All Action, No Plot

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CL Final Preview: 5 Steps to the Final in the Lifelong Journey of a Tottenham Fan

5 things Tottenham must do to win here.
6 players who took Tottenham to the Final here.

1. The 1987 FA Cup Final

The day before the Champions League Final, and excitement levels have now shot fairly comfortably through the roof, and are gaily whizzing about in the stratosphere.
In a neat symmetry, AANP’s first lilywhite memory was also a Cup Final, the 1987 FA Cup, a cinematic viewing that made for a pretty fitting way in which to take one’s first step in this absurd journey.

At that stage I suspect I had little idea of what Europe was, let alone the Champions League ruddy Final, but there it began, in a terraced house in Tottenham in front of a black and white screen. The whole thing provided a neatly appropriate template for what was to come in the following three decades, and in particular this season’s Champions League romp – our lot would simply refuse to do things simply if they could instead be done in the most absurd, nerve-shredding fashion.

An early goal, a lead squandered and defeat achieved in barely credible manner – the seeds of the all action no plot approach were not so much sown as shoved down the throat. Our heroes, it was immediately clear, would insist on doing things the hard way.

As an impressionable youth I naively interpreted our second-minute goal that day as a sign that supporting Spurs would be a barrel of laughs, logic dictating that we would score at two-minute intervals for the rest of time.

Alas, the first, critical lesson of Spurs-supporting was yet to come. With the game poised at 2-2 in extra-time, our lot did not just contrive to lose, they flicked through the entire playbook of nonsense and picked out the most nonsensical option of the lot. A harmless cross bounced off the knee of Gary Mabbutt, and looped in a most geometrically-pleasing parabola over Ray Clemence and into the net. Death by own-goal, having led in the second minute. How very Tottenham.

Back in those days, before I had discovered the joys of a stiff bourbon, I digested proceedings by hitting the Lego bricks hard and recreating the barely credible scenes witnessed, but already there would be no turning back.

2: Gazza, 1991 And All That

By this stage the young AANP was already so obsessed with Spurs that it’s a wonder my parents did not cart me off to the nearest institution to have my head examined and some – any – other interests drilled into it instead. Every weekend was spent poring over Saint and Greavsie, Grandstand and The Big Match; every Monday saw me fill my ‘What I Did at the Weekend’ school books with a detailed analysis of Spurs’ fortunes.

Italia ’90 featured prominent contributions from Spurs’ two brightest young things, as well as the now familiar anguish of a drawn-out defeat, stretched out in the most dramatic fashion seemingly just out of cruelty from those on high.

The emergence of Gazza, all trickery and entertainment hammered home the fact that the game is about glory, about doing things in style and with a flourish. When he sized up the Arsenal wall at Wembley, and Barry Davies wondered if he were going to have a crack, I flew off around the place in the sort of celebration that would be unfurled again when Lucas Moura struck in the 95th minute.

The FA Cup Final that followed provided the template of virtually our entire Champions League Campaign in 2019, as, initially, everything that possibly could have veered off the rails duly did so. Gazza crumpled to the turf; Pearce belted home the free-kick; Gazza was stretchered off; Lineker had one wrongly disallowed; and then missed a penalty. This cycle of dismay and setbacks was to prove a solid grounding for the following 20 years or so – and certainly has me well prepared for defeat in some cruel fashion in the CL Final – but once bitten forever smitten, and the glimmer of hope remained.

Step forward Paul Stewart, and the head of poor old Des Walker, and the FA Cup was ours. Little did I know that it would be the first of only 3 trophies in my living memory (until, who knows, Madrid?)

Right up there with the celebrations with my family as Mabbutt lifted the Cup were the celebrations at St Francis de Sales school – a venue presumably well-recognised by most of lilywhite persuasion – the following Monday.

3. The 1990s

One does not want to denigrate the honest efforts of those who went before, but it’s a jolly good job that our heroes achieved both glory and glorious failure in those earlier years, because supporting Spurs in the 90s was a fairly joyless experience, and one compounded by the fact that most in secondary school were Arsenal fans.

There were little flashes of joy – my first visit to the Lane; Klinsmann scoring and then spinning around to stare me in the eyes in a rather generous and touching striker-to-striker moment; discovering that Steve Sedgley lived around the corner and knocking on his door for an autograph; Ginola’s glorious slalom vs Barnsley; the 1999 Worthington – but this was an era in which the hope was doing an impeccable job of killing me.

4. The 2000s, Jol, Bale and ‘Arry

By the turn of the millennium I had had the good sense to start devoting my hours to booze and females, the former reliably assisting in the process of Spurs-supporting, the latter simply putting up with it (or not).

