New to the fold though he might be, but young James Maddison doesn’t seem to have needed more than about 30 seconds to work out the way of things in lilywhite, and as ever, was bounding about the place like he’d been behind the controls for years.
It would do quite the injustice to the other ten to suggest that every good thing about us emanated from Maddison’s size nines, but even allowing for the merits of the collective – and they were plentiful from opening toot to final curtain – Maddison had clearly decided that he wanted to be string-puller-in-chief, and went about his business making it so.
Particularly pleasing was the fact that he did not limit himself to the final third. Here was a man not simply in the market for the headline-making stuff, with a mind to put his feet up and catch his breath when the action drifted back south. “If the ball is in play then I dashed well want to be involved” seemed to be his motto, and as such it didn’t really matter whether the thing was being parcelled out around our own area or the opponents’ – Maddison was as likely as not to be ten yards away, waving the arms and hollering for it.
I suppose if one were formally to state his position it would be ‘Midfield: Left-ish of Centre’, and as such I fancied I saw he and Sonny each beginning to detect the other’s wavelength, which bodes well for the coming months; but in common with his chums Maddison did not take this positional title as anything more than a loose guide, and tended to drift wherever he fancied, as long as it meant he could grab hold of the ball and start improvising.
It is the addition of Maddison, a bona fide creative soul in midfield, as much as the bright and breezy new setup, that has made this current vintage such fun to watch. This does of course raise a whispered question of what might happen should he be indisposed at some point, and in this context I watched Senor Lo Celso’s late cameo with a particularly beady eye.
Despite murmurs of a tearful farewell in the coming days, Lo Celso appears to be the obvious first reserve for Maddison, and from what I saw in pre-season he has grasped the gist of things, poking and prodding appropriately enough from midfield. Yesterday, in truth, he did little to impress, hardly bounding about the place with the same energy and creative verve as his predecessor, but one can probably excuse him for failing to set the world alight in a sodden 20 minutes off the bench. Tuesday night at Fulham might provide a better gauge of his suitability for the role.
2. Van de Ven
Part of the fun of Ange-Ball is that we have so much possession that one doesn’t actually spend too much time worrying about the defence, but as and when required we seemed to do the necessaries. Bournemouth had their moments, particularly at the start of the second half, but they rarely amounted to clear sights of goal (the only that spring to mind being a botched effort just before the half-time gong).
As with our attacking efforts, one is inclined to share the praise around the various contributing members, given that each got their head down and worked up an honest sweat as required. But even allowing for this, I was rather taken – and not for the first time – by the efforts of young Master Van de Ven in the centre of things. Much has been made of the young bean’s turn of pace, but this particular asset did not really need to be unwrapped yesterday.
Instead, it was a day for the more cerebral sort of interventions. Judging when to step up; temporarily departing from his berth to snuff out danger; extending a well-timed leg – that sort of thing. I was at times reminded of dear old Ledley, in the way VDV would negate the need for some lung-busting run and last-ditch tackle, by simply giving a moment’s thought to the situation and nipping in well before matters escalated.
There was a certain finesse to his game, and with Romero alongside him taking the occasional opportunity to remind us how much he loves to go thundering into the heart of matters, muscles flexing and bones crunching and so forth, it struck me that these two might complement each other pretty well in time. The pair of them will presumably have sterner tests in due course, but this was not a complete cakewalk, and VDV in particular did a pretty neat line in making things look a tad easier than I hazard they actually were.
If Maddison shimmered away throughout, and VDV neat and tidied his way through the afternoon, then poor old Richarlison belonged way over at the other end of the spectrum.
In case it was not already pretty blindingly obvious that this was not really his day, that vaguely comical moment early in the second half rammed home the point, when he trod on the ball and followed up with a hack at the nearest Bournemouth leg, to vent a spot of that rage that had almost visibly been bubbling within.
To his credit, and in the interests of balance, it should be noted that Richarlison works like the dickens to close down opponents, principally goalkeepers. Hardly the stuff of which headline-writers dream, I accept, but it’s a pretty critical component of Ange-Ball – and not the sort of thing the previous chap could sustain throughout a match. But Richarlison will plough this particular furrow pretty indefatigably, and it means that opposing goalkeepers and centre-backs are granted limited time for pausing to survey matters and run through their list of options and so forth. The chap will rush them, and those around him in lilywhite tend to take their lead from him.
