1. Ben Davies
I suppose some liberal sorts might argue that it’s a little harsh to single out individuals for castigation after a collective performance as insipid as that. They would have a point of course, as pretty much all eleven selected delivered incompetence by the bucketload, but Ben Davies stood out for punctuating his usual mind-numbing mediocrity with a couple of errors that were notably costly.
That business of him losing both his man and his bearings in the moments immediately preceding the opening goal had a ghastly quality to them, the whole episode seeming to unfold in slow-motion and with a gloomy sense of inevitability about it. Even as the ball looped towards those concerned, it seemed as likely that Davies would take this manageable situation and mangle the dickens out of it, as that Ronaldo would take what was at that stage still a pretty challenging situation and turn it into a goal of serene beauty.
And both principals played their respective roles to perfection. Given the circumstances (which, lest we overblow this, should not be forgotten were pretty straightforward – a cross was delivered into his sphere of operation, The End) there were only a limited number of ways in which Davies could have made a pig’s ear of the job, so it was pretty impressive that he somehow managed to implement them all, simultaneously.
He completely lost track of the man he was marking (and not just any man, but Cristian Ronaldo for heaven’s sake), which struck me as a cardinal sin, but opportunity for repentance remained; however, he then failed to gauge that the cross was too high for him; and instead of abandoning his attempts to cut out the cross at this point, and focusing all energies on blocking the shot, he then leapt to head the ball, seemingly under the impression that he was actually eight foot nine.
If I saw my nephew pull off a stunt like that on the school field I’d yank him aside for a sharp word or two. To see an experienced, international defender make such a comically bad sequence of decisions had me yearning for something pretty strong to unscrew and swig.
By the time the third goal wafted in most onlookers were more concerned with brandishing pitchforks and baying for blood, but this should not distract from the fact that Davies was once again crucially culpable, he being the buffoon standing a few yards south of the defensive line, thereby keeping Rashford onside. Admittedly the entire back-four was in a state of disrepair by this point (Emerson having appeared at centre-back and Romero at right-back, for some reason), but Davies’ lack of basic common sense cost us.
These were the sort of lapses for which I would howl long and hard at Serge Aurier in the not too distant past, and they are hardly isolated incidents in the Davies tome of infamy. There was a bit of scrutiny on the chap simply for his selection in the first place, and I struggle to recall anything of value he offered in the attacking third. On the tried and tested AANP gauge of ‘Who Would Buy Them?’ if put up for sale today, I honestly doubt whether any Premier League team would take him. He seems a likeable sort of chap, and God apparently loves a trier, but I cannot stomach much more of him in our colours.
2. Lo Celso
In the debit column, one can point to the fact that Lo Celso did not make any mistakes that led directly to goals, which puts him on a more exalted pedestal than Ben Davies and various other associates yesterday, but this hardly prevented the sharpening of knives from all sides.
In recent weeks Monsieur Ndombele has been Number Tenning away for us, and while hardly cutting opposing defences to ribbons he has nevertheless shown in fits and spurts a little ingenuity and fleetness of foot. He pottered around a little deeper than was ideal against West Ham perhaps (albeit presumably under instruction), but by and large appeared to be starting to settle into the role.
The move to replace him yesterday with GLC was therefore a slightly rummy one. By all accounts, Lo Celso produced fairly middling fare when given a similar opportunity vs Burnley in midweek, so it seems hardly the case that he banged down the door and made an irresistible case for inclusion.
And while he was not exactly alone in this category, yesterday Lo Celso essentially offered little of note. Others, peddling their wares elsewhere on the pitch, could probably argue that while they similarly offered little of note, they had nevertheless made a decent fist of things without necessarily grabbing headlines and swanning around the place yelling “Me! Me! Me!”. But Lo Celso, in that central, creative spot is pretty much required by his job description to do precisely that.
And frankly, it’s a dream gig. Young Dele, one imagines, would bite of his own arm and quite possibly a couple of other limbs for the opportunity to fill that role. With fairly limited defensive responsibility, and such luminaries as Sonny, Kane and Lucas flitting in various directions around him, the stage was well set for the chap pretty much to dictate affairs. Somehow, alas, the fellow just never got going.
Previously I have noted, with some bewilderment it must be said, that Lo Celso does not seem to perform unless surrounded by pretty talented sorts, and as such he flatters to deceive when included in our second-string elevens. There was no such get-out for the chap yesterday however – he just failed to deliver any sort of goods.
