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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Brighton: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Midfield Distribution

After games such as this one can pretty much close the eyes and point a moody finger in any direction, and one will hit upon a failing. And on Saturday one such failing was the complete absence of interest in attacking play from those dozing away in central midfield.  

What struck me as particularly galling was that the business of playing the ball from defence to attack was not one of those disasters beset in problems from start to finish. It was not one of those tragedies in which the knowledgeable onlooker can spot from a mile away that the whole scheme is destined for failure as soon as it begins. At various points during the game, the beginning of our play-ball-from-defence-to-attack strategy was actually pretty neat and tidy stuff.

For a start, any sniff of danger from what masqueraded as the Brighton high-press around our area was swatted away pretty dismissively. The control of possession demonstrated by Hugo, the three centre-backs and any kindly wing-back who happened to be passing by, was of sufficient quality to sidestep any hint of trouble around our own net. Manoeuvring the ball from A to B – with A being the feet of Hugo and B the feet of anyone else in lilywhite – was an operation for which our lot demonstrated all the requisite levels of competence.

So far, so good. Our lack of a single shot on target could not be pinned upon any perceived difficulties in emerging unscathed from our own penalty area.

At this point, however, the plan started spouting leaks. The challenge seemed to be not so much the risk of losing possession in our own defensive third, as much as the conundrum of how to do anything meaningful with it, at the same point on the map.

In recent weeks, Hojbjerg and, in particular, Bentancur and Kane, have attracted their fair share of awe-struck gazes through the ability casually to flick a ball first-time around the corner, and into space up the flanks for one of the attacking cohort to gallop after. As well as being the sort of scenic stuff one could bring a picnic to watch, such first-time flicks have had the pragmatic advantage of turning the narratives completely on their head, leaving opposition defenders galloping back towards their own goal and pulled apart in all sorts of directions.

And yet on Saturday, of those first-time flicks there was no sign. Instead, both Bentancur and Hojbjerg (Kane having been muzzled by that Bissouma fellow, who I’m sure would look fetching in white upper garments come August) seemed entirely preoccupied with the notion that if anything good were to come of things it would have to have its genesis in a first-time backwards pass. No matter the coordinates, or time of day, or any other consideration of external circumstance: first-time backwards passes had been adopted as the panacea for all ills, and any other consideration was tossed aside.

Now I’m all for the practice of one passing the way they are facing. If anything, I consider it a somewhat neglected art. At the appropriate time and in the appropriate place, few things in life can top a swift nudge of the ball backwards by a fellow who has his back to goal and senses opponents hunting him down. Done in suitable conditions, it can be precisely what the doctor ordered, throwing opponents off the scent and ensuring quick movement of the ball.

But note well the preamble: “in suitable conditions’; “the appropriate time”; and “appropriate place”. All key components, and yet merrily ignored by our heroes, who seemed to think that the backwards-pass routine was such a good yarn they should thrust it into the heart of whatever was happening, irrespective of whether the circumstances required it or not.

While the occasional backward pass can be a ripping little gag, doing it every dashed time one receives the ball starts to make the regulars raise an eyebrow and wonder if all is well at HQ.

While I appreciate that it is difficult to flick around a corner when everyone in lilywhite is static and all Brighton-folk are already in position and set, there were nevertheless opportunities to start attacks, when Brighton had committed numbers up the pitch. On such occasions, some effort had gone into bypassing the Brighton press, and finally the ball was funnelled up to Bentancur and Hojbjerg (and occasionally Son), with the stage set for them to ping the ball into the spaces ahead for attacking sorts to run onto – and instead they simply bunged the thing back into defence again, and everyone in Brighton colours re-took their sentry positions.

It was as if they considered that a quick shove of the ball back towards goal were some sort of triumph in itself, and once completed they could consider their jobs done for the day.

I suppose there are multiple contributory factors here, but from the AANP viewpoint our lot seemed to be missing one heck of a trick. Instead of zipping up the pitch, all in lilywhite ponderously rolled the ball around the halfway line, and by the time last orders were called it was little wonder that we had not managed a single shot on target.

2. The Absence of Doherty

I once heard a pretty ripping gag about chickens and eggs, the nub of which was to speculate as to which arrived on the scene first, which, when you stop to consider it, starts to make the mind swim a bit. I was reminded of this when trying to fathom the root of our problems on Saturday, because on the one hand, as documented above, our midfield mob appeared in no mood to set in motion anything of attacking promise – but on the other hand I did wonder if this might be because the supporting cast were neglecting their duties.

In recent weeks, Master Doherty has carried himself full of buck and vim, taking every opportunity to chip in with his tuppence worth on the right flank, and indeed infield from said flank. He, and whichever less talented equivalent has been patrolling the left flank, have been key components of our attacking apparatus. The front three have hogged headlines and statistics, but the two wing-backs have quietly been going about the place adding meat to things.

The absence of Doherty has now coincided with a game in which we have failed to strike a bally shot on target, which might sound like a spot of AANP amateur dramatics, but, rather disturbingly, is a statement of fact. And the point I’m driving at is to speculate as to whether the two are in some way causally linked.

Certainly, Doherty’s replacement, Emerson Royal, seemed in customary fashion to offer all the on-pitch value of a mannequin, making himself visible without contributing anything of the slightest value. However, it should be noted that on the other flank Senor Reguilon was similarly impotent – and frankly neither did any of the front three display the necessary wit or intelligence to escape the beady Brighton eyes upon them and enjoy a spot of freedom in the attacking third.

