Spurs match reports

Everton 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane’s Deep Role

No doubt plenty of column inches across the land are being served up regarding H. Kane Esq. today. There’s the happy matter of his two goals, which I think we’d all pretty comfortably watch on loop until the end of days; and his ankle, which is a decidedly less sunny topic; but the issue nibbling at me like the dickens is this nonsense of him dropping deep and spending the entire binge pottering around in midfield like nobody’s business.

Now the complaint I am about to file is hardly unprecedented, so if it’s original content you’re after I’m afraid you’re bang out of luck.

The thrust of it is that Kane is a goalscorer of the highest calibre, and as such really ought to spend as much of his time as possible situated in the opposition penalty area.

One understands that every now and then there comes a tide in the affairs of man which pretty much forces him to nip out and tie up a few loose ends. And if circumstances thus drag Kane towards halfway for a moment or two, then I think we’d all be pretty content to wave him through, just as long as he’s back up in or around the penalty area in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. That, after all, is where the magic happens.

Instead, as often as not, he’s mooching around in midfield for the majority of the blasted match, as if won over by that peculiarity of the judicial system that allows a squatter to become the legal owner of a property they’ve occupied without anyone else’s permission, simply by virtue of having been there for a given period.

At first it was a rather impressive party-trick, swanning back to halfway and pinging forty-yarders into the path of Son to score, and we were happy enough to indulge him for five minutes each week if it kept him happy.

But a five-minute treat is one thing; setting up permanent residence is a completely different kettle of fish. Even if he wants to dabble in those arts once every ten minutes, then we would probably find it the lesser of two evils, as he is at times very effective in the role, make no mistake – but yesterday he spent all but the entire game there. Why the hell he is doing it so incessantly is anyone’s guess. It’s not as if there’s more glory to be had back there.

It seems particularly pertinent to point this out on a day on which he was given but two sniffs of opportunities in the area, both of which were fleeting in nature and yet both of which were despatched with absolutely ruthless efficiency, before anyone else in the vicinity had even started to calculate what circus-like sequence of events had transpired amongst the Everton defenders to bring us to that point.

With the Everton mob crashing into each other and ball pinballing around, one would have adopted a spirit of understanding if Kane had himself dallied somewhat, to find his bearings and gather his thoughts, before casting an eye over his options and weighing up the behaviour most appropriate to the situation.

Not Harry Kane. Not a bit of it. While we mere mortals were still formulating the phrase, “What ho, it looks like something might be on here”, Kane had already swivelled and lashed, and was deep into his kiss-ring-and-fist-pump routine.

(It ought also to be noted that the first goal additionally involved him plucking the ball out of the sky at a moment’s notice in order to facilitate the swivel-and-lash, but such is the man’s ability in front of goal that he made this not inconsiderable task appear as straightforward as shelling peas.)

Now I wasn’t kidding about watching those goals on loop ad infinitum, and I’d be similarly happy to write about them until well into the night too, but the moral of the story must not be overlooked, which is that the man should stick to the final third, dash it. We have amongst our number the most talented goalscorer of his generation; let’s maximise that talent by ensuring that he spends as much time as possible in the position that best facilitates him scoring goals. Which sure as heck isn’t going to be a patch of grass on the left-hand touchline about fifty yards out.

2. Errant Passing

Kane’s goals were fabulous, and would be the highlight of many a middling football match, but amidst the usual dross on show yesterday they shone particularly brightly.

It’s dashed hard to know what to make of things under Jose at the best of times, but yesterday matters were complicated no end by the fact that half of those given the honour of representing our glorious establishment marked the occasion by kicking the ball to whomever the hell they pleased as long as it wasn’t a teammate.

This approach complicated matters. I read somewhere that Ndombele gave away possession on fourteen occasions, and while I could not comment on the precise statistical veracity of this claim, it did sound about right, I must admit. He was pretty dreadful, and he was not the only one.

Now this is not to besmirch his character. One reads about the hand that giveth and in the same breath taketh away, and so it is with observations of Ndombele’s recent performances, for against Man Utd last week I read a similarly unverified line suggesting that he alone did not give away possession once in the entire first half.

Yesterday, however, was one of those days in which none of our lot seemed to attach too much importance to the business of retaining possession. The scrappy opening exchanges in which the ball failed to attach to anyone stretched out into the entire game.

Aurier, Hojbjerg, Reguilon and Sissoko were all as guilty as Ndombele of bunting the ball any which way, and nor is that a conclusive list.

