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Spurs match reports

Marseille 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sessegnon

I’ll get to the salacious stuff in due course, but during the occasional first half moment when I paused to drink in the full extent of the catastrophe unfolding, one concept that kept bugging me was this business of Sessegnon at right wing-back.

In fact, even before the whistle peeped and all concerned sprung into action, my eye had been drawn to the teamsheet and the forehead had promptly creased. For a start, there was the sight of three more right wing backs, plus one Tanganga, on the bench. (Actually, this was rather well received at AANP Towers, as it meant that Emerson’s interference with proceedings had been restricted, but nevertheless, the cogs were whirring alright.)

Call me old-fashioned, but I had rather assumed that Sessegnon would be stationed on the left, with Perisic, a cove more used to swinging the right boot, assuming RWB duties.  The sight of Sessegnon ambling around on the right from kick-off therefore threw me. It’s happened before of course, fleetingly here and there, but I’ve rarely seen the point of it, and the use of inverted wing-backs in a game as critical as this certainly did wonders for my repertoire of puzzled looks.

Whatever the plan was meant to be, it pretty much died at birth. When the stars align, Sessegnon can be an effective left wing-back – diligent in defence, and pretty willing to stick a foot on the accelerator and make a bit of hay in the final third. Last night however, the stars did not align. If anything, the stars came crashing down from their moorings.

Sessegnon did not make it to halfway, let alone the final third, so whatever the elaborate ruse was around using his left foot to cut inside on the right, we were dashed if we were going to get a glimpse of it. Instead, the young potato bobbed along around the edge of his own area throughout, and while he can’t really be faulted for effort, I felt anything but assured by the sight of him patrolling his spot. Indeed, Marseille’s first decent shot (the volley from the left that Hugo beat away) came about from an attempted Sessegnon clearance that apologetically bobbled about two yards.

A degree of sanity was restored towards the end of the first half, with Sessegnon switched back to the left, but the whole experiment struck me as pretty dashed odd – especially, to repeat, when countless naturally right-footed sorts were giving the beady eye from the substitutes’ bench.

None of this is to suggest that all our first half problems lay at the door of poor old Sessegnon, far from it. For a start the problems seemed a lot bigger than any single player (more on that later). And if we are singling out individuals then Eric Dier, a fellow from whom one would expect a lot better, inexplicably opted to lob a few passes back into our own penalty area, via some passing, low-hanging clouds, as a spirit of general ineptitude spread about the place like wildfire.

So it was not all Sessegnon’s fault by any means; but it would be no understatement to suggest that his deployment on the right baffled the dickens out of AANP.

2. Emerson’s Positive Contribution

Desperate times and all that, but even after observing the car crash that was our first half, and after seeing young Sessegnon square flap around on the right, come half-time I had not reached the stage of yearning for a spot of Emerson to solve things.

But someone in the camp obviously thought that was what was needed, so on he rolled, and promptly introduced himself to the galleries by heading a ball firmly to his right and out of play, when all ten of his teammates loitered at various points to his left.

This seemed ominous, if in keeping with his career to date, but I shifted it from my mind – as is healthy practice when taking in eyefuls of Emerson – and waited keenly to see what might unfold next. And I’ll be dashed if I were not treated to the sight thereafter, of Emerson generally doing the basics in competent and reliable fashion.

It helped, of course, that the entire collective upped their performance level about sixty notches, but nevertheless it was a pretty startling sight to see Emerson contributing healthily as required. Most welcome, but startling nevertheless. As various members of our mob oiled further up the pitch, passing options began to spring up everywhere you looked – and Emerson, to give him his dues, did not shirk responsibility in this respect.

Nor did he overcomplicate things unnecessarily, or bungle crucial interjections. On one or two occasions he galloped up into attack and pinged in a cross as the situation demanded, and while few would suggest that he existed on a different, superior plane to all others, he nevertheless contributed considerably to the marked upturn in our fortunes. Gradually we asserted a spot of control, and, remarkably, Emerson was a played a significant part.

3. Bentancur

If Emerson’s ability to do normal things made my eyes pop out of my head somewhat, Bentancur had the vaguely opposite effect, in that his ability yet again to rise a level or two above everyone else seemed simply to be standard operating procedure.

His anonymity in the first half was a tough one to swallow, but that painful drudgery having been very much a collective effort, one did not dwell. However, whatever the nature of the sorcery that was discussed and greenlit at the break, it seemed that Master Bentancur had been enlisted to play a pretty critical role. With Bissouma thickening things up in midfield (and, in the second half at least, producing one of his better performances in our ranks to date), Bentancur appeared to have a bit of licence to jolly off into attack as the urge grabbed him.

He rattled off his lines with aplomb. Dreamy technique never goes amiss, of course, and having been neutered in the first half he was right on the money second time around; but on top of which, the nature of the thing, with Marseille heaving forward and leaving themselves rather exposed at the rear, meant that Bentancur was often to be observed leading the charge over halfway, sprinting up towards their area, either with ball at feet and killer-pass on radar, or in support of whichever other chappie was at the controls.

