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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

The lot of the goalkeeper is a pretty dreary and thankless one. Make a mistake and their reputation is up in flames; but do all that is asked of them and more, and come the end of the game they’ll still look up to see that the chap being hoisted on shoulders and having their name shouted into the night sky is the middling striker who spent most of the game dribbling into trouble and failing to hold up the ball.

And last night seemed a good case in point. I thought Monsieur Lloris was near enough faultless in just about every respect, but when I donned the robe and scanned the morning papers, the headlines led me to believe that this was a single-handed Bergwijn success. For all the coverage given to the goalkeeping, the uninformed amongst us might have inferred that this was one of those cup ties in which one from the conveyor belt of unremarkable reserves was shoved between the sticks.

If I have had a criticism of Lloris over the years it is that, while his shot-stopping is right up there with the best of them, when it comes to ambling forward from his line to wave his limbs and do decisive things – command the area, collect crosses and so forth – the venerable fellow’s powers seem not so much to wane as to fall off a cliff and disappear.

Yesterday, however, Lloris set about his business as if personally piqued by such stinging criticism, and determined to address it in no uncertain terms. Limited in imagination though West Ham may have been in the first half, they executed pretty well their tactic of relentlessly swinging in crosses and set-pieces. The effect was to spoon huge dollops of confusion all over our penalty area. In short, it was the sort of situation that called for a goalkeeper to roll up his sleeves, sharpen his elbows, wade through all-comers and take charge of events.

And where previously I’ve felt that Lloris has been all too easily bullied into the background in such situations, yesterday he flung himself into the midst of them like a slightly too well-oiled Englishman abroad. He grabbed and/or punched whenever the situation required, and, in particularly extreme circumstances, back-pedalled like the dickens to arch his back and fingertip the ball away from peril.

The furniture was rearranged a tad in the second half, when our heroes followed a worryingly Jose-esque strategy of sitting back and looking to hit on the counter (although to the extent that this generally reduced West Ham to little more than hopeful pops from the edge of the area, I suppose one could argue that it worked. It did few favours for the heart-rate, mind – we are most decidedly not a team built to defend a narrow lead).

The crosses were a little less threatening and majority of shots were straight at Lloris, but on the one occasion when a ball over the top seemed to out-fox our centre-backs, Lloris had the presence of mind to gallop off his line – again, a quality he has not typically demonstrated to have been in his armoury in recent years – and crisis was averted.

It has not gone unnoticed that the fellow’s contract is up next summer, and there has not been a whisper to date around the camp-fire about it being extended, which seems something of an oversight. However, Conte seems the sort of fellow who knows his eggs, so I would imagine that some sort of plan is being hatched to address this eventuality.

2. Bergwijn

As mentioned, many of the column inches were dedicated to young Master Bergwijn, and this is understandable enough, as we live in an era in which the principal currency is Goals and Assists. (A shame, for such statistics do little justice to the talents of deep-lying creative sorts like Carrick and Modric, but that’s a debate for another day).

Bergwijn began his game in exactly the manner one would expect of someone restored to the team for the first time in an age, and with the expectant eyes of the better half of North London focused upon him. He beavered willingly but nervously, and, with each unsuccessful dribble and charged down shot, seemed to be learning on the hoof one of life’s critical lessons, that things don’t really go according to plan.

However, when, around half an hour later, things did click for him, they did so pretty spectacularly. In the first place, he might want to send a particularly fruity Christmas present the way of Hojbjerg Towers. The Dane’s sprightliness to burst into the area, followed by his presence of mind to cut the ball back, were markedly more impressive than much that had gone before, and presented Bergwijn with about as straightforward a chance as one could hope for on one’s return to the fold.

And buoyed by this sudden turn of events, Bergwijn took it upon himself to turn temporarily into Lionel Messi, wriggling around opponents in the area before teeing up Lucas (who himself might consider his goal a neat reward for that glorious pass into Kane in the early exchanges).

While Bergwijn did not necessarily thereafter replicate such heady success, he did at least look a dashed sight more comfortable in his role, joining in the slick, half-turn counter-attacking interplay with gay aplomb, and generally giving the impression of one who, as required, would probably do an adequate job of deputising for either of Messrs Son or Lucas in a 3-4-3.

A success then, and I would also highlight that this practice, of making two changes to core personnel, whilst maintaining the spine who know each other’s’ games, seems a much better way of executing squad rotation than changing eight or nine at once and expecting them immediately to gel.

3. Doherty

The rarely-sighted Matt Doherty was the other key change, and it’s probably fair to say that his evening did not quite reach the heights achieved by Bergwijn.

Which is not to fault his willing. In fact, Doherty’s performance had much in common with the early knockings of the Dutchman, being similarly full of enthusiasm, coloured somewhat by nerves and generally resulting in things not quite going according to plan.

To his credit, Doherty seemed to follow instructions positionally. He happily provided attacking width and offered himself as an option on the right, whilst also having the energy to scuttle back when the defensive klaxon sounded.

It was just a slight shame that, to put it bluntly, his crossing wasn’t up to much. It was actually rather an eye-catching curiosity that most of his crosses seemed to be dragged back behind the waiting queue of penalty area snafflers, rather than whipped into their path. Needless to say, from the comfort of my viewing perch, I have never misplaced a cross so egregiously.

However, while his output might have been better, he at least adhered to the plan, and could hardly be accused of dereliction of duties. I would be interested to see how he might perform given a run of games, because there is little about Emerson Royal to suggest that the right wing-back slot is closed for business. And as Walker & Rose – and indeed Trent & Robertson – have shown, a cracking pair of wing-backs can absolutely transform a side.

4. Dier

Having been singled out by Our Glorious Leader a day earlier as having the potential to become the ‘best in the world’ in his position – a suggestion I can only presume was intended as motivational hyperbole rather than factual prediction – Eric Dier wasted little time in correcting any such wild and fanciful notions by reminding us all of some of the flaws in his DNA.

Now before I assassinate the chap’s character, I am happy to admit that his performances in recent weeks have been amongst the brightest of the whole troupe, in terms of positioning, organisation, concentration and distribution. Moreover, the limitations of his that have previously driven me to distraction (principally his lack of pace and late, lunging challenges) are well compensated for by the switch to the back-three.

Yesterday, however, he made rather a pig’s ear of things, in his role in the West Ham goal. In the first place, his pass out of defence was dreadful, and put us in one heck of a pickle. I can only imagine he was aiming for Kane, up near the halfway line, but to attempt this pass from within his six-yard box and along the ground was a risky idea at best, and the execution pretty ghastly.

