All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Spurs 0-0 Man Utd: Turning Luck Into An Art Form

Somebody somewhere once warbled to the effect that if you can play badly and still win then you must be doing something right in the small print. Now the eagle-eyed amongst you will no doubt have spotted that on this occasion we did not actually win, but a few days earlier against Leicester we did, after an eminently forgettable performance, and yesterday we could perhaps be described to have hung about gamely.

The point, which admittedly I have deviated from by a good few hundred yards, is that I am feeling rather heartened by recent events. Heartened in a guilty way, ‘tis true, because if it wasn’t Vertonghen scything down an opponent in the area and walking away scott-free it was the finest forwards money can assemble suddenly losing control of their lower limbs when two yards from goal with ball at feet. On top of which, you couldn’t move for opponents slamming the ball against Hugo’s woodwork with gay abandon. And a propos Monsieur Lloris, the chap has yet again been forced to leap around like a man possessed to keep the good ship Hotspur afloat, despite the seemingly porous framework upon which it is built.

But heartened I am. A string of wins, followed by a point against Man Utd, is not to be sniffed at, no matter how much one picks it up, inspects it and points accusingly at it. Points are points, and while few will suggest that we are now ready for a title-tilt, most would presumably agree that somewhere or other behind the scenes some good work is being done.

There is no disputing that we have not just ridden our luck but have enjoyed a trip in luck’s first-class cabin, complete with complimentary champagne served by a sultry hostess. No real disputing that one. No sir. I suppose it helps even out the dodgy penalty decisions of earlier in the season (Man City and Liverpool, to name a couple).

However, on a more constructive note, much has been made of the fact that our heroes seem to have an extra bit of puff in their lungs these days, and well does it serve us. The last-minute goals seem too frequent to be entirely down to chance, and in the closing moments of yesterday’s game we had not just stirred into life but seemed positively the likelier to win the thing, so three cheers for Pochettino’s beep test, or whatever method the coaching team use these days.

Individual Performances

The tinkering by Pochettino was understandable enough in principle, albeit a little ineffective in practice. The choice of Davies and Chiriches as full-backs in place of Rose and Walker was presumably effected with the dual purpose of giving the latter two a moment to catch their breath, following return from injury, as well as stifling the Man Utd wing-backs. Alas, Messrs Valencia and Young could be described as many things yesterday, but not, truthfully, ‘stifled’. Still, this being our lucky month and all, that was soon taken care of when Valencia disappeared stage right and Rafael-Or-Fabio took his place.

The rarely-sighted Townsend was given a gambol, and beavered away as is his wont, all enthusiasm and willing, and precious little product. I suspect I am in a minority but I like the chap, for he permanently seems to be one smidgeon away from being quite the game-changer. The dinked pass to Kane early on, a sturdy long-range shot in the second half – the law of averages suggests that sooner or later he is going to spend the full 90 minutes absolutely destroying a team single-handedly. I just get the feeling that this will happen after we have sold him.

Typical fare from Mason and Stambouli, the former’s performance encapsulated by that late miss, when he showed all the energy of a young hyperactive puppy to race half the length of the pitch before displaying that absence of top-notch class, in blazing the ball over. Stambouli did everything one would expect of a first-reserve, and the pair of them together generally struggled to prevent the all-singing, all-dancing cast of United midfield talent from pouring forward, particularly in the first half. Not really a criticism, as they were outnumbered, and frankly up against far better players.

But that marvellous combination of willing and luck got us to the finish line, rounding off what on paper looks a pretty darned impressive month’s work. Another seductive smile or two from Lady Luck on 1 Jan against Chelski would go down mightily well.

Pochettino – The Pros and Cons

A hearty “What ho!” and pat on the back to our newest glorious leader. Primarily for the sake of idling away the hours until the World Cup begins, AANP has cobbled together some thoughts on this Pochettino blighter, some communicating the general line of ‘yay’, others the less salubrious conclusion of ‘nay’.

Huzzah – He’s Not Tim Sherwood

‘Genetically Not Being Tim Sherwood’ is a positive on the CV at the moment. Not that I want to denigrate Sherwood too heavily, he doubtless did his damnedest for the lilywhite cause, but it seems to have been in the best interests of the club to have him bundled up in a sheet, hit over the head and shoved behind a sofa. Out of sight, out of mind.