It is true that as a collective our lot improved pretty much exponentially, but either because or due to that – and strong cases can be made in each camp – Bentancur was at the hub of much that was good in our second half play. Be it retaining possession and putting in a spot of game-management, or haring up towards their goal, Bentancur was the font from which our goodness spouted. A mild shame that he overhit the pass for Lucas, which would have had the latter through on goal, but that aside his was, again, a performance vastly superior to all others’.

4. First Half vs Second Half

Of course, the column inches on Sessegnon, Emerson and Bentancur amount to polite small-talk. The real front-page news was the umpteenth instance of our transformation from clueless and impotent in the first half, to clued up and punchy in the second – the prompt for such a metamorphosis, as ever, being the concession of a goal.

Why the hell our lot must always wait until falling behind to unleash their better selves is an absolute mystery, but to this end my attention was arrested by a sentence casually lobbed into conversation by Monsieur Lenglet during his post-match buttering last night. Lenglet stated – and I paraphrase here – that the johnnies in the camp were unsure, when pistols were drawn, whether the message from above was fight or flight.

This did not strike me as mightily encouraging. One would have thought that any team at any level would head off to battle with clear instruction ringing in their ears at least as to whether the general approach would be attack or defend. With Conte having a reputation as the sort of egg who drills home tactical instructions for every eventuality, I found the mind boggling a bit at the notion that Lenglet – and who knows how many others? – was not sure in even the broadest sense what the setup was supposed to be.

I certainly understand that a deficit in any game removes any lingering doubt. When trailing, after all, one is rather obliged to up the levels, in order to salvage something. However, the notion that at kick-off the players simply look at each other and shrug, none the wiser as to what course ought to be plotted until they fall behind, seems to me rummy in the extreme.

Another theory being bandied about the place is that Conte is essentially playing rope-a-dope, both in the short- and long-term. In each individual match he wants the opposition to expel every last ounce of puff by around the midway point, so that our heroes have that much more mileage to go snatching and grabbing the points at the death; and over the course of the season he would like us simply to keep pace with things until the World Cup, so that the shackles can be cast aside come the new year and the race be run with a spot more dash and elan. In truth, however, AANP treated this one with a pretty sceptical eye.

Perhaps more believable is the notion that Conte simply does not have much faith in our defence to do as bid, and therefore piles up the reinforcements each game, resulting in scenarios such as the first half last night, when all ten outfield players are wedged within spitting distance of Lloris, and there is no attacking outlet at all.

Whatever the reason, be it accident, design or some otherworldly intervention, it is pretty maddening stuff to ingest every three days. As numerous second halves have indicated, not only are our lot perfectly capable of playing on the front-foot, giving multiple passing options, defending relatively high up the pitch and winning the ball in midfield or higher, but they can actually do it pretty effectively.

All of which makes me fling my head back and howl at them for not simply adopting that approach from the off, and racking up the goals at various points prior to the absolute dying seconds of the game.

On a positive note, however, last night was, ultimately, an absolute joy, the like of which we haven’t experienced in the Champions League since Amsterdam. Qualifying for the knockout stages was a triumph, and I suspect ticked a box that most of us would have scrawled at the start of the season when pondering what a successful campaign would look like. To dump out in such manner a team stocked everywhere you looked with former Woolwich blisters added to the fun. And credit where due – for the third time in a week (albeit ruled out on one occasion by a dubious VAR) our heroes have come from behind to score a winner in the dying seconds, which represents a heck of an improvement from all those lightweight Spurs sides of my youth.

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Spurs 1-1 Sporting: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. A Note On Var

One always likes to improve the mind, of course, so if last night’s high jinks concerning VAR have brought anything in the way of a silver lining, it’s the sparkling discovery that one can be offside from a pass directed backwards. A fact – and a pretty critical one at that – of which neither I nor the general population at large were remotely aware until circa. 22.00 last night. And if that doesn’t cushion the blow of the wider thing, I don’t know what does.

For tax purposes and whatnot, I ought to declare that here at AANP Towers we are actually in favour of VAR – in theory. When it does the job for which Mother Nature had intended it, viz. swiftly correcting absolute howlers, then it’s a most welcome addition to the ecosystem. (Neatly illustrating this was an initially disallowed goal just last weekend, by Everton’s Anthony Gordon – he of the Princess Diana tribute hair – whose finish was initially flagged offside, instantly checked and within seconds discovered by the first replay to be as comfortably onside as these things can be.) In theory, a ripper. Howler overturned. Football the winner.

In practice, however, the bods in the video booth seem to have taken this fine and noble theory, of immediately correcting clear and obvious errors, and given it a good kicking before locking it in a basement somewhere, which has increasingly struck me as not really cricket.

If a VAR decision takes longer than the specified period required to boil an egg, the AANP eyebrow leaps into action and does its thing. And if VAR’s offside lines cannot be drawn without inviting pretty fruity debate about their accuracy or width or whatever else, the AANP index finger is raised with calm but thrillingly authoritative purpose. And when any of the above exist in combination, it indicates that a general rumminess is afoot. To spell the thing out scientifically, these are not the kind of acts for which VAR was invented.

