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.
Full-blown, undiluted apoplexy does not translate particularly smoothly into the written word, so ‘tis perhaps just as well that after a good night’s sleep and couple of early morning whiskies AANP is now in slightly more philosophical mood than at the final whistle last night, when the denizens of the South Stand took time out from making rude gestures at the Stoke fans to stare in horror and cover the ears of the nearest small child while I emitted an unmistakeable, loud tut. Accompanied, I’ll have you know, by a shake of the head that had been brewing from nigh on the first whistle of the evening.Mercifully, a degree of perspective has settled upon me in the alcohol-fuelled haze. I recall now that on perusing the fixture list a few weeks back, Stoke at home and Chelski away appeared the trickiest of the remaining engagements. With the ilk of Norwich, QPR et al to come thereafter, a slightly cheerier sequence of results beckons – to which end a point against Stoke might not be so bad in the final analysis.
By Golly Last Night’s Proceedings Did Make The Blood Boil Nevertheless
Still smarting from their ludicrous victory over us earlier in the season, my expectations for our esteemed guests were lower than the belly of a particularly depressed rattlesnake, and sure enough their goalkeeper began his time-wasting routine over goal-kicks in the very first minute. After which, they adopted an admittedly well-drilled 9-0-1 formation and bedded in, adding nothing of value to the lives of anyone in the stadium, and pausing only to catapult the ball Crouch-wards. Little wonder that their unfortunate fans include a rugby song in their repertoire.
As for our lot, the usual concerns wearily paraded themselves. Despite creating our last two goals from the left wing, and generally looking like he had the beating of their right-back whenever it took his fancy, Bale was again allowed to spend his time meandering fairly pointlessly wherever the dickens he liked, as long as it posed minimal attacking threat. The memory of his burst through the centre against Norwich several months back has faded; his urges to go central should now be the exception rather than the rule.
On t’other flank the absence of Lennon continues to have ‘Arry et al scratching their heads and staring blankly at the teamsheet. Niko Kranjcar was the beneficiary of the pre-game coin toss to decide who begins on the right, but appeared to be labouring under the burden of an invisible elephant strapped to his back throughout his 45 minutes. Slower and less interested by the game, he seems hell-bent on bidding us “Doviđenja” come the season’s end, and has now even slipped behind Ms AANP on my list of favourite Croats. The ignominy.
‘Arry’s England Credentials To The Fore Once Again
Inspired by this cunning tactical nous, our lot invested oodles of huffing, puffing, corners that failed to clear the first man and ultimately a general mentality of frenzied panic, the combination of which at least rescued a point. However, with possession apparently in excess of 70%, and the usual two dozen attempts on goal, it ought to have been more. Most frustrating, and now that blasted lot from down the road are crowing once again. Time for another whisky methinks.
So the football resumes tonight, and it may be, for the players in particular, that having another game so swiftly will be the best way of dealing with Saturday’s events. It would certainly be understandable if the atmosphere at the Lane tonight were a little subdued, but the news of Muamba’s ongoing recovery is positive. One imagines that it is not only in this small corner of the interweb that prayer continues for him, his family, friends and those caring for him.Team News
Adebayor and Ledley are reported doubts, and with Chelski looming in a few days one imagines that the latter in particular is not worth risking tonight. One Aaron Lennon will presumably miss out again, causing all manner of upheaval across the midfield, as standard.
A curious innovation during the brief playing time on Saturday saw Gareth Bale occasionally adopting the novel position of a left winger, even producing a devil of a cross to create a goal. The boy may just have a future on the wing.
It is not the most important thing in the world, far from it, but a win tonight would do our lot the world of good, for various reasons.
