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Brighton 3-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Latest Lloris Howler

Decorum naturally dictates that in speaking of Monsieur Lloris one first ought to wish him a speedy recovery, because the slings and arrows of performance-critiquing are one thing, but a particularly nasty-looking injury rather trumps all that, and is not a fate one wishes upon an enemy, let alone one of our own.

As to performance-critiquing however, in his two-minute appearance Lloris was gently lobbed one task, and – as has become his most unwelcome trademark – he made a complete hash of it, conjuring up a mistake where none had seemed possible.

Over the last season or two his aberrations have assumed a gloomy inevitability, albeit generally involving an envelopment of panic when the ball reaches his feet. This time, perhaps in order to vary the monotony, he opted to make a pig’s ear of things with his hands rather than with his feet. Credit is due, he may argue, for livening things up from the off, but today of all days it was the last thing we needed.

After the midweek scoreline and murmurs of internal unrest, there was a fairly obvious need to launch into things today with purpose and confidence. And although physiognomy is a pretty complex art at the best of times, immediately before kick-off our heroes did at least have the dignity to look suitably determined as they prepared for the task at hand.

It really needed a solid opening spell to set the tone, and, above all, an end to the sloppiness and silly mistakes that have littered our season to date. Alas, Lloris’ latest, absurd, needless howler had pretty much the opposite effect, deflating the whole lot of them within the opening two minutes.

The evident severity of Lloris’ injury suggests that his enforced absence will be considerable in length; but even a fully-fit Lloris cannot continue to make such costly errors with such regularity before tongues start wagging and awkward conversations are planned.

2. Listless Players & The Problem This Poses Poch

My inclination in such post-match reflections as these is to pour myself a celebratory or consolatory splash of the good stuff, and single out one or two of the troupe for a stiff going-over. On this occasion however, the whole bally team were so insipid that it is difficult to hone in upon any given one of them as the fellow to whom attention was immediately drawn.

The problem appeared to be a team-wide malaise, which is bad news in anyone’s book. Tactically one might quibble – as indeed I did, during the first half – that Ndombele and Lamela did little to protect the back four, or that Eriksen needed to arrive in support of Kane rather than assume that position as his starting spot.

But after a while I rather flung my hands in the air and muttered “Blast it all,” and wondered if there were any formation in the world that might have arrested the decline of a group of players so consistently failing to win their personal 50-50 challenges, and misplacing their passes, and failing to move enough to provide options for the man in possession, and regarding their required short sprints with the disdain of a reluctant schoolboy sloping off to class.

In short they looked any semblance of urgency, dash it. Very few individuals appeared to be busting a gut for the cause. Lamela and Winks, when introduced, showed glimpses of determination, and Sissoko stuck to his task pretty manfully, in that rather clumsy way of his – but just about all the others appeared simply to go through the motions, failing to give their all and looking for all the world like they wanted the final whistle to arrive.

It all rather feeds the train of thought that Our Glorious Leader is the type of soul at his best when he is cajoling bright, hungry young things to fulfil their potential. This lot are neither young nor, on today’s showing, particularly hungry – which, according to the theory at least, limits Poch’s abilities with them. The signing of Sessegnon and willingness to allow Rose to move on seems to fit this narrative, and it would also explain Poch’s very public calls over the summer for the chance to clear out the closet and go shopping for new outfits, if you get my drift.

Instead, we appear to be left with a group of players brimming with listlessness, and a manager hardly in his element when working with them. It all makes the mind boggle and brow furrow a tad, what?

3. Dier’s Ignominious Return

Back to the action itself, and I suppose it was a big day for Master Dier. The blighter’s fall in the AANP graces has been fairly solidly documented over the last year or two, my principal objections to the chap being that for all his airs of intimidation and aggression, he is rather lacking in timing of the tackle, accuracy of the pass and swiftness of the sprint. (Leaving him with precious little else in the way of a professional footballer, one might suggest, but that’s a matter for a different time.)

In theory, however, Dier makes sense as a footballer, and in his absence in recent weeks, some have understandably called for his inclusion, given that nobody else in lilywhite appears to demonstrate the faintest interest in such boring, menial tasks as protecting the back-four. I was not personally amongst that chorus, but I did appreciate the rationale. According to the instructions on the side of the box in which he is packaged, Dier’s purpose in life is apparently to protect the back-four.

And to his credit, as he buzzed slowly around the pitch, he did appear at least to have the correct instructions ringing in his ears. He chugged over to whichever Brighton soul were in possession and gave a nudge and a kick, then shuffled over to the next chap in possession and repeated the exercise.

It was all rather laboured however – or, to dispense with euphemisms, slow – and therefore to minimal effect. Brighton beat the Dier press by simply passing or dribbling around him, and goodness knows nobody else in midfield was minded to stop them.

