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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-2 Wolves: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris and Davies Setting the Tone

After the midweek debacle, what we all needed – apart from perhaps a bracing drink and a holiday in sunnier climes – was for the more experienced souls amongst our number to march to the centre of the stage and begin proceedings by announcing in no uncertain terms that this was an afternoon for clear thinking and sensible decision-making.

Unfortunately, as seems to happen around these parts, somewhere between the changing room and the pitch such wholesome principles were discarded as far too bland, replaced by motives far more eye-catching, if dubious. By the time the game kicked off our lot seemed convinced that this was the day for playing fast and loose with the finer points of the sport, and simply went about the place lobbing in whatever madcap scheme struck them, with zero consideration for consequences.

Monsieur Lloris, the sort of oeuf on whom one would normally bet a healthy chunk of the mortgage on doing the sensible thing, set the tone with their opener, by deciding that today was as good as any to dispense with the safety-first approach to goalkeeping.  

This is not to excuse from blame those around him of course, for just about everyone (bar perhaps Kane) lent their full support to the drive not only to usher Wolves in at their leisure, but to do so in the manner that gave best expression to visual comedy. So when the first Wolves chappie steadied himself to shoot goalwards in the build-up to their opener, rather than wave a deterring limb at him, those in lilywhite simply stood aside and urged him on.

To his credit Lloris at least had the decency to leap hither and thither repelling the initial attempts, safe in the knowledge that none of his teammates were inclined to interrupt with any preventative measures. But when the opportunity finally presented itself for him simply to catch the ball gently lobbed towards him, he unveiled the sort of needless mid-air flap that seemed better suited to interpretative dance than the rigours of penalty area necessaries.


Not content with gifting Wolves their opener thusly, Lloris then took it upon himself to set in train the slapstick sequence for their second. He picked the most unlikely method to do so too, as if to demonstrate that here within the confines of N17, no situation, no matter how harmless and child-proof, is exempt from buffoonery. His method of choice was to take the simple five-yard pass and turn it into a construction fraught with danger, utterly wrong-footing Ben Davies by thumping it towards the by-line, a radical alternative to the conventional approach of rolling gently it to his feet.

Davies, by this point, needed no further invitation to muscle in on the slapstick. He was, after all, fresh from losing a battle with his own feet against Southampton, which had resulted in him collapsing in a heap when the easier option was to effect a clearance, thereby allowing our midweek visitors their first goal.

Today therefore, for him simply to resume where he had left off was the work of a moment. As options abounded for quelling the danger – conceding a corner, finding row z, hoicking the thing towards the heavens – Davies cunningly whipped the ball back into play and straight at a Wolves sort.

And inspired by the lunacy of these esteemed figures, those all around them in our back-line scrambled to get in on the act, skidding on the surface and bungling their clearances until a Wolves bod almost apologetically put an end to the routine by dabbing the ball home.

That our visitors did not score a third was something of a curiosity, and not for lack of further cluelessness amongst the principals in lilywhite. While I thought Romero could again be excused from too much blame, alongside him young Sanchez continued to make a drama out of any of the most mundane situations imaginable; while the midfield pair seemed to make a joint, executive decision that they would keep their interference to a minimum and leave the defence to sort out their own troubles.

2. The Early Substitution

Having seen his plan for settling into the match in calm and sensible fashion merrily torn to shreds by his troops, Our Glorious Leader understandably enough went for the nuclear option, and after twenty-five minutes simply closed his eyes and stuck a finger blindly at a different formation on his iPad.

I must confess to emitting a sigh of some disappointment at this. Admittedly a sigh of disappointment was a pretty different response from the disbelieving curses that had been flowing freely in the preceding moments, but nevertheless, trusting sort that I am, at kick-off I had rather been looking forward to seeing this line-up.

For a start I had welcomed the opportunity to watch Doherty fill the size nines of Emerson Royal, but more on that below.

Bentancur for Hojbjerg was also a selection that met with approval. Bentancur had spent the first ten seconds or so of his league debut midweek convincing us that he was our best signing ever, when he followed one nifty drag-back with a mightily impressive forty-yard diagonal.

As such I was determined to greet his every touch with the sort of parental pride you find in a lioness gazing adoringly upon a cherished cub. And to his credit, he does have pretty slick technique, which he was quite happily to showcase as being superior to most of those around him. A handy sort of egg then, but a midfield enforcer – of the ilk we rather crave – he is not. Nor is he two people, and while he can hardly be blamed for this, it proved nevertheless a drawback in the early stages, as he and Winks were comfortably outnumbered in the centre.

Conte’s attempt to remedy this numerical conundrum was to hook poor old Sessegnon, shove Kulusevski into midfield and rearrange the deck-chairs into a 4-3-3.

Sessegnon has achieved impressive feat of having me feel both sympathy and exasperation in perfect concurrence. On the one hand, I get the impression that if a piano were to fall from the sky, the fates would conspire for Sessegnon to set off on a stroll in the exact spot it hit the earth, such is the sort of luck he attracts.

On the other hand, he currently tiptoes around the place looking like a lad who has never laced a pair of boots before, and is aware that he is about to be found out. He can hardly be singled out for blame for his twenty minutes today – Lloris and Davies were worse – but of the high-flying youngster signed a few moons back there is currently not a whiff.

As mentioned, Sessegnon’s removal brought Kulusevski bounding into frame. He seems a harmless sort of fellow, and adds some squad depth, which was evidently an itch that Conte wanted scratching. But if the question is whether we have brought in someone who can improve our First XI, Kulusevski seems at first glance not to be the answer. However, at that price, and in that window, I suspect we all already knew that.

3. Doherty

As mentioned, being the wide-eyed, gullible sort, I had greeted with enthusiasm the news that Doherty was to be entrusted with RWB duties. Admittedly this reaction was principally based upon the manner in which Emerson Royal’s performances in that position have sucked so much of my very being from my soul. Nevertheless, if pressed I could also point to Doherty’s second half against Leicester a few weeks back as a pointer that the chap might know his way about the right flank.

Alas, to say that Doherty did nor really cover himself in glory is to understate things. Remarkably, he managed to achieve the feat of looking like a poor version of Emerson (stay with me here). While Emerson does little more defensively than stand and wave as opponents waltz past him, and while history has yet to record him delivering a cross worthy of the name, he does at least have the decency to run into appropriate attacking positions when we are on the front-foot. Things may fall to pieces swiftly afterwards, but he gets that much right. Today, as well as being defensively average, Doherty could not even muster the courage to station himself in the final third.

There is a mitigating circumstance I suppose, for the switch to a back-four meant that Doherty’s wing-back slot faded out of existence, and he became a more conventional right-back. Charitably, one might suggest that we would need to see Doherty given a full 90 minutes at wing-back – and more than once – to get a sense of whether he has either the interest or grey cells for the role.

But today, even before the tactical switch neutered him, he seemed pretty reluctant to set foot over halfway, and oddly overwhelmed by events every time he touched the ball. This is not to cast him as the villain of the piece – most around him were similarly impotent. It was just rather a let-down. Conte-ball does, after all, depend rather heavily on a pair of wing-backs who bristle with life and brio.

4. Winks

Young Winks is a peculiar fish. One cannot fault his willing. Even the most casual and uninterested observer would be struck by his determination to do things right and, rather tellingly, make amends for the mistake he has just executed. He has much about him of the over-excited puppy, simply pleased to be there.

But by golly he makes a lot of mistakes. We should be grateful, I suppose, that in his present incarnation, under Conte, Winks v3.0 is pretty open to the notion of The Forward Pass, for so long a manoeuvre shrouded in mystery to him. And I ought therefore to cut him some slack when he gives away possession in the name of attempting something progressive – for I have not forgotten the days of yowling at him at least to try going forward, rather than forever spinning southwards.

But at the same time, for a chap who built his reputation upon passing of the neat-and-tidy variety he does seem to fudge a lot of that bread-and-butter stuff. On top of which, one can add “Caught In Possession” and “Failing To Close Down Shots” to his rap-sheet.

I do wonder whether a lot of the individual errors in midfield would be removed by adopting a midfield three, as vs Leicester and Liverpool in recent weeks, but that might be a debate for a different day. On the other hand, one might argue with some justification that we did indeed have a midfield three today, and a fat lot of good it did us. Either way, the suspicion lingers that that midfield area needs more than just cosmetic surgery.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-3 Southampton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

This turned out to be one of those imbroglios so madcap and all-action-no-plot that, come the credits, I could not quite keep track of what emotion I ought to register. I therefore made a quick check of my in-match notes, which revealed the following:

FACT: First half was a one-one hammering.

Comment: Eh? That doesn’t sound right.

FACT: Trust me on this one.

Comment: “One-one” suggests a pretty even state of affairs, what? Perhaps some ebb and flow, but all things being equal-

FACT: ‘Twas an unholy battering.

Comment: Crumbs. I say, I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, but the phrase still seems to suggest parity.

FACT: This is Tottenham Hotspur. The laws of logic go out the window.

Comment: Fair.

FACT: We did have five good minutes in that first half though.

Comment: Scoring one and missing a pretty clear chance for another? This suggests that at least something about Conte’s counter-attacking format has t’s crossed and i’s dotted.

FACT: Second half we started to edge on top.

Comment: Decent goal to show for it too.

FACT: Indeed.

Comment: Rather.

FACT: But our attempt then to manage the game was utterly ham-fisted

Comment: Evidently. Within five minutes we were losing, dash it.

FACT: Well, quite. We conceded exactly the same goal twice.

Comment: Yes, I noted that. Rather like watching a car-crash in slow motion. You know the feeling – can see it all unfolding, know it’s going to end disastrously, yet can’t tear the eyes from it.

FACT: We equalised in added time!

Comment: Huzzah! That Bergwijn is certainly good for a-

FACT: Disallowed by VAR.

Comment: Curses.

That being cleared up, the talking points rise to the surface, rather like bloated bodies in a pool.

1. The Counter-Attack Strategy

On paper, it could hardly sound more straightforward: let the oppo have the ball, nick it from them, hare up the pitch and strike.

