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Spurs 1-3 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bad, But Marginally Less Bad Than We’re Used To

It’s a sign of things, and a pretty damning sign at that, when progress is being measured by how less disastrous the situation now is compared to previous times, but that’s about the rub of it here at AANP Towers.

Once upon a time – by which I mean just about every game – I would use these pages to wail and lament like a banshee having a particularly bad time of it, on the grounds that we just seemed to observe the same damn thing every damn week. Viz. that our lot would take a lead; drop deep and try soak up pressure; fail to soak up said pressure and concede; concede again dammit with five minutes remaining; and then put on an impressive, but futile attacking display in the dying embers in an attempt to claw back the lost points.

Now this week, while most of the above admittedly remains true, the crucial difference is that we did not drop deep and try to soak up the pressure.

As I result, I got to about the eightieth minute or so of this one feeling less of the usual weekly frustration and ire. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. Seeing our lot churn out something not particularly good, but not quite as bad as usual, felt if not exactly uplifting then at least a mite more calming than the usual tortuous fare. Yes, we were dropping points; but at least we weren’t dropping points in a manner quite as negative as usual.

(Or rather, that was the state of things until we conceded the second, at which point I expected our usual punchy, late attempt to salvage something, but this was also strangely lacking. In fact, our lot seemed to settle for defeat even with ten minutes left on the clock, barely able to get a foot on the ball, let alone mount a late charge at the opposition goal. All of which rather soured my mood of previous calm.)

However – and I refer you back to the opening gambit, above – when progress is being measured by things being slightly less disastrous than usual you know you’re in a bit of a spot.

I’m not quite sure what the plan was, it being neither to play on the front foot nor the counter-attacking back foot. We had our moments, but United generally had more of them. I noted to a chum pre-match that I would prefer seeing us go down in flames as in the 5-4 defeat at Everton then meekly limp to the usual 1-1 draws each week; but this felt like neither. The whole thing was a bit odd and uninspiring; and that was even before we conceded two late goals.

2. Hojbjerg

One definite ray of sunshine was the pitter-patter of Hojbjerg’s size nines around the place. Since the turn of the year he’s occasionally dipped below his usual high standards, but today signalled a return to something like peak Hojbjerg (possibly benefiting from a rare midweek rest?).

If there were a playground-style, thrashing tackle to be made, he merrily stomped in and made it. If there were an opportunity to nip in quickly and win back possession only recently surrendered, he did not wait for the Ts and Cs of the deal to be refined.

At one point in the second half he broke up a potential United counter-attack and appeared for all the world to be appealing for some non-existent crusade; until I realised that he was actually bellowing a celebration at having conceded a throw in the cause of stifling a United move at source.

Not much else in lilywhite clicked today, but Hojbjerg’s performance was impressive.

3. Lucas

Scraping the barrel now admittedly, but Lucas showed a few flashes of creativity, when not being bumped from the number ten spot by Lo Celso.

The chap always brims with pretty honest sweat and endeavour, which is decent of him but of itself not exactly blowing up anyone’s skirts. Where Lucas does add value, however, is in picking up the ball just over halfway and jinking away from scything legs, transferring the action from what might be termed Midfield Stodge to what might equally be termed Final Third Potential.

As with Lamela a month or so ago, he seems to be benefitting from a steady run of starts, and while hardly in the same bracket as Kane and Sonny, he does at least provide decent empirical evidence for his position ahead of Bale in the queue for the coveted role of Fun Uncle.

A smart assist for Sonny’s goal today too; and in fact most of those involved in its genesis (Ndombele, Lo Celso and, to a lesser extent, Kane) attracted commendation. Seeing goals like that equally delights (because lovely goals do make the heart leap, what?) and infuriates (because why the devil can’t we peddle such stuff more often?).

4. The Defence

Given the personnel at his disposal, I’m not sure that Jose could unveil any back-four without inducing a groan from these parts, so when the names Aurier and Dier were rattled off I suspect I wasn’t the only one praying for their guardian angels to be on high alert.

As it happened though, and in another indication of that first point in today’s sermon about progress being measured by a reduction in dreadfulness, the back-four were generally not terrible.

Neither United’s disallowed goal nor their first two legitimate goals were necessarily due to the type of schoolboy defending that has graced the turf a little too often in the last few years (I’ll overlook the third as it stemmed from several of our lot being dragged out of position). United’s movement of the ball for these goals was impressive, and I suspect a neutral might have dished out some polite applause. There was not, on first sight at least, a great deal that might have been done about them.

First sight, however, may have been a little generous.

Eric Dier has few obvious attributes upon which to call, but generally fares better in the more static life that accompanies crosses or passes into the box than the sprint-based existence of chasing from halfway. However, both United’s first two and their disallowed goal were fashioned in and around the penalty area, and for both Cavani’s allowed and disallowed goal Dier simply lost track of the striker.

