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Spurs news, rants

Spurs’ January Transfer Window: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dele

AANP has traditionally been one to greet bad news with a stiffening of the upper lip and, if pushed, a solemn, unspoken nod at a nearby chum who feels similarly. And rarely has the upper lip been stiffer in recent times than upon learning of the departure of young Dele.

Utterly inevitable of course. The young bean had long ago fizzled out, and generally only popped up in lilywhite in recent years to drift along in his own little world before another month or two on the bench. If any other wag did what he’s been doing – slowing down the game, hogging the ball, moodily waving the arms and giving up the cause when dispossessed – the knives would have been out and pitchforks flung in his direction a long time ago.

By the time the bitter end swung around Dele offered purely decorative value. We’d spot him pre-match, forlornly nutmegging his fellow subs during the warm-up, but thereafter his biggest contribution tended to be in unwrapping a blanket for his legs as he watched on from the bench. If ever a former bright young thing needed a change of scenery, it is Dele. One does not disagree with the unceremonious binning.

Quite why it all went wrong is a rummy one. Dele’s problem seemed ultimately to be an existential one, in that his favoured No. 10 position simply ceased to exist. Disappeared into the ether. This must have been pretty tough for the chap to take, essentially turning up to work to find that his desk had been removed, but I suppose time – and systems involving one central striker and two inverted wingers – wait for no man.

Within Conte’s 3-4-3, there is no room for a midfielder who yearns deep inside to be a forward. Conte’s midfielders must midfield first, and ghost into the opposition area only on special occasions.

(Admittedly the 3-5-2 set-up, which brought something like the best out of Dele vs Liverpool a few weeks back, suggested that there might be life in the old dog yet, and I confess to being a mite surprised that this experiment was not repeated, but Conte presumably had seen enough.)

So off he has popped – and yet it does lower the mood about the place, what? Peak Dele was, if not necessarily the heartbeat, then certainly one of the essential organs of the whole glorious-without-actually-bringing-home-any-specific-glory Poch era.

This is not so much for what he did (although the list is plentiful and glorious: popping up as young scamps will do, with goals against Real, and Arse, and Chelsea; demonstrating some quite glorious touches to pluck falling footballs from the sky; grinning cheekily while kicking out slyly; contorting thumb and forefinger; and so on).

It’s as much for what the very presence of the chap said about our last fun adventure: Poch-era Tottenham. Here was a brash young bounder who oozed talent and positively revelled in flicking the ears of shinier opponents. Think of him in his bursting-from-midfield pomp, and it’s hard not to think of that all-singing, all-dancing team of nearly-men who had an absolute blast and took us to within a whisker of pots of various sizes.

And by a similar token, removing Dele in effect dismantles more of that Poch machinery, leaving behind just the top and tail of the thing.

“Here’s Dele Alli… here’s Lucas Moura… OH THEY’VE DONE IT!

2. Ndombele and Lo Celso

Tottenham Hotspur is, of course, where talented foreign footballers go to die, so we probably should not be too surprised that having looked like the sort of beans around whom Title-challenging teams could be built in their YouTube compilations and international performances, Ndombele and Lo Celso are now being bundled out of the nearest exit.

Dashed shame though. One didn’t need to boast the keenest football eye to detect that each of the aforementioned were capable of some pretty ripping stuff with a ball at their feet – and I rather fancy that they’ll do more of the same in sunnier climes in the months and years to come, when bedecked in anything but lilywhite.

And yet, present them with the lush greenery of N17 and the pair of them struggled to remember what game they were playing.

Actually, I do Ndombele a disservice there. The chap’s great flaw was not his touch, or delivery, or any such thing. The main challenge Ndombele seemed to encounter any time he finished tying his laces was that after one quick trot around the pitch he seemed to need a full week to recover, gasping for air, his lungs aflame and legs as jelly.

If inclined one could probably write a long-ish essay on what went wrong and what might have been a bit right-er about Ndombele’s time at Spurs. There were moments when he would receive the ball in the narrowest of corners, boxed in by a variety of opposing limbs, and still mesmerically emerge from said dead-end with ball at feet and opponents dizzied. Sometimes he would even throw in end-product too, a delightfully-weighted pass or a shot from the edge of the area.

Ultimately, however, neither he nor Lo Celso seemed remotely cut out for a life in the heart of the Tottenham midfield. Lo Celso in particular seemed to make a habit, in recent months, of doing small things with great error, be it a simple pass to tick along the midfield or a corner to beat the first man.

Perhaps if any of the umpteen managers who oversaw them had seen fit to take either of these two souls, stick them slap-bang in the heart of things and construct a team around them, their talents might have blazed forth and all would have been right with the world.