Moreover, Dier’s distribution was that of a man whose faith in compasses is long gone, and has resorted to being guided by guesswork, or possibly smell. Whatever it was, his six-yarders rarely hit the target, and it was little surprise to see him shoved back into defence at the interval and a new plan dreamt up.

Not that Dier alone was responsible for the whole sorry mess. He didn’t look remotely fit for a start, but his inclusion did shine something of a light upon the glaring lop-sidedness of our squad, full of nippy attacking sorts, and pretty short passers, and bursting at the seams with centre-backs, but without an adequate defensive midfielder worthy of the name.

But as mentioned above, more than the tactics or formation, this seemed to be a failing of application.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Spurs 2-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. We Need to Talk About Serge

The little voices in Serge Aurier’s head seem only to whisper “Hero” or “Villain”, with little regard for the countless possibilities that lie between.

The old bean’s assets undoubtedly lie in the attacking third, with the positioning he adopts as a wide man complimented by a capacity to deliver the occasional whipped cross.

However, this modest return in the Credit column is rather blown out of the water by the numerous ills that clog up the Debit column. Since his arrival at the club he has racked up a number of utterly mindless red cards and penalty concessions, all of which are suggestive of a mass walkout by the brain cells and general dereliction of duty.

Yesterday Aurier offered precious little of value before chipping in with his usual moments of idiocy.

The first yellow card was needless in the extreme. One understands the concept of self-sacrificial yellow cards – hauling down an opposing chappie on halfway in order to stymie a counter-attack, that sort of sordid business. One does not condone such conduct, of course, but one follows the thought-process. Falling on one’s sword, and so on and so forth. Presumably in some cultures it can even have a certain nobility.

Aurier’s first yellow card however, against an opponent wandering away from goal and edging towards the side of the pitch, was rock-bottom on the list of Risks Worth Taking. It dealt with no threat, offered zero benefit to anyone and left the abysmal young fool with 65 minutes to spend tip-toeing across a tightrope.

As it happened he didn’t last 5 minutes. One might quibble – and several have – about the circumstances around the second booking, but when an old bean knows that his every move is going to be under the scrutiny of a referee with a touch of the Dolph Lundgren about him, that bean, if he has a jot of sense, reverts to his best behaviour and conducts himself impeccably.

Aurier, the poster-boy of recklessness, did enough to give Dolph a decision to make, and we – three days before facing Bayern Munich – were left to play an hour with ten men.

Credit to Sissoko, for doing a pretty flawless job of things as hastily-identified reserve right-back, but in general it is becoming something of a cursed position, and Aurier will have to do a heck of a job to win back some of that rapidly-draining goodwill.

2. We Need to Talk About Hugo

Given the circumstances surrounding the season – want-away players, thrown away leads – and the circumstances of the game, having just lost a man, one would think that the captain would have been precisely the chap to inject a modicum of calmness into proceedings.

Monsieur Lloris however, picked this of all moments to treat us to his best Benny Hill impression, and it is to the immense credit of all concerned that we managed afterward to regain the lead and then cling on to it.

Lloris’ talents (far more than Aurier’s) are pretty visible and regularly on display. His two second half saves – and in particular the instinctive one from the header – served as neat reminders of the chap’s quality when it comes to the basics of stopping the round thing from entering the rectangle.

Alas, it is impossible to ignore the bedlam that ensues every time the chap has the ball at his feet. Ever since Pep Guardiola dared every other manager in the Top Six to play out from the back, all have been too scared to refuse, with the result that even those goalkeepers who can’t pass six yards with tripping over their own feet are now expected to be modern-day Beckenbauers in their distribution.

Lloris’ short passing tends as often as not to lack sense, guile or even basic accuracy; one can see the hearts of Toby and Jan visibly sinking as the moment approaches, while Davinson Sanchez, when involved, looks every inch the man who wants to run off the pitch and disappear into obscurity; and opposition strikers, understandably enough, lick their lips and come charging into our area like kids towards the tree on Christmas morning.

Yesterday’s mistake was not the first – Lloris has done the same thing in a World Cup Final for heaven’s sake, and not learnt his lesson – but aside from whether or not such absurdity results in a goal conceded, it transmits panic throughout the defence and midfield, and invites pressure.

One understands that if operated well it can be devastatingly effective in bypassing an opposition’s press and creating counter-attack opportunities from halfway – but how often do we operate it well when Lloris is the string-puller-in-chief?

3. Cracking Second Goal

Mercifully, those further up the pitch are a darned sight better with ball at feet, and there will be few better examples of this than our second goal.

There was much to admire about it – but in the first place it was interesting to note that the genesis of the whole thing was a non-nonsense hoick up the pitch by Moussa Sissoko, a chap who could probably teach Lloris a thing or two about the art of Not Dallying Around, and in his native tongue, for added attraction.

