Defeat maybe, but there was at least a smidgeon of honour about this one, rather like a chappie still swinging away even as his limbs get hacked off and arrows pierce him at every juncture. After the bizarre Champions League capitulation that boasted all the spine of a gloomy jellyfish, here was at least a whiff of fight.
Making Dominance Count
Rarely had the pre kick-off mood at AANP Towers been more sombre than yesterday, as I trooped to the viewing chamber with all the joie de vivre of a chappie during the French Revolution who has been reliably informed that a brand new guillotine has been rolled into place complete with extra sharp blade.
A Chelsea mob who had won around 800 games in a row, not conceding a goal in any of them, up against a lilywhite team that has looked decidedly iffy all season, and missing key personnel to boot. The omens were not good.
But lo and whatnot, our heroes started off at an absolute rate of knots. Chelsea heels were snapped at, pockets of space were darted into, and while the Chelsea mob were lazily trying to swat us away like flies we made a couple of early thrusts for the jugular, striking oil around ten minutes in. It did not stop there. To describe it as “one-way stuff” would admittedly be rather stretching the bounds of credulity, but our lot definitely held the aces during the first 45, and any jury worth its salt would have voted for 0-1 at the break as a minimum.
But there’s the rub, dash it all. Against Man City we were in the ascendancy, and we jolly well made hay while we could, sackloads of the stuff. On that occasion we turned early dominance into a 2-0 lead, and it did the trick. Here, as we snatched at chances and marginally misplaced the final ball, that 1-0 lead looked a mite wobbly – and on the stroke of half-time the whole bally thing wibbled back down to earth and that was that.
It struck me that if you peeled back the layers, the key factor in all that first half dominance, was Dembele. Like the young imp of nursery rhyme fame, when good Dembele is very good, and when bad he rather drifts into the periphery of things. Yesterday, without being at the peak of his powers, he pulled out that party trick of his on several occasions, of picking up the ball somewhere deep, and loping forward with it 20 yards. Simple, but marvellously effective.
Admittedly he drifted a long way off the boil as the game progressed, and was duly hooked off, but with Wanyama feisty in the tackle alongside him, our midfield core appeared to have matters fairly well sussed.
Nice of Christian Eriksen to treat us to a rare glimpse of his A-game, now generally adorning the side of milk cartons having not been seen since elsewhere since spring. The chap struck his goal like an exocet missile, and evidently realising the good that could come of such things he made a grab for the bit, carefully clasped it between his teeth and took the fight to Chelsea for much of the first half. Such were his efforts that his immaculate hair even started to fall out of place, and Chelsea had the dickens of a time trying to contain us.
Alas, the point remained that we simply did not make the most of these good times, and the stuffing was duly knocked out of us – and back into Chelsea – by that equaliser.
Wimmer at Left-Back
There was still plenty of the race left to run after half-time of course, but the whole bally thing had a different look about it, no doubt. Chelsea came back after the break with a spring in their collective step, and our makeshift back-four were subjected to quite the interrogation.
Oddly enough, I have never once made the wrong call with the benefit of hindsight, so I can confirm 24 hours after the event that Wimmer at left-back did not work. (In truth, Wimmer has not worked for much of this season, but that’s a different kettle of fish).
At kick-off however, the rationale was understandable. Up against Costa, and without the sweet, reassuring presence of Toby, a centre-back pairing of Dier and Wimmer had ‘TROUBLE’ daubed all over it in that giant graffiti font that one sees rather bafflingly in the most awkward spots along railway tracks.
It is difficult to imagine the conflab around this selection having taken more than around a millisecond or two, and thusly Vertonghen trotted out at centre-back, which left little option (though Kieran Trippier may beg to differ) than Wimmer at left-back. The same left-back slot that was rather woefully neglected as Moses was granted the freedom of the penalty area as he slammed in Chelsea’s second.
The Glass Half-Full Perspective
Apparently we are by and large at the same points tally as this time last season, which suggests that the thing is not dead, buried and having lilies strewn over it just yet – but last season was largely redeemed by a couple of winning streaks that seemed to stretch on for months. Something similar would be frightfully welcome this time around, and if we can perform like the first half yesterday, whilst cannily wriggling our way out of any further European commitments, the thing might just start to take shape…
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint
As I dip the nib into the ink-pot and absorb the sparrows outside gaily linking arms and tangoing the afternoon away, I can’t help thinking that the mood in these parts is just about as perky as it has ever been, for this performance was right up there.
On the attack from literally the first toot, and impeccable in defence throughout (but particularly in that nerve-riddled final 20 or so), all against an all-conquering mob who generally blitz the dickens out of opponents with four or five goals per game – when have our heroes every played quite so well?
1. Son Up-Front
Poor old Janssen has lumbered around with the weight of the world on his shoulders since biffing up at the Lane, and it was no real surprise that on the biggest stage of all he was taken to one side and politely asked to shake hands with the unemployed. He snuffled things out on the bench, young Sonny was asked to fight the good fight upfront, and within twenty seconds the decision was vindicated with a blast of trumpets, for Son had already nutmegged the nearest City stooge and slammed a shot goalwards.
It set the tone. Harry Kane Mk II he may not be, but Son came armed to the gills with a different set of bells and whistles, and buzzed around the place from first minute to last, worming his way up the noses of any City defender within a stone’s throw and generally being a complete pest.
One does not really begrudge him for shooting rather than passing whenever he had the faintest whiff of goal, given his current form, and in general it was glorious to watch. On top of which, the reverse pass for the Alli goal prompted a chorus of delighted coos from across North London too.
When it was mentioned last year that in the absence of Kane we would pootle along just fine because Lamela, Son and the like could fill his boots, I rushed for the nearest wall and banged my head against it in exasperation. Well that rather teaches me, what? Son might not be the archetypal striker, but the chap will certainly make any back-four think twice before kicking off their shoes and settling in for a snooze.
