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Dortmund 0-1 Spurs Bottlers: Six Tottenham Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. What Lloris Does Best

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

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

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

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

3. The Ironic Need for Sideways and Backwards Passing

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Kane Adulation

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

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

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

5. Why Hello There, Eric Dier

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

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

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

6. All Grown Up

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs 3-0 Dortmund: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Rip-Roaring Stuff – After An Ominous Beginning

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

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

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

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

2. A Love Note To My Best Mate Jan

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

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

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

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

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

3. Sonny Delivers Yet Again

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

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

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

4. Sissoko The Elder Statesman

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

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

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

5. Winks Steps Up

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

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

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

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

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

Barcelona 1-1 Spurs: Five Glorious Tottenham Observations

1. Our Most Significant Result

Now this is what makes it all worthwhile. If you did not bound out from beneath the sheets with a sore head and a sunny whistle on your lips then I rather despair.

This was magnificent. Yes we have convincingly beaten Real, City, Arsenal, Liverpool, United and Chelsea at various points in recent seasons – and while marvellous fun one and all, and richly deserved, and prompting all manner of gaiety and revelry there was nevertheless margin for error on each of those occasions. Failure in those games actually was an option, as we could simply shrug our shoulders and eye up the fixture list for our next joust.

But when push has met shove, and everything has absolutely rested on one single game, with no option of returning next week to make amends – those games in which boys become men and wild animals slink around you with a look in their eye that says “It’s you or me, old mucker, because only one of us will emerge from this alive I’m afraid,” – we have generally fallen short. Cup finals, cup semi-finals, crunch winner-takes-all CL games – that is where wheat is separated from chaff, and a most unwanted reputation has come our way.

All of which makes yesterday our most significant result in as many years as you care to remember. This was the first time we met elite opponents in what was essentially a knock-out tie, and we delivered.

Caveats abound of course – we didn’t win the thing, for a start, as we really ought to have done, and Barcelona obligingly removed a number of luminaries before the bash had even started. But they were still a dashed talented mob, it was still a daunting task in a daunting venue, and our lot still delivered when previously they had failed.
Add this to our late two goals against PSV and the late winner against Inter – again, two more games with no margin for error – and there are finally hints that our heroes now have the mentality to deliver in these crucial one-off matches.

2. Heroes All Round

There were thrilling performances littered all round the pitch. In the first half the front four looked a constant threat, four players neatly approaching their peak form in a fashion so well coordinated it was like they had been rehearsing for weeks. A shame that Sonny left his shooting boots back in Blighty, but from the off one sensed that we would certainly create a hatful of chances – even if the inherent pessimist in me, cultivated by years of watching Spurs, rather fretted that we would miss every blinking one of them.

From my vantage point on the AANP sofa (and with volume muted, such is my distaste for that particular commentator and his off-topic rambles) it seemed that Danny Rose became better with each passing minute.

Greeting everyone in his neck of the woods with aggressive glares and meaty challenges when defending, and springing into action with boundless energy when attacking, it was all a rather nostalgic throwback to a bygone era when our full-backs were our main attacking threat.

On t’other side, the campaign to build a statue in honour of Moussa Sissoko received yet another irresistible boost. That glorious combo of beast-like strength in defence, and powerful – if rather uncomplicated – forward gallops when seguing into attack had the Barcelona types scratching their heads, unsure of quite how to deal with the chap.

On top of which he then went from being a helping hand on the right, to assuming complete ownership of it, after the hooking of young KWP. Admittedly Sissoko never quite knows what to do once he has powered into the heart of the opposition defence, but he might as well have started charging others to enter his little strip of land, such was his dominance of it.

As if to plant a cherry on top of the icing, he then became the one-man answer to the question that’s been unanswerable for the last ten years – how does one stop Lionel Messi? When Messi picked up the ball and began slaloming, it all looked horribly inevitable – until he ran into Sissoko and pretty much bounced straight back off him, leaving our hero to emerge with ball at feet and wild determination in eye.

