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Palace 1-3 Spurs: THAT Goal & 4 Other Lilywhite Observations

1. THAT Goal

Hoddle-esque. Gazza-esque. A goal so good you would let it marry your daughter. Words cannot really do justice to the strike and technique itself, so instead I’ll waft over a couple of associated thoughts. The move in its entirety for example, had the jolly pleasing aesthetic quality lent to it by the fact that the ball did not touch the ground from the moment Kane swirled in his cross, to Eriksen’s cushioned header, to Alli’s one-two-three touch, swivel and shot.

On a separate note, young Alli must have one heck of a brand of confidence flowing through his veins, to even contemplate trying a gag like that. ‘Instinct’ seems to be the buzzword, but if he had had the general blues about his game, the way the match had treated him or life in general, he may well have looked simply to shovel the ball back whence it came and let someone else take responsibility. Mind you, he’s never exactly come across as a shrinking violet on the field.

One lilywhite chum messaged me to say that if you look at the ‘onrushing’ Palace defender tasked with blocking the shot, he decides against flinging himself body and soul into the path of the ball, and turns his back on the shot. Channelling his inner Vertonghen, if you will. Now this seems a rather joyless way to critique one of the finest ever lilywhite goals, but on watching the replay I take the point. Let’s not spoil the thing though, what?

2. Blur of Movement

Stepping out onto the balcony and taking a more panoramic view of things, this should go down as another cracking little win, one which  hammers home the point that this 2015/16 vintage are not as green as they’re cabbage-looking. For a second consecutive week, the rasping injustice of falling behind in a game we were absolutely dominating was deemed nothing more than a minor inconvenience, and they ploughed ahead with the policy line of jinking one-touch passes around the opposition area. There is nothing particularly new to our heroes about having to work right from the first toot on breaking down two defensive banks of four – our reputation evidently precedes us. What brought a rosy glow to the cheeks on observing events unfold was the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed manner in which they set about the task yesterday.

There have been times in weeks gone by (at least one of the Leicester games, maybe Newcastle at home) when our attempts to penetrate the impenetrable have essentially been, when broken down into raw constituent parts, a series of sideways passes. Earnest and willing, but a little lacking in creativity – more akin to repeatedly shoving a blunt knife at a lock and hoping something will give. Yesterday however there was all manner of off-ball movement, right from the moment the curtain went up. This lent itself fairly naturally to the full range of slick, short, first-time passes; and the gist of the thing was that we buzzed around with intent throughout, and particularly in the first half. Worth lobbing an honourable mention for this week’s chosen full-backs too, who set up camp firmly in the final third of the field, meaning that we also had a cracking spread of busy options spanning the width of the field from right to left. And by extension, the weekly tip of the hat to Dier, whose immaculate positioning enables the attacking juices of the aforementioned full-backs to flow so liberally.

3. The Latest Team Tinkerings

While one broadly understands the gist of things when it comes to Pochettino scribbling down the names of the chosen ones, there are an increasing number of spicy little sub-plots bubbing away under the surface. The full-back hokey-cokey for one thing, and in recent weeks, the choice of Dembele or Carroll (which is hardly a contest at all, but became a matter of concern when the Belgian was returning to fitness). The latest tete-a-tete has been between young Sonny jimbo and Eric Lamela. Son’s bravura midweek performance earned him the nod, and I was jolly glad to see it , for te much-vaunted Lamela Resurgence of 2015-16 has yet to utterly convince in these four walls of the interweb. Yes he certainly beavers away with the right attitude, chasing back and scrapping for things like anyway Pochettino minion should, but the chap’s principal role is as one of our resident Magicians-in-Chief, and in this respect he always seems to underwhelm a tad. Son, however, seemed to work things out pretty quickly, and set out taking on his man and thumping in his shots tout de suite. Given the strength of Chadli’s late cameo as well, I wonder if Lamela has suddenly been bumped down the list of cabs on the rank.

4. Substitutions

Generally out glorious leader seems to enjoy a degree of structure to his life. Who knows, maybe he is the sort to neatly fold his clothes on a chair the night before, and opt for a couple of Weetabix every morning with a banana for elevenses. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, he tends to avoid tearing up the teamsheet and trying all manner of new and exciting permutations if a like-for-like substitution is available. A polite ripple of applause then, for his decidedly more proactive move yesterday when we were one down, in hooking the ever-dependable Eric Dier, instructing Dembele to operate ten yards further back, and introducing Chadli into the attacking maelstrom. Most obviously, Chadli duly created one, scored a beauty (and delivered an absolute peach of a crossfield ball in the dying moments); and more broadly, it left us with eight outfield players blessed with a natural urge to burst forward and create (plus two ball-playing centre backs).

On top of which, the Pocehttino applecart was duly upset further by the hobble sustained by Vertonghen, which meant that for the first time this season our sacrosanct centre-back duopoly was separated, and young Master Wimmer was introduced. He did well enough, in increasingly frantic circumstances, but certainly had a solid game vs Leicester in midweek.