Thereafter however, one just sat back and purred at the general magnificence that shone forth. Kane’s strength and cushioned header into Son was terrific. Son’s feet were quick, and having played in Eriksen he did not pause to admire his own handiwork but set off at a lick to avail himself further, in the process leaving behind his marker.

Eriksen similarly played an intelligent pass and then scuttled off to receive a return ball, leaving behind his own marker, and then it was up to Kane – whose first touch was actually not of the exquisite quality one has come to expect.

This mattered little however, because once in the area Kane’s eyes inevitably light up, and he inevitably finds a way. The speed of the whole thing was a delight, it reflected the quality of those involved, their awareness and technique. All that was left was for nobody else in lilywhite to decide to liven things up by gifting some advantage back to our visitors.

4. Kane’s All-Round Game

I have already gone a little misty-eyed at Kane’s involvement in the build-up for the second goal, and it served as a textbook example of how much the chap contributes all over the pitch, not just in delivering the coup de grâce.

An isolated incident it most certainly was not. In fact, look back at the early stages of our first goal and one will note that the impetus is initially injected by Kane picking the ball up deep, muscling various others out of the way and giving a sensible pass.

The chap is a veritable all-rounder, with numerous strings to his bow and all of them pretty dashed impressive.

As if to emphasise the point he also had a shot from the halfway line that missed the mark by only a foot or so.

5. Ndombele Beginning to Show Flashes

In general, our lot made an excellent fist of trying circumstances yesterday. Winks was close to immaculate; Eriksen seemed oddly buoyed by the challenge of having to wear a defensive hat; Lamela was the right substitute at the right moment.

In truth, in the second half Ndombele wandered around with the look of a man wondering what he had signed up for, and his wearying limbs were rested before the final toot. However, in the first half he showed glimpses of the chap about whom we all became so giddy with excitement in the summer.

On several occasions he received the ball on the half-turn, wriggled away from one or two challenges and either dabbed the ball to a chum or drew a foul. It was the sort of stuff that just hinted at the ghost of Mousa Dembele, that ability to turn back-foot into front-foot in the blink of an eye.

Still a work in progress no doubt, but the omens are positive. His penchant for popping in the opposition area to thwack one into the net is also something of a bonus.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Leicester 2-1 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Decent Showing From Lamela

I would be deceiving my public were I to describe the first hour or so as a barrel of laughs, but while we led there was at least a certain gaiety in the N17 air, suggestive of good times that, if not exactly rolling, were limbering up for a prime-time slot.

Where in midweek we began sluggishly and showed little inclination to pep up at any point, here we began with fire in belly, snap in challenge and sharpness in passing. And much of this came from the frame of one E. Lamela Esq.

In common with just about every other attacking sort we have gathered over the years, Lamela only really looks the part when given a run of at least half a dozen consecutive starts, and at times today he began to tick, in that attacking midfield role.

He picked up threatening positions, weighted some delicious threaded passes and corrected a particularly grating flaw that he seems to have demonstrated ever since emerging from the womb, namely that of hanging on to the ball far too long. Not a bit of here – if a pass were on he dashed well effected it, and the whole machinery whirred away more smoothly as a result.

It was fitting that his pass (weighted, again, to perfection) helped set in motion our goal, albeit in these days of assists and stats his contribution will likely be overlooked.

In general, for the first half certainly, he did most of the things one would hope a talented attacking midfield string-puller would do – and I don’t mind admitting that I wondered if Messrs Eriksen and Alli were taking notes at just how central to things Lamela was making himself.

2. Another Busy One From Winks

If Lamela were busy rattling off most of the creative lines, as ever the harder graft was being done by Winks just a little further south.

Regular drinkers at the AANP well will be aware that I consider him a slightly wasted figure against teams who settle in for 90 minutes of defending; but a Leicester side with attacking intent were the perfect platform for him to peddle his wares both as indefatigable Scurrier-in-Chief, nipping hither and yon in search of ankles at which to snap, as well as an intelligent distributor of possession, finding space and occasionally spraying the ball wide if the planets seemed to align suitably.

His attitude, in common with Lamela’s, helped ensure that while it was hardly one-way traffic, our lot did at least approach the whole affair with an aggression that has often been absent from out play.

3. Sissoko (Including That Tackle)

Monsieur Sissoko has not yet been quite the revelation this season that he was last, and he seemed to attract some mixed reviews from the galleries on Saturday, but I generally thought that he caught the gist of things from Winks and Lamela, and seemed to enjoy the rough-and-tumble nature of events.

This was not flawless stuff, mind – at 0-1 Sissoko’s sloppy concession of possession allowed Vardy in for a near miss (the one that Gazza saved and Rose cleared), and although it came to naught it was precisely the sort of sloppy nonsense of which we have been far too guilty in recent weeks, in allowing leads to slip.

All told, however, I was pretty happy to keep my subscription to the Sissoko Fan Club rolling in while he was on the pitch.