3. Kyle Walker-Peters

A testing night for young Kyle Walker-Peters, mind. ‘Educational’, might be the mot juste. The chap actually made a start that if not exactly rollicking by every measurement nevertheless seemed to bode quite well, as he confidently went on a little maraud down the right and earned a free-kick in what is legally known as “a dangerous area”.

Alas, the poor fish must have wished he hadn’t, because within about ten seconds he was slap bang in the middle of the sort of nightmarish sequence that usually receives a pretty stern telling-off from the legal bods for having been aired before the watershed.

Naturally enough, KWP’s confidence promptly took a nosedive as he spent much of the rest of the evening looking quite unashamedly like he was scouring the Nou Camp turf for a spot that would open up and swallow him whole. One would rather have felt for him if there were not a job to be done.

This is not to lambast his overall performance mind. He toiled away earnestly enough, generally avoided any further mishaps and made one pretty crucial block at 1-0 in the second half. But in general he did look exactly as had been advertised, namely a fish slightly out of water, gasping away appropriately.

All of which suggests that his career could go one of two ways, as he will presumably either push on and become a terrific player, or fizzle away into obscurity. Shove him into the starting eleven against Newcastle and he can produce a man of the match performance; do the same at Barca and he can make a crucial mistake. It’s far too early to pass judgement on the chap. As with young Foyth he will need more chances and be allowed to make more mistakes.

It is worth remembering a skinny young mite named Ledley King making a terrific pig’s ear of things inside his own area in the 2002 Worthington Cup final, costing us the match – and then making an identical mistake the following week in the league for good measure. The young people will do such things, and luckily for them, Our Glorious Leader is quite a forgiving sort in these matters.

4. Eriksen and Dele

Back to sunnier matters. As caution was picked up and hurled at the wind, we ended up in a glorious throwback to the Ossie Ardiles reign, as just about every soul in lilywhite bar the centre-backs and ‘keeper became an attacker. Sissoko and Rose became wing-backs, Winks was replaced by a forward, and rather thrillingly it became clear that even our deep-lying midfielders were now forward-thinking sorts, as we were treated to the sight of Dele and Eriksen dropping deep to dictate matters from around the centre circle, a task they each performed with aplomb.

Dele looks a man reborn these days, presumably having benefited from the enforced rest brought about by his injury. He brimmed with energy, and his touch looked most appropriately top-notch, given the surroundings.

We have come to expect nothing less from Eriksen of course, who took to reminding me of Modric in his White Hart Lane pomp, assisting the chap who provides the assist, if you get my drift.

5. Substitutes and Substitutions

Having berated Our Glorious Leader a couple of weeks ago for his curious decision-making against Arsenal, I now heap praise upon him by the sackload for his management not just of this game, but Leicester a couple of days ago.

The omissions of Kane and Eriksen on Saturday were perfectly gauged. The introduction of substitutes last night were perfectly timed and achieved precisely the desired effect. Lamela injected fresh energy, ideas and aggression; Moura’s directness ultimately brought him his goal. Even throwing on Llorente for Winks ensured that the pressure remained firmly clamped down upon the Barca back-line. I rather start to get the impression that Poch is getting the hang of this management lark.

And as pleasing as the contributions of the personnel was the approach used as the game wore on. While the AANP heartrate reached dangerously unsustainable levels, the calmest gang out there were the Spurs personnel themselves. There were no desperate long balls or speculative long-range efforts; our heroes remained remarkably level-headed and kept playing as they had done throughout, with quick, slick passing and off-ball movement. Barcelona’s best moments came from individual brilliance, which is fair enough when you fling £100 million plus at a player; ours repeatedly came from neat and incisive team moves.

Naturally, this being Spurs, it could have been done so much more easily – in recent weeks and last night – but it just adds to the fun of the thing, no?

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Spurs 1-0 Inter: Five Tottenham Observations

1. All Hail Sissoko. Again.

Nowhere else to begin, of course. The chap’s stock continues to soar, greeted from all sides with a peculiar mixture of bewilderment and delight. The all-action defensive style, which sees him gallop like a thoroughbred before using a vast array of limbs to wipe out opponents, has been of great value in our two most recent jaunts, in patrolling the right-and-central defensive areas, providing some friendly companionship to Serge Aurier.

