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Spurs 2-1 Middlesbrough

1. Much Improved, One-Touch Performance

That puts a rosier glow on the cheeks, what? A win that that was vastly more comfy and snug than the scoreline suggests, and delivered with the sort of breezy panache that makes one wonder what all the fuss has been about.

Now at this point one probably ought to pause, scour the surroundings and dive behind the nearest, sizeable inanimate object, to shield oneself from the countless caveats being slung this way. Foremost amongst these caveats is probably the fact that Middlesbrough just didn’t put up much resistance, instead tripping over themselves to allow us a goal at the earliest possible opportunity, and thereafter sitting back and allowing us to pass triangles around them for as long as we pleased.

So be it, folk these days will have different approaches to life’s problems. It’s a consequence of democracy, apparently. However, there have been a pretty thick stack of fixtures this season against the Middlesbroughs of this world – teams that, without wanting to put too fine a point on it, simply don’t possess that much God-given quality – and we have made quite the elaborate pig’s ear of swatting them aside.

So on this occasion I am pretty content to accept that our opponents were not amongst the finest ever to grace turf, and nevertheless bask in the glory of a match deservedly won and, more to the point, a performance that hit all manner of right notes.

Crucially, for much of the game, our passing was of the one- or two-touch variety. This sort of fare is not only easy on the eye, but – and here’s the rub – has the added benefit of being the sort of stuff that can cut an opponent to ribbons before they know what has hit them.

Where it has been hiding these past few weeks I could not say. Why our heroes have opted against its use I do not know (although I could hazard a guess that better opponents do not simply step aside and wave us along with adoring eyes). But from the off we were in full Quick Passing Mode, and the suggested dosage did not disappoint.

I don’t mind admitting that our weekend approach (which, you will recall, consisted largely of trying to soak up Liverpool pressure and then blast long balls forward in the hope of sneaking a goal) made my eyes bleed and soul howl. This judgement was met with some pretty stern words from various quarters, with knives sharpened and spears pointed, as if to suggest that mine was not an opinion that would win the public vote. Democracy, once again, in action.

Despite the negative press, I stick to my words, and was therefore greatly soothed by last night’s offering. Credit to all involved, both for looking to pick an early pass at every opportunity, and for constantly buzzing around off-the-ball, in order to provide passing options for those in the hotseat.

2. Lo Celso Continues to Make The Right Noises

Foremost amongst those doing the off-ball buzzing were two of our vaunted Argentine cousins. Lo Celso has taken a little time adjust, but his various cameos have tended to include flickers of promise, and yesterday, given the platform of a starting spot against weak opposition, he looked like a chap who enjoys this sort of thing.

As mentioned, his energy levels ticked over at a healthy rate throughout. Rather like Mary’s little lamb, he was in pretty constant attendance of any of our lot who found themselves in possession, scurrying towards them with arms outstretched and no doubt wide, pleading eyes.

This in itself is a positive, because too often in recent weeks our play has been characterised by one lone chap dabbing at the ball while looking around pleadingly for a chum to avail themselves.

But on top of this movement malarkey, I also enjoy seeing the light bulb in Lo Celso’s head suddenly flicker on when he has the ball at his feet, an idea form for an incisive pass and the whole routine culminate with an attempt to pick a particularly sneaky through-ball.

Admittedly a lot of these sneaky through-ball turn out to have been a lot more exciting at the stage of being initially pitched than as an end-product, given that they were quite often intercepted in transit. But still. In a world in which Harry Winks receives the ball on the half-turn but opts to send it back south to his defenders, seeing Lo Celso instinctively look for a killer pass into the path of a forward gives one hope for a brighter future.

3. Lamela Takes His Chance

In his own unique way, Erik Lamela was also at the hub of much that was good about our lot last night.

One sympathises with whichever poor soul was once paid to teach the infant Lamela his alphabet and three-times tables, because in adulthood the chap appears to be a fidget, so goodness knows what he was like when asked to weld himself to a tiny seat and stay there.

Lamela’s engine ran permanently throughout, and given the amount of possession we had in midfield it was just as well that it did. Like Lo Celso he was pretty constantly on the move, giving our deeper-lying sorts a constant moving target, and giving the Middlesbrough defence plenty about which to mull.

His goal was delightfully finished, but it was the opening salvo that I particularly admired, featuring the young nib chasing back to pickpocket his man, before whirring off into the area. The end-product is not always there with Lamela, and he does have a tendency to dwell too long on the ball, but at a time when our general play has looked lethargic and half-hearted, his presence perks things up no end.