But it is telling that none of those managers did. Sometimes no words need uttering, and these appears to be those times. A knowing nod, and tap of the nose speaks volumes. “Ndombele and Lo Celso”, one manager after another seems to have been saying, without actually saying, “not the sort of eggs upon whom one can rely.” And if an egg can’t be relied upon in midfield, there’s not much left for them other than the scraps of substitute appearances and an occasional Europa start.

3. Bryan Gil

There are loans and then there are loans, and while Ndombele and Lo Celso’s loans seem to carry with them a rather unsubtle message that if they want to stick around in their new homes then it’s fine by all back at HQ, the loan of Bryan Gil has more of the bona fide have-him-for-a-bit-but-then-return-him about it.

The view at AANP Towers is pretty unimpressed about this one, from start to finish. One probably should let bygones be bygones and whatnot, but I still chafe a bit at the thought that we traded in one perfectly serviceable Lamela – plus £20m, dash it – for this Gil character.

Not Gil’s fault of course, he can do little more than turn up where told, at the appointed hour and with hair combed just so. But the logic behind the whole trade-off to this day has me scratching the old loaf. I should probably revisit the whole script in a few years’ time, when Gil has discovered the joys of steak lunches and bench presses, but for now he is a boy in a man’s world if ever there were one.

The loan at least means he can get his size fives in contact with a ball again, so silver linings and all that. More terrifyingly, in conjunction with the paperwork on Dele, Ndombele and Lo Celso, it leaves the creative cupboard pretty bare – but this is presumably a contingency for which Our Glorious Leader has planned.

4. Bentancur and Kulusevski

As ever, if you want a detailed analysis of these fellows’ strengths, weaknesses, preferences and whatnot then you are in a laughably bad spot of the interweb, but do stick around anyway.

AANP can be pretty sharp at times, and having seen Conte get rid of three creative central midfield types, and summon Bentancur – yet another of those fellows whose idea of a good time is rolling up their sleeves, scrapping for the ball and then shoving it sideways – I get the impression that Our Glorious Leader has a type.

As such this means another seat will be needed around the Central Midfield campfire, next time Messrs Hojbjerg, Skipp and Winks gather to chew the fat. Whether Bentancur proves to be any improvement on current produce remains to be seen, but he is another pair of legs for that midfield slot, so this can be considered a good week for anyone who has ever taken a look at our squad and tearfully warbled about its depth.

As for Kulusevski, this is apparently a chap fitted out for life in the more advanced positions, either coming in from the right or, intriguingly, straight through the centre (albeit as a supporting act rather than line-leading sort).

It would be a bit of a stretch therefore to suggest that in him we have that much-needed back-up to Harry Kane, but I think the gist is that he can be shoved into any of the attacking spots and expected to know his way around the premises.

As ever, one wishes him the best, and patience will be the watch-word, and so on and so forth – but having witnessed Lamela, Lucas, Bergwijn and Gil all try their luck in these wide-ish attacking positions, my enthusiasm for another off the production line is a little muted.

5. Non-Purchases

The failed attempts to snaffle Traore and Luis Diaz, while rather embarrassing, seem hardly calamitous.

The Traore affair struck me as good for a chuckle rather than having any obvious, analytical merit. Here was a chap who in the first place was undoubtedly muscular, and seemed nigh on unstoppable whenever he played against us. So far so good, one might suggest.

Get down to the nitty-gritty however, and a few plot-holes seemed to emerge. For all his muscles and love of a direct approach to attacking life, his end-product seemed pretty wild – and having sat through half a season of Emerson Royal’s struggles to deliver just one adequate cross from the right, I’m not sure Traore and his blast-it-anywhere approach is quite the remedy we’re after.

Moreover, the fellow is not a defender, and while Conte has some history of alchemy in this respect (Exhibit A, Victor Moses), the whole thing leaves me pretty sanguine about missing out on him.

As for Diaz, my Porto-dwelling chum Hawth has for some time been raving about the fellow’s attributes, and it is not hard to see why, so this one does rankle a tad. Even here though, the blow is softened considerably by the fact that Diaz earns his weekly wage in exactly the same position as one Son Heung-Min Esquire. So while the ignominy of rejection is again hard to swallow, this particular plot-twist did not exactly leave us any worse off than a month prior.

More of a frustration at AANP Towers is the passing of yet another transfer window without a sniff of a worthy understudy to that rotter Harry Kane. Lovely though it is to see Kane returning to his finest fettle in recent weeks, we are yet again left hoping that he navigates the remainder of the season without injury. Sonny, Bergwijn or potentially the new chap Kulusevski could all theoretically deputise on the odd occasion, but lose Kane for, say, six weeks or so and the panic button will be slammed with some gusto.

The failure to bring in another right wing-back is similarly being declared a mis-step by some sages, but in truth I’m rather encouraged by the 45-minute cameo of Matt Doherty against Leicester a few weeks back, so would be all for the chap being given a further stab at the gig, if only to keep Emerson Royal off stage.

