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Olympiacos 2-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Winks

No doubt the mood around the N17 campfire is generally doleful and sombre, so here at AANP Towers we have hit upon the fizzing idea – and you can thank me later – of kicking off things with a topic that, if not exactly seeping joy and plugging in the endorphins, is at least a darned sight more positive than anything else on the horizon.

Said topic is, of course, the performance of young Master Winks. While all around him looked thoroughly bored by proceedings, Winks did his best to confirm suspicions that when created in the lab he had the DNA of a young Jack Russell surreptitiously thrown in for good measure, for he duly bounded about the place as if yesterday were the best thing to happen to him in his life.

When we had the ball he regularly beavered to within 8 yards or so, to demand it; when we didn’t have the ball he scurried to all parts in his attempts to remedy this crisis.

It was all particularly pleasing given that I subjected him to the raised eyebrow and inscrutable stare a few weeks ago against Newcastle. In all honesty I maintain that against such teams, who pack the defence and wait, Winks is of pretty limited value, not being the sort who wanders the streets picking locks and passing through eyes of needles.

But against moderately better-equipped mobs – such as our hosts yesterday – who leave that much more space and have a greater attacking instinct about them, a healthy dose of Winks is precisely what the doctor orders, and he scurried around to excellent effect yesterday. I would hazard a guess that he’ll be in similarly fine fettle away to Leicester at the weekend.

2. Eriksen

If Winks’ afternoon was full of zip and vim, Eriksen’s lay pretty much at the other end of the spectrum.

For context, the Great Eriksen Debate generally features those who adamantly insist that the chap is just about the only game-changing soul in our midfield, and has the goals/assists stats to prove it; and the likes of yours truly, who bluster in frustration that for a man of his undoubted lock-picking skills (the type sadly lacking in young Winks, above) he ought to be a lot more prominent in games such as this.

Pretty much every onlooker noted quite how off-colour Eriksen was yesterday, so no point dwelling on that. The more notable angle, to this ill-educated eye, was the contrast between First Half Eriksen and Second Half Eriksen.

To do this back to front, I had some grudging respect for Second Half Eriksen. True, his passing remained wayward, his touch heavy and his creative juices evaporated – plus his brainless dallying led directly to their penalty (I did mention that the respect was only grudging).

But Second Half Eriksen at least demanded the ball. As a collective our heroes showed a tad more urgency (not difficult, comparatively, I realise) and Eriksen seemed to be fairly central to this, in that he regularly trotted over to the man in possession and waved his arms until it was given to him. He did little of note with it, but at least he looked like a man who felt some sort of moral obligation to be at the heart of things.

By contrast, First Half Eriksen seemed positively to shy away from the ball. I barely noticed the chap, apart from that one moment when he found himself leading a promising counter-attack, and seemed to react to the situation in sheer horror, eager to rid himself of the ball at the earliest opportunity before scuttling off to the nearest pit of sand into which he might bury his head.

Admittedly I rather exaggerate the contrast in order to make my point – but it’s a heck of a point. The chap ought always to have the attitude of Second Half Eriksen, greedily demanding the ball and always wanting to be the one at the hub of things from his own little Danish command centre. Instead, too often, we are treated to First Half Eriksen, who flits in and out of existence like that polaroid in Back to the Future.

If he is having a bad day in possession that can probably be forgiven; but what irks AANP like nobody’s business is when he does not seem massively concerned about whether or not he sees much of the ball.

3. Sanchez at Right-Back

Elsewhere, longing glances were cast once again towards Atletico Madrid as Davinson Sanchez was subjected to his latest rather cruel stint at right-back.

The chap did very little wrong defensively, in truth, with most of our woes emanating on t’other flank where Messrs Davies and Vertonghen were getting themselves into numerous muddles.

But going forward, Sanchez’ limitations had some pretty powerful beacons of light shone upon them. For a start he rarely got himself to within 30 yards of the opposition goal-line, therefore failing to provide an attacking outlet that turned around the Olympiakos defence (although in this respect he was not alone, Ben Davies also being generally, oddly, conservative).

On top of which, Nature evidently forgot to bestow upon him the gift of being able to whip, float or simply punt a cross from the right, further limiting his attacking prowess.

Quite what his attacking instructions were in the first half is anyone’s guess; but in the second half Lucas was stationed permanently on the right touchline, and Sanchez added decorative value only.

With Aurier fit, KWP getting there and even Eric Dier now in residence, one would hope that this is the last we’ll see of Sanchez at right-back.

4. The General, Sorry State of Things (A Rant)

A few hardy souls have attempted to silver lining their way through the rubble of this, pointing out that an away point in the CL Group Stage is no bad thing, and that we’ve matched our tally from the first three games of last season, and so on and so forth. And they have a point – two-goal lead surrendered or not, this could have been worse.

But putting aside the immediate context (and one presumes we ought still to qualify from this group), the bigger picture does not make particularly cheery viewing.

Harry Kane has clearly been media-trained to within an inch of his life, and is therefore rarely worth listening to in interviews, so straight is his bat, but there was a hint of exasperation to his reported musings yesterday, as he spotted the nail and gave it a firm thump on its head. We are making the same mistakes as we made 5 or 6 years ago.

And this lack of improvement, year on year, is troubling. I am no doubt being a tad dramatic here: even ignoring the luck involved in Houdini-ing our way past Man City and Ajax last season, we still overcame Dortmund over two legs of textbook professionalism, which was a massive improvement on our slip-up vs Juve the previous year – so we are improving. (And the season before that we didn’t even get out of the group – again, we are improving).

But one important game after another seems to come our way, and we do seem to exhibit the same old flaws. Throwing away leads; failing to quieten and dispirit opponents; wastefulness in front of goal; or simply a lack of creativity and urgency to break down an opponent. For every welcome thrashing of Palace, there’s a struggle against Villa plus a defeat against Newcastle plus a squandered lead against Arsenal. In terms of results we lack consistency; and in terms of performances there are countless sloppy errors scattered all over the pitch, rather than the notable step up in quality that one would hope for season-on-season.

This is by no means a crisis – we remain third domestically, and still ought to qualify from the CL group – but the lack of obvious progression in performances does rather grate, what?

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5 Thoughts on Spurs’ Transfer Deadline Day

1. Lo Celso: We Approve

Admittedly my excitement about this is slightly akin to excitement about buying a purple unicorn, because I’ve no real idea of what the chap does aside from the YouTube clips that have done the rounds, and the occasional article about Expected Goals and Successful Dribbles that makes the head hurt just to read.

Nevertheless, I dare say onlookers have noticed a spring in the AANP step since this one was confirmed. One does not have to cast the mind back too far to recall, with a shudder and darkened brow, the days when we were linked with a reasonably exciting foreign name, and the thing dragged out for a while before failing to come to fruition at the last. (It happened yesterday in fact, with Dybala.) So just the fact that Levy has dug into the pockets, cleared out the moths and sifted through his coppers in order to bring Lo Celso to the Lane is an exciting development.

For make no mistake, our midfield needed a bit of a spit and polish. When young Skipp is one of the next cabs on the rank, you know the cupboard is, if not exactly bare, then boasting only those jars that nobody really wants to touch. Since the start of last season we have lost Dembele – admittedly an ageing and creaking Dembele, but still one of the finest around – and struggled to cope with injuries.

