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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-2 Wolves: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson

One did not have to be one of those medieval soothsayer types, who apparently were pretty sharp in matters of spotting what was about to happen, to feel a bit of the old dread creeping up when Big Ange gruffled the news that both of Messrs Porro and Udogie would spend their Saturday afternoon being patched up in some infirmary tent rather than fighting the good fight on-pitch.

No huge surprises in the identity of their replacements, Emerson on one side and Ben Davies t’other, and while their earnestness was never going to be in doubt, that wasn’t really ever going to be the point, what?

There was a general lack of the sharpened tooth about our play from starter’s gun to finish line yesterday, incidences of rapier-like passing that cut to ribbons the opposition being so few that one could count them on the fingers of one hand. Now of course it would be a bit much to lay all the blame for this at the doors of Emerson and Davies, and our endeavours might well have been similarly fruitless with Porro and Udogie at the roaming-full-back wheel, not least because the second half was pretty much a non-stop session of trying to pick a way through a back-ten in and around their own area.

But nevertheless. Particularly in the first half, when the game was a tad more open but our passing from deep-to-advanced was pretty uninspired, I did stare off into the distance and do a spot of yearning.

Emerson, being the sort of egg so curious that he merits his own unique category of one, could conceivably have offered a bit of attacking spark, if all his lights were on. While he is probably not one for a 40-yard Porro-esque pass onto a sixpence, I had hoped we might see him carry the ball forward and infield, and give the Wolves lot something about which to confer.

Unfortunately, with Emerson one has to take the bonkers with the smooth, and he gave a few early indications that this was to be one of his more exasperating innings. For a start there were a few horribly misplace passes, which I suppose can happen to anyone, but when emanating from the size nines of Emerson do tend to suggest that he is off on another planet. Confidence – or rather lack thereof – never having been an issue with this mad young bean, rather than rein it in a bit he simply carried on trying no-look passes and whatnot.

However, the moment that really made me tut and stew was when, having been lazily caught in possession and deposited upon his derriere, rather than bounce straight back up, hellbent on correcting his error, he remained in his seat and took to waving his arms for an imaginary foul. Wolves, meanwhile, simply got on with it, shoved their way into our area and almost scored, dash it.

Obviously I use the pen-wielder’s licence to colour the lad’s entire performance as unequivocally disastrous, when the truth is probably that he made plenty of quiet, positive contributions, but in the first half in particular too many of his inputs led to a skyward fling of the AANP hands, and a muttered imprecation as its soundtrack. In a first half badly lacking cohesion and threat, Emerson made a handy poster-boy for our troubles.

2. Ben Davies

Ben Davies, to give credit where due, was actually pretty solid defensively and expansive offensively. If there is a criticism of him – apart from the wild misdirection of that late header, which ought to have CPR-d the result – it is that he is not Destiny Udogie, which seems a rather cruel sort of mud to sling at a fellow. I mean, not much that one can do about being born as one person and not as another, what?

As mentioned, he did things well enough. The sort of willing chappie destined always to be in the ‘Supporting Cast’ category, he won a few early defensive arguments against his opposing winger, and also made regular visits to the Wolves final third. Truth be told, he was as effective an attacking spoke as anyone else, and if I could have toddled around the changing-room post-match and canvassed a few opinions, I suspect that Sonny, Maddison and Richarlison would have spoken kindly enough of his contributions.

But in a game in which we sorely lacked a bit of the old thrust, I did note that the most incisive first half passes into the final third came from Messrs VDV on the left and Romero on the right. A spot of Udogie from deep would have gone down well.

3. Kulusevski

The half-time mood was pretty dark at AANP Towers. There was no shortage of subjects of ire, and not really enough time to have the deep and meaningful rant that each of them deserved, but one point on which I (and a chum or two) were pretty clear was that the current iteration of Kulusevski was pretty seriously undercooked.

Naturally he then took 46 seconds to ram my words down my throat with a bit of meaning, dancing around defenders in that curious way of his that seems to defy physics (my eyes probably deceived, but I’m pretty convinced that at one point he ran literally through a Wolves defender – which I accept contradicts much of what we know of modern science, but there we go).

So bucketfuls of credit where due, it was a fabulously executed goal. However, I maintain that it was also quite the anomaly. Kulusevski’s outputs in general this season seem to have been pretty muted. Of the unstoppable buccaneer of Spring 2022 there is little sign these days. In his defence, none of the fifteen outfield players used yesterday had much attacking success, so I’m happy to slather some context about the place, but with Kulusevski these diminished returns have been evident for some time.

This business of constantly cutting back onto his left foot strikes me as constituting a hefty chunk of the problem. Funnily enough it does still catch the occasional opponent by surprise, but this isn’t much good given that it also tends to suck a decent gulp of momentum from the attacking move. Defenders who might a smidgeon earlier have been out of position and rushing back to their posts, with sirens for both panic and confusion sounding in their ears, are granted time to pack out the place and steady their feet. The diem passes frustratingly un-carpe’d.

Moreover, having completed the whole business of cutting back onto his left, Kulusevski very rarely then makes good on his pledge and does anything meaningful with the ball thereafter. When he first joined, a couple of years back, one lost count of the number of times he cut back and curled the ball either into the far corner or into the path of an onrushing forward sort. Whereas these days he just bunts the thing into the first opposing body and it bounces away, or else loops a shot high and wide.

Much of Kulusevski’s value has traditionally derived from his deceptive burst of pace carrying the ball from halfway onwards, which is fair enough, and a trait still occasionally in evidence against more adventurous teams playing higher up the pitch; but on the whole, and certainly on occasions like yesterday, when up against a deep-lying defence, there’s not much scope for such frivolity.

Towards the end of yesterday’s proceedings, when Our Glorious Leader adopted the Football Manager approach of shoving as many attackers onto the pitch as the rules allowed, we were treated to a brief glimpse of Kulusevski in a more central role, which, from my armchair, seems to suit him a little better. Again, however, there protrudes a spanner in the works, as with Maddison back one would not expect to see too much of Kulusevski at number 10.

As with Emerson, one could hardly lump all our woes into one neat pile at the door of Kulusevski and wait for him to solve everything, but it’s another of those charming little knots that Postcoglou et al will need to unravel.

4. Van de Ven and Vicario

On a positive note, both Van de Ven and Vicario were in pretty spiffing form yesterday, so that was a little treat for the gathered masses.

Rather a shame that it was all to no avail, but VDV’s recovery pace continues to make the eyes pop from the head, and will presumably receive greater acclaim on future dates, when deployed in a winning cause. It was not so evident in the second half, when the pattern of things shifted considerably, but in the first half every time Wolves got behind our high-line – the difficulty of which was right up there alongside taking sweets from babies – one could breathe easily in the knowledge that a locomotive in human form would pretty swiftly be arriving from across the pitch to hoover up the mess.

Vicario, similarly, took the opportunity to showcase his most eye-catching stuff. Point-blank save in each half were worth goals, and I have a feeling he had another chalked off by an offside flag, but it was enough to communicate the gist: here was a man in rare old form.

Moreover, given that so much hot air is now expelled on the topic of what goalkeepers do with their feet, there was a charmingly old-fashioned thrill in seeing our man stick out a reflexive paw a couple of time to execute some point-blank saves.

That said, both goals conceded were pretty maddening. The first in particular prompted a rather weary groan, an unmarked header from a corner of all things being the sort of offence that ought to have the lot of them docked a month’s wages and locked in dank cells. As for the second, it was pretty clearly scripted stuff by our opponents, which in turn reflects poorly on our Brains Trust. Much to ponder in the next couple of weeks.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Maddison as Vicario’s Bodyguard

Easy to forget amidst all the joyous bedlam of full-time, but one of the burning questions going into this one was around the thorny issue of Vicario receiving more of the rough stuff at corners, and the ploy devised by Our Glorious Leader to negate such dastardly acts.

We didn’t have to wait too long to see the fruits of such planning, with Vicario being assigned his own personal bodyguard at corners, evidently tasked with inserting self in between goalkeeper and opposing, interfering forward. In a world in which meaty specimens such as Romero and Udogie and Richarlison lurk about the premises, I have to confess to raising a slightly alarmed eyebrow upon discovering that the identity of Vicario’s saviour was to be one J. Maddison Esq.

Now in a sense this added up. Heavyweights such as the aforementioned presumably already had their own important duties to carry out at corners; while Maddison comes across as the willing sort, always happy to take on an additional task that will help the collective, and even more so if it’s a high-profile little number.

On the other hand, however, there’s the delicate issue of what one might politely term ‘Suitability for the Role’. Putting it delicately, Maddison’s is not a physique of pure, unadulterated brawn and sinew. If I were to request, from an agency that handled such things, the services of a bit of muscle to protect me from harm of an evening, I’d be pretty cheesed off if they sent James Maddison my way, and would probably send him straight back and demand a refund. Of the entire squad, I imagine that only the wisp-like Bryan Gil would have any difficulty in shoving aside Maddison in any form of physical combat.

Nevertheless, it was better than the alternative, of simply allowing whichever forward (Welbeck yesterday, I think) an unhindered run at Vicario to flap in his face and barge him around as he pleased. And one might reasonably argue that the proof of the pudding was in the fact that Vicario being forced into errors at corners simply was not an issue yesterday, as it had been in previous games. (Although the caveat here is that Brighton’s delivery from corners was not so accurate as to put him under proper scrutiny.) Certainly, Maddison got into the spirit of the thing, all bravado and tugging and pulling each time the principals set themselves for a corner.

