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Spurs match reports

Spurs 4-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson

Emerson had what might officially go down in the tome of such things as his best game in lilywhite. Admittedly the bar in this particular area is pretty low, the memory lingering long of countless dreadful attempted crosses last season, but let that not detract from some surprisingly impressive stuff in all areas for the peculiar chap. Who knew he had it in him?

If Emerson is the sort to let the failings of previous seasons weigh on him, he hides it well. Here is a fellow not wanting for self-confidence, irrespective of how much the evidence of the senses and weight of data has suggested he ought to think otherwise.

Watching him scurry off down the right, find himself incapable off beating a man or whipping in a cross, therefore decide to keep scurrying and eventually hit the byline, before attempting to pull back the ball out of necessity as much as anything else, you would think from his manner that he had long ago decided, with supreme confidence from the off, that scurrying to the byine and pulling back the ball was in fact the best possible plan, and nobody on earth could convince him that any alternative would be better – or indeed that any other living soul could execute it better than he. 

Impressively, however, it worked. In fact, just about everything Emerson tried on Saturday struck oil. From the starter’s clap he went about his business yesterday like a newly-born lamb having his first taste of spring and deciding that he’d be dashed if he was going to be prevented from gambolling about the place.

With Kulusevski on hand to provide attacking finesse as required, Senhor E’s willing and energy, and runs and uncomplicated passes, had the left side of Southampton scampering around in something of a muddle throughout.

His input for Kulusevski’s goal illustrated much of what he was doing well – first summoning the energetic spirit of that new-born lamb to bound off towards that murky area in between corner flag and penalty area, then picking a pass as simple as it was effective for Master K, who did the rest with customary aplomb.

His contribution to the own-goal was ultimately a little less conventional, his self-confidence by this point reaching the stratospheric height at which simply being wing-back was beneath him, and he fancied himself rather as a Haaland sort, motoring through the centre as the furthermost forward – but mark the preamble. Emerson tackled his man cleanly in the traditional right-back berth, then, rather than sitting back to admire his handiwork, led the charge over halfway at the sort of lick that was less new-born lamb and more thoroughbred racehorse.

Having successfully communicated the message that one need not whip in crosses from deep in order to fulfil one’s attacking remit as a wing-back, it is also worth noting that his attacking success did not come at the expense of his defensive duties. In fact, he was as diligent as the next man when on sentry duty. It was all most impressive. Whether he can hit such heights next week, say, at Chelsea, is for another day, but with Dohertys and Spences now littering the place one cannot fault Emerson’s first stab at the role of 22/23 RWB.

2. Kulusevski

Not that Saturday was simply the Emerson Show, with others in attendance offering supporting roles only. Far from it. The list of standout performers was pretty extensive – which mangles the language somewhat when you think about it, but such was the quality of the various presentations.

Kulusevski, yet again, hit impressive heights. He is quite the curio, being one of those attackers who bursts with creativity despite not having some obvious eye-catching quality. He is neither lightning-quick, nor possessed of stepovers and mazy dribbles and whatnot, and can sometimes give the air of one of those types who was not bestowed abundant gifts by Mother Nature, but made the most of what he had through hard work. Think Lampard or Kane.

And yet, his wealth of talents were on full display on Saturday, rendering him quite the unpredictable force. He seemed at any given moment as likely to go on the gallop; or pick a cute, short pass; or drag the ball back and switch directions, making the entire Southampton back-line trip over themselves; or whip in a cross begging to be despatched; or have a shot for himself. Whenever the ball entered his orbit, marvellous things began to happen.

If he had done nothing more than deliver the cross for Sessegnon’s goal I’d still have purred about him a goodish bit – but that was arguably not even the best cross he delivered, one in the second half that Romero might have flung himself at being arguably of finer quality. The second half also saw him pick out something close to the perfect pass for Sessegnon to steam onto; on top of which there was his goal, stroked in with the nonchalance of one idly pinging a ball from A to B while stretching his limbs on the training pitch.

How long it will be before he is spoken of in the exalted terms generally reserved for English-born folk remains to be seen – it took Sonny a good half-dozen years – but if he continues to deliver on a weekly basis to limited acclaim beyond N17 then there will be no complaints over here.

3. Bentancur

And yet even Kulusevski cannot necessarily be deemed the outright champion of all he surveyed on Saturday. As seems to have happened every time he skims the surface in lilywhite, Master Bentancur breezed through the game on a different plane from anyone else.

He really is the rarest of nibs, one who seems to see the game from a vantage point about twenty yards above ground level, with panoramic vision that takes in the positions and movements of all other bodies on the pitch. How else to explain the marvellous fellow’s ability to flick first-time passes in directions well beyond the realms of terrestrial vision?

Here at AANP Towers we are very much of the opinion that passes do not necessarily need to be earth-shattering as long as they are popped along swiftly. A first-time pass can rearrange the pieces just as effectively as one of those pearlers that bisects a clutch of opponents. Bentancur seems effortlessly to have mastered both disciplines, often at the same time. One could remover the goals from the pitch, and still delight in watching him dip his shoulders and ping his passes, simply for the heck of it.

On top of which, any asterisked concerns in his early days about him sometimes being ambushed by the pace of things over here seem to have been dispelled. The young bean was shuttling the ball off in new directions before opponents realised he had it; on top of which he was pretty zesty in the tackle too.

4. Sessegnon

Here at AANP Towers we are certainly fond of the grumble, and at various and regular points last season wasted little time in jabbing an accusing finger at young Master Sessegnon.

As with Emerson on t’other flank, Sessegnon seems to have used his summer weeks wisely, and went about his business on Saturday looking a darned sight more assured about his trade than previously.

The early goal presumably helped chivvy him along in this sense, but in general where last season a nameless fear seemed to envelop everything he did, often manifesting itself in heavy touches and complete absence of ball control, on Saturday he seemed vastly more capable when it came to the basics, and was a viable option on the left throughout his hour.

It was rather satisfying to note that the chap has well and truly got to grips with Conte-ball, regularly popping up in the area as an auxiliary attacker, as any wing-back should under Our Glorious Leader. He scored one, had one disallowed for offside – admittedly his own fault for jumping the gun, but again reflecting an eagerness to elbow his way into positions from which he can observe the whites of the goalkeepers’ eyes – and was denied a second goal only by a last-ditch tackle from KEP.

(A note on KWP while on the subject – the young pip has attracted some attention, with various fellow lilywhites reverently bawling that we should be in for his services again. To these I wave a dismissive hand, because no self-respecting defender ought ever to be outmuscled in the air, and in his own six-yard box, by anyone, let alone by the waif-like physique of Sessegnon; and to anyone who marvelled at the aforementioned last-ditch tackle I suggest that the best defenders read the game well enough not to need to make up five yards and execute sliding tackles from behind.)

But reverting back to Sessegnon – as with more than one of the above, this was comfortably one of his better days in lilywhite. One would expect Perisic to assume responsibilities for bigger tests, but if Sessegnon gets wheeled out for Southampton and the like he’ll get a glowing reference and rousing hand from me.

5. The Debutants

After six summer signings, I rather liked the fact that the only new sight was the gleaming kit (top marks from AANP by the way, a fan of the simple white shirt over here) and a couple of new-fangled set-piece operations. It sent the message that one has to earn one’s place in this team – earn one’s spurs, if you will – and helped to cement the notion that ours is a setup that increasingly needs to think like a big club.

Bissouma only got five minutes or so, but seemed determined not to be constrained by such mortal limitations as time, and set about cramming as much action as possible into his brief cameo. Thus we were treated to Bissouma blocks, interceptions, sensible passes, a yellow card and, intriguingly, a long-distance effort hit with some wattage. With Hojbjerg hitting (the pass in the build-up to Kulusevski’s goal was a weighted delight) but also missing (various misplaced passes littered the place), Bissouma’s brief bustle made for quite the hors d’ouevres.

Perisic had a little longer to acquaint himself with things, and similarly caught the AANP eye. The headlines of his half-hour were a couple of forays in the meaty end of things – stepovers and party-tricks to evade his man, followed by a couple of crosses into dangerous squares of the penalty area. These bode well, and in time one imagines Kane and chums feasting on his produce.

But as a long-time admirer of the chap, I kept a particular eye on his positioning at every given point, and noted that it is safe to say that rumours of him being well attuned to the whims of Senor Conte are resoundingly true. As soon as we turned over possession he was off on the gallop, well in advance of the defensive line – and, as often as not, in advance of the midfield line too. Where Sessegnon seems content enough to stay within a stone’s throw of Ben Davies, Perisic has more heady ambitions, and could regularly be spotted further up the pitch than anyone else, and frankly straining at the leash for a ball to be released onto which he might run.

All of which meant that when we lost possession he was a good-ish distance up the pitch, but the honest fellow made the effort to sprint back to his post. Should he feature against Chelsea next week I’ll be intrigued as to the extent to which his attacking instincts are indulged or otherwise.

