1. Jose’s Masterplan
Being a noble sort, having spent the last six months aiming pelters at Jose from all angles for the bad he has done our club, I have no problem whatsoever in muttering a grudging half-compliment in his direction, for masterminding The Most Jose Victory Imaginable. Cut AANP open and you find humility coursing through his veins.
I asked on these very pages last week whether we would take a trophy playing the way we have been (specifically it was after beating Everton in a game that made the nation’s eyes bleed) – and while the answer over here is, I’m afraid, still a resounding “Not on your life,” nothing soothes the soul like beating that ‘orrible lot from South London. Seeing Sol Campbell looking so deflated in the telly box afterwards was a charming bonus.
The second half in particular spelled out in huge font exactly how The Masterplan was to work. Team Lilywhite kept their shape admirably, and made the conscious decision to rock onto the back foot and soak up all that Arse could throw our way. An approach not without risk, but to their credit each individual carried out their instructions, maintaining discipline in both position-keeping and decision-making.
It would be stretching things to say it was backs-to-the-wall stuff, “Arm’s length” being the more accurate headline for that particular half hour’s frivolities, and let’s not forget that Arse were within a lick of paint of getting their goal and leaving us in a considerable pickle.
The reward on this defensive investment came in the form of counter-attacks, which gradually increased in frequency as the second half wore on. The pace of Sonny and occasionally Lucas, coupled with the usual bloody-mindedness of Kane, ensured that there was plenty of threat about this counter-attack, and with Arse boasting their very own version of Serge Aurier in that lad Mustafi, opportunities for our lot going forward were scattered surprisingly liberally. Indeed, in the final ten or so, once Arse had to chase the game, we might have had far more than just the single-goal lead.
Having tinkered on a weekly basis with personnel, formations and intricate instructions involving lopsided wing-backs when attacking and interchanging of positions depending on the angle of the sun in the sky, Jose switched to 4-4-2, and a calm descended upon the team.
Given that this has become the worst Tottenham side since the 90s, there was a pleasing symmetry to the choice of this most 90s-esque formation, but it proved a good move. For a start, any reversion to 90s popular culture gets the AANP Seal of Approval, and moreover 4-4-2 seemed a sufficiently uncomplicated system for even our most stupid personnel to understand.
It was pretty rigid stuff, but after the interpretative dance routines that have been on display defensively in recent games, some rigidity was much needed. Within this 4-4-2 the instructions were pretty clear all round. Essentially, all eleven were popped into position at the outset, ordered to stay there throughout, and just like that we had some much-needed structure.
In fact, rather than a 90s homage, there was something of ‘Arry’s Tottenham about the set-up, with Winks and Lo Celso giving passable imitations of Hudd and Modric on sentry duty in front of a back four.
Whether or not this is the formation to be adopted going forward remains to be seen, but it was both charming and, crucially, effective in its simplicity. Our lot held their positions and repelled whatever was thrown at them, limiting Arse to precious few clear chances, and countered in a speedy blur of legs as the game wore on.
3. Lucas’ Contribution
Of course, all the planning in the world, masterful or not, would have counted for precious little if our heroes had wandered off and boiled their heads, so it was a blessed relief that by and large they obediently carried out instructions like a pack of well-trained Labradors.
It was also pretty crucial that they displayed a dashed sight more vim about their business than in recent weeks. Admittedly, the bar in this respect could hardly have been lower, but it was still necessary that someone set the tone, and in this respect Lucas made his most important – and, some cynics might impertinently intone, his first – contribution since The Miracle of Amsterdam, by racing out of the starting blocks to thwack a first-minute effort against the palms of the Arse goalkeeper.
That it did not go in was relatively moot – the important point was that at least one of our lot appeared sufficiently awake to have understood that a football match was in progress, and if any of his teammates had missed the memo beforehand, that contribution might have reinforced the message.
Lucas looked lively throughout the first half, albeit within the confines of his left midfield pen. In a curious way, the limitations of his position seemed to liberate him, and he did not need asking twice to get his head down and attempt a dribble.