In particular, the full-blooded challenge that earned him a yellow card in the first half was met with a roar of hearty approval from AANP Towers. That he ended up sliding in with both feet was a cause for concern, until I realised that he did so because he lost his footing. The challenge itself was fabulous, and fairly obviously won the ball. Sending an opponent flying into the air as part of the follow-through seemed a pretty pleasant offshoot of the whole thing. (One imagines Danny Rose looked on with approval.)

Naturally the authorities took a dim view of this, seemingly because the crowd instructed as much (they strangely refrained from baying for red when Jonny Evans did the same to Kane twenty minutes later), but I would much rather see our lot go flying in full-blooded than ducking out of the way of such things.

4. Aurier and The Ongoing Right-Back Problem

Whichever egg it was who first piped up with the notion that absence makes the heart grow fonder was a smart old sort, no doubt about it, because there ought really to be a petition to have it become an interim motto for the club.

Despite his repeated howlers over the course of 2018/19, the sale of Kieran Trippier has turned him into something of a yearned-for ex-girlfriend amongst right-backs, being a chap who can – gasp – deliver a cross amongst other things. Then in midweek, as Sanchez laboured to fairly impotent effect in Greece, the AANP heart yowled longingly for Aurier.

And now after this latest performance, I’m rather inclined to shove Aurier aside and enquire as to the health of Juan Foyth (I’m not at the KWP stage just yet).

Aurier, as a chum pointed out, did a good job positionally, and was full of willing. By at least carting himself up the pitch and into crossing positions level with the Leicester area, he made the formation work, in an attacking sense, and Davinson Sanchez was no doubt taking copious notes.

Alas, his crossing missed many more times than it hit. Dashed unlikely to have his goal ruled out, mind, but by and large the end-product did not really match the expectation.

Moreover, he seemed to wander off into the wrong postcode for the Leicester winner, which was pretty inexcusable stuff for a right-back. If he is a work in progress it will need one heck of a project management team.

5. The VAR Disallowed Goal (Ours, Not Theirs)

A minor note on this, primarily because it is so galling, dash it all.

No complaints with the decision itself, if you get my drift – offside by a hair’s breadth is still offside – but to be honest I struggle to understand how it was decided that he was indeed a hair’s breadth the wrong side of the law.

Skynet appears to have selected part of Son’s armpit and Evan’s right knee as their body parts of choice, which I suppose in one sense is fair enough – after all, why not? – but in another sense does make one scratch the chin and murmur “Rummy stuff, what?”

(The “clear and obvious error” part of VAR appears to have been made pretty unwelcome in this particular saloon – but that I can understand, for as mentioned, offside is offside, whether by millimetres or miles.)

So to be clear – while confused about which body parts are selected and why, this is more of a rant of self-pity about being denied a goal by a sliver, rather than a complaint against VAR or the decision reached.

6. Another Lead Squandered

Of far more concern is the fact that our heroes have done it again.

For all our attacking threat – and this was an improvement of sorts on recent weeks, for we did create decent chances in different ways – we always looked vulnerable defensively. One can analyse the individual errors from this or previous games that have led to goals, but the general patterns of play in these games in which we’ve led and conceded twice will not necessarily highlight any single, recurring tactical error.

I noted an article earlier this week (about Christian Eriksen specifically, but the point seems applicable to our mob more widely) which noted a lack of a “slightly sociopathic” desire not to lose, not to make the same mistakes and so on and so forth. While it is perhaps not the sort of comment I would drop in certain company around the dining table, this certainly resonated as a general team trait.

Which is not to doubt that our heroes want to win, but the penny does not ever seem to drop that in order to do so that they have to bust every inch of gut, and be ruthlessly critical of their own standards. Misplaced passes, poor control and wandering out of position are all mistakes that seem to be made too readily, and with an accompanying air that it’s disappointing but life will go on.

There is enough talent floating around the squad, but for as long as I can recall we’ve lacked that “slightly sociopathic” ruthlessness – and it is little surprise that we keep squandering leads.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Olympiacos 2-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Winks

No doubt the mood around the N17 campfire is generally doleful and sombre, so here at AANP Towers we have hit upon the fizzing idea – and you can thank me later – of kicking off things with a topic that, if not exactly seeping joy and plugging in the endorphins, is at least a darned sight more positive than anything else on the horizon.

Said topic is, of course, the performance of young Master Winks. While all around him looked thoroughly bored by proceedings, Winks did his best to confirm suspicions that when created in the lab he had the DNA of a young Jack Russell surreptitiously thrown in for good measure, for he duly bounded about the place as if yesterday were the best thing to happen to him in his life.

When we had the ball he regularly beavered to within 8 yards or so, to demand it; when we didn’t have the ball he scurried to all parts in his attempts to remedy this crisis.

It was all particularly pleasing given that I subjected him to the raised eyebrow and inscrutable stare a few weeks ago against Newcastle. In all honesty I maintain that against such teams, who pack the defence and wait, Winks is of pretty limited value, not being the sort who wanders the streets picking locks and passing through eyes of needles.

