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.
Credit to our heroes for their ingenuity. In a season in which sacrificial slaughters seem to have taken place on a monthly basis, as well as half a dozen transfer failures and an off-the-pitch approach to running a club that would leave a team of monkeys red-faced, it did not seem possible to reach a new low in a game against a West Ham team hated by their own and at a point in the season in which there was next to nothing at stake. This season however, our lot have exercised every ounce of creative licence to come up with new and fantastical means of generating car crashes from thin air. Admittedly it might have been a tad more productive for them to expend their energy on something a little more conducive to success, but baby steps, what?
It seemed a tad indulgent of Monsieur Kaboul to finish up his work for the season after half an hour of the penultimate game, the cheeky rascal, but his was a worthy entry nevertheless into the pantheon of Astonishingly Bad Ideas From Our Lot, 2013/14. Here at AANP Towers our hearts have burned with good honest man-love for Monsier Kaboul ever since he puffed out his chest and went bulldozing up the right flank vs Man City a few years back, to create the goal for Crouch that secured our CL status. Thus have excuses been made for him ever since, when he returned to action this season as part of the back-four that was torn to ribbons back at Man City, and apologetic shrugs were offered on his behalf when both feet became completely disengaged from reality and he resorted to a first minute back-heeled o.g. at Anfield.
Alas, the chap’s mishaps have drifted from occasional aberrations to his own unique brand of farce. Presumably these days when he moves from one room to another at Chateau Kaboul he trips over the carpet, careers into the dining table and sends crockery crashing everywhere. With his pace going, and well-timed interventions playing second fiddle to ill-timed lunges, he now seems to offer us precious little beyond a couple of startling eyebrows. ‘Tis with heavy heart that these sentiments are voiced, but his contract is up this summer in any case. Be gone, Kaboul, and take thine eyebrows with thee. In fact, take the entire defence with thee, apart from angry young Kyle Walker. Let’s just start from scratch at the back, because at the moment the whole dashed thing is making my eyes bleed.
Paulinho and Adebayor
However, the bar for scarcely believable lilywhite buffoonery was undoubtedly raised by the intrepid heroes Paulinho and Adebayor, in facing up to a single size 5 football as if it were a vigilante mob armed with numchucks, machetes and those awesome massive gun things that Vasquez wielded in Aliens. With that sort of commitment to the cause one would not fancy their chances in wrestling a ball of string from a heavily sedated kitten, let alone hauling us into the Top Four against the Premiership’s finest. Still, there is some comfort in the thought of the spittle-flecked apoplexy that presumably greeted them when Tim Sherwood sauntered by for the post-mortem.
Almost everywhere one looked on Saturday there was an excruciating limpness about all things lilywhite. Lennon, another whom AANP has resolutely defended year after year, seems to have become a parody of himself, trotting out those jazz-hands and that predictable shoulder-feint-and-dash-out-right routine in an entirely perfunctory manner. Kyle Naughton’s blandness has reached such levels that he is now entirely incapable of stirring any emotion in me whatsoever. Chiriches I imagine is a lad who understands not one word of the instructions he is fed, but nods blankly and then decides to play as the voices in his head dictate.
Excused from the debacle, as ever, were Eriksen and Lloris, but there is no getting away from the fact that this was yet another calamitous chapter in the tome of our 2013/14 season – a tome that will, rather incongruously, nevertheless be titled, “Heavens Above – Look How Many Points We Garnered! Huzzah!”
Here at AANP Towers we are honourable men. When Dogtanian waved farewell to the folks and left for pastures new, the upper lip did no more than quiver. When baited by rival fans in the office every dashed Monday, reminding me of my idle gloats the preceding Friday and collecting their winnings, while the boss wanders by and reminds me that the pretence of working is more effective when the computer is actually switched on and why must I look at him in such a gormless way, I treat the defeat with stoic resolve, determining to make an even larger wager the following week because that will teach them all. And thus do I unashamedly admit that when the burly security chaps marched up to AVB, grabbed him mid-sentence, frog-marched him out of the premises and unceremoniously dumped him onto the High Road, I did little more than shrug, reasoning that that might well have been the right course of action, and licking my lips at the prospect of our imminent upturn in fortunes.