The addition of Ndombele appears a pretty suitable fit for the Dembele-shaped hole; and it appears that Lo Celso will add some vim and sparkle in the other direction. Even should Eriksen leave, we seem to have done pretty well out of this. By all accounts Lo Celso is no Eriksen Mk II – a different type of attacking tool, so my spies inform me – but that strikes me as no bad thing. Not to besmirch the good name of the Dane, I just mean that having a new, different box of tricks will freshen up our attack, as well as keeping all others on their toes.

2. Sessegnon: A Match Made in Young Player Development Heaven

Rather pleased with this one too. It’s a blindingly obvious match in truth – one of the best young prospects around, coupled with a manager with the reputation for developing the best young prospects around. One can imagine them leaping into each other’s arms as if were a routine they’d been practising for weeks.

Word on the street is that young Sessegnon is pretty happy wearing any of the hats marked Left-Back, Left Wing-Back or Left Winger – and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Fulham apply him in that awfully modern role of inverted right winger, whereby he’s constantly cutting infield.

While it might possibly be heaping a little too much pressure on the lad to expect him to be the second coming of Gareth Bale, the N17 hopes are undoubtedly high that this young bean will have a long and distinguished career in lilywhite.

One would expect him to be eased into the team this season, competing with Rose as an attacking left-back, and maybe having the occasional free hit as some sort of left-sided attacker. In effect his signing also provides us with central defensive cover, as it means Ben Davies is likely third in the pecking order for left-back – and quite rightly too – so will become an option as left-sided centre back.

And all at the pretty reasonable sum of £25m, which in today’s market will buy you the standing leg of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, a few curls on the head of Harry Maguire or one entire Tyrone Mings. Pretty nifty work.

3. Dybala: Never Likely (Except it Almost Actually Happened)

As mentioned, the Dybala thing came and went the way of Rivaldo, Juninho, Leandro Damaio and various others the years.

The cynical, wearied, pessimistic Spurs fan in me simply did not have the energy nor inclination to become excited about the Dybala rumour, even though at various points it seemed that pundits and fans alike were pretty convinced that he would transform from puppet into actual boy.

As it turned out, we were actually a lot closer than expected to signing the young whippet, which would have made for a curious but excellent addition. Even having failed to get the chap, on account of some terribly modern garbage called Image Rights of all things – whatever next? – the fact that we met the asking price and coughed up the wages reflects pretty well on our resident purse-string holder – as well as indicating that there are reputational gains to be had from reaching a Champions League Final.

The question of what to do in case of long-term injury to Kane therefore still remains, and with Llorente having very slowly ambled out the exit there is also something of a concern as to what our Plan B might be, or how to withdraw Kane for a breather with 10 to go.

However, a second striker was not as much of a priority as adding an extra layer or two to the midfield. Moreover, this potentially means that, unless he is shoved out on loan, the rather exciting young nib Parrott might gain a few minutes here and there.

4. Rose, Alderweireld, Eriksen: Keeping Them Is Excellent Work (So Far)

As well as the players in, arguably as great a triumph was making it through the transfer window without losing either of Danny Rose or Toby.

Now I’m well aware that we probably ought not to start decking the halls with bunting and strewing confetti around the place just yet, as there is every chance some rotter or other from overseas will swoop in and do their damnedest for either of the above.

But nevertheless. Toby’s £25m release clause was so obviously a good deal for literally every single one of our 19 Premier League rivals that one can only conclude that every last one of them spent the period in which that clause was applicable out on the mother of all drinking binges, lasting several weeks, and only waking up the following morning to discover that the clause had expired.

Toby for around £40m to some foreign power would still represent a pretty smart piece of business on their part, so my breath is held, but it does appear that we are over the worst of it.

While on my soap box, the whole business of being willing to part with both Toby and Rose strikes me as madness of the highest degree. I’m all for planning for the future, but not at the expense of the present, dash it. Toby and Rose are arguably as good as anyone else in their respective positions in England – why on earth would we want to jettison either of them? It’s sheer lunacy! If folk are waving £100m at us I get the point; but if we have the option of retaining their services for another full season, at near enough the peak of their powers, then oughtn’t we to do that, even if it does mean losing them for a pittance? I realise that this is simply not a language Daniel Levy speaks, but I honestly think that they will repay any losses in transfer fee by contributing to on-field success.

As for Eriksen, the arrival of Lo Celso at least covers for the eventuality of him scramming for the continent.

5. Onomah: No Tears Shed Over Here, Laddie

A final epitaph on the notable departee from yesterday. As seasoned drinkers at the AANP Tavern will be aware, Josh Onomah had the honour of being the one chap I simply could not stand, for relatively senseless reasons, so his departure seemed an excellent excuse to allow myself an extra splash of bourbon.

He was an honest enough soul, I suppose, and could not be faulted for effort. But the young fish was far too lightweight for this game, as evidenced by the fact that if an opposing full-back sneezed in his direction he would hurtle off the pitch as if tossed there by a woolly mammoth. Too lightweight, and not extraordinarily gifted in other ways, he was of that breed marked as “One for the future” who, when the future arrived, was found not to have progressed all that much. The Championship seems the right home for him at present.

All things considered then, while the Dybala miss was a shame, this has been a pretty satisfactory window. Poch has been backed, key areas have been strengthened and while some concerns remain (cover for Kane, right-back looks light until Sissoko saves the day), we are in a better place than we were two months ago.

Ajax 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

Real life rather rudely interrupted the celebrations at AANP Towers last week, but since we’re all still floating around atop a cumulonimbus there seems no harm in peddling a few belated observations from our gloriest of glory glory nights…

1. The Complete Absence of Hope

Had we cantered to victory in serene and most un-Tottenham fashion it would undoubtedly have been a thrill, but presumably not one that will live in the memory quite like this magnificent absurdity.

After about 5 minutes of the first leg I was already groaning the groan of a man on death row who hears fresh coins being popped into the electricity meter; by half-time in the second leg I had already whizzed through all seven stages of grief and was starting to wonder about England’s batting line-up for the Ashes.

Even after Moura’s first two goals I simply refused to countenance the possibility of anything other than glorious failure, which in hindsight says quite a lot about how damaging the last three decades of lilywhite faith have been.

But to score the goal that sends us into the Champions League Final, just as the clock in the top left corner ticked over literally to the final second of the allocated extra 5 minutes – well it’s little wonder that we’ve all rewound and watched that moment about a hundred times each. Frankly just writing about it makes me need another lie-down, and etches that massive grin across the chops once more.

2: Llorente: Flawed But Wonderful Hero

As if to encapsulate the glorious lunacy of the night, the man who made the difference was Fernando Llorente.

With reserves so depleted that we genuinely checked beforehand whether Vincent Janssen was eligible, Our Glorious Leader made the call of a man who realises that his entire life’s possessions have gone down the drain so he might as well go all in on his last hand because to hell with it. If Janssen were eligible I suspect he might have been flung on too, but as it happened the only resource left was Llorente, the striker with a penchant for missing from 2 yards. On he duly shuffled.

And it changed the entire pattern of the game. By simply attaching himself to Daly Blind and swaying gently in the Amsterdam air every time the ball was lofted into orbit, he did more to discombobulate Ajax than any amount of fancy footwork and attempted sorcery from the more illustrious colleagues around him.

With the sort of cruel irony that just about proves that the gods like nothing more than toying with the mortals below, this Ajax team who were so masterful and fizz-popping in possession that they made one dizzy just by watching, were utterly flummoxed by the most basic tactic in football. Time and again our heroes launched the ball to the big man, time and again he angled himself in suitably ungainly fashion to ensure that the ball apologetically bounced off him and into the general vicinity of Dele, Lucas and chums.