And finally there was also a brief cameo for Lenglet, who took up the appropriate position on the left, and seemed to make the sensible hand-gestures of one who wants at least to look he knows what he’s about. He also picked a handy pass in the move that led to Bissouma’s long-distance shot, which earned him a subtle nod of approval – but his appearance was little more than a chance for Conte to flex a bicep and show the world that he has Levy eating out of the palm of his hand.

So after one fixture we sit pretty atop the pile. While it is, of course, mathematically possible that we might yet blow this, frankly anything less than the title would now be a massive disappointment.

(Tweets hither)

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Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Djed Spence: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Basics on Spence

Having prattled on a bit about Perisic and Forster (hither), Bissouma (thither), Richarlison (yonder) and Lenglet (abaft) it seems only decent to mangle the language for a few additional paragraphs in honour of young Master Spence.

The usual disclaimer applies here, as, in common with most folk plucked from anywhere but the Premier League or uppermost echelons of Europe, my folder of research notes on the young bean is pretty light stuff. “Potential and whatnot” is pretty much the sum of it.

Stringing that out a bit, he featured in a couple of entertaining Cup games against Premier League teams last season (including one not a million miles from N17), which gave casual observers such as AANP an opportunity to cast the beady eye.

During these Spence could be observed bounding forward with all the gay abandon of youth, unhindered by such concerns as hangovers, childcare arrangements and defensive cover. It was all harmless enough fun and he didn’t lack for wiling, but in truth there was nothing on show that had me grabbing the megaphone and parading the High Road to declare that the answer to our right wing-back woes was incarnate and to be found putting in his shift in Notts NG2.

However, I’m not about to judge a fellow on a couple of matches half-watched while getting down to the serious business of studying Duo Lingo Spanish and thumbing the pages of a PG Wodehouse, and I rather sneer at the ass who does. Far better to base judgement of the chap on the musings of more celebrated sages in the field. Actually, it would be better to give the poor cove a chance before judging him at all – but celebrated sages it will be, and the consensus amongst them seems to be that Spence is rather a goer in the market for frontfoot attacking larks, has great big handfuls of energy and occasionally lets the mind drift when the defensive klaxon sounds.

2. Conte’s View

All of which points to a signing that is a bit removed from the Conte template, and instead bears all the grubby pawprints of a classic Daniel Levy signing from each of the last fifteen or so years. Young, English, a bit of talent about him but swathes of room for improvement and, crucially, potential for a pretty hefty whack when it comes to cashing in a few years’ hence. The fact that Spence and young Sessegnon have been acquainted since shortly out of nappies rather hammers home the point, as the similarities in profile abound.

It’s little wonder that Conte has gone on record to deliver a near-perfect Pontius Pilate impression, if you don’t mind me introducing a spot of Scripture into things, and washing his hands of the signing.

“Not my idea,” has been the loose translation of Conte’s thoughts on the signing – but nevetheless he’s been quite happy to play the game and stick him on the subs bench, presumably because in Messrs F, P, B, R and L he already has most of what he wanted (experienced, proven sorts), and has them nice and early in the piece too.

Still, if Conte had taken an instant dislike to the fellow I can’t imagine we’d have gone through with this, and presumably that Paratici chap is also a believer. The moral of the story here would seem to be that anyone who hoped Spence might be shoved into the starting XI and left to get on with things, popping up in the Premier League Team of the Season at the end of the year and collecting a Young Player’s Award en route, might be in for some disappointment. At best I would expect him to share wing-back duties on the right with whomever of Doherty or Emerson isn’t sold, no doubt making a few mistakes along the way, and accordingly attracting instant and damning censure, not least from AANP Towers.

3. Emerson and Doherty

Talking of E.R. and M.D., I’ve gone round in a goodish number of circles trying to establish how their immediate prospects shape up.

If this were left to me it would be one of the shortest meetings on record – keep Doherty, give Emerson the elbow and off to the nearest watering-hole for some refreshment – but the powers that be seem intent on making rather a production of this.

Emerson seems a genuinely likeable soul – seemingly missing a few critical neurons and whatnot, but one of the boys and pretty committed to all things lilywhite. And were this a land of milk, honey and 4-4-2 then I’d suggest his Spurs future would have a pretty rosy tint to it, for when it comes to ticking boxes as a right-back in its purest form he knows his eggs.

Alas, ours is a world of wing-backs, and in the attacking respect, Emerson seems to have a pretty strong catalogue of evidence to suggest that this is not his game. No shame in that, of course, it’s not for everyone – but the point is that this having been established, there doesn’t seem too much point in having him around the place. Starts to get a bit awkward, what?

Doherty, despite a wobbly start, seemed to have received the memo towards the end of last season and generally seemed happy to confirm that if this were a wing-back system then he would be part of the gang. Although, like Emerson, he wasn’t necessarily the most natural when it came to swinging over a peach of a cross into an inviting area, he nevertheless seemed to know the how, where and when of the job. While I’d have happily welcomed an upgrade, his presence was reassuring enough.

Moreover, with Spence now on board to apply a spot of breath down the Doherty neck, we seem well equipped for a world sans Emerson. I’ll therefore waggle a pretty irritated eyebrow if I read over the morning kippers next week that Doherty has been given a handshake, commemorative pen and wished good luck elsewhere, but I suppose I’d better brace myself nonetheless. Either way, young Spence now has the most certain immediate future in N17 of the trio, and good luck to him.

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Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Bergwijn Out, Lenglet In: Four Tottenham Talkiing Points

1. Bergwijn: Unfulfilled Potential

Mention the term ‘parallel universe’, and the AANP mind tends to swim a bit, but it’s actually not too difficult to picture a world in which Steven Bergwijn became a roaring success in lilywhite.

It only really needed the adjustment of a few –admittedly critical – details: better luck with injuries, a manager who persisted with him as the regular third part of the forward line, and so on. Where Kulusevski now enjoys the run of things up the right flank, it might have been Bergwijn.

Bergwijn generally seemed sufficiently well equipped in the fields of puff, willing and a scent for goal to have made a fist of things, either centrally – where admittedly he would have found chances pretty hard to come by, giving existing personnel and the unspoken hierarchy about the place – or as a wider attacker. Watch him in the garish colours of his motherland and he seems bobbish enough as either.

Obviously those wider positions rather take care of themselves now in N17, but for every successful Sonny and Kulusevski there has been a Lamela or Lucas – by which I mean the sort of wounded puppy who, despite ticking a fair few boxes, somehow never quite got round to nailing down the position as their own. I don’t mind admitting some mild surprise that Bergwijn didn’t graduate to a more permanent role, as goodness knows a vacancy existed long enough.

In fact, if you can excuse the particularly daring line of thought, I wiled away a few idle hours wondering if he might have made a go of things as a wing-back, not least because it was precisely the sort of zany idea that seemed to grab Senor Conte over the years.   

Indeed, with the dawn of five substitutes that I keep prattling on about to anyone who will listen, Bergwijn might yet have found himself a niche this coming season if he’d stuck around the place. But after two and a half years largely spent wrapped up in a duffel coat on the bench, one understands the urge to scarper, particularly with a World Cup due to be dropped into the middle of the coming season.

2: Bergwijn: Memorable Moments

Still, any llilywhite of sound mind will send him on his way with pretty warm sentiments ringing in his ears, because despite only ever seeming to be flung on with ten minutes to go here and there, the blighter certainly knew how to make a bit of an impression on the natives.

Two moments in particular stood out, the first of which was that swing-and-ping of his – on debut, no less – against a City team who then, as now, were an all-conquering sort of mob. It was the sort of strike that leaves an impression for various reasons. For a start, a goal at home on debut is pretty much first on the list of proven ways in which to endear oneself to the newest fanbase, speaking volumes for the lad’s sense of occasion and timing.

On top of which, it set us up for one of the more memorable victories of the campaign, which adds a bit of clout to the thing.

And moreover, in those calmer moments later on, when one takes a breath or two and watches the highlights over again, everything about the way in which Bergwijn took his goal suggested that he had arrived at the club with a decent amount of technique fizzing in his size sixes (just going out on a limb here and assuming they’re small).

The celebration one could take or leave I suppose – the AANP verdict being that those of a certain age will insist upon such things so they must be suffered – but all told, it was one of the more memorable ways in which a laddie had announced his arrival in recent years.

All of which was blown out of the water by his cameo against Leicester last season. Again, context was everything – we were drifting deep into injury-time, staring defeat in the face – and Bergwijn’s late double prompted the sort of orgy of untethered ecstasy from all concerned that really is only permissible in exceptionable circumstances, and which seems to justify the years of grumble and toil that precede and follow.

His goals that night (particularly the second, including as it did that unique aesthetic sheen that comes with a shot going in off the post) will live long in the memory, as will the celebrations, what with Lucas Moura and that chappie’s hat and whatnot, giving us all something to relate to wide-eyed offspring a few decades hence.

So it is a pretty amicable parting. Things might – and really ought – to have blossomed rather more than they did, but Bergwijn takes off into the night having given us some pretty priceless stuff, Grandmaster Levy recoups the entire investment and Bergwijn’s career appears to have escaped any serious damage. Bon chance, mon brave.