5. Lady Luck

One to remember next time we don the sackcloth and ashes, and bemoan the way of the world – at one apiece Palace managed to slap the crossbar twice in around five seconds. Crumbs. Mind you, Alli gave the crossbar a hefty thwack himself, so for those who keep track of these things I suppose there is much to ponder.

In the final analysis however, this was a victory well earned, built on superiority rather than good fortune. The first half in particular was absolutely one-way traffic, punctuated only by that blasted own-goal; whilst our three goals were all, in their own ways, absolute snorters – and a five-point gap is now in evidence, between us and the fifth-placed mob.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Spurs 4-1 Sunderland: 4 Lilywhite Points of Note

The Return of Dembele

Coincidence? Around these parts we certainly think not. For the last couple of weeks young Master Carroll has been hopscotching around the place, with pretty passes a-plenty and a very serious expression, which does not make him look any less like a 10 year-old but is noble enough. However, if a Dembele performance were to comprise pretty passes and hopscotch I think we could all legitimately worry that some deviant had stolen his very soul. The difference between a Spurs midfield powered (and I use the term in the loosest possible sense) by Carroll and one built on Dembele is pretty noticeable, and with the former traded for the latter we were back to winning ways. Yes he gave away free-kicks, and at times possession, but Dembele also shoved opponents aside and drove things forward. There will potentially be a time and a place for Carroll, and we all ought to get used to his waif-like frame as he is evidently one of the little brood of younglings that Pochettino is – creditably – trying to integrate into the big wide world. And N17 is after all the spiritual home of the pretty passer with lovely technique. However, the relief at seeing Dembele’s name back in the starting line-up was justified by his general air of belligerence throughout. Between him and Alli that notoriously soft and squishy Spurs underbelly is being given a few layers of reinforcement.

Eriksen-sen-sen

As the first half wore on, and Sunderland’s dogged 10-0-Defoe formation proved quite the immovable object, the AANP cogs started to whir out a point about Eriksen’s effectiveness – or lack thereof. Then he went and scored, and scored again, which rather showed me, but I will conveniently ignore the small matter of those two fairly critical goals, and hammer home the point anyway. The chap seems to have lost that alchemist’s touch in recent weeks, what? In games like this particularly, and in the opening exchanges vs Leicester (Cup) last week, when a sprinkle of subtlety was needed about the place as a matter of urgency, to thread a pass through the eye of a needle or some such jiggery-pokery, the chap’s creative juices seemed to run a little dry. In fact, he went down a notch further in the first half hour today, and started misplacing straightforward six-yard passes.

The goals, naturally were welcomed, and it would probably be the decent thing of me to let bygones be bygones and simply slap the chap’s back and ask about the health of his family, but where’s the fun in that? He does seem to have gone off the boil a tad in recent weeks. I don’t mind lobbing into the air the theory that this might be at least partially due to being nudged out of his spiritual home, slap bang in the centre. Dele Alli appears to have dibs on the Number 10 role, while Dembele, as mentioned, does a fine job prowling up and down either side of the centre circle. All of which seems to leave Eriksen forced to set up camp in an inside right or left position. It ought not to make a difference to the price of eggs for a player with his natural ability, but somehow things just aren’t quite right with his size nines. None of which would be too concerning, but there appears to be a sort of pattern to things at the moment, whereby we start a game like a team of wild horses unleashed, fail to get an early goal against a massed rank of defenders, and gradually allow the opposition more and more oxygen, damn their eyes. Someone somewhere needs to find a way to unlock a packed defence, lickety-split.

Full-Back Mix-and-Match

It would appear that the Brains Trust have not tired of their Christmas toy, a shiny new full-back mix-and-match kit. An interesting one this, as quite a few debates have been thrashed out amongst my chums this season weighing up the relative merits and concerns around our various right- and left-backs. It is not entirely clear to me whether Pochettino is selecting them on a suitability basis – horses-for-courses, if you will – or simply deciding that one-game-on, one-game-off is the decorous manner in which such things should be done, but  either way the four in question are being kept on their toes. And then elbowed back to the bench.

So was Walker’s omission today his purgatory for the sins of just about every game in which he has ever played, when he has had that brain fade and gifted an opportunity to an opponent? Is Rose seen as the better option against weaker opposition because of his willingness to hare forward? But isn’t Davies just about doing exactly that anyway? Does it count for anything that young Trippier looks ever so slightly like a young, squashed up Wayne Rooney? Whatever the deep-lying narrative, all four of them seem to be pretty happy to have been given licence to slap the words “Gung-Ho” on their family crest and go flying up the flanks to provide 90 minutes of width to proceedings. Frankly it is dashed difficult to call a winner on either flank at the moment, and maybe that’s exactly the point. As sub-plots go, it is perhaps not quite on a par with Karl looking to avenge the death of his brother in Nakatomi Plaza, but nevertheless a useful conundrum has been added to the lilywhite mix.

Squad Tiredness?

Not wanting to sound like a broken record, but at some point before man colonises Mars will we need to rotate some of these chaps? Vertonghen, Alderweireld in particular (apparently the only game he’s missed all season was Arsenal in the Capital One Cup, which feels I’m pretty sure was played in black and white, it was so long ago), Dier and Kane seem to be reeled out come hell or high water.