This, I am reliably informed is a desperate situation. Quite possibly the desperatest. Handily glossing over the fact that our three consecutive defeats have been to three teams who, for one reason or another, stumbled upon optimum form just as they took to the field against us, the people have spoken in their lilywhite hordes, and this run of form is now scientifically proven to be the most wretched thing in history. Still think we can finish third? A thousand sneering glances in your direction! Forget about our form over the entire season – look at our last three results! We lost them all! People are tweeting and everything! If you’re not bashing your head against a nearby wall and itching to dust off the “’Arry Out” placards from a couple of seasons ago, you have clearly become drunk on common sense. The season is heading irresistibly towards meltdown, and anyone who tells you otherwise has had their judgement clouded by a reprehensible fog of perspective.
“Owen Coyle For Spurs” – Yes, I Really Did…Mercifully somebody somewhere thought of the children, and as a result we handily now get to punctuate our inexorable march towards Premiership doom by trampling our way past Bolton in the Cup. Back at the start of the season yours truly demonstrated his sagacity on all subjects football-related by wisely opining that Owen Coyle should be lined up as an outside bet for the next Spurs manager, a sentiment that is now hurriedly dismissed with a loud clearing of the throat and murmuring of “I probably meant that Swansea chap.”
Once upon a time Bolton existed solely to acquaint the ball with the clouds; then they became rather trendy and pretty, stringing passes together and whatnot under the auspices of Coyle; but now it seems their raison d’être is to make a beeline for relegation. Quite the opportunity then, for our heroes to advance ever closer to faux glory at Wembley.
Injuries (That Matter Not)Poor form or not, our lot should make light work of this. The exhausting and fairly futile search for a solution to the absence of Aaron Lennon is set to continue, the little man still sore of hamstring. Adebayor is apparently also a doubt, and Ledley is unlikely to be risked, but even allowing for these absences and one or two others, elimination here would be an affront to decency.
I do hope that ‘Arry’s comments to his players behind closed doors differ quite significantly to those offered to the gentlemen of the press. After the draw with Stevenage he piped up that he knew they would play that way – rather begging the question why he, as manager, did not therefore do something to pre-empt it – and now after games against Man Utd and Everton he has professed himself clueless as to how we failed to do any better. All of which strikes me as an easy way to earn a few million pounds per year.
In fairness, one appreciates his point on the basis of a second half as one-sided as a midfield sans Aaron Lennon, during which we had one effort after another, a string of corners and quite possibly became the first team ever to record possession of over 100%.
The first half however was not the prettiest sight. At one point the commentators on the deplorable ESPN (honestly, I switched on to watch the football, not random camera shots of some idiot in a wig and blue clown’s nose. What the deuces? Just show the football, you cretins) noted that ‘Arry was exhorting the troops not to sit so deep. Well, quite. Pick both Parker and Sandro in the centre and the chances are they will indeed err on the defensive side of things. Meanwhile confusion made its masterpiece in midfield, in the absence of any semblance of shape or fluidity. Bale resorted to delivering crosses on the right wing with the outside of his left foot, and Modders forlornly wasted his talents out on the left wing, while my eyes sat me down for a long and honest chat about the legitimacy of forcing them to watch such a shapeless mess.
Kaboul Learns From Last Week’s Mistake. Well, Not Really
The eagle-eyed may have noted that the goal itself came about when Kaboul charged in and sold himself with all the over-eagerness of a first-time lady-of-the-night – a decision presumably prompted by the criticism he received for backing off for United’s second goal last week. Heartening though it is to see Kaboul living by the mantra of the T-800 (“The more I interact with humans, the more I learn”) he is still a few correct decisions away from being the pinnacle of defensive magnificence. But progressing nicely, and on a day of general grumpiness ‘twas mildly cockle-warming to see his reaction to Saha hitting the post (check out a replay if you can), and to see him lying flat out and distraught on the turf at the final whistle. Good to see he cares.
Defoe’s Big Chance
Elsewhere, Jermain Defoe finally got the chance to stray offside for a full 90 minutes. To this amateur observer he did as good a job as anyone else, constantly giving the Everton defenders food for thought, and generally working the goalkeeper whenever the faintest whiff of a chance wafted his way – nobody else in lilywhite offers that. That said, his next tattoo really ought to be Law 11 of Assocation Football, preferably etched backwards across his forehead, so that every time he looks in a mirror he reads precisely what it is to be offside. Heaven help us.