So to castigate Emerson in this instance might be a touch rough. Doherty, for all we know, might similarly have laboured pointlessly.

But nevertheless, I rather considered that if the central midfield consists of Hojbjerg and Bentancur – a couple of lads with plenty going for them, but not the fellows you’d back to create twenty goals a season – then your wing-backs are going to deliver some pretty special stuff going forward. And this was precisely the sort of prime fare that Doherty had been spewing forth until having his knee rearranged last week.

To suggest that Doherty has become the most important player in our setup would be laying it on rather too thick, but he was starting to look a pretty important sort of bean in the whole mechanism. One can only hope that Saturday’s ills were indicative of a wider – and isolated – malaise, rather than due to the absence of Doherty and Doherty alone.

3. Hojbjerg

Possibly not the sort of suggestion that will have the paying public hoisting me on their shoulders and sending down the ticker-tape, but in the absence of anyone else dangling a remarkable foot, I thought that P-E H Esq. at least had the decency to suggest he cared about things.

As ventured above, his tendency always to biff the ball back to Romero or Dier upon receipt had me banging the head against whichever wall fancied it, but as the game wore on and most of our lot stubbornly refused to give a damn, I did at least admire the fact that he did not simply slump his shoulders and slink off into the shadows.

In the final knockings, he and he alone could be seen diving into tackles, and, despite the above character assassination built entirely upon his insistence on passing backwards, he did eventually get the gist of things and try to carry the ball forwards once or twice as close of play beckoned.

Hojbjerg is actually a curious egg in that it becomes harder with each passing week fully to grasp what he does. There is a danger that he might simply turn into this season’s Joe Hart, viz. a man of limited playing talent whose principal role seems to be to shout at people. He does not possess either energy, passing ability, tackling ability, dribbling ability or any other ability – bar shouting at people – that really catches the eye, and as such there is a sense that he is merely keeping a seat warm for young Master Skipp.

And yet he fits rather neatly within the Conte system, by virtue of knowing how both to patrol in front of the back-three and ward off foes, and how to collect the ball from the back-three and shovel it along, albeit usually unadventurously. (He does occasionally demonstrate an appetite for an effective forward pass, but these are generally filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Rule’.)

However, given that everyone around him was determined simply to mope about the place until they could scuttle off down the tunnel, Hojbjerg can, if he fancies, treat himself to the AANP going for the day, by dint of his perspiration rather than inspiration. And that rather sad state of affairs neatly captures the whole performance.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

With apologies for tardiness.

1. Winks

Understandably enough the murmur about the place pre kick-off was around the return to the cast list of Messrs Son and Romero; but once all concerned spat on their hands and got down to it, the chappie who quietly emerged to AANP as having a say on things was one H. Winks Esq.

In a way, the current Winks vintage – Winks 3.0, you might say – requires for full appreciation an acknowledgement of what he is not. That is to say, Winks is not some all-singing, all-dancing box of trickery. If it’s Ndombele-esque body-swerves you’re after, of indeed Mousa Dembele-esque wriggles-from-tight-corners, then look elsewhere. And if you’re the sort who needs a Luka Modric eye-of-the-needle pass to get your pulse racing, then young Winks will not do much to soothe the savage beast lurking within.

Instead, on Saturday night, “neat and tidy” seemed to be the chorus on the lips of the fellow. I was rather taken by the manner in which our heroes regularly one- and two-touched their way out of ever-diminishing little defensive alleys, and Winks was as often as not front and centre of these operations. He availed himself whenever crisis (in the form of onrushing Brighton folk) approached a defensive chum, and having received the ball, did not stand around making speeches or counting his blessings, but swiftly shoved it along to someone better placed and less harassed.

A criticism of Winks, from this corner of the interweb as much as any other, has been his tendency, after surveying the terrain and weighing up all options, to take the rather excessive step of deciding that the slightest whisper of danger means the immediate cancellation of all forward-thinking possibilities. As a result, whatever the question, Winks’ answer has tended to be to go backwards.

This, however, might be described as Winks 2.0. The current, Conte-fied version (Winks 3.0) is by no means averse to passing backwards, but – crucially – does not view such retreat as the panacea to all that life throws at him. Winks 3.0 instead seems to be motivated primarily by an urge to do whatever the situation requires, as long as it’s done without too much hesitation.

This, at least to my uneducated eye, seems an infinitely more productive approach. It means that his primary motivation is simply to move the ball along, and preferably into a less troubled climate – and if that means going forward, backwards, underground or up into the atmosphere, Winks is on board.

And so on Saturday, we were treated to such delights as Winks dabbing little diagonals, Winks nudging the ball back towards goal, Winks chipping the ball square into space, and so on. The imp seemed to understand that what mattered was simply moving the object of the piece from Point A to Point B with minimal delay – and in the first half in particular this seemed to amount to a pretty critical part of the overall operation of pinching the thing from under Brighton’s noses and racing off on the counter-attack.

Winks was not perfect – the growing influence of Brighton’s Bissouma in the second half was evidence of that – but he seemed fully attuned to the company policy of swiftly turning defence into attack through swift distribution, and in this sense did enough to earn himself a much sought-after nod of approval from AANP.

2. Romero

As mentioned, Saturday brought about the welcome return of Senor Romero, and a welcome one it was too.

Everything seemed in working order, at least until his various sinews malfunctioned on 75 mins, but by then I think all concerned had seen enough to have any doubts about his return to the front-line suitably eased.

