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Spurs’ Transfer Window: 6 Tottenham Talking Points

Yes it’s a tad late, but quite appropriate for Spurs’ transfer window, n’est ce pas?

I’m not normally one for piping up about the comings and goings. Largely because one just ends up speculating, and then looking rather an oaf when the chappie one praised to the heavens turns out not to know his right foot from his left when he eventually trots out onto the field. Better to lay low, I’ve found, and let the various cast members pickle their own insides. Much easier to cast judgement on a fellow with the benefit of hindsight after all, what?

This time, however, I do feel moved to act. Not to such extremes as penning a violently-worded letter to The Times, you understand – there is, after all, a time and a place. But dash it all, packaging off Bryan Gil? Forsooth! Erasing from existence Matt Doherty because of a last-minute administrative error? What the devil?

Not to distract from the fact that we’ve ended up making a couple of natty moves, but one does sometimes look at our lot and find there’s no other thing to do but scratch the loaf and goggle a bit.

1. Pedro Porro

First the spiffing stuff. He may sound like the headline act of a nursery rhyme, but young Pedro Porro ought to be precisely the cog this particular machine has been yelling for. No need to insult anyone’s intelligence by banging on about how Conte-ball absolutely positively must, as a matter of the utmost urgency, deploy fizz-popping wing-backs in order to work. The problem has been staring us all in the face for months now, but finally the great purse-string holder in the sky has flung a bit of money at the problem.

Not that a thick old wad of notes is any sort of guarantee to solve this sort of frightful mess. After all, upon flogging Kyle Walker we threw half of the winnings on Serge Aurier of all people.

But in this instance, I’m willing to go out on a cautious limb and suggest that we haven’t necessarily bought ourselves a complete dud. (Which is pretty high praise around these parts.) Two Champions League games doth not a comprehensive dossier of a chap’s abilities make, but I do remember thinking when he played against us something along the lines of “Golly, I’d rather have that bounder than Emerson plugging away on the right”.

Admittedly the chap may not know the first dashed thing about defending for all I know, but on the front foot he seemed rather handy, and goodness knows our lot our screaming out for that sort of muck from a wing-back. Indeed, the notion of Messrs Romero, Bentancur, Kulusevski and – if he lives up to the billing – P.P. all ganging up together to cause a spot of mischief on the right, makes the AANP heart sing a bit.

Porro (Pedro? Some ludicrous nickname?) appears blessed with a burst of pace and a rather fruity right foot, which ought to help. On top of which he gives the air of one of those old boys who was rather miffed to be cast as a Defender when the jerseys were being handed out back at school, and has spent every day since pointedly charging forward into the final third in an ongoing act of pique.

There is, naturally, a Bissouma-shaped disclaimer here. For no matter how competent a laddie looks when coming up against us in days gone by, there’s a fair old chance that on arriving in N17 and donning the lilywhite he will immediately morph into an incompetent charlatan who is not entirely sure what shape the ball ought to be.

But nevertheless. We needed a right wing-back who a) is well acquainted with the do’s and don’ts of the wing-back trade, and b) Our Glorious Leader could actually tolerate. We now have the aforementioned. Time to get down to brass tacks.

2. Danjuma

I feel something of a fraud here, as there’s not much I can add about Danjuma that I didn’t rabbit on about at the weekend, following his Preston jolly. In short, never having set eyes upon him before, I was happy enough to witness him roll up his sleeves and muck in. No shirking from this one. He waded into the thick of things from the off, seemed nimble of foot and bludgeoned himself a goal by virtue of insisting that he ought to have one rather than any particular finesse.

Positionally, he appears to be rubbing shoulders with Sonny and Richarlison in the little tub of bodies marked “Kane’s Backup”, and apparently can also wander off to the left if the need arises.

With Conte evidently deeming young Gil the sort of egg whose exit from the premises couldn’t come soon enough (more on that anon) we seemed to need an extra pair of attacking legs, and in sharp contradistinction to the unfortunate young Gil, Danjuma seems to come with a few additional slabs of meat and muscle plastered about his frame.

I’ll be honest, the whole thing has more than a whiff of the Bergwijn about it, but that, I suppose, is no bad thing.

3. Bryan Gil

At this point, however, things take a turn for the rummy.

A couple of potentially handy signings (or, more specifically, one potentially crucial signing and one potentially handy one) is all well and good, but for Conte to haul up Gil by the ear and kick him out of the country seemed a bit thick. I liked Gil. Gil made the pulse quicken. In a team that too often lapsed into endless sideways and backwards passing, Gil seemed forever gripped with the notion of simply tearing around the place and seeing what good works came of it.

Still, for all his fine efforts and endless energy, Gil did rather lack in the physique department. Conte, slippery eel that he is, had given the impression post-World Cup that he was actually coming round to the young pill – consecutive starts and whatnot – but it was all a spot of dastardly misdirection. All along Conte had him down as no more than skin, bone and hair, so off he bobs.

Mercifully it is but a temporary arrangement, and with a bit of luck the young specimen will return in the summer beefed as well as bronzed. But the element that really grates is that he is returning to his former digs, at Sevilla.

No concerns there, one might think – until recalling that in order to obtain the chap in the first place, we gave the very same Sevilla one serviceable Erik Lamela plus somewhere in the region of £25 million. And now, as a result of this latest spot of jiggery-pokery, Sevilla find themselves in possession of Lamela, approximately £25 million – and Bryan Gil, dash it! I mean really, what the hell sort of deal is that?

4. Matt Doherty

If the mechanics of the Bryan Gil deal seem to be slathered on a bit thick, it’s a mere bagatelle compared to the absurdities seeping from every orifice of the Matt Doherty fiasco.

On the face of it, the release of one of multiple right wing-backs, in order to facilitate the serene entry of a new, more advanced model, seems about as neat and tidy as they come. Firm handshakes all round would seem to be the order of the day.

Peel back the layers however – and one really doesn’t have to peel back too many, the top layer here will suffice – and a spot of mind-boggling incompetence takes shape. The rub of the thing is that the original plan was to slap a sign saying ‘Loan’ on Doherty’s forehead and bundle him onto a plane bound for Madrid, where he would stay until the summer, by which point a state of perfect equanimity and sense would have engulfed the running of THFC.

This being Spurs, however, such a straightforward course of action was never going to land. It turns out that, loosely speaking, these days clubs are not allowed to loan out more than 8 players at a time. A new one on me, I admit, but then I’m not a major European football club, for whom the loaning of players is part of the routine. For any such club, this ought not really to have been an issue as long as they were able to grasp the basics. Our lot, however, seemed to sally along blissfully unaware that such a rule existed; or perhaps fully aware, but not staffed by anyone capable of counting above 8.

Either way, the upshot was that with literally an hour or two until the deadline passed we found ourselves in possession of one excess Doherty, and at a bit of a loss as to how to shift him. At this stage I would have thought that, having only last season spent £15 million to bring the fellow in, simply cutting the cord and letting him drift off elsewhere would pretty much be the nuclear option. I mean to say, the chances of us recovering a full £15 million for him might have been thin, but the chances of us recovering something for him seemed middling-to-fair.

Incredibly however, the grands fromages of the club – presumably the same mob who are down in folklore for haggling into the wee small hours of deadline days gone by for a pittance here and a desultory payment there – just casually wiped off this £15 million asset in its entirety, tearing up Dhoerty’s contract, one imagines with a gay old smile and cheeky wink, and elbowing Doherty out of the club’s existence without much more than a muffled “Adio– ah, Pedro!”

My mind, which until then had been boggling away like nobody’s business at the combination of incompetence and absurdity, at this point gave up and simply melted away. It was simply too much to wrap the bean around. Irrespective of Doherty’s virtues or otherwise as a player and employee, I simply couldn’t fathom how a professional establishment could be that unaware of a key regulation; leave until literally the eleventh hour that for which they’d had a month to prepare; and then write off a multi-million pound asset with little more than a shrug.

As for the footballing side of all this, it certainly crept up from behind and shouted ‘Boo!’, but with the dust – and, more pertinently Pedro Porro – settling I’d qualify this as one I can stomach comfortably enough.

Poor old Doherty never really got to grips with things, for which he only takes a small portion of the blame in truth. There was a point, towards the end of last season, where he seemed to find his straps, and went on a run of half a dozen or so consecutive games at right wing-back, during which he did a decent impression of a chap who knew what he was about. Cutting in towards the area, popping up at the far post as an auxiliary attacker – that sort of good, honest muck.

Alas, that was all ended by the footballing equivalent of being attacked by a maniac with an axe, against Villa I think, and thereafter the chap never really managed more than an hour here or a ten-minute stretch-of-the-legs there, before being written out of the script in most peculiar fashion. Curious stuff, if no great loss.

5. Djed Spence

The other major outgoing was the no doubt pretty bewildered Djed Spence, a young flower to whom Our Glorious Leader seemed to take an instant dislike, and then made it his mission to ensure everyone knew it too.

A little green behind the ears he may presumably have been (I say ‘presumably’ because the lad never got to play long enough for anyone to find out), but given that Conte worshipped at the altar of attacking wing-backs it seemed pretty dashed rummy that he should have had quite such an aversion to the chap.

As far as anyone could make out, Spence was one of those coves who thinks that if he’s on a football pitch he might as well be attacking the opposition’s goal, and in each of his little cameo appearances he pretty clearly lived by that mantra. In the absence of anyone else doing much better at RWB, his repeated omission certainly made one remove the hat and give the hair a contemplative ruffle, but there we are. At least until the summer, young Master Spence is no longer of this establishment.

(As an aside, I admire his beans in opting for Rennes, rather than some more glamorous locale. The young bounder wants minutes; and, one imagines, at Rennes, minutes he shall have.)

6. Deals Not Done

While I suspect a few of us could debate long into the night the wisdom of ditching Doherty and Spence while retaining Emerson ruddy Royale, by and large this seemed a transfer window in which the stated aims were more or less met, and as such it’s one of those Satisfactory Enough type of gigs.

That said, however, AANP is the sort of chap who, on being gifted a dozen gleaming sports cars, would pause and question why it wasn’t a dozen and one. And as such, I’ll happily pop a hand on each hip and bleat about the wisdom of ending the transfer window without reinforcements in key areas. Viz, a goalkeeper, a centre-back, a creative midfield sort and another centre-back.

I know the official party line, of course. We all do. There was no way Monsieur Lloris was going to suffer some Doherty-esque ignominy and be cast aside mid-season with nary a mention on the club website. Severely in need of a goalkeeping upgrade we might be, but it is not happening any time before the clocks go forward.

Similarly at centre-back, Eric Dier will get to make as many more bizarrely off-kilter attempted clearances as he likes, because Conte seems taken by him, and that is sufficient. The Davies-Lenglet hokey-cokey will continue likewise. Come the summer, one would expect some serious signings in these areas to be discussed (before those targets head elsewhere and we settle for second-best); but for now, we’re stuck with what we’ve got.

Such is life. In truth I’m grateful that some new blood was brough in at all, particularly at right wing-back. And with Conte’s future still up in the air it may be just as well not to bring in too many of his acolytes. A dashed peculiar transfer window, then, but all told, one that was not too shabby. On we bobble.