3: Bienvenue, Clement Lenglet

If placed in the dock and instructed to tell the truth, the whole truth and so on and so forth, AANP would have no qualms sticking a paw on the Bible and testifying to having watched our newest arrival in action for a full 90 minutes, on more than one occasion.

Now if John Grisham novels and various courtroom dramas on the tellybox have taught me anything it is that those legal johnnies don’t really go in for sociable chit-chat once the action has kicked off. I’d therefore likely say no more than the above. However, should that change, and invitation be extended to me to elaborate upon my fascinating testimony, I imagine I’d oblige by relating to the stunned gallery that I’d also watched a full 90 minutes of the Austrian Women’s team, as recently as last week. And the crucial connection here, which I’d unfurl with a sweeping gesture or two, is that in neither case could I tell you the first bally thing about any of the players concerned.

I do sometimes wonder if I’m the only one who watches football in this way – able to peel off forensic analysis of every pass and shimmy of my lot, be they Spurs (male or female) or England (male or female), but all blank stares and clueless shrugs when it comes to literally any amongst the opposition.

The sum of it is that my knowledge of the deeds of M. Lenglet are restricted to the pearls of wisdom of those who study such things for an honest wage. As such, one understands that Lenglet is a little slow (I paraphrase), left-footed (horse’s mouth) and relatively competent in possession (I p. once more).

All of which means that, as has tended to happen quite a lot since Our Glorious Leader took over, I’m off down the road labelled Ben Davies Avenue.

 One of the more curious anthems being belted around the corridors of power this summer has been that big money must be spent on a Ben Davies upgrade.

Upgrades in any position are, of course, welcome with open arms and miles of bunting. After all, one always ought to strive to improve. This is no time to rest on laurels. And so on – you get the gist.

However, lasering in on Davies as the object most in need of improvement and upgrade within the eleven seems a slightly rummy one. I’m not convinced that Davies is more obviously in need of upgrading than, say, Dier (which is not to denigrate either of them, more to illustrate that they’re carrying out duties equally admirably). The feedback I’d personally file on Davies for his efforts would be pretty glowing stuff.

More pertinently I’d suggest that we ought to stick whatever cash is filed under ‘Ben Davies Upgrade’ into a right-wing-back-shaped basket, preferably identifying a nib who has a minute of top-flight football on his CV – but this, I suppose, is a debate for another day. Evidently someone with clout has been pretty wedded to the idea that Davies is the one upon whom to improve, so here we are, thumbing through the mugshots of Europe’s finest left-sided centre-backs.

Or at least I assume they’re Europe’s finest, because personally I’d not know any of Bastoni, Pau Torres, Bremer or chums if they tapped me on the shoulder, but as one can’t throw a brick without hitting someone giving them rave reviews I presume they’re the goods.

However, it appears that with each of the above being unavailable or unwilling to join the gang, The Brains Trust (Sub-Division: Transfers) have stood on one leg and pivoted 90. In the absence of an obvious upgrade we have scratched that particular phrase from the manifesto, and now seem content to pick up anyone in Europe who’s earned a respectable living as a left-sided centre-back. Put another way, the focus has switched from upgrading on Davies to providing cover for him.

4: Cover For Rather Than Upgrade Upon Ben Davies

This is fine in AANP’s book. As emphasised earlier, Davies seems to have done decent things, both defensively and in augmenting things as an unlikely forward-thrusting auxiliary. While he is honest, dependable, willing and all those other wholesome sort of things, it would be a bit much also to expect him to play every minute of every game this coming season.

It therefore makes good sense, in a Football Manager sort of way, to stock up for the next 12 months on a chappie capped 15 times by the World Champions, and who has earned his monthly envelope of the last couple of years at Barcelona. Even if he is not the best in business, one presumes he’s sufficiently capable to deputise for Davies as and when necessary, without standards falling off a cliff and into the territory of Davinson Sanchez at his most petrified.

A season’s loan minimises risk, and removes the awkward questions around selling on or pensioning off. On top of which, this is further evidence of Conte getting what Conte wants – all done, yet again, before a ball has been kicked in anger on the pre-season tour. It might not be the best deal going, but with the present incumbent of the position playing well enough, it strikes me as a sensible move.

Tweets hither

Categories
Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Richarlison: Three Tottenham Talking Points

AANP was woken from mid-summer slumber last week by the unmistakeable pitter-patter of newly-signed feet, which seems as good an excuse as any to scribble some thoughts (with the usual apologies for more Covid-induced tardiness).

1. Positionally

Spurs have signed a competent striker, and this alone is pretty sensational stuff.

Now I suppose some might immediately quibble that Mother Nature did not roll up her sleeves and use the ‘Striker’ template when fashioning Richarlison, he being more the sort of laddie to be found starting wide and buzzing infield, as is very much the vogue these days.

It’s a fair point, and actually quite the bonus, an element that no doubt fed strongly into the decision to raid the vault for the necessary sums. Richarlison will not just be an able deputy for Kane, but also for Sonny and Kulusevski.

All well and good, but it’s the ‘Central Striker’ part of the arrangement that has really put the spring in the step of those at AANP Towers. The failure time and again to arrange suitable cover for Kane had pretty swiftly evolved from mild curio to major design flaw in the workings at N17, over the course of the last half-dozen years.

Alternatives to Kane had either taken the form of ghastly inexperience (see Carlos Vincius, who seemed to find his level with a hat-trick against Marine) or fellows at the other end of the spectrum, just about ready to be put out to pasture (see Fernando Llorente, a chap to whose hip I will always be grateful, contributing as it did towards the great Etihad CL victory, but who otherwise devoted his energies to the twin pursuits of general immobility and finding all manner of ways to miss presentable chances).  

Throw in a Janssen here and a Clinton N’Jie there, and one begins to appreciate the excitement at the hiring of this Richarlison chappie. In notable contradistinction to any of the aforementioned, here is a lad who has proven himself quite capable of leading the line; who comes already programmed with a few years of experience in the Premier League; and who at 25 is approaching his peak.

The whole business of five substitutes next season means that he ought not to want for game-time, on top of which he can expect to lead the line in those random early-round Cup ties that clutter the calendar at various points. As such, the sentiment around these parts is that we should bung him into a lilywhite shirt and unleash him at the earliest opportunity.

2. Character

To say that Richarlison is a sullen sort of fellow barely scratches the surface. Here is a lad whose face would crack in about seventeen different places if obliged by law to uncork a smile. Much of the moody teenager about him.

Indeed, one does not need an in-depth knowledge of the internet and its various nooks and crannies to find footage of Richarlison and his newest teammate, Cristian Romero, lunging at each other’s kneecaps, in what I suppose you might call a spirit of national fervour.

Is this a problem? Quite the opposite. As my old man, AANP Senior has been known to observe, having been brought up on the Double-winners and whatnot, what our lot lack is a Mackay prowling the place and ensuring that all concerned charge around like their lives depend on it.

Being of a more recent vintage, the standard I tend to use is one from the Keane-Vieira mould, who will scream blue murder in the face of colleagues to ensure that standards are high, and set the radar to ‘Seek and Destroy’ when dealing with opponents.

Now Our Glorious Leader has without doubt done much to change the mentality at N17, to the extent that defeats are no longer simply to be shrugged off, but are intended to wound deeply. And learned sorts with inside knowledge of Richarlison have highlighted that here is a fellow who of a similar mind. Apparently he is the type of egg who expends every last drop of oxygen in the cause of victory, and then broods like the dickens for a few days after if things do not positively unfold. Frankly, I cannot wait to have a sort like that stalking the corridors.

3. Business

A final note on this particular transaction is to note that once again, presumably at the behest of the Big Cheese and his desire for a full and uninterrupted pre-season, the T’s are being crossed and I’s dotted on this nice and early in the piece.

In recent years we long-suffering lilywhites have become accustomed to transfer windows defined by final-hour haggling, refusals to cough up the necessary few bob and a hastily-struck loan for Fraizer Campbell. To have four players signed up and ready to go as early as the start of July is therefore as welcome as it is discombobulating – and while it does make me wonder why the dickens we couldn’t have done our business this way every year, the move is further evidence of the shift to a more professional approach being instilled across the club by Signor Conte.

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Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Yves Bissouma: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Joyous Tidings

If you happened to notice AANP bounding about the place in particularly bonny, blithe and gay fashion in the last week or so I’d congratulate you on your perceptive nature. Every now and then our lot unveil a new signing that puts no end of buck in the step, and the scrawl of Yves Bissouma across the headed notepaper has done precisely that.

I mentioned in my last tuppence worth, a couple of weeks back, that I’m not generally one to devote my energies to watching opponents, being far too consumed with monitoring the every move of those in lilywhite. As a result, it’s something of an event when an opposing player catches the AANP eye during a Tottenham game, but in this category young Monsieur Bissouma can proudly step up to collect a gong and clear his throat for a victory speech.

