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Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid: Seven Lilywhite Observations

1. Bright Moments From Dele

Young Dele has been smothered in fuss for around two years without a pause for breath, so naturally the young fish is today being feted as the second coming, after one scrappy poke, a heavily deflected second and an open goal miss.

A curious specimen this chap, because his performances frequently feature errors strewn about the place like confetti, alongside the glimpses of match-winning élan. Dives, attempted nutmegs and a bizarre tendency to channel his inner Moussa Sissoko and overrun the ball have generally been in evidence this season, and a selection of the above again made themselves known in the opening minutes last night, prompting me to raise an eyebrow or two.

But lo, when the planets align the young imp becomes something of a force of nature. His timing of runs, slap bang into the meat of an opponent’s soft underbelly could not have been more effective if he were waving an axe and yelling “Ho!”. Whether as a supporting act to Kane (arriving those critical few moments later and when defenders are already preoccupied), or as a temporary central striker(when the leading man had gone snuffling away down the flanks) Dele got his numbers right yesterday.

It certainly helped that Real adopted the Shrug-And-Scatter art of defending, but our man had his green cross code down to a t, knowing almost instinctively when to stop and when to pelt it forward.

On top of which, he made a far better fist of life as a midfielder than he has done to date this season. As mentioned, the dribbles have rarely struck oil in 2017/18, but yesterday his twinkling little toes were deployed to cracking effect, notably in the build-up to the third goal.

2. The Other Side of Kane’s Game

So we can all take a deep breath and get used to another nine months or so of press hysteria about Dele leading us to World Cup glory, but in the meantime there was a slightly more subtle demonstration of things great and good from Harry Kane.

Not one of those days on which he rams home his ability to flick through the A-to-Z of goalscoring and score literally every type of goal invented, instead this was a game in which he beavered away for the cause, like one of those unsung heroes in a black and white war epic on a Sunday afternoon.

The harassment to win that early throw-in that led to our opener – and the presence of mind to keep the metronome clicking away by taking the aforementioned throw-in swiftly – were early indications that he would scrap away for everything, because you never quite know.

Then when haring away, to have the awareness and skill to pick out Eriksen with a pass weighted to perfection, again suggested that this was a man who knew when to stick, when to twist and when to do the honourable thing by his chums.

Moreover, I quite enjoyed the fact that when high balls were lobbed into his general vicinity, opposing defenders simply bounced off his ample frame, possession was retained and an air of brute-like superiority was established.

3. Trippier Bosses Things

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Our Glorious Leader likes to alternate his wing-backs pretty much every game, but I dashed well wish that Aurier would be tucked away at the back of the cupboard and forgotten about until the next spring clean. Not that I wish ill upon the chap, but whereas he has the letters L-I-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y stamped across the back of his shirt, Trippier busily does everything required of him by contract, then goes back and pointedly exceeds each one of his duties, as if curious to ascertain precisely how devastatingly effective one single right wing-back can be on a field with 21 others.

The result was that while memories of Aurier flying in feet first hovered in the air, Trippier got down to brass tacks and delivered an absolute masterclass in spying a downed opponent and applying his foot to said opponent’s neck. As solid as dutifully required when defending, Trippier delivered a tour de force going forward, which on a night of counter-attacking frolics was precisely what the doctor ordered.

The first time volleyed deliveries across the penalty area ought really to belong in a museum, and even though he had a bucket of luck tipped all over him in being adjudged onside for the opening goal, here at AANP Towers we were too busy drooling over the technique to care a hang. Fingers are firmly crossed that Pochettino finds a sneaky way to ensure that Aurier is employed against the small-fry, and Trippier gets the nod for every crunch game.

4. Eriksen Makes Hay

A couple of weeks ago I lamented, if that’s the word I want, that our magnificent Dane forgot to take his magnificence with him when he travelled to the Bernabeu, and delivered about as anaemic as a an earthworm having a particularly pallid time of things.

It was very much consigned to the annals yesterday, however, as the bizarre tactics of Real allowed Eriksen to have an absolute blast, like a teenager whose parents have vacated the premises for the weekend and allowed him to run wild.

Given that Modric had bested him at the Bernabeu, there was something particularly poetic – and downright hilarious – about seeing the Croat desperately try, and fail, to prevent Eriksen poking in our third. It was a goal that did as much credit to the Dane’s indefatigability as to his technique, those little legs going like the clappers to carry him just about the full length of the pitch at breakneck pace.

5. The Defence Just About Holds Firm

An air of mystery still surrounds the absence of Davinson Sanchez from proceedings at the weekend, the blighter having done little wrong in previous excursions, but normality was restored to her throne last night, and as it happens Davinson and chums as one made a pretty solid fist of things.

It would be rather glossing over things a tad too enthusiastically to suggest that the defence were in supreme control throughout, their 90 minutes unsullied by the weight of duty, because while the balance of play seemed to be firmly lilywhite, there were a number of close calls in front of – or indeed level with – Monsieur Hugo, which had the heart leaping out of the chest, beyond the throat and embedding itself within the mouth.

Nevertheless, by hook, crook or by one Real attacker slamming the ball against another but a yard from the goal-line, our heroes just about kept the visitors at bay, which in the final analysis was joly well deserved both ways.
The loss of Alderweireld will have to be classified as collateral damage, sustained within the great swathe of fixtures that currently envelops, but the international break might help to the various sinews and muscles to return to former glories.

Alderweireld’s unscheduled exit meant a nifty shuttling of Dier into the back three, and the young mass of muscle did a sterling job. The whole troupe did likwiese in fact, with Vertonghen picking a few moments to provide Ronaldo with a delicate welcome back to these shores, and Sanchez showing a little more guile on the ball than in recent weeks.

6. Winks Assisting Assists

Naturally enough, a celebratory AANP Towers would not be the same without a few splashes of the good stuff in honour of current flavour of the month, Harry Winks. Rather like a poor lamb diving headfirst into his GCSEs, it has been one gruelling test after another for Master Winks in recent weeks, and the engine just about ran out of juice in the second half.

The chap does seem fond of an errant pass or two, but by and large he fought the good fight, and it was marvellous to see that instinct for a useful forward pass bearing fruit, not once but twice. In setting up the first girl he pinged the ball wide to Trippier, when easier, less risky options abounded. Then for the third goal, it would be easy to overlook that from within his own area, rather than blast the thing into orbit, he picked out Dele, who skinned his man, fed Kane, and Eriksen was in.

Few folk care too much about the man who assists the assist, but five years on I still remember fondly that when we beat Milan at the San Siro, the man who set Aaron Lennon away on halfway, to assist Crouch, was one Luka Modric. Whisper it, but Winks may have something similar about him.

7. This Game’s Sissoko Moment

Naturally enough, a celebratory AANP Towers would not be the same without a few splashes of the good stuff to calm the nerves following the latest Sissoko farce. A couple of weeks ago it was his errant last-minute pass when we counter-attacked 4 vs 1. At the weekend it was his shot vertically into the air after De Gea fumbled.

