1. RIP Jimmy Greaves
Although too young to have seen him myself, the recollections of my old man, AANP Senior – a man so hard to impress that even the win over Real Madrid a few years back left him commenting gruffly that we should have scored more – are telling. Mention Greaves, and his eyes light up with a rarely-seen, almost childlike excitement, as he describes countless goals scored almost casually, assuring me that there simply was never a goalscorer as good as him.
It’s a claim supported by the numbers, which are so easy to take for granted, but on inspection almost defy belief.
While Dad had the privilege of seeing him week in, week out in the flesh (and meeting him outside the ground on one occasion), and I suspect is not alone in citing him as his all-time favourite player, for a generation of us we knew him through Saturday lunchtime television. Hard then to picture him as a goalscorer extraordinaire, but easy to love him as a personality.
A true Tottenham legend, our greatest goalscorer, arguably the greatest goalscorer of them all. Rest in peace, Jimmy Greaves.
2. First Half Positives
And so to the match itself. By the time the curtain came down we onlookers were slumped in our seats, the players were slumped in their spots and our lot as a collective had slumped a little further down the table – it was a pretty strong evening for slumping all round.
And what makes the whole thing taste that much more bitter is that in the early knockings we had gone about things with such bright-eyed and bushy-tailed vigour and purpose.
Given the way things have panned out in recent games I had approached yesterday’s fixture with all the optimism of one of those early Christians being tossed into a den of lions in front of a baying mob. What with our lot unable to muster more than about one shot per game for love nor money, and Chelsea teeming with Tuchels and Kantes and now even Lukakus, it was with a pretty heavy heart that I took my seat and peeled back my hands from over my eyes.
Yet, as mentioned, we came absolutely haring out of the traps.
Nuno sprang a bit of a surprise, both with his team selection and tactics. The return of Sonny obviously helped us look a tad more threatening at the north end of the pitch, while the deployment of Ndombele for Skipp seemed oddly adventurous for a head honcho who had only last weekend reacted to being top of the league by picking three holding midfielders. However, there we were, Ndobmele’s midweek escapades rewarded with a starting berth, and while I suppose some of the more cautious amongst us might have raised a tentative hand and wondered about defensive cover, it appeared that our heroes were being sent to battle with exhortations to attack ringing in their ears.
It so nearly worked, too, dash it all. Kane, Lo Celso and Sonny duly attached themselves each to a Chelsea centre-back, the press was high and the passing often zippy. Indeed, this zippiness of pass owed much to the fact that those not in possession were humming around busily and stationing themselves usefully to become available for a pass. The intensity matched that which we showed against Man City, with Chelsea’s attempts to pass out from the back proving particularly fertile ground for our press, and in short all was right with the world – except that we couldn’t stick the dashed ball into the dashed net.
And while it sounds obvious, that having been well established as the point of the exercise since the game was invented, it created one heck of a problem. No need to delve into too much gory detail as I suppose, as everyone saw what happened next – half-time, Kante, and so on and so forth – but the game-plan, well though it worked, really needed us to take an early lead in order that we might progress to Stage 2, as it were, and cling on to the lead while offering a countering threat.
Instead, in the blink of a second half eye we were two behind, with every last ounce of puff exerted and little clue how to break down a Chelsea defence that were smoking cigars in between the occasional victory in their own personal duals.
While there is much to chide about the second half, both in terms of individuals and the collective, AANP is prepared to break with tradition and just this once look on the bright side of a 3-0 hammering at home. For while the energy levels dropped to zero and the team simply ran out of ideas, the first half – or at least first half hour – gave a hint of the tactical nous and game-plan that might serve us a little better against weaker opponents. While one would not expect the exact tactic (of our front three essentially marking the opposition’s back three) every game, the high press and speed of passing was encouraging.
The chronology of things may have left a bad taste in the mouth, but the positives of the first half hour ought not to be dismissed out of hand.
3. Dele, Lo Celso and Ndombele
That said, nor should what followed be ignored. I don’t attach too much blame for either goal conceded (which I suppose is a tad generous on the opener, as headed goals from corners are eminently preventable), but tactically our lot appeared to consider that the best way to deal with Chelsea was to scratch heads and chase the occasional shadow; and moreover the attitude, from those paid handsomely to stretch every sinew for 90-odd minutes, was pretty half-baked.
Now the above stinging tribute is aimed at most of those on show (Monsieur Lloris perhaps exonerated, Hojbjerg similarly and young Skipp also at least having the dignity to upend a few blue-clad bodies when he was introduced). So when I zoom in on Dele, Lo Celso and Ndombele I want to make clear to my public that this is not to say, by extension, that those others in attendance could walk off with heads held high and breasts swelling with pride.
But Dele, Le Celso and Ndombele seem to attract the spotlight as much because it is hard to fathom what the devil they are supposed to be doing.
Ndombele at least appeared to start proceedings where he had left off in midweek, with the ball attached to his foot as if with string, and the capacity to mesmerise still burning bright within him.
So far, so good, and in fact all three of the above contributed to the first half promise, in their own specific ways. Dele popped up to assist both in defence and moving forward; Lo Celso stuck to his pressing role; Ndombele popped the ball about as required.
But when the leaks started to spring in the second half, none of this lot seemed to do much about it. In fact, they all rather disappeared from view, until reality caught up with perception and Ndombele and Lo Celso were officially removed from proceedings.
And while I suppose there are mitigating circumstances, not least in the fact that Our Glorious Leader has yet to imprint upon the collective an obvious signature style, this will have to go down as yet another game in which I ask of both Lo Celso and Ndombele, “What the devil are they supposed to do?”
Both seem shiny and expensive, and obviously come complete with a whole range of bells and whistles – but what are their optimal positions? Where and how do they best contribute? And, without wanting to revisit the heady days of my philosophy degree – what is their purpose? Both have been wandering the corridors of White Hart Lane for a few years now, and yet I’m not sure any amongst us are any the wiser as to how to use them. It’s pretty frustrating stuff, as both are clearly possessed of decent wedges of talent, but at present they just seem to roll around on the pitch, not quite contributing anything like as much as they ought.
On a vaguely similar note, I’m not hugely convinced about Dele’s supposed reimagining as a central midfielder. He trots around dutifully crossing t’s and dotting the occasional i, but there is still a lot about him of the square peg trying to adapt to a round hole. He is and always was best gliding surreptitiously into the box to nosey around and pick up goals. Putting the onus on him to track back and defend only seems to encourage him to concede free-kicks in dangerous areas; similarly, watching him take all day to pick a pass in midfield does make me occasionally yank at a clump of hair from my scalp.
And briefly, it drifted a little under the radar, but this gave us a first proper eyeing of young Gil at Premier League level, as he was given half an hour or so to work up a sweat.
While one does not pass judgement on half an hour against the current European Champions and quite possibly future Title-winners, there was precious little about the young tick to cause even a slither of excitement. I cannot quite remember how much on top of Lamela we paid for his services, and no doubt the deal was made with an eye on the future – but in the here and now I must confess to watching him and a little wistfully wishing that we could have brought on Lamela instead.
At one point Gil was simply shrugged out of the way by Rudiger like a cat swatting aside a passing rodent, and while in time he will presumably sink a steak or two, it was hardly the game-changing impact for which we were looking.
Nor did Gil do anything at all with the ball at his feet that suggested he might prompt a wrinkle or two to appear across a Chelsea forward.
Brighter days will undoubtedly come, but to finish a game like this wishing we hadn’t sold Lamela seemed a suitably damning conclusion.