The job he did when we travelled to Brighton last season, was quite something to behold. Memory suggests that while some other chappie pinched the last-minute goal that weighted the scoreline in Brighton’s favour, it was Bissouma’s security work in the central areas that won the thing. In particular, I wouldn’t wonder if that rotter Harry Kane greeted Bissouma’s arrival in N17 by bunging him over the head with a brick, such was the job done by the latter on the former in that match. Whenever the ball was shoved in the general radius of Kane, Bissouma was upon him in an instant, sucking the life – and most of our collective creative juices – out of him for the entirety of the gig.

And while admittedly one random shindig in the sun last season is not the sort of stuff upon which one ought to base a fully-fledged opinion, the bespectacled sorts who crunch numbers have rather more weight to throw behind the chap. For a start, the numbers have him down as having made more frequent tackles and interceptions than anyone else in the league last season, which lends a touch more gravity to the argument and has me nodding an admiring head.

Of course, he might still swan into the team and prove a dreary letdown (he wouldn’t be the first in the hallowed corridors of the Lane) but frankly the odds are stacked in his favour. A player who looked in charge of much he surveyed last season, with a couple of years of Premier League experience and, at 25, one would presume a fair amount of oxygen to in his lungs, represents one heck of a deal at £25m.

Indeed, he even popped up with a rather eye-catching solo goal in the Cup fixture at N17 last season; although my spies assure me that such activities are the exception rather than the norm when it comes to Bissouma’s list of bullet points. Nice to know that he’s capable of such things, of course, but the fellow has been designed by Mother Nature for more defensive-minded inputs.

And that’s fine by me. While Bentancur would collect the ball and dreamily pop it along to the better-placed, Hojbjerg last season grafted away but often seemed to be operating on the very last couple of drops of energy wrung from his tissues. The addition therefore of a bona fide midfield enforcer is pretty exciting stuff, particularly given that in our neck of the woods midfielders tend to be the creative sorts who’d rather not waggle too many defensive legs if they can get away with it.

2. How He Fits In

The central options next season therefore appear to read: Bentancur, Bissouman, Skipp and Hojbjerg, the first two of whom will presumably rise, cream-like to the top, but the latter two of whom have respectively the energy and nous to deputise at the drop of any hats and with minimal disruption or – crucially – dip in quality.

One might, of course, quibble, that between this quartet there is still something of a dearth of creative tricks and party-pieces that make the eyes pop and opposition fall apart at the seams, but that’s not really the point. Conte-ball seems to require a central midfield pairing that neutralises all threats and shifts us from back- to front-foot in the blink of an eye, and in both respects Bissouma appears to be precisely the sort of egg about whom exciting montages are spliced together.

(Some might also point that the potential incoming of a certain free-of-charge alumnus in central midfield would add a degree of creativity, and the option for tactical tweaks away from 3-4-3, but that’s a debate for another time.)

3. Our Changing Transfer System

Part of the thrill of all this to-ing and fro-ing is the pretty radical departure it signals from the traditional way of doing things in N17. We’ve been raised (rather cruelly it seems to me) on a diet of tortuous transfer sagas stretching the entirety of the summer, before a last-minute panic to complete deals, and the signing of a couple of unproven bods in their early twenties with potential sell-on value.

Witness the current contrast. Three deals inked and ready to go before the longest day of the year has stretched its legs; each of whom are proven in their positions. This rather than being the sort for whom we wait, with fingers crossed and lips pursed, to see if they’ll fulfil their potential.

Frankly, the good sense of this summer’s dealings thus far, coupled with the no-nonsense way in which players have been identified as the best available to meet the necessary criteria, makes this seem like a game of Football Manager rather than the Way of Things in Hotspur-land.

The immediacy of it all – buying proven players who can waltz straight into the starting line-up and will improve our league position in this coming season, rather than three years hence – is both unusual and jolly entertaining. Frankly, it represents a degree of sensible thinking I had not thought possible with our lot. But then, Conte has seemingly had that effect in all he does about the place. And Grandmaster Levy, rather sensationally, is now backing the honest fellow! Long may the sanity continue!

(Not wanting to gloss over the potential seriousness of the legal case hanging over him, but with no information available it’s near-impossible to opine one way or t’other at present, so the ramblings above are purely football-related)

Categories
Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Perisic, Forster & Gollini: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Ivan Perisic

The headline summary of AANP’s reaction to this one is somewhere along the lines of “Ripping stuff, what?”

Oddly enough, Perisic is one on whom I’ve had my beady eye for quite some time. And those who know me best will attest to the fact that I do not use the term “oddly enough” casually. For a start, when watching Spurs I rarely compute the identities of any in opposition, so contorted am I in paroxysms of anguish by the performance of our lot. After all, there’s no time to be taking notes on anyone else when you’re busy staving off massive coronary events within your own framework 

And when I do make the very occasional observation of some lad not of lilywhite persuasion, one might label the exercise “Miss” as often as “Hit”. Take Shane Long, for example, a johnnie who presumably looks back on his apples with some satisfaction, and should be able to see out his days in some comfort – but nevertheless not a player one would honestly say has risen to the heights for which AANP earmarked him several years back. 

Perisic, however is a different kettle of fish. Here’s a lad who back at the 2014 World Cup had AANP nodding a sage head and tipping for glory. And while these things are subjective, one would be hard pressed to dismiss a CV that includes the Champions League, titles in Italy and Germany and a goal in a World Cup Final dash it. 

And as it happens it is precisely this clutch of medals and rosettes and whatnot that has AANP nodding with vigorous approval at the scrawl of I. P. on the dotted line. For here is a chap who knows how to win on the biggest stages. A chap who laced his boots before crunch games and Cup Finals, and 90 minutes later waved shiny pots above his head. Marry this to team Hotspur’s famous ability to trip over their own feet at the final hurdle, season after season, and suddenly the sense of the move rather lurches into view. 

Yes we have Monsier Loris who has had his mitts on the World Cup, and Kane with a World Cup Golden Boot, and Dier and Sonny and Hojbjerg, all of whom have been around the block often enough to know how to get things done – and rarely was this nous illustrated better than against Woolwich last month – but laddies who’ve actually done the deed at club level are pretty thin on the ground in N17. So if Conte and chums want to roll out the red carpet for an egg like Perisic then I’m all for it. 

I’m reminded of the invigorating effect of Cambiasso at Leicester a few years back, or even the positive impact reported by those in the know when Edgar Davies rocked up in this parish – attitudes in training, reactions to defeat and so forth – and am inclined to gush a fair bit with excitement. 

On a practical level, I’ve spent the best part of the Conte era bleating that a system like Conte-ball requires as a pretty essential component for success a couple of wing-backs a good few notches above the average, and while Messrs Reguilon and Sessegnon have rarely lacked willing, few of sound mind would categorise them as World Class. 

Admittedly, whether or not Master Perisic can shake a defensive leg is something of an unknown at AANP Towers, but if Conte likes him enough to bring him into the gang then I consider the requisite boxes have been ticked and criteria met. 

The Causes For Concern

The principal objection to the signing of the multi-award winning and still-in-presentable-nick Perisic is his age. 33 don’t you know. Personally, I’d happily murder a lesser member of socially to be that age again, but some of the pickier sorts seem convinced that a fellow who’s been around the sun 33 times ought to have no business in the Premier League when there’s a retirement home sofa with his name on it.

I suppose more pertinently, one wonders about the lung capacity of a chap signed up for wing-back duties at 33, and particularly one transitioning from Serie A to the Premier League. And being a fair-minded sort, even though I am a fully paid-up member of Team Perisic, I am happy to acknowledge the risk in this scheme.

I suppose the riposte here lies in the fact that Perisic will presumably be asked to perform his duties in tandem with young Sessegnon. That is to say, one of the pair will strut his stuff midweek, the other take the stage at weekends. As well as allowing Perisic to catch his breath in between assignments, one might also hope that this Master-Apprentice arrangement might serve to chivvy along the career of young Sessegnon, a bounder whose ability to follow positional instructions appears vastly to outweigh his competence with ball at feet.

And as much as anything else, I’m whistling a particularly upbeat ditty on account of the fact that the whole approach to transfers, firmly embedded in the marble halls of N17 over the last decade or two, appears now to be subject to a minor adjustment. It seems that ever since the ‘90s, The Tottenham Way on such matters has involved hoovering up young sorts as yet unproven on grass but with buckets of potential and – tellingly – sell-on value. As part of a broader strategy, involving one or two experienced heads, this would be sage business. At Spurs, however, the strategy in its entirety seems to have been to bank on these fellows in their early twenties to blossom into world-beaters on our watch, with world football’s more established stars strictly amongst the more non grata breed of persona.

Therefore, seeing us invest in a chap whose finest years might be behind him, and whose sell-on value might be minimal, but who, crucially, has a few tales to tell and medals to display, represents a pretty significant swerve from the route usually trodden. In theory at least, however, it ought to complement well the massed ranks of younger nibs buzzing about the place, and strikes me as a pretty sound piece of thinking.