But his occasional forays up the pitch, rarely in anything more than a straight line, have been weirdly mesmeric, and yesterday they struck oil when oil was the one thing we jolly well needed to strike most.

To begin at the beginning, once it became clear that Inter were not about to do as Chelsea did, and simply roll over to have their tummies tickled, we became embroiled in one of those tense, suspenseful larks, like the twisty spy thrillers one occasionally reads, in which everyone is actually double-crossing their dearest chum and one never quite knows what is coming on the next page, other than a heck more tension.

Patiently we prodded and poked, and introduced our starry subs, and admirably did not panic – but the problem remained. We needed a spark.

Enter Sissoko, simultaneously the least and most likely hero. His run was, again, little more than a gallop in a straight line – but what a gallop! Inter folk bore the look of a mob who had never quite seen this sort of thing before, torn between being drawn towards him and backing off him.

Mercifully, he ended his little dash by following the instructions that appear to have been hammered home to him by the entire coaching stuff, namely to keep it simple. Keep it simple he duly did, slipping the ball to Dele, and the rest was marvellous, fabulous history.

2. Nagging Concerns About Sissoko

After the rotten start to his N17 career the young fish deserves every plaudit going. He also deserves quite the formally-worded letter of apology, from AANP Towers amongst others, which I am quite happy to pen myself.
In my quiet moments, however, I do still stroke the chin and scratch the head and murmur to myself, “Really? I mean, dash it, really?”

There can be no doubting the empirical evidence: Sissoko is now a crucial component of this team, providing a defensive barrier, of strength and pace, as well as an attacking outlet – also of strength and pace, as it happens.

And as noted above, he is well aware of the need to keep things simple, and that he does, with his awkward, very telegraphed, but successful six-yard passes to the nearest lilywhite.

My concern remains that the bubble looks at any and every given moment like it is about to burst. I would be deceiving my public to say I wake up in cold sweats thinking about it, but I cannot shake off the worry that at any given point his control will utterly desert him, and he will once again become a liability. And by “control” I refer both to his control of the ball, when in possession, and his control of his limbs when moving up the gears. Put bluntly, it always seems as if his control of ball and limbs is as much a matter of luck as design. I sense he is about to overrun the ball, or trip over his own feet, every time.

This may well be thoroughly unfair; it may well just be the inherent pessimistic Spurs fan inside me; but I suspect I will need a few more months of this new, magic Sissoko before I am truly converted.

Still, the chap’s cult hero status is already pretty much secured, what?

3. Irreplaceable Eriksen

I suspect anyone with their ear pinned to the walls of the Away Dressing Room would report back that there were few grumbles from the Italian quarter about the outcome. A tight old joust it might have been, but our lot were superior, and 1-0 seemed about right.

1-0 it almost wasn’t however, because for all our superiority, and the generally more forward-thinking attitude, we did lack that little sprinkle of ingenuity in the final third. In short, we lacked Eriksen.

This is not to quibble with the team selection – more on that below – but just to note that the one, crucial position in which lack a quality reserve seems to be Eriksen’s. Even Kane, if removed, can be handily deputised for by Sonny’s scampering – a different kettle of fish, admittedly, but one that proves effective.

But remove Eriksen, and the wit and devilry of the whole troupe seems to dial down a notch. The nifty one-twos on the edge of the area fall a tad short, attempts to dribble past countless opponents are thwarted at the last, crosses are swung in, shots are fired from outside the area. Sissoko’s burst did the trick yesterday, but the moments of true guile come from Eriksen.

It presents a two-fold problem, of how to cope without the honest chap, and whether we can hang on to him beyond his current contract.

4. Squad Rotation

The pre-match natter was all about Eriksen and Sonny mooching on from the sidelines, with plenty of scribbles in both the Credit and Debit columns on this one.

Hindsight, surprisingly enough, has just about come down in favour of Our Glorious Leader’s position – we won, just, and kept the two imps fresh for Sunday.