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Spurs match reports

Preton N.E. 0-3 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Son

“That’ll do,” would presumably be the anthem at Casa Son this weekend, after that rousing exhibition. Those in the broadcast studios seemed pretty eager to advertise this as something far greater. Itching to herald the return of Peak Sonny, it seemed to me. Which one understands I suppose, for nothing attracts the masses like some overbeefed headline, but the reality struck me as being a tad more mundane – to wit, this was good, wholesome stuff but still some way from the Sonny of recent years.

Not to denigrate the young lemon’s goals, for they were amongst the finest of their vintage. ‘Aplomb’ doesn’t really do either justice, as both were despatched with a whole glut of plombs.

The warning signs had been there. In the first half on a couple of occasions he had adopted that pose of old, squeezing the ball from his feet, giving himself a yard or two and whipping the thing for all he was worth. The Preston goalkeeper had made a bit of a drama of blocking them off, seeming to dance all around them even when they were being rammed straight down his gullet. His closest chums had no doubt feared for him in anticipation of a moment when such shots were directed to more eastern or western extremes.

And in the second half it came to pass. Sonny married dead-eyed, bottom-corner accuracy to that whippy technique, and at that point one would have forgiven the Preston GK bod for stuffing his possessions into a bag, slinging it over his shoulder and clocking off for the evening.

Son’s first was absolutely top-notch stuff by just about any metric you care to think of. The poor old Preston defender who trotted out to challenge him would probably have thought that from about 25 yards the chances of significant damage ranked somewhere between ‘Moderate’ and ‘Low’, but this did not take into account the fact that Son was about to unleash a shot for the ages.

It was one of those that starts its journey gaily swinging well outside the line of the post, and then injects one heck of a plot twist, veering back into focus and inside the framework. For added panache it even ended up in the bottom corner, the footballing equivalent of shooting someone a look of quiet superiority. I can’t quite remember whether the Preston goalkeeper bothered to throw in a dive, but if he did it would have been strictly for ornamental purposes only.

The second goal was less about artistic merit and more a tale of clinical goalscoring. A scribe who simply wants to communicate the essentials and get on with their evening might sum it up as “Left-foot, close range”, which I suppose would get full marks for veracity, but would rather short-change the public. It may have all happened in the blink of an eye, but there was actually a decent amount of spadework to be done from the moment Perisic flicked the ball into Son’s path. A touch to control, a pirouette to shift the old balance from hither to thither, another touch to set the thing just so – all this was crammed into a single frame, and before you knew it Sonny was leathering the thing. By this point one rather felt for that hapless Preston goalkeeper as he dabbed a mournful glove at the ball whizzing past him.

So in terms of goals scored and the manner in which the aforementioned was undertaken, this was pretty sparkling stuff. Focus only on the goals, and you could – as did the BBC mob – make quite the song and dance about how all of Son’s woes were now behind him and he was now once again the master of all he surveyed.

However, not to put too great a dampener on things but while his finishing boots clicked smoothly into gear in that second half, various of the other crucial elements seemed not quite to have landed. The fleet-footed dribbles through crowded areas did not quite strike oil. Those gallops of his from deep and into wide open spaces rather spluttered and came to a halt. In short, this seemed not so much the Son of old as a pretty impressive attempted clone, which on the surface had it nailed, but on closer inspection still required that a few glitches be ironed out.

Nevertheless, a couple of goals against lower-league fluff were the sort of thing any capable doctor might have ordered. Bash out something similar in a week against Man City and we really can give the hands a gleeful rub and start referring back to his output of seasons past.

2. Sessegnon

And perhaps the gentle nature of the opponents fed the thinking of Our Glorious Leader in opting for Sessegnon on the left, as an opportunity for the young fellow to cast aside his cares and make a goodish bit of hay.

Alas, with each passing game Sessegnon strikes me increasingly as one of those eggs for whom no amount of assistance will make much of a dent. One can only bang on about potential for so long, what? At some point the fellow will have to puff out his chest and start playing like a wing-back of near-enough Champions League standard. As with Sonny, one would have thought that lower-league fluff would provide a decent platform.

Instead, I noted fairly early on in proceedings a rather gloomy correlation between Sessegnon arriving Stage Left to deliver his lines, and our move, whatever it happened to be, immediately breaking down. If he tried to take on his man, he failed. If he tried to deliver a cross, he failed. I didn’t witness it, so cannot be sure, but have a feeling that if he had tried to write his own name or recite the alphabet, he would have pretty quickly come a cropper, and trudged off with that usual, melancholy expression that is becoming so familiar.

If this is to be his lot in life – I mean filling in on the left in the occasional low-stakes jaunt – then I suppose we can all muddle through. Make polite noises and avoid any awkward conversations about where the hell we would be should the Perisic engine ever splutter to a halt. But if Sessegnon is ever to develop and progress into a first-choice ripsnorter of Rose-esque quality then he really needs to get a wriggle on.

The occasional 8-out-of-10 would be a solid start, and really, by this stage he ought to be stringing together several of those consecutively. Instead, Sessegnon seems rarely to elevate himself above a 6, and more typically, as last night, he registers a performance so ordinary that it feels kinder not to rate him but to gloss over his presence altogether, and bang on a bit about Son and Danjuma and whatnot instead. With that Destiny fellow apparently crossing t’s and dotting i’s out on loan in Italy, it might be that the remaining few months of the season represent Sessegnon’s last stand in lilywhite.

3. Subs

With the game near enough won, Conte did what any right-thinking bean would do, and swapped around the pieces on the board. In fact, Conte had already licked his lips and exercised his creative juices, with the selection of Perisic as the central attacker, but the second goal brought a slew of changes that frankly had me struggling to keep up.

Of course, Danjuma was the most fascinating sight, the entirety of AANP’s knowledge of the chap prior to his arrival deriving from one of those computer games one ought to know better than to dip into.

He seemed to make a solid stab at things, what? Full of beans, and no qualms about waving a few angry limbs at whomever was in earshot and calling a spade a spade. His very first involvement was pretty breezy stuff – giving and going, that sort of jolly rot, and very nearly finding himself clean through.

He didn’t have to wait too long for his moment of glory either, and while even his closest family members would struggle to build an argument suggesting that his strike was an aesthetic masterpiece, his goal was nevertheless a triumph for such virtues as arriving in the designated spot at the designated time, and generally sharpening one’s elbows and showing a willingness to pop into the area and have a sniff.

Less glamorously, and a fair few yards further south, I thought this was the best little cameo from young O. Skipp Esq. to which we have been treated all season. Having looked quite the appropriate fit whenever he featured last season, this time around things have been more stop than start and more miss than hit. A lack of game-time has obviously not helped, but last night he popped up with all the usual willing, and then, impressively, proceeded to get just about everything right every time he touched the ball.

One doesn’t read too much into these things of course, as there can be few gentler introductions in life than coming on when two goals up against a lower-league side, but nevertheless, having witnessed Bentancur shimmy about the place for an hour looking comfortably better than all around him, it was heartening to see young Skipp similarly do all that one would hope of the competent, modern midfielder.

And finally, as ever, young Gil came on and tore around like an over-excited puppy. A few neat passes, some quick feet and a handy contribution to the third goal represented a decent ten minutes’ work from the likeable young sprout. Despite a few eye-catching recent performances it appears that Gil remains a few notches down the pecking order, with rumblings of a loan move echoing about the place. Such is life, I suppose, but I do rather enjoy seeing these glimpses, and would welcome more.

All things considered, this was a pretty satisfying evening’s work. A second successive clean sheet, a rest for Kane and goals for Sonny, a debut goal for Danjuma and some decent substitute contributions make for as serene a Cup away day as one can imagine. I don’t mind admitting that I put in a worried gulp or two when I saw we’d been drawn away to a Championship side, but even during the slightly stodgy first half there was never a point at which we looked in danger of fouling the thing up.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-2 Arsenal: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

After yesterday’s mess, anyone in the market for a spot of finger-pointing would have no shortage of options, for “Sub-Par” seemed to have been the motto adopted by our lot throughout. Nevertheless, even Hugo Lloris’s own family members would probably have to accept that their man played a pretty critical role in the whole sorry affair.

It would be a stretch to say that we were on top of things, or even matching Woolwich, at the time of his main clanger. Although the scores were level, they were making good use of their extra man in midfield, passing from the back and through our press a little too niftily for my liking and having oodles of joy in that Saka-Sessegnon mismatch.

But nevertheless. The scores were still level, and our lot were showing a bit of willing going forward. On top of which the atmosphere in the place, while hardly confident, was at least still hopeful. When a first-minute pass into the path of Sessegnon on halfway is greeted by a roar the like of which is normally reserved for a goal, you know that the watching masses are suitably bucked. Anything, one felt, might yet happen.

Alas, what did happen was Monsieur Lloris treating us to the latest malcoordinated flail of his limbs. Maddeningly, he had signposted that he was in the mood for a clanger just moments earlier. A back-pass of the harmless variety had landed his way, and rather than just deal with the thing through means cultured or otherwise, he went down the bizarre route of assuming that he would be allowed to saunter unchallenged across his area for as long as he fancied.

Well, it didn’t take 10 years in the Premier League, 100+ international caps and two World Cup Finals to see that that the scheme was doomed. Barely had Lloris started dribbling the thing than an opponent was at his back, and routes to escape were fast disappearing. Lloris sought solace in the form of a countryman, but popping the ball at Lenglet’s right peg added a further layer of complication.

Not that Lenglet should have had too much difficulty in simply blasting the ball to safety, whichever foot was required, being an international footballer and whatnot. But, perhaps taking a cue from his captain, he botched the operation further by giving the ball straight to a Woolwich player in the six-yard box, of all things. In the panic that followed, Lloris at least had the dignity to save at point-blank range, but the awkward glances were already being exchanged.

And sure enough, calamity soon struck. Which is to say a fairly straightforward undertaking was required, and Lloris made a pig’s ear of it again.

One might leap to his defence by pointing to the various mitigating factors about the place. Sessegnon might have done better than simply stepping aside and waving Saka through; the cross when delivered caught a deflection of the small-but-critical variety; and it also came flying in at a rate of knots.

And if the blister charged with minding the net had been a ten year-old, or perhaps an elderly and overweight sort whose hand-eye coordination has always been a bit off, these might well have been acceptable excuses. But for a chappie whose life is dedicated to catching footballs, and who, as mentioned above, has more Premier League and international appearances than one can shake a stick at, such excuses do not wash. Catch the bally thing. Or at the very least buffet it off into a safe space.

Watching Lloris instead pat the ball upwards and backwards into his own net really did have the will to live seep from every pore of my being.

Thereafter, all the saves in the world would have done little to rectify things, because in a game in which we were second-best anyway, it was pretty crucial to avoid gifting them a goal, and similarly crucial to keep the atmosphere charged and hopeful.

Not that Lloris did make all the saves in the world thereafter. Romero was to a large degree at fault for the second goal – first in not bothering to close down the chappie, and then turning his back on the shot, forsooth – but from 25 yards or so one would expect a luminary of the goalkeeping trade to cover his bases and extend a sturdy paw sufficiently. Lloris was beaten too easily, and I imagine there are now few about the place who expect him still to be in situ come the start of season 23/24.

2. Sessegnon

For young Sessegnon already to have been chastised twice above in a sermon about the failings of another player entirely is rather telling.