The prominent memory of my University years is turning on the radio for the classified results, having known we were three goals to the good at half-time, and in a millisecond registering a) disappointment that we had still only scored three at full-time, and b) confusion that the intonation of the classified results-reader was indicating that the home team had lost, which was most peculiar, because that could only mean that Man Utd had, in the second half alone, at White Hart Lane, scored the princely total of…

A League Cup Final defeat was thrown in for good measure, before Martin Jol – blessed be his name – strode in like a lumbering bear, and I was off to my first ever European night at the Lane, a second honeymoon if ever there were one.

The zenith of this was yet another glorious failure compounded by several early shots to our own feet – needing to overturn a first leg deficit against Sevilla we were two-down before those around me had even taken their seats – but this at least was where the tide began to turn.

UEFA/Europa nights became the norm; a scrawny left-back called Gareth Bale was making blunders that had me calling for his head; Modric and Berbatov were making grown men go misty-eyed around me; and when ‘Arry Redknapp joined, and kicked things off with a 4-4 draw at the Emirates, featuring a 40-yard Bentley lob and not one but two last-minute comeback goals, the All Action, No Plot blog was born.

And with each passing season, the name seemed apt if not exactly tripping off the tongue. Which other team, needing a final-day result, could lose half its members to food poisoning? Which other team could finally break its Top Four hoodoo, only to find that despised rivals who had finished sixth would conjure up a last-minute equaliser, followed by a penalty shoot-out win, to take the trophy and our CL spot?

Supporting Spurs meant signing up to a series of absurdities that were all perfectly acceptable within the legislation, but seemed unlikely, barely credible and always plain bonkers. The difference is that in this season’s Champions League campaign, those unlikely and bonkers moments have fallen in our favour. To date…

On the pitch we crept closer to glory, but inevitably fell short in ever more galling circumstances, culminating to date with a Semi-Final penalty shoot-out defeat this season. Off the pitch a slightly unlikely dream was lived as I penned a curious book on Spurs, and in the process spent various afternoons in conversation with that same Gary Mabbutt whose knee kick-started the whole thing. (And, of course, became best mates with Jan.)

5: Poch and the Champions League Final

So without sacrificing the glory glory entertainment, Our Glorious Leader has introduced consistency, and raised the bar. A few years ago, in the season in which Walker and Rose tore up the flanks, we were the country’s most entertaining team. Over the course of two seasons we amassed more points than any other team, without winning a trophy.

A variety of sticks were used to beat us, and one by one they have been confiscated with some stern words. After all, there was a time when we were the team that never beat the Top Four teams, or that never won away at Chelsea. We never won at Wembley apparently – shortly before we beat Real Madrid there.

And at the start of this 2018/19 season, with no signings, a squad wearied by the World Cup and no home of which to speak, the Champions League Final was the last thing on anyone’s minds. In fact when we made it to the Quarter-Finals, and then started the Semi-Final, the Champions League Final was still the last thing on this particular mind. Not until Lucas’ final flourish, the moment that, in common with every other lilywhite, I only have to close my eyes to see and hear, which is a rather nifty trick.

After approximately ten days of floating around the place with a permanent grin etched across the visage, it’s been approximately ten further days of excitement building, until these current levels, when I really do need a stiff drink and a lie down.

It does not end in Madrid of course – if the best part of four decades on this mortal coil has taught me anything it is that life tends to churn on fairly relentlessly – but from the 1987 FA Cup Final lost by an extra-time own goal, the all action no plot process has wound its way, via comeback after mind-boggling dramatic comeback, to the 2019 Champions League Final.

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CL Final Preview: 5 Things Tottenham Must Do To Win

1. Kane at His Sharpest

Not to point too fine a point on it, but Kane’s contribution to proceedings will be constitute pretty critical stuff.

Casting minds all the way back to the start of the season, and in that post-World Cup fug much of the chatter revolved around the fact that the chap looked every inch a man in desperate need of a good lie-down. His touch was heavy, his movement was laboured. He protested otherwise, and the goals generally continued to flow, but for whatever reason we certainly were not witnessing Peak Kane.

In the here and now, Kane is once again insisting that he is in fine fettle, and I’m inclined to believe that the ankle is now fully healed. The concern remains however, that his match sharpness – by which I mean that aforementioned touch and movement – is several marks off the ideal.

While we have stumbled our way through previous rounds using patched-together teams, and often sans Kane, this match of matches really requires our star player to be at the peak of his powers.

The question of whether he should start or come off the bench continues to linger (the AANP tuppence-worth is to start with him), but starting also presents a problem, because sharp or not, he presumably will struggle to last 90 minutes, and were he to start and the game to drag into extra-time, one suspects he will toddle off for a warm coat and isotonic snifter at some point.

Kane at his best, however, would be a massive asset to our heroes, and cause Liverpool all sorts of problems, from all sorts of angles. Fingers firmly crossed.