Naturally, being Fernando Llorente, he contrived to miss from two yards when the laws of physics seemed to dictate that it was impossible to do so; and naturally, being Fernando Llorente he spurned what appeared to be our final chance of the tie by heading over from a corner when unmarked in the dying embers. But nobody cares a jot, because Llorente’s value that night was priceless.

Seemingly created as a striker in concept alone, who adds value in theory, but abandoned by nature before any of the practical specifics of being a striker could be added, Llorente swung the game back our way before Lucas had even begun adjusting his sighter. All credit to him and Poch.

3: Dele’s Touch

Amidst the general bedlam, it was pretty easy to overlook the cutting-edge, shiny, 24-carat quality of Dele Alli’s soft dab of the ball into Lucas Moura’s path for the third.

The general mood around the campfire has been that Dele has owed a decent contribution for a while now. Not his fault, of course, that his season has been staccatoed by injuries, and there have been times when an outbreak of class has threatened. By and large, however, this has been another of those seasons in which one winces, and scratches the head, and generally starts digging for suitable excuses for the chap.

Last Wednesday however, the memo finally wound its way to the Alli grey matter, and he obligingly picked one heck of an occasion to make a handful of those flicks and flourishes finally count.

Observers first stirred at the sight of him making a Platt/Scholes-esque dash to the far post, early in the second half, only for his volleyed close-range mid-air shot to be patted away by the Ajax ‘keeper. The juices were however flowing, as, funnily enough, he seemed rather to enjoy life at the top of a diamond behind the front two.

I suspect that in setting up the first goal for Lucas he was trying to do it all himself, and might have thrown something of an arm-waving tizzy at his colleague for steaming onto the ball, had it not wound up in the net.

But it was the flick that set up the third goal that really had me purring. Well, I tell a gross untruth, because “purring” is not really the adjective to describe what madness ensued as the third rolled in – but the point is that it was an absolutely exquisite touch.

Simply to have the nerve to attempt a pass like that, at a time like that, with stakes like that, borders on the unfathomable. Watch the goal back for the 101st time and treat yourself to a goggle at the fact that he plays it the wrong side of the defender, and without even looking. How the dickens he knew that Lucas was curving his run into that area is beyond me, given that he was looking in the other direction completely, but that I suppose is why he earns the hefty envelope.

4: Danny Rose Starting The Comeback

A loving pat on the head also for Danny Rose – who no doubt would enjoy that sort of thing – for getting the ball rolling, in a matter of speaking. Three down on aggregate, his nutmeg on the Ajax chap, followed by cross-field pass to Lucas, set the whole comeback in motion.

Of course if one wants to trace the origins of the thing back even further one could start heaping credit upon Sonny for feeding Rose in the preceding moments, or Paul Stalteri for haring into the West Ham penalty area, because these things are all part of the sequence of contributory events don’t you know? It was, however, a slick little piece of skill.

5: Hugo’s Saves

Since I’m here and dishing out gold stars in slightly scattergun fashion, I might as well gobble down a frog’s leg and raise une verre to Monsieur Lloris, for a couple of critical saves that kept the thing simmering along nicely.

Stick the ball at his feet and one is inclined to dive behind the nearest sofa and cover the eyes, for fear of what fresh hell might unfold.

However, tell the chap to stick to the business of leaping hither and yon with arms outstretched, and he gets the gist in double-quick time. At 2-2 on the night, and with the clock ticking down in that ominous fashion so typical of the things, Lloris was called upon to do produce the cat-like stuff, and he did not fluff his lines.

6: Everyone’s Positioning At The Final Goal

I have to admit to raising a particularly quizzical eyebrow at the manner of Christian Eriksen’s immediate post-match interview, in which he gave the impression of struggling to stay awake for sheer boredom, even as the walls of AANP Towers were resounding to the clatter of yells and leaps and a general orgy uncontainable excitement. However, if Eriksen spoke one truth it was that tactics rather packed their bags and exited the premises sharpish in that second half.

The introductions of Llorente for Wanyama, and Lamela for Trippier, gave pretty broad hints that as attempts at conventional 4-5-1s and 4-4-2s were bringing little joy, the approach would swiftly alter to more of an Everyone-Pelt-Forward-At-Every-Opportunity-And-Let’s-See-How-It-Lands.

And so we ended up in that last minute with Sissoko starting the attack from a sweeper position (which made some sense because, as we now all recognise, the chap is actually a football genius); Eriksen and Ben Davies alongside him; Toby and Jan desperately edging into wing-back positions; Sonny as a deep-lying midfielder; and everybody else haring straight up the middle in attack. And all this about thirty seconds after Hugo had raced into the opposition penalty area.

It was glorious stuff, utterly in keeping with the all-action-no-plot madness of the game, and fully justifies the constant re-watches, because one never really tires of watching the careering reactions of absolutely everyone involved.

To say nothing of Lucas himself, who seemed only to touch the ball on the three occasions in which he planted it into the net with the dead-eyed precision of a sniper (plus, I suppose, the extraordinary dribble of an uncle toying with his nephews that set up his own second).

Quite why there is a three-week wait for the Final is anyone’s guess, but if it allows more time to revel in the absolute glory of Amsterdam, then it gets the AANP vote.

Spurs 4-0 Huddersfield: Five Tottenham Observations

Parish Notice: do cast an eye on AANP’s YouTube channel for additional witterings

1. The Ongoing Evolution of Sissoko

Convention usually dictates in such exalted circumstances as these that the celebratory fizzy pop commemorating the Man of the Match be bestowed upon the scorer of the hat-trick. Being the anarchic type however, I am willing to question the validity of such a call, for there were a couple of other notable performances.

Moussa Sissoko has been long established as a pretty vital cog in this machine, and the improvement in his doings continues with each game. He now really is emerging as the heir to Dembele’s throne, no longer simply a barely-connected bundle of limbs, but now offering a regular injection of energy in bringing the ball forward from halfway in irresistible fashion.

Admittedly he does not possess the grace and finesse of Dembele, but he is nevertheless jolly effective in what he does. And in fact, pretty much his first touch of the ball today – a 360 degree pirouette away from trouble – displayed a hitherto unseen finesse that set the tone for his performance thereafter.

Where once we would turn to Dembele to bring the ball forward and defy all attempts to displace him, now Sissoko performs that role with some relish. In a game in which we spent much of proceedings simply keeping possession and toying with Huddersfield, Sissoko’s forward forays were a regular threat.

2. Llorente Channels His Inner Teddy

Another fellow whose afternoon was full of right and proper content was Senor Llorente. As vocal a critic as I generally am of the chap’s limited mobility, I am also a swooning admirer of his velvet touch, particularly when cushioning passes into the path of chums, and he delivered several dollops of the good stuff today.

There was something of the Sheringham about him, as there often is when he is on song. He as often as not plays the way he faces, and if that means he has his back to goal and is going to dab the ball whence it came, into the gallop of an onrushing support act, then he will dashed well do so.

In hindsight I think Llorente benefited more than most from the early two-goal biff that effectively ended the competitive nature of the game. Where the elongated bean often labours, with the weight of the world on his shoulders as he feels the pressure of deputising for Kane, the fact that the game was won so early had a delightfully liberating effect upon him, and he simply pottered around enjoying himself.

As well as his link-up play with back to goal, he also sniffed around at chances like nobody’s business, with a couple of flicked headers indicating that the compass was in decent working order, and a couple of shots from his size elevens requiring the flailing of various Huddersfield limbs to deny him.

Most impressive was his gorgeous control and clipped shot off the bar, early in the second half, which demonstrated a touch that was about as silky as they came. Dashed shame that that did not go in, but by and large it was a handy old stab at things.

