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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-0 Norwich: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lucas

To say that Lucas got the ball rolling would be to understate things somewhat. Just as we had all settled into our seats for some of the more standard N17 fare – some pretty touches in the middle, all a bit toothless upfront – Lucas suddenly dinked, dinked again and then unleashed an absolute piledriver, which almost tore the net from its moorings and carried it off into the Paxton.

This was pleasing on multiple levels. Innately, it always settles the nerves around these parts, to score early against the lesser teams. Just simplifies the whole process, if you get my drift.

Moreover, there is a certain thrill in seeing a goal of such quality unravel in the flesh, a stone’s throw away. Obviously, we the long-suffering onlookers will take any sort of goal, even be it a comedy ricochet between defenders’ heads that leaves Ben Davies marching away with his hands aloft – but when the goal is something straight from the top drawer, complete with fancy wrapping and a neat presentation bow, the eyes do widen and the chatter becomes increasingly excited.

And on top of all this, I was particularly pleased that such magnificence, and all the associated acclaim that will follow, emanated from the size nines of Lucas Moura. After a start to his lilywhite career that experts would probably decree ‘Middling’, the honest chap started to emerge under Jose as one of the more important cogs in the attacking machine. Towards the end of the Jose era, Lucas was let loose in the Number 10 position, and the scales rather fell from our eyes, as we started to understand what the fuss had been about in the first place.

That Number 10 berth gave him a decent platform from which to display his box of Mazy Dribbling Tricks, and, crucially, he seemed to have embellished the general product by adding useful outputs – finding team-mates or spanking towards goal, rather than heading off down a dead-end and falling over.

Via Nuno and now Conte he has become a regular within the front three, but generally acknowledged as the support act, even though his performances have continued to impress the paying public and discombobulate retreating opponents in equal measure. He has generally lived in the shadow of Sonny and that rotter Harry Kane, over the last season.

So (and if you’ve got this far, well done you, because I’ve admittedly taken a roundabout route to get here – much like the Lucas of old) to score – and to score that particular goal – yesterday, felt like a neat celebration of just how far Lucas has come, and just what an important contribution he makes to the overall machinery.

2. Skipp

On the subject of machinery, young Skipp is fast becoming the most important cog in the whole damn contraption. Remove him, and the whole thing will collapse in on itself, in a cloud of mediocrity and half-heartedness.

Within the space of four days Skipp has treated the luminaries of first Brentford and now Norwich as if they were Champions League Final opponents, charging after every loose ball as if his life depended on it. There is something vaguely of the Master-and-Apprentice about the way in which he goes about his feverish scrapping under the watchful, approving eye of Hojbjerg, but on current form the Apprentice now seems vastly more important to our play.

I suppose one should caveat that these most recent opponents hardly amount to the toughest he’ll ever face, but it would be a bit rich to denigrate the chap’s performance on that basis. He was excellent in winning possession, and also pretty effective on the ball, in his own endearing manner going to great lengths to ensure he could keep things simple.

Norwich being his most recent former employer, young Skipp even ventured up into the final third, to try his luck in front of goal and really commemorate the day, which I thought was no bad thing. There is no harm, after all, in adding another string or two to the bow. But in the main, this was a triumph for doing the dirty work in midfield, and allowing the more glamorous cast members to get on with the headline roles.

3. Ben Davies

I don’t know about you, but frankly the recent transformation of Ben Davies has me wondering about the very fabric of the space-time continuum.

It’s not clear to me what has happened to the Ben Davies I used to know and groan at, head disappearing into my hands in despair. That iteration of Ben Davies was one who plied his trade as an orthodox left-back, and could be relied upon to swing nine out of ten of his crosses into the first defender, behind the gathering penalty area queue or off into orbit. On top of which he never seemed the most cognizant of his surroundings when defending, seeming to have a blind spot for whatever or whomever happened to be lurking over his shoulder.

In truth, that blind spot when defending has not magically disappeared, but being on the left of a back-three seems to suit him well enough defensively, giving him cover on both sides.

However, the real transformation has taken place on the front-foot. The switch to the back-free has given Davies permission to mingle with the cool kids in the final third, trotting forward in some sort of inside-left position to supplement numbers. And to general amazement, he’s actually doing a dashed good job of it. His work for Sonny’s goal yesterday was impressively slick, and hardly an isolated incident. For a fellow who has turned being bang average in possession into an art-form over the course of his Tottenham career, Ben Davies is remarkably composed when visiting the opposition penalty area.

While left of a back-three is a position on which he has cut his teeth in international football, I’m not aware that his propensity to wander forward as an auxiliary left-midfielder has been quite so heavily promoted, so it may be that Our Glorious Leader deserves the credit for this astonishing transformation, but whatever its genesis long may it continue.

4. Sessegnon

Senor Reguilon’s unscheduled siesta yesterday gave us all an opportunity to drink in a good hour or so of the lesser-spotted Sessegnon.

The circumstance of his astonishingly block-headed Europa Conference red card does, of course, linger fairly fresh in the memory, so one might have forgiven him for displaying a nerve or two yesterday, but I think I adjudicate fairly enough when I say that the young egg put in a sprightly performance.

He was certainly a pretty enthusiastic soul, seemingly reading from the Oliver Skipp Playbook when it came to chasing down the foe and letting all and sundry know what he was about.

The reputation with which he came armed when first signed a few years back was that of an all-singing, all-dancing sort, armed with trickery, pace and an ability to deliver a good cross – one might say, a sort of anti-Ben Davies brand of left-back. Now in truth, not much of that was in evidence yesterday. I remember neither trickery, pace nor many particularly eye-catching crosses. He did, however, display enthusiasm by the bucketload, and engage in quite the set-two with his fellow whippersnapper on the opposing side (whose name escapes me).

As much as anything, it was heartening to see that the recent red card had not cowed him Sessegnon into a corner. A home game vs Norwich is probably as gentle a process of reintegration as one could wish for, admittedly, but with fixtures about to fly out from every available orifice it is useful to know that we have a Sessegnon primed and ready to step forward the next time Reguilon needs to book some annual leave.

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

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Spurs 2-0 Brentford: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Skipp

As esteemed a judge as Glenn Hoddle piped up to say that he thought young Master Skipp was pick of the bunch last night.

(As an aside, and before getting into the meat of things on the pitch, given Hoddle’s tactical knowledge, and the fact he bleeds lilywhite, the AANP heart does yearn for him to be involved in the club in some way on the inside, rather than from the outside in the commentary box. Just a thought, albeit an oft-recurring one.)

