to say that our heroes were flawless in their defending as a collective. Had they been, there would not have been need for the last-ditch heroics peddled by Messrs Lloris, Vertonghen and Davies at various junctures.

Nevertheless, I got the impression that if one were to pluck a lilywhite at random and slice him open, one would have discovered intense concentration levels and a strict game-plan coursing through his veins. Our lot were hell-bent on keeping Dortmund at bay.

2. What Lloris Does Best

So as mentioned, the generally topping work done by all eleven was embellished in timely fashion by a couple of goal-worthy challenges from certain members of the back-five; and when even these lines were breached, Monsieur Lloris produced the sort of performance that in truth he’s probably owed us for the past couple of seasons.

Some saves were straightforward, and some were absolutely first rate. Usefully, Lloris was not in discriminatory mood, and did the necessaries with all of them.

In a way, the slightly desperate, last-ditch, backs-to-the-wall nature of the thing in the first half played neatly into Lloris’ hands. The chap seems to be at his best when instinctively thrusting out a paw to repel a close-range snapshot.

Shoot at his legs and there is a moderate-to-good chance the ball will find a way through. Ask him to come dashing from his line to mop things up and any sort of fresh hell might transpire. But simply fire the ball at him from a distance of 5-10 yards, as Dortmund did repeatedly in the first half, and he’s precisely the sort of nib you want manning the phones.

3. The Ironic Need for Sideways and Backwards Passing

Not that Lloris’ heroics and the collective spirit of defence made the first half much more bearable. For all the thrill of seeing a Davies limb extend or a Vertonghen toe intercept, the respite rarely lasted more than around 5 seconds before the next Dortmund wave was upon us. For almost the entirety of the first half we were unable to retain possession, our on-the-ball subtlety rarely extending beyond simply blooting the thing to halfway and trying to regroup for the next yellow attack.

In between staving off heart attacks, the thought did strike me that we would have benefited immensely from a spell of possession, just for its own sake. Not with the aim of pelting towards the Dortmund area in search of an away goal, but simply to relieve the pressure.

Instead, out on the greenery, the only intention seemed to be to launch the ball north, in the hope that Kane and Son might magic a goal out of nothing. The net result was that neither were able to hold up play and we were immediately back under the cosh. What we were crying out for was actually a spot of sideways and backwards passing, with zero attempt to encroach on Dortmund territory, and every intention of simply controlling the game for a few priceless minutes.

Being the sort of egg who’s all for a spot of irony during their daily routine, it did strike me that in recent weeks I have hit something pretty near apoplexy at the sight of Toby, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Winks and Sissoko pinging the ball sideways and backwards ad nauseam. When the games against Burnley, Chelsea and Arsenal were absolutely howling out for some urgency, invention and blasted forward forays, our heroes intransigently pivoted, and pivoted, and then rolled the ball sideways.

Contrast with last night, when all they seemed capable of doing in the first half was attempting unnecessarily and unsuccessfully to force the ball forward. I don’t mind admitting I swept a hand across the fevered brow on more than one occasion.

Mercifully, the penny dropped from about the 40-minute mark, as Dortmund’s enthusiasm for the chase dwindled. Thereafter, our heroes began to look like they were starting rather to enjoy themselves. Aware that it simply did not matter whether they passed forward or backward as long as they retained the ball, they began to lead Dortmund a merry dance, occasionally feinting to attack, and then rather cruelly about-turning and shuttling the ball across the back-line.

4. Kane Adulation

And that, in truth, was pretty much that. Half-time arrived with our heroes in possession, and the early second half goal gave every one of us the opportunity to indulge in a good, old-fashioned spot of exhaling.

Being an absolute machine, Harry Kane did not pause to mess around when presented with his one and only chance. The chap’s Champions League stats already boggle the mind a tad, and the circumstances around his goal yesterday were impressive – one might make the case that the very best strikers need only one chance in the crunch games, and Kane is very much of that ilk.

On top of which, he spent much of the rest of the game pottering around winning free-kicks while strongly outnumbered. A cracking performance from whichever angle one views it.

5. Why Hello There, Eric Dier

A tip of the hat also to Eric Dier, who returned from witness protection looking like these were the circumstances for which he had been born to play.

Thrown on with half an hour to go, instructed to protect the back-four and generally ensure no alarms, he did so with discipline and aggression, as one would expect, but also threw in a neat line of simple and effective short passes that kept the pressure off and gradually sucked the will to live from the Dortmund mob.

With Winks and Sissoko seemingly playing every minute of every game these days, and hobbling off accordingly, the return of Dier, particularly in this sort of mood, is most useful.

6. All Grown Up

Two years ago our heroes were gifted a fairly straightforward draw, and failed to progress from the group.

One year ago our heroes topped a group containing Real Madrid, then outplayed Juve for all but 13 minutes over two legs, and failed to progress past the Round of 16.

This year our heroes have delivered absolutely textbook Home and Away leg performances, and now gambol on to the Quarter Finals. The evidence mounts in pretty compelling fashion to suggest that they improve year on year.

No doubt they will continue to lose the occasional game against big teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’) and occasionally lose to smaller teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’), but the two very different and devastatingly effective performances in this tie – following a group stage in which we faced elimination unless we scored in the last 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and six fixtures – points towards a team that is getting the hang of this lark.

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Spurs 1-1 Arsenal: Five Tottenham Observations

1. If Sissoko Is Our Man of the Match, Something Is Not Quite Right

It has come to this. Moussa Sissoko was our star performer, seemingly the only man in lilywhite who recognised throughout the importance of the game. Rather than limit himself to his usual, highly effective but sensibly contained game of providing monstrous defensive cover and occasional forward runs as a supporting cast member, yesterday the notion struck him that if he did not seize the game by the scruff of the neck then nobody else jolly well would.