Part of the appeal of Romero is that he seems to do the majority of his business in an understated way, such that one wouldn’t necessarily notice he were there if one weren’t actively on the lookout for him. It helps that he is but one cog in an increasingly well-oiled defensive machine, all five of them (plus midfield helpers) seeming to know their lines and starting spots. The back-line was not necessarily impenetrable, but nor did it have the look of a gang hastily cobbled together with all concerned improvising their way through life. When on the back-foot, our defensive five appear to know their eggs, and Romero seemed perfectly content with his role and responsibility as bean-at-centre-of-things.

As well as simply being in the appropriate location at the appointed time, Romero also went off on the occasional wander to pretty good effect. If a Brighton wag had the temerity to scuttle into dangerous territory with the ball at his feet, Romero was perfectly happy to trot along after him and present himself as a rather imposing barrier, which in the circumstances seemed a reasonable enough approach.

On one occasion he was also temporarily possessed by the spirit of Beckenbauer, and accordingly went for a spin up over halfway and deep into opposition territory. Such day-trips appear to be heartily encouraged by Our Glorious Leader, and are facilitated by the presence of a back-three plus midfield minders, so we can probably get used to such raids.

3. Sanchez

On the subject of defensive eggs finding themselves tempted into the sordid world of the opposition half, Davinson Sanchez was oddly emboldened from start to finish.

Context here is crucial, for in all his appearances in lilywhite to date, Sanchez has given the impression that nothing distresses him more than finding the ball at his feet and being instructed to do something useful with it.

Go charging after an attacker, and Sanchez is in his element, bobbing from side to side like an out-of-control rowing boat until he is able to go charging into a challenge, sometimes taking ball, sometimes taking man, but always walking away from the crime-scene with the look of a man satisfied that he has done all asked of him.

Alternatively, if faced up by an attacker and given the opportunity to clear the ball to safety, Sanchez defers to no man in his ability to blast the thing as far from danger as possible, like a committed trooper hurling a live grenade out of his immediate sphere. There are few frills to Sanchez’ game, and one can almost read within his eyes that he sees no reason why there should be. Football, to Davinson Sanchez, is a game played by clearing all immediate danger, using whatever means necessary. Given this framework, he appears only too glad to have been blessed with the ability to draw back his right peg and deliver an almighty swing.

All of which had me rubbing the eyes and raising a puzzled finger on Saturday night, as we were treated to regular viewings of Sanchez charging up the right and towards the promised land of Brighton territory. What the hell possessed the chap is anyone’s guess. Personally, I blame Ben Davies, whose forays up towards the enemy penalty area in recent months have evidently not gone unnoticed in the Colombian quarter.

Admittedly, Sanchez’ actions betrayed the mentality of a man whose strategy seemed to be to act first and think later. He would set off full of buck and brio, looking every inch a fellow driven by an irresistible spirit of adventure – but on approaching halfway, reality seemed to hit and he typically slammed on the brakes, suddenly aware of the practical implications of his behaviour.

It’s a pretty telling indication of the state of things when one turns to Emerson Royal for help, but as it dawned upon Sanchez that all eyes were on him and that the thing at his feet was a real, live football, Emerson suddenly became the life-raft to which he felt the urge to attach himself.

At one point, unless my eyes deceived, Sanchez even found himself up in something like a centre-forward position. The whole thing was most peculiar in truth, but here at AANP Towers we were all for it. All too often we have been treated to the sight of Sanchez receiving a harmless pass and doing his best not to spontaneously combust at the shock of it all, so if he is prepared to venture like some new-born lamb, over halfway and up along the right flank, then it seems a more productive approach to life.

4. Kuluslevski and Bentancur

The other headline of the evening was the unveiling of our shiny new toys. Actually, the headline as far as AANP was concerned was the burst of pace shown by Sonny to set up our third goal, a blur of heels so rapid that the nearest Brighton defender completely lost control of his limbs and all sense of spatio-temporal awareness, and somehow found himself dribbling the ball unstoppably towards his own goal.

(The sub-headline of the evening was Ben Davies randomly unleashing an inch-perfect fifty yard cross-field pass to Kane.)

Back to the debutants. Kuluslevski was given half an hour or so entertain himself, and did so principally by making clear to the gallery that he has one preferred trick and will keep repeating it until time is called. In fairness, the old “Cutting Infield Onto Your Left Foot” gambit was sufficient for Arjen Robben to carve out an entire career, so Kuluslevski might argue that this is no bad tree up which to bark. Nevertheless, after seeing him put into practice this same manoeuvre a fourth time in his single cameo I did wonder about the extent of the research taken into this chap.

Bentancur on the other hand was given only five minutes, a period he put to good use in diving straight for the heart of the action in central midfield. One obviously hesitates to read anything into a five-minute teaser, but nevertheless I was encouraged by the fellow’s gusto in homing in on the busiest hub, as well as his neat footwork and one or two well-judged interventions.

He even found time to pick up a caution for a foul low on subtlety and high on efficiency, in putting a stop to an opponent’s forward intent by simply grabbing him by a couple of his limbs and refusing to relinquish. Again, what struck me here was not so much the specifics of the interaction as the general message it sent: for here was a soul concerned only to stop the other chap prospering, and if that meant brazenly committing Rule Violation 101 in full view of the ref then our man had absolutely no compunction. And I rather liked that about him.

Of course, the coming weeks and months will tell us a lot more about both, but it was nevertheless handy that each could take in a personal tour of the place. More broadly, given that Brighton are no mugs, a comfortable win against them should go down as a pretty slick evening’s work.

Tweets hither

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

The gist of the opening 50 or so minutes is that nothing happened, and at a pretty relentless rate.