Back to young Skipp. Hoddle had judged well, for Skipp ferreted about the place from first whistle to last like a man born to mop up loose ends, breaking down Brentford attacks before they started with the sort of challenges that put hair on the chest.

Alongside him, Hojbjerg put in a pretty convincing impression of a metronome, ticking along steadily and repeatedly in fairly controlled manner. One might say this was moderately pleasing, eliciting perhaps a polite ripple of applause. Skipp however, the enthusiasm of youth seeping from his every pore, was the more energetic of the midfield pair, displaying the sort of blood and thunder that had the natives bellowing approval. Oh that all in lilywhite would set about their business with his attitude and energy.

Moreover, as an unexpected bonus, Skipp’s rarely-sighted attacking juices were on display yesterday. He played a gorgeous pass to set Kane through for a one-on-one in the second half, and was also buzzing forward to good effect in the build-up to Kane squaring for Hojbjerg’s miss.

2. Sanchez

If Skipp was impressing in most things he did, poor old Davinson Sanchez was somewhere nearer the other end of the spectrum.

The spirit is obviously pretty willing – after all no defender of sound mind would ever take to the field intending to be bullied by his opposite number, or to wobble around the pitch when the night calls for strength of mind and body.

But somehow, Sanchez wandered the place last night with the air of a chap not really convinced of his own ability, a perspective that seemed to be shared by a decent proportion of the 60,000 onlookers.

I am occasionally inclined to tilt the head sympathetically and point out, on his more testing days, that he had the misfortune to come up against a tough opponent. However, this being the Premier League, that eventuality is likely to occur in just about every fixture. Every opponent has a tough old centre-forward leading their line, and Sanchez has rarely looked at ease against any of them.

So it was last night. Some duels he won; but in too many for my liking he was rather too easily shoved aside. Both in the air and on the ground, the fellow seems only just about to have a handle on things, and a nameless dread lingered throughout that the next attack directed towards him might be the one in which his legs collapsed beneath him and Brentford sauntered through unhindered.

On top of which, the poor old lamb looks utterly terrified in possession, dancing around the ball as if he has never in his life seen such a contraption, whenever it is gently rolled to him, before awkwardly pivoting back towards goal and shovelling it to Lloris. All while Joe Rodon watches on from afar.

Still, with Romero out for the foreseeable, the sight of Sanchez riding his luck for 90 minutes is one we can expect to see a lot more of.

3. Kane

That rotter Harry Kane had another game in which the good and bad mingled pretty freely.

There is in general still a stodginess about his play, as if the turf turns to treacle beneath his feet, giving him heck of a challenge simply to lumber from Point A to Point B when in possession. In his defence, his cause was not helped by the swarm of opposing bodies that closed ranks on him whenever he neared the area. Nevertheless, the air exuded was not one of slickness and confidence (one might refer to the pass he played to Lucas early on in the piece, when he might have shot but didn’t, and then overhit the pass for Lucas).

In this context his second half miss was dashed frustrating, but in truth I doubt that anyone is too concerned on that front – if he is getting himself into positions for one-on-ones then the goals will flow soon enough. The greater worry tends to be when he boycotts the area and lingers in midfield.

To his credit however, his contribution in link-up play to our second goal yesterday was an absolute delight. Nothing melts the AANP heart like a well-weighted ball inside the full-back – and there were a few of them on offer yesterday, with Skipp, as mentioned above, and Winks each producing one that made me go a little weak at the knees. Kane’s into the path of Reguilon was weighted to perfection, and deserved nothing less than the goal that followed for Sonny.

4. Set-Pieces

Our lot started things in pretty ripe fashion last night, pressing high, winning the ball and generally charging about the place like a bunch who’d been told in no uncertain terms to buck up following the Mura debacle.

This early pressure brought as its princely reward a slew of corners – at which point AANP’s enthusiasm waned considerably. Because for some reason, our effectiveness from corners is near enough on a par with repeatedly banging one’s head against a brick wall. It’s an oddity, frankly, because there are enough strapping sorts in our line-up to cause aerial problems, and even those who are less hefty – Moura, Davies – can be pretty effective in such situations. And yet we never score from the dashed things.

Mercifully, the trend was bucked last night, albeit in a manner that was equal parts luck and good, honest comedy.

However, own-goal though it might have been, I heap praise on the slender frame of Sonny, who has managed to take the thankless and quite possibly cursed role of Spurs’ Corner Taker and turn it into a surprisingly effective weapon.

I’m not quite sure why the likes of Eriksen and Lo Celso – chaps you’d bet could literally land the ball on a postage stamp from twenty yards – completely malfunction when faced with a stationery ball next to a corner flag, but Son is proving himself pleasingly adept in this particular field. Not only does his delivery consist of the requisite proportions of whip and height, but the little variations he threw in yesterday, in engineering short-corners, were effective enough to bring us a goal.

This bodes well. In the same way that I loudly denounce each conceded set-piece goal as something of a nonsense, being so cheaply conceded, so I delight in what is essentially something of a freebie when we score from one.

(As an aside, I’m minded to pop down to Hotspur Way myself and pointedly show all and sundry a few videos of the old Sheringham-Anderton corner routine, which despite being devilishly effective has lain neglected for two and a half decades.)

And while on the subject of set-pieces, I was particularly pleased with how our lot coped with the barrage of long throws from Brentford. Not a fan of such things myself, but one has to stiffen the upper lip and deal with this type of nonsense, and ultimately our heroes did so effectively enough – a precis that might well be applied to the game as a whole.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Spurs 0-3 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Ben Davies

I suppose some liberal sorts might argue that it’s a little harsh to single out individuals for castigation after a collective performance as insipid as that. They would have a point of course, as pretty much all eleven selected delivered incompetence by the bucketload, but Ben Davies stood out for punctuating his usual mind-numbing mediocrity with a couple of errors that were notably costly.

That business of him losing both his man and his bearings in the moments immediately preceding the opening goal had a ghastly quality to them, the whole episode seeming to unfold in slow-motion and with a gloomy sense of inevitability about it. Even as the ball looped towards those concerned, it seemed as likely that Davies would take this manageable situation and mangle the dickens out of it, as that Ronaldo would take what was at that stage still a pretty challenging situation and turn it into a goal of serene beauty.

And both principals played their respective roles to perfection. Given the circumstances (which, lest we overblow this, should not be forgotten were pretty straightforward – a cross was delivered into his sphere of operation, The End) there were only a limited number of ways in which Davies could have made a pig’s ear of the job, so it was pretty impressive that he somehow managed to implement them all, simultaneously.

