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Man City 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Excellent Result, Pretty Middling Performance

A wonkily-balanced beast if ever I set eyes upon one, this was a result that on paper merited the highest praise going, because as well being an all-conquering sort of mob, who routinely pummel their opponents for five of six of the finest, City were on a run of 15 consecutive wins, which even the most begrudging would admit is indicative of a team that knows what it’s about.

You would therefore think that a draw against this lot is something about which to make quite the song and dance. And yet…

Not to put too fine a point on it, and not to denigrate the efforts of our honest lot – but we were pretty bang average throughout. One understands the mentality of setting up to defend as if lives depended upon it, but there was little chance of this tactic holding out for the full 90 minutes, and as it happened it only lasted 20.
Nor was our defending much to write home about. Admittedly City don’t make such tangos particularly easy work, but for all the finery about the build-up to City’s two goals, our defending was pretty wretched fare, with runs not tracked and lethal strikers not appropriately shackled.

And aside from the goals, City did not just dominate possession, they fairly comfortably made a hatful of chances.

So defensively this was no particular masterclass, and going forward there was no great bite either. The bods inform me that we managed three shots in the entire game – one of which was Kane from halfway, and the other two of which we scored. And as the goals themselves were from a corner and a most peculiar long-range effort, it all points towards a performance in which we did precious little to trouble City in any department.

So much for the debit column. Squinting so that the glass is actually half-full, the fact is that we scored twice at the Etihad and came away with a draw. Precious few teams will do either of these things this season.

To play as poorly as that and come away with a point, against the current and likely future Champions no less, is the sign of a team that has some backbone to it. In seasons gone by we have fallen short in our away fixtures to the Top Six. No matter how we went about it, ultimately we achieved something pretty impressive yesterday.

2. KWP Survives

Pre kick-off the prognostications of doom amongst the great and good of AANP Towers were so heartfelt and unanimous that one might have been in the waiting room for the fires of Hades. ‘We’ll take a hammering’ was the gist of things around the campfire, with young Walker-Peters identified as the egg in for the worst of the treatment, being up against Sterling.

It is to KWP’s credit therefore, that he lived to tell the tale.
He was not quite flawless in his day’s work – Sterling had the freedom of Manchester for the first goal, and bested our man in a couple of one-on-ones thereafter – but nor was this the stuff of nightmares. Considering his defensive prowess alone, KEP certainly rolls up his sleeves and sticks to the task at hand.

He received a degree of help from midfielders in the vicinity, as I am sure Our Glorious Leader had mapped out ought to be the case beforehand, but with memories of Sterling tearing apart Trippier in last season’s Champions League, it was a mild relief to see that KWP possessed at least a vague sense of the guidelines around right-backing-vs-Sterling.

3. Playing Out From The Back

For the first 20 minutes our heroes did not touch the ball, at the culmination of which period City scored and all manner of problems arose. Immediately afterwards however, and for occasional short bursts thereafter, the gameplan from our lot seemed to be to pass out from the back.

Now as any right-minded soul will tell you, the sight of your team trying casually to one- and two-touch their way from their own penalty area up to halfway is enough to do the cardio apparatus some serious mischief. I’ve seen it with England, and yesterday our heroes had the AANP heart-rate surging through the roof as every one of them who received possession in and around our own penalty area casually left it until the last possible moment before releasing to a nearby chum.

Marvellously, and barely credibly, it often worked. With City attackers homing in on whomever of our mob were in possession, said man in possession would dip a shoulder and squirt the ball towards a colleague, who would gather it in the nick of time, dip a shoulder and squirt the ball onwards, and the whole death-defying system repeated.

At any given juncture in this precarious fandango, it appeared that an approaching City type would steal in and be away with the ball, and in on goal. As such, the whole thing could only be watched from behind the sofa.

But somehow, and to the credit of goalkeeper, defenders and midfielders, our lot generally kept their heads sufficiently to keep doing this, and successfully so.

In theory, this can be a pretty handy way of beating a high press and finding things opening up considerably on halfway. It retains possession – which is a pretty vital commodity against City – better than a goalkeeper’s punt upfield would. It’s just torture to watch.

4. Winks

Within this approach of playing out from the back, I’ll give a gentle doff of the cap to young Master Winks.

As noted in these very pages last week, when we’re pushing for a goal and in need of an incisive, defence-splitting pass, Winks is not necessarily the man. His safety-first mentality and tendency to protect possession first and worry about creating chances later means that he is not really the chap towards whom you turn when in need of attacking inspiration.

However, if the order of the day is protecting possession because failure to do so will result in City running rings – and passing triangles – around you, then Winks’ number ought to be on speed-dial, and I thought that yesterday, when we had those little spells of possession, he played the role of string-puller-in-chief with a decent slab of aplomb.

In terms of protecting the ball, dipping his shoulder, finding space and then giving it, he starts to remind me of Michael Carrick, from the misty-eyed days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name). Winks does not have the passing range of Carrick, but something about the way in which he protects possession gladdens the soul.

However, after an hour we were trailing and in need of a goal, so he was rightly hooked.

5. Eriksen Anonymous

A bit harsh to single out Eriksen as under-performing, as few in lilywhite (or rather natty dark blue) did much to enhance their reputations yesterday.

However, the debate about the merits of otherwise of Eriksen rages on. To recap, the AANP view is that for a man of such talent, he ought to be the central figure in games, with everything going through him and emanating from him – much as was the case last week when he trotted on against West Ham. Too often, continues the AANP view, Eriksen will produce one or two gorgeous moments, which make it to Match of the Day highlights, but will be largely anonymous for the remaining 89 or so minutes.

The contrary view is that this does the chap an enormous disservice, that he was overworked last season – which explains his occasional quiet games – and that he is the one man in the team capable of producing game-changing moments of creativity from midfield.

To be honest I think it is possible to hold both views without contradiction, but that’s one for another day.

Yesterday, having been restored to the starting line-up, I looked pleadingly towards Eriksen for some on-ball leadership, but after 90 minute it felt that this was another one chalked up as a bit of a non-event for the fellow.

To reiterate, a little harsh to single him out, but in the context of the ongoing arguments about whether he really is indispensable to our cause, this was an opportunity missed for him to get on the ball and boss things.

All in all, points away to Man City are like gold dust. For all the grumbles about performance, this was one heck of a result for us, and should performances dial up a notch or two, as one would expect, we might be in for a decent ride this season.

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Spurs 3-1 Villa: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Old Habits

As the minutes worryingly ticked by yesterday, the phrase that sprung to mind was the old French gag, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, which as I understand essentially translates as “It may be a new season, new stadium and we even have new signings dash it, but this nonsense on the pitch is the same as before, what?”

For this was a script that had been rolled out seven or eight times last season, no doubt about it. Oodles of possession, lack of final-third spark, a well-drilled defensive unit from the opposition and concession of a goal faintly ridiculous in its simplicity – all returned like old friends, picking up where they’d left off.

Mercifully, another trait that can be added to the list is the fact that our heroes have developed quite the knack for turning around a deficit pretty late in the day. Whereas once to be trailing as the clock ticked to 80 or so meant a pretty prolonged agony followed by a grumpy mooch home, now players and fans alike exchange knowing nods as if to say “This is comeback territory.”

So not quite the serene start one might have envisaged, but glass-half-full sorts might point out that we’ll be all the better for having navigated the odd bump in the road, and the important thing was probably not to have fallen 3 points behind the usual suspects before the first weekend of the season is out.