Enter stage left Mr Pochettino, the sort of canny fish who seems a little less likely to turn the manager’s job at Spurs into a real-time video diary of how he is making things up as he goes along, and is also considerably less likely to be so angry at life.

All things considered, with talk of van Gaal and Ancelotti about as speculative as a Paulinho 20-yarder, and AANP deeply suspicious of De Boer’s record of umpteen consecutive titles in a Dutch league that is not exactly worshipped far and wide as the pinnacle of European football, we can probably be happy enough with this. Indeed, the general reaction amongst Spurs-supporting chums has been to give an understated nod of satisfaction and invite the man into our homes with the offer of a free splash or two of bourbon. He has our blessing.

Huzzah – He Has Premiership Experience

‘Tis also to be celebrated that the chap has some familiarity with the inner recesses of the Premiership. Last summer’s recruitment of umpteen  players who had never previously set foot on this fair isle turned into a bit of a fiasco, while previous grands fromages who arrived at N17 as complete strangers to the  country seemed to spend a mite too long squinting at the road signs and making sense of tea containing milk, when all along we really needed them to fit snugly into the official club blazer from day one. So where Messrs Gross, Santini and Ramos wasted time scouring their Pannini sticker albums to work out who played in which position, Pochettino can swan in already knowing his Lee Proberts from his Michael Olivers.

Huzzah – His Southampton Team Played Some Entertaining Stuff

One of the main selling points of this blighter is that he seems to have a penchant for good old swash and buckle, when it comes to style of play. Whether or not things will materialise thusly at the Lane remains to be seen, but on a scale of George Graham to Brazil 1970 he seems the sort of chap likely to give a knowing wink when it comes to the tactics board. Heaven help us if we go down the road of ‘Dawson Manning A High Defensive Line’ once more, but things should be fun to watch when we trundle forward.

Huzzah – He Gets The Best Out of Players (Apparently)

A little secret just between friends – a couple of years ago AANP had never heard of either Luke Shaw or Rickie Lambert, while Jay Rodriguez was known to me as the chap who made that film in which Salma Hayek danced around in her skimpies with a snake before everyone turned into vampires (you know the one) and Lallana was the sort of dish that would give me a rum tummy while on holiday. It turns out that Pochettino knows exactly how much spinach to feed these sort of chaps to turn them into the next over-priced young English talent to weaken our knees, and such alchemy would be welcome at the Lane.

Talent is currently oozing out of the sides of our squad and forming unsightly puddles on the ground, but by golly if you pop eleven of our lot onto a pitch together they all start digging at the earth as fast as their little hands allow and bury their heads in the ground before you can bluster “But this is £100 million pound of international talent, dash it.” Someone somewhere needs to beg, steal or borrow the best out of Lamela, Townsend, Chadli, Soldado (Naughton, admittedly, is a lost cause) et al, and Pochettino has previous in this department.

All the sort of thing to put hair on the chest you no doubt agree. However, the long-suffering lilywhite in me has accumulated cynicism by the lorry-load over the years, so it would be highly amiss not to pore over some of the seedier aspects of the career of Pochettino, and howl a prophesy of doom accordingly…

Show Us Yer Medals

In an ideal world, young people would dwell beneath rocks and other convenient crevices until they had something useful to contribute, the only member of the Cyrus clan whose music blared from phones on public transport would be Billy Ray, and Spurs would be managed by a chap with more awards, trophies and medals than you could wave a large stick at. Alas, the Pochettino managerial trophy cabinet is not exactly full to brimming at present. Admittedly, lashings of experience and a sack full of sparkling jugs and whatnot were of little help to Capello when he took charge of England, so such things are no guarantee of success – but the deal would be that much sweeter if Pochettino were a proven title-winner. He will just have to start the habit at N17.

One Good Season

Do 18 good months at Southampton a Top Four manager make? If he had been managing in England for five years would he now be regarded as on a par with, say, Pardew circa 2013 or Pardew circa 2014? The point being, the chap is still a little wet behind the ears, and it is rather difficult to average out his performance when there are but one a half seasons over which to pore.