2. Sense Over Sentiment in Team Selection

Following his Amsterdam heroics, young Lucas is quite rightly being lauded everywhere he goes, and one would hope the chap will never have to buy his own drink ever again.

However, many are calling for his inclusion in the starting line-up for the Final, on the basis of an argument that can essentially be distilled down to “It would be harsh not to”. Such discourse is greeted with a narrowing of the eyes at AANP Towers, and a sniff that could be considered haughty. This is a Champions League Final, not a mid-summer testimonial or a Sunday afternoon 1950s romance on Channel 4.

There should be no room for sentiment in this one, we absolutely need to pick the team that will win on the day – and if that means shunting Lucas into the attack then so be it, but I fall pretty firmly into the camp that thinks that Kane and Son ought to be the front pairing.

The alternative suggestion is cramming all three of Kane, Son and Lucas into attack – which would presumably mean a midfield of Dele, Sissoko and Eriksen. This, I fancy, would be madness of the highest degree. Away to Man City, and at home to Ajax, Eriksen and Dele confirmed what was already universally known, that they pretty much offer cosmetic value only when doing off-the-ball defensive work. Not their faults of course, as nature created them to attack. Set up with that 4-3-3 and I fear Liverpool will be over the hills and out of sight before we know what has hit us.

Sense, rather than sentiment, would appear to dictate that we use a midfield 4, with one of Winks, Dier or Wanyama in amongst the rest, tasked with rolling up sleeves and mucking in.

3. A Plan to Nullify Their Full-Backs

We have played Liverpool twice this season, receiving something of a spanking at home, albeit by only one goal, which rather flattered us, and losing by one own goal away from home, which rather flattered them.

Prominent in both encounters, particularly during those chunks during which Liverpool were in the ascendancy, were the red full-backs. When we played at Wembley, our own full-backs were in full kamikaze mode, and charged up the pitch, leaving Robertson and TAA plenty of room to set up camp and make merry. At Anfield, our lot went to the other extreme, and began in an ultra-conservative back five.

The solution, one imagines, lies somewhere in between. A back-four, perhaps, with both Rose and Trippier afforded a degree of protection from those in front? The second half at Anfield might prove a useful template, as we edged on top on that occasion, and were dashed unlucky to lose.

Whatever the solution, this is one of the notable problems over which Our Glorious Leader and his Brains Trust will need to chew and ruminate, preferably long into the night and within clouds of cigar smoke.

4. No Ludicrous Mistakes

Conceding a goal is always galling, but when it comes about because the other lot whir into hyperspace and slice us open with a thousand cuts – as in the style of Ajax in the first leg, for example – at least there are few regrets or recriminations. One might point a half-hearted finger at the left-back who may have moved a step to the side in the build-up, but essentially it is blameless stuff, and all involved are best off simply stiffening the upper lip and contemplating the riposte.

What is utterly infuriating is conceding a goal out of nowhere and under no pressure, as a complete gift to the opposition. Disturbingly, our heroes have made something of a habit of this over the course of the season, and it goes without saying that such nonsense makes the job in hand massively more taxing.

Trippier’s own goal; Lloris’ palm against Liverpool; Foyth’s own-area dallying; Trippier’s own-area attempted nutmegs; Lloris’ rushes of blood to the head and rushes of feet from his goal – the list is worryingly long. To say nothing of free headers at set-pieces.

Playing Liverpool will be hard enough, and the drill ought to be to force them to work dashed hard for every chance. On this of all occasions we need to cut out the utterly absurd, unforced errors.

5. No More Comebacks

No doubt about it, our heroes have turned the sensational comeback into something of an art-form during this Champions League campaign.

After the three-games-one-point ‘Arry Redknapp tribute at the start of the group phase, we went into the final 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and sixth games needing at least one goal to avoid elimination – and duly delivered each time. Against City we again needed a late-ish goal (and an even later VAR call), and then there was the madness of Amsterdam. On top of which, we seem to have imprinted into the gameplan the slightly curious tactic of conceding within the opening 5 minutes.

All thrilling stuff and so on and so forth, but this insanity really must end, for the good of all concerned. The constitution simply cannot take it, for a start – and heaven knows what the nerves will be like during a Champions League Final – but more pertinently we just cannot repeatedly rely upon comebacks. A two-goal half-time deficit will not always be overturned, and I certainly wouldn’t fancy our chances of doing so against this lot.

Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, to canter into a lead, and then hold onto it?

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CL Final Preview: 6 Players Who Took Tottenham To The Final

1. Hugo Lloris

Heaven knows I’ve been at the front of the queue when it’s come to sticking the knife into our skipper – and giving it a vigorous twist for good measure too – because the absurd, unforced errors have come thick and fast in the last season or two. However, when push met shove in the business end of this season’s Champions League, Lloris thrust out limbs like nobody’s business.