2. My Best Mate Jan

Starting at the start, I don’t mind admitting there was a pretty dubious eyebrow raised when Our Glorious Leader’s latest crazy notion was revealed to be the omission from the squad altogether of AANP’s best mate, Jan Vertonghen.

The official party line, that it’s impossible to pick everyone at once, might, I suppose, have an inkling of truth to it – but the whole turn of events leaves one with a rather hollow feeling in the stomach. Given the way of things in recent years, the mind inevitably wanders back to those fallings-out of senior players with Poch, the likes of Toby and Danny Rose, who having had the temerity to blab disapprovingly of life at the Lane were shoved off to the naughty step for the best part of six months and left to think about what they’d done.

With the European transfer window still alive and kicking, and only one year left on Vertonghen’s contract, I don’t mind admitting that I fear the worst.

It’s all quite the surprise, mind. The chap’s own interviews had generally suggested he was as happy as a pig in its own muck, and the rumours emanating from the camp had indicated that he and Kane, along with Lloris, were members of a well-trusted core of senior bods. Who knows where this is going?

3. First Half Struggles – Winks, Lamela etc

As for the game itself, I was actually pretty pleased with the initial joustings. Lucas Moura set a good tone straight from kick-off by dispossessing some poor sap and blasting one goalwards, albeit immediately afterwards undoing the good work by missing a pretty straightforward header, but in general the early omens were promising enough. Passes were fairly slick and there was a good energy amongst the players.

Alas it quickly went squiffy. Traffic through the centre became pretty congested.
While Winks was neat and energetic and efficient, his passing tends to keep possession rather than rip the spine out of the opposition à la Modric or an on-song Eriksen. Winks scavenged, and darted, and did nothing wrong, but ultimately tended to feed the man six yards away, or at best feed the full-backs out wide.

Lamela did what Lamela does, and dwelt on the ball far too long before releasing it, generally giving the air of a man making a bit of a mess of a his big opportunity (albeit he redeemed himself at the death by winning back possession for our crucial second).

Danny Rose had a fair amount of joy on the left, causing some gratifying moments of alarm in the Villa box every time he curled in a cross, and although his attacking play was as effective as his defending was careless, he looked arguably our most threatening option. Not that there was much competition on that front.

4. Kyle Walker-Peter’s: Not One of Nature’s Crossers

Given the threat posed by Rose’s crossing from the left, I found quickly found myself yearning for a Trippier, or Aurier on the right, which I suppose is an indication of just how frustrating things were becoming.

For young Kyle Walker-Peters had plenty of possession out on the right in the first half, and did nothing particularly wrong – but given the number of times he received the thing, I could not help lamenting that it would not have killed the chap to swing in a cross or two.

Instead he dithered, and fretted, and scurried, and generally ended up trying to take on his man –to his credit, usually winning a corner – or laid the ball back to a handily-placed chum. Nothing wrong with that, as it retained possession, but countless opportunities were missed to swing in an early cross and let bedlam ensue. You can lay a sizeable wager on any of Walker, Trippier or Aurier having tried as much.

Various Spurs-supporting chums opined at half-time that KWP was arguably the pick of our mob; I firmly marked him down in the Debit rather than Credit column. Considering how much of our play went through him in the first 45, and the threat posed by Rose’s crossing on the other flank, I thought he was repeatedly missing a fairly obvious trick. In fact, by half-time I was dishing a strong selection of curses in his direction.

Whether by accident or design, the plug was pulled on KWP as an attacking force (I use the term loosely) in the second half. He sat deeper and focused on mopping up defensively – a job he did quite adequately, to his credit – and more senior sorts like Lucas and Sissoko took on the mantle of patrolling the right flank. I suppose this is what life after Trippier wil look like, so we had all better get used to it, but it seems a limitation to KWP’s game.

5. Early Ndombele Observations

An odd sort of start from our much-heralded newbie. In the first half one rather felt for the young bean, for there was a general frustration amongst those around him, as well as a solid couple of blocks of Villa players in front of him, and I got the impression that he was wondering if this were really such a smart career move.

He certainly tried his heart out – perhaps a little too hard at times – and at other times appeared a little off-pace and puffed of cheek. The second coming of Dembele he did not appear to be, for there were few signs of him picking up the ball and breezing past opponents.

Mercifully, his goal provided a pretty handy adrenaline shot. (Am I right in thinking that Dembele also scored on his home debut?) A well-taken strike it was too, for I can speak with some authority when I suggest that it is pretty easy when lining up those shots, with the ball rolling back towards you, to lean back and bloot them into orbit.

Thereafter, confidence coursed through his veins like nobody’s business, and a whole tranche of pretty unnecessary tricks and flicks were unleashed. The chap started to do his best Moussa Sissoko impression, surging forward with the ball, and the wonderful prospect of an unstoppable Ndombele-Sissoko double-act hove briefly into view.

6. Eriksen On Song

The Great Eriksen Debate has proved pretty divisive stuff, and there was no letting up yesterday.

No real doubt about it, the chap’s introduction made a difference yesterday. Where previously there had been a heck of a lot of scratching of heads and shrugging of shoulders and passing of buck, once Eriksen had toddled on everyone basically just gave him the ball and left him to it.

And his outputs were pretty impressive. He picked a handful of clever passes, cunningly threading them in between defenders and into space for chums to run onto, rather than simply to feet, which had proved largely beyond his teammates for the preceding hour.

It was in general a pretty good advert for the young fish’s wares, and goodness knows his agent must have rubbed his hands in glee.

As one of those who has often chided the man, I’m happy to hold up my hands and applaud him for his efforts yesterday. And if he shows that same eagerness to demand the ball and look to create opportunities on a weekly basis I’ll probably plant myself far more firmly in the Pro Eriksen camp.

However, if you pardon my tuppence worth, I remain a tad wary, as I feel like I have seen plenty of games like yesterday’s in which we have needed inspiration but Eriksen has sat back and let proceedings pass him by. Yesterday, for the 15 or minutes in which he played, everything went through him, and this should be the case more regularly, rather than having 89 quiet minutes and one moment of magic. I would prefer we keep him than sell him, but would like to see yesterday’s performance become his norm. Admittedly I would also like us to win the league and revert back to blue socks, but such things occasionally need to be said.

AANP’s book Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon. There’s a follow-up in the offing too, as it happens.

Spurs 0-2 Liverpool: Five Tottenham Talking Points

Well this was a most peculiar anti-climax. Full of effort and yet somehow devoid of urgency, and with excitement and quality levels similarly low on the barometer, the whole thing resembled seeing a balloon being immediately deflated and then simply left lying unattended for another 89 minutes.

Rather than lumber tragically through the seven stages of grief, or find some perceived injustice and rage at it, the sentiment at AANP Towers is therefore one of curious frustration. Given that Liverpool themselves were oddly underwhelming, this ought probably to be listed as a Missed Opportunity, alongside the Leicester season – and yet somehow, the mood is one of philosophical acceptance.

Probably best just to toddle over to the corpse and begin dissecting.

1. The Penalty Decision

Not all will agree – and judging by the high-pitched apoplexy emanating from his larynx, Glenn Hoddle most certainly did not – but I must confess I had little problem with the penalty decision itself.

To clarify, I did not perform any sort of jig of delight – in fact those around me needed to deliver a rigorous prod between the ribs to check that the blood was still flowing, such was the horror-stricken, frozen chill with which I reacted – but I did follow the logic of the sturdy fellow making the call. Although the ball bounced off chest first, it did then receive an inadvertent stroke from the incoming arm of Sissoko.

Worse crimes have undoubtedly been perpetuated within the vicinity of the 18-yard rectangle during the history of the game, but I understood why, in that situation, a jury might convict.