All of which is a shame, because in general his long passing from the back has been a real asset in recent weeks, adding a useful string to our attacking bow.

However, such things happen. It was then all the more unfortunate that in attempting to rectify the situation by blocking Bowen’s shot, Dier lunged off into a different postcode as the ball was flicked from left foot to right. In fairness, I don’t really blame Dier for this, as it made sense for him to spread his limbs and attempt as wide a block as possible. It just looked rather silly.

Thereafter – and, in fact, beforehand – he seemed to do all that was required of him. In the first half he was in the midst of the aerial carnage, and in the second he played his part in restricting West Ham to the more speculative stuff from the edge of the area, and then extending the necessary appendages to block said stuff. Talk of being the world’s best does still make raise an AANP eyebrow or three, and as a unit the back-three still strike me as slightly cumbersome, but they withstood the pressure last night, and Dier’s latest renaissance continues to inch along.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-2 Liverpool: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane

The more eagle-eyed regulars at the AANP Arms may have noticed that since his summer antics, that rotter Harry Kane has not exactly been the most popular so-and-so around these parts. However, if there were one moment yesterday that went some way towards mending bridges it was not his goal, and certainly not the never-ending stream of wasted opportunities to put the game to bed.

No, it was that moment midway through the first half when Kane completely forgot that he’d rather leave N17 for shiny pots in Manchester, and, rather carried away by the fun of it all, went flying in to win a loose ball and sent his opponent cartwheeling off into the north London air.

The legal minutiae of the punishment he then received will be pored over below. What caught the eye was the fact that here was a rare outbreak of passion from the man.

Typically sighted over the last six months looking forlorn, exhaling glumly and generally giving the impression of a fellow who would much rather be elsewhere, there was something remarkably uplifting about the sight of Kane being so carried on the wave of joy and energy brought about by his goal that he would merrily go flying, studs up, into an opponent. In short, it was nice to see him looking once more like he cared.

It arguably helped him feel more like his old self to have all the furniture arranged around him specifically to replicate the good old days of Poch. There, never more than ten yards away, like an obedient lamb in a nursery rhyme, was Sonny, the pair now deployed as a front two; fast arriving in the rear-view mirror was Dele Alli, supplementing attacks with well-timed bursts from midfield just as he did in the glory days. The whole production could not have dripped in more nostalgia if they had all worn Under Armour kits with great big blue flashes across the front.

Being part of a dedicated front two, and not just any front-two but a front-two specifically instructed to play on the counter-attack (and curiously aided in this respect by a Liverpool defence that seemed hell-bent on pushing right up to halfway and allowing us to race beyond them at every opportunity), Kane also benefited positionally. By and large, this had the welcome consequence of ensuring that when shots needed shooting in and around the penalty area, Kane was on hand to carry out his obligations.

This may sound obvious, but as we’re all well aware this has not always been the case, such is his unwavering faith in his abilities as a deep-lying creator. Yesterday, mercifully, the instruction was clear, and Kane lurked throughout at the northernmost point of the structure.

2. Winks

Opinion seems to have varied regarding the precise identity of our standout performer. The rejuvenated Dele has attracted a healthy chunk of popular opinion, while several members of the fourth estate have sung the praises of Sonny (which seemed a rummy one to me in truth).

Here at AANP Towers, the congratulatory rosette would probably be pinned to the breast of young H. Winks Esq.

To say that this was his finest performance in several years, while true, would also be fairly faint praise, the Winks bar having been lowered pretty dramatically since, I would suggest, the 2019 Champions League Final. But nevertheless, yesterday’s was the sort of product that would be most gratefully lapped up on a weekly basis. Particularly in the absence of young Skipp, Winks provided the engine that kept the whole machine ticking over, if you follow.

Winks has never been wanting for enthusiasm, so it was no surprise that this was in evidence throughout yesterday. The challenge with the recent vintage of Winks has been that he has developed about himself much in common with a tortoise reeling itself back into the security of its shell. Winks has gradually taken fewer and fewer risks with his passing, ultimately getting to the point of folding in on himself, with the result that he stagnates rather than ignites our play.

Yesterday, however, he tore about the place like a man who, if not quite actually at the peak of his powers, had a one-way ticket to get there and was thoroughly enjoying the journey. It did of course help that he was up against a Liverpool midfield cobbled together from their reserves, veterans and what looked like a minor plucked from the middle of his GCSEs, but it was to Winks’ credit that he took full advantage.

When receiving the ball, he popped it along briskly; crucially, he looked to move it forward at every opportunity; and when Liverpool were in possession, he rolled up the sleeves and scrapped away at them.

While it is easy – and rather lazy – to get carried away by the goals scored, Winks’ role in both neatly captured much that was good about his work. In the build-up to the first goal, he contributed one of the lengthiest slide tackles in living memory, seeming to begin his challenge somewhere around the centre circle and then sliding approximately a mile and a half before winning possession from one of Liverpool’s midfield competition winners. Play continued, the ball reached Ndombele, and before you could say, ‘Gorgeously-weighted and -shaped pass’, we were ahead.

Then for our second, Winks managed to combine all the core qualities of great central midfielding into a single, digestible nugget. First he played a neat one-two within in his own half to remove from the equation half of the Liverpool midfield. He then hared off over halfway, in the sort of ball-carrying operation that is fairly basic when you break it down, but pretty dashed effective at the right place and time. At this point, however, the value of the whole manoeuvre hinged on his output. Here, after all, was a man who had spent the last two years taking every opportunity to pivot one-eighty and find a safe passing option to his rear.

There need not have been any cause for concern. The Harry Winks of 19-12-21 was a man in whom the creative flames burned bright, and with Son and Kane already in motion ahead of him, his curved pass around the defender and into space was an excellent choice. The execution was actually not quite perfect, but Alisson helpfully trialled a new party-trick, and the net result was an open goal for Sonny.

An asterisk should probably be printed highlighting that Winks’ contributions were by no means limited to these two goals. Rather, while these made for pleasing additions to the highlights reel, they were indicative of an overall performance characterised by equal parts feist and intelligence.

And this bodes well in the broader scheme of things. With Hojbjerg looking every inch a man who is rolled out to perform in every minute of every game without respite, gulping oxygen and retaining limbs in their sockets by sheer force of will, the all-action performance of Winks potentially offers a credible alternative in midfield.

3. Dele

As with Winks, so Dele similarly took the opportunity to unveil his most impressive day’s work in a good few years.

