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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-2 Liverpool: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Boos And The Improved Performance

The good gentlemen and women of the press would have it that our lot were booed off so venomously that the whole of North London quivered to its foundations and we were but a hop and a skip from cracks appearing in the sky. In truth I didn’t discern much more than a bit of a grumble on the half-time whistle.

Granted, all eleven in our ranks began proceedings with the usual, vexing caution, and for a while it appeared that that oft-repeated script was to receive another airing. For around ten minutes or so, their lot hogged the ball, our lot sat deep and AANP’s will to live began its bi-weekly course of ebbing away.

Indication of our stance on this matter was provided in those opening ten minutes on each flank, when counter-attacking opportunities presented themselves, but instead of carpe-ing the diem, the principals pirouetted one-eighty and set about shovelling the ball backwards, until it ended up at the feet of Lloris to bunt off into the wild.

Mercifully, the usual 45 minutes of this rot was bunged on its head pretty early. Our heroes thoughtfully hit upon the radical idea of conceding well inside the first act, a turn of events that had the pleasing consequence of jolting everyone into action a darned sight earlier than usual. Where normally the rich tapestry of life is pretty funereal for the entire first half, this time our heroes had the shackles removed as early as minute 11.

Proof that they had been yanked from the collective reverie was provided in the very next counter-attacking opportunity up the flank, when Emerson, seemingly struck by the realisation that we were trailing, did not even consider relaying the ball back eighty yards, but fed the ball forward to Kane in the move that led to Perisic bundling the thing against the post.

For the rest of the first half, I thought we made a fairly decent first of things. Perhaps not the sort of fare to arrest the attention and turn the knees to jelly, but a step up from the usual guff we peddle of a first half, and notably featuring the fairly rapid transfer of the ball from Player A to Player B at every opportunity. It was just an almighty dashed shame that Eric Dier chose to unleash his inner chump before half-time, because Liverpool, while having a bit about them, were not worth a two-goal lead, and our endeavours merited a little better.

Thereafter of course, the narrative changed course quite drastically and we gave them quite the second half going over; but the notions that we were poor first-half relations, and that the N17 air resounded with a chorus of half-time abuse, struck me as a little wide of the dial.

Oddly enough, in contrast to most games this season, that second half saw us put in one heck of a performance and fail to dredge up a result – the norm, of course, having been to dredge the up a R. but without much in the way of a P. And this having happened, I have to admit I vastly prefer putting in the performance, even in a losing cause.

This is not to say that I’d happily watch us lose by the odd goal every week as long as the patterns are pretty; the point is more that if we play to that standard, and eke out a dozen or so decent chances in the space of one half, then most fair-minded folk would agree that the goals would follow pretty swiftly. A performance of goodish intensity and stuffed with a few handfuls of creativity will be fun to drink in, and by the laws of probability is also likely to generate results. (Of course I have no hard science to support the last point, but were I to make that relate it in the galleries I’d expect a smattering of applause and a nodding head or two.)

2. Dier

As mentioned, Eric Dier’s temporary abandonment of grey matter cost us the game, set and match, so that will be something for him to reflect upon in any idle moments.

Much has been made of the chap’s renaissance within a back-three, pretty much since the dawn of Conte at N17; but by and large I have to admit to never having been fully convinced by the chap.

Yesterday’s moment can probably be popped to one side, in truth, for while fat-headed in the extreme it was nevertheless an isolated mistake. I am more broadly a little unsure of his value as a defender in more conventional scenarios. His worth, I suppose, lies in his positioning. When on the back-foot, the defensive five do tend to operate as one, shuffling hither and jimmying along thither, with nary a yard of space between them for dastardly types to squeeze through – and Dier being slap bang in the middle of those five, presumably deserves a back-slap and some kind words.

The dubious gaze I cast upon him is probably more to do with his conduct when stripped of the earnest fellows to his right and left. Leave Dier to take sole care of an opponent, and suddenly the heart-rate quickens a tad and the odds seem to lengthen. His lack of pace is generally papered over within a back-three, but is a deficiency nonetheless, and he is similarly a little sluggish on the turn. I may do the fellow a disservice, and I would certainly prefer him to Sanchez, but any move to reinforce at centre-back would receive some pretty enthusiastic backing from AANP Towers.

One of the big selling points of Dier is supposedly his passing range, and, as I’ve prattled on about often enough on these very pages, while he does possess a sparkling crossfield diagonal in his size nines, he seems to attempt the trick a little too often and too unsuccessfully for my liking.

Perhaps more irritatingly, particularly in light of recent first half struggles, when our lot meander sideways and backwards like lost sheep, Dier insists on dwelling on the ball as he surveys all around him – rather than just giving it to someone – anyone – and getting on with things. A sideways pass will not blow anyone’s skirt up, granted, but do it with the first or second touch and it at least forces the opposition to suck in a few more gulps of oxygen.

After falling behind yesterday, Messrs Lenglet and Davies seemed aware of the added urgency about the place, and accordingly shoved the ball along sharpish; Dier continued to swan along with the attitude of one of those rather odd fish who insist that time is a social construct and everyone can just get behind them and wait.

In the second half however, Dier, no doubt racked with remorse for his front-page idiocy of a half-hour earlier, set about doing his damnedest to make amends. Presumably under instruction from Our Glorious Leader, he bobbed up in advanced positions on the right, supplementing and occasionally replacing poor old Emerson. His right-sided adventure notably extended to swinging in a handful of deep and meaningful crosses, which no doubt made rather awkward viewing for all concerned when it became clear that they were of vastly superior quality to the Brazilian’s.

It created a most useful additional attacking tool, with he and Emerson able to double up on those in opposition – and triple up when Doherty and Kulusevski were flung on. For all my sharp words about his passing from the deep-lying centre-back spot, I was rather taken by his efforts as an additional pair of attacking legs on the right.

3. Bissouma

Tempting though it is to wax lyrical about the attacking cup that flowed over like the dickens in that second half, the eye was frequently drawn to the neat-and-tidying offered at the base of midfield by Yves Bissouma.

Even his most ardent followers would likely admit that the young bean has flitted a little in his lilywhite career to date. The occasional act of determination in extending a lower limb and raking the ball from an opponent has been greeted pretty enthusiastically, in the expectation of more to follow, only for him to disappear a tad. Comparisons to Harry Winks have not been lobbed around in the complementary way. In short, we have all been patiently waiting for the best of the chap.

And yesterday, the thought occurred that we might have started to see it. The hearty enthusiasm with which we attacked in the second half was great fun to watch, but did leave those at the back stretched out a little desperately whenever possession was lost and Liverpool advanced over halfway.

Mercifully, those were the moments that seemed to stir Bissouma into life, and like a particularly well-trained domestic pet he was on the scene no sooner had a distress call been sounded.

Those leggy tackles alluded to earlier became increasingly conspicuous. Rather eye-catching too, he being a nib who prefers not to go to ground if it can be helped, the slide-tackle seemingly considered an imprudent use of resources. Instead, he seems to burrow his way into the heart of the action, wrap a leg around the impostor in question and neatly drag the ball into his sphere, before doing something eminently sensible with it.

And fittingly for a chap who displays few airs or graces in going about his work, once said work is done and signed off, he has much about him of one of those heroic sorts on celluloid, who opt to disappear a little mysteriously into the shadows rather than hang around drinking in the acclaim. I’m not sure he does actually shrug the shoulders in the manner of one wondering what all the fuss is about, but if he did so it would be entirely in keeping with the general air with which he goes about his trade.

4. Kulusevski

Having been much-lamented in his absence, Kulusevski could probably have delighted the masses by his simple act of being present (his introduction certainly earned one heck of a reception), but, determined to make up for lost time, he spent little more than a minute acclimatising before he had seen to it that the ball was in the net and the game was on.

And goodness how his little cameo reminded us of what we had missed. Cutting infield and dabbing a cheeky diagonal pass in between defenders might not sound like much, but when performed live on set it served as a direct illustration of precisely the sort of guile we have been missing.

And that was just the goal; aside from that he had the unique ability to keep guessing friend and foe alike as he took up his spot in that inside-right sort of coordinate, and weighed up the relative merits of shimmying inside or out. With the aforementioned support of Messrs Dier and Doherty, and no end of lilywhited sorts queueing up for a feed in the centre, one got the impression that here was a viable attacking alternative to the effective but somewhat predictable approach of asking Perisic to find half a yard and swing in a cross.

No doubt he will need five minutes or so to restore the tissues to their previous vigorous state, but with Sweden absenting themselves from the World Cup one would hope he will be in pretty rude health come December 26th. A couple more guest appearances in our final two games before the break would whet the appetite nicely, and while it is a little imprudent to shove upon his back the hopes of the entire season, the theory that he is the fellow critical to our success has gained pretty feverish momentum in recent weeks – yesterday’s show-and-tell served only to fuel those particular flames.

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Spurs match reports

Marseille 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sessegnon

I’ll get to the salacious stuff in due course, but during the occasional first half moment when I paused to drink in the full extent of the catastrophe unfolding, one concept that kept bugging me was this business of Sessegnon at right wing-back.

In fact, even before the whistle peeped and all concerned sprung into action, my eye had been drawn to the teamsheet and the forehead had promptly creased. For a start, there was the sight of three more right wing backs, plus one Tanganga, on the bench. (Actually, this was rather well received at AANP Towers, as it meant that Emerson’s interference with proceedings had been restricted, but nevertheless, the cogs were whirring alright.)

Call me old-fashioned, but I had rather assumed that Sessegnon would be stationed on the left, with Perisic, a cove more used to swinging the right boot, assuming RWB duties.  The sight of Sessegnon ambling around on the right from kick-off therefore threw me. It’s happened before of course, fleetingly here and there, but I’ve rarely seen the point of it, and the use of inverted wing-backs in a game as critical as this certainly did wonders for my repertoire of puzzled looks.

Whatever the plan was meant to be, it pretty much died at birth. When the stars align, Sessegnon can be an effective left wing-back – diligent in defence, and pretty willing to stick a foot on the accelerator and make a bit of hay in the final third. Last night however, the stars did not align. If anything, the stars came crashing down from their moorings.

Sessegnon did not make it to halfway, let alone the final third, so whatever the elaborate ruse was around using his left foot to cut inside on the right, we were dashed if we were going to get a glimpse of it. Instead, the young potato bobbed along around the edge of his own area throughout, and while he can’t really be faulted for effort, I felt anything but assured by the sight of him patrolling his spot. Indeed, Marseille’s first decent shot (the volley from the left that Hugo beat away) came about from an attempted Sessegnon clearance that apologetically bobbled about two yards.

A degree of sanity was restored towards the end of the first half, with Sessegnon switched back to the left, but the whole experiment struck me as pretty dashed odd – especially, to repeat, when countless naturally right-footed sorts were giving the beady eye from the substitutes’ bench.