And it felt like all of the above, and more, was sprinkled about the place pretty liberally last night. Coming as it did, to puncture the mighty crescendo of last night’s efforts, I don’t mind admitting that I did not necessarily receive the announcement with the exquisite decency that the AANP lineage traditionally demands.

Still, there it is. Deliberately positioning oneself to block the ball can be deemed accidental. Knees can be offside. And we can all rejoice in the fact that we are now that much wiser today than we were yesterday about the capacity to be offside or otherwise from passes delivered in a regressive direction.

2. The Different Second Half Approach

All of which distracts somewhat from the real front-page stuff. Our first half was, for the most part, pretty mouldy fare.

An important asterisk deserves shoving in at this point, because there was a spell of maybe ten minutes or so in the first half when our heroes seemed to stumble, inadvertently or otherwise, upon one-touch football and the pretty sizzling harvest it produces. Kane tended to feature fairly prominent in these vignettes, with Lucas, Doherty and the midfield twins also bobbing into frame for little cameos. Being an optimistic soul, I was pretty encouraged by these moments. Times, it seemed to me, were a-changing. It might not have been quite the whirlwind of irresistible force for which we’d been pining all bally season, but snippets of one-touch stuff were a fair few notches up from the rot of recent weeks.

It was pretty unfortunate therefore that Sporting should choose that moment to beetle down the other end and take the lead. Thereafter, the very concept of one-touch passing seemed to be erased from the minds of all concerned, and our lot returned to that mournful routine of taking three touches and passing sideways in defence again, as if they had been rehearsing it all week.

When out of possession too, the sentiment seemed to be to approach things as if we were actually three or four goals ahead, and were quite content to sit off and let Sporting do their darnedest. The whole approach was equal parts peculiar and excruciating.

Come the second half, however, the gravity of the situation seemed gently to manifest itself into the minds of the main cast, until, by around the 60-minute mark, our lot were hammering away at the Sporting goal at every opportunity.

Certain key factors made themselves known during this period. For a start, the whole business of gloomily shoving the ball left and right in defence, ad infinitum, was shelved. Instead, the back-three seemed collectively struck by the notion that shovelling the ball elsewhere – anywhere, but at a healthy tempo – would start to pop a few Sporting noses out of joint, if you follow.

The wing-backs adopted increasingly adventurous positions – with varying degrees of success in terms of output, I suppose, but by virtue of simply making the effort and being there they benefited the general effort.

Bentancur and Hojbjerg struck up a brief entente cordiale, whereby the former would mind the rear and the latter would charge off to support the attacking mob. (At least temporarily; as the clock did its thing the whole one-sit-one-attack agreement became a little fuzzier around the edges.)

By the final few minutes we even had Romero shrugging his shoulders and mooching up into the centre-forward position.

Admittedly by that point we had rather dispensed with finesse, and Sporting were inclining towards an all-hands-to-the-pump mentality, but in general, the attitude of simply moving the ball quickly struck me as making a world of difference. Funnily enough, showing the desire to win any given loose ball did likewise.

Why the hell it takes concession of a goal and a full 45 of clueless meandering around the halfway line to get there is a mystery that has been stretching out all season now, but AANP is a sunny sort, and if we can bottle the second half approach and uncork it again at 3pm on the nose this Saturday, then I’ll observe matters with a smile on the map and the hum of popular melodies on the lips.

3. Gil

If I quote the date “Summer 2021” and let memory do its thing, you may recall the good ship Hotspur indulging in a spot of over-the-counter trading with Sevilla, to the effect of shoving them one serviceable Lamela plus £20m, and receiving in return a shiny new Gil.

I’ve never really been one for the shops if I’m honest, being more the sort of cove who will buzz in and out to buy things out of necessity rather than wile away hours browsing through every dashed thing on the shelf. As such, I’m not really an expert in these matters, but even so, I have been unable to shake the thought ever since that we congratulated ourselves a little too hastily on that one. Gil is a younger specimen, that much is pretty much scientifically and legally assured. But with each fleeting cameo, the same critical question has occurred, namely whether this chap is really £20m better than Lamela. Actually, a second question also tends to leap to mind, that of why, if he really is that good, does he never play.

And the answer to the second part of the conundrum at least seems to present itself with regard to the young fellow’s bulk – or, rather, lack thereof. Put bluntly, all the pace, willing and trickery in the world doesn’t amount to much puff if the slightest spot of good, honest shoulder-to-shoulder waltzing sends you hurtling into the stands.

I myself am one of the sinewy sort of frame, all skin and bone or, as put lovingly by a 5-a-side teammate, “made of biscuits”. As such, should young Gil and I ever take to a pitch together, I fancy we’d address each other as physical equals. Any coming together would not invite a dark sequel, but rather just a spot of picking up, dusting down and friendly back-slapping. The problem seems to arise when just about anyone of remotely muscular build comes into Gil’s sphere. For all his undoubted trickery and pace, it seems pretty public knowledge that one meaty clump around the upper-body will send the poor nib into next week.