Just a dashed shame – if quintessentially, absurdly Tottenham – that it happened within thirty seconds of the start of the biggest game in our history.

2. Best Laid Plans vs First-Minute Penalty

More of a concern was the impact of that early farce upon the best-laid plans of Our Glorious Leader. According to the newswires, Pochettino’s three-week preparations had included inviting the players to plant their feet on hot coals (a strategy that, if you ask me, carries an inherent flaw, given that these chaps’ feet are the most important dashed parts of them), breaking arrows with their necks and all manner of other eyebrow-raising sorcery. Frankly it struck me that he might have had a little too much preparation time on his hands.

Alas, the one circumstance for which he presumably had not prepared was the concession of a penalty in the opening minute. One sympathises, for why would he?

And in fact, our lot reacted to this decidedly unseemly new set of circumstances with admirable stiffening of the upper lip and some neat and tidy interplay around halfway.

The problem with the early goal was not so much its effect upon our heroes as its effect upon Liverpool. It meant that for the remaining 89 minutes they did not need to take any sort of risk, or show any sort of forward intent that would allow even a whiff of an opening behind them. They were content to strangle the life out of us, and pretty much did just that.

3. The Kane Selection

Our Glorious Leader had made the reasonable point that hindsight would tell whether his team selection would go down as masterstroke or clanger, so naturally enough the knives are out in some quarters. All of which places me in a terrifically delicate spot, as Poch, having presumably pored over these very pages in recent days, rather scarily opted for the precise team and formation for which I had been marching around town campaigning in the past week or two.

Kane undoubtedly had fairly minimal effect upon proceedings, finally threatening around the peripheries in the final twenty or so, without ever eking out – or having eked for him – that half a yard that would have allowed him a decent pot at goal.

However, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the better half of North London, I do not think our general bluntness was much to do with him, for the chap was barely given a touch of the ball by his chums in the opening hour or so.

He might have been in the form of his life and it would not have mattered, because our build-up play, particularly in the first half, was thoroughly bogged down by the time we hit the final third (almost as if the players were sinking beneath the weight of tactical instruction, which rather makes one wonder).

Even in hindsight I am still not particularly convinced that starting Lucas instead would necessarily have been the solution, for sniper-quality though his finishing was against Ajax, his involvement in build-up play was nothing about which to ring the church bells, and when he was eventually introduced last night his impact was neither here nor there.

The problem struck me as not so much to do with Kane’s fitness or the absence of Lucas, as the dearth of creativity and service from the ranks behind them.

4. Eriksen, The Selected Scapegoat

At such times as these I feel legally obliged to identify a scapegoat.

With Liverpool content to allow us the ball and take their chances as a defensive unit, plenty of onus was placed upon the assorted size nines in our midfield. We found ourselves in desperate need of some wit and ingenuity, someone who could make use of ample possession in midfield, and boast both the vision to pick a defence-splitting pass and the technique also to deliver it.

In short we needed Christian Eriksen.

The opportunity could not have been better made for him if it had taken him aside beforehand and measured him for size. This was the precise scenario that Mother Nature had had in mind when she fashioned him all those years ago, and the stage was that for which one would expect the true greats of the game to don their capes and leap into action.

But cometh the hour, Eriksen had little to offer that dropped the jaw and made the heart skip a beat or two.

It’s a source of some pretty ripe debate in lilywhite circles. The chap’s ability is not in question – he produces some silky stuff of which most teammates simply aren’t capable. The issue here at AANP Towers is that he is something of a Match of the Day player: his best bits make the highlights reel, and come 10.30pm on a Saturday night he can look pretty spectacular. But roll up and watch the whole 90 minutes, and too often he does too little to effect things, much less boss an entire match. Last night was a case in point.

By contrast, Winks and Sissoko – neither of whom anyone of sound mind and teetotal disposition would ever suggest were better players than Eriksen – did more at least to attempt to inject a little vim and energy into our midfield play.

5: Clinical Finishing (And Lack Thereof)

Whatever the virtues or otherwise of Eriksen’s performance, it seemed that, like me, the players were labouring under the misapprehension that clear-cut chances would simply materialise automatically, because this was the Champions League 2019 and frankly that’s what has tended to happen. This time however, we were a little too patient and passive for our own good.

By around the 70-minute mark the memo to get heads down and dig out a goal had evidently reached all in lilywhite, and there was an urgency to our play in the final third. The Liverpool goalkeeper was even having to get his gloves dirty, as our heroes stumbled upon the novel idea of trying an occasional, polite shot at goal.

Alas and alack and woe upon woe, we did not actually create one decent chance throughout the whole desperate affair. Instead, we needed to be at our clinical best to take advantage of whatever scraps and glimmers of opportunities came our way.

In short, we needed to produce the sort of clinical finish from one of those half-chances that Divock Origi did at the other end, at the death, summoning the ghost of Lineker in the Italia ’90 Semi-Final to turn a sniff of a chance into a goal.

But where Origi caught his shot as sweetly as a front-foot cover drive at Lord’s, Sonny and Lucas did not quite make the clean connection that makes the heart skip a beat and young ladies swoon; and Dele’s chipped effort was rather cruelly made to look a heck of a lot closer to hitting the top corner than it actually did, by that most wretched and evil prankster, the Deceptive Camera Angle.

And that was that. The whole Champions League campaign has been, until this point absolutely riotous fun, so warm applause and stiff drinks are deserved all round. Just a shame that the finale was such an oddly damp squib, but such is life I suppose.

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Ajax 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

Real life rather rudely interrupted the celebrations at AANP Towers last week, but since we’re all still floating around atop a cumulonimbus there seems no harm in peddling a few belated observations from our gloriest of glory glory nights…

1. The Complete Absence of Hope

Had we cantered to victory in serene and most un-Tottenham fashion it would undoubtedly have been a thrill, but presumably not one that will live in the memory quite like this magnificent absurdity.

After about 5 minutes of the first leg I was already groaning the groan of a man on death row who hears fresh coins being popped into the electricity meter; by half-time in the second leg I had already whizzed through all seven stages of grief and was starting to wonder about England’s batting line-up for the Ashes.

Even after Moura’s first two goals I simply refused to countenance the possibility of anything other than glorious failure, which in hindsight says quite a lot about how damaging the last three decades of lilywhite faith have been.

But to score the goal that sends us into the Champions League Final, just as the clock in the top left corner ticked over literally to the final second of the allocated extra 5 minutes – well it’s little wonder that we’ve all rewound and watched that moment about a hundred times each. Frankly just writing about it makes me need another lie-down, and etches that massive grin across the chops once more.

2: Llorente: Flawed But Wonderful Hero

As if to encapsulate the glorious lunacy of the night, the man who made the difference was Fernando Llorente.

With reserves so depleted that we genuinely checked beforehand whether Vincent Janssen was eligible, Our Glorious Leader made the call of a man who realises that his entire life’s possessions have gone down the drain so he might as well go all in on his last hand because to hell with it. If Janssen were eligible I suspect he might have been flung on too, but as it happened the only resource left was Llorente, the striker with a penchant for missing from 2 yards. On he duly shuffled.

And it changed the entire pattern of the game. By simply attaching himself to Daly Blind and swaying gently in the Amsterdam air every time the ball was lofted into orbit, he did more to discombobulate Ajax than any amount of fancy footwork and attempted sorcery from the more illustrious colleagues around him.

