All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
"AANP - nobody knows what it means, but it's provocative."

Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Attitude

The attitude of the players seems to be the major gripe amongst the masses today, and that particular narrative certainly gets my vote, because from the AANP vantage point last night the attitude of the collective from first whistle to approximately the 115th minute stunk the place out.

And while the countless individuals thrust into the limelight yesterday should all be publicly flogged for their pitiful efforts, I do wonder what the hell Jose is doing to earn his weekly envelope. If the players’ attitudes are rummy, or their confidence low, then the manager is presumably tasked with inspiring the requisite changes in mindset, and sharpish. And if the manager is incapable of drumming into their thick skulls the need to buck up and get the pistons firing, then one might say he is incapable, full stop.

It would not quite be accurate to say our lot picked up where they left off on Sunday, because strictly speaking, on Sunday we perked up considerably once the odds had lengthened to enormous levels (anyone else notice a theme emerging here?) via throwing away a lead, going behind and going down to ten men. At that point the place was choc-full of fire in the belly.

No, more accurately, our heroes picked up pretty much where they started on Sunday, or perhaps a regressed a step or two from that point. The approach last night from the opening toot seemed to be to hope that the game would stagnate into nihilism, actively trying to ensure that nothing happened each minute so that we could hurry along to the final whistle and qualification, preferably without the need to break sweat.

Now strictly speaking, in logical terms, there was much to applaud about this approach. If nothing had happened, we would indeed have qualified. Very clever stuff. If the entire match could have been spent by Winks and Sissoko passing sideways to each other and occasionally backwards to Sanchez, as seemed to be the dedicated aim, then we would indeed have coasted through. In fact, I got the impression that our lot were hoping that the ref would decree that there was no need to play a game at all, and that he might just instruct everyone to sit quietly on the spot for 90 minutes, after which results would be recorded with minimal fuss.

However, while fool-proof in theory, if anyone wanted practical evidence of flaws in the tactical approach of “Let’s hope nothing happens for the entire 90 minutes”, then last night their cup overflowed with the stuff.

The galling thing was that one goal would have neatly ended the contest, and one goal against these willing but limited opponents was eminently achievable. Had our heroes gone up the necessary gears they would almost certainly have fashioned enough chances to kill the thing.

Instead, as per the headline, the attitude stunk the place out. Our mob presented themselves as fully converted to the doctrine that they needed only be present and the game would see itself through to full-time in their favour. No effort was exerted in search of a goal because no need was seen for a goal, and the sound of a million Spurs fans banging their heads against the nearest brick wall back home did nothing to amend this.

2. Jose’s Future

It has been widely suggested that Daniel Levy has sacked numerous coaches for less heinous crimes than the rap sheet currently pinned to Jose. Whether or not this is true, one would imagine that the Paymaster General is now casting his mind back a little nervously to Jose’s assurances on contract-signing day. Where Poch’s appeals for funds were often ignored, Jose was invited to dive into a cartoon bathtub full of money at the first opportunity.

Having been duly backed, we find ourselves outsiders for the top four and peddling some pretty dreadful fare on the pitch; and really at least one of these – results or performances – needs to be in place to justify this whole wretched experience.

In the interests of fairness it should not be overlooked that we have at least started beating the teams at the lower end of the table, as the recent run of victories evidences. Nevertheless, the nagging suspicion remains that, armed with Kane, Bale, Son, Lucas, Dele, Lamela, Ndombele and Reguilon at their disposal, most managers ever to have walked the earth could probably have conjured up a win at home to Burnley.

It is being suggested that a Cup Final win against City would be enough to keep Jose in post, and Levy presumably would concur. After all, the whole point of the Jose exercise seemed to be to bring in some shiny pots. I’m not sure that the t’s and c’s included doing so at the expense of our footballing souls, but if it’s pots that Levy is after, then at least one pot Jose now has an opportunity to snaffle.

The AANP tuppence worth is that this would not be sufficient. Should Jose win the Carabao then let that be a triumphant, if ill-deserved, coda to a pretty ghastly tenure, and let’s have him shoved out the door while bleating about his knack for winning titles wherever he goes.

As suggested above, Jose does not appear capable of coaxing, cajoling, hypnotising or blackmailing the players into playing with the requisite attacking feist. Blessed with arguably three of the most talented attacking footballers of their generation, not to a mention a supporting cast that would be the envy of most teams across Europe, he has fashioned a team that seems convinced the road to glory is paved with a counter-attack every half hour.

The style is only bearable if we are top of – or perhaps challenging for – the league. In this context, winning a trophy (via a bye, a penalty shoot-out and wins against two lower-league opponents) hardly cures all ills.