This is not to suggest that I might have done any better; if one is supposed to walk a mile in a man’s shoes before chipping away at his character I’d be an unholy mess at this point. But that’s not really the point, is it? Dier is supposed to be an international defender, and while Cavani is a master at his art, Dier was not just a yard behind him, he was completely ignorant of his whereabouts.

Aurier, inevitably, dozed off for one of the goals (their second, allowing Cavani to breeze past him unbothered); while young Rodon switched off for the equaliser, when he ought to have been first on the scene after Lloris parried away the initial shot.

So there were some pretty preventable errors scattered about the place for the goals, but nevertheless, this did not seem a game in which to lambast those at the back. By and large they did a presentable job of things, and while Dier may not be the most alert soul on the planet, Rodon at least seemed to know his beans.

Who the hell knows which combo Jose will try next, given that his selection method seems to be to close his eyes and pick names out of a hat, but there would seem to be both immediate and at least medium-term benefit in giving persisting with young Joe Rodon.

Newcastle 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Intensity: Only To Be Shown When We Fall Behind

Now don’t get me wrong, one need not be one of those intellectual sorts clothed in lab coats and spewing out formulae to be able to pop a positive spin on this one. There was decent attacking interplay; we created a solid fistful of pretty reasonable chances in front of goal; Lucas continues to look a game number 10, Sonny is back and Ndombele picked a couple of those natty slide-rule passes of which Luka Modric would be proud.

But if you are anything like AANP then you dismiss these so-called silver linings as rot, and your face is as thunder. One might argue that we fared reasonably, and that two goals and a point on the road represents a commendable effort: but don’t be fooled. Newcastle, every time we play them, for all their willing are blisteringly average and we should have been perfectly capable of tearing them to pieces.

Even allowing for the fact that our defence is so incapable of getting their little heads around the most basic precepts of the game that they are basically worth two goals to the opposition every match, we still ought to have made mincemeat of Newcastle. And lest you be in the slightest doubt about this, pray cast your gaze upon Exhibit A, the Tottenham Starting Eleven; and Exhibit B, the five minutes or so after we fell behind.

That starting eleven (Exhibit A, that’s for those who, much like Davinson Sanchez, are struggling to keep up with things going on around them) had enough talent to have one hand tied behind their backs, play in blindfolds and only use their weaker foot, and still be pretty evenly matched with a team as devastatingly mediocre as Newcastle. Alas, our heroes seemed determined to take this challenge literally, and set about the thing as if deliberately doing so at half-pace, just to ensure an even contest.

With Jose seemingly giving instruction that the mega-cautious approach of two holding midfielders was to be torn to shreds for one night only, we were even treated to the most becoming sight of an attacking midfield packed with the delights of Ndombele, Lo Celso, Lucas and Kane, with Reguilon eager not to miss out on the left.

It ought to have had the makings of a mauling. Any two of those alone, in combination, could probably have given Newcastle the run around if sufficiently motivated.

And, as per Exhibit B, once the indignity had been suffered of going behind, the pistons started pumping and all concerned treated us to five minutes or so of their collective A-game, all forward passes between the lines and movement in between defenders. Two goals duly followed lickety-split, and those manning the floodgates sounded due warning that all hell was about to break loose.

And then, dash it all, the half-time gong sounded, our heroes paused long enough to realise that they were actually ahead and all need for intensity vanished as swiftly as it had arrived.

Sure, we made the occasional second half dart, and could pretty easily have increased the lead on the strength of those chances alone; but any manic intensity that would have strangled the life out of Newcastle – and of which the personnel were perfectly capable – was gone.

Put simply, had they approached the second half with that same, aggrieved determination as they had approached the five minutes after conceding the opener, we would have witnessed a rout.

Instead, and for apparently the eighth time this season (Eighth! Egads!), we have thrown away points by conceding in the final ten minutes of the season. (I pause at this juncture, for a stiff, Sunday afternoon cordial, to give the necessary strength.)

2. Sanchez

I have a feeling that in each of the most recent half-dozen or so games, I have featured prominently in my post-match ruminations the doings (and, typically, misadventures) of Davinson Sanchez.

If the repetition is grating, then I can only beg your pardon; but let’s face it, the wretched blighter hardly helps himself.

He gave early signal of his intention this afternoon, with a second-minute header into the lap of a Newcastle forward who was still catching breath from him pre-game warm-up, and while that chance was duly wasted (this, after all, is modern-day Newcastle), young Master Sanchez evidently considered that he had found the appropriate level for his afternoon’s work.