And as my notes above indicated, when our heroes got to the fun part of this plan – namely haring up the pitch and striking – all was lollipops and rainbows. Sonny, Kane and Lucas have rehearsed this scene often enough to know all the moves with their eyes closed. As if to illustrate this, despite having an otherwise muted sort of time of things Lucas burst into life twice, creating a goal each time; while Sonny and Kane’s combo ought to have led to a goal for Reguilon, who had evidently got wind of the fun being had by the front-three and arrived like a steam train to get in on the frivolity.

When his head hit the pillow, Senor Conte may therefore have noted that the ‘attacking’ element of counter-attacking needs little work. It’s cigars and generous bourbons in that part of the world.

The challenge lies in the earlier premise, of letting the oppo have the ball. Harmless enough on paper, the reality was that Southampton ran rings around our lot for the majority of the first half. And not just the innocuous sort of rings that involve shoving the ball east and west without a whiff of penetration.

Southampton seemed to cut through our heroes at will, fashioning chances whenever the hell they fancied it. Now one accepts that such eventualities will unfold over the course of the season. Go up against the billionaires of Man City, or Liverpool or Chelski on one of their better days, and one can expect that sleeves will be rolled up in all quarters, and the dickens of a defensive shift be put in by every crew member.

But to be pulled from pillar to post non-stop, at home, by Southampton, seemed a bit thick. A decent outfit, for sure, and no doubt they’ll be plundered for their riches come the summer – but really not the sort of opponent that should have any self-respecting team hanging on for dear life. Yet come half-time one rather wanted to throw in a sympathetic towel and lead each of our heroes away for a sit-down and a warm glass of milk.

Difficult to pinpoint any single problem, but a couple of them seemed to reside in midfield, and one at right-back, as will be explored below.

Hojbjerg and Winks did not seem to have enough fingers between them to stick in the countless dykes appearing all over the place. By the end of the first half the pair seemed to offer little more than decorative value, their tactic of dangling an occasional limb proving pretty ineffectual in countering Southampton’s relentless switches to the left.

Watching the horror unfold, I did wonder whether a change of personnel might have eased things a tad. Messrs Skipp and, from early sightings, Bentancur both seem a bit more geared towards actually winning the ball, an approach I’d be happy to see at least attempted, in contrast to the Winks-Hojbjerg slant of staring at the opponent from a distance of five yards and hoping nothing dangerous follows.

Alternatively, the thought occurred that a switch to 3-5-2 might have swung things in our favour. One will never know of course, and it would also mean sacrificing Lucas, but in its previous incarnations (Leicester away, Liverpool home) our lot have rustled up a couple of pretty humdinging performances, which makes one chew a bit.

2. Hojbjerg

Well, this is awkward. That is to say, one doesn’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but Hojbjerg does appear to be discreetly shuffling from the queue marked “Solution” to that marked “Problem”.

Tough to stomach, because one rather admires the attitude of the chap – too often our midfield has been manned by blisters who will casually shrug off defeat as one of life’s little irritations, which rather get in the way of a neat pirouette and dainty flick. Hojbjerg, by contrast, comes across as the sort who spends his down-time chewing on glass and glaring at his offspring, an attitude I for one think we need a dashed sort more of in the corridors of N17.

But alas, attitude alone doth not a midfield general make. Watching as Hojbjerg dabbed pass after pass into a curious ether that couldn’t accurately be classified as “Here” or “There” made one clear the throat and shoot an embarrassed look towards the nearest chum, as if to say, “He’s rather off the boil tonight, what?” And frankly, that nearest chum would shoot a look back as much as to suggest, “And not for the first time, I fear”.

On top of his startling abandonment of geography in his passing, Hojbjerg, as mentioned above, became ever less effective as a defensive screen. It all adds up to a chap who currently seems to be in the team based on tattoos and anger alone. He may just need a rest of course, something that does not seem to have been afforded to him since approximately the summer of 2020. Whatever the cause, something seems amiss.

All that said, such things are not entirely black and white. Hojbjerg’s finer recent moments seem to have been performed up in the final third, either in lending his frame to the high-press or bobbing off on a little jaunt into the opposition area. Such a jolly brought about our opening goal last night, which had me scratching the loaf and wondering if we’ve misunderstood him all this time.

3. Emerson Royal

There seems a lot less misunderstanding to be done on the matter of Emerson Royal. Bang average going forward and pretty woeful going back, I can only assume he produces stuff in training that would make Maradona blush, because game after game the young wag peddles some first-rate rot.

I’ll stick him the charitable stuff first: going forward he at least has the right idea. He knows the drill, and obediently charges off up the right flank, which if nothing else will give the fellow on the other side something to think about.

The problems seem to begin once he has the ball at his feet. If there’s a wrong option to choose, Emerson homes in on it like a moth to a flame. Alternatively, if the situation demands he whip in a cross – and let’s face it, in a wing-back’s line of work this is going to be bread-and-butter stuff – the fabric of the universe seems to melt before his eyes, and the peculiar fellow just cannot seem to muster the capacity. If you excuse the physics lesson, nothing about his crosses suggests he knows anything about trajectory or curl.

It’s pretty maddening stuff, as this must surely have been right up there in bold font on the Job Description, yet I struggle to remember a single decent cross he’s swung in. Tellingly, unlike Reguilon on the other side, Emerson gets nowhere near our set-pieces.

(Lest anyone point to his deflected effort vs Brighton at the weekend, I have a stash of rotten fruit waiting to be hurled, for in the first place there was no-one in the area at whom he could have been aiming, and in the second place the eventual arc of the ball owed everything to the deflection and precious little to Emerson’s own input.)

Moreover, defensively Emerson is such a liability that Southampton made no bones about the fact that he and he alone would be the point of all their attacks. Time and again, in the first half in particular, they targeted him, and time and again he melted away in the face of it all.

While the two late goals conceded made for pretty nasty viewing, there could be little surprise about the fact that Emerson was the nearest in the vicinity for the winning goal in particular. (I exonerate him re Southampton’s second, as Kulusevski switched off instead of tracking his man, leaving Emerson in the unenviable position of having two unmarked forwards on his plate.)

The winning goal, however, was a neat illustration of Emereson’s pretty odd approach to defending, involving him attempting to allow the chap a header and banking on his ability to block its path to goal, rather than actually challenging for the dashed thing.

Meanwhile, Matt Doherty stares on listlessly from the sidelines. This is not to suggest that Doherty’s presence would transform operations, but I do wonder quite what depths Emerson has to plumb before being bundled out the back and having the door locked behind him.

4. Romero

Strange to say, having conceded thrice, but at the heart of defence Romero filed away another solid shift. Not flawless – at one point in the first half he was utterly undone by a straightforward long-ball hoicked over his head – but by and large, whatever came into his sphere was mopped up with minimal fuss, and often a few extra servings of meat.

He would benefit from a few more capable souls to his left and right, and indeed in front of him, but defensively, both on terra firma and up in the atmosphere, he seems a pretty handy nib to have on the premises.

Intriguingly, the fellow is also evidently possessed of a pretty eye-catching pass from deep. Given the general absence of creative spark from our central midfield pair, this could prove to be a pretty significant outlet in weeks to come.

Alas, there were simply too many duds in the defensive unit last night, and it is a bit fruity to expect Romero single-handedly to put out every fire going. The latest cameo from Bentancur suggests that there’s a chap who needs fast-tracking into the starting eleven, and the eventual return of Skipp might also add a sharpened elbow or two to the midfield, but after the dominant performance against Brighton at the weekend, this was mightily disappointing stuff.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

With apologies for tardiness.

1. Winks

Understandably enough the murmur about the place pre kick-off was around the return to the cast list of Messrs Son and Romero; but once all concerned spat on their hands and got down to it, the chappie who quietly emerged to AANP as having a say on things was one H. Winks Esq.

In a way, the current Winks vintage – Winks 3.0, you might say – requires for full appreciation an acknowledgement of what he is not. That is to say, Winks is not some all-singing, all-dancing box of trickery. If it’s Ndombele-esque body-swerves you’re after, of indeed Mousa Dembele-esque wriggles-from-tight-corners, then look elsewhere. And if you’re the sort who needs a Luka Modric eye-of-the-needle pass to get your pulse racing, then young Winks will not do much to soothe the savage beast lurking within.

Instead, on Saturday night, “neat and tidy” seemed to be the chorus on the lips of the fellow. I was rather taken by the manner in which our heroes regularly one- and two-touched their way out of ever-diminishing little defensive alleys, and Winks was as often as not front and centre of these operations. He availed himself whenever crisis (in the form of onrushing Brighton folk) approached a defensive chum, and having received the ball, did not stand around making speeches or counting his blessings, but swiftly shoved it along to someone better placed and less harassed.

A criticism of Winks, from this corner of the interweb as much as any other, has been his tendency, after surveying the terrain and weighing up all options, to take the rather excessive step of deciding that the slightest whisper of danger means the immediate cancellation of all forward-thinking possibilities. As a result, whatever the question, Winks’ answer has tended to be to go backwards.

This, however, might be described as Winks 2.0. The current, Conte-fied version (Winks 3.0) is by no means averse to passing backwards, but – crucially – does not view such retreat as the panacea to all that life throws at him. Winks 3.0 instead seems to be motivated primarily by an urge to do whatever the situation requires, as long as it’s done without too much hesitation.

This, at least to my uneducated eye, seems an infinitely more productive approach. It means that his primary motivation is simply to move the ball along, and preferably into a less troubled climate – and if that means going forward, backwards, underground or up into the atmosphere, Winks is on board.

And so on Saturday, we were treated to such delights as Winks dabbing little diagonals, Winks nudging the ball back towards goal, Winks chipping the ball square into space, and so on. The imp seemed to understand that what mattered was simply moving the object of the piece from Point A to Point B with minimal delay – and in the first half in particular this seemed to amount to a pretty critical part of the overall operation of pinching the thing from under Brighton’s noses and racing off on the counter-attack.

