1. Dele’s Dive
An oddity about the goal was that once the ref had given the incident the once-over, and this season’s new, incredibly laid-back VAR had waved the replays away so as to return to its afternoon snooze, the whole affair was stamped Perfectly Acceptable and we all went back to discussing Adama Traore’s baby-oiled biceps, or whatever else the topic de jour happened to be.
However, here at AANP Towers we are men of honour, and frankly it stuck in the throat to see one of our number gain a pretty decisive advantage in this way. I’d normally back our chaps to the death, but it didn’t take much more than one replay from the appropriate angle to indicate that Dele had executed something slightly dastardly, in essentially dangling a leg or two into the body of the ‘keeper.
This strategy was all the more peculiar when one considers that if he’d maintained a vertical posture he’d have scored anyway. Having successfully nudged the ball beyond the ‘keeper, the critical manoeuvre then appeared to be to run onto it, at which juncture all that would have remained would have been to tap the ball into what would have been, by then, an unguarded net. Where the ball had travelled, as it were, so Dele needed to follow. Why he then opted to deviate from the obvious route, and engineer a collision, was a pretty rummy one to me.
2. Dele’s Role in Midfield
Returning to the 9-to-5, Dele’s duties primarily involved posing as a member of that compact midfield three, assiduously shuffling from left to right and back again, as they sought to protect the souls behind them.
This he did well enough – I’m pretty sure that anyone gathering his perspiration would have had buckets of the stuff by the time the curtain came down – but, if there’s one thing I have in common with a Dickensian orphan it’s that I tend to want more, and so it was as I cast my beady eye over Dele’s contribution yesterday.
Essentially, the AANP thought process was that it’s all well and good our midfield three working non-stop off the ball to keep Wolves at arm’s length (although frankly even this had limited success, as their wingers – and Traore in particular – seemed to make mincemeat of us down the flanks whenever the whim arose) but we also needed to see some vague wisp of ingenuity when in possession and looking to advance. And here the onus surely fell upon Dele.
Skipp and Hojbjerg are the sorts more fashioned by Mother Nature to close down opponents and win possession (although Hojbjerg-watchers during Euro 2020 might argue he has a few more strings to his bow than that); whereas Dele is one whose DNA hints at greater creativity in his size 9s. So it was pretty disappointing that when he did get on the ball yesterday, Dele did little of note. He tended to dwell on it for too long, and then seemingly kept trying to thread nutmegged passes to chums, most of which failed to bypass the man.
And if Dele isn’t creating much when stationed in that midfield three, we might as well replace him with a workhorse who will sweat similarly copious amounts but take a bit more care in possession.
While Dele spent his afternoon trying the AANP soul, whenever I felt that my mood required brightening I had only to look five yards to his right, and there I was able to feast my eyes upon the boy Skipp.
Which is ironic, because his dial is hardly that of a boyband member, but by golly his contribution as a central midfielder is rocketing in my estimation. As was put to me last week, Skipp seems to have the most charming personality trait of having the ball follow him, and this, on inspection, seems to be due to his combination of a workrate that’s through the roof, and some pretty cunning behaviour in the decision-making department. Skipp judges his moments well, seemingly knowing when to sit back and let plotlines unfold, and when to summon all his energies for a full-blooded challenge.
On top of which, I rather like the fact that when in possession he does not pause to consider the pros and cons of every available option and compose some sort of after-dinner speech about them all, but simply passes the ball, quickly and simply. It’s not defence-splitting stuff, but simply moving the ball immediately to a new location serves a purpose of moving the opposition around, and also prompts his teammates to shift it along with similar speed. Rarely does Skipp take more than two touches. I have a suspicion that on current form an England call will sound before too long.
4. Tanganga and Sanchez (vs Traore)
Where last week we were treated to the sight of young Tanganga evolving from boy to man before our very eyes in the space of eighty minutes, this week he looked more like a chap who just wanted to lie down and find his bearings.
No shame in that of course, as he was up against Traore, a bulldozer of a fellow who seems to take it upon himself twice a year to plough through our defence whenever and however the hell he chooses. If the rumours of a £40m bid are true I implore those who oversee such things to sign on the dotted line, just so that we never have to play against him again.
Having coped admirably with the combined might of Sterling and Grealish last week, Tanganga seemed to find Traore a bridge too far yesterday, and it was a blessed relief that in the second half the fellow eased up on the punishment.
It was pretty white of Sanchez to see trouble brewing and amble over with his offer of help to a friend in need, but I’m not sure he quite appreciated the gravity of the situation, and it was not long before Sanchez was finding himself in exactly the same sort of trouble – i.e. tied in knots and left groping at thin air – as Tanganga.
In fact, it seemed that half the team pitched in at various points, with Hojbjerg and Skipp also donning helmets and rushing over, but all to little avail. Mercifully, Traore’s many talents do not extend to shooting, so once he had bludgeoned his way through our right side the danger dissipated in pretty organic fashion, as he simply blasted the ball wide and everyone was able to reset.
So, as much by luck as by design we have two clean sheets, and Tanganga will rarely have more pressing concerns than those he has faced in these first two games, but I suspect my heart will beat a little more gently should Romero occupy one of those central spots.
At present one cannot swing a cat without hitting some commentary on Kane’s likely whereabouts, but in the matter of on-pitch contribution I thought his introduction was timely and rather useful.
Until then our lot had created precious little going forward. What few attacks we had seemed to be limited to a couple of counter-attacks, bar Reguilon’s pass from nothing that set up the penalty and a searching cross from Tanganga on the stroke of half-time. Both pretty worthy efforts in themselves I suppose, but when you consider that between them they amounted to about thirty seconds worth of threat in a first half that went on for fifty minutes, you start to realise that this was not one of those all-singing, all-dancing, attacking routs.
And while it would be a stretch to say that the introduction of Kane turned the thing on its head and had us pillaging the place, it did at least give the top of the tree a bit of a shake. For a start, Kane is blessed with the sort of hulking frame well designed for holding up the ball, so when it was gently lobbed clear of danger by those at the back, he was able to make it stick a lot better than any of Son, Lucas or Bergwijn had down until that point.
Moreover, those aforementioned three being all cut from similar cloth, they all tend to offer the same, pacy option – which I suppose makes sense when set up to counter-attack, but it did all become a tad predictable. Having Kane drop deep, and shuffle this way and that, lent a bit more unpredictability to our northbound adventures, bringing teammates into the game and giving the Wolves mob a few different patterns to consider. I rather fancy the chap might have a future in the game.