Alas, the upturn has not quite materialised. In fact, the grand plan of sacking one chappie, lassoing another, more capable chappie, depositing him into the leather chair and watching the marvellousness unfurl has hit an early but quite critical snag. Suddenly, the realisation dawns that Master Levy might not necessarily have the entire strategy mapped out. In fact, it is not particularly clear that the plan even extended to the hiring of a new bean at all, but that he laboured under the misapprehension that firing AVB would in its entirety signal a glorious conclusion of affairs - because quite where he goes next, or even what sort of blighter is brought in next, does not yet seem obvious. That Tim Sherwood may or may not be at the helm for days, weeks, months or even – horror or horrors – permanently is about as underwhelming as an action film in which the pillars are tumbling down and the hero ambling up stage left to save the day actually turns out to be merely Ben Affleck.
Nothing personal against Sherwood of course (or Affleck for that matter), but one suspects that the opportunities for success might not necessarily be maximised by leaving the office intern in charge of the entire A to Z of things for a few weeks, even if the aforementioned does do a sterling job of booking meeting rooms and whatnot. However, this is what we have for the immediate future, and having deployed a bright and breezy 4-4-2 for the first home adventure, Sherwood now has to decide how to go about things away from home, against a Southampton team who seem to be sufficiently well versed in the intricacies of the game. Who knows, Levy might also be using the opportunity to cast a furtive eye over Saints own grand fromage, Mr Pochettino.
Injury to Townsend threatens to derail things somewhat, particularly if the Sherwood gospel preaches touchline-hugging wingers, but the squad boasts enough attacking types, so one of Sigurdsson, Lamela or Chadli will presumably be unleashed. A more defensive-minded chap in the holding role might also be advisable, after Dembele was deployed in that spot midweek, while in defence it will presumably once again be a case of using anyone fit enough to hobble over the line.
It would be a dashed shame if our whole season were to lose momentum because of a yuletide wobble, but such a circumstance lurks menacingly around the corner. The talent is there, and under AVB our away form was generally positive enough, but our very recent history does little to engender expectations of unparalleled success. One can but hope.
Out yonder on the horizon there has been barely a flicker of action since the end of the season, not even a new kit over which to pore. Mercifully this sorry circumstance changed ever so slightly this week, as there has now been some semblance of news, so pour yourself a bourbon, make yourself comfortable and join me for a perusal.
The Fixture List
It’s official. Next season we play every team, both home and away.
In an effort to make things slightly more exciting I did scour the final six fixtures or so and note the absence of any of the likely Top Four challengers – but was unable to decide whether this should be categorised as blessing or curse. And re-scheduling gubbins probably means that there will be additional fixtures haphazardly sprinkled in anyway.
If ever proof were needed that this has been a grey, barren wasteland of a Spurs summer it is in the fact that the biggest – nay, only transfer summer so far has been neither a player nor even a manager. After his fairly impercetible contribution as Assistant to Fabio Capello with England, Franco Baldini has joined the Lane as Technical Director or some such business. Quite what difference he will make to the 11 who trot out onto the pitch each week is questionable, but I suppose if he can see to it that deals are done a little earlier than 23.59 on August 31, or whenever the window closes, then he will have achieved some purpose.
Bale Trademarks His Finger-Heart Celebration
Oh the ignominy. Mind you, it looks a lot less awful when produced 5 seconds after one of his blinding last-minute winner wondergoals.
Gallas and Bentley were amongst the slew of players inevitably released a week or two back. In the case of the former it is just as well – frankly he had become a liability, even in the gentlest of Europa League ambles, and with Kaboul to return we should be fairly well stocked in the centre-back department.
The case of Bentley is viewed with a little sadness here at AANP Towers. Full of potential, a willing tryer and capable of the occasional moment that prompted a murmur of approbation, things simply did not click for the lad, despite the fairly regular need for an able right wing deputy. Admittedly for that 40-yard moment against l’Arse if nothing else, he will be remembered with a certain curious fondness around these parts.
And amidst the flotsam and jetsam, it pained me to note that also amongst those released was one J. Bostock Esquire. Signed in something approaching a frenzied hype, he genuinely was touted as the next big thing in English football, but had even fewer moments of lilywhite glory than Bentley. One wonders to what extent that was our fault as well as his; but alas, ‘tis done, as if it barely even happened at all.
Until the next piece of action of the vaguest substance, toodle-pip.
This is becoming a tad farcical now, no? That a new manager will pop the inherited squad in the shredder and redesign the whole bally thing is inevitable; but tasked with matching or bettering the Top Four the latest shiny new project of Messrs Levy and AVB has not so much gone off the rails as just stalled on the start-line, while everyone else has tootled off ahead in a puff of smoke.