The Dortmund away leg springs to mind, a game into which we took a three-goal lead but looked for all the money in the world like we wouldn’t make it to half-time without being pegged back.

Dortmund brought their A-game, slicing us apart with the sort of blurry whizz of motion that Ajax were to replicate in the semi-final. Time and again they skipped past each of our massed ranks until finding themselves staring into the whites of Lloris’ eyes; but time and again our captain did the necessary, no matter how unlikely the laws of physics suggested this would be. Re-watch the highlights of that first half in particular, and one needs to dust off the abacus to rack up the precise number of point-blank saves made.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and within ten minutes of the quarter-final first leg at home to Man City, VAR had awarded a penalty against Danny Rose, and the customary uphill slog looked set to kick in.

Enter, yet again, Monsieur Lloris, to repel Aguero’s spot-kick and breathe fresh life into this unlikeliest of campaigns. Had Aguero scored, the away goals advantage would have gone up in smoke there and then, and more pertinently City might well have racked up a hatful.

2. Moussa Sissoko

AANP’s player of the season, Sissoko seems to have improved with every game, transforming before our goggling eyes from figure of fun to critical cog in the machinery. One moment that summed up this metamorphosis was his gallop forward in the closing stages at home to Inter.

By that stage of the campaign it was win or bust, thrice in a row. A sloppy start had left our heroes with one point from three games, and any thoughts of winning the whole dashed thing had been tied up in a sack, weighed down with bricks and dropped overboard. Needing a win to avoid elimination in each of Matchdays 4, 5 and 6, this seemed rather unlikely against Inter, until the final 10 minutes, when Sissoko took it upon himself to put his head down and charge into enemy territory.

One is reluctant to blame the Inter mob for backing off, for it would be a brave man to try to impede a Sissoko gathering a head of steam. The chap drove from Point A, around 10 yards inside his own half, to Point B well inside the Inter penalty area, with the sort of steely determination that one dares not interrupt, and with each step began imprinting himself into Tottenham folklore.

He found Dele, who swivelled and found Eriksen, and his finish kept our heads above water. Just.

Further approving nods to Sissoko for setting up Kane away to Dortmund, and filling in at auxiliary right-back away to Barcelona, after KWP was hooked and we went in desperate search of an equaliser.

And of course, his introduction against Ajax in the semi-final first leg did just about enough to wrest the game away from them.

3. Jan Vertonghen

One of several who made pretty vital, last-ditch stretches away to Dortmund, to keep our hosts at bay and our 3-0 lead in tact when it seemed that calamity might befall, my best mate’s true value was demonstrated in the first leg of that same tie.

Playing at left wing-back Vertonghen first went toe-to-toe with Jadon Sancho, by the skin of his teeth keeping the young pup contained in a first half in which we were decidedly second best.

In the second half, however, Vertonghen emerged as an irresistible creative force from left-back, flying down the flank with unsullied abandon, whipping in a series of crosses that sent the Dortmund central defence into a frightful tizz and capping things off with a striker’s finish to put us two goals ahead and take something of a knife to Dortmund’s spirits.

That Vertonghen-inspired win gave us enough breathing space to survive the second leg onslaught – and just like that, we were in the quarter-finals.

4. Harry Kane

An enforced absentee for various critical stages of the campaign, Kane still popped up with a number of pretty vital finishes hither and thither. Hardly a surprise, as 14 goals in 18 Champions League appearances does point to a chap who bounds around the place ticking boxes at this level like it’s going out of fashion, but it’s still rather easy to forget his contribution to this season’s effort.

Most notably this occurred at home to PSV in the group stage. Again, it was a game in which nothing less than victory would suffice – so obviously we went behind in the first minute.

And there we remained until the final 10, when Kane’s relentless focus on hitting the target paid off, albeit in slightly more nerve-jangly fashion than would have been ideal.

First a pot-shot in a crowded area found the bottom corner; and then in the final moments a header towards the right-hand corner took a hefty deflection of one PSV torso to send it towards the middle of the goal, and then for good measure detoured again, of another PSV limb, to trickle apologetically into the bottom left.

They all count – as Kane, more than most, will testify – and on we stumbled marched.

5. Fernando Llorente

Another of those chaps who puts the “fickle” into “AANP”, I can quite easily wile away a spare half hour by simply lambasting Fernando Llorente – and yet few have been more critical to what might be the most brilliant success in our history.

As aforementioned, when needing a win at home to PSV, we did it the Spurs way and entered the final 10 minutes a goal down. By this point Llorente had been unceremoniously deposited into the PSV area, and duly earned his keep. Give him a chance two yards in front of goal and the ball might end up anywhere in the solar system, but tell him to hold up the ball, hold off a central defender and lay the ball delicately into the path of Harry Kane, and he’s in business. He did just that, Kane scored and we went on to scrape a win.