With the sort of cruel irony that just about proves that the gods like nothing more than toying with the mortals below, this Ajax team who were so masterful and fizz-popping in possession that they made one dizzy just by watching, were utterly flummoxed by the most basic tactic in football. Time and again our heroes launched the ball to the big man, time and again he angled himself in suitably ungainly fashion to ensure that the ball apologetically bounced off him and into the general vicinity of Dele, Lucas and chums.

Naturally, being Fernando Llorente, he contrived to miss from two yards when the laws of physics seemed to dictate that it was impossible to do so; and naturally, being Fernando Llorente he spurned what appeared to be our final chance of the tie by heading over from a corner when unmarked in the dying embers. But nobody cares a jot, because Llorente’s value that night was priceless.

Seemingly created as a striker in concept alone, who adds value in theory, but abandoned by nature before any of the practical specifics of being a striker could be added, Llorente swung the game back our way before Lucas had even begun adjusting his sighter. All credit to him and Poch.

3: Dele’s Touch

Amidst the general bedlam, it was pretty easy to overlook the cutting-edge, shiny, 24-carat quality of Dele Alli’s soft dab of the ball into Lucas Moura’s path for the third.

The general mood around the campfire has been that Dele has owed a decent contribution for a while now. Not his fault, of course, that his season has been staccatoed by injuries, and there have been times when an outbreak of class has threatened. By and large, however, this has been another of those seasons in which one winces, and scratches the head, and generally starts digging for suitable excuses for the chap.

Last Wednesday however, the memo finally wound its way to the Alli grey matter, and he obligingly picked one heck of an occasion to make a handful of those flicks and flourishes finally count.

Observers first stirred at the sight of him making a Platt/Scholes-esque dash to the far post, early in the second half, only for his volleyed close-range mid-air shot to be patted away by the Ajax ‘keeper. The juices were however flowing, as, funnily enough, he seemed rather to enjoy life at the top of a diamond behind the front two.

I suspect that in setting up the first goal for Lucas he was trying to do it all himself, and might have thrown something of an arm-waving tizzy at his colleague for steaming onto the ball, had it not wound up in the net.

But it was the flick that set up the third goal that really had me purring. Well, I tell a gross untruth, because “purring” is not really the adjective to describe what madness ensued as the third rolled in – but the point is that it was an absolutely exquisite touch.

Simply to have the nerve to attempt a pass like that, at a time like that, with stakes like that, borders on the unfathomable. Watch the goal back for the 101st time and treat yourself to a goggle at the fact that he plays it the wrong side of the defender, and without even looking. How the dickens he knew that Lucas was curving his run into that area is beyond me, given that he was looking in the other direction completely, but that I suppose is why he earns the hefty envelope.

4: Danny Rose Starting The Comeback

A loving pat on the head also for Danny Rose – who no doubt would enjoy that sort of thing – for getting the ball rolling, in a matter of speaking. Three down on aggregate, his nutmeg on the Ajax chap, followed by cross-field pass to Lucas, set the whole comeback in motion.

Of course if one wants to trace the origins of the thing back even further one could start heaping credit upon Sonny for feeding Rose in the preceding moments, or Paul Stalteri for haring into the West Ham penalty area, because these things are all part of the sequence of contributory events don’t you know? It was, however, a slick little piece of skill.

5: Hugo’s Saves

Since I’m here and dishing out gold stars in slightly scattergun fashion, I might as well gobble down a frog’s leg and raise une verre to Monsieur Lloris, for a couple of critical saves that kept the thing simmering along nicely.

Stick the ball at his feet and one is inclined to dive behind the nearest sofa and cover the eyes, for fear of what fresh hell might unfold.

However, tell the chap to stick to the business of leaping hither and yon with arms outstretched, and he gets the gist in double-quick time. At 2-2 on the night, and with the clock ticking down in that ominous fashion so typical of the things, Lloris was called upon to do produce the cat-like stuff, and he did not fluff his lines.

6: Everyone’s Positioning At The Final Goal

I have to admit to raising a particularly quizzical eyebrow at the manner of Christian Eriksen’s immediate post-match interview, in which he gave the impression of struggling to stay awake for sheer boredom, even as the walls of AANP Towers were resounding to the clatter of yells and leaps and a general orgy uncontainable excitement. However, if Eriksen spoke one truth it was that tactics rather packed their bags and exited the premises sharpish in that second half.

The introductions of Llorente for Wanyama, and Lamela for Trippier, gave pretty broad hints that as attempts at conventional 4-5-1s and 4-4-2s were bringing little joy, the approach would swiftly alter to more of an Everyone-Pelt-Forward-At-Every-Opportunity-And-Let’s-See-How-It-Lands.

And so we ended up in that last minute with Sissoko starting the attack from a sweeper position (which made some sense because, as we now all recognise, the chap is actually a football genius); Eriksen and Ben Davies alongside him; Toby and Jan desperately edging into wing-back positions; Sonny as a deep-lying midfielder; and everybody else haring straight up the middle in attack. And all this about thirty seconds after Hugo had raced into the opposition penalty area.

It was glorious stuff, utterly in keeping with the all-action-no-plot madness of the game, and fully justifies the constant re-watches, because one never really tires of watching the careering reactions of absolutely everyone involved.

To say nothing of Lucas himself, who seemed only to touch the ball on the three occasions in which he planted it into the net with the dead-eyed precision of a sniper (plus, I suppose, the extraordinary dribble of an uncle toying with his nephews that set up his own second).

Quite why there is a three-week wait for the Final is anyone’s guess, but if it allows more time to revel in the absolute glory of Amsterdam, then it gets the AANP vote.

Spurs 0-1 Ajax: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Compliments to the Opposition

It feels like a crime against nature to bestow any sort of admiration upon an opponent, but I couldn’t help but goggle at some of the sleek, dreamy football Ajax produced, in the opening fifteen minutes in particular.

The build-up to their goal was jaw-dropping stuff of the highest order – and I don’t just mean the assist, or the pass before that. The little one-touch binge on halfway, facilitated by some neat flicks and backheels, left our heroes giddily spinning around and flailing at shadows. It was a demonstration of the sort of fare to which the good ship Hotspur ought to aspire.

Another move they produced shortly after drew genuine gasps of admiration, which I thought only happened in the short stories one reads in the nonsense magazines in doctor’s waiting rooms, yet as they sliced us open with what looked like well-choreographed balletic movement, there were all sorts of awestruck murmurs amongst the masses.

Difficult not to admire that sort of racket.

2. Llorente: Not At The Required Level

By contrast, we had the honest but fairly abject toil of Llorente. Not really his fault that nature has bestowed upon him a pretty limited set of tools with which to work, but even within these restrictions he had a pretty wretched time of things.

When he did manage to hold up the ball and hold off his foes, his distribution was, on the whole, just plain inaccurate. He passed straight at teammates rather than into their path, and a couple of attempts to spread the play fell short of their intended targets and instead went down the hatches of opponents. who were only too happy to gobble up the ball and turn the tables on us.

The other principal asset of the chap is supposedly his heading, and while I guess I ought to show some compassion and laud him for getting his head to the thing on a few occasions, it does feel a bit like clapping the useless lad at school for taking part.

Rather surreally, I found myself halfway through a Champions League semi-final wishing we could call upon Vincent Janssen, which just goes to show.

3. Set-Pieces

So with little potency in attack, and the Ajax lot running rings around us in midfield, they only semblance of a threat we posed in the opening 40 minutes or so was from set-pieces, which was an absolutely dire reflection of how badly we were taking to this business.

Even these set-pieces tend to be about as likely to bring about success as tossing a coin, but at least it reminded the rather eccentric Ajax ‘keeper that he would have to keep his wits about him.

