A slightly different hobnob from the norm, this one. Same old outcome, of course, but whereas these things – Spurs matches, I mean – tend to start a certain way (with us going two down), and then adopt a very specific trajectory (of waiting until approximately minute 60 before sparking into life and actually looking pretty impressive on the front-foot), this one, in the interests of variety, flipped all that on its head.
In this instance we didn’t start terribly, which was curious enough. And then for the rest of the first half, we occupied a space somewhere in between ‘Managing Okay’ and ‘Clinging On A Bit’, while crucially avoiding the concession of goals before half-time.
Most curiously of all, we found ourselves two up rather than two down, come the mid-innings break. Hardly merited, but one learns to take the smooth with the rough.
And fairly critical, if easily overlooked, in both goals, was the contribution of Master Bentancur, a bean I would have welcomed back with the most warm and vigorous of handshakes if circumstances had allowed.
As ever, it is easy for the eye to be drawn towards the goals, and other critical moments, when passing judgement on the contributions of the assembled, and as stated, Bentancur rather subtly wormed his way into affairs for both of ours.
But beyond this, and while matters pootled along at nil-nil, he occasionally hove into view like some friendly spectre, to remind us how much better he is than the rest of our midfielders. Shimmies and turns to escape a pack of baying City players, that sort of thing. An ability to receive the ball under a decent spadeful or two of pressure, and still keep his head and get wriggling.
There were a couple of ill-timed lunges too, which were a little less impressive admittedly, but given his ability in possession I was happy enough to churn out that guff about ‘Rough’ and ‘Smooth’ again, and pine for a world in which Bentancur has a bit more support around him.
As mentioned, he played a role in both goals. Firstly, in haring up to the City laddie who received the ball inside his own penalty area.
I must confess to a little shiver of fear, on second viewing, that VAR might stick in its nose and submit Bentancur’s challenge to forensic detail, being concerned that the proportions of man and ball he contacted were weighed towards the former. But apparently it was tickety-boo. So, smooth with rough once more. Bentancur’s eager press had done enough to force the City fellow to wash his hands of all responsibility, and rather oddly gift the ball straight to Kulusevski.
A minute later, a clearance of some description dropped from the heavens, and Bentancur casually plucked it from the sky with his foot, much like a wicketkeeper might do with a pair of oversized gloves.
That in itself elicited an approving noise to emanate from the AANP voice-box – the sort of sound one would make if one said “Oh, I say!” but without actually using words. Ignoring the odd looks I received from those around me, I remained glued to the screen, to see Bentancur pop the ball off towards Kane. The pass, admittedly, was not quite as pristine as one had hoped, but Kane did enough, as did Kulusevski out on the right, and in a couple of shakes of a lamb’s tail the ball was in and Emerson Royal of all people was taking the acclaim.
The Brazilian’s might have been the name on the scoresheet, but the AANP heart swelled with admiration for the real hero, he of the earlier input, Rodrigo Bentancur.
2. Emerson Royal
While the selection of Bentancur was greeted with unfettered joy around these parts, I would be wilfully deceiving my public if I suggested Emerson’s appearance prompted a similar reaction. Still, there he was and there we were, so might as well hope for the best and get down to it, what?
And he did a decent enough job, in truth. Should an uninitiated visitor ever pitch up and request the lowdown on the chap I fancy I would outline 3 key features, viz:
- He genuinely thinks he’s brilliant
- He adopts good positions
- His outputs tends to be dreadful
And he more or less stuck to the script yesterday. The incredible self-belief remained in situ and undimmed (and good for him – I’m by no means a fan, but don’t subscribe to this business of booing the blighter).
Defensively he was adequate, which may sound like faint praise but frankly was a few notches up from Dier, Davies and one or two others.
And in the other direction his eyes rather lit up whenever the attacking gong sounded. One of the few joys of Conte-ball is seeing one wing-back arrive on the end of a cross from the other, and if you don’t mind me butchering this definition a bit, his presence at the far post from a Ben Davies cross in the first half very nearly freed Kane for an unmarked pop.
At one point in the second half I had to rub my eyes and look down at the contents of my tumbler in some wonder because it seemed for all money that as we attacked Emerson was sprinting straight through the middle in the centre-forward role (referring us all neatly back to point number 1, above).
And then of course there was his moment of glory, the curious egg briefly morphing into Lineker to poach a dashed difficult header for our second.
No doubt about it, the goal was masterfully taken, but that aside Emerson’s outputs were as Emerson’s outputs generally are. As ever it was clear that any joy to be had on the right would not have as its genesis one of his crosses.
Still, no calamity befell, and his goal was a triumph both of endeavour and skill, so I’m happy to file this away as one of his better days.
Any regular suckler of the AANP sauce will know the drill by now – plenty of pointless fluff, a finger jabbed with meaning into the ribs of one of the usual suspects and a spot of gooey fawning over the crosses that emanate from either sacred clog of Ivan Perisic. But really, if your team is as lacking in creativity as our lot, who wouldn’t stand and purr at the sight of I.P. hoisting the thing as if on a string, into the single most devastating spot in the opposition area game after game?