Well, for the benefit of the pedants who like things just so, nothing positive happened. Pedantically speaking, there was plenty going on about which to slap palm to forehead and liberally scatter curses.

In fact, the tone was set straight from kick-off, when the ball was rolled back to Toby, and the ensuing opening minute was spent observing – in rather aghast fashion, I don’t mind adding – the sight of each member of our central defensive triumvirate dwelling upon the ball for half a dozen touches, before rolling it sideways to the next member of the Toby-Jan-Davinson axis to do exactly the same. Towards the concept of bright and enterprising forward progression, precious little thought was devoted.

1. Lucas Provides the Saprk

So it was that approximately 49 minutes later, Lucas Moura stumbled upon the dramatic concept of applying some urgency to proceedings. The results were both immediate and gratifying. The Brighton defence, which, until that point, to a man, had been gently dozing as our heroes scratched heads and pottered ineffectively in front of them, were suddenly forced to react to improvised attacking play, and it’s fair to opine that they preferred life the way it had been in the preceding 49-odd minutes.

Lucas, who has about him much of the naturally-talented-but-exasperatingly-selfish playground footballer, took up a position that can probably be loosely described as Central Midfield, and opted each time he received the ball to ignore his teammates and instead try dribbling past every man and his dog bedecked in Brighton black.

Ricochets abounded, and precious little in the way of clear goalscoring chances were created, but the simple act of tearing straight at the heart of the Brighton defence like a rabid beast was enough both to cause obvious discomfort to Brighton, and to rouse all around in lilywhite from their slumbers.

The paying public were invigorated – and not before time – while Lucas’ own teammates took the hint and, one by one and in stages, began to contemplate removing the handbrake.

Ultimately it was another of Lucas’ not entirely flawless slaloms that did the trick, as he ran out of space and flung his hands into the air, while the ball helpfully pinged off several Brighton limbs and into the path of Kane, who did the rest.

Until Lucas’ little display of indulgence precious little creativity had emanated from any of our heroes, so while far from perfect I am quite happy to bestow upon the chap the epithet Gamechanger-In-Chief.

2. Lo Celso’s Impressive Cameo

Every Batman needs a Robin however, and the unlikely sidekick to Lucas, in his sudden twenty-minute burst of intensity, was the rarely-sighted Giovanni Lo Celso.

A fleeting cameo it might have been, but the chap showed numerous tantalising glimpses of talent and appetite for the scrap. Not that he is one of life’s natural scrappers, but it was certainly pleasing to see that upon losing possession he fought like a wronged infant to retrieve it.

Moreover, the aesthetes amongst us could not fail to be impressed by the sight of him receiving the ball and sweetly pinging it first-time to diagonally-positioned chums. None of that six-touch nonsense being peddled so enthusiastically by the back-three in minute one. Lo Celso gave the impression of one who looks this way and that prior to receiving possession, so that as soon as the ball reaches him he can instantly send it elsewhere.

For a rather bizarre fifteen minutes or so, he and Lucas were the architects of the swing of momentum back towards N17.

3. Our Winning Goal and Its Constituent Parts

On Lucas and Lo Celso’s example, various others roused themselves to battle, and ultimately it was a win, comprising greater parts fight than beauty – which in the grand scheme of things is rare enough around N17 to be pretty satisfactory.

That said, the winning goal shone out like a beacon in a land of eternal night-time, boasting a couple of moments of gorgeous quality.

For a start there was the backspun, crossfield ball from Eriksen, over the head of a retreating Brighton bod and into the path of the northward-bound Aurier. Now Eriksen has done much in the last 12 months or so to make himself persona non grata around AANP Towers, but being a reasonable soul I can still appreciate top-notch foot-to-ball contact, and there will be few nuts struck more sweetly this Boxing Day than that particular Eriksen pass.

Credit also by the sackful to Serge Aurier. He may display much about him of the leaking pipe when asked to do the defensive thing, but stick him in and around the opposition area and his eyes seem to light up.

Admittedly he was prompted to dash towards the byline by the irresistible cross from Eriksen, but once there, he displayed a hitherto unknown delicacy in cushioning a volley backwards into the onrushing Dele. It was a pretty difficult-looking skill to execute, but one he did like one trained in the art for years.

And finally, Dele, a man transformed under Jose, had the presence of mind to whizz through the pretty long list of ways in which he might have made a pig’s ear of the finish, ignore them all and instead deliver the required coup de grace with an impressive combo of delicacy and power.

4. Winks Frustrates Again

Another curious – and largely frustrating – chapter in the life of Harry Winks. Stationed as one half of a two-man defensive barricade that barely had a defensive bone in its two bodies, the onus on Winks was largely to collect the ball from those within earshot and spray accordingly.

I suppose by the letter of the law he generally did this. He just did it in such a frustratingly defensive fashion that one was inclined to click the tongue and ask what the hell the point of it was. Time and again he received possession, swerved as if to go forwards, much to the delight of the paying public, and then checked, as if the angel on his shoulder had called an impromptu conference and was delivering some pretty stern words, and before one could yelp “Just travel forward with the ball, dash it”, he had swerved back towards his own goal, and taken the distribution option marked ‘Safety First, Safety Always’.

Watching the aforementioned Eriksen ping for our second goal did make me yearn for Winks to show a little more ambition in his passing. One suspects that the chap has such tricks lurking in his top hat, but alas, one of life’s risk-takers he is not. (Unless the risk involves scything down an opponent in bookable fashion, in which case he’s all for it.)