2. The Pressing Game
Son’s gung-ho charge in the opening seconds set the tone for an attacking performance that could not have been more Pochettino-esque if it had started spouting slightly broken English with a cherubic grin.
Son, Alli, Eriksen, Lamela and just about anyone else who could fob off their defensive duties tore about City defenders like a pack of over-excited puppies scenting a new tree against which to raise a leg. As game plans go it might not necessarily have been rocket science, but our heroes clearly understood the Ts and Cs, and had a whale of a time haring after any City defender in possession.
The whole adventure was aided no end by the remarkably generous clown in the City goal, who resolutely refused simply to hack the ball to safety, but instead insisted on picking the most inappropriate moments to try out his Pele impressions. Looking every the sort of egg who gets his kicks from juggling knives, this so-called Last Line of Defence simply invited trouble at every juncture, and our lot could barely believe their luck.
And on it went, our relentless high pressing game. Indefatigable is the word, albeit with the caveat that they had all fatig-ed themselves out by about the 75th minute, and traipsed around the pitch on empty tanks thereafter, but the ploy was a cracking one and ultimately struck oil.
3. Midfield Bite
While our forwards made merry, the midfield battle was one for the grime-covered, gnarled, unshaven veterans of a muddy Wednesday night in Stoke. Wanyama in particular seemed thoroughly to enjoy the whole notion of clearing out ball, man and any women and children who happened to be in the vicinity, and frankly City’s dandy fun-makers were not allowed to settle.
Our lot wanted it more, ferreting around for loose balls as if they were nuggets of gold, and maintaining the tempo throughout. It really is one heck of a thing that Pochettino is lovingly moulding here, and one gets the impression that if he were to politely mumble “Jump”, to a man this entire squad would roar back at him, “How high, dash it?”
4. Rock-Solid Defence
Like any good action flick, having shot down the enemy and high-fived their way into the closing act, the action then switched to a good old-fashioned defence of the fortress for the finale, at which point Messrs Alderweireld and Vertonghen politely cleared their throats, polished their boots and marched into position.
Sensibly enough, everyone else in lilywhite promptly took their cue from these two, adopted their positions, and flung limbs in the way of City attacks like the things were going out of fashion. No doubt about it, City have a trick or two up their tattooed sleeves when going forward, and Aguero is an absolute force of nature, but our back-line were bound together let a particularly niftily constructed spider web, and there was no way through.
Bar the one that Lloris somehow managed to shovel onto the post, and admittedly bar the other half-dozen that the also had to save – but one gets the gist: our lot held firm, and the villagers were saved. Huzzah!
An absolute triumph then, for Spurs, Pochettino and what feels like the whole of humanity. The art of penalty-taking aside, every aspect was delivered with a whiff of a trooper at the peak of his powers, and against the finest team in the land. We probably will not win the Title, may not even finish Top Four, but performances like this dashed well make a man want to tame a lion, court a maiden and slam back a whisky.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint
A new season, and to all intents and purposes the same serving of near-incessant pressure against a well-drilled defensive mob – but we at AANP Towers are nothing if not eagle-eyed, and the subtle differences being paraded to the masses yesterday did not escape detection.
There was the giant hole in the stadium for a start, which those with less keen powers of observation might simply have overlooked, or dismissed as one of those things that happens during the summer months. And then there were the moderate but unmistakeable tweaks to various knobs and dials that Pochettino had effected in advance of proceedings. For a start we tumbled out onto the pitch with a Dele Alli-shaped hole in the midfield; and with Kane now occupying a more withdrawn role; while Janssen swanned around atop the formation. Changes so delicate that many would have failed to notice, but the AANP detective squad were all over them, every sense atuned and sinew strained.
1. Janssen’s Home Debut
Football observers of a particularly wily vintage will tell you that mid-August is no time to be flinging around judgements of new signings. The Test series has only just ended, the Olympians are still just about aiming faster, higher and whatnot – give the big-money signing another five minutes at least to catch his breath and re-read his notes.
So the distinctive whiff emanating from AANP Towers is not judgement, or any particular doubt about the new lad’s ability, but simply fear. The unmistakeable fear of the Spurs fan who has watched on over the years, as the shiny and rather pricey new bounder takes to the field in attack, and proceeds to fluff his lines. Postiga, Bent, Soldado – all men who arrived at the Lane looking bucked and full of the joys, and with good reason too, because all were, in their own ways, rather nifty in one medium or other. But somehow things simply did not fall into place in front of goal, and now if one closes the eyes and tiptoes down Memory Lane, the first dashed image that springs to mind is the pained look of disbelief shared by each of Messrs Postiga, Bent and Soldado (typically accompanied by hands raised headwards) as yet another chance flew left, or right, or into the ‘keepers arms, or into the side netting, or into orbit – frankly any dashed place but the net.
One shudders. And one certainly does not judge Janssen, because in truth he seems a decent sort of bean when kitted out in lilywhite, ticking such boxes as “Laudable Movement”, “Lay-Offs Weighted Just So” and “Robust Sort of Blighter”. So if anything, the judgement is that the chap does indeed appear to cross enough t’s and dot enough i’s to give Kane five minutes every now and then to catch his breath and swig an isotonic whatsit.
But the fear remains, because the chap dashed well needs to beg, steal or borrow a goal at some point soonish, or the thing will start weighing on his mind, what? The chance last week he tucked into well enough, but the ‘keeper thrust out a paw and such was life. With the first chance yesterday – the rebound from Kane’s effort – again one could hardly quibble that he failed to get the basics right or suchlike, but life being what it is the ball stayed out.