Dele, like Kane, seemed to benefit considerably from the formation tweak (which rather makes you think, what?), and, like Kane, cavorted about the place like it was somewhere between 2016 and 2018.

Nominally one of the midfield three, Dele beavered as necessary when we were on the back-foot, albeit with greater proportions of enthusiasm than competence for the dirty work of central midfield.

However, it was when we nicked possession and the forward gallop began that Dele really rediscovered the joys of his youth.

Such was the all action, no plot nature of the spectacle that I lost track of the number of times our lot found themselves wandering the Liverpool penalty area with not a defensive soul in sight, and while it was galling in the extreme to witness a whole procession of straightforward chances go the way of all flesh, there was something extremely comforting in seeing Dele front and centre of things, by virtue of his well-timed sorties from midfield.

It was prime Dele (apart, I suppose from the execution, around which there were almost visible layers of rust). That the Liverpool midfield repeatedly lost sight of him as he slunk forward says much of the natural gift for timing that resides within him.

As with Winks it is too early to slaughter the fattened calf and crack open the vintage stuff just yet, but the signs were hugely promising, both in terms of his individual form and also the potential tactical option his rejuvenation might provide.

A final note on both Winks and Dele: having regressed so alarmingly under both Jose and Nuno, our latest Glorious Leader can probably bask in some credit for the improvements on display yesterday. Two swallows are admittedly a different kettle of fish from a whole summer, but the omens are good, and the critical difference would appear to be the change in leadership. Bravo, Conte.

4. The Refereeing

Any sequence of events that results in Jurgen Klopp reaching a level of apoplexy fit to make his explode is, of course, to be applauded, so in this respect yesterday’s oversight of proceedings was an absolute joy.

However, had a red card been brandished at Harry Kane, the Defence Lawyers would have had a devil of a time wriggling out of it, because by the letter of the law all boxes appeared to have been ticked.

There have certainly been plenty of instances of dubious refereeing decisions going against our lot – against these very opponents, and in fact, in this very match – so one has certainly learnt to take this particular smoothness with the various rough calls over time, but frankly any other decisions made are pretty irrelevant. Had Kane seen red there could not have been too many complaints, and given how early the Kane incident occurred, one ought to sympathise. One does not. One chortles. But one ought to sympathise.

Similarly, had Emerson (who from the AANP vantage point, was comfortably our weakest performer) been penalised for his less-than-dainty interference with Jota in the penalty area, one would not have had much of a counter-argument. However, as Dele can attest, this was not a day on which shoves to the back were deemed sufficient to merit sanction.

The claim from Dele was no doubt weaker than that from Jota, but in both instances, as ever, the AANP take is to wag a disapproving finger at the defenders in question, and suggest that they do not give the referee the option of giving a penalty.

There was also a crude exchange of views between Winks and some Liverpool defender, which resulted in our returning hero being flattened in a manner that in most other areas of the pitch would have drawn a perfunctory whistle. However, by that stage I was automatically defaulting to the wise words of my old man, AANP Senior, who would drill into me in my youth that, “The referee’s decision is final,” thereby closing the case without the option of appeal.

It only remained for Salah’s handball to be merrily waved away as an offence that didn’t take place at the right time, and Robertson to protest wide-eyed innocence at his own attempt at full-blown assault. By which stage there had been so much whizzing and banging that I had lost track of whether or not I was supposed to feel aggrieved.

Within such a strange, contradictory set of events (less possession but far more clear chances; good luck with the Kane decision, bad luck with the Salah handball) it has been quite a task to make sense of things, and far easier simply to pour a splash of early afternoon bourbon and enjoy – but the gist of it all seems to be that this Conte era has got something about it.

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Spurs match reports

Mura 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sessegnon

Young Sessegnon probably deserves the first column inch or two. Indeed, the casual observer, drinking in only the lurid headlines, might infer from the chronology of events that Sessegnon was the sole architect of this latest calamity. One would, of course, understand the sentiment, as early red cards rarely chivvy matters along in positive and serene fashion; but those of us who watched the piece unfold in real-time would be well aware that the truth is entirely more disturbing, involving as it did ineptitude and complacency from all bedecked in lilywhite faded blackcurrant and lime.

Back to Sessegnon. The football gods showed the full range of their cruel sense of humour by shoving him and his return to the fold front and centre of the pre-match hype. And I dn’t mind admitting that AANP fully subscribed to this narrative. When we signed him a couple of years back he was the bright young thing of English football, arguably further in his development than Bellingham, Saka et al.

And frankly, he might – and hopefully will – still be a roaring success. One red card, after all, doth not a failure make.

But by golly, it was one heck of a red card.

I note that some of lilywhite persuasion are trying to argue that his misdeeds were not worth two yellow cards. This, for avoidance of doubt, is utter rot. The first caution was idiotic to an immeasurable degree – making no attempt to play the ball, and aiming a kick at an opponent on the gallop. Nor was it one of those that could be filed under the heading ‘Tactical Foul’. Not that I’m a particular fan of such things, but sometimes these cynical numbers are desperately needed to prevent a highly dangerous counter-attack – this was not of the ilk.

And having already been booked, to leap into another flying challenge – again, hardly in a goal-saving context – defied belief. To those arguing that contact was minimal, I curtly reply that the young fool should not give the referee the option to make such a decision.

It has become something of a habit on these pages to witter on about how staggeringly block-headed footballers are as a collective, but these two bookings seemed to plumb new depths of stupidity.

On the bright side, young Master S. has now set his bar so low that whatever he does in his forthcoming engagements will represent vast improvement. Maybe he’s not so thick after all.

2. Dele

To say that Dele looked a shadow of his former self would be a bit stiff on shadows.

The all-singing, all-dancing buccaneer of a few years back, with velvety touch and a knack for timing a late burst into the area, is such a distant memory that I now wonder if he ever existed at all. If the current incumbent of his shirt gives a dam about his football, he disguises the fact in pretty convincing fashion.

Each time Dele received the ball yesterday he generally took six touches, lost possession and then promptly lost interest in the game altogether, preferring to wander off to a quiet spot of land, alone with his thoughts. And it was this latter part that represented a new low, this business of registering zero emotion once he had lost the ball. For a few years now, his output when in possession has been dreadful; but to see him shrug his shoulders and slow down to a walk once dispossessed really made one grind the teeth and hiss a bit.

If he really is trying to play himself back into favour, by golly he is going about it in a most peculiar fashion.

