1. The Formation
Starting at the beginning, Our Glorious Leader set tongues wagging like nobody’s business by penning a teamsheet that suggested he considered the road to success would be paved with six defenders.
Which was certainly eye-catching, but the more I thought about it the more I thought to myself, “Well, why not?” If a man wants to go about the place selecting more and more defenders, then let him. A tad peculiar, and not necessarily one of those fashions I envisage being adopted in every thriving metropolis, but good luck to him. It’s his prerogative after all, and moreover this particular chap has won shiny pots everywhere he’s been.
As it turned out, once events kicked in we did not after all set out with a back-six. In fact, some of us mere mortals watching from afar were having a devil of a time trying to work out quite what our formation was. And crucially, that confusion was not restricted to the viewing gallery, as various cast members seemed similarly unable to grasp the mysteries of the Tactics Board.
As my Spurs-supporting chum Mark pointed out early on in the production, at times it looked like Tanganga was playing at right wing-back and Doherty in a right-sided central midfield role. And while this was more of a temporary mirage, I did follow his thread, namely that a significant proportion of that aforementioned Defensive Six seemed not to strut around the place with the steady assurance of blighters who know exactly where they should and should not be at any given moment. Far from it.
I was particularly ill at ease with the fact that neither full-back appeared to have been informed that there were only two centre-backs inside them, rather than the usual three. Understandable of course, as every episode of Conte-ball to date has featured a back-three, but nevertheless. It was a bit ripe to think that neither full-back had been updated. You’d suppose that someone would have a friendly word in the ear.
But not so. Davies and particularly Tanganga appeared a little too willing to scamper up their respective flanks, and Messrs Sessegnon and Doherty, only too glad to have some company, scurried upfield with them. Nice to see them all enjoying themselves of course, but I couldn’t help chew a concerned lip each time it happened. To the notion of covering the vast yawning expanses left behind them, not a lick of thought appeared to be given.
As a result, in those early knockings we were treated to the unholy sight of Sanchez disappearing off to the left-back position like a moth to a flame, while Eric Dier, a man whose defensive reputation has been re-established in recent months largely on the back of shouting and not really having to move around too much, suddenly found himself having to scurry this way and that as if one man entrusted with the job of three.
Mercifully, in Lukaku Chelsea have one of those forwards who one might charitably say needs a little time for all the moving parts to function with any synchronicity, so we were spared any early embarrassment.
And then, in what should go down as a feather in the cap of Signor Conte, our lot gradually realised that the 4-4-2 expected of them was not in fact a riddle scrawled in a hitherto undiscovered dialect of hieroglyphics, but a fairly straightforward set-up.
And, once a small fire had been doused by the deployment of Hojbjerg as a seventh defender, I started to hum myself an upbeat little ditty, in celebration of the fact that from open play at least, we were nullifying Chelsea’s best efforts, and near enough cantering to half-time.
2. Disallowed Goal
And when Kane popped the ball into the bottom corner shortly before half-time, I half expected to see Conte stroking a white cat on his lap while letting out a maniacal laugh. The plan, it appeared, was working perfectly (if one overlooked those initial teething problems of the geographically-challenged full-backs).
But of course, this being Tottenham Hotspur, plans rarely work perfectly. Just when one thinks the plans are working perfectly, you can bet your last penny that either one dashed thing or another will appear from nowhere to cause a fresh headache. And in this instance it was the decision to disallow Kane’s goal.
Now regulars in this part of the world will now that the mantra hammered into me from my youth by my old man, AANP Senior, has been that the referee is always right. And having had the pleasure of watching today’s proceedings in the company of this same cheery soul, I was inclined to bite the lip rather than vent when the goal was disallowed. One knows one’s audience, and on this occasion I sensed that my complaints would meet with limited sympathy.
But AANP Senior does not go in for the words I pen on these pages (“I don’t understand a word you say” is the official reason given), so it is with freedom of indignation that I fling up my hands and howl into the night sky about that so-called foul.
One accepts, of course, that plenty of wiser minds than mine have taken one look at the incident and calmly adjudged it a transgression. Misguided stuff, of course, but one tolerates the views of one’s fellow man. One big happy family, and all that rot.
And similarly, one accepts that if Player A places a hand, palm first, on the back of Player B, and Player B collapses to earth as if hit by an RPG from a war-zone, then Player A runs the risk of a red line being drawn through all his fine work elsewhere. And there can be no doubt that Kane (Player A in the incident above, lest you were wondering) did indeed have his hand on the back of the dastardly Thiago.