He completely lost track of the man he was marking (and not just any man, but Cristian Ronaldo for heaven’s sake), which struck me as a cardinal sin, but opportunity for repentance remained; however, he then failed to gauge that the cross was too high for him; and instead of abandoning his attempts to cut out the cross at this point, and focusing all energies on blocking the shot, he then leapt to head the ball, seemingly under the impression that he was actually eight foot nine.

If I saw my nephew pull off a stunt like that on the school field I’d yank him aside for a sharp word or two. To see an experienced, international defender make such a comically bad sequence of decisions had me yearning for something pretty strong to unscrew and swig.

By the time the third goal wafted in most onlookers were more concerned with brandishing pitchforks and baying for blood, but this should not distract from the fact that Davies was once again crucially culpable, he being the buffoon standing a few yards south of the defensive line, thereby keeping Rashford onside. Admittedly the entire back-four was in a state of disrepair by this point (Emerson having appeared at centre-back and Romero at right-back, for some reason), but Davies’ lack of basic common sense cost us.

These were the sort of lapses for which I would howl long and hard at Serge Aurier in the not too distant past, and they are hardly isolated incidents in the Davies tome of infamy. There was a bit of scrutiny on the chap simply for his selection in the first place, and I struggle to recall anything of value he offered in the attacking third. On the tried and tested AANP gauge of ‘Who Would Buy Them?’ if put up for sale today, I honestly doubt whether any Premier League team would take him. He seems a likeable sort of chap, and God apparently loves a trier, but I cannot stomach much more of him in our colours.

2. Lo Celso

In the debit column, one can point to the fact that Lo Celso did not make any mistakes that led directly to goals, which puts him on a more exalted pedestal than Ben Davies and various other associates yesterday, but this hardly prevented the sharpening of knives from all sides.

In recent weeks Monsieur Ndombele has been Number Tenning away for us, and while hardly cutting opposing defences to ribbons he has nevertheless shown in fits and spurts a little ingenuity and fleetness of foot. He pottered around a little deeper than was ideal against West Ham perhaps (albeit presumably under instruction), but by and large appeared to be starting to settle into the role.

The move to replace him yesterday with GLC was therefore a slightly rummy one. By all accounts, Lo Celso produced fairly middling fare when given a similar opportunity vs Burnley in midweek, so it seems hardly the case that he banged down the door and made an irresistible case for inclusion.

And while he was not exactly alone in this category, yesterday Lo Celso essentially offered little of note. Others, peddling their wares elsewhere on the pitch, could probably argue that while they similarly offered little of note, they had nevertheless made a decent fist of things without necessarily grabbing headlines and swanning around the place yelling “Me! Me! Me!”. But Lo Celso, in that central, creative spot is pretty much required by his job description to do precisely that.

And frankly, it’s a dream gig. Young Dele, one imagines, would bite of his own arm and quite possibly a couple of other limbs for the opportunity to fill that role. With fairly limited defensive responsibility, and such luminaries as Sonny, Kane and Lucas flitting in various directions around him, the stage was well set for the chap pretty much to dictate affairs. Somehow, alas, the fellow just never got going.

Previously I have noted, with some bewilderment it must be said, that Lo Celso does not seem to perform unless surrounded by pretty talented sorts, and as such he flatters to deceive when included in our second-string elevens. There was no such get-out for the chap yesterday however – he just failed to deliver any sort of goods.

In fact, the most notable contribution he made during the whole evening was to act as what I believe is known as a lightning rod – the raison d’etre of which was to channel the unfiltered rage and bile of 60,000 irate Spurs fans in a cacophony of abuse – for the assembled masses when he was not substituted, with Lucas instead rather inexplicably getting the hook. Fittingly, Lo Celso’s contribution to that episode was entirely passive, he simply stood and watched as someone else was taken off; yet it might well prove the straw that breaks the back of Nuno’s tenure.

3. Kane

Another day since trying to leave the place, and another performance offering nothing from that rotter Harry Kane.

In his defence, one could hardly suggest he was treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet by his chums in lilywhite. However, his current state of decline was neatly crystallised by that one opportunity for him to sprinkle a little sunshine into our lives in the second half, when he broke on the right but then seemed to trudge through quicksand when all around implored him to break into a sprint, before chipping the ball straight to a United body.

As mentioned, he can hardly be faulted for not being provided much service, but in general since that nonsense over the summer, he has looked like someone feeling who would still rather be elsewhere. One can forgive the chap for not scoring, or even for missing presentable chances when they do come his way (after all, not many angry fists were waved at him when his header against West Ham was saved), but the energy levels and body-language were, again, average at best yesterday.

It’s pretty disappointing stuff from a chappie that people trip over themselves to laud as a ‘model professional’. I hold up my hands and admit to having been happy to join the chorus of those who this summer were calling on the club to dig in their heels and resist selling him. I now rather wish that he and his sullen ways were someone else’s problem, and that we had wasted a large chunk of £120m on at least one over-priced forward to replace him.

4. No Shots on Target

To register no shots on goal across the entire 90 minutes, at home is pretty thick. All the more so coming only a week after hogging the ball, scratching the heads but not laying a punch on the opposition. It does make one hum and tick a bit, and make no mistake, the hills were alive with the sound of humming and ticking yesterday, with the natives registering displeasure at just about every opportunity

I can hardly pretend to be any sort of tactical expert, so it’s naturally a bit rich to lean across from AANP Towers and start hollering advice at those who live and breathe the game, yet at the same time I do sometimes fancy I’d saw off my own right leg just to see our lot shove the ball around a tad quicker. Just a spot of one-touch passing this way and that would make the opposition work up a bit of a sweat and give each other a worried glance or two.

Similarly, making use of a bit of a width going forward would, one hypothesizes, give us a few more teeth in attack – not necessarily to ping in Beckham-esque crosses (although they too would make a pleasant change) but simply to add weight and stretch the opposition, creating some space between them.

One does not have to look far to spot other teams – of lesser players, mind you – creating attacking opportunities simply by virtue of moving the ball in punchier fashion, using one or two touches per player, rather than four or five. Match of the Day was full of it. Brighton were making hay against the much vaunted defence of Liverpool, by virtue of one-touch football – meanwhile our lot gather together for long, ponderous conferences around the centre circle, each player pivoting twice or thrice, and dwelling on the ball for an absolute age.

Some of the various pundits queueing up to give the knife a bit of a twist have muttered about on-field combinations and understanding between players, and harking back one knows the sort of thing they mean – it’s a long time ago but I recall the understanding that gradually developed between Corluka and Lennon on the right, once upon a time, who while pretty odd bedfellows seemed to learn pretty swiftly when the other would stick or twist, to some benefit.