Winks was not perfect – the growing influence of Brighton’s Bissouma in the second half was evidence of that – but he seemed fully attuned to the company policy of swiftly turning defence into attack through swift distribution, and in this sense did enough to earn himself a much sought-after nod of approval from AANP.

2. Romero

As mentioned, Saturday brought about the welcome return of Senor Romero, and a welcome one it was too.

Everything seemed in working order, at least until his various sinews malfunctioned on 75 mins, but by then I think all concerned had seen enough to have any doubts about his return to the front-line suitably eased.

Part of the appeal of Romero is that he seems to do the majority of his business in an understated way, such that one wouldn’t necessarily notice he were there if one weren’t actively on the lookout for him. It helps that he is but one cog in an increasingly well-oiled defensive machine, all five of them (plus midfield helpers) seeming to know their lines and starting spots. The back-line was not necessarily impenetrable, but nor did it have the look of a gang hastily cobbled together with all concerned improvising their way through life. When on the back-foot, our defensive five appear to know their eggs, and Romero seemed perfectly content with his role and responsibility as bean-at-centre-of-things.

As well as simply being in the appropriate location at the appointed time, Romero also went off on the occasional wander to pretty good effect. If a Brighton wag had the temerity to scuttle into dangerous territory with the ball at his feet, Romero was perfectly happy to trot along after him and present himself as a rather imposing barrier, which in the circumstances seemed a reasonable enough approach.

On one occasion he was also temporarily possessed by the spirit of Beckenbauer, and accordingly went for a spin up over halfway and deep into opposition territory. Such day-trips appear to be heartily encouraged by Our Glorious Leader, and are facilitated by the presence of a back-three plus midfield minders, so we can probably get used to such raids.

3. Sanchez

On the subject of defensive eggs finding themselves tempted into the sordid world of the opposition half, Davinson Sanchez was oddly emboldened from start to finish.

Context here is crucial, for in all his appearances in lilywhite to date, Sanchez has given the impression that nothing distresses him more than finding the ball at his feet and being instructed to do something useful with it.

Go charging after an attacker, and Sanchez is in his element, bobbing from side to side like an out-of-control rowing boat until he is able to go charging into a challenge, sometimes taking ball, sometimes taking man, but always walking away from the crime-scene with the look of a man satisfied that he has done all asked of him.

Alternatively, if faced up by an attacker and given the opportunity to clear the ball to safety, Sanchez defers to no man in his ability to blast the thing as far from danger as possible, like a committed trooper hurling a live grenade out of his immediate sphere. There are few frills to Sanchez’ game, and one can almost read within his eyes that he sees no reason why there should be. Football, to Davinson Sanchez, is a game played by clearing all immediate danger, using whatever means necessary. Given this framework, he appears only too glad to have been blessed with the ability to draw back his right peg and deliver an almighty swing.

All of which had me rubbing the eyes and raising a puzzled finger on Saturday night, as we were treated to regular viewings of Sanchez charging up the right and towards the promised land of Brighton territory. What the hell possessed the chap is anyone’s guess. Personally, I blame Ben Davies, whose forays up towards the enemy penalty area in recent months have evidently not gone unnoticed in the Colombian quarter.

Admittedly, Sanchez’ actions betrayed the mentality of a man whose strategy seemed to be to act first and think later. He would set off full of buck and brio, looking every inch a fellow driven by an irresistible spirit of adventure – but on approaching halfway, reality seemed to hit and he typically slammed on the brakes, suddenly aware of the practical implications of his behaviour.

It’s a pretty telling indication of the state of things when one turns to Emerson Royal for help, but as it dawned upon Sanchez that all eyes were on him and that the thing at his feet was a real, live football, Emerson suddenly became the life-raft to which he felt the urge to attach himself.

At one point, unless my eyes deceived, Sanchez even found himself up in something like a centre-forward position. The whole thing was most peculiar in truth, but here at AANP Towers we were all for it. All too often we have been treated to the sight of Sanchez receiving a harmless pass and doing his best not to spontaneously combust at the shock of it all, so if he is prepared to venture like some new-born lamb, over halfway and up along the right flank, then it seems a more productive approach to life.

4. Kuluslevski and Bentancur

The other headline of the evening was the unveiling of our shiny new toys. Actually, the headline as far as AANP was concerned was the burst of pace shown by Sonny to set up our third goal, a blur of heels so rapid that the nearest Brighton defender completely lost control of his limbs and all sense of spatio-temporal awareness, and somehow found himself dribbling the ball unstoppably towards his own goal.

(The sub-headline of the evening was Ben Davies randomly unleashing an inch-perfect fifty yard cross-field pass to Kane.)

Back to the debutants. Kuluslevski was given half an hour or so entertain himself, and did so principally by making clear to the gallery that he has one preferred trick and will keep repeating it until time is called. In fairness, the old “Cutting Infield Onto Your Left Foot” gambit was sufficient for Arjen Robben to carve out an entire career, so Kuluslevski might argue that this is no bad tree up which to bark. Nevertheless, after seeing him put into practice this same manoeuvre a fourth time in his single cameo I did wonder about the extent of the research taken into this chap.

Bentancur on the other hand was given only five minutes, a period he put to good use in diving straight for the heart of the action in central midfield. One obviously hesitates to read anything into a five-minute teaser, but nevertheless I was encouraged by the fellow’s gusto in homing in on the busiest hub, as well as his neat footwork and one or two well-judged interventions.

He even found time to pick up a caution for a foul low on subtlety and high on efficiency, in putting a stop to an opponent’s forward intent by simply grabbing him by a couple of his limbs and refusing to relinquish. Again, what struck me here was not so much the specifics of the interaction as the general message it sent: for here was a soul concerned only to stop the other chap prospering, and if that meant brazenly committing Rule Violation 101 in full view of the ref then our man had absolutely no compunction. And I rather liked that about him.

Of course, the coming weeks and months will tell us a lot more about both, but it was nevertheless handy that each could take in a personal tour of the place. More broadly, given that Brighton are no mugs, a comfortable win against them should go down as a pretty slick evening’s work.

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Spurs news, rants

Spurs’ January Transfer Window: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dele

AANP has traditionally been one to greet bad news with a stiffening of the upper lip and, if pushed, a solemn, unspoken nod at a nearby chum who feels similarly. And rarely has the upper lip been stiffer in recent times than upon learning of the departure of young Dele.

Utterly inevitable of course. The young bean had long ago fizzled out, and generally only popped up in lilywhite in recent years to drift along in his own little world before another month or two on the bench. If any other wag did what he’s been doing – slowing down the game, hogging the ball, moodily waving the arms and giving up the cause when dispossessed – the knives would have been out and pitchforks flung in his direction a long time ago.

By the time the bitter end swung around Dele offered purely decorative value. We’d spot him pre-match, forlornly nutmegging his fellow subs during the warm-up, but thereafter his biggest contribution tended to be in unwrapping a blanket for his legs as he watched on from the bench. If ever a former bright young thing needed a change of scenery, it is Dele. One does not disagree with the unceremonious binning.

Quite why it all went wrong is a rummy one. Dele’s problem seemed ultimately to be an existential one, in that his favoured No. 10 position simply ceased to exist. Disappeared into the ether. This must have been pretty tough for the chap to take, essentially turning up to work to find that his desk had been removed, but I suppose time – and systems involving one central striker and two inverted wingers – wait for no man.

Within Conte’s 3-4-3, there is no room for a midfielder who yearns deep inside to be a forward. Conte’s midfielders must midfield first, and ghost into the opposition area only on special occasions.

(Admittedly the 3-5-2 set-up, which brought something like the best out of Dele vs Liverpool a few weeks back, suggested that there might be life in the old dog yet, and I confess to being a mite surprised that this experiment was not repeated, but Conte presumably had seen enough.)

So off he has popped – and yet it does lower the mood about the place, what? Peak Dele was, if not necessarily the heartbeat, then certainly one of the essential organs of the whole glorious-without-actually-bringing-home-any-specific-glory Poch era.

This is not so much for what he did (although the list is plentiful and glorious: popping up as young scamps will do, with goals against Real, and Arse, and Chelsea; demonstrating some quite glorious touches to pluck falling footballs from the sky; grinning cheekily while kicking out slyly; contorting thumb and forefinger; and so on).

It’s as much for what the very presence of the chap said about our last fun adventure: Poch-era Tottenham. Here was a brash young bounder who oozed talent and positively revelled in flicking the ears of shinier opponents. Think of him in his bursting-from-midfield pomp, and it’s hard not to think of that all-singing, all-dancing team of nearly-men who had an absolute blast and took us to within a whisker of pots of various sizes.

And by a similar token, removing Dele in effect dismantles more of that Poch machinery, leaving behind just the top and tail of the thing.

“Here’s Dele Alli… here’s Lucas Moura… OH THEY’VE DONE IT!

2. Ndombele and Lo Celso

Tottenham Hotspur is, of course, where talented foreign footballers go to die, so we probably should not be too surprised that having looked like the sort of beans around whom Title-challenging teams could be built in their YouTube compilations and international performances, Ndombele and Lo Celso are now being bundled out of the nearest exit.

Dashed shame though. One didn’t need to boast the keenest football eye to detect that each of the aforementioned were capable of some pretty ripping stuff with a ball at their feet – and I rather fancy that they’ll do more of the same in sunnier climes in the months and years to come, when bedecked in anything but lilywhite.

And yet, present them with the lush greenery of N17 and the pair of them struggled to remember what game they were playing.

Actually, I do Ndombele a disservice there. The chap’s great flaw was not his touch, or delivery, or any such thing. The main challenge Ndombele seemed to encounter any time he finished tying his laces was that after one quick trot around the pitch he seemed to need a full week to recover, gasping for air, his lungs aflame and legs as jelly.

If inclined one could probably write a long-ish essay on what went wrong and what might have been a bit right-er about Ndombele’s time at Spurs. There were moments when he would receive the ball in the narrowest of corners, boxed in by a variety of opposing limbs, and still mesmerically emerge from said dead-end with ball at feet and opponents dizzied. Sometimes he would even throw in end-product too, a delightfully-weighted pass or a shot from the edge of the area.