3. The Good and Bad of Juan Foyth

The very public education of Juan Foyth continues apace, with all the usual trademarks on show. It made perfect sense to choose an occasion such as this to continue to blood the young imp, with Huddersfield offering only minimal threat throughout. For the majority of proceedings, young Foyth crossed defensive t’s and dotted defensive i’s with that usual appearance of assurance. The meat and veg of defending, he generally got right.

The problems seem to occur more once he’s already won the ball, and the elaborate process of deciding what action to take next begins unwinding in his mind. Oh, that the little voices simply whispered to him to release the ball to the nearest lilywhite shirt and be done. Instead, Foyth will typically ignore the cause of sanity, and be seduced by delusions of grandeur that see him eagerly try to start attacks, cure cancer and solve Brexit.

The notion that opponents might try to rob him off the ball seems the last thing on his mind, and so today he was occasionally the victim of many an attempted tackle while weighing up distribution options, or attempting to shoulder-drop and Cruyff-turn his way out of slightly precarious spots.

However, his decision-making will improve with experience – games like today undoubtedly will help – and in time, his combination of defensive solidity and ability to bring the ball forward ought to make him quite the asset. A tip of the cap too, for his instigation of our second goal.

4. Delightful Finishing

The sight of four well-taken goals certainly added a dash of class to proceedings.

Moura’s first and third harked back to a glorious, simpler age, in which boots were black, games kicked off at 3pm and goals were scored by blasting the ball with every ounce of strength. They were joyous to behold, and struck with the sort of pure technique that makes you want to add an extra splash to your afternoon restorer.

Wanyama’s nifty footwork also merits praise, for as Sissoko demonstrated in gory detail at Anfield recently, these chaps who are unused to the heady heights of the opposition box can get themselves into an awful muddle when through on goal.

No such trouble for Wanyama, who danced his way in with the assuredness of a seasoned goalscorer. And all the more important for being the opening goal, struck early. Serene though the whole affair might have been, our nerves may have jangled a couple of bars had we reached, say, the half-time mark or beyond without a goal.

5. A Triumph for Squad Rotation

Easy to say in hindsight, but Our Glorious Leader certainly judged his team selection to perfection. With injuries to Messrs Kane, Alli and Winks a degree of prodding and poking was already required, and while the rotating of full-backs was standard Pochettino fare, the additional omissions of Toby and Sonny did prompt a rather nervous chew of the lower AANP lip. The thought flitted across the mind that this might be one tweak too many.

A nonsense, as it transpired. All involved performed creditably enough, the game was sewn up in double-quick time and the cherished limbs of Toby and Sonny were protected from any prospective rough and tumble.

Many a sagacious type has suggested that while our Starting XI is a match for most, our squad depth verges somewhat on the lightweight, and I suppose in comparison to some of our cash-rich rivals this has a degree of truth to it. However, conscientious types like Davies, Walker-Peters, Wanyama, Foyth, Sanchez, Lucas and Llorente have comfortably have enough to best bottom-of-the-table rot, and as gambles go, this one proved one of the safest in town.

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Dortmund 0-1 Spurs Bottlers: Six Tottenham Observations

1. The ‘Thou Shalt Not Pass’ School of Defending

Hindsight being a pretty flawless sort of gem, it is easy for us to playfully nudge each other’s ribs and chortle, “Well that was pretty easy pickings, what?”

But being Spurs fans in general, and having sat through the first 40-odd minutes in particular, I think we can probably all swiftly reach a consensus that this was actually one heck of a delicate operation, and one which, but for six inches here and a millisecond there might have seen us one or two down by half-time and stewing in our juices like nobody’s business.

A three-goal lead we might have held at kick-off, but Dortmund came out of the traps at a fair old lick, and emanated the strong whiff of a team that would go on to nab a second, third and fourth if they could just get that first.

Enormous credit is therefore due to the entire N17 cast for defending as a team, particularly in the first half. Like those rather natty shoals of about a hundred fish that you see weaving this way and that in perfect synchronisation, as if controlled by a single mind, our defence and midfield diligently shuttled hither and thither as Dortmund prodded away like the dickens.

Normally this sort of guff wouldn’t earn a second glance at AANP Towers, where the teeth have been cut on a strict diet of the non-stop, all-action swash and buckle that has lent its name to the place; but there is a time and place for such things, and the drill last night was quite rightly to keep the door shut at all costs during the initial blitz.

This is not to say that our heroes were flawless in their defending as a collective. Had they been, there would not have been need for the last-ditch heroics peddled by Messrs Lloris, Vertonghen and Davies at various junctures.

Nevertheless, I got the impression that if one were to pluck a lilywhite at random and slice him open, one would have discovered intense concentration levels and a strict game-plan coursing through his veins. Our lot were hell-bent on keeping Dortmund at bay.

2. What Lloris Does Best

So as mentioned, the generally topping work done by all eleven was embellished in timely fashion by a couple of goal-worthy challenges from certain members of the back-five; and when even these lines were breached, Monsieur Lloris produced the sort of performance that in truth he’s probably owed us for the past couple of seasons.

Some saves were straightforward, and some were absolutely first rate. Usefully, Lloris was not in discriminatory mood, and did the necessaries with all of them.

In a way, the slightly desperate, last-ditch, backs-to-the-wall nature of the thing in the first half played neatly into Lloris’ hands. The chap seems to be at his best when instinctively thrusting out a paw to repel a close-range snapshot.

Shoot at his legs and there is a moderate-to-good chance the ball will find a way through. Ask him to come dashing from his line to mop things up and any sort of fresh hell might transpire. But simply fire the ball at him from a distance of 5-10 yards, as Dortmund did repeatedly in the first half, and he’s precisely the sort of nib you want manning the phones.

3. The Ironic Need for Sideways and Backwards Passing

Not that Lloris’ heroics and the collective spirit of defence made the first half much more bearable. For all the thrill of seeing a Davies limb extend or a Vertonghen toe intercept, the respite rarely lasted more than around 5 seconds before the next Dortmund wave was upon us. For almost the entirety of the first half we were unable to retain possession, our on-the-ball subtlety rarely extending beyond simply blooting the thing to halfway and trying to regroup for the next yellow attack.

In between staving off heart attacks, the thought did strike me that we would have benefited immensely from a spell of possession, just for its own sake. Not with the aim of pelting towards the Dortmund area in search of an away goal, but simply to relieve the pressure.

Instead, out on the greenery, the only intention seemed to be to launch the ball north, in the hope that Kane and Son might magic a goal out of nothing. The net result was that neither were able to hold up play and we were immediately back under the cosh. What we were crying out for was actually a spot of sideways and backwards passing, with zero attempt to encroach on Dortmund territory, and every intention of simply controlling the game for a few priceless minutes.

Being the sort of egg who’s all for a spot of irony during their daily routine, it did strike me that in recent weeks I have hit something pretty near apoplexy at the sight of Toby, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Winks and Sissoko pinging the ball sideways and backwards ad nauseam. When the games against Burnley, Chelsea and Arsenal were absolutely howling out for some urgency, invention and blasted forward forays, our heroes intransigently pivoted, and pivoted, and then rolled the ball sideways.

Contrast with last night, when all they seemed capable of doing in the first half was attempting unnecessarily and unsuccessfully to force the ball forward. I don’t mind admitting I swept a hand across the fevered brow on more than one occasion.