Comparing that to the current lot, it seems that the eleven on the pitch are perfect strangers, with nobody having the faintest clue what anyone else is going to do at any given point. The understanding that once existed between Sonny and Kane seems to have gone the way of all flesh. It would be nice to think that on the training pitch between matches our heroes practise a range of nifty interplays and combos, ready to display to the world each weekend – but on the evidence of yesterday it seems more likely that they all practise in isolation, possibly drilled in the fine art of loitering in possession for an eternity, and not much else.

This is not to suggest that simply popping the ball around faster and shoving the full-backs ten yards up the pitch would solve Tottenham Hotspur, cure Covid and put COP26 to rights – but I imagine it would improve the atmosphere about the place to see either some urgency, some semblance of a plan or both.

By all accounts the guillotine is being given a final spit and polish, and poor old Nuno is pretty soon to be the latest casualty of the Daniel Levy Massacre. He certainly conducts himself with decency by the sackful (which was an absolute gust of fresh air after the poisonous atmosphere of Jose), but he was pretty clearly a bad appointment – unwanted, with no history of attractive or successful football and without an obvious plan. As such, a 3-0 home defeat would make a pretty fitting epitaph.

Tweets and whatnot

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 West Brom: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lamela

It’s a rummy thing about life, and also a pretty essential cornerstone of democratic civilization, that two souls seeing exactly the same thing will draw vastly different opinions of it. With that in mind I appreciate that the view over here might not necessarily be universally shared, but I rather fancied that Erik Lamela deserves to have the rosette for being Star Performer pinned to his blazer today.

There were actually quite a few contenders, which is a rare treat, but I thought that from the off Lamela did much to set the tone. There may well be occasions on which Lamela adopts a cautious approach to life, taking a back seat and allowing himself a good half hour to get a sense of how events are playing out before getting involved; but this occasion was not one of those occasions. Instead, picking up where he had left off in midweek, he began proceedings with the air of a man pretty determined to get things done pronto.

Whenever a chum had the ball Lamela seemed to be on the move. Where in previous weeks whichever man were in possession would look up to find that all his friends had deserted him, today every time we had the ball – which was most of the time – a quick glance gave evidence of a nearby little blur of white, which on more considered inspection typically transpired to be Lamela scuttling into frame and pleading his case for involvement.

It proved a popular approach, for Lucas was in similarly supportive mood. The net result was a range of options for whomever was in possession, a treat the like of which in recent weeks has seemed a thing of wild fantasy. As a neat consequence there was variety to our attacking play, and chances came along at a pretty healthy lick.

In previous weeks the supporting roles to Son and Kane have been provided by Bergwijn, who is typically preoccupied with marking an opponent, and Ndombele, whose myriad talents could not truthfully be said to number amongst them ‘Limitless Energy’. The contributions of Lamela and Lucas therefore, simply off-the-ball and in providing options, made a massive impact.

It’s almost an afterthought, but when in possession too they performed handily enough, Lucas in particular seeming to delight in the opportunity to indulge in a few playground-esque wriggles around as many opponents as he could draw in.

2. Hojbjerg’s Passing

On the subject of the Star Performer rosette, what I believe in the trade is known as “An Honourable Mention” ought to be made for the ever-impressive P-E Hojbjerg.

So far, so AANP, I hear you mumble; but in the sort of plot-twist that typically happens around p. 195 and is greeted by gasps of disbelief, in this case the plaudits for Hojbjerg are not so much for the role of indefatigable caretaker (although it should be said that his caretaking was of the usual efficient and no-nonsense ilk) but instead for his surprisingly impressive forward-passing range.

This, I confess, took me by surprise. The point of stationing Ndombele in the deep-lying midfield role alongside Hojbjerg seemed to me to have been that the latter would roll up his sleeves and fly through the muck, precisely in order that the former might receive possession and pick out killer passes.

Instead, while Ndombele seemed often to wander off in the directionless manner one sometimes sees traced by snails along the ground – you know the sort, meandering around and back on themselves, with no clear end-point in evidence – Hojbjerg seemed to take it upon himself to combine the rolls of muck-flying and killer-passing. And he did the latter in particular with aplomb.

I recall he had shown in the game away to Man Utd a surprising knack for the weighted pass inside the full-back, a routine looked upon with particular fondness here at AANP Towers, and he was at it here again, sliding in Aurier deliciously in the first half.

Much has been made of the well-spotted and equally well-weighted pass to set up Kane’s opener, but it ought not to be overlooked that immediately prior to that he set the whole routine in motion by playing another ball inside the opposing full-back to pick out Ben Davies, in a mini-acre of space on the left wing. Ben Davies, being Ben Davies, took the blandest option available and wandered infield to little effect before giving the ball back to Hojbjerg, and from there the goal was duly assisted.

However, even Homer occasionally nods, and at one point Hojbjerg made a pig’s ear of things by allowing himself to be caught in possession and a West Brom counter-attack to magic itself out of nothing.

(But as it turned even this was drizzled in stardust, as the resulting passage of play saw West Brom pile men forward, only for our lot to pinch possession and set off on the counter-attack for our second. One is tempted to suggest that Hojbjerg, in his infinite wisdom, deliberately lost possession in order to draw out West Brom for the counter-attack – but this is maybe a little too fanciful.)

3. Kane

Inevitably, where there is a discussion of Star Performer rosettes, one need not wait too long before the distinctive brogue of Harry Kane is making itself heard, and in his understated – and at times, headline-grabbing – manner he was at it again today.

His radar was actually decidedly shonky in the early portions, but that particular wrong was righted in good time, and his equalling of Bobby Smith’s mark as our second highest scorer ever gave a handy moment for reflection on quite how magnificent he is.

However, as is often the case these days, his goal amounts almost to an afterthought, because it was the overall Kane display that got the juices flowing here. The whole game was, of course, a completely different kettle of fish from the Chelsea debacle in midweek, but nevertheless the contrast between Vinicius against Chelsea and Kane today could not have been much starker.

Where Vinicius was honest but limited as a fairly static and ineffective target man, Kane bobbed and weaved about the place, dropping deep as often as he headed to the uppermost point in the formation.

Naturally enough, West Brom were pretty spectacularly out of their depth when it came to handling him, and while they went through all the correct and official motions it was basically to little effect, because these days Kane just does what he wants and there is precious little that most defences can do to contain him.

The chest-off to Lucas for our second goal was a particular highlight, and the interplay with Lamela, Lucas, Son and, slightly oddly, Ben Davies, in the first half in particular, brought a bit of fun back into our football.

4. Jose’s Redeeming Tactics

All things considered I’m not sure this could have been more satisfactory if specifically hand-picked from a catalogue of such things.

