It’s not often I can claim to speak for the masses, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone in reacting to the news of poor old Bentancur’s twisted joints by feeling the stomach sink a few levels, and having a nameless dread creep up my spine and make itself at home slap bang in the middle of my very soul.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but R.B. has been the heartbeat of the operation. Kane may be the poster boy, but just about everything is run by Bentancur first, for him to stamp with his seal of approval. The prospect of heading off to the San Siro of all places, minus this fabulous chap, had me grasping pretty desperately for the whiskey and rocks, with emphasis on the former.
With Hojbjerg also otherwise engaged, and even Bissouma passing on this particular invitation, that nameless dread was having a whale of a time churning up my insides as I tried in the first place even to remember who the fourth and fifth choice centre midfielders would be.
Sarr and Skipp it was to be then, and as the whistle tooted at 20.00 GMT, AANP had much about him of Daniel entering the lions’ den with a few nervous looks east and west.
Incredibly, however, young Messrs Sarr and Skipp saw it that central midfield ought to be the last of my worries. The defence? Errors lurking not far from the surface. The attack? Nary an idea in the tray. But central midfield brimmed full of energy and natty decision-making throughout.
I loosely recall young Sarr being flung on for twenty minutes or so against Palace a few weeks back, and looking the full potato back then, but with an asterisk against his name in virtue of the fact that we were 4-0 up at the time, and I rather fancied that even I might have looked vaguely competent in such a circumstance. Last night, however, was no 4-0 twenty-minute cakewalk. Sarr was up against a competent mob, and in what sounded like a pretty punchy atmosphere.
And yet the young pup set about his work from first whistle until last in absolutely first-rate fashion. I can barely think of a duty that the modern midfielder ought to execute, which wasn’t executed with all manner of flying colours by young Master Sarr.
He gobbled up loose balls and generally ensured that his opinions were heard in midfield, making clear to any Milan sort who thought that the central areas would be ripe for a spot of casual R&R that no such luxury would be afforded. And this sort of energy in the hub of the team does all manner of good, setting the tone and giving the impression that whatever else, our lot will not go down without a spot of fight and a few swings of the blade.
On top of this general Seek-and-Destroy approach to midfield life, I was also rather taken by the occasional glimpse Sarr gave of a natty forward pass. The sort that is diagonally delivered so as to bisect an opposing two or three midfielders, if you can picture the scenario. Sarr used this weapon in moderation, which is reasonable enough; but he nevertheless made it clear that such a thing is a gift he possesses.
All told, the young cad vastly exceeded expectations, and moreover did enough to suggest that Central Midfield need not be a topic of furrowed broughs and panicked curses for the remainder of the season.
Of the pair, Sarr probably edged things from the AANP perspective, but young Master Skipp was not far behind. In fact, Skipp was not far behind anyone in midfield the whole night long. If a Milan sort had ball at feet and a bit of greenery in front of him, you could bet a few quid that he would also have a spot of Skipp CO2 warming the back of his neck.
Skipp’s starting positions were not always in quite the ideal coordinates, but one of the advantages of being an indefatigable sort of bean is that such oversights can quickly be corrected. If Skipp didn’t necessarily always put out the nearest fire, he did at least keep a close eye on it and generally harry the dickens out of it.
Another minor note I would scribble in his margin is that he did tend to opt for a backwards pass as his default option; but in the context of everything else it seems a mite unfair to beat the poor lad with this particular stick. Skipp did a splendid job of things, both in the blood-and-thunder aspects and also when stretching every sinew to keep our hosts at bay.
Perhaps most striking from the AANP perspective was the relentless energy he and Sarr displayed throughout. Both Bentancur and Hojbjerg will put in the hours – neither could every really be accused of shirking their duties – but the two on show last night were relentless. Every time a Milan player took up possession in or around the centre circle, as sure as night follows day you could guarantee that one of Sarr or Skipp would be buzzing into view at a rate of knots to confront them and set about debating the thing.
Bentancur, as mentioned above, is the central cog in all this, but I do sometimes watch Hojbjerg and wonder what he is adding beyond a lot of increasingly irate pointing and shouting. He has some very good days (witness Man City the other week) but also some pretty anonymous ones. Moreover, he just doesn’t seem to have the energy and pace of the younglets of last night. The point I’m driving at is that if we were to kick off the next game or two with Messrs S & S in residence, and P-E H wrapped up in a duffel coat on the bench, then I’d greet the news with a pretty nonchalant shrug – and that’s high praise for the young pair.
(Alternatively, switching to a back four, starting S&S and having a third midfielder alongside them, to add some attacking flavour, would really make the eyes leap from their sockets.)
Alas, not everyone was as on top of their game as the midfield youths. Senor Romero has had plenty of sparkling days in lilywhite, but it would not be stretching the bounds of literary credibility to state that last night was not amongst them. Some way down the list, I’d fancy.
For a start, this business of his wild, bookable lunges has really gone too far. Now don’t get me wrong. AANP appreciates the singing thwack of one hefty limb against another as much as the next cove. A time and a place of course, but who amongst us does not occasionally think that matters of disagreement are best settled by a challenge of sufficient rigour and meat to win ball, upend man and excavate a small plot of land simultaneously?