So a solution of sorts, but I do consider that a more rigorous test of this scheme, and Maddison’s abilities in the area of personal security, could be yet to come.

2. Not Quite At The Races

Is it just me or does every outing of the Good Ship Hotspur end in some dramatic stoppage-time goal, one way or the other? It certainly feels that way, to the extent that if one of our games finished 5-3 but with all scoring wrapped up by the 80th minute, I’d probably slope away in a bit of a mood, grumbling about not having received my money’s worth.

Anyway, whichever soul launched the gag about all being well that ends well certainly hit the bullseye yesterday, and I blush to admit that I rather lost my sense of propriety when Johnson popped up at the end, bounding about the place like one possessed, truth be told. All of which was well and good, and pretty much captures why we make the weekly pilgrimage in the first place; but it did also paper over the fact that this was a slightly squiffy sort of showing from our heroes.

The dubious tone was set within the first 30 second when young VDV, normally the sort of egg upon whom you’d bet your mortgage as well as the life of your least-favoured child, oddly floundered, losing his bearings, his sight of the ball and his understanding of gravity. Under minimal pressure he tripped over himself and into a little heap, allowing Welbeck to race off and send an early greeting Vicario’s way.

VDV was at it again for the penalty, dipping a foot into a spot he ought to have avoided; an episode that had its genesis in Bentancur miscalculating pretty significantly and being hustled off the ball on the edge of his own area. Bentancur was perhaps the poster-boy for the day’s travails, occasionally delivering his trademark wriggle from trouble, but too often caught dwelling in possession and failing to provide the steady hand to which we’ve become accustomed.

To be clear, however, this was not a case of VDV and Bentancur alone being at the heart of our troubles. Most in lilywhite seemed a little undercooked. Take Udogie, for example. Strangely muted, no? Vicario at one point ill-advisedly underarmed the ball to Bentancur in a most precarious spot; and so on.

Being a gracious sort, I can grudgingly admit that a lot of our under-performing was down to Brighton, whose high-press was pretty snappy, and whose short passing was at times terrific. In fact, the whole thing struck me as what would happen if our heroes played against themselves in one of those shiny computer games with fancy graphics.

Whatever the reason, for the first twenty or so, our lot were comfortably second best; and while we got back on top in the latter part of the first half, this owed as much to pressing high and turning over possession as to any particular guile in our build-up play. Following ingestion of the half-time victuals, our lot hit first gear for a good 25 minutes or so, which looked like it would bring a lot more that just the equaliser, and I confess that at that point I settled back into my seat with a rather smug sense of anticipation; only for our lot to lose their way again, and end up rather clinging on as the clock struck 90. A strange old knocking from our heroes, then.

3. Richarlison

Richarlison was another who didn’t quite hit the right notes, until he eventually did circa minute 96.

His first half miss when clean through (doff of the cap to Maddison for the pass, by the by) was pretty unforgiveable. One can bleat away all day about the goalkeeper spreading himself and whatever else, but that was about as straightforward as chances come, and a chap in his current form ought to have crossed t’s and dotted i’s with minimal fuss.

He delivered similar rot when given the opportunity to tee up Maddison for a straightforward finish, again before half-time. Admittedly that was a pass that required a tad more timing and weighting, but nevertheless it ought not to have been beyond a fellow  whose juices have been flowing like his in the last six weeks or so.

It was a curious performance from Richarlison, because it was not one of those in which he skulked about the place like a moody teen, or wobbled unconvincingly, beset by a critical absence of confidence. He seemed right as rain in matters of the head, full of confidence and positivity. He just failed to deliver at the critical moments – until the finale.

At that point, he did a cracking job, delivering his lines to perfection. His pass for Son looked simple enough, but had he played it with any greater or lesser force Sonny would probably have had to break his stride – or strayed offside – and we’d all be grumbling about another drawn game we should have won. Instead, Richarlison (having been involved in the earlier build-up too), picked his moment and weighted his pass, and AANP duly forgave his earlier transgressions.

4. The Winning Goal

While Richarlison’s minor but critical role receives a light ovation from these parts, I’m inclined to shove the Best Supporting Actor trophy towards Sonny. One can take it for granted, but there aren’t too many nibs around who can go flying off at that sort of pace. His timing had to be on the money too, to stay onside, but mercifully the chap was fully alert to the situation, and crammed the best of all worlds into one single package – staying onside whilst building up a sufficient head of steam to outpace his opposing defender pretty comfortably.

There then followed the most critical part of the operation, viz. delivery of the pass. We could all see it, of course – and being the helpful sort, AANP took the opportunity to scream at the blighter a pithy but accurate instruction as to what was needed at this juncture – but it’s one thing seeing, and a different kettle of fish actually doing.

Mercifully, Son delivered to the millimetre. There was no messing around with additional touches, or considerations of taking it on himself, or any such nonsense. Son pinged the pass first-time, with a spot of curl to evade the stretching Estupinan, leaving Johnson with a pretty straightforward mission from 5 yards.

Johnson, as is well known, has attracted a decent amount of opprobrium over the months, principally for his delivery of a final ball, but if he excels in one area it is in understanding the value of arriving at the back post when potential is bubbling away on the opposite flank. He does it better than most of the others in our ranks, and there is something particularly pleasing about seeing a goal created by one wide attacker to be executed the other. If Son deserves credit for his burst of pace on the left, Johnson ought also to be lauded for acting similarly on the right – for all his attributes I’m not sure Kulusevski would have eaten up those yards.

For one horrific moment I did actually think that Johnson had managed to blast the ball over the bar, but the lad had the good sense not to lash at the thing, and the happy ending was safely tucked away.

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Spurs match reports

Everton 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. That Late Equaliser

Nothing quite wrenches the gut like conceding an added-time equaliser, what? If you don’t mind a remarkably early tangent, one of the oddities of such things is the change in narrative it brings about, with the great and good effortlessly swivelling from a narrative of Spurs showing spirit to grind out a win to, one set-piece later, Spurs’ lack of game management in one of their worst showings of the season.

Back to the wrenched gut, and when all concerned adopted their positions for that final free-kick, AANP would gladly have directed all three wishes from the nearest genie towards a Tottenham head getting to the ball first. Picture my delight then, when, upon delivery of the f.k., the head that rose to prominence belonged to one of our own, Cristian Romero taking a spot of initiative. It was high-fives all round at AANP Towers, Everton having seemingly been denied and the danger averted.

Alas, to my considerable consternation it quickly became evident that this was but the first element in a quite horrific two-parter. Romero’s part having been played well enough, the immediate sequel somehow saw the Everton laddie Branthwaite and poor old Vicario drawn together in close-quarter combat, with nary another soul in sight.

The mood at AANP Towers swiftly darkened. Vicario is a man of many goalkeeping (and, indeed, outfield) talents, the strings to his bow being rich and plentiful; but standing up to some brutish lump in a duel to the death is not amongst them. Vicario, already back-pedalling was duly flattened, as that Branthwaite creature skirted over the finer points and simply bundled into the net the ball, goalkeeper, self and anything else that happened to catch his eye. In neatly appropriate fashion, Vicario sustained a blow to the gut in the process.

So no blame attached to Romero; and while Vicario might have offered a bit more resistance (as shall be explored below) the damage by that point seemed already done. As such, the initial reaction was simply to bemoan the rotten luck of the ball looping so invitingly to an Everton head.

But a little further investigation revealed that in fact there were culprits galore dotted about the place.

The dashed free-kick in the first place. Review the footage and one notes Richarlison losing possession in his own half in the first place, which was unimpressive but I suppose not, at that stage terminal. Next, and after a spot of this and that amongst the principals, the responsibility for matters fell upon Kulusevski.

Having lost a 50-50, which was excusable enough, rather than try something constructive to redeem the situation, or indeed simply put his head down and chase back, Kulusevski took an unsubtle swipe at the legs of the Everton man from behind. It was comfortably the most knuckle-headed option on offer, being both utterly unnecessary whilst also presenting a free-kick in prime position to a side whose only threat had been from set-pieces.

Nor did the ignominy end there. The headlines of that second goal may by now be familiar to all – Romero, Branthwaite, et cetera – but there comes a time in a man’s life when he must pause and ask himself precisely why it was that Branthwaite was left unchallenged in the six-yard box at the depth.

The guilty party, rather regrettably, given his contributions in other areas, was Richarlison. Attached to Branthwaite at the moment of delivery, he retained an observer’s interest in events as they unfolded, his beady eye remaining on the ball throughout. The crux of the thing, however, was that Richarlison’s presence ought to have been in the capacity of a participant rather than an observer, and in this respect he erred pretty sensationally. Once the ball was airborne, the chap simply stopped moving. Branthwaite jostled his way into prime position, whether in hope, expectation or whatever else; but behind him, Richarlison was making it pretty clear that his race was won. ‘If anyone is going to stop that chap’, he seemed to intimate, ‘it dashed well won’t be me.’

2. Richarlison’s Happier Moments (Or What Ought To Have Been Happier Moments) – Part One

As mentioned, a shame that the trail of evidence can be traced back to Richarlison for that one, because in other respects he looked a man in the form of his life.

Now a cynic might suggest that his first goal didn’t amount to much, perhaps pointing out that he simply stood in one spot and had the ball fed to him on a plate, leaving him with a To-Do list that contained little more than to stand on one leg and swing with the other. Not necessarily untruths I suppose, but this in itself seemed to illustrate the fellow’s brimming confidence. The nous to stand in one spot, for a start, was indicative of a striker who knows he is on a bit of a roll, rather than trying too hard to be in all places at once.