But against moderately better-equipped mobs – such as our hosts yesterday – who leave that much more space and have a greater attacking instinct about them, a healthy dose of Winks is precisely what the doctor orders, and he scurried around to excellent effect yesterday. I would hazard a guess that he’ll be in similarly fine fettle away to Leicester at the weekend.

2. Eriksen

If Winks’ afternoon was full of zip and vim, Eriksen’s lay pretty much at the other end of the spectrum.

For context, the Great Eriksen Debate generally features those who adamantly insist that the chap is just about the only game-changing soul in our midfield, and has the goals/assists stats to prove it; and the likes of yours truly, who bluster in frustration that for a man of his undoubted lock-picking skills (the type sadly lacking in young Winks, above) he ought to be a lot more prominent in games such as this.

Pretty much every onlooker noted quite how off-colour Eriksen was yesterday, so no point dwelling on that. The more notable angle, to this ill-educated eye, was the contrast between First Half Eriksen and Second Half Eriksen.

To do this back to front, I had some grudging respect for Second Half Eriksen. True, his passing remained wayward, his touch heavy and his creative juices evaporated – plus his brainless dallying led directly to their penalty (I did mention that the respect was only grudging).

But Second Half Eriksen at least demanded the ball. As a collective our heroes showed a tad more urgency (not difficult, comparatively, I realise) and Eriksen seemed to be fairly central to this, in that he regularly trotted over to the man in possession and waved his arms until it was given to him. He did little of note with it, but at least he looked like a man who felt some sort of moral obligation to be at the heart of things.

By contrast, First Half Eriksen seemed positively to shy away from the ball. I barely noticed the chap, apart from that one moment when he found himself leading a promising counter-attack, and seemed to react to the situation in sheer horror, eager to rid himself of the ball at the earliest opportunity before scuttling off to the nearest pit of sand into which he might bury his head.

Admittedly I rather exaggerate the contrast in order to make my point – but it’s a heck of a point. The chap ought always to have the attitude of Second Half Eriksen, greedily demanding the ball and always wanting to be the one at the hub of things from his own little Danish command centre. Instead, too often, we are treated to First Half Eriksen, who flits in and out of existence like that polaroid in Back to the Future.

If he is having a bad day in possession that can probably be forgiven; but what irks AANP like nobody’s business is when he does not seem massively concerned about whether or not he sees much of the ball.

3. Sanchez at Right-Back

Elsewhere, longing glances were cast once again towards Atletico Madrid as Davinson Sanchez was subjected to his latest rather cruel stint at right-back.

The chap did very little wrong defensively, in truth, with most of our woes emanating on t’other flank where Messrs Davies and Vertonghen were getting themselves into numerous muddles.

But going forward, Sanchez’ limitations had some pretty powerful beacons of light shone upon them. For a start he rarely got himself to within 30 yards of the opposition goal-line, therefore failing to provide an attacking outlet that turned around the Olympiakos defence (although in this respect he was not alone, Ben Davies also being generally, oddly, conservative).

On top of which, Nature evidently forgot to bestow upon him the gift of being able to whip, float or simply punt a cross from the right, further limiting his attacking prowess.

Quite what his attacking instructions were in the first half is anyone’s guess; but in the second half Lucas was stationed permanently on the right touchline, and Sanchez added decorative value only.

With Aurier fit, KWP getting there and even Eric Dier now in residence, one would hope that this is the last we’ll see of Sanchez at right-back.

4. The General, Sorry State of Things (A Rant)

A few hardy souls have attempted to silver lining their way through the rubble of this, pointing out that an away point in the CL Group Stage is no bad thing, and that we’ve matched our tally from the first three games of last season, and so on and so forth. And they have a point – two-goal lead surrendered or not, this could have been worse.

But putting aside the immediate context (and one presumes we ought still to qualify from this group), the bigger picture does not make particularly cheery viewing.

Harry Kane has clearly been media-trained to within an inch of his life, and is therefore rarely worth listening to in interviews, so straight is his bat, but there was a hint of exasperation to his reported musings yesterday, as he spotted the nail and gave it a firm thump on its head. We are making the same mistakes as we made 5 or 6 years ago.

And this lack of improvement, year on year, is troubling. I am no doubt being a tad dramatic here: even ignoring the luck involved in Houdini-ing our way past Man City and Ajax last season, we still overcame Dortmund over two legs of textbook professionalism, which was a massive improvement on our slip-up vs Juve the previous year – so we are improving. (And the season before that we didn’t even get out of the group – again, we are improving).