Fast forward to the quarter-final away leg at Man City, and Llorente produced the sort of finish that only a man of his questionable finishing ability can produce. Closing his eyes and hoping to win a header from a waist-height cross, he did enough to bundle his way in front of his man, and use a questionable combination of hip and possibly-or-possibly-not wrist to force the ball in. And then celebrated like we fans were celebrating.

Fast forward even further, and with nothing left to lose in the semi-final second leg against Ajax, Llorente’s very presence, introduced at half-time, did enough to sow seeds amongst the Ajax defence. Daly Blind in particular spent most of that half casting a perturbed hand across a distinctly fevered brow, as Llorente simply bullied him.

Aside from any contributions to goals, this helped changed the pattern of play, and momentum of the game. And then, ultimately, his ungainly, angular poke of the ball, in the final minute of added time, was enough to give Dele a yard, and then Lucas Moura… [goosebumps]

6. Lucas Moura

Not just a man for a semi-final hat-trick, Lucas also scored in the dying minutes against Barcelona, in yet another of those group stage games in which we desperately needed a win and therefore conceded early.

Lucas charged in to slap the ball home from close range, and with a little help from PSV we went from one point after three games, to qualification for the knockouts.

And what a knockout it was shaping up to be in the semi-final. In truth, until he scored I was rather despairing of Lucas’ contribution. Frenetic and a little wasteful when on the gallop; unable to link with midfield when dropping deep with back to goal; and without a shot in anger in the whole first half, he seemed just another one of those waving forlornly as the game passed him by.

But then, by golly what an impact. The surge of pace to latch on to Dele’s touch for the first goal was worthy of an Olympic sprinter.

The footwork to dance around the Ajax 6-yard box before scoring the second was worthy of any head-down 9 year-old in the playground.

And then the winner, placed into the only available spot in the net, at the last possible moment before two Ajax defenders could and would have blocked it, and as the clock ticked from 94:59 to 95:00…

I’m not sure there will ever be a Tottenham Hotspur moment quite like it. The bedlam, the en masse Ajax faceplant, the repeated viewings and the full 24 hours it took to register the enormity. On top of which, it’s rather pleasing that the hero of the hour was one of the more unlikely sorts, as it does hammer home that the whole thing was quite the collective effort (which makes a mockery of a list of 6 individuals, but over that we quietly gloss). Heroes, predictable and otherwise, at every turn – one wonders if there is room for one more name to be heralded on Saturday…

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West Ham – Spurs Preview: Perspective & Moderation, Of All Things

The whiff of misplaced optimism fairly pointedly indicates that a new season is lumbering into view, but things are unmistakeably different this time round. For a start, perspective and moderation, of all things, are dangerously close to breaking out amongst the lilywhite fraternity, in a scenario not too dissimilar to the English attitude at this summer’s World Cup. In common with quite a few Spurs-supporting chums, I cannot help but think that we are careering towards a respectable if unremarkable 6th place finish. Wage bills certainly suggest as much, and while those around us have been parading shiny new players at mind-boggling cost, following last season’s transfer glut the rationale at N17 this time round has veered to the other extreme. Big name signings have been conspicuous by their absence, and expectations have been tempered accordingly.

The drill for the new man at the helm seems to be to make the most of what he inherited, with not a peep of dissent, and not a hint of a big money uber-signing. Handily enough, the job description in its entirety seems to be neatly summarised by The Lamela Situation. Contained within one unsymmetrically-coiffeured and over-expensive Argentine winger lies the conundrum facing our man Pochettino – to extricate good value from someone else’s expensive toys. If anyone can perform such alchemy it ought to be the chap who turned Lallana, Shaw et al into £20m+ players.

Just as well, because in addition to Lamela there are a raft of others who need a switch flicked somewhere – while Soldado poached one rather neatly in last week’s friendly against Schalke, there was also the inevitable wild slap into the North Stand from close range, suggesting that certain bad habits linger. Then there is Chadli, Townsend, Lennon, Dembele, Capoue, Chiriches… the whole dashed lot of them in fact, bar Lloris and Vertonghen.

Such ambitions are for the future. Saturday brings the dreary prospect of a trip to West Ham, and a distinct lack of optimism at AANP Towers. I don’t doubt that we will finish ten or so places above them come next May, but this is their Cup Final, and the painful memory of the corresponding fixture at the tail-end of last season lingers heavily in the memory. On that occasion, the performance of Adebayor and Paulinho within our defensive wall set the tone for a defeat so spineless that passing amoeba congregated pitchside to take notes.  Talent they may lack, but one can certainly see West Ham out-fighting us, and should they get their noses in front I fear we will be in trouble. (That pre-season optimism did not last too long then.)