None of this is to suggest that all our first half problems lay at the door of poor old Sessegnon, far from it. For a start the problems seemed a lot bigger than any single player (more on that later). And if we are singling out individuals then Eric Dier, a fellow from whom one would expect a lot better, inexplicably opted to lob a few passes back into our own penalty area, via some passing, low-hanging clouds, as a spirit of general ineptitude spread about the place like wildfire.

So it was not all Sessegnon’s fault by any means; but it would be no understatement to suggest that his deployment on the right baffled the dickens out of AANP.

2. Emerson’s Positive Contribution

Desperate times and all that, but even after observing the car crash that was our first half, and after seeing young Sessegnon square flap around on the right, come half-time I had not reached the stage of yearning for a spot of Emerson to solve things.

But someone in the camp obviously thought that was what was needed, so on he rolled, and promptly introduced himself to the galleries by heading a ball firmly to his right and out of play, when all ten of his teammates loitered at various points to his left.

This seemed ominous, if in keeping with his career to date, but I shifted it from my mind – as is healthy practice when taking in eyefuls of Emerson – and waited keenly to see what might unfold next. And I’ll be dashed if I were not treated to the sight thereafter, of Emerson generally doing the basics in competent and reliable fashion.

It helped, of course, that the entire collective upped their performance level about sixty notches, but nevertheless it was a pretty startling sight to see Emerson contributing healthily as required. Most welcome, but startling nevertheless. As various members of our mob oiled further up the pitch, passing options began to spring up everywhere you looked – and Emerson, to give him his dues, did not shirk responsibility in this respect.

Nor did he overcomplicate things unnecessarily, or bungle crucial interjections. On one or two occasions he galloped up into attack and pinged in a cross as the situation demanded, and while few would suggest that he existed on a different, superior plane to all others, he nevertheless contributed considerably to the marked upturn in our fortunes. Gradually we asserted a spot of control, and, remarkably, Emerson was a played a significant part.

3. Bentancur

If Emerson’s ability to do normal things made my eyes pop out of my head somewhat, Bentancur had the vaguely opposite effect, in that his ability yet again to rise a level or two above everyone else seemed simply to be standard operating procedure.

His anonymity in the first half was a tough one to swallow, but that painful drudgery having been very much a collective effort, one did not dwell. However, whatever the nature of the sorcery that was discussed and greenlit at the break, it seemed that Master Bentancur had been enlisted to play a pretty critical role. With Bissouma thickening things up in midfield (and, in the second half at least, producing one of his better performances in our ranks to date), Bentancur appeared to have a bit of licence to jolly off into attack as the urge grabbed him.

He rattled off his lines with aplomb. Dreamy technique never goes amiss, of course, and having been neutered in the first half he was right on the money second time around; but on top of which, the nature of the thing, with Marseille heaving forward and leaving themselves rather exposed at the rear, meant that Bentancur was often to be observed leading the charge over halfway, sprinting up towards their area, either with ball at feet and killer-pass on radar, or in support of whichever other chappie was at the controls.

It is true that as a collective our lot improved pretty much exponentially, but either because or due to that – and strong cases can be made in each camp – Bentancur was at the hub of much that was good in our second half play. Be it retaining possession and putting in a spot of game-management, or haring up towards their goal, Bentancur was the font from which our goodness spouted. A mild shame that he overhit the pass for Lucas, which would have had the latter through on goal, but that aside his was, again, a performance vastly superior to all others’.

4. First Half vs Second Half

Of course, the column inches on Sessegnon, Emerson and Bentancur amount to polite small-talk. The real front-page news was the umpteenth instance of our transformation from clueless and impotent in the first half, to clued up and punchy in the second – the prompt for such a metamorphosis, as ever, being the concession of a goal.

Why the hell our lot must always wait until falling behind to unleash their better selves is an absolute mystery, but to this end my attention was arrested by a sentence casually lobbed into conversation by Monsieur Lenglet during his post-match buttering last night. Lenglet stated – and I paraphrase here – that the johnnies in the camp were unsure, when pistols were drawn, whether the message from above was fight or flight.

This did not strike me as mightily encouraging. One would have thought that any team at any level would head off to battle with clear instruction ringing in their ears at least as to whether the general approach would be attack or defend. With Conte having a reputation as the sort of egg who drills home tactical instructions for every eventuality, I found the mind boggling a bit at the notion that Lenglet – and who knows how many others? – was not sure in even the broadest sense what the setup was supposed to be.

I certainly understand that a deficit in any game removes any lingering doubt. When trailing, after all, one is rather obliged to up the levels, in order to salvage something. However, the notion that at kick-off the players simply look at each other and shrug, none the wiser as to what course ought to be plotted until they fall behind, seems to me rummy in the extreme.

Another theory being bandied about the place is that Conte is essentially playing rope-a-dope, both in the short- and long-term. In each individual match he wants the opposition to expel every last ounce of puff by around the midway point, so that our heroes have that much more mileage to go snatching and grabbing the points at the death; and over the course of the season he would like us simply to keep pace with things until the World Cup, so that the shackles can be cast aside come the new year and the race be run with a spot more dash and elan. In truth, however, AANP treated this one with a pretty sceptical eye.

Perhaps more believable is the notion that Conte simply does not have much faith in our defence to do as bid, and therefore piles up the reinforcements each game, resulting in scenarios such as the first half last night, when all ten outfield players are wedged within spitting distance of Lloris, and there is no attacking outlet at all.

Whatever the reason, be it accident, design or some otherworldly intervention, it is pretty maddening stuff to ingest every three days. As numerous second halves have indicated, not only are our lot perfectly capable of playing on the front-foot, giving multiple passing options, defending relatively high up the pitch and winning the ball in midfield or higher, but they can actually do it pretty effectively.

All of which makes me fling my head back and howl at them for not simply adopting that approach from the off, and racking up the goals at various points prior to the absolute dying seconds of the game.

On a positive note, however, last night was, ultimately, an absolute joy, the like of which we haven’t experienced in the Champions League since Amsterdam. Qualifying for the knockout stages was a triumph, and I suspect ticked a box that most of us would have scrawled at the start of the season when pondering what a successful campaign would look like. To dump out in such manner a team stocked everywhere you looked with former Woolwich blisters added to the fun. And credit where due – for the third time in a week (albeit ruled out on one occasion by a dubious VAR) our heroes have come from behind to score a winner in the dying seconds, which represents a heck of an improvement from all those lightweight Spurs sides of my youth.

Tweets hither

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-1 Sporting: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. A Note On Var

One always likes to improve the mind, of course, so if last night’s high jinks concerning VAR have brought anything in the way of a silver lining, it’s the sparkling discovery that one can be offside from a pass directed backwards. A fact – and a pretty critical one at that – of which neither I nor the general population at large were remotely aware until circa. 22.00 last night. And if that doesn’t cushion the blow of the wider thing, I don’t know what does.

For tax purposes and whatnot, I ought to declare that here at AANP Towers we are actually in favour of VAR – in theory. When it does the job for which Mother Nature had intended it, viz. swiftly correcting absolute howlers, then it’s a most welcome addition to the ecosystem. (Neatly illustrating this was an initially disallowed goal just last weekend, by Everton’s Anthony Gordon – he of the Princess Diana tribute hair – whose finish was initially flagged offside, instantly checked and within seconds discovered by the first replay to be as comfortably onside as these things can be.) In theory, a ripper. Howler overturned. Football the winner.

In practice, however, the bods in the video booth seem to have taken this fine and noble theory, of immediately correcting clear and obvious errors, and given it a good kicking before locking it in a basement somewhere, which has increasingly struck me as not really cricket.

If a VAR decision takes longer than the specified period required to boil an egg, the AANP eyebrow leaps into action and does its thing. And if VAR’s offside lines cannot be drawn without inviting pretty fruity debate about their accuracy or width or whatever else, the AANP index finger is raised with calm but thrillingly authoritative purpose. And when any of the above exist in combination, it indicates that a general rumminess is afoot. To spell the thing out scientifically, these are not the kind of acts for which VAR was invented.

And it felt like all of the above, and more, was sprinkled about the place pretty liberally last night. Coming as it did, to puncture the mighty crescendo of last night’s efforts, I don’t mind admitting that I did not necessarily receive the announcement with the exquisite decency that the AANP lineage traditionally demands.

Still, there it is. Deliberately positioning oneself to block the ball can be deemed accidental. Knees can be offside. And we can all rejoice in the fact that we are now that much wiser today than we were yesterday about the capacity to be offside or otherwise from passes delivered in a regressive direction.

2. The Different Second Half Approach

All of which distracts somewhat from the real front-page stuff. Our first half was, for the most part, pretty mouldy fare.

An important asterisk deserves shoving in at this point, because there was a spell of maybe ten minutes or so in the first half when our heroes seemed to stumble, inadvertently or otherwise, upon one-touch football and the pretty sizzling harvest it produces. Kane tended to feature fairly prominent in these vignettes, with Lucas, Doherty and the midfield twins also bobbing into frame for little cameos. Being an optimistic soul, I was pretty encouraged by these moments. Times, it seemed to me, were a-changing. It might not have been quite the whirlwind of irresistible force for which we’d been pining all bally season, but snippets of one-touch stuff were a fair few notches up from the rot of recent weeks.

It was pretty unfortunate therefore that Sporting should choose that moment to beetle down the other end and take the lead. Thereafter, the very concept of one-touch passing seemed to be erased from the minds of all concerned, and our lot returned to that mournful routine of taking three touches and passing sideways in defence again, as if they had been rehearsing it all week.

When out of possession too, the sentiment seemed to be to approach things as if we were actually three or four goals ahead, and were quite content to sit off and let Sporting do their darnedest. The whole approach was equal parts peculiar and excruciating.

Come the second half, however, the gravity of the situation seemed gently to manifest itself into the minds of the main cast, until, by around the 60-minute mark, our lot were hammering away at the Sporting goal at every opportunity.

Certain key factors made themselves known during this period. For a start, the whole business of gloomily shoving the ball left and right in defence, ad infinitum, was shelved. Instead, the back-three seemed collectively struck by the notion that shovelling the ball elsewhere – anywhere, but at a healthy tempo – would start to pop a few Sporting noses out of joint, if you follow.

The wing-backs adopted increasingly adventurous positions – with varying degrees of success in terms of output, I suppose, but by virtue of simply making the effort and being there they benefited the general effort.

Bentancur and Hojbjerg struck up a brief entente cordiale, whereby the former would mind the rear and the latter would charge off to support the attacking mob. (At least temporarily; as the clock did its thing the whole one-sit-one-attack agreement became a little fuzzier around the edges.)

By the final few minutes we even had Romero shrugging his shoulders and mooching up into the centre-forward position.

Admittedly by that point we had rather dispensed with finesse, and Sporting were inclining towards an all-hands-to-the-pump mentality, but in general, the attitude of simply moving the ball quickly struck me as making a world of difference. Funnily enough, showing the desire to win any given loose ball did likewise.