Alas, not only did it fail to bring a goal, it also wiped out poor old Jan – although by an odd quirk of fate, this also stopped the rot by virtue of bringing Sissoko into the fray, and if not quite swinging the tie back in our favour it certainly evened things up a tad.

4. Poch’s Tactics

Easy to say from the sidelines, and in hindsight – two vantage points from which I don’t think I have ever made a mistake – but the fact that the enforced switch to 4-4-2 and addition of Sissoko made such a huge difference rather leads one to shoot an accusing glance or two at Our Glorious Leader for his masterplan at kick-off.

Although massively hamstrung by injuries and whatnot, and unable to call upon Sissoko from the off, the tactical choice of a back-three left us woefully undermanned in midfield, and Ajax tore us to ribbons right from kick-off. Worried murmurs abounded that something had to change before the tie was just a speck in the distance, but Poch seemed happy to watch us cling on by our fingernails, until Jan’s injury forced some action.

Wanyama could not keep a lid on the Ajax midfield, and neither Dele nor Eriksen have too many defensive bones in their bodies, so we were crying out for a change in shape to address the problems at root. The point – and I’ll get there in the end – is that Poch need not have waited so long to switch to a 4-4-2. It appeared that he was willing to wait until half-time, but we were jolly lucky not to be two or three down by that point, and out of the tie.

In the interests of fairness however, I do at least laud the blighter for replacing Jan with Sissoko, rather than for example throwing on Dier as a like-for-like replacement and sticking with the back-three. Lessons, one would hope, have been learned for the second leg.

5. Sissoko’s Star Riseth Ever Higher

Sissoko’s surge towards our Player of the Season Award continued apace on his entrance. The transformation in the chap, from the misfiring ball of limbs but a couple of years ago, to Champions League commander-in-chief, is pretty staggering stuff.

And yet there he was in glorious technicolour, rolling up his sleeves and jumping right into the midst of the fray to wrest back some semblance of control for us.

Where Wanyama made the occasional interception, and Rose’s all-action fire was limited to the left flank, Sissoko went charging straight into the centre, either to make tackles or run with the ball and attract opponents towards him. It did not win the game, but it almost single-handedly stopped us drifting irretrievably out of the tie.

Wrap the chap in cotton wool until the second leg, and with Sonny restored to the attack we might just have a chance.

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Spurs 0-1 West Ham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

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1. Squad Depth

Galling stuff, with a distinct flatness about the place, particularly in the second half – but I suppose one has to take the rough with the smooth, and stiffen the upper lip accordingly.

Though easy to criticise in hindsight, the first half actually wasn’t so bad. Admittedly not of the ilk that will be seared into the consciousness for generations to come, but some of the link-up play from the front four bordered on the Pretty Darned Effective, and but for six inches here and a goalkeeper’s paw there we might have been ahead.

However, once that horrible lot had their noses in front, our attacking sorts almost visibly ran out of steam. It was like watching a child’s wind-up toy slowly grind to a halt, as there was simply no puff left in the little cheeks of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. One might have had the urge to dash out and offer a consoling pat to their shoulders, if one were not so frustrated by the dashed thing.

Disturbing times, and all the more irritating for the fact that every man, woman and child about the place has seen this coming a mile off. Failure to supplement the squad with either first-rate starters or useful reserves has come home to roost in pretty predictable fashion, and murmurs about our lack of squad depth were all the rage on the sparkling concourses yesterday.

Even ignoring the injured personnel, the lack of squad depth means that those who do play do so with diminished fizz. This actually makes perfect sense, because these good citizens are being asked to perform to the peak of their powers at a pretty relentless rate. If it’s not a Champions League tie against one of Europe’s elite it’s invariably a domestic joust with a Premier League team that thinks better of rolling over and having its tummy tickled.

The generous thing would be to invest in some personnel of vaguely comparable talent, to allow Eriksen the occasional weekend with feet up and bourbon in hand; but instead the liliywhite barrel is being scraped for whippersnappers and cast-offs, none of whom are fit for purpose, so every last drop of energy is wrung from the A-listers – and we end up losing winnable games such as this.

2. Absent Friends

On occasions such as this one’s heart rather yearns for Harry Kane. The strength to hold up the ball, the nous to drop deep, the sheer gall to look both ways, shrug his shoulders and have a biff from 25 yards – qualities which Kane possesses by the sackload, and which were conspicuously absent from the various reserves out on parade yesterday.

With the attacking sorts on show haemorrhaging both ideas and energy, one could not help but wistfully wonder what difference Kane might have made.

Similarly, the heart grows fonder for Moussa Sissoko as his absence continues. In fact, the heart grew fonder for the old bean even in his presence too. In this post-Dembele era, he and he alone is capable of picking up the ball and driving twenty or so yards with it, and it is the sort of urgency from which we would have benefited mightily yesterday.

Little that can be done about it now of course, but the whole sorry spectacle seemed to ram home in no uncertain terms the fact that these two have become pretty indispensable cogs in the machinery.

3. Juan Foyth (Or The Gradual Erasure From Existence of Kyle Walker-Peters)

Returning to more pertinent matters, yesterday marked another experimental twiddle of the Pochettino thumbs, as Juan Foyth was square-pegged in at right-back again.

The young imp had a fairly eventful time of things. In the credit column he could boast a forward foray or two, to occasionally useful effect – including the last-minute dash that almost brought Janssen a moment of glory.

At times Foyth’s little dribbles seemed to strike oil due to accident rather than design, the ball appearing to escape his whirring limbs and rather kindly pop back into his path to invite him to have another go; and at other times he simply got his sums wrong and spurned some handy opportunities.

In the debit column, more than once he was marooned miles up the pitch as West Ham broke, a white dot in the green distance, providing a sterling example of a chappie lacking the positional awareness that would come with a lifetime of right-backing, and instead looking every inch a wide-eyed youth drinking in a new experience with little grasp of what was unfolding.

But aside from the pros and cons of Foyth’s performance in the role, his selection raised a broader existential question about young Kyle Walker-Peters. From an opening day headline-making performance against Newcastle last season, via a flawed but admirable fist of things in the Nou Camp a few months back, the whippersnapper’s star has taken one heck of a tumble, as he now finds himself fourth-choice right-back, and fit for little more than a watching brief, even as colleagues drop like flies.

It has been a curious move from Our Glorious Leader to prefer Foyth – himself hardly an expert in the rigours of central defence, let alone full-back – to KWP, a full-back by trade, particularly given the faith demonstrated in the latter to date in his career. Quite what this means for KWP’s future at the club is anyone’s guess, but there is something vaguely Orwellian about the way in which Walker-Peters is being erased from existence.

4. Danny Rose, And The Implications For The Ajax Match

Another rather loaded selection was that of Danny Rose, for the second time in four days. Alas, AANP is not privy to the medical records of the great and good of N17, but I have been labouring under the impression that angry young Master Rose is not a fellow whose constitution can bear two games within a week. The sight of him taking to the starting blocks twice in four days therefore prompted a scratch of the head and stroke of the chin, as all manner of permutations raced through the bean.

Foremost amongst them was the question of whether this meant Rose will now be unfit for parade against Ajax on Tuesday. This, if it transpired to be the case, would be a dashed shame, for Rose is nothing if not filled with the spirit of battle, and his snarl and aggression would be of huge benefit in a Champions League Semi-Final.

The deployment of Rose, coupled with the complete absence from the squad of my best mate Jan Vertonghen, does prompt me mischievously to peddle the notion that Vertonghen might be selected as left-back vs Ajax. With Pochettino in his current, creative mood, there is no telling who might start in which positions.