4. Tanganga’s Education Continues

The great and the good were pretty misty-eyed about young Tanganga by the time the curtain came down on proceedings. One understands of course, for one likes to see the local lad take his chance, and he has certainly made a good fist of things in his two games so far, going toe-to-toe with a pretty exalted opponent on Saturday and then adapting well to a tweak in position last night.

To have flung the Man of the Match wreath around his neck struck me as maybe getting a little carried away, mind. He has exceeded expectations to date, and displayed plenty of the good, honest traits that one seeks in an imposing defender, but he is also decidedly rough around the edges.

He made a few mistakes last night – leaping in to challenges with the enthusiasm of youth, when circumstances might have called for simply standing his ground, and so forth. This is not at all to chide the young bean, but simply to suggest that it seemed a stretch to consider him the best player on the pitch.

That said, with Davinson Sanchez sporadically losing all sense of spatio-temporal awareness, Father Time rather cruelly giving Jan Vertonghen a poke in the ribs and Serge Aurier having repeatedly proven that for every positive forward run he will also generate an equal and opposite defensive calamity, the emergence of Tanganga – quick, strong, willing and pretty capable either picking the right pass or on the charge with ball at feet – has been one of the most positive developments for a while.

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Spurs 0-1 Liverpool: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Encouraging Stuff From Tanganga

Heaven knows the nerves must have been jangling at Tanganga Towers like an entire symphony orchestra getting stuck in, but you would not have known it to watch the chap in action.

Given the funereal mood around the place in recent weeks I think it’s fair to say we needed a lift, and in the absence of free doubles of bourbon all round, the unveiling of a shiny new whelp from the Academy did much to brighten the mood. The fact that he spent his first few minutes as a Premier League footballer winning headers and 50-50s– simple enough to write on paper, but seemingly beyond the comprehension of anyone else in lilywhite these past few weeks – simply whipped up the mood even further, and for the first time in a while the colosseum reverberated with genuine excitement.

All in all, Tanganga’s first school report ought to make pretty encouraging reading. As mentioned, he looked pretty accomplished in the air, and demonstrated a determination to win his challenges with scant regard for the collateral damage to life or limb, in contrast to many of his more celebrated chums.

He also gave a few glimpses of that turn of pace about which we have heard much, and not only confidence to bring the ball forward but seemingly more ability and common sense in such scenarios than, for example, Juan Foyth.

Not that one ought to get too carried away. Promising though this debut was, he was at fault for the goal, firstly in letting his man drift from him when the cogs of the Liverpool attack begin revolving, and then in being sold by the admittedly top-notch footwork from Firmino.

However, there was much to encourage, particularly in the context of Juan Foyth’s well-documented eccentricities, and the fading powers of my best mate Jan.

2. Eriksen’s Ongoing Shuffle Towards The Exit

If Tanganga’s presence and performance put a brighter hue on things, Eriksen’s did quite the opposite. It is fair to say that few around the place have been queueing to throw garlands around the fellow’s neck in recent weeks, and if his off-field behaviour is a tad frustrating (if understandable), his on-field performances are nose-diving in pretty alarming fashion.

Here at AANP Towers we have given up on the chap, and are all for pressing the buzzer that will have burly security guards appearing to escort him off the premises. The chap does not wish to play for the club, which is his prerogative, so let’s park him to one side and adjust to life without him accordingly.

In truth, this moral high-ground would become a heck of a lot shakier if every time Eriksen took to the pitch he played a blinder and absolutely bossed proceedings. Between you and me, if this were the case, I would be inclined to lavish praise upon him and forgive all his misdeeds, with a cheery shout of “Moral principles be damned!”

However, he has simply gone through the motions in recent weeks, making it a lot easier to point an accusing finger. And frankly, whether or not one agrees with the principle of playing a man who so plainly no longer cares about the club, there is no escaping the fact his performance levels have been sinking in recent weeks. The misplacing of simple, short passes irks no end, and is coupled with a distinct lack of energy and interest in those parts of the game that could be filed under “Hard Graft” – harassing opponents and full-bloodedly flying into challenges, and so on and so forth.

These character traits were evidently not lost on the natives yesterday, with a few choice words of advice being directed his way. An imminent uncoupling might be in everyone’s best interests.

3. Lo Celso, Heir Apparent to Eriksen

Mercifully, there might not be too much need to scour the Classified Ads for an heir-apparent to Eriksen, as we appear to have one already in situ, albeit generally stationed on the substitutes’ bench.

Lo Celso’s cameo once again sparked an improvement in on-pitch doings, and almost in fortunes, our best moments featuring the chap prominently.

The Sonny chance came about from his tackle high up the pitch, and he had the decency to propel himself into the right place at the right time to meet Aurier’s cross near the end, albeit contriving to miss a near-enough gaping net, which ruined the whole effect somewhat.