Why the hell it takes concession of a goal and a full 45 of clueless meandering around the halfway line to get there is a mystery that has been stretching out all season now, but AANP is a sunny sort, and if we can bottle the second half approach and uncork it again at 3pm on the nose this Saturday, then I’ll observe matters with a smile on the map and the hum of popular melodies on the lips.

3. Gil

If I quote the date “Summer 2021” and let memory do its thing, you may recall the good ship Hotspur indulging in a spot of over-the-counter trading with Sevilla, to the effect of shoving them one serviceable Lamela plus £20m, and receiving in return a shiny new Gil.

I’ve never really been one for the shops if I’m honest, being more the sort of cove who will buzz in and out to buy things out of necessity rather than wile away hours browsing through every dashed thing on the shelf. As such, I’m not really an expert in these matters, but even so, I have been unable to shake the thought ever since that we congratulated ourselves a little too hastily on that one. Gil is a younger specimen, that much is pretty much scientifically and legally assured. But with each fleeting cameo, the same critical question has occurred, namely whether this chap is really £20m better than Lamela. Actually, a second question also tends to leap to mind, that of why, if he really is that good, does he never play.

And the answer to the second part of the conundrum at least seems to present itself with regard to the young fellow’s bulk – or, rather, lack thereof. Put bluntly, all the pace, willing and trickery in the world doesn’t amount to much puff if the slightest spot of good, honest shoulder-to-shoulder waltzing sends you hurtling into the stands.

I myself am one of the sinewy sort of frame, all skin and bone or, as put lovingly by a 5-a-side teammate, “made of biscuits”. As such, should young Gil and I ever take to a pitch together, I fancy we’d address each other as physical equals. Any coming together would not invite a dark sequel, but rather just a spot of picking up, dusting down and friendly back-slapping. The problem seems to arise when just about anyone of remotely muscular build comes into Gil’s sphere. For all his undoubted trickery and pace, it seems pretty public knowledge that one meaty clump around the upper-body will send the poor nib into next week.

All of the above was in evidence against Frankfurt last week, when Gil produced a similarly endearing and effective cameo, halted every now and then by physical contact, so it was a rather pleasant surprise to note that Sporting seemed pretty ignorant to his obvious Achilles’ heel. And as a result, he was terrific. Unpredictable, willing and creative, it was precisely what we needed at that point. I suppose there is a question around whether he is better resourced against European teams than slighter beefier sorts in the Premier League, but last night such concerns were way down the list.

The sight of Gil operating high up the pitch with Lucas as auxiliary wing-back behind him was particularly thrilling (although Conte then burst that particular bubble to bring on Royal, whose lamentable no-look pass out of play for a goal-kick I would gladly accept as his swansong in lilywhite).

Both Gil and Lucas offered the potential to dash in behind the defence, as well as simply tying up an opponent in knots, but Gil in particular seemed an exponent of this art. In the absence of both Kulusevski and Richarlison, Conte’s next selection in this respect will be intriguing.

4. Lloris

Mercifully, the life and times of our resident last-line were merely a footnote by the time the curtain came down, but despite only popping into focus intermittently, Monsieur Lloris still managed to cram a few extremes into his highlights reel.

To his credit, that reflex save late on in the second half pretty much kept us in the match. After all that nonsense he peddled at the weekend it was pretty heartening to see him hit upon the idea of doing that for which he is paid, with minimal fuss and a fair helping of quality.

Alas, the chap’s wackier side was rarely far behind. A tardy offside flag consigned the moment to history, but his charge out of his area and then off into the south-western corner, giving futile chase to a Sporting soul – and then letting him escape, forsooth! – had seasoned Lloris-watchers covering the eyes of nearby small children.

And this was to say nothing of his role in the goal conceded. Not straightforward of course, and one listens keenly to those who advise walking a mile in a man’s shoes before subjecting him to pelters – but for a fellow who’s saving grace is his shot-stopping, he probably ought to have given a moment’s thought to his own coordinates as Edwards locked on and prepared to fire.

As mentioned, the fun and games which accompanied the mad old finale helped to shove to one side Lloris’ latest indiscretions, but he ought to be in no doubt that the hawk-like eye of AANP will be upon him in the weeks to come.

Tweets yonder

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Spurs 1-2 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris’ Error

Having rolled up his sleeves and put a bit of effort into fighting the good fight midweek, I suppose Monsieur Lloris had a bit of credit in the bank come 4.30pm yesterday, so it says something about his performance that he was pretty firmly established as persona non grata at AANP Towers by around 5.15pm.

Dealing first with what might, in the interests of anatomical accuracy, be described as the chest-bump, opinions will naturally differ on whether or not play ought to have been halted, and frankly that part is of pretty minimal interest over here (AANP being the philosophical sort brought up not to question the ref). Of greater concern was the sequence of choices made by Monsieur Lloris as the episode unfolded.

In the first place he exited the safety of his area, and stepped out into the big, wide world – which was a reasonable enough choice. Crucially, he was first on the scene, which seemed to justify the decision, and while I am pretty much a novice in the mystical arts of top-level goalkeeping, it seemed to me that he had achieved the most risk-laden element of the procedure, and at this point needed only to blast the thing off into the atmosphere or sidelines or wherever, to round off a successful – if rather basic – mission. One of those missions aimed simply at preventing any harm, rather than achieving any great progress.

At least that was the expectation, on having seen him reach the target a good couple of yards ahead of the Newcastle chappie. What followed, alas, was a textbook example of how to make hard-earned midweek goodwill disappear in a puff of smoke. Rather than launching the thing off amongst the stars and being rid of it, Lloris picked this moment to perform a rather curious pelvic thrust at the ball.

Now I’m not picky about aesthetics when it comes to the dirty business of clearing one’s defensive lines. There is a time for looking pretty, and a time for sneering at the pretty stuff and simply getting the job done; and when a strapping forward is haring towards your goal, the time is pretty obviously for s.a.t.p.s.a.s.g.t.j.d. And with this in mind, if the pelvic thrust had been the optimal means for clearing danger, then I’d have been all for it. “Thrust away, squire”, would have been the gist of the communique from these parts.

The trouble was, as well as looking a bit of an ass, Lloris also failed to solve the impending problem. In fact, not only did he fail to solve it, he significantly worsened it. Rather than bring the ball under control (which was presumably the intention, because no pelvic thrust in the world is going to send a ball twenty yards into touch) this daft routine simply transferred its temporary ownership from his own sphere of influence to that of the Newcastle sort.

This was Lloris’ first failing. Scholars could debate long into the night whether or not his second was as bad; either way, it prompted a pretty meaty piece of instant feedback from AANP. For having lost the ball, there then occurred the aforementioned chest-bump. Such things will happen, and a decision as to its legality or otherwise rested with those in authority. But what took the biscuit was that rather than simply getting on with the day-job after this contact, and endeavouring to prevent Callum Wilson from doing any harm, Lloris instead tried to convince the referee, VAR, the gathered hordes and the audience of millions, that some form of assault had been carried out, by dropping to the floor in a manner vastly more dramatic than the whole dance had merited.

(A helpful tip for any simulation-spotters is that if the player’s arms shoot up after contact then he’s up to some dastardly misdeed; one’s arms tend to shoot down to break one’s fall, when genuinely sent to ground.)

It amounted to the cardinal sin of failing to play to the whistle. Goalkeepers do admittedly tend to receive oddly preferential treatment from referees, but nevertheless this was a pretty risky game for Lloris to play, and I have precious little sympathy for the fatheaded oaf in opting to hit the deck rather than rescue the situation. If he had cleared the dashed thing in the first place the eventuality would have been avoided in its entirety; failing that, if he had stayed on his feet and hovered over Wilson to prevent his shot, the goal might yet have been prevented.

Whether the Wilson challenge was fair game or foul play, Lloris’ dubious choices immediately preceding and following it did little to win him the soothing tones and comforting arm around the shoulders here at AANP Towers. Withering glares were more the order of the day, and the fact that the little black book is starting to fill up a bit with these sorts of incidents about the chap does little to brighten the mood.

2. Lloris’ Passing

As if all of that were not enough, we were then also treated to Lloris’ role – understated though it was – in the second goal conceded.

Not wanting to linger too long over the gory details, but the problem had its genesis from a Lloris pass out towards Sess, which leant heavily on height and loop, and skimped a fair bit on accuracy.

Of course, there were about twenty further hoops for the Newcastle laddie to jump through before the ball ended up in the net, and if either of Sessegnon or Lenglet had registered even the faintest level of interest in their designated duties then this particular chat would be assuming a vastly rosier hue. But instead, they took one look at what was happening and waved their respective white flags – Sessegnon sticking out a leg to register his presence, Lenglet not even managing that much – and from a situation of fairly low risk by the right-hand touchline, fifty yards out, Newcastle were suddenly two up.

Lloris may not have been as directly culpable for this one as the first, but his kicking is of a standard that really ought to have the security bods giving each other a concerned look and raising the alert level from Amber to Red.

Conte-Ball seems to rely heavily upon distribution from the nether regions, and while the onus typically falls upon Dier and chums, the fact that Lloris’ passing is dreadful removes what would otherwise be a useful option. The curious fellow can manage those 5-yard goal-kicks to his centre-backs without too much calamity, but anything more adventurous than that seems to frazzle his circuits.

The modern-day goalkeeper, unfortunately, needs to be able to pick out a wing-back hugging the touchline to within a yard or so, and preferably at a height conducive to straightforward control, without the need for said wing-back to contort the limbs and stetch about eight feet. And in this respect Hugo runs into some pretty serious problems.

As mentioned, when building from a goal kick, it leaves those in question straining a bit to retain control of the thing, as such inviting pressure back. The notion of beating the opposing press is great in theory, and sometimes happens via a nifty Romero pass or whatnot – but I struggle to think of a time when Lloris has bypassed the other mob and put us on the front-foot with his passing.

And aside from goal-kicks, all manner of hollow groans ring out when our lot begin in a position of some advance, bob the ball back towards halfway and then decide that if it were done when ‘tis done then ‘twere well it were shuttled all the way back to the least competent passer on the pitch. Such hideous fare not only terminates whatever attack had been in motion, it also just about guarantees that the ball will soon be back with the opposition.

A few years back, the inability of a goalkeeper to pick out a teammate with an accurate pass would have barely made the footnotes, let alone been an agenda item; now, as we watch our back-three awkwardly shuffle left to right and back again, Lloris’ poor passing is causing something of a hindrance to our attacking play.


3. Dier

On the subject of errant passing from the back, if the name ‘Eric Dier’ isn’t burning the lips of anyone else, it dashed well is mine.

Now I appreciate that I have to tread carefully here. One does not want to upset the natives. One respects the natives. Eric Dier is a bean with his own song after all, and indeed, I’ll belt it out as lustily as the rest of them. But this train of thought, which seems to have quite some momentum behind it, that he is some sort of deep-lying font of creativity on account of his passing, is one of those lines that will have me biting the lip, and engaging in a slightly strained silence.