6. Lloris

Perhaps the greatest triumph of the window, however, was the retention for the foreseeable future of Monsieur Lloris. It seemed a little bizarre that we even reached the stage that he was free to bat eyelids at other suitors, but Grandmaster Levy and chums move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform, and the moral of the story is that the chap remains ours for a couple more years, so it’s back-slaps and cigars all round.

While Lloris’ standards have taken a few notable wobbles in recent years, this season he has come out swinging, and our lot have looked all the better for it. Nobody is perfect of course, and I still wonder for example whether he might have waved a paw at that Chelsea opener from Ziyech in our last game – but one only has to cast the mind back to Gollini’s bizarre flap against Chelsea a few weeks earlier to realise how grateful we should be that Lloris is prepared to ride off into the sunset with AIA tattooed across his gut.

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Spurs match reports

Vitesse 1-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Eleven Strangers

It might come as some surprise to those who have witnessed AANP rise in incandescence to yell a thousand foul-mouthed curses at our lot over the years, but I actually give the players a lot of slack when, as tonight, they are tossed in as an eleven for the first time, each having never played with the other ten previously (and, on the evidence of tonight, possibly not having met before).

In fact, several Spurs-supporting chums of mine received a message immediately prior to kick-off to precisely this effect. The gist of my thinking at around 17.30 BST was that while these were eleven relatively talented individuals, it rarely works to throw any eleven together for the first time (and that’s the crucial bit – it was their first time). Were this lot to play as a collective for five or six consecutive weeks they might develop into a heck of a unit, because goodness knows there are enough amongst them skilled at keepy-uppies and whatnot. But assemble them like the sort of ragtag group of mercenaries one sees thrown together by fate in mindless Hollywood action fare, and the bar for their first outing will be set low.

So, when Lo Celso, Gil and Scarlett tried a zippy little exchange of passes towards the end of the first half that ended with the ball rather apologetically rolling into an empty space in the Vitesse area, the reaction at AANP Towers was forgiving. The conciliatory hand gesture could be interpreted by those who know me best as meaning “Fret ye not, oh lilywhite heroes, you are forgiven, for AANP understands that razor-sharp interplay takes time to develop.”

One might therefore assume that vengeance points towards Our Glorious Leader, for having cobbled together the aforementioned group of mercenaries. But even here, the mood at AANP Towers is one of understanding and magnanimity. Now AANP is the last person to advocate such dastardly fare as match-fixing, but the arithmetic suggests that if ever there were a good time to rest an entire eleven ahead of a visit to the least bad West Ham team in decades, this was probably that time. For even with the defeat tonight, we are three points behind Rennes, with three games left to play – including Rennes themselves at home. Do the necessaries back at base, and this Europa gubbins ought to take care of itself.

In short, some sympathy for the players for being handed a tough gig; and at the same time few complaints about the team selection.

2. Lazy Attitudes

However, if anyone in lilywhite – or wild elderberry or whatever the heck that that oddity is – thinks that the unfamiliar starting XI grants them immunity from criticism they can unpack another think and sharpish.

No matter what the circumstances, the players on stage ought as a minimum to have run themselves into the ground and have needed to have been carried off by the time the credits rolled.

Instead, we were treated to such sights as Lo Celso losing possession and slowing to a walk, exerting only the energy necessary to fling his arms up skyward. Possession will be lost, alas, such things are inevitable and I’m not about to chide an attacker for attempting a spot of creativity that does not materialise; but for heaven’s sake, then to react by simply giving up and expecting others to retrieve the situation is dastardly conduct, and if I had my way I’d subject the chap to a couple of lashes across the back, without right of appeal.

I single out Lo Celso merely because that particular incident sticks in the mind’s eye, but he was hardly alone. As Glenn put it on the tellybox afterwards, none of that rabble treated this bash like a Cup Final (I paraphrase), when as professionals representing our club, they ought.

Picking on another of the guilty parties, young Gil is one whose effort generally is pretty admirable, but he was chiefly to blame for allowing the chappie who scored the freedom of the D in which to arrange his volley.

And so on. One after another of our number seemed oddly lackadaisical, until, inevitably, we fell behind, at which juncture it was, of course, fresh injections of urgency all round.

Again, at the risk of labouring the point – attacking interplay that doesn’t quite strike oil is forgivable, given that these fellows are not necessarily used to each other’s games; but failure to strain every sinew is not.

3. Back-Up Players

Nor, to my eyes, was this only a failing of attitude. It also struck me that a number of supposedly talented players – seasoned internationals and whatnot – were putting in some pretty solid impressions of a bunch of bang-average performers.