It was the final chance, through on goal in the second half, which really brought the first sense of fear my way. Clean through, defenders politely stepping aside, net beckoning warmly. The thing only required him to sign on the dotted line, but instead he channelled the spirit of a thousand Bents or Soldados. The major concern is that if he goes without a goal for any length of time the issue might begin to gnaw away at him, as can happen to a blighter with a thing on his mind, and before you know it he has packed his bags and shuffled off with tears in his eyes, and his friends turn to each other and say “What the deuces happened to him, he seemed rather a sharp old nut?”
However, with a bit of luck he’ll casually bang home a couple next time out, and we can all live happily ever after.
2. Kane’s New Home
Should any defence be needed of young Master Janssen, one might point out that Kane has not exactly been pelting them in from all angles so far this season either.
Yesterday, our glorious leader took the fairly radical measure of deploying two in attack, with Kane playing Sheringham to Janssen’s Shearer. Given that this was a home match against a team whose drill was always likely to be sit back, lap the thing up and hope for a handy bolt of lightning from above or some other such stroke of luck, the Two-In-Attack gambit made a truckload of sense, so Pochettino duly receives an approving nod.
And to his credit, Kane seemed to roll through proceedings like a man pretty well versed in the art (not entirely surprisingly, given that he has dabbled in it before). Yesterday was not necessarily a masterclass, but he rolled up his sleeves and ferried things around like a well-trained hound, and did not scrimp when it came to blasting the bally thing towards goal with everything he could muster.
A couple of shots from distance, plus a header narrowly wide, suggested that here was a man whose lust for life was not diminished by his new set of responsibilities – and for good measure he rallied round just when things appeared to be slipping away, to nod the thing goalwards for Wanyama to pop it in.
3. Dele Alli
No doubt about it, one or two tongues wagged pre kick-off yesterday, when news of Dele Alli’s demotion rippled around, but the truth of thing was rather more mundane than some would have had us believe. The poor lamb had been under the weather, nothing more sinister.
Nevertheless, news that he was only on the bench was generally greeted with a considered and approving nod around these parts. This season promises to be quite the ordeal, with European concerns now to be treated as meaningful rather than a chance for the reserves to parade their wares. At some point or other, our heroes will need to be omitted, and at home to Palace seems as reasonable a time as any.
As it happened, when he was finally introduced, Alli’s impact was a credit to the NHS, because the chap seemed to be in rude health. The pass to Janssen for the second half chance was masterfully delivered, and later on he let fly with a shot that earned top marks for technique and aesthetics, if falling short by a whisker or two in the accuracy stakes.
4. Life Without Dembele
A congratulatory word for Victor Wanyama, who looked suitably braced with his efforts, and why not? Wanyama certainly applies himself with the sort of rigour that one likes to see from the stands, and which one hopes sends a message to the chums either side of him that there is something to be said for getting stuck in and giving it what for.
It is probably fair to say that he does not quite replicate the role of Dembele, in terms of acting as marauder par excellence, but that’s not really the point. I’m not sure that another man exists in Christendom who can replicate the Dembele role. Wanyama offers a different sort of basket of eggs, and it is a dashed useful one to have, and certainly a notch up on the alternatives (Carroll, Mason and the like).
Dembele will presumably be welcomed back into the fold with open arms and a hearty embrace once his sentence is served; but bear in mind that whenever he was absent last season, we more or less folded like a pack of cards on a blustery day at the seafront. This time round we have a win and a draw without him already, so let this be a ringing endorsement for squad reinforcement.
A solid start then, and already an improvement on this time last season. To have achieved this without two of the more influential souls in the line-up (Lloris and Dembele), and having fairly successfully integrated a couple of new faces, bodes jolly well.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint
1. Familiar Beginnings
I don’t mind admitting that when the opening toot sounded and the assembled cast got stuck in, I started to get the sense that I had seen this thing before. Déjà vu all over again, as the chap put it. The sight of our heroes being harried to within an inch of their lives every time they tried to put a foot on the ball took me right back to the sepia-tinted era that was last weekend, when our heroes were harried to within an inch of their lives every time they tried to put a foot on the ball.
Man Utd cunningly took a leaf out of Liverpool’s book from last Saturday, and as a result the first half hour was not quite the cakewalk one would have expected against such lowly cannon-fodder.
Such events rather try the soul, and although a switch was flicked somewhere around the half-hour mark, producing a mini-glut of chances for us, this whole jamboree had a decidedly iffy ring to it. In fact, sages across the land were busily proclaiming that this whole epic would be settled by not more than a single goal - when out of the blue our lot went suddenly got wind of the free drinks on offer and went absolutely beserk. And within five minutes the case was closed and jigs were being danced.
It will presumably be swallowed up within the broader narrative of Titles and seven points and all the accompanying furore, but our lot can allow themselves a cheery tipple tonight, in the first place for refusing to be shoved completely off track during that frantic opening salvo.
A bonus drop of the good stuff ought also to be put away as a reward for capitalising upon the breakthrough and really making sure the dagger went in right up to the hilt, and was then twisted for good measure. We may have battled hard for the first, but there is nothing like kicking a team when they are down, and turning one-nil into three-nil in the blink of an eye is a pointed indication of the hell-bent desire to win amongst our heroes.
And with the hard work done the party tricks could then be unfurled, and a few charming serenades sounded by the lusty-voiced choir, which is all part of the fun when you think about it.
2. Dele Alli
Dele Alli’s goal was very much a Dele Alli goal, if you get my drift. Bursting into the area, timing his run, finding a pocket of space - boxes ticked and off we tootled.
However, the chap has had a struggle of late, finding himself quite the marked man both last week and this. The little cushioned passes were not having the desired effect, every time he tried to look up and pick a pass he found himself being crunched from three different sides and his goalward gallops were generally fizzling out with barely a whiff.
Thank heavens then that his first decent touch in two games gave us the lead. A triumph for perseverance, amongst other things. There is a temptation to expect the consummate all-round performance from the chap literally every game he plays, but the thought now occurs that maybe this is a mite unreasonable.