3. Kane

As for that rotter Harry Kane, I must confess his performance had me scratching at the old bean. Neither one thing nor another – or, to be more accurate, both one thing and another, if you follow my drift.

Sorry if that’s a bit cryptic. What I mean is that he managed to incorporate a pretty wide range of features within his night’s work.

For almost all of the first half he was as dreadful as anyone else. On that I think we can all agree. He lumbered about the place like a man donning his boots for the first time in a few years, failed to hold up the ball, failed to find teammates with intended passes and generally looked like a man who, on encountering the Slovenian mid-tablers, was a long way out of his depth.

The one moment in the first half that offered a glimpse of a record goalscorer was when he was stationed within the penalty area, and on receiving the ball conjured a shot from nowhere. He missed, narrowly, but the incident was still in pretty startling contrast to all that had gone before. The lesson, I recall murmuring at the time, seemed to be that dash everything else, Kane should just stick to the penalty area and get his shots off. No shame in that.

Then in the second half, when he spotted his friends arriving – in the form of Sonny and Lucas – Kane suddenly perked up, much like a small child who – well, who has spotted his friends arriving. The link-up play improved, he seemed more of a threat in possession and, to his credit, took his goal with a hefty dollop of aplomb.

And yet despite all this, the feeling still persisted that, unbeknownst to him, some rascal in the changing room had filled at least one of his boots with cement. He seemed to be having a devil of a time controlling his feet, and in the end appeared to give up on them and let them do as they pleased.

All things considered, it was a rather peculiar performance. The only certainty was that this was not a chap for whom anyone will ever pay £150m in a hurry.

4. Sanchez

I don’t suppose there are many tomes out there that have recorded that when Davinson Sanchez bounded onto the pitch in the latter stages of the win vs Leeds on Sunday, he actually managed to put not one foot wrong during the entirety of his cameo. It may only have been fifteen minutes or so, but it was a faultless fifteen minutes or so.

Football, however, being a pretty fickle mistress, I suspect that while Sunday’s input went under the radar, you won’t be able to throw a stone in the northern hemisphere without hitting someone ready to yowl about Sanchez’s ghastly contributions to yesterday’s disaster.

I have heard it said – by my Spurs-supporting chum Dave, no less – that Sanchez deserves some sympathy for being played out of position, on the left of a back three. This, as you might well imagine, received pretty short shrift at AANP Towers. If he were a right-handed darts player being asked to play on the left of a back-three, I might tilt my head, and utter an understanding word or two. But a right-footed, international centre-back being asked to play on the left of a back three – against Slovenian mid-tablers, dash it – ought to swan around the pitch producing the performance of his life.

Instead, not once but twice for heaven’s sake, Sanchez delivered a mistake so basic that all in attendance could anticipate it perfectly, well before it had happened. Even as he gathered pace, it seemed pretty clear that he was going to overshoot, be forced to cut back inside and end up off-balance and in coordinates entirely inappropriate for the job at hand. And so it transpired. Twice.

5. Same Players, Terrible Performances

I thought that the one soul to emerge with a modicum of credit was young Skipp, who at least seemed to pick up on the urgency of the occasion (although even he let himself down somewhat in the second half, misplacing and miscontrolling more and more as the game progressed).

This, however, is largely irrelevant. By the AANP reckoning – which admittedly is far from infallible – four of the worst Spurs performances of my lifetime have now occurred within the last 12 months (Zagreb away, Villa at home, Arsenal away, Mura away). I suspect there are a few more, given the number of games under Jose in which we scored early and then tried to defend the penalty area for 85 minutes.

One may quibble over the contents and ordering of that list, but what’s notable is that in this period we have had 4 different managers – which suggests that the common denominator here is the players.

It’s pretty meaningless gubbins for them to emerge after the game and talk about how such things are ‘Not good enough’ and ‘Unacceptable’, (although I have found that sinking a splash of bourbon each time I hear one of these phrases is a pretty handy way to numb the pain) when a month later it will simply happen again. There is no accountability at all, no repercussions. More or less the same mob simply reappear the following week. They can’t be placed on disciplinary or performance management courses – or simply sacked – as would happen if most of us under-performed in the day job.

Now it’s hardly a practical solution to suggest they be replaced en masse by various youth players who do not share their complacency and sense of entitlement, but as neither fining nor physically thrashing them for poor performances are allowed, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to punish them for peddling such rubbish, and have no idea how one might buck them up and improve their attitudes. Over to you, Conte.

Tweets here; AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, here, lest ye be thinking of Christmas gifts

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Leeds: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Conte

As not one of our lot produced a performance greater than middling in quality (although, credit where due, as a collective they did at least have the decency to roll up second half sleeves and turn defeat to victory through sheer force of will), the principal focus of AANP’s attention, by the time the curtain came down, was our newest Glorious Leader.

I suppose the various media outlets about the land will have gorged themselves on the sight of him frantically waving every available limb from the sideline, and while this is perhaps the least important element of his role it was good to see him at least give a dam.

But of vastly greater interest in AANP Towers was whatever the devil he said at half-time. Naturally, I was not privy to it, but I’m pretty convinced that it would have been the stuff of Hollywood, because on the back of his tuppence worth, our heroes came out in the second half not so much all-guns-blazing as i) wondrously able to find each other with their five-yard passes, and ii) wondrously facilitated with their ability to sprint where previously they had loped. And as it turned out. both of these were pretty critical elements in executing the 180 degree turnaround that followed.

As mentioned, we were still pretty light on quality in that second half, but attitude and intensity were noticeably up several notches, so in terms of delivering his Churchillian stuff at the mid-point I think it’s fair to say that Conte hit the spot.

That said – and not wanting to nitpick any more than is strictly necessary – but in my idler moments since the final whistle I have wondered why whatever sweet nothings were whispered at half-time could not have been drilled into the cast members immediately pre-kick-off. Tactically, of course, there was no real knowing beforehand that, for example, that Phillips lad would pop up in Leeds’ central defence, causing Kane and Sonny’s minds to explode; but in terms of the general sentiment of simply charging around the place like the game genuinely mattered, this strikes me as the sort of instruction that might have been issued circa 16.25 GMT, thereby saving everyone concerned from going through the stress of it all.

It’s one of life’s imponderables I suppose, and the important thing here seems to be that Conte dragged a winning performance out of our lot, so well done him.

(For what it’s worth, I was also rather taken by the sight of him celebrating with some gusto with each individual player afterwards. None of them seemed to consider it quite such an achievement – and frankly that strikes me as a large part of the problem, but if he can instil in them the concept that each game is something for which it’s worth sweating every available drop, then maybe they might even care enough to give their all from opening whistle to last.)