Yesterday it was his wild air shot when the ball was gently rolled into his path, a napkin attached around his neck and gleaming cutlery placed in his hands. I realise that Winks did the same, but Winks then redeemed himself by dribbling through half the Real defence, as well as setting in motion two goals. Sissoko decidedly did not.

One can only assume that Sissoko plays like Pele in training, because there is little other reason for him to be so heavily involved in things.

Sissoko’s guff mattered not in the end, for this was right up there with the very best in our history. The upward trajectory continues, and players, and particularly the manager, deserve all the acclaim going spare.

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

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Struggles Without Kane

Having spent the last 48 hours or so confidently assuring friend and foe alike that we are plenty more than a one-man team, and the loss of Kane would be swatted away with the care-free insouciance of an elephant dispatching a few errant flies on its muzzle, you can well imagine the awkwardness at AANP Towers as events unfolded on Saturday.
Naturally there was no shortage of huff, puff and elbow-grease by the bucketload, but having opted for a team without a recognised, bona fide striker, funnily enough we rather turned in the performance of a team without a recognised bona fide striker.

Son, Alli and, heaven help us, Sissoko, were each in their own way relatively willing to meander forward and cautiously poke their noses into the opposition area every now and then, but each seemed set on playing a supporting role, seemingly forgetting that Harry Kane was not amongst the troops.

After the scratchy opening 15 minutes or so in which we barely touched the ball, we had a fair amount of possession, without ever looking remotely threatening. Our lack of an imposing central striker was utterly, glaringly obvious. And curiously it was not a matter massively improved when Llorente waddled on either, the chap lacking the imposing Untameable Beast-like quality of our absent friend.

It all had the sombre gloom of a Greek tragedy, dealing a sharp slap to the AANP face into the bargain, for all those churlish, positive, pre-match suggestions that we would handle Kanelessness like billy-o. Against lesser teams I imagine either Son and/or Llorente will do the trick, but this time out the whole masterplan had that same nagging flaw about it that one feels when one trots off to the office and discovers en route that a machete is embedded in one’s back and blood is draining out like nobody’s business. It hinders things.

2. Opting Against The Forward Pass

No doubt operating without a designated forward was limiting in the way that operating complex machinery without a head on one’s shoulders can prove quite the obstacle, but I felt that matters were exacerbated by a curious snese of caution that seemed to envelop our heroes as they plied their business.

The two may well be interlinked of course, but time and again it seemed that when the ball was at the feet of Eriksen, and a world of possibilities opened up before him, promising health, wealth, happiness and allsorts, he rather moodily about turned and sucked the joy out of life by seeking a sideways or backwards pass.

This exercise in pessimism and gloom was all the more curious given the gay abandon with which he and chums had torn into Liverpool last week, and indeed puffed out their chests and gone biff-for-biff with Real at the Bernabeu. As mentioned, perhaps the acute awareness of the Kane-shaped hole up the top of the pitch wormed its way into their subconscious.

3. Sissoko and Dembele

To general acclaim so far this season I heroes have muddled through without either Dembele or Wanyama with admirable stiff upper lips and the positivity in the sense of adversity that one hears went down a storm amongst those Christians when they were thrown to the lions and left without a bally hope.

All well and good, but I feel that the narrative takes a fairly hefty swerve when the great and good start waxing lyrical about the alleged improvement in Moussa Sissoko this season. The fact that he is being picked each week does not in itself constitute improvement. To my admittedly heavily biased and untrained eye, it simply reflects the fact that the all the other cabs on the rank have been temporarily pulled from service or are elsewhere employed.

Anyway, the hour came, the man came, and the limbs entangled once more. The chap is simply not up to scratch, seemingly as uncertain about what will happen when he approaches the action as any of the rest of us, due to the disconnect between his brain and limbs that stretches the very boundaries of human biology. This week’s Sissoko Moment was the wild slash of a ball vertically into the air, when the goal gaped, in the first half.

And as if to emphasise all of the above, he was replaced by Mousa Dembele who, while not faultless, demonstrated a level of control and smooth technique on the ball that a whole team of Sissokos would not achieve if they were left at typewriters for an eternity.

4. Rare Mistakes at the Back

By and large, there is rarely much to say about our back-three, which in itself is quite the compliment. They rather diligently just put heads down and get on with things, snaffling attacks, sweeping up messes, crossing t’s and dotting I’s.

All of which renders the more galling the subtle combination of errors that brought about our downfall yesterday. Messrs Alderweireld, Vertonghen and, I thought in particular Dier, were making a fairly decent fist of things, but each put a foot slightly wrong in the blur of events that was the United goal, and before you could splutter “But that is literally just a straightforward punt down the centre of the pitch” the ball was in our net and things had gone abruptly south. Just goes to show.

Why this could not have happened on one of those days when we were already four goals to the good I don’t know (I suppose if you were being clever you could say it actually did happen on one of those days when we were already four goals to the good, just last weekend, against Liverpool, so there). However, happen it did, and losing to a goal as soft as that was a bit like seeing two rhinoceroses going toe-to-toe only to have the clash settled by a stubbed toe.

But as I like to think in these situations, I would rather win one and lose one then draw two, so to have three points and a couple of goals in the bag from two fixtures against Liverpool and Man United is passable.

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

Spurs 2-3 West Ham: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Lethargy, Via His Master’s Voice

A tad difficult to burn with passion either way about this one. Our heroes sleep-walked into a lead, snoozed through to half-time and then sleep-walked into defeat. At no point before, during or after did anyone appear to care a hang for the thing, which had all the intensity and passion of a toddler’s morning lie-down.

While it would be easy to jab a digit of blame towards the players for their complacency and resolute determination to avoid moving into anything higher than third gear, I do wonder if at least a smidgeon of responsibility ought to lie with a higher power. Take, as a starting point, Exhibit A. Out glorious leader, waxing lyrical a prior to yesterday’s game. “Our objective is to try to win the Premier League and the Champions League. For me, two real trophies. That can really change your life.” So far, so reasonable. “And then the FA Cup, of course, I would like to win.” A little off-piste, but still making sense I suppose. “I would like to win the Carabao Cup. But I think it will not change the life of Tottenham.”

Notice anything? Do you get the sense that, for a man whose veins course with steely determination, there was something of a laissez-faire attitude about this competition? Well whether or not you or I picked up on any hint of ambivalence, the players dashed well tuned into his master’s voice and nailed their colours to the mast of not giving a jot either way.

One does not need a degree in rocket science to snaffle the gist of the thing, straight off the bat. Real and Liverpool last week, Man Utd and Real again next week, with Arsenal and Dortmund to come – these are sizeable fish that need frying, in competitions that it makes perfect sense to prioritise.

Nevertheless, some sort of nagging voice seems to carper away, in much the same way one’s conscience might if you turn a deaf ear to the homeless chappie asking for spare change. Was this really the right way to go about our business?