5. Positive Signs From Davinson Sanchez

On a day of pretty grim tidings I did at least take some encouragement from a central defensive display from Davinson Sanchez that at times had something of the Ledley about it.

The chap is blessed with a rare but most useful combination of pace and upper-body strength, and both were on show at various junctures yesterday. There were a couple of notable sprints to un-muddle defensive lapses, on top of which he deserved some credit for keeping a beady eye on Foyth – which frequently meant haring across to the right to cover for the errant full-back.

Not a flawless showing – for if anyone were to blame for the goal we conceded (and it is debatable that anyone were) then he appears to have been the prime suspect – but as the mind flits towards the future and a potential post-Toby era this at least provided a shimmer of positivity.

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Spurs 1-0 Brighton: Five Tottenham Observations

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1. A Rummy Tactical Set-Up

So evidently inspired by the hilarity of leaving emotions strewn around the place in tatters at the end of the Champions League quarter-final, our heroes decided once again to leave matters late last night, to similarly side-slitting effect. Oh the japes!

I don’t mind baring my soul and admitting that by the time Eriksen did the honourable thing I was uncorking a bourbon and preparing the palate for a particularly stiff dram. Could not really fault the endeavour of our heroes, you understand, but some of the chosen routes to goal did slightly boggle the mind.

Right from kick-off, I looked to the left touchline, where Sonny lurked, and the right touchline, where Lucas hove similarly, and gave the chin one of the season’s more pensive strokes. Worth a whirl of course – and in defence of Our Glorious Leader, he was not exactly inundated with options.

However, the proof of the pudding appeared to be the countless dead ends into which Messrs Son and Lucas wandered, barely able to deep their toes into the Brighton area, let alone conjure the requisite magic to slice upon the visiting defence. All the while Senor Llorente rather forlornly slunk around in the penalty area, throwing occasional pleading glances towards team-mates in the hope of being allowed to join in.

It was not to be, which was fair enough; but the fact that this was evident so early on is what really got my goat, if you pardon the fruity language. It irked. The system did not really work, so why not change it? Perhaps switching to two upfront, with a midfield diamond and the full-backs pushing further up? Or tucking Sonny and Lucas in more narrowly, outnumbering the Brighton centre-backs?

Piffle, you might well opine, and with some justification; but the nub of the thing is that the selected approach generated precious little reward, so persisting with it throughout was most peculiar.

2. Pochettino’s In-Game Changes

On a related note, the reluctance of Pochettino to twiddle knobs during proceedings will likely be recorded by the record-keepers as one of the few blots on his escutcheon.

I perhaps do him a disservice, because at various points this season, more so than in previous years, he has indeed made an occasional half-time tweak to good effect. Last night, however, was an unwelcome return to his predilection for seemingly forgetting that it is within his gift to alter personnel or system on a whim.

Admittedly, as remarked, he was short of alternatives from which to choose, and one understood the reluctance to opt for the Vincent Janssen option, but changes such those he did finally make arrived only at or beyond the 80-minute mark – and as such bordered on the redundant. Brighton were making a darned good fist of repelling everything he hoicked their way from early on in proceedings, so there would have been some value in trying a different approach at an earlier juncture.

3. The Need For One-Touch Stuff

A further curiosity, from afar, was the inability of our heroes to play any one-touch stuff. One understands that they were generally afforded plenty of space when twenty or twenty-five yards from goal (or further), but they did themselves few favours by their constant tendency to dally on the ball.

It was all control, look around in every direction, take another touch and have a long think before passing. The concept of simply zipping one-twos between themselves seemed utterly alien. And I don’t mean the sort of incisive, dreamy one-twos just inside the area that see Man City and pomp Barcelona cut teams to ribbons; I mean simply a one-two between a couple of chums in nearish proximity anywhere on the pitch. Just whizzing the ball swiftly back and forth can give the opposition a bit of a jolt, and tempt them to follow ball rather than man.

4. Eriksen: Worming His Way Back Into AANP’s Affections

Mercifully, all can be forgiven and forgotten. As mentioned, there was perspiration by the bucketload, and neither Dele nor Toby could have got much closer with their respective efforts.

Ultimately it came down to Eriksen, whose radar had been gradually inching towards the sweet spot throughout the game.

Regular drinkers at the AANP watering hole will be aware that the chap has not been my firmest favourite in recent weeks. It would be a mite strong to say that we had fallen out, but a certain cooling in affections had certainly come to be. I, for my part, have begun to lose patience at his sloppy passing; he, for his part, has passed sloppily.

However, to his credit he has retained throughout proceedings the capacity to rustle up something magical from thin air, and he was at it again tonight, for the goal when it finally arrived was struck as sweetly as a cover drive on the opening morning of a first day at Lord’s.

In truth, as the game wore on and Brighton defended so stoutly that they seemed to become one with their penalty area, our lot increasingly turned to Eriksen to unpick the cuffs and get them out of the frightful mess. And he generally did his best to oblige, constantly probing for the killer pass, and indulging in a handful of reasonable long-distance efforts. In short, he shirked not his responsibilities. Perhaps a truce between he and I might be in order.

5. Angry Danny Rose Excels Again

Not that I want to lavish too much praise upon Eriksen, mind, for the star performer from my vantage point was Danny Rose.

Taking the field in a his usual angry mood, he kicked off proceedings by sending a Brighton player flying skyward with a slide tackle by the corner flag that served no purpose other than to show the world quite how angry he was; and he simply became angrier thereafter.

On top of which, he established himself, during the first half at least, as possibly our most creative outlet. Formally assigned the left-back role though he might have been, these days Danny Rose is pretty convinced that he is Paul Gascoigne, and he duly gambolled into central midfield whenever he could, because you could be dashed sure nobody else was going to dribble past an opponent.

The second half saw him stick a little more rigidly to the left flank (although he simply would not be caged, and at one point almost thumped one in from range with his right foot, which seemed to juggle the laws of physics a tad). As the game wore on, his star faded a mite – and Eriksen’s burned brighter – but nevertheless, he injects an energy and aggression into his every performance that sets a pleasing tone for those around him.

All things considered, this was another one of those peculiar episodes, with our lot beavering away relentlessly yet seeming to do so in quite a counter-productive way for much of it. However, the Top Four is pretty dashed close now, the new stadium remains a fortress and it is the credit of all concerned that they stagger on with resources so depleted.

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Man City 1-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

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1. Missed Chances

Quite the oddity this, because despite taking a fearful battering, in the first half in particular, we probably ought to have won the thing with a spot of breathing space, purely in terms of chances created.

Sonny twice (possibly thrice?), Eriksen and Lucas Moura all had chances that one under oath might have described as “presentable”. Not just scrambled, snapshot efforts, but bona fide whites-of-the-keeper’s-eyes stuff. Some pretty slick build-up play too, which was stirring to watch.

Credit in a sense must therefore be slopped pretty generously upon the plate of Our Glorious Leader, who set us up most pointedly to play on the counter-attack – with both of Lucas and Sonny unleashed, and Llorente’s rather alternative take on things kept under lock and key on the sidelines.

Everybody else in our number was tasked with chasing Man City shadows, but the deployment of both Son and Lucas at the pointy edge of things had the City centre-backs squirming throughout. Either our front two were sprinting at them, or they were threatening to sprint at them, which in a way felt every bit as effective – rather like one of those ghastly horror films one sees, in which a heroine picks her way through a silent and foreboding house, and although nothing is actually happening on screen, it still sends the pulse into overdrive because of the fear that at any given moment some scoundrel might leap out from the shadows and do some mischief.