There are no doubt associated risks with rotating, not least the likely drop in quality that they entail, what with every point being so vital. It is a truth fairly universally acknowledged that we simply do not have an adequate substitute for Kane; and the fleeting glimpses of Wimmer have not exactly screamed that he is such a watertight deputy for Alderweireld or Vertonghen that the casual viewer would fail to notice the difference. Moreover, the eagle-eyed will have spotted that there is only one of him, so half of the centre-back combo will always be required (in common with the club management, I am assuming that Fazio is absolutely the last option conceivable).

Dier, one would have thought, could be allowed an afternoon off at some point with Bentaleb wrapped up on the bench each week, but this does not seem to be the way that Pochettino butters his bread. I would guess that one of the centre-backs plus Dier will start again against Leicester in midweek, which is all well and good, but we still have half a season to play, and sooner or later these chaps’ limbs are going to start dropping off.

There is, I suppose, a counter-argument that these chaps ought to be perfectly capable of playing twice a week. It is, after all, what a Champions League season would require. I nevertheless would like to see the aforementioned quartet occasionally yanked out of the spotlight every now and then, because if a tendon snaps or some similar fate befalls then we won’t look half as clever. And even if all tendons maintain fine working order, mistakes will presumably creep in (Alderweireld, for example, looked a little more fallible than usual last week in the Cup against Leicester, and while Kane has been blessed with a natural expression of exhaustion, his recent performances have not been quite polished).

In closing however, and dealing again with the present moment, it was another good day at the office. The response to defeat last week and to falling behind today was as positive as we could have hoped. 4-1 was a fair reflection of the way the cutlery was laid out, and the goal difference continues to prompt rubbed eyes and double-takes from seasoned Lane-goers across the land. The Top Four remains realistic.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Spurs 3-0 Norwich: Three Lilywhite Observations

1. Kane

Naturally enough much is made of young Master Kane, but on this particular corner of the interweb we tend not to focus so much on the chap’s bread-and-butter of thrashing the little thing into the net and jogging off to general acclaim. His link-up play, his strength, his work-rate – all pored over at various times within the dank four walls of AANP Towers, but his goalscoring I tend to take for granted.

It’s a wrong that ought to be righted, and yesterday’s second goal seems as good a prompt as anyway. When Dele Alli rolled him the ball there was a definite whiff in the air of something promising, but nobody in their right mind would suggest that chance of any description had been slapped on a plate and slid his way. There was plenty of work to be done, and plenty of opportunity for things to go awry.

All credit to the chap then, for plucking from thin air half a yard of space, by virtue of a little shift in balance and some nifty feet, and before either Norwich defender or goalkeeper had set themselves he had lashed the thing inside the post. Mighty impressive, in various respects. Hardly goal of the season, but a cracking self-made effort, which practically screamed “I’m a striker in form and feeling pretty perky about life, what?”

2. Set-Piece Routines

Our much-loved lilywhites are famed for many things, virtually bursting at the seams with tradition and all stuff of traditional ilk, but in one aspect we have been fairly painfully and conspicuously negligent over the years. I speak of the fad for set-piece delivery, and more specifically, for goals gotten by virtue of set-piece wizardry that is plucked straight from the training ground and imitated, just about verbatim, in the stadium itself during show-time. In years of watching our lot the only time I can remember this whole concept bearing any fruit was the Anderton-Sheringham two-step of a couple of decades back.

Well you can consider the 2015/16 vintage to be negligent no longer, for the Set-Piece Routine is emerging as a most pleasing additional shoulder-cannon in the armoury. Admittedly there was no such goal scored yesterday (I’m not sure that purists would consider a penalty to be a bona fide member of the set-piece club), but we came within about nostril hair’s breadth of one in the first half. And the eye-catching thing was that it was straight from the conveyor belt. Definitely a song-and-dance that I had clocked before. You probably know the one yourself by now – Eriksen whips in a corner with an extra dollop of venom, and one of Dier or Alderweireld gets the bit between their teeth and positively roars their way towards the front post to biff one from forehead towards netting before the opposition know what has hit them.

It seems to have brought about a good half-dozen freebie goals already this season, on top of which there have been a number of incidents such as that which occurred fairly early in proceedings yesterday, whereby the Eriksen-Alderweireld combo is rattled off but concludes only with a save of the smartest order from the opposition ‘keeper.

A moot point on all this, is how the devil we get away with it on a weekly basis. Every team in the Premiership seems to cart around at least a dozen supporting staff, and the TV coverage alone appears to record just about every conceivable statistic and angle, from the direction in which the striker parts his hair to the number of times the reserve full-back surreptitiously picks his nose while on the bench. It is beyond me therefore as to how on earth no opponent to date has either spotted or come up with a reasonable counter-measure to our devastatingly effective yet fairly straightforward corner routine. Not that I’m complaining mind, but it seems an odd one.

3. Showboating

Our heroes did a commendable job yesterday of first weathering an early jab or two from Norwich, and then turning the screw with two goals before half-time. The visitors could hardly be said to have run riot in the opening exchanges, but they certainly did wave their arms around and cause a spot of unrest, and concession of the opening goal would have complicated matters. Credit then to our lot for keeping the sheets clean in the first place, and thereafter not throwing away the lead, as has happened before.