Alli applied the coup de grace to our opener, but several other young beans were involved in the creation of the thing. Kane spotted the run of Eriksen with admirable quick-thinking; and Eriksen displayed the heightened awareness of some sort of freak super-mammal in reverse-passing for Alli to finish; but the whole thing was set in motion by young Lamela scavenging around for scraps on the floor around halfway.
There then followed a slick assist and an equally nifty goal for the young blighter, and that in a microcosm neatly sums up his season – a stomach for the fight, and a decent haul of goals and assists. A grump of my ilk still has little trouble in pinging off a list of things he may improve if he were that way inclined, but no doubt about it, he has raised his game this season, and while he may still be a mere waif of a lad, he dashed well fights the good fight.
While on the subject of bravura performances, I may as well focus upon one for whom my man-love can be dished out with far greater ease, for in his understated way I thought Moussa Dembele thundered about the place with absolute lashings of effortless, monstrous effectiveness.
Particularly within the confines of a game in which every touch was greeted by a swarm of opponents homing in, Dembele simply announced possession of the thing and allowed us to watch as men in red shirts bounced off him. At one point in the first half he appeared to escape from a cul-de-sac by dribbling past half the United team, in a scene reminiscent of some 80s action hero storming through a hail of enemy bullets and emerging unscathed.
When, in the second half, he and Dier got their wires crossed and both went charging for the same ball, I winced and shielded the eyes of the nearest children, fearing that cracks would appear in the sky at impact. Dembele really is the beast that behemoths look to for inspiration.
5. Other Bits and Bobs
Other points of note? Well since you ask, it was nice to see Vertonghen slip back into his overalls as if he had never been away; and in the closing stages there was a little voice in my head rather mischievously pleading for Walker to cast off his self-imposed restraints and thump the chap to kingdom come. It is probably also legitimate to note that in a tight old scrap, the scales began to come down in our favour when that United right-back chappie with the double-whatsit name limped off, but such is the rich tapestry of life I suppose.
The gist of things however is that this Tottenham lot know the game-plan, work ceaselessly for one another and by and large tend to grind other mobs into submission. The Title will sort itself out soon enough, but with the pressure on our heroes they did all that was requested, plus a fair amount in addition, and turning over United 3-0 is not to be sniffed at.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint
1. Fast Start
No time to bed in and have a few early sighters, not with our lot. The opening toot of the whistle was the signal for the hounds to be released, and before one even had time to pour a stiff something into a tumbler and give it a swirl, young Kane was already racing away to dish out back-slaps and “What hos”.
Many a sage has trotted out the slightly peculiar adage that the best time to score is just before half-time – I’ll be pickled if I know quite why – and there certainly can be occasions when an early goal actually has a negative effect – disrupting game-plans, spurring on the opposition etc (I’m looking at you, England-Germany in Euro ’96).
But on this occasion a goal in the opening 44 seconds was happened to be the exact scribbling on the doctor’s prescription, absolutely verbatim. This Sunday kick-off business by and large means that every time we kick off we are already a decent glug behind Leicester in the timetable, and the tension around the place was lingering in a none-too-healthy way as the clock ticked down to 4pm today – so credit in abundance to Messrs Walker and Kane for coming up with the idea of scoring in the first minute. For thereafter our lot oozed confidence, Bournemouth looked like a team who would willingly run for the hills if the laws of the game allowed such things, and the whole jamboree resembled a fairly breezy cakewalk.
2. Top-Notch First Half
The first half was very much the stuff of the new-look, consistent and effective Tottenham. A world away from the Spurs who made my childhood such dashed agony, it appeared that confidence, rather than perspiration, oozed from the pores, as our heroes kept the ball for what seemed like full ten-minute stretches at a time and ground down the opponents with relentless efficiency. The full-backs set up camp alongside the midfielders, chances were carefully created, every man in lilywhite bobbed along with a spring in their step and all was right with the world.
Understandably enough the energy and enthusiasm dials appeared to be turned down considerably in the second half, as frankly the first half contained so many spoilers that we all knew how things would turn out fairly early on. And as our heroes dozily toyed with Bournemouth in the second half, every inch as flies to wanton boys, the thought struck me – ought we to have demonstrated the more clinical edge, of say a City or Chelsea of yesteryear? In their title-winning pomp, City have not simply gone through the motions in such instances, but instead put opponents to the sword and racked up five, six, seven.
Or did it make more sense simply to do as our lot did, take no risks, avoid any over-exertion, and simply see the thing out? Given that our goal difference is already comfortably superior to the other mobs, there is a strong case to be made for suggesting that our heroes got things absolutely spot on today. Three nil with minimal effort is more than enough at this stage of the thing.
Not a criticism, you understand, more of an idle musing as things wound down in the latter stages. (Although during those latter stages, we still came dashed close to scoring one of the goals of the season – that moment with the nifty Eriksen footwork and a few one-touch passes, before Alli got himself in a muddle and shot wide.)
With the game up before the hour mark, the next point of interest was the substitutes’ bench, as seasoned people-watchers subjected Pochettino to the usual scrutiny. I must confess I found myself raising an intrigued eyebrow as his first action was to give young Lamela the hook, particularly as the game was won. With Dier having been an injury doubt beforehand, and Alli, Demebele etc fairly critical to the upcoming denouement, it surprised me a smidge that one of the supporting cast was deemed ripe for plucking.
Still, Pochettino has demonstrated many a time and oft that he knows his apples from his oranges, so I will graciously allow him the benefit of the doubt. He will, no doubt, be thrilled.
4. What Now For Full-Back Rotation?
There are few sights in nature more eye-catching than young Kyle Walker flicking the switch to Turbo and absolutely steaming forward 50 yards to join an attack, and having struck oil with his very first foray he remained in the mood throughout.