Gratingly, the one flash of invention he did display was such a peach of a pass that Harry Kane felt obliged to dab it into the net, only for VAR to rear its automated head. A few more of those such game-changing passes, however, would not go amiss.

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Brighton 3-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Latest Lloris Howler

Decorum naturally dictates that in speaking of Monsieur Lloris one first ought to wish him a speedy recovery, because the slings and arrows of performance-critiquing are one thing, but a particularly nasty-looking injury rather trumps all that, and is not a fate one wishes upon an enemy, let alone one of our own.

As to performance-critiquing however, in his two-minute appearance Lloris was gently lobbed one task, and – as has become his most unwelcome trademark – he made a complete hash of it, conjuring up a mistake where none had seemed possible.

Over the last season or two his aberrations have assumed a gloomy inevitability, albeit generally involving an envelopment of panic when the ball reaches his feet. This time, perhaps in order to vary the monotony, he opted to make a pig’s ear of things with his hands rather than with his feet. Credit is due, he may argue, for livening things up from the off, but today of all days it was the last thing we needed.

After the midweek scoreline and murmurs of internal unrest, there was a fairly obvious need to launch into things today with purpose and confidence. And although physiognomy is a pretty complex art at the best of times, immediately before kick-off our heroes did at least have the dignity to look suitably determined as they prepared for the task at hand.

It really needed a solid opening spell to set the tone, and, above all, an end to the sloppiness and silly mistakes that have littered our season to date. Alas, Lloris’ latest, absurd, needless howler had pretty much the opposite effect, deflating the whole lot of them within the opening two minutes.

The evident severity of Lloris’ injury suggests that his enforced absence will be considerable in length; but even a fully-fit Lloris cannot continue to make such costly errors with such regularity before tongues start wagging and awkward conversations are planned.

2. Listless Players & The Problem This Poses Poch

My inclination in such post-match reflections as these is to pour myself a celebratory or consolatory splash of the good stuff, and single out one or two of the troupe for a stiff going-over. On this occasion however, the whole bally team were so insipid that it is difficult to hone in upon any given one of them as the fellow to whom attention was immediately drawn.

The problem appeared to be a team-wide malaise, which is bad news in anyone’s book. Tactically one might quibble – as indeed I did, during the first half – that Ndombele and Lamela did little to protect the back four, or that Eriksen needed to arrive in support of Kane rather than assume that position as his starting spot.

But after a while I rather flung my hands in the air and muttered “Blast it all,” and wondered if there were any formation in the world that might have arrested the decline of a group of players so consistently failing to win their personal 50-50 challenges, and misplacing their passes, and failing to move enough to provide options for the man in possession, and regarding their required short sprints with the disdain of a reluctant schoolboy sloping off to class.

In short they looked any semblance of urgency, dash it. Very few individuals appeared to be busting a gut for the cause. Lamela and Winks, when introduced, showed glimpses of determination, and Sissoko stuck to his task pretty manfully, in that rather clumsy way of his – but just about all the others appeared simply to go through the motions, failing to give their all and looking for all the world like they wanted the final whistle to arrive.

It all rather feeds the train of thought that Our Glorious Leader is the type of soul at his best when he is cajoling bright, hungry young things to fulfil their potential. This lot are neither young nor, on today’s showing, particularly hungry – which, according to the theory at least, limits Poch’s abilities with them. The signing of Sessegnon and willingness to allow Rose to move on seems to fit this narrative, and it would also explain Poch’s very public calls over the summer for the chance to clear out the closet and go shopping for new outfits, if you get my drift.

Instead, we appear to be left with a group of players brimming with listlessness, and a manager hardly in his element when working with them. It all makes the mind boggle and brow furrow a tad, what?

3. Dier’s Ignominious Return

Back to the action itself, and I suppose it was a big day for Master Dier. The blighter’s fall in the AANP graces has been fairly solidly documented over the last year or two, my principal objections to the chap being that for all his airs of intimidation and aggression, he is rather lacking in timing of the tackle, accuracy of the pass and swiftness of the sprint. (Leaving him with precious little else in the way of a professional footballer, one might suggest, but that’s a matter for a different time.)

In theory, however, Dier makes sense as a footballer, and in his absence in recent weeks, some have understandably called for his inclusion, given that nobody else in lilywhite appears to demonstrate the faintest interest in such boring, menial tasks as protecting the back-four. I was not personally amongst that chorus, but I did appreciate the rationale. According to the instructions on the side of the box in which he is packaged, Dier’s purpose in life is apparently to protect the back-four.

And to his credit, as he buzzed slowly around the pitch, he did appear at least to have the correct instructions ringing in his ears. He chugged over to whichever Brighton soul were in possession and gave a nudge and a kick, then shuffled over to the next chap in possession and repeated the exercise.

It was all rather laboured however – or, to dispense with euphemisms, slow – and therefore to minimal effect. Brighton beat the Dier press by simply passing or dribbling around him, and goodness knows nobody else in midfield was minded to stop them.

Moreover, Dier’s distribution was that of a man whose faith in compasses is long gone, and has resorted to being guided by guesswork, or possibly smell. Whatever it was, his six-yarders rarely hit the target, and it was little surprise to see him shoved back into defence at the interval and a new plan dreamt up.

Not that Dier alone was responsible for the whole sorry mess. He didn’t look remotely fit for a start, but his inclusion did shine something of a light upon the glaring lop-sidedness of our squad, full of nippy attacking sorts, and pretty short passers, and bursting at the seams with centre-backs, but without an adequate defensive midfielder worthy of the name.

