All Action, No Plot

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Spurs 0-2 Liverpool: Five Tottenham Talking Points

Well this was a most peculiar anti-climax. Full of effort and yet somehow devoid of urgency, and with excitement and quality levels similarly low on the barometer, the whole thing resembled seeing a balloon being immediately deflated and then simply left lying unattended for another 89 minutes.

Rather than lumber tragically through the seven stages of grief, or find some perceived injustice and rage at it, the sentiment at AANP Towers is therefore one of curious frustration. Given that Liverpool themselves were oddly underwhelming, this ought probably to be listed as a Missed Opportunity, alongside the Leicester season – and yet somehow, the mood is one of philosophical acceptance.

Probably best just to toddle over to the corpse and begin dissecting.

1. The Penalty Decision

Not all will agree – and judging by the high-pitched apoplexy emanating from his larynx, Glenn Hoddle most certainly did not – but I must confess I had little problem with the penalty decision itself.

To clarify, I did not perform any sort of jig of delight – in fact those around me needed to deliver a rigorous prod between the ribs to check that the blood was still flowing, such was the horror-stricken, frozen chill with which I reacted – but I did follow the logic of the sturdy fellow making the call. Although the ball bounced off chest first, it did then receive an inadvertent stroke from the incoming arm of Sissoko.

Worse crimes have undoubtedly been perpetuated within the vicinity of the 18-yard rectangle during the history of the game, but I understood why, in that situation, a jury might convict.

Just a dashed shame – if quintessentially, absurdly Tottenham – that it happened within thirty seconds of the start of the biggest game in our history.

2. Best Laid Plans vs First-Minute Penalty

More of a concern was the impact of that early farce upon the best-laid plans of Our Glorious Leader. According to the newswires, Pochettino’s three-week preparations had included inviting the players to plant their feet on hot coals (a strategy that, if you ask me, carries an inherent flaw, given that these chaps’ feet are the most important dashed parts of them), breaking arrows with their necks and all manner of other eyebrow-raising sorcery. Frankly it struck me that he might have had a little too much preparation time on his hands.

Alas, the one circumstance for which he presumably had not prepared was the concession of a penalty in the opening minute. One sympathises, for why would he?

And in fact, our lot reacted to this decidedly unseemly new set of circumstances with admirable stiffening of the upper lip and some neat and tidy interplay around halfway.

The problem with the early goal was not so much its effect upon our heroes as its effect upon Liverpool. It meant that for the remaining 89 minutes they did not need to take any sort of risk, or show any sort of forward intent that would allow even a whiff of an opening behind them. They were content to strangle the life out of us, and pretty much did just that.

3. The Kane Selection

Our Glorious Leader had made the reasonable point that hindsight would tell whether his team selection would go down as masterstroke or clanger, so naturally enough the knives are out in some quarters. All of which places me in a terrifically delicate spot, as Poch, having presumably pored over these very pages in recent days, rather scarily opted for the precise team and formation for which I had been marching around town campaigning in the past week or two.

Kane undoubtedly had fairly minimal effect upon proceedings, finally threatening around the peripheries in the final twenty or so, without ever eking out – or having eked for him – that half a yard that would have allowed him a decent pot at goal.

However, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the better half of North London, I do not think our general bluntness was much to do with him, for the chap was barely given a touch of the ball by his chums in the opening hour or so.

He might have been in the form of his life and it would not have mattered, because our build-up play, particularly in the first half, was thoroughly bogged down by the time we hit the final third (almost as if the players were sinking beneath the weight of tactical instruction, which rather makes one wonder).

Even in hindsight I am still not particularly convinced that starting Lucas instead would necessarily have been the solution, for sniper-quality though his finishing was against Ajax, his involvement in build-up play was nothing about which to ring the church bells, and when he was eventually introduced last night his impact was neither here nor there.

The problem struck me as not so much to do with Kane’s fitness or the absence of Lucas, as the dearth of creativity and service from the ranks behind them.

4. Eriksen, The Selected Scapegoat

At such times as these I feel legally obliged to identify a scapegoat.

With Liverpool content to allow us the ball and take their chances as a defensive unit, plenty of onus was placed upon the assorted size nines in our midfield. We found ourselves in desperate need of some wit and ingenuity, someone who could make use of ample possession in midfield, and boast both the vision to pick a defence-splitting pass and the technique also to deliver it.

In short we needed Christian Eriksen.

The opportunity could not have been better made for him if it had taken him aside beforehand and measured him for size. This was the precise scenario that Mother Nature had had in mind when she fashioned him all those years ago, and the stage was that for which one would expect the true greats of the game to don their capes and leap into action.

But cometh the hour, Eriksen had little to offer that dropped the jaw and made the heart skip a beat or two.

It’s a source of some pretty ripe debate in lilywhite circles. The chap’s ability is not in question – he produces some silky stuff of which most teammates simply aren’t capable. The issue here at AANP Towers is that he is something of a Match of the Day player: his best bits make the highlights reel, and come 10.30pm on a Saturday night he can look pretty spectacular. But roll up and watch the whole 90 minutes, and too often he does too little to effect things, much less boss an entire match. Last night was a case in point.

By contrast, Winks and Sissoko – neither of whom anyone of sound mind and teetotal disposition would ever suggest were better players than Eriksen – did more at least to attempt to inject a little vim and energy into our midfield play.

5: Clinical Finishing (And Lack Thereof)

Whatever the virtues or otherwise of Eriksen’s performance, it seemed that, like me, the players were labouring under the misapprehension that clear-cut chances would simply materialise automatically, because this was the Champions League 2019 and frankly that’s what has tended to happen. This time however, we were a little too patient and passive for our own good.

By around the 70-minute mark the memo to get heads down and dig out a goal had evidently reached all in lilywhite, and there was an urgency to our play in the final third. The Liverpool goalkeeper was even having to get his gloves dirty, as our heroes stumbled upon the novel idea of trying an occasional, polite shot at goal.

Alas and alack and woe upon woe, we did not actually create one decent chance throughout the whole desperate affair. Instead, we needed to be at our clinical best to take advantage of whatever scraps and glimmers of opportunities came our way.