Which is all well and good, but we do all want our strikers to stick the dashed thing in the net, and here the poor old shrimp is making a terrific pig’s ear of things.
Now in his defence, not all the chances he had were entirely straightforward. That header from a corner in the first half, for example, while presentable enough, was not without its challenges. It was mid-air for a start, which I suppose ought to be negotiable enough for a professional footballer, but still adds a certain complication; on top of which the angle was pretty acute and there was a Bournemouth soul pretty nearby doing his damnedest to impede our man in his task. In short, not an easy chance.
However, the other notable chance presented to him – by Maddison, inevitably, when the ball was fed onto his right foot while bearing down on goal – ought really to have been popped away without too much fuss. One understood that Richarlison tried to drag the ball inside the sliding challenge of the defender, but thereafter his feet seemed to take off on their own separate project, dancing infield and effecting semi-Cruyff turns, when what we really wanted to see was the chap blast the ball into the net and toddle off for his knee-slide. Inevitably, having added layer upon layer of complication to the task, Richarlison ran out of both room and feet, and the whole thing ended in an ungainly mess that rather summed up the way things are going for him at the moment.
Thereafter he mooched about the place in the sort of strop that would have been the envy of any self-respecting teenager, before being hauled off; at which point our attack became infinitely sharper with Sonny at its stem.
I suppose there are some demanding that Richarlison be banished from the premises and have a limb or two lopped off for good measure. AANP understands the frustration, but remains pretty sanguine about the honest fellow’s performances. Primarily because if he can bang in goals as Number 9 for Brazil in a World Cup, I don’t see too much reason to fret about a few missed chances for our lot in August. He does rather visibly let his mistakes affect his performance, but I suppose this also means we can look forward to a pretty irresistible force once he does find that first goal or two. Not too much need to panic. Yet.
4. Ange’s Substitutions
I don’t think he can take too much credit for throwing on Ben Davies when poor old Destiny limped off with his mysterious injury at the end, but otherwise Big Ange can allow himself a pretty satisfied puff or two of the Cuban when he reflects on his in-game mix-and-matching.
It would be no stretch to suggest that hooking Sarr and Richarlison for Perisic and Hojbjerg had precisely the desired effect upon things. Few of sound mind would suggest that Hojbjerg can match Sarr for youthful exuberance and boundless energy between the two penalty areas, but the Dane was hardly brought on for this purpose.
Rather, with Bournemouth having emerged from the interval with a number of guns blazing, Hojbjerg added a decent-sized dollop of sense and stability to proceedings in the middle of the pitch. On winning and shoving onward the ball, rather than gallop forward à la Sarr he held his position, and what had previously been an ever-so-slightly wobbling ship was once again steadied.
The addition of Perisic was similarly abundant in common sense – principally because it meant that Richarlison could throw no more toys from his particular pram. Sonny instead took on the forward role with gusto, and Perisic created a fresh and slightly different brand of mischief on the left.
It worked swimmingly, not least in creating the rather critical second goal, and in general the numerous combined years that Perisic and Hojbjerg brought to proceedings served us well.
Skipp and Lo Celso were also shoved on, and while these were perhaps less striking – Lo Celso, as mentioned, underwhelming slightly in his role as Maddison’s first reserve – they still made some sense – fresh legs and whatnot.
So while these substitutions were hardly the foremost innovations of our time, they still felt like sensible moves at sensible junctures, and given that some managers can be fairly chided for failing to make in-game tweaks, it all merited an approving nod, and helped to see out another serene win from what had looked beforehand a tricky old engagement.
Who amongst us could not simply watch this stuff all day and all night? Yes, the clean sheet was nice, and goals from different sources is a pretty useful box to tick, and we were even briefly top of the league – but it’s the sheer aesthetic pleasure of watching our lot ping their way through opponents that is making this the most fun I’ve had watching Spurs in years. As the sages in the stands astutely observed – we’ve got our Tottenham back.