Can He Handle Proven Players?

‘Tis one thing administering a thousand lashes (or indeed a bedtime lullaby, as the case may be) to young wide-eyed bucks like Shaw and Lallana, who are still making their way in the big wide world, but whether or not Pochettino can command the respect of seasoned millionaire internationals like Paulinho, Adebayor, Vertonghen and chums remains to be seen. AVB’s approach to handling the more experienced chaps at Chelski backfired spectacularly, and his Adebayor gambit here at the Lane was not much better; Pochettino will dashed well need some bright ideas if he does not want to wander back to his office one day to find a bucket of water perched atop the door and some sort of coup taking shape on the training pitch.

This Man Lost to Tim Sherwood. Twice.

Not the be-all and end-all of things by any means, but to lose once to Tim Sherwood can be glossed over as being a mite careless, to lose twice, in the space of half a season, is the sort blot that no man of substance ought to have on his escutcheon. It ought to matter not in the grand scheme of things, but it is not terrifically encouraging, what?

THE VERDICT

Well, there is no verdict as such – sorry to mislead. The chap is here, he seems a bright enough young egg, let’s rally around and cheer him to the rafters.

There is possibly more pressure on Levy than Pochettino with this appointment, but in defence of our follicly-challenged supremo, the appointments of AVB and now Pochettino point to a certain type of manager and set-up.

Moreover, the five-year contract suggests that Levy genuinely does want to perch in his hammock with feet up and a good book, without having to march down the High Road and firing and hiring everyone within sight each time the clocks change. Amen to that. Should we finish mid-table, then the rumblings of discontent will no doubt begin again, but I rather hope that even if we miss the Top Four (as seems fairly probable) and rather make a hash of things all round, we nevertheless persist with the manager, personnel and style.

Norwich 1-0 Spurs: Midfield Anonymity, Defensive Comedy & Soldado

Confusing I know, and I realise that if the attention wanders for a day or two one loses track completely, but just so everyone is clear – this week the dial is being flicked over to “CRISIS”.

Midfield

Not that that seemed to register with our heroes. Bless them, they had to play twice this week don’t you know, and chug through passport control and squat into their Easyjet seats and whatnot, so it was unsurprising that a few of them looked like they were just biding time until they received a leg massage. The central midfield mob looked anything but razor-sharp, with Paulinho ambling around like a passenger on the tube who sticks his earphones in, opens his Kindle and resolutely avoids eye-contact with anyone in the hope that the blasted journey might finish a bit faster if nobody notices him. Meanwhile Bentaleb did a pretty smart job of studiously avoiding any meaningful contribution – and as if by magic our heroes had reduced the contribution of three central midfielders to two, and at times just the one. A nifty piece of legerdemain, which can have observers rubbing their eyes and scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Defence

More entertainment was to be had behind them, as Messrs Rose, Dawson and Naughton tootled around like little wind-up cars that had been released across the carpet. ‘Twas a good day for all Dawson Bingo enthusiasts, as he over-committed and sold himself nice and early, made some of those heroic full-stretch blocks, won a few meaty headers and found time for a caution, all in all a fine advert for the centre-backery of Monsieur Kaboul. The sooner his latest malady is remedied the better for all mankind.

Attack

What on earth goes on in poor Soldado’s head is anyone’s guess, but the young wretch seems physically unable to score. Rather like the chap in the new Robocop film, his programming simply forbids him to do it, which is a dashed shame because as well as looking the dickens of a imbecile whenever he blasts the ball wide, had he taken the chance that was presented to him on a salver, with gleaming cutlery and a glass of vintage red, we would have been well set for all three points.

One might bemoan that wit and ingenuity were nowhere to be seen, but such protestation would be quibbled by the pedants amongst us, for there it was, huddled up on the subs bench watching life tick by. Maddening stuff, as our mob by and large just ambled through the motions, apart from the late, token attempt to batter their way through in the closing stages when Townsend came on to liven things up.

So the drill now is that the thumping of Newcastle is a thing of the past, and crisis time is upon us again because the Top Four are disappearing over the hills. Until next week presumably. Mean time we can all plunge our knives Sherwood-wards, and lament and howl and look longingly at the gap above us.