In short, we needed to produce the sort of clinical finish from one of those half-chances that Divock Origi did at the other end, at the death, summoning the ghost of Lineker in the Italia ’90 Semi-Final to turn a sniff of a chance into a goal.

But where Origi caught his shot as sweetly as a front-foot cover drive at Lord’s, Sonny and Lucas did not quite make the clean connection that makes the heart skip a beat and young ladies swoon; and Dele’s chipped effort was rather cruelly made to look a heck of a lot closer to hitting the top corner than it actually did, by that most wretched and evil prankster, the Deceptive Camera Angle.

And that was that. The whole Champions League campaign has been, until this point absolutely riotous fun, so warm applause and stiff drinks are deserved all round. Just a shame that the finale was such an oddly damp squib, but such is life I suppose.

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CL Final Preview: 5 Steps to the Final in the Lifelong Journey of a Tottenham Fan

5 things Tottenham must do to win here.
6 players who took Tottenham to the Final here.

1. The 1987 FA Cup Final

The day before the Champions League Final, and excitement levels have now shot fairly comfortably through the roof, and are gaily whizzing about in the stratosphere.
In a neat symmetry, AANP’s first lilywhite memory was also a Cup Final, the 1987 FA Cup, a cinematic viewing that made for a pretty fitting way in which to take one’s first step in this absurd journey.

At that stage I suspect I had little idea of what Europe was, let alone the Champions League ruddy Final, but there it began, in a terraced house in Tottenham in front of a black and white screen. The whole thing provided a neatly appropriate template for what was to come in the following three decades, and in particular this season’s Champions League romp – our lot would simply refuse to do things simply if they could instead be done in the most absurd, nerve-shredding fashion.

An early goal, a lead squandered and defeat achieved in barely credible manner – the seeds of the all action no plot approach were not so much sown as shoved down the throat. Our heroes, it was immediately clear, would insist on doing things the hard way.

As an impressionable youth I naively interpreted our second-minute goal that day as a sign that supporting Spurs would be a barrel of laughs, logic dictating that we would score at two-minute intervals for the rest of time.

Alas, the first, critical lesson of Spurs-supporting was yet to come. With the game poised at 2-2 in extra-time, our lot did not just contrive to lose, they flicked through the entire playbook of nonsense and picked out the most nonsensical option of the lot. A harmless cross bounced off the knee of Gary Mabbutt, and looped in a most geometrically-pleasing parabola over Ray Clemence and into the net. Death by own-goal, having led in the second minute. How very Tottenham.

Back in those days, before I had discovered the joys of a stiff bourbon, I digested proceedings by hitting the Lego bricks hard and recreating the barely credible scenes witnessed, but already there would be no turning back.

2: Gazza, 1991 And All That

By this stage the young AANP was already so obsessed with Spurs that it’s a wonder my parents did not cart me off to the nearest institution to have my head examined and some – any – other interests drilled into it instead. Every weekend was spent poring over Saint and Greavsie, Grandstand and The Big Match; every Monday saw me fill my ‘What I Did at the Weekend’ school books with a detailed analysis of Spurs’ fortunes.

Italia ’90 featured prominent contributions from Spurs’ two brightest young things, as well as the now familiar anguish of a drawn-out defeat, stretched out in the most dramatic fashion seemingly just out of cruelty from those on high.

The emergence of Gazza, all trickery and entertainment hammered home the fact that the game is about glory, about doing things in style and with a flourish. When he sized up the Arsenal wall at Wembley, and Barry Davies wondered if he were going to have a crack, I flew off around the place in the sort of celebration that would be unfurled again when Lucas Moura struck in the 95th minute.

The FA Cup Final that followed provided the template of virtually our entire Champions League Campaign in 2019, as, initially, everything that possibly could have veered off the rails duly did so. Gazza crumpled to the turf; Pearce belted home the free-kick; Gazza was stretchered off; Lineker had one wrongly disallowed; and then missed a penalty. This cycle of dismay and setbacks was to prove a solid grounding for the following 20 years or so – and certainly has me well prepared for defeat in some cruel fashion in the CL Final – but once bitten forever smitten, and the glimmer of hope remained.

Step forward Paul Stewart, and the head of poor old Des Walker, and the FA Cup was ours. Little did I know that it would be the first of only 3 trophies in my living memory (until, who knows, Madrid?)

Right up there with the celebrations with my family as Mabbutt lifted the Cup were the celebrations at St Francis de Sales school – a venue presumably well-recognised by most of lilywhite persuasion – the following Monday.

3. The 1990s

One does not want to denigrate the honest efforts of those who went before, but it’s a jolly good job that our heroes achieved both glory and glorious failure in those earlier years, because supporting Spurs in the 90s was a fairly joyless experience, and one compounded by the fact that most in secondary school were Arsenal fans.

There were little flashes of joy – my first visit to the Lane; Klinsmann scoring and then spinning around to stare me in the eyes in a rather generous and touching striker-to-striker moment; discovering that Steve Sedgley lived around the corner and knocking on his door for an autograph; Ginola’s glorious slalom vs Barnsley; the 1999 Worthington – but this was an era in which the hope was doing an impeccable job of killing me.

4. The 2000s, Jol, Bale and ‘Arry

By the turn of the millennium I had had the good sense to start devoting my hours to booze and females, the former reliably assisting in the process of Spurs-supporting, the latter simply putting up with it (or not).

The prominent memory of my University years is turning on the radio for the classified results, having known we were three goals to the good at half-time, and in a millisecond registering a) disappointment that we had still only scored three at full-time, and b) confusion that the intonation of the classified results-reader was indicating that the home team had lost, which was most peculiar, because that could only mean that Man Utd had, in the second half alone, at White Hart Lane, scored the princely total of…

A League Cup Final defeat was thrown in for good measure, before Martin Jol – blessed be his name – strode in like a lumbering bear, and I was off to my first ever European night at the Lane, a second honeymoon if ever there were one.

The zenith of this was yet another glorious failure compounded by several early shots to our own feet – needing to overturn a first leg deficit against Sevilla we were two-down before those around me had even taken their seats – but this at least was where the tide began to turn.