I spent much of last night trying to avert the bleeding of my eyes by working out whether we are a decent team that is occasionally dreadful, or a dreadful team that is occasionally decent. Neither of these seem good enough for a manager having wads of cash thrust into every available pocket, yet who, eighteen months in, is yet to present a plan for future improvement.

All that said, it is difficult to imagine Levy giving his man the elbow unless we spin down into the bottom half. For unfathomable reasons Levy seems pretty obsessed with Jose, having near-enough stalked the man until he agreed to hop on board. It seems unlikely that he will turn on his back on him now, with the Top Four and a Cup Final win both still within the realms of possibility.

3. Son and Kane’s Futures

But to hell with Jose, what about Sonny and Kane?

I’m no student of body-language, but Kane’s demeanour as he exited the crime-scene last night did not strike me as that of a man bursting with the joys of life and all it has to offer. My spies tell me that the fellow turns 28 this summer, and one would therefore not blame him for using his quieter moments to pause and wonder where the heck his first winners’ medal might come from, and whether any more might follow.

Things would be different if, as were the case in the prime Poch years, the club were elbowing its way into conversations about the top prizes, and appeared to be in with a shout. Kane presumably is not hanging his hat on this particular season being one of triumph, but, one suspects, he would at the very least want to see that the vehicle as a whole is heading off in the direction of success.

Alas, under Jose there is precious little indication of any such thing. The current lot are pretty accurately-seated, being somewhere between sixth and tenth, and with every step forward having pretty promptly been followed by one in the opposite direction.

Kane undoubtedly has affection for the club, and it’s a safe bet that he is well aware of being within a season or two of Jimmy Greaves’ record, but one would hardly be surprised if he announced that he would rather not spend his prime years working up a sweat on Thursday nights in Zagreb. This is not to denigrate Zagreb: I dated a Croat for a while in my youth, and can attest to the fact that the city has its fair share of delights; but regular Champions League involvement is not amongst them. Kane will rightly feel that he needs to be sharing a stage with Lewandowski, Mbappe and Haaland, and the clock is ticking on his career.

While Sonny may be inclined to wait a little longer, I imagine he will have less of an affinity to the club than Kane, and it’s a pretty safe bet that he will be almightily cheesed off if Kane gathers his possessions and pootles out the door.

Nights like last night are happening a little too often; much more of such rot and the whole dashed thing will unravel.

Arsenal 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Most Lamela Performance Imaginable

If you want to describe the mood at AANP Towers as “sombre” that will be fine with me, because that was pretty rotten stuff. Since the final whistle I have mostly just aimlessly wandered about the place: not as a devastatingly accurate tribute to those in lilywhite today, but because there was precious little about which to cheer.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, pretty much the sole beacon of light amidst this gloom was – or at least, was until he wasn’t – Erik Lamela.

Quite unperturbed by his rather hurried introduction into affairs, Lamela just set about the game as I imagine he sets about dressing himself in the morning, or eating his breakfast: viz. with high energy, sneaky fouls and a total reliance on his left foot.

It would be a stretch, and in fact a plain untruth, to say that he brimmed with creativity, but as ever he seemed pretty keen to engage in robust exchanges of views with just about anyone clad in red who wandered anywhere near him.

The highlight, of course, was his goal. Has any mortal ever held his right foot in such disregard as Lamela? Not that I’m complaining of course, because I suspect most of us would happily retire after scoring a goal like that, in a game like this (and for added delectation the shot also nutmegged some lost soul en route to goal). For a while it seemed that Lamela had done the most Lamela thing imaginable.

Except, alas, there was more classic Lamela to come. Any game of Lamela Bingo requires a yellow card borne of a fully determined but slightly mistimed tackle, and being the excitable sort of fellow he is, this duly followed. However, on this matter I have a healthy dollop of sympathy for the man, because the sequence of events that earned that first yellow card involved, in chronological order, i) Lamela winning ball, and ii) Lamela flying into opponent.

One might argue that this is simply the manner in which games are officiated these days, and that would be a pretty irresistible point; but in the latter stages I’m pretty sure Xhaka went flying into a challenge on Doherty, taking first ball and then clattering man, and earning nothing more than an unconcerned shrug from those in authority. Scandalous stuff.

Frankly I thought Lamela’s second yellow was also rather soft. Not the wisest course of action from a man already cautioned, ‘tis true, but the supposedly flailing arm could pretty reasonably have been construed as a fairly harmless attempt push away the chest of his opponent. Spilt milk now, of course.

And thus we had every aspect of Lamela, in an hour-long microcosm.

2. Doherty and Bale

Lamela’s goal, and Lucas’ diligent beavering in the final fifteen, were about as uplifting as things got.