Credit where due, Dier can pick a lovely pass. He picked at least two of them yesterday – both, I noted, diagonals, from somewhere left of centre to a coordinate in approximately an inside-right sort of spot.

But he also, far too often for my liking, lobs the ball forward in a straight line, and gifts possession to the opposition. He, in common with those to his immediate left and right, is also a little too eager to wheel around on his axis and roll the ball back to Lloris; and if you’ve read this far you’ll know that such a manoeuvre prompts howls of anguish from AANP Towers.

I suppose in this respect he has my sympathy, because if a centre-back is forced to head back to goal – and to Lloris of all people – it reflects pretty badly on those employed ahead of him to scuttle off into space and frantically wave their arms at him. If nobody is offering Dier a reasonable passing option, what, he might well articulate, is he supposed to do?

One thing he really ought not to do is fire the ball back in a fashion that looks suspiciously like a shot at his own net, but at one point in the first half he managed to do precisely that. Now it would be pretty unreasonable to castigate the chap for this unless he made a habit of it. Even the finest amongst us rather lose the thread of things every once in a while. But when a fellow like Dier, the sort who seems to buy pretty readily into the hype about being a passer extraordinaire, ends up slapping the ball just a yard wide of his own goal when under no pressure, one starts, after removing head from hands, to reflect that our entire approach of passing out from the back is in need of some pretty drastic surgery.

4. Conte

The mood around the campfire is taking a bit of a dive, make no mistake.

Pre-match, the thought had occurred that we have been led a merry old dance by three of the traditional gang of 6 (Chelsea, Woolwich and Man Utd); and have toppled, albeit making the deuce of a palaver of it, various sides orbiting mid-table or lower. As such, Newcastle seemed a pretty solid test of our current status.

One might argue that we started sprightly, creating three or four reasonable chances. Skipp seemed to itch to shove things forward at every opportunity, and Sonny really ought to have put us one up. Benancur was a delight throughout.

Nevertheless, our best moments, as ever, came from the speedy counter-attack. The pattern was not one in which we, as the home team, asserted ourselves and hammered away. The inability to build from the back again loomed over our play.

Casually gifting two pretty avoidable goals did not help things, but these seemed completely in keeping with our play at the moment – sloppy; no strong plan or belief in playing from the back; frankly poor-quality football.

Our Glorious Leader took to the soapbox afterwards to bleat his usual refrains about needing more time and money and such bobbins, and one appreciates that it is unreasonable to expect us to have blown away all-comers. But after a year at the controls, one would reasonably expect us to blow away some comers. After a year, one would reasonably expect our football to be a little more enjoyable to drink in – and not to rely so strongly on Kulusevski.

Conte rarely wastes an opportunity to drone on about more transfers, and again one sees his point. But while some amongst our number do peddle some rot, there are plenty of talented sorts there – enough to play football that brings to the soul a little more joy than the current slop. Moreover, if he is set to walk away next summer – and there seems a moderate chance he might – it is questionable whether there is any sense in stuffing a chequebook in his hands and encouraging him to go to Disneyland.

The concern is that Conte seems actively to be encouraging the dreary stuff. He could arrange our troops to set about things with more fizz and bang; he chooses not to.

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Spurs match reports

Man Utd 2-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. At Least Lloris Put On A Show, What?

This being a new day I thought I’d begin with a once-over of the positives from last night. Alarmingly, there was in fact only one, but never mind that, and step forward Monsieur Lloris.

There’s a train of thought that it’s a bit redundant to bleat, “We would have lost by such and such an amount if not for our goalkeeper,” because the whole point is that the fellow is our goalkeeper, and that making those saves is precisely his job within our team – but nevertheless seeing everyone in front of him simply melt away time after time, forcing the poor chap into about eighty different extended reaches, did seem a bit much.

Oddly enough, Lloris’ evening had threatened to get off to a pretty horrendous start. Just about his first involvement occurred when a United sort spotted him off his line after a botched clearance, and attempted a lob. These are usually pretty anticlimactic interludes, promising much but typically fizzling out on launch, and so it proved as the shot barely reached head height.

Now I’m no goalkeeper, but if I see a ball gently float towards me I prefer to take the old-fashioned approach and catch it, ideally keeping any additional fuss to a minimum. And this had appeared the designated tactic of Lloris, until at the last minute he appeared to lose control of just about all of his critical limbs, and somehow, from a standing start, ended up flailing around on the ground, only just managing to pat at the ball, and diverting it marginally wide of the post.

It had seemed a pretty ominous start, and had me bracing myself from one of those nerve-riddled routines of his between the sticks. However, in one of those nifty little quirks of fate, that moment actually turned out to be the cue for everyone else to peddle absolute rot, while Lloris transformed into something vastly beyond the realms of mortal man, pulling off a whole sequence of full-stretch saves from around that point until the end of the match an hour later.

One in particular (from Rashford, if I recall correctly) had him in full flight in one direction, but having the presence of mind to stick out a paw in the other direction, whence he had come, creating the overall effect of a chappie who had mastered the matrix and was able to defy physics by bobbing around faster than the eye could make sense of. It just seemed rather a shame that this whole exhibition was of pretty minimal value. I mean, it stopped us losing about eight-nil, so I suppose it could be argued that it did in fact teem at the edges with value, but you know what I mean. Losing cause and whatnot. Still, bravo Hugo – which is more than any other of the blighters deserve.

2. The Fabled 3-5-2

With the regular 3-4-3 having made dashed hard work of such luminaries as Forest and Everton so far this season, in recent days you couldn’t have lobbed a brick in North London without it hitting on the head someone pleading for Our Glorious Leader to switch to 3-5-2.

All such wishes were granted last night, as injuries to Richarlison and Kulusevski rather tied poor old Conte’s hands on this front (admittedly I think most reasonable folk of lilywhite persuasion would have gnawed off their own arm to have Kulusevski restored, he being pretty much the missing link in all this). And moreover, with Emerson by his own idiocy absented, we armchair experts even had the luxury of Doherty on the right. As such, the pre-match sentiment at AANP Towers was one of cautious optimism. Quietly smug, knowing smiles were very much the order of the day. This one seemed winnable.

Or at least it did until the game actually started, at which point it pretty swiftly fell apart at the seams. Having howled away that we were getting outnumbered in midfield with the 3-4-3, the sight of our lot having rings run around them in a 3-5-2 had the AANP map turning a pretty impressive shade of crimson. Numbers of pairs of legs, it appeared, had not a dashed thing to do with it. Quite frankly, our lot were utter rot.

It’s all very well pointing out that United were on pretty spiffing form, but if any team can make Fred look like a master of all he surveys then one has to wonder if there’s some deep-rooted failure lies within. And sure enough, the problems amongst our lot were so numerous that I started to look about me for parchment and quill, for simply trying to keep track in my head was becoming increasingly problematic.

Defensively, despite having five fine specimens neatly lined up across the back, with a further three doing the doorman thing in front of them, there were great yawning gaps out wide. When United did tuck inside, our heroes seemed pretty spooked by the novel approach being used against them, of quick, one-touch passing, and gaps promptly appeared amongst our clustered bodies. Out on our left, all of the years of experience and League Title medals about his frame did little to prompt Ivan Perisic to stop Anthony chap cutting infield with gay abandon.

There was a train of thought within the AANP circle that part of the problem was that Bentancur seemed to have licence to roam forward, leaving us understaffed further south. While true enough at the outset, thereafter it seemed that even if Bentancur got his coordinates bang on it was of little use.

Moreover, the 3-5-2 meant that there was no useful means by which to stop their wide chaps chugging forward at will, as Sonny and Kane were both narrow.

All of the above, and various other failings, created the bizarre scenario that our massed defensive ranks seemed bizarrely incapable of robbing United of the ball outside our area, or preventing either their passes or shots in around the same vicinity.

On top of which, whenever our lot did stumble upon the ball they made a point of stumbling back off it again pretty sharpish. Not one of them seemed to have the good sense to seek out a teammate when in possession, the drill seeming to be that life might as well be made as difficult as possible. And unable to play beyond the United press, the net result was a pretty incessant barrage of all things United, from bally start to bally finish.

The 3-5-2 will see better days, but by golly this was a mess.

3. Conte

Rather awkwardly, the whole sorry affair does rather make one shoot a dubious look at Senor Conte, and clear the throat in meaningful manner. Knocking over Forest and such rot is one thing; and if we were losing with grace and elan to Top Four types that would be another; but simply mooching about on the edge of one’s own area and waiting to be blown away, against each of Chelsea, Woolwich and Man Utd, really is a bit thick, what?

It’s the style of play, of course. Watching the likes of Newcastle and Woolwich bound about the place with gusto and attacking intent does make one scratch the chin and wonder why our mob couldn’t be cajoled into something similar. It’s not as if we lack the talented individuals for such things.

Instead, we have a slicker version of Jose’s anti-football, all defence and countering. Against the weaker teams it’s rarely much fun to watch; and against the better teams we barely hang on to the coat-tails.

The counter-arguments, however, are pretty loaded. It would be a pretty significant dereliction of duty as a fan of the good ship Hotspur to forget quite what a stinker poor old Nuno had left us in, and quite what a job Conte did of dragging the club up by the armpits and into the Top Four.

Moreover, by the end of last season, the football was starting to flow and the goals fly in from all angles. There’s a pretty reasonable train of thought that if we can get to the World Cup in or around the Top Four, then a similar gallop in the second half of the season, possibly nudged along by a January signing or two, would be just the ticket.

And then, as alluded to earlier, there’s Kulusevski. Now a cautionary note ought not just to be struck, but given the full gong treatment, because nothing increases the value of a young nib like his absence from the team. One can gloss over how good he actually is – simply the fact that he is not in a team that is performing badly is generally enough to convince the human mind that the lad in question is the answer to all prayers. As recently as last week this was the case for Doherty; already it is becoming the case for Spence; and one does not have to cast the mind back too far to find umpteen other examples.

Nevertheless, Kulusevski became pretty critical to our play in his guise as ‘Johnnie Linking Defence to Attack’, and also providing our lot with some creativity beyond simply ‘Kane Diagonalling the Thing into Son’. That surge in the second half of last season, to which I alluded above, owed much to the fact that Kulusevski was fit and firing in just about every game. His absence is keenly felt. Bring him back, or so goes the narrative, and the Jose-esque dross currently being peddled morphs into something vastly more palatable.

Either way, the garbage on show last night was nowhere good enough. The visit of Newcastle this Sunday therefore takes on a rather meatier hue – not quite Top Four sorts yet, they are certainly a notch or two above Everton and the like, so our performance as much as our result will be watched with a pretty critical eye.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Everton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bissouma, and Conte’s Tactical Switch

My Spurs-supporting chum Dave displayed quite the knack for trenchant observation when he summed up our first half as, “A lot of huff and puff.” I’m not sure too much expansion is required there. It made a pleasant change, I suppose, to see our lot start like they meant it and have the lion’s share of possession. And all of them were red of face and positively dripping with willing; but come half-time “huff” and “puff” were about the sum of it.