And even the finish, whilst low on technical requirements such as first touch, the side-stepping of defenders or the deceiving of the goalkeeper, was nevertheless a bit of a triumph of slick technique. After all, who amongst us hasn’t witnessed this very same man at the vital moment tripping over real or imaginary obstacles, or thumping the ball everywhere except within the frame of the goal? To see him simply slap the ball first-time into the net, without pausing to dwell on any of the ways in which the operation might go wrong, was mightily pleasing.

An honorary mention to those involved in the build-up to that first goal, the neat, quick passing of that move summing up our approach in those glorious first ten minutes or so, before we spent the remainder of the half struggling to control proceedings. Hojbjerg (whose contributions typically swung wildly between Decent and Rotten), Udogie and Werner all made smart choices in possession out on the left before Richarlison applied the coup de grâce, and at that stage I must confess that I topped up the lunchtime bourbon in rather self-satisfied fashion. The early signs were pretty promising.

3. Richarlison’s Happier Moments (Or What Ought To Have Been Happier Moments) – Part Two

By the time Richarlison’s second goal rolled around, the atmosphere had shifted somewhat, from heady optimism to something considerable sterner, our heroes struggling to demonstrate any semblance of control when in possession in our own half. But out of the blue they chiselled another delightful goal, and while Richarlison again made a point of showing the world that he was a changed man in front of goal, the build-up once more merited acclaim.

Maddison in particular emerged with credit from that second goal. In truth, it was a bit tricky to follow in its entirety quite what sorcery he produced, the naked eye being rather unfairly limited to seeing these things in real-time, but the headlines seemed to be that having received the ball in a bit of a pickle, circumstances not really being at their optimum – ball stuck under his feet, defenders poking their noses into his business – by the time he had finished conducting his affairs the ball was neatly rolling into the path of Richarlison to spit on his hands and get down to business.

Not that the end result was a tap-in for R9. The pouty Brazilian still had a fair amount of legwork to get through before he could go reaping the harvest, but again it was indicative of the mood of the young fish that he didn’t pause to fret and over-think, nor rush into his shot and hit any one of the various blue-shirted bounders scattered between him and the goal.

To his credit, Richarlison had the presence of mind to open up his body a tad, in the split-second or so in which the opportunity presented itself, this allowing a route to the top corner to present itself where previously there had been only Everton limbs. Moreover, the chap then nailed the pretty testing combination of placement and power, managing to sidefoot his shoot such that it dripped with accuracy, whilst also shoving enough heft behind it that it flew in at a decent rate of knots.

It’s taken some time, but the young nib is now marauding about the place like a bona fide finisher, which, for all his earnest endeavour and essential contributions in other areas (holding up the ball, effecting the high press etc) is really the meat and drink of the role.

All that said, it did rather irritate to see him making such a song and dance of not making a song and dance about scoring. This trend for refusing to celebrate goals against one’s former employer is one of those maddening modern fads that AANP would punish with a good thrashing if I ever came to power, but I suppose we’re stuck with it for now, so I can do little more than point out that in trying so hard not to upset his former fan-base, he’s rather irked at least one member of his current fan-base. I trust he will toss and turn and lose a goodish amount of sleep puzzling over that one in the coming nights.

4. Van de Ven

The other notable contributor de jour was young Micky Van de Ven, whose importance to the setup seems to grow with each passing game.

AANP’s latest whizz for whiling away the idle hour is to try to decide who amongst our number is the most important cog in the machine. And while Maddison, Son, Sarr and Vicario all have their merits, and in more left-field moments one might propose Udogie or even, when in his pomp, Bissouma, yesterday was the sort of afternoon on which the merits of Van de Ven seemed almost irresistible.

That turn of pace is really quite astonishing. The memory of his hamstring snap a few months ago against Chelsea does linger uncomfortably in the memory, so every time I witness him rev up and move through the gears I do hold the breath and murmur a silent prayer or two, but to witness him in action is quite something.

I have heard it pointed out that not only does he eat up the ground like some prize racehorse, but he is also blessed with the good sense to know when to dive in and when to stay on his feet – which may sound straightforward enough, but in a world of Romeros and Bissoumas and so on, is probably something to be appreciated.

Having a chap of his ilk manning the rear provides an attacking thrust as well as the defensive security, allowing the entire mob to play high up the pitch, safe in the knowledge that VDV’s pace provides something of a safety net, and while the other personnel did not really fulfil their side of the bargain yesterday, Van de Ven did not miss a trick.

5. Vicario

One could probably make a decent case for the notion that Everton’s aggression caused us problems all over the pitch, but it was at corners and against Vicario that the issue really came to a head.

Various of those in lilywhite have invested a decent amount of energy and outrage in complaining that the general buffeting of Vicario at corners is just not cricket, and that such behaviour ought not to be allowed. Personally I’m inclined to give the shoulders a shrug at that one. If the officials allow it – and the evidence of recent weeks indicates that they have done and will continue to do so for the foreseeable – then complaints ought to be silenced and energies devoted to fixing the issue.

Assigning Vicario some sort of burly minder might be an agreeable first step. One appreciates that all involved at corners have their dedicated roles and responsibilities (not that these necessarily carry too much weight in practice, if Richarlison’s marking of Branthwaite is anything to go by), but I would suggest that some physical protection for Vicario is now a priority.

And we’re not short of suitable candidates either. Even allowing for two or three man-markers, there are plenty amongst our number who are constructed from layer upon layer of thick muscle and ligament, so finding a volunteer to park himself next to our goalkeeper and prevent opponents from interfering in his business ought to be achievable.

The other option, of course, would be to train Vicario himself in a spot of self-defence, and perhaps investigate ways in which a bit of bulk could be added to his frame while at it. Vicario’s first reserve, Fraser Forster, I imagine, by virtue of being built like a sizeable oak, is not the sort of fellow who is too often barged off balance as he goes about his business, so he may have a tip or two to impart on these fronts.

Whatever the route they go down, something will have to be done. Clearly it is not sufficient for Vicario to be shoved to one side and bleat away at the ref after the ball is prodded in. Everton did not create too many chances from open play, but the mood amongst my little squadron of onlookers was one of ever-increasing panic each time they were awarded a corner, so it is conceivable that a certain anxiety may enter the minds of those on the pitch. Having achieved so much in open play, it would be vexing in the extreme to concede repeatedly from corners because of one single issue. Time for The Brains Trust to earn their keep.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-2 Brentford: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Udogie

Not unusually for our lot this was a performance high on action and low on plot, the chaotic whole perhaps best represented by the various triumphs and misadventures of Destiny Udogie.

Taking things on a scale of Ripping to Ghastly, Udogie’s attacking inputs were productive and bountiful. There was more to it than just his goals: in the opening fifteen minutes or so, when we looked a good bet for the usual early salvo, Udogie was one of those at the forefront of the intricate pass-and-move stuff being furiously marketed.

Naturally, however, his role in our goals attracts the eye, and for both our first and third he was front and centre, albeit slightly off to the left.

Having laboured for so much of the first half against a deep-set and heavily fortified Brentford defence, I’m not quite sure how it came to pass in the first ten minutes of the second half that we kept catching them out of position, undermanned and generally disorganised and tripping over one another, but there we were. Gift-horses and all that.

And given this situation Udogie set about them with the relish of one who had elbowed his way to the front of the queue and could barely wait to be let loose. Udogie on the charge really is one of the finer sights in nature, a terrific combination of pace, technique, awareness, muscle and other wholesome stuff. When the call goes out for volunteers to stop the man in his tracks I can assure you that AANP would keep his head down and surreptitiously shuffle off into the background, and the Brentford mob similarly seemed not really to relish the fight.

For both our first and third goals, the marvellous specimen collected the ball around halfway and motored off towards the penalty area. For the first, having got this far and popped the thing off to Werner, he did not ease off with the air of one content with his night’s work and ready for a spot of refreshment, but treated the job as very much half-done and carried on sprinting. No doubt he benefited from a spot of bright and breezy fortune at that point – Brentford legs converging and the ball rebounding pretty kindly for him – but when one exhibits so many of the critical traits of an unstoppable force of nature, I tend to think that one earns a spot of luck.

And then, being one of those eggs who lives by the principle that if a thing works once it might as well be milked for a few more helpings of the good stuff, seven minutes later he set off on the charge again, sticking to the same geographical route – halfway line, left off centre – and opting to release the ball at pretty much the same moment.

At this point he did deviate from the blueprint, but it proved a strong choice, opting not to pass left to Werner but instead threading a pretty precise little number into Maddison in the penalty area, where further riches were to follow.

So three cheers for Udogie when gripped by the urge to make merry in the Brentford half; but by golly he did leave a trail of catastrophe behind him. In the first place the Brentford opener had at its genesis his misdirected pass on halfway. Under no pressure and with pretty much the entire cast list to aim at, it was careless in the extreme, what the racket-wielding folk refer to as an unforced error.

There is a sense in which that mistake for the first was considerably worse than that for the second, as the first was the sort you’d file under ‘Poor Play’, while the second seemed more along the lines of ‘Failing to Spot A Camouflaged Opponent’, which let’s face it, is one of the more unique categories around and not the sort of eventuality for which one trains.

Anyway, fail to spot him he did, and what ought to have been a bit of a cakewalk turned into the classic Nervous Final 20 At The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. All’s well that ends well of course, and young Signor Udogie remains a particular favourite around these parts, but the urge to load up, take careful aim and fire into our own feet remains bizarrely strong around the on-field practitioners of N17.