His selection certainly gave the eyebrows of all in N17 a bit of a pre-match jolt, but one could at least attempt to explain it away, loosely on the grounds of the vivacity of youth – Perisic, after all, while a bit of a specialist with the ball at his feet and the masses howling for a cross, is not the sort of chap at whom one would point and say, “There’s the fellow on whom I wish to build a defence, particularly on account of his breakneck speed”. With Saka in opposition, I presumed that Conte saw in Sessegnon a young bean with enough to pace to thwart Woolwich’s right-sided threat.

A nice idea in theory, but pretty wildly off the mark in practice. How Perisic might have fared in that first half against Saka we’ll never know, but the berth was Sessegnon’s and it was pretty obvious from even casual observation that he was pretty powerless to stop Saka doing whatever he damn well pleased. With neither Lenglet nor Son particularly inclined to help out, we pretty much just resigned ourselves, at least in the first half, to that flank being wide open for business and as good as unmanned.

Sessegnon did show some early inclination to carry out the more attack-minded elements of his role, but even there, having made the necessary gallops into threatening territory, he was let down time and again by a string of crosses that seemed to give up on their mission as soon as they left his foot.

In the interests of fairness it should be noted that his dash infield, which brought about the first-half chance for Sonny, was impressively bobbish. It showed a spirit of enterprise and adventure we otherwise lacked, and was topped off with a surprisingly crafty little diagonal through-ball. What the devil he was doing there, in some sort of Number 10 slot, is anyone’s guess, but it was much-needed.

He also combined neatly with Kane for his one-on-one in the second half, but whatever merit he earns for making the run, he rather loses for failing to bury the chance.

Those two little jaunts aside, I saw precious little in his performance to impress, and even before half-time I was constructing the argument for his removal and replacement by Perisic.

3. Sarr

The other selection of considerable note was that of Pape Matar Sarr. One rather sympathised with the young bounder, for as long Conte sticks with his 3-4-3 then the central midfield pair will almost always find themselves outnumbered, which seemed a rotten hand to deal a fellow on his full debut.

I suppose if one were to cast a cursory eye over a narrative of the first half, and digest that the Woolwich mob cantered through the centre pretty much at will, one might conclude that the Sarr selection was a failure on a par with that of Sessegnon.

However, I am inclined to launch a fairly robust defence of young Sarr. Given that Woolwich employed a midfield three, often supplemented by a fourth in Zinchenko, Sarr admittedly spent a lot of time simply chasing shadows, but, as I have thought of Messrs Benancur and Hojbjerg at various other points in the season, the lad can hardly be blamed for being outnumbered.

When Sarr was able to intervene, he did so well enough. He took to his tasks with plenty of zest, shuttled the ball along to others sensibly and seemed pretty composed when dwindling options forced him to quicken his feet and dance away from trouble.

He is by no means the finished article, and his yellow card was evidence of the fact that this was a midfield battle we definitely lost. On top of which, for all his positives, he is another in the depressingly long list of hard-working but rather functional sorts, when our midfield absolutely screams out for some creativity. However, both in terms of being outnumbered in midfield, and populating said midfield with functional bods, the blame lies squarely with Our Glorious Leader.

All things considered, I thought Sarr bobbed about pretty well. Quite where he stands in the midfield hierarchy is a little unclear – I heard a whisper that Bissouma had a knock, and Bentancur will certainly waltz straight back in, but Sarr, it appears, is now a credible alternative to and possibly preferred option above young Master Skipp.

4. Kulusevski (and Son’s Ongoing Struggles)

If Sarr’s performance was one of our better ones by virtue of being acceptable enough, Kulusevki’s was possibly the best, by virtue of offering an occasional threat.

Not that you’d have known he was playing in the first half, during which time our heroes struggled to string three passes together. Naturally, beginning the second half with a two-goal deficit was the prompt for a slightly improved performance, and it seemed little coincidence that we were far more threatening once it occurred to those in lilywhite that they were allowed to pass to Kulusevski.

He did his usual thing – running literally around opponents, and yet doing so in surprisingly effective fashion; standing up crosses towards the back post; cutting in to curl efforts with his left foot. And on another day, one or two of those little adventures might have brought slightly richer harvest, but even though the conclusion of his little incursions repeatedly fell a little short, his presence and involvement at least sparked us into life.

By contrast, on the other flank, poor old Sonny once again laboured away like the less talented twin of the chappie from last year. As happens every week, he simply failed to run up a head of steam in any respect. Be it a dribble, shot or attempt to shield and hold up the ball, his bright ideas repeatedly came a cropper at source, and not for the first time we were as ten men and one passenger.

Injury and conditioning no doubt forbad an earlier appearance from Richarlison, but the AANP line from pretty early in the second half was to hook Sonny and plop the Brazilian in his place.

5. Conte’s Role In All Of This

For all of the above, however, my principal grumble is not so much the individual performances as the masterplan (a term with which I play pretty fast and loose) from Our Glorious Leader. Yesterday was a neat illustration of how we are getting on under the chap.

The formation, and in particular the use of a back-three, irks the dickens out of me. I suppose in theory one might argue that the more defenders one thrusts onto the pitch the less likely we are to concede. And perhaps amongst most right-thinking folk, this would work out swimmingly, one fellow covering the next fellow, and so on. If the back-three were watertight and achieved clean sheets every week, the case for it would be pretty compelling.

Amongst our lot, however, the back-three is anything but watertight. And not only is it a pretty flimsy structure, its very existence also weakens our midfield. Deploying three central defenders means deploying only two central midfielders; and as evidenced yesterday – and in almost every match this season – our central midfield pair are routinely overrun by opponents with a midfield three.

On top of which our midfield pair offer precious little creativity because their principal role is to destroy rather than to create. In fact, I often wonder if their principal role is simply to gulp down great mouthfuls of oxygen at every opportunity and recover after galloping around trying to do between them the work of three men.

Aside from the formation, The Conte Way irritates because it seems the general philosophy being peddled is to defend rather than attack or entertain. The strength of our squad is undoubtedly its attacking riches, yet Conte’s primary goal each week seems to be to focus on shutting out the other lot. All of which inclines one to fling up the hands and implore them just to attack for heaven’s sake, what?

The fellow seems to be steering our ship until something more to his liking comes along. One year in and his brand of football is neither fun to watch nor particularly impressive on paper (fifth we may be, but we’re pretty comfortably beaten by all of our ‘rivals’). As I saw it put last night, “Conte’s priority appears simply not to mess up”, and this isn’t much fun to drink in every week.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-2 Aston Villa: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Not The Worst Opening Hour

Family commitments being what they are, AANP spent yesterday afternoon watching Disney princesses until the eyes bubbled, and as attempts to shield the self from the final score for 24 hours inevitably came a cropper, I found myself in that curious situation of settling down today to watch in its entirety a game the outcome of which I already knew.

Admittedly I was already pretty used to challenging viewing, following the marathon of wicked stepmothers and whatnot, but I naturally braced myself. The gist of the communication received overnight had been that, while not necessarily our lowest ebb, this performance was making itself quite at home amongst the great heapfuls of decidedly low ebbs we’ve had to experience in recent times.

But oddly enough, as the game unfolded I though our lot did reasonably well, albeit without being particularly good.

I probably ought to take this opportunity to duck out of the way of any rotten fruit being hurled my way by whomever is reading, for I suspect this is not a popular opinion. The masses, one fears, will not approve. Nevertheless, having expected the usual business of settling in for minimal possession until two down, or forlornly shuttling the ball along the back-three from east to west, and then west to east, each of the principals dwelling on their opportunity as if trying to get through a chapter of War and Peace before playing a pass, I was taken aback to note a degree of urgency throughout.

While there was a definite blank in the column marked ‘Creativity’, there seemed to be a consensus amongst our lot that if we were going to explore dead-ends we might as well do it snappily. (As an aside, I attribute much of this to the absence of Eric Dier, a chappie who, when in possession, does not consider his day’s work worthwhile unless he has wasted about half an hour rolling the ball from one foot to the other while contemplating his next move.)

In the absence of Dier, and in a general spirit of hurriedness, our lot managed at least to roll the ball from A to B within two touches each time. This struck me as a few notches up from rock-bottom, so I welcomed it happily enough. Moreover, but for some pretty iffy refereeing calls in the opening ten minutes, we might have been through on goal a couple of times. Before half-time Perisic found himself clean through, leading to the Kane header that was cleared off the line, and we started the second half looking far likelier to score.

Obviously things fell apart pretty spectacularly thereafter, and in an odd reversal of recent history, on finding ourselves two down with 30 to go our lot gave the shoulders a collective slump and dialled their efforts right down – but here at AANP Towers we viewed the first hour or so, if not exactly with uncontained enthusiasm, then at least with a degree of optimism. The urgency of that first hour was a welcome sight.

2. Bissouma

The flip-side of this, apart from conceding two more goals that made eyes bleed and soul weaken, was that for all our urgency there was no attacking spark.

The absence of Bentancur from central midfield does not help matters in this regard, but I suggest that the problems run a little deeper. Talented soul though he is, Bentancur alone is not the solution to our lack of midfield spark.

We seem to lack a fellow of ingenuity and whizzy ideas, slap bang in the centre of the stage (or perhaps ten yards advanced of that spot). And this seems to come back to the formation, the use of three central defenders meaning that we are restricted to two in central midfield – and while Hojbjerg and Bentancur have been amongst our starrier sorts this campaign, neither really are the creative masterminds whose reputations have been built on creating and scoring goals through an array of shoulder-dips and defence-splitting passes.

There has been a fair amount of chatter in recent weeks about the similarities between England and Spurs – I found it instructive to note how the national team nailed its colours to the Back-Four mast, thereby adding a sprinkle of creativity to midfield, and as a result died fighting, as it were, rather than waving a white flag in meek surrender.

Back to our lot, and in the absence of Bentancur, young Master Bissouma had another crack at the big-time. Alas, as with most of his previous appearances, nothing quite seemed to work for the chap. Not being one of those creative mastermind types alluded to above, his raison d’être could reasonably be concluded to be more along the lines of a defensive sort – collecting scraps, making tackles and intercepting Villa moves at their genesis.

And while he occasionally did each of the above, he just as often seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Villa attacks bypassed him; he picked up a booking essentially for being out of position and tripping a fellow from behind; and in possession he again seemed oddly uneasy with the physics of a sphere, seeming a little too easily confused by its propensity to roll, and bounce, and whatnot.

His nadir came with the second Villa goal, when for the second consecutive game the notion of tracking his man into the penalty area appeared a long way down his To-Do list, leaving the bounder in question with more space in our box than was reasonable to afford. One would understand – not accept, but understand – if a born-and-bred centre-forward made such an error, but here is a chap whose job title essentially reads “Defensive Midfielder”. To neglect the first rule of defensive midfielding, twice in consecutive games makes ones eyes bulge a bit, what? And it’s not as if he has a whole sackful of attacking party tricks into which he can dip to atone, at the opposite end of the pitch.

The fellow needs to get himself up to speed, and pronto. Frankly, if he is not going to carry out his defensive duties as if his life depends on them, I’d sooner he were politely shoved from his spot and someone more creative used in his stead (admittedly a practical problem or two emerges here, given that we have no-one matching that description in our ranks, but you see my point).

As it happened, I thought that the young lad Sarr looked a bit more familiar with things in the defensive midfield vicinity during his ten-minute cameo than Bissouma did during his eighty minutes, but the pecking order seems well established.