I fancy I’ve heard that he has 8 assists to his name in lilywhite this season, which a) sounds about right, and b) even if not right is believable enough. Either way it hammers home point – namely that the chap is a dashed useful sort to have patrolling the left, either to deliver his own customised outputs or to pop up for the provision of helpful input when crosses are delivered from the other side.
All of which renders even more startling the stat – for which I’ve admittedly used a healthy swig of dramatic licence and made an educated guess – that the blighter has yet to score for us. It feels like he has come pretty dashed close to so doing, at various points this season, having regularly arrived as the auxiliary forward for countless attacks, to deliver the coup de grâce, only to be foiled at the last, in cartoon style, by countless unforeseen interruptions.
A perfect example materialised yesterday as a City bod who wasn’t even looking managed to deflect Perisic’s shot onto the post, a routine he would not have pulled off if he had been attempting it for weeks.
The flip-side to the rich attacking harvest offered by Perisic is that he treats defending as if a completely different sport, and one entirely foreign to him. Blame could be shared around pretty liberally for the various goals that rained down upon us from various angles last night, but Perisic was woefully at fault during at least three.
In one instance Mahrez waggled a foot or two and that was enough to prompt Perisic’s resignation from the task at hand, he pausing only to dangle an insincere leg as the chap sped past him.
For another, he tracked Mahrez as the ball was lofted aerially towards him, but seemed to consider this sufficient, the concept of challenging the chap, or shoving him off balance, or in any other way inconveniencing his attempt to head the ball seemingly well off the Perisic radar.
And then for another, Perisic almost comically over-committed himself to a 50-50 just outside our own area, seemingly motivated by the prospect a full-pitch counter-attack rather than focusing on the more pressing concern of stopping City from pummelling us once more.
So one of Mother Nature’s select defenders he is not. But not for the first time the whole sorry debacle takes my mind back to the Croatia team of the World Cup, a mob that set up in 4-3-3, with 3 preeminent passers absolutely controlling business in midfield (Modric, Brozovic and Kovacic); Perisic left of a front-three, with not too much defensive onus; and only lacking a decent centre-forward to make hay. Should I ever be gifted a 30-second audience with Our Glorious Leader, that is the tale I would tell him.
A substitution to which Signor Conte seems peculiarly wedded when we are, inevitably, chasing a game in the latter stages, is Lenglet for Davies, or vice versa. An odd one, if you ask me. Maybe something about fresh legs or whatnot.
Anyway, it happened yesterday, like clockwork, achieving nothing in an attacking sense, as always. What caught the eye, however, was that even though he barely had time to work up a sweat, Lenglet still managed to distinguish himself as amongst the very worst of our comfortably bad coterie of defenders.
At one point he tried a casual 5-yard pass inside his own area, pretty inaccurately, towards a chum whose coordinates had been identified for attack by a City sort. And then in the dying embers of the thing, he failed to deal with that most challenging of situations for any footballer – the football.
There it was, spherical as they come, lobbing towards him without anyone in the way of it, courtesy of an uncultured heft from Ederson. Now one would imagine that any human who had demonstrated basic motor skills while still being bounced on their mother’s knee would have the capacity get their body in the way of a ball, and kick, head or otherwise interact with it in order to send it off in the opposite direction.
So what the hell possessed Lenglet to let the thing apologetically skid off his frame and into the path of Mahrez right behind him is anyone’s guess.
I suppose if there was one redeeming feature of this absurdity it is that the game was already lost. But honestly, it’s just not cricket, what?
Of course, while on the subject of ghastly errors that are scarcely credible amongst professional footballers, poor old Lloris popped up again.
Rather a shame, because his first half had some impressive qualities to it. He dealt – just about – with a few crosses of the high and swirly variety, whilst being jostled by various genetically-engineered City goal-beasts, and also made one particularly natty save, changing direction just so to avert a shot that caught a pretty angular deflection. Things appeared to be looking up for the fellow.
Alas, there then followed the second half, and his run of good form and fortune ended rather abruptly. For City’s first he came flying out horizontally to give the ball a reassuring pat, but inevitably miscalculated and landed within a heap of limbs – some his own – and facing his own net, which seemed an impressive feat. Anyway, he having missed the ball completely and by some distance, the upshot was that it pinged around a bit before someone or other poked it in – there no longer being a goalkeeper present to prevent this – and Lloris’ day had taken its usual turn for the worse.
And then to seal the deal, he was beaten on his near post for the third. A deflection was present, ‘tis true; but this does not alter the fact that he had left a significant gap through which any shot, deflected or otherwise, might squirm.
Lloris’ sorry fortunes might be deemed emblematic of our current woes. Or they might not. Either way, while it does at least keep Woolwich reined in a bit, it was another pretty shoddy collapse, and from a position of unexpected superiority too, dash it. Ah well. On we bobble!