2. The Defence in General

Udogie may have stolen the limelight when it came to knuckle-headed decisions, but watching Brentford repeatedly stroll unaccompanied through our half of the pitch and right up into our penalty area, in the first half, did reiterate that nagging sensation at AANP Towers that something might not be quite right with our defence.

As individuals, each of VDV, Romero, Porro and Udogie are top-notch, bursting at the seams with all manner of qualities. However, shove them together and instruct them to Angeball for an hour and a half, and they pretty swiftly degenerate into a quartet of drunks unclear what sport they are playing.

I suppose part of the challenge is Our Glorious Leader’s instructions, which seem to be along the lines that when one of the quartet is in possession, at least two of the others ought to leave their designated posts and go find some space elsewhere. To call this laden with risk is to understate the thing. It only takes one casually misplaced pass, a la Udogie last night and the opposition is away, with half a pitch to gallop into unopposed.

Brentford had clearly not just received the memo but had put in a fair amount of time studying it and turning it into a complete thesis, and as a result pressed our back-four at every opportunity. In turn, our back-four, diligently sticking to the values of Angeball, kept dicing with death – trying to pirouette around the opponent and so forth – achieving a success rate of approximately 50%.

As well as this business of losing possession on halfway and sprinting back to try saving the day in the nick of time, I also noted the pretty dubious behaviour of Cristian Romero in Brentford’s first goal. Having done the hard work of keeping pace with – and indeed gaining some ground on – Toney, rather than finish the job by steaming across and executing some form of meaty block, Romero opted to hold his line and give Toney a free hit at goal, which seemed unnecessarily generous.

In Romero’s defence, I understood the rationale – he presumably wanting to prevent a square pass to the onrushing Maupay, and banking on VDV’s pace take care of Toney. Nevertheless, it did strike me that he slathered on the business of backing off a bit too heavily. The key to the manoeuvre ought to have been subtlety, in edging towards Toney whilst keeping a watchful eye on Maupay, thereby keeping Toney in two minds. Instead, he might as well have hired one of those planes to fly over the stadium with a banner proclaiming that he was going to back right off Toney and block the pass, so if Toney wanted to get his shot off then the floor was his. I did not approve.

And my mood darkened further after Vicario saved the shot, as Romero simply slackened the shoulders and downed tools, evidently of the opinion that he had played his part in the scene, and the leftovers could be taken care of by those around him. It was quite the dereliction of duty, and an odd one coming from a chappie who does not seem himself unless flying full-blooded into some challenge or other, but off he clocked and Maupay seized the moment.

The curious lapses from Romero and Udogie can, I suppose, be excused as human error; but this business of being caught on halfway and then duking it out in a sprint to goal is rather more structural. It appears that we are stuck with it, however, as just one of those consequences of Angeball, the only remedy for which is simply to keep scoring more than the other lot, which should be a wheeze.

3. Werner

Fair to say it’s been a slightly underwhelming start to life in lilywhite for Herr Werner. He seems enthusiastic enough, and is obviously blessed with the ability to motor from A to B at a fair old lick, but once he’s got himself into a dangerous position he seems not quite to know what do next (or, in the case of shooting, how to do it). The general impression is of one whose northernmost tip simply cannot keep up with his southernmost base, those whirring little legs outpacing his brain each time.  

The vexing trend continued in the first half yesterday. Presumably under instruction, both he and Kulusevski tucked inside, to relatively narrow positions, which seemed right up Brentford’s street, and in general he seemed to pick wrong options.

However, life improved considerably in the second half. In the build-up to our first goal he pulled his usual trick of racing off into the distance in a puff of smoke, but where previously he has stuttered, and paused, and had a bit of a think, and then a bit of an overthink, this time he was a bit more committed in his conclusion, cutting back, sidestepping a couple of defenders and feeding young Udogie.

This seemed to do the chap a world of good. When released again a minute or so later he took it as his cue to deliver his finest moment yet in our colours, racing off again as is his preference, but then eschewing the usual option of slowing things down to pick through his options, and instead firing the ball across goal with a note pinned to it on which was scrawled the invitation ‘Tap me into the empty net, bitte’. Young Master Johnson duly licked his lips in the centre.

That particular sequence earned Werner a spontaneous ovation from AANP Towers. The obsession with inverted wingers, forever cutting inside to deliver their produce, has its value no doubt, but given that Werner’s pace will generally position him a yard ahead of his man, it does madden me somewhat that he repeatedly sacrifices that yard in order to cut back onto his right foot. There was no such rot last night for the second goal – once Werner was away, he evidenced a show of faith in his lesser-spotted left foot and it worked out splendidly for all concerned.

As with Kulusevski when stationed on the right, I yearn for him to display a bit more confidence in his weaker foot – and I do scratch the head and wonder how an elite-level player can get by in life with such reluctance to use it – but last night’s rich harvest ought to give him a spot of the old oil on this front.

And as a valedictory note, marvellous to observe that the resurgence of Richarlison continues apace, his goal arguably the least emphatic contribution of a night that included a decent repertoire of hold-up and link-up play.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Man City: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Vicario and The Goal

The fires of righteous indignation were blazing away like nobody’s business amongst vast swathes of lilywhites after that City goal, with “Foul play!” the principal anthem howled. One understands the sentiment, given that the City chappie was dancing a pretty intimate number with Vicario, but the sentiment at AANP Towers was to give the shoulders a shrug. Seen them given of course, but tend to roll the eyes skywards when they are.

‘Football-playing folk will inevitably bump limbs’ was the official line around these parts, and as the chap’s arms and elbows maintained a relatively conservative existence during the episode, rather than being flailed abaft the head in overly reckless fashion, I was pretty sanguine about the challenge. Spitting feathers and blood boiling at the concession of a late winner of course, ranting and blaspheming into the night sky at that, but not particularly outraged about the decision of the judiciary.  

Rather than launch into a passionate diatribe about the indignity of having his path hindered, I would have much preferred Vicario to have taken the more rudimentary approach in the first place of Cleaning Out Everyone In Front Of Him and Punching The Ball To Kingdom Come. Less scope for perceived injustices that way.

To his credit Vicario did actually get a fist to the thing, despite that City rascal whispering sweet nothings in his ear. His contact was hardly of the Kingdom Come variety, but he might nevertheless feel that he had put in place the basics and could reasonably look to a nearby associate to firm the thing up. It was rather a shame, then, that this part of the procedure having been ticked off, the ball bounced off the back of young Van de Ven, who seemed rather astonished to find himself in the vicinity, and neatly into the airspace of that Ake fellow.

Thereafter there was not much to be done, but with the dust having settled I hope that young Vicario, in his quieter moments, decides to focus his thousand hours of practice on that aforementioned art of C.O.E.I.F.O.H.A.P.T.B.T.K.C. Because in most other areas the chap seems well in control of matters – playing the ball from feet when under pressure, shot-stopping, and so forth. Indeed, these very qualities were proudly advertised on Friday night – City’s press being of the intense variety, and their shots low and punchy. As such, one would not want opponents to sniff a weakness at set-pieces and accordingly crowd and jostle our gate-keeper to within an inch of his life each time. Remedy that chink in the armour, young man.

2. Van de Ven (and Udogie)

Alongside Vicario, young Van de Ven struck me as one of the more impressive of our number. A blessed relief to have him back, for his composure and comfort in possession in the first place, but also, as he rather pointedly emphasised on several occasions, for his red-face-sparing pace, that allows him to save the day time and again, with the well-judged skin-of-the-teeth timing that is the hallmark of so many of life’s finest action heroes.

We muddled through with varying degrees of success without him, but having him back at times feels like having a twelfth player in the ranks. (As it happens, I feel similarly when casting the beady eye upon former N17 parishoner Kyler Walker.) That is to say, the day-job entails performing all the duties of any self-respecting centre-back, but, blessed with jet-heeled pace, young VDV is also able to masquerade as something of a sweeper, racing in from wherever he may be when emergency arises, to act as last line of defence and give it that Kingdom Come treatment. This flexibility was displayed against both Foden in the first half and De Bruyne in the second, to name but two instances, and is a mightily useful bonus string to the bow.

And while on the subject of those who performed adequately enough I might as well direct an admiring whistle towards young Signor Udogie, whose offensive and defensive mechanics both appeared to be in fine working order. Admittedly City had a bit too much joy down their left/our right in the first half, but when Udogie was put to the test in one-on-one combat he tended to deploy either or both of his speed and upper-body strength, as appropriate and to good effect. All a bit futile in the final analysis, but one ought to record such things.

3. Absent Friends

Whichever bean it was who came up with the gag that absence makes the heart grow fonder was clearly quite the football aficionado. It’s a maxim that has heightened the standing of many a Spurs player, from Gil and Winks to Sammways and Nayim, and while some of the aforementioned may have underwhelmed a tad when eventually given their opportunity, on Friday night it was with some legitimacy that I bemoaned the ongoing absences of Sarr, Son and Maddison (and, to an extent, Bissouma).

That midfield in particular needed a bit of guile and mischief. Bentancur, as ever, was doing a fine job of availing himself for passes from the centre-backs, and, despite the rather impatient intrusions from City’s forwards, upon receipt calmly spraying the ball to safe zones; but further forward for approximately an hour we did rather scream out for Maddison.

As has been remarked fairly widely, on a few occasions, various of our heroes overlooked the opportunity to release Herr Werner into wide open spaces, and I suppose one never really knows quite how things would have played out in an alternate universe, but one does moodily mutter that Maddison might have picked him out a bit more cannily than those honoured with selection from the start.

Sarr similarly would have been an asset, with Hojbjerg demonstrating once again that being an adequate sub to see out the final fifteen against a side from the bottom half does not really equate to being the measure of the best team on the planet; and seeing our lot labour to create or finish a decent chance worthy of the name I did also lament the ongoing absence of Sonny.