Nevertheless, the curmudgeonly old crank in me still baulked a little at the sight of the fancy flicks and tricks being wheeled out when the beast still had more than a breath of life in it. Two-nil is not really the time at which to be slipping on a posh frock and playing for the cameras. Lamela’s latest rabona was actually excusable, as it made sense for a heavily left-footed type to twist himself accordingly, but the general gist of the thing was to party like it was 1999 and as if we were 5-0 up and cantering. I would much rather they collectively put their heads down and focused upon strangling the life out of things, dash it, by going four or five ahead, before breaking open the party bags.

But maybe that’s just me.

The usual suspects each earned their weekly honourable mention – young Alli once again linked the middle end to the front end with cunning and energy, and his natty combos with Kane seem to improve by the week (although one of these days he will get himself sent off for picking a pointless fight); and Lloris made a couple more blink-and-miss reaction stops. All told, it was a mighty satisfactory bottle of eggs. The pessimist within still mumbles about squad rotation and wonders if Eriksen could turn things up just a smidgeon, but these are worries for another day. A fine piece of work, and the Top Four remains eminently doable.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Spurs 1-2 Newcastle: 3 Lilywhite Observations

1. The Dembele-Shaped Hole

Carroll flitted around the periphery of things looking like a schoolboy, or a ballerina, or a schoolboy ballerina – and with about as much impact as any of the above. Where Dembele (the new improved version) would stick out his chest, grab the game by the scruff of the neck and power from deep straight through the centre of the thing, bludgeoning past all in his way be they friend or foe, Carroll, bless him, hopped and skipped and poked in an occasional dainty foot.

I probably ought to lob up a disclaimer at this juncture, for this is not meant to be a character assassination of the more general sort. I actually have a soft spot for the young pimple, in a Glenn Hoddle sort of way, as he has lovely feet and picks the occasional fruity pass. Something of the Huddlestone about him. (And that goal on Thursday was impudent and delightful in equal measure)

Bother and grumble however, today he started fairly ineffectually and his contribution diminished thereafter, to the point at which in the second half the only sightings of his waif-like figure seemed to be a yard behind the closest Newcastle player. It felt like playing with ten men, with a  hole slap-bang in the middle of the engine, which is a cause for concern because there will presumably be more days when Dembele is laid low between now and May. Young Carroll, I would venture, has slipped beyond Bentaleb and Mason in that particular rank of cabs.

2. Europa Fatigue?

Call me suspicious, but did anybody else notice a distinct air of energy levels sinking to ground level, and not stopping there but burrowing deep within the turf, in that second half? It may have been mental fatigue, it dashed well looked like they were physically spent, but for whatever reason the performance fizzled out entirely.

Neither midfield nor attack seemed capable of holding onto the thing in that second half, and Newcastle snapped up every loose ball going ahead of the nearest shell of a lilywhite. Bless their cotton socks, the poor lambs could barely stick one limb in front of the other by the conclusion, with a couple having to be scraped from the ground at the final whistle by those chaps who wander around afterwards poking the turf with their pitchforks.

Matters this season have revolved rather crucially around the screen in front of the back four. Alas, young Master Dier, the sort of young buck who at the best of times looks like he would rather like to pause events and take a few swigs of O2 to keep things ticking over, waddled around like a car stuck in mud today, second to too many loose balls, and misplacing passes as if in a competition to rack up as many as possible. This unfortunately set the tone for things around him, as nary an attempted through-ball from any one of our fabled attackers did the intended job of slicing up Newcastle like a knife through butter. In fact, more often than not, misplaced ten-yarders outside the Newcastle D tended to be the starting point of one of their counter-attacks.

Europa fatigue? C’est possible. Whatever the cause, our glorious leader needs to don his thinking cap and solve it, because this lot cannot sustain the all-singing, all-dancing, high-octane, full-throttle approach for 90 minutes twice a week until the end of the season.

3. Time for Fresh Legs?

The team has pretty much picked itself all season, barring a Davies here and a Son there, but whichever one of numerous staff in the dugout is responsible for ringing the bell that summons fresh pairs of legs ought to dust off his best suit, because his services are required pronto.

Bentaleb might have been shoved into the thick of things at some point today, to stick out an elbow, shout a rude word or two and generally ignite the thing like the cantankerous young pup he is. Given that he is now presumably fit enough, it might be peeling off the protective layers and playing him from the off in the coming weeks, if only in the interests of saving Dier from collapsing to his knees like the sorry chap in Platoon.

Kane too might be a candidate for an afternoon with his feet up and a good book, as his run of having played a competitive game every day since he was 4 years old stretches on. His spirit is certainly still willing enough, but today he was not quite the exemplar of hold-up play. Although I am not particularly convinced that any of Chadli, Lamela, Son or the boy Clinton are exactly the sort of centre-forward one would expect to roll off the conveyor belts at the factories that churn out these things, the festive fixture list will presumably see one of them don the cape and deputise for a game or two.