UEFA/Europa nights became the norm; a scrawny left-back called Gareth Bale was making blunders that had me calling for his head; Modric and Berbatov were making grown men go misty-eyed around me; and when ‘Arry Redknapp joined, and kicked things off with a 4-4 draw at the Emirates, featuring a 40-yard Bentley lob and not one but two last-minute comeback goals, the All Action, No Plot blog was born.

And with each passing season, the name seemed apt if not exactly tripping off the tongue. Which other team, needing a final-day result, could lose half its members to food poisoning? Which other team could finally break its Top Four hoodoo, only to find that despised rivals who had finished sixth would conjure up a last-minute equaliser, followed by a penalty shoot-out win, to take the trophy and our CL spot?

Supporting Spurs meant signing up to a series of absurdities that were all perfectly acceptable within the legislation, but seemed unlikely, barely credible and always plain bonkers. The difference is that in this season’s Champions League campaign, those unlikely and bonkers moments have fallen in our favour. To date…

On the pitch we crept closer to glory, but inevitably fell short in ever more galling circumstances, culminating to date with a Semi-Final penalty shoot-out defeat this season. Off the pitch a slightly unlikely dream was lived as I penned a curious book on Spurs, and in the process spent various afternoons in conversation with that same Gary Mabbutt whose knee kick-started the whole thing. (And, of course, became best mates with Jan.)

5: Poch and the Champions League Final

So without sacrificing the glory glory entertainment, Our Glorious Leader has introduced consistency, and raised the bar. A few years ago, in the season in which Walker and Rose tore up the flanks, we were the country’s most entertaining team. Over the course of two seasons we amassed more points than any other team, without winning a trophy.

A variety of sticks were used to beat us, and one by one they have been confiscated with some stern words. After all, there was a time when we were the team that never beat the Top Four teams, or that never won away at Chelsea. We never won at Wembley apparently – shortly before we beat Real Madrid there.

And at the start of this 2018/19 season, with no signings, a squad wearied by the World Cup and no home of which to speak, the Champions League Final was the last thing on anyone’s minds. In fact when we made it to the Quarter-Finals, and then started the Semi-Final, the Champions League Final was still the last thing on this particular mind. Not until Lucas’ final flourish, the moment that, in common with every other lilywhite, I only have to close my eyes to see and hear, which is a rather nifty trick.

After approximately ten days of floating around the place with a permanent grin etched across the visage, it’s been approximately ten further days of excitement building, until these current levels, when I really do need a stiff drink and a lie down.

It does not end in Madrid of course – if the best part of four decades on this mortal coil has taught me anything it is that life tends to churn on fairly relentlessly – but from the 1987 FA Cup Final lost by an extra-time own goal, the all action no plot process has wound its way, via comeback after mind-boggling dramatic comeback, to the 2019 Champions League Final.

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CL Final Preview: 5 Things Tottenham Must Do To Win

1. Kane at His Sharpest

Not to point too fine a point on it, but Kane’s contribution to proceedings will be constitute pretty critical stuff.

Casting minds all the way back to the start of the season, and in that post-World Cup fug much of the chatter revolved around the fact that the chap looked every inch a man in desperate need of a good lie-down. His touch was heavy, his movement was laboured. He protested otherwise, and the goals generally continued to flow, but for whatever reason we certainly were not witnessing Peak Kane.

In the here and now, Kane is once again insisting that he is in fine fettle, and I’m inclined to believe that the ankle is now fully healed. The concern remains however, that his match sharpness – by which I mean that aforementioned touch and movement – is several marks off the ideal.

While we have stumbled our way through previous rounds using patched-together teams, and often sans Kane, this match of matches really requires our star player to be at the peak of his powers.

The question of whether he should start or come off the bench continues to linger (the AANP tuppence-worth is to start with him), but starting also presents a problem, because sharp or not, he presumably will struggle to last 90 minutes, and were he to start and the game to drag into extra-time, one suspects he will toddle off for a warm coat and isotonic snifter at some point.

Kane at his best, however, would be a massive asset to our heroes, and cause Liverpool all sorts of problems, from all sorts of angles. Fingers firmly crossed.

2. Sense Over Sentiment in Team Selection

Following his Amsterdam heroics, young Lucas is quite rightly being lauded everywhere he goes, and one would hope the chap will never have to buy his own drink ever again.

However, many are calling for his inclusion in the starting line-up for the Final, on the basis of an argument that can essentially be distilled down to “It would be harsh not to”. Such discourse is greeted with a narrowing of the eyes at AANP Towers, and a sniff that could be considered haughty. This is a Champions League Final, not a mid-summer testimonial or a Sunday afternoon 1950s romance on Channel 4.

There should be no room for sentiment in this one, we absolutely need to pick the team that will win on the day – and if that means shunting Lucas into the attack then so be it, but I fall pretty firmly into the camp that thinks that Kane and Son ought to be the front pairing.

The alternative suggestion is cramming all three of Kane, Son and Lucas into attack – which would presumably mean a midfield of Dele, Sissoko and Eriksen. This, I fancy, would be madness of the highest degree. Away to Man City, and at home to Ajax, Eriksen and Dele confirmed what was already universally known, that they pretty much offer cosmetic value only when doing off-the-ball defensive work. Not their faults of course, as nature created them to attack. Set up with that 4-3-3 and I fear Liverpool will be over the hills and out of sight before we know what has hit us.

Sense, rather than sentiment, would appear to dictate that we use a midfield 4, with one of Winks, Dier or Wanyama in amongst the rest, tasked with rolling up sleeves and mucking in.

3. A Plan to Nullify Their Full-Backs

We have played Liverpool twice this season, receiving something of a spanking at home, albeit by only one goal, which rather flattered us, and losing by one own goal away from home, which rather flattered them.

Prominent in both encounters, particularly during those chunks during which Liverpool were in the ascendancy, were the red full-backs. When we played at Wembley, our own full-backs were in full kamikaze mode, and charged up the pitch, leaving Robertson and TAA plenty of room to set up camp and make merry. At Anfield, our lot went to the other extreme, and began in an ultra-conservative back five.