But one important game after another seems to come our way, and we do seem to exhibit the same old flaws. Throwing away leads; failing to quieten and dispirit opponents; wastefulness in front of goal; or simply a lack of creativity and urgency to break down an opponent. For every welcome thrashing of Palace, there’s a struggle against Villa plus a defeat against Newcastle plus a squandered lead against Arsenal. In terms of results we lack consistency; and in terms of performances there are countless sloppy errors scattered all over the pitch, rather than the notable step up in quality that one would hope for season-on-season.

This is by no means a crisis – we remain third domestically, and still ought to qualify from the CL group – but the lack of obvious progression in performances does rather grate, what?

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Arsenal 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. One Point Dropped Or Two Gained?

What with one thing and another in recent weeks, I think I capture the mood of the general lilywhite populace when I suggest that prior to kick-off we would have toddled off happily enough with a point under our belts from this one.

Form, behind-the-scenes tomfoolery and the fact that the South London Goons traditionally raise their level a couple of notches for this fixture suggested that the planets were doing anything but aligning in our favour, and after last week’s debacle a draw at the Emirates would have seemed to represent a solid haul.

Fast forward to approximately the 45th minute however, and the general aims and goals in life had undergone some pretty severe recalibrating. A two-goal lead, with the ref itching to put the whistle to his lips and give it halfway toot, was the stuff of which loftier aspirations were made. Nobody expected it would be easy, and I suspect every right-minded lilywhite foresaw some sort of counter-punching, but victory was definitely featuring pretty prominently on the Expected Outcomes list.

But then shimmy forward another half hour or so, and with parity having been restored, and momentum shuffling back towards the red corner, if anything it looked like we were clinging on rather.

Until the final five or ten minutes, in which the game oddly opened up as if we were back on the playground and someone had yelled out “Next goal wins”.

All of which leaves the denizens of AANP Towers still scratching heads and trying to decide whether this was one point gained or two dropped. Better, perhaps, to avoid the question altogether, and adopt the mantra “This was no calamity”.

2. The Davison Sanchez Experiment

Love him though we do, I am inclined occasionally to tilt the head at Our Glorious Leader and wonder what on earth he has been drinking, or smoking, or maybe which cult has got hold of him and drilled into him nonsense of the highest order. By and large, when it comes to football management he knows his apples from his oranges as well as the best of them, but every now and then he cannot resist veering wildly off-piste to try some new-fangled innovation. Sonny at left wing-back in a Cup Semi-Final was pretty calamitous; Foyth at right-back was moderately successful.

Yesterday’s square-pegging of Davison Sanchez into a right-back-shaped hole struck me as one that missed the mark pretty spectacularly. Not an unmitigated disaster, as Sanchez made occasional useful interceptions, and certainly knows a thing or two about the art of defending in general.

But from the off, and at various points throughout, he was caught out of position or beaten too easily. Maybe in time he will learn the trade, but I don’t mind going public with the view that I rather hope the experiment is abandoned altogether. (I did actually wonder, when the teams were announced, whether Toby might shuffle over to the right, given that he has international experience in the position, but that’s a debate for another time.)

3. Danny Rose’s Carelessness

Furthermore, as well as being as uncomfortable as one would expect in his new, ill-fitting full-back’s costume, Sanchez also littered his performance, particularly in the first half, with a fairly hefty array of misplaced passes and concession of possession.

In this aspect he was not the sole culprit, for over on the other flank, Danny Rose was similarly careless with the ball at his feet, which seems rather at odds with the entire point of the game when you think about it.

Rose’s tenacity (which seems a handy euphemism for a chap who stalks around like the angriest man in North London, upending any opponent who dares get in his way) is a generally useful asset, and has allowed him to amass plenty in the Credit column over the years, but in recent weeks he seems to have overlooked some of the basics of his trade.

In our last couple of games he has been at fault for letting men drift into goalscoring positions unattended – a charge that could be laid at his door for the second goal yesterday – but it was the concession of possession in the lead-up to the first goal that really gnawed. With the clock ticking down to half-time, the importance of protecting our two-goal lead really ought not to have been lost on the fellow, but instead, and not for the first time, he saw fit to try nutmegging an opponent within spitting distance of his own penalty area, and approximately ten seconds or so later the ball was in the net and the complexion of the game had undergone some significant editing.

4. Our Counter-Attacking

I suppose one has come to expect it of this, the most all-action-no-plot fixture in the calendar, but throughout the spectacle one did get the sense that every time either team went on the attack they looked like they would score.

At the start of the first half and for much of the second, Arsenal had plenty of possession and bundled their way a little too close to our goal for comfort.

Mercifully however, our counter-attacking set-up looked as if it had been rehearsed for weeks with precisely this game in mind, and every time we crossed halfway the eyes lit up, as we seemed but one well-timed pass away from being in on goal.

Son was the principle outlet, and our opponents never really got to grips with the threat he posed in that inside-left sort of position. It was quite a shame, if understandable enough, that he ended up dropping deeper and deeper during the second half, as this essentially did Arsenal’s job for them by nullifying his counter-attacking threat.

