There were a few ripe efforts out there today, with lungs being busted left, right and centre by those in lilywhite, but if J. Tanganga were to be presented with the gong for Standout Chappie De Jour, I suspect that any, few dissenting murmurs would be drowned out by pretty rapturous applause.
The key to this one seemed to be not only to stack up the young bean’s numbers (tackles won, crosses blocked, displays of upper-body strength executed and so forth – by each of which metric I suspect he delivered chart-topping stuff); but also to take into account the identities of those against whom he was pitting his wits.
I suspect even the most confident and capable amongst us might baulk a bit if turning up to the office and being informed by The Man that the day’s duties involved going toe-to-toe against first Raheem Sterling, and then Jack Grealish, and then quite possibly also both of them at once. And that baulking might have had an encore when informed, on enquiring as to the levels of assistance available for the gig, that help would primarily be delivered in the form of Davinson Sanchez, a chap whose most memorable contribution against these opponents involved being outfoxed to such an extent that he was left prostrate and face-down in the turf.
(Although in the interest of fairness let The Book of Such Things show that Sanchez put in a jolly impressive shift, both at his official sentry post in the centre, and when shuttling across to add his tuppence worth to the anti-Sterling/Grealish campaign.)
But to return to Tanganga. His delivery of defensive duties was not necessarily flawless, involving as it did a liberal sprinkling of manoeuvres deemed illegal by those who oversee such things. However, the fouls that were conceded in a strange way seemed to contribute to the sense that here was a fellow not about to shirk his duties. Quite the opposite in fact, for they were fouls that stemmed from full cylinders of enthusiasm and strength, rather than desperation or inadequacy.
From opening pips to his late withdrawal, Tanganga harassed and bustled away at his more illustrious foes, at least matching them and typically besting them; and even when they did wriggle free, one sensed that they were unlikely to look back upon their engagements with our man with any particular fondness.
All the more pleasing given that the last time he was sighted on official duty it was in the sorry state of being stretchered out of the arena, with his leg in a brace and an expression that told of one whizzing through various of the seven stages of grief.
If there were to be any arguments against the crowning of Tanganga as today’s standout, one imagines that the principal case would be made in favour of Lucas Moura.
Few amongst us have ever failed to recognise that Lucas has been generously blessed by Mother Nature with a capacity to get his head down and mazily weave his way through oncoming traffic. The challenge seems to have been in harnessing that ability to generate optimal results for both the individual and the team. In short, I suppose, all too often, those mazy dribbles have tended to fizzle out into possession squandered and a tumble to terra firma.
Today however, as seemingly in pre-season, the stationing of Lucas as a trusted member of a swift attacking triumvirate, alongside the similarly fleet-footed Son and Bergwijn, seemed to bring out the best in the chap.
Neatly brushing under the carpet, to be dissected another day, the question of how one H. Kane Esquire would fit into a team whose main attacking thrust is built upon pace, it was a most pleasing surprise to witness Lucas delivering that of which we have known him capable, and for which we have yearned, pretty much since the day he arrived on the N17 doorstep.
Nor was his performance was solely one of direct runs at rather panicked defenders. His twinkling toes were also put to good use in winning possession, winning fouls and clipping lay-offs to nearby chums. Lucas was quite happy to do the hard work as required, as well as enjoying the more glamorous side of the game allowed by charging over halfway in a three-on-three.
As a side note, this dedicated, pace-based attacking system, bringing the best out of certainly Lucas and Bergwijn, did make me wonder whether the dearly-departed Lamela might have had a role to play in Nuno’s brave new world; but that particular king is dead, and here, presumably is where we wish long life to the newest king, Bryan Gil.
This particular book having closed with a happy ending, all is now, naturally enough, sweetness and light, but in the early knockings AANP was observing proceedings with the customary pained grimace and unhealthily heightened pulse, and was paying particular attention to one of our number.
Much of the summer weeks at AANP Towers have been spent in robust and at times pretty fruity dialogue with others of lilywhite persuasion, specifically debating the merits or otherwise of young Master Skipp. The thrust of these particular back-and-forths has generally been that while others have championed playing the young nib, I thought it best to give him another season at Norwich (where by all accounts he was the absolute toast of the town last time out).
The AANP rationale here, was that while he had indubitably proved to all observers that he was a stripling who could excel in the Championship, I was far from convinced that similar glory awaited in the top flight, and therefore though that we might as well gauge his suitability for Premier League life by watching how he got on once again at Norwich. This would have both the benefit of testing his ability whilst also avoiding any risk that the illustrious Spurs midfield would suffer, were he to be found out of his depth.
As it happened, Our latest Glorious Leader, was evidently convinced of Skipp’s ability, and into the starting eleven he duly rumbled.
The opening thrusts did not actually bode terrifically well. Within the first five minutes Skipp had been caught in possession and also conceded a free-kick in a pretty dangerous spot, due to what appeared to be the general failing of not being quite at the races.
Thereafter however, and to his credit, if he put many feet wrong he disguised it well, because few in lilywhite better advertised the general theme of the day, of getting stuck right into the meat of things.
Pre-season has confirmed that Skipp has a handy pass or two in his locker, for lighter occasions; but today, understandably enough given the vaunted opposition, his mantra when in possession seemed to be “Safety first”, and it was a sound decision.
More impressive and eye-catching today was the earnest lad’s willingness to launch into any tackle with heart, soul and just about all his body-weight. If there were an opportunity to challenge a City man for the ball, Skipp did not hold back on the gusto, and while City’s undoubted quality in final third ball-pinging can often be difficult to contain, he was evidently damned if he were going to let any of their number simply skip through the centre.
Watching Skipp charge into an opponent, pick himself up and charge into the next opponent also prompted the exciting notion that against some of the lesser teams we face, there might be scope for him to sit back, manning the gates as it were, and allow one P-E Hojbjerg to head off further up the field, as he did to surprisingly good effect for Denmark during the Euros.
4. General Approach
Tet for all the individual honours, perhaps what was most pleasing was the general mentality of those in lilywhite (and, indeed, green). This was no smash and grab victory in the style of certain managers of our history, the sort that would feature all eleven camped in and around our own area attempting to snatch a goal and then repel a siege for eighty-plus minutes.
While naturally pretty circumspect, after the testing opening quarter hour and particularly in the second half our lot looked to attack where possible, notably avoiding the option of sitting back to defend the lead once established.
The mentality appeared to be to fight for the ball, by pressing opponents and approaching tackles with the philosophy that nothing less than full-blooded would suffice. Indeed, when the dust settles, that spirit of determination to win the ball in fifty-fifty challenges might be what lingers longest in the memory, all the more so for being frankly the polar opposite of what we’ve come to expect of our lot.
Credit here should go to Our Glorious Leader, for the fitness levels displayed were impressive. We may have benefitted from various cast members having a summer free from international responsibilities, and I also wonder if the choice of Woolwich as our final pre-season opponents was of particular benefit, in sharpening a few reactions.
On top of all of which, as pointed out by my Spurs-supporting chum Dave, the general philosophy of tempting fate by trying to pass out from the back, when woefully ill-equipped to do so, has seemingly been replaced by the infinitely wiser approach of shifting the ball to the quicker players and letting them make merry.
There will no doubt be tougher days ahead, but this was an absolute triumph, and, most pleasingly, one richly-deserved.