3. Lloris

If a few stern words can be bellowed in the direction of Bissouma, decency forbids elaborating upon the suitable punishments for Lloris after his latest hare-brained input.

Cast your minds back to the World Cup and the Lloris on display looked every inch the seasoned professional, carrying out his duties correctly and with minimal fuss, neat-and-tidying his way to the Final. Of the various clangers magicked out of thin air in our colours every few weeks there was no sign. It would be a stretch to describe him as ‘The Best on Duty’, but a reliable sort of egg he most certainly was.

What the hell happens to him once he pops up for our lot is therefore anyone’s guess, but this rot he springs from nowhere is simply too much. Fully paid-up members of the Lloris Fan Club may warble about the ball moving, or the ball bouncing, or the ball turning a somersault en route, but that guff won’t wash at AANP Towers. The chap’s job is first and foremost to catch the dashed thing, and if he can’t master that particular basic then I’m at a bit of a loss to understand what purpose he serves.

These mistakes are far too frequent. Moreover, while one of the johnnies of yesteryear once came up with a decent gag, that to err is human, the gist being that just about every player will make the occasional mistake, the goalkeeper is well aware of his lot in life. There’s little in the way of safety nets or bail-outs in that position. Either get it right or be off, is pretty much the AANP message to the goalkeeping fraternity, and Monsieur Lloris has now created quite the catalogue of foul-ups for our lot.

4. Gil (and Perisic)

If absence makes the heart grow fonder it pretty much bursts through the ribcage and howls for Dejan Kulusevski at present. Still, no use complaining, what? The absence of D.K., plus a couple of the other preferred options, meant that young Senor Conte had to dip his hand into the box marked ‘Last Resort’, and pulled out a Bryan Gil.

I suppose the one-line summary is that we found out nothing that we did not know before. He was full of willing, itching throughout to unleash a trick or six and, containing practically zero in the way of muscle about his frame, was always liable to come out second-best in any man-on-man combat.

I thought the young nib made a decent stab of things. If points were awarded for body language he’d have needed a decent-sized bag to carry off his prizes, because he seemed to burst with enthusiasm for the task at hand. There were a few good link-ups with Matt Doherty (who I thought also fared well enough, certainly incurring less rage in his decision-making than the other fellow) and a few moments when he dipped a shoulder or two to create space for a cross. Alas, Gil continues to look like a boy in a man’s world. A delightful and earnest boy, the sort who would take great pleasure in doing his mother’s bidding – but a boy nevertheless. Still, I was glad to see him get a game, combine with Doherty and buy into the general mentality of urgency.

And on the other flank, I thought this was one of Perisic’s better days, at least when on the front-foot. The ‘Back’ part of the wing-back role is, as touched upon before, not one to which Perisic attaches too much concern, but going forward he is a pretty nifty so-and-so. His ability to choose from right or left clog when it comes to swinging in crosses is a bit of a blessing, even if his only targets tend to be Kane and Doherty, and as often as not he was our most advanced forward.

However, for all the silver linings and first half urgency and whatnot, this was another dreadful defeat. A couple of opportunities await to right these wrongs, before a few rather alarming fixtures come flying at us later in the month.

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Spurs match reports

Marseille 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sessegnon

I’ll get to the salacious stuff in due course, but during the occasional first half moment when I paused to drink in the full extent of the catastrophe unfolding, one concept that kept bugging me was this business of Sessegnon at right wing-back.

In fact, even before the whistle peeped and all concerned sprung into action, my eye had been drawn to the teamsheet and the forehead had promptly creased. For a start, there was the sight of three more right wing backs, plus one Tanganga, on the bench. (Actually, this was rather well received at AANP Towers, as it meant that Emerson’s interference with proceedings had been restricted, but nevertheless, the cogs were whirring alright.)

Call me old-fashioned, but I had rather assumed that Sessegnon would be stationed on the left, with Perisic, a cove more used to swinging the right boot, assuming RWB duties.  The sight of Sessegnon ambling around on the right from kick-off therefore threw me. It’s happened before of course, fleetingly here and there, but I’ve rarely seen the point of it, and the use of inverted wing-backs in a game as critical as this certainly did wonders for my repertoire of puzzled looks.

Whatever the plan was meant to be, it pretty much died at birth. When the stars align, Sessegnon can be an effective left wing-back – diligent in defence, and pretty willing to stick a foot on the accelerator and make a bit of hay in the final third. Last night however, the stars did not align. If anything, the stars came crashing down from their moorings.

Sessegnon did not make it to halfway, let alone the final third, so whatever the elaborate ruse was around using his left foot to cut inside on the right, we were dashed if we were going to get a glimpse of it. Instead, the young potato bobbed along around the edge of his own area throughout, and while he can’t really be faulted for effort, I felt anything but assured by the sight of him patrolling his spot. Indeed, Marseille’s first decent shot (the volley from the left that Hugo beat away) came about from an attempted Sessegnon clearance that apologetically bobbled about two yards.

A degree of sanity was restored towards the end of the first half, with Sessegnon switched back to the left, but the whole experiment struck me as pretty dashed odd – especially, to repeat, when countless naturally right-footed sorts were giving the beady eye from the substitutes’ bench.

None of this is to suggest that all our first half problems lay at the door of poor old Sessegnon, far from it. For a start the problems seemed a lot bigger than any single player (more on that later). And if we are singling out individuals then Eric Dier, a fellow from whom one would expect a lot better, inexplicably opted to lob a few passes back into our own penalty area, via some passing, low-hanging clouds, as a spirit of general ineptitude spread about the place like wildfire.

So it was not all Sessegnon’s fault by any means; but it would be no understatement to suggest that his deployment on the right baffled the dickens out of AANP.

2. Emerson’s Positive Contribution

Desperate times and all that, but even after observing the car crash that was our first half, and after seeing young Sessegnon square flap around on the right, come half-time I had not reached the stage of yearning for a spot of Emerson to solve things.

But someone in the camp obviously thought that was what was needed, so on he rolled, and promptly introduced himself to the galleries by heading a ball firmly to his right and out of play, when all ten of his teammates loitered at various points to his left.

This seemed ominous, if in keeping with his career to date, but I shifted it from my mind – as is healthy practice when taking in eyefuls of Emerson – and waited keenly to see what might unfold next. And I’ll be dashed if I were not treated to the sight thereafter, of Emerson generally doing the basics in competent and reliable fashion.

It helped, of course, that the entire collective upped their performance level about sixty notches, but nevertheless it was a pretty startling sight to see Emerson contributing healthily as required. Most welcome, but startling nevertheless. As various members of our mob oiled further up the pitch, passing options began to spring up everywhere you looked – and Emerson, to give him his dues, did not shirk responsibility in this respect.

Nor did he overcomplicate things unnecessarily, or bungle crucial interjections. On one or two occasions he galloped up into attack and pinged in a cross as the situation demanded, and while few would suggest that he existed on a different, superior plane to all others, he nevertheless contributed considerably to the marked upturn in our fortunes. Gradually we asserted a spot of control, and, remarkably, Emerson was a played a significant part.

3. Bentancur

If Emerson’s ability to do normal things made my eyes pop out of my head somewhat, Bentancur had the vaguely opposite effect, in that his ability yet again to rise a level or two above everyone else seemed simply to be standard operating procedure.

His anonymity in the first half was a tough one to swallow, but that painful drudgery having been very much a collective effort, one did not dwell. However, whatever the nature of the sorcery that was discussed and greenlit at the break, it seemed that Master Bentancur had been enlisted to play a pretty critical role. With Bissouma thickening things up in midfield (and, in the second half at least, producing one of his better performances in our ranks to date), Bentancur appeared to have a bit of licence to jolly off into attack as the urge grabbed him.

He rattled off his lines with aplomb. Dreamy technique never goes amiss, of course, and having been neutered in the first half he was right on the money second time around; but on top of which, the nature of the thing, with Marseille heaving forward and leaving themselves rather exposed at the rear, meant that Bentancur was often to be observed leading the charge over halfway, sprinting up towards their area, either with ball at feet and killer-pass on radar, or in support of whichever other chappie was at the controls.

It is true that as a collective our lot improved pretty much exponentially, but either because or due to that – and strong cases can be made in each camp – Bentancur was at the hub of much that was good in our second half play. Be it retaining possession and putting in a spot of game-management, or haring up towards their goal, Bentancur was the font from which our goodness spouted. A mild shame that he overhit the pass for Lucas, which would have had the latter through on goal, but that aside his was, again, a performance vastly superior to all others’.

4. First Half vs Second Half

Of course, the column inches on Sessegnon, Emerson and Bentancur amount to polite small-talk. The real front-page news was the umpteenth instance of our transformation from clueless and impotent in the first half, to clued up and punchy in the second – the prompt for such a metamorphosis, as ever, being the concession of a goal.

Why the hell our lot must always wait until falling behind to unleash their better selves is an absolute mystery, but to this end my attention was arrested by a sentence casually lobbed into conversation by Monsieur Lenglet during his post-match buttering last night. Lenglet stated – and I paraphrase here – that the johnnies in the camp were unsure, when pistols were drawn, whether the message from above was fight or flight.

This did not strike me as mightily encouraging. One would have thought that any team at any level would head off to battle with clear instruction ringing in their ears at least as to whether the general approach would be attack or defend. With Conte having a reputation as the sort of egg who drills home tactical instructions for every eventuality, I found the mind boggling a bit at the notion that Lenglet – and who knows how many others? – was not sure in even the broadest sense what the setup was supposed to be.

I certainly understand that a deficit in any game removes any lingering doubt. When trailing, after all, one is rather obliged to up the levels, in order to salvage something. However, the notion that at kick-off the players simply look at each other and shrug, none the wiser as to what course ought to be plotted until they fall behind, seems to me rummy in the extreme.

Another theory being bandied about the place is that Conte is essentially playing rope-a-dope, both in the short- and long-term. In each individual match he wants the opposition to expel every last ounce of puff by around the midway point, so that our heroes have that much more mileage to go snatching and grabbing the points at the death; and over the course of the season he would like us simply to keep pace with things until the World Cup, so that the shackles can be cast aside come the new year and the race be run with a spot more dash and elan. In truth, however, AANP treated this one with a pretty sceptical eye.

Perhaps more believable is the notion that Conte simply does not have much faith in our defence to do as bid, and therefore piles up the reinforcements each game, resulting in scenarios such as the first half last night, when all ten outfield players are wedged within spitting distance of Lloris, and there is no attacking outlet at all.

Whatever the reason, be it accident, design or some otherworldly intervention, it is pretty maddening stuff to ingest every three days. As numerous second halves have indicated, not only are our lot perfectly capable of playing on the front-foot, giving multiple passing options, defending relatively high up the pitch and winning the ball in midfield or higher, but they can actually do it pretty effectively.

All of which makes me fling my head back and howl at them for not simply adopting that approach from the off, and racking up the goals at various points prior to the absolute dying seconds of the game.

On a positive note, however, last night was, ultimately, an absolute joy, the like of which we haven’t experienced in the Champions League since Amsterdam. Qualifying for the knockout stages was a triumph, and I suspect ticked a box that most of us would have scrawled at the start of the season when pondering what a successful campaign would look like. To dump out in such manner a team stocked everywhere you looked with former Woolwich blisters added to the fun. And credit where due – for the third time in a week (albeit ruled out on one occasion by a dubious VAR) our heroes have come from behind to score a winner in the dying seconds, which represents a heck of an improvement from all those lightweight Spurs sides of my youth.