2. The Good and Bad of Reguilon

AANP’s lockdown Spanish is still something of a work in progress, so I couldn’t inform my public whether or not there is an equivalent idiom to “All’s well that ends well” en español, but if there is then I’d wager that young Senor Reguilon cheerfully whistled it a few times last night.

It was entirely appropriate, given the nature of our performance as a whole, that his goal should have had its genesis in the unsightly combination of both a massive deflection and a ricochet off the post, but the alacrity shown by the chap in springing into action as soon as Dier struck his free-kick was worthy of the highest praise. I would suggest that he showed the instinct of a natural striker – but not even our own, much-vaunted striker shows that much spring in his step these days.

Moreover, as with Conte at the final whistle, the lifelong fan in me took a particular pleasure in seeing him celebrate his goal like it meant the world to him.

This was all a far cry from his role in the concession of Leeds’ opener. In what was a depressingly familiar tale amongst our defenders, of dozing off on the job and failing to carry out the basics, Reguilon simply let his man waltz by him to tap in.

Had he been bamboozled by trickery one might have waved a forgiving hand, but to be caught on his heels and outsprinted by someone who had given him a five-yard start was pretty criminal stuff. Should Reguilon continue to play under the new Grand Fromage – and he seems to have been designed specifically to fit within Conte’s system – then he’ll need to tighten up his defensive game, and sharpish.

Moreover, even Reguilon’s forte, of charging over halfway and into enemy territory, brought groans from the faithful during that dreadful first half. He was actually one of the more sprightly amongst our number, but one moment in particular had the natives offering some forthright opinions, as he led a bona fide counter-attack, veered infield, and as Leeds’ defence obligingly channelled their inner Red Sea and split themselves right down the middle for our convenience, he rather bafflingly opted not to play the obvious pass, to Emerson Royal clean through on goal, but instead carried on veering infield and off into the nearest cul-de-sac.

All in all, it looked set to be one of the less auspicious specimens from the Reguilon repertoire, so to end proceedings as the match-winner was an unexpected bonus for the fellow.

3. Emerson Royal

Not to be outdone when it came to moments of substandard wing-backery, over on the right-hand side Emerson Royal was busily making his own lamentable contribution to Leeds’ goal. He simply sold himself a little too easily in the build-up to that goal, allowing his man first to bypass him and then to hold him off, when really any defender with a shred of dignity would have explored a few additional means of preventing the opponent from haring away so.

An interesting specimen, is young Royal. While not culpable of such calamities as were so frequently offered by Serge Aurier, and generally pretty committed to the cause, he nevertheless strikes me as the sort of bean who will as regularly lose his mano e mano duels as win them. And, bluntly, a hit-rate of around fifty per cent hit rate is not really good enough.

Going forward, as with Reguilon on the left, he certainly is not a man who needs to be asked twice, and tends usefully to station himself in pretty advanced positions. As such he seems to be handy enough, without necessarily being what any self-respecting judge would describe as ‘top-drawer’.

But in a sense, this is about as much as one can expect from a £25m defender, which does me scratch the loaf and wonder why we bought him in the first place. Competent going forward, and nothing special defensively, Royal is precisely the standard of player I would much rather we put back on the shelf when perusing the aisles, waiting instead for the real premium stuff.

However, here we are, and here he is, so fingers crossed that Conte weaves his magic and extracts the best from him. There is certainly the basis of a very good wing-back lurking beneath his outer crust.

4. Lucas

I offer comment on Lucas not because he features prominently in the list of nominees for either Most Prominent Hero or Villain, but more because his individual performance neatly encapsulated that of the collective, in the sense that he peddled no end of rot in the first half, and upped his game pretty markedly in the second.

In his defence, First Half Lucas did not shirk the challenge, he just hit the wrong notes over and over again. Every time he received the ball his eyes lit up and off he scampered, which in theory is the sort of stuff upon which kingdoms and dominions are built. In practice however, Leeds put a stop to him within about three paces, each time he set off. The net result was pretty unseemly, particularly as much of this seemed to take place within spitting distance of his own penalty area.

Things bucked up considerably in the second half, as he replaced the run-into-trouble approach with a vastly more productive flick-the-ball-swiftly-onwards scheme. This threatened to bear fruit within about thirty seconds of the re-start, freeing up that rotter Kane, and rewards were duly reaped later on.

Both Sonny and Lucas seemed to have the right idea from that point on, playing a tad narrower, flitting this way and that and, crucially, not dwelling too long on the ball.

And as mentioned, Lucas was not the only one whose performance improved markedly after the break. Young Winks missed as much he hit throughout, but if nothing else simply played a bit further up the pitch in the second half, and Hojbjerg also made himself more useful second time around.

Having taken my seat at the outset confident that two full weeks of Conte training would have had us fully prepped to steamroll some average opposition at home, this was something of a reality check, but for now it’s probably just important to win these things in any fashion going.

Tweets here; AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, here, lest ye be thinking of Christmas gifts

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Spurs match reports

Everton 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. One-Touch Passing! Huzzah!

I haven’t paid too much attention to fan sentiment this weekend, domestic life being what it is, but I imagine that the internet has been creaking under the weight of Spurs fans chuntering like nobody’s business about our lack of shots on target. One might quibble that this is a tad rich, given that Lo Celso came within a cat’s whisker of scoring yesterday rather than hitting the base of a post – but the fact remains that we haven’t had a shot on target in an age, and the broader point is a strong one, that we lack a spot of thrust in the business area of the pitch.

Yet despite this, the mood at AANP Towers yesterday on watching the spectacle unfold, was decidedly bobbish, and I’ll tell you why. “Never mind that we haven’t created a chance worthy of the name,” was pretty much the chorus around these parts, “just look at how slick our passing game has become as we traverse from south to north!”

I appreciate the counter-argument would doubtless be along the lines that all the slick passing games in the world aren’t worth a dam if nobody at the business end is drawing back his arrow and letting rip – but I maintain, my spirits were buoyed immensely by the sight.

The reason being that for what seems like an absolute eternity – specifically ever since the arrival of Jose, however many moons ago – our passing, particularly from the back, seems to have degenerated into a stodgy mess in which nothing happens, but in an endless cycle of repetition. Close your eyes and I’m sure you can picture the scene as sharply as if it were happening again in front of you. It was chiefly characterised by each party taking turns to dwell on the ball around the halfway line, pivot one way, then another, waggle the arms rather pleadingly at those nearby – before passing sideways or backwards, for the exercise to begin again with a new principal.