Alas, whereas on Wednesday night we were impressively clinical, today all who found themselves in front of goal were a mite too ponderous about their business. All seemed to want an extra touch, when really the hurly-burly nature of the fare meant that it was an occasion for rather swifter and more decisive action.

2. Line-Up

I gave Poch credit for the set-up, and he certainly improvised well given the depleted resources, but I suppose his hand was slightly forced. With players dropping like flies he went for the rarely-seen Six Central Defenders Gambit, and I suppose this was as suitable a time to do so as any, given that City have nift and trickery seeping from every pore.

Alas, despite the presence of so many versed in the art of centre-backery, we still managed to leave arguably the most lethal striker of the last five years completely unmarked inside the penalty area within the first five minutes, and calamity duly befell. Fingers of blame duly wagged at Sanchez (which was actually the only blot on an otherwise mightily impressive escutcheon) and Toby, for nodding off at their sentry posts.

At that point I grimaced the grimace of a man who foresaw all the walls caving in and at double-quick rate, because City, already stoked for revenge, raged around the place looking like chaps very much with the scent of blood lingering in the nostrils.

They hogged possession and battered away, but, gradually at first and then with increasing regularity and control, our massed ranks of defensive types repelled them. I rather certainly for the midfield three of Dier, Eriksen and Dele, relentlessly shuttling hither and thither in the midday sun, but although they struggled to control things, they did enough to help out the back five.
Wobbly though we had looked at the outset, by the time the second half pootled around the complexion of things had begun to change, and the expectation was as much that we might nab a counter-attack chance as that City might double their lead.

A shame that shooting boots were not packed – but ultimately few complaints. City were, as ever, pretty good value for the win.

3. Foyth Impresses

After witnessing Trippier being led a merry dance on Wednesday, I feared for the earnest but flawed young buck Juan Foyth when the actors took to the stage and Raheem Sterling gave him the once-over. Their opening tête-à-tête duly made for grisly viewing, as Sterling left Foyth reeling through a cloud of jet-heeled dust; but thereafter our man grew into the game, and just about edged a very tough personal duel.

Under strict instructions to show Sterling down the line, Foyth did so with admirable judgement, and also a few dollops of hitherto unknown body-strength, which earned a tick or two in the AANP book. Credit also to Sanchez for offering generous assistance; and even when Sane entered the arena and the nature of the threat took a subtle turn, Foyth was generally equal to it.

He does still rather dwell on things when in possession, as if inclined to take four or five seconds to admire his immediately preceding handiwork, but where there might have a pretty seismic Achilles’ Heel we did in fact boast a pretty well-secured potential entry route.

4. The Angry Rose Cameo

Danny Rose’s fragile limbs means that the angry young tyro cannot legally be fielded for two sets of 90-minute fare within four days, so he had to content himself with around twenty minutes in which to vent his incessant rage, and simultaneously enrage all those in opposition.

But by golly, doesn’t he do that well? He stormed onto the pitch to take a midfield role, immediately looking aggrieved at the state of things, and duly communicated this by executing a perfectly legal tackle on Bernardo Silva that was accompanied by a quite unnecessary and thoroughly enjoyable follow-through, sufficient to send the chap flying.

Thereafter the general level of angst and needle amongst both sets of players shot through the roof. In a way this might have been to our detriment, because City were already losing the plot quite comfortably on their own, without any egging from our heroes, and the added level of aggravation merely prevented us from counter-attacking as repeatedly as we needed.

However, in the grander scheme of things I was jolly pleased to see our lot take a leaf out of the Rose Playbook and mooch around with scowls on faces and flying tackles in their feet. From the off, City had shown far more desire, and our lot had given the impression that they were satisfied with Wednesday night’s outcome. City had continually hounded us and won back possession in the early flashes, so, late though it was, I was pleased to observe us at least finish with some appetite for the fight.

5. Muted Dier Performance

As an aside, one notes with concern that in 20 or so minutes, Rose kicked immeasurably more lumps out of opponents than self-styled hard man Eric Dier managed in his 60 minutes. The AANP Jury remains far from convinced on Dier. Though a handy asset given his versatility, he displays neither boundless energy nor exquisite positional sense, nor is he possessed of a particularly notable range of passing.

When sitting in midfield on days like today, his task is presumably to act as a disruptive and destructive influence, making forceful tackles or at the very least giving the opponent in possession a friendly shove – but today he contributed little. As stated, Rose performed the role in vastly more eye-catching manner.

All told, however, this was game from which anything other than a hammering would have been a pleasant surprise. Having created that many chances it was a shame to lose by a single goal, but a string of winnable games now sits between our lot and a top four finish.

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Man City 4-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

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So for those who had the slightest doubt, that is why it’s called All Action, No Plot.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was one of those madcap jamborees in which words just rather flit into the ether, and one is left gawping, a mere spectator, as utter madness unfolds. Five goals in the opening twenty – and even that did not compare with the quite gut-wrenching finale of unadulterated ridiculousness.

1. Nerves Shredded To Dust

It is not the first time this thought has occurred, but rarely have I been more struck by the notion that watching Spurs will be the death of me. I will simply keel over and be no longer for this mortal coil, the trusty blood-pumper simply not up to the rigours of watching our eleven heroes in lilywhite toying with the nerves.

To order things chronologically, there was simply no time to get one’s head around the unfolding madness in those opening ten minutes or so. They scored, and we scored, and we scored, and they scored, and – well, one gets the gist. Every time we tried to take a deep breath and get our heads around the permutations, another goal flew in and all that had gone before was as naught. It really was most discombobulating.

In the midst of those opening thrusts, Sissoko injured himself in a manner that was so innocuous it could only possibly have been pretty dashed serious, and in one of those decisions that was entirely in keeping with the utterly sanity-free nature of proceedings, Our Glorious Leader replaced him with Senor Llorente. And Sissoko was booked for being substituted. Really.

2. Llorente: Zero, Hero and All Things In Between

Might as well dwell further on Llorente and his impact on things. Both match-winner and cause of our near-downfall, the honest fellow’s introduction pretty much sucked the life out of all we had as an attacking force, at around the 40-minute mark.

Admittedly we were hardly bossing proceedings until then, but for all City’s razor-sharp potency in the first half we did at least possess a heck of a threat until that point. With Lucas and Sonny looking shifty, and bringing about two early goals, there was plenty about which the City back-line might ponder.

Llorente did his best, as ever, but rather than the desired effect of holding up the ball and allowing others to zip up in support, he lumbered this way and that, a good few yards behind the City back-line. His introduction inadvertently castrated our counter-attacking prowess.

And yet.

Cometh what seemed like our only foray into the City third, in that relentless second half, cometh the hip – and quite possibly the elbow, or wrist, or some other stray upper limb – of Llorente. For a chap whose forte is supposedly his heading, it was a pretty atrocious effort, his head nowhere near the ball – and it was also the most gorgeous finish I think I’ve ever witnessed. The AANP tuppence worth on the VAR call: not a clear and obvious error. So there.

3. Full-Back Struggles

Easy to criticise, and I’m not sure the fires of hell itself are as unforgiving as the rampaging forward thrusts of the quite majestic Sterling and De Bruyne – but Rose and, in particular, Trippier, were so adrift in those opening twenty minutes that the whole thing seemed to be in contravention to the rules.

Trippier is a mighty fine attacking threat against just about any team in the world, but he supposedly is a defender by trade, and his approach to containing Sterling was so weak as to be laughable, comprising, as it did, the grand plan of showing the chap onto his stronger foot. For goodness’ sake.