The routine of swapping him and Rose for Trippier and Davies appears to have worked well enough, ensuring that all of them have enough puff in their lungs for their weekly assignment – but with our heroes now having been unceremoniously elbowed from European competition, I am intrigued to see what the official party line will be for full-backs in the coming weeks. There is now but one game a week, yet Pochettino is a man who will swap his full-backs if his own life depended upon retaining the same ones. An interesting little sub-plot, and for what it’s worth I think he will stick with Walker-Rose as the games tick by and push meets shove.
5. Vindication for Rotation
On the subject of rotation, Pochettino is far too polite a sort to brag, but having been subjected to various snuffles of disapproval (not least from within the four walls of AANP Towers) for abruptly deciding to wave the white flag at Dortmund in the last few weeks, our glorious leader will presumably allow himself a discreet nod of satisfaction that the resting of various luminaries in midweek paid off so handsomely this afternoon.
Credit where due, and if our lot do indeed wave the shiny thing around come May, nobody will care two hoots about squad rotation in Dortmund.
6. Wimmer Tribute
The whispers from behind the bike-shed suggest that Jan Vertonghen will be ready to burst back onto the scene, singing, dancing and looking immaculately coiffured, after the international break. Should that be the case he would, naturally enough, be welcomed back with a manly handshake and possibly a rugged back-slap, but if events should indeed transpire thusly, it seems only right to pay a brief but heartfelt tribute to his young deputy, Kevin Wimmer.
Despite appearing oddly like he ought to be wearing a tux and playing the bassoon in an orchestra somewhere, the chap has managed to put barely a foot wrong in the last few months. When Vertonghen limped off against Palace there were furrowed brows across N17, as we wondered whether our Title push was limping off with him, but Wimmer has patrolled the grounds with considerable aplomb.
There are ten others who can justifiably feel a tad miffed at having not had their five minutes here at AANP Towers tonight, for this was a top-notch stuff throughout the team. Sterner tests await no doubt, but while we could not win the league today, we could well have lost it had things gone South today. A most professional performance to take us into the international break. Merry Easter one and all.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint
Amongst they many sunny innovations introduced by our glorious leader into N17 is the fact that when it comes to attacking, just about every man and his dog is heartily encouraged to fasten his bayonet, clear his throat and charge straight in. Admittedly Monsieur Lloris is excluded from all the fun, but at any given time we have at least seven men sniffing blood and yowling at the moon. That Kane and the three behind him will be primed to attack is a given, and Dembele is never particularly averse to puffing out his chest and bulldozing forward; but with Eric Dier obediently filling in as a third centre-back whenever we are in possession, licence is also duly granted to the full-backs to go hurtling forward at the merest whiff of an attack. (The casual reader ought to be made aware at this point that the strategy of employing a defensive midfielder to act as a locum third centre-back was first introduced by AANP on Championship Manager in the late ‘90s - albeit to slightly less devastating effect than the current Spurs vintage, as relegation was only avoided on the final day of the season as I recall.)
Back in the realms of the real world, young Messrs Davies and Trippier duly got stuck in like a pair of kids granted the bonus of opening a present on Christmas Eve of all things, as neither could be restrained from tearing forward into the final third. Davies in particular scurried forward like a man possessed, channelling is his inner Bale to set up camp in a position about twenty yards from the Leicester by-line, and the afternoon quickly became notable for the sight of him haring off into the area at approximately every thirty seconds.
Not that this gung-ho spirit alone was sufficient to win the game, cure cancer and end global poverty, for Davies’ final ball still tends to miss as well as hit – but no doubt about it, the mere presence of a left-back galloping at them in fifth gear undeniably had the Watford back-line exchanging worried looks, as if to say to one another “What ho!”
A dashed shame that Davies’ forays brought little more than wistful groans from the crowd, for he deserved more. Merrily however, out on t’other flank, Trippier similarly took the hint and, having waved a cheery ‘Adieu’ to his chums in the lilywhite back-four, he spent the afternoon making himself at home in the role of de facto winger, flying forward as the right-sided member of our attacking septet. Clearly such things have an addictive edge, for not content with the role of flying winger he then went the whole hog and turned himself into a Number 9, poaching from inside the six-yard box. Young people will do such things. All a far cry from my days as an eminently forgettable schoolboy right-back when any journey north of the halfway line required a brief lie-down to cope with the drama of it all, but Pochettino knows his apples from his pears, and this season every outfield player is buying into the notion that ‘Someone has to score, dash it, so why not get involved?’
Mind you, it’s a good job that young Trippier did indeed take time out from the day-job to treat us to his Gary Lineker (circa 80s-90s) impression, because nobody else seemed to have solved the riddle of putting ball in net. Apparently we pinged in 26 shots during the course of yesterday’s binge – 26! - which really begs the question of what on earth is wrong with our heroes’ radars. Admittedly Gomes in the Watford goal was in elastic mood, but nevertheless. One goal from twenty-six shots is the sort of thing that ought to have the whole lot of them queueing up at the confessional. It is more of a side-note than a grumble, but it occurred to me as Watford won their first corner, with about ten minutes remaining, that by that stage the thing really ought to have been tucked up in bed with a soothing lullaby, rather than still hanging in the balance.
4. Lamela – Chadli
Pochettino comes across as far too good an egg to do anything as naughty as make rude gestures or anything similarly dastardly, but I do wonder whether he might have aimed a meaningful look at one or two observers, as he handed in his teamsheet. A fair amount of hot air and ink has been invested in questioning the depth of our squad this season (not least in these quarters, I should probably admit), but having made a habit of swapping his full-backs around like ping-pong balls under paper cups in some sort of magic trick, our glorious leader took his squad rotation to a new level yesterday by fiddling with the knobs and dials further up the pitch. Out went Dele Alli and Sonny Jimbo, and in came Lamela, the furry rodent that sits permanently atop Lamela’s head and Nacer Chadli.