The solution, one imagines, lies somewhere in between. A back-four, perhaps, with both Rose and Trippier afforded a degree of protection from those in front? The second half at Anfield might prove a useful template, as we edged on top on that occasion, and were dashed unlucky to lose.

Whatever the solution, this is one of the notable problems over which Our Glorious Leader and his Brains Trust will need to chew and ruminate, preferably long into the night and within clouds of cigar smoke.

4. No Ludicrous Mistakes

Conceding a goal is always galling, but when it comes about because the other lot whir into hyperspace and slice us open with a thousand cuts – as in the style of Ajax in the first leg, for example – at least there are few regrets or recriminations. One might point a half-hearted finger at the left-back who may have moved a step to the side in the build-up, but essentially it is blameless stuff, and all involved are best off simply stiffening the upper lip and contemplating the riposte.

What is utterly infuriating is conceding a goal out of nowhere and under no pressure, as a complete gift to the opposition. Disturbingly, our heroes have made something of a habit of this over the course of the season, and it goes without saying that such nonsense makes the job in hand massively more taxing.

Trippier’s own goal; Lloris’ palm against Liverpool; Foyth’s own-area dallying; Trippier’s own-area attempted nutmegs; Lloris’ rushes of blood to the head and rushes of feet from his goal – the list is worryingly long. To say nothing of free headers at set-pieces.

Playing Liverpool will be hard enough, and the drill ought to be to force them to work dashed hard for every chance. On this of all occasions we need to cut out the utterly absurd, unforced errors.

5. No More Comebacks

No doubt about it, our heroes have turned the sensational comeback into something of an art-form during this Champions League campaign.

After the three-games-one-point ‘Arry Redknapp tribute at the start of the group phase, we went into the final 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and sixth games needing at least one goal to avoid elimination – and duly delivered each time. Against City we again needed a late-ish goal (and an even later VAR call), and then there was the madness of Amsterdam. On top of which, we seem to have imprinted into the gameplan the slightly curious tactic of conceding within the opening 5 minutes.

All thrilling stuff and so on and so forth, but this insanity really must end, for the good of all concerned. The constitution simply cannot take it, for a start – and heaven knows what the nerves will be like during a Champions League Final – but more pertinently we just cannot repeatedly rely upon comebacks. A two-goal half-time deficit will not always be overturned, and I certainly wouldn’t fancy our chances of doing so against this lot.

Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, to canter into a lead, and then hold onto it?

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CL Final Preview: 6 Players Who Took Tottenham To The Final

1. Hugo Lloris

Heaven knows I’ve been at the front of the queue when it’s come to sticking the knife into our skipper – and giving it a vigorous twist for good measure too – because the absurd, unforced errors have come thick and fast in the last season or two. However, when push met shove in the business end of this season’s Champions League, Lloris thrust out limbs like nobody’s business.

The Dortmund away leg springs to mind, a game into which we took a three-goal lead but looked for all the money in the world like we wouldn’t make it to half-time without being pegged back.

Dortmund brought their A-game, slicing us apart with the sort of blurry whizz of motion that Ajax were to replicate in the semi-final. Time and again they skipped past each of our massed ranks until finding themselves staring into the whites of Lloris’ eyes; but time and again our captain did the necessary, no matter how unlikely the laws of physics suggested this would be. Re-watch the highlights of that first half in particular, and one needs to dust off the abacus to rack up the precise number of point-blank saves made.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and within ten minutes of the quarter-final first leg at home to Man City, VAR had awarded a penalty against Danny Rose, and the customary uphill slog looked set to kick in.

Enter, yet again, Monsieur Lloris, to repel Aguero’s spot-kick and breathe fresh life into this unlikeliest of campaigns. Had Aguero scored, the away goals advantage would have gone up in smoke there and then, and more pertinently City might well have racked up a hatful.

2. Moussa Sissoko

AANP’s player of the season, Sissoko seems to have improved with every game, transforming before our goggling eyes from figure of fun to critical cog in the machinery. One moment that summed up this metamorphosis was his gallop forward in the closing stages at home to Inter.

By that stage of the campaign it was win or bust, thrice in a row. A sloppy start had left our heroes with one point from three games, and any thoughts of winning the whole dashed thing had been tied up in a sack, weighed down with bricks and dropped overboard. Needing a win to avoid elimination in each of Matchdays 4, 5 and 6, this seemed rather unlikely against Inter, until the final 10 minutes, when Sissoko took it upon himself to put his head down and charge into enemy territory.

One is reluctant to blame the Inter mob for backing off, for it would be a brave man to try to impede a Sissoko gathering a head of steam. The chap drove from Point A, around 10 yards inside his own half, to Point B well inside the Inter penalty area, with the sort of steely determination that one dares not interrupt, and with each step began imprinting himself into Tottenham folklore.

He found Dele, who swivelled and found Eriksen, and his finish kept our heads above water. Just.

Further approving nods to Sissoko for setting up Kane away to Dortmund, and filling in at auxiliary right-back away to Barcelona, after KWP was hooked and we went in desperate search of an equaliser.

And of course, his introduction against Ajax in the semi-final first leg did just about enough to wrest the game away from them.

3. Jan Vertonghen

One of several who made pretty vital, last-ditch stretches away to Dortmund, to keep our hosts at bay and our 3-0 lead in tact when it seemed that calamity might befall, my best mate’s true value was demonstrated in the first leg of that same tie.

Playing at left wing-back Vertonghen first went toe-to-toe with Jadon Sancho, by the skin of his teeth keeping the young pup contained in a first half in which we were decidedly second best.

In the second half, however, Vertonghen emerged as an irresistible creative force from left-back, flying down the flank with unsullied abandon, whipping in a series of crosses that sent the Dortmund central defence into a frightful tizz and capping things off with a striker’s finish to put us two goals ahead and take something of a knife to Dortmund’s spirits.

That Vertonghen-inspired win gave us enough breathing space to survive the second leg onslaught – and just like that, we were in the quarter-finals.

4. Harry Kane

An enforced absentee for various critical stages of the campaign, Kane still popped up with a number of pretty vital finishes hither and thither. Hardly a surprise, as 14 goals in 18 Champions League appearances does point to a chap who bounds around the place ticking boxes at this level like it’s going out of fashion, but it’s still rather easy to forget his contribution to this season’s effort.