Southampton – Spurs Preview: A Potential Flaw In The Levy Masterplan?

Here at AANP Towers we are honourable men. When Dogtanian waved farewell to the folks and left for pastures new, the upper lip did no more than quiver. When baited by rival fans in the office every dashed Monday, reminding me of my idle gloats the preceding Friday and collecting their winnings, while the boss wanders by and reminds me that the pretence of working is more effective when the computer is actually switched on and why must I look at him in such a gormless way, I treat the defeat with stoic resolve, determining to make an even larger wager the following week because that will teach them all. And thus do I unashamedly admit that when the burly security chaps marched up to AVB, grabbed him mid-sentence, frog-marched him out of the premises and unceremoniously dumped him onto the High Road, I did little more than shrug, reasoning that that might well have been the right course of action, and licking my lips at the prospect of our imminent upturn in fortunes.

Alas, the upturn has not quite materialised. In fact, the grand plan of sacking one chappie, lassoing another, more capable chappie, depositing him into the leather chair and watching the marvellousness unfurl has hit an early but quite critical snag. Suddenly, the realisation dawns that Master Levy might not necessarily have the entire strategy mapped out. In fact, it is not particularly clear that the plan even extended to the hiring of a new bean at all, but that he laboured under the misapprehension that firing AVB would in its entirety signal a glorious conclusion of affairs – because quite where he goes next, or even what sort of blighter is brought in next, does not yet seem obvious. That Tim Sherwood may or may not be at the helm for days, weeks, months or even – horror or horrors – permanently is about as underwhelming as an action film in which the pillars are tumbling down and the hero ambling up stage left to save the day actually turns out to be merely Ben Affleck.

Nothing personal against Sherwood of course (or Affleck for that matter), but one suspects that the opportunities for success might not necessarily be maximised by leaving the office intern in charge of the entire A to Z of things for a few weeks, even if the aforementioned does do a sterling job of booking meeting rooms and whatnot. However, this is what we have for the immediate future, and having deployed a bright and breezy 4-4-2 for the first home adventure, Sherwood now has to decide how to go about things away from home, against a Southampton team who seem to be sufficiently well versed in the intricacies of the game. Who knows, Levy might also be using the opportunity to cast a furtive eye over Saints own grand fromage, Mr Pochettino.

Injury to Townsend threatens to derail things somewhat, particularly if the Sherwood gospel preaches touchline-hugging wingers, but the squad boasts enough attacking types, so one of Sigurdsson, Lamela or Chadli will presumably be unleashed. A more defensive-minded chap in the holding role might also be advisable, after Dembele was deployed in that spot midweek, while in defence it will presumably once again be a case of using anyone fit enough to hobble over the line.

It would be a dashed shame if our whole season were to lose momentum because of a yuletide wobble, but such a circumstance lurks menacingly around the corner. The talent is there, and under AVB our away form was generally positive enough, but our very recent history does little to engender expectations of unparalleled success. One can but hope.

Spurs – Liverpool Preview: Striking Dilemma Ahoy

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

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

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

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

Everton 0-0 Spurs: Will Someone Somewhere Please Solve The Wretched Soldado Problem?

A point at Goodison probably ought not to be sniffed at, even if we cannot help but wonder what might have been, in that heart-warming first half in particular.

First Half

Our heroes came out of the traps as if feral animals scenting blood, hunting down the blue mob in packs and shoving faces into armpits like it was nobody’s business. Foremost amongst the cast in this respect were Holtby and Vertonghen, both of whom were particularly prominent as we piled forward in the first half. In the opening 45 in particular Holtby enjoyed one of his finest jaunts in lilywhite, while Vertonghen had the bright idea to saunter through Everton’s fairly flimsy right-hand side at every opportunity, and with Walker’s willingness to overlap meaning Baines was forced to mope around inside his own half, young Townsend bore the look of a man thoroughly enjoying his playground-esque brand of take-on-all-comers football. On top of which Sandro doing what every good beast should do, his repertoire including occasionally shoving aside the man-mountain Lukaku as if he were one of the diddy guests at my niece’s fourth birthday party.