The growing number of restless natives wandering the streets of N17, with burning spears in one hand and mocked-up severed AVB heads in t’other, ought probably to remember that Rome was not built in a day. Nevertheless, even an aedificator XI handpicked by Romulus and Remus would be expected to cling on to home wins against one of Norwich and West Brom, transition process or not.
The WBA and Norwich Debacles
To watch our lot dominate WBA without scoring (at least in the first half) was frustrating enough, but at least the murmur in the stands was “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. New boss, new kit, but while the same problems were evident (possession to goals ratio) our heroes at least zinged the ball around with the aplomb of yore.
However, seeing them crumble under a West Brom assault in the second half, and then achieve the exalted status of being outplayed at home to Norwich, has elicited a few embarrassed coughs from the masses in the White Hart Lane stands. It’s not really the all-singing, all-dancing whirlwind into the Top Four that was advertised on the campaign leaflet, what?
As with the script of Terminator 3, this 4-2-3-1 business sounds rather exciting and on paper it appears to tick various important boxes, but the poor lambs doing the business out there on the pitch have seemed less and less comfortable with their lot with each passing minute.
Sandro and Livermore are both firm favourites at AANP Towers, but they are not exactly providing flashes of ingenuity to leave flummoxed opponents pummelling the turf in confusion, nor, if I may be so bold, are they really fulfilling their combined raison d’etre, of nipping in the bud any planned opposition attack on the lilywhite goal. Out wide, the young whippets formerly known as Lennon and Walker have been spotted aborting their forward sprints mid-dash, and spinning round to pass the ball backwards while desperately trying to remember the instructions and long words of AVB. Egads.
In one 45-minute cameo that Dembele chap has unwittingly volunteered to be leader of the post-Arry revolution, and while VDV/Modders-out-Fulham-midfielders-in might seem a rummy piece of bargaining at first glance, it ought to work out well enough. Both Messrs Dempsey and Sigurdsson can do convincing impressions of a more sprightly VDV; while the inevitable loss of Modders was never going to be compensated for by a like-for-like replacement. Instead, it is not too controversial to suggest that Dembele is a slightly different kettle of midfield fish, and with such galvanising qualities as drive, strength, dribbling skills and the capacity for an awesome beard it is fervently hoped that the revolution begins at his size eights.
Thus do we find ourselves locked in our first relegation battle of the season, of all things. Teething problems they may have been so far, but the time has probably arrived for our heroes to tighten their cravats, slick back their hair and jolly well tear Reading apart.
AVB has a few selection dilemmas, from Friedel-or-Lloris to Defoe-or-Adebayor, via Dembele and Dempsey. Whatever the personnel we ought to be strong enough to prevail, but alas such has been the sentiment in all three games so far. Just do the decent thing and outscore them today, eh chaps?
“He’s not available,” declared our glorious leader of One Aaron Lennon and his jazz-hands. “Other than that we’re not too bad”. Which is laudably upbeat I suppose, but a bit like Sigourney Weaver concluding that although she has looked on as the alien wiped out two entire crews, tormented her waking and sleeping thoughts, indirectly forced her to shave her head and then ruddy well gestated inside her – other than that she’s not too bad.I do of course overstate the case a tad. An orthodox four-man midfield - with Bale sticking to the left touchline and Walker manfully galloping the gallop of two man up and down the right - would probably offer the balance that we lack when Lennon sits things out, but nevertheless you get the gist. In the little man’s absence we have lacked shape, balance and a clear plan of how to outscore the opposition from minute 1 to 90.
Tough enough against Everton and Stoke, but faced with the prospect of a trip to a now officially resurgent Chelski, the denizens of AANP Towers have taken the unanimous, executive decision to shudder to our very cores. While genuinely upbeat that our final eight games really could bring us eight wins, the current trend of woe, brought about by a combination of Lennonlessness and opposition teams hitting tip-top form, looks for all the world like it will continue at Stamford Bridge.
Adebayor is also a likely absentee, but other than that the usual suspects will take to the field, start brightly, take the lead, then sit back and ultimately cave in to two late Chelski goals, at least one of which will be highly dubious. I would advise ‘Arry stops his blasted tinkering with the midfield and desperate shunting of square pegs into round holes, but nevertheless envisage him selecting Bale right, Modders left, with Parker and Sandro/Livermore in the centre (and VDV off Saha/Adebayor up the top). Delighted though I would be to gobble down double helpings of humble-pie come the final whistle, I approach this game with the same gloomy air of foreboding that accompanied a Sven-selected England team trotting out in a major tournament quarter-final. Grab what you can chaps, and then scarper.