Mercifully, the penny dropped from about the 40-minute mark, as Dortmund’s enthusiasm for the chase dwindled. Thereafter, our heroes began to look like they were starting rather to enjoy themselves. Aware that it simply did not matter whether they passed forward or backward as long as they retained the ball, they began to lead Dortmund a merry dance, occasionally feinting to attack, and then rather cruelly about-turning and shuttling the ball across the back-line.

4. Kane Adulation

And that, in truth, was pretty much that. Half-time arrived with our heroes in possession, and the early second half goal gave every one of us the opportunity to indulge in a good, old-fashioned spot of exhaling.

Being an absolute machine, Harry Kane did not pause to mess around when presented with his one and only chance. The chap’s Champions League stats already boggle the mind a tad, and the circumstances around his goal yesterday were impressive – one might make the case that the very best strikers need only one chance in the crunch games, and Kane is very much of that ilk.

On top of which, he spent much of the rest of the game pottering around winning free-kicks while strongly outnumbered. A cracking performance from whichever angle one views it.

5. Why Hello There, Eric Dier

A tip of the hat also to Eric Dier, who returned from witness protection looking like these were the circumstances for which he had been born to play.

Thrown on with half an hour to go, instructed to protect the back-four and generally ensure no alarms, he did so with discipline and aggression, as one would expect, but also threw in a neat line of simple and effective short passes that kept the pressure off and gradually sucked the will to live from the Dortmund mob.

With Winks and Sissoko seemingly playing every minute of every game these days, and hobbling off accordingly, the return of Dier, particularly in this sort of mood, is most useful.

6. All Grown Up

Two years ago our heroes were gifted a fairly straightforward draw, and failed to progress from the group.

One year ago our heroes topped a group containing Real Madrid, then outplayed Juve for all but 13 minutes over two legs, and failed to progress past the Round of 16.

This year our heroes have delivered absolutely textbook Home and Away leg performances, and now gambol on to the Quarter Finals. The evidence mounts in pretty compelling fashion to suggest that they improve year on year.

No doubt they will continue to lose the occasional game against big teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’) and occasionally lose to smaller teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’), but the two very different and devastatingly effective performances in this tie – following a group stage in which we faced elimination unless we scored in the last 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and six fixtures – points towards a team that is getting the hang of this lark.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Spurs 1-0 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Sonny Saves The Day Again

As will be familiar to those who regularly stop by these parts, the AANP take on the midweek win against Newcastle brought peltings with rotten fruit in the Comments section, for the admittedly reckless decision to omit from the list of the venerated Son Heung-Min.

With that in mind, and given that the lively young bean scored the critical goal yesterday, it seems only right to shower him with all manner of praise.

In truth however, through no particular fault of his own, he was a little muted yesterday. The spirit was as willing as ever, as he buzzed hither and thither, and even when at a standstill his legs appeared slightly blurry with movement. Newcastle, however, had been up all night poring over their homework notes, with the result that they swarmed all over Son like he was a homing beacon, and for much of the game he was crowded out.

Mercifully, the chap is fleet of foot, and it is to his credit that he conjured from pretty much nothing a yard of space yesterday, and did not wait for a second invitation to leather the heck out of the ball.

Having flown around the world twice, and been out on his feet at the conclusion of the Newcastle match, Sonny’s contributions, particularly in the absence of Kane and Dele, have bordered on the super-human, injecting moments of inspiration when we have needed them most.

2. Vertonghen’s Exciting Day Out

Our Glorious Leader sticking to his principle that to play a wing-back in consecutive games would be madness of the highest order, and with Davies still absent injured and young Walker-Peters too dashed right-footed, there was a rare day out on the left flank for AANP’s close chum Jan Vertonghen.

As social experiments go it made for interesting viewing. Nature having decreed that any and all useful output should emanate from the chap’s left stem, he was at least appropriately balanced for left-backery. However, Vertonghen is a man of pretty lengthy proportions, sinewy and elegant, well-designed for tackle and stretch, and not necessarily the obvious pick for lung-busting runs along the flank, with chest thrust and muscles throbbing, a la Danny Rose.

It meant that the fellow did not necessarily look entirely at ease as he set about trying to make a fist of the role, life’s accelerations and bursts not coming entirely naturally to the chap.

Not that his team-mates gave the mildest hang about his travails, for the Player X-to-Vertonghen routine seemed a pretty well-rehearsed one, and pretty swiftly became the option of choice as Newcastle barricaded the various other routes to goal.

To his credit, Vertonghen beavered away as instructed, and while his crosses missed as regularly as they hit, he had a decent amount of joy, and gave our heroes a viable option throughout.

His eventual replacement by Rose nevertheless made sense as we switched to 3-5-2 in the closing stages, Rose being more genetically disposed to go hurtling down the flank. All told, the use of Vertonghen as left-back is probably not going to be nailed on for generations to come as the tactical ploy of choice, but for a random joust against a Newcastle mob set upon deep, deep defence it was at least moderately successful.

3. Llorente’s Impact, Again

Having lambasted Llorente whenever the opportunity has presented itself in recent weeks – and on several occasions when no such opportunity has existed, but the urge has simply become too strong – lovers of irony were in their element yesterday as I bemoaned the unfortunate egg’s absence throughout.

With our lot camped outside the Newcastle box, and the entire Newcastle lot camped within, the case for airborne crosses was pretty compelling, and the stage seemed set for Llorente to peddle his wares. Alas, the pairing of choice was Moura and Son, whose prowess on terra firma is unfortunately not matched by any particular renown in the air. A couple of decent headed chances popped the wrong side of the posts, and by and large we were kept at arms length by the massed ranks of Newcastle bodies.

Not to criticise Poch for this particular call, mind. Llorente has been used on a near-constant basis since Kane’s untimely departure, so there was some sense in rotating him out. And one might opine that the plan actually worked to perfection, given that the chap then set up Son’s goal when he was ultimately introduced.

4. Late Goals When Most Needed

So for the umpteenth time this season our heroes have come up with a late, late goal send us all home with a sentiment somewhere on the scale between relief and buoyancy. Much more of this and folk will start accusing us of having mettle and grit and not bottling our affairs.

More serene, comfortable victories would obviously be preferable, but I must confess to a little thrill at the manner in which we can now enter the final furlong still needing a goal but with an underlying sense that actually we might dashed well go and grab one from somewhere.

We almost certainly will not win a trophy this season, but it appears that another string is being added to the lilywhite bow, as we have now become one of those teams who can eke out goals in the dying embers.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Chelsea 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. The First Half: As Rotten As I’ve Seen

The first half was just about as rotten as we’d all feared. We Spurs fans are rarely the most optimistic breed at the best of times, but with our three leading lights absent and Llorente as the nominated focal point, the mood pre-match was one of undiluted dread, a sentiment that proved entirely justified in an opening 45 that was dross of the highest order.

Most of that period was spent simply haring around in the slipstream of the Chelsea lot, barely laying a foot on the ball and generally giving the sense that an almighty thrashing was in the post and on its way.

Llorente seemed to pick up where he left off against Fulham, seemingly unable to find a team-mate if his life had depended on it, and he received precious little support from a midfield that seemed to view the ball with the gawking confusion of a group of wide-eyed innocents being introduced to it for the first time.

One rather felt for Eriksen, who stood head and shoulders above his teammates, but who all too often tiptoed his way around numerous snapping ankles only to look up and find that not a soul was in the vicinity to offer support. Or that Llorente was there, which essentially amounted to the same thing.

2. The All Action Second Half

The transformation amongst our mob in the second half was of the sort normally reserved for cartoon characters with little concern for realistic plot devices.