All of the above was in evidence against Frankfurt last week, when Gil produced a similarly endearing and effective cameo, halted every now and then by physical contact, so it was a rather pleasant surprise to note that Sporting seemed pretty ignorant to his obvious Achilles’ heel. And as a result, he was terrific. Unpredictable, willing and creative, it was precisely what we needed at that point. I suppose there is a question around whether he is better resourced against European teams than slighter beefier sorts in the Premier League, but last night such concerns were way down the list.

The sight of Gil operating high up the pitch with Lucas as auxiliary wing-back behind him was particularly thrilling (although Conte then burst that particular bubble to bring on Royal, whose lamentable no-look pass out of play for a goal-kick I would gladly accept as his swansong in lilywhite).

Both Gil and Lucas offered the potential to dash in behind the defence, as well as simply tying up an opponent in knots, but Gil in particular seemed an exponent of this art. In the absence of both Kulusevski and Richarlison, Conte’s next selection in this respect will be intriguing.

4. Lloris

Mercifully, the life and times of our resident last-line were merely a footnote by the time the curtain came down, but despite only popping into focus intermittently, Monsieur Lloris still managed to cram a few extremes into his highlights reel.

To his credit, that reflex save late on in the second half pretty much kept us in the match. After all that nonsense he peddled at the weekend it was pretty heartening to see him hit upon the idea of doing that for which he is paid, with minimal fuss and a fair helping of quality.

Alas, the chap’s wackier side was rarely far behind. A tardy offside flag consigned the moment to history, but his charge out of his area and then off into the south-western corner, giving futile chase to a Sporting soul – and then letting him escape, forsooth! – had seasoned Lloris-watchers covering the eyes of nearby small children.

And this was to say nothing of his role in the goal conceded. Not straightforward of course, and one listens keenly to those who advise walking a mile in a man’s shoes before subjecting him to pelters – but for a fellow who’s saving grace is his shot-stopping, he probably ought to have given a moment’s thought to his own coordinates as Edwards locked on and prepared to fire.

As mentioned, the fun and games which accompanied the mad old finale helped to shove to one side Lloris’ latest indiscretions, but he ought to be in no doubt that the hawk-like eye of AANP will be upon him in the weeks to come.

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Spurs 3-2 Eintracht Frankfurt: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg

Hojbjerg seems to be a chappie who divides opinion amongst the better half of North London. The Brains Trust evidently rate him, as they keep him out there every available minute, but if the baying mob ever need someone in whom to stick the knife and give it a twist, the initials P.E.H. are rarely far from the lips.

This can at least partly be explained by the fact that he rarely gets the more glamorous assignments. While Sonny is belting volleys so hard they rip the net from its moorings, poor old Hojbjerg’s matchday highlights tend to occur in locations such as the halfway line, obscured by flailing limbs from all sides and typically taking take the form of an ungainly lunge to prevent catastrophe befalling in three passes time.

It is a measure of the aplomb with which he carried out the most menial tasks going that Hojbjerg managed to catch the AANP eye as one of the night’s premier cast members. For make no mistake, this was not a victory fashioned from a solid back-three. Far from it. This was a win built upon the occasional clicking of our various attacking parts – the defence appeared generally to be using a completely different playbook. In fact, if anything the defence seemed oddly intent upon sabotaging the whole thing at every opportunity, and without too much subtlety either.

Step forward Master Hojbjerg, who from the off made clear he wasn’t in the market for any defensive clownery. While those around – or, more specifically, behind – him bumped into each other and played fast and loose with possession, Hojbjerg seemed to take it upon himself as a matter of personal pride that no individual duel would be lost, and for good measure any loose ball would be seized.

On top of which, the sound fellow also identified the value in adding his presence to our attacks, and could regularly be spotted tagging along as our heroes motored over halfway and towards the Frankfurt net.

Indeed, such was his daring in this regard that he even managed to do that for which we’ve been crying out from our right wing-backs all season, viz. scuttling past a couple of opponents on the right, reaching the byline and delivering the perfect pass, in teeing up Sonny for his wonder-strike.

There’s an important asterisk to shove in at this point, for it should not be considered that this assist was the sole contribution of the man, nor that for this reason alone has he earned top billing for the day at AANP Towers. Had he simply done his best Emerson Royal impression at this juncture and slowed to a stop before knocking the ball into the nearest defender and frantically waving his arms, Hojbjerg’s would still have been a standout display. His cross for Sonny simply added a little garnish, to a performance that was otherwise drenched in sweat and lactic acid.

2. Sessegnon

Fans of A-listers are no doubt demanding to know when the acclaim for Sonny and Kane will kick in, but next on the roster is young Sessegnon.

Following the Hojbjerg example, Sessegnon made sure he carried out all the dull admin work, diligently tracking his man and dangling an appropriate leg, and generally adopting a risk-free approach to life when in his own half that some of his more experienced associates might have done well to ape.