I suppose it’s more important that we stay in touch with the popular kids in the Title race (or Top Four/Five race if you prefer), than that we turn over Man City of all teams in the Cup. Despite the fact that lamentations towards the absence of a trophy ring louder at AANP Towers than in most places, I’d still take a loss against City at home in an early round of the Cup if we can instead turn them over in a few weeks’ time in the League. And as Our Glorious Leader loosely put it, there’s no huge shame in losing to that lot when they’re a good few years ahead of us in their development (and bank balance – witness them flinging on De Bruyne and Doku, and not even bothering to fling on Grealish, while we had the luxury of Dane Scarlett as our In Case of Emergency call).

So the frustration at the continued absences of key players ought not to be over-egged much further, but as one by one they slip back into the fold, by golly I hope, and to an extent envisage, that we can recreate that early season run of wins.

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Spurs match reports

Man Utd 2-2 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Defence

Of course the return of Romero and VDV meant that the beady eye was on the Back Four from the off, eagerly watching the pair of them to check that all parts were in working order and good as new. However, events of the first half in particular rather shifted the gaze away from the central two, specifically about ten yards to their right, where time and again – and not for the first time this season – Pedro Porro achieved the remarkable feat of somehow appearing outnumbered in one-on-one situations.

This business of our back four defending narrowly, and allowing the opposition left wingers as much space as they fancy, keeps AANP up into the wee small hours with a mightily concerned frown. One understands that Ange-ball generally requires Porro to be loitering well in advance of the centre-backs when we’re in possession – meaning that when we lose the thing and our counter-attacked, he is generally a few yards out of position. One understands that opponents have cottoned on, and will generally look to shove a forward into this vacant space with the instruction ‘Make hay’ scrawled across their notepad.

So I suppose we’ll just have to bite the bullet to an extent, and accept that unless we surreptitiously stick a twelfth player out in the right-back area, we’ll be a tad vulnerable over there. But still. Once Porro is being sized up by an opposing attacker, I’d have thought it would make some sense to shove a reinforcement or two towards him. To the credit of whomever it concerns, this was duly done in the second half, Romero evidently regarding as a matter of urgency the need to toddle over and a bit of background muscle to Porro’s exchanges with Rashford or whomever.

But by then the damage had been done. Twice, in fact. Any opposing attacker with a trick or two in his box seems to stand a 50-50 chance of besting Porro and doing a spot of damage, and the Rashford eyes lit up in that first half. An isolated Porro, while not exactly a lamb to the slaughter, was certainly a lamb giving a nervous gulp or two.

Mightily annoying it was too, because but for those counter-attacks honed in on their left/our right, I didn’t think United had much about them. And for avoidance of misunderstanding, Porro’s delivery at times has the innocent onlooker absolutely purring, so this is by no means a call for punitive action against the solid young bean.

Back to VDV and Romero, and their mere presence did much to soothe what has been a pretty jittery AANP over the last couple of months. Romero missed few opportunities to put an end to a fledgling United attack with a well-timed and hefty size nine; VDV showed few signs of having forgotten how to ease from Trot to Sprint in the blink of an eye – it was good to have the pair back.

That said, neither were necessarily faultless. If one were to quibble they might ask whether Romero could have done more to prevent the first goal; and he also, as one would expect, took his opportunity to crunch the life out of a United sort near halfway. As for VDV, at one point in the first half he seemed consumed by the desire to dribble past a United forward right outside our own area, disappearing into quite the hole and requiring a spot of dustpan-and-brushing from a passing Bentancur.

But by and large the pair were watchful in defence and at times outstanding in possession – not least in the fabulous pass straight through the middle from Romero to Skipp, that set in motion our second. Nice to see live evidence too that the lad Dragusin is not one whose drink you would want to spill. All muscle and brawn, that lad.

2. The Midfield

It rather slipped under the AANP radar quite how light we were in midfield, but when the cast-list was announced the colour did rather drain from the face on seeing the names ‘Hojbjerg’ and ‘Skipp’ etched in alongside ‘Bentancur’.

The sagging of spirits was briefly paused in the opening exchanges, however, to be replaced by a pretty surprised raise of the eyebrow, as I tried to digest the sight of young Skipp seemingly being the furthest forward of the trio. Someone had to do it I suppose, and Skipp is nothing if not willing.

His was a fairly standard Skipp performance, which I thought was neatly encapsulated by his role in our second goal – oozing with the energy to receive Romero’s pass and set off over halfway, before almost gumming up the operation by sending his own pass the wrong side of Werner.

Now in Skipp’s defence he did ping one of the most scrumptious passes of the season towards the end of the first half, absolutely lashing a first-time volley from right of centre out towards the left wing, for an approving chum to race onto without breaking stride. AANP raised a glass to that one. But such a moment of quality was better filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Norm’.

Bentancur, of course, purred his way through the entirety, as one would expect. At one point I heard the fellow on the telly-box describe him as “Knitting things together”, which I thought put it rather well.

And he took his goal mightily impressively too. Fool that I am, I had already flung the hands heavenward in agony at what I thought was a missed opportunity when he opted to take a second forward touch in the United six yard box rather than shooting there and then. I should have known better. Bentancur was in supreme control, and emphasised the fact by using his third touch to pointedly lash the thing into the roof of the net.

The third of the midfield triumvirate was Hojbjerg, who tends usually to hover between ‘Good’ and ‘Needs Improvement’ on the scale of these things. I thought he started pretty well, and AANP accordingly settled down for one of his better days. Aided, as anyone would be, by the presence of Bentancur alongside him, he seemed to use the ball sensibly enough; but towards the latter stages I though he slightly forgot the point of the exercise and began littering the place with misplaced passes and whatnot.

Aside from the individual offerings, there was a rather gaping hole when it came to a spot of creative spark from midfield, but I suppose if you take a perfectly strong squad and rip from it the three prime suspects in the field of Making Things Happen From The Centre, then one has to expect a decent helping of sideways passing and head-scratching.

3. Werner

In general one got the impression that our heroes were the better team, as evidenced by some lovely fluid passing from the rear-guard mob to the attacking mob, but there persisted throughout the nagging feeling that in matters of final third quality, the well was a little dry.

Young Johnson has spent the last few months doing all the hard work before making a solid mess of the final output, and lest anyone had needed reminding of this tendency he took every opportunity to demonstrate it again today. Now it should not be forgotten that he has chipped in with various critical passes creating goals in recent weeks, as well as taking a few licks of paint from the woodwork, but it’s reasonable to assert that the heart fills with hope rather than expectation when he revs up and hurtles down the right.

Senor Gil similarly is not the sort of huevo from whom one expects too much in the way of end-product. Not for want of trying, of course, but the more one watches Gil and Johnson’s attempted crosses miss their mark, the more one checks the Asian Cup fixture list.

Into this curious mix emerged Werner. And actually, he did just about everything one had anticipated of him, in both the credit and debit columns. From the off he showed himself to be the sort who will quite happily race to close down an opponent if it means that the reward manifests a stage or two later, in a turnover of possession further down the line.

Occasionally, we got a glimpse of the pace that apparently elevates him to cover 100 metres in 11 seconds, a stat that made me goggle a fair amount. And of course, his shots zoomed around in every direction but the net, which was entirely as advertised.

But he ran the good race, neatly setting up Bentancur for his goal and in general giving the impression that he knows the drill. As appropriate he ran at his man, or went on the outside, or cut inside, or just let wiser counsels prevail and allocated to a nearby chum. All perfectly acceptable stuff, and as his fitness goes up the requisite number of notches, and the mysteries of Ange-ball are further unravelled to him, one would anticipate that his usefulness will similarly shoot up the scale.

Historically, a point at Old Trafford would be a prompt for some meaningful handshakes all round, but make no mistake, this one leaves AANP grumping like the dickens for the rest of the evening. Our lot were marginally better in the first half and comfortably so in the second, which by maths means we should have won the thing by approximately 1.5 goals. Two points have slipped away, and I won’t hear any arguments to the contrary.

That said, with players missing, players returning and players debuting, on top of which we twice fell behind (away from home), the troops ought to be commended rather than censured for this one. Deep inside the corridors of power I can imagine that the sentiment of choice is, “Muddle through and stay in touch with the top spots until everyone returns.” This is no catastrophe, just a slight shame.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 Bournemouth: Four Tottenham Talking Points

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.

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Spurs match reports

Brighton 4-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Attacking

It has been bleated at AANP a goodish amount – and I suppose with some justification – that I have a tendency to treat our heroes as a mother tiger would a favoured cub. That is, I can apparently land on the side of being a tad more generous towards them than their behaviour necessarily merits. Glossing over their mistakes, goes the claim, and rather over-egging things when it comes to dishing out the complimentary word.

And those who watched our lot magic a 4-0 deficit out of thin air last night might well waggle an exasperated finger at me and claim I’m letting them off too lightly yet again when I suggest that in possession at least, we generally crossed t’s and dotted i’s in required fashion, at least until we hit the Brighton penalty area.

But 4-0 or not, I remained pretty impressed with the speed and simplicity with which our lot peddled their usual routine of shifting the ball from south to north, lickety-split. Not quite ten out of ten for build-up, admittedly, but a general thumbs-up nevertheless.

The problem – in the first half in particular – was that once the build-up was taken care of and it came to spitting on their hands and seeing the thing through to completion, all concerned became rather bogged down in detail. The concept of just walloping the thing towards goal once within 20 yards or so was evidently a foreign one. An obsession seemed to have gripped all members of the troupe for passing the thing to death, and then squeezing out an additional pass or two for luck.