Perhaps less eye-catchingly however, the chap is finding his groove when it comes to picking passes. And not just your bog-standard five-yard pass to the nearest teammate, but passes of the delicious, incisive ilk, that turn a defence around, give our forwards something after which to gallop and make hearts flutter. A couple of attempted passes very nearly hit the mark yesterday, and as against Middlesbrough, our general level of performance went up a notch or two on his arrival.

4. Long-Balls and Solo Runs

Not that improving the performance was a particularly difficult feat to achieve, after a first half that, in keeping with recent weeks, was pretty dreadful.

A lot of the post-match chatter yesterday seemed to be of the upbeat and mightily encouraged variety, which confused the dickens out of me. Yes, we defended adequately at times, but even this was far from masterclass stuff – Liverpool hit the post in the opening thrusts, exposed us on the counter and at one point had three unmarked fellows queueing up at the far post for a free header. Watertight this was not.

However, my spies tell me they are league-leaders, and on something of a hot streak, so one accepts that we were likely to be pinned back for much of the game, and we at least made a fist of the defensive lark.

What grated, however, was the complete absence of guile whenever we gained possession, for the first hour or so. The options seemed to be either to blast the ball sixty yards towards the scampering front men, and pray that it would bounce kindly for us; or alternatively one of the aforementioned scampering front men would pick up the ball on halfway and seemingly attempt to score a solo wonder-goal, against the entire Liverpool defence for half the length of the pitch.

These were ludicrous tactics, the sort that would be dreamt up by a team of six year-olds in the playground, and seemingly based entirely upon chance. Son and Lucas managed to get snap shots away in the first half, on the basis of Liverpool losing possession in dangerous areas, but it made the eyes bleed to see our lot resort to such a dunderheaded approach.

Every fifteen minutes or so someone in midfield would play a neat first-time pass on the half-turn, and my heart would leap at the inkling that we were about to utilise the passing talents of Winks, Eriksen, Alli et al – but by and large such free-flowing football was firmly off the agenda until well into the second half.

In the final fifteen or so, after the arrivals of the Argentine contingent, and with Liverpool seemingly happy to defend rather than extend their lead, the dynamic changed and we set about the task with sackfuls more incision and purpose – but it was too little too late. Dashed frustrating, for we might have tried more of the short build-up stuff, without being reckless, earlier in the piece.

Southampton 1-0 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. A New Low

Not being the sort who goes in for psychological lit., I couldn’t tell you much about the seven stages of grief, but I suspect that, in common with most others of lilywhite persuasion, I spent much of yesterday pinballing between most of them as yesterday’s ghastly horror unfolded before the eyes.

Now make no mistake, the eleven out there (plus the couple of stand-ins roped into it) are souls possessed of fine footballing pedigree. Employ the scientifically-proven AANP technique “Who Would Buy Them?” and you no doubt see each of them carted off to the upper echelons of the European game.

And it is precisely this context that drives the casual observer to madness. Rather than take the fairly logical step of transferring their natural wares onto the public arena, our heroes to a man spent the entirety of the game listlessly ambling around the pitch as if, while contractually obliged to be physically present, they were damned if they were going to devote an ounce of energy to the cause.

The mind absolutely boggles. Are they injured? Are they unwell? Are they all physically exhausted? What the hell is wrong with them?

Having reassured myself during the dreadful first half against Norwich that at least we could not be any worse, one rather rubs the eyes in disbelief at the depths plumbed thereafter.

The horrific specifics, not that we need much reminding, have included a striking lack of movement from those not in possession, a lack of invention from those in possession and a quite startling inability from any of them to hit their mark with even the most basic, short-distance passing.

All of which says nothing about the fact that when Southampton had the ball we scrambled around in their shadows as if up against world-beaters, rather than a decidedly average outfit whose most notable contribution to the season was to concede nine goals at home a few weeks back. And yet there they were, in glorious technicolour, beating us to ever 50-50 and bounding around more energy in every step.

So again, with a shake of the head and no lack of bewilderment, I ask what the hell is wrong with them?

2. The Positives

It’s a rather fetching kit, that dark number with the natty chest design.

3. Far From Convinced By The Midfield Set-Up

Make no mistake, I’m not sure any formation in the world could have righted the endless wrongs of yesterday. If every member of the platoon is struggling to play a five-yard pass, and cannot muster the energy to do more than jog while their opponent sprints, then the writing is already on the wall.

However, the general set-up – and in particular the mechanics slap bang in the centre of the pitch – do not really aid the cause.