But as mentioned above, more than the tactics or formation, this seemed to be a failing of application.

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Spurs 1-0 Brighton: Five Tottenham Observations

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1. A Rummy Tactical Set-Up

So evidently inspired by the hilarity of leaving emotions strewn around the place in tatters at the end of the Champions League quarter-final, our heroes decided once again to leave matters late last night, to similarly side-slitting effect. Oh the japes!

I don’t mind baring my soul and admitting that by the time Eriksen did the honourable thing I was uncorking a bourbon and preparing the palate for a particularly stiff dram. Could not really fault the endeavour of our heroes, you understand, but some of the chosen routes to goal did slightly boggle the mind.

Right from kick-off, I looked to the left touchline, where Sonny lurked, and the right touchline, where Lucas hove similarly, and gave the chin one of the season’s more pensive strokes. Worth a whirl of course – and in defence of Our Glorious Leader, he was not exactly inundated with options.

However, the proof of the pudding appeared to be the countless dead ends into which Messrs Son and Lucas wandered, barely able to deep their toes into the Brighton area, let alone conjure the requisite magic to slice upon the visiting defence. All the while Senor Llorente rather forlornly slunk around in the penalty area, throwing occasional pleading glances towards team-mates in the hope of being allowed to join in.

It was not to be, which was fair enough; but the fact that this was evident so early on is what really got my goat, if you pardon the fruity language. It irked. The system did not really work, so why not change it? Perhaps switching to two upfront, with a midfield diamond and the full-backs pushing further up? Or tucking Sonny and Lucas in more narrowly, outnumbering the Brighton centre-backs?

Piffle, you might well opine, and with some justification; but the nub of the thing is that the selected approach generated precious little reward, so persisting with it throughout was most peculiar.

2. Pochettino’s In-Game Changes

On a related note, the reluctance of Pochettino to twiddle knobs during proceedings will likely be recorded by the record-keepers as one of the few blots on his escutcheon.

I perhaps do him a disservice, because at various points this season, more so than in previous years, he has indeed made an occasional half-time tweak to good effect. Last night, however, was an unwelcome return to his predilection for seemingly forgetting that it is within his gift to alter personnel or system on a whim.

Admittedly, as remarked, he was short of alternatives from which to choose, and one understood the reluctance to opt for the Vincent Janssen option, but changes such those he did finally make arrived only at or beyond the 80-minute mark – and as such bordered on the redundant. Brighton were making a darned good fist of repelling everything he hoicked their way from early on in proceedings, so there would have been some value in trying a different approach at an earlier juncture.

3. The Need For One-Touch Stuff

A further curiosity, from afar, was the inability of our heroes to play any one-touch stuff. One understands that they were generally afforded plenty of space when twenty or twenty-five yards from goal (or further), but they did themselves few favours by their constant tendency to dally on the ball.

It was all control, look around in every direction, take another touch and have a long think before passing. The concept of simply zipping one-twos between themselves seemed utterly alien. And I don’t mean the sort of incisive, dreamy one-twos just inside the area that see Man City and pomp Barcelona cut teams to ribbons; I mean simply a one-two between a couple of chums in nearish proximity anywhere on the pitch. Just whizzing the ball swiftly back and forth can give the opposition a bit of a jolt, and tempt them to follow ball rather than man.

4. Eriksen: Worming His Way Back Into AANP’s Affections

Mercifully, all can be forgiven and forgotten. As mentioned, there was perspiration by the bucketload, and neither Dele nor Toby could have got much closer with their respective efforts.

Ultimately it came down to Eriksen, whose radar had been gradually inching towards the sweet spot throughout the game.

Regular drinkers at the AANP watering hole will be aware that the chap has not been my firmest favourite in recent weeks. It would be a mite strong to say that we had fallen out, but a certain cooling in affections had certainly come to be. I, for my part, have begun to lose patience at his sloppy passing; he, for his part, has passed sloppily.

However, to his credit he has retained throughout proceedings the capacity to rustle up something magical from thin air, and he was at it again tonight, for the goal when it finally arrived was struck as sweetly as a cover drive on the opening morning of a first day at Lord’s.

In truth, as the game wore on and Brighton defended so stoutly that they seemed to become one with their penalty area, our lot increasingly turned to Eriksen to unpick the cuffs and get them out of the frightful mess. And he generally did his best to oblige, constantly probing for the killer pass, and indulging in a handful of reasonable long-distance efforts. In short, he shirked not his responsibilities. Perhaps a truce between he and I might be in order.

5. Angry Danny Rose Excels Again

Not that I want to lavish too much praise upon Eriksen, mind, for the star performer from my vantage point was Danny Rose.

Taking the field in a his usual angry mood, he kicked off proceedings by sending a Brighton player flying skyward with a slide tackle by the corner flag that served no purpose other than to show the world quite how angry he was; and he simply became angrier thereafter.

On top of which, he established himself, during the first half at least, as possibly our most creative outlet. Formally assigned the left-back role though he might have been, these days Danny Rose is pretty convinced that he is Paul Gascoigne, and he duly gambolled into central midfield whenever he could, because you could be dashed sure nobody else was going to dribble past an opponent.

The second half saw him stick a little more rigidly to the left flank (although he simply would not be caged, and at one point almost thumped one in from range with his right foot, which seemed to juggle the laws of physics a tad). As the game wore on, his star faded a mite – and Eriksen’s burned brighter – but nevertheless, he injects an energy and aggression into his every performance that sets a pleasing tone for those around him.