Having wasted no opportunity to deliver both barrels at Out Glorious Leader in recent weeks for the style (was there ever a greater misnomer?) he has cultivated to such ghastly effect, it is only fair to give a faint but meaningful nod of the head towards him today for making such tweaks as were necessary, to both personnel and positioning of personnel. Even before kick-off, the teamsheet alone had an uplifting whiff about it.

Aside from the return to arms of Kane, which to the amateur sleuths amongst us wasn’t really as much of a shock as the BT commentator seemed to have it, in selecting his team Jose appeared to have set out with the express intention to win back some of the favour lost at AANP Towers in recent weeks.

Now if you don’t mind, at this point I’ll take a minute to delve into the technicalities, so by all means feel free to disappear elsewhere for a few minutes, and pick up again at the next paragraph. Essentially, by shoving Sissoko out of the picture, dragging Ndombele back into a deeper role alongside Hojbjerg, where once Sissoko had stood, and giving Lamela the freedom of N17 in the more advanced midfield role – where once Ndombele had stood – the whole setup looked infinitely better balanced than in previous weeks.

For whatever reason, and despite possessing many of the necessary attributes for the role, Ndombele is rarely at the peak of his powers when granted the dream role of Number 10. Instead his many talents seem better evidenced when getting stuck into the action from a deeper starting point, and particularly when excused of too many defensive duties, so his delegation in the deeper role today made good sense. Oddly enough, despite the tailor-made platform, his performance ended up being slightly muted, but it mattered little given that the eyes of everyone else on show fairly lit up from the off.

Admittedly one had to take certain accommodating circumstances into account, not least the fact that this was a West Brom team seemingly determined to be even more like Jose’s Tottenham than Jose’s Tottenham, taking every opportunity to sit back and defend their own area until they fell behind. To have set up in the face of this with the usual back-six would have been a bit thick even by Jose’s standards. Nevertheless, we showed precious little attacking intent recently against a similarly lowly Fulham, so the more progressive tweaks in personnel and position were very welcome today – even if the cynic inside me does suspect a return to drearier ways in upcoming fixtures.

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Spurs match reports

Wolves 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Jose’s Tactics

The natives, I think it is fair to suggest, are becoming restless.

Alan Smith comes across as one of the more tolerable followers of Other West Ham, being a cove not really given to the hyperbole of the majority of his colleagues on the telly-box, and a choice phrase of his yesterday neatly encapsulated the essence of Jose’s Tactical Mastery, trimmings and all. “The end justifies the means”, he opined, like an owl of the particularly thoughtful variety, and it was hard not to disagree.

No two ways about it, surrendering possession and defending for dear life, for an entire dashed game, saps the spirit and makes the eyes bleed. Watching a player as talented as Harry Kane receive the ball and promptly belt it into the atmosphere, falling to ground in the Wolves half a good fifty yards from anyone in lilywhite, felt like an act of treachery against the traditions of the club. But if it got us to near enough the summit of the table, then a good swathe of the lilywhite hordes would swallow it. Turning a blind eye, and all that. The end justifying the means.

Except that it’s now two defeats and two draws in the last four games. It would take a PR rep at the absolute peak of their powers to spin that rot as ends justifying means.

By the grace of God – and a few humdinging away days early in the season – we somehow remain fifth, and all is not lost. And despite the ghastliness of it all, I am quite open to accepting that against the likes of Man City, and Chelsea away, the tactic of defending at 18 yards and countering is a reasonable approach to life.

But when boasting two of the best strikers in the world, a fellow like Ndombele simply brimming with on-ball quality, some of the more progressive full-backs in the league, a raft of attacking options on the bench, and so on and so forth – to toddle up to a team slap-bang in the middle of the table and treat them with the defence of peak Barcelona is an absolute nonsense.

What the absolute devil would it have cost us to have tried to put together a couple of attacks between minutes 20 and 85 yesterday, in order to increase the lead and protect the three points thusly? I’m not talking about all-out attack with every man and his dog pouring forward and Hugo considering adding his presence in the area for corners; but simply trying to retain possession and work something around the edge of their area, something that might have allowed Kane and Son actually to receive the ball within shooting distance, rather than on or before the halfway line and without a soul ahead of them.

The percentages are stacked against us when trying to defend deep for an entire game, relying as it does not on not making a single mistake (or being on the wrong end of a ricochet or deflection) and being absolutely clinical, with zero room for error, when the one or two counter-attack chances do come our way.

And on a final side-note, for Jose then to face the cameras and declare that the fault lay with the players for not trying to score again was rot of the highest order.

2. Winks

In theory this ought to have been a good opportunity for Winks go peddle his wares. With a back-three behind him and a little less onus on him to spend his day putting out fires, it seemed there might be opportunity for him to dial into the ghost of deep-lying creative midfielders past and produce one or two Luka Modric impressions.

To his credit, Winks did have a stab at picking progressive passes. The criticism regularly bellowed at the lad from the AANP sofa is that he too often goes for backwards or sideways passes when a forward option is perfectly viable, but yesterday one could not fault his intent. He received the ball, he looked up, he passed forwards.

Alas, far too often, that was the extent of his success. Far too often those forward passes missed their mark, and possession was surrendered as a direct result of his input.

It must be a tough gig I suppose, suddenly starting and being under the spotlight after so long on the sidelines, and no doubt he was eager to please, but yesterday things just did not fall into place for him.

At this juncture I would normally be inclined to pat him sympathetically on the head and trot out something along the lines that there will be further opportunities – except that with a bizarrely vindictive man-child like Jose at the helm one never really knows if he will decide that he has had enough of Winks and cast him aside like an unwanted Christmas toy.

3. Ben Davies

The switch to a back-three featuring Ben Davies was an unsubtle nod to the talents of Adama Traore in opposition. Traore, a man whose muscles themselves have muscles, was tormentor-in-chief last time we faced this lot, so one understood Jose assigning to him his own private security detail.

When not pinging them in from long-distance in Carabao Cup Quarter Finals, Ben Davies earns his living by delivering 6 out of 10 performances with metronomic regularity, so I have to admit that his selection up against that Traore lad did have me shooting a nervous glance about me pre kick-off.

And in the first half, perhaps a little unfairly, I was a tad critical of his efforts. He held his position well enough, but it struck me that whenever Traore wished to breeze past him he did; whenever Traore wished to deliver a cross he did. Ben Davies did not neglect his post, but neither did he do much to prevent Traore that a life-size cardboard cut-out of Ben Davies would not also have done.

As mentioned, this was probably a harsh appraisal, particularly coming from one who has not walked a mile in the shoes of Ben Davies – or indeed the shoes of anyone up against Traore.

