1. Tactical Set-Up
Even the most committed creature of habit could learn a thing or two from Our Glorious Leader, who reacted to all the noise about playing a midfield three by sticking his fingers in his ears and scrawling ‘3-4-3’ across his teamsheet for the umpteenth consecutive game.
‘Twas the usual suspects then, in the usual formation – and funnily enough with the usual outcome, as our lot spent the opening twenty minutes penned back in and around our own area, looking longingly at all the possession the other lot were churning through.
Show me a nib who enjoys watching that sort of thing and I’ll show you a chappie who should go and boil his own head, because it makes for pretty ghastly viewing. The opposition hog the damn thing; their every pass feels like a prelude to something ominous; on top of which our defence is so deep that the slightest miscalculation is pretty much guaranteed to gift a goal to the foe (as Lloris helpfully demonstrated). Needless to say, watching it unfold blow by blow had the heart fairly racing along in a manner that would have even the most upbeat cardiologist chewing a nervous lip.
Nerve-shredding stuff to observe then, but as Senor Conte would presumably point out, if done properly it does tend to work. For all the prodding and probing, Woolwich only broke through in that first half via a long-range pop, and in the second via a goalkeeping mistake (I artfully dodge the 10 vs 11 activity). That at least would presumably be the gist of the argument. I’m not sure too many juries would be swayed, but there we go.
The argument would continue that our lot sprang into life on the counter attack enough times in that first half to have scored more than just the one – and towards that point I’m a bit more inclined to clink glasses and offer a friendly nod. There were a few occasions on which our front-three set off on a scamper, and but for a careless final ball would have been through on goal.
But even so, it’s all a bit thick, no? One can only hold one’s breath and hope that the opposition foul things up for so long, what? If one were feeling particularly unkind one might suggest that the whole setup is simply a more polished version of the utter dirge that was peddled under Jose. Opportunities were there on the break, and on another day we might have led by half-time, but as under Jose the strategy relies a little too heavily on both flawless defending and pretty damn clinical finishing.
We sit within the Top Four, so fans of this sort of stuff would have a pretty compelling point if they told me to shove off and take my bleating with me. Nevertheless, here at AANP Towers we would be whistling a lot more gaily if the mantra were to win games by controlling possession and whizzing along a dashed sight closer to the opposition area.
Having gone on a bit about the doom and gloom side of things, I probably ought to mention that, given the rather tough hand they’d been dealt, Messrs Hojbjerg and, in particular, Benancur, made a pretty decent fist of things in the midfield two. Every Bentancur involvement seemed to end with him winning the ball or locating a chum – or, indeed, doing both, as happened at the start of the move that led to our penalty. One sympathised with their plight, being but two men in a midfield swarming with Woolwich goons; and one cast a few longing glances towards the forms of Bissouma and Skipp on the bench; but this defeat was not for lack of good, honest perspiration from H. and B.
No such comforting words and bobbish sentiment for Master Royal however. That dashed pest ought to be slung out onto the streets and given a good old-fashioned thrashing.
It occurred to me that there was something of a parallel between his character arc and that of England’s resident clot, Harry Maguire, vs Germany the other night – in that neither were too bad until the moment they were very bad indeed.
For most of the game Emerson did the sort of stuff we now expect Emerson to do. He galloped forward gamely enough, and then failed to produce any decent output when given the opportunity, his crosses being blocked for a corner or sailing beyond any souls in lilywhite. This being Emerson, and his bar being low, the AANP reaction was simply to roll the eyes, mutter a choice curse and then see what would happen next. It was pretty much standard fare.
And in fact, at one point in the first half, he made one of the better tackles of his entire Spurs career, inserting a well-timed foot when I think Gabriel Jesus went off on a jink. If he cannot offer anything useful in attack he might as well provide something in defence, or so goes the theory, so by the time the second half rolled around he was in pretty solid ‘6 out of 10’ territory.
However, there then followed his red card, which judging by the current internal mood might well prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, in what legal bods might term the case of “AANP’s Patience vs Emerson Royal”.
No doubt one or two hardy souls will protest that a yellow card would have sufficed, to which the usual AANP line is drearily trotted out, about not being daft enough to give the referee a choice to make in the first place.
