Lucas’ ongoing transformation from ‘One-Off Miracle Worker in Amsterdam’ to ‘Regular Provider of Creative Spark’ continues pleasingly.
Scoring one goal and setting up two others is, of course, an eminently sensible way to attract a healthy outpouring of approbation, but if anything, today’s healthy stats were something of an anomaly. In general, Lucas’ contributions are not so much measurable in 1s and 0s as simply being the sort of exciting stuff in the middle act that gets us off our seats.
So ignore, if you will, his headed finish, and purr instead over his little amble that started off that move: collecting the ball up inside his own half, dipping a shoulder or two, motoring northwards and picking out a chum. It was fabulous stuff, well before he then finished off the move, and it’s the sort of marvellous act of spontaneity he has been producing for the best part of twelve months now. Few things quicken the pulse like Lucas collecting the ball deep-ish and unveiling some trickery.
However, any man of good sense and sound taste can ignore Lucas’ headed goal for only so long. That Lucas should have scored a header carries in itself little to surprise. We regular watchers of all things Hotspur are pretty well-versed in the marvellous spring provided by his lower limbs. For a fellow only moderately vertically blessed, he possesses one heck of a leap.
But there are headers, and then there are headers. Typically, Lucas seems to head from a standing start. Today he altered his approach by preceding it with a running leap, and the effect was pretty much that of a runaway tank hurtling off an upward slope. The chap absolutely flew into his header, making thumping contact with the ball – which he had the presence of mind to direct downwards, canny fellow – and then, most pleasingly, making such seismic impact with the unsuspecting Palace defender that I’m fairly sure he broke him into several large pieces, left scattered on the turf.
For good measure, Lucas’ passes for both Kane and Sonny’s goals were placed and weighted to perfection, and generally made to look a little too easy. Admittedly he got a little carried away by the final knockings, and took to swinging wildly at anything within his orbit, blasting a couple of late shots about thirty rows back, but by this point I’m not sure anyone on either side cared too much.
If there’s a solid, convincing Spurs win to report then it’s becoming an increasingly safe bet that there’s a solid, convincing Oliver Skipp performance not far behind.
As ever, whenever the delicate issue of 50-50 challenges was raised, Skipp’s ears pricked up and he was straining at the leash. This is now starting to become a norm.
But we were also treated to a couple of other sides of the lad, almost as if whoever pens his narrative was keen to flesh out his character a little today.
So it was that during those stodgy, opening exchanges when nothing flowed and our lot spent more time huffing and puffing than actually blowing anything down, much of the emphasis was on Skipp to collect possession from the back-three and do something useful with it. This struck me as a pretty tough gig in truth. Skipp and his minder, Hojbjerg, appeared to be regularly outnumbered in midfield, meaning that much depended on the former’s ability to collect the ball on the half-turn and pivot away from rapidly incoming challenges. And this I thought he did pretty well, on the whole. His more glamorous, attacking co-stars were not exactly banging down the door and screaming for possession, and given this limited available assistance, Skipp protected the ball well enough when supplied by Dier and chums.
There were also a couple of sightings of Skipp’s attacking instincts, although these are evidently still a work in progress. He actually seems capable enough when it comes to nudging things along outside the box, and having tossed one cross up towards the back post he evidently developed a taste for it and started doing so quite regularly, which seemed reasonable enough.
Alas, when the situation demanded that he himself should put his head down and aim for the top corner, the cogs did not so much whir as overheat, and panic got the better of him. Sooner or later, I get the feeling that he will unleash an absolute screamer into the top corner, but for now it might be best to address his shooting with some diplomatic encouragement and swiftly change the subject.
3. Emerson Royal
Emerson Royal. While it is, objectively, a pretty impressive-sounding name – exotic, with a hint of Hollywood – when the bounder pitched up on the doorstep a few months ago I was as nonplussed as the best of them. A blank expression and a hasty Google about covered the breadth of my reaction to his arrival. But here at AANP Towers we are nothing if not pretty open-minded folk, so I resolved to give him a few shakes of a lamb’s tail before deciding permanently whether to bless him with my worship or curse him with loathing.
Those few months have now passed of course, the evidence of the eyes has been submitted and until about 15.28 GMT today the results did not make particularly eye-popping reading.
He has certainly not been randomly catastrophic, in the scarcely conceivable manner of his predecessor, Serge Aurier; but at the same time he has done little to blow up anyone’s skirt and make himself indispensable to operations. Whether offering his tuppence worth on the front-foot or tracking back to aid the rearguard, his has generally been the sort of input that makes one shrug and murmur, “Middling stuff, what?”
He has had good days and bad days – and if one were at this point to put the pen down and let that cover the entire narrative of his Tottenham career there would be few complaints. However, this being one of those good days, it seems only charitable to pause and slip him some credit.
In the blur of comeliness that was Moura’s gallop and pass, and that rotter Kane’s exceedingly smooth finish, for our first goal, it was easy to overlook the brief but crucial interjection from our man Royal, for his was the pass into space along the right flank that invited Lucas off on his aforementioned gallop. There will be finer passes played this season, ‘tis true, but let that not detract from the fact that at nil-nil, and with the bash as a whole having until this point failed to ignite, it was a pass that was as well-executed as it was conceived, and represented pretty much the first time we had got in behind Palace.
Thereafter, as tends to happen quite a lot with our heroes, buoyed by this initial success the chap seemed convinced that he had turned into Pele, and both his confidence and creative juices went into overdrive. His chipped pass for Lucas’ goal was an absolute delight, and with Palace increasingly stretched and ragged, it was Royal who in the second half frequently became the go-to man for delivery of bespoke, made-to-measure, whipped crosses.
Nor did he put too many feet wrong defensively, but then he had hardly had to use a defensive foot at all, such was the lop-sided nature of this contest.
I am still pretty convinced that we could use an upgrade out on the right, but Royal’s life principles certainly seem to accord with the wing-back-based philosophy of Our Glorious Leader, and today at least he provided some evidence of his value going forward.
A brief, congratulatory note might be due to young Master Tanganga. On the face of it, one could look back at full-time and decree that he had an easy time of things today, what with Palace self-destructing after half an hour and barely touching the ball thereafter.
However, reflection on the context of Tanganga’s selection does make one pause and think a bit. For a start, in a most curious turn of events, the sight of our Starting XI minus one Ben Davies actually had me furrowing the brow and asking concerned questions. Not a thing I’d have ever thought possible just a couple of months ago, but such is the value of Ben Davies to Conte-Ball.
Davies’ natural left-footedness has been a pretty critical part of the apparatus in recent weeks, making his absence today a bit of a poser. Tanganga, for all his willing and evident ease in possession, has been blessed with a left foot primarily for balance rather than anything more inventive, so through no fault of his it appeared that we were at a disadvantage before a ball had even been kicked.
On top of which, if any of the casual bystanders in N17 had forgotten about our last showdown with this lot it’s a pretty fair guess that Tanganga hadn’t, that occasion having been marked by his ongoing feud with one W. Zaha Esq, a conversation ended abruptly when Tanganga received two yellow cards and biffed out of the picture early.
To be parachuted into the middle of proceedings with this rather loaded history behind him did make me slightly fear for the lad, I have to admit, so it was to Tanganga’s credit that he simply got his head down and for 90 minutes dealt efficiently with anything that life threw at him. Defensively he was sound, and I noted that he put his attacking instincts to good use in mimicking the forward forays of Ben Davies, in that curious, inside-left-midfield channel. He did not do a great deal with the ball once he received it there, but his presence alone in heading into that channel seemed to create space and options for Messrs Reguilon and Son.
5. High Press
While we finished the game at an absolute canter, one probably ought to pause for a moment of solemn reflection and remembrance at the opening twenty or thirty minutes, in which nothing of note seemed to happen. We did not seem to be in much danger, Palace not really possessing much in the way of wit or imagination; but, equally, our lot were also pretty light on W. and I., with the result that things rather spluttered along for a while.
What was notable, however, was that for all the flatness of our creative output, whenecer Palace gained possession – and particularly when they did so in their own half – the effect was as that of a siren blaring and red lights flashing like nobody’s business. To a man our heroes seemed to drop whatever they were doing and swarm all over the man in possession. It was as remarkable as it was impressive.
Remarkable chiefly because this same group of players, just a few weeks back, seemed reluctant to break into a jog to regain possession. And yet here they were, seemingly convinced that the path to success lay in hounding the life out of whichever foe happened to have stumbled upon the ball near his own area.
Questions and caveats abound – regarding the capacity of our lot to maintain this approach, the time and place for it to be effected, the quality of the opposition, and so on. But this afternoon, I preferred simply to sit back and marvel. The intensity of this high press was not too far short of a seasonal miracle, and moreover the appetite for it seemed to spread like wildfire throughout the team. Amongst the growing number of indicators of the improvement under Our Glorious Leader, this ranks amongst the most exciting to behold.