Tweets hither

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-2 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris’ Error

Having rolled up his sleeves and put a bit of effort into fighting the good fight midweek, I suppose Monsieur Lloris had a bit of credit in the bank come 4.30pm yesterday, so it says something about his performance that he was pretty firmly established as persona non grata at AANP Towers by around 5.15pm.

Dealing first with what might, in the interests of anatomical accuracy, be described as the chest-bump, opinions will naturally differ on whether or not play ought to have been halted, and frankly that part is of pretty minimal interest over here (AANP being the philosophical sort brought up not to question the ref). Of greater concern was the sequence of choices made by Monsieur Lloris as the episode unfolded.

In the first place he exited the safety of his area, and stepped out into the big, wide world – which was a reasonable enough choice. Crucially, he was first on the scene, which seemed to justify the decision, and while I am pretty much a novice in the mystical arts of top-level goalkeeping, it seemed to me that he had achieved the most risk-laden element of the procedure, and at this point needed only to blast the thing off into the atmosphere or sidelines or wherever, to round off a successful – if rather basic – mission. One of those missions aimed simply at preventing any harm, rather than achieving any great progress.

At least that was the expectation, on having seen him reach the target a good couple of yards ahead of the Newcastle chappie. What followed, alas, was a textbook example of how to make hard-earned midweek goodwill disappear in a puff of smoke. Rather than launching the thing off amongst the stars and being rid of it, Lloris picked this moment to perform a rather curious pelvic thrust at the ball.

Now I’m not picky about aesthetics when it comes to the dirty business of clearing one’s defensive lines. There is a time for looking pretty, and a time for sneering at the pretty stuff and simply getting the job done; and when a strapping forward is haring towards your goal, the time is pretty obviously for s.a.t.p.s.a.s.g.t.j.d. And with this in mind, if the pelvic thrust had been the optimal means for clearing danger, then I’d have been all for it. “Thrust away, squire”, would have been the gist of the communique from these parts.

The trouble was, as well as looking a bit of an ass, Lloris also failed to solve the impending problem. In fact, not only did he fail to solve it, he significantly worsened it. Rather than bring the ball under control (which was presumably the intention, because no pelvic thrust in the world is going to send a ball twenty yards into touch) this daft routine simply transferred its temporary ownership from his own sphere of influence to that of the Newcastle sort.

This was Lloris’ first failing. Scholars could debate long into the night whether or not his second was as bad; either way, it prompted a pretty meaty piece of instant feedback from AANP. For having lost the ball, there then occurred the aforementioned chest-bump. Such things will happen, and a decision as to its legality or otherwise rested with those in authority. But what took the biscuit was that rather than simply getting on with the day-job after this contact, and endeavouring to prevent Callum Wilson from doing any harm, Lloris instead tried to convince the referee, VAR, the gathered hordes and the audience of millions, that some form of assault had been carried out, by dropping to the floor in a manner vastly more dramatic than the whole dance had merited.

(A helpful tip for any simulation-spotters is that if the player’s arms shoot up after contact then he’s up to some dastardly misdeed; one’s arms tend to shoot down to break one’s fall, when genuinely sent to ground.)

It amounted to the cardinal sin of failing to play to the whistle. Goalkeepers do admittedly tend to receive oddly preferential treatment from referees, but nevertheless this was a pretty risky game for Lloris to play, and I have precious little sympathy for the fatheaded oaf in opting to hit the deck rather than rescue the situation. If he had cleared the dashed thing in the first place the eventuality would have been avoided in its entirety; failing that, if he had stayed on his feet and hovered over Wilson to prevent his shot, the goal might yet have been prevented.

Whether the Wilson challenge was fair game or foul play, Lloris’ dubious choices immediately preceding and following it did little to win him the soothing tones and comforting arm around the shoulders here at AANP Towers. Withering glares were more the order of the day, and the fact that the little black book is starting to fill up a bit with these sorts of incidents about the chap does little to brighten the mood.

2. Lloris’ Passing

As if all of that were not enough, we were then also treated to Lloris’ role – understated though it was – in the second goal conceded.

Not wanting to linger too long over the gory details, but the problem had its genesis from a Lloris pass out towards Sess, which leant heavily on height and loop, and skimped a fair bit on accuracy.

Of course, there were about twenty further hoops for the Newcastle laddie to jump through before the ball ended up in the net, and if either of Sessegnon or Lenglet had registered even the faintest level of interest in their designated duties then this particular chat would be assuming a vastly rosier hue. But instead, they took one look at what was happening and waved their respective white flags – Sessegnon sticking out a leg to register his presence, Lenglet not even managing that much – and from a situation of fairly low risk by the right-hand touchline, fifty yards out, Newcastle were suddenly two up.

Lloris may not have been as directly culpable for this one as the first, but his kicking is of a standard that really ought to have the security bods giving each other a concerned look and raising the alert level from Amber to Red.

Conte-Ball seems to rely heavily upon distribution from the nether regions, and while the onus typically falls upon Dier and chums, the fact that Lloris’ passing is dreadful removes what would otherwise be a useful option. The curious fellow can manage those 5-yard goal-kicks to his centre-backs without too much calamity, but anything more adventurous than that seems to frazzle his circuits.

The modern-day goalkeeper, unfortunately, needs to be able to pick out a wing-back hugging the touchline to within a yard or so, and preferably at a height conducive to straightforward control, without the need for said wing-back to contort the limbs and stetch about eight feet. And in this respect Hugo runs into some pretty serious problems.

As mentioned, when building from a goal kick, it leaves those in question straining a bit to retain control of the thing, as such inviting pressure back. The notion of beating the opposing press is great in theory, and sometimes happens via a nifty Romero pass or whatnot – but I struggle to think of a time when Lloris has bypassed the other mob and put us on the front-foot with his passing.

And aside from goal-kicks, all manner of hollow groans ring out when our lot begin in a position of some advance, bob the ball back towards halfway and then decide that if it were done when ‘tis done then ‘twere well it were shuttled all the way back to the least competent passer on the pitch. Such hideous fare not only terminates whatever attack had been in motion, it also just about guarantees that the ball will soon be back with the opposition.

A few years back, the inability of a goalkeeper to pick out a teammate with an accurate pass would have barely made the footnotes, let alone been an agenda item; now, as we watch our back-three awkwardly shuffle left to right and back again, Lloris’ poor passing is causing something of a hindrance to our attacking play.


3. Dier

On the subject of errant passing from the back, if the name ‘Eric Dier’ isn’t burning the lips of anyone else, it dashed well is mine.

Now I appreciate that I have to tread carefully here. One does not want to upset the natives. One respects the natives. Eric Dier is a bean with his own song after all, and indeed, I’ll belt it out as lustily as the rest of them. But this train of thought, which seems to have quite some momentum behind it, that he is some sort of deep-lying font of creativity on account of his passing, is one of those lines that will have me biting the lip, and engaging in a slightly strained silence.

Credit where due, Dier can pick a lovely pass. He picked at least two of them yesterday – both, I noted, diagonals, from somewhere left of centre to a coordinate in approximately an inside-right sort of spot.

But he also, far too often for my liking, lobs the ball forward in a straight line, and gifts possession to the opposition. He, in common with those to his immediate left and right, is also a little too eager to wheel around on his axis and roll the ball back to Lloris; and if you’ve read this far you’ll know that such a manoeuvre prompts howls of anguish from AANP Towers.

I suppose in this respect he has my sympathy, because if a centre-back is forced to head back to goal – and to Lloris of all people – it reflects pretty badly on those employed ahead of him to scuttle off into space and frantically wave their arms at him. If nobody is offering Dier a reasonable passing option, what, he might well articulate, is he supposed to do?

One thing he really ought not to do is fire the ball back in a fashion that looks suspiciously like a shot at his own net, but at one point in the first half he managed to do precisely that. Now it would be pretty unreasonable to castigate the chap for this unless he made a habit of it. Even the finest amongst us rather lose the thread of things every once in a while. But when a fellow like Dier, the sort who seems to buy pretty readily into the hype about being a passer extraordinaire, ends up slapping the ball just a yard wide of his own goal when under no pressure, one starts, after removing head from hands, to reflect that our entire approach of passing out from the back is in need of some pretty drastic surgery.

4. Conte

The mood around the campfire is taking a bit of a dive, make no mistake.

Pre-match, the thought had occurred that we have been led a merry old dance by three of the traditional gang of 6 (Chelsea, Woolwich and Man Utd); and have toppled, albeit making the deuce of a palaver of it, various sides orbiting mid-table or lower. As such, Newcastle seemed a pretty solid test of our current status.

One might argue that we started sprightly, creating three or four reasonable chances. Skipp seemed to itch to shove things forward at every opportunity, and Sonny really ought to have put us one up. Benancur was a delight throughout.

Nevertheless, our best moments, as ever, came from the speedy counter-attack. The pattern was not one in which we, as the home team, asserted ourselves and hammered away. The inability to build from the back again loomed over our play.

Casually gifting two pretty avoidable goals did not help things, but these seemed completely in keeping with our play at the moment – sloppy; no strong plan or belief in playing from the back; frankly poor-quality football.

Our Glorious Leader took to the soapbox afterwards to bleat his usual refrains about needing more time and money and such bobbins, and one appreciates that it is unreasonable to expect us to have blown away all-comers. But after a year at the controls, one would reasonably expect us to blow away some comers. After a year, one would reasonably expect our football to be a little more enjoyable to drink in – and not to rely so strongly on Kulusevski.

Conte rarely wastes an opportunity to drone on about more transfers, and again one sees his point. But while some amongst our number do peddle some rot, there are plenty of talented sorts there – enough to play football that brings to the soul a little more joy than the current slop. Moreover, if he is set to walk away next summer – and there seems a moderate chance he might – it is questionable whether there is any sense in stuffing a chequebook in his hands and encouraging him to go to Disneyland.

The concern is that Conte seems actively to be encouraging the dreary stuff. He could arrange our troops to set about things with more fizz and bang; he chooses not to.

Tweets abaft

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Spurs match reports

Man Utd 2-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. At Least Lloris Put On A Show, What?

This being a new day I thought I’d begin with a once-over of the positives from last night. Alarmingly, there was in fact only one, but never mind that, and step forward Monsieur Lloris.

There’s a train of thought that it’s a bit redundant to bleat, “We would have lost by such and such an amount if not for our goalkeeper,” because the whole point is that the fellow is our goalkeeper, and that making those saves is precisely his job within our team – but nevertheless seeing everyone in front of him simply melt away time after time, forcing the poor chap into about eighty different extended reaches, did seem a bit much.

Oddly enough, Lloris’ evening had threatened to get off to a pretty horrendous start. Just about his first involvement occurred when a United sort spotted him off his line after a botched clearance, and attempted a lob. These are usually pretty anticlimactic interludes, promising much but typically fizzling out on launch, and so it proved as the shot barely reached head height.