Rather harsh to zoom in on the full-backs when our entire team was being cut to ribbons fairly incessantly in the second half, but I did not think either full-back covered themselves in glory in their individual battles out wide. Oddly enough, when matters became a mite more last-ditch and backs-to-the-wall, and all a matter of blocking and hacking clear, they both looked a bit more dependable.

Worth emphasising also that Messrs Lloris, Alderweireld and my mate Vertonghen used every inch of their nous and defensive skill during that second half battering. Bravo, chaps. Lloris in particular, so often lambasted in these parts for his moments of startling wobbliness, delivered some top-notch palm extensions.

4. The Famous Soft Tottenham Underbelly

Easy also to overlook quite what a remarkable effort this was. In the context of not spending a penny on players for two transfer windows – against a team that flings around monopoly money – and to take the field without our main striker, one had only to look at our substitute options to get the sense that we would need something verging on the other-worldly to pull this off.

The departure of Sissoko in the first half simply made the dashed difficult unfeasibly testing. A glance towards the respective benches highlighted the fact that we are woefully undercooked for such top-level squad jousting.

No faulting the effort of those involved, but Wanyama looked every inch a player who has barely played in the last two seasons; Llorente looked every inch a man in his mid-thirties looking rather bewildered at the vastly trendier youths whizzing about him; and the options on the bench, of Walker-Peters, Davies, Skipp et al did not inspire lashings of confidence.

They deserve every ounce of praise therefore, for staying within touching distance throughout, forcing their noses ahead seemingly through sheer force of will, and then clinging on for dear life.

5. That Finale

I don’t mind admitting to my public that I felt physically sick throughout, and reached what one might term a lowest ebb when Sterling bundled in what appeared to be the winner in the dying moments of added time.

I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced the lowest conceivable low being instantly interrupted by the highest possible high, but it really ought to come with a health warning. For a game that I’d cheerily dismissed beforehand as a free hit, one that did not really matter in the grand scheme of things, and of vastly lesser importance than the domestic stuff on Saturday, this certainly drained the engine.

Utterly incredibly, we are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League – this after being within a few minutes of elimination seemingly throughout the group stages. And without any signings. And without our star striker. And so on and so forth.

Utterly bonkers, and utterly compelling all action, no plot stuff. Time for a stiff drink.

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Spurs 4-0 Huddersfield: Five Tottenham Observations

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1. The Ongoing Evolution of Sissoko

Convention usually dictates in such exalted circumstances as these that the celebratory fizzy pop commemorating the Man of the Match be bestowed upon the scorer of the hat-trick. Being the anarchic type however, I am willing to question the validity of such a call, for there were a couple of other notable performances.

Moussa Sissoko has been long established as a pretty vital cog in this machine, and the improvement in his doings continues with each game. He now really is emerging as the heir to Dembele’s throne, no longer simply a barely-connected bundle of limbs, but now offering a regular injection of energy in bringing the ball forward from halfway in irresistible fashion.

Admittedly he does not possess the grace and finesse of Dembele, but he is nevertheless jolly effective in what he does. And in fact, pretty much his first touch of the ball today – a 360 degree pirouette away from trouble – displayed a hitherto unseen finesse that set the tone for his performance thereafter.

Where once we would turn to Dembele to bring the ball forward and defy all attempts to displace him, now Sissoko performs that role with some relish. In a game in which we spent much of proceedings simply keeping possession and toying with Huddersfield, Sissoko’s forward forays were a regular threat.

2. Llorente Channels His Inner Teddy

Another fellow whose afternoon was full of right and proper content was Senor Llorente. As vocal a critic as I generally am of the chap’s limited mobility, I am also a swooning admirer of his velvet touch, particularly when cushioning passes into the path of chums, and he delivered several dollops of the good stuff today.

There was something of the Sheringham about him, as there often is when he is on song. He as often as not plays the way he faces, and if that means he has his back to goal and is going to dab the ball whence it came, into the gallop of an onrushing support act, then he will dashed well do so.

In hindsight I think Llorente benefited more than most from the early two-goal biff that effectively ended the competitive nature of the game. Where the elongated bean often labours, with the weight of the world on his shoulders as he feels the pressure of deputising for Kane, the fact that the game was won so early had a delightfully liberating effect upon him, and he simply pottered around enjoying himself.

As well as his link-up play with back to goal, he also sniffed around at chances like nobody’s business, with a couple of flicked headers indicating that the compass was in decent working order, and a couple of shots from his size elevens requiring the flailing of various Huddersfield limbs to deny him.

Most impressive was his gorgeous control and clipped shot off the bar, early in the second half, which demonstrated a touch that was about as silky as they came. Dashed shame that that did not go in, but by and large it was a handy old stab at things.

3. The Good and Bad of Juan Foyth

The very public education of Juan Foyth continues apace, with all the usual trademarks on show. It made perfect sense to choose an occasion such as this to continue to blood the young imp, with Huddersfield offering only minimal threat throughout. For the majority of proceedings, young Foyth crossed defensive t’s and dotted defensive i’s with that usual appearance of assurance. The meat and veg of defending, he generally got right.

The problems seem to occur more once he’s already won the ball, and the elaborate process of deciding what action to take next begins unwinding in his mind. Oh, that the little voices simply whispered to him to release the ball to the nearest lilywhite shirt and be done. Instead, Foyth will typically ignore the cause of sanity, and be seduced by delusions of grandeur that see him eagerly try to start attacks, cure cancer and solve Brexit.

The notion that opponents might try to rob him off the ball seems the last thing on his mind, and so today he was occasionally the victim of many an attempted tackle while weighing up distribution options, or attempting to shoulder-drop and Cruyff-turn his way out of slightly precarious spots.

However, his decision-making will improve with experience – games like today undoubtedly will help – and in time, his combination of defensive solidity and ability to bring the ball forward ought to make him quite the asset. A tip of the cap too, for his instigation of our second goal.

4. Delightful Finishing

The sight of four well-taken goals certainly added a dash of class to proceedings.

Moura’s first and third harked back to a glorious, simpler age, in which boots were black, games kicked off at 3pm and goals were scored by blasting the ball with every ounce of strength. They were joyous to behold, and struck with the sort of pure technique that makes you want to add an extra splash to your afternoon restorer.

Wanyama’s nifty footwork also merits praise, for as Sissoko demonstrated in gory detail at Anfield recently, these chaps who are unused to the heady heights of the opposition box can get themselves into an awful muddle when through on goal.

No such trouble for Wanyama, who danced his way in with the assuredness of a seasoned goalscorer. And all the more important for being the opening goal, struck early. Serene though the whole affair might have been, our nerves may have jangled a couple of bars had we reached, say, the half-time mark or beyond without a goal.

5. A Triumph for Squad Rotation

Easy to say in hindsight, but Our Glorious Leader certainly judged his team selection to perfection. With injuries to Messrs Kane, Alli and Winks a degree of prodding and poking was already required, and while the rotating of full-backs was standard Pochettino fare, the additional omissions of Toby and Sonny did prompt a rather nervous chew of the lower AANP lip. The thought flitted across the mind that this might be one tweak too many.

A nonsense, as it transpired. All involved performed creditably enough, the game was sewn up in double-quick time and the cherished limbs of Toby and Sonny were protected from any prospective rough and tumble.

Many a sagacious type has suggested that while our Starting XI is a match for most, our squad depth verges somewhat on the lightweight, and I suppose in comparison to some of our cash-rich rivals this has a degree of truth to it. However, conscientious types like Davies, Walker-Peters, Wanyama, Foyth, Sanchez, Lucas and Llorente have comfortably have enough to best bottom-of-the-table rot, and as gambles go, this one proved one of the safest in town.

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