2. Llorente and His Silky Caress

Clear – or, indeed, cunningly subliminal – though the orders may have been to lay down arms, wave a white flag and read a good book while letting nature take its course, for the first hour or so at least, we were treated to a glimpse of what happens on the training ground, as some of the lesser lights took the opportunity to peddle their wares.

With Harry Kane being delicately covered from head to toe in cotton wool, Senor Llorente was amongst those given the opportunity to perform for the baying public. And perform he did, with all manner of light touches and silky caresses.

The chap might not be able to break into a sprint if the future of mankind depended upon it, but shunt the ball towards him in ungainly fashion while he has his back to goal, and he will perform some glorious footballing alchemy, turning the thing into an opportunity to progress with an array of exquisite flicks, straight into the path of an onrushing chum, and with impeccable weight on the pass too.

As if to emphasise the balletic nature of the man, the gods saw fit to place the indelicate lump that is Andy Carroll on the same pitch, for everyone to indulge in a game of Compare-and-Contrast.

3. Danny Rose Back in the Fold

On which note, one of the highlights that briefly me started me from all that dozing me was the sight of Danny Rose sending Andy Carroll flying, without breaking sweat.

The notion of resting the first-choice mob in preparation for scaling the heights vs Man Utd and Real rather sailed out of the window when it came to left-backs, with both Rose and Davies employed for the best part of 90 minutes. Still, it was the perfect opportunity for Rose to rev up the motor once again, and the young bounder seemed to enjoy himself, taking fairly literally the licence to roam forward and consequently finding himself as central midfield playmaker and auxiliary centre-forward at various points.

His hair might have undergone a rather discombobulating change, but he remains barrelsome of chest and appears still to have fire in his belly, so Rose-tinted spectacles make this a successful comeback.

4. Sissoko Turns A Corner. Maybe.

Seasoned visitors to these parts will now that Moussa Sissoko has never exactly been the plat du jour at AANP Towers, and even this supposed renaissance season has appeared to me be something of a sham, with onlookers tripping over themselves (much like the man himself) to laud him when no laud is deserved. Ungainly is fine if married to effectiveness – see Kane. H, Esq. Sissoko this season has continued to churn out barrel-loads of ungainliness, but his outputs have barely improved from last season.

Until yesterday. It may only have been West Ham reserves, who in the first half at least truly looked the worst team we have ever faced, but Sissoko at least had managed to untangle his feet, and started to look quite the attacking force. His powerful running has long been his saving grace, but yesterday it appeared that he had finally got his head round the most basic elements of physics, and started to understand the basic mechanics of a ball.

He was at the heart of much that was good, and, crucially, did not trip over his feet or collide with a lamp post or overrun the ball once (that honour went to poor old GKN, in his over-enthusiasm to impress).

5. Son, Dele And The Number Ten Role

Word reached me during the game yesterday, via the medium of a chum on whatsapp, that somewhere in the world Stuart Pearce had apparently been pontificating that Son was a better Number 10 than Alli.

It struck me that the broken clock was doing its thing, because to date this season I would say that that is more or less correct. Dele has pottered around hither and thither when employed behind the front man, but to little meaningful effect. A lot of attempted dribbles and nutmegs, and too many dives and exaggerations for my liking, but not as much impact as ought to be the case when collecting the weekly envelope.

Yesterday he was again shifted southwards into central midfield, and Son took the more advanced scoop. And, yet again, he did a decent job – particularly in the first half (for some reason his radar went awry in the second half, and he struggled to strike oil with even the most basic six-yard pass).

Son buzzed around, beat his man and played intelligent passes (until he was rendered incapable of passing accurately), generally doing all that one would hope Dele would do when similarly requested.

It seems sacrilegious to suggest that England’s Next-But-One Great Thing be dropped, but with big games on the horizon, I wonder if our grand fromage is considering starting with the more reliable man on current form. Something for the great and good to ponder, perhaps.

Spurs 4-1 Liverpool: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Kane, A Thing of Awesome Wonder

It is not meant at all as a slight to say that Harry Kane simply does not look like a footballer, rather more like God intended to make a manual labourer but a mix-up at HQ resulted in him being slapped onto a football pitch in a shirt two sizes too small.

But by golly, for a man fairly bereft of any semblance of balletic grace or easy-on-the-eye technique, he repeatedly proves himself to be more effective than Alan Shearer, who was arguably the most complete striker of my three and a half decades. I simply wave my hands in incredulity, for Kane is fast proving to be utterly, incomprehensibly, brilliant.

Jolly decent-seeming chap to, for what it’s worth. We are thoroughly lucky to have him. Fingers crossed that that hamstring strain was nothing too sinister.

2. Managerial Tinkering and The Liability That is Aurier

Our glorious leader will presumably make quite the children’s entertainer should this whole top-level football management lark not quite work out, because he simply cannot resist springing a surprise upon his unsuspecting public with his selections, in much the manner of a chappie suddenly yanking a rabbit from his sleeve and turning it into a bunch of flowers, at little Timmy’s 4th. Yesterday’s treat featured a right-back at left-back while two left-backs sat it out on the bench, as well as the central midfield rejig, more of which later.

In that we beat a supposed equal at quite the canter, I suppose Operation Aurier at Left-Back could be considered a roaring success. Empirical evidence however, makes a fairly deafening case to the contrary.

Why the dickens the bounder cannot go five minutes without taking a running leap and landing on his posterior is quite beyond me, but it does nobody the darnedest bit of good. The term “hit-and-miss” may well have been invented for this technique, because Aurier’s sliding tackle success rate seems pretty much to verge on 50-50. Not the odds one wants a defender to carry into Premiership or Champions League clashes, particularly when one of those 50s is liable to involve conceding penalties or picking up a card or two.

Aurier would do well to elevate Jan Vertonghen to the top of his Christmas card list, and bundle in a bottle or two of the good stuff at various other points in the year as well, because the Belgian ended up playing babysitter to the blighter time and again. Liverpool’s Salah had the beating of our lot for pace, which was bad enough, but with Aurier’s decision mode consisting of “Lose A Straight Foot Race” and “Dive In Like Bally-O” poor old Vertonghen ended up marshalling the left-back pasture like a traffic warden. And a sterling job he did of it too, but it rather goes to show.

As for Aurier? Haul him out of the team and hammer some sense into him, leaving the full-back berths to Rose, Davies, Trippier and Walker-Peters.

3. Managerial Tinkering and Midfield Discipline

Having become so accustomed to seeing responsibility lie on the shoulders of Eriksen, Alli and chums to unpick a stubborn opposing defence, it made an interesting change to observe these fellows adopting more of the wait-and-see approach. “Tactical masterstroke” I think is the term, as these two natural attacking types sat back, kept their shape and let Liverpool collectively take aim and fire at their own feet, before picking them off.