Yesterday, however, whether by dint of the new formation or the new manager, the directive seemed to be for someone in defence to sneak a cheeky angled pass between the lines into midfield, at which point everybody involved donned their one-touch-outside-of-the-boot passing shoes, and within a blink or two the ball was being zipped over halfway and towards the final third.

Given the slow and turgid guff that had previously been peddled, incessantly, this was an absolute pleasure to behold.

Nor was it an isolated incident. Whenever we nicked possession from Everton, particularly when they were on the attack and hovering by our penalty area, a switch appeared to be flicked and everyone in lilywhite adopted one-touch mode, the aim of the exercise being to get up the pitch at a rate of knots, using no more than one touch each to get over halfway.

Now while it would obviously have been pretty spiffing stuff to have rounded off all this slick build-up play with a clear-cut chance or two – or even, dare I suggest, a goal – I’m inclined to think that playing this progressive way will inevitably lead to opportunities before long. Until that happens, I would qualify myself as moderately happy to watch our lot zip the ball around in such appealing one-touch fashion.

2. Passing Out From the Back

A related, if less inspiring, feature of Conte-ball has been the ongoing determination of our heroes to pass out from the back. “Nothing novel about that,” you might chide, and with some justification, but the Conte version of passing from the back involves doing so amongst a back-three rather than back-four, as well as wing-backs, goalkeeper, central midfielders and even occasionally Lucas all popping their heads in to lend assistance.

Whereas trying to pass out from the back within a back-four always seemed to have much of the Skin-Of-The-Teeth about it, somehow passing out from the back via the back-three and various supporting cast members comes across as a much more manageable operation – even if the protagonists are eminently capable of over-elaborating and gifting the ball to the opposition right outside our penalty area (witness Lucas in midweek ahead of Vitesse’s second goal).

To spell the thing out, within this formation the man in possession seems always to have more options when picking his next move, as opposed to those attempts of yesteryear within a back-four.

I suppose this approach is assisted to an extent by the fact that each of the aforementioned back-three (Davies, Dier, Romero) are, at least according to the official literature on the side of the tin, vaguely comfortable in possession (where ‘vaguely comfortable in possession’ could be contrasted with Davinson Sanchez levels of anxiety in possession that lead to him visibly panicking before either passing backwards or blasting the ball into no man’s land).

To be clear, however, this is not an element of our play that remotely excites me, unlike the one-touch stuff described above. This is merely an observation. It neither thrills nor devastates me; it merely happens, and I observe it. Done correctly and it can lead to the one-touch stuff, causing me to sit bolt upright and rub my hands with glee; but of itself it does little more than mark the passage of time.

3. Ben Davies

Inspired by his jaunt into the opposition penalty area to set up a goal in midweek, bang average Ben Davies yesterday seemed particularly keen to hammer home the point that that was not simply a one-off event, but an attraction that we might all become accustomed to seeing.

It makes for an interesting, additional tactical quirk. One would hardly say it is pivotal to our approach-play, nor does it define Conte-ball, but Davies’ sallies into the final third now seem to occur often enough to be classified as officially part of The Masterplan, rather than simply the whim of someone devastatingly unspectacular in everything he does.

And to his credit, and indeed to the credit of whichever member of The Brains Trust concocted this ruse, it adds some moderate benefits. With Reguilon hugging the touchline, and Son as inclined to cut infield, the presence of another left-footer lends – well, I hesitate to use the word ‘threat’, because I’m not sure Ben Davies could ever be described as ‘threatening’, but when he wanders upfield, waving his arms and definitely being present it presumably gives opposing defenders an extra bullet point on their To-Do lists.

4. Lloris

A complimentary mot or two seem due to Monsieur Lloris, not least because he is vaguely topical, after the VAR penalty call.

Starting with that penalty call, it was pretty uncontroversially correct, and really ought not to have escalated to the extent that it did. First glance, and the change in direction of the ball, was enough to indicate that Lloris must have stuck a paw on it. I’m a little surprised that the referee did not pick up on this basic principle of physics himself, but justice was done and life pootled on. Lloris can be commended for timing this intervention particularly well.

But more than this, I was rather intrigued, and gently impressed, by the way in which he dealt with Everton’s first half tactic of bunting the ball into orbit and letting the wind swirl it around a bit.

Nobody likes a gust of wind. It can’t be seen, arrives without warning and generally makes a mess of things, or at least threatens to do so. And for clarity, I’m not talking about a gentle breeze that tickles the chin; I refer to full-on gusts.

Everton cunningly decided to use these gusts to their advantage yesterday, by tossing the ball over the top of our centre-backs and chasing. The result was that what would ordinarily have been tucked neatly into the back-pocket without a second thought suddenly became a vaguely mesmeric battle with the elements, as Dier and Romero washed their hands of all responsibility, leaving it to Lloris to come charging forward to resolve things as efficiently as circumstances allowed.

Not the most dramatic stuff one will ever see, admittedly, but I thought he handled these potentially awkward spots extremely efficiently. Credit to him for his starting position, awareness to gallop forward and then presence of mind to head the ball clear each time it became clear that the wind would prevent it from sailing safely into the area.

All of which is really a polite way of apologising to the chap for omitting to praise – or even mention – him for his impressive performance vs Vitesse last week. I’ve been rather surprised to read of our supposed interest in potential replacement keepers for next season, given that he is looking as sharp for us as he has ever done. His clean sheet yesterday seemed a fitting reward for his week’s efforts.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-2 Vitesse: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. An All-Action-No-Plot Welcome for Conte

I recall a few years ago visiting the pictures in order to watch a talkie, which started off sensibly enough following a couple of bank robbers, but then took a sudden swerve into a completely different genre, in which everybody turned into vampires, of all things. I distinctly recall stumbling out of the place as amused as I was bewildered by what I had witnessed. Last night’s outlay had about it much in common with that motion picture, starting as it did one way, turning into a bit of a struggle – and then swerving violently into a different sort of thing altogether by the close. Sort of segueing abruptly from the Thriller genre to Slapstick Comedy, if you get my drift.

Given the frankly hilarious nature of the finale, it was easy to forget that for an hour or so we had a tight – if pretty amateurish – football match on our hands. Yet towards the latter stages this descended into the sort of farce that was reminiscent of two groups of drunks challenging each other to a kickabout on an oversized field, encapsulated by Emerson Royal attempting multiple step-overs (and doing so for the first time in his life, judging by their cumbersome execution), Sergio Reguilon doing keepie-uppies during the game and wide open spaces everywhere you looked, as befitted a match of 10 vs 9.