Just about everywhere else on the pitch there seemed to be a pretty hefty dereliction of duty, as all involved misplaced passes (Hojbjerg being oddly culpable on multiple occasions), wandered into dead-ends or generally turned in curiously lethargic performances, as if the current state of affairs in the world were weighing on their minds a little too heavily today.

In the first half in particular, much of the success had by the other lot came down our right. I had neither the energy nor inclination to try to diagnose the problem, but the quartet of lilywhites covering that patch of land (Doherty, Bale, Hojbjerg and Sanchez) between them seemed pretty ill-equipped even to understand what was happening around them, let alone address it.

Doherty in particular gave the impression of a defender on life-support, repeatedly outfoxed by his opponents’ mind-blowing tactic of kicking the ball past him and running. The excuse repeatedly trotted out for this pest is that he is a wing-back, not a full-back, as if this is akin to asking a right-handed fast bowler to design a spaceship, and not something that should be expected of him. Utter rot.

In my calmer moments I actually consider that Doherty is someone who has shown enough in recent seasons to suggest that he will, if still around next campaign, eventually come good. Today, however, he was a shambles, whether in possession or trying to defend.

(Bale, it seemed, took one look at the car crash unfolding behind him and decided to steer well clear. One understands the sentiment, I suppose, but it’s hardly mucking in with the boys.)

3. Sanchez

Another week, and another blot on the Davinson Sanchez escutcheon. Apparently some are arguing that the penalty should not have been awarded; and by the letter of the law perhaps it should not, I did not stick around for the debate. My misgiving about the whole incident was that Sanchez saw fit to clatter into an opponent in the penalty area. Irrespective of what other events were unfolding, that course of action stacked the odds against him. Pull off a stunt like that and immediately the ref has a reason to take action.

It was actually something of a shame, because while Sanchez never has and never will inspire me with the slightest confidence, he was somehow getting things right. Blocks, headers, timing of challenges: all the parts of his game that have me covering my eyes with hands and muttering fevered prayers, in these this afternoon he seemed to emerge triumphant.

But such is the lot of a centre-back. I’m not sure it does much good to turn in an impeccable 89 minutes, if you fill your remaining 60 seconds flattening opposing attackers in the penalty area.

4. Negative Approach

I have no idea who gives the orders to our lot as they limber up, as I am scandalously excluded from the inner sanctum of the club at such times, but after games like these the anthem on my lips is, “Accident, or design?”

That is to say, is it simply an unhappy stroke of fate that our lot mooch gormlessly around the pitch for an hour showing minimal intent to break forward (until they eventually, inevitably, concede and have to)? Or do they conduct themselves with such apathy because someone in the upper echelons has force-fed them the instruction to act in precisely such manner?

All neither here nor there of course. It wouldn’t make much difference if the instructions were being delivered by a booming voice from the clouds, as the net effect is one we have witnessed pretty regularly. We defend, and defend, and only bother attacking once behind.

While at least avoiding the ignominy of defending along the edge of our own area, our heroes did not cover themselves in glory for the first hour or so, by seeming oddly indifferent as to whether or not they had the ball. Whereas the other lot gave the impression of familiarity with the equation that the scoring of goals facilitates the winning of games, those in lilywhite appeared pretty relaxed about the flow of events. “If Arsenal want to attack”, went the thought process of our eleven, “then who are we to interfere?”

That our only shot in the first half brought about a goal seemed to be taken as vindication by those involved that all was well with the world. However, the fact that the other lot twice hit the woodwork during this period, rather than jolting anyone into alternative action, was seemingly taken as further evidence that everything was under control, and even after they equalised the plan remained unmoved: just bob gently about the place, and everything will be alright in the end.

That it took the unholy combination of falling behind and having a man sent off to prompt any change of approach was about as frustrating as these things get, not least because thereafter came the astonishing discovery that if we went and attacked our chances of scoring improved exponentially.

One is tempted to suggest that there is a salutary lesson in there, but it would be a stretch to assume that the combined brain power of those strolling the corridors of power will do anything to change this approach in the next big game we play.

Fulham 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Front Four

Not sure how well versed you are on your scripture, but as I recall there’s one wheeze in The Good Book along the lines of Character A bumping into Character B, who – and this is crucial to the plotline – happens to be pregnant, with the punchline that on seeing Character A, it is reported by Character B that “the child in her womb leapt for joy”.

A pretty rummy line, and not something I can personally relate to, having, for various reasons, not experienced a child or indeed a womb myself – but had I been so blessed it is absolutely nailed on that the child would not just have leapt but would have performed an Irish jig at seeing the teamsheet yesterday. The universal reaction amongst all lilywhites of my acquaintance on learning of the starting eleven was one of barely containable excitement, as the star-studded quartet of Kane, Son, Bale and Dele was unleashed.