Our Glorious Leader, for so long a manager who seems to have treated a football match as a cinematic experience to be enjoyed passively and in a silent spirit of non-interference throughout, took it upon himself to switch to a back three, which gave Danny Rose in particular the licence to hare upfield with the sort of zeal that one would rather not argue with.

And aside from the tactical change, the whole bally gang of lilywhites took to the second half with a frenzied determination if not exactly to strategically out-manoeuvre Chelsea, chess-like and subtle, then at least with a frantic spirit of all-action-no-plot frenzy that seemed to rely upon living by the sword and dashed well dying by it too. It was marvellous fun, albeit pretty wearing stuff for the nerves.

3. Llorente’s Moment of Redemption. Good Egg.

The first half might have gone on for several days and we would not have got anywhere near scoring; but within five minutes of the second half we had done the business, and I think only those of the most heartless dispositions could have failed to feel some pleasure for Senor Llorente.

I’m quite happy to admit that I was amongst the most vocal in chiding the wretched chap at the weekend for his buffoonery, so his perseverance last night was worthy of some grudging admiration; but his headed goal merits a far more sincere slap on the back and splash of the good stuff.

A combination of brute force and bravery, when it would have been easy for him to sulk and mope and just give up on the whole dashed thing, it was impressive stuff (even if the hope it thereby provided did ultimately make the eventual defeat all the more galling).

4. Gazzaniga Passing

Although there was a deflection en route that perhaps messed with his mechanics, I was not exactly bowled over by Gazzaniga’s attempt to repel Kante’s goal; but the chap’s distribution is fast becoming one of the more impressive sights to behold.

We’ve seen it from him a few times now, this inclination to volley the ball from his hands deep into the heart of a panicky opposition defence, and Gazzaniga was at it again last night, niftily straddling that line between a hopeful, moronic punt and a devilishly identified and executed ping of a wonder-pass.

The pass that set Eriksen free on the right very nearly created The Best Goal Ever – Llorente, in one of life’s more unsurprising developments, failing to make a clean connection with Eriksen’s cross.

Then Gazzaniga set Moura free on the inside left, and the ensuing volley was only a few inches away from being another goal the aesthetics of which would have flown through the roof.

Lloris presumably retains the edge for his instinctive shot-stopping, but Gazzaniga’s passing is one heck of a string to his bow. I look forward to his next foray in the FA Cup on Sunday.

5. Injuries

Ultimately it was not to be, and we might as well have exited the competition at the first hurdle (although I think the win at the Emirates did a world of good, so silver linings and all that muck).

The sight of Davies limping off after half an hour actually caused me not a jot of upset – as, it might surprise my public to know, I’ve never been the most ardent supporter of the young bean – but the principle of another day bringing about another injury is about as much as any sane chappie can bear.

The lunacy of the summer transfer policy is not just an elephant in the room, it’s an entire herd of the things. Almost every one of our players who went to the World Cup has since picked up some form of injury, and we have barely had a week free of a midweek fixture.

The official party line of not buying players who cannot improve upon the current starting eleven is being exposed as utter tosh with each passing day, for we simply need additional players just to take to the pitch. If no better players can be bought, buy players of equal quality and field them instead, rather than fielding the same honest souls every game until they literally break.

Alas, there seems little likelihood of any of this changing, and frankly we seem more likely to sell than to buy this month. It’s a dreary append to an oddly glorious failure.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Everton 2-6 Spurs: Six Tottenham Observations

1. Our Glorious Front Four

If you are anything like me you might have tucked into your pre-match reviver with a nervous frown on your lips, because “Everton (away)”, as the first of four bashes in ten days, while not exactly having us barricading the doors and praying for divine intervention, nevertheless seemed a fruity prospect. Local intelligence dictated that a stern test awaited.

But then what does local intelligence know? Even when Everton went ahead, our rapier-like attacking thrusts had already been dropping hints like the dickens that our front four were in the mood for running amok, and at a hefty lick too.

Options wait eagerly in the wings – Lamela looked his usual rather arrogant, niggly self when unveiled in the second half, and Lucas, lest we forget, was talk of the town in the early weeks of the season – but there is little point arguing with the notion that Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Son are about as irresistible an attacking quartet as one might find if languidly spinning a globe, closing one’s eyes and jabbing one’s finger at it to compare the options from some other part of the world. Best simply to let the notion wash over oneself and embrace it. Those four, when on song, are as close as one gets these days to unstoppable.

It was as much the case at 0-0 and 1-0 down as it was when 1-3 up and beyond.

It certainly helped that Everton opted to fight fire with all manner of flammable material, essentially opening up the double doors, laying down a red carpet and inviting our attacking quartet to make merry as they pleased, with great yawning expanses all over the midfield and precious little protection for a pair of centre-backs faced with both Son and Kane in attack.

2. A Cautionary Note on Winks

Before tucking into the main course, a cautionary word about young Winks, who by and large admittedly had a whale of a time in the centre, but who is beginning to display a worrying tendency to bite off a darned sight more than he can chew.

Every now and then he seems possessed by the urge when collecting the ball to put his head down and wriggle away from approaching swarms as if it’s all just one sunny jamboree in the local park. I’m all for encouraging the chap’s inner Modric, but there a few delicate steps to be taken by the young muskrat before he can consider himself anywhere near that sort of celebrated level, and he would do well to keep things a dashed sight simpler for now.

Taking leaf out of the book of young Skipp might not be the worst move at the current juncture, Skipp bounding on for a brief cameo in which he did not put a foot wrong either in possession or out.

3. Sonny’s Goals

But back to the fun stuff. Specifically Son’s first goal, which boasted two constituent parts of considerable swash and buckle.

In the first place, the first time pass from Kane was the swivel-and-ping of a man having an absolute blast, and not really caring who knows it. As against Arsenal in midweek, he demonstrated how there is so much more to his game than simply planting ball into net, with both awareness and execution at the top of the dial.

Everton at this point continued their theme of seasonal generosity, with Zouma and Pickford making balloon animals and firing each other out of cannons before bumping into each other, tumbling into a clown-like heap and daring Sonny to shoot into an open goal from a fast-diminishing angle.

But by heck how well he finished. Sprinting in the wrong direction and with daylight seeping away by the millisecond, it was a brilliant effort.

4. Dele’s Goal

On another occasion I would have rattled away about the technique deployed by Dele to keep low his shot when the ball was bobbing and bouncing at him like an over-animated yo-yo, but when there are five other goals to choose from, Dele’s finish merits little more than a shrug and a polite ripple of applause, before we all excitedly chatter about the Eriksen volley or passing move for Kane or whatnot.

Mind you, the build-up to Dele’s goal had a hefty swig of punch to it. Sissoko’s one-two was fairly pleasing on the eye, and like a broken clock surprising us twice a day the big man also managed to nail a perfectly weighted pass, into the path of Son. The rest is history, but that build-up neatly encapsulated much that was sublime about our forward play today – swift, incisive passing, aided by intelligent, buzzy movement.

5. Eriksen’s Goal

Oh to have in any walk of life the ability that Eriksen has when striking a football. I suppose such things are a little easier to attempt at 3-1 up – the shoulders are less hunched, the spirit runs a little freer, the whole soul sways this way and that with a casual air as if to say “Well it doesn’t really matter either way, does it, whether I make a pig’s ear of this or the sweetest connection imaginable?”

And of course, this being Eriksen, he went down the route of a connection so sweet I pledged my undying love to it, there and then. Watch the replay closely and you’ll notice the ball itself is smiling as it flies in.