Ultimately, however, neither he nor Lo Celso seemed remotely cut out for a life in the heart of the Tottenham midfield. Lo Celso in particular seemed to make a habit, in recent months, of doing small things with great error, be it a simple pass to tick along the midfield or a corner to beat the first man.

Perhaps if any of the umpteen managers who oversaw them had seen fit to take either of these two souls, stick them slap-bang in the heart of things and construct a team around them, their talents might have blazed forth and all would have been right with the world.

But it is telling that none of those managers did. Sometimes no words need uttering, and these appears to be those times. A knowing nod, and tap of the nose speaks volumes. “Ndombele and Lo Celso”, one manager after another seems to have been saying, without actually saying, “not the sort of eggs upon whom one can rely.” And if an egg can’t be relied upon in midfield, there’s not much left for them other than the scraps of substitute appearances and an occasional Europa start.

3. Bryan Gil

There are loans and then there are loans, and while Ndombele and Lo Celso’s loans seem to carry with them a rather unsubtle message that if they want to stick around in their new homes then it’s fine by all back at HQ, the loan of Bryan Gil has more of the bona fide have-him-for-a-bit-but-then-return-him about it.

The view at AANP Towers is pretty unimpressed about this one, from start to finish. One probably should let bygones be bygones and whatnot, but I still chafe a bit at the thought that we traded in one perfectly serviceable Lamela – plus £20m, dash it – for this Gil character.

Not Gil’s fault of course, he can do little more than turn up where told, at the appointed hour and with hair combed just so. But the logic behind the whole trade-off to this day has me scratching the old loaf. I should probably revisit the whole script in a few years’ time, when Gil has discovered the joys of steak lunches and bench presses, but for now he is a boy in a man’s world if ever there were one.

The loan at least means he can get his size fives in contact with a ball again, so silver linings and all that. More terrifyingly, in conjunction with the paperwork on Dele, Ndombele and Lo Celso, it leaves the creative cupboard pretty bare – but this is presumably a contingency for which Our Glorious Leader has planned.

4. Bentancur and Kulusevski

As ever, if you want a detailed analysis of these fellows’ strengths, weaknesses, preferences and whatnot then you are in a laughably bad spot of the interweb, but do stick around anyway.

AANP can be pretty sharp at times, and having seen Conte get rid of three creative central midfield types, and summon Bentancur – yet another of those fellows whose idea of a good time is rolling up their sleeves, scrapping for the ball and then shoving it sideways – I get the impression that Our Glorious Leader has a type.

As such this means another seat will be needed around the Central Midfield campfire, next time Messrs Hojbjerg, Skipp and Winks gather to chew the fat. Whether Bentancur proves to be any improvement on current produce remains to be seen, but he is another pair of legs for that midfield slot, so this can be considered a good week for anyone who has ever taken a look at our squad and tearfully warbled about its depth.

As for Kulusevski, this is apparently a chap fitted out for life in the more advanced positions, either coming in from the right or, intriguingly, straight through the centre (albeit as a supporting act rather than line-leading sort).

It would be a bit of a stretch therefore to suggest that in him we have that much-needed back-up to Harry Kane, but I think the gist is that he can be shoved into any of the attacking spots and expected to know his way around the premises.

As ever, one wishes him the best, and patience will be the watch-word, and so on and so forth – but having witnessed Lamela, Lucas, Bergwijn and Gil all try their luck in these wide-ish attacking positions, my enthusiasm for another off the production line is a little muted.

5. Non-Purchases

The failed attempts to snaffle Traore and Luis Diaz, while rather embarrassing, seem hardly calamitous.

The Traore affair struck me as good for a chuckle rather than having any obvious, analytical merit. Here was a chap who in the first place was undoubtedly muscular, and seemed nigh on unstoppable whenever he played against us. So far so good, one might suggest.

Get down to the nitty-gritty however, and a few plot-holes seemed to emerge. For all his muscles and love of a direct approach to attacking life, his end-product seemed pretty wild – and having sat through half a season of Emerson Royal’s struggles to deliver just one adequate cross from the right, I’m not sure Traore and his blast-it-anywhere approach is quite the remedy we’re after.

Moreover, the fellow is not a defender, and while Conte has some history of alchemy in this respect (Exhibit A, Victor Moses), the whole thing leaves me pretty sanguine about missing out on him.

As for Diaz, my Porto-dwelling chum Hawth has for some time been raving about the fellow’s attributes, and it is not hard to see why, so this one does rankle a tad. Even here though, the blow is softened considerably by the fact that Diaz earns his weekly wage in exactly the same position as one Son Heung-Min Esquire. So while the ignominy of rejection is again hard to swallow, this particular plot-twist did not exactly leave us any worse off than a month prior.

More of a frustration at AANP Towers is the passing of yet another transfer window without a sniff of a worthy understudy to that rotter Harry Kane. Lovely though it is to see Kane returning to his finest fettle in recent weeks, we are yet again left hoping that he navigates the remainder of the season without injury. Sonny, Bergwijn or potentially the new chap Kulusevski could all theoretically deputise on the odd occasion, but lose Kane for, say, six weeks or so and the panic button will be slammed with some gusto.

The failure to bring in another right wing-back is similarly being declared a mis-step by some sages, but in truth I’m rather encouraged by the 45-minute cameo of Matt Doherty against Leicester a few weeks back, so would be all for the chap being given a further stab at the gig, if only to keep Emerson Royal off stage.

6. Lloris

Perhaps the greatest triumph of the window, however, was the retention for the foreseeable future of Monsieur Lloris. It seemed a little bizarre that we even reached the stage that he was free to bat eyelids at other suitors, but Grandmaster Levy and chums move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform, and the moral of the story is that the chap remains ours for a couple more years, so it’s back-slaps and cigars all round.

While Lloris’ standards have taken a few notable wobbles in recent years, this season he has come out swinging, and our lot have looked all the better for it. Nobody is perfect of course, and I still wonder for example whether he might have waved a paw at that Chelsea opener from Ziyech in our last game – but one only has to cast the mind back to Gollini’s bizarre flap against Chelsea a few weeks earlier to realise how grateful we should be that Lloris is prepared to ride off into the sunset with AIA tattooed across his gut.

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Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Formation

Starting at the beginning, Our Glorious Leader set tongues wagging like nobody’s business by penning a teamsheet that suggested he considered the road to success would be paved with six defenders.

Which was certainly eye-catching, but the more I thought about it the more I thought to myself, “Well, why not?” If a man wants to go about the place selecting more and more defenders, then let him. A tad peculiar, and not necessarily one of those fashions I envisage being adopted in every thriving metropolis, but good luck to him. It’s his prerogative after all, and moreover this particular chap has won shiny pots everywhere he’s been.

As it turned out, once events kicked in we did not after all set out with a back-six. In fact, some of us mere mortals watching from afar were having a devil of a time trying to work out quite what our formation was. And crucially, that confusion was not restricted to the viewing gallery, as various cast members seemed similarly unable to grasp the mysteries of the Tactics Board.

As my Spurs-supporting chum Mark pointed out early on in the production, at times it looked like Tanganga was playing at right wing-back and Doherty in a right-sided central midfield role. And while this was more of a temporary mirage, I did follow his thread, namely that a significant proportion of that aforementioned Defensive Six seemed not to strut around the place with the steady assurance of blighters who know exactly where they should and should not be at any given moment. Far from it.

I was particularly ill at ease with the fact that neither full-back appeared to have been informed that there were only two centre-backs inside them, rather than the usual three. Understandable of course, as every episode of Conte-ball to date has featured a back-three, but nevertheless. It was a bit ripe to think that neither full-back had been updated. You’d suppose that someone would have a friendly word in the ear.

But not so. Davies and particularly Tanganga appeared a little too willing to scamper up their respective flanks, and Messrs Sessegnon and Doherty, only too glad to have some company, scurried upfield with them. Nice to see them all enjoying themselves of course, but I couldn’t help chew a concerned lip each time it happened. To the notion of covering the vast yawning expanses left behind them, not a lick of thought appeared to be given.

As a result, in those early knockings we were treated to the unholy sight of Sanchez disappearing off to the left-back position like a moth to a flame, while Eric Dier, a man whose defensive reputation has been re-established in recent months largely on the back of shouting and not really having to move around too much, suddenly found himself having to scurry this way and that as if one man entrusted with the job of three.

Mercifully, in Lukaku Chelsea have one of those forwards who one might charitably say needs a little time for all the moving parts to function with any synchronicity, so we were spared any early embarrassment.

And then, in what should go down as a feather in the cap of Signor Conte, our lot gradually realised that the 4-4-2 expected of them was not in fact a riddle scrawled in a hitherto undiscovered dialect of hieroglyphics, but a fairly straightforward set-up.

And, once a small fire had been doused by the deployment of Hojbjerg as a seventh defender, I started to hum myself an upbeat little ditty, in celebration of the fact that from open play at least, we were nullifying Chelsea’s best efforts, and near enough cantering to half-time.

2. Disallowed Goal

And when Kane popped the ball into the bottom corner shortly before half-time, I half expected to see Conte stroking a white cat on his lap while letting out a maniacal laugh. The plan, it appeared, was working perfectly (if one overlooked those initial teething problems of the geographically-challenged full-backs).

But of course, this being Tottenham Hotspur, plans rarely work perfectly. Just when one thinks the plans are working perfectly, you can bet your last penny that either one dashed thing or another will appear from nowhere to cause a fresh headache. And in this instance it was the decision to disallow Kane’s goal.

Now regulars in this part of the world will now that the mantra hammered into me from my youth by my old man, AANP Senior, has been that the referee is always right. And having had the pleasure of watching today’s proceedings in the company of this same cheery soul, I was inclined to bite the lip rather than vent when the goal was disallowed. One knows one’s audience, and on this occasion I sensed that my complaints would meet with limited sympathy.

But AANP Senior does not go in for the words I pen on these pages (“I don’t understand a word you say” is the official reason given), so it is with freedom of indignation that I fling up my hands and howl into the night sky about that so-called foul.