That said, the gratification was not quite instant, with Fulham inconsiderately deciding to start on the front foot for the first 10 minutes or so, and our lot revealing a pretty sizeable disconnect between defence and attack. However, when things did click it was pretty fruity stuff, and the fact that Fulham were still waltzing into our area a little too easily when in possession simply added to the feel that this whole thing was an Ossie Ardiles ’94 tribute act.

It will be interesting to see how stronger teams cope, but when our front four did purr last night there wasn’t a great deal Fulham could do to stop it. In time one would imagine that their interplay will improve, if the telepathy between Sonny and Kane extends to the other two; and, being an indulgent sort, I’d rather like to see the various band members interchange positions and go a-wandering.

As it was, Sonny obediently stayed out on the left, presumably because Bale had announced that he intended to stick to the right, with Kane varying his longitude if not his latitude. I’m not sure of the extent of the tactical coaching this mob received, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose simply told them to toddle out there and do as they please, relying on their individual quality to do the necessary. It certainly brought about enough clear first half chances to have more than just the single goal.

In that respect Harry Kane deserves a slap on the wrist and a spell on the naughty step, as he was guilty of the sort of basic errors in front of goal that, had they been committed by Vinicius, would have had us booting him out the door and hurling a suitcase and his passport after him.

2. Dele Alli

The star of the show was probably Dele. While the headlines have been grabbed by his glaring miss that turned into an own goal by the chap next to him, the existential point he made by simply popping up in the area at that moment, with a good sense of dramatic timing, did a lot to justify his inclusion.

In a team so heavily reliant upon Son and Kane for the beginning, middle and end of its goals, Dele’s presence and natural inclinations to tiptoe forward immediately open up new routes to goal, and as such give fresh headaches to opposing defences.

On top of his attacking threat, I feel legally obliged to mention that he also knuckled down to the meat and veg of a midfielder’s role, performing such unglamorous tasks as tracking back, making tackles and helping to dab possession about the place. However, the principal benefits he brought were in the attacking spots, which does make one wonder why the hell Jose saw fit to kick him out of the squad for the first two thirds of the season, but I suppose life is full of such mysteries.

3. Ndombele

Having missed out on parity by a whisker with the last kick of the first half, Fulham decided to try the same approach in the second, with the result that we spent a full 45 minutes clinging on for dear life against a team that for all intents and purposes is from the division beneath us. From the Championship they came, and to the Championship they will return, but this did not stop them relentlessly attacking us and coming within one rulebook absurdity of equalising.

Every time our defence desperately thwacked the ball clear it came back at us, as the concept of hanging onto the thing seemingly lost on those members of the collective who were stationed further north.

The whole nerve-shredding spectacle did make me stop and wonder about the role of Ndombele in these scenarios. No matter how many times and how large the phrase “Defensive Midfielder” is stamped across his frame, it does not alter the fact that here is a chap who looks longingly at his attacking chums on the other side of the halfway line, desperately wanting to remove himself to such sunnier climes.

This seemed to be emphasised by the fact that he raced forward over halfway at every opportunity, not even really caring about the specific destination as long as he could glimpse the sight of the opposition goalposts and take a few gulps of oxygen from the Fulham half.

Which is all well and good, and is the sort of back-up act that makes the dreamy front four even more irresistible; but when he is stationed as one of two chappies sitting in front of the back four, there is something of a statutory requirement that he puts on his defensive hat and offers some protection.

Alas, he didn’t offer much in this department. If anything I noticed Dele’s defensive contributions more than his. This is not so much a criticism of Ndombele himself, more an observation that if we are going to field a stardust-sprinkled front four then we probably do require something a bit more solid behind them.

4. Davinson Sanchez

For the second successive game I was struck by the thoroughly disorienting sensation that Davinson Sanchez was, just about, doing an adequate job of keeping intruders at bay. Much though I would like to, I cannot really bring myself to describe him as a reassuring presence back there, as he does give the impression that calamity is only one opposing stepover away.

However, he stuck to his task yesterday, and by and large emerged in credit with a number of solid interventions and tackles to his name. There were a couple of moments, notably one at the very end of the first half, when it seemed that the ghost of Gundogan had returned, and threatened to leave him writhing on the floor again, but he recovered well and generally did the necessaries.

Ultimately, I thought his night was rather summed up by the disallowed goal: an agricultural clearance (which is better than no clearance at all), combined with a spot of luck, with the net result that the clean sheet remained intact.

In the final analysis it is a bit difficult to get one’s head around things: two consecutive wins is excellent stuff; albeit the opposition have been relegation strugglers; the front four could potentially light up our end to the season; yet our defence remains pretty wobbly at best. Luckily the games come so quickly these days there isn’t much time to dwell on these imponderables.

All Action, No Plot © 2021. Theme Squared created by Rodrigo Ghedin.