If any of the midfield three were under orders to march in and dictate the game from start to finish, they did a pretty good job of disguising the fact from human observation. Lo Celso did show some bright ideas going forward (more on him below) but Dele and Winks were too peripheral in possession, and none of these three really provided the necessary protection for the back-four whenever the time came to lower the shields.

All of which was bad enough on the day, but given that this was a chance (and, indeed, the latest chance) for all eleven to prove to the Brains Trust that they are worthy of the First Choice XI, it was pretty alarming fodder from all concerned. Heaven forbid, but after seeing Winks, Dele and Lo Celso gradually lose the plot against the might of Vitesse, the old bean does perspire a tad at the thought of either Hojbjerg or, heaven forbid, young Skipp (currently on 4 yellow cards, lest we forget) being rendered unfit for public service in the coming games vs West Ham and Man Utd.

Similarly, upfront, while young Scarlett did not want for effort, he looked every inch a 17 year-old playing against seasoned pros. To chide him for this would be a bit like moaning at the sun for setting each evening. In short, it’s hardly his fault. But should a piano fall from the sky and onto the head of Kane it will put us in one heck of a pickle; and should any errant keys from the rapidly disintegrating piano fly off into the surroundings and poke young Sonny in the eye, I dread to speculate as to the players from whom our next goals might emanate.

It’s a big old squad, but judging by tonight’s fare, those first reserves do not fill to the gills with confidence.

4. Lo Celso

As alluded to, Lo Celso occasionally threatened to break into something resembling a pretty handy performance, which makes his eventual output all the more frustrating.

It can probably at least be said in his defence that what little quality we did produce going forward seemed at some point to pass through his size nines en route. In particular, the Gil shot that hit the bar was teed up by Senor GLC, and I’m pretty sure that when Bergwijn fluffed his lines halfway through the second half, Lo Celso’s were one of those pair of hooves that passed the parcel over halfway.

However, on the whole, without wanting to put too fine a point on it, not much that he tried actually worked. Passes seemed not quite to find their man; attempted dribbles seemed to result in him being tackled; and the whole thing was neatly seemed up right at the death when we packed their area with bodies only for his delivery to sale harmlessly into the stands. In a curious way, his performance reminded me of the early years of Lucas Moura in lilywhite, when he would flatter to deceive before running into a dead end and losing both his bearings and the ball.

Now when Lo Celso played against Mura a few weeks back, he again seemed a shadow of his potential self, when really the stage was set for him to run the show. Things only really changed when the big guns entered the fray – with Lucas, Sonny and Kane around him, Lo Celso played the Number 10 role like a man born to do so.

The nagging frustration is that he seems to need, as a matter of absolute necessity, great players around him to play at his best. Must this be the case, particularly against fairly middling opponents? No doubt having better players to each of the north, east and west will make the day-job a lot easier for anyone; but Lo Celso ought to be good enough still to run shows like tonight’s without needing the assistance of some of the best in the world around him.

On the bright side, as mentioned above, tonight’s result ought not to harm our chances of ultimately winning this dashed trophy; and ought also to enhance our chances vs West Ham on Sunday. It’s rather soured the evening here at AANP Towers though, make no mistake.

Hither for tweets.

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Spurs match reports

Arsenal 3-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dele

Having lost 3-0 at Palace a couple of weeks ago, and then lost 3-0 at home to Chelsea last week, you might have thought that the familiarity of it all would lessen the blow, and that the response at AANP Towers to yet again going 3-0 down this evening would be to welcome the deficit like an old friend, slapping it on the back and inviting it in for a generous whiskey and a chat about the old times. Not so; in fact, the response at AANP Towers was to damn with a good deal of heartiness the act of going three-nil down and all those involved in its construction.

The vague flutter of life in the final ten minutes did little to disguise that this was as rotten a performance as they come, and gazing with horror at the ruins I did feel like one of those FBI chaps on the telly-box who stares at several dismembered bodies wondering where to begin; but luckily the evidence points to no shortage of culprits, and one of the foremost amongst them is Dele.

Last week, after the dismal second half against Chelsea, I wondered aloud what it is that Dele actually does; and this week, after the dismal first half against Woolwich left me wondering what it is that Dele actually does, sharp as a tack I went a step further and started to ask myself whether some sort of theme was emerging.

Much can be said about the tactical set-up, our 4-3-3 strongly avoiding the offering of either one thing (attack) or another (defence), but as Messrs Ndombele, Hojbjerg and Skipp demonstrated at least in fits and starts, even within this ill-fitting system one can still roll up the sleeves and try to make the best of things.

Dele, however, simply disappeared from sight as soon as proceedings were formally launched. The front six in general seemed determined that their ‘press’ was going to be nominal only, with as few drops of perspiration expended towards this exercise as possible, so I probably ought not to single out the chap for blame in that respect. But if a memo had done the rounds at HQ instructing the midfield sorts to contribute to matters in possession, or avail themselves when it seemed we might have an exploratory wander toward goal, Dele evidently was not privy to such communication.