Now I’m no goalkeeper, but if I see a ball gently float towards me I prefer to take the old-fashioned approach and catch it, ideally keeping any additional fuss to a minimum. And this had appeared the designated tactic of Lloris, until at the last minute he appeared to lose control of just about all of his critical limbs, and somehow, from a standing start, ended up flailing around on the ground, only just managing to pat at the ball, and diverting it marginally wide of the post.

It had seemed a pretty ominous start, and had me bracing myself from one of those nerve-riddled routines of his between the sticks. However, in one of those nifty little quirks of fate, that moment actually turned out to be the cue for everyone else to peddle absolute rot, while Lloris transformed into something vastly beyond the realms of mortal man, pulling off a whole sequence of full-stretch saves from around that point until the end of the match an hour later.

One in particular (from Rashford, if I recall correctly) had him in full flight in one direction, but having the presence of mind to stick out a paw in the other direction, whence he had come, creating the overall effect of a chappie who had mastered the matrix and was able to defy physics by bobbing around faster than the eye could make sense of. It just seemed rather a shame that this whole exhibition was of pretty minimal value. I mean, it stopped us losing about eight-nil, so I suppose it could be argued that it did in fact teem at the edges with value, but you know what I mean. Losing cause and whatnot. Still, bravo Hugo – which is more than any other of the blighters deserve.

2. The Fabled 3-5-2

With the regular 3-4-3 having made dashed hard work of such luminaries as Forest and Everton so far this season, in recent days you couldn’t have lobbed a brick in North London without it hitting on the head someone pleading for Our Glorious Leader to switch to 3-5-2.

All such wishes were granted last night, as injuries to Richarlison and Kulusevski rather tied poor old Conte’s hands on this front (admittedly I think most reasonable folk of lilywhite persuasion would have gnawed off their own arm to have Kulusevski restored, he being pretty much the missing link in all this). And moreover, with Emerson by his own idiocy absented, we armchair experts even had the luxury of Doherty on the right. As such, the pre-match sentiment at AANP Towers was one of cautious optimism. Quietly smug, knowing smiles were very much the order of the day. This one seemed winnable.

Or at least it did until the game actually started, at which point it pretty swiftly fell apart at the seams. Having howled away that we were getting outnumbered in midfield with the 3-4-3, the sight of our lot having rings run around them in a 3-5-2 had the AANP map turning a pretty impressive shade of crimson. Numbers of pairs of legs, it appeared, had not a dashed thing to do with it. Quite frankly, our lot were utter rot.

It’s all very well pointing out that United were on pretty spiffing form, but if any team can make Fred look like a master of all he surveys then one has to wonder if there’s some deep-rooted failure lies within. And sure enough, the problems amongst our lot were so numerous that I started to look about me for parchment and quill, for simply trying to keep track in my head was becoming increasingly problematic.

Defensively, despite having five fine specimens neatly lined up across the back, with a further three doing the doorman thing in front of them, there were great yawning gaps out wide. When United did tuck inside, our heroes seemed pretty spooked by the novel approach being used against them, of quick, one-touch passing, and gaps promptly appeared amongst our clustered bodies. Out on our left, all of the years of experience and League Title medals about his frame did little to prompt Ivan Perisic to stop Anthony chap cutting infield with gay abandon.

There was a train of thought within the AANP circle that part of the problem was that Bentancur seemed to have licence to roam forward, leaving us understaffed further south. While true enough at the outset, thereafter it seemed that even if Bentancur got his coordinates bang on it was of little use.

Moreover, the 3-5-2 meant that there was no useful means by which to stop their wide chaps chugging forward at will, as Sonny and Kane were both narrow.

All of the above, and various other failings, created the bizarre scenario that our massed defensive ranks seemed bizarrely incapable of robbing United of the ball outside our area, or preventing either their passes or shots in around the same vicinity.

On top of which, whenever our lot did stumble upon the ball they made a point of stumbling back off it again pretty sharpish. Not one of them seemed to have the good sense to seek out a teammate when in possession, the drill seeming to be that life might as well be made as difficult as possible. And unable to play beyond the United press, the net result was a pretty incessant barrage of all things United, from bally start to bally finish.

The 3-5-2 will see better days, but by golly this was a mess.

3. Conte

Rather awkwardly, the whole sorry affair does rather make one shoot a dubious look at Senor Conte, and clear the throat in meaningful manner. Knocking over Forest and such rot is one thing; and if we were losing with grace and elan to Top Four types that would be another; but simply mooching about on the edge of one’s own area and waiting to be blown away, against each of Chelsea, Woolwich and Man Utd, really is a bit thick, what?

It’s the style of play, of course. Watching the likes of Newcastle and Woolwich bound about the place with gusto and attacking intent does make one scratch the chin and wonder why our mob couldn’t be cajoled into something similar. It’s not as if we lack the talented individuals for such things.

Instead, we have a slicker version of Jose’s anti-football, all defence and countering. Against the weaker teams it’s rarely much fun to watch; and against the better teams we barely hang on to the coat-tails.

The counter-arguments, however, are pretty loaded. It would be a pretty significant dereliction of duty as a fan of the good ship Hotspur to forget quite what a stinker poor old Nuno had left us in, and quite what a job Conte did of dragging the club up by the armpits and into the Top Four.

Moreover, by the end of last season, the football was starting to flow and the goals fly in from all angles. There’s a pretty reasonable train of thought that if we can get to the World Cup in or around the Top Four, then a similar gallop in the second half of the season, possibly nudged along by a January signing or two, would be just the ticket.

And then, as alluded to earlier, there’s Kulusevski. Now a cautionary note ought not just to be struck, but given the full gong treatment, because nothing increases the value of a young nib like his absence from the team. One can gloss over how good he actually is – simply the fact that he is not in a team that is performing badly is generally enough to convince the human mind that the lad in question is the answer to all prayers. As recently as last week this was the case for Doherty; already it is becoming the case for Spence; and one does not have to cast the mind back too far to find umpteen other examples.

Nevertheless, Kulusevski became pretty critical to our play in his guise as ‘Johnnie Linking Defence to Attack’, and also providing our lot with some creativity beyond simply ‘Kane Diagonalling the Thing into Son’. That surge in the second half of last season, to which I alluded above, owed much to the fact that Kulusevski was fit and firing in just about every game. His absence is keenly felt. Bring him back, or so goes the narrative, and the Jose-esque dross currently being peddled morphs into something vastly more palatable.

Either way, the garbage on show last night was nowhere good enough. The visit of Newcastle this Sunday therefore takes on a rather meatier hue – not quite Top Four sorts yet, they are certainly a notch or two above Everton and the like, so our performance as much as our result will be watched with a pretty critical eye.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Everton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bissouma, and Conte’s Tactical Switch

My Spurs-supporting chum Dave displayed quite the knack for trenchant observation when he summed up our first half as, “A lot of huff and puff.” I’m not sure too much expansion is required there. It made a pleasant change, I suppose, to see our lot start like they meant it and have the lion’s share of possession. And all of them were red of face and positively dripping with willing; but come half-time “huff” and “puff” were about the sum of it.

And I daresay that if left unchecked this rather dull routine, of poking at the Everton penalty area and promptly being repelled, might have gone on all night, but for the intervention of the gods, of all things. The gods of calf injuries, specifically, which was pretty rotten luck on poor old Richarlison, who had clattered around the place in his usual meaty style.  

But off he tottered, and at this point the plot took quite the unexpected turn. Being a simple soul, my immediate reaction on seeing Richarlison exit was to assume that one of Gil or Lucas would be thrust on in his place, to continue with the aforementioned r.d. routine. I mean to say, if one has a contraption, a small part of which snaps off, what could make more sense than to replace it with another identical part?

The Brains Trust, however, were evidently struck with alternative modes of thought, and on gambolled Bissouma, sprightly as you like. At which point, I furrowed the brow and narrowed the eyes, like nobody’s business. A defensive-minded nib for an attack-minded nib did not strike me as the sort of moment of inspiration for which The Big Cheese earns his bulging monthly envelope.

Of course you don’t need me to tell you that far from diminishing our front-foot potency, this rearranging of the pieces proved a tactical masterstroke, swinging the entire affair in our favour. What we lost in a third attacker we more than made up for in just about everyone else on the pitch beetling north at least ten yards, and where once Everton were casually enough knocking back everything we’d sent in their direction, they now flailed a fair bit with more than just a hint of skin-of-the-teeth about their defending.

Most obviously, Bentancur and Hojbjerg were able to pop up in vastly more advanced spots, safe in the knowledge that Bissouma was manning the rear. As if to hammer home this fact, the pair of them combined for our second, in what struck me as possibly the first time since they started playing together that they had both oiled into the final third at the same time.

Similarly, I can barely remember a time since the better days of Dele Alli that we had been graced with the presence of a bona fide midfielder arriving in the penalty area to see what it was all about – and yet there was Hojbjerg, most advanced of the lot, to put the game to bed.

One would need to get into the realm of parallel universes and whatnot to be absolutely sure, but it seems a reasonable bet that neither Bentancur’s little foray down the right nor Hojbjerg’s guest appearance in the area would have come to pass were it not for the fact that Bissouma was on the pitch and sticking to his defensive drill.

Bissouma himself was neat and tidy in what he did – a couple of busy snaffles here and there certainly won over the punters – but it was not so much what he did on the ball that won the day as simply being in existence. That is to say, by simply being on the pitch and in the right area, he got the rest of the machinery clicking.

Now this being the case, I was inclined to hoist Senor Conte up on my shoulders and carry him all the way home, slinging a garland around his neck for good measure. After all, and as mentioned, the Bissouma-for-Richarlison gambit had been a long way down the AANP list of options circa. minute 50, so I was mightily impressed by the chap’s lateral thinking.

And yet when I put to various fellow lilywhites this sentiment of gushing praise for Conte, they have generally greeted me with that funny look I so often get, the visual equivalent of a pat on the head for being innocent and rather simple. Because apparently, to everyone else in N17, the injection of Bissouma had been the most obvious thing in the world! Apparently nobody else even considered the use of Lucas or Gil, on account of their respectively being unfit and waif-like. So, what had struck me as a moment of tactical genius was actually pretty standard fare to the rest of you blighters, but there we go I suppose.

2. Everton Illustrate The Flaws of Conte-Ball

A digression at this point, for I noted in various post-match interviews that assorted members of the Everton mob were glumly pointing out that they felt they should have won. Had they taken either or both of those first half chances, went the gist, they would have fancied their chances.

Now, one sees the logic here, and the hypothetical is a reasonable one – had they been one or two goals up at half-time, there was little from the first half to suggest that we would have come back.

The issue here is that this argument required firstly that they took either of their only two chances – which they didn’t – and secondly that they avoided any defensive mistakes – which they didn’t. They missed both their chances, and Pickford then made a mess of a couple of things for the penalty.

I bring up all this because the Everton approach seemed to the AANP eye to have much about it of the style Conte has had us peddling in pretty much every game so far this season. And while it has worked for us, Everton yesterday illustrated quite how difficult it is to execute properly. It required all chances to be taken in attack, and no mistakes to be made in defence.

By contrast, in the post-Bissouma era yesterday we apparently had something like 8 shots in the 10 minutes immediately after the substitution – which rather relieves the pressure on the forwards. With that approach, one does not need to bury the head in the hands and bawl in frustration at a missed chance, because another one will be along soon enough.

The approach adopted yesterday, of playing higher up the pitch and fashioning numerous chances, seems vastly preferable to the usual Conte way, both to watch and in terms of the odds of actually winning games.