But it was when revving up the engine and hurtling off towards the Frankfurt goal that Sessegnon really caught the eye. It is hardly a secret that The Conte System involves frequent knowing nods towards the wing-backs when on the front-foot, so it was a joy to see 50% of those wing-backs taking the hint and hitting the final third at a fair old lick at every opportunity.

Sessegnon created the headed chance for Richarlison in the opening knockings; weighted a lovely pass for one of Sonny’s saved chances; wormed his way into two clear goalscoring opportunities himself; and, while the record books will simply gloss over the fact without so much as a blot of ink, his head of steam into the Frankfurt area handily lured away the last remaining defender, which allowed Sonny the space to spank home his second.

Those who know AANP best will be aware that I’ve generally regarded young Sessegnon with a rather stern and unforgiving eye, but that same knowledgeable mob would also attest that I’m nothing if not fair – and if the young whelp plans on making a habit of performances like this he’ll be most welcome to pull up a perch and enjoy a splash of the good stuff at my expense.

3. Sonny and Kane

The murmur around the place at about the hour mark was that this might have been the best our lot have played all season.

(Of course, it couldn’t last, and despite not adding the fourth goal that would have sewn the thing up, they rather regressed somewhat as the game wore on, in much the style of a mob who had just added a fourth goal and sewn the thing up. On top of which, they somehow managed to make playing against ten men look like playing against twelve, which had me clutching at my fellow man in alarm on more than one occasion; but our lot will persist in making the hardest possible work of things.)

Back to the good times, and before and after half-time it would be no exaggeration to say that at times our lot absolutely purred. Key to this, it struck me, was that, for possibly the first time this season, Sonny and Kane simultaneously found something like their groove. To date it seems to have been one or t’other. On Tuesday, it was both. On top of which Richarlison was as eager as ever, all elbows and upper-body strength, generally making himself a nuisance to opponents and a most useful accomplice to teammates.

I banged on rather interminably at the weekend about how Son’s powers are reduced considerably when he drops deep and tries to hold up or link play, as opposed to a far more potent deployment at the apex of things. Against Frankfurt however, he was restored to his former glories. The ball was generally pinged towards the vicinity of Kane, handily attracting Frankfurters to him like moths to a flame, and Sonny raced off into the wide open expanses ahead.

It brought about two goals and numerous other glorious moves, the sort that decency really demanded ought to have resulted in further additions to the scoreline. And various other supporting cast members, no doubt inspired by what they saw, were moved to contribute in their own specific ways. As mentioned, Hojbjerg and Sess contributed to Son’s second; and even Emerson, otherwise as fat-headed as ever, pinged the pass into Kane that set up Sonny for our first of the night.

As mentioned, Kane seemed to have the Frankfurt defence on the fabled piece of string about which the N17 faithful love to sing, manoeuvring them in whichever direction he fancied in order to release his chums. This seemed to be the tactic of choice, and was working a treat; so you can picture my surprise when Kane took it upon himself to set off on the charge and stumble his way past four defenders before being bunged to the ground. Now admittedly this was not Ginola vs Barnsley in ‘99, having about it more clunk than class, and owing a certain debt of gratitude to the good old-fashioned ricochet.

Nevertheless, it was a heck of a run for the chap, who had a look in his eyes that said “I will not be beaten (unless anyone touches me in the area, in which case I’m hitting the deck pronto”). In a season that has oddly failed to come alight to date, that run by Kane, coupled with Son’s volley, provided the biggest hint yet that our forward line might be about to spring into life.

4. Gil and The All-Action-No-Plot Finale

As mentioned, having been well in control, our lot contrived to very nearly throw the whole blasted thing down the pan in the utterly bizarre final ten or so.

As the hour mark came and went, and despite my imploring yowls from afar, those on the pitch resolutely stuck to the approach of complacently mooching from side to side rather than hammering away at the Frankfurt goal. Even when Frankfurt were reduced to ten, the party line seemed to be to conserve energy for future fights.

Our Glorious Leader can take some part of the blame for this too, the move to replace half the outfield players bringing about a noticeable dip in standards. (One understands in theory the decision to take off Dier when on a yellow card, but it nevertheless struck me as an ill thought-through gambit, resulting as it did in the dreaded combination of Emerson and Royal on the right side of defence.)

With the urgency visibly draining away from our mob, it was utterly predictable that Frankfurt should pull one back – via the usual dreadful contribution from Emerson – leaving the entire viewing public to endure major coronary episodes, right up to the final kick of the game.

In the midst of all this poor old Bryan Gil was flung on. As cameos go it was about as entertaining as they came, albeit revealing nothing we didn’t know before: the lad is a box of tricks, and boasts not an ounce of muscle on his frame. Each of these aspects were illustrated for all to see, as he twisted a succession of defenders inside out before being clattered out of the way by one whose patience had run out.

The whole episode of the second penalty was rather a lot to take in, featuring as it did a Gil run being abruptly terminated when he forgot to take the ball with him; after which a Frankfurt johnnie rather charmingly waited until everyone had vacated the defence before gifting it back to him; at which point he seemed set to dribble past everybody who came within ten yards of him; before being upended so that Kane could belt the penalty off into the High Road.