In fact, the most notable contribution he made during the whole evening was to act as what I believe is known as a lightning rod – the raison d’etre of which was to channel the unfiltered rage and bile of 60,000 irate Spurs fans in a cacophony of abuse – for the assembled masses when he was not substituted, with Lucas instead rather inexplicably getting the hook. Fittingly, Lo Celso’s contribution to that episode was entirely passive, he simply stood and watched as someone else was taken off; yet it might well prove the straw that breaks the back of Nuno’s tenure.
Another day since trying to leave the place, and another performance offering nothing from that rotter Harry Kane.
In his defence, one could hardly suggest he was treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet by his chums in lilywhite. However, his current state of decline was neatly crystallised by that one opportunity for him to sprinkle a little sunshine into our lives in the second half, when he broke on the right but then seemed to trudge through quicksand when all around implored him to break into a sprint, before chipping the ball straight to a United body.
As mentioned, he can hardly be faulted for not being provided much service, but in general since that nonsense over the summer, he has looked like someone feeling who would still rather be elsewhere. One can forgive the chap for not scoring, or even for missing presentable chances when they do come his way (after all, not many angry fists were waved at him when his header against West Ham was saved), but the energy levels and body-language were, again, average at best yesterday.
It’s pretty disappointing stuff from a chappie that people trip over themselves to laud as a ‘model professional’. I hold up my hands and admit to having been happy to join the chorus of those who this summer were calling on the club to dig in their heels and resist selling him. I now rather wish that he and his sullen ways were someone else’s problem, and that we had wasted a large chunk of £120m on at least one over-priced forward to replace him.
4. No Shots on Target
To register no shots on goal across the entire 90 minutes, at home is pretty thick. All the more so coming only a week after hogging the ball, scratching the heads but not laying a punch on the opposition. It does make one hum and tick a bit, and make no mistake, the hills were alive with the sound of humming and ticking yesterday, with the natives registering displeasure at just about every opportunity
I can hardly pretend to be any sort of tactical expert, so it’s naturally a bit rich to lean across from AANP Towers and start hollering advice at those who live and breathe the game, yet at the same time I do sometimes fancy I’d saw off my own right leg just to see our lot shove the ball around a tad quicker. Just a spot of one-touch passing this way and that would make the opposition work up a bit of a sweat and give each other a worried glance or two.
Similarly, making use of a bit of a width going forward would, one hypothesizes, give us a few more teeth in attack – not necessarily to ping in Beckham-esque crosses (although they too would make a pleasant change) but simply to add weight and stretch the opposition, creating some space between them.
One does not have to look far to spot other teams – of lesser players, mind you – creating attacking opportunities simply by virtue of moving the ball in punchier fashion, using one or two touches per player, rather than four or five. Match of the Day was full of it. Brighton were making hay against the much vaunted defence of Liverpool, by virtue of one-touch football – meanwhile our lot gather together for long, ponderous conferences around the centre circle, each player pivoting twice or thrice, and dwelling on the ball for an absolute age.
Some of the various pundits queueing up to give the knife a bit of a twist have muttered about on-field combinations and understanding between players, and harking back one knows the sort of thing they mean – it’s a long time ago but I recall the understanding that gradually developed between Corluka and Lennon on the right, once upon a time, who while pretty odd bedfellows seemed to learn pretty swiftly when the other would stick or twist, to some benefit.
Comparing that to the current lot, it seems that the eleven on the pitch are perfect strangers, with nobody having the faintest clue what anyone else is going to do at any given point. The understanding that once existed between Sonny and Kane seems to have gone the way of all flesh. It would be nice to think that on the training pitch between matches our heroes practise a range of nifty interplays and combos, ready to display to the world each weekend – but on the evidence of yesterday it seems more likely that they all practise in isolation, possibly drilled in the fine art of loitering in possession for an eternity, and not much else.
This is not to suggest that simply popping the ball around faster and shoving the full-backs ten yards up the pitch would solve Tottenham Hotspur, cure Covid and put COP26 to rights – but I imagine it would improve the atmosphere about the place to see either some urgency, some semblance of a plan or both.
By all accounts the guillotine is being given a final spit and polish, and poor old Nuno is pretty soon to be the latest casualty of the Daniel Levy Massacre. He certainly conducts himself with decency by the sackful (which was an absolute gust of fresh air after the poisonous atmosphere of Jose), but he was pretty clearly a bad appointment – unwanted, with no history of attractive or successful football and without an obvious plan. As such, a 3-0 home defeat would make a pretty fitting epitaph.
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