Fraser Forster In; Pierluigi Gollini Out

The more perceptive amongst you, having skim-read the above, will be unsurprised that the AANP stance on the incoming of Fraser Forster is not a million miles from that on Master Perisic. At 34, Forster could theoretically bounce Perisic on his knee and spin a few tales from his youth, whilst, at the risk of sounding like a Brexit Minister, our quota of home-grown players also apparently receives a nudge in the right direction by virtue of his arrival.

Any reserve goalkeeper worth his salt in a Champions League side ought to have a few decent character references and work experience jaunts, and Forster, while not necessarily amongst the world’s elite between the sticks, seems have enough experience both to fill the void in random Cup games and also to deputise for longer stints should Monsieur Lloris happen to chip a toe-nail at any point during the season.

One might argue that the very fact that Forster has won a clutch of England caps at all says something about him in the first place, because if four decades of watching the national side has taught me anything it’s that back-up goalkeepers rarely get a look-in.

That said, I can’t claim to be any sort of expert on the fellow. Science, a pretty reliable gauge of these sorts of matters, informs me that he measures six foot seven, and while there is more to being a goalkeeper than general mass alone, I dare say he has put his presence to decent use over the years in his chosen profession. However, the issue of whether a chap whose brain is so far from his feet offers any value when kicking the thing is not one to which I can attest.

A cautionary note might be struck in that the last time we welcomed aboard an experienced and seemingly capable, home-grown deputy goalkeeper, the name ‘Hart’ was being ironed across the back of replica shirts. However, while Joe Hart had struck me as a pretty sensible addition when brought into the fold a few years back, on his donning the lilywhite (or lurid goalkeeping equivalent) I was swiftly reminded of his principal failing, namely his inability to save anything directed to his left.

For most of us, I suppose the inability to dive to one’s left might not really interfere with life’s mundane tasks, and far less one’s paid employment – but in a goalkeeper it can be quite the hindrance, and thus it proved with Hart. Principally for this reason, Hart fairly quickly became exposed as being at his best when hollering at those around him, but vastly more limited when pressed into actual on-pitch service.

Young Senor Gollini has similarly underwhelmed during his year at the Lane. The initial plan had apparently been for him to bed in and gradually usurp Lloris, his year-long loan designed to culminate in a triumphant permanent move, which just goes to show how wrong folk can be, what?

The fellow’s sporadic appearances in various Cup competitions were of fairly middling quality, his stint with us most notable for that rather curious if emphatic flap at mid-air during the Carabao Cup defeat to Chelsea. Few, one suspects, will mourn his departure.

All of which seems to point to Forster’s most useful attributes being the fact that he is neither Joe Hart nor Pierluigi Gollini. Nevertheless, it was a spot of business that needed doing, and if he can guide us through the early Cup rounds without too many alarms, then Forster-in-Gollini-out will represent a pretty tidy spot of early-summer give-and-take.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Norwich 0-5 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Spursy vs Conte

If you’ve stopped by this corner of the interweb you will know well that after the chortling against Woolwich and nail-chomping against Burnley, last week the ingrained pessimism of being a Spurs fan well and truly pulled on its gloves and got down to business, so that by the time Norwich rolled around the feeling was not so much whether we’d blow things but simply in what farcical manner we’d do so.

The AANP wad was staked on a Brighton-esque meandering for 88 minutes followed by concession of a late goal and an all-too late rally, but in truth the possibilities and potential for doom seemed pretty endless. As kick-off approached, that need to avoid defeat took on a pretty ghastly hue. Memories of lasagne and Tyneside batterings set up shop in the mind.

All of which slathers the praise for Our Glorious Leader all the more thickly about the place. Relegated and pretty clueless though Norwich might have been, they were not the main villain here by any stretch. As recently as a few months ago, at the last dregs of the Nuno era, this remained a Spurs vintage drenched in the ability to make a pig’s ear of the most straightforward of tasks.

To see our lot therefore casually brush off all concerns of self-sabotage and disaster, and simply don their professional garb and set about getting the thing done from minute one, jolly relieving though it was, also had me clutching at the nearest stable point, giving the eyes a quick rub and generally questioning my senses.

As mentioned, the concern in this quarter was that we might witness some doppelganger of the Brighton defeat. In this respect, it certainly helped that Norwich were a few miles off the quality of even Brighton. Where Brighton had Bissouma patrolling the central decks and sniffing at Kane’s size nines every opportunity, Norwich simply waved a cheery hand at the midfield and left us to do it, which didn’t half help chivvy things along.

Nevertheless, obliging opponents will only take things so far. The operation still required all on Team Lilywhite to put on serious faces and play the game a bit – and this they did pretty relentlessly, from the off until deep into the second half, at which point the lead was five and even by our standards it seemed a safe bet.

The anthem from the off seemed to be, ‘Prod, probe, and prod and probe again, and make sure you do it briskly and accurately’. Moreover, one got the impression that even with Norwich rolling over and practically begging to have their tummies tickled, Signor Conte would have grabbed by the neck anyone not delivering the goods and bellowed in their faces until matters improved.

And again, taking all this into account, one can only sing the praises of the man, and when done, pick a different key and sing them all over again. The mentality amongst our lot has not so much changed on his watch, as switched one hundred and eighty degrees, and for good measure seen the old mentality burnt to a cinder. There can be little clearer proof of this than the fact that when needing to avoid defeat our lot pointedly trotted out and stuffed the other lot by five.

2. Bentancur and Hojbjerg

I mentioned above that Norwich did not exactly treat the midfield region as some gladiatorial arena in which bloodied limbs were to be strewn and every inch fought for like the dickens. Quite the opposite. They seemed happy to back out of the way and cede that patch of land in its entirety. A curious ploy, and not one teeming with overpowering logic, or indeed effectiveness, but there it was.

Messrs Bentancur and Hojbjerg therefore took one look at the wide open spaces and promptly marched into them unopposed, which seemed reasonable enough. And continuing the theme of reasonable choices, once camp had been set up in midfield, and it became clear that any Norwich bods about the place were providing decorative value only, our midfield pair unfurled their more creative sides. Cautiously at first, understandably enough, but they soon got into the spirit of the thing and embraced the moment.

Hojbjerg in particular seemed to relish the opportunity. When the grass was still wet with morning dew he could be spotted shaking a limb or two in the Norwich area, evidently noting that here was an opportunity to recreate the glory of his attacking cameos at Euro 2020, or 2021, or whatever decorum dictates we call it.

Bentancur followed suit, but in rather more apologetic manner. Where Hojbjerg had been presented with a shooting opportunity from inside the area and greedily lashed at it with every ounce of his being, Bentancur adopted a far more relaxed attitude when Norwich parted at the moorings (via a Hojbjerg pass) and allowed him an eternity to pick his spot from close range.

Such vulgar acts as lashing a shot goalwards with ferocity are obviously beneath Bentancur, who prefers to imbue his contributions with class and elan. Seemingly disgusted at the notion of having to apply the finishing touch himself, he tried instead to invert the entire pitch, somehow dragging the ball backwards for one of the more uncouth sorts to bundle the thing in.

Bentancur was it at again five minutes later, looking almost embarrassed to collect the ball when handed to him on a plate by Tim Krul (who was evidently keen to undo all the good of that one-man barricade he presented against us a few years back), before gracefully chipping the ball towards Kane, in a manner which punished the mistake without twisting the knife and drawing too much attention to it. AANP looked on with approval.

Thereafter Bentancur was content to withdraw to a more behind-the-scenes role, making himself available and collecting on the half-turn, in that dreamy fashion that seems to be the unique gift of a chosen few. Hojbjerg meanwhile continued to have the time of his life, evidently aware that the Norwich midfield is a pretty rare treat and throwing himself forward with gusto.

With Skipp to return and signings presumably incoming it is debatable quite how many more afternoons this particular pair will enjoy in each other’s company, so in common with various others around them, I was rather pleased that proceedings were such that, as against Woolwich a few weeks back, they were able to enjoy themselves and lap up a spot of appreciation from the assorted onlookers.

3. Kulusevski

It would be stretching things to say that this was a mixed bag from young Master Kulusevski, because in truth it was another tour de force. A solid hour of perspiration topped off with a very welcome opener – coming, as it did, early enough to put to bed the nerves – and one heck of a finish in the second half.

That second goal in particular was fashioned from pretty spectacular stuff, beginning as it did with the young bean gently meandering toward the corner flag, before suddenly taking a sharp turn towards the spectacular and curling one of those glorious efforts that start outside the post but then shift-ho midway through its journey.

Nevertheless, awkward though it is, the really eye-catching moment in Kulusevski’s afternoon came a minute or two prior to that, when he produced a deceptive burst of pace and rounded the goalkeeper. At that point it appeared that only the formalities remained, what with the ‘keeper flailing in a different postcode and the net opening its arms in a welcoming embrace.