One accepts, of course, that plenty of wiser minds than mine have taken one look at the incident and calmly adjudged it a transgression. Misguided stuff, of course, but one tolerates the views of one’s fellow man. One big happy family, and all that rot.

And similarly, one accepts that if Player A places a hand, palm first, on the back of Player B, and Player B collapses to earth as if hit by an RPG from a war-zone, then Player A runs the risk of a red line being drawn through all his fine work elsewhere. And there can be no doubt that Kane (Player A in the incident above, lest you were wondering) did indeed have his hand on the back of the dastardly Thiago.

But at this point I rather feel that the whole argument collapses – much like Thiago when receiving a gentle palm to the back – because consistency would dictate that every Palm-to-Back contact results in a foul. And if that were the case, then so be it, but we might all want to prepare ourselves for games in which fouls were given every thirty seconds.

I haven’t exactly studied these things academically, but I’m willing to suggest that every time two players convene to thrash out matters on the pitch, one will at some point place a delicate palm somewhere upon the frame of the other. And by today’s precedent, such villainy is not allowed. (One dare not even conceive what might happen every time a corner is gently drifted in, given the amount of palm-placement that seems to occur between the protagonists these days.)

You might argue that Chelsea’s superiority simply floated up to the top in the second half, and Spurs goal or not they would inevitably have bested us. And my lips are certainly sealed on the point of who was the better team. Not a murmur of complaint there. But dash it all, to disallow a goal for such a frivolous thing was just not cricket, and denied our lot the advantage that we had worked pretty hard to engineer.

3. Bergwijn

If you scoured these pages after the glorious finale at Leicester in midweek, and raised an eyebrow at the absence of mention for the undoubted hero of the piece, I can only assume you are even more bemused that I single out the same S. Bergwijn Esq. for praise after today’s game.

And yet, here we are. In the first half in particular, as the game settled into its pattern and Conte’s masterplan gradually began to emerge into view, young Bergwijn struck me as one of the most important cogs out there.

Sonny obviously pulls rank when it comes to such matters as providing the whirring blur of legs in support of Kane; and in the absence of Son it is now pretty well accepted that the honour falls to Lucas.

So for Bergwijn to get the nod over Lucas today was a call of some note from Our Glorious Leader. It was a plot thread that admittedly got somewhat buried beneath the outrage of Six Defender-Gate, but was nevertheless fairly hot stuff.

One saw the logic. The romantics in the audience would presumably not have had it any other way, after Bergwijn’s midweek exploits, and moreover the murmur from the inner sanctum seemed to be that Lucas had sustained some form of cracked fingernail that needed attending, thereby reducing his value as a starter.

But I don’t mind admitting to letting out – or do I mean taking in? – a sharp breath at seeing Bergwijn named as Principal Supporting Act in attack. In a game like this, and, frankly, after a Tottenham career like his, it was a decision not without a fair splash of risk.

As it turned out, I need not have worried. Bergwijn turned out to be the most potent weapon on the pitch, in the first half at least. Evidently willing to do all the running on Kane’s behalf, he enthusiastically popped up whenever we had the merest sniff of a counter-attack, marrying his pace and energy with a pretty impressive touch.

The general way of things meant that by and large we didn’t spend a great deal of time over halfway, but whenever we did sneak possession and hare into the Chelsea half, Bergwijn seemed to be the chap carrying the greatest threat.

Alas, the mood became a lot more sombre in the second half, as the Chelsea goals rather blew our counter-attacking plans out of the water. Bergwijn’s effectiveness duly diminished, but it was nevertheless good to see the chap indicate that his repertoire includes more than simply the role of Impact Substitute.

4. Sessegnon

In closing, a note on young Sessegnon.

While I can hardly claim to have been an expert on his Fulham days, one does of course hear rumours around the camp-fire, and the consensus on signing the young bean was that we had ourselves a decent young mucker. On top of which, the arrival of Conte and his cherished faith in wing-backs would have seemed to suggest that opportunity did not so much knock for Sessegnon as clatter through the door and proclaim that his moment had arrived.

In this context, I must admit to have let slip a few pretty underwhelmed sighs each time Sessegnon was called upon to clear his throat and bellow out a few show-tunes.

Early days of course, and one hopes he’ll have plenty of time and numerous opportunities to find his bearings and un-muddle his feet, but at the moment the blighter does not appear to have the faintest clue, at any given point in any given game, of whether he is coming or going. And I can’t think of anything that would hinder a chap more.

His tackling hits a sweet spot between being poorly-judged and poorly-timed; his passing appears errant; and I do not recall a successful dribble. More positively, he does appear the sort who likes a foot-race, and that’s an asset that ought to come in handy in weeks (and dare I say years) to come. At present, however, we appear to have on the pay-roll not so much an unpolished diamond as a lump of coal.

To repeat, one assumes that in time he will restore himself to the former glories on which his reputation was built. Today, however, as in most of his previous appearances this season, the poor fellow floundered somewhat.

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Spurs match reports

Leicester 2-3 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Midfield Three

A day later it is with a steadier – if throbbing – head that I pore over this one. The first point of note was that the formation – and specifically the use of a midfield three – struck oil.

For clarity, that midfield three read, from west to east:
– Hojbjerg (advancing)
– Winks (sitting)
– Skipp (advancing)

When Leicester had possession, this triumvirate seemed keen not to be any further than about ten yards from one another, presumably under careful instruction rather than simply a gnawing loneliness, and the effect was to narrow the gaps through which Leicester could operate. It was not fool-proof – Leicester did construct two perfectly serviceable goals by penetrating this outer crust – but in general that midfield gang provided a handy first line of defence.

Their real value, however, came in the other direction.

Young Master Skipp is a man of many talents, but I must confess that I had never numbered amongst these any particular capability in the field of galloping forward adventurously into the final third. And yet there he was, in glorious technicolour, trading in every last breath from his lungs in order to avail himself in a rather niche but surprisingly effective inside-right sort of position. It was not so much what he did with the ball that attracted the admiring glance, as the positions he took up in making himself available. Be it for Emerson on the right-hand touchline or Kane dropping deep, Skipp took seriously this role of Main Supporting Actor On The Right, and it contributed strongly to our general dominance.

In a slightly less energetic manner, Hojbjerg chipped in similarly in and around the inside-left channel, and all the while Winks held fort at the base of things (and also took a whole procession of some of the best corners I can remember from our lot).

As one would expect, a Hojbjerg – Winks – Skipp combo was a tad light on effervescent creativity, these particular beans preferring to shuffle things along in orderly fashion rather than scythe apart anyone in opposing colours. And yet nevertheless, first Skipp (in intercepting) and then Winks (in his excellently-weighted assist) put pretty much all the bricks and mortar in place for our first goal; Hojbjerg’s vision carved out our second; and Hojbjerg was at the base of things for our third as well, in intercepting the original Leicester pass.

It has not gone unnoticed that arguably our two finest performances of the fledgling Conte era have come in a 3-5-2 formations (Liverpool at home, lest ye be racking the brain). In this latest instance, the switch to 3-5-2 was forced somewhat by the absence of Sonny, and his return would prompt the ghastly question of whether Lucas ought to be relegated in order to maintain the 3-5-2. For now, however, we might as well just continue the ongoing period of basking, and enjoy the fact that the formation tweak and use of a midfield three worked out in pretty splendid fashion.

2. Doherty

If there were one failing in the first half it was that Emerson Royal was being Emerson Royal. There are worse things he could have been of course, and being Emerson Royal does not automatically make one a hindrance to operations; but nevertheless, it does limit forward-looking options – and by extension this slightly neuters the entire, carefully-constructed mechanism.

In plain English, our formation under Conte depends heavily on the wing-backs to motor into the final third and produce things of value once there. And there appears to be something lurking deep within the core of Emerson Royal that, for now at least, prevents him flinging off the shackles and living the riotous life of a wing-back with unfettered joy and gay brio.

Instead, having adopted the requisite positions north of halfway, Emerson’s life seems to grind to a halt, and those around him often seem to decide it best to carry on with things as if he weren’t actually there at all.

Bizarrely enough, it took the introduction of Matt Doherty of all people, to introduce a few rays of sunshine to the right wing-back position.

My surprise at this development can be readily explained. Doherty is the sort of egg whose lilywhite career to date has been so crushingly underwhelming that I rarely utter his name without the prefix “Poor Old”, or “That Wretched”, or even sometimes a choice of words less family-friendly. Whenever he has popped up on the right, the complexities of a life in football have generally seemed to overwhelm him, with the result that every choice he has made has been the wrong one.

(In an act of generosity I’ll spare him too much comment on those rather ghastly visits he’s had to endure to the left wing, as these are not his fault.)

Yesterday, however, as soon as he took to the field, Doherty seemed to stumble upon some unlikely alchemy for the role of right wing-back, and scarcely able to believe his luck made the decision simply to roll with it for as long as he could.

His very first involvement was a series of one-twos with Kane that seemed to blow the minds of all Leicester folk in the vicinity; and from that moment on he clearly decided that he was on a good thing in charging into the final third, and kept returning to that particular well for more.

Positionally, this was a choice stuffed with goodness. At any given point at which we attacked, it became an accepted truth that Doherty would be motoring up the right, and
one only had to glance the laziest of eyes in that direction to nail down his coordinates.

Crucially, however, in addition simply to being in useful places, Doherty also produced a flurry of half-decent crosses. Some were admittedly plucked out of the sky without too much inconvenience by Schmeichel, and others just missed their mark, but it nevertheless made a pleasant change to see such crosses being delivered at all, aerially and towards the back-post, rather than simply slammed into the first functioning opponent.

And Doherty’s spirit of adventure was ultimately critical in bringing about our equaliser, by dint of creating a sufficient nuisance for the ball to end up obligingly at Bergwijn’s size nines. Admittedly he lost possession and fell to earth at the crucial juncture, but fortune favoured him, and defeat turned into victory.

Might this prove a turning-point for the chap?