3. Bentancur

I touched earlier upon the positive impact of Bissouma upon the geographic inclinations of Bentancur, but it would be a disservice to the latter to suggest that his good deeds were due solely to the introduction of the former.

Far from it. Bentancur struck me as the standout performer throughout, beavering away aross all blades of turf like nobody’s business and silkily linking things together like it were the most natural thing in the world. The fellow’s passing is neat and tidy when aiding and abetting the defensive mob; but rather more inventive and exciting when given licence to shove on a bit, and both elements were on display yesterday.

Nor is he the sort who’ll quietly slink into the shadows when more robust duties are required. He can consider himself pretty hard done by to have been cautioned, for his tackling was generally in the ‘Firm But Fair’ category throughout, and that yellow card ought not to suggest otherwise.

All of which made it rather appropriate that he was the driving force behind our second goal. His little legs having wheeled away non-stop all game, one understood Harry Kane popping the ball up the flank and simply looking at him expectantly. Where others might have flung skywards an irritated hand or two, Bentancur scuttled after it in precisely the manner he’d scuttled after everything throughout the game. On top of which, he then had the presence of mind to look beyond the more straightforward pass to Sonny, and instead picked out Hojbjerg in an infinitely better position.

4. Doherty

It is perhaps a little mean-spirited, but with Emerson Royal’s domestic suspension still ongoing I found myself absolutely pleading with Matt Doherty to put in a bravura performance that might consign to the annals – or at least to first reserve – the willing but lamentably limited Brazilian.

The first half showing threatened to disappoint. It was not that Doherty was particularly bad, but rather that nobody in lilywhite found their groove. Everton had plenty of numbers back in defence, and whereas Perisic on the other side could resort to crossing with either foot, Doherty’s attacking game comprises one-twos and nifty darts – precisely the sort of fare that Everton’s massed ranks were able to stifle.

However, as with various others, Doherty was able to disengage a shackle or two once Bissouma arrived. Seemingly gripped by a greater spirit of adventure, he made the sort of forward bursts that Emerson will also make; but, crucially, seemed to have a vastly superior grasp of his options once there.

And various elements of his repertoire were duly exhibited. We were treated to runs towards the byline, outside the area; runs infield, to facilitate nifty diagonal passes; and even a couple of shots from inside the area – one of which led to the penalty.

Of course, it might be that Conte issues a very specific set of instructions – positional, distributional or along some other metric – that Emerson follows to the letter and Doherty cannot nail for love nor money. As a layman, however, I struggle to see how anyone of sound mind and pure intention would resort to Emerson over Doherty again, after seeing yesterday’s performance and comparing it to the countless maddening displays by the Brazilian.

5. Kane

As ever, it is easy to take for granted that rotter Harry Kane, particularly when his goals are of the scruffy ilk (or penalties – which even then does him a disservice, because despite the midweek miss I don’t think I’ve seen a better penalty-taker in all my puff). But when Kane hits something like his top form he becomes quite the specimen, and at the moment he appears to be doing precisely that.

His most recent goals may indeed have been three penalties and one off the shoulder, but there were moments yesterday that prompted a knowing grin to spread across the AANP map, for the evidence points to a fellow who is reaching the peak of his powers and is fully aware of it. In particular, his volley of a ball that dropped across his body and from the heavens, was a thing of some wonder, being the sort of technique that would have resulted in mere mortals shanking the thing off towards the corner flag, and quite possibly have splaying a limb or two about the place.

There was also a spin-and-shot in the second half, which deserved better than arrowing straight down the gullet of the goalkeeper, but which again served notice of the chap’s current sharpness.

For all his talents, I am struck just about every game by how bad his control is (witness his first touch in the build-up to our second, when the ball bounced off his frame as if hitting a wooden door), and at times this has extended to rather ungainly, bobbling attempts to dribble that probably seem a terrific idea in his head but manifest as clumsy stumbles into traffic. Both yesterday and midweek, however, Kane even seemed to hit upon the art of close-control dribbling, beating one man and nutmgegging another before popping off a shot yesterday, to add to his run past four defenders that earned a penalty on Wednesday.

All of which glosses over the fine creative work he does when he drops deeper. As mentioned, his initial touch in the build-up to our second goal yesterday was clunky in the extreme, but once he had the dashed thing under control his creative juices were up and away, feeding Bentancur with just the right weight, into space rather than into feet and in the process doing much to ease the nerves of those final few minutes.

While the first half was something of a struggle, the combination of incisive attacks and controlled possession made for vastly more enjoyable viewing in the second, and added to the promise of the midweek Frankfurt game, it all has a bit of excited chatter about AANP Towers that perhaps, finally, our lot might just have started to click.

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Spurs 3-2 Eintracht Frankfurt: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg

Hojbjerg seems to be a chappie who divides opinion amongst the better half of North London. The Brains Trust evidently rate him, as they keep him out there every available minute, but if the baying mob ever need someone in whom to stick the knife and give it a twist, the initials P.E.H. are rarely far from the lips.

This can at least partly be explained by the fact that he rarely gets the more glamorous assignments. While Sonny is belting volleys so hard they rip the net from its moorings, poor old Hojbjerg’s matchday highlights tend to occur in locations such as the halfway line, obscured by flailing limbs from all sides and typically taking take the form of an ungainly lunge to prevent catastrophe befalling in three passes time.

It is a measure of the aplomb with which he carried out the most menial tasks going that Hojbjerg managed to catch the AANP eye as one of the night’s premier cast members. For make no mistake, this was not a victory fashioned from a solid back-three. Far from it. This was a win built upon the occasional clicking of our various attacking parts – the defence appeared generally to be using a completely different playbook. In fact, if anything the defence seemed oddly intent upon sabotaging the whole thing at every opportunity, and without too much subtlety either.

Step forward Master Hojbjerg, who from the off made clear he wasn’t in the market for any defensive clownery. While those around – or, more specifically, behind – him bumped into each other and played fast and loose with possession, Hojbjerg seemed to take it upon himself as a matter of personal pride that no individual duel would be lost, and for good measure any loose ball would be seized.

On top of which, the sound fellow also identified the value in adding his presence to our attacks, and could regularly be spotted tagging along as our heroes motored over halfway and towards the Frankfurt net.

Indeed, such was his daring in this regard that he even managed to do that for which we’ve been crying out from our right wing-backs all season, viz. scuttling past a couple of opponents on the right, reaching the byline and delivering the perfect pass, in teeing up Sonny for his wonder-strike.

There’s an important asterisk to shove in at this point, for it should not be considered that this assist was the sole contribution of the man, nor that for this reason alone has he earned top billing for the day at AANP Towers. Had he simply done his best Emerson Royal impression at this juncture and slowed to a stop before knocking the ball into the nearest defender and frantically waving his arms, Hojbjerg’s would still have been a standout display. His cross for Sonny simply added a little garnish, to a performance that was otherwise drenched in sweat and lactic acid.

2. Sessegnon

Fans of A-listers are no doubt demanding to know when the acclaim for Sonny and Kane will kick in, but next on the roster is young Sessegnon.

Following the Hojbjerg example, Sessegnon made sure he carried out all the dull admin work, diligently tracking his man and dangling an appropriate leg, and generally adopting a risk-free approach to life when in his own half that some of his more experienced associates might have done well to ape.

But it was when revving up the engine and hurtling off towards the Frankfurt goal that Sessegnon really caught the eye. It is hardly a secret that The Conte System involves frequent knowing nods towards the wing-backs when on the front-foot, so it was a joy to see 50% of those wing-backs taking the hint and hitting the final third at a fair old lick at every opportunity.

Sessegnon created the headed chance for Richarlison in the opening knockings; weighted a lovely pass for one of Sonny’s saved chances; wormed his way into two clear goalscoring opportunities himself; and, while the record books will simply gloss over the fact without so much as a blot of ink, his head of steam into the Frankfurt area handily lured away the last remaining defender, which allowed Sonny the space to spank home his second.

Those who know AANP best will be aware that I’ve generally regarded young Sessegnon with a rather stern and unforgiving eye, but that same knowledgeable mob would also attest that I’m nothing if not fair – and if the young whelp plans on making a habit of performances like this he’ll be most welcome to pull up a perch and enjoy a splash of the good stuff at my expense.

3. Sonny and Kane

The murmur around the place at about the hour mark was that this might have been the best our lot have played all season.

(Of course, it couldn’t last, and despite not adding the fourth goal that would have sewn the thing up, they rather regressed somewhat as the game wore on, in much the style of a mob who had just added a fourth goal and sewn the thing up. On top of which, they somehow managed to make playing against ten men look like playing against twelve, which had me clutching at my fellow man in alarm on more than one occasion; but our lot will persist in making the hardest possible work of things.)

Back to the good times, and before and after half-time it would be no exaggeration to say that at times our lot absolutely purred. Key to this, it struck me, was that, for possibly the first time this season, Sonny and Kane simultaneously found something like their groove. To date it seems to have been one or t’other. On Tuesday, it was both. On top of which Richarlison was as eager as ever, all elbows and upper-body strength, generally making himself a nuisance to opponents and a most useful accomplice to teammates.

I banged on rather interminably at the weekend about how Son’s powers are reduced considerably when he drops deep and tries to hold up or link play, as opposed to a far more potent deployment at the apex of things. Against Frankfurt however, he was restored to his former glories. The ball was generally pinged towards the vicinity of Kane, handily attracting Frankfurters to him like moths to a flame, and Sonny raced off into the wide open expanses ahead.

It brought about two goals and numerous other glorious moves, the sort that decency really demanded ought to have resulted in further additions to the scoreline. And various other supporting cast members, no doubt inspired by what they saw, were moved to contribute in their own specific ways. As mentioned, Hojbjerg and Sess contributed to Son’s second; and even Emerson, otherwise as fat-headed as ever, pinged the pass into Kane that set up Sonny for our first of the night.

As mentioned, Kane seemed to have the Frankfurt defence on the fabled piece of string about which the N17 faithful love to sing, manoeuvring them in whichever direction he fancied in order to release his chums. This seemed to be the tactic of choice, and was working a treat; so you can picture my surprise when Kane took it upon himself to set off on the charge and stumble his way past four defenders before being bunged to the ground. Now admittedly this was not Ginola vs Barnsley in ‘99, having about it more clunk than class, and owing a certain debt of gratitude to the good old-fashioned ricochet.

Nevertheless, it was a heck of a run for the chap, who had a look in his eyes that said “I will not be beaten (unless anyone touches me in the area, in which case I’m hitting the deck pronto”). In a season that has oddly failed to come alight to date, that run by Kane, coupled with Son’s volley, provided the biggest hint yet that our forward line might be about to spring into life.

4. Gil and The All-Action-No-Plot Finale

As mentioned, having been well in control, our lot contrived to very nearly throw the whole blasted thing down the pan in the utterly bizarre final ten or so.

As the hour mark came and went, and despite my imploring yowls from afar, those on the pitch resolutely stuck to the approach of complacently mooching from side to side rather than hammering away at the Frankfurt goal. Even when Frankfurt were reduced to ten, the party line seemed to be to conserve energy for future fights.