Most notably this occurred at home to PSV in the group stage. Again, it was a game in which nothing less than victory would suffice – so obviously we went behind in the first minute.

And there we remained until the final 10, when Kane’s relentless focus on hitting the target paid off, albeit in slightly more nerve-jangly fashion than would have been ideal.

First a pot-shot in a crowded area found the bottom corner; and then in the final moments a header towards the right-hand corner took a hefty deflection of one PSV torso to send it towards the middle of the goal, and then for good measure detoured again, of another PSV limb, to trickle apologetically into the bottom left.

They all count – as Kane, more than most, will testify – and on we stumbled marched.

5. Fernando Llorente

Another of those chaps who puts the “fickle” into “AANP”, I can quite easily wile away a spare half hour by simply lambasting Fernando Llorente – and yet few have been more critical to what might be the most brilliant success in our history.

As aforementioned, when needing a win at home to PSV, we did it the Spurs way and entered the final 10 minutes a goal down. By this point Llorente had been unceremoniously deposited into the PSV area, and duly earned his keep. Give him a chance two yards in front of goal and the ball might end up anywhere in the solar system, but tell him to hold up the ball, hold off a central defender and lay the ball delicately into the path of Harry Kane, and he’s in business. He did just that, Kane scored and we went on to scrape a win.

Fast forward to the quarter-final away leg at Man City, and Llorente produced the sort of finish that only a man of his questionable finishing ability can produce. Closing his eyes and hoping to win a header from a waist-height cross, he did enough to bundle his way in front of his man, and use a questionable combination of hip and possibly-or-possibly-not wrist to force the ball in. And then celebrated like we fans were celebrating.

Fast forward even further, and with nothing left to lose in the semi-final second leg against Ajax, Llorente’s very presence, introduced at half-time, did enough to sow seeds amongst the Ajax defence. Daly Blind in particular spent most of that half casting a perturbed hand across a distinctly fevered brow, as Llorente simply bullied him.

Aside from any contributions to goals, this helped changed the pattern of play, and momentum of the game. And then, ultimately, his ungainly, angular poke of the ball, in the final minute of added time, was enough to give Dele a yard, and then Lucas Moura… [goosebumps]

6. Lucas Moura

Not just a man for a semi-final hat-trick, Lucas also scored in the dying minutes against Barcelona, in yet another of those group stage games in which we desperately needed a win and therefore conceded early.

Lucas charged in to slap the ball home from close range, and with a little help from PSV we went from one point after three games, to qualification for the knockouts.

And what a knockout it was shaping up to be in the semi-final. In truth, until he scored I was rather despairing of Lucas’ contribution. Frenetic and a little wasteful when on the gallop; unable to link with midfield when dropping deep with back to goal; and without a shot in anger in the whole first half, he seemed just another one of those waving forlornly as the game passed him by.

But then, by golly what an impact. The surge of pace to latch on to Dele’s touch for the first goal was worthy of an Olympic sprinter.

The footwork to dance around the Ajax 6-yard box before scoring the second was worthy of any head-down 9 year-old in the playground.

And then the winner, placed into the only available spot in the net, at the last possible moment before two Ajax defenders could and would have blocked it, and as the clock ticked from 94:59 to 95:00…

I’m not sure there will ever be a Tottenham Hotspur moment quite like it. The bedlam, the en masse Ajax faceplant, the repeated viewings and the full 24 hours it took to register the enormity. On top of which, it’s rather pleasing that the hero of the hour was one of the more unlikely sorts, as it does hammer home that the whole thing was quite the collective effort (which makes a mockery of a list of 6 individuals, but over that we quietly gloss). Heroes, predictable and otherwise, at every turn – one wonders if there is room for one more name to be heralded on Saturday…

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Ajax 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

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

1. The Complete Absence of Hope

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

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

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

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

2: Llorente: Flawed But Wonderful Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

3: Dele’s Touch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4: Danny Rose Starting The Comeback

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

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

5: Hugo’s Saves

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

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

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

6: Everyone’s Positioning At The Final Goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs 0-1 Ajax: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Compliments to the Opposition

It feels like a crime against nature to bestow any sort of admiration upon an opponent, but I couldn’t help but goggle at some of the sleek, dreamy football Ajax produced, in the opening fifteen minutes in particular.

The build-up to their goal was jaw-dropping stuff of the highest order – and I don’t just mean the assist, or the pass before that. The little one-touch binge on halfway, facilitated by some neat flicks and backheels, left our heroes giddily spinning around and flailing at shadows. It was a demonstration of the sort of fare to which the good ship Hotspur ought to aspire.

Another move they produced shortly after drew genuine gasps of admiration, which I thought only happened in the short stories one reads in the nonsense magazines in doctor’s waiting rooms, yet as they sliced us open with what looked like well-choreographed balletic movement, there were all sorts of awestruck murmurs amongst the masses.

Difficult not to admire that sort of racket.

2. Llorente: Not At The Required Level

By contrast, we had the honest but fairly abject toil of Llorente. Not really his fault that nature has bestowed upon him a pretty limited set of tools with which to work, but even within these restrictions he had a pretty wretched time of things.

When he did manage to hold up the ball and hold off his foes, his distribution was, on the whole, just plain inaccurate. He passed straight at teammates rather than into their path, and a couple of attempts to spread the play fell short of their intended targets and instead went down the hatches of opponents. who were only too happy to gobble up the ball and turn the tables on us.

The other principal asset of the chap is supposedly his heading, and while I guess I ought to show some compassion and laud him for getting his head to the thing on a few occasions, it does feel a bit like clapping the useless lad at school for taking part.

Rather surreally, I found myself halfway through a Champions League semi-final wishing we could call upon Vincent Janssen, which just goes to show.

3. Set-Pieces

So with little potency in attack, and the Ajax lot running rings around us in midfield, they only semblance of a threat we posed in the opening 40 minutes or so was from set-pieces, which was an absolutely dire reflection of how badly we were taking to this business.

