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Spurs 3-3 West Ham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Second Half

What with the early carousing in which everything turns to gold, followed by a feeling ultimately of feeling sick to the stomach, this had all the hallmarks of a particularly exuberant night out for which one pays pretty heavily the next day. ‘Moderation’ is generally a watchword at AANP Towers until the drink starts to flow, and between you and me there has been more than one occasion on which I have woken bleary-eyed on the bathroom floor, still wearing the previous night’s layers, with head pounding like the dickens and a ghastly taste in the throat, leaving me to wonder at precisely what point things went from Rip-Roaring-Fun to Oh-So-Terribly-Wrong.

I mention this regrettable morning-after sentiment because that same question – of the point at which things went from RRF to OSTW – seems pretty ripe here.

It would be easy to suggest it was half-time – and the trail of breadcrumbs certainly points to our lot failing remotely to match West Ham’s second half lust for battle.

But here at AANP Towers there were one or two mutterings of discontent even in the first half, even amidst the Kane-and-Sonny double-act, because whenever West Ham probed down the flanks our lot seemed to make quite the song and dance about simply putting out the fires and getting on with life. While it was true that every time we attacked we looked like scoring, and a three-goal lead ought to have been plenty, our back-four could hardly have been described as hammock-swinging and cigar-puffing at any point.

Nevertheless, with a three-nil lead at home to middling opposition, the decent thing to do would have been to shuffle off with all three points. But whereas in the first half we cleared the set-pieces and had some generous spells of midfield possession – with occasional breakneck forward thrusts – in the second half it seemed the urgency levels were gently dialled down as the clock ticked towards 90. Where Ndombele, and Hojbjerg in particular, were pulling strings in the first half, they gently faded into the background in the second.

I suppose, just as one can identify the precise Jagerbomb on the night-before as the moment at which events suddenly veered south, one can point to the removal of Son and his energy, or Sissoko’s failure to challenge for a header at a set-piece, as turning points here. And such individual moments certainly did seem to contribute to the general malaise.

However, unlike the Newcastle last-minute equaliser a few weeks back, we can hardly claim that this was a bolt from the blue – our lot allowed West Ham to have too much of the game in the second half.

2. Aurier and the Void Between his Ears

This was probably one for ‘Collective Responsibility’ rather than zooming in on the obvious, traditional cause of calamity, but as we were increasingly on the defensive in the second half, and given that most of the damage was being done on the flanks, I took it upon myself to conduct a thorough study of Serge Aurier’s second half activity; and, unsurprisingly, the results made for pretty dubious viewing.

It may have been tactically ordained from on high, but Aurier constantly seemed to be ten yards further forward than the rest of the back-four. This obviously accommodated his impulse to attack, which made sense, and Sissoko more often than not slotted in behind him to cover.

This in itself seemed reasonable enough. Not a tactic with which I was terrifically thrilled, but one accepts such things with good grace. What irked no end, however, was that when possession was lost and the defensive gong had clearly sounded, Aurier tended to do little more than watch events unfold from ten yards away. When he ought to have been busting a gut to return to his quarters, he rarely did more than saunter back.

It was disturbing quite how often he was simply in the wrong position. This seemed to be compounded by his urge to race into tackles in midfield – simply because he happened to be in the vicinity. A dollop or two of defensive nous might have encouraged him to leave midfield battles for the midfielders, while he hurried back to his right-back post, but such thoughts rarely seemed to occur.

It was all a little odd, and I rather wish I had studied Reguilon on the other flank to see if similar events were unfolding there.

And then, to compound matters, in the dying seconds Aurier managed in a single movement to segue from being comfortably in possession to needlessly losing possession and conceding a free-kick, from which the equaliser was scored. All the attacking benefits in the world cannot convince me of that man’s worth as a defender.

3. Early Thoughts on Bale

Whisper it, but the much-heralded return of Gareth Bale proved to be one heck of a damp squib, as tends to be the case when one wanders onto the pitch and sees things immediately fall apart at the seams just in time for the final whistle.

Not since the signings were announced of Edgar Davids, and before him Jurgen Klinsmann, has the excitement at AANP Towers reached such giddy levels. For ten mind-boggling minutes we were even treated to the Son-Kane-Bale axis in all its glory. Nothing happened, as all three, in their own unique ways, all looked pretty shattered – but there it was! Actually unfolding!

In time, one suspects those three will absolutely blitz some poor, honest souls who amble up on the wrong day. This, however, was not that day. Bale, frankly, did not look fit. I suspect no-one begrudges him that, and at three-nil with twenty minutes to go it ought not to have mattered, but I suppose we will simply have to wait a few more weeks before that front-three fires on all cylinders.

A dashed shame that Bale fluffed his lines when the big moment arrived, particularly having done the hard work, but he seemed to receive an untimely shove that knocked him off his axis at the crucial moment. The good times will presumably roll soon enough.