3. Kane

I noted in the home leg against Chelsea last week that that rotter Harry Kane appeared to have rediscovered his old swagger, and as if to hammer home the point he actively sought out every opportunity to showcase it last night. In fact, if anything, he rather overdid it at times. By the midway point of the second half one wanted to take him by the hand, give him a calming pat or two and point out that we were all now fully aware of his resurgence, and he really did not need to belt the ball as hard as he could into the stands at every opportunity.

However, the occasional misguided long-range swipe is part of the overall package of a Harry Kane brimming with confidence, as he genuinely seems convinced that he can do anything. While he will never, ever take even a half-threatening free-kick, everything else in his bag of tricks looked mightily impressive yesterday.

The headline acts of course were his goal, executed like the most seasoned assassin, and his pass to for Bergwijn to seal the win, spotted and delivered with huge bundles of aplomb.

However, two moments alone a highlights reel might make, but hardly tell the whole story. And the whole story was loosely along the lines that almost every time he touched the ball he did something useful with it, and that he played a pretty primary role in much that was good about our lot. And when you consider that our lot were on top for at least a good hour of the ninety, it reflects even more impressively on the chap.

His hold-up play, choices of when to drop deep and passes to bring in others for fifteen minutes of fame were all pretty wisely selected and effected. Moreover, in hitting the bar and having one cleared off the line he did almost enough to claim a hat-trick that few could really have begrudged him. Cracking stuff from a man back at the top of his game.

4. Sanchez

One of the oddities of last night was the fact that Davinson Sanchez looked oddly assured for the most part. Admittedly one might point to a needless lunge by the touchline to earn a caution, and the fact that he was wrong-footed for the second Leicester goal, and these would be fair points – the blighter was not faultless.

Nevertheless, having been inadvertently promoted, by virtue of injuries first to Romero and then Dier, from fourth choice centre-back to leader of the pack, a conclusion that nobody in their right mind would ever will into reality, he seems to have shrugged his shoulders, accepted his lot and started to make a decent fist of it.

It might be that he simply looks more impressive given that next to him resides young Tanganga, who while full of promise has looked in recent weeks like a man terrified of his own shadow. But much to my astonishment Sanchez showed authority, strength and pretty good judgement yesterday.

He even occasionally strolled out of defence with the ball at his feet. The enormity of this ought not to be underplayed, for in almost every previous lilywhite appearance he has danced around the ball as if scared that it will suddenly develop legs and attack him.

If I were a betting man I might stick a few bob on the name Sanchez being ridiculed in weeks to come on these very pages, but last night he took on responsibility within that back three, and at the very least that deserves acknowledgement.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Chelsea: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Gollini

Gollini looked as surprised as the rest of us to be thrust into action from the off last night, and he seemed still to be goggling at the fact when that Chelsea corner swung its way towards him and over him.

It was a pretty awkward moment for the young bean, who presumably had ringing in his ears the instruction just to do the basic stuff and let the outfield players take care of everything else.

And to his credit, Gollini actually dealt pretty well with some of the sterner tests that life threw at him in the first half. He put a couple of legs in the way of one shot, and extended his frame to its full majestic length in pawing away another. Hardly a showing to indicate that here was Jennings reincarnated, but for those of us who like their goalkeepers to fling themselves around a bit when protecting the realm, this stuff ticked a few boxes.

Alas, diving full-length is but one of many items on the modern goalkeeper’s To-Do list, and if Gollini scored highly here, he haemorrhaged points in a couple of other areas. For a start there was the issue of playing the ball with his feet.

Now some traditionalists get rather sniffy about the notion of goalkeepers joining in with their feet. There’s a reason, goes the argument, that certain chaps earn the big bucks out on the pitch, and others are sent to mooch around between the posts. “Stick to your mittens”, seems to be about the gist of it. However, there’s no real escaping the fact that in these enlightened days the chap at the base of things is entitled as everyone else to join in with his feet, and in fact is actively encouraged to do so. Tactics are re-written specifically to bring the goalkeeper into the fray as part of the build-up play.

And so it transpired that early on in yesterday’s proceedings, as one of our lot was hounded down near his own area, Gollini was whistled for and the ball gently rolled towards his person. So far, so inclusive, and a diversity box was being ticked.

At this point, however, the thing started to unravel a tad. Gollini recognised the identity and purpose of the object coming towards him, which was a solid start, but thereafter seemed unsure of its function, or his own duties. With a Chelsea sort galloping towards him, Gollini then hit upon the idea of attempting some sort of half-hearted body-swerve, but this fooling absolutely nobody in N17 the problem began to exacerbate.

What ought really to have been little more than muscle-memory – the casual rolling of the ball from one lilywhite to another until the Chelsea forwards gave up and let us get on with things – turned into an unnecessarily tense game of cat-and-mouse, in which the cat was edging a bit too close into the no-fly zone. The mini-episode culminated with Gollini unceremoniously bunting the ball into touch, and up in flames went the suggestion that none of the watching masses would even notice the absence of Lloris.

And of course, this was not the worst of it. There was also That Corner. Gollini did at least appear to have read the manual on that one, and seemed sufficiently aware that the situation demanded he come bounding of his line with arms aloft and fists clenched – but as is often the way with these things, the neatly drawn illustrations that accompany the instructions bore little resemblance to what was happening in real life.

Gollini emerged into the night, and adopted the appropriate pose, but unfortunately appeared not to have given more than a cursory glance to the coordinates. As a result he leapt into the atmosphere and delivered a hearty swipe at thin air, which reflected well on his willing, but did little to contribute to the cause. Meanwhile, the ball was adopting a neat parabola above him, and with poor old Tanganga still stuck in last week’s pickle it was the work of an instant for Rudiger to nod the thing in and kill off the tie.

2. Kane

And once that goal trickled in, everyone in the vicinity seemed to recognise the futility of carrying on. Of course, people continued to run around in their little circles, as decorum dictated, but any casual onlooker would have realised that the game was up.

Given this rather unpleasant circumstance, I suppose one would have understood if one by one, our heroes had let their shoulders slump and surreptitiously edged into auto-pilot. Within this context, I was pleasantly surprised to see that rotter Harry Kane in particular take the opportunity to reawaken memories within himself of former feats.

To recap, Kane’s season to date has been notably underboiled. He spent a good few months trudging wearily from A to B like a man unsure of the best order in which to move his feet, and only ever burst into life when presented with amateur-level opponents.

In recent weeks things have started to look up, not least in the little matter of pinging the ball into the bottom corners; but last night, despite the gloomy and error-strewn way of things all around him, he seemed to edge back towards the all-round centre forward who can work opposing defenders into a deuce of a sweat.

If one were the bingo-playing sort one might well have licked a pencil and scrawled a giant X over such entries as “Hold-up play”, “Slalom through challenges”, “Pick a natty pass” and “Finish with aplomb” (even if that aplomb was then subject to the displeasure of the VAR gods).

Of course, there was also the usual abject free-kick, but it seems now to have reached the stage that nobody dares tell Kane he’s not actually any good at free-kicks. Better just to let him keep trying, convinced that the next one will signal a change in his fortunes.

But to return to the point: Kane seemed to have bucked up, and looked approximately a million miles better than anyone else in lilywhite. Chelsea seemed to have done their homework, and dropped whatever they were doing to swarm around him and block off his shots, whenever he picked up possession within striking distance, but despite this I was quite heartened by his shift. While this is admittedly of limited value when everyone else is peddling utter garbage, with crunch games queueing up as far as the eye can if nothing else it is timely to have the chap nearing the peak of his powers again.

3. Lo Celso

If there were positive stuff coming from the Kane corner, reviews were a little more mixed on Senor Lo Celso.

No doubt his family, friends and other admirers will point and wave enthusiastically at the various occasions on which he could be seen flying into block challenges inside his own area, treating the cause as if it were a matter of life and death, as well he should.

But while this was all topping stuff, those who know him best would presumably admit that the real value Lo Celso adds to any given social gathering is scattering his creative juices about the place. And unfortunately, last night that stuff was in decidedly short supply.

Watching Lo Celso blunder from one failed attempt at creativity to another reminded me of that gag about the fellow King Midas. Feel free to let your eyes glaze over if you’ve already heard it, but the punchline was that he stumbled upon the happy knack of literally turning into gold everything he touched. Good luck to him, I say, but I bring this up because last night it occurred to me that our man seemed to cursed to produce the exact opposite. A kind of reverse-Midas, if you will. Those sliding blocks aside, precious little that Lo Celso attempted seemed to work.

It should be pointed out that this wayward approach to accuracy and care was very much a team effort – if one were pressed to name a fellow who bounced off the pitch with reputation enhanced one would be scratching the bean for quite a few hours. But nevertheless, with Sonny absent, Ndombele banished to the naughty step and goals desperately needed, this seemed an occasion for Lo Celso to prove to the watching masses that he is the sort of bean around whom great things can be constructed. He didn’t however, and the case strengthens for a winter shopping spree.

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Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tanganga

One imagines Japhet Tanganga must have felt as pleased as punch to find out pre kick-off that he was officially Next Cab On Centre-Back Rank, but alas any such bobbish sentiment went up in smoke pretty much as soon as the curtain went up.

Anybody who can make Davinson Sanchez look like a calming presence alongside him is evidently having the deuce of a time of things, and poor old Tanganga went about mangling just about every situation he stumbled upon.

In truth, that early pass of his in the general direction of Emerson Royal was hardly the worst one will ever see committed to turf. Admittedly it might have benefitted from a few extra m.p.h. behind it, and the delivery was certainly more “General Vicinity” than “Specified Postcode”. As passes go, however, I imagine young Japhet must have thought he’d done a decent job of things with that effort.

Unfortunately, this was not one of those occasions on which it was sufficient to get the general gist correct and let Mother Nature sort out the rest. Before he could let out an, “Oh crumbs,” the Chelsea lot were already whizzing the ball back at him, and they were pretty merciless about it.

And if Tanganga were hoping for a hiding place, or a quiet twenty minutes or so, he’d evidently misread the agenda for the evening. Chelsea seemed to take a rather cruel delight in repeatedly thrusting the young buck into the spotlight to field all sorts of new and challenging trials, so I’m not sure there were too many raised eyebrows when he erred again.