The Case for the Prosecution, at kick-off and throughout the first hour or so, was that the front four of Eriksen, Son, Dele and Kane had absolutely shredded Chelsea at the weekend, so why the devil weren’t they being unleashed again here, when victory was essential?

A compelling point, actually. Poch’s Sustitution Gambit was risky, even if ultimately successful, but the philosophical AANP view at kick-off was that simply picking Son and Eriksen was no guarantee that they would replicate their success of Saturday. It is not impossible to imagine that they, like Lucas and Lamela, might have huffed and puffed from a distance of twenty-plus yards and to little effect, if played from the start.

As it happened, Sonny’s impact was immediate. He may well have been as effective if he’d started, or he may simply have benefited from being introduced against wearying limbs. Who knows?

It’s all a little moot now, and it ended well enough. On an uplifting sidenote, the lad appears to have rediscovered that joie de vivre that appeared to be absent in the opening weeks of the season, when he was shuttling across the globe.

5. Maturing

And so this most taxing of weeks is beginning to assume a surprisingly sunny hue. A romp against Chelsea, a tough old points-victory against Inter, and just the wretched Woolwich lot left to come. (And then another hundred or so games between now and 2019.)

One thing that strikes me in the final analysis is that our current vintage seem finally to be playing with a generous splash of maturity. The late PSV win, from one-down after a minute, was a triumph for persistence, skill and discipline, when it would have been easy to have neglected any or all of those three.

And here again, to keep ticking along patiently until the 80th minute, without panicking or losing their discipline, and against pretty high-quality opponents, was another little marker.

(On the discipline point – I didn’t really spot what happened with Winks, but Erik Lamela needs to be on the receiving end of a damn good thrashing, because his challenge was appalling. Could have injured the opponent, could have had us down to ten men with a lot of the game to play. But that aside, I thought our heroes kept their heads fairly well.)

Our ability to hang on to a lead for any length of time against top opposition still remains questionable, I suppose, but when we’ve needed goals we’ve found a way. It’s almost the sort of thing that is enough to win a trophy.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Spurs 2-1 PSV: Four Tottenham Observations

1. A Welcome Change of Narrative

Well this rather cocks the hat at a jaunty angle, in response to all those harbingers of doom, gloom and mockery.
Admittedly in the grand scheme of things it is unlikely to make too much difference, for our CL campaign has “Dreadfully sorry, but it’s 3rd place and Europa” etched all over it, but nevertheless. For a spineless, gutless mob incapable of seeing out games, there was a decent slab of spine and gut about the manner in which we clawed this back, particularly so late on in proceedings, and with our margin of error amounting to precisely the square of zero.

All the pre-match bubble and hype was about the need to win at all costs, eradicate mistakes and all that cheery guff – so naturally, this being Spurs, we were one down within a minute.

Not that there was too much in the way of sackcloth and ashes at AANP Towers when that opener landed, for the motto around these parts is that it’s vastly preferable to concede in the first minute than last. Plenty more time to adjust one’s settings, don’t you know?

And thereafter we tore away at PSV like a team of rabid cats feeling particularly irate about their lot. Chances came and went so frequently I wanted to set my watch by them, and the PSV goalkeeper, a chap who appeared at first glance designed for chopping trees and lugging oxen, spent the first 80 minutes thrusting a well-timed mitt at just about everything we threw at him.

It’s worth hammering away the point that, given all of the above, this was tailor-made for a night of ignominy. Instead, we played well throughout, just about kept our discipline and found a way to snatch victory from defeat. One hopes that such stirring sentiments and rousing performances are adopted by our lot every time they set foot on greenery from here on in.

2. Moura

It was one of those nights on which it doesn’t quite seem the square thing to go singling out such-and-such a chap for his efforts, because just about everyone involved worked up a pretty honest sweat for the cause, and with the exceptions of Davies and Son I thought they just about all delivered a meaty thrust too.

But in those irksome first half minutes in which we just couldn’t quite connect the dots, it warmed the heart no end to see Lucas get his head down and set off on a series of mazy dribbles that involved beating every PSV player in sight and haring straight into the middle of their area.