And in the second half, I have no hesitation in admitting that my cynicism was replaced by healthy admiration. Ben Davies warmed to the task and was not for wilting, no matter how much Traore twisted and turned and shoved and battled. It actually turned into quite the contest, and while he might have needed to have a sit-down and catch his breath afterwards, there can be no doubting that Ben Davies earned his weekly envelope.

Just a shame, then, that he did not quite keep track of his man sufficiently at the corner from which Wolves scored – but while that was a error on his part, I am not about to blame him for the two points lost. If anything, he was possibly our stand-out performer.

4. Ndomble

Another of the more eye-catching performers – a small band, ‘tis true – was Monsieur Ndombele.

As is his way, he rather faded after half-time, and was duly euthanised on the hour, but in the early stages what attacking spark we had originated at his size nines. The body swerves and balance remain things of delight, easy to spot but seemingly near-impossible to stop. But I suspect we were all pleasantly surprised to see that burst of his from well inside our own half to well inside theirs.

There is something about Ndombele’s gait that gives the impression of a man whose lungs are about to breathe their last, and who will at any moment collapse to the ground and commit his soul to his maker. Put bluntly, the chap never looks fit. But I do sometimes wonder if this is an optical illusion. Sometimes drooping shoulders and hangdog expressions will make a professional sportsman look like anything but. Followers of leather-on-willow who are of a certain vintage may remember one Angus Fraser looking similarly exhausted every time he bowled for England.

So it is with Ndombele, and for that reason that sixty-yard burst of his was as surprising as it was pleasing. Even with the ball at his feet, he managed to outpace the chasing pack. A shame (very much the phrase de jour) that he picked the wrong option at the end of it, Reguilon boasting a goalscoring record slightly inferior to that of the other spare man, Harry Kane, but it did provide further evidence to the notion that Ndombele might turn out to be Mousa Dembele with added attacking prowess.

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Spurs match reports

Liverpool 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Jose’s Tactics (and Associated Risk)

Normally after a sinking of the good ship Hotspur, the mood at AANP Towers is one of pretty doleful lamentation, with the sackcloth and ashes out in force and long, drawn-out sighs only occasionally mingled with a choice curse or ten.

On this occasion, however, amidst the frustrated kicking of inanimate objects and moody grumbles, there is something of a philosophical air. Study your scribe closely enough and you may notice him scratching his chin from time to time, and looking pretty dashed thoughtful as he does it. Because although defeated, and now three points down on the principal cast member in this little drama, the realisation is dawning that our lot really are shaping up for a proper biff at things this season.

We may have lost, and we may have been absolutely dominated in possession (the 96% stat for a five-minute period just before half-time did make me chuckle, as being possibly the most Jose stat ever seen), but the tactics pretty much worked again, right up until the execution of chances. We restricted Liverpool to snatched chances – heart in mouth stuff each time, but still snatched chances, as opposed to clear one-one-ones as Sonny and Bergwijn had – while at t’other end we created enough of the aforementioned one-one-ones to have gone into injury-time with a lead onto which to cling.

We will presumably have to accept that playing this counter-attacking style means, by the law of probabilities, that every now and then we will concede a rather gut-wrenching late goal that shoots the entire game-plan out of the sky. But if we beat City, draw away to Chelsea, beat Other West Ham and find ourselves second at Christmas, then those odds are probably worth a flutter.

What struck me in the first half in particular was that, despite barely springing three passes together at any point in the whole act, we still came within a whisker of being clear through on goal on three separate occasions – before the moment that Sonny actually was clear through on goal.

The Amazon Prime microphone fiends were too busy purring at Liverpool to notice, but twice Kane had the opportunity to play in Son around halfway, and twice his pass was marginally too close to a defender, and cut out on the brink. The fact remained that there was an absolutely huge gap behind the Liverpool centre-backs, and it just needed a tad more guile on the final pass to open up said space, and let Son gambol away like a spring lamb that cannot believe its luck.

On a third occasion we did actually find the space, when Sissoko barrelled his way down the right and found Kane, unmarked and twenty yards out, but alas the main man dithered somewhat and the chance went up in smoke.

Again, not a mention was made of this by any of the paid prophets on the telly-box, but let that not detract from the fact that the game-plan was in full swing – no matter how warped, twisted or negative one regards it. We were repeatedly six inches away from smashing and grabbing.

2. Bergwijn’s Finishing

Of course, this rather dubious approach to ‘To Dare is To Do’ requires as a pretty critical component that when the final pass is eventually pinged with requisite sweetness, the chap haring in on goal then keeps his side of the bargain and finishes the job.

And in the first half, as against Other West Ham and Man City, Sonny kept up his end of the bargain. It feels almost blasphemous to say it now, but once upon a time I questioned the fellow’s finishing. Not so these days. Sonny could not be more clinical if he were laser-guided.

The plan tends to provide one or two chances per game, and Son snaffles them all up. As, typically, does Kane. Last night, however, the two big moments fell to Bergwijn, and the honest chap gave an illustration of why he, Lucas and Lamela sit decidedly below Kane and Son in the hierarchy of attacking sorts at N17.

The Jose plan really provides no room for error – when these counter-attack chances occur, they absolutely must be taken. Bergwijn has generally impressed in recent weeks, oddly enough on account of his defensive contributions – the work-rate, the positional sense, the discipline. Just a dashed shame that when it came to the attacking stuff, of which he has made a career, he twice missed the target.

3. Aurier vs Mane

Elsewhere on the pitch, a pretty eye-catching sub-plot was playing out between Messrs Mane and Aurier.

Aurier, as has been widely feted on these pages in recent weeks, has undergone quite the transformation this season, and now ranks as one a pretty critical cog in the defensive machine.

Admittedly there was one moment in the first half, when the ghost of Aurier past crept up behind his ear and started whispering sweet nothings, resulting in a spectacularly poorly-judged Cruyff turn inside his own area, that almost led to a goal. But that minor aberration aside, the chap wore his sensible hat throughout.

And he needed to, because in Sadio Mane he had a pretty worthy foe. In terms of strength, guile, trickery, positioning and pace, Aurier had to have his wits about him throughout, and to his credit he generally did the necessaries. He was caught out by one sublime turn in the second half, but recovered to wave a useful foot and deflect Mane’s shot onto the bar; otherwise he generally stood his ground.

Just a shame that his final intervention led to the corner from which Liverpool scored, but the young bean could probably mooch off at stumps with his head held high.

4. Ben Davies: Too Dashed Nice

I’m not sure the same can necessarily be said of Ben Davies, who may equally have been christened ‘6 out of 10’. There was nothing egregiously bad about his play, but at the same time his every appearance leaves me thinking he could and should be doing more.