Nor is this the first game in which he’s drifted in and out of existence. This midfield berth does not suit the lad, and while it might fit an occasional media narrative to suggest that he’s been reinvented as a box-to-box midfielder, the AANP response is to groan a particularly exasperated one and urge whomever the hell is responsible for such things either to shove him up in that role supporting Kane, à la the prime years under Poch, or get him out of the team and pick someone else better suited to whatever system it is we’re trying to peddle.

2. Ndombele

Visitors to social media who are particularly adept at scouring the nooks and crannies might have noted a rare Tweet from the AANP thumbs and forefingers this week, as, continuing that theme of wondering aloud, I put to the world that this Hotspur XI is big enough only for one of Dele or Ndombele; but, crucially, not both.

The rationale being as follows: neither seem to have the required puff in their cheeks or fire in their bellies to knuckle down and put in a solid, non-stop shift of defensive duties.

Now, in a sense, one might ask why the hell should they? And this would be a pretty reasonable retort. After all, one doesn’t ask Hugo to poach goals in the opposition six-yard box. Neither Dele nor Ndombele are the sorts constructed by Mother Nature to spend their days tracking back and winning tackles, so, the argument continues, excuse them from such such rigours as required by a 4-3-3. Both of these are attack-minded souls, so let them attack.

In a sense this is acceptable enough; but it does seem to have the consequence that only one or t’other should be deployed at any given time, as we really don’t have room to let allow one chap after another to be excused from the muckier lines of work. And whichever of these two get the nod really ought to be the attacking fulcrum, the sort of nib through whom all our creative energies through flow.

Frankly, at the moment – and this is a moment now stretching to about a season and a half – Dele is not that attacking fulcrum. As mentioned above, I rather think he ought to be stationed in a supporting role to Kane or not at all.

Ndombele, on the other hand, does like to toss around tantalising hints of being the sort of egg who could make things happen. Oddly, within the disastrous first half, Ndombele somehow managed to engineer the status of ‘Being Fairly Heavily Involved’. These things are relative, of course (his other ten chums being dotted around the place for decorative value only), and contextual (he was involved to the extent that he seemed to attract the ball a fair amount, but make no mistake – all the bright sparks were flying in opposition colours).

Nevertheless, somehow he seemed to be on the ball rather a lot of the ball in the first half. It was all fairly frustrating content, alas, as he simply seemed to poke his head down various cul de sacs before stroking the ball sideways; but at least, unlike Dele, he seemed to be present on the pitch on some physical level. It seemed we were at least graced with someone who was happy enough to take a look at the problem, even if he were slap bang out of workable solutions.

This was certainly not Ndombele’s greatest day, and let’s face it, after two and a bit years I’m not sure how much patience is left in the tank as we wait for his great days to stream forth; but if we are going to pick a fellow in the centre through whom we want attacking operations to be conducted, I would prefer it to be Ndombele than Dele; and given the shortcomings of both on the defensive side of things, I am convinced that we cannot accommodate both (other than against the very weakest sorts).

3. Skipp

On a brighter note, young Skipp took the opportunity of his introduction to remind his more esteemed comrades that a touch of commitment and gusto is still allowed.

Hot on the heels of a couple of crunching midweek tackles on Adama Traore of all people, Skipp did not wait too long before delivering what is fast becoming his trademark, full-body sliding challenge. Indeed, this is one of the few games I have witnessed in which one of the highlights has been to see one of our number pick up a caution, but I applauded the young bean for picking up his, if only because it seemed to suggest that at least someone in lilywhite gave the slightest damn about things.

All of which makes Skipp’s omission from the starting line-up a little bit of a head-scratcher. Wisdom after the event, of course, is a rather irritating trait, so I won’t make a production of this – but I doubt I was alone in wondering at kick-off about the strategic value of picking a midfield heavy on Deles, Ndombeles and Hojbjergs, and decidedly light on Skipps. For this game of all games – against that lot, and in front of their fans – it seemed about as uncontroversial a call as they come to have included from the off the one chap whose eyes light up at the thought of flying in amongst the limbs.

One hardly questions Nuno’s tenure as boss, but a third successive hammering suggests that the time in which he earns his weekly envelope is upon us, and his calls to date have been odd. The strategy has changed each week; 4-3-3 seems ill-fitting; and now the choice of personnel – in picking both Dele and Ndombele, and leaving out Skipp – do little to suggest that here is a General whose plans are fully formed and expertly constructed.

4. Gil

As a final, damning indictment upon those who should know better, the other bright spark from within our regiment came from young Gil, a lad who still looks like he ought to be in bed by 8.