No need to don sackcloth and ashes just yet, but a few too many draws and now an awfully flat defeat have temporarily burst the bubble that was floating around the place. Such is life, but the first half was fairly sunny and spiky, and a return to such ways next weekend would cheer the soul no end.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Spurs 4-1 West Ham: 4 Lilywhite Observations

1. Man-Love For Dembele

As is the vogue these days, all manner of stats have been trotted out to do homage to the performance of Dembele. Tackles, touches, passes, interceptions – the man apparently won the numbers game hands down, which is excellent news for those who like their pivot tables on a Monday morning. In more practical terms it was, as ever, a joy to observe the chap in such fine fettle. Blessed with his curious combo of barrel-chested Samsonesque strength and footwork smoother than a particularly debonair silkworm, Dembele has the capacity to float like a butterfly while stinging like an angry minotaur, and games are being duly dictated from his lair in the centre.

2. The Best And Worst of Walker

It feels like ever since AANP was but a twinkle in the eye, the life and works of K. Walker Esquire have divided opinions amongst the lilywhite hordes. Bang on cue, both the prosecution and the defence made fairly compelling cases, and one suspects that nobody who previously held an opinion will have seen a reason to change course.

For the best part of proceedings Walker spent the day tearing up the wing to offer cheery companionship to whomever had the ball infield, acting for all the world like a de facto winger. On top of which he appeared for much of the thing to have his defensive duties down to a t, producing on a couple of occasions that signature upper-body move of his - the one that shields the thing as it trickles out of play, while an opponent tries in vain to budge him and simply bounces off. Even when he picked up a rather daft booking for handbags in the latter stages I was happy enough to shrug it off, for the chap was simply showing some fire in his belly, and over the years that has been a rare commodity. Then came his goal, a sumptuous finish to a cracking little move – and all seemed right with the world.

Alas (and inevitably, his detractors would say), there then followed not so much a mental aberration as a decision en masse by every one of his brain cells to vacate the premises, and Walker delivered his token Walker moment. Two or three minutes that summed up the blighter in a microcosm (well, two microcosms I suppose). A favourite he remains in this corner of the interweb – but detractors gonna detract.

3. Alli And Dier Pick Up Where They Left Off

Much has been made of the elevations of Alli and Dier to the national stage, and on their returns to the Lane they duly did the sensible thing by picking up where previously they had left off. Alli remains a little rough around the edges, understandably enough, but even when he makes the odd wrong decision or his touch lets him down, the nature of his play – by which I mean that willingness to breeze into the penalty area and sniff around for scraps – gives all sorts of benefits to the team as a whole. One does not have to squint too hard to recall the days when poor old Kane (or whomever) would be checking his armpits and breath for explanations as to why nobody would go anywhere near him. With Alli in the team (and nods of acknowledgement are also due to young Sonny Jimbo) there is at least always a second body in attack to keep the opposition defence honest.

This being Spurs, and old habits die rather hard, so naturally the air in AANP Towers pre kick-off was rich with the smell of pessimism. Where Heskey, Martins, Benteke and others had gone before, yours truly was envisaging Andy Carroll going today – namely the little road named Bundle The Soft-Centred Lilywhite Defenders Out Of The Way And Bludgeon In A Goal Avenue. The probability was amplified by our bizarre brittleness in the face of the aerial challenge from that ‘orrible lot up the road a couple of weeks back.

Credit therefore to the back-four and, in particular, Young Master Dier, for standing up to Carroll, shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow. Ironically enough, where this gloomy doom-monger had prophesied all manner of woe from set-pieces, it was glorious to observe a cracking set-piece goal from our lot instead. Both delivery and movement were worthy of a tip of the hat.

4. A Goal In Poch’s Image

When Senor Pocehttino downed tools and hits the sack for his eight hours of tired nature’s sweet restorer, I would hazard a bet that the goal that afforded him the most pleasure was the third. A goal cast in the manager’s very own chubby little features, it was born of energetic, high pressing by the younglings, swarming all over the opposition defence. The gist of the thing is typically to make the opposition punt the ball aimlessly towards us in our own half, so to bypass all that and pilfer a goal was quite the well-earned bonus.

So in the final analysis it was nutritious and delicious goodness all round. It ended up with near total dominance – four goals, the woodwork a couple of times, a dozen shots on target and plenty of showboating – but the game had begun evenly and feistily, and our lot ground down the visitors and forced their way ahead. Being young and sprightly they will presumably stumble here and there, but this was an absolute triumph for the Pochettino way, and they duly deserve a day or two of basking.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: 3 Lilywhite Observations

It’s like the thing never went away. Varying degrees of huff and puff, and a smattering of invention that was far too late to be of any consequence, and without playing particularly well or badly the thing was done.

Midfield

The selection of Dier ahead of Mason was shiny and new, but the headlines were grabbed by Bentaleb’s decision to rock up for work still in sunglasses and flip-flops, Hawaiin shirt on back and the distinct whiff of alcohol on his breath. The cat was out of the bag pretty soon, for while he did his best to keep his head down and mooch around in the shadows, all too often he was thrust into the spotlight, and responded by passing the ball to the nearest man in red. He will have better days – in fact every remaining day of his life is likely to be better – but the euthanasia effected by Pochettino shortly after the break was completely understandable.