Bizarrely though, having until this point shown himself to be pretty adept at matters of consequence in the final third, the lad then seemed to lose track of how many feet he had, and things rather went downhill from there. I do wonder whether he was preoccupied with thoughts of enabling Sonny to get on the scoresheet, but whatever his motivations the outcome was pretty disastrous, and what ought to have been a straightforward tap in ended in an unsightly bundle of limbs, with the ball gently bobbing off in another direction.

Mercifully, this particular wrong was promptly righted with his wonder-strike moments later, and ought not to detract not only from another sterling display, but also the fact that his arrival has coincided with a pretty seismic upturn in our fortunes.

4. Sonny’s Golden Touch

Having said all that about various others, the star of the show ought really to be Sonny, and he’s evidently a popular sort, judging by the fanfare and ovation he was being afforded by his on-pitch chums as he edged closer to the Golden Boot. But it’s indicative of how underrated the fellow is that even at AANP Towers he gets shunted quite a long way down the list, behind Bentancur and Hojbjerg dash it.

This is actually quite the injustice. His second goal gave proof – not that any is required these days – that his nose for goal is right up there with the best, and if anything it was quite the curiosity to see his two straightforward second half chances culminate in the successful extension of a goalkeeping limb or two, rather than a net-ripple and celebratory finger-photo-frame-whatnot.

Sonny is evidently the principal beneficiary of Kane’s exploratory lumberings into deeper territory, blessed as he is both with blistering pace (including with ball at feet, which is not to be sniffed at) and, as mentioned, an increasingly ruthless streak in front of goal.

As well as being genuinely world class (by which I suppose I mean he would waltz into just about any team in the world) he also fits the system perfectly. Week after week he delivers the goods, both in front of goal and through his general movement, in and out of possession. And yet the fellow rarely gets mentioned in the same breath as other luminaries of the era – nor, more to the point, does he feature to highly on AANP’s post-match verbal meanderings.

One to bear in mind for the future I suppose, but for now it seems appropriate that he at least received the glory of an individual award recognised beyond the streets of N17.

5. Ben Davies

There has been some talk of summer signings including a new left-sided centre-back, and while upgrades are always welcome it would be a little harsh on poor old Ben Davies, who has fought the good fight with bundles of pluck and gusto this season. The circle of life and all that, and as Davies himself would presumably attest, being an honourable sort of egg, anything for the greater good is to lauded.

However, as I saw the chap doing his darnedest to prod us into life with forward passes from an inside-left-midfield sort of berth, or adopt the correct defensive stance as necessary in his own area, the thought did strike me that this might be something of a swansong.

He’ll almost certainly have a part to play next season, new signings or otherwise, what with fixtures piling up and the unique input provided by virtue of being Chappie With a Left Foot, so this was no tear-stained adieu.

But nevertheless, once the idea popped into my head, it rather stuck there, what? With each flying challenge and surprisingly testing long-range shot I looked at the blighter with a sort of avuncular fondness, noting proudly how far he has come. And while Norwich, to repeat, barely extended an arm, let alone laid a glove, Davies nevertheless spent the afternoon diligently applying all that he has learnt from Conte over the months – the forward dashes, the attacking input, the defensive solidity.

In a way, Davies represented much of our lot in a microcosm, having massively improved and bought into the system, but potentially due to be elbowed aside for someone newer and shinier come 22/23. Being a model pro, however, and given the spirit that Conte seems to have engendered, I suspect that he’ll be fully on board nonetheless.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-0 Arsenal: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sanchez

If there’s one thing AANP enjoys more than plucking one of the more unheralded players to laser in on as the first talking point, it’s finding sticks with which to beat poor old Davinson Sanchez. There’s a neat symmetry therefore in opening with a spot of praise for Senor D. S., after a game in which the chap swanned along more or less under the radar.

The marvellous pre-match atmosphere was punctured somewhat by yowls of anguish when the teamsheet was posted to reveal Sanchez where Romero ought to have stood. This was with good reason. Most of sound mind could rattle of the truths that not only is Romero comfortably a more dependable sort of bod in defence – crunching of tackle, intelligent of positioning, and so forth – but he also has turned into a pretty critical cog in our attacking machinery by dint of his ability to pick a forward pass from deep within the bowels of the back-line.

By contrast, Sanchez’s defensive attempts seem to come under as much pressure from factors such as gravity and control of his own limbs as opposing attackers; on top of which, while in possession, the list of options in his head seems to read:

  • Panic;
  • Send panicked pass backwards;
  • Blast panicked clearance into the atmosphere

As such, the reasons for concern were strong and manifold. The mood at AANP Towers, for a start, flipped from cautious optimism to “Death where is thy sting” in about the time it takes to read a teamsheet.

And those pre-match yowls were being repeated with some added vigour in the opening seconds of the match, when Sanchez received the ball and promptly wobbled through all three of his options. The omens were not good.

Worse still, the Woolwich rotter up against him – Martinelli – seemed to get whiff of the fact that here was a startled rabbit in headlights, and made a very public decision to get his head down and run at him every time he received the ball, no doubt reasoning that he was onto a good thing so why not.

Mercifully, the Martinelli threat was up in smoke once Woolwich went down to ten and reshaped themselves. Even so, the few threats they posed thereafter, Sanchez rose to sufficiently well. Be it on the ground or up in the air, he seemed on board with the basics of his role, and carried out sentry duty in his specific area pretty well.

As impressively, despite obviously being new to the centre-back troupe, he held his position well. Over the last couple of months, Dier, Romero and Davies have seemed particularly well drilled in the curious art of lining up alongside each other as if bound in position by taut rope, and in this respect Sanchez slotted in admirably.

He won’t have many gentler days, particularly in this fixture, but given the pre-match alarm prompted by his selection, the curious egg deserves a congratulatory fist-bump, or whatever it is the youth do these days.

Moreover, just when I was exhaling some of the 45 minutes’ worth of breath being held at the prospect of Sanchez being called into action, at the start of the second half he then went and played one of the best passes of the game in the build-up to our third.

Naturally it went under the radar, but his roll of the ball into Kane in the area was slyly spotted in the first instance, given that the onus at that point was on safe sideways passes and space was at something of a premium, and perfectly weighted in the second instance. From then on Kane and Son took charge – Kane using his strength, Sonny applying the finish – but that it all emanated from the size nine of Davinson Sanchez was impressive indeed.

2. Professionalism

All that said, one would hardly reflect on this game as one in which victory was obtained principally by the efforts of Sanchez. Rather, this was a triumph of lilywhite professionalism.

I suppose some might stop me right there, and counter that our lot didn’t really have to do much more than check in on time, as Woolwich needed little encouragement to go about the place imploding in comical fashion at every opportunity. And I would not be able to deny that this were an argument of some substance.  

Nevertheless, it was mightily encouraging that once up a goal and a man, our lot scented blood and dispensed with the traditional niceties of a genial host. The sentiment seemed to be that if our visitors wanted to fire off rounds into their own feet that was their prerogative, but we were not about to pause and extend the hand of friendship. Instead, much like those cyborg assassins sent from the future that one occasionally sees at the picture house, those in employment at N17 went about their business without any thought of bargaining or reasoning, and without feeling any pity, remorse or fear.

As the inexperienced young coves in the opposition ranks sought to impose themselves through the medium of one rash and hot-headed decision after another, our lot suddenly bore the hallmarks of a troupe who have seen a few things in their time, and now approach such matters a lot more wisely.

Where Holding, for the other lot, approached the occasion like some wild and ill-considered skirmish in the playground, with little consideration of the bigger picture, and went to extreme lengths to ensure he’d be sent off at the earliest opportunity, those in lilywhite added plenty of crunch and clatter to things, but without straying into the more sordid realms.

Even the moments of ill-discipline seemed to have about them an air of knowing professionalism. When Davies lost control of the limbs and allowed Nketiah to sneak in front of him, he wasted little time in entrapping the fellow’s ankle between his own two legs and refusing to release. A yellow card duly followed, but an infinitely worse threat – of Nketiah bearing down on goal unchallenged – had been halted. This was no rash swipe; it was a calculated breach of the regulations for the greater good.

The urge to press high up the pitch seemed stronger than usual once the red card had been shown, and in general there was a sense that here was a Spurs team deciding collectively that their moment had arrived and they were dashed well going to make the most of it.

The second goal seemed to emanate as much from grinding down Woolwich as from Bentancur’s leap and Kane’s finishing instincts. All of which made a most pleasing change, bearing evidence of the sort of gritty ruthlessness one wouldn’t normally associate with our mob. As ever, credit can liberally showered upon Our Glorious Leader, the fingerprints of whom could clearly be seen all over this.

Even in the second half, when my primitive instincts urged our lot to fly forward every time they touched the ball and shoot from all angles, I could still appreciate that the gentle and inoffensive popping of the ball this way and that was serving a purpose. The game was won, our goal difference was already superior – there was no need to do anything other than gently and inoffensively pop the ball.