Having been kept on a firm leash during his losing-cause-cameo last week, he had a bit more joy in the l-c-c this time around. Admittedly his end-product missed as much as it hit, but he gave his opponent plenty about which to ponder, and generally scuttled around the place with an energy and willing that, one is disappointed to report, looked pretty out of place compared to his moping, half-hearted seniors.

I was particularly impressed with his energy and speed of thought in sliding in to set up Reguilon, for Son’s goal, a touch that went rather under the radar on the telly-box, but which turned out to be a decidedly nifty pass from a pretty unforgiving starting point.

Had the deflected effort from Lucas (another who at least showed a few glimpses of willing) looped in at the death we might have had an entertaining final minute or two; but this was a defeat absolutely deserved, and I don’t mind suggesting that the whole lot of them ought now to be subjected to some form of brutish public humiliation.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-3 Chelsea: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. RIP Jimmy Greaves

Although too young to have seen him myself, the recollections of my old man, AANP Senior – a man so hard to impress that even the win over Real Madrid a few years back left him commenting gruffly that we should have scored more – are telling. Mention Greaves, and his eyes light up with a rarely-seen, almost childlike excitement, as he describes countless goals scored almost casually, assuring me that there simply was never a goalscorer as good as him.

It’s a claim supported by the numbers, which are so easy to take for granted, but on inspection almost defy belief.

While Dad had the privilege of seeing him week in, week out in the flesh (and meeting him outside the ground on one occasion), and I suspect is not alone in citing him as his all-time favourite player, for a generation of us we knew him through Saturday lunchtime television. Hard then to picture him as a goalscorer extraordinaire, but easy to love him as a personality.

A true Tottenham legend, our greatest goalscorer, arguably the greatest goalscorer of them all. Rest in peace, Jimmy Greaves.

2. First Half Positives

And so to the match itself. By the time the curtain came down we onlookers were slumped in our seats, the players were slumped in their spots and our lot as a collective had slumped a little further down the table – it was a pretty strong evening for slumping all round.

And what makes the whole thing taste that much more bitter is that in the early knockings we had gone about things with such bright-eyed and bushy-tailed vigour and purpose.

Given the way things have panned out in recent games I had approached yesterday’s fixture with all the optimism of one of those early Christians being tossed into a den of lions in front of a baying mob. What with our lot unable to muster more than about one shot per game for love nor money, and Chelsea teeming with Tuchels and Kantes and now even Lukakus, it was with a pretty heavy heart that I took my seat and peeled back my hands from over my eyes.

Yet, as mentioned, we came absolutely haring out of the traps.

Nuno sprang a bit of a surprise, both with his team selection and tactics. The return of Sonny obviously helped us look a tad more threatening at the north end of the pitch, while the deployment of Ndombele for Skipp seemed oddly adventurous for a head honcho who had only last weekend reacted to being top of the league by picking three holding midfielders. However, there we were, Ndobmele’s midweek escapades rewarded with a starting berth, and while I suppose some of the more cautious amongst us might have raised a tentative hand and wondered about defensive cover, it appeared that our heroes were being sent to battle with exhortations to attack ringing in their ears.

It so nearly worked, too, dash it all. Kane, Lo Celso and Sonny duly attached themselves each to a Chelsea centre-back, the press was high and the passing often zippy. Indeed, this zippiness of pass owed much to the fact that those not in possession were humming around busily and stationing themselves usefully to become available for a pass. The intensity matched that which we showed against Man City, with Chelsea’s attempts to pass out from the back proving particularly fertile ground for our press, and in short all was right with the world – except that we couldn’t stick the dashed ball into the dashed net.

And while it sounds obvious, that having been well established as the point of the exercise since the game was invented, it created one heck of a problem. No need to delve into too much gory detail as I suppose, as everyone saw what happened next – half-time, Kante, and so on and so forth – but the game-plan, well though it worked, really needed us to take an early lead in order that we might progress to Stage 2, as it were, and cling on to the lead while offering a countering threat.

Instead, in the blink of a second half eye we were two behind, with every last ounce of puff exerted and little clue how to break down a Chelsea defence that were smoking cigars in between the occasional victory in their own personal duals.

While there is much to chide about the second half, both in terms of individuals and the collective, AANP is prepared to break with tradition and just this once look on the bright side of a 3-0 hammering at home. For while the energy levels dropped to zero and the team simply ran out of ideas, the first half – or at least first half hour – gave a hint of the tactical nous and game-plan that might serve us a little better against weaker opponents. While one would not expect the exact tactic (of our front three essentially marking the opposition’s back three) every game, the high press and speed of passing was encouraging.

The chronology of things may have left a bad taste in the mouth, but the positives of the first half hour ought not to be dismissed out of hand.