In the land of neat but often sideways passing and probing, the dribbler is king, and Lucas’ contributions to the cause seemed to get the watching hordes on their feet and give everyone a handy shot of adrenaline.

3. Gazzaniga

The murmur for Gazzaniga to be elevated at least one rung up the goalkeeping ladder has gathered momentum in a gentle, underground sort of manner over recent weeks, and to his credit the young bean didn’t disappoint when handed his chance.

The Cruyff turn seemed wildly unnecessary, and there was one errant pass, but that aside his distribution was sensible and his shot-stopping accurate. One in particular, when we were caught on the hop at 1-1, was notable for having been struck like an exocet missile by the looming PSV bod. Gazzaniga, evidently, has reflexes like a cat and wrists like hardened cement for he managed to paw it northwards in what is technically known as a Blur Of Motion.

Not much he could have done about the goal. All told, this chap keeps the pulse of the onlooker a darned sight steadier than Michel Vorm, so it appears that the pecking order might have been permanently altered.

4. Substitutions

By and large there’s nothing but praise for Our Glorious Leader in these parts; except, of course, for when I’m criticising him. And that tends usually to happen when a mid-game change is needed to right a few wrongs.

On this occasion, admittedly, the hooking of Moura, who, as mentioned, had been running pretty rings around PSV – while Sonny laboured to effect but one ring all game – seemed a rummy move. Perhaps fatigue and fitness was the decisive factor in this thinking?

More of a game-changer however, was the addition of Llorente into the mix. Rocket science it admittedly was not, for lilywhite crosses were already raining in, so why not throw in the lumbering giant? But these things are best judged on hindsight, and for his immaculate cushioned lay-off to Kane for the equaliser, Llorente justified his selection, and Pochettino earned a small gold star.

Elsewhere, Winks was excellent; the Eriksen belly appeared brimful with fire; and Dele’s return continues to add a frisson of excitement (even if his tendency to hog the ball continues); but all told this was a triumph for the whole bally mob.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

PSV 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Gallingly Pretty Stuff

Bafflingly, had it not been for the stress of the thing, this would have been an absolute treat to behold, at least for the opening 80 or so.

Take the goals alone. The first one was the sunny output of no fewer than 19 passes, according to the bods who monitor such things, the penultimate one of which was an absolute delight inside the full-back, from the wand of Eriksen. Yes, there was a deflection on the finish, but after 19 passes that’s hardly the point is it?

The second goal was, to the lover’s gaze, a thing of even greater beauty. The little exchanges between Son and Eriksen had the poor old PSV mob scuttling around in little circles like dogs spying their tails and setting off in hot pursuit, while the cross from Eriksen was of that wicked ilk that really ought not to be viewed before the watershed.

In short the whole lilywhite performance was so sparkling that great swathes of cherubim and seraphim were making the dickens of a racket about it. In terms of aesthetics and technique it was off the scale.

Moreover, it was all delivered having earlier been on the receiving end of a couple of notable stings of disappointment. The PSV opener for a start, had something of Paul Parker in Italia ’90 about its perfect parabola over the ‘keeper. The downright rummy call to chalk off Davinson Sanchez’s efforts had the visiting patrons similarly miffed, and the whole unfortunate saga was starting to become uncannily reminiscent of the first half of the ’91 FA Cup Final for the way in which Lady Luck was having her cruel way with us.

Yet by the hour-mark we were playing a brand of the beautiful stuff that was a notch or two above most mere mortals, and absolutely cruising on to Gameweek 4 with our pockets positively bursting with points. Indeed, by the time of the red card our hosts had not managed one second half shot, such was our dominance post-interval.

2. Experience: Overrated

Naturally, it does not need me to remind that thereafter the whole thing went rather Spurs-shaped. However, the roll-call of miscreants makes for interesting viewing.

Toby may have redeemed himself, for about one tenth of a second, with his sliding tackle, but his leaden-footed buffoonery was the first official crack in the Hotspur mentality, and this is a chap to whom we turn most readily for leadership, big-game nous and all those other important-sounding buzzwords on occasions such as these.