But by golly, even to us Spurs fans, well-versed as we are in defensive bobbins and calamity, the second goal was pretty thick stuff. Again, I actually had some sympathy for Tanganga, who with a degree of justification would have felt that he was ticking all the right boxes as he got his head to the cross. “Top work, old boy”, he no doubt whispered to himself as he soared to meet it, “another trial safely negotiated”.

And at that stage one understood his argument. It would be stretching things to say that all was well with the world, given that we had barely touched the ball the whole game, but the immediate danger appeared to have been averted, and Tanganga’s reputation, while hardly restored to former health, had at least avoided any further blemish.

However, this being a Spurs defence, the threat of buffoonery lingers strongly and permanently about the place. If I felt a dollop of sympathy for Tanganga there was a double serving for poor old Ben Davies, who must have felt that he was being dragged into the farce for no good reason and completely against his will. He would presumably argue that he was simply adopting the appropriate position and avoiding any unnecessary interference, when suddenly his torso became front and centre of activity, and in the blink of an eye he had an own goal to his name.

2. That First Half

Although Chelsea did not exactly pound relentlessly at the door during that first half – one does not really remember Monsieur Lloris being pressed into too much action – they were, by just about any other metric, absolutely all over us.

While Tanganga was the undoubted poster-boy of the unfolding horror, it struck me that the formation was as much to blame. When Chelsea had possession – which was virtually the entirety of the half – our wing-backs hastily edited their job titles and headed south to create a back-five. And in theory I suppose this made sense. What better way, one might have pondered beforehand, to keep things secure than to pack the defence?

But it’s a funny thing about life, that when one comes to putting into practice a seemingly faultless plan, the whole bally thing just comes apart at every conceivable hinge, leaving all involved looking rather silly. And so it transpired for our heroes. For a start, Chelsea did not have enough forwards to go around, with the result that for much of the time various members of our back-five were marking empty spaces rather than players, and no doubt shooting quizzical looks at one another.

Moreover, this routine of the wing-backs dropping deep also had the unholy consequence of leaving poor old Skipp and Hojbjerg utterly swamped in midfield. Chelsea hit upon the bright idea of pinging the ball about in whizzy, one-touch fashion, and the net result was one of the most one-sided 45 minutes in living memory.

3. Our Wing-Backs

I noticed a rather brutal gag doing the rounds following our game against Watford, namely that our opponents thought so little of Emerson Royal’s ability to cross the ball that they were happy to afford him the freedom of Vicarage Road all afternoon, safe in the knowledge that his deliveries would end up everywhere but the sweet spots inside the penalty area.

Frankly Claudio Ranieri seems a bit too nice to hatch a scheme quite so dastardly, but whatever the truth of the rumour it gets my vote. Emerson’s virtue is that he willingly gallops into the appropriate forward position, as such distracting defenders and offering a friendly face to whichever of our mob is in possession; his vice is that his actual attacking output is at best average, and often a few degrees lower.

However, with a midfield consisting of Skipp and Hojbjerg – honest sorts, but barely a creative bone between them – the onus within our system is very much upon the wing-backs to provide an endless stream of goods for those up top to devour.

This largely failed against Watford because of the quality of the output; last night it failed because any threat from Emerson was snuffed out before he ever sorted out his feet in the final third.

Meanwhile out on the left, the ploy was doomed each time at the moment of inception by dint of Matt Doherty’s allergy to his left foot. Whenever we broke on his side and gaps started appearing in the Chelsea defence, Doherty, understandably but infuriatingly, cut back inside onto his right, removing in that single motion all momentum we had.

(Given Royal’s general impotence on the right, I do wonder whether Doherty’s service might be employed in that particular residence; but this is a debate for another day).

The tactical switch in the second half – to a back-four ahead of which everyone else was loosely jumbled together and allowed to wander wherever they wanted, in the style of a children’s playgroup – at least gave us more bodies in midfield. More to the point, all in lilywhite received the memo that simply watching as Chelsea ran rings around us would not cut it, and things duly bucked up a bit. One would hardly make our lot favourites for the second leg, but score the next goal in the tie and that ill-conceived hope might spring into life again.

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Spurs match reports

Southampton 1-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Weirdly Rubbish First Half

At the risk of sending mixed messages, I found myself concluding that our lot were today equal parts utter garbage and frightfully unlucky. I’ll start with the garbage, not least because that’s exactly what our heroes did.

Having sung antiphons of joy just two days ago, about the virtues of our press and energy in winning possession high up the pitch, against Palace, I was deeply disturbed to find the boot on the other foot today. But on the other foot it was, as our lot turned from high pressers to high pressees. Any time they even thought about bringing the ball under control in the defensive third, they were molested by someone in red and had possession unceremoniously snatched from them.

With our entire team oddly accepting that this was the way of things and there was nothing that could be done to prevent it, Southampton’s opener was alarmingly inevitable, and it prompted the nasty suspicion that matters would degenerate further.

But at that point, Fate cleared her throat, declared, “All change”, and with the red card and equaliser delivered in just about a single motion, we had ourselves a completely different set-up.

Now the fellows paid to spout forth on TV seemed pretty convinced that our heroes did little to merit a second goal, which is of course their prerogative; and on hearing this I declared them both asses whose opinions I would never again entertain, which is of course my prerogative.

For clarity, our second half performance was far from faultless, and might have benefited from swifter exchanges of passes or, whisper it, an input or two from Ndombele. Nevertheless, in going up against a ten-man defence I thought we had a pretty decent stab at things, particularly when getting behind their defence on the right flank. The fact that their goalkeeper made ten saves would seem to support the notion the Pretty Decent Stab theory; the problem being rather that most of our attempts went straight at the gigantic fellow, rather than texting his reflexes to the east or west.

This, one might reasonably counter, is just part of life; and, if anything, represented a failing of which we were the authors. After all, no prizes are awarded for directing shots straight into the keepers’ mitts.

2. Disallowed Goals

However, you will recall that, mingled with the utter garbage of the first half, I referenced our Frightful Bad Luck, and this took the stage and belted out its greatest hits in the second half. For all the missed attempts, the point of contention is that we twice put the ball in the net, as required, and were still denied the contracted rewards. And this, put bluntly, is just not cricket.

The offside decision was a nonsense, and on multiple levels. While red and blue lines were helpfully scrawled across the screen to indicate who was where, the fact that they were level with each other rather gave the game away.

This was telling enough; but for added farce, the line for Kane was drawn from his armpit, rather than his head or foot, both of which were comfortably behind the Coloured Lines of Doom.

And if one really wants to gauge the accuracy of the decision, one only needs to imagine whether Southampton would have complained post-match had the goal been allowed – which it is difficult to imagine they would have done, what with Kane having been level with rather than ahead of the defender.

The second point of dispute was the Doherty incident. In fairness, this was more subjective than the offside call, so I am more inclined to bow the head and accept this one with good grace, but it nevertheless had one scratching the bean and re-watching about thirty times to detect where exactly any offence occurred. It seems reasonable to assert that had this incident taken place anywhere else on the pitch, play would have been waved on merrily; but referees rarely miss an opportunity to toot away in favour of a goalkeeper, and if nothing else the whole thing put to good use Matt Doherty’s permanent, open-jawed, hangdog expression.

We certainly might have done more to force the issue against the ten men, urgency only really elbowing its way into the fray in the final fifteen or so – but having pretty reasonably deposited ball in net on a couple of occasions prior to this, one does waggle the arms a bit and chunter on about the injustice of it all.

3. Winks

The inclusion of both Winks and Dele in itself delivered something of a pre kick-off jolt; the fact that this pair were included at the expense of Skipp and Lucas, two of the shinier of our lights in recent weeks, nudged the stakes that bit higher.

Winks delivered an oddly mixed bag. So keen was he to be noticed that he eagerly devoted much of his energy into being the Player Most Regularly Caught In Possession, an award for which, as noted above, there was pretty stiff competition from all quarters, in the first half in particular. In mitigation, he did at least have the decency to hare back after the ball in an attempt to win it back, whenever he was pickpocketed or passed straight to the opposition, but in general in those early knockings one was moved to scrawl his name under the heading of ‘Problem’ rather than ‘Solution’.

At this point, however, Winks delved into his box of tricks, and delivered a couple of eye-catching plot twists, in the shape of two pretty glorious passes – each of which resulted in the ball obligingly finding the net, and one of which also brought about Southampton’s red card).

The first of Winks’ glorious passes was the one that had Sonny chopped down in the area; the second the one that Kane tucked away only to be called offside. For all his eccentricities, in spinning around multiple times before playing the most obvious pass anyway, and losing possession on the edge of his own area, he evidently does still have it in him to split a defence when the stars align.

4. Dele

Dele, however, did not have such riches to offer.

Being a generous sort, I’ll toss him a smidge of sympathy for being stationed in what appeared to be a Right Midfield sort of spot, which seemed to be neither one thing nor another – and most pertinently was definitely not a Supporting Second Striker sort of role, as such diminishing his chances of success pretty heftily.

When he did turn up to support attacks he did so from a wider berth, which might have been better suited to Bergwijn or Gil, rather than the late, central burst from deep on which his reputation was built.

To his credit Dele did not shy away from matters. However, few mountains have ever been scaled or lands conquered simply by not shying away from matters. This was a time for brio and whizz, or at the very least for some seamless interplay with Sonny and Kane – but alas, Dele’s basket of S. I. with S. and K. was fresh out of produce, and he idled away his hour out on the right flank, getting sucked into pointless little skirmishes alongside Emerson Royal, which is the sort of activity that offers little value to anyone.

5. Doherty

With Reguilon bundled off the pitch for the avoidance of further unrest and general benefit of society, an unlikely opportunity presented itself for the rarely-sighted Matt Doherty. As ever, he delivered a performance that was well-intentioned and fully in compliance with company policy, but frustratingly light on any sort of quality.

With Doherty, as with the aforementioned Dele, a pretty hefty caveat must be swung into view, for here was another of our entourage who was dealt a fairly thankless positional hand. Doherty is evidently a soul who has been nurtured since birth for life on the right-hand side of the pitch, so all the good luck messages and back-slaps in the world would have been of pretty limited use to him once he was told to play out on the left.

