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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
It’s a pretty dashed confusing time to be a denizen of N17, what? On the one hand we have statistics, and results, and the league table, and all those other things that I spent hour upon hour poring over as a student armed with Championship Manager (as it was then) – and they all point towards our heroes making a jolly good fist of things. On t’other hand however, the evidence of the eyes has us chuntering away, sages that we are, about creativity and lethargy and those blasted defensive teams who sit back with their umpteen players and taunt us.
As it happens these latter problems ought not to be quite so prominent this weekend, as Everton do not really come across as the sort of troupe to spend their weekends camping around the edge of their area. Presumably their game-plan will involve occasional attacks, and as such there ought to be some wide open spaces for our heroes to counter-attack. Touché, and a suitably evil laugh, for this should therefore be a more straightforward kettle of fish than those we have wrestled with in recent weeks.
There is, alas, a less salubrious element to this prospective sequence of events, which is that, in short, Daws will be going toe-to-toe with that Lukaku chap – if we were partial to a flutter around these parts we would be jolly well be telling Ray Winstone that our weekly shilling will be on the hulking chap in blue. The chances of Monsieur Kaboul being drafted in seem remote, so Lloris had better be on top of his game and ready to mop up the mess that Daws will inevitably muddle himself into at some point.
Sooner or later one would expect Lamela and Eriksen to flick through their respective back-catalogues and stumble upon those lashings of awesomeness that prompted us to hurl around buckets of cash with such gay abandon this summer. The AVB mantra however, appears to be ‘Softly softly catchy monkey’ (or, more accurately, ‘The minor cup competitions for you young scamps’) when it comes to embedding these chaps into the lilywhite m.o. Presumably therefore Messrs Lennon, Townsend, Sigurdsson and Holtby will have a polite scuffle in the changing-rooms to decide who starts proceedings. These little games of starting line-up bingo do at least make for a fun distraction as the clock ticks down to kick-off.
Given our travails so far this season, and the healthy start made so far by our hosts, I must concede that the heart does not quite brim with sunny optimism ahead of this one, and as such I might grudgingly concede that a point would be adequate – but fie upon that, it blinking well feels like time our lot made a statement, and as mentioned, away days such as these ought to be viewed as an opportunity for three points.
As ever following an international break it feels like the best part of a lifetime since we last convened around these parts, and given the sour – if entirely ludicrous – manner in which we parted, it seems fairly reasonable to speculate that our esteemed leader has spent the intervening eternity knee-deep in cogitation of the highest order. While there was no doubt a generous sprinkling of bad luck about the way we fell behind to West Ham having pummelled them for the best part of an hour, AVB might nevertheless be well advised to solve a couple of the riddles posed therein, and with unfettered alacrity.
Soldado? Defoe? Both? Neither?
It is not exactly a secret of the highest confidentiality that Tottenham Hotspur Version 2013/14 is being set up with the ultimate aim of feeding the boy Soldado. Evidently the various cogs do not yet quite mesh with the seamless efficiency one would want, but once things do fall into place the team will be geared towards him and one imagines he will score goals by the bucketload. Alas, at times it seems the supporting cast have yet to stumble upon the formula that transforms Soldado from the lonely-looking lighthouse he currently resembles to the unstoppable goal machine he threatens to be. The poor blighter has the misfortune to be neither a hulking man-beast of the ilk of Drogba nor the sort to drop deep and go foraging when the going gets tough, a la Rooney, so until the whole team sings from the same hymnsheet – the hymnsheet entitled ‘Let’s All Club Together To Create Dozens Of Chances For Soldado’ – he will presumably continue to lollop along a little forlornly.
Given Soldado’s travails, and the form of Defoe in the minor cups, the rationale behind Defoe’s selection against West Ham was understandable - but fairly ineffective. A different sort of beast, Defoe is likelier to collect the ball fairly deep, run at a defence and shot from range, and although against deep-lying opponents at the Lane this is of limited value, there may be more success away from home and on the counter. I do not particularly subscribe to the view that Defoe only scores against weaker teams (par example, his finish against Man City last season was top-notch, and against a mean old defence) and would be happy enough to see him given a run of games. Frankly however he currently resides in a box clearly marked ‘Impact Sub’, and here he will stay. I do, in my idle moments, wonder whether AVB might be tempted to deploy him today, given his success against Villa in the Carling Cup (or whatever it is now called) a few weeks back, but having fired blanks against West Ham one suspects his chance has passed for now.