All things considered, this was another one of those peculiar episodes, with our lot beavering away relentlessly yet seeming to do so in quite a counter-productive way for much of it. However, the Top Four is pretty dashed close now, the new stadium remains a fortress and it is the credit of all concerned that they stagger on with resources so depleted.

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Spurs match reports

Brighton 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Welcome Win, Slightly Improved Performance

For those of you who have been merrily camping under a rock for the last few weeks, pre kick-off this particular binge had assumed a darned sight more importance than your average ‘Brighton (away)’. Three defeats, fatigue, drink-driving, transfers (or lack thereof) and incomplete building works had all contributed to a general sense that the four horsemen were fastening their buckles and giving their mounts some final instructions.

It was therefore with a mixture that was around one-third surprise and two-thirds relief that I noted the perilous nature of the situation had made itself known to our heroes, as set to work trying to unpick the Brighton lock with sleeves rolled up and concentration etched all over faces.

Our lot prodded and probed, and although there was a conspicuous absence of the sweet, sweet sound of oil being struck in that opening half hour, things were at least a notch or two zippier than in recent weeks.
Brighton, understandably enough, began proceedings in rather cautious manner, supplementing their back four with a couple of midfielders, a striker and just about anyone who happened to be passing through the south coast with half an hour to kill. The massed ranks proved tricky to breach, so thank goodness for the flailing paw of Glenn Murray.

Thereafter, needing to chase the game, our hosts hit upon the idea of doing some attacking of their own, and the game segued from one of history’s more passive chess matches to a harum-scarum game of playground football in which the bell is about to sound and life depends upon scoring the next goal. Gaps duly appeared for our heroes to exploit, and on several occasions we appeared to be one devilishly-executed pass away from sewing up the thing; but at the other end Brighton were rushing around like a pack of wolves that had scented blood, and worried glances were being exchanged like nobody’s business in our ranks, which was pretty telling.

Mercifully, the added layer or two of quality in lilywhite picked a good moment to make itself known. There might have been a bucketful or two more perspiration involved than was entirely comfortable, but given recent history I suspect I’m not the only one glad that we simply made it off the pitch with three points intact.

2. A Good Dembele Day

The sages paid to opine on these things picked Danny Rose as their star man, and one does not want to begrudge the honest chap, but at AANP Towers preparations were being made to pin the relevant rosette to one Mousa Dembele.

This was not so much a game in which he orchestrated everything like a criminal mastermind in an underground lair. It was more the fact that every time he popped up in the centre of the pitch, he simply did the right thing.

If a tackle needed to be made, he went a-crunching. When fed the ball he either glided past the nearest bemused opponent, or rolled it onwards to a chum. And on more than one occasion when a teammate got his feet into a muddle and Brighton looked to pinch the thing, Dembele came racing across, extinguishing materials at the ready, to douse flames and restore calm.

(Quite what the nearby Eric Dier made of this repeated purveyance of well-executed decisions is anyone’s guess, but I rather suspect that he gasped and said “What ho!” In fairness, this was not one of Dier’s increasingly common bad days, and his incisive forward pass to set in motion our second was a useful reminder of that of which he’s capable. Nevertheless, as often as not the chap is errant in his passing and a little ill-judged in his tackling. It all lends a little bafflement to the notion that we bought nobody this summer because there was no room for improvement on the current mob.)

3. Hints of Kane Returning to From

It is impossible to swing a cat these days without crashing into someone armed with their own thesis as to why Harry Kane has not been sweeping all before him in recent weeks like some modern-day Hannibal.

Various theories expounded by those in the know include the fact that Lucas is elbowing him out of position and into a spot somewhere nearer halfway; fatigue has the poor egg in its clutches and won’t let him go; a newborn baby is depriving him of sleep; it’s hardly his fault when the team aren’t giving him much of a sniff of goal; and confidence has drained from him.

The considered AANP opinon on all this is to offer a generously-sized shrug and wonder if it is some combo of all of the above (apart from the confidence thing, perhaps – the chap’s self-belief throughout his career has been trumpeted throughout the land ad nauseam, on top of which he’s just won a World Cup golden boot and put to bed the whole August-curse nonsense, so it seems rather a stretch to imagine that a couple of goalless games has him laying awake every night riddled with self-doubt).

Whatever the reason, the whole debate struck me as beginning to disappear from view yesterday, as during the second half in particular Kane rediscovered his joie de vivre and, for the first time in around six months, began to hare towards goals, shove defenders aside and effect some nifty footwork as appropriate in order to thump a shot from distance and on-target.

This happened three times in the closing stages, and while each shot was admittedly of the meat-slash-drink variety for the goalkeeper, each episode felt like a welcome return to the Kane of yore. It was of an ilk not seen so far this season, during the World Cup or generally ever since that ankle injury vs Bournemouth in March.

4. Late Concession

Our second goal was Sunday-best sort of material, and allowed us to canter towards minute 90 in pretty rare fettle – but this being what it is, and our lot being who they are, there was naturally one of those plot twists that is advertised as “Unexpected”, even though one had a pretty hefty inkling it was coming all along.

Brighton’s goal was the latest in a pretty meaty catalogue of Fairly Soft Goals Conceded By THFC In Season 2018/19, on top of which there was still time for us to lose possession and usher them in for another shot at goal, despite there only being around 90 seconds on the clock.

I suspect if that had gone in cracks might have appeared in the sky and an impromptu riot begun by Spurs fans across the land, so thank heavens for the safe hands of young Master Gazzaniga.