Thereafter, seasoned players of Davinson Sanchez Bingo were in for an Easter Sunday treat, as the young blister treated us to his just about his entire array of ignominy, from countless wayward passes to a couple of mistimed leaps, culminating in not one but two tours de force: the clearance (I use the term loosely) that presented Newcastle with the opportunity for their opening goal; and the decision to clatter with his whole body into the nearest chum while attempting to defend (I again use the term loosely) the cross that brought their second goal.

(Although on the subject of the second goal, a dozen lashes each across the backs of Messrs Lamela and Lo Celso for casually and criminally slowing to a halt as the Newcastle attack germinated, and allowing Willock to run beyond them, unmanned, to slap home the goal. Eminently avoidable stuff, and quite possibly indicative of a broader attitudinal issue.)

But back to the lamentable Sanchez, before he thinks he has escaped admonishment. One can only assume that the blighter plays like some sort of holy amalgamation of Ledley King and peak Jaap Stam in training, because little he does on the pitch suggests that here strides a Champions League-level defender.

3. Rodon and Tanganga

Blessed with Sanchez alongside him for company I did wonder what despicable acts Joe Rodon must have committed in a former life to earn the privilege. I must admit that the morbid fascination with Sanchez meant that I did not necessarily pay due attention to the beaverings of young Rodon alongside him, and it generally became a little difficult to match the blame for our numerous defensive mishaps to the appropriate defender.

Rodon gives the impression of one with whom it is worth persisting, on the basis of some well-judged interventions. Whether or not he is an organiser of things, a quality in which we are in desperate need, is an unanswered question at present, but I thought he emerged with some credit.

And t’other side of the lamentable Sanchez, young Tanganga probably reserved his finest moments for the front-foot. When called to defend, not for the first time in his fledgling career his decisions seemed a little too heavily influenced by some positional naivety, not least in being sucked infield to help out Sanchez, and leaving in the lap of the gods those activities in operation behind him.

With Toby’s use-by date just about upon us, and Dier operating at precisely 0.5 times the speed of every other professional in the game, the grim conclusion is that we are pretty desperately need of at least one prime centre-back to slot straight into the starting line-up and liven the dickens out of the rest of the defensive mob.

4. Kane

Mercifully, when all about are losing their heads – and, more pertinently, their slim leads in the final five minutes – one can always seek (and find) solace in the quite astonishing outputs of Harry Kane.

For a player at pretty much the opposite end of the Natural Talent Spectrum to the game’s true greats, the quality he delivers game after game is absolutely unreal. His first goal was hardly a lesson in the finer arts, but as exemplars for persistence, presence and a striker’s instinct to gamble it was something from which young Master Vinicius might have taken copious notes, Vinicus being one found a little too often rocking casually on his heels for my liking.

Kane’s second, however, was an absolute dream, contact so sweet one wanted to football’s governing bodies to compose for it one of those special anthems they insist on blaring out as the players line up for every game.

For Kane to be top-scorer in the league, and near enough top assist-provider, within a team that is as inclined to defend their own penalty area as to attack the opposition’s, makes the man a pretty strong contender for player of the season (particularly given the fact that the success of the runaway leaders is not really due to the stand-out efforts of any particular individual).

All of which still does Kane a disservice, because to judge the honest fellow purely on the basis of his goals and assists is to ignore most of what he does in a game. Even the chances he misses are ripe for study, given the manner in which he so frequently shifts the ball between his feet and then lashes a shot that nutmegs the defender and leaves the ‘keeper rooted to the spot (note today’s effort that hit the post).

On top of all of which, the chap has even taken to modelling his looks upon AANP’s lockdown, swept-back, no-longer-giving-a-damn haircut. A most becoming choice, if I may so.

5. The Awkward Subject of Kane’s Free-Kicks

If there is one, gaping in flaw in Kane’s DNA it is his comically bad free-kick taking ability. I have a feeling that one of, if not his very first league goal for us, might have been a free-kick, but an equally strong suspicion that it was deflected (which would make a heck of a lot of sense, because nature’s elements alone will not divert the ball from its wild trajectories towards goal).

Now it seems that on the basis of this one, freakishly fortunate, close-your-eyes-and-thwack effort half a decade ago – albeit probably in conjunction with his standing as the greatest striker of his generation – Kane’s general ineptitude when presented with ball, wall and twenty yards is no impediment. His teammates simply present him with the ball and sidle off to their positions in preparation for the coming goal-kick.

It is quite the oddity for one so plainly dedicated to every element of his craft, but his abilities seem to drain from him as he soon as he spots the ball from twenty-plus yards – to the extent that the greatest PR agency in the world would struggle to sell Kane on free-kick duty, unless the aim of the exercise is the bloot the thing into the wall, into the orbit or into any other vacant space not occupied by the goal webbing.

That aside however, the lad is worth his weight in the 24-carat stuff, and we should cherish his every contribution.

The occasional AANP tweet to be found hither

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