The only frustrations in that first half were that we were left to rue using up our quota of penalties for the week; that Lennon evidently eyes his left foot as something completely alien, planted there by mysterious forces while he slept last night; and that poor old Soldado presumably suffers from halitosis or some such similar affliction, which means that no-one dared wander within 15 yards of him. Understandable enough, for these are delicate moments amongst chums – but aside from the awkward social context it does create the dickens of a problem because not a soul appears able to offer any support to Soldado in attack – and should he himself peel out to the right then we might as well aim for the corner flags, because nobody will pop up in the area.

Second Half

Alas, albeit rather inevitably, life was not half as bright and breezy in the second half, as Everton upped their game and for significant periods we found ourselves penned further and further back. On the bright side, deep defending is grist to the Dawson mill, a world in which his lack of pace cannot be exposed, but his heart-on-sleeve penchant for last-ditch heroics come in handy.

To their credit our heroes continued fighting the good fight, and the intermittent second half attacks looked threatening, but as ever any shots of note were catapulted in from at least 20 yards.

Soldado

‘Tis an issue that segues neatly into the ongoing Soldado issue. The blighter simply does not fit our system. Or maybe our system does not fit him? Either way, there are two crucial components to this – Exhibits A and B if you will, with the former being Soldado and the latter Our System – and no matter how we try to sugar-coat the issue they still remain about as successful a combo as two chaps trying to negotiate a particularly intricate transaction over the telephone while hindered by the fact that neither speak the same language.

It’s a muddle of a thing at the moment, because when he wants the ball fed into the channels we are busy recycling it in midfield, and when we need him to hold the thing up with a bit of sweat and body-strength he seems to be running away from the ball as if allergic to the thing. The end-result of which is that I can only remember about one and a half chances falling his way from open play all season.

Over in this part of the interweb I am still inclined to think that if we are in the Top Four by 1 Jan we will be there come the season’s end. Still, this goalscoring issue gives our intrepid leader something to ponder over in the coming weeks, in case it has passed him by in the last few months.

Everton – Spurs Preview: A More Straightforward Kettle of Fish?

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.

Villa 0-2 Spurs: The Wonders of Off-The-Ball Movement & First-Time Passes

Ah, the first-time pass. Scourge of the ball-watching defender. Slicer of the well-drilled bank of four. And as conspicuously absent from our game-plan for the first half half or so as it was instrumental to operations thereafter.

The Opening Half-Hour: Ponderous

I spent most of those opening 30 minutes wanting to offer my kingdom for a first-time pass. Or some off-the-ball movement. Or any line of attack that was not based around Dawson, Chiriches and Vertonghen rolling square balls to each other (and occasionally back to Lloris to cede possession through the medium of a skyward punt). By goodness it was pedestrian stuff. And not necessarily the fault of the man in possession either, as the lilywhite cup could not have been accurately said to have overflowed with options. In fact, our heroes seemed content to adopt a Subbuteo routine of simply adopting a spot of turf and resolutely sticking to it for most of the first half, and with Villa content to soak up pressure and play for a counter-attack I found myself idly toying with nearby blunt objects with which to potentially bash in my own skull at the frustration of it all.

The goal itself may have been a tad fortuitous, but for a few minutes thereafter, and for most of the second half, life became decidedly more fun, as gaps opened up and we were able to get behind the Villa defence. AVB dashed well needs to refine re-examine that “Breaking the Deadlock” file, because having each man in turn ponderously take two/three/four touches before rolling the thing sideways neither strikes fear into bellies of the other lot, nor puts fire into bellies of our lot, nor has any humdinging effect on the bellies of anyone in the vicinity, which is really the whole point of the game.

The Bonny, Blithe and Gay Second Half

Marvellously however, as mentioned, things perked up after the goal, and moved on apace in the second half (bar the five-minute wobble when Benteke came on and seemed to bellow so loud that he made Daws and Chiriches curl into little balls and cry rather than try marking him). Glory be, our heroes began shifting the ball at pace, with first-time passes and movement and lots of little legs scurrying around, until the chances started to flow. The poor old full-back tasked with sitting on Townsend ran completely out of steam, allowing the young bounder to gallop to the line like it was going out of fashion, and to his credit he put his head down and sprinted for the line as often as he cut inside to let rip.