4. Deep-Lying Kane

On a brighter note, the japes of the first sixteen minutes were all sorts of fun!

What seemed to begin as a mere whim or flight of fancy of Harry Kane’s, to drop deep and show off his passing range, now seems to have evolved into a bona fide plan, which presumably has files saved online and a ring-binder containing notes and coloured post-its in Jose’s inner sanctum.

When our lot begin passing from our own goal kick, Kane now stations himself in midfield as a matter of permanent residence, in order to collected the lofted ball and make merry.

Things are a little different when we’re in possession around halfway, in which case normality resumes and he’s as likely to be the attacking spearhead; but if the opposition defence is pushed up to halfway, Kane’s drill is to sow his wild oats from a deep-lying starting position.

And why not? His passing is sublime, and his runners willing. Teams will presumably suss this out and deploy appropriate counter-measures – but in a way this will be where the fun really does begin, because we have the option of simply having Kane wander back into attack, and dragging opponents with him.

5. Clinical Finishing

The heading ‘Clinical Finishing’ rings a little hollow now, admittedly, but in the opening twenty minutes or so our finishing was the very dictionary definition of clinical.

I recall several years ago in an away Champions League match – possibly Barcelona, possibly Dortmund – when Son was clean through and shot straight at the ‘keeper, I gave the blighter an absolutely rollicking for several weeks afterwards. Not much point, of course, as he couldn’t hear me, but I was convinced at the time that the lad was not one of nature’s born finishers.

Things have moved on somewhat since then, and now Sonny is as deadly as they come when the frame of the goal looms into view. I did rather titter at the West Ham defender who did not think to prevent his right-footed shot in the first minute – it seems a safe bet that the entire watching global audience could see what Son was going to attempt as soon as he collected the ball – but it’s one thing attempting such manoeuvres and another thing crossing the t’s and dotting the I’s, and these days Sonny just doesn’t seem to miss.

Credit also to Kane for rolling out the double-nutmeg for his first goal, and a slap on the back for young Senor Reguilon and his glorious first-time cross, which practically begged to be nodded home. I cannot imagine that I was the only one who wondered how many attempts that might have taken Ben Davies.

Our lot can barely be contained going forward – if we could just work out how to defend (and no, Eric Dier is not the answer) just imagine where this season would take us. For now, however, it seems all action, no plot.

Man Utd 1-6 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg’s Man of the Match Stuff

When Gary Neville took time out from his 90-minute long soliloquy on Man Utd to toss a Man of the Match award in the direction of the good ship Hotspur, he appropriately enough gave the matter zero thought and rattled off the first name that sprung to his mind, Harry Kane.

Now Kane is a man of multiple talents, just about all of which were on display today – and for those campers who are firmly pro-Kane but a little less decided on all things Hojbjerg, there might be value in skipping over the following few paragraphs and lapping up the Kane-heavy content below.

Here at AANP Towers however, the bouquets were being flung in the direction of P-E Hojbjerg throughout, because in a quiet and understated way the chap absolutely bossed proceedings.

When science progresses to the point that cutting open a chap’s brain to understand clearly how the levers and pulleys work is as regular as flicking on a light switch, I’ll happily petition for Master Hojbjerg to be the first to go under the knife, because his knack for knowing precisely where to be at any given point, on an expanse of land as big as – well, a football pitch – was uncanny.

Depending on any given circumstance in the game, Hojbjerg seemed able to glide into the optimal position to stick his oar into other people’s business. It mattered not whether we were in possession inside our own half, or just outside their area, or on the retreat as the other lot attacked – in much the same manner as one of those time-travelling robot assassins of Cyberdyne fame, Hojbjerg seemed able to whistle through a multitude of options in his head and instantly select the appropriate one, positioning himself accordingly.

At one point towards the end of the first half, first Reguilon and then Ndombele let possession slither away, and as the United dogs eagerly looked up for a counter-attack opportunity they were abruptly stopped by six feet and a few inches of pure Hojbjerg, stomping into view like one of those over-zealous doormen who are oddly averse to sitting down and discussing differences in the manner that decorum demands.

And if the situation called for those six feet and several inches to exert themselves in the muscle-and-sinew department. Hojbjerg was even more game, and at one point his enthusiasm for the lilywhite cause extended to an on-pitch celebration for a tackle by Serge Aurier. And how we have needed something like that at N17.

And then, as his piece de resistance, just when AANP thought that were no more worlds for the young Dane to conquer, he went and delivered – first time and with perfect weight – that pass inside the full-back that is the stuff of deities, to set up Aurier for his goal.

2. Kane Dropping Deep

As has been evidenced in recent weeks, Harry Kane, seems to have decided that he’s proved all he needs to prove in terms of goalscoring, and while everyone else gets on with the day-job he will throw in a spot of extra-curricular work in the Number 10 position.