A Sorry Ode to Own Goal Perpetrators

Ostensibly the fall-guy, truth be told I felt bundles of sympathy for Master Walker. The galloping young cove as ever gave every ounce of effort, and by and large stomped around to fairly solid effect. One of the few entertaining sub-plots to the piece was the joust between Shaw and Walker, and I rather thought our man edged it, by virtue of his barrel chest and third lung. Whether he was tearing up and back, little legs going like the clappers, or spreading his arms like shields of steel in order to escort the ball safely off the vicinity, he just about seemed to win his little personal mano-e-mano. A shame then, that the whole binge was rendered fairly meaningless by that well-intended but ultimately fatal intervention that decided the thing.

I always feel a twinge of sympathy for any man who pops one into his own net, as he always seems to be an ill-deserving buck. In general, it’s a law of science that if the o.g. perpetrator had not spent all that effort charging into his defensive position, an opposing forward would have had something approximating a tap-in. Today was a case in point, with young Walker angrily sprinting back to make the world right, and duly bustling Rooney aside– only to then do the dastardly himself. On top of which, all manner of patronising epithets and backslaps are then duly administered, as if the chap were a bit simple in the head. The whole string of events made young Walker, already the angriest young man in the Premiership, just about ready to pop in a blur of apoplexy – but such is the unfair lot of the own-goal meister.

The Attacking Quartet

Not sure about this mob. The components seem broadly to make sense – a designated central lump, and three mischievous shysters flitting around behind him – but somehow, rather than seamlessly weave together, all four sat in their own designated spots and did not come within a country mile of clicking.

There’s an untruth actually. In the opening exchanges there were one or two moments, and Eriksen might have done better with that early lob when slipped in with a knowing nod and wink by Kane. By and large, alas, these two, plus Dembele and Chadli, kept to themselves, seemingly content to preen around with the knowledge that they were jolly skilful individuals. The thought of banging heads together to create more than the sum of parts seemed strictly off-limits.

It’s the sort of tragic scenario that makes one find a quiet spot and brood. Dembele, Chadli and Eriksen are each, in their own ways, jolly alluring when they purr into gear, and in Football Manager it would probably work a dream. But in reality, one rather expects the pre-nuptial to be dusted off and popped in the post, if you follow my drift.

If It Were Done When ‘Tis Done

And thus, with all the dark inevitability of a Greek tragedy, we limped off with heads bowed. No shame in it, and no doubt we will bounce back – but already a spot cosily ensconced just outside the Top Four feels like it has been reserved. The result, the performance, the general gist of being not quite good enough suggests that the Spurs we know and love is all revved up and ready to trundle.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Burnley 0-0 Spurs: Searching The Dirge For Positives

The media and PR machine would no doubt insist otherwise, but following the defeat to Man Utd, and with the Top Four starting to edge away, there is now an unmistakeable whiff in the air of a troupe of lilywhites going through the motions as if their lives depend on thrill-free monotony, as the season winds down. Human nature, one might rather generously offer, dictates as much, but this particular cynic is of the opinion that to a man they ought to stretch every sinew they possess for the lilywhite cause, dash them.

Paulinho and Chiriches

Within this context of bedding down for an extended springtime snooze, the most eye-catching aspect of things was the choice of Paulinho behind the front man, and Chiriches as the bedrock of defence, which is the sort of statement so apocalyptic that I fear simply applying it to parchment will cause cracks to appear in the sky. Pochettino presumably babbled about tactics and whatnot in explaining these picks (in his defence, Vertonghen had a sniffle), but in keeping with the general air of lazily stretching one’s arms, yawning like a bear and waiting for summer hols to arrive, this was pretty clearly Our Glorious Leader parading his dusty unwanted items in the shop window, in the hope that someone will take them off his hands for a fiver in the sunny months.

Determined to give Paulinho a fair, objective once-over, I graciously ignored his uninspiring first touch (pivot-pivot-backwards pass), and opted to judge him via a more panoramic lens. The experiment was not one of history’s finest. He can hardly be blamed for failing to take the game by the scruff of its neck, as our lot were fighting hard amongst themselves to be the main culprit in this respect. Nevertheless, given the opportunity of a rare start, and in such a key position, the blighter could at least have had the dignity to register his presence in proceedings, at some point during the 90 minutes. Paulinho instead ensconced himself comfortably within a little den of anonymity, and dozed his way through from start to finish (albeit generously throwing in a comedy moment when bearing down on goal after an hour or so).

Chiriches to his credit resisted the usual urge to celebrate his selection by running non-stop through his medley of Pele impressions. In fact, there were glimpses of the ball-playing genius in some of what he did, notably with one gorgeous cross-field pass for Walker in the first half. By and large however, he stuck to defending, and some of its variations. The neat ball-protection moment in the first half when he shoved over an opponent by the by-line, the hugely wobbly but ultimately effective chest back to Vorm in the second – it may not have been the stuff of which defensive manuals are made, but it was solid enough, and having pilloried the chap often enough over here, ‘tis only right and proper to applaud him for his part in a clean sheet.