Our Glorious Leader can take some part of the blame for this too, the move to replace half the outfield players bringing about a noticeable dip in standards. (One understands in theory the decision to take off Dier when on a yellow card, but it nevertheless struck me as an ill thought-through gambit, resulting as it did in the dreaded combination of Emerson and Royal on the right side of defence.)

With the urgency visibly draining away from our mob, it was utterly predictable that Frankfurt should pull one back – via the usual dreadful contribution from Emerson – leaving the entire viewing public to endure major coronary episodes, right up to the final kick of the game.

In the midst of all this poor old Bryan Gil was flung on. As cameos go it was about as entertaining as they came, albeit revealing nothing we didn’t know before: the lad is a box of tricks, and boasts not an ounce of muscle on his frame. Each of these aspects were illustrated for all to see, as he twisted a succession of defenders inside out before being clattered out of the way by one whose patience had run out.

The whole episode of the second penalty was rather a lot to take in, featuring as it did a Gil run being abruptly terminated when he forgot to take the ball with him; after which a Frankfurt johnnie rather charmingly waited until everyone had vacated the defence before gifting it back to him; at which point he seemed set to dribble past everybody who came within ten yards of him; before being upended so that Kane could belt the penalty off into the High Road.

Gil might still have had his moment of glory, when Kane had the opportunity to roll him the ball for a tap-in; but, seemingly convinced that what his failed penalty had lacked was even more power, Kane absolutely blasted the cross towards the poor chap, who produced a horizontal leap that looked mightily impressive, but was ultimately of little value given his failure to be eight feet tall.

Thus we ended the night high on action and pretty empty on plot, as is our way. Still, the improvement in attacking interplay and numerous clear chances created – without resorting to sitting back and countering – bodes very well. On top of which, the pre-match consensus had been that a win, delivered in any manner, was crucial – so for all the late madness, this ultimately was a job well done.

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Brighton 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Midfield

The white-hot news ahead of kick-off was that our Glorious Leader had donned his lesser-worn 3-5-2 boots. I suspect AANP was not alone in reacting to this firstly by rubbing the eyes and administering to self a solid pinch, to ensure that reality was in full working order; before rubbing the hands with glee and informing anyone who would listen that great things were no doubt imminent.

That said, anyone who considers that Senor Conte simply bowed to the masses and accepted that we, the Spurs-supporting public, knew better than him all along, probably needs a few truths explained to them.

A large driver of the formation change was apparently the sudden dearth of attacking options. This tallies. With Kulusevski and Lucas still having limbs reattached, and only Bryan Gil representing an attacking option from the bench, one understood the sentiment of resting one of the usual front-three in the midst of the mini fixture pile-up.

(And a propos young Gil, the decision to trade in Lamela plus several bags of cash for the undercooked waif looks barmier by the minute. One does not doubt his willing nor his touch, but Gil’s physique remains that of a malnourished Dickensian orphan. Lamela may have had as many flaws as attributes, depending upon whom you ask, but he’d have been a handy reserve for games such as Brighton or Frankfurt away – more so than young Gil at any rate.)

I digress. One of the joys of 3-5-2 was that Messrs Bentancur and Hojbjerg both appeared infinitely happier in their refurbished surroundings. And understandably enough, for which amongst wouldn’t let rip a sigh of relief, kick back and enjoy oneself when informed that a helping pair of hands was imminent in a role that had previously been understaffed for months?

Bentancur appeared the most advanced of the supporting cast. The usual silky touch was evident, on top of which, and in common with his chums, he was very much on board with the whole ‘High Press’ chorus-line. For half an hour or so, it seemed he as an individual and we as a collective had struck oil.

That said, even during that halcyon first half hour, a gnawing sentiment still irked me that Bentancur could have made rather more of his many talents. The half an eye I’ve kept on Woolwich in recent weeks has prompted me to wonder if Bentancur ought not to be matching and indeed bettering the role of Odegard for that lot – high up the pitch, seeing all angles at once, zipping early passes into tight spaces. Rather than being string-puller-in-chief, Bentancur seemed happy simply to let himself bob along on too many occasions, even when afforded the luxury of protection behind him on Saturday.

That protection took the sinewy form of Master Bissouma. As with the rest of them, for half an hour he seemed pretty much in control of matters. Having been stationed slightly south of Messrs B and H, Bissouma seemed happy to let the others tiptoe forward while he manned the rear, doing without fanfare all that menial guff that allows the machinery to hum and whir.

As well as allowing Bentancur to move to a new address ten yards up the pitch, this also seemed to inspire Hojbjerg to shrug his shoulders and dominate everything he got involved in. On various occasions the chap would win the ball, chug forward with it ten yards and then pop it off for Sessegnon or whomever to begin the next chapter. I’m not sure I remember seeing Hojbjerg go about his business with such a confident and effective strut.

And as mentioned, for the first thirty or so, things seemed fairly serene. Brighton may have occasionally triangled their way past our high press, but by and large they didn’t do much with it. Whereas our lot time and again seemed to pick their pockets within swinging distance of their goal, and, egads, even dominated possession. After a relentless stream of games in which the rope-a-dope tactic has been deployed, I could scarcely believe what was unfolding – and yet there it was, our lot hogging the ball and playing on the front-foot.

It couldn’t last of course. Brighton ended the first half more strongly, and in the second upped their possession. Ultimately, however, despite ceding possession, the story ended happily enough, as our hosts caused us problems without really causing us problems if you follow my gist – having a bit too much possession for anyone’s liking, but not actually fashioning a clear chance, thanks to the impressive shifts put in by all amongst our rear.

2. Sessegnon

One of those shifting impressively was young Master Sessegnon. However, while he put his head down and racked up more ticks than crosses, I must admitting thinking it was a bit thick to shove the Outstanding Chappie Award down his gullet once the curtain had come down.

No doubt mine is an opinion tainted with prejudice and deep suspicion at the fellow’s hit-and-miss history in lilywhite. And it is true that he took several opportunities to gallop off into the final third, in the first half in particular, and did that which precious few others amongst our number seem capable – viz. launching a half-decent cross into the general vicinity of the area.

Here, I suppose, is where I start to pause, and raise a quibbling finger. For while it is true that he slung in more crosses than probably anyone else, a pedant might argue that he could have directed them a little better. Where one would ideally like to see crosses whipped in front of the onrushing throngs, Sessegnon seemed to pop them just behind the danger area, or over it, or in some other way slightly miss the sweet spot.

Harsh criticism this may be, but better crosses would have led to better chances. Nevertheless, after some of the rot to which we’ve been subjected from the flanks in recent times (and I charitably name no names here), the sight of Sessegnon first charging up the wing and then slinging in a few crosses once he’d got there, was a welcome one.

On top of which, his defensive shakes steadily improved. In the first half he seemed a little too often to allow himself to be tossed around in the spirit of a ragdoll. By the time the second half oiled round much seemed to have changed, and for the better. If a Brighton sort gave him an upper-body barge of muscle and substance, Sessegnon of the second half seemed ready for it, and inclined to respond in kind. If beaten along the ground, Sessegnon was not about to give up the cause, but retook his position and plugged away.

So this was undoubtedly one of his better displays. I dare not take that from the honest fellow. I simply raise a pretty surprised eyebrow at the notion that his was the standout display amongst our mob – partly because I thought Hojbjerg did better, and partly because, harsh and unforgiving soul that I am, I expect more dangerous deliveries from my wing-backs.

3. Doherty

As exciting as the switch to 3-5-2 was the news that Matt Doherty was being dusted off and paraded for the day. The whole drama around the chap’s inclusion or otherwise, as pieced together by snippets from Conte press conferences, has in all honesty made the AANP head throb a bit – but for whatever reason there he was on Saturday, gormless expression in place and the right touchline waving invitingly at him.

And, again in common with his ten chums, for half an hour he made a decent fist of things. Now admittedly, if he were Emerson Royal, at about this juncture I’d hurl a rotten fruit or two, because Doherty’s contribution seemed to go swimmingly until it came to execution of his final contribution. And at that point, be it a pass, cross or shot, the stars did not quite align, and things fizzled out a tad.

Nor did Doherty even attempt a cross of the sort that Sessegnon was gaily swinging in from the other side. But nevertheless, I was heartened by what I saw. The system required wing-backs comfortable motoring forward, and Doherty seemed that. He might not have produced any crosses worthy of the name, but he mooched further infield as is his wont, popped a shot or two and offered an attacking threat on the right.

As with everyone else, his attacking juices ran rather dry after the break, and I’m not sure I remember him hitting the final third, which was a shame. He did however keep his defensive buttons switched on throughout, and as the instruction to repel the other lot at all costs became ever louder, he popped up with some notable blocks and tackles.

Whether any of the above is enough to convince Conte that the right wing-back pecking order deserves a reshuffle is debatable, but for a johnnie who hasn’t kicked a competitive ball in several months I thought his was a solid combination of forward willing and defensive solidity.

4. Sonny

The obsession in the last decade or so with assists seems to me a rummy one. One understands the principle, of course, but reducing an attacker’s input to goals and assists always seems wilfully to ignore much of what makes such folk tick.

Sonny, for example, could be said to have contributed the assist to the game’s only goal, and therefore to have pretty much swung the thing in our favour. Preeminent Contribution of the Match, and all that guff.

And good for him, it should be said. His delivery created the only goal, so we are in his debt, no doubt. Someone needed to do it – he alone did it. So far, so good.

One might quibble that his delivery was almost certainly a shot, rather than a cross, and the argument is a strong one. Nevertheless, shoot from that sort of angle, and with that sort of power, and one rather earns any luck going, in the line of own-goals or Kane shoulders or whatever else. On top of which, there was some nifty footwork immediately preceding this delivery, which had the Brighton fellow floundering and waggling useless limbs. So, again, bravo Sonny.

However, something remains not quite right at Chateau Heung-Min. Personally my heart sinks every time I see a ball from defence or midfield played into the feet of Sonny facing his own goal. When the lad drops deep to collect the ball, the outcome seems almost always to be that we lose possession.

For a start, Son is anatomically composed purely of skin and bone, with not an ounce of muscle on him, meaning that a defender needs only to breathe on his neck for him to go sprawling. As such, any attempt to feed the ball into him, in the hope that he will collect and shield it before laying it off, is doomed to failure and a crumpled heap of limbs.

On top of which his touch has deserted him somewhat this season. Even if he stays upright when collecting these passes, the ball seems simply to bounce off and away from him.

The chap is far better when pointing towards the opposition goal, somewhere in the vicinity of the shoulder of the last defender. Feed him the ball there, or play it into space to run into, and he seems several notches more dangerous – witness his disallowed goal. Admittedly he is still malfunctioning a little too regularly at present (witness that moment in the second half when he tried an over-elaborate solo rather than feeding Kane), but in general he seems to cause more problems to the opposition, and pose less risk to teammates, when up at the apex rather than dropping deep to collect.

But ultimately, we were treated to three hard-earned points. Admittedly the sentiment throughout this volume has much about it of a spoilt child who simply wants more, rather than being satisfied with what he has. Frankly, a win away to an in-form Brighton, and on the back of last week (on and off the pitch), was the stuff of which I had dared not dream. To have achieved it in the manner we did – all grit and steel and whatnot – was even more impressive, and is precisely the sort of stuff of which successful seasons are made. The wait for a thoroughly convincing performance goes on, but all things considered – not least the desperately sad circumstances – this might have been our best display of the season to date.

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