Consequently we were treated to the unlikely sight of Sissoko being the fountain from which most of our creative urgency sprang. Eriksen was either too well shackled or just too plain bored to get involved, and the option of feeding Rose an early ball and letting him set off at a gallop was oddly overlooked. The default seemed to be the usual turgid wealth of ineffective short passes, punctuated by some aimless long ones.

Sissoko at least had the decency to try righting the many wrongs surrounding him. Adorably, he tried doing his best Dembele impressions to force the issue. Ultimately they tended to amount to little, as he overplayed his hand on just about every occasion, but the effect was at least mildly galvanising to the watching hordes.

Lamela did little once introduced, bar earn his customary yellow card for his customary mistimed lunge; Lucas Moura remained unused throughout; and even Danny Rose was invited to try his luck as a creator from deep in the final fifteen or so, but like Sissoko, got a little carried away by his own high opinion of himself and got it in his head that the best option was to try taking on the entire Arsenal team from deep within his own half. The spirit was willing, the flesh was weak.

2. Eriksen Still Below Par

As alluded to above, part of the problem is that Eriksen remain off-key. Arsenal seemed well drilled in this respect, generally snapping around him, but even when afforded space and time, his act appeared tired and lacklustre.

Which points to a deeper problem within the fold, namely that when Eriksen is misfiring, to whom the heck do we turn for a creative spark? Occasions such as these suggest that Eriksen is the most important component within our DNA (for even when Kane is absent we have a system, of sorts, that enables us to cope). Remove or nullify Eriksen, and the whole delicately-arranged construction starts to come crashing down.

The immediate concern is that the chap is below par; the lingering longer-term worry is that he might not be too much longer of our parish.

3. Sanchez Mistakes

Davinson Sanchez’s progress in the last couple of years has been, if not quite blemish-free, then certainly on the pleasing side of such parabolas. However, he does retain the ability to make a fairly notable pig’s ear of things where none should really exist, and yesterday he threw in a couple of stinkers that, by rights, ought really to have cost us the match.

Having been at fault for Ramsey’s goal, I suppose there are massed throngs who will howl that he ought never to have been penalised for the late penalty as well, but this rather misses the point.

Rather than quibble about the minutiae of how much contact is required to justify the award of a penalty, I have long banged the drum that we would all be in a much happier place if those concerned simply steered well clear, and did not give the referee the option or chance to award a foul. And certainly not in the last minute, when the striker is haring away from goal and towards the byline.

Sanchez is not quite in the Juan Foyth school of Sudden and Massive Defensive Aberrations, but these are not isolated incidents either. With Toby likely to shuffle out the nearest exit come the summer, Sanchez will need to up his game a notch or two.

4. Son’s Diminishing Impact Now That Kane Is Back

One of the more curious findings from the day’s gallivanting was that since Kane has returned, our attack has seemed even more neutered than in those games in which Llorente stood in one single spot for 90 minutes and Sonny whizzed around him.

Kane, naturally enough, has waltzed back into town to receive star billing, diamond slippers and have an army of admirers tripping over themselves to light his cigarettes; all of which makes a strong bucketful of sense, since the chap, as is commonly recognised, is something of a freak of nature.

Nor is Sonny, with his permanent smile and boundless energy, the sort to go around upsetting apple-carts and spitting out dummies. Despite having been rightly showered with plaudits for his various acts of skin-saving over the last month or so, he has simply tried his best to adapt to life as Not Quite The Star Man.

The trouble is, it’s just not quite working at the moment. Kane and Son have resembled a couple of strangers whose paths occasionally and fleetingly cross, but between whom even the most die-hard romantic would struggle to say there were any genuine relationship.

And even this would be excusable if they were separately being nurtured by the rest of the mob, but service to them over the last three games has been poor, whilst opponents have been organised and sat deep. I’m not sure either man has had carved out for them a red-blooded and meaty chance worthy of the name in the last three games.

They sure as heck do not currently resemble a partnership, and nor is there any obvious conduit from midfield towards them. The mind boggles to recollect that just a couple of months ago these two, alongside ERiksen and Dele Alli, were absolutely shredding Everton seemingly at will.

I am certainly not advocating that we simply shunt out Kane, field Llorente and hope that Sonny can be restored to former glories; but sorcery of some type that elevates Kane and Son to the sum of their parts would be pretty dashed handy at this point.

5. Current Form: A Worry

This may prove a controversial opinion amongst the masses, but in the latter stages of the first half I rather fancied we were making a decent enough fist of things. It was hardly exhibition stuff admittedly, but every man in possession at least had an air of urgency, and there was a swiftness to our work.

What a glorious seven or eight minutes it was – Trippier whipped in a couple of crosses; Sonny beavered around the periphery; and in what was possibly the highlight of the past four and a half hours of outfield play, Kane dinked a cute pass into Eriksen. Who promptly missed a sitter.

Prior to that, and indeed throughout most of the second half, there was no discernible improvement in performance levels from the previous couple of mooches.

Now while I’m all for beating around the bush when the situation demands it, this is some pretty darned worrying stuff. Our heroes teeter between toothless and plain uninterested in attack, and have demonstrated themselves to be fairly consistently riddled with mistakes in defence, irrespective of the personnel selected. If ever there were a time for the Brains Trust to earn their weekly envelope, this might well be it

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

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