It would not have worked if either Eriksen or Alli had deserted their post and gone storming up the pitch in search of neon lights, fast cars, loose women and headlines, so caps should be doffed. Dele in particular has seemed to struggle somewhat to control the urge to go wandering off and making up his own rules, so he jolly well deserved his goal. Nice to see him throw in a few party tricks as well.

4. Dependable Son

Having been curiously limited to a two-minute cameo against Real, I thought Sonny was a little unfortunate to be hooked around the hour mark yesterday. The chap was tireless, providing an excellent foil to Kane and contributing heartily to that mauling of the opening 20 minutes.

If anything, he should probably have had a first half hat-trick, but a hearty round of applause will suffice for the half-pitch gallop and controlled finish that brought him his goal.

The use of Son with Dele and Eriksen in a deeper role, following the use of Llorente up top on Tuesday, rather hammers home the versatility and options which Pochettino is somehow unearthing in this squad, like a loveable alchemist choc-full of bright ideas. If he can find the time I would rather like to see him manage the Ashes squad and oversee Brexit too.

5. The Wembley “Curse”

Those frenzied press witterings about a Wembley “curse” or “hoodoo” or whatnot had always struck me as rot of a pretty high order, and psychologically at least, yesterday’s rout ought to do our heroes good by the truckload when it comes to glancing at the fixture list and drinking in the “open bracket, h, close bracket” at the end of each line.

But poppycock though the notion of a curse may be, life on the hallowed turf is likely still to present some problems. Liverpool yesterday pretty much offered a step-by-step illustrated masterclass in how not to play the mighty Spurs. Pouring men forward, defending with a high line and leaving the back-door guided by a chap who resembled one of those harmless, aged, partially blind shaggy dogs that is kept around on this mortal coil strictly for sentimental purposes only, Liverpool well and truly gifted the thing to us.

The concern then, or at least the food for thought, is around how we deal with other guests at Wembley who are not quite so obliging. Liverpool and Dortmund were lured into something of a trap, invited to pile forward and then counter-attacked with all the rapier-like thrusts of a team of particularly sprightly musketeers. A loosely similar plan, of soak up and counter-attack, was effected, creditably enough, at the Bernabeu, and will presumably be adopted again in a couple of weeks.

But what we do with against the dross of the bottom half of the Premiership table remains a concern. Such blighters will not be quite so accommodating, but will doubtless sit back themselves with 9 or 10 behind the ball. One for the Brain’s Trust then, but at least Wembley has now become a place in which we can tear an opponent limb from limb.

6…

And finally, nothing to do with our heroes, but I happened to catch, on Match of the Day 2 last night, possibly the most brilliant goal I’ve ever seen. If you can, check out the random Southampton bean, Boufal I think he calls himself. Utterly incredible goal.

Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. The Eriksen-Modric Fantasy Clash

I don’t mind admitting that the heart skipped a lovestruck beat when I saw Messrs Modric and Eriksen line up in opposition in the centre of the Bernabeu. It was like one of those classic films in which an inspired casting director has called in a few favours and pulled a few strings, with the result that he has managed to obtain the services of two absolute giants of the silver screen, to peddle their muck alongside one another for the first time. Think Expendables 2 and you have the idea.

So there, in glorious technicolour, were Modric and Eriksen. Master and Apprentice if you will, of the control panel at N17. Creator Extraordinaire Past and C. E. Present. Even the dullest, most heartless observer would have salivated uncontrollably at the prospect.

Alas, what transpired was quite the mismatch. Modric, unsurprisingly, stuck to his part of the deal, and duly ran the show from first toot to last. All that we had known and loved on the hallowed turf of the Lane was blazing away again, from the man once voted Real’s Worst Ever Signing. The exquisite technique, vision and execution, all allied to an impressive degree of hither-and-thither scurrying. It was A-Game stuff, and our heroes had to be on their toes throughout to prevent the chap running riot (which, to their credit, they did with aplomb, but more on that later).

But alas, I said, and it’s worth repeating: alas. For Eriksen, who by any loose estimation has hit quite the heights already this season, was dreadfully off colour. The heir to the Moric mantle seemed to have attached left boot to right foot and vice versa, and possibly then tied the laces of both boots together for good measure. He barely struck a right note the whole evening. Dashed odd, and terrifically frustrating, because if ever we needed our String-Puller-In-Chief to earn the monthly envelope it was away to the European Champions.

He will have better days – in truth he can barely have worse – and his work-rate was as earnest as ever, but there could barely be fainter praise for the chap.

2. Harry Winks’ 60 Seconds Worth of Distance Run

Seasoned visitors to these 4 walls will know that the AANP cup overfloweth with good honest man-love for young Master Winks. That he is one of our own and lives the dream is certainly pleasing, and poetic and whatnot, but pleasing and poetic alone does not win football matches. But by heck what does win football matches is receiving the ball and instantly spinning the needle Northwards to see what is available, then ploughing forward via the best transport mode available, be it pass or dribble.

The chap is not faultless – his loss of possession on halfway resulted five seconds later in a one-on-one for one of the greatest goalscorers in history, not the sort of error of judgement one wants to make too readily.

But allowing for the fact that young Winks is mortal, and that to err will very much be an occasional part of his DNA, he held his own in the face of arguably the stiffest midfield test in world football today.

The assorted boxes ticked included “Body Strength to Protect the Thing”, “Defensive Awareness (Both Positioning and Tackling)” and, as mentioned above, a pleasingly anti-Jenas ability to prompt a forward move. Those doubting the young bean’s ability would be advised to soak up a replay of our goal, featuring Winks shrugging off a challenge and playing the short but effective forward pass which set the thing in motion down the right flank.

3. Aurier and Sissoko

A propos that right flank, quite the eventful evening for those on patrol. Aurier’s greatest hits in lilywhite now include an assist vs Real Madrid, a penalty conceded for a wild lunge, a red card for two wild lunges, and an absolute hatful of other wild lunges delivered at regular intervals, executed with groan-inducing wildness and as likely to succeed as the toss of a coin.

A rough diamond then, as a particularly kindly diplomat might put it. The cross for our goal was scrumptious, and after the initial 20-minute bedding-in period in which every member of our back-five had evidently been instructed to remain within spitting distance of our own penalty area upon pain of death, he gradually began to don his marauder’s hat and go marauding up the right with the best of them.

The link-up play with Sissoko certainly did have the occasional look of ‘Accident’ rather than ‘Design’, but effective is as effective does, and Aurier caused them problems.

That said, watching him perfect the needless art of the Wild Lunge did make me want to reach out and offer a consoling pat to the head of Kieran Trippier.

Elsewhere on the right, the broken clock that yesterday told the right time was Sissoko and his limb collection. The consensus is that the chap did a decent job, and he certainly contributed to the unlikely double-act with Aurier. However, I would hardly number myself amongst the converts. For every extravagant scorpion-kick control-on-the-run there was a wild swing and miss on the edge of his own area. It did the job, he played his part, so credit where due, but every passing day – and every errant pass – makes me yearn more for Dembele and Wanyama.