Even these set-pieces tend to be about as likely to bring about success as tossing a coin, but at least it reminded the rather eccentric Ajax ‘keeper that he would have to keep his wits about him.

Alas, not only did it fail to bring a goal, it also wiped out poor old Jan – although by an odd quirk of fate, this also stopped the rot by virtue of bringing Sissoko into the fray, and if not quite swinging the tie back in our favour it certainly evened things up a tad.

4. Poch’s Tactics

Easy to say from the sidelines, and in hindsight – two vantage points from which I don’t think I have ever made a mistake – but the fact that the enforced switch to 4-4-2 and addition of Sissoko made such a huge difference rather leads one to shoot an accusing glance or two at Our Glorious Leader for his masterplan at kick-off.

Although massively hamstrung by injuries and whatnot, and unable to call upon Sissoko from the off, the tactical choice of a back-three left us woefully undermanned in midfield, and Ajax tore us to ribbons right from kick-off. Worried murmurs abounded that something had to change before the tie was just a speck in the distance, but Poch seemed happy to watch us cling on by our fingernails, until Jan’s injury forced some action.

Wanyama could not keep a lid on the Ajax midfield, and neither Dele nor Eriksen have too many defensive bones in their bodies, so we were crying out for a change in shape to address the problems at root. The point – and I’ll get there in the end – is that Poch need not have waited so long to switch to a 4-4-2. It appeared that he was willing to wait until half-time, but we were jolly lucky not to be two or three down by that point, and out of the tie.

In the interests of fairness however, I do at least laud the blighter for replacing Jan with Sissoko, rather than for example throwing on Dier as a like-for-like replacement and sticking with the back-three. Lessons, one would hope, have been learned for the second leg.

5. Sissoko’s Star Riseth Ever Higher

Sissoko’s surge towards our Player of the Season Award continued apace on his entrance. The transformation in the chap, from the misfiring ball of limbs but a couple of years ago, to Champions League commander-in-chief, is pretty staggering stuff.

And yet there he was in glorious technicolour, rolling up his sleeves and jumping right into the midst of the fray to wrest back some semblance of control for us.

Where Wanyama made the occasional interception, and Rose’s all-action fire was limited to the left flank, Sissoko went charging straight into the centre, either to make tackles or run with the ball and attract opponents towards him. It did not win the game, but it almost single-handedly stopped us drifting irretrievably out of the tie.

Wrap the chap in cotton wool until the second leg, and with Sonny restored to the attack we might just have a chance.

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Man City 4-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

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So for those who had the slightest doubt, that is why it’s called All Action, No Plot.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was one of those madcap jamborees in which words just rather flit into the ether, and one is left gawping, a mere spectator, as utter madness unfolds. Five goals in the opening twenty – and even that did not compare with the quite gut-wrenching finale of unadulterated ridiculousness.

1. Nerves Shredded To Dust

It is not the first time this thought has occurred, but rarely have I been more struck by the notion that watching Spurs will be the death of me. I will simply keel over and be no longer for this mortal coil, the trusty blood-pumper simply not up to the rigours of watching our eleven heroes in lilywhite toying with the nerves.

To order things chronologically, there was simply no time to get one’s head around the unfolding madness in those opening ten minutes or so. They scored, and we scored, and we scored, and they scored, and – well, one gets the gist. Every time we tried to take a deep breath and get our heads around the permutations, another goal flew in and all that had gone before was as naught. It really was most discombobulating.

In the midst of those opening thrusts, Sissoko injured himself in a manner that was so innocuous it could only possibly have been pretty dashed serious, and in one of those decisions that was entirely in keeping with the utterly sanity-free nature of proceedings, Our Glorious Leader replaced him with Senor Llorente. And Sissoko was booked for being substituted. Really.

2. Llorente: Zero, Hero and All Things In Between

Might as well dwell further on Llorente and his impact on things. Both match-winner and cause of our near-downfall, the honest fellow’s introduction pretty much sucked the life out of all we had as an attacking force, at around the 40-minute mark.

Admittedly we were hardly bossing proceedings until then, but for all City’s razor-sharp potency in the first half we did at least possess a heck of a threat until that point. With Lucas and Sonny looking shifty, and bringing about two early goals, there was plenty about which the City back-line might ponder.

Llorente did his best, as ever, but rather than the desired effect of holding up the ball and allowing others to zip up in support, he lumbered this way and that, a good few yards behind the City back-line. His introduction inadvertently castrated our counter-attacking prowess.

And yet.

Cometh what seemed like our only foray into the City third, in that relentless second half, cometh the hip – and quite possibly the elbow, or wrist, or some other stray upper limb – of Llorente. For a chap whose forte is supposedly his heading, it was a pretty atrocious effort, his head nowhere near the ball – and it was also the most gorgeous finish I think I’ve ever witnessed. The AANP tuppence worth on the VAR call: not a clear and obvious error. So there.

3. Full-Back Struggles

Easy to criticise, and I’m not sure the fires of hell itself are as unforgiving as the rampaging forward thrusts of the quite majestic Sterling and De Bruyne – but Rose and, in particular, Trippier, were so adrift in those opening twenty minutes that the whole thing seemed to be in contravention to the rules.

Trippier is a mighty fine attacking threat against just about any team in the world, but he supposedly is a defender by trade, and his approach to containing Sterling was so weak as to be laughable, comprising, as it did, the grand plan of showing the chap onto his stronger foot. For goodness’ sake.

Rather harsh to zoom in on the full-backs when our entire team was being cut to ribbons fairly incessantly in the second half, but I did not think either full-back covered themselves in glory in their individual battles out wide. Oddly enough, when matters became a mite more last-ditch and backs-to-the-wall, and all a matter of blocking and hacking clear, they both looked a bit more dependable.

Worth emphasising also that Messrs Lloris, Alderweireld and my mate Vertonghen used every inch of their nous and defensive skill during that second half battering. Bravo, chaps. Lloris in particular, so often lambasted in these parts for his moments of startling wobbliness, delivered some top-notch palm extensions.

4. The Famous Soft Tottenham Underbelly

Easy also to overlook quite what a remarkable effort this was. In the context of not spending a penny on players for two transfer windows – against a team that flings around monopoly money – and to take the field without our main striker, one had only to look at our substitute options to get the sense that we would need something verging on the other-worldly to pull this off.