3. The Spurs Way

As if to hammer home that here stood a team pretty devoid of direction, we then pulled off our usual feat of letting a lead slip, and thereafter going through the motions until we fell behind, at which point we promptly bucked right up and started to play with thrust and enterprise. Or, as one might label it, “The Usual”.

Now in general I’m not a fan of that blister Carragher on commentary, but like a broken clock he does stumble upon a truth every now and then, and so it was that I found myself in complete agreement with him at one point yesterday. Which sat pretty uncomfortably with me, I don’t mind telling you.

He expressed the opinion that the current lilywhite vintage perform entirely in reaction to the scoreline at any given point. And by Jove, he was right. Should we find ourselves leading, we sit back and defend; should we find ourselves trailing, we lock and load, and make a damn good fist of things in search of an equaliser; and I suppose if scores our level we simply go through the motions, rather waiting for something to happen or the match to end. Waiting for the other lot to die of boredom, as one of our greatest would have put it.

Thus spake that Carragher creature, and, with a heavy heart, I found myself agreeing. This lot have no particular identity. They just check the scoreline and behave accordingly.

I suppose in the interests of fairness one ought to acknowledge that this week we did not throw away the lead in the usual, spirit-sapping fashion; but the general point remains nonetheless. The series of ghastly individual performances and countless misplaced passes hardly helped things; but as ever it was the mentality of the players, at various different points, that really grated.

4. The Penalty

I mentioned the penalty, so now is as ripe a time as any to elaborate.

The forensics team seemed to conclude that there was some contact, and you can press your ear to the keyhole of AANP Towers but you won’t hear much complaint about the decision here. If it were a foul, then the decision was correct; if umpteen replays suggested that it weren’t a foul then it was hardly a clear and obvious error; so few grumbles from this quarter.

Rather, and not for the first time, I take issue with that one amongst our number who gave the referee a decision to make in the first place, this week Reguilon. He seemed briefly to reject the laws of physics, and convince himself that rather than taking the circuitous approach around James, either via the eastward route or the westward, it would be feasible to gain possession by motoring straight through the back of him.

This judgement having taken hold, young Senor Reguilon seemed pretty committed to it until the very last moment, when a lone voice of reason seemed to make itself heard amongst the chorus presumably urging him to plough straight on, and at that point Reguilon made a rather belated attempt to slam on the brakes.

This evasive action was undertaken too late, however. The whole interaction proved irresistible, and to the surprise of precisely no-one the judgement was made. Contact or not, Reguilon paid the price for the pretty daft decision to steam towards James from behind, rather than go around him.

It was pretty frustrating stuff, because while one would ideally prefer not to concede, if one has to (and let’s face it, with present-day Spurs it does seem part of the deal each week) one would prefer that the opposition earn it.

5. Ndomble in the Number 10 Role

I alluded above to the pretty careless streak to Ndombele’s performance, and I think there is more to be said on this.

These days I doubt Jose has much plan of how to achieve whatever it is he wants to achieve, instead simply trying something new each week. Yesterday it was a back-three, wing-backs and Ndombele in the number 10 role, supporting Sonny and Kane, wherever the hell he had wandered off to.

Now this struck me as a rum move. For a start, poor Lucas would have had the right to mutter a choice Portuguese oath or two. In recent weeks, while the form of the collective might have fallen off a cliff, Lucas has conducted himself pretty creditably, finally seeming to find a home within the starting eleven, as a Number 10 with licence to dribble.

Those who like their stats will point to a couple of goals and assists, but more pertinently the evidence of the eyes has suggested that his mazy dribbles from deep, work-rate when out of possession and positions adopted to support attacks have made him a useful egg to have around.

I was therefore rather taken aback to see him demoted for this one.

And more to the point, I was all the more taken aback to see Ndombele replace him in that spot. Being pretty quick with these things, I conducted a brief spot of mental research – a vox pops of myself, if you will – and found that on balance, I’d have Ndombele as sixth in line to the throne of Number 10.

Ahead of him are Kane (admittedly this is a bit of a rogue entry, as I may have mentioned that I’d prefer Kane up the top of the tree); Dele; Lo Celso; Lucas, on current form at least, and possibly even Lamela, who having spent this season worming his way into my affections is likely to stay there at least until the evenings draw in again.

All of which made the choice of Ndombele a slightly iffy one, and nor was it one that the man himself did a great job of vindicating. It seemed particularly appropriate, and rather to sum up the current state of things at N17, that on being hooked from proceedings, Ndombele took it upon himself to mooch off to the changing rooms on his own.

Spurs match reports

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.

Spurs match reports

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.

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