The Aaron Lennon Factor
Ultimately, this latest minor catastrophe appeared to revolve around the lamentably absent Aaron Lennon. Admittedly, yours truly would probably be among the first to chide the young man should he misplace but one cross or choose the wrong final-third option when he returns to the team, but, as is commonly the case, his value increases in his absence. Without him the whole midfield was reshuffled, to ill effect, and we struggled to string three passes together in the first half. ‘Tis a problem that ‘Arry must solve tout de suite, and the issue of right-wing back-up (along with reserve left-back) probably ought to be addressed in the summer.
More generally, there is cause for concern at our heroes’ recent inability to slip back into the groove of lightning quick one- and two-touch passing, accompanied by busy off-the-ball movement. Bale and Modders look a tad jaded, no longer possessed of so many sudden bursts of pace and ingenuity, which may be a consequence of the lack squad rotation earlier in the season. A few consecutive wins would soothe the nerves and dispel the fears, but at present AANP has officially adjusted the state of its brow to “Furrowed”.
Four points from our four big games (Liverpool, Newcastle, l’Arse and Man Utd) is a tad below par, and the gap to the ‘orrible lot down the road has shrunk accordingly, but even the most pessimistic, nihilistic doom-mongerers of our clan are struggling to whip themselves into a genuine frenzy regarding our two consecutive defeats. Disappointing for sure, but not much more. That said, the phlegmatic approach would dissipate sharpish if our cheery odyssey were to unravel further at Goodison today. Losing to l’Arse and Utd is understandable, but our Top Four (Three) credentials darn well demand that normal service is resumed pronto – and continued in the coming weeks. Battling draws at mid-table teams are tommyrot now – we need to return to that swift, fizzing passing style, and the games will win themselves accordingly.
‘Arry’s Lexical Ambiguities
David Moyes has celebrated his 10 years in charge at Everton (crikey) as anyone would, by striking a gentleman’s agreement with our glorious leader, to the effect that Monsieur Saha will not feature today. However, ‘Arry has indicated that there is one small caveat to this agreement – in that it will not apply if he decides to pick Saha after all. Apart from stretching the definition of “gentleman’s agreement” beyond anything any self-respecting lexicographer has ever previously contemplated, the selection of Saha would be jolly rotten luck upon Jermain Defoe, who could probably score a five-minute hat-trick, solve the economic crisis and cure cancer within one substitute appearance, only to find himself overlooked again in the following game.
Injury News and the World’s Slowest Makeshift Right Wingers
On the injury that front poor blighter Michael Dawson and the various bits of ligament floating around his leg are out for the season, which makes the return to squad duty of William Gallas frightfully well-timed. If you pardon the cruel bluntness, of greater concern for this afternoon’s jamboree is the absence of One Aaron Lennon and the balance he provides. It seems a lifetime ago now, but once upon a time Bale and Lennon would scamper up and down the left and right wings respectively, allowing opposing defences barely a moment’s rest. These days Bale and his ego roam wherever they please in the ongoing bid to become the new Cristiano Ronaldo, to occasional devastating effect, but quite often to the end of a cul-de-sac. In the absence of Lennon we will presumably attempt once more to use absolute stasis rather than breakneck speed on the right wing, via the heavy legs of VDV or Kranjcar.
That aside, the usual striking concerns need to be addressed by ‘Arry; someone needs to get the crayons out and give the back-four some nice illustrated examples of the causal relationships between ball, opponents, net et cetera; and glory be, Scott Parker returns to the middle. It has been the best of times (Newcastle) and the worst of times (l’Arse) in recent weeks, but champagne football has been our norm this season, home and away, and a return to this vintage would suffice today.