A fair amount of hot air was expelled at AANP Towers in yowling at Son and Richarlison in particular – but by no means exclusively – to yank on the dashed trigger at the earliest opportunity, rather than keep trying to thread their way to within spitting distance of the net.

I’m all for the style of play in general, which is off the scale in comparison to the dross of Conte, Nuno and Jose, but as Our Glorious Leader himself gruffled a few weeks ago, it’s not such great football if it fizzles out in a forest of opposition legs before topping up the Goals Scored column because we’ve overdone the build-up.

There was an improvement of sorts in the second half, notably in the umpteen efforts to play in Richarlison for a pop at goal. I suppose one has to wag a disapproving finger at the chap for straying a few inches offside each time, but I was at least heartened by his principle of having an immediate swing at goal rather than pirouetting away and searching for yet another needless pass.

And I was also encouraged by young Veliz, who made the most of a rare twenty-minute opportunity to show the watching world that he’s not one for procrastination when it comes to penalty area scraps. Sling him the ball in any sort of contortion of limbs, and his mantra seemed to be that he would untangle his feet, use the absolute minimum number of touches to work an opportunity and dig out a shot – typically all in a single, efficient movement. It brought him one goal, one shot saved at close-range and a delicious lay-off that nobody else in pinkish brown seemed to care about, but I was also for the young bimbo’s approach to life.

2. Defending

Oh that life in N17 comprised simply one attack after another. Irritatingly, these easy-on-the-eye moments are rather rudely punctured by the other mob scything through us pretty much at will whenever they have possession.

The ease with which opponents get at us is rather difficult to ignore. Even in the Van de Ven-Romero era, one was nagged by the sentiment that while that pair would do a fine job of extinguishing fires before they blazed out of control, they were still being called into action with alarming frequency. The issue is all the more concerning in their absence.

Not really being the most tactically-minded I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes to uncovering the root cause of this unholy mess, but it I have been struck a few times by the fact that anyone wanting to get at us from the wings can simply waltz straight through with minimal interference from security personnel. I’m not sure if this is a result of Messrs Porro and Udogie galloping forward at every opportunity and therefore being ill-prepared for defensive duties, or whether the full-backs are deliberately instructed to tuck in fairly narrowly, giving opponents the freedom of the flanks. Be it one of those or some other genesis, the conclusion each time seems to be that if anyone on around the halfway line fancies a mooch around our penalty area a visit can be arranged tout de suite.

One might dig up extenuating circumstances for the various goals last night. The Kulusevski foul for the first penalty was as knuckle-headed as they come and not the sort of input for which one can really prepare; and the long-range goal from the corner, although strictly the sort of effort that decency should ensure is closed down before any harm can arise, was nevertheless something of a freak effort.

But the Lo Celso foul for the second penalty came about because he had let his man drift the wrong side of him in the penalty area; while the opening goal sprouted from the Joao Pedro being granted the freedom to jig his way past no fewer than five of our lot, none of whom seemed inclined to sharpen the elbows and take a spot of initiative.

On top of which, Vicario was called upon for a point-blank save from Welbeck, and Brighton hit the post on two other occasions. I continue to offer a mitigating shrug to Emerson and Davies, both of whom are evidently trying their damnedest in foreign climes at centre-back – but neither are fit for purpose in the role.

Put another way, our back-four seems to be populated in its entirety by a squadron of chappies who are all pretty competent on the ball, but, rather crucially, none of whom seem actually to be much good at defending. While I continue to be thoroughly entertained each week by the 90-minute mystery of whether we can simply outscore the other lot, the porous nature of our back-line does hinder the objective somewhat.

I suppose the other point that’s worth a spot of air-time is that the entire collective is now clearly quite frazzled. Ange-ball, though an absolute delight to behold, does seem to require each individual concerned to do the work of several men on a bi-weekly basis, one minute donning their attacking hat and hurtling into the penalty area, the next minute – or sometimes the very same minute – replacing that attacking hat with its defensive equivalent, and tearing back towards the criminally undermanned rear. Little wonder that the pose de jour appears to be being bent double, hands on knees, great gulps of O2 being glugged at every opportunity. Those January reinforcements cannot come fast enough.

3. Hojbjerg

Regular drinkers at this particular inn will no doubt see the headline ‘Hojbjerg’ and brace themselves for a spot of unrestrained AANP vitriol, the chap’s tendency to pass backwards with religious fervour, pausing only to wave his arms pointlessly at those around him, having rather made the forehead veins throb over recent years.

But in a pretty spectacular plot-twist, I come to praise Hojbjerb, not to bury him. I thought he made a pretty good fist of things last night. Limitations apply, of course. Any praise for Hojbjerg must be asterisked with the acknowledgement that he has nothing about him of the Mousa Dembele or Luka Modric, and as such ought not to be judged by such lofty standards. Instead, Hojbjerg picked up where young Oliver Skipp had left off at the weekend, and where Skipp insisted on biffing the ball straight back to whomever had given it to him with relentless monotony, Hojbjerg had at least enough sense of adventure to collect the ball on the half-turn, and look to pop it to someone in a more advanced spot.

He also threw in a couple of forward runs and picked a couple of forward passes into the path of the wingers, and in general gave the impression of a man not wedded to passing backwards upon pain of death, but instead approaching life with the more care-free attitude that dictates that if an opportunity for forward-thinking creativity opens he’ll shove in his chips. I approved.

And amidst these occasional dipping of toes into attacking waters, Hojbjerg also appeared to understand with perfect clarity that his primary purpose was to supplement the rearguard. Thus it transpired that when Brighton ambled into our territory, Hojbjerg was typically present, inserting himself either between or ahead of Emerson and Davies, and trying to stick a few fingers in dikes as the situation required.

The moral of the story remains that the squad is in pretty desperate need of upgrades, but nevertheless, an honourable shift from Hojbjerg, better fare than he has been in the habit of trotting out, and very nearly crowned with a late goal that would have set up the most mind-boggling finish.

4. The Late Flurry

And what a dashed shame that that mind-boggling finish did not materialise, Hojbjerg’s injury-time tuppence worth coming back off the post rather than bouncing in, but I suppose hitting the frame of the goal isn’t really the point of the exercise. Christmas, as Hans Gruber neatly put it, is a time for miracles, but even by the most extreme, all-action-no-plot standards of our lot at their most madcap, a comeback from 4-0 down at the 80-minute mark would have been a bit much to swallow. Instead we had to settle for the curious coda that was our exhausted mob finding from nowhere a second wind that brought two late goals and several other presentable chances.

The sudden sense of urgency was an odd one to drink in. There remained a bit of a tendency to elaborate unnecessarily in and around the Brighton 6-yard box, when all in lilywhite were screeching at our heroes just to take a shot, old habits dying hard I suppose. But by and large, dithering was kept to a minimum and we gave the Brighton goal a bit of a peppering.

The caveat here is that Brighton, as one would at 4-0 up, had signed the thing off as a done deal, withdrawing personnel and fiddling with their formation. Nevertheless, it was heartening to see our lot pick them apart through various different approaches in that finale.

Oddly enough, the late flurry seemed to owe more to the collective than to any particular individuals. For all his honest beavering and body-feints, I’m not sure that Bryan Gil delivered one useful cross. Lo Celso conceded one penalty, came pretty close to conceding another and provided little more useful value during his cameo. But by virtue of popping around some slick one-twos, and whipping in a couple of handy crosses, the chances flowed fairly steadily in the closing stages.

As mentioned, young Veliz made the most of a pretty nondescript hand, and Sonny also perked up a bit in those closing stages. And, perhaps because they were unencumbered by the rigours of defending, Messrs Udogie and Porro made themselves useful in the attacking third. It all amounted to a strange old game, in which our lot weren’t particularly impressive, defended dreadfully at times, generally got bogged down whenever within shooting distance and yet still would have been good value for three or four goals. Give it a year or so and our lot will be quite the proposition, but for now it’s head-scratching stuff.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson at Left-Back

Destiny Udogie’s chequered history having caught up with him, we found ourselves in the awkward position of requiring Emerson Royal to fill in at left-back-cum-midfield yesterday. On this matter three outstanding points immediately arrested the attention and refused to let go, viz:

  1. Emerson is right-footed
  2. Emerson has not dabbled much in the inverted-full-back role
  3. Emerson is as mad as a bag of cats

No shortage of reasons, then, to give the lower lip a nervous chew, and it is with a cheek burnished with shame that I report to having had the knives sharpened well ahead of time, in anticipation of the worst.

As it happened, what actually transpired was a performance so steady and reliable that, come the closing credits I toyed long and hard with the notion of feting Emerson with the prestigious Nod of the Head awarded for being the game’s outstanding contributor. Admittedly this was largely earned by default, our heroes having clocked a round of individual performances so middling that Emerson’s rose to the top by virtue of being amongst the least flawed, but nevertheless – some credit to the lad for overcoming each of the 3 challenges highlighted above.

Without necessarily contributing anything eye-catching and game-changing, I thought that Emerson got right just about everything at which he tried his hand yesterday. Positionally, he seemed up-to-speed from the off, knowing where to go and whose shoulder to lurk behind, when to give the arms a frantic wave and when to keep a low profile. He availed himself to Davies, Skipp et al when we were in possession, and kept a diligent eye on affairs in his jurisdiction when we were defending.

That said, he dithered away like nobody’s business and needed a sizeable dollop of luck with the disallowed Everton goal. Too complacent for my liking, and who knows how things might have panned out had that one been allowed to stand, what?