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Newcastle 0-4 Spurs: Three Reasons to Rejoice

1. The Return of Kaboul

Slaughter a calf! Inflate a balloon! Find a young maiden and go down on bended knee! For, ye gods be praised, Kaboul is back, and in the team, chest puffed, pace increasing, eyebrows immaculately plucked. The return of Kaboul quite possibly makes me happier than winning four-nil away from home. Three points is three points, but Vertonghen-Kaboul is a foundation on which a whole bally world of awesomeness can be built.

Moreover, the purring of this particular axis has the most desirable consequence of leaving Young Master Daws consigned to the thumb-twiddling HQ that is the substitutes’ bench, a position from which even he is unable to inflict calamity upon proceedings by the delivery of an ill-timed lunge. When masterfully-timed lunges were required yesterday Monsieur Kaboul delivered. Not necessarily a flawless performance, as the back-four did occasionally resemble four slightly wonkily linked pieces of Meccano, but the gist of thing is to rejoice and be glad.

2. The All-Action Switch Is Flicked

Moving ever so slightly up the pitch, it was a cause of more delight that the lethargy of Sunday afternoon had been binned, and every outfield player was instead embarking on a personal drive to lay siege to the Newcastle goal. With Bentaleb a lot further forward than has ever been the case, both full-backs deciding that they would spend the evening doing work experience in the wingers’ office and even our trusty centre-backs (another bow if you will, Monsieur Kaboul) unable to resist the urge to charge at the home defence, the entire troupe looked like they were having an absolutely riotous time. Until Newcastle countered.

A better team may well have taken advantage of this whiff of naivety, but that is probably something to be brooded over another day. We tore into Newcastle with gusto – never more enjoyably so than in that late attack when the ball was rolled to the right of the area and literally four Spurs players converged upon it unopposed – and for this we should once again rejoice and be glad.

3. Our Lot: Big Lads

As a wide-eyed, gullible and slightly annoying youth, AANP occasionally took time out from recorder concerts  and spelling-tests to listen to his elders curse and bemoan the fact that for all their silky flair our heroes rather lacked a steely underbelly. Looking at the line of body-builders and tree-trunks that trotted out for the handshakes yesterday it seems reasonable to opine that those days are receding into the annals. Kaboul, Walker, Capoue, Dembele, Paulinho, Bentaleb and Adebayor are the sort of solid units one would not particularly enjoy trying to slyly shoulder-charge into the advertising hoardings, which, if nothing else, ought to make young Aaron Lennon feel well looked after.

From faintly ridiculous to borderline sublime in the space of three days, we now find ourselves not only three points off the CL spots, but seven points off the summit. Heavens above.

Swansea – Spurs Preview: The Striking Selection Dilemma… Again

And so the interminable wait continues, amongst just about every Spurs fan of my acquaintance, for the Sherwood bubble to burst, so that those sharpened knives can be plunged with gusto. Nevertheless, it’s four wins and a draw in the league, and another win or draw would seem to be on the agenda today. The approach these days appears to be kill or be killed, so while the defence bears a permanent ‘skin-of-its-teeth’ take on life, up the other end the Eriksen-Adebayor-Soldado-Lennon axis poodles along in pretty fine fettle, and one or two of that mob will presumably be to the fore again today.

Depressingly enough there won’t be too many more opportunities to ponder this in the future, but Sherwood will presumably be scrawling in ‘Credit’ and ‘Debit’ columns respectively the various permutations of replacing Soldado with Defoe. I jolly well know where my own preference lies, but I presume we will again be treated to 70 minutes of Soldado sliding in to knee the ball up into the stands and pick himself up with that rather angry expression on his face as if it’s really all our fault for shouting at the telly-box in the first place.

The rest of the team picks itself these days, and that there is now consistency in team selection makes a welcome change from the slightly more haphazard take on things of the previous regime. The downside seems to be that one cannot stretch a limb these days without crashing into another soul who wants to hitch a lift on the Defoe Express and set off for pastures new. Holtby, Capoue and Chadli have all apparently toyed with the idea in recent days, and Lamela’s name is rarely far from a transfer gossip column. All of which makes me wonder what has happened, six months on, to the summer blueprint of creating a squad for all seasons, which was so enthusiastically endorsed by the suits in the corridors of power.

Meaty stuff I’m sure you agree, but a sizeable digression from the task in hand. I rather like watching Swansea, truth be told, and given their keep-ball style, and our new-fangled approach of back-to-front-as-quickly-as-humanly-possible this ought to make for entertaining viewing. As ever I rather fear for our defence, but all things considered we ought to out-score this lot.