And “daft” really doesn’t do the chap justice, for this was about as fat-headed a move as I’ve ever seen. There couldn’t have been less threat if the Woolwich lad had curled up in a ball to take a nap. He was oiling off towards his own corner flag for heaven’s sake! Nor was it the case that tempers had already flared and shoves been exchanged., or any of that sort of jolly guff.
Martinelli had generally led Royal a merry dance the whole afternoon, which admittedly is the sort of sinister sequence of events that might prompt a tantrum from amongst the younger AANP nephews and nieces, but for it to prompt a professional footballer to stamp on the ankle of an opponent makes the brain sizzle a bit.
The silver lining of this nonsense is that Royal will now be legally barred from entering the pitch for another three games, and opportunity knocks for Doherty, Spence, Perisic, Sessegnon, Kulusevski, Lucas, Tanganga or frankly anyone else who fancies a stab at beetling up and down the right for a while. Simply being there would be sufficient to reach the standards set by Royal; any further input would class as an improvement. Safe to say I’m rather fed up to the gills with that chap.
3. Lloris Mistake
Monsieur Lloris, of course, has a vastly larger stash of goodwill stocked up, and he would have grasped at great clumping handfuls of the stuff (possibly dropping some) after today’s faux pas.
A funny old oeuf, is Lloris, in that despite being about as loyal as they come, and having loitered about the corridors for longer than anyone else in the place, he is not necessarily revered as one of our heroes. This is hardly a scientific and robust, evidence-driven conclusion, but I get the sense that most of lilywhite persuasion are generally happy enough with him, but harbour a reservation or two. The sort of chappie about whom not too many tears would be shed if he biffed off and a half-decent newbie were unearthed.
In general, his shot-stopping has been top notch and his handling a touch squiffy. Today, however, his were a pretty basic couple of errors in the shot-stopping sector, and on a stage on which we needed the experienced sorts to bring their A-games.
First in padding out the shot centrally rather than off to the sides, and then in making a heck of a mess of the follow-up shot, Lloris put us in a bit of a spot.
For what it’s worth, I rather fancied us to equalise again when 11 vs 11, and Lloris alone was not at fault for our falling behind – the sluggish start to the second half was very much a collective effort. But dash it, that was pretty basic fare, and while one ideally one would rather not concede at all, if it has to happen I would much rather the other lot were made to work their socks off for the privilege.
4. Waving The White Flag
As mentioned, at 2-1 and while fully staffed, the AANP mood was still hopeful enough. “More of the first half routine” was pretty much the chorus on the lips – until the third goal went in. At that point, the odds no doubt lengthened, but hope still spluttered along. A second goal for our lot in the last few minutes would have caused the nerves to flutter amongst the Woolwich mob, what?
You can picture AANP’s displeasure, therefore, when Our Glorious Leader effectively threw in the towel with a good twenty or so minutes remaining. The swapping of Lenglet for Sanchez one could abide, in isolation; but the removal of Richarlison and Sonny, for various assembled defenders, left none in the galleries in any doubt. Conte conceded this one.
And I don’t mind admitting that I frowned at that. Might have folded the arms and pursed the lips a bit too. I’m of a vintage that waits all week (or however long) to see our lot play, and then expects maximum effort from every one of the blighters until the final toot. If they’ve done their jobs properly they should be collapsing in puddles on the ground at full-time, and scraped up in wheelbarrows by the support staff. Having the manager effectively signal that they can simply give up with twenty minutes remaining, against Woolwich of all teams, does not sit well around these parts.
The argument will presumably run that there are games every couple of days, and Lenglet, Richarlison, Sonny et al will be needed for the CL on Wednesday. All of which makes sense – but at the same time, throwing in the towel did not seem right. It’s not really cricket. Perhaps one or two might have been withdrawn, but whilst still maintaining some sort of attacking threat (flinging Gil up at the apex, to offer some pace alongside Kane, for example).
One continues to trust Conte, of course, but that does not preclude criticism of the chap. This was a pretty unpleasant end to a thoroughly unpleasant afternoon.