6. Kane’s Second

If you’ll excuse the disservice done to Trippier’s free-kick-taking abilities, I will coast blithely past Kane’s first, and instead cut straight to the business of ogling and salivating and stamping my feet at the second.

The numbers bods counted precisely umpteen passes in the build-up to this one, which I’m pretty sure automatically qualifies it for some sort of award for Services to Aesthetics. In fact, at the outset of the move, when our back-four and Lloris were carefully slipping the ball this way and that around our own area, my old man AANP Senior, whose lifetime of Spurs-supporting has understandably imbued him with a certain cynicism when watching, grumpily opined that he was not the most ardent supporter of the policy of playing out time in such joyless fashion.

Hush, aged one, I might have replied – but didn’t – because within approximately a dozen more glorious first-time passes in neat triangles around the hapless Everton mob, we were breaking away down the left like a bunch of escaped convicts breathing in glorious freedom.

Davies, in a rare moment of not-incurring-the-wrath-of-AANP, fed Son first-time, who whizzed it across to Kane first-time, who did what Kane does; and the whole thing had me purring away like a cat who stumbles upon a whole vat of the semi-skimmed good stuff.

So of the 4 games in 10 days, the least winnable one has been won. Traditionally I would sullenly mutter that we will probably undo all that good work in the next game or two, but this Spurs team repeatedly and pointedly demonstrates the stern stuff of which it is made, so shoots of festive optimism pop forth. Have a merry and blessed Christmas.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Arsenal 0-2 Spurs: Six Tottenham Observations

So all those “North London is red” cackles seem pretty ill-judged now. A peculiar bash this one, as Arsenal arguably had most of the chances, without ever looking in the slightest like winning. In fact the final 20 or so passed off with all the peaceful serenity of one of those delightful afternoon naps in the sun, when the greatest exertion is simply waving a lazy hand at passing flies.

1. Dele’s Goal

I trust the viewing public will understand if I dispense with chronology and skip straight to the evening’s highlight, because Dele’s goal was of the sort to be placed in a commemorative box and paraded at family reunions.

As part of the preamble the young scoundrel plucked Kane’s cross from the skies, which was neat and tidy but hardly the sort of stuff to have those in the stalls jumping to their feet and strewing flowers around.

At this point I think most self-respecting bookies would have pulled down the shutters and announced that they had stopped taking bets on ball ending up in net, because it was a fairly routine opportunity. And yet herein lay the beauty of the thing, because even before we mere mortals had a chance to process the sequence of events – and certainly before Master Cech in the Arsenal goal had had a chance to get his bearings and adjust his feet and wave his arms – Dele was already taking the plaudits, having dinked away with all the impudence of the Artful Dodger at his most artful.

Having spent much of last year over-elaborating simply for the heck of it, this season the point appears to have wormed its way into his brain that at his best he is on a level above most others on the pitch, and can therefore change games, rather than dribbling into odd little cul-de-sacs in midfield.

2. Kane’s Impact

Son, Lucas and Dele himself all buzzed around in their own ways, but each offered the same sort of thing in attack, if you get my drift. If glancing over the CV of each you would no doubt be impressed, but might struggle to differentiate one from the other with any emphatic judgement, and as a result all our attacks were cut from similar cloth – namely intricate and sneaky, with trickery at every corner.

Enter Kane, and within 60 seconds or so he had demonstrated a useful alternative piece of apparatus, and our lead had doubled. A goalscoring anomaly he undoubtedly is, but the young bean’s work in deeper pastures continues to boggle the mind. On this occasion it was trapping on his chest the sort of 50-yard punt that would have had an evens chance of sending me flying across the turf if I had attempted the same.

That done, he took one look, and weighted a pass into the path of Dele that pretty much begged to be despatched as a matter of decency.

3. The First Goal

And while I’m at it, it seems only right to pay a little deference to the first goal too.

Dele’s assist again illustrated the point made above, that when on song he effortlessly rises to a level above the rabble surrounding him. It was a pass identified while most onlookers were still adjusting to the bodies falling to earth around him, and executed to perfection.

And neatly finished by Sonny, just as my mind was flitting back to his saved one-on-one vs Barca around this time last week.

Naturally enough, with that impeccable judgement that his earned me my armchair seat a million miles away from the actual football, I spent the opening exchanges lamenting the presence of Son in a game of this feist. Certainly if you’re advertising for someone to lose 50-50 battles in the heat of battle, then he’s the man to hang your hat on.

But just trying to imagine having to defend against him makes me want to sit down in a darkened room for a few minutes and compose myself, and despite the Barca miss he is quite the dab-hand in front of goal. Many a time and oft I have used these pages to vent an anguished howl or two at our wastefulness in front of goal; yesterday the mantra on all lilywhite lips was “Clinical finishing”.

4. The Weekly Sissoko Adoration

Well, almost clinical finishing. The one notable chance that went begging was that which fell to Moussa Sissoko, and such is the chap’s tortured history in front of goal that as he the ball rolled invitingly towards him most self-respecting bookies were pulling down their shutters and announcing that they had stopped taking bets on ball launching into orbit.

Apart from that he did not put too many feet wrong. His performances have become a mesmerising phenomenon. He remains utterly imperious, and yet this being despite – as the skied shot illustrated – so oddly lacking in the finesse of a natural footballer.

However, as Arsenal had done to us a couple of weeks back, so last night we successfully strangled the life out of them every time they touched the thing, with an instant press that no doubt had onlooking packs of hounds nodding admiringly; and Sissoko – along with the indefatigable, if error-riddled, Winks – was central to the mechanics of this.

5. Gazzaniga Reassures Again

Elsewhere, Paolo Gazzaniga continues to throw a few choice lumps of earth over the grave of Michel Vorm’s Spurs career. His shot-stopping is what most obviously catches the eye and no doubt brings him the glamorous women and fast cars, and as if to hammer home the point he thrust out his paws to such good effect last night that they were worth a couple of goals.

It is praise of a pretty dashed high order to state that when I see his name on the teamsheet, the second thought that springs to mind is that there is no need to panic about the absence of Monsieur Lloris. (The first thought is, naturally, to reminisce about our first Gazza.)

A stern eyebrow did however waggle northwards when Gazzaniga took his Lloris impression a little too far and began fooling around with the ball at his feet, a block-headed move that very nearly let Arsenal back into the game, but the broader point remains that he is an entirely able deputy between the sticks – and that puts him streets ahead of Vorm.

6. Davies At Centre-Back

A final observation on the personnel was young Ben Davies. Never exactly a favoured son here at AANP Towers, primarily due to being pretty thoroughly average in all respects, I’ve been intrigued to see the chap nudged into the left side of central defence in recent days.

This is not quite the bold and pioneering manoeuvre it might appear on first glance, Davies having cut his teeth on the left side of a back-three while on national duty, but to see the chap become our fifth centre-back of the season has still been enough to prompt chattering amongst the paying punters.

When passing judgement it is easy to suggest that he is better suited to life at centre-back than dashing up the wing, simply by virtue of not being required to do any attacking or, more pertinently, deliver any crosses. Whereas at left-back his crosses either into the first opponent or ballooned into vast expanses beyond the back post have me tearing out my hair, at centre-back he is required to concentrate on defence and defence only.

And this, to his credit, he did solidly enough. His reading of the game was sound, and as a result he made useful interceptions throughout the piece.

His was not an entirely blameless showing, mind. After the Gazzaniga first half error Davies took the wild thin-air swing of a man testing a newly-attached limb for the first time; but by and large the experiment proved successful – and also spared young Foyth what might have been a tortuous return to the lions’ den.