Gil might still have had his moment of glory, when Kane had the opportunity to roll him the ball for a tap-in; but, seemingly convinced that what his failed penalty had lacked was even more power, Kane absolutely blasted the cross towards the poor chap, who produced a horizontal leap that looked mightily impressive, but was ultimately of little value given his failure to be eight feet tall.

Thus we ended the night high on action and pretty empty on plot, as is our way. Still, the improvement in attacking interplay and numerous clear chances created – without resorting to sitting back and countering – bodes very well. On top of which, the pre-match consensus had been that a win, delivered in any manner, was crucial – so for all the late madness, this ultimately was a job well done.

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Sporting 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

With apologies for tardiness – gallivanting the States, timings a bit off

1. Emerson Royal

Fans of E. Royal Esquire – and there must be some, by the law of averages and whatnot – might want to avert their eyes at this point, or go for a spot of shut-eye or something. The signs are ominous for him after all: after a late and pretty thorough collapse, in which the man himself was in the vicinity for both goals conceded, and also bungled the best of the chances we created at t’other end, for him then to be first on the list of Talking Points, in a rag with a bit of a history of sticking the knife into him, suggests that the following is not going to be garlands around his neck and rapturous applause.

He actually contributed one of our better first half moments, digging out a cross from the by-line that flashed past around five rather panicked Sporting dignitaries and right across the face of the goal, dash it, with not a single natty sky-blue uniform in sight.

So to shower the fellow only with oaths and criticism would be unfair. In the first half in particular it was pretty much a Standard Emerson Royal Production out on the right – little to recommend it, but nothing too egregiously wrong either.

But part of the problem is that Conte-ball requires a heck of a lot more than a Standard Emerson Royal Production on the right. Conte-ball relies greatly upon the wing-backs to do much of the heavy-lifting going forward.

Out on the left Master Perisic had the right idea, in theory at least. Forward he bobbed, and when he slung in his crosses they were creations of some quality, ticking various useful boxes like ‘Trajectory’, ‘Pace’, ‘Direction’ et cetera. It has been some time since the good ship Hotspur has boasted a fellow capable of such inviting delivery from out wide, and while, all told, this was not his finest hour (in particular, when we were out of possession the Sporting nibs seemed to tiptoe past him at will) one at least saw some benefits to his presence.

Emerson, on the other hand, yet again demonstrated some willing to attack without ever really researching the detail of what this would entail. Quite why the hell Matt Doherty has remained persona non grata this season, particularly after warming to the role at the end of last season, beats the dickens out of me, but there we go. Emerson it is.

And Emerson it was who thrice failed to deliver his lines when the Sporting back-line did its Red Sea thing and allowed him to swan right through to goal. Not necessarily the easiest chances in history, for sure, but I’d have given a limb or two for any of those chances to have fallen to one of the front-three (well, on current form perhaps not Sonny, eh?)

That said, I suspect we would all have settled for a point as the clock ticked over to 90. Now to lay the blame squarely at Emerson’s door for that opener really would be a bit thick. For a start it was a peach of a delivery, definitely in the realm of ‘Mighty Difficult to Defend’. Moreover, the post mortem suggests that the Sporting fellow who did the deed was the man-marking responsibility of that rotter Harry Kane.

Nevertheless, Emerson ended up closest to the action at the key juncture, and had he attacked the ball with the conviction of a man whose very life depended upon getting to it first he would have cleared the thing with plenty left in the account.

One nil was bad enough, but if Emerson’s failings in the first goal could arguably be excused, he really ought to be given a good public thrashing for his role in the second.

Senor Romero does not escape blame here either, making a pretty ham-fisted attempt – and I use the term pretty dashed loosely – at preventing the laddie getting his shot off, and not for the first time in recent weeks.

But it was Royal whose input really made the lip curl in utter disgust. He simply let the chap waltz straight past him, for heaven’s sake. Through his legs, forsooth! Shoulders slumped, pace down, energy barely registering, looking for all the world like he was simply off for an amble in the other direction.

Should he be delivering such high quality in the other 89 minutes of this and every other match as to make himself undroppable I would probably wave him along after a sharp click or two of the tongue (as I essentially do with Messrs Kane and Romero). But Emerson is anything but undroppable. Hook the bounder, fit Doherty for the necessary costume and let’s at least benefit from the latter’s attacking contributions.

2. Lloris

Heaven knows it was a thump and a half to the solar plexus to lose the bally thing thusly, but if there were one amongst our number who would have been excused an even heftier curse or two it was probably poor old Monsieur Lloris.

The poor sap appeared to have saved us a point with his flying leap at what had appeared to be the death, tipping around the post at full stretch one of those curling efforts whose trajectory seemed to scream ‘Bottom Corner’. Coming as it did in minute 89 it seemed a reasonable move to thank the chap for rescuing a draw, before simply bunging away the corner and awaiting the final whistle.