Amidst all this one ought not to forget to send a sizeable bouquet the way of young Sandro, who spent his afternoon harassing the dickens out of any Villa player who dared to think about starting an attack. Back in the days of yore, a youthful and rather wanton AANP would pass his summer mornings by catching ants and the like, and dropping them into spider webs, just to observe the manic reaction of the spider in galloping across and clambering all over the unfortunate young bean. And thus, like some human-sized two-legged spider, did Sandro snuffle the life out of Villa at every opportunity. Good to have the lad back.

And on to the latest installation of The Great Soldado Debate. The lad certainly knows what to do once inside the area, his goal today taken with aplomb – indeed several plombs. (And bonus points all round for the one-touchery that got him there in the first place.) But beyond that marvellous finish? Admittedly in the second half he put in some yards, making himself available down the right flank and holding up the ball (although it did not seem to occur to any of his chums to fill in the attacking void thereby created and bust a gut to get themselves into the area), but in the first half in particular one struggles to make the case for him having offered a plethora of options, and the Villa centre-backs seemed contented enough. ‘Room for improvement’ is probably the euphemism of choice.

Despite the slightly negative tone of these witterings it is a most contented AANP readying the nib for a spot of shut-eye tonight. All the necessary boxes have been duly ticked, and importantly so given the horrors of last time around. Concerns there be for sure, around that lack of incision as long as affairs remain goalless, but Rome was not built in a day, what?

Villa – Spurs Preview: Chewing Over The Soldado-Defoe Problem

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.)

Personnel

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.

Spurs 1-1 Chelski: Pros and Cons

A curious affair that, neither hither nor thither. Or, more accurately I suppose, both hither and thither, for while some of the attacking interplay was eye-wateringly good (in particular that leading up to our goal and the two Paulinho chances), there was also a full second half’s worth of dross from our heroes. It has been a particular bête noire over the decades of my old man, the venerable AANP Senior, that just about every Spurs team he was watched will react to taking a lead by sitting deeper and deeper until said lead is relinquished, and right on cue yesterday, the second half saw us cede possession and initiative until the goal was duly conceded.

Various media-based sages have opined in recent days that our lot brim with as much quality as any other team in the division, but that what we probably lack is a bit of nous, and so it proved yesterday. When level heads and ball-retention were needed to weather the second half storm we were instead treated to attempts by Townsend, Paulinho and Dembele to dribble past just about everyone in sight. ‘Tis the sort of thing that comes with big-game experience I suppose.

Paulinho – The New Jenas (In A Manner of Speaking)

Still, there was plenty to keep us purring, in the first half in particular. As was noted by more Spurs-supporting chum Ian, Paulinho gallops up and back in a manner reminiscent of Jenas (sharp intake of breath) during that curious period in 2008 when the Lord of All Things Sideways and Backwards flicked his amazing switch for a few weeks, helping us beat l’Arse 5-1 and win the Carling Cup. Box-to-box, with plenty of neat touches in between, the lad eats his fair share of greens, make no mistake. Dembele also looked sprightly and enterprising, and while, as noted previously, both these two were guilty of over-elaboration at times, it is generally encouraging to observe them seizing bull by horns and exploring the upper reaches of the pitch.

Creative juices also spilled pleasingly from the cups of the attacking sorts, with Sigurdsson again showing willingness to join the penalty area queue, and young Master Eriksen again looking like the awesome new kid in the playground who gets picked first every lunchtime.

Points to Ponder

On the debit side, days like these suggest that Soldado’s overall contribution might be a tad limited, and bless him Michael Dawson’s cruise liner-esque turning speed was exposed once or twice more. Presumably the medium-term plan is for Kaboul to return to the centre at some juncture, but against sharper attacking tools Master Dawson continues to look a tad fallible, while one of he and Vertonghen dropped an awful clanger in allowing Terry an unmarked header for the goal.

There are times when our heroes resemble a highly talented collection of strangers, but presumably in time the whole troupe will become a darned sight more cohesive – for example learning how best to play to the strengths of Soldado. The omens however remain fairly cheery (if cheery omens there can be) for season 13/14 in general. Nothing on the horizon at present to suggest that Top Four is beyond us.

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