1. Jose’s Masterplan
Being the trusting sort – the sort who, when a friend says they’re popping out for a minute, will dutifully count to sixty before wondering whether to call the police – I’ve always been inclined to trust that my elders and betters have a pretty panoramic view of things and know exactly what they’re up to.
It would happen under Sven, when, like an obedient dog wagging the tail at its master, I’d ignore the evidence of every previous knockout game in which we clung on to a one-goal lead for dear life before losing on penalties, and assume that this time the chap had learnt from mistakes and hatched a more nuanced plan.
So when Jose breezed through the front door, despite having yowled beforehand that he wasn’t the AANP choice, I sucked up the theory that here was a chap who by hook or by crook – or by downright negativity – ground out results, and duly toddled over to present him with the benefit of the doubt.
Alas, that innocence of youth has now been ground into the dust, and replaced by the sort of cynical and weary scowl generally reserved for Dickensian undertakers who go around startling folk in the shadows. Where previously I would have stuck up for the blighter in charge, match after match, this time I’ve seen enough, and I sneer at the man who claims he hasn’t.
The bods who know about these sort of things define “despair” as “the absence of hope”, and if that’s the case then it exists by the sackload within these four walls. There is nothing to offer a semblance of hope at present. To a man, not one of our lot seem to be playing above themselves; as a team there is no sense of a plan. Regarding the former, it would be a handy bonus if Jose could coax a little individual improvement here or there; but in terms of the latter the chap ought to take full responsibility, and this absence of a plan has seen AANP fly through all seven stages of grief within the space of 90 minutes while observing our heroes impotently flail away.
I now watch our lot out of a sense of duty, rather than any sliver of hope, excitement or enjoyment – and if that isn’t a nadir I don’t know what is.
This season is now a write-off. Much therefore hinges on how well – or otherwise – we begin 20/21.
The hope is that, irrespective of results, we start playing with some flair or, at the very least, some semblance of a strategy (beyond soak up and hope to counter). If Jose has a masterplan, it absolutely has to be unveiled this summer.
Likelier, and presumably the subject of Daniel Levy’s bedtime prayers, is that the turgid style of play remains in situ but results at least improve. This strikes me as the worst of all worlds, as it would mean this bizarre brand of anti-football remains without a cat in hell’s chance of shifting the man at the helm.
The other potential scenario is that even after a pre-season and a signing or two, we start next season peddling this same garbage, and results remain no better than mid-table fare, or worse. If CL qualification next season appears unlikely from the autumn, Paymaster Levy’s trigger finger would presumably itch. By virtue of including the most welcome by-product of the sacking of Jose, this is numero uno on the AANP wishlist, scrawled in block capitals and double-underlined.
2. Lo Celso: Counter-Attacking vs Static
When one can witter away about the manager for so long and still struggle for comment about the game itself, you know it’s been a stinker, and this, yet again, was another contender for “Worst We’ve Witnessed.”
For the second time in a week, Lo Celso, having slightly desperately been heralded over here as the great hope for our future, was given the luxury of a couple of more defensive-minded sorts behind him. As such, he appeared to have a licence to slink forward and do his darnedest – and while the awfulness of recent weeks has tempered excitement levels, there was still a little hope here at AANP Towers that this might be the moment for the lad to puff out his chest and take on the responsibility of string-puller-in-chief.
No such luck. Whatever malaise is infecting our heroes, Lo Celso is not immune, and he pottered around no more or less toothless than anyone around him.
It currently appears that he is at his best when taking the reins as we counter-attack. When everything is a blur of limbs, and everyone is on the gallop towards the opposition goal, Lo Celso sparks into life. He seems to be blessed with the knack of spotting a pretty smart pass whilst on the run, as well as the ability to weight it just so.
By contrast, when the game stodgily meanders, with the opposition in defensive position and our lot endlessly knocking the ball sideways, Lo Celso seems no better informed than anyone else on how to put an end to the dreadful torpor.
3. Important Save From Lloris
The stock of our World Cup-winning captain has just about fallen off a cliff in the last season or two, as needless clanger has followed needless clanger, but yesterday he earned his weekly envelope in pretty smart fashion, on the one occasion on which some quick thinking was required.
It was towards the end of proceedings, when a Bournemouth chappie randomly scampered into our area, his progress completely unimpeded by anyone in light blue. A disastrous finale appeared imminent, but Lloris displayed a hitherto unseen sprinkling of common sense by dashing from his line, spreading himself in the manner of one attempting to frighten a small child and generally doing enough to smother the incoming shot before the attacker had a chance properly to weigh his options and do anything decisive.
It was worth a goal, and having stocked up on rotten tomatoes with which to pelt Lloris for errors in previous weeks, decorum dictates that I tip the cap in his direction for this.
4. Toby and Jan
It might not necessarily be a popular view, but I was far from disappointed to hear that Eric Dier was to be marched off the premises and locked in a dungeon for the next couple of weeks. Weighing the chap’s pros and cons, I find little to recommend his presence amongst the troupe.
His principle asset appears to be that aggressive, no-nonsense outlook he has on life, which typically translates into crunching tackles, the like of which, admittedly, are not usually a feature of Team Lilywhite. However, such challenges are of little value when mistimed, which his seem to be as often as not. Rather than keeping a lid on things they tend to result in free kicks and yellow cards.
Neither is he blessed with blistering pace, and when stationed in central defence, the notion of him being one of life’s natural leaders and organisers is not necessarily supported by the evidence of recent weeks, in which our defence has shown all the organisation of a gaggle of toddlers on a sugar rush.
In contrast to the shambles of recent weeks, for which Dier was not the only culprit but certainly amongst them, yesterday we were treated to the restoration of the Jan-Toby axis, and life at the rear of the team immediately appeared more serene.
Blistering pace they might not boast, but both Belgians know their eggs and position themselves adroitly, and their performances were notable for the general absence of drama throughout. No Dier-esque mistimed challenges, no Sanchez-esque misjudgements of flighted balls. Two appearances by Toby have brought two consecutive clean sheets. All set for Sunday then.