And it very quickly became evident that his career as a left wing-back was indeed going to be considerably hamstrung, as the chap quickly took pains to indicate to the entire watching gallery that his left-sided lower limb was an appendage entirely foreign to him.

In fact, Doherty wandered about the place with the air of a man shocked to discover that he had a left leg at all. Having discovered it, however, he quickly made it plain that he was damned if he was ever going to be tempted to use it, with the result that every single time he touched the ball he shifted infield onto his right peg.

Gallingly, Doherty’s principal chances for glory fell to his left foot – but the man was nothing if not consistent, and preferred to contort his body into new and fantastical shapes rather than experiment with the mysterious limb, with the result that his various opportunities were belted by his right foot in every direction but the goal.

Ben Davies, bless his soul, did his best to ease the shock of left-leg-ownership that had beset Doherty, by taking every opportunity to motor off outside him and offer a bona fide left-footed option. But by and large, Doherty’s attacking potential was neutered, and by the end of proceedings our lot had pretty much given up on the left flank as an avenue of attack.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-0 Crystal Palace: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lucas

Lucas’ ongoing transformation from ‘One-Off Miracle Worker in Amsterdam’ to ‘Regular Provider of Creative Spark’ continues pleasingly.

Scoring one goal and setting up two others is, of course, an eminently sensible way to attract a healthy outpouring of approbation, but if anything, today’s healthy stats were something of an anomaly. In general, Lucas’ contributions are not so much measurable in 1s and 0s as simply being the sort of exciting stuff in the middle act that gets us off our seats.

So ignore, if you will, his headed finish, and purr instead over his little amble that started off that move: collecting the ball up inside his own half, dipping a shoulder or two, motoring northwards and picking out a chum. It was fabulous stuff, well before he then finished off the move, and it’s the sort of marvellous act of spontaneity he has been producing for the best part of twelve months now. Few things quicken the pulse like Lucas collecting the ball deep-ish and unveiling some trickery.

However, any man of good sense and sound taste can ignore Lucas’ headed goal for only so long. That Lucas should have scored a header carries in itself little to surprise. We regular watchers of all things Hotspur are pretty well-versed in the marvellous spring provided by his lower limbs. For a fellow only moderately vertically blessed, he possesses one heck of a leap.

But there are headers, and then there are headers. Typically, Lucas seems to head from a standing start. Today he altered his approach by preceding it with a running leap, and the effect was pretty much that of a runaway tank hurtling off an upward slope. The chap absolutely flew into his header, making thumping contact with the ball – which he had the presence of mind to direct downwards, canny fellow – and then, most pleasingly, making such seismic impact with the unsuspecting Palace defender that I’m fairly sure he broke him into several large pieces, left scattered on the turf.

For good measure, Lucas’ passes for both Kane and Sonny’s goals were placed and weighted to perfection, and generally made to look a little too easy. Admittedly he got a little carried away by the final knockings, and took to swinging wildly at anything within his orbit, blasting a couple of late shots about thirty rows back, but by this point I’m not sure anyone on either side cared too much.

2. Skipp

If there’s a solid, convincing Spurs win to report then it’s becoming an increasingly safe bet that there’s a solid, convincing Oliver Skipp performance not far behind.

As ever, whenever the delicate issue of 50-50 challenges was raised, Skipp’s ears pricked up and he was straining at the leash. This is now starting to become a norm.

But we were also treated to a couple of other sides of the lad, almost as if whoever pens his narrative was keen to flesh out his character a little today.

So it was that during those stodgy, opening exchanges when nothing flowed and our lot spent more time huffing and puffing than actually blowing anything down, much of the emphasis was on Skipp to collect possession from the back-three and do something useful with it. This struck me as a pretty tough gig in truth. Skipp and his minder, Hojbjerg, appeared to be regularly outnumbered in midfield, meaning that much depended on the former’s ability to collect the ball on the half-turn and pivot away from rapidly incoming challenges. And this I thought he did pretty well, on the whole. His more glamorous, attacking co-stars were not exactly banging down the door and screaming for possession, and given this limited available assistance, Skipp protected the ball well enough when supplied by Dier and chums.

There were also a couple of sightings of Skipp’s attacking instincts, although these are evidently still a work in progress. He actually seems capable enough when it comes to nudging things along outside the box, and having tossed one cross up towards the back post he evidently developed a taste for it and started doing so quite regularly, which seemed reasonable enough.

Alas, when the situation demanded that he himself should put his head down and aim for the top corner, the cogs did not so much whir as overheat, and panic got the better of him. Sooner or later, I get the feeling that he will unleash an absolute screamer into the top corner, but for now it might be best to address his shooting with some diplomatic encouragement and swiftly change the subject.

3. Emerson Royal

Emerson Royal. While it is, objectively, a pretty impressive-sounding name – exotic, with a hint of Hollywood – when the bounder pitched up on the doorstep a few months ago I was as nonplussed as the best of them. A blank expression and a hasty Google about covered the breadth of my reaction to his arrival. But here at AANP Towers we are nothing if not pretty open-minded folk, so I resolved to give him a few shakes of a lamb’s tail before deciding permanently whether to bless him with my worship or curse him with loathing.

Those few months have now passed of course, the evidence of the eyes has been submitted and until about 15.28 GMT today the results did not make particularly eye-popping reading.

He has certainly not been randomly catastrophic, in the scarcely conceivable manner of his predecessor, Serge Aurier; but at the same time he has done little to blow up anyone’s skirt and make himself indispensable to operations. Whether offering his tuppence worth on the front-foot or tracking back to aid the rearguard, his has generally been the sort of input that makes one shrug and murmur, “Middling stuff, what?”

He has had good days and bad days – and if one were at this point to put the pen down and let that cover the entire narrative of his Tottenham career there would be few complaints. However, this being one of those good days, it seems only charitable to pause and slip him some credit.

In the blur of comeliness that was Moura’s gallop and pass, and that rotter Kane’s exceedingly smooth finish, for our first goal, it was easy to overlook the brief but crucial interjection from our man Royal, for his was the pass into space along the right flank that invited Lucas off on his aforementioned gallop. There will be finer passes played this season, ‘tis true, but let that not detract from the fact that at nil-nil, and with the bash as a whole having until this point failed to ignite, it was a pass that was as well-executed as it was conceived, and represented pretty much the first time we had got in behind Palace.

Thereafter, as tends to happen quite a lot with our heroes, buoyed by this initial success the chap seemed convinced that he had turned into Pele, and both his confidence and creative juices went into overdrive. His chipped pass for Lucas’ goal was an absolute delight, and with Palace increasingly stretched and ragged, it was Royal who in the second half frequently became the go-to man for delivery of bespoke, made-to-measure, whipped crosses.

Nor did he put too many feet wrong defensively, but then he had hardly had to use a defensive foot at all, such was the lop-sided nature of this contest.

I am still pretty convinced that we could use an upgrade out on the right, but Royal’s life principles certainly seem to accord with the wing-back-based philosophy of Our Glorious Leader, and today at least he provided some evidence of his value going forward.

4. Tanganga

A brief, congratulatory note might be due to young Master Tanganga. On the face of it, one could look back at full-time and decree that he had an easy time of things today, what with Palace self-destructing after half an hour and barely touching the ball thereafter.

However, reflection on the context of Tanganga’s selection does make one pause and think a bit. For a start, in a most curious turn of events, the sight of our Starting XI minus one Ben Davies actually had me furrowing the brow and asking concerned questions. Not a thing I’d have ever thought possible just a couple of months ago, but such is the value of Ben Davies to Conte-Ball.

Davies’ natural left-footedness has been a pretty critical part of the apparatus in recent weeks, making his absence today a bit of a poser. Tanganga, for all his willing and evident ease in possession, has been blessed with a left foot primarily for balance rather than anything more inventive, so through no fault of his it appeared that we were at a disadvantage before a ball had even been kicked.

On top of which, if any of the casual bystanders in N17 had forgotten about our last showdown with this lot it’s a pretty fair guess that Tanganga hadn’t, that occasion having been marked by his ongoing feud with one W. Zaha Esq, a conversation ended abruptly when Tanganga received two yellow cards and biffed out of the picture early.

To be parachuted into the middle of proceedings with this rather loaded history behind him did make me slightly fear for the lad, I have to admit, so it was to Tanganga’s credit that he simply got his head down and for 90 minutes dealt efficiently with anything that life threw at him. Defensively he was sound, and I noted that he put his attacking instincts to good use in mimicking the forward forays of Ben Davies, in that curious, inside-left-midfield channel. He did not do a great deal with the ball once he received it there, but his presence alone in heading into that channel seemed to create space and options for Messrs Reguilon and Son.

5. High Press

While we finished the game at an absolute canter, one probably ought to pause for a moment of solemn reflection and remembrance at the opening twenty or thirty minutes, in which nothing of note seemed to happen. We did not seem to be in much danger, Palace not really possessing much in the way of wit or imagination; but, equally, our lot were also pretty light on W. and I., with the result that things rather spluttered along for a while.

What was notable, however, was that for all the flatness of our creative output, whenecer Palace gained possession – and particularly when they did so in their own half – the effect was as that of a siren blaring and red lights flashing like nobody’s business. To a man our heroes seemed to drop whatever they were doing and swarm all over the man in possession. It was as remarkable as it was impressive.

Remarkable chiefly because this same group of players, just a few weeks back, seemed reluctant to break into a jog to regain possession. And yet here they were, seemingly convinced that the path to success lay in hounding the life out of whichever foe happened to have stumbled upon the ball near his own area.

Questions and caveats abound – regarding the capacity of our lot to maintain this approach, the time and place for it to be effected, the quality of the opposition, and so on. But this afternoon, I preferred simply to sit back and marvel. The intensity of this high press was not too far short of a seasonal miracle, and moreover the appetite for it seemed to spread like wildfire throughout the team. Amongst the growing number of indicators of the improvement under Our Glorious Leader, this ranks amongst the most exciting to behold.