3. Dele, Lo Celso and Ndombele

That said, nor should what followed be ignored. I don’t attach too much blame for either goal conceded (which I suppose is a tad generous on the opener, as headed goals from corners are eminently preventable), but tactically our lot appeared to consider that the best way to deal with Chelsea was to scratch heads and chase the occasional shadow; and moreover the attitude, from those paid handsomely to stretch every sinew for 90-odd minutes, was pretty half-baked.

Now the above stinging tribute is aimed at most of those on show (Monsieur Lloris perhaps exonerated, Hojbjerg similarly and young Skipp also at least having the dignity to upend a few blue-clad bodies when he was introduced). So when I zoom in on Dele, Lo Celso and Ndombele I want to make clear to my public that this is not to say, by extension, that those others in attendance could walk off with heads held high and breasts swelling with pride.

But Dele, Le Celso and Ndombele seem to attract the spotlight as much because it is hard to fathom what the devil they are supposed to be doing.

Ndombele at least appeared to start proceedings where he had left off in midweek, with the ball attached to his foot as if with string, and the capacity to mesmerise still burning bright within him.

So far, so good, and in fact all three of the above contributed to the first half promise, in their own specific ways. Dele popped up to assist both in defence and moving forward; Lo Celso stuck to his pressing role; Ndombele popped the ball about as required.

But when the leaks started to spring in the second half, none of this lot seemed to do much about it. In fact, they all rather disappeared from view, until reality caught up with perception and Ndombele and Lo Celso were officially removed from proceedings.

And while I suppose there are mitigating circumstances, not least in the fact that Our Glorious Leader has yet to imprint upon the collective an obvious signature style, this will have to go down as yet another game in which I ask of both Lo Celso and Ndombele, “What the devil are they supposed to do?”

Both seem shiny and expensive, and obviously come complete with a whole range of bells and whistles – but what are their optimal positions? Where and how do they best contribute? And, without wanting to revisit the heady days of my philosophy degree – what is their purpose? Both have been wandering the corridors of White Hart Lane for a few years now, and yet I’m not sure any amongst us are any the wiser as to how to use them. It’s pretty frustrating stuff, as both are clearly possessed of decent wedges of talent, but at present they just seem to roll around on the pitch, not quite contributing anything like as much as they ought.

On a vaguely similar note, I’m not hugely convinced about Dele’s supposed reimagining as a central midfielder. He trots around dutifully crossing t’s and dotting the occasional i, but there is still a lot about him of the square peg trying to adapt to a round hole. He is and always was best gliding surreptitiously into the box to nosey around and pick up goals. Putting the onus on him to track back and defend only seems to encourage him to concede free-kicks in dangerous areas; similarly, watching him take all day to pick a pass in midfield does make me occasionally yank at a clump of hair from my scalp.

4. Gil

And briefly, it drifted a little under the radar, but this gave us a first proper eyeing of young Gil at Premier League level, as he was given half an hour or so to work up a sweat.

While one does not pass judgement on half an hour against the current European Champions and quite possibly future Title-winners, there was precious little about the young tick to cause even a slither of excitement. I cannot quite remember how much on top of Lamela we paid for his services, and no doubt the deal was made with an eye on the future – but in the here and now I must confess to watching him and a little wistfully wishing that we could have brought on Lamela instead.

At one point Gil was simply shrugged out of the way by Rudiger like a cat swatting aside a passing rodent, and while in time he will presumably sink a steak or two, it was hardly the game-changing impact for which we were looking.

Nor did Gil do anything at all with the ball at his feet that suggested he might prompt a wrinkle or two to appear across a Chelsea forward.

Brighter days will undoubtedly come, but to finish a game like this wishing we hadn’t sold Lamela seemed a suitably damning conclusion.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Rennes 2-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Ndombele

Oddly enough, in the midst of yet another thoroughly toothless lilywhite showing we actually had one pretty eye-catching individual performance; and even oddlier, that performance was delivered by young Monsieur Ndombele. I don’t know much about his childhood, but I would guess that in his school reports the gist of the feedback from his teachers would be along the lines of ‘Gifted, but doesn’t always apply himself’.

But by golly that gifted streak was on show yesterday, in full technicolour. It would be a stretch – and in fact a plain untruth – to say that he covered every blade of grass and bossed proceedings, but that never has been the instruction on the side of his particular tin. Instead, his gifts manifested themselves in the form of absolute wizardry pretty much every time he had the ball at his feet.

During the early knockings, when we mistakenly chalked this up as a walk in the park, Ndombele seemed central to all that was good about us, not least in carrying the ball ten yards from central to attacking locations, casually dispensing of opponents as if playthings. It appeared to be the sort of attacking spark for which our mob have been crying out in recent games, and Rennes couldn’t fathom it.