Spurs – Liverpool Preview: Striking Dilemma Ahoy

They may only have been the dregs of the English and Russian leagues respectively, but three consecutive wins have done enough to secure nods of mild satisfaction where once there were howls of anguish, so we can go into this one with sentiments bordering on cautious optimism. Moreover, the gods of fate seem to have nonchalantly tossed us a couple of extra scraps, and thus we find that the red mob will toddle up to the front gates sans Messrs Gerrard and Sturridge. Admittedly seeing Dawson go toe-to-toe with Suarez will be a little like having a member of the undead spend 90 minutes pulling a single entrail from our gut, but beyond that particular mismatch we ought to have a decent chance.

AVB would presumably not have dreamed of this a couple of weeks ago, but he actually has a few positive selection dilemmas to chew over today. To claim that we have an embarrassment of riches in attack is perhaps stretching the point, but after Defoe applied himself with some rigour and effect vs Sunderland and Fulham, we then had Soldado stumbling upon the secret formula for alchemy in midweek, albeit against fairly dreadful opposition. There are some who would still love to see the two of them pitted alongside each other and told to go out there and make merry, but presumably it will be one or t’other this afternoon.

In defence there seems to be a fairly definite hierarchy, so selection will simply depend upon who is fit, but the five across the midfield/attack again pose a few positive problems. AVB seems in recent weeks to have settled upon a selection strategy that involves writing names on paper, throwing them in the air and picking the ones that land nearest to him, but Messrs Lennon, Townsend and Holtby have all done the footballing equivalent of jumping up and down in front of him yelling “Pick me! Pick me!” while Sigurdsson seems a reliable sort of egg, and Lamela’s pass for the second goal on Thursday was drop-dead gorgeous. Nice to see the lad Eriksen back on his feet as well, and ahead of all of these in the queue is Master Paulinho, who has been the furthest man forward in recent weeks.

In the grand scheme of things three points would naturally help chivvy us along to where we want to be, but to take them at the expense of one our rivals – and particularly one boasting quite such smug office colleagues as this lot – would be a most desirable conclusion of affairs.

Sunderland-Spurs Preview: The Daws-Out-Defoe-In Campaign

It seems you can’t sneeze these days without another Spurs fixture hurtling towards you. This presumably gives Messrs Levy, Baldini and Villas-Boas a degree of smug satisfaction, because even if the XI on the pitch each game can do no more than trundle the ball sideways and backwards, on paper at least we do have a squad eminently capable of coping with two games per week.

Daws Out, Defoe In

That said, there appears to be minimal rhyme or reason to AVB’s tinkering – Lamela starting vs City and not in the squad vs United, Defoe ‘rested’ against Tromso and not selected vs United to name but two. Still, like my four year-old nephew with a new box of Lego, this gives the young bean something different with which to play each week, so good luck to him. However, if I may be so bold as to make a suggestion from the comfort of my sofa, and with the benefit of zero professional experience behind me, it would be to relegate Master Daws to his rightful position in the club shop, where he can perch on a ledge and revel in the glory of being club mascot, without ever having to worry about his lack of pace and turning-speed of a cruise-liner. Monsieur Kaboul may not exactly have covered himself in glory during the Etihad mauling, but he jolly well did cover himself in glory during the 2011-12 season, and it is difficult to imagine him doing any worse than the ill-judged, mistimed, lumberings of our esteemed captain.

In fact, while I have the floor I might as well take an almighty liberty and make a second suggestion, namely that the name ‘Defoe’ be scrawled in crayon across the teamsheet for the next three or four games. Just for sport you see, to see if he can do more in three or four games than Soldad’oh has done all season. I admittedly do wear Defoe-tinted spectacles most of my days, but it nevertheless struck me that he was more of a nuisance in his 90 minutes vs Sunderland than the Spaniard has been in the last month or two. And many is the claim that Defoe does not pass enough, but I spotted a couple of decent enough contributions vs Fulham (notably the one to set up Paulinho’s chance) – but more than that, I would rather a greedy blighter who troubles the ‘keeper a couple of times per game than a moody chunterer who registers nary a shot in anger.

Other Selection Bits and Bobs

Heaven help us, Vertonghen is out. This may mean Naughton thrust into that particular corner, but the preferable alternative at AANP Towers would be the discreet plopping into gainful employment of Kaboul. Dembele is a doubt as well apparently, a mild shame after his sterling performance against United, but we seem relatively well stocked in central areas, with Capoue back and Paulinho now apparently destined for a long and prosperous life in the hole.

Lovely though it has been to see four (four!) goals that were not penalties in the last seven days, none of them owed much to the fluidity and cunning of our build-up play, each of them having composed primarily of hearty thwacks from distance, so a problem still needs to be solved. Alas, Sunderland are stumbling through a pseudo-revival under Poyet, but the bottom team they remain, so this really has to be another three-point haul.