4. Lloris’ Disdain for Physics

To date this season Monsieur Lloris has been cultivating quite the eye-catching collection of monumental aberrations, but such big tent capers can be forgiven in an instant when one observes the frankly physics-defying stunts he pulls off in the name of the last line of defence.

As with the left-hand scoop vs Bournemouth at the weekend, his leggy block of Benzema’s header yesterday seemed to cause a rip in the very fabric of space-time. The thing just did not seem possible, and was worth toasting to the rafters every jot as much as a goal at t’other end.

The save from Ronaldo’s volley, while slightly more aligned to the laws of physics, was nevertheless similarly first-rate. The chap is a keeper, if you get my drift.

5. Pochettino’s Tactics

AANP has no bones about attributing the rightful name to a digging implement, and when our glorious leader erroneously gambled on Son at left wing-back vs Chelsea in the Cup last year, a bashing was duly administered which no doubt still makes the chap cower to this day.

Last night, the assorted absentees forced him into another tactical gamble, and a startling one it was too, with the teamsheet prompting around 18 different interpretations from seasoned onlookers of what shape and arrangement might transpire.

5-3-2 as it happened, in a pleasing throwback to AANP’s failed experiments on early 90s Championship Manager, but credit by the truckload to Pochettino for deciding upon it, and the lilywhite troupe for executing it.

Admittedly, the deep-defensive approach does induce palpitations by the bucketload amongst the observing throng, but by and large it worked. In the first half, after the early woodwork scare, Real struggled to get their paws into the meat of the thing, viz. our penalty area. Admittedly we in turn struggled to prevent the ball returning straight back at us, particularly at the start of the second half, but with Real looking vulnerable at the back, the “2” element of 5-3-2 proved a smart move, and we should have toddled off home with more than just the one goal.
Credit, on that cheery note, to Llorente, who, while no whippet, showed both strength and a delicate touch in his role as Robin to Kane’s Batman.

Other observations were that Son was surprisingly underused, and Danny Rose seems to have spent his entire rehabilitation period deprived of any grooming products, but in the absence of 4 of our first choice 11, a point away at the European Champions was a fantastic result. Qualification is all but guaranteed, and in the grand scheme of things, the development of this bunch continues apace. Marked progress from last year, the upward trajectory continues.

Huddersfield 0-4 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Kane

Crumbs. Every man and his dog is chipping in with his tuppence worth on the blighter at the moment, and by and large here at AANP Towers we tend to scoot past his heroics and instead commit pen to parchment on the rights and wrongs of our midfield cogs.

But it is becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss his ware-peddling as simply business as usual. The chap is scoring just about every type of goal conceivable at present, from every angle and distance conceivable. Unnervingly, his second yesterday had a hint of the Gareth Bales about it. And he does it all while still somehow conveying the impression that he is not one of life’s natural footballers, if you get my drift. Fingers crossed the young bean never grows old. Or gets injured.

2. Winks

Moussa Sissoko presumably has his fans – primarily within the Sissoko household one would imagine – but I’m sure mine was not the only heart that skipped a joyous beat when I saw Harry Winks’ name on the teamsheet. Lots of good, honest man-love is directed towards that young egg, and while it was hardly the most taxing afternoon of his life, it was nevertheless good to see him look the part throughout.

To the credit of the entire troupe, the absence of Dembele has not been felt too keenly in recent weeks, but although just about irreplaceable, the nearest thing to him seems to be young Winks. Admittedly they are very much man and boy when it comes to comparing physiques, but the general mentality of both on receipt of the ball seems to be to make a forward beeline, as long as physics allows.

Which may sound far from rocket science, but compared to, for example, the dire first half against Swansea, when the default of just about every man in lilywhite was a swift pirouette and backward pass, and The Winks Approach – borrowing laudably from The Dembele Playbook – provides numerous steps in the right direction. Literally, as well as metaphorically, which always reinforces the thing, what?

3. Alli

Not for the first time this season, it was a decidedly rummy offering from the lad. I’m all for the chap assuming the form of a fiend in loosely human shape when it comes to scything his way through an opposing defence like a knife through butter, but so far this season he has mooched around like an indignant schoolboy.

There was one flash of brilliance, which culminated in him hitting the post. And one might point to his assists last week, and infer that his creative juices floweth perfectly well, but dash it, the chap is off colour if ever I saw the thing.

Frankly one of his assists last week was woeful – leathering the ball into the air and forcing a diving header from Kane, when a simple rolled pass would have done the necessaries – and yesterday brought no improvement. The chap just seemed to have a chip on his shoulder, was unable to influence the game in the manner of, say Eriksen or the wing-backs, and not for the first time plumbed a depth with a quite unnecessary dive. Not at our club, thanks very much.

4. Eriksen and the Ardiles-Era Goal

It does not seem so long ago that I sighed like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and fretted over how Eriksen, for a man of his talent, ought really to be bossing games.

By golly, not any more. The chap absolutely runs the show these days, week after week. His first touch invariably takes his marker out of the game, he has the vision to spot a pass from a different postcode – not to mention the ability to deliver it – and on top of it, the chap simply never stops tearing up and down the turf.
Mildly ironic then, that what might have been The Best Goal Since Football Was Created, was demoted to the status of simply A Quite Marvellous Goal because Eriksen of all people did not quite deliver his line to perfection. The Davies goal was simply a thing of beauty. One-touch build-up so dizzying that I managed to keel over while sitting down watching, and finished with a generous dollop of élan by Davies, it truly felt like the appointment of Ossie Ardiles back in the mid-90s had finally borne fruit.

5. Sissoko and the Worst Goal Ever

From sublime to ridiculous. Having gone three up without exerting themselves terrifically, our heroes did the understandable, and hit the Snooze button in the second half. Rather a shame, I thought, because Huddersfield, while game for a fight, were marvellously naïve about things, racing up the pitch to salvage pride while leaving one of the planet’s hottest strikers to amuse himself as he pleased. As such, there were plenty more goals for the taking in the second 45.

Ultimately then, it fell to Sissoko. If the chap were to pour himself a glass of water I fancy he would make it look complicated, so when the moment came to tap in from a couple of yards, naturally he dragged unnecessary limbs, opposing defenders, stumbles, deflections and just about every other utterly needless element into proceedings.

I’m growing rather fond of the blighter, mind. Lots of effort in there, and one of these days the planets will align and he will turn in the best performance ever. But just as, against Dortmund a few weeks ago, Son scored the most Son-esque goal imaginable, yesterday Sissoko produced undoubtedly the most Sissoko-esque goal in history.