Credit also to the three other members of the counter-attacking quartet, particularly in the first half, because within a couple of shakes of a lamb’s tail, and via some neat one-touch passing, we repeatedly opened up the Arsenal back-line. Kane dabbled in some lovely little link-up play; Eriksen seemed to be in his element dinking passes over the back of the defence and into space; and Lamela did plenty of off-the-ball running to create space for others – generally being ignored by his teammates but engaging the attentions of opposing defenders, which was arguably the point of the exercise.

Just a shame we only had the two goals to show for it, and that the threat dwindled in the second half (until the dying stages) because this felt like the first time this season that our attackers really clicked.

5. Penalty Appeals and Going to Ground

I’m generally not a fan of complaining about the referee, the AANP stance on such matters being very much along the lines of “Just accept the decision and get on with things, there’s a good boy.” And yesterday is no exception – no complaints about the decisions.

That said, given that there is a bit of chatter about the late shout for a penalty – Arsenal chappie vs Kane – I thought I made wade in with my tuppence worth.

As mentioned, no complaint about the decision not to award it – but similarly I’d have thought it fair if a penalty had been awarded. The gist of it is the notion of defenders giving the referee the option to make a call. The Arsenal chappie appeared to put his arms up towards the back of Kane, and while it arguably wasn’t enough to send a grown man sprawling, it does rather diminish the case for the defence. Don’t want to concede a penalty? Then don’t stick your hands into someone’s back in the area. (In the interests of equality, I thought the same of Sissoko’s handball in the CL Final – wasn’t particularly thrilled with the call, but if his arm hadn’t been raised the ref would not have had a decision to make; ditto Lamela’s wrestling of someone a couple of weeks ago – there could have been no complaints if that were called up, so just don’t give the referee the option.)

Kane does seem to deploy the tactic of going to ground if he feels contact, which seems understandable enough. Going to ground when no contact is made would be bare-faced cheating; going to ground once he feels contact seems to me to ask a question of the defender as to why he made contact.

Goodness knows I’ve chastised our own defenders often enough, on these very pages, for conceding soft penalties by making contact in the box, rather than abusing the game’s arbiter for awarding a soft one. My principle remains, whether for or against my own team – don’t give the referee the option.

Food for thought – and dispute, no doubt – but on a merrier note, few things gladden my heart like seeing Kane strike a penalty. Not into the corners, but into the side of the net, which I think qualifies as geometrically unstoppable, even before one considers the ferocity with which he lashes the thing. That coupled with his lovely effort that came back off the post does give the impression of a goalscorer at the peak of his powers.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Spurs 0-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Shift The Ball Quicker For Heaven’s Sake

On the bright side, anyone who missed that dreadful dirge need not waste a couple of hours of their life, as they can simply cast their minds back to approximately umpteen games at home to similarly lowly opposition, and recall how we pass ineffectually and without urgency, sideways and sideways – and then sideways again.

It is tempting to bellow – or silently weep – for a player with a smidgeon of creativity and élan, but the yearning in the AANP heart was more for quick release of the ball. (At this point I might as well hark back to any one of several dozen witterings on previous matches, and highlight the relevant passage, as it’s a drum I’ve banged pretty relentlessly since 1981.)

Quick one- or two-touch passing can at least keep an opposition on their toes, even if it is just a one-two of the sideways variety. Alas, our heroes today seemed utterly stymied by things, each man dwelling on the ball for several touches before shifting the ball sideways and keeping fingers firmly crossed that, buck having been passed, some other bright spark might provide a moment of inspiration.

Some nerdy soul somewhere presumably tallies up the number of one-touch passes made, but the naked eye suggests there weren’t many (precious few early crosses either, although that’s a rant for another day). What the devil is the point of those rondos they practice so regularly? Ping the ball quickly back and forth and one would imagine the opposition will leave something unlocked; dwell on the ball for several touches and they pretty much drop anchor in a given spot and watch events unfold in front of them.

2. Lamela, Son and Lucas

As quick, slick passing was off the menu (and early crosses were a pretty alien concept, despite the panic they caused when flung in) the onus fell upon the attacking triumvirate to get their heads down and start carving open Newcastle.

No shortage of perspiration, and if God loves a trier the Almighty must absolutely adore those three. Alas, they generally resembled clones of each other, trying the same tricks to tap-dance their way through massed ranks of orange shirts, and with the same level of success (or lack thereof).

One understands the pre-match thinking of Our Glorious Leader, for the likely pattern of things was pretty predictable stuff, so cramming in all three of the chaps famed for their nifty footwork seemed the right way to go about things. “Dribblers can unlock defences,” seemingly being the catchphrase of choice as teamsheets were completed.

But not one of them found a square inch of space, and whichever of the three tried his hand it was all a bit repetitive.