One understood the principle of his selection – a more conservative option than Reguilon, and therefore less likely to be caught upfield and out of position, in a game in which defensive shape was pretty critical. But little things, like hacked clearances when there is time to pick a pass, suggest that there are several notches of improvement for him to achieve.

On top of which, the young egg really needs to take a leaf out of the Hojbjerg book and embrace a much nastier side. In the opening exchanges, when denied a clear corner, Ben Davies simply flung a hand in the air and turned to jog back, epitomising much of the pre-Jose spirit of simply accepting defeat as one of those unfortunate things that happens and should not be questioned.

Far be it for me to espouse that the chap greets a bad refereeing call by going on a murderous rampage and laying waste to all in front of him, but more fire in the belly, more aggression and maybe some of the Lamela-esque sly niggles would not go amiss. It is perhaps indicative of the change of ethos instilled by Jose, that Ben Davies’ meekness now looks a very noticeable weakness.

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Spurs match reports

Royal Antwerp 1-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. ‘Squad Depth’ and What It Actually Means

Generally in my relentlessly advancing years there’s not much that moves me to the state of excitable animation. The 90s output of either The Prodigy or Arnold Schwarzenegger; a well-weighted pass played by literally anyone inside the opposing full-back; and a decent bourbon – this would probably fill that list in its entirety.

Recently, however, a further addition was made, when someone sent me an image of the current Spurs squad by position, featuring at least two pretty decent, international players in each spot. It would be deceiving my public to say that I salivated, but the thought certainly occurred that if ever there were a time to rub one’s hands in glee then that was it.

Much has been made of the strength in depth of the current Hotspur vintage, as enabled by the oddly generous spirit of giving that overcame the resident purse-string holder this summer. And quite rightly too, as the view here at AANP Towers is that as long as the defence can find a way to muddle through each week then we might all be able to head over to N17 next May for one heck of a shin-dig.

However, ‘Squad Depth’ is a potentially misleading term. What it suggests in this corner of the interweb is that should a couple of players pick up knocks – or worse, be absented for longer periods – then fully functional and relatively able reserves can seamlessly slot in, and the general equilibrium of the whole operation remains unsullied. Life goes on; day follows night; and where once a Lo Celso picked the midfield passes now a Ndombele does so.

What such squad depth does not do is give licence to The Brains Trust to change all eleven (or near enough) in one crazed swoop, and hope that nobody notices. The England team has done this often enough to teach anyone with a smidge of good sense that swapping out more than half of the regulars for a bunch of capable substitutes simply will not pass without a dip in quality. The individuals involved might all be good enough, but the spine of the team is gone, and instead there stands on the greenery a bunch of fellows who presumably have never once played together en masse.

Changing maybe four of the line-up ought generally to be manageable, whilst retaining the core of the team. But sticking with Lloris and hoping that a jumble of the rest of them will cope is a bit like holding onto the Ace, throwing the rest of the cards into the air and expecting them to fall in order.

The complete absence of first half fluency was therefore lamentable but fairly unsurprising. A new back-four, a new midfield three and a new front three predictably enough all looked around for someone else to take the lead.

Which is not to excuse them from blame – the lack of movement from those not in possession was fairly criminal stuff, and presumably most of them will at some point in the coming days have their heads flushed down a nearby toilet as a pointed reminder that a professional footballer ought to run until his lungs burst.

But nevertheless, I’m not sure what miracle Jose was expecting, having fielded a brand new eleven.

2. The Ongoing Struggles of Young Master Dele

Fair to say that Dele Towers will have witnessed happier times. The young squirt is clearly not Jose’s preferred tipple, which must be tough enough on a chap who not so long was being feted as The Next Big Deal.

But as if to really twist the knife, whenever he does get a start these days, the planets do anything but align, he scrabbles around for his best form and the it’s a safe bet that by half-time he’ll be invited to model some of the exciting THFC bench-warming garb.

Dele’s performance tonight sat somewhere between Terrible and Brilliant. In truth it was pretty typical Dele fare. Some nice touches and a few attempted cute passes were interspersed with him dwelling on the ball longer than necessary and flinging his arms in the time-honoured fashion of a toddler who can tantrum like the best of them. Personally I thought his work-rate was acceptable enough, and he was a little hard done by to be hooked at half-time; but such is life.

Part of the problem is that he does tend to swan around the place with the air of one who would like the team to be built around him. Dele, one sometimes suspects, would like to be the superstar flair player, or if not The Main Man then dashed well first amongst The Supporting Cast. And once upon a time that was indeed the case, with Dele the foil to Kane’s leading light.

At present, alas, he is being required simply to roll up his sleeves and put in a shift like the rest of the plebs. This does not appear a role for which Nature has fashioned him.

One wonders how long the impasse will last – or at least one would if this were a transfer window, but it isn’t, and presumably a few more opportunities for redemption await in the Europa.

3. Ben Davies, AANP’s Nemesis

Few things get the juices flowing like a pantomime villain, and as such I sometimes wonder if Ben Davies was put on this earth purely to give yours truly someone at whom to vent after five minutes of gently simmering discontent.

In truth he’s a pretty honest trooper – but when the reasonable fan has half an eye on title celebrations next May, then ‘Honest Trooper’ does not cut it.

As a full-back his crosses typically hit the first man (think back to the delicious Reguilon cross for Kane vs West Ham, and imagine how many attempts it would have taken Davies), and as a centre-back he seems best when in amongst a three.

It ought not to have mattered tonight, but just as the simmering discontent began to make itself felt, there was Davies to clatter over his own feet and pretty much usher in Antwerp with a route to goal.

Alas, we are hardly blessed with talent in the centre-back area at present, and if anything will halt the title parade next May it’s that particular berth. However, having incurred the AANP wrath from his general lack of threat as a bona fide left-back, I need hardly describe how the passions were stoked by his faux pas tonight.

4. Bale’s Lack of Fitness

Another game, and another underwhelming showing from our resident Galactico.

As ever, one is reluctant to chide Bale for the crime of being dreadfully undercooked, but it is difficult to tell how effective he might be at full-blast when he shows reluctance to break sweat, as is currently the case.

Bale currently ambles around the place with the air of one paranoid his muscles might snap if he approaches anything near a sprint – which may well indeed be exactly his mindset. And if that is indeed the case then there’s not much anyone can do but fling him into the pit on Thursday nights and hope that the cylinders begin to fire before too long.