His contribution to the opening goal has been well documented, and even thereafter, when all around him seemed to realise that rather than a stroll in the sun this was actually a fight to the death, and one they were losing, Ndombele continued casually to befuddle the nearest Rennes opponent with his every touch, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the tide had turned and disaster loomed. Remarkably, every time he received the ball he seemed to carry on like this was some sort of exhibition match in which fleet-footed trickery was a legal requirement. It was pretty sensational stuff.

Whether or not he can do this regularly, and indeed how he might be accommodated in the first place, are questions for another day. For now, it is simply pleasing to note that after another thoroughly underwhelming production we were at least able to give tongue to some rarely-used compliments about Ndombele.

2. Lucas

The current whacky trend amongst our heroes is to hobble off injured at the earliest opportunity, and Messrs Bergwijn and Lucas duly filed their entries yesterday, with all the accompanying winces and limps on show.

About Bergwijn I am relatively indifferent, truth be told. Being the sort of armchair fan who prefers my wide attackers shiny, with plenty of dribbles, crosses and goals, I am yet to warm to the chap terrifically. His injury I therefore acknowledge as unfortunate, and so on and so forth, but once out of AANP sight he’s pretty definitely out of AANP’s mind.

Far more galling was the sight of Lucas succumbing to whatever fatal blow it was. While in previous seasons I must confess to having been unconvinced, this time around he has been delivering the goods by the bucketload. His dribbles have been suitably mazy, and unlike in previous seasons, rather than simply waltzing around in a small circle and hitting a brick wall, this time around he seems to waltz past hacking limbs before delivering a sensible conclusion to the whole adventure.

It is produce all the more bewitching given the amount of risk-free nonsense being peddled by those around him. With Sonny still AWOL and the boy Gil seemingly considered too green for the rigours of the English game, the stage seemed well set for Lucas – and he appeared to have been delivering.

His injury therefore elicited a pretty fruity curse or two from this quarter. A swift recovery is to be firmly wished.

3. Kane

While Lucas seems to have fallen back in love with the game, and Ndombele – well, it’s anyone’s guess what goes on in between those two particular ears – that rotter Harry Kane now lopes about the place with the air of an aggrieved teenager.

I can’t help wondering if he would steam around the pitch with greater vim if the white shirt had on its breast three lions rather than one cockerel, but I suppose it’s difficult to gauge and probably harsh to opine. Still, while one appreciates there is little he can do when all and sundry are tying themselves in midfield knots rather than simply giving him some service, his body language is nevertheless that of a man who would rather be elsewhere. Which rather chimes with his close-season interviews, what?

This attitude is all the more galling when one considers that he has now overtaken the great S. Perryman Esquire as our European appearance record-holder. It’s an honour that ought to be held by someone who wants to wear the shirt, dash it.

On a more practical note, this rot of him swanning around in midfield has to stop. The back-to-goal first-time flick to set up our opener was a joy to behold, straight out of the Teddy Sheringham playbook; but an occasional venture a few steps south to dink one cheeky pass is one thing; taking up residence in midfield and trying his best Pirlo impressions are another. “Stay up front, laddie”, would be the anthem in his ears from AANP Towers.

4. Nuno’s Masterplan

This was a pretty difficult game to summarise in a single, pithy statement. I know because I tried – my old man, AANP Senior, presumably deciding that, having cut his teeth on the double-winners, the Europa Conference was beneath him. I suspect he is now clearer on events now, having been fully briefed by yours truly.

If the raison d’etre of momentum is to swing, it put its heart and soul into the job in yesterday’s game. Whereas the first twenty or so had much of the cakewalk about it, when Rennes decided to up the ante they did so with such relentless gusto that our lot simply could not cope. This storm having been briefly weathered thereafter, Rennes seemed in the second half to decide that being the dominant force suited them, and I for one had rather given the thing up as a lost cause when Hojbjerg spared our blushes.

Credit where due then, but trying to fathom Our Glorious Leader’s tactics did make the head swim a bit, particularly in the context of previous games. Having approached the Palace game – as league leaders, lest we forget – with three defensive midfielders, I can only assume that Nuno was approached by an angel in a dream, such was the extreme nature of his swerve to yesterday’s tactic, of a single holding midfielder and everyone else with radar set to attack.

His hand was rather forced, admittedly, by injuries, but at present much about our weekly setup suggests that the Brains Trust has not quite yet got to grips with the squad at their disposal. This is hardly to chide the honest fellow, mind, for he’s only been there five minutes.

Moreover, in truth, rather than a settled formation, I’d prefer us to have a default attitude, preferably that shown in our opening day win over City – and not a million miles from that shown by Rennes when they went behind yesterday, for it was an absolute force of nature.

Finally, as a valedictory note, a congratulatory word to the Rennes support, who, for reasons that I must confess baffle me, sounded absolutely nuts throughout.