A dashed waste then, to see the resulting corner fly straight back into the net so earnestly protected just moments before, but sometimes life takes these opportunities to illustrate that if it is not one damned thing it will be another.

Had things petered out goallessly I fancy that Lloris would have been a solid bet for the Outstanding Performer gong, at least from our lot. When Sporting counter-attacked for the first time, way back in the in the early knockings, Lloris was on hand to do the full-stretch thing; and when Edwards dusted off his quite sensational Maradona impression it was again left to Lloris’ reflexes to keep the net undisturbed. He, if no-one else, seemed to merit a point.

3. The Son – Richarlison – Kulusevski Love Triangle

Conte has long established himself as one who knows his beans, so there will be precious little criticism of his preferred methods of skinning cats from this quarter, but I nevertheless allowed myself a raised eyebrow when the team news filtered in. Having banged on about the need for squad depth at various points since his N17 coronation, it is a tad rummy to see him so wedded to near enough the same XI, and galling when both performance and result fall flat.

Most eye-catching was this business of again selecting Kulusevski as the odd man out, while Sonny again started. This is of course a point under the heading of ‘Form’ rather than ‘Class’, and I’m not sure any one of sound mind doubts that Sonny will tearing strips out of opposing defences soon enough (indeed, his contribution in getting the Marseille monsieur sent off last week should not be forgotten in a hurry).

But frankly the fellow is off the boil, while Kulusevski has noticeably upped the overall performance level as soon as ushered in, no matter what the role he is asked to fulfil.

Richarlison, like Kulusevski, seems a pill who is on an upward form trajectory, similarly providing a series of headaches to opponents. The understanding of and partnership with Kane could do with a little finessing – witness the mistimed runs for one-on-ones that were flagged offside – but in general the fellow is worth his place.

Now I must hold up a paw or two and confess that I’m not quite sure who plays on which side if Sonny is removed and the equation becomes Richarlison-Kane-Kulusevski, and it might be that there is a significant impediment to this set-up. Frankly, however, I’m inclined to think that such an issue ought to be surmountable for these three. Grown men and all that.

Who knows what plans Our Glorious Leader had had in place for the postponed City game, and what plans he has in place for the upcoming Leicester game – but for the time being at least, it would seem uncontroversial to pluck Sonny from the frontline and utilise Kulusevski.  

4. It’s Been Coming

A bitter pill and all that, and I’d guarded pretty zealously the concept of picking up points while playing badly – but now that we’ve lost, and the dust is settling, I do scratch the bean and wonder if this might be a useful prompt. Encourage the assorted cast members to buck up their ideas, if you know what I mean?

While we sit prettily enough in the Premier League table, and have had a couple of tricky fixtures, I’m not sure we’ve played particularly well for more than half an hour in any game so far this season.

The trend had actually been to start each game with a dreadful, dirge-like apathy, so in that respect at least one improvement was made yesterday – our lot started each half full of beans, pressing high and generally trying to impose themselves. But yet again, it was rather fleeting stuff, and on balance we looked as likely to concede as to score.

As mentioned above, I’m pretty reluctant to chide Conte, so it is in a spirit of well-meaning altruism that I suggest a couple of changes, to either or both of personnel or playing style. If wing-backs or central midfielders need rearranging then rearrange like the dickens; if a more creative centre would deliver the eggs then inject creativity like the stuff is going out of fashion. Either way, this particular mob has a lot more talent than has been displayed in the last couple of months.

Frankly, the AANP dollar is still on qualification from the CL Group Stage and a Top Four finish, but we might as well try to make it a little easier for ourselves, what?

Another of those polite AANP requests: if any of you fine folk know of Vegas venues that show Premier League games, do be a frightful sport and wing over the details, would you? Much obliged.

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Spurs match reports

Leipzig 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Lloris – More Basic Errors

Tough times at Casa Tottenham, with the rot seemingly having set in from the stem and spreading – if you don’t mind the cunningly topical analogy – like a virus.

World Cup-winning captain or not, our resident custodian has assured us in recent times that if all else fails, he can be relied upon to drop a clanger of pretty gargantuan proportions with healthy regularity, and in this respect he did not fail us.

One understands the principle of walking a mile in the shoes of a fellow mortal before pelting him from all angles, and I readily confess that from the comfort of my armchair I certainly have never failed to make a save.

Nevertheless, the first goal appeared to be of the breed of regulation muck that you would expect a seasoned pro to shovel up without much more than a bat or two of the eyelid. As our Beloved Glenn also mentioned, one wonders whether the chap might have dared to stray forward from his line beyond the eight or so millimetres that he seems to consider statutory – but in truth when it comes to the technicalities of the profession I defer to others.

The headline, however, remained, that Lloris half-heartedly waggled a mitt when what was required was something made of far sterner stuff. The second goal left the dumb soul similarly red of face, involving as it did the cardinal sin of being bested at the near post. In his defence the whole episode did occur at double quick speed, the attacker’s header catching everyone off balance – but again, one would have expected Lloris to have had the apparatus arranged for such eventualities.