If Signor Conte were in any doubt about the madcap, all-action-no-plot way of things at N17 beforehand, he would have seen just about everything he needed to know last night.

2. Shiny New Formation

I cannot quite remember the last time I watched a game staring so intently at the formation of the collective, rather than the what was actually happening with the ball – but after all the chatter and videos about Conte’s supposed strategy, this was definitely one such occasion.

Much of the pre-match wisdom had been that we could expect to feast our eyes upon some form of 3-5-2, so I don’t mind admitting that I raised an eyebrow or two when our heroes trotted out adhering to a strict 3-4-3, with Sonny and Lucas either side of that rotter Kane.

And within that 3-4-3 there was not a hint of Kane dropping deep, Conte seemingly true to his word about viewing the fellow as one best employed in and around the penalty area.

Admittedly it might not be everyone’s idea of a wild day out, but I shall watch with considerable interest to see whether we stick with 3 in attack, or revert to a front 2 and an extra creative soul in midfield.

Yesterday, at least, it seemed a case of Conte moulding the formation to the personnel, rather than vice versa, and therefore accommodating Lucas within the front 3; but in time I wonder whether he might find himself shoved into a Number 10 role, demoted to the bench in favour of A.N. Other at Number 10 – or even reinvented as a wing-back. There seems a rather unfortunate irony in the fact that he and young Skipp – arguably our two standout players of the season so far (slim pickings, admittedly) – appear the least likely fits into Conte’s supposedly favoured 3-5-2 system, so it was awfully square of our newest Glorious Leader to accommodate both last night.

Further south, Conte pretty emphatically nailed his colours to the Back-3-And-Wing-Backs mast, to the extent that even when reduced to 10 men, and therefore presented with every excuse to revert to a back-four, he instead hooked a sweaty midfielder and brought on another centre-back, to ensure that B-3-A-W-Bs remained the order of the day.

It’s certainly an exciting idea in theory, but perhaps slightly flawed in practice, at present, by the fact that the various centre-backs at our disposal seem to demonstrate between them a few different shades of dubiousness.

The other captivating point of note around our formation was quite how wide the wing-backs stayed when we were in possession. If this were park football, with jumpers for goalposts and no set boundaries, both Reguilon and Emerson would have disappeared over the horizon and only reappeared at tea-time; but as it happened they each stuck pretty obediently to their respective touchlines, no matter which of our mob had possession, or where. And one understands the principle. We have a huge pitch, so why not utilise every blade, and give the opposition full-backs something to ponder?

(Of course, all the formation-tweaking in the world is of little use if Dier is going to be beaten to a straightforward header from a corner; and various of them contrive to make a pig’s ear of passing out of defence to gift Vitesse their second; but these are the joys on which Conte can reflect as his head hits his pillow each night.)

3. Romero

A word on the dismissal of young Romero, who by and large seems to have had the right idea about things since joining the madhouse.

Now footballers are not renowned for being the most cerebrally blessed, but even the thickest among them ought to be able to compute that once cautioned they should avoid like the plague any interaction that might land them a second yellow, unless absolutely necessary. (And for avoidance of doubt, ‘absolutely necessary’ here covers pretty much only saving a life or preventing a goal.)

So for Romero to go carting through the back of an opponent – on halfway – having already been booked, was pretty unforgiveable stuff. There was hardly any imminent danger, and the mind simply boggles at what the hell his thought process might have been. We dodged that particular bullet last night, thanks to Vitesse’s handy implosion, but on a bigger stage that would be one heck of a blunder.

As mentioned, the fellow has generally done more right than wrong so far, and indeed one ought to tip the cap in recognition of his neat pass through the lines that set up the lovely goal for Lucas. But Romero’s bread and butter is at the opposite end, and no professional with an ounce of common sense ought to pick up a second yellow for a challenge on the blasted halfway line.

4. Davies

Regular drinkers at the AANP well will be fully aware that Ben Davies is not regarded with any particular fondness by yours truly. A decent enough egg, for sure; a footballer worthy of the lilywhite shirt, I’m not so sure.

It’s been a bone of some contention, mind, mine being an opinion that is not universally shared, which seems fair enough, as one is always happy to chivvy democracy along with a friendly wave.

But rather than enter into that debate again, I highlight him here more to marvel at the fact that, like some sort of cat that’s already died eight times and is now being dropped from a considerable height, the chap seems to have landed plum on his feet with the arrival of Antonio Conte.

The evidence of a few hundred appearances suggests to me that Davies is not much of a left-back, primarily because his crosses too often go anywhere but the waiting limbs of a comrade. On top of which, he’s racked up his fair share of pretty avoidable and careless defensive lapses (and he was dashed lucky to get away with another one yesterday, waggling an errant foot at an opponent in the area when the game was still 0-0, and thanking the watching gods that the Europa Conference is too cool for VAR).

It is possibly because of those lapses that one would head a long way down the pecking order before selecting him as a centre-back in a back-four.

But introduce a back-three, and suddenly Davies becomes a pretty credible option. Being left-footed is the principle advantage here; but not far behind that is the fact that he’s not a particularly – or indeed remotely – devastating wing-back. Whereas Reguilon was fashioned from clay specifically in order to make merry on the wing, and should therefore on no account be regarded as a centre-back, Davies is sufficiently circumspect to be useful in a back-three.

Having two others alongside him is a useful insurance policy, to guard against those accidents to which he is prone; and being left-footed serves him well both in facing up opponents and in distributing the ball.

He still strikes me as the luckiest man in N17 to have found himself in Conte’s first line-up, but that position, on the left of a back three, strikes me as the one for which Mother Nature has best equipped him, and until January reinforcements arrive he might well become a regular feature of Conte-ball.

(Still not sure quite how he ended up furthest forward, and inside the opposition area, to create our third goal; and I’ll skimp on the praise because he actually made a pickle of an intended shot, rather than deliberately picking out a pass – but the assist goes down to Davies, B. so well done him.)

One could go one – there is much to be said about the pros and cons of Emerson Royal; the potential re-introduction of Winks; the Ndombele body-swerve and Lo Celso’s latest clanger – but this was a presentation to Conte, rather than a representation of him. What the hell he truly made of it all is anyone’s guess, but it was good of our lot to make crystal clear to him the size of the task that awaits. And frankly, if the entertainment continues to be as good as it was last night, then the remainder of this season will be an absolute blast.