Spurs 0-0 Swansea: Four Lilywhite Observations

1. Sideways

So following the triumphant, mature and slightly lucky Champions League victory midweek, the shiny new tactic unveiled today seemed, if anything, to be to bore the opposition into submission. The sideways passes and keep-ball one understands to an extent, for there was little point in flinging hands heavenwards and lobbing passes straight down opposition gullets. But the fervent, unfailing desire to take three or four touches, pause to contemplate the mysteries of life, swivel and pass backwards was as excruciating to watch as it was ineffectual to pursue. It was as if they had decided en masse to pay homage to all that was most frustrating about Jermaine Jenas back in that halcyon era.

Moreover, it seemed that poor old Kieran Trippier was persona non grata in that first half. Quite what he did in midweek to upset his chums is beyond me, but for around the first half hour they only seemed willing to pass to him once hell had frozen over and all other alternatives exhausted.

Urgency at least increased in the second half, and but for the grace of the Almighty we might have had 2 or 3 (it is not generally the policy around these parts to comment on refereeing calls – the old beans make their calls as honestly as the rest of us), but a good few jugfuls of damage were done in that ponderous opening 45.

2. Son

Son will presumably be stroking the chin with a raised eyebrow and a pensive demeanour as he swills the evening whisky. Having delivered a peach of a performance in the guise of Second Striker on Wednesday – including the most Son-esque goal imaginable – the unfortunate young thing found himself square pegged into the cursed left wing-back berth vs Swansea, as the Brains Trust started to get a little carried away with things.

Pre-match I suppose the rationale was understandable. Son at wing-back vs Chelsea is an accident waiting to happen, but at home to a Swansea team erring a mile or so on the side of caution the risk seemed somewhat diminished. And in truth there was precious little defending required of the chap, particularly with Vertonghen behind him. Moreover, given that his Wednesday night goal gestated on the left wing, one again eyeballs the pre-match rationale, and at least understands, if not necessarily heartily endorsing.

As it transpired, however, the plan was utterly rotten, and while Ben Davies peered on from the snug seats, the left wing-back vicinity proved quite the headache.

3 Ever Increasing Levels of Tactical Bedlam

As things wore on, the already convoluted plan was twisted into increasingly unrecognisable form, and alarm bells gonged away like there was no tomorrow. Our Glorious Leader’s every tactical move began to resemble a bleary-eyed AANP desperately trying to wring success out of a Football Manager shambles in the wee small hours of his University days, with plans being ripped up and replaced with something even more outlandish every 5 minutes or so.
Moving the flailing giraffe that is Sissoko to right wing-back, and shoving Trippier out to left-wing back – while Ben Davies peered on from the snug seats – was certainly rather unconventional, but the point of the exercise seemed to be to thrust Son slap-bang into the centre of things.

And credit where due, Son has the size 8s quick enough to make himself a nuisance and conjure up a little magic. Trippier was fairly neutered on the left, and Sissoko fairly ineffective on the right – but at least Son was making a fist of things in attack.

Still no goal, mind, so Pochettino dipped further into his box marked “Curiouser and Curiouser”. In desperate need of a goal, and with Dembele and Llorente available – and Ben Davies peering on from the snug seats – a second right-back was thrown on. AANP automatically reached for the nearest whisky.

And then, with four centre-backs still in residence, and a right-back still at left-back – while Ben Davies peered on from the snug seats – Son was removed. AANP’s head began to throb.

Easy to mock from the comfort of AANP Towers of course, and we did come within a gnat’s wing of scoring one way or another, but le grand fromage has to live and die by these calls, and the decisions not to include Davies, nor involve Dembele at any point, seemed dashed peculiar with each passing minute.

4. Llorente

A glass was raised on deadline day when Senor Llorente was ushered into the fold. A cursory glance was enough to reveal that numerous boxes were ticked by the arrival of a forward with Premiership experience, a clutch of medals, of decent height and strength, and relatively content to peer on from the buffers as Master Kane peddles his wares. On top of which, Llorente allows for the introduction of a conventional Plan B, should we desperately need a goal in the dying embers of a game.

So, cometh the hour and whatnot. With 15 or so remaining, Llorente entered the fray.

And was dutifully ignored by just about everyone in lilywhite.

What the devil is the point in introducing a robust, burly sort into the attack if there is no inclination to loft him one or two via the aerial route and give the opposition a new point to consider? Heaven knows. I think by that stage the tactical instruction was “Every man for himself”, because nothing seemed to make sense and it all made me want to find the nearest wall and bang my head against it.

Such is life. Wembley or not – and the greater expanses of land do seem to impinge a dash upon the whole high-press routine – this is not the first time our heroes have entered into something of a to-do if they fail to score early. On this occasion, however, the AANP finger of blame jabs squarely towards team selection, and our glorious leader.

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

Everton 0-3 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

After the anti-climactic Wembley jollies, and general head-scratching of the transfer window, this was a welcome return to that which we all know and love, what?
1. Eriksen
Anyone brazen enough to argue against Eriksen being Man of the Match would need to produce a fairly ripping sort of body of evidence. The young bean was at the peak of his powers, managing to roll through a range of party tricks – from deft flicks to incisive first-time passes – without ever giving the impression that he were some sort of mere show-pony or luxury item.
Must be something to do with the way he marries dreamy technique with a workrate that is right up there with all those alpha-males referred to, I believe, as “elite athletes”. Frankly just the sight of Eriksen scurrying indefatigably that way and this is enough to make me want to lie down in the AANP hammock and splash myself a whisky, but I rather suspect that if the whistle did not blow on these things he would still be dashing around chasing things today.
Admittedly Everton hardly beset him on all sides with challenges and whatnot, seemingly preferring instead the rather optimistic approach of leaving his arrest in the hands of Mother Nature. Since she was in no such mood, Eriksen was free to dictate the thing with wild and gay abandon, and even chipping in with a poacher’s goal. The whole team purred, and Eriksen was the preeminent vocal chord.
2. Sissoko