Lamela and Chadli both did adequately enough without exactly leaving grown men quivering in speechless delight, but the proof of the pudding was in the scoreboard at around 16.52 GMT, and as such we can laud a selection well tinkered. Dele Alli was given some extra time to catch his breath and post on social media, or whatever it is the young folk do these days, and the world was reminded that there are plenty of ensemble members willing and able to slot into the spots behind the front man. And that, in as many words, is just about the point of squad rotation, no?
With Dembele having already had an enforced break this season, and young Wimmer having marked his replacement of Vertonghen with consecutive clean sheets, it appears that squad depth is not necessarily quite the headache that one had anticipated when the clocks went back a few months ago. Indeed, the only chaps whose services seem to be required come hell or high water are Dier (either in midfield or, in the Cups, at centre-back) and Kane. One does not really want to contemplate the consequences of a long-ish term absence of the latter, so we just won’t. The point is, changes can be made but our spine remains strong and the incoming personnel seem capable enough.
5. Second In The League!
And by golly, just look where we are now! Some may suggest that we have been here before, and there would be a modicum of truth in the claim – but not in mid-February, what? At the time of writing we are still at least five points clear of fifth, and still, bizarrely, in with a sniff of the title. Which is simply not a thing I ever thought would happen in my lifetime. My head currently says third, the minimum now must be fourth, and, absurdly, we have an outside shot at the title. A head-scratcher for sure. But given that at the start of the season I had realistically suggested fifth, there already seems reason enough to start sharpening the knives and throwing pointed glances in the direction of the fattened calf. Just about every Spurs fan I know has that sentiment of part-gloom, part-realism deep within their core, and consequently we are all fairly adamant that there something will go wrong between now and mid-May – but I am quite happy to worry about that at the appropriate time. For now, second in the league is a splendid way to end the weekend.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
1. Casting A Dubious Eye Over Tom Carroll
Carroll does have a dreamy touch, and if Premiership football were all about popping four-yard passes sideways, and backwards, and actually dispensing with boots and ball and just drawing pretty pictures of trees, then one suspects he would be revered far and wide as some sort of deity. But occasionally, the central midfield waltz seems to require hefty dollops of blood and thunder. Not to mention winning tackles, effecting clearances, tracking opponents and other fittings of similar ilk. And in these respects it seemed from my distant perch that Carroll was wafting his bat but missing the ball by a good foot or two, if you get my drift.
Now it may be that I have pre-judged the chap. You know how it is, you mark a blighter down as ‘nay’ rather than ‘yay’, and thereafter, even if he covers every blade of grass, and rescues a yelping maiden from a burning cottage for good measure, you still dock him points for messy handwriting. So maybe having knocked Carroll as a lightweight, waif-like, toothless, shadow of a lad by about the halfway stage, I may have been far too blinkered in my judgements thereafter. The TV folk certainly sung his praises, which rather goes to show.
But the moments that struck me were when he let Barkley wander past him and then wrapped his arms around him to give him a hug - rather than tackling him - to earn a booking; and when we broke on the left, he received the ball twenty yards from goal and produced from nowhere his best Jermaine Jenas impression by swivelling towards his own net and knocking it backwards fifteen yards to groans from across North London; and the astonishingly inept attempt at a clearing header late on, which bounced off the top of his head in a manner completely bereft of any control, to an Everton chappie who lashed a volley goalwards to draw an outstanding palm from Lloris. Rather a mouthful, but gist of the thing is that Carroll gives the impression of a boy who is only loitering there because his parents have forgotten to collect him.
A big day this, for those charged with keeping things under lock and key. Belgium are apparently the best national team in the world at the moment, which ought to have made today’s game about the standard of a World Cup final if you think about it, but irrespective of that curiosity Messrs Vertonghen and Alderweireld had a challenge and a half in front of them, in the shape of the considerable frame of Lukaku. Being the sort of chap who always struck me as likely to be completely at home diving head-first through a brick wall, our two centre-backs needed to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – and by and large they made a solid fist of things. Not all their own way, and the nerves rather frayed a bit towards the end when everything stretched and the pressure ratcheted up several notches, but he was shackled as well as such behemoths can be.
However, if there were one moment that had me uttering a few choice curses it was the goal we conceded. Well, naturally enough I suppose, but particularly Vertonghen’s role in it. I’m not sure he can be faulted for losing the initial header to Lukaku – let us not forget the capacity to headbutt brick walls and suchlike – but why the dickens did Vertonghen turn his back on Lennon as the latter took his shot? This man’s very bread and butter lies in the act of preventing exactly that by any legal means necessary, and he gets paid sackloads for the privilege. Fling every limb at him, dash it. Take one full in the face if you have to.
(While on the topic, it also struck me as a bit odd that Lloris grasped at the thing with his wrong hand (his left), but it seemed a fairly futile cause by that point in any case.)
3. Rip-Snorting First Half
Truth be told, these are relatively minor gripes, and ought not to form chorus and the first couple of verses when the whole thing is eventually committed to song. Our first half was akin to one of those runaway trains that one sees in action films of a certain era, but which never actually happen in real life. Hurtling along at a rate of knots, sparks flying and all sorts. That poor old Kane and Davies failed to strike oil with their respective long-range efforts is to be solemnly lamented, as Kane’s could not have been closer and Davies’ almost ripped the net from its frame. (Although as my old man, AANP Senior is never slow to point out, they only deserve credit if they were aiming for the woodwork.)
Even aside from the close shaves however, our heroes looked at the peak of their powers in the first half. It was as well as they had played all season. The goal conceded was a rotten injustice, but such is life I suppose, and to their credit they kept beavering away until the break. When they play thusly one really does think that they are capable of staying in the Top Four.