All well and good, if done with observance of appropriate conditions. Correct and exact timing of the deed being one such condition. Making clear to the viewing public that winnings have been obtained from the transaction is another. Tick these and various related boxes, and such acts of robustness can earn pretty enthusiastic reviews.
Romero, however, seems to have started caring less and less about the small print, and begun obsessing about nothing else than sending his nominated target cartwheeling about five yards skywards, seemingly treating this as the principal objective of his each and every matchday. I’m not entirely sure what’s got into the chap. He’s just won a World Cup, dash it, what the devil is he trying to prove?
Anyway, it happens like clockwork – unnecessarily and often a little early on in proceedings. And not for any obvious higher purpose either. Should he take a great big chunk out of an opponent who is readying himself to deliver a fatal blow and leather the ball into our net, I would offer an accepting shrug and console myself that his intervention was made for the greater good. But Romero tends to launch his ambush when the opponent is involved in some pretty innocuous hobnobbing a few yards south of the halfway line, with no real danger appearing anywhere on the radar.
At best it leaves the blighter on a tightrope for the rest of the half. One understands the principle of pressing high and giving the opponent a timely nudge; and one similarly sympathises if once in a blue moon the fellow loses his head and aims an unsubtle kick; but to wildly swing the hatchet every ruddy game does make one scratch the loaf and ask politely if the young man is quite right in the head.
On top of that, Romero made a pretty serious clanger in the opening exchanges, which led to the only goal. Now it’s hardly for me to lecture anyone on the art of defending, but the consensus amongst the great and good seems to be that he got himself in a frightful positional muddle in trying to deal with the aerial ball lofted in his direction, resulting in some pretty frantic back-pedalling, an attempted header in which just about every limb was pointing in sub-optimal directions and an ungainly descent to earth. As the Milan charlie sped away towards goal, hindered only by the moving mannequin that is Eric Dier, Romero was still untangling his limbs on the San Siro turf.
One could, of course, excuse such errors as part and parcel of human fallibility, but on occasions such as these we really need players of the ilk of Romero to rattle off near-flawless routines. Goodness knows we have enough of his comrades queueing up to botch things without him also getting in on the act.
4. Sonny and His Would-Be Replacements
Oddly enough I actually thought that Sonny looked a bit rosier of cheek than he has done for much of the season. Particularly in the early knockings, he seemed taken by the urge to scurry with or without ball – albeit typically in his own half – but in general he seemed a bit more fluid than in recent weeks. The ball was not getting caught in his feet, nor was he running straight into the nearest opponent.
Alas, “Not running straight into the nearest opponent” was probably the highlight of his performance. He could occasionally be spotted, pootling around with an air of a fellow who wants to make his mark, but offered precious little creative spark or availability to assist those around him.
Nothing new there, I suppose – but there’s the rub. This happens over and over, and while we were all thrilled for the young bean that he bagged a couple against Preston or whomever in the Cup, he remains distinctly off-colour. And whereas in years gone by one would be a mite wary of replacing him with someone of obviously lesser calibre – a Clinton Njie, if you will – we now have a shiny, functioning and rather expensive Richarlison primed and ready to replace him. Fresh from a pretty wholesome World Cup too, dash it!
So what the hell is the delay? Sonny’s little mournful period of introspection has dragged on for months now. While we all sympathise with the chap, I rather wish he could conduct his soul-searching somewhere less public, and let Richarlison stomp around from the start, and for a few consecutive games. Or give the lad Danjuma a swing, if that fits the positional narrative a little better.
Either way, this business of Sonny being undroppable only really makes sense if he is tearing up the town each week, leaving in his wake a trail of dazed opponents and all manner of goodies in his swag bag. He isn’t, and each week the harvest is weak. And yet, Our Glorious Leader will not be moved. To say the mind boggles understates the thing.
Nonetheless, despite all of the above, I still oozed back to the ranch last night fancying that we could fairly comfortably progress from this tie. Of course, it would require the half-decent version of our lot to turn up, and what the hell sorcery is required to produce that is anyone’s guess. But the point is that Milan were no particular great shakes, and our lot have enough about them, certainly in attack and, seemingly now, in midfield, to click into gear, once the stars align. So not all doom and gloom.
5 replies on “Milan 1-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points”
Team’s an utter bloody shower, Windrush. I’d suggest canceling their contracts and sending most of them to Madrid–but the Spanish have actually begun sending them back!
Excellent piece as usual. But let’s not get too carried away with the children in midfield. One swallow doth not a wotsit make. Always liked Skippy, though, and Sarr does look an exciting prospect.
Regarding Milan, they so reminded me of us – a keeper who went to the same school as Hugo, lots of lateral passing and no high press. Surely we can grab an equaliser in the 72nd minute and get a penalty in the 4th minute of injury time? The way we normally progress.
I suppose I may have got a little carried away. Genuinely did think the midfield pair were a bit more energetic than Hojbjerg though.
Your summary of our customary means of progression did make me chuckle.
Genius, as ever. Loved the penultimate Romero paragraph:)
Very kind of you to say! Many thanks.