Equally, however, at one point in the first half he almost had a moment of glory, finding space for Sonny to set him loose up the left flank and curling a most inviting pass – with that rarely-spotted left appendage, no less – into the path of an incoming Brennan Johnson that, but for a rather wild finish, would have put us three up and afforded all concerned a much gentler snooze of an afternoon.

That was about as glamorous as it got for him but, given the anxiety with which I had anticipated Emerson taking the inverted left-back reins ever since Udogie’s yellow card last week, the young nib’s largely error-free shift was received with quiet but fervent prayers of gratitude.

 2. Skipp

The prospect of 90-plus minutes’ worth of out-of-position Emersoning was not the only element causing a few worry-lines to form on the AANP map pre-kick-off yesterday. Skipp for Bissouma is nobody’s idea of a fair trade, even allowing for the latter’s dreary dip in form, but there we were yesterday – and there we will remain for the foreseeable, given that Bissouma is currently being detained at His Majesty’s pleasure before flying off for that blasted AFCON next month.

Skipp at least came armed with a spot of positional experience, having occupied defensive midfield spots pretty much ever since he first learned to walk, but his presence there from the off still gripped me with an unspeakable fear. Stick Skipp in a Sean Dyche team and one would emerge pretty satisfied; ask the honest fellow to spend his afternoon Ange-balling and it’s a little difficult to know quite how events will unfold.

Understandably enough, once the whistle sounded Skipp just rolled up his sleeves and gave the impression of not giving too many damns about Ange-ball, Sean Dyche or anyone else. He just rattled through the catalogue in order to locate the most Oliver Skipp performance he could find, and delivered that with all the trimmings.

It was perfectly sufficient. Whenever our centre-backs were in possession he immediately scampered to within five yards of them, yelping to be allowed to play. They rolled the ball to him, he immediately rolled it back whence it had come and the sequence was able to begin again.

Those of us who have watched with quiet satisfaction as Bissouma, or indeed Bentancur or whomever, have received the ball from the centre-backs on the half-turn, and with one quick shoulder-dip been away from their marker and on the front-foot, had to moderate our expectations pretty quickly. This was Oliver Skipp’s world, and fancy shoulder-dips or changes of direction were pretty strictly outlawed. Skipp would dab the ball straight back to whomever passed it to him, and no more.

He served his purpose well enough. With Porro, Emerson, Romero and Davies on hand to do more of the heavy-lifting, in terms of picking the more incisive passes from deep, it was basically enough for Skipp simply to occupy appropriate areas and create space for others. He also beavered away earnestly enough when we were out of possession, holding a protective central position and occasionally taking it upon himself to snap at a pair of Everton ankles if the mood took him. There were occasional mistakes and fouls, but on the whole he did what was required.

As a temporary solution, filling in every now and then when an A-lister is unexpectedly withdrawn, I’ll shrug the shoulders and mutter that he’ll do I suppose, and prepare to scrawl a 6 out of 10 against his name. I can’t really say that the prospect of him scuttling about the starting XI for another month fills me to the gills with joy, but unless the January window brings a Connor Gallagher or some such, we may well be stuck with him.

3. Sonny

I mentioned that it was an odd sort of showing all round, with various cast members appearing a little off-colour, and few summed up this peculiar state of affairs better than our on-field lieutenant.

Sonny did of course pop away the crucial goal, and as such excuses a multitude of other sins across the other 95 or so minutes. That his goal was an odd, scruffy sort of job is neither here nor there – basking in the satisfaction of fourth spot the morning after, few amongst us will grumble that the second goal lacked a bit in the aesthetic stakes. ‘Shove the damn thing into the net’ has been a fairly critical instruction in the last couple of months, and not one that our heroes have necessarily adopted too gaily, so if Sonny wants to bobble the thing through a crowd in order to score his goals that’s fine by AANP. Bobble away through as many crowds as you like, is pretty much the approving response over here.

But his headline contribution having been thus secured, I thought that Son spent the rest of his afternoon mangling his lines in all manner of ways. Just a temporary blip of course, and his absence will be lamented with some pretty meaningful wailing and gnashing of teeth when he flies off for that blasted Asian Cup next month. But still. This was not his finest hour and a half.

If he were on the run with the ball, he found a bizarre series of ways to extinguish the threat himself, be it losing control of his own feet, treading on the ball or slightly forgetting who and where he was, and scuttling off on his own towards the edge of the playing surface while an Everton man collected the ball and trotted off with it in the opposite direction.

There was also a series of opportunities to feed a nearby chum who would have been in on goal, which Sonny curiously kept miscalculating, poking the ball out of play or straight to a defender or some other such oddly-judged ideas that didn’t quite hit the spot.

Anyway, there was no want of effort on his part, and the honest fellow is allowed an off-day – particularly as he got the most important part right, in front of goal – and moreover, even if his end-product was generally all over the place, he clearly kept the Everton mob on their toes throughout just by virtue of being Son and all the energy that entails.

4. A Mixed Bag

When the employer invites AANP to tick the boxes in one of those psychometric tests, invariably the findings are that I am one of those souls who likes things neatly squared off. Spades are called spades. Everyone knows where they stand. And it is in such a spirit that I generally like to assess the outputs of our heroes in lilywhite. A thumbs-up for a job well done; a thumbs-down when they’ve stunk the place out; and not too much time wasted sugar-coating things in the middle.

All of which leaves me in a bit of a spot about yesterday’s goings-on. It was a strange old showing from our lot, when one steps back and thinks about it. On the bright side, I could count probably a good half a dozen instances of Ange-ball at its finest. “Ping, ping, ping,” would be a pretty accurate way to describe those moments, when the stars aligned, everyone gave everyone else a knowing nod and in the blink of an eye the ball was being whizzed from our area to theirs.

The first goal was an example of the above, even if strictly speaking the whizzing took the ball from the middle third to their area. There was the usual flurry of one-touchery, a lovely spot of body-feinting thrown in by young Sarr (the one bean I thought might beat Emerson to the Nod of the Head when all votes were counted) and a finish that oozed confidence from Richarlison.

Even the second goal, for all the rougher edges about its coup de grâce, had a pleasing look about its build-up. But in general, our heroes seemed to be off the boil as often as they were on it.

Passes were misplaced as if there were an internal competition to which everyone had pretty feverishly dedicated themselves; and a lot of the time those in lilywhite simply lost possession. It was pretty rummy to behold, but on several occasions some well-meaning sort in lilywhite would have possession, without too much imminent danger presenting itself other than an Everton bounder surreptitiously edging into view – and before you knew it possession had swapped hands. The Everton bounder now had possession, our hero was forlornly nibbling at his ankles and the entire cast had to reconfigure and don their defensive hats again.

These days one does not see to much of the straightforward, honest tackle – interceptions and blocks being all the rage – but yesterday it seemed that every couple of minutes we were losing possession because an Everton sort had simply wandered over, and without having to put in too much thought or effort, positioned himself between ball and lilywhite and made off with the dashed thing.

We brought no end of problems upon ourselves towards the end of the first half, the whole business of playing out from the back being executed with pretty scant regard for the delicacies that such an operation requires, with the result that Everton time and again were presented with the ball some twenty yards from goal and invited to amuse themselves as they saw fit.

And towards the end of things, that blasted Danjuma was made to like a bit too much like Pele for my liking. A handy chap in the final third we can all agree, having been treated to his cameos at close quarters last season, but for him thrice in ten minutes to befuddle our defensive mob and blast a shot at goal seemed a bit thick. Porro, Dier and Skipp seemed to find the lad unplayable, which was alarming, and quite what strain of sorcery Vicario has signed up for is anyone’s guess, but he seems to have had other-worldly intervention on his side in his last couple of matches, and it’s no stretch to say we’ve been centimetres from conceding – and missing out on two points yesterday.

All told, it was a hard-earned win – against a team slap bang in the middle of a hot streak, and with our usual slew of absentees. The general sloppiness in our play suggests more than anything that our heroes could do with a few days off, with some massages and scented candles and whatnot, but to be four points off the top having had such a rotten old November reflects well.

Merry Christmas, on we trot to Brighton.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 4-1 Newcastle: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kulusevski Central

It would be over-stretching things to suggest that AANP is like a broken clock in stumbling upon a notion of some virtue twice a day, but, like a broken calendar, bang on the money once a year sounds about right – and having bleated away about the virtues of Kulusevski through the centre rather than on the wing, in the aftermath of the West Ham defeat, I was pretty pleased to see the pieces duly rearranged today.

Not that Kulusevski was necessarily the standout performer today. In fact, I’d shove him at least halfway done the list. Which is not to say he did much wrong, far from it, but various colleagues around him seemed to tick the ‘Above and Beyond’ box more obviously, and things ought to be done in right and proper way.

But having Kulusevski through the midfield seemed both to reduce the more vexing elements of his game (viz. the propensity, come hell or high water, to drag the ball back onto his left foot as if under contractual obligation) and also to lend a useful platform to some of his more amenable personality traits. These might be said to include but not be limited to: the thoughtful burst into the penalty area as delivery arrives from wider spots; the licence occasionally to bob up on the left; the application of what strikes me as pretty considerable body-weight forcefully into any of the opposing back-four dallying on the ball; and the generally wholesome practice of racing towards goal from a central berth whilst simultaneously weighing up options right and left.

In short, the shackles seem removed when he plays as a Number 10. Quite what reconfiguration occurs when Maddison returns is anyone’s guess, but if there’s a society for the Repositioning of Kulusevski From The Right To The Centre then they can count on my signature and enthusiastic attendance at fundraisers and whatnot. Keep him there, I say, or at least resist the urge to move him right again when Maddison returns.