The departure of Sissoko in the first half simply made the dashed difficult unfeasibly testing. A glance towards the respective benches highlighted the fact that we are woefully undercooked for such top-level squad jousting.

No faulting the effort of those involved, but Wanyama looked every inch a player who has barely played in the last two seasons; Llorente looked every inch a man in his mid-thirties looking rather bewildered at the vastly trendier youths whizzing about him; and the options on the bench, of Walker-Peters, Davies, Skipp et al did not inspire lashings of confidence.

They deserve every ounce of praise therefore, for staying within touching distance throughout, forcing their noses ahead seemingly through sheer force of will, and then clinging on for dear life.

5. That Finale

I don’t mind admitting to my public that I felt physically sick throughout, and reached what one might term a lowest ebb when Sterling bundled in what appeared to be the winner in the dying moments of added time.

I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced the lowest conceivable low being instantly interrupted by the highest possible high, but it really ought to come with a health warning. For a game that I’d cheerily dismissed beforehand as a free hit, one that did not really matter in the grand scheme of things, and of vastly lesser importance than the domestic stuff on Saturday, this certainly drained the engine.

Utterly incredibly, we are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League – this after being within a few minutes of elimination seemingly throughout the group stages. And without any signings. And without our star striker. And so on and so forth.

Utterly bonkers, and utterly compelling all action, no plot stuff. Time for a stiff drink.

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Spurs 1-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Observations

1. A Marvellous Team Effort

What splendid viewing that made. And all the better for being a couple of notches above and beyond wildest dreams.

Given recent form, the quality of the opposition and, frankly, the weathering effect upon the soul that three decades of Spurs-supporting inevitably has, the pre-match mood at AANP Towers was defeatist to the point of philosophical. “What the heck?” was the general, resigned tone, accompanied by suitably accepting shrug, “We aren’t expected or likely to win, so this amounts to something of a free hit.”

But goodness me, with the presumably strict tactical instructions of Our Glorious Leader ringing in their ears, our heroes played out scene after scene just about to perfection.

They hunted in packs as appropriate, but cunningly did so only at suitable junctures and as a team, similarly picking moments simply to sit off and let City mooch around in possession. While the sound of jangling nerves undoubtedly resounded a few times, particularly in the second half, as City buzzed around the edges of our area, they did not actually fashion a clear-cut chance, and Lloris was relatively untroubled.

Quite the triumph for teamwork then, but also as individuals just about every man in lilywhite – including subs Lucas, Wanyama and Llorente – excelled in their individual duties. Pre-match I had feared that 89 minutes of good honest graft might be undone by those increasingly typical moments of unforced madness that various individuals are liable to sprinkle around the place; but yesterday every man was near-faultless.

Sissoko was immense, carrying the ball forward like the slightly clunky ghost of Dembele and defending with non-nonsense force; Toby and Jan were watertight; young Winks repeatedly picked the sensible options, be they backwards or forwards; and Rose was a constant threat in his intriguing match-up with erstwhile chum Walker.

2. Lloris

Recent history dictates that if anyone were going to magic a calamitous error out of thin air it was our resident net-protector, but his handling was secure, and in saving the penalty he gave the entire place an almighty fillip.

This penalty-saving lark is becoming something of a habit, what? Which is all the more pleasing given that in his previous half-dozen or so years of employment I’m not sure I remember him diving into the right postcode when faced with a spot-kick, let alone saving one. Yet there he was, as clear as day, beating the thing away as if it were the most natural way in the world to right a wrong and inject a little fire into sixty thousand bellies.

Heaven knows I malign the chap like the dickens when he errs, so it is only right to salute him today.

3. Sonny Saves Augments The Day

By the time Sonny popped up with his coup de grâce I would happily have traded in my right arm for a goalless draw, so it would be a slight mangling of the Queen’s English to suggest that the cheery soul saved the day, but by golly he certainly popped a cherry on the top of it.

At that stage, deep into the second half, City had decided to go about their business with a darned sight more urgency, and while we weren’t exactly clinging on for dear life, we were backtracking into that sort of territory.

As so often happens, the absence of Kane seemed to remove a chain or two from the being of Son, and he appeared more than happy to occupy the vacated limelight.

It is an odd quirk, that the sight of Kane limping off down the multi-million pound tunnel did not sear my very core as once it might have done. Make no mistake, yesterday was a fine advert for the honest fellow’s general hold-up play, and until Llorente came on we had no similar apparatus in operation. However, this lot are now pretty well-versed in the art of Kanelessness, and actually I was more alarmed by the sight of Sonny going down with a wince a few minutes later.

Sonny will presumably be the focal point in future weeks, and much therefore depends on the supporting roles of Lucas, Llorente and Dele (plus Lamela, if he returns to fitness). All told, the absence of Kane is not the terminal blow it might seem.

4. Eriksen

While most in lilywhite peddled their wares with intense concentration and sterling effectiveness, for much of the game, and in keeping with recent weeks, I paced the corridors with concern at the outputs of Master Eriksen.

His workrate remains as good as ever, but for an hour or so his distribution was decidedly careless. For a man of such ability to misplace ten-yard passes, or suck the momentum out of attacks by passing south, struck me as a real waste, and a poorly-timed one at that. It seems no coincidence to me that our flatness during February and March has coincided with his swerve into off-boil territory.

Mercifully, he righted numerous recent wrongs with that delightful chip into the path of Sonny for the goal, and in general in the final twenty or so minutes of proceedings he danced around the expensive place with some of the old menace.

5. VAR

In truth I prefer not to wade into any topic that doesn’t have Tottenham at its front and centre, and frankly if the rules state that Rose’s was a handball then I’m willing to accept that and toddle along because such is life.

However, the lack of consistency irked me, I don’t mind admitting. The fact that the penalty was awarded despite literally no appeals for a handball does not irk me (it merely suggests that none of them were particularly familiar with the current rules); the lack of consistency does.