And I daresay that if left unchecked this rather dull routine, of poking at the Everton penalty area and promptly being repelled, might have gone on all night, but for the intervention of the gods, of all things. The gods of calf injuries, specifically, which was pretty rotten luck on poor old Richarlison, who had clattered around the place in his usual meaty style.  

But off he tottered, and at this point the plot took quite the unexpected turn. Being a simple soul, my immediate reaction on seeing Richarlison exit was to assume that one of Gil or Lucas would be thrust on in his place, to continue with the aforementioned r.d. routine. I mean to say, if one has a contraption, a small part of which snaps off, what could make more sense than to replace it with another identical part?

The Brains Trust, however, were evidently struck with alternative modes of thought, and on gambolled Bissouma, sprightly as you like. At which point, I furrowed the brow and narrowed the eyes, like nobody’s business. A defensive-minded nib for an attack-minded nib did not strike me as the sort of moment of inspiration for which The Big Cheese earns his bulging monthly envelope.

Of course you don’t need me to tell you that far from diminishing our front-foot potency, this rearranging of the pieces proved a tactical masterstroke, swinging the entire affair in our favour. What we lost in a third attacker we more than made up for in just about everyone else on the pitch beetling north at least ten yards, and where once Everton were casually enough knocking back everything we’d sent in their direction, they now flailed a fair bit with more than just a hint of skin-of-the-teeth about their defending.

Most obviously, Bentancur and Hojbjerg were able to pop up in vastly more advanced spots, safe in the knowledge that Bissouma was manning the rear. As if to hammer home this fact, the pair of them combined for our second, in what struck me as possibly the first time since they started playing together that they had both oiled into the final third at the same time.

Similarly, I can barely remember a time since the better days of Dele Alli that we had been graced with the presence of a bona fide midfielder arriving in the penalty area to see what it was all about – and yet there was Hojbjerg, most advanced of the lot, to put the game to bed.

One would need to get into the realm of parallel universes and whatnot to be absolutely sure, but it seems a reasonable bet that neither Bentancur’s little foray down the right nor Hojbjerg’s guest appearance in the area would have come to pass were it not for the fact that Bissouma was on the pitch and sticking to his defensive drill.

Bissouma himself was neat and tidy in what he did – a couple of busy snaffles here and there certainly won over the punters – but it was not so much what he did on the ball that won the day as simply being in existence. That is to say, by simply being on the pitch and in the right area, he got the rest of the machinery clicking.

Now this being the case, I was inclined to hoist Senor Conte up on my shoulders and carry him all the way home, slinging a garland around his neck for good measure. After all, and as mentioned, the Bissouma-for-Richarlison gambit had been a long way down the AANP list of options circa. minute 50, so I was mightily impressed by the chap’s lateral thinking.

And yet when I put to various fellow lilywhites this sentiment of gushing praise for Conte, they have generally greeted me with that funny look I so often get, the visual equivalent of a pat on the head for being innocent and rather simple. Because apparently, to everyone else in N17, the injection of Bissouma had been the most obvious thing in the world! Apparently nobody else even considered the use of Lucas or Gil, on account of their respectively being unfit and waif-like. So, what had struck me as a moment of tactical genius was actually pretty standard fare to the rest of you blighters, but there we go I suppose.

2. Everton Illustrate The Flaws of Conte-Ball

A digression at this point, for I noted in various post-match interviews that assorted members of the Everton mob were glumly pointing out that they felt they should have won. Had they taken either or both of those first half chances, went the gist, they would have fancied their chances.

Now, one sees the logic here, and the hypothetical is a reasonable one – had they been one or two goals up at half-time, there was little from the first half to suggest that we would have come back.

The issue here is that this argument required firstly that they took either of their only two chances – which they didn’t – and secondly that they avoided any defensive mistakes – which they didn’t. They missed both their chances, and Pickford then made a mess of a couple of things for the penalty.

I bring up all this because the Everton approach seemed to the AANP eye to have much about it of the style Conte has had us peddling in pretty much every game so far this season. And while it has worked for us, Everton yesterday illustrated quite how difficult it is to execute properly. It required all chances to be taken in attack, and no mistakes to be made in defence.

By contrast, in the post-Bissouma era yesterday we apparently had something like 8 shots in the 10 minutes immediately after the substitution – which rather relieves the pressure on the forwards. With that approach, one does not need to bury the head in the hands and bawl in frustration at a missed chance, because another one will be along soon enough.

The approach adopted yesterday, of playing higher up the pitch and fashioning numerous chances, seems vastly preferable to the usual Conte way, both to watch and in terms of the odds of actually winning games.

3. Bentancur

I touched earlier upon the positive impact of Bissouma upon the geographic inclinations of Bentancur, but it would be a disservice to the latter to suggest that his good deeds were due solely to the introduction of the former.

Far from it. Bentancur struck me as the standout performer throughout, beavering away aross all blades of turf like nobody’s business and silkily linking things together like it were the most natural thing in the world. The fellow’s passing is neat and tidy when aiding and abetting the defensive mob; but rather more inventive and exciting when given licence to shove on a bit, and both elements were on display yesterday.

Nor is he the sort who’ll quietly slink into the shadows when more robust duties are required. He can consider himself pretty hard done by to have been cautioned, for his tackling was generally in the ‘Firm But Fair’ category throughout, and that yellow card ought not to suggest otherwise.

All of which made it rather appropriate that he was the driving force behind our second goal. His little legs having wheeled away non-stop all game, one understood Harry Kane popping the ball up the flank and simply looking at him expectantly. Where others might have flung skywards an irritated hand or two, Bentancur scuttled after it in precisely the manner he’d scuttled after everything throughout the game. On top of which, he then had the presence of mind to look beyond the more straightforward pass to Sonny, and instead picked out Hojbjerg in an infinitely better position.

4. Doherty

It is perhaps a little mean-spirited, but with Emerson Royal’s domestic suspension still ongoing I found myself absolutely pleading with Matt Doherty to put in a bravura performance that might consign to the annals – or at least to first reserve – the willing but lamentably limited Brazilian.

The first half showing threatened to disappoint. It was not that Doherty was particularly bad, but rather that nobody in lilywhite found their groove. Everton had plenty of numbers back in defence, and whereas Perisic on the other side could resort to crossing with either foot, Doherty’s attacking game comprises one-twos and nifty darts – precisely the sort of fare that Everton’s massed ranks were able to stifle.

However, as with various others, Doherty was able to disengage a shackle or two once Bissouma arrived. Seemingly gripped by a greater spirit of adventure, he made the sort of forward bursts that Emerson will also make; but, crucially, seemed to have a vastly superior grasp of his options once there.

And various elements of his repertoire were duly exhibited. We were treated to runs towards the byline, outside the area; runs infield, to facilitate nifty diagonal passes; and even a couple of shots from inside the area – one of which led to the penalty.

Of course, it might be that Conte issues a very specific set of instructions – positional, distributional or along some other metric – that Emerson follows to the letter and Doherty cannot nail for love nor money. As a layman, however, I struggle to see how anyone of sound mind and pure intention would resort to Emerson over Doherty again, after seeing yesterday’s performance and comparing it to the countless maddening displays by the Brazilian.

5. Kane

As ever, it is easy to take for granted that rotter Harry Kane, particularly when his goals are of the scruffy ilk (or penalties – which even then does him a disservice, because despite the midweek miss I don’t think I’ve seen a better penalty-taker in all my puff). But when Kane hits something like his top form he becomes quite the specimen, and at the moment he appears to be doing precisely that.

His most recent goals may indeed have been three penalties and one off the shoulder, but there were moments yesterday that prompted a knowing grin to spread across the AANP map, for the evidence points to a fellow who is reaching the peak of his powers and is fully aware of it. In particular, his volley of a ball that dropped across his body and from the heavens, was a thing of some wonder, being the sort of technique that would have resulted in mere mortals shanking the thing off towards the corner flag, and quite possibly have splaying a limb or two about the place.

There was also a spin-and-shot in the second half, which deserved better than arrowing straight down the gullet of the goalkeeper, but which again served notice of the chap’s current sharpness.

For all his talents, I am struck just about every game by how bad his control is (witness his first touch in the build-up to our second, when the ball bounced off his frame as if hitting a wooden door), and at times this has extended to rather ungainly, bobbling attempts to dribble that probably seem a terrific idea in his head but manifest as clumsy stumbles into traffic. Both yesterday and midweek, however, Kane even seemed to hit upon the art of close-control dribbling, beating one man and nutmgegging another before popping off a shot yesterday, to add to his run past four defenders that earned a penalty on Wednesday.

All of which glosses over the fine creative work he does when he drops deeper. As mentioned, his initial touch in the build-up to our second goal yesterday was clunky in the extreme, but once he had the dashed thing under control his creative juices were up and away, feeding Bentancur with just the right weight, into space rather than into feet and in the process doing much to ease the nerves of those final few minutes.

While the first half was something of a struggle, the combination of incisive attacks and controlled possession made for vastly more enjoyable viewing in the second, and added to the promise of the midweek Frankfurt game, it all has a bit of excited chatter about AANP Towers that perhaps, finally, our lot might just have started to click.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-2 Eintracht Frankfurt: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg

Hojbjerg seems to be a chappie who divides opinion amongst the better half of North London. The Brains Trust evidently rate him, as they keep him out there every available minute, but if the baying mob ever need someone in whom to stick the knife and give it a twist, the initials P.E.H. are rarely far from the lips.

This can at least partly be explained by the fact that he rarely gets the more glamorous assignments. While Sonny is belting volleys so hard they rip the net from its moorings, poor old Hojbjerg’s matchday highlights tend to occur in locations such as the halfway line, obscured by flailing limbs from all sides and typically taking take the form of an ungainly lunge to prevent catastrophe befalling in three passes time.

It is a measure of the aplomb with which he carried out the most menial tasks going that Hojbjerg managed to catch the AANP eye as one of the night’s premier cast members. For make no mistake, this was not a victory fashioned from a solid back-three. Far from it. This was a win built upon the occasional clicking of our various attacking parts – the defence appeared generally to be using a completely different playbook. In fact, if anything the defence seemed oddly intent upon sabotaging the whole thing at every opportunity, and without too much subtlety either.

Step forward Master Hojbjerg, who from the off made clear he wasn’t in the market for any defensive clownery. While those around – or, more specifically, behind – him bumped into each other and played fast and loose with possession, Hojbjerg seemed to take it upon himself as a matter of personal pride that no individual duel would be lost, and for good measure any loose ball would be seized.

On top of which, the sound fellow also identified the value in adding his presence to our attacks, and could regularly be spotted tagging along as our heroes motored over halfway and towards the Frankfurt net.

Indeed, such was his daring in this regard that he even managed to do that for which we’ve been crying out from our right wing-backs all season, viz. scuttling past a couple of opponents on the right, reaching the byline and delivering the perfect pass, in teeing up Sonny for his wonder-strike.