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Spurs news, rants

Conte, Potter and Spurs’ Strategy & Identity: 3 Tottenham Talking Points

1. What’s The Long-Term Strategy?

As part of the day-job, AANP can often be found swanning around town claiming to help create strategies of all things, for individuals and organisations gullible enough to lap up this sort of thing. In truth, this typically involves asking such folk where they want to end up, in the long-ish term; charging them the earth for the privilege; and then decamping to the nearest bar to knock back a splash or two of something stiff and rattle on about the glory days.

I mention this because as I watch on from my perch, it’s increasingly difficult to fathom what the hell is the strategy (there’s that word again) at Spurs. And for clarity, I mean football strategy, rather than the ‘Make More Money’ approach so earnestly peddled by D. Levy Esq. every waking minute in our shiny new bowl.

Under Poch, a strategy of sorts could be detected. Press high up the pitch; scamper around pretty indefatigably; attack; and develop the younglings – these seemed broadly to number amongst the key factors. It helped create an identity about the place and aligned with the traditions of the estate, so to speak.

It did of course help that we generally won a heap more than we lost, but by and large we the honest punters were pretty happy with how things panned out each week.

Fast forward to the final days of Poch, and more specifically the aftermath, and if you were to wonder what the devil the overall masterplan was then I’d shake you by the hand and suggest you’d hit the nail pretty squarely on the head.

In short, once Poch was out the door and wandering the streets of N17, any semblance of a broad strategy and long-term aim went with him.

The appointment of Jose? Put charitably, the strategy here seemed to be ‘Win Something Shiny’, with the parenthesised addendum ‘In Whatever Manner Necessary’. Less charitably, it seemed to be an opportunity for Levy to buy himself a long-coveted toy. There was no regard for style of play, and no consideration to the longer-term consequences – either in terms of playing style, or, crucially, the potential fall-outs and internal rifts for which Jose had become pretty famous.

Once that experiment ended, even the long-ish shortlist of would-be paramours this summer gave little hint of an obvious strategy in place post-Jose. If a specific style or identity had been identified, a common thread would have run through all the half-dozen or so managers courted. I suppose in Ten Haag and Poch Mk II there was a similarity, but Conte and Gattuso seemed cut from pretty different cloth.

The eventual decision to plump for Nuno, while essentially born of desperation and the realisation that if we started the season with nobody in charge we would look pretty comical, again gave little consideration to the identity of the club. In a sense, this was more understandable, because by that stage we needed simply to hire anyone who would take the damned gig – and when necessity comes calling, strategy is generally shoved out the door without so much as a ‘Cheerio’.

2. Conte

But with Nuno now bundled off into the sunset, and the chase on for Conte, the question that springs to mind is again the one being mumbled when Poch was axed – viz. what’s the strategy here? Or, put in another couple of ways, what’s the long-term goal? What’s the intended identity of the club?

There seems to be much of the short-term solution about the current pursuit of Conte. This is not just a reference to the supposed 18-month contract, but more pressingly to the fact that he historically does not care too much about long-term planning when creating his teams, and certainly not when ostracising players the cut of whose jib does not tickle him.

In a sense, this is actually understandable enough, and one sympathises. Our lot are in the dickens of a spot, and this is no time to entrust young Mason or whomever with 18 months to learn on the job. Making a beeline for the most qualified sort currently available is, one could persuasively argue, a no-brainer.

And if Conte hauls our mob up by the bootlaces, and drags us kicking, screaming and minus a few rotten eggs into the European spots come May, Levy will understandably beam from East stand to West.

Put another way, the pile of steaming dung is now so sizeable that consideration of long-term strategy, and identity and whatnot, ought to be placed on hold for a couple of years, while the club simply arrests its decline.

And as indicated, this is understandable enough. For the record, AANP still rather furrows the brow at it, but one has the decency to appreciate the logic.

Nevertheless, were I pulling the strings of this particular puppet-show, the next appointment would be one that gives greater consideration to the style of play and, more importantly, the broader identity of the club.

I can hardly claim to be an expert on Conte’s tactics, but from what I’ve seen and, more pertinently, from what Chelsea-supporting eggs have informed me, he likes a solid defence and a counter-attack. Not necessarily the ultra-defensive type that many have proclaimed, but equally not a fellow on whom one can necessarily hang their attacking hat.

3. Potter

As such, AANP’s covetous stare (presuming that Poch is still otherwise engaged for at least another 18 months) is directed towards Graham Potter. Having seen our lot spiral disastrously downward I’ve taken the opportunity in recent weeks to study Brighton, and bearing in mind that their individual players are hardly of the ‘Seasoned International’ ilk that we boast, I’ve been mightily impressed with the way in which they earn their weekly wage.

Most notably, when they attack they do so swiftly, their football featuring no end of early passes and off-the-ball movement. Rather than receiving the ball and pivoting back towards defence like there’s a prize on offer for whomever can do it most regularly, they show a spot of bravery and attempt to play forward. Most eye-catchingly, to repeat, they play quickly, with one- and two-touch football, the sort of stuff for which I currently yearn at Spurs. And this against teams including Liverpool and Man City, mind.

The lad Bissouma is generally on sentry duty in front of the back-line, and the full-backs seem to have no qualms about charging north to aid and abet things – but without getting bogged down in the specifics, they seem to have an identity and an attractive style about them.

And for that reason, I’ve thrown my hat in with Team Potter. I imagine he would not just attempt to create an attractive style of play, but he’d lay a foundation that would bring with it a longer-term identity.

(To the practical objection of prising him away from a project with which he’s presumably perfectly happy at present, I counter that apparently £15m is being waved at Conte, and whether or not that’s true, the principle, I would suggest, remains that if Levy were set on him he’d be able to throw enough money at the thing to effect it. Might not work with PSG, really ought to work with Brighton.)

Of course, there would be no guarantee of success, and one could reasonably point out that Potter has not won a damn thing in England as yet; point out that he took a hammering in the Man City game I’m using to showcase his supposed talents; point out that he’s yet to manage players as high-profile as ours; and no doubt trot out a string of further objections, each of which would probably be pretty difficult to counter.

But, having been observing from AANP Towers all day as this whole spectacle has unfolded, I thought I’d lob in my tuppence worth – and most specifically hammer home the point that the identity of our club has disappeared within the raft of short-termist appointments, and – while, as ever, I’ll back him to the hilt once in situ – the cueing up of Conte would do little to change this.

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