4. The Ongoing Ode to Dembele
Not to harp on again about the personnel who were picked in central midfield, but in a quiet moment tonight, as we swirl away our Sunday night bourbons and reflect on life, I suspect many a Spurs fan will wistfully think of what might have been had Dembele been growling around in the centre. Barkley had his moments, and the substitute they brought on had a bit of bite to him, but Dembele when in the mood can snaffle up such opponents like a bulldog chewing at a sausage roll. As the game wore on and Everton exerted more pressure, the heart yearned for yet another Belgian to enter the fray and start barging folk around.
5. Weary Limbs
Pochettino is evidently a man who knows his apples from his oranges, so I would not dare presume the right to criticise - but if I were to be so impertinent I would respectfully clear the throat in the direction of a little squad rotation. Preferably the sort that does not involve young Master Carroll. Our heroes looked a little jaded as events progressed and Act Three hurtled towards its denouement, and Everton almost profited. Something similar occurred a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle, when again the players looked bang out of gas. The brow furrow, what?
Chadli and Son were dutifully thrown on, but might a fresh pair of legs be in order in the engine room? Amidst the evening gloom one could pick out the frame of Bentaleb on the bench, and there might be worse ideas than introducing him for the closing stages, to ensure that angry flecks of spittle continue to fly until the end. Moreover, Harry Kane will sooner or later splutter to a halt and require roadside assistance, although one suspects that the Brains Trust are fully aware of the need to scratch this particular itch.
A closing sentiment? Wonderful, wonderful goal from Dele Alli – the pass, particularly the control, and the very smart execution. Ten festive points is a strong haul. Bonne année.
1. Lloris Worth A Goal A Game
Once upon a time, in the big, cuddly teddy bear days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name), there ran a theory in AANP Towers that between them, Paul Robinson and Ledley King (even blesseder be his good name) were worth a goal to us every game, by virtue of their last-ditch heroics. Not a particularly watertight theory, you understand, no randomized control trial or pivot tables or anything like that, but certainly one spouted with the greatest seriousness in the watering-holes of North London by yours truly.
Fast forward a decade or so, and a similarly evidence-lite theory is beginning to surface around Monsieur Lloris. We come to take these things for granted now, in this halcyon era of unbeaten runs and all-action pressing and whatnot, but last week against Chelski and yesterday, quite remarkably, against West Brom, he pulled off saves of the absolute highest order. Both of which seem to have drifted a little past the public consciousness, ensconced as they were in the midst of a couple of draws that ranked slightly higher on the huff-and-puff scale than on the corresponding blow-your-skirt-up-with-non-stop-pulsating-action axis. But the point remains – Lloris has done the preventative equivalent of scoring a sensational goal, in both of the last couple of games.
2. Absence Makes The Heart Grow A Mite Fonder
Those of you cursed to have been within muttering distance of yours truly last weekend would have had to put up with assorted grumbles along the general line of young Mason’s energy and enthusiasm are all well and good for general Premiership fare, but the blighter has always seemed to lack that dose of je ne sais quoi that elevates a man to the higher echelons of these things in the crunch fixtures. He certainly puts in a shift – last week being a case in point – but in the biggest games of the season simply tearing around the place is not sufficient. As a replacement for Dele Alli, in a game against the champions, the decisive spark he failed to provide. Hardly a damning criticism, more just the genera way of things.
Yesterday however, with Mason trussed up in swathes of bandages somewhere off-stage, it dawned on me as the second half wore on that by golly we could use some of that energy, bite and young incandescence with life, with which he typically bounds in either headless or head-bearing fashion. West Brom were beginning to win every loose ball, and when even Eric Dier’s trademark trundle was failing to win us the 50-50s, the thought occurred that maybe we might have benefited from removing one of the front four, who deal more in sparkle and fancy trickery, and bringing on a man like Mason, who has somewhat more about him of the canine straining at the leash. Just to wrest back control of the thing.
All academic of course, but funny how absence makes the heart grow stronger in these situations.
3. The Centre-Backs – Only Human
In a train of thought that veered rather dramatically off the rails, I ended up last night wondering what the opposite of ‘invincible’ might be. Just plain ‘vincible’ seemed to tick the boxes, except that it’s not really a word, which seemed a fairly critical stumbling block. All of which came about as I observed Messrs Vertonghen and Toby going about their gainful employment yesterday.
No doubt about it, this pair are as solid and reliable a centre-back combo as we have trotted out in many a long year, but this is not to suggest that they are entirely without flaws. Witness the moment when Vertonghen was outpaced and then rather easily barged aside by a thundering opponent in the first half yesterday, after the pair of them failed to deal with a fairly unceremonious punt down the middle. Exhibit B was Toby’s decision to leave to the gods of the six-yard box a ball he could easily have cleared in the closing stages, presenting a chance for a West Brom winner that had Kyle Walker scrambling to hack the thing clear.
‘Only human’, as the chap said to Keanu Reeves towards the end of The Matrix, when holding a gun to his head, and it captures the gist of the thing about Vertonghen and Aldeweireld. A fine pair they are, but such has been our solidity at the back this season that it has been easy to forget that their little Flemish axis will occasionally be breached.
And maybe that’s the nub of the thing – few sides are pootling along in quite such fine fettle as our lot this season, but they are only human, and jolly young humans at that, so mistakes will be made. Back in August few of us dared to hope for much more than a top-five finish, so it would be remiss to chide them for failing to meet heightened expectations. They’re getting there. It remains ill-defined precisely where ‘there’ is, but they most certainly are getting there.
Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
This must go down as one of the great lilywhite derby performances of recent years. Admittedly l’Arse contributed massively to their own downfall, with a most peculiar gameplan involving minimal aggressive intent, but let that not detract from a fantastic, relentless attacking barrage from our lilywhite heroes.
Particular homage is due to the full-backs, who while far from flawless, could barely be restrained from bombing forward to add much-needed width to proceedings. I many not be alone in suspecting that young Master Walker has returned from injury boasting just three lungs, rather than the four of yesteryear, for he certainly comes across as a couple of yards slower, but both he and Rose tore into the wide open spaces behind the Arse back-four with gay old abandon.