There’s an important asterisk to shove in at this point, for it should not be considered that this assist was the sole contribution of the man, nor that for this reason alone has he earned top billing for the day at AANP Towers. Had he simply done his best Emerson Royal impression at this juncture and slowed to a stop before knocking the ball into the nearest defender and frantically waving his arms, Hojbjerg’s would still have been a standout display. His cross for Sonny simply added a little garnish, to a performance that was otherwise drenched in sweat and lactic acid.

2. Sessegnon

Fans of A-listers are no doubt demanding to know when the acclaim for Sonny and Kane will kick in, but next on the roster is young Sessegnon.

Following the Hojbjerg example, Sessegnon made sure he carried out all the dull admin work, diligently tracking his man and dangling an appropriate leg, and generally adopting a risk-free approach to life when in his own half that some of his more experienced associates might have done well to ape.

But it was when revving up the engine and hurtling off towards the Frankfurt goal that Sessegnon really caught the eye. It is hardly a secret that The Conte System involves frequent knowing nods towards the wing-backs when on the front-foot, so it was a joy to see 50% of those wing-backs taking the hint and hitting the final third at a fair old lick at every opportunity.

Sessegnon created the headed chance for Richarlison in the opening knockings; weighted a lovely pass for one of Sonny’s saved chances; wormed his way into two clear goalscoring opportunities himself; and, while the record books will simply gloss over the fact without so much as a blot of ink, his head of steam into the Frankfurt area handily lured away the last remaining defender, which allowed Sonny the space to spank home his second.

Those who know AANP best will be aware that I’ve generally regarded young Sessegnon with a rather stern and unforgiving eye, but that same knowledgeable mob would also attest that I’m nothing if not fair – and if the young whelp plans on making a habit of performances like this he’ll be most welcome to pull up a perch and enjoy a splash of the good stuff at my expense.

3. Sonny and Kane

The murmur around the place at about the hour mark was that this might have been the best our lot have played all season.

(Of course, it couldn’t last, and despite not adding the fourth goal that would have sewn the thing up, they rather regressed somewhat as the game wore on, in much the style of a mob who had just added a fourth goal and sewn the thing up. On top of which, they somehow managed to make playing against ten men look like playing against twelve, which had me clutching at my fellow man in alarm on more than one occasion; but our lot will persist in making the hardest possible work of things.)

Back to the good times, and before and after half-time it would be no exaggeration to say that at times our lot absolutely purred. Key to this, it struck me, was that, for possibly the first time this season, Sonny and Kane simultaneously found something like their groove. To date it seems to have been one or t’other. On Tuesday, it was both. On top of which Richarlison was as eager as ever, all elbows and upper-body strength, generally making himself a nuisance to opponents and a most useful accomplice to teammates.

I banged on rather interminably at the weekend about how Son’s powers are reduced considerably when he drops deep and tries to hold up or link play, as opposed to a far more potent deployment at the apex of things. Against Frankfurt however, he was restored to his former glories. The ball was generally pinged towards the vicinity of Kane, handily attracting Frankfurters to him like moths to a flame, and Sonny raced off into the wide open expanses ahead.

It brought about two goals and numerous other glorious moves, the sort that decency really demanded ought to have resulted in further additions to the scoreline. And various other supporting cast members, no doubt inspired by what they saw, were moved to contribute in their own specific ways. As mentioned, Hojbjerg and Sess contributed to Son’s second; and even Emerson, otherwise as fat-headed as ever, pinged the pass into Kane that set up Sonny for our first of the night.

As mentioned, Kane seemed to have the Frankfurt defence on the fabled piece of string about which the N17 faithful love to sing, manoeuvring them in whichever direction he fancied in order to release his chums. This seemed to be the tactic of choice, and was working a treat; so you can picture my surprise when Kane took it upon himself to set off on the charge and stumble his way past four defenders before being bunged to the ground. Now admittedly this was not Ginola vs Barnsley in ‘99, having about it more clunk than class, and owing a certain debt of gratitude to the good old-fashioned ricochet.

Nevertheless, it was a heck of a run for the chap, who had a look in his eyes that said “I will not be beaten (unless anyone touches me in the area, in which case I’m hitting the deck pronto”). In a season that has oddly failed to come alight to date, that run by Kane, coupled with Son’s volley, provided the biggest hint yet that our forward line might be about to spring into life.

4. Gil and The All-Action-No-Plot Finale

As mentioned, having been well in control, our lot contrived to very nearly throw the whole blasted thing down the pan in the utterly bizarre final ten or so.

As the hour mark came and went, and despite my imploring yowls from afar, those on the pitch resolutely stuck to the approach of complacently mooching from side to side rather than hammering away at the Frankfurt goal. Even when Frankfurt were reduced to ten, the party line seemed to be to conserve energy for future fights.

Our Glorious Leader can take some part of the blame for this too, the move to replace half the outfield players bringing about a noticeable dip in standards. (One understands in theory the decision to take off Dier when on a yellow card, but it nevertheless struck me as an ill thought-through gambit, resulting as it did in the dreaded combination of Emerson and Royal on the right side of defence.)

With the urgency visibly draining away from our mob, it was utterly predictable that Frankfurt should pull one back – via the usual dreadful contribution from Emerson – leaving the entire viewing public to endure major coronary episodes, right up to the final kick of the game.

In the midst of all this poor old Bryan Gil was flung on. As cameos go it was about as entertaining as they came, albeit revealing nothing we didn’t know before: the lad is a box of tricks, and boasts not an ounce of muscle on his frame. Each of these aspects were illustrated for all to see, as he twisted a succession of defenders inside out before being clattered out of the way by one whose patience had run out.

The whole episode of the second penalty was rather a lot to take in, featuring as it did a Gil run being abruptly terminated when he forgot to take the ball with him; after which a Frankfurt johnnie rather charmingly waited until everyone had vacated the defence before gifting it back to him; at which point he seemed set to dribble past everybody who came within ten yards of him; before being upended so that Kane could belt the penalty off into the High Road.

Gil might still have had his moment of glory, when Kane had the opportunity to roll him the ball for a tap-in; but, seemingly convinced that what his failed penalty had lacked was even more power, Kane absolutely blasted the cross towards the poor chap, who produced a horizontal leap that looked mightily impressive, but was ultimately of little value given his failure to be eight feet tall.

Thus we ended the night high on action and pretty empty on plot, as is our way. Still, the improvement in attacking interplay and numerous clear chances created – without resorting to sitting back and countering – bodes very well. On top of which, the pre-match consensus had been that a win, delivered in any manner, was crucial – so for all the late madness, this ultimately was a job well done.

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Brighton 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Midfield

The white-hot news ahead of kick-off was that our Glorious Leader had donned his lesser-worn 3-5-2 boots. I suspect AANP was not alone in reacting to this firstly by rubbing the eyes and administering to self a solid pinch, to ensure that reality was in full working order; before rubbing the hands with glee and informing anyone who would listen that great things were no doubt imminent.

That said, anyone who considers that Senor Conte simply bowed to the masses and accepted that we, the Spurs-supporting public, knew better than him all along, probably needs a few truths explained to them.

A large driver of the formation change was apparently the sudden dearth of attacking options. This tallies. With Kulusevski and Lucas still having limbs reattached, and only Bryan Gil representing an attacking option from the bench, one understood the sentiment of resting one of the usual front-three in the midst of the mini fixture pile-up.

(And a propos young Gil, the decision to trade in Lamela plus several bags of cash for the undercooked waif looks barmier by the minute. One does not doubt his willing nor his touch, but Gil’s physique remains that of a malnourished Dickensian orphan. Lamela may have had as many flaws as attributes, depending upon whom you ask, but he’d have been a handy reserve for games such as Brighton or Frankfurt away – more so than young Gil at any rate.)

I digress. One of the joys of 3-5-2 was that Messrs Bentancur and Hojbjerg both appeared infinitely happier in their refurbished surroundings. And understandably enough, for which amongst wouldn’t let rip a sigh of relief, kick back and enjoy oneself when informed that a helping pair of hands was imminent in a role that had previously been understaffed for months?

Bentancur appeared the most advanced of the supporting cast. The usual silky touch was evident, on top of which, and in common with his chums, he was very much on board with the whole ‘High Press’ chorus-line. For half an hour or so, it seemed he as an individual and we as a collective had struck oil.

That said, even during that halcyon first half hour, a gnawing sentiment still irked me that Bentancur could have made rather more of his many talents. The half an eye I’ve kept on Woolwich in recent weeks has prompted me to wonder if Bentancur ought not to be matching and indeed bettering the role of Odegard for that lot – high up the pitch, seeing all angles at once, zipping early passes into tight spaces. Rather than being string-puller-in-chief, Bentancur seemed happy simply to let himself bob along on too many occasions, even when afforded the luxury of protection behind him on Saturday.

That protection took the sinewy form of Master Bissouma. As with the rest of them, for half an hour he seemed pretty much in control of matters. Having been stationed slightly south of Messrs B and H, Bissouma seemed happy to let the others tiptoe forward while he manned the rear, doing without fanfare all that menial guff that allows the machinery to hum and whir.

As well as allowing Bentancur to move to a new address ten yards up the pitch, this also seemed to inspire Hojbjerg to shrug his shoulders and dominate everything he got involved in. On various occasions the chap would win the ball, chug forward with it ten yards and then pop it off for Sessegnon or whomever to begin the next chapter. I’m not sure I remember seeing Hojbjerg go about his business with such a confident and effective strut.

And as mentioned, for the first thirty or so, things seemed fairly serene. Brighton may have occasionally triangled their way past our high press, but by and large they didn’t do much with it. Whereas our lot time and again seemed to pick their pockets within swinging distance of their goal, and, egads, even dominated possession. After a relentless stream of games in which the rope-a-dope tactic has been deployed, I could scarcely believe what was unfolding – and yet there it was, our lot hogging the ball and playing on the front-foot.

It couldn’t last of course. Brighton ended the first half more strongly, and in the second upped their possession. Ultimately, however, despite ceding possession, the story ended happily enough, as our hosts caused us problems without really causing us problems if you follow my gist – having a bit too much possession for anyone’s liking, but not actually fashioning a clear chance, thanks to the impressive shifts put in by all amongst our rear.

2. Sessegnon

One of those shifting impressively was young Master Sessegnon. However, while he put his head down and racked up more ticks than crosses, I must admitting thinking it was a bit thick to shove the Outstanding Chappie Award down his gullet once the curtain had come down.

No doubt mine is an opinion tainted with prejudice and deep suspicion at the fellow’s hit-and-miss history in lilywhite. And it is true that he took several opportunities to gallop off into the final third, in the first half in particular, and did that which precious few others amongst our number seem capable – viz. launching a half-decent cross into the general vicinity of the area.