Master Sissoko, however, was a decidedly different kettle of fish. In truth, I am not entirely sure what to make of his performance yesterday, because it was quite the assault on one’s senses.
The poor blighter is frequently pilloried – and I’ll issue a swift mea culpa here and be done with it, because within these four walls we have rarely hesitated to greet his work with a heartfelt yowl of despair.
Yesterday, on the other hand… Well, where to begin? The chap certainly was not lacking in effort, that much is for sure. And in a sense, one can well understand why he was brought into the fold a year ago, and why even now, 12 inauspicious months later, our glorious leader opts to start him, in central midfield of all things. With vast limbs barely under control, advancing in a ball of energy, he absolutely resembles the queen alien from Aliens in particularly irate mood – and who the dickens would want that galloping at them at full pelt? The Everton players facing him were pretty much diving for cover.
Oh that there would be an end-product to complement all that unstoppable stuff that goes before. Yesterday was very nearly the day, as it happened, for he certainly had his opportunities. The first half close-range effort was hit meatily enough, but blocked by a blue leg; the second half flying header was delivered with all the power of a runaway steam engine, but alas, the compass was wildly awry.
And then, in another ball of limbs, the poor egg’s afternoon was over, with some sort of muscle strain, which is rotten luck. Should someone, somehow ever refine those rough edges he could be one heck of a player. Moreover, every now and then one suspects that all the little nuts and bolts will fall into place and he will deliver an absolutely irresistible belter of a performance that will elevate him to cult hero status. By and large however, I suspect that yesterday and all its nearlys, cocooned in limb after uncontrollable limb, will pretty much epitomise the lilywhite career of Sissoko.
3. Davies
It seems a rather dreary prospect to switch from Sissoko’s mesmerising limb-flails to neat little Ben Davies, a man who a chum once described as having the world’s most boring haircut, but Davies was another who delivered a jolly effective performance yesterday.
And not for the first time either, which is pretty darned handy given the unfortunate bobbins that Danny Rose has been spouting to amuse himself. Once again aided by the generosity of the Everton mob, who preferred to sit back and assess rather than thunder in and challenge, Davies was quite the useful outlet, putting the “wing” into “wing-back” at every opportunity, and setting up approximately 1.5 goals in the process. Made at least one notable defensive interception too, which was a handy box to tick.
4. Davinson Sanchez
Another chap you would not particularly want to see haring down in your direction, I suspect. Not a flawless performance, but decent enough for his first start, and he seemed to navigate his way around a brand new back-three without too many problems. One suspects that this could be the start of something wonderful. Beast-like, and wonderful.
5. Lloris’ latest clanger
Everton certainly did not ever look like carving us open, so to jimmy things along a tad Monsieur Lloris took to feeding them an open goal, on a plate. They missed, naturally, but still – this rot needs to stop, n’est ce pas? A couple of months ago Lloris was doing something similar for France, and the mess he made of Chelski’s late winner a few weeks ago was not his first faux pas in lilywhite.
I would never dream of labelling him anything other than a near-deity between the sticks, but these embarrassed coughs at his little concentration lapses really ought to stop now.
So good times rolleth once more. Wembley might once again throw spanners into every available works in the coming week or so, but away wins at a newly-promoted side on the opening day of the season, and then an Everton side widely lauded for making a slew of tasty signings, suggests that our heroes are, broadly, fighting the good fight in the right sort of way.

Spurs 1-2 Chelsea: Four Lilywhite Points

A mathematically-minded chum rather threw me this week when he told me there are 10 types of folk in this world – those who understand binary numbers and those who don’t, apparently – but I presume that 2 more of those types will include those who thought our heroes controlled this particular joust, and those who thought Chelski bossed the thing like a team of evil puppetmasters.

Maybe it is the three decades of bias, but I fall into the former camp (that is to say, backing our heroes, rather than dabbling in binary numbers). Dashed travesty this one, if you ask me. Admittedly there was a slightly odd opening salvo, in which everyone bar Dembele looked like they’d just landed at a foreign airport and didn’t quite know what to do next. Thereafter, however, a switch was flicked, and our lot increased the pressure biff by biff.

For five minutes either side of half-time we gave our esteemed guests a most thorough going over, prodding and poking like there was no tomorrow, lobbing in corners, hammering away and shooting whenever the nearest defender paused for breath. To no avail, naturally, but it seemed to cause a commotion. And generally from then until the Dier-Son swapsie (more on that later), the central thread of the game seemed to adhere to a highly intricate pattern of:

a) Spurs attack
b) Chelski clear
c) Repeat.

But, as mentioned, there is a sizeable element of the population who have quite pointedly made clear they consider this sentiment to be drivel of the highest order, which I suppose means that this one can be marked down as a triumph for democracy.

(If a preamble is longer than the meat of the thing, is it still a preamble?)

1. DEMBELE

If it is incisive and highly original insight you seek I can only really apologise and suggest you amuse yourself in other ways for the next paragraph or two, because this point is not exactly a shock to anyone: Dembele is quite something.

I know it; you know it; just about every team-mate interviewed seems to name him as the most talented chap in the troupe; and I’m pretty sure that if you read any piece of prose ever committed to paper you will find a subtle reference to the same effect – so safe to say it is common knowledge.

But by golly, it is nevertheless still a sight to behold, that astonishing hybrid of ox-like strength and balletic driftiness. All around him took a good half hour to adjust their radars and practise the whole right-leg-followed-by-left-leg routine a few times, but not Dembele. Straight into the action from the off. Marvellous stuff. And whenever spirits flagged thereafter too he seemed happy enough to drop a shoulder and charge into the melee, in that languorous style of his, oppo defenders bouncing off the forcefield that surrounds him like small children off a playground bully. Frankly there are times when I want to abandon the notion of keeping score, and just watch the chap cut a swathe wherever he pleases.

2. WANYAMA

By contrast, this was not one that will go down in Wanyama family folklore. Absent from the starting eleven last week, Wanyama definitely tootled around the place with the air of a chap couple of gins short of his traditional morning snifter.

The usual, violent dispossessing of foes was generally rattled off straightforwardly enough, but when it came to pinging the ball to someone – anyone – in lilywhite, the blighter came across like a man intent upon massively over-complicating the basic principles of binary code. Umpteen touches were taken when he really only needed one – to roll the dashed thing square to a chum. All easy enough to say from the AANP vantage point, admittedly, but thusly do cookies crumble.

Anyway, to top the thing off he then dithered once more, crucially, at the death, allowing our guests to pinch the ball from him once again, fire straight at Lloris’ feet and still score, curse them all.

3. THE DIER-SON SUBSTITUTION

Nothing wrong with it on paper, really, was there? Boxes were ticked, votes counted, experts consulted – and the verdict was pretty uncontroversial: Son for Dier. We were one down, had been hammering away, without making too many entries in the column marked “Clear-Cut and Glorious Chances”, and with Chelski failing to hold up the ball an axis of Dembele, Wanayam and Dier seemed rather to miss the point of the exercise- namely that we needed a sprinkle of je ne sais pas in the final third. Son for Dier (already on a yellow card) made sense.

But oddly enough, things did not quite pan out as planned. Now it would be a little dramatic to suggest that an absolute meltdown occurred, once this change was made, and that women and children ran for the hills as our visitors ran riot across Wembley.

Yet nevertheless, for the 10 minutes or so following the change, the lilywhite grip on things (as much as grips can grip a 0-1 deficit) seemed to loosen. When Chelski repelled our attacks, they starting turning them into counter-attacks of their own, the impudent rotters, and the possibility of 0-2 started to make its presence known, whereas since half-time the case for 1-1 had started to seem near-irresistible. It was pretty disturbing stuff.

4. SILVER LININGS AND WHATNOT

Ultimately, the Son-Dier change became one of the least relevant footnotes of our time. There was an element of risk attached – and we scored anyway. And then conceded. So, ultimately, what the dickens does it matter?