3. Dier

As mentioned above, Sanchez filled the Romero-shaped hole adequately enough, but I thought Eric Dier met with this particular disaster particularly well. Not only did he have to contend with the loss of a reliable sort of egg to his right, and take on a spot of baby-sitting, the absence of Romero also deprived us of a usual outlet for distribution, heaping a few extra handfuls of responsibility upon Dier to do the forward-prompting from defence.

And this was not a responsibility he shirked. Admittedly he did not exactly morph into a modern-day Hoddle when the ball was at his feet, but he took to heart the responsibilities that come with being a defender at the heart of Conte-ball, and sought to distribute the thing usefully each time.

This was sometimes simply a sideways pass to Sanchez – about which Dier seemed a lot more sanguine than AANP, who greeted each of these occasions with a sharp intake of breath and fevered hand over the eyes – but as often it was a more constructive attempt. Notably this included the chip forwards towards Sonny that led to Holding being gripped by the idea that raising a shoulder to the face would swing the pendulum decisively his way.

While I’m not sure too much credit can be laid at Dier’s door for that particular incident – Holding, frankly, was the gift that didn’t stop giving, and might have been fun to observe for another hour – the point is that Dier was happy to try playing the ball out from the back, and in the absence of Romero this was pretty critical to our set-up.

Indeed, when the head hit the pillow and I began contemplating the infinite last night, the thought did strike me that the national head honcho could do worse than bring Dier back into the fold, particularly when one observes the regularity with which Harry Maguire makes a pig’s ear of unthreatening situations at the heart of any given defence in which he is placed.

4. Bentancur and Hojbjerg

And once supremacy was achieved, and the mission parameter switched from establishing a lead to protecting it, Messrs Hojbjerg and Bentancur cleared their throats and spent the remainder of the evening gently directing operations.

In fact, well before this, I was particularly enamoured of the manner in which Hojbjerg had gone about his business. Woolwich had signalled from kick-off that they felt this was a game that would be won by means of sly elbows and crafty kicks as much as anything else, so it was handy to have in the ranks a fellow like Hojbjerg who, one feels, strains at the leash to launch into a full-blooded challenge on someone from the moment his eyes open in the morning.

Moreover, Hojbjerg’s partiality to a forward gallop has also been in evidence in recent weeks. Admittedly one tries to erase from the memory his late input into matters in the opposing penalty area vs Liverpool last weekend, but in general the sight of him eagerly chugging up into the final third is a welcome one, and his contributions, whilst maybe lacking a little finesse, tend to be useful enough.

But it was in maintaining control of things once the game was won that both he and Bentancur excelled last night. Bentancur in particular has the happy ability to grasp the geography of the place in advance of receiving the ball, which, married to a pretty silky first touch, allows him to improvise changes in direction and whatnot according to any challenges that may fly his way at short notice.

It all contributed to what was essentially a half-hour victory parade at the end of the game last night, as this pair kept careful watch of possession and Woolwich, sensing the thing was up, waved a white handkerchief and looked on glumly.

Alas, I suspect that a week on Sunday we will still be left shrugging the shoulders and settling for fifth, and I suppose life does give one such crosses to bear – but no doubt about it, yesterday’s was as emphatic a win as they come, and if nothing else it will leave the grin etched across the map for a goodish while yet.

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Spurs match reports

Liverpool 1-1 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sessegnon

I would be deceiving my public if I were to claim to have studied meticulously the every sprint and shimmy of Ryan Sessegnon in his Fulham days, but as the news on the airwaves back then seemed to communicate with some confidence that he was essentially a left-footed reincarnation of Pele, I was happy to wave him on-board when his transfer to N17 had its I’s dotted and T’s crossed.

No doubt he had some rotten luck in the months since then, with various sinews pinging and limbs crumbling. The net effect of which has been that whereas a regular run of games might have turned him into a passable imitator of peak Danny Rose, he has instead gone about his business with the nervous air of a man entirely unfamiliar with the script and desperately hoping that nobody will notice.

My principal concern with Sessegnon is that he treats the football as if it is some other-worldly object of obscurity, unsure quite how to interact with it, and emphatically incapable of keeping the thing under his spell. And for much of yesterday – with one notable exception – this truth appeared to be very much intact.

That moment in which he almost headed an own-goal neatly encapsulated his ongoing struggles with the thing. While by no means a straightforward scenario – the ball was airborne, an attacker lurked – it was neither a situation of the gravest conceivable peril. There were a couple of options available, the most obvious of which seemed to be to nod the ball out of play, dust the hands of the situation and regroup for the next scene.

Sessegnon, however, treating the object as a dodecahedron rather than a sphere, contrived to lob a header into the most dangerous area possible – a yard from goal, into the path of Salah and very nearly over the extended frame of Lloris.

Our goalkeeper did the decent thing on that occasion (and indeed every occasion on which called into action), but the episode was indicative of a broader malaise. Sessegnon’s touch was generally a cue for all in lilywhite to about-turn and resume defensive positions, as the ball bobbled away from him much as it would if lobbed gently against a brick wall. The Sessegnon of Fulham vintage might have been a veritable deity with ball at feet, but our version appears to wrestle with deep-rooted, ball-based trauma.

However, yesterday was not really the occasion for any in our ranks to dazzle with elegant touch and soft caresses in possession. A large part of Sessegnon’s remit was in simply adopting the appropriate stance, depending on how the situation was unfolding centre-stage. So if Liverpool were hammering at our door, as they spent much of the game doing, our man dutifully shuffled out to a spot about five yards west of Ben Davies, and doggedly biffed away at which red-clad stooge tried to slink past.

This, to his credit, he did well. I was particularly taken by the manner in which, on the occasion on which he made a pig’s ear of things and allowed Salah a clear run on goal, more sordid urges consumed him. Rather than adopting the more socially-acceptable modes of defending, involving such noble arts as the clean tackle or well-timed block, he simply wrapped his arms around the chap’s waist and pulled at him with him all his might, earning a pretty racy yellow card in the process.

Moreover, on those rare occasions on which attacking opportunities poked their heads above the surface, Sessegnon joined in the fun with impressive gusto. As ever, his touch generally brought an end to things, but his very presence, augmenting our three-pronged forward line with his appearances as an auxiliary left-winger, were of immense value. The game-plan may have been built upon nerveless defending, but it equally required a counter-attacking threat in which at least one wing-back supplemented things.

And never was this more evident than in our goal, when first Sessegnon provided the extra body in the area, and then, on receiving the ball, finally managed to tame the thing and deliver it with truth and purity, on a plate for Sonny. If Sessegnon were to hit one accurate pass in the whole game it had to be that pass, and he did so like a champion. All other ills and mishaps were instantly forgiven.

2. Emerson Royal

Seasoned drinkers at the AANP Tavern will be familiar with the residents’ arched eyebrows and seedy glares whenever the name of Emerson Royal passes the lips. However, those same drinkers are reasonable folk of sound judgement, so when Senor Royal puts in a performance worthy of praise, applause will ring out, and thus did it transpire yesterday.

His crossing remains pretty mysteriously abject, but this was not an evening on which to lament his wrongs. Defensively, as with each of his chums, Royal did not put too many feet wrong – which might not sound like much, but given the relentless nature of Liverpool’s probing when in possession and pressing when out, was a solid day’s work.

Indeed, Royal’s task was exacerbated by the fact that he had in opposition to him Luis Diaz, the sort of chappie who makes your standard eel seem a relatively docile and compliant customer. Warm applause is due also to Kulusevski for taking the hint and stationing himself as first reserve in the right-back environs, but Royal barely put a foot wrong defensively. Moreover, he also aided matters by playing the ball out from defence with a composure of which I would not have thought him to possess.

As has been pointed out to me with some truth, the fellow is a right-back rather than a wing-back, so to chide him for his inability to cross is to do him something of a disservice. Yesterday his role was primarily defensive and he fulfilled it. Going forward he showed plenty of willing, albeit again failing to make the great balefuls of hay one would have hoped for from his multiple crossing opportunities.

He did produce a rather unorthodox contribution to our goal however. He had the presence of mind to spot Kane in a rare unmanned patch of greenery, and while his approach to conveying the ball to Kane was not necessarily wreathed in beauty – involving as it did a vertical punt into the heavens – it achieved its end, and a priceless goal swiftly followed.

3. The Centre-Backs

But I speak of Messrs R.S. and E.R. by way of preamble only. The real stars of the defensive show were the three centre-backs, each of whom took to the task as if the future of humanity depended upon it.

(This in itself is something of a revelation, being pretty much the last thing I’d have expected of a Spurs team after my four and a bit decades of eyeballing, and credit here is presumably due to Our Glorious Leader.)

Romero admittedly took a slightly risky approach to the concept of safety and security. His array of passes from near his own goalline was certainly brave, and all things considered I tip my cap to the man for consistently attempting to start attacks from deep, rather than simply dabbing it back to the ‘keeper and scrambling out of the limelight.

Nevertheless, the heart did shoot up through the throat and straight into the mouth each time Romero dabbled in this art yesterday, and he might be advised to take into account such factors as quality of opposition when next struck by the urge.