The introduction of Eriksen offered something a little different, as he seemed the only chap out there willing to try slicing open Newcastle with a pass – which does reflect the fact that he’s probably the only one able. Maybe had he benefited from a full 90 minutes’ worth he would have found that one magic pass – but Newcastle were so dashed compact I still personally bob back to my quick-short-passing argument.

3. The Limitations of Winks

A seasoned favourite of AANP he undoubtedly is, but Winks’ limitations in games of this sort were pretty openly paraded this afternoon.

When it comes to keeping possession ticking over he’s one of the first names on the list, but today was one for creative spark and a dash of ingenuity. Alas, the voices in Winks’ head fairly evidently whisper “Sidways!” or “Backwards!” and precious little else, because the most creative the young eel gets is to spread play out to the full-backs so that we can all watch them dally before buck-passing further.

While he doesn’t mind getting stuck in, in the rather quaint manner of a young pup scampering around the legs of a beast literally twice his size, Winks cannot really be labelled a Defensive Sort by any right-minded observer, and he is about as risk-averse as they come it is a stretch to call him An Attacking Force either. His raison d’être seems to be simply to protect possession.

As such, he’s arguably more use in games against bigger and better opponents, when ball retention is pretty key and an opposing defensive camp is less of an issue. In games against mid- to lower-table opposition, Winks’ contributions lie somewhere between Impotent and Utterly Redundant on the spectrum of things.

4. Lo Celso-Watch

This was also our first glimpse of the much-heralded – and often mispronounced – Lo Celso, and it was rather a shame that circumstances dictated that all eyes swung towards him with pretty feverish expectation as he made his bow.

It might have been gentler on the young bean to have been rolled on with a 3-0 lead in the bag so that he could enjoy himself with few cares in the world, but this being us we were desperate for a goal and therefore implored him to be the second incarnation of Maradona as soon as he set his size eights on the hallowed greenery.

Unfortunately, if unsurprisingly, it was fairly nondescript stuff. Few will judge him on this, nor should they, but for what it was worth he simply trotted out an impression of everyone else in midfield – scurrying hither and thither, and pretty eager not to take any risks, heaven forbid.

The young soul’s reputation suggests he will deliver some half-decent things; as with Monsieur Ndombele we may be forced into the outrageous act of showing him some patience.

5. KWP-Watch

Another thought-provoking contribution from young Walker-Peters. It’s rather difficult to know what to make of the fellow. He beavers away, usually to good effect, but without producing any of the sort of stuff that will earn thunderous acclaim.

Defensively, his scurrying tends to do the job – except for when it doesn’t. The occasional stark error lurks deep within his soul. One is inclined to forgive that, because at this early stage of his career it’s probably better to encourage than crucify him, and because those errors are not too frequent or calamitous. Yet.

And going forward, he similarly tends to do more right than wrong, in a safety-first sort of way.

There is something rather limited about him though. He seems to play as if taking very literally whatever pre-match instructions as he’s been passed, and as if acutely aware of his own limitations. It all means he comes across as a player who gets a 6 out of 10 for natural ability, but a firm 9 or so for effort.

At one stage he cantered forward, drifting infield and cutting back out, carrying the ball for a good 20 yards while Newcastle backed him off – but at no stage did the onlooker feel inspired with the confidence that here was a man dictating play, and who had decided that the tide in his affairs was to be taken at its flood. Instead he appeared more a newborn lamb taking some initial steps out into the world and finding that, fun though such japes are, it’s better to err on the side of caution.

Maybe he needs more confidence, maybe he needs more games – quite likely a combo of both (and he certainly needs to learn the mystical art of crossing) – but all in all, while he’s steady enough, and at his age is worth a little perserverance, I must confess that I regularly flung my hands skywards and yearned for Trippier to toss in an early cross and make the Newcastle back-line earn their wage. Games like today’s will do that to a man.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Man City 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Excellent Result, Pretty Middling Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. KWP Survives

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

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

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

3. Playing Out From The Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Winks

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

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

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

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

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

5. Eriksen Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Spurs 3-1 Villa: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Old Habits

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

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

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

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

2. My Best Mate Jan

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

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

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

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

3. First Half Struggles – Winks, Lamela etc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Early Ndombele Observations

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

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

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

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

6. Eriksen On Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs 0-2 Liverpool: Five Tottenham Talking Points

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

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

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

1. The Penalty Decision

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

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

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

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

2. Best Laid Plans vs First-Minute Penalty

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

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

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

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

3. The Kane Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Eriksen, The Selected Scapegoat

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

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

In short we needed Christian Eriksen.

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

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

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

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

5: Clinical Finishing (And Lack Thereof)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ajax 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

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

1. The Complete Absence of Hope

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

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

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

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

2: Llorente: Flawed But Wonderful Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

3: Dele’s Touch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4: Danny Rose Starting The Comeback

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

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

5: Hugo’s Saves

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

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

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

6: Everyone’s Positioning At The Final Goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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