Here, I suppose, is where I start to pause, and raise a quibbling finger. For while it is true that he slung in more crosses than probably anyone else, a pedant might argue that he could have directed them a little better. Where one would ideally like to see crosses whipped in front of the onrushing throngs, Sessegnon seemed to pop them just behind the danger area, or over it, or in some other way slightly miss the sweet spot.

Harsh criticism this may be, but better crosses would have led to better chances. Nevertheless, after some of the rot to which we’ve been subjected from the flanks in recent times (and I charitably name no names here), the sight of Sessegnon first charging up the wing and then slinging in a few crosses once he’d got there, was a welcome one.

On top of which, his defensive shakes steadily improved. In the first half he seemed a little too often to allow himself to be tossed around in the spirit of a ragdoll. By the time the second half oiled round much seemed to have changed, and for the better. If a Brighton sort gave him an upper-body barge of muscle and substance, Sessegnon of the second half seemed ready for it, and inclined to respond in kind. If beaten along the ground, Sessegnon was not about to give up the cause, but retook his position and plugged away.

So this was undoubtedly one of his better displays. I dare not take that from the honest fellow. I simply raise a pretty surprised eyebrow at the notion that his was the standout display amongst our mob – partly because I thought Hojbjerg did better, and partly because, harsh and unforgiving soul that I am, I expect more dangerous deliveries from my wing-backs.

3. Doherty

As exciting as the switch to 3-5-2 was the news that Matt Doherty was being dusted off and paraded for the day. The whole drama around the chap’s inclusion or otherwise, as pieced together by snippets from Conte press conferences, has in all honesty made the AANP head throb a bit – but for whatever reason there he was on Saturday, gormless expression in place and the right touchline waving invitingly at him.

And, again in common with his ten chums, for half an hour he made a decent fist of things. Now admittedly, if he were Emerson Royal, at about this juncture I’d hurl a rotten fruit or two, because Doherty’s contribution seemed to go swimmingly until it came to execution of his final contribution. And at that point, be it a pass, cross or shot, the stars did not quite align, and things fizzled out a tad.

Nor did Doherty even attempt a cross of the sort that Sessegnon was gaily swinging in from the other side. But nevertheless, I was heartened by what I saw. The system required wing-backs comfortable motoring forward, and Doherty seemed that. He might not have produced any crosses worthy of the name, but he mooched further infield as is his wont, popped a shot or two and offered an attacking threat on the right.

As with everyone else, his attacking juices ran rather dry after the break, and I’m not sure I remember him hitting the final third, which was a shame. He did however keep his defensive buttons switched on throughout, and as the instruction to repel the other lot at all costs became ever louder, he popped up with some notable blocks and tackles.

Whether any of the above is enough to convince Conte that the right wing-back pecking order deserves a reshuffle is debatable, but for a johnnie who hasn’t kicked a competitive ball in several months I thought his was a solid combination of forward willing and defensive solidity.

4. Sonny

The obsession in the last decade or so with assists seems to me a rummy one. One understands the principle, of course, but reducing an attacker’s input to goals and assists always seems wilfully to ignore much of what makes such folk tick.

Sonny, for example, could be said to have contributed the assist to the game’s only goal, and therefore to have pretty much swung the thing in our favour. Preeminent Contribution of the Match, and all that guff.

And good for him, it should be said. His delivery created the only goal, so we are in his debt, no doubt. Someone needed to do it – he alone did it. So far, so good.

One might quibble that his delivery was almost certainly a shot, rather than a cross, and the argument is a strong one. Nevertheless, shoot from that sort of angle, and with that sort of power, and one rather earns any luck going, in the line of own-goals or Kane shoulders or whatever else. On top of which, there was some nifty footwork immediately preceding this delivery, which had the Brighton fellow floundering and waggling useless limbs. So, again, bravo Sonny.

However, something remains not quite right at Chateau Heung-Min. Personally my heart sinks every time I see a ball from defence or midfield played into the feet of Sonny facing his own goal. When the lad drops deep to collect the ball, the outcome seems almost always to be that we lose possession.

For a start, Son is anatomically composed purely of skin and bone, with not an ounce of muscle on him, meaning that a defender needs only to breathe on his neck for him to go sprawling. As such, any attempt to feed the ball into him, in the hope that he will collect and shield it before laying it off, is doomed to failure and a crumpled heap of limbs.

On top of which his touch has deserted him somewhat this season. Even if he stays upright when collecting these passes, the ball seems simply to bounce off and away from him.

The chap is far better when pointing towards the opposition goal, somewhere in the vicinity of the shoulder of the last defender. Feed him the ball there, or play it into space to run into, and he seems several notches more dangerous – witness his disallowed goal. Admittedly he is still malfunctioning a little too regularly at present (witness that moment in the second half when he tried an over-elaborate solo rather than feeding Kane), but in general he seems to cause more problems to the opposition, and pose less risk to teammates, when up at the apex rather than dropping deep to collect.

But ultimately, we were treated to three hard-earned points. Admittedly the sentiment throughout this volume has much about it of a spoilt child who simply wants more, rather than being satisfied with what he has. Frankly, a win away to an in-form Brighton, and on the back of last week (on and off the pitch), was the stuff of which I had dared not dream. To have achieved it in the manner we did – all grit and steel and whatnot – was even more impressive, and is precisely the sort of stuff of which successful seasons are made. The wait for a thoroughly convincing performance goes on, but all things considered – not least the desperately sad circumstances – this might have been our best display of the season to date.

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Arsenal 3-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactical Set-Up

Even the most committed creature of habit could learn a thing or two from Our Glorious Leader, who reacted to all the noise about playing a midfield three by sticking his fingers in his ears and scrawling ‘3-4-3’ across his teamsheet for the umpteenth consecutive game.

‘Twas the usual suspects then, in the usual formation – and funnily enough with the usual outcome, as our lot spent the opening twenty minutes penned back in and around our own area, looking longingly at all the possession the other lot were churning through.

Show me a nib who enjoys watching that sort of thing and I’ll show you a chappie who should go and boil his own head, because it makes for pretty ghastly viewing. The opposition hog the damn thing; their every pass feels like a prelude to something ominous; on top of which our defence is so deep that the slightest miscalculation is pretty much guaranteed to gift a goal to the foe (as Lloris helpfully demonstrated). Needless to say, watching it unfold blow by blow had the heart fairly racing along in a manner that would have even the most upbeat cardiologist chewing a nervous lip.

Nerve-shredding stuff to observe then, but as Senor Conte would presumably point out, if done properly it does tend to work. For all the prodding and probing, Woolwich only broke through in that first half via a long-range pop, and in the second via a goalkeeping mistake (I artfully dodge the 10 vs 11 activity). That at least would presumably be the gist of the argument. I’m not sure too many juries would be swayed, but there we go.

The argument would continue that our lot sprang into life on the counter attack enough times in that first half to have scored more than just the one – and towards that point I’m a bit more inclined to clink glasses and offer a friendly nod. There were a few occasions on which our front-three set off on a scamper, and but for a careless final ball would have been through on goal.

But even so, it’s all a bit thick, no? One can only hold one’s breath and hope that the opposition foul things up for so long, what? If one were feeling particularly unkind one might suggest that the whole setup is simply a more polished version of the utter dirge that was peddled under Jose. Opportunities were there on the break, and on another day we might have led by half-time, but as under Jose the strategy relies a little too heavily on both flawless defending and pretty damn clinical finishing.

We sit within the Top Four, so fans of this sort of stuff would have a pretty compelling point if they told me to shove off and take my bleating with me. Nevertheless, here at AANP Towers we would be whistling a lot more gaily if the mantra were to win games by controlling possession and whizzing along a dashed sight closer to the opposition area.

Having gone on a bit about the doom and gloom side of things, I probably ought to mention that, given the rather tough hand they’d been dealt, Messrs Hojbjerg and, in particular, Benancur, made a pretty decent fist of things in the midfield two. Every Bentancur involvement seemed to end with him winning the ball or locating a chum – or, indeed, doing both, as happened at the start of the move that led to our penalty. One sympathised with their plight, being but two men in a midfield swarming with Woolwich goons; and one cast a few longing glances towards the forms of Bissouma and Skipp on the bench; but this defeat was not for lack of good, honest perspiration from H. and B.

2. Emerson

No such comforting words and bobbish sentiment for Master Royal however. That dashed pest ought to be slung out onto the streets and given a good old-fashioned thrashing.

It occurred to me that there was something of a parallel between his character arc and that of England’s resident clot, Harry Maguire, vs Germany the other night – in that neither were too bad until the moment they were very bad indeed.

For most of the game Emerson did the sort of stuff we now expect Emerson to do. He galloped forward gamely enough, and then failed to produce any decent output when given the opportunity, his crosses being blocked for a corner or sailing beyond any souls in lilywhite. This being Emerson, and his bar being low, the AANP reaction was simply to roll the eyes, mutter a choice curse and then see what would happen next. It was pretty much standard fare.

And in fact, at one point in the first half, he made one of the better tackles of his entire Spurs career, inserting a well-timed foot when I think Gabriel Jesus went off on a jink. If he cannot offer anything useful in attack he might as well provide something in defence, or so goes the theory, so by the time the second half rolled around he was in pretty solid ‘6 out of 10’ territory.

However, there then followed his red card, which judging by the current internal mood might well prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, in what legal bods might term the case of “AANP’s Patience vs Emerson Royal”.

No doubt one or two hardy souls will protest that a yellow card would have sufficed, to which the usual AANP line is drearily trotted out, about not being daft enough to give the referee a choice to make in the first place.

And “daft” really doesn’t do the chap justice, for this was about as fat-headed a move as I’ve ever seen. There couldn’t have been less threat if the Woolwich lad had curled up in a ball to take a nap. He was oiling off towards his own corner flag for heaven’s sake! Nor was it the case that tempers had already flared and shoves been exchanged., or any of that sort of jolly guff.

Martinelli had generally led Royal a merry dance the whole afternoon, which admittedly is the sort of sinister sequence of events that might prompt a tantrum from amongst the younger AANP nephews and nieces, but for it to prompt a professional footballer to stamp on the ankle of an opponent makes the brain sizzle a bit.

The silver lining of this nonsense is that Royal will now be legally barred from entering the pitch for another three games, and opportunity knocks for Doherty, Spence, Perisic, Sessegnon, Kulusevski, Lucas, Tanganga or frankly anyone else who fancies a stab at beetling up and down the right for a while. Simply being there would be sufficient to reach the standards set by Royal; any further input would class as an improvement. Safe to say I’m rather fed up to the gills with that chap.

3. Lloris Mistake

Monsieur Lloris, of course, has a vastly larger stash of goodwill stocked up, and he would have grasped at great clumping handfuls of the stuff (possibly dropping some) after today’s faux pas.

A funny old oeuf, is Lloris, in that despite being about as loyal as they come, and having loitered about the corridors for longer than anyone else in the place, he is not necessarily revered as one of our heroes. This is hardly a scientific and robust, evidence-driven conclusion, but I get the sense that most of lilywhite persuasion are generally happy enough with him, but harbour a reservation or two. The sort of chappie about whom not too many tears would be shed if he biffed off and a half-decent newbie were unearthed.