I happened to catch snippets of the Liverpool game being played concurrently, during which a pretty similar accidental handball occurred, and VAR decided against a penalty award. All of which gives the impression that rather than mete these things out consistently, they might as well be adjudged by the toss of a coin. If they want a ridiculous rule then so be it; but dash it, apply that rule consistently.

On top of which, it appears that elbows to the head are now also above board, in the all-seeing eyes of video refs. Which is fine by me, if that approach will now be universally applied; one rather suspects it won’t.

A tad harsh on Rose to be yellow-carded too, but such are the mind-boggling days in which we live. Ultimately the whole curious affair simply provided our heroes with a greater sense of injustice with which to fire them along.

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Dortmund 0-1 Spurs Bottlers: Six Tottenham Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. What Lloris Does Best

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

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

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

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

3. The Ironic Need for Sideways and Backwards Passing

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Kane Adulation

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

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

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

5. Why Hello There, Eric Dier

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

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

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

6. All Grown Up

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs 3-0 Dortmund: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Rip-Roaring Stuff – After An Ominous Beginning

Heavens above, who saw that coming? This being AANP Towers, the mood ahead of kick-off was, naturally enough, about as gloomy and pessimistic as these things come, what with one thing (Kane and Dele absences) and another (Dortmund being 5 points clear in Germany).

And that first half did little to brighten the mood. Our lot approached it as something akin to the early stages of a chess match, in which a lot of harmless toddling is done in defence, but no incisions of note are made (bar the dreamy Moura volley out of the blue).

I suppose it made for terrific viewing for fans of centre-backs, as Our Glorious Leader indulged in his own private game of stuffing as many as he could onto the pitch, but the net result was a heck of a lot of sideways passing between the back three, as Dortmund stepped back and squeezed every last inch of space out of midfield. The lilywhite cup did not overfloweth with attacking options.

Moreover, whereas the sum of our endeavours was a countless stream of sideways passing between Messrs Sanchez, Toby and Foyth, Dortmund hit upon the idea of racing into the gaps behind our full-backs and letting that scamp Sancho ooze with the menace of a chap with his finger on the trigger. As the protagonists trooped off for half-time refreshment, the chin-stroking amongst the paying public was of the lugubrious variety.

2. A Love Note To My Best Mate Jan

Goodness knows what pearls of wisdom were imparted at half-time, but I suggest they be recited every morning in classrooms and offices across the country, by law and as a matter of urgency.

“Tactical tweak” seemed to be the buzzword, although I must confess that here the mechanics of the thing were rather lost on me, as the only alteration I spotted was the slightly physics-defying move of having our wing-backs both drop deep into a back-five, to counter Sancho and his whirring legs of wizardry, and simultaneously to push those same wing-backs right up the throats of Dortmund, to act as auxiliary wingers. So, in effect, fielding thirteen players.

Whatever the nature of the sorcery, it worked. Our heroes flew out of the traps, and once Dortmund had altered their game-plan to accept 1-0 we stumbled upon the brainwave of scoring enough goals to take the tie away from them.

As seasoned visitors to this parish may be aware, whether he knows it or not Jan Vertonghen is what I consider a bosom-friend, our paths having crossed a couple of times in the last year. I am therefore modestly willing to accept the credit for his transformation from solid, dependable centre-back to flying, all-action winger, and, no doubt benefiting from my inspiration, the chap delivered an absolute belter of a performance out on the left.

Be it harassing the life out of the Dortmund right-back – thereby forcing him and his chums onto the backfoot – making himself available, intercepting or swinging an array of crosses into that sensitive spot in the penalty area that has goalkeeper and centre-backs nervously looking at one another for a spot of authoritative command, Vertonghen ticked the boxes like a man possessed. And then chipped in with the ghosting run and finish of a seasoned striker.

3. Sonny Delivers Yet Again

The absences of Kane and Dele had weighed heavily upon my heart pre-match, and little I saw in the first half changed that sentiment, but where there is Sonny there is hope. Admittedly there was not an uninhabited ounce of turf for him to excitedly buzz into in the first 45, but this is a chap who emerged from the womb scampering into space, so it was little surprise that his enthusiasm remained undimmed by the first half travails.

Naturally he was the catalyst for the second half rout, and while Llorente has done his bit, and the stars of Moura and Lamela intermittently burn bright, it is Sonny who has embraced the role of General Saviour Of Our Skins in the absence of Kane.

Mercifully there now follows a 10-day intermission, at least half of which I would expect Son to spend simply asleep, because the chap has run himself into the ground for us ever since presumably running himself into the ground for his country.

4. Sissoko The Elder Statesman

It is a sign of the times that in our biggest games we can now fairly confidently shift our glances to the right in expectation of another towering performance from Sissoko, and he will deliver.

In the lamented absence of Dembele, he is now emerging as the sort of chap who can pick up the ball inside his own half and set off on an irresistible gallop. What he lacks in aesthetic finesse, he more than makes up for in effectiveness, and at various points he trotted out his usual blend of in-possession forward strides and out-of-possession harrying.

For all the talent in our team, we still occasionally look a little short of those types who will grab the nearest bayonet, sprint to the front-line and lead by example, even more so in the absence of Kane, but Sissoko is beginning to emerge as one of those dependable bods, an elder statesmen to whom others can turn and goggle.

5. Winks Steps Up

Young Winks has earned himself the occasional critical arching of the eyebrow from this quarter in recent weeks, for being a little too risk-averse and light on carpe-ing the nearest diem.

Last night, however, he nailed absolutely every bullet point on the job description. He made it a matter of professional obligation to keep possession in the first half, when others around him were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of options and occasionally sending passes awry; and then in the second half he straddled the line perfectly between playing safe and pushing us forward.

With a little more space within which to operate in the second half, he was always the first option available to our centre-backs, and once in possession took a leaf out of the Christian Eriksen Book of Picking Appropriate Passes, be they short ones backwards or of the more adventurous variety further north.

To do all this against a team of pretty illustrious ilk was thigh-slapping stuff – and indeed, that sentiment can apply to just about every member in lilywhite. It might not have been flawless – Messrs Foyth and Aurier will presumably have mumbled a prayer or two of thanks for some lucky escapes – but that second half in particular was fabulous, sensible and devastatingly effective stuff.

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

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