Another option might be pairing the two of them. There could hardly be a less likely scenario today – given that we are away from home, the team is absolutely not set up for a front-two and it has not been done before, bar the final fifteen minutes against West Ham – so I get the feeling that should the suggestion be made in the corridors of power at the Lane a couple of burly security chaps would frogmarch me off the premises before I could finish blurting out the suggestion, but if nothing else these two are unlikely to get in each other’s way, and if Jay-Z and Kanye have taught me anything it is that one never really know what harmonious – if sample-heavy and profanity-riddled – delights can be produced by two like-minded blighters until they bally well throw caution to the wind and link arms.
Ultimately however, Soldado will probably remain the focal point of things and we will all simply have to remain patient and wait for things to click. Which is fortunate, as we Tottenham folk are particularly renowned for our lashings of patience, what?
Lessons From England
Another mini-rant, while I have the floor – ‘twas interesting to note how England eventually turned dominance into a lead, and then maintained that momentum, even going so far as to score again, particularly against Montenegro. This has hardly been a speciality of our heroes, but given that we typically rack up around 20 shots on goal we dashed well ought to win games by more than the odd goal or two. The national side gave a glimpse of how to keep feet on the accelerator even after eventually taking a lead, and our lot would do well to emulate the approach. As, indeed, they did at Villa Park a few weeks back. (Given the successes of various rivals yesterday, the imperative is even greater.)
That our second string could trounce Villa in the Cup, on their own patch, just last month or so bodes fairly well, but this being a new day an entirely different kettle of fish may well await. AVB has sought to integrate the new faces at a gentle pace, sensibly enough, but after the huff and puff of our last outing he may be tempted to let young Lamela off his leash, while Aaron Lennon is apparently now fit again. Young Master Townsend’s international exploits have been well documented, and it struck me that he was ever-so-slightly more prone to pass than shoot while in England colours, which might not be the worst trait to transfer to N17. There have also been murmurs amongst Spurs-supporting chums of mine to give Holtby an opportunity in the hole, particularly if Eriksen is again starved of space. Here at AANP Towers the greater concern is that Dawson may again be given the run-around – Kaboul’s return to full fitness cannot come soon enough. However, when all is said and done, this still ought to be another three points for the collection.
Nothing says “What ho, welcome back to the country old bean” after a few weeks in sunny climes surreptitiously eyeing the bikini-clad locals better than a ding-dong with that ‘orrible blue-clad lot from yonder.
Marvellous - if slightly discombobulating – times at the Lane these days, with a record of 8 wins from 9 this season, just the one nut conceded and a veritable wad of clean-sheeted victories with which to impress the lady-folk. However, the devil, as ever, is slinking around in the detail, for the one truly truly spunk-filled sparring partner to date were the wretched l’Arse, who duly biffed us one and scarpered. This second significant test of our season therefore ought to tell us a thing or two about our credentials, as victory against Chelski would not just nudge us topwards for an hour or two, but would also prompt can-cans, fandangos and fancy pirouettes in the streets of N17. In short, win this game and all moderation would be hurled out of the window and told not to return until the tinsel is up.
AANP Towers has been vacant for several weeks, so news of our heroes’ glories have generally been received via the dubious medium of bbc text commentary, but if MoTD snippets tell a man anything these days it is that the lad Eriksen tucks away for breakfast those cute, diagonal, defence-splitting passes that have been dreamily sought after for years. Someone lock that man away and have his babies, for he is a precious commodity indeed.
On top of which, the whole troupe seem to be emerging from their cocoons like the face-huggers in Aliens, with Holtby squirting glory-passes in midweek, Paulinho charging up and back, Sigurdsson finding his range and Defoe politely clearing his throat at every opportunity, not to mention Townsend, Lamela, Lennon et al moodily queuing up for their respective 15 minutes of glory.
Against l’Arse we rather paid the price for a lack of creativity and service to Soldado, but the lesson one would hope has been learned, and by essentially trading in Eriksen for Capoue from that line-up the whole bally thing ought to be vastly better balanced. Time will time. Opportunity has rarely knocked louder for our heroes.