In general, his shot-stopping has been top notch and his handling a touch squiffy. Today, however, his were a pretty basic couple of errors in the shot-stopping sector, and on a stage on which we needed the experienced sorts to bring their A-games.

First in padding out the shot centrally rather than off to the sides, and then in making a heck of a mess of the follow-up shot, Lloris put us in a bit of a spot.

For what it’s worth, I rather fancied us to equalise again when 11 vs 11, and Lloris alone was not at fault for our falling behind – the sluggish start to the second half was very much a collective effort. But dash it, that was pretty basic fare, and while one ideally one would rather not concede at all, if it has to happen I would much rather the other lot were made to work their socks off for the privilege.

4. Waving The White Flag

As mentioned, at 2-1 and while fully staffed, the AANP mood was still hopeful enough. “More of the first half routine” was pretty much the chorus on the lips – until the third goal went in. At that point, the odds no doubt lengthened, but hope still spluttered along. A second goal for our lot in the last few minutes would have caused the nerves to flutter amongst the Woolwich mob, what?

You can picture AANP’s displeasure, therefore, when Our Glorious Leader effectively threw in the towel with a good twenty or so minutes remaining. The swapping of Lenglet for Sanchez one could abide, in isolation; but the removal of Richarlison and Sonny, for various assembled defenders, left none in the galleries in any doubt. Conte conceded this one.

And I don’t mind admitting that I frowned at that. Might have folded the arms and pursed the lips a bit too. I’m of a vintage that waits all week (or however long) to see our lot play, and then expects maximum effort from every one of the blighters until the final toot. If they’ve done their jobs properly they should be collapsing in puddles on the ground at full-time, and scraped up in wheelbarrows by the support staff. Having the manager effectively signal that they can simply give up with twenty minutes remaining, against Woolwich of all teams, does not sit well around these parts.

The argument will presumably run that there are games every couple of days, and Lenglet, Richarlison, Sonny et al will be needed for the CL on Wednesday. All of which makes sense – but at the same time, throwing in the towel did not seem right. It’s not really cricket. Perhaps one or two might have been withdrawn, but whilst still maintaining some sort of attacking threat (flinging Gil up at the apex, to offer some pace alongside Kane, for example).

One continues to trust Conte, of course, but that does not preclude criticism of the chap. This was a pretty unpleasant end to a thoroughly unpleasant afternoon.

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Spurs 6-2 Leicester: Four Tottenham Talking Points

While decency would normally dictate that I apologise for tardiness, between Vegas, Denver and some unspecified spot over the Atlantic, AANP can barely remember its own name, let alone the date and time.

1. Defensive Rotation

Discovering that the rarely-heard Drury was on comms for the screening of this match in Vegas was quite the pre-match mood-enhancer and morning-after pick-me-up; but alas, the good news ended there as a quick scan of the cast members indicated a Romero-shaped hole, awkwardly occupied by the various uncontrollable limbs of Davinson Sanchez.

Of course, being a man of chivalry and values, I let Sanchez proceed with perfect objectivity, and he duly took about two minutes to confirm, to what I now understand to be a global audience, that he is, in fact, a chump of the highest order. Everything about his diving, sliding, obvious and unnecessary foul was utterly clot-headed, and nor is it the first time he’s produced such mind-boggling idiocy at the earliest possible juncture (that time we hammered Man Utd away springs to mind, Sanchez similarly gifting away a penalty in the opening exchanges).

One understands that the fixture schedule requires a spot of management of the more important dramatis personae, what with World Cups, Champions Leagues, Carabao Cups and bread-and-butter League games every three days from now until around 2038. And if an A-lister like Romero can’t be allowed to put the feet up and catch the breath in a home fixture against the bottom team, then one might reasonably ask when the devil can he?

And all of this makes perfect sense, until one throws Sanchez into the equation, as first back-up. Now his legions of fans will no doubt point to the fact that prior to Saturday night we hadn’t conceded in an absolute age with him on sentry duty. On top of which, aside from the ridiculous early penalty he actually carried out his tasks dutifully enough – but that’s not really the point is it? What good is a defender trotting around doing the basics if he’s already stuffed up and given away a goal for nothing in the opening exchanges?

The debate will presumably loop around pointlessly until he is eventually sold, so best just accept it for now. Such was our lack of control that Conte saw fit to hook the blighter and interrupt Romero’s night off, calling upon him to keep the door bolted for the final twenty or so.

On the other side of defence, Lenglet oiled around reasonably enough in lieu of the indisposed Davies, with a straightforward interception here and a (usually, though not universally) accurate forward pass there. He might not sweep the board at the awards ceremonies for outstanding individual contributions come May, but he ticks enough boxes to give us two solid left-sided options.

The spots that furrow the brow are the other centre-back positions. Sanchez and Tanganga do not really instil confidence, even when flanked by more competent souls. Worse, opponents are exchanging knowing looks and beginning to target Sanchez. Somehow, we must muddle through.

2. Wing-Backs

However, if the centre-back rotation gambit was fraught with risk, the latest wing-back experiment had about it an air that was bonny, bright and gay.

A few muted voices had half-heartedly wondered aloud in recent weeks, on the back of Emerson’s obvious limitations, whether Perisic might be deployed on the right, but I’m not sure anyone really believed it would actually happen. And yet there it was, in glorious technicolour, from the off.

And it worked pretty well, at least going forward. Perisic was as game as ever going forward, his compass evidently still in full working order despite the switch from West to East. The restored Kulusevski marked his return to the fold by haring off down the right at every opportunity, and taking the full-back with him, while young Sessegnon was not about to miss out on the fun, signalling his intentions with a few early crosses from the left.

This was all well and good, but a fairly crucial component of its success was that we were in possession. And as time continued its irresistible march, and we rather surrendered the initiative (more on that below), the defensive frailties of our wing-backs rather awkwardly rose to prominence.

Not that I blame Perisic. Here is a man who made his name on the front-foot, and if he’s anything like AANP he has untold lung capacity for the forward charge, but needs a bit of a blow when it comes to the defensive side of things. As with Sporting in midweek, so against Leicester on Saturday, he seemed to be beaten a little too easily in the mano a mano items, and with Sanchez behind him the brow began to furrow with a decent amount of nervousness.

Similarly, Sessegnon gave a full display of his fallibilities, not for the first time being fairly straightforwardly beaten in the air in the build-up to the second goal, in a manner that suggested he offers decorative value only when it comes to aerial combat.

So for all the early promise and excitement of Perisic-right and Sessegnon-left, Conte then switched the pair, and ultimately resorted to Emerson, presumably in the name of tightening the locks a smidge.

The whole sequence did again make me wonder what the hell Matt Doherty has to do these days to get a game, while Djed Spence may also be stroking a thoughtful chin, but the Perisic-Sess experiment, while showing a few rays of promise, was not quite the unmitigated success for which I’d hoped.

3. Central Midfield

In those early exchanges our lot seemed mercifully undeterred by the early deficit, and I thought were fairly good value for the 2-1 first half lead, at least in possession. Alas, as the pattern evolved to that rot about sitting deep and looking to counter, Leicester began to get to grips with life – which really is utter muck if you think about it. This lot were bottom, conceding goals for fun – and yet there they were, controlling possession for five-minute chunks, in our own back yard!

Well, you can imagine the harrumphing emanating from this corner of Vegas, and the dashed thing is this is hardly the first time we’ve seen our midfield lose control of things. I don’t really blame either of Messrs Bentancur or Hojbjerg, as the problem seems to be quantity rather than quality. Any team with three in midfield simply has more available legs in the area.

The point of the 3-4-3 seems to be to ensure that we have plenty of men manning the back-door at any given point, but even within this packed environment Leicester did not have to break too much sweat to bop their way around us.

Helpfully, Leicester were simply not very good, so while we let them offer far more threat than decency ought to allow a team at the bottom of the table, there was rarely a point at which I felt we would not outscore them. However, any semblance of control of the dashed thing only really emerged once Bissouma was introduced and we switched to a three-man midfield.

Conte has made Bissouma kick his heels a tad, for reasons of fitness or tactical education or some such rot apparently, but the fellow was on the button once introduced on Saturday, happy to treat the masses to his fabled array of interceptions and tackles.

Various pundits will hone in on a chap who scores and mark them out as a standout performer, irrespective of anything else contributed or lacking during the course of the 90, and I’m a tad wary of doing the same with young Master Bentancur. His goal was certainly a triumph for high pressing and general alertness, and I’m pretty sure he contributed crucially to one of Sonny’s goals through another sprightly tackle. All told, however, he seemed to me to swan through life in his usual neat, tidy and effective way.

The challenge he faces each week is, as mentioned above, that that central midfield pair is too often outnumbered. All of which does make one wonder whether there might be scope for Bissouma to be added more permanently, and a switch to 5-3-2 to be effected (I’ve heard it mentioned that Kulusevski could occupy the right wing-back slot for such a move).  Such jiggery-pokery might also allow Bentancur to shove forward ten yards or so, and allow the creative juices to flow a little more freely. The Brains Trust, no doubt, have all options under consideration.

4. Sonny

Only right to give the chap a mention I suppose. Personally I’d have preferred him to make less of a song and dance about it all – stiff upper lip and all that – but a man has his feelings I suppose, and the whole business of getting dropped and then scoring from all angles would presumably have been a lot to digest in one afternoon.

Aside from the drama that surrounded the honest fellow, I was most taken by the gumption he displayed in striking the shot for his first goal. By the time of his third the narrative was well established – Leicester were falling to pieces, and Sonny’s redemption arc was well into its third act.

But when he collected the ball and set off towards goal at 3-2, he was still a man who had been dropped, was without a goal, hadn’t smiled since May and appeared to have forgotten which foot was which. Given this context, for him then to bend one from approximately a mile out, and shape it from outside the post to within, with whip and height and all sorts, was remarkable stuff indeed.

His confidence having been at a low ebb, one would have bottled up a sigh and forgiven him for shuffling off with the ball towards some cul-de-sac near the corner flag. And had he swiped at the ball and got his geometrics wrong, the groans would have been audible down the High Road. To eject himself from his rut, and in such fashion as that first goal, was a triumph. (As was the sweet, sweet strike for his second, while we’re on the topic.)

I suppose one might glance at the scoreline and label this a triumph for defensive rotation, but given that Hugo had to make three or four pretty spectacular leaps about the place this felt anything but comfortable until the final fifteen or so. It’s a remarkable thing to engineer an unconvincing 6-2 win, but there we are. I must confess to looking ahead to the game away to Woolwich with a fair amount of dread, given the way our lot have struggled to exercise control over any opponent so far this season. As such I might quietly start a campaign for a three-man midfield, in the hope that it grows into quite the din by 1 October. For now, however, despite being oddly off the boil, we remain comfortably ensconced in the top four.

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