More broadly however, something does need to be done to stop this particular brand of rot. If we have a lead, and a game is meandering fairly aimlessly towards a victory, the Brains Trust and all involved dashed well need to find a way to ensure that the meandering continues apace and victory ensues with minimal fuss.

Both Watford and Inter were allowed back into games that no casual observer would have believed would finish as anything but a lilywhite victory, and last night we came within a gnat’s wingspan of making an almighty muddle of things yet again. Yesterday’s victory was deserved, but this habit of complicating the serene march to victory really must stop, dash it.

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Brighton 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

Hmm, difficult to know what to make of that one, what? A bit of a struggle to find the delicate phrase that sums it all up. Not that my old man, AANP Senior, had much trouble, mind. “Rubbish,” was his pithy assessment as the bell sounded, and I suppose it’s hard to disagree.

1. The Central Midfield

Being an enlightened sort, who is all for a new wheeze once in a while, I have no problem with the modern concept of ‘change’. A spot of invention is as likely to do good as harm, so if some old bean wants to wheel out a new idea every once in a while it’s fine by me.

However, there is a limit to these things, so when Our Glorious Leader instructed Dembele to put his feet up, and unveiled Messrs Sissoko and Wanyama as his midfield axis of choice, the AANP blood did freeze over a mite.

No doubt both are good, honest chaps, and when it comes to destruction, Victor Wanyama struts around like a bloke who has a diploma in the field. Present him with a slick-passing outfit like Real Madrid, and the chap will likely prowl around like a bulldog scenting blood.

As for Sissoko – well, two years on it is still a little difficult to ascertain quite what benefit he brings to any situation conceivable, but the hound does have an engine on him, even if the connection between feet and brain has something of the Russian Roulette about it.

However, whatever argument one pitches in favour of these two young fish, one cannot look one’s neighbour in the eye and honestly opine that between them they are possessed of the guile and finesse required to unpick a well-organised couple of banks of four. Last night required our central midfield to spot a cute pass and deliver it in nary the blink of any eye. Alas, Wanyama and Sissoko spend that much time bringing the dashed thing under control and carefully laying out all their optins that dew began to settle on the turf around them.

To his credit, Wanyama at least used his destructive capabilities for good, in harassing the Brighton chappie into conceding possession to Son, who created our opener. But by and large, the deep-lying well of creativity was dry as a bone until Dembele lumbered on and began effortlessly rolling past approaching bodies.

2. Full-Backs And The Class Of ‘16/17

Cast your minds back twelve months or so, and you may recall that the Premier League was not quite the one-horse procession of 2018, and the good ship Hotspur was in fact making a dashed good fist of things. All-singing, all-dancing, golden boot-wearing and whatnot. But perhaps key to all this was the quality of our full-backs. Perhaps not, as the counter-argument might go, but still – perhaps.

Danny Rose on one side and Kyle Walker on the left were at the peak of their powers, combining the pace and attacking width of wingers with the pace and defensive upper-body strength of full-backs. Acting as all-rounders in the team, this indefatigable pair sneakily gave us the advantage of effectively having two extra sets of legs on the pitch.

In a team riddled with key personnel, a pretty convincing case could be made for those two being the most important of the lot. Fast forward to the present day and it’s fair to say our tails are not waggling with quite so much aplomb.

Each member of the current gaggle does brim with energy, and they are generally decent wide outlets, ever willing to go flying up the flank in search of glory. But this does not count for much if they consistently peddle utter rot once they get there, no?

To his credit, Trippier does a fairly nifty line in cushion-volleyed-first-time passes (the specimen that set up Dele Alli vs Real makes for a decent Exhibit A), but in general this lot seem to be of the ‘Close Your Eyes And Swing Your Boot’ School of Crossing, with the ball as likely to fly into orbit as it is to bend into a usefully chaotic area.

On top of which, the inclusion of Serge Aurier on matchday is essentially equivalent to conceding a goal start to the opposition, the chap delivering calamitous interventions like a seasoned pro. Yesterday, naturally was an opportunity for him to showcase his imbecilic rot, and he didn’t disappoint, while on t’other side Ben Davies delivered his usual slew of utterly average crosses. It makes the soul droop, it really does.

3. Toby Alderweireld

Might this prove the last appearance in lilywhite of Toby Alderweireld? Quite possibly.

One ought not to quibble with Daniel Levy and his careful management of every last penny, but it does seem a dashed shame that when we hit upon a world class egg like Alderweireld, a reason is promptly dug up to kick the chap off the premises and make clear to him that he is no longer welcome to break bread with us.

Davinson Sanchez is a hearty young buck, and in time might well become one of the best of the lot, but at present he still gets his head in an occasional tizz and blurts out the wrong lines. Toby, by contrast, is near faultless, and together with Vertonghen they form quite the bedrock. But what is one to do?

4. Harry Kane’s Fitness

I asked after Saturday’s defeat, and in that keen analytical way of mine, I’ll ask again now – is the blighter fully fit? There seems to be a slightl sluggishness about the fellow ever since his return, as if he is approaching the latter stages of a particularly gruelling cross-country trek and, all things being equal, would not say no to a cup of tea and a roaring fire.

Not a bad call from Senor Poch mind, to pull him back into the Number 10 role in the second half, as it at least meant that the young bean got to see a little of the ball. It still came to naught, but at least reacquainted him with his erstwhile spherical chum.

I do rather hope that the spring returns to his step fairly sharp-ish. We may well have fourth spot just about in the bag, but to put it bluntly an FA Cup win would be a darned sight easier if Harry Kane were donning a cape and leading opposing defenders a merry dance.

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