Master Eriksen, arguably the pick of the lilywhite bunch on the night, blotted his escutcheon like nobody’s business with his lazy concession of possession on halfway, which set the PSV chap motoring off towards Lloris around the 80-minute mark. Again, Eriksen is a man of big-match experience, and as such he really ought to have known better than to try show-boating on halfway when the lead was but one goal.

And as for Monsieur Lloris, the mind boggles so much that a strongly-worded letter to The Times simply does not do it justice. Again, the chap has experience in absolute truckloads, which does rather beg the question – what the deuces?

Each summer for around four or five years the walls of AANP Towers have been alive with the sound of chuntering about our lack of arrivals specifically with the big-match experience to see us through such crunch CL games as these. But when the very chaps blessed with such experience are the ones most prominently sticking their feet in buckets and tripping over their laces one wonders where we go next. There is simply no legislating for such monumental foul-ups – but as long as they continue the lilywhite juggernaut will remain stuck in this underachieving rut.

3. Eriksen

I have already touched upon comments within both the Credit and Debit columns under Eriksen’s name, but to reiterate the positive, by the second half he was playing the game as if life and all contained within could be slowed down at his whim.

My, how we have missed him when he has been in this sort of form, and how we lack a remotely adequate reserve.

His error leading to the red card cannot be ignored, but he was at the heart of so much that was good as we forced our way into the lead, and then edged towards a third.

4. Dembele

Another welcome returnee was Dembele. The snorting-bull/balletic-ice-skater hybrid has blown hot and cold to date this season, but right from the opening toot he was on top-notch form yesterday.

Time and again he picked up the ball fifteen or so yards inside his own half, and within four or five seconds was fifteen or so yards inside the opposition half, with a couple of steamrollered PSV sorts lying dazed and confused in his wake. It was peak Dembele.

Although a yellow card seemed inevitable given the manner in which he slings his forearms this way and that when in pursuit, the caution he actually received was jolly harsh. It did nevertheless mean that I spent the remainder of the game screeching, “Don’t dive in, egads!” every time he thundered off in pursuit off the ball, but luckily he escaped further censure until replaced the Scrappy to his Scooby.

5. Lloris

Since the chap is evidently pretty deficient in the grey cells department I won’t dwell on his latest aberration,
but what of the future for Monsier Lloris? A season that ought really to have been the zenith of his career is rather awkwardly spiralling into one of those anni horribiles of which one hears so much.

The chap’s off-pitch foul-up has been complemented by a whole string of on-pitch errors, coming in thick and fast at the rate of one every two games or so, which is quite the batting average. Still amongst the best in the business when it comes to the pain-et-buerre of stopping shots, his presence as final custodian is beginning to instil dread, given his capacity to magic calamities out of thin air.

Irritatingly, Vorm is current possessor of the reserve gloves, which on form alone makes precious little sense as his unique selling point currently appears to be the startled stare he directs at the ball as it whizzes into his net.

On his rare outings in the first time I’ve always been rather taken by young Senor Gazzaniga, but I suppose the 24-7 grind of training is enough to indicate to the great and good that third choice is where he should stay.

It is difficult to imagine that Our Glorious Leader would dare to omit Lloris for the Man City game next week, but for the chap to be untouchable even when routinely making such errors of judgements rather epitomises the collective problem of not having the God-given sense to see out a win.

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Spurs 2-4 Barcelona: Three Tottenham Observations

1. Lloris’ Latest Clanger

Well I don’t know about you but I needed one heck of a lie-down after watching all that. It was 90 minutes absolutely bursting at the seams with all sorts of goings-on, from opening toot to final curtain.

And on the subject of opening toot, what the dickens was going on in the mind of Monsieur Lloris is anyone’s guess. On an occasion on which one would have shot some pretty unmistakable glances towards the elder statesmen to lead by example, the sight of Lloris completely losing his mind and sprinting off his line like he was allergic to it, within the opening sixty seconds, was about as far removed from the use of experience and nous as is imaginable.

This is not to say that had wiser counsels prevailed in the committee meeting going on in Lloris’ head in Minute One we would had have proceeded to demolish Barcelona. But on a night on which we needed all the help going, top-notch daftness