1. Lo Celso
When Senor GLC departed to hearty tidings from all four corners late on, I was struck by the notion of what a difference 37 minutes or so can make, for I don’t mind admitting that when the curtain came down for the half-time intermission I had already set about sharpening the knives for the chap.
Now it’s true that he contributed to our one outstanding moment of the first half. His lunge for a loose ball, while owing as much to wild enthusiasm as to impeccable timing, was enough to free young Sarr, who did a good job of things thereafter to give us our customary early lead. A tick was duly scrawled against the name of Lo Celso (as well as Bentancur, whose perky outlook had helped turn over possession in the first place).
But aside from that, AANP eyed Lo Celso with gradually increasing distaste, and unseemly mutterings that steadily grew in volume. The common thread of my gripes at the fellow in the first half was that he simply did not apply himself enough. Or put another way, if he devoted as much care and attention to chasing the ball, availing himself of the ball and wisely using the ball as he did to flinging himself to earth at every contact, he’d be quite the player.
As the second half demonstrated, there lurks within the Lo Celso frame, a pretty elegant and creative soul that could carve up the place when the mood suited; but in that first half he seemed too often to lope about the place with the air of one for whom this wasn’t the perfect platform and so he therefore wouldn’t bother. And confirmation bias being what it is, once convinced of this notion I decided that only a delicious pass with the outside of the left boot to create a goal would change my mind. Thus, at half-time, I chuntered a fair amount.
Well of course you can imagine my delight in the second half when Lo Celso roused himself, had a bit of a stretch and set about upping his game about seventy or so notches. The game was no more or less open than it had been in the first half, but now when he received the ball he decided to swan about the place like Maradona, nipping away from opponents and releasing onrushing chums with well-weighted passes into space.
He had already taken it upon himself to become something of a conduit between our playing-from-the-back and bearing-down-on-goal, and came within a whisker of creating a goal for the more centrally-positioned folk when he whipped in a cross that had the words ‘Convert Me!’ scrawled all over it in block capitals.
And finally his big moment arrived with that gorgeous pass for Son’s goal, which achieved the impressive feat of gaining full marks for both effectiveness and aesthetics, and which pretty much did enough to kill the game as a contest (albeit with the caveat that, our lot being our lot, one can never really state with any certainty at any scoreline that the game is truly killed off, and even after the full-time whistle sounds I do look around a little suspiciously in case another surprise lurks).
2. Udogie’s Defending
AANP has never been one for Greco-Roman wrestling, generally filling the leisure hours with more sedentary pursuits, but if circumstances did force me to go down that route I decided after watching today’s proceedings that the one chap I wouldn’t want to meet in the ring or on the mat or whatever it is, is Destiny Udogie.
Generally this season the column inches about the young specimen have been filled with praise for his attacking exploits, and quite rightly so, he having become one of the more essential cogs in the whole attacking appartus. But today he seemed pretty set on reminding all in attendance that he was indeed fashioned by Mother Nature as a defender first and foremost, which came as a bit of a shock, but turned out to be quite timely.
If he had planned beforehand to use today to showcase his defensive wares he certainly picked a good day for it. As happens with depressing regularity, our lot seemed to be absolutely wide open every time Bournemouth came forward. Of course, those lilywhites in the vicinity adopted earnest expressions, and did that peculiar dance of tucking their arms behind their backs while going down on one knee, and generally did their best to make it look like defending was a Big Deal to them. But in practice they seemed only to offer a spot of decoration about the place, while Bournemouth folk queued up to take a pot at goal as and when they pleased.
In this situation, and in particular with that VDV-shaped hole still strongly evident at the heart of the defence, Udogie took the opportunity to appear stage left for a series of dramatic, last-gasp interventions that arrested the attention and conveniently saved the day.
It was impressive stuff, as it had somehow slipped beneath the AANP radar all this time that he is actually a pretty darned quick blighter. One doesn’t quite notice this personality trait when we’re on the front-foot and several different attacking elements are on the go simultaneously.
But when we’ve lost possession and the other mob are lobbing the ball over the top of our high defensive line, creating a basic foot-race between our lot and their lot, one is suddenly struck by the blurry nature of the little Udogie legs, whizzing into view, catching up with the opponent and generally Van de Ven-ing the threat away.
Which brings me back to Udogie’s Greco-Roman attributes, for as well as demonstrating himself to be one of the quickest pair of heels in N17, he also showcased an upper body stacked full of brawn and muscle. His chest, barrel-like in both appearance and, evidently, substance, was put to full use in sending Solanke sprawling across the turf when the latter decided to dabble in a spot of surreptitious barging when in on goal, and simply bounced away. And to repeat, this was Solanke, himself a creature of considerable heft and sinew.
It said much of our defending, yet again, that in order to keep Bournemouth at bay we had to rely upon several last-ditch interventions from a left-back who’d much rather be Number Tenning it up the other end. Truth be told, we took quite the battering at various points in this game, but as silver linings go, the discovery of these rarely-sighted super-powers tucked away in the Udogie back pocket was a cheery one.
3. Brennan Johnson
It has not escaped the beady AANP eye in recent weeks that young Brennan Johnson has attracted a spot of the red ink and some glowering looks. One understands the sentiment of frustration, as he has occasionally shown a bit of a tendency to make a pickle of some promising situations – but in this he is hardly alone, and any self-respecting prosecutor would surely haul in Messrs Richarlison and Son for a spot of the old cross-examination here.
In general, however, the slap I direct at Johnson’s back is one of encouragement rather than censure, and indeed, I’m more inclined to raise a disapproving eyebrow at those who lay into the chap. Ignoring momentarily his eventual outputs, his general tendency to stretch his legs and go haring off down the right provides a useful outlet – one that has not gone unnoticed by the radar of Pedro Porro – as well as making him quite the nuisance for opposing left-backs.
And while it has been a frustration at various points in recent weeks that having worked himself into a threatening position, he has made a pickle of things when it comes to pulling the trigger – either in terms of shots or crosses – this strikes me as the sort of element to his game for which only minor adjustments are needed.
Today, things seemed to click a bit more smoothly. His very early pass for Son was perfectly serviceable, ticking all the boxes that any goal-producing cross ought to require – first-time, decent pass, no requirement for the oncoming striker to break stride – so full marks to young Johnson, and few unrepeatable sentiments towards Son.
He put in at least one more cross from the right that was so well-judged and executed it ought to have been accompanied by a musical ping; before his good work did eventually strike oil, through the inch-perfect cross for Richarlison’s goal, which it’s worth noting was pretty much a replica of both construction and finished article against Everton.
So while acknowledging that the earnest young thing will continue to make the odd mistake, I’d much rather celebrate his achievements – coming at the rate of around one goal contribution per game at the moment – than harp on too much about any opportunities missed. Given the context of him playing in his first season at the place, and adjusting to his different role and so on, he seems to be pootling along well enough.
4. Au Revoir Hugo Lloris
And a quick raise and clink of the glass for Monsieur Lloris, after 11 years of grind around these parts. One shares his frustration not to have won a trophy, but well over 400 appearances – a decent chunk of which have been as captain – are worthy of generous applause.
In his pomp he was one of the best shot-stoppers on the circuit, Dortmund away springing to the AANP mind as perhaps his finest hour, while the penalty save from Aguero in the Champions League is a strong contender for the first truly thrilling moment at the new stadium. One trusts that the Los Angeles climate will be to his liking.