It was galling stuff, for several reasons. As mentioned, “error-prone” hardly does justice to the state of things, for off the top of one’s head one can name half a dozen pretty seismic howlers bearing his signature from the last couple of seasons. Within this mess, he has at least generally been able to fall back on the fact that he is a shot-stopper par excellence – but these two goals, plus that against Burnley at the weekend, suggest that his powers are fading at a fair old lick.

And frankly, the team as a whole having surpassed expectations by starting the game with intent and a reasonable threat, to have the captain and last line of defence undo the good work going on around him, by conceding two soft ones within the first twenty minutes, had about as elevating an effect on matters as shoving a pin into a balloon.

2. Winks – Not A Defensive Midfielder

After a reasonable opening ten minutes, in which our high press threatened to reap benefits, calamity struck when Leipzig found a pretty straightforward way of dealing with this – namely winning an individual battle or two in midfield. Within a blink of an eye they were racing at various isolated unfortunates within our defence, and it was a problem with which we never really got to grips.

Seeing their mob race towards our goal, with Harry Winks five yards behind in their slipstream, did make me wonder what effect a bona fide defensive midfielder might have had. At the weekend vs Burnley, the repositioning of Eric Dier from centre-back to defensive midfield, in the second half, helped contribute to a marked improvement. In Leipzig, Winks looked pretty woefully ill-suited to such a task.

One does not question the young pup’s willing, but positionally he appeared way off the mark, rarely in the appropriate spot for an interception, and typically caught too far upfield to effect any sort of tackle or simply to slow or divert an onrushing attacker. A feature of every Leipzig attack seemed to be Winks’ distinctive white boots labouring to make up ground.

It does beg the question – what is the lad’s purpose? Not a defensive midfielder, and still too reticent in his passing to be considered an attacking fulcrum, of the Lo Celso ilk, he appears best suited as a spare man in midfield, keeping possession ticking over – but something more substantial is needed.

He has churned out enough proactive displays to merit his place as a squad member, but indispensable he currently is not.

3. Sessegnon Looking Devoid of Confidence

The rather predictable gag about Dele Alli’s brother taking his place on the pitch takes a turn for the complicated when applied to Ryan Sessegnon, as he does indeed have a brother who peddles his wares in the same profession.

However, the moral of the story remains intact, because the Sessegnon currently on display at N17 has not yet offered even a whiff of the starlet signed to generous fanfare in the summer.

One suspects he will come good in time, so no need to panic; and there are numerous mitigating circumstances the defence lawyers might reasonably point to – injuries, chopped and changed formations and personnel, generally dreadful performances all around him – so nobody in their right mind is demanding the chap’s head.

It was simply disappointing to see such a promising young egg look so devoid of confidence. Rabbits in headlights have looked more inclined to take on their man, or more likely to beat him. His short passes are often inaccurate and he rarely contributes to neat interplay in the way that Aurier occasionally does on t’other flank. And when one points to Aurier as an example of what ought to be done correctly, one knows that matters are pretty serious.

In time young Sessegnon will almost certainly come good. It is just a dashed shame that a point in the season when the squad is depleted, and opportunity practically bangs the door down, he does not appear ready to step up.

4. Aurier’s Latest

On the subject of Aurier, another game brought another catastrophic error. To his credit he does find new and inventive ways of strewing calamity, the 360 degree pivot while preparing a headed clearance certainly making a change from the usual rash lunges on terra firma.

The sale of Trippier looks ever-more bizarre by the game; the need for someone with just a smidgeon of defensive sense to take over at right-back, ever more pressing.

5. No Shortage Of Effort In Attack

As mentioned above, our lot actually produced a surprisingly sprightly opening ten minutes, giving the impression that a reasonable fist of things might be made.

In a pleasingly retro homage to a former Glorious Leader, they began with a high press, led by the forwards, and for a couple of exciting minutes one even half-expected to see Messrs Rose and Walker gallop up the flanks in support.

More fool those of us observing from the pews. By the time the second goal came around the stuffing had disappeared from within us and was ambling away and out of sight. Instead of prime Rose and Walker we now have undercooked Sessegnon and unreliable Aurier.

And instead of Kane and Son we have whomever is still standing. Dele, Lucas and Lamela did not click at any point, but I quite happily exonerate them, and save my muttered imprecations for others.

There was no shortage of willing amongst the three of them, and by the time the game drifted into its final half hour I rather wanted to give each of them a consoling pat on the shoulder.

Play together week in and week out, and they possess between them enough quality and energy that they might stumble upon a dashed effective understanding. But consistency of approach does not appear to be The Jose Way, nor does any obvious plan, and so it was unsurprising that when thrown together as a triumvirate for the first time they simply failed to click.

Calling Spurs fans from the ‘60s – I’d love you to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players. Just leave a comment below, drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

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Spurs match reports

Olympiacos 2-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Winks

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

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

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

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

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

2. Eriksen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Sanchez at Right-Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spurs match reports

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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Spurs preview

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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