The pass from the free-kick to release Son for one of the goals early on (let’s face it, it’s a struggle to remember them all, let alone their order) was the sort of stuff of which any lifelong, deep-lying creator would be proud.

He also pinged a couple of Hollywood balls into the path of Serge Aurier – although admittedly United’s defending was such that at times it seemed rude not to pick out Aurier – and even when not directly creating goalscoring opportunities, his tendency to stroll all the way back to halfway and even further gave the impression that here was an egg who was rather enjoying his latest hobby.

With Sonny the ever-willing runner ahead of him, and Lamela finding the whole thing an awfully good jape too, Kane’s drifts into deeper positions were pretty well complemented. Thrown Bale into the mix and I think we’re all going to need a stiff drink and a decent lie-down.

Not that Kane was going to neglect completely the meat and veg, and up he duly popped to score a poacher’s goal in the first half, and a trademark perfect penalty, into the side netting rather than the corner. All seemingly without breaking sweat.

On top of which, he, in common with various others – Lamela, Hojbjerg, Ndombele, Sonny, Aurier, Reguilon – was snapping at United heels like a man possessed from the off.

3. Aurier and Reguilon

Young Senor Reguilon had the sort of debut that will make the crowds gather and beg for more. Beating United 6-1 in their own backyard is pretty much beyond the stuff of dreams – but there it was for him, in black and white.

His own contribution seemed to pick up where he had left against Chelsea in midweek. The directive to go haring up the left-flank was one he seemed to receive as a small child might receive instruction to take whatever the hell he pleased from a sweetshop, and like some sort of little lamb in a nursery rhyme, whenever Sonny decided to stretch his legs on the inside left position, one could bet the mortgage that Regulon would be sure to go in a supporting role, five yards to the left.

Another feature of Reguilon’s game was more of that child-like enthusiasm in chasing down loose balls or opponents at every opportunity, as if absolutely desperate to impress his new paymasters. And quite rightly too, it’s the attitude one would expect from all in lilywhite. One hopes that experience does not diminish this youthful zeal.

On the other flank, Christmas came early for young Monsier Aurier, who was allowed to do whatever the hell he wanted all game. All of this was aided by United not really picking up the gist of the thing, and seemingly dealing with the problem by closing their eyes, putting their hands over their ears and singing loudly. In certain scenarios this counter-measure might prove effective, but today it did little to dent Aurier’s ambitions, and as well as multiple opportunities to cross he was also afforded enough time to score, which really is a nadir for any opposing defence.

Question marks over Aurier’s defending will presumably never disappear, but the suspicion remains that he considers himself an attacking sort, and when the opportunity arises to hit the final third he often delivers.

4. Lamela and the Dark Arts

Most self-respecting folk have had the good sense to acknowledge that rather than turn the game, the red card simply sped up the inevitable, whilst perhaps adding a dollop or two of good, honest comedy to the situation. Already in one heck of a pickle at that stage, United went through various stages of a toddler’s tantrum, by getting everything wrong, then sulkily giving up and then becoming rather aggressive – but at the time of the offence our lot were already leading, had missed multiple chances and were noticeably sharper in almost every area.

That said, the AANP view was that there could have been few complaints had Lamela also seen red. Presumably he didn’t because he struck the throat, whereas the other lad struck the face; and if countless John Grisham novels have taught me anything it’s that the devil is in the detail in these legal matters.

I suspect that not even the most committed United fan could ignore the irony of complaining about a harsh refereeing decision at Old Trafford, but there can be little doubt that our lot benefited a tad from this one (on almost the exact spot at which a missed handball allowed United to score past Heurelho Gomes several years back).

While the Sky studio pundits were racing through the various stages of grief at the whole spectacle, I did rather wonder what Our Glorious Leader made of Lamela’s sudden surrender to the charms of gravity.

One could be forgiven for having missed it, as it was not particularly widely publicised, but a certain channel recently aired a documentary of behind-the-scenes footage from N17, which was in places at least, eye-opening stuff. At one point, which does rather stick in the memory, Jose requested his troops – using the sort of fruity language that would make the elderly swoon, I don’t mind telling you – that they needed to be less courteous in how they went about things. Less pleasant. More unbecoming.

And so, when Lamela took his unseemly tumble, while hardly applauding the young bean, I did wonder if this were evidence of precisely that sort of uncouth stuff that Jose had craved. A small step, one might suggest, on the road to increasing the general savviness about the place – and maybe even winning a trophy?

There were plenty of other positives, and plenty of other highlights (Maguire hauling down Luke Shaw for the first goal; the sight of United players careering off into the wrong postcode every time Ndombele executed a turn; the fake crowd booing off United at half-time). Ultimately however, this has turned into one of our greatest weeks in recent memory. Bumping Chelsea out of the Carabao Cup; securing the Europa group stage with seven goals in the process; signing a striker of all things – and now sticking six past United at their own place.

How does one sum up that sort of narrative? Lads, it’s Tottenham.

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