Mason and Bentaleb similarly picked the right note from the off. At times, in their fledgling careers the pair have seemed rather too determined to fight the good fight some five yards in front of the back four, with the switch flicked firmly towards “Safety First, Dagnabbit”, but today, whilst never abandoning the bread-and-butter of things, they could be occasionally sighted tiptoeing their way deep into enemy territory, and fastening their shooting boots accordingly – never more so than the peach of a cross from Bentaleb that created our glorious winner.
The Attacking Mob
Further yet up the pitch was the most massively left-footed attacking triumvirate since Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe decided to get down and party with Clayton Blackmore, in the short-shorted era of yesteryear. Messrs Eriksen and, in particular, Dembele and Lamela seem drawn to their left feet like moths to a flame. Such is life, and there was enough about the supporting cast to prevent from everyone simply toppling over to the left, but the introduction of Chadli could not come soon enough.
Dembele’s Right Peg
Dembele looks a man reborn since being lifted from his two-year stupor by virtue of being shunted about ten yards further forward. Now, when he loses interest and opts to shove the balls sidewards, with the suspicious air of a moody teen about to smoke something naughty, he shoves the ball sidewards in a threatening area of the pitch, into the path of a Rose or Walker arriving at full pelt. Admittedly that right foot remains strictly for balance only, but the chap’s renaissance as an attacking force is more than welcome.
As for Lamela – one is happy enough to sweep his shortcomings under the rug of general victory-induced bonhomie, but the fact remains that for a man more talented than just about anyone else on the pitch he does peddle a unique line in simply giving the dashed thing away every time he touches it.
God Bless Harry Kane
But let us not dwell on the more dubious minutiae – there will be plenty of time to wail and gnash teeth on other days. This was a day to celebrate the unlikely glory of Harry Kane, who despite maintaining (for about six consecutive months) the appearance of a man about to lose control of the ball, his own limbs and all semblance of physics, continues to tear up all before him – with left foot, right foot, from close range, long range or with his head.
As much as anything else however, this was a triumph for the grand fromage. The all-action, energetic approach; the pressing high up the pitch; and the very deployment of over-enthusiastic pups like Mason, Kane and Bentaleb paid absolutely glorious dividends today. Absolutely marvellous stuff.
AANP has just biffed off on holiday this last week (Malta, since you ask), and these sunny retreats to foreign climes would not be worthy of the name if they did not at some point involve tracking down an English-themed watering-hole to watch Spurs get thoroughly dismantled, to the mirth of the nearby pink-faced denizens.
Despite the uncontainable urge amongst some of particularly dramatic ilk to race to the nearest hasty conclusion and yelp “Crisis! False dawn! Just not good enough, dash it!” this strikes me as but a stumble along a fairly promising path. A jolly chastening stumble mind, complete with unceremonious landing and all the trimmings, but not yet the moment to be inciting unrest amongst the nearest angry mob.
Midfield Creativity: AWOL
Particularly infuriating was the fact that that smug lot beat us at our own game, blast them – harrying off the ball, counter-attacking in a blurry burst of heels and generally executing some slick, incisive stuff in the final third.
By contrast, Bentaleb and Capoue seemed resolute in their determination to avoid anything with the merest whiff of deep-lying creativity (which potentially gives the Brains Trust food for thought in The Great Capoue Vs Dembele Debate, given the Belgian’s uncontrollable urge to puff out a chest and trundle goalward). The dull hum of inactivity behind them meant quite the onus on Eriksen, Chadli and Lamela to run riot. Alas, the first two in particular seemed not to care for such frivolous duties, seemingly content instead to bask in the glory of the previous week’s efforts, and other than the occasional long ball hoicked over the top there was nary a sniff of goal all afternoon.
Adebayor showed a hint of spirit, as did Lamela in the second half, like a couple of puppies haring round after the ball, but for all their gusto there was precious little effect, and by and large ignominy was jolly well in her element and having an absolute whale of a time. This being Spurs such things happen, but the imperative for Pochettino and chums now is to ensure that this is most certifiably the exception rather than the rule.
And to round off a rather doleful few days we have now bid rather hasty farewells to a couple of the elder statesmen. Few could make a convincing case that Daws is still of top-rate Premiership quality (the highlights of his Hull debut appeared rather cruelly to corroborate this), but the blighter could not have been more committed to the lilywhite cause if he were hatched from a cockerel’s egg laid in the centre of the White Hart Lane turf. And by all accounts a thoroughly decent old bean too. Oh that a spot could have been found for him as a permanent mascot leading the players onto the pitch each week. Gone, but absolutely not forgotten, I suspect that it is not just at AANP Towers he will be welcome to a free bourbon any time he jolly well chooses.
Amidst the hullaballoo of it all, the bods at the top have sneakily shunted Sandro down the exit chute as well. Of quality and endearing commitment he had plenty, and the weekly axis of awesomeness that he formed alongside Dembele a couple of years back will live long in the memory, but the point has been made that the poor blighter was rarely in good health, so the rationale for selling him is understandable, if nevertheless regrettable.
Two long-serving troops is probably enough for one episode of this particular soap opera, but despite a few swirling murmurs Monsieur Kaboul remains in situ. Time is not in the habit of waiting for the good mortals of this sphere, but in Kaboul’s case Time seems to have legged it while the Frenchman’s back was turned and disappeared into the distance. No longer the colossus of two or three years back, the Liverpool game was the latest indication that the chap has lost several yards of pace, and is adding a distinct flavour of fallibility to proceedings at the back. Captain by default he may be, but he looks less and less the inspiring leader with every passing minute. One rather hopes that the new chap Fazio is fully-clad and limbered up, because his appears the next cab on the rank.