Even more impressive was his vision and weighting of a pass into Kane in the second half – from which, I think, Kane’s saved shot brought about the corner from which Toby scored. Admittedly there is something of the butterfly-flapping-wings-in-one-continent-and-all-hell-breaking-loose-in-another about that, but it was a heck of a pass nevertheless. Others may get the plaudits (although the game was not brimming with stand-out contributions), but Lucas’ little inputs played their part.
On an editorial note, I have since found out that he made more tackles than anyone else seemingly in history, so back-slaps galore in his direction.
4. Serge Aurier – Still Our First Choice Right-Back
Meanwhile, Serge Aurier was busy doing what Serge Aurier does.
That none of his moments of utter cranial absence resulted in goals/penalties/red cards does not mask the fact that he still continues to litter them about the place with the carefree insouciance of a man who knows there is not another bona fide right-back at the club.
(Strictly speaking one might point an accusing finger at him for not mopping things up immediately prior to the first Arse goal, but given that the goal was both a) random and b) blistering in nature, I’ll deign to excuse him for that one.)
The goal aside, Aurier produced his usual medley – a needless corner here, a needless going to ground there. And this, head-scratchingly, is our undisputed number one when it comes to the number 2 shirt.
Young Walker-Peters has at least been gaining playing time out at Southampton, but the chap does not yet appear anywhere near the standard needed for a supposed CL team. Other options at right-back include Foyth, Toby and Sissoko – none of whom were sculpted for the role by Mother Nature.
When one harks back to the Walker-Rose axis of a few years ago, one realises quite what a difference a top class full-back can make. Aurier at right-back is a wrong that needs righting as a matter of priority this summer.
5. Toby’s Many Virtues (Including Not Being Eric Dier)
Mercifully, at the other end of the scale of Defensive Ability from Aurier sits Toby Alderweireld.
Had Eric Dier not waded into the stands to engage in polite conversation all those months back, he might not have been banned, might still be starting in defence and, arguably, our back-four would not have looked half as robust as it has done since he was bundled off the stage and Toby brought in.
Random, unprompted moments of defensive madness are now at a minimum, which might sound a strange compliment to pay any team above Sunday League level, but when one considers quite how many goals we’ve conceded from individual errors this season, this absence of U.M. of D.M. actually becomes pretty crucial. And Toby can take a heck of a lot of credit for this.
For a start, he just does not make as many mistakes as Dier and Sanchez, on top of which his reading of the game generally has the effect of dousing a fire before the flames ever really kick in and make merry.
One can only speculate, but as a supporter the presence of Toby in the back four immediately lowers the pulse, reduces the greying and adds a few years onto life expectancy; one imagines that behind the diplomatic witterings the players themselves must be queueing up to thank Jose for picking him.
Lovely headed goal, too (and when was the last time we ever saw the late, lamented Christian Eriksen deliver a corner of that quality?)
6. The Jose Way’ vs ‘The Tottenham Way’
A win against that lot is always to be enjoyed, but I maintain that there is something galling about seeing our heroes set up to defend and counter. Ceding possession and camping in our own defensive third seems to me a little too close to announcing that we consider ourselves not as good as the other lot, and avoiding going toe-to-toe.
One would understand the sentiment against Barcelona away, but this is a fairly moderate Arse side. At what point do we consider ourselves capable enough simply to outplay an opponent? And, more to the point, aren’t we a club built upon the notion of outplaying an opponent, making exceptions only for the likes of Barcelona away – and even then only because there is a home leg to come?
It might be, however, that insisting that we stick to The Tottenham Way, at a time when confidence is shot and a result is desperately needed, is simply allowing pride to have its devious way – and since we’re going so big on 90s themes today, it is probably worth remembering that Marcellus Wallace, of Pulp Fiction fame, had some pretty pointed and uncomplimentary thoughts on pride. In short, he was not a fan.
I maintain that most other managers worth their salt would find more pleasing ways to get us from A to B. However, for now at least, Jose it is – and this appears to be The Masterplan. Yesterday it could not have been much more effective, but the prospect of this approach becoming the norm in N17 does still makes one shudder with a nameless fear.