2. Sonny on the Left

Of course, much like a butterfly flapping its wings out in the Amazon, one cannot yank Kulusevski from the right and re-position him centrally without all manner of implications rippling away across N17, so there would no doubt have been a few arrows scrawled across the pre-match whiteboard .

The fallout involved the remarkable sight of a right-footed player on the right wing, as Brennan Johnson won that particular raffle; which in turn necessitated a change in personnel on the left. One can well imagine Our Glorious Leader scanning the changing room, spying young Bryan Gil, and without even pausing to think just getting right on again with his scanning.

Sonny got the nod, and wasted precious little time in slotting back into the old uniform. Whether it was a first-time flick into the path of a chum while dropping deep, or a stepover-laced dribble into the penalty area topped off with some pretty inviting end-product, Son brought a healthy dose of A-game to just about everything he did out on the left.

And it was worth remembering, as he set about creating both first half goals in near-identical fashion, that the opposing right-back with whom he toyed was none other than the fondly-remembered Master Trippier, a chap who doesn’t surrender his territory too lightly.

Whilst the risk of deploying Sonny on the left was that it left things uncertain in the central striking role, the decision seemed a pretty smart one if only for the nuisance he made of himself throughout. For all their willing, it is difficult to imagine that Gil or Johnson might have brought home quite such riches; while Richarlison is more of a striker itching to move infield than any sort of left winger. This was pretty electric stuff from Son, who fully merited his late goal.

3. Richarlison

That Amazonian butterfly clearly put in quite the shift, for the after-effects did not end with Sonny’s move to the left. That, of course, left an awkward conversation to be had behind closed doors, given that Richarlison has spent the last couple of years since his arrival diligently pinging his shots everywhere but the nearest net, pausing only to occasionally trip over his own shoelaces.

And when a couple of missed half-chances in the opening 5 minutes brought that all-too-familiar Brazilian scowl, I did scuttle over to the nearest wall against which I might bang the old head a few times. The early signs were that this was a production I’d seen once or twice before.

Mercifully, however, after a conflab of twenty minutes or so, the gods evidently gave it a shrug and granted Richarlison a spot of respite. His first goal might not have been the purest strike of the weekend, but I doubt there’s a lilywhite in the land who gave too many hoots about that. If Richarlison has any sense of decency he’ll spot Sonny a slap-up meal at an over-priced restaurant in the coming days, for his captain did a spiffing job in moulding the opportunity that, if not quite unmissable, was certainly in not-too-much-work-required territory.

And in this day of the tedious knee-slide celebration I always consider that I can spot a man who really enjoys his goal, if he leaps into the thinner part of the atmosphere and swipes a clasped fist. Richarlison certainly enjoyed the moment.

Evidently, it takes more than one poacher’s goal to shed the alter ego and adopt a new persona completely, and the Richarlison of old swiftly returned when a presentable airborne opportunity ricocheted his way shortly afterwards, the man flinging himself at the thing a moment too late, as has been his wont for about two years now.

I also fancy he enjoyed another splash of luck with his second (footing another bill at one of London’s premier eating spots by the by, in gratitude to Pedro Porro), as his first touch when in on goal was not necessarily ideal. But to his credit, having taken a presentable chance and complicated it, he then redeemed himself in the blink of an eye, taking what had therefore become a complicated chance and despatching it, with minimal further fuss. One scratched the head a bit, but a joyous outcome is not to be sniffed at; and importantly R9 is a fellow the quality of whose next deed seems to depend significantly upon the quality of his previous deed – so this all bodes pretty well.

And as a sidenote, even before he was gaily tucking away his goals, I noted with great satisfaction that Richarlison could frequently be observed to commit his full body and I suspect a decent part of his soul to the act of tracking back and winning possession from the Newcastle mob. A well-executed slide tackle is always appreciated, and Richarlison delivered at least three of them. The young bean’s commitment to the cause has never faltered; that his radar began working again today was all the more pleasing.

4. Udogie and Porro

I mentioned above that there were a good few names above Kulusevski when it came to the matter of Star Performer, and both of Udogie and Porro would feature in such a list.

Udogie, I consider, rather owed us a stand-out performance, given that his entirely unnecessary two-footed lunge against Chelsea seemed to spark off the calamitous sequence that we have only just arrested. Admittedly he cannot be blamed for the injuries, and he actually got away with the lunge, but not being one to let the truth get in the way of a decent narrative I continued to murmur, “And well he should,” during the early minutes, in which he seemed to have assumed the role of String-Puller-In-Chief.

And by golly he was in fine old fettle. Even though it happens every week that he simply ambles up the field and presents himself as some sort of free-spirited attacking egg, I did nevertheless gawk a bit at the positions he adopted and the array of neat, sly passes he dished out.

Good of him to chip in with a goal too, and it says much about his role in the team that the sight of him tapping in from six yards did not raise too many positional eyebrows. This, it appears, is just what he does.

I hesitate to scribble, “And opposite Udogie,” when describing young Porro, because it is similarly difficult to pin down the latter, but he was also in attendance, and also having quite the night. The diagonal into the path of Richarlison for our third probably takes the spot on the mantlepiece for his most eye-catching contribution (and with perfect timing too, Newcastle at that stage having given it 15 minutes of honest toil, and threatening to make a game of things).

But in general, and as against West Ham, Porro combined intelligent positions with effective contributions, whether popping up in midfield to chivvy things along, or getting his head down in the final third to try to help finish things off.

5. Sarr: Outstanding

But from the AANP vantage point young Sarr took the gong today. For much of the game our heroes gave the impression of having a numerical advantage over the other lot, swarming them and not giving them the time to collect their thoughts and admire the sights when they were in possession;, and triangling the dickens out of them when we were in possession, regularly appearing to have an extra man at whichever point on the pitch the action was unfolding. And as often as not that extra man appeared to be Sarr.

I don’t know what sort of diet he goes in for but I wouldn’t mind finding out and dabbling, because the chap seemed not to stop running throughout. Which, logically enough I suppose, had the consequence that he seemed always to be involved. He was strongly in the market for tackles, interceptions, passes and then, in common with most of our heroes in those rather fun-filled final 20 minutes or so, shoulder-dips and dribbles out of tight spots. It was one of the more complete central midfield performances amongst our lot in recent times.

It also had the pleasing side-effect of making Bissouma look a bit more like his former self, and making me reflect, in idler moments, at quite what a difference there was between a team built upon Sarr and one built upon Hojbjerg.

6. Davies, Romero and the Defence

The individual performances helped no end, but it also made a world of difference that the now standard Dominant First Half was augmented by not one but two goals. To the list of teams comprehensively outplayed we can add Newcastle, but whereas in 4 of the previous 5 games we have had but a one-goal lead to show for some lovely build-up play and almost playground-esque possession, this time the world felt a much happier place when the cast trooped off at half-time two goals to the good.

There was still ample time to stuff up various further opportunities, and one does drop to the knees and implore the forward mob to take a tad more care in the final third and make sure of things, but it was a definite improvement.

And yet it might well have been to no avail, because at nil-nil we continued to look pretty open and inviting at the rear. It might be a consequence of full-backs being allowed to go wandering off, or it might be something else entirely, but whereas when our defence is arranged in a low block I feel that matters are relatively well contained, when we are caught in possession on halfway and the opposition counter, the whole thing does tend to unfold with a pretty alarming inevitability. Put another way, teams do not really have to work too hard to fashion clear-cut chances against our lot. Nab the ball on halfway and they’re as good as in.

And with that in mind I might take a few suggestions from Richarlison and splash out myself on one of those expensive meals, this time for Ben Davies, in commemoration of what was actually a scarcely believable intervention in the first half to keep Newcastle at bay. Pretty easy to let the mists of time do their thing and forget it ever happened, but when a Newcastle type on their left scuttled unopposed from halfway to our area, his square pass seemed to have doom scrawled all over it.

Davies flung himself at it full length, in what appeared to be an admirable but futile gesture. At best, I mused while wincing in expectation of the inevitable, this will be an own-goal. The laws of physics seemed to allow for little else, given that Davies was extending himself at full stretch and in the wrong direction.

Quite how he therefore managed to avoid poking the ball into this own net having made contact with it, was a conundrum of the highest order. That he additionally managed to do just enough to divert the thing sufficiently that the waiting Newcastle forward behind him then missed the target, was quite remarkable.

Mercifully, having figured out, at least for one night, how to apply finishing touches to all the gorgeous build-up play, it didn’t matter too much that we remain pretty open at the back sans Van de Ven. It helps that for the most part, Davies and Romero know their eggs when it comes to the sort of defending that isn’t just a flat foot-race from halfway.

But had Romero been sent off for his bizarre late lunge, the AANP teeth would have been ground with a fury rarely previously witnessed. The game was won, our heroes were bedded in and well into their stroke-the-ball-about routine, when out of nowhere Romero took it upon himself to wait for the ball to depart the scene and then leave his studs upon the lower leg/above-the-foot region of some Newcastle sort. Irrespective of any sort of provocation – and frankly there didn’t appear to be much – it was about as knuckle-headed as they come, particularly as the young fool has only just reappeared after the previous three-month ban. Egads.

Still, we got away with that, and more broadly, delivered the sort of walloping that we’ve been threatening in at least 4 of the previous 5 games (or at least first halves). Continue to execute three or four of the numerous chances created each week, and we ought to be pretty well set when Maddison and VDV return; but irrespective of that, the mood is lightened for the week.