1. Richarlison The Bounder
One of the more agreeable outcomes of Sunday’s festivities was the revelation that there are few things in life more entertaining than seeing an absolute bounder at his most dastardly, as long as the aforementioned b. is draped in your team’s colours. Richarlison’s little production was marvellous stuff, as guaranteed to delight his followers as it was to incense his opponents.
Naturally enough it incurred the spluttering apoplexy of great swathes of the population, incensed at the sight of Man Providing Entertainment During Game (although oddly accepting of the Forest chap whose response to being offended was to hack Richarlison at the knee, the principle here seeming to be that hurt feelings matter more than hurt limbs).
Here at AANP Towers the reaction was pretty rapturous, my inclination being to march over to Nottingham, hoist the chap on my shoulders and ferry him around the pitch to drink in acclaim from all sides. If Richarlison’s to-do list for Sunday included ‘Endear Self To N17 Fanbase’ he certainly hit upon a fool-proof way of doing it, the chap breezing his way towards cult hero status with a crack like that.
And more broadly, the sight of such chicanery being peddled by one in lilywhite was all the more welcome, for adding a little bite to what has, for as long as I’ve been watching, been a team with far too soft an underbelly. Rascals like Richarlison, Romero and the late, lamented Lamela add the sort of devil to proceedings that is guaranteed to rattle even the most serene of opposing minds. There is a limit to such things of course, and one wouldn’t want the entire collective to approach each game as some sort of gangland showdown, but anything that makes opponents bristle and provokes a degree or two of ire will be warmly welcomed around these parts.
2. Richarlison The Genius
Richarlison’s unspeakable acts rather detracted from his other critical input of the day, in quite gloriously creating an unmissable chance for our second.
It was all the more impressive for its genesis coming at a point in play when, from an attacking point of view, all appeared to have been lost, at least temporarily. Matters might have been resolved more swiftly and conventionally had young Sessegnon not dithered at a rather crucial moment (a moment that seemed to me to illustrate that for all his youthful exuberance, he rather lacks the nous and wiles of Perisic).
And one would have been forgiven for flinging arms towards the heavens, and settling in for another five minutes of Forest keep-ball, had Richarlison not stomped over to the left flank to take matters into his own hands. Moreover, with the ball edging off towards the sideline, and a Forest player commandeering that patch of land, the odds were not stacked in his favour. And yet, none of this seemed to strike the young imp as any sort of problem.
Of the Forest blighter, Richarlison made light work. One solid biff of the upper body, and the F.B was as a felled log, effectively removed from the picture. There then followed the issue of how best to distribute his newly-acquired winnings, for between Richarlison and the lone lilywhite figure of Kane were five red shirts plus a goalkeeper. However, where most mere mortals would have seen challenge, Richarlison appeared to see only opportunity. What followed was the sort of moment that makes one widen the eyes and feel the lower jaw loosen from its moorings, for the chap was somehow struck by the notion that the appropriate thing to do would be to unleash a peach of a ball with the outside of his boot.
Look closely enough and I’m pretty sure one would spot that the ball itself was smiling, because everything about the delivery was perfect. Arc, curl, height and geometric plotting were all immaculate, to the extent that I’m not sure Kane needed even to shuffle his feet in order to bop the thing home.
Here at AANP Towers we have long regarded The-Weighted-Ball-Inside-The-Full-Back as without peer when it comes to aesthetically pleasing passes, but frankly Richarlison’s ball for Kane has turned on its head everything we thought we knew about the art.
3. Davinson Sanchez
Those who know AANP best would no doubt take one look at the heading ‘Davinson Sanchez’ and brace themselves for a few paragraphs couched in the fruitiest Anglo-Saxon. I remember a gag from my A-Level days in which one fellow said of another fellow, “I come here to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” which just about sums up my usual take on young Sanchez. This time around, however, it seems the square thing to do is slather a bit of praise on the chap, because he seemed from my vantage point to get better and better as the game progressed.
That said, the start was pretty inauspicious. He managed to orchestrate an illegal tangle of limbs within literally the first ten seconds of the match, which was pretty heavy going even by his standards, gifting Forest a free-kick in a dangerous position and prompting an agonised howl from AANP Towers.
Naturally enough, his every touch thereafter prompted a nervous tension to wrack my entire being, but in possession he kept things simple and when called upon to defend I’m not sure he put too many feet wrong.
As the minutes ticked by and he chalked off a frankly preposterous nine hours without conceding, he even produced a casual Cruyff turn inside his own area, as if to hammer home the point to any remaining naysayers that actually, in Davinson Sanchez country, nothing could be simpler than keeping opposing strikers at bay.
Messrs Dier and Davies obviously played their part, but I struggled to shift the gaze too far beyond the figure of Sanchez, gently batting away all attempts to sneak past him. Make no mistake, Romero will be welcomed back with open arms the very minute the assembled First Aiders give the nod, but for now I can do no more than salute Davinson Sanchez, for a job well done.
Scour the back pages for the scoreline only and one would assume that this was routine stuff. Two-nil, plus a missed penalty, at a newly-promoted mob, seems to tell a pretty straightforward story.
The blow-by-blow account, however, speaks of an infinitely less comfortable affair, in which our lot barely had control of the dashed thing for any sequence lasting longer than thirty seconds. Moreover, in the first half in particular, Forest were not purely kept at arm’s length, but were short-triangling their way into our holiest of holies, popping the ball along inside our area. That they barely managed a shot on target all game was due in no small part to the massed ranks of lilywhite bodies arranged in protective formation inside the area, and willing to fling every available appendage in the way of the ball.
The whole pattern of proceedings, was bizarre in the extreme. Whenever we did obtain possession, the drill seemed to be to leg it up the pitch as fast as humanly possible, and pop off a shot – an exercise that never seemed to last more than about twenty seconds, but which nevertheless proved oddly successful. It meant that despite minimal touches of the ball, and a complete bypassing of central midfield throughout, our lot actually racked up a good half-dozen near misses in each half, which amounted to a darned sight more than Forest managed.
And yet at no point (until the second goal, circa 80 minutes) did we seem to have control of things. Au contraire, our general game-plan appeared to have much about it of skin-of-teeth. I’m sure I was not alone in feeling deeply uncomfortable in seeing wave after wave of Forest possession – generally not amounting to too much, admittedly, but emitting ominous noises nevertheless.
And yet, by setting up with a central midfield pair, Conte seems almost to concede that we will perpetually be outnumbered in that area. He seems almost to be gambling that our defensive five, plus Bentancur-Hojbjerg, will do all the defensive necessaries, and our front three, plus wing-backs, will produce as many chances as needed. Which, oddly enough, on both counts is exactly what happened on Sunday.
So one might argue that it works, but by golly it’s not much fun to watch. And had the Forest bod learnt how to head a ball midway through the second half, it would not have worked. There were shades of Jose’s defend-defend-counter, and although our countering was pretty effective, and with better finishing would have eased the nervous strain considerably, the whole thing did make me wonder if we might not try to approach games by actually bossing possession and dominating things.