Defensively, however, he was his usual reliable self, adopting good positions, making good choices, hurling limbs into the path of shots and generally carrying himself with the air of one who treats defence as a way of life rather than simply a day-job.

Dier and Davies were similarly motivated throughout, and it was telling that Liverpool scored only through a deflection and created little else of note to moisten the forehead of Monsieur Lloris.

And from that perspective one might fling a frustrated palm or two skyward and bemoan two dropped points. Certainly if the Hojbjerg compass had been whirring and clicking correctly we might have snatched a winner at the death, and at various points in both halves a little more care in our counter-attacking pay might have secured a rich harvest.

There can be no disputing that Liverpool dominated possession and set the tempo for most of the game however, and while we successfully blunted just about every idea they came up with, a draw seemed about right. On it crawls, therefore, setting the stage nicely for Thursday and the Woolwich.

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Spurs match reports

Brentford 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Matty Cash (Stay With Me Here)

When Mother Nature was fashioning right wing-backs I fancy she sneaked off for a few minutes away from prying eyes, to surreptitiously create a red herring in amongst the quality stock, because Emerson Royal may have his talents (a debatable point, come to think of it) but wing-backery is not one of them. In fact, I’m still not convinced that this man is actually a professional footballer, in terms of the fine print and T’s and C’s. And yet history will record that this utter charlatan thrice appeared for Barcelona, which if nothing else goes to show what sorcery a cunning football agent is capable of.

To the surprise of no-one Emerson was at it again on Saturday, charging into cul-de-sacs like a toddler thrilling at a new game, and taking every available opportunity to make a pig’s ear of things when in possession.

There’s a broken record resounding with the four walls of AANP Towers, which continually belts out the refrain that for Conte’s system to work it blasted well needs a pair of pretty inspired wing-backs. Until Christian Eriksen returns we’re certainly not going to set any pulses racing in central midfield, where Messrs Hojbjerg and Bentancur are unfailingly polite and diligent, but respond with rather blank looks and the offer of a sideways pass when asked to create something. As such, the burden of expectation falls on those patrolling the flanks.

And this is where that pest Matty Cash lumbers into view, because until he took it upon himself to fling his entire body-weight at the knee of Matt Doherty a few weeks back, our lot could go about their 9-to-5 with at least one semi-decent wing-back in the ranks. Doherty seemed to have read the manual and got the gist of where to be and when. Even though, curiously, crossing the thing was never too high on his To-Do list, he still had enough good sense to plant himself in helpful attacking spots about the place.

Emerson, by contrast, is cursed with an inability to contribute helpfully to attacking matters – which to be honest, quite likely stems from his underlying inability to contribute helpfully to footballing matters more generally.

So when attempts to weave pretty meticulous routes straight down the centre came to naught, hopeful looks were cast towards the flanks for a spot of timely inspiration, only for those looks to fall upon Emerson Royal and become infused with a few shades of anguish.

Nor did the other flank bring a more productive harvest, being populated by young Sessegnon, who appears still petrified of his own shadow. All of which leaves me cursing with a great deal of spirit that damned Matty Cash (and, for good measure, Steven Gerrard, still hoovering up the goodwill around the place from his playing career to get away with such uncouth tactics as a manager). The Woolwich would do well to reward both with a handsome chunk of the winnings should they make the CL spot, because the absence of Doherty, while not the sole factor, has caused the whole operation to sag a bit.

2. Plan A

As alluded to above, the well of central midfield invention, if not quite bone dry, was certainly not threatening to spill over at the sides on Saturday.

That said, I’m not one to slap on the sackcloth and ashes and start bleating that our heroes simply moped about the place without caring a hang for matters of the turf. That was their domain last weekend vs Brighton. On Saturday vs Brentford, investment was at least made in the concept of prising out a chance.

The flanks were pretty derelict, arid territories, but our lot did have a couple of stabs at that business of quick, one-touching passing straight through the middle. And a chief inspector of such things might note that these endeavours met with some success. On a couple of occasions we successfully transferred the orb from circa. centre circle to circa. oppo penalty area with minimal oppo interference.

The problem was that by the time we hit oppo p.a. the whole operation ground to a halt, as we discovered that Brentford had populated the place with about fifty of their finest, and every possible avenue for entry was sealed off.

And that was pretty much the beginning, middle and end of Plan A. There was simply no way through via the centre, and our wing-backs were too dashed gormless to conjure up anything out east or out west.

3. Plan B

With Plan A thus fizzling out pretty much upon take-off, one could not impress enough upon our heroes the importance of a sturdy and viable Plan B, the sort that would force the Brentford mob to reconsider their lot in life and conjure up chances from new and exciting angles.

Unfortunately, while the theory of Plan B was sound, the reality of Plan B hit upon a pretty sizeable flaw, of the existential variety, in that it didn’t actually exist.

It’s difficult to say where the blame lies for this. Certainly the obvious direction for the accusatory finger to point is that of Our Glorious Leader, he being the nib tasked with devising such ruses. Conte appears very much a creature of tactical habit, wedded not only to his wing-backed 3-4-3, but also to pretty much an identical XI every week, if availability allows.

However, having played two games without registering a shot on target one might reasonably suggest that opponents are starting to get the hang of The Conte Way and, worse, finding ways to neuter it. And this, surely, is where the Big Cheese earns his monthly envelope, shrugging his shoulders at the unfortunate fate of Plan A and unveiling with a flourish some dastardly Plan B – and, ideally, also Plans C, D and E for good measure, if he is really in the mood.

Instead, Conte seems at as much of a loss as the rest of us, if the 3-4-3 and identical XI aren’t delivering the goods.

Now strictly speaking, if recording these musings under oath I would be in a bit of a spot, because this is a mild untruth. Cast your mind back to the rip-snorting draw with Liverpool back in December, and Conte lined up our heroes in a 5-3-2, to pretty decent effect when one takes all things into account.

These days however, Conte’s gambling blood doesn’t really extend much beyond flinging on Lucas for a ten-minute scamper and possibly Bergwijn in the dying embers of added time, neither of which really tear up the manual and indicate a wild and daring inversion of tactics.

Aside from Conte, I suppose one might direct a chastising poke of the ribs towards the actual players themselves, they being the souls in most direct command of proceedings. One never really feels comfortable attributing to footballers the capacity of enlightened thought and ingenuity, so it is perhaps asking a bit much of them to fix the tactical machinery mid-game. However, while it would be nice to see, unfortunately beyond Kane dropping into his little holes the market for such in-game player spontaneity is pretty much closed.

The alarming thing is that with only a handful of games left and precious little scope for further dropped points, we need a few viable alternatives and pronto. Actually, the alarming thing is the failure to hit a bally shot on target in two games, but you appreciate the forward-looking concern too.

4. Eriksen’s Corners

Of course, all such miseries and concerns rather faded away when one drank in the sight of Christian Eriksen treading the boards again, and long may he continue to do so.

His touch remains in pretty decent working order, and I noted with interest that the data bods awarded him the rosette for Most Distance Covered, which is the sort of stat that will do no harm to the Returning To Spurs rumours.

Back in his lilywhite days, my main gripe with the chap was that he tended to deliver his wizardry in fits and starts, flitting around the periphery of the match for much of it, rather than wading around knee-deep in the stuff from first whistle to last, as a man of his talent ought. Whether he is therefore the solution to our ills is debatable – although his advocates would make the pretty reasonable point that with him pottering around the midfield it is unlikely that we would go two games without a shot on target.

But aside from all that, what really caught the eye was the sight of him pinging corners and free-kicks about the place like a chap who’d been blessed with such ability since childhood.

Much has been made of the fact that three first-half corners were delivered pretty much on a sixpence to Toney at the far post. Anyone within earshot of AANP as these sailed over would have recoiled at the coarse and earthy language being gaily splashed around the place, such was my disgust at the complete abandonment of marking duties displayed by Sonny on these occasions, he evidently not being the sort for any of that enlightened thought or ingenuity I mentioned earlier (or even the plain common sense to spot the same thing happening and act upon it at the third time of asking).

However, the more charitable pundits about the place chose instead to focus their energies upon a spot of good old-fashioned sycophancy at Eriksen and his set-piece delivery, and I must admit that I did give it an eye. It was all the more remarkable to me, however, because one of the abiding memories of the chap’s final season in N17 was his bizarre inability to deliver a decent set-piece. It was quite the curiosity that so many of his corners would skim along the turf and straight to the first defender, incurring some early variations of that coarse and earthy language.

On Saturday, however, set-piece delivery appeared, once again, to have become his speciality, and it dashed well near enough sank us, leading to two rattles of the frame and one off-the-line clearance.

So much for Eriksen, and good luck to the honest fellow. As for our lot, one heck of an upturn is needed, and pronto, because this thing is slipping away. Strictly speaking it does remain in our hands – win all remaining fixtures, including the North London derby, and fourth is ours – but for any of the above to materialise, on-pitch matters need some pretty immediate and effective surgery.