Elsewhere

There was precious little of note, as befits a goalless draw away to Burnley. ‘Tis a curious state of affairs indeed when the most reliable amongst our mob is Danny Rose, a situation that no doubt has the Ghost of 2013/14 turning in his grave, or whatever spectral physics allows, but such are the decadent times in which we live. The chap looks more solid a left-back with each passing week, and gave a fairly typical display, strong on hurtle and commitment. Admittedly he was lacking in any sprinkling of star quality to elevate proceedings beyond the general level of ‘Dirge’, but presumably he just wanted to fit in with his chums who were furiously doing likewise.

Young Master Walker did as we have come to expect. When all that is required of him is to run as fast as his little legs can carry him, he is without equal. Alas, whenever his gainful employment required the engagement of his brain, problems arose.

On days like this we all turn expectantly to Kane, but when all around him have simply given up on things with a shrug it is a mite harsh to expect him to channel his inner Neo and single-handedly rescue the universe. Behind him there was no movement, and nairy a one-touch move. One fervently hopes that our heroes do not simply give upon 14/15 and drift gently into the ether, but yesterday’s signs were far from encouraging.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Spurs 4-3 Leicester: Eyeing The Cracks Papered Over

Following last week’s s debacle the first priority this weekend undoubtedly was to win this game, one way or another, and our heroes duly took this as literally as they could, defining ‘one way or another’ as ‘being arguably second best, at home to the division’s bottom club’. The Top Four basically put their feet to the accelerator and sped away last weekend, but rebounding from the Old Trafford nightmare with a victory was still vital, in the interests of not letting the season fizzle out, so our lot deserve a degree of credit for stumbling through this one.

The Back Four

For the second consecutive week we conceded thrice, which is a pretty fair reflection of how indecisive and ill-organised the back-four are. There was little on show to correct the suspicion that, like most of the young folk these days, Dier and Vertonghen generally communicate by text rather than the spoken word, because rather than assuming responsibility with a blood-curdling roar before thrashing the ball to safety, these two prefer to shuffle to the back of the queue as inconspicuously as possible. To their right, young Master Walker at least clambered a step up from last week’s horror show, but still did enough to reassure us that his bouts of mental negligence remain a defining feature of his play.

Jamaica’s Danny Rose continues his season-long transition from AANP Groan Inducer-In-Chief to Vaguely Acceptable Full-Back. The enthusiastic chunkster still has a good marathon and a half to run before he becomes a fully-fledged connoisseur of the art of left-backery, and ‘tis a generally safe bet that he will be caught badly out of position at least once per half, but these days there is a lot more in the credit column than a year or two ago. The perseverance that earned our penalty summed up much that is good in his game – bundles of energy, a willingness to attack and an curious ability to end every involvement in the action by flying through the air in a ball of flailing limbs. He makes a last-ditch tackle – and is sent hurtling through the air in doing so. He scores against Chelsea – and is sent hurtling through the air in doing so. And in winning the penalty, whilst not as spectacular as his regular trips into the atmosphere, he did at least tumble around in a mess of bouncing limbs.

Paulinho’s Surprise Turn

As the Portuguese-speakers of North London are no doubt aware, ‘Paulinho’ translates in English as ‘Broken Clock’, and like his namesake, the chap appears to stumble upon the right way of things every now and then. Thus it transpired that in a most un-Paulinhoesque turn of events his introduction improved matters a notch or two, as Townsend and his peripheral flicks were replaced, and in a more central role Paulinho largely took the bull by the horns, giving us a bit more presence in midfield, and fashioning a couple of chances – one of which resulted in the fourth goal. It made for rather unnerving viewing in truth, but normal sideways and backwards service will presumably be resumed in his next outing. A pat on the back goes his way nevertheless.

The Chadli Mystery Continues

Far more underwhelming was Master Chadli. He makes for an enigmatic presence, does Chadli, generally not contributing a great deal to proceedings bar bluster and anti-climax – and yet, at least in the early part of the season, he seemed to chip in with a dose of goals so healthy one simply could not help but wave him along into the starting line-up. Alas, in the worst attempt at alchemy ever recorded, everything he touched on Saturday turned into a fairly shambolic mess. Dribbles were unsuccessful, fouls were conceded, he was rightly booked for bringing a dive so bad it brought simulation into disrepute, and he shanked two open-goal efforts high into the N17 sky. ‘Twas a day that made one yearn for three Christian Eriksens.

Still, it is pleasing indeed that even on a fairly sub-standard day we did enough, particularly in attack, for three points. As has often been the case this season Eriksen looked a class above, and Kane somehow continued to tuck away goals with a regularity that defies science, but the rest of the attacking quartet lacked somewhat in the key areas of ‘cut’ and ‘thrust’. More tweaking and fiddling will be required in the summer no doubt, but more often than not we trundle off at full-time having taken another small positive step – quite the blessing in a season of transition.

Sheff Utd 2-2 Spurs: Man-Love For Kane & Eriksen

Admittedly I am preaching to the converted here, but we Spurs fans have not become such peerless peddlers of doom overnight. Our unique brand of pessimism has been carefully nurtured over years and years, and accordingly ever since the final whistle last Wednesday night, every conceivable nightmare scenario had been carefully played out in the AANP mind. Thusly do we roll.