Going forward, the midfield is not really the hub of creativity one would hope. As ever, the fault often lies with those not in possession, who offer precious few options, but rather hang their teammates out to dry. When Toby, Jan or even Ndomble or Eriksen were in possession, it did not require the country’s sharpest minds to sense their frustration at looking up, seeing nothing inviting, changing direction, still seeing nothing inviting and resorting to the aimless punt upfield.

Cast your minds back to the opening match of the Jose era, against West Ham, and we benefited from Dele, Lucas or Son dropping a few yards to receive the ball fairly centrally and on the half-turn. Mischief duly followed.

Yesterday it barely happened. The options instead seemed to be rather laboured progress down the flanks or the long ball out of defence, which veered swiftly from hopeful to hopeless. Quick and nifty one-touch stuff through central midfield and into attack was not on the agenda.

Ndombele has something about him of a man who can at least instigate some bits and bobs, and one would not mind seeing things built around the chap. One can imagine worse starting points and gameplans. In fact one does not need to imagine them because they’ve been on public display for the last few games. But for now The Ndombele Approach is not gaining much traction. When the chap does embark on a gallop, few around seem to notice or care, much less race up alongside him to offer support; and more to the point the poor lad is made of biscuits and cannot blow his nose without twanging a hamstring.

The onus therefore fell upon Eriksen and Lo Celso, which in theory should be the sort of well from which all sorts of goodness should gush. Unfortunately both were pretty comfortably outfought by their vastly less talented opponents, and when opportunities did fall their way to pull strings and solve the world’s ills, their compasses spun in all directions and passing accuracy went up in smoke.

4. Lack of Defensive Cover

Normally when matters in one respect are hitting some turbulence, one can at least console oneself that in some other respect there are encouraging shoots to offset the gloom. Silver linings, if you will.

So, when faced with the complete lack of invention, creativity or even the faintest clue going forward, one would normally remind oneself that such are the sacrifices to be made for defensive solidity. All for the greater good, as it were. Honourable stuff.

These, however, are pretty parlous times, and if you want defensive solidity the Tottenham back-line is one of the last places on earth you should park up.

Again, the lack of energy is pretty damning. Our back-four is in pretty wobbly shape, this much is true, but it is noticeable that they are receiving precious little support from midfield. The midfield bods neither hound in midfield nor race back to add muscle and numbers to defence.

In short, they seem to offer neither one thing nor the other, and this peculiar aimlessness with which they drift through matches seems to reflect a lack of direction from on high. The occasional visitor, on dipping their noses in, might conclude that no clear instructions have been given as to the sort of approach that ought to be adopted. And here, one would think, is where Jose earns the big bucks.

5. More Needed From Lucas

I don’t keep a tally of such things, but I think I’m right in saying that this month marks two years of Lucas at the club, and it’s fair to say his flame has only occasionally flickered.

Obviously there was the Champions League stuff, for which we will all be eternally grateful. A virtuoso performance at Old Trafford also stands out, and a hat-trick late last season. When in full flow, the fellow can be difficult to stop.

But by and large, he rolls out the one trick – trying to dribble around everyone in his path – and it seldom works. By force of will he helped to drag us into the game against Norwich, but yesterday was a more typical Lucas showing, of numerous mazy gallops off-course and into cul-de-sacs before being crowded out by a swarm of opponents and going to ground in a blur of limbs.

While there is value in his willingness to run at opponents, as this can help pull them out of position, the chap really ought to sit down and have a long, hard think about his end-product. There’s little point in taking them all on if the conclusion is that they then pick up possession themselves. Lamela is cut from pretty similar cloth in this respect.

6. Sessegnon Yet to Look The Part

Or, more accurately, Sessegnon looked every inch the part, because he was as poor as everyone else. As such he fitted right in amongst the dross, misplacing his passes and emerging second-best from his challenges as if he had the instructions to do so drilled into him every waking hour.

This is not to single out the poor lad. I only mention it because I had rather hoped that being the newest lamb in the fold maybe the general malaise had not spread as far as him. No such luck.
Any youthful innocence and joie de vivre has already been wiped from his being. The scars of being a member of THFC Circa 19/20 are already evident. One feels for him. Having arrived with such a reputation and with so much promise, he deserves better than to be dragged down as yet another rat on this sinking ship.

Plenty of time for him to find his feet of course, but as we wildly look about in all directions for someone to provide an instant spark, we should probably just look elsewhere and let him chug along at his own pace.

I could warble on about others, but, taking my cue from the players themselves, I have rather lost the will at this stage. Goodness knows what fresh hell awaits at the weekend, but the FA Cup may yet provide a positive – and shiny – appendage to the season.

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