This, however, was one of those defeats that left me genuinely quite pleased with the manner in which we went about things. Actually, that’s an untruth. More than anything it left me incredibly bitter and twisted and snapping at anyone within earshot that the whole blasted thing was JUST NOT FAIR.

But additionally, as I poured the evening whisky, I did muse that we had had a jolly good stab at the thing, so somebody somewhere probably deserved a toast. In the context of a new season, and 20-odd games at Wembley, it was something of a relief to see us boss possession against the champions and generally play much the same way we had done last season. Frankly, I had feared much worse, particularly given the absolute whale of a summer being had by the prophets of doom, who were warning about the larger Wembley dimensions as if they signalled an impending apocalypse.

So 1-2 was not the desired outcome at all, and the manner of the thing was absolutely blinking galling – with the joy, and then the despair, damn their eyes – but there was enough to suggest that this could be another half-decent campaign.

(Apart from the squad depth issue, but that’s a tale for a different day).

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

Liverpool 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

Having not strung consecutive passes together since around 2014, and suffered defeats in recent weeks to such behemoths as Swansea and Southampton, there was a fairly morbid inevitability about the fact that Liverpool would rediscover their joie de vivre against us. Of course they would.

1. Davies

Credit where due, our hosts set off like a pack of hyenas spurred into action by the dinner gong at a zoo. Every time one of our lot were in possession they were rather rudely biffed and barged by at least two or three of the blighters in red, and naturally enough the mistakes duly flowed like it was open season on the things.

Our heroes certainly did not help themselves. Au contraire, they seemed fairly intent on doing their utmost to help Liverpool out of their new year slump, going the extra mile as it were. Which was neighbourly I suppose, but, it struck me, seemed to fly in the face of the overall mission imperative. Wanyama started this rot, setting his radar to “Liverpool Shirt” and letting fly with a mind-boggling five-minute spell in which all he did was intercept the ball and ping it straight to the nearest opponent. The brow furrowed.

Or at least the AANP brow furrowed. By contrast, one could almost see the eyes of Ben Davies light up as he noted the errant Wanyama peddling this insanity. Against Middlesborough and Wycombe and the like, Davies is pretty much the man for the occasion – sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but by and large doing enough to force the deal through. However, one suspects that you or I might be the man for the occasion against that lot. Liverpool away represents a different kettle of fish, something far likelier to test the iron will and moral fibre. This was Davies’ opportunity to prove himself as one of those beasts of the jungle who growls “Jump” and has his fellow beasts hopping to it pronto.

Alas, the reality that transpired was bleak, second-rate and error-strewn. Liverpool rather cruelly opted to hone in on Davies, having identified him as the weaker of the sentry guards on duty, and by golly were they were rewarded. Davies resembled a man who did not quite know which sport he was playing. Helpfully abandoned by Son, and without the reassuring presence and pristine side-parting of Jan Vertonghen beside him, the young bean floundered out of his depth and had his head dunked beneath the surface time and again by Liverpool. One would sympathise, but there is not really much room for sentiment in this narrative.

2. Dier

In a touching show of solidarity with his Welsh chum, Eric Dier peddled a similar line in incompetence, from his vantage point at centre-back. Dwelling on the ball, and displaying a turn of pace that would give hope to passing tortoises, he represented another ill-disguised chink in the lilywhite armour, as Christmas came early for our hosts.

The alarming sentiment continues to gain momentum that Dier is a centre-back who is woefully ill-equipped to perform as one half of a centre-back pairing. Within a back-three his lack of pace matters less, and as midfield cover he is able to slot in for his full-backs and mop things up neatly enough. But plant him at the core of a back-four, with little more than a “How-To” guide and his own autonomy, and the chap flounders. And flounder he did with some majesty yesterday, being directly culpable for the second, and generally unable to cope with the red shirts buzzing all around him.

(To his credit he flew in with one glorious sliding tackle to spare various blushes as Liverpool ran rampant at two-nil, but all a bit late at that juncture, what?)

It made for fairly ghastly viewing, but stepping back from things and giving the chin a little stroke, one starts to ponder the broader, philosophical questions of life, existence and Eric Dier. Not good enough to play in a back-four, and displaced in midfield by Wanyama, where does the young fish fit in?

3. Resources

If you don’t mind me veering away from the minutiae of the match itself, and instead trotting a little further down this existential line, the nub of the thing seems to be that our squad is not quite the all-singing, all-dancing, multi-talented troupe needed for the rigours of this lark. The first-choice XI is a match for the very best in the land, make no mistake. But take out Rose and Vertonghen, and we are a dashed sight weaker. Take out Kane, and poor old Janssen lollops on to stumble over his own feet. Remove Eriksen and it’s the uncontrollable limbs of Cissoko. Young Winks has some dash about him for sure, but he’s no Dembele.

And so on. Not exactly a novel train of thought, but while we were able to gloss over things in previous weeks, the lack of squad depth was exposed in fairly pointed fashion yesterday, and it made for some pretty awkward viewing.

4. Dembele

Still, amidst this rather dank state of affairs there were nevertheless one or two moments to stir the soul, and they typically emanated from the sturdy frame of Dembele. Noting with razor-sharp judgement that he was not about to receive a jot of support from any of his chums in lilywhite, Dembele set about on three or four separate occasions trying to right all the wrongs of the day single-handedly. It was like one of those tragic war-films they show on Sunday afternoons, when our half-dozen heroes are pinned into some sort of bunker by hordes of the enemy, and one particularly selfless old bean decides that the only way in which anyone is going to make it to the end credits is if he makes a noble dash right into the heart of enemy heartland and takes down a few dozen opponents, sacrificing himself in the process.

Dembele had clearly had enough of the imbecilic frippery of Davies, Dier et al, and repeatedly tried to rescue the day be single-handedly weaving his way through massed ranks of red shirts. Alas, he generally made it past two or three before being crowded out and dragged to his doom, but it stirred the loins somewhat to see this will to win.

5. Discipline

Things improved a mite in the second half, to the extent that we were not overrun quite as much, but the game was long gone by then, and we were frankly lucky to be only two down.

There were echoes of Stamford Bridge last season as the game wore on and our lot struggled to make the slightest dent in proceedings, as they instead resorted to losing their heads and lashing out with all the subtlety of a team of raging bulls in the ceramics aisle. Led, naturally, by Dele Alli, half the team got themselves cautioned for a stream of fairly wild and unseemly hacks and stamps (although young Winks can feel hard done by on that count, poor lamb). One should probably tut and pontificate, but in truth they were only doing on the pitch what I rather felt like doing from the sidelines. The whole thing was bally frustrating, and not least because Liverpool have been so poor in recent weeks.

However, just over the mid-point of the season, and with only home games vs Arsenal and Man Utd remaining of the top six, we are fairly well set. A Top Four finish is eminently doable. Quite what fresh madness awaits when the Europa League returns is anyone’s guess, and a couple of injuries could blast our season out of the water, but as long as this defeat does not trigger a slump there should not be too much cause of concern.

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

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