On top of which, the home crowd barked and hollered expectantly, and snow snowed. A celebrity chef could not have chopped, diced and mixed a better conglomeration of ingredients for an upset.

Serenity Ruled

But for seventy or so pretty serene minutes it seemed that our heroes were treating us to that most rarely seen beast, a performance of consummate professionalism.  Admittedly their wingers always looked a threat, but that aside we were well in control. The defending was solid, Stambouli was having one of his better days in front of the back-four, Mason was happy to bomb forward, Vorm was largely spectating and our counter-attacking was bursting at the seams with potency.

Even Dembele was showing glimpses of the all-conquering behemoth of his first few months in a lilywhite shirt – charging forward forty yards with the ball rather than the slightly tired stop-pivot-pass-sideways routine that has drearily become his norm over the last couple of seasons.

Serenity Rather Pointedly Brought To A Halt

Inevitably, this being our lot, what should have been a gentle, incident-free cakewalk to Wembley as smooth as the skin of Venus herself, suddenly materialised into a path beset by cracked ice, broken glass and unhatched eggs from the Alien films, through which we had to navigate a path with heart-stopping caution. Not that it was our fault to be honest - I rather thought our mob had ticked every conceivable box in the manual labelled ‘How To Do This Dashed Thing Sensibly’, only for an errant two-minute burst, including a massive deflection dash it. Mercifully  however, while I stormed the corridors of AANP Towers in a huff, at the injustice of the thing (a deflection! Nobody mentions the deflection, do they? It practically turned the ball a right angle for heaven’s sake), the quick-thinking chaps out on the pitch promptly tore down the pitch and righted the wrongs.

Man-Love

Ah, young Master Kane, every inch the antithesis of wayward wastrel Adebayor. Where last week Adebayor spent the game doing his best impression of an errant schoolboy gazing distantly out of the classroom window and wishing for a sneaky fag behind the bike shed, Kane last night rolled up his sleeves and set about working his socks off. Before delivering a peach of a pass for the winner and then celebrating the goal like a loon.

Within the first half hour he had skinned half the United defence three or four times, and thumped half a dozen shots netwards. Admittedly on at least two of those occasions a thorough SWOT analysis of the situation might have made an incontrovertible case for a pass, but one must not quibble. The boy fights the good fight as if the fate of humanity depends upon it, and scares the dickens out of opposition defenders in so-doing.

But the dreamiest of them all last night was Eriksen. The free-kick spent the middle 70% of its trajectory defying physics, before hitting an absolute postage stamp of a spot where post and crossbar meet in happy union; the second goal was an absurd triumph for ‘90s Grolsch drinkers the world over, as he wisely opted not to rush these things, but took two or three extra strides before wrong-footing the ‘keeper. Insanely good finishing, the sort that makes me want to sire a daughter pronto just so that I can offer her hand to him in marriage pronto.

And what do you know - Spurs are on their way to Wembley!

Spurs 1-0 Sheff Utd: Turning The Hard Way Into An Art Form

Melchett: ‘It’s a barren, featureless wasteland out there, isn’t it?’
Darling: ‘The other side, sir…’

I suppose we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that even if we had established a three or four goal advantage tonight, this being Spurs we would probably be two down within ten minutes in the second leg anyway. Nevertheless, even by our standards, this was particularly head-against-wall-bangingly frustrating. Our heroes inevitably spent the first half pausing to deliberate for a good seven or eight seconds over every touch, and duly registering not a sniff of goal.

Mercifully, bang on half-time our visitors decided to run out of steam, so we did at least get to set up camp in their half thereafter. Not that it prompted any particular injection of creativity, our passing notably remaining multi-touch, but such is life.

In this world of dreary slow build-up play, the two little moments of skill that created the penalty shone out in the gloom like beacons of light from heaven itself, serenaded by choirs of angels for good measure. Where on earth Vertonghen’s delicate chipped pass has been living all these years is anyone’s guess, but it was a thing of daintiness, the sort that would not have been out of place at one of the dolls’ tea-parties that my five year-old niece occasionally invites me to spectate.

Similarly, Soldado’s control with his right clog, of a ball coming over his head at something around chest-height, was enough to prompt the Sheff Utd defender into planting a hand on the ball and almost bursting into tears.

There was not much else to prompt the pulse into life, let alone set it racing. Young Kyle Walker’s recent profession that he is trying to be more Lahm than Alves continues to look an awful career choice, and the mentality typified things. Adebayor reacted to not being given a sniff of the ball by pointedly deciding that he was not going to look for it either, so there.

Just when I started to wonder if the introduction of Paulinho was actually some sort of anti-mirage brought on by the cold, up he popped, to take umpteen touches before passing backwards. This was later followed up by a burst into the box and a mishit shot so weak it almost slowed to a stop and started to reverse.

The entire dirge was accompanied by the sound of thousands of palms slapping foreheads in frustration, and just like that, next week’s task was made infinitely more difficult.  A victory is always lovely, and 1-0 in these circumstances is infinitely better than conceding away goals and whatnot – but this seems like a masterclass in doing it the hard way.

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