Tromso-Spurs Preview: The Great Hoddle Formation Gambit

Time might consider itself the great healer, but it is about to find itself shoved out of the way in pretty unceremonious manner, because no sooner have our intrepid heroes shipped six goals in one fell swoop than they find themselves farmed off to Antarctica, or that frozen planet in the Star Wars film, or wherever the dickens this lot play their trade. This, of course, is because the Europa League waits for no man, and as sure as eggs is eggs we find ourselves now on the cusp of the greatness that is qualification for The Next Bit Of This Slightly Tortuous Saga.

Qualification has already been successfully navigated by our superstars, and a couple of well-timed nods and winks will apparently guarantee us top spot in the group, and whatever riches that entails. However there is nevertheless an entertaining undercurrent to this distraction, because AVB has a coin to toss. Tradition dictates that he rest just about everybody involved last Sunday, with a view to keeping them fresh for another thrashing this Sunday – but given the debacle and all its trimmings one wonders whether he might be tempted to drag last Sunday’s lot back out for more. Not as punishment you understand, but as an opportunity to right some of the myriad wrongs. Certainly the likes of Paulinho, Lamela and Dawson to name but three have a few lashings of professional pride to restore, so our glorious leader might consider shoving them back out onto the greenery, and asking them as he does so to show a bit of decency and buck up a few notches.

Alternatively, this might be an opportunity for a spot of formation tinkering. Four months too late admittedly, but an opportunity nonetheless. Glenn Hoddle seemed to have caused a bit of a stir amongst Spurs-supporting chums of my acquaintance, by suggesting just prior to the City game that we dabble in a 5-2-1-2/3-4-1-2 looking number, with wing-backs and a lone chappie in the hole (although it looks a tad light on width and creativity to me, so goodness knows what our umpteen wingers would do with themselves while it played out). Perhaps a little more navigable for our addled minds might be an old-fashioned 4-4-2, as briefly and lamentably dabbled in at the start of the second half against City.

Whatever the decision, it all points towards a team selection with the potential to get the juices flowing. The game itself jolly well ought to be a formality, what?

Man City – Spurs Preview: Daws Against This Lot? Heaven Help Us

It’s a rummy thing, but having spent all season enviously eyeing the opposition net from around 20 yards, we now toddle off to the home of the Champions-elect, where they routinely run rings around all-comers, and I feel a darned sight more upbeat about our chances of finding the net. The primary reason being that old ‘Deep-Lying Opposition Defence’ chestnut, which has become rather a curse at the Lane, but tends to be less of an issue on our travels – and against this free-scoring, attack-minded mob and their glittering array of creative superstars it ought not to be a problem at all. Marvellous!

Furthermore, City will be without Kompany, who as well as (or perhaps because of) being possessed of a most peculiarly-shaped head is also quite the defensive lynchpin for this lot. Minus this chap they start to emanate the distinctive whiff of defensive fallibility. And on top of that, last time out against Newcastle, we actually managed to carve out some genuine, bona fide goalscoring opportunities. Not just the speculative 20 yarders, but actual chances from six yards out. Of course we would not have scored one of them if we had played all week, but baby steps, what?

There is, I suppose, a cloud to this silver lining, for while City’s attacking instincts might theoretically open things up for us at one end, this will be of limited value if we spend the afternoon chasing their shadows. In particular, the notion of Aguero and/or Negredo running rings around Daws rather makes one anxiously take a seat and reach for a splash of the old life-restorer. Regular visitors to these four interweb walls, as well as wading through great bally oceans of spam, will be well aware that our loveable captain is admired for many reasons here, just not for his defensive prowess. Should this turn into a backs-to-the-wall Alamo-style affair played on the edge of our area he will be jolly useful, but heaven help us if any of City’s millionaires decide to put their head down and run at him within the high defensive line. Kaboul, Kaboul and thrice I say Kaboul – get him back in the team.

Team News

Eriksen is out, having had a tap on the ankle, which presumably means a starting berth for Holtby, and the continued absence of Rose means that Vertonghen may again do the honourable thing at left-back. It seems rather a shame that we cannot field 15-20 players at once, as Monsieur Capoue is now fit again as well, which leaves AVB needing to select two from Sandro, Paulinho, Dembele and the aforementioned.

I cannot really imagine our esteemed leader suddenly deciding to live by the sword, so presumably Soldado will once again be the square peg at the apex, making runs that nobody feeds and lounging around by halfway when we need him to buck up and charge. Quite why we invested so much effort and money in obtaining the services of a blighter who, four months in, does not remotely fit the system, is beyond me, but ‘tis a grumble for another day. For now let us just close our eyes and hope for another clean sheet and late penalty.

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