So a good night all round, and while the fixture pile-up does begin to sport a rather ominous look about it, superiority over that horrible lot down the road has been reasserted with minimum fuss.

Need a last-minute Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Leicester 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

I’m not sure how public opinion will come down once the votes are in, but by my estimation this ranked amongst the best results of our season.

Before you gather your rotten tomatoes and start flexing your throwing arm, consider the evidence. Leicester, though not world-beaters, are no slouches, and had been in pretty rare fettle prior to last night’s events. On top of which, this rather cruel habit of the Fixture Gods, of scheduling a game every five minutes or so, continues unabated. Barcelona await on Tuesday, and to that end, most crucially, we entered battle with our two key weapons safely ensconced in training gear on the bench.

Throw in the usual raft of injuries – Dembele, Sanchez, Trippier, Lamela, Wanyama – and by the time the preliminaries were done I was fully expecting our heroes to drop a couple of points at the minimum.

1. Life Without Kane and Eriksen

After his disastrous Foyth-For-Toby gambit around this time last week, I don’t mind telling you that AANP was in unforgiving mood when the teamsheet went up in lights, revealing both Kane and Eriksen to be surplus to requirements. The eyebrow shimmered upwards with displeasure, make no mistake.

Now admittedly, ever since the World Cup, yours truly has been near the front of the queue of those yowling that Harry Kane needs to be given the occasional night off with his feet up and a mug of something warming in his hands. Pretty rich, you might therefore say, of me to yowl with equal displeasure when that very same wish is granted. And you would in fact have a fairly watertight point.

But the nub of the thing is that to drop one key player at a time might seem like common sense, but to drop two in one go, dash it, is really taking one heck of a chance.

Or so the argument ran pre-match.

As things transpired, Our Glorious Leader played his hand to perfection, keeping our star men about as fresh as a particularly buoyant couple of daisies ahead of the date with Barcelona, whilst maintaining league form that, if not quite relentless, feels like it’s about seven eighths of the way there. A mumbled apology duly falls from the AANP lips and wings its way Pochwards.

That said, for around 45 of 46 first half minutes we did scuttle around with a distinct absence of cut and thrust.
Kane’s absence, while hardly something for which one can compensate with an insouciant shrug of the shoulders and a carefree whistle on the lips, is nevertheless one of those trials in life with which one learns to cope. Not even Sonny’s own parents would suggest that he has the bulk and build to hold up the ball like Kane, and indeed the chap seemed to present all the physical presence upfront of a particularly wet piece of card, but with his pace and trickery he is at least capable of posing a threat as a striker. Lucas similarly has enough about him to make an opposing defender scratch his head and curl a lip or two.

Eriksen’s absence, however, is an altogether thornier subject to broach over post-prandial coffee. Nobody else in the team can pick and execute his brand of scything chances, and while we can tinker with formation and personnel until blue in the face, we look a darned sight more ordinary without him. That we ultimately won at such a cigar-puffing canter is a credit to Sonny for his quite marvellous opener, and Dele for a fabulous all-round performance.

2. Dele

Dele has never quite blown my skirt up as one would expect of a 50-goal midfielder, but by the time the curtain came down on proceedings yesterday I was one of the first out of my seat strewing the stage with flowers and yelling for an encore.

Eriksen he might not be when it comes to unpicking a lock with minimal fuss and a hefty dollop of suaveness, but the young imp still has a heck of a lot of technique and good-old fashioned schoolboy skill in his size eights. Last night he took the opportunity to rattle through a back-catalogue of his Greatest Hits, doing a passable impression of a young Gascoigne in the process.

What really made the world a sunnier place was that his dribbling and flicks were integrated within a pretty sound all-round display of decision-making. Whereas previously he has simply hogged the ball for the heck of it, ignoring the imploring pleas of better-placed colleagues, last night he seemed surprisingly alert to the fact that passing the thing was a real and credible option, and he hit a healthy balance between solo dribbles and well-judged distribution.

One still gets the impression that he would rather gnaw off his own arm than dish out a pass, but he mixed it up to good effect. In the absence of Kane and Eriksen, he seemed quite happy to take the lead, and his goal – though marginally the wrong side of the law, if we quibble about these things – was as richly deserved by the individual as by the team.

3. Full-Backs: No Longer A Forte

I saw this point made in one of last week’s evening papers, so if you already caught it yourself you might want to potter off and pour yourself a cheeky whiskey at this juncture, and rejoin the action in a couple of paragraphs’ time.

It’s the old gag about the current vintage of full-backs vs the circa 2015/16 vintage. Back then, Walker and Rose struck the fear of God into just about any opposing wide-men and managers you cared to name. They genuinely were amongst the best in Europe, and in a team full of assets and prized individuals had made a pretty solid stab at being the pick of the bunch.

But, as the cliché so neatly puts it, what a difference a couple of seasons, a huge transfer fee and personal ambition in a right-back, and a bout of depression, homesickness and injuries in a left-back makes. Walker is off dancing with the stars, Rose is a puzzlingly neutered version of his old self, and whichever personnel we use these days one’s instinct as an onlooker is to hold the breath and fear the worst.

Trippier, for all his whipped crosses onto the ample Kane forehead, sits rather awkwardly within a back-four as opposed to outside a back-three, as if itching for someone else to do the defensive stuff so that he can motor on into attack.

Aurier, while having generally cut the wild and reckless horizontal lunges from his game, is still neither one thing nor another, being both average at defending his patch and middling at attacking another’s.

As for Davies, the blighter would have my hair going a rich and glistening shade of grey if he had not already caused me to yank out great clumps of it in sheer frustration. His defending, as with the aforementioned, is generally no more than adequate – and quite often a few shades short of even that.

And as for his attacking, I can barely remember the last time one of his crosses hit the sweet spot in the heart of an opponent’s area. The Data Analysts amongst you will I’m sure report that the majority of his crosses bounce harmlessly off the nearest opponent. Even his less adventurous distribution seems oddly ill-executed, with misplaced passes and frequent instances of his being dispossessed seeming to litter the highlights reel.

To his credit, his infield pass ultimately set up our second goal yesterday, but this struck me very much as one to be filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Rule’. The young sore’s calling in life may well be within the safety-netted no-man’s-land that is the left side of a back three.

In general however, whomever one picks from the models on offer, our full-back selection is no longer a thing of menace and threat.

4. Doing Remarkably Well – Despite Evidence To The Contrary

Getting back to the specifics, Leicester were oddly obliging about things once Sonny had struck oil right on the half-time gong, and the second half was about as serene as I’ve witnessed Spurs in seeing out one of these away wins.

Lloris did eventually have to make a couple of saves, but nothing of the ilk to have one clutching feverishly at the nearest friend for support. Toby and Jan were unruffled at the back, which bodes well for Tuesday and makes one yet again rue the team selection vs Arsenal, and while young Winks does often opt to for the safety-first option of a backwards pass when something a little more adventurous would not go amiss, his was a very secure performance, laced with an occasional forwards surge.

One cannot really go into the Barcelona game with any sentiment further north of hope, but even should the worst happen and we fall into the doom-laden pit of despair that is the Europa League, we still find ourselves in remarkably fine health. This despite playing 10 of 16 games away from home; despite ‘home’ itself now emitting a decidedly unwelcome whiff; despite muscle injuries for 9 of our 12 World Cup Semi-Finalists; and despite the fact that aside from one (vs Chelsea) and a half (vs Man Utd) games we have yet to play genuinely well, in the truest sense of the word, all season.

Start actually playing consistently well and good knows where we might end up.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

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