It didn’t help the cause tonight however, not least given that, as articulated above ad nauseam, he was one amongst a group of relative strangers all looking to each other for inspiration. Moreover, one got the impression that young Lo Celso was in a similar boat of being a little wary of stretching the limbs as far as they would go, being also freshly returned from injury.

The net result was a team that looked like they were carrying one or two passengers, which certainly stuck a few spanners in the works.

On top of which, it remains nigh on impossible to gauge what sort of Gareth Bale we find ourselves in possession of. He is still capable of lung-busting gallops? Is his sole purpose in life now to lamp the ball at goal from thirty yards? There is no way of knowing at present.

5. Oddly Reticent Full-Backs

No doubt that the game was lost in that oddly neutered first half. The glut of half-time substitutions nearly had the desired effect in terms of result, and certainly bucked up things performance-wise, with Messrs Sonny, Lamela and Hojbjerg each offering the levels of energy one has come to expect.

It was notable in that second half that Monsieur Aurier in particular was suddenly struck by the whim to attack down the flank. Quite why he didn’t do so in the first half was a rummy one to me, with Reguilon on the other flank similarly shy on the matter.

A failing in that first half was the narrowness of our lot, alongside the absence of movement and general lethargy about the place. But a key component of Jose’s Spurs has generally been the willingness of the full-backs to push forward, allowing the forwards to shuffle infield, and generally sprinkling the place with options.

As noted, Aurier did so in the second half, but it was all lacking in the first. Maybe it was due to the slow tempo of the build-up play, maybe not, who knows? It was not the only failing, and certainly not the only reason we lost – but as with all the shortcomings, it left the interested observer with a sense of irritation.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. New Season, Same Dross

The cheery new-season optimism at AANP Towers dissipated after around 7 minutes, which feels like it might be some sort of record.

Having raced around immediately post kick-off as though they meant business, our heroes pretty swiftly reverted to type once those initial sprints had been sprinted, and spent the remaining 83+ minutes of the game displaying all those ominous traits that had wormed their way into the fittings at the end of last season.

Mistaking today’s opponents for Barcelona circa 2012 we generally sat off them, genial hosts that we are, and let them do as they please, wherever they pleased.

In possession, ‘Anything But Urgency’ seemed to be the mantra, as the ball was gently plopped this way and that in the slow, soothing and threat-free manner of a lullaby one might hum to a sleepy infant.

Service of any sort to Kane was unapologetically removed from the menu; a goal was conceded from a pretty rudimentary set-piece; and having gone behind our lot appeared to down tools and relax, seemingly under the misapprehension that this was a two-legged affair, and there would be plenty of opportunity to correct things at a later date.

Since his arrival Jose has seemed to enjoy reeling off a chorus along the lines of ‘Give me a pre-season and I’ll show you a team in my image’ – but the evidence of our eyes was that of a team whose dial has been set to ‘Underwhelming’ and is absolutely not for deviating from that course.

2. Hojbjerg

Since I write this thing under oath I might as well come clean and admit to my public that when Hojbjerg signed up, while not exactly moved to dancing a jig, I nevertheless went out of my way to nod in approval and insist to those within earshot that here was a smart purchase.

On paper, everywhere you cared to look there was a ticked box. The chap was evidently fond of a tackle, had the good sense to position himself in the sort of positions that upset opposition attacks at source, had run a lap or two in the Premier League and was reasonably well priced. A cure to all life’s ills he might not quite have been, but a dashed handy addition to the rack he most certainly was.

And, continuing the spirit of Bible-sworn honesty, I thought that his opening quarter of an hour in lilywhite did much of what was scrawled on the tin. He tackled, he positioned himself usefully within spitting distance of the back-four, he poked his nose in Everton’s business. It was low-key stuff admittedly, and no bones were shattered or worlds set alight – but it seemed to be the good, honest stuff of which behind-the-scenes midfield minders are made.

The commentary bods evidently disagreed, and with considerable strength of feeling, but in the early stages at least I thought it was all palatable enough. Being Tottenham through and through, one is inclined to give the newbies the benefit of the doubt, plus a little extra. To do otherwise would not be cricket.

However, as the hands of time continued on their relentless march, so Hojbjerg’s contributions became by turns less remarkable, then more ordinary, and then downright ragged, if you pardon the fruity language.

Now one does not slander one’s fellow Spur lightly, and much less on debut, so a little perspective would not go amiss. This was no horror-show, it simply meandered into ineffective territory, which happens to the best of us.

But having been heralded as the sort of bean who would call spades spades and stamp down on any nonsense, it was a heck of a downer to see levels of midfield bite drop to zero, levels of midfield creativity fail to rise above zero and life drain away well before the curtain came down. Hojbjerg remains a good player, and the odds are that the coming weeks and months will demonstrate as much, but this was disappointing stuff.

3. Doherty

The other shiny new toy in the cupboard was shoved about a mile up the right wing and told to get on with it. Hopes were high for young Doherty, and who knows, if he had picked his spot six inches to the east or west when through on goal the headlines might be of the upbeat and celebratory variety.

Alas, his diem went un-carped, and instead we were left to reflect on a curious sort of performance that was neither one thing nor the other until he ran out of puff and had mercy shown.

He seemed to get the broad gist that his role was as much attacking as anything else, and it is worth remembering that by virtue of not being Serge Aurier he did not contribute anything in the way of kamikaze penalties or red cards from thin air.

At the same time, one got the impression as often as not that a geography lesson or two might be in order, as at times he seemed to be a member of the back-four in name only, being stationed a good twenty yards from the others even when on the back-foot.

Presumably other days will showcase better his crossing ability, but it was a shame that his expertise in this area was rarely used. The dash forward and one-two with Kane that led to his big chance did at least give the watching world a glimpse of the man’s capabilities, and I rather fancy that if the urgency he showed in driving into the Everton area in that instance were to become the norm, then the world would be a better place.

As with Hojbjerg, one would assume that better days will come.

4. Brighter Notes

Still feeling in honest mood I’ll confess that this is gearing up to be one of the shorter paragraphs of the memoirs, but I thought Davies made a passable contribution, and hared forward a few times as if he knew Danny Rose were watching and waiting for fresh material about which to complain.

Lucas also at least had the decency to look interested, even if just about every attempt of his to build a head of steam and become some unstoppable force of nature stalled at take-off.

And, gloriously, we always have Jose’ secret weapon, The Lightning Quick Counter-Attack From The Opposition Corner. In the absence of any other tactic, one deviously wonders if we might start deliberately conceding corners, precisely to create the platform for Sonny, Lucas and Kane to gallop the length of the pitch and fashion a one-on-one. Now if that’s not grounds for boundless, sunny optimism about the future, then frankly I don’t know what is.