But at this point I rather feel that the whole argument collapses – much like Thiago when receiving a gentle palm to the back – because consistency would dictate that every Palm-to-Back contact results in a foul. And if that were the case, then so be it, but we might all want to prepare ourselves for games in which fouls were given every thirty seconds.
I haven’t exactly studied these things academically, but I’m willing to suggest that every time two players convene to thrash out matters on the pitch, one will at some point place a delicate palm somewhere upon the frame of the other. And by today’s precedent, such villainy is not allowed. (One dare not even conceive what might happen every time a corner is gently drifted in, given the amount of palm-placement that seems to occur between the protagonists these days.)
You might argue that Chelsea’s superiority simply floated up to the top in the second half, and Spurs goal or not they would inevitably have bested us. And my lips are certainly sealed on the point of who was the better team. Not a murmur of complaint there. But dash it all, to disallow a goal for such a frivolous thing was just not cricket, and denied our lot the advantage that we had worked pretty hard to engineer.
If you scoured these pages after the glorious finale at Leicester in midweek, and raised an eyebrow at the absence of mention for the undoubted hero of the piece, I can only assume you are even more bemused that I single out the same S. Bergwijn Esq. for praise after today’s game.
And yet, here we are. In the first half in particular, as the game settled into its pattern and Conte’s masterplan gradually began to emerge into view, young Bergwijn struck me as one of the most important cogs out there.
Sonny obviously pulls rank when it comes to such matters as providing the whirring blur of legs in support of Kane; and in the absence of Son it is now pretty well accepted that the honour falls to Lucas.
So for Bergwijn to get the nod over Lucas today was a call of some note from Our Glorious Leader. It was a plot thread that admittedly got somewhat buried beneath the outrage of Six Defender-Gate, but was nevertheless fairly hot stuff.
One saw the logic. The romantics in the audience would presumably not have had it any other way, after Bergwijn’s midweek exploits, and moreover the murmur from the inner sanctum seemed to be that Lucas had sustained some form of cracked fingernail that needed attending, thereby reducing his value as a starter.
But I don’t mind admitting to letting out – or do I mean taking in? – a sharp breath at seeing Bergwijn named as Principal Supporting Act in attack. In a game like this, and, frankly, after a Tottenham career like his, it was a decision not without a fair splash of risk.
As it turned out, I need not have worried. Bergwijn turned out to be the most potent weapon on the pitch, in the first half at least. Evidently willing to do all the running on Kane’s behalf, he enthusiastically popped up whenever we had the merest sniff of a counter-attack, marrying his pace and energy with a pretty impressive touch.
The general way of things meant that by and large we didn’t spend a great deal of time over halfway, but whenever we did sneak possession and hare into the Chelsea half, Bergwijn seemed to be the chap carrying the greatest threat.
Alas, the mood became a lot more sombre in the second half, as the Chelsea goals rather blew our counter-attacking plans out of the water. Bergwijn’s effectiveness duly diminished, but it was nevertheless good to see the chap indicate that his repertoire includes more than simply the role of Impact Substitute.
In closing, a note on young Sessegnon.
While I can hardly claim to have been an expert on his Fulham days, one does of course hear rumours around the camp-fire, and the consensus on signing the young bean was that we had ourselves a decent young mucker. On top of which, the arrival of Conte and his cherished faith in wing-backs would have seemed to suggest that opportunity did not so much knock for Sessegnon as clatter through the door and proclaim that his moment had arrived.
In this context, I must admit to have let slip a few pretty underwhelmed sighs each time Sessegnon was called upon to clear his throat and bellow out a few show-tunes.
Early days of course, and one hopes he’ll have plenty of time and numerous opportunities to find his bearings and un-muddle his feet, but at the moment the blighter does not appear to have the faintest clue, at any given point in any given game, of whether he is coming or going. And I can’t think of anything that would hinder a chap more.
His tackling hits a sweet spot between being poorly-judged and poorly-timed; his passing appears errant; and I do not recall a successful dribble. More positively, he does appear the sort who likes a foot-race, and that’s an asset that ought to come in handy in weeks (and dare I say years) to come. At present, however, we appear to have on the pay-roll not so much an unpolished diamond as a lump of coal.
To repeat, one assumes that in time he will restore himself to the former glories on which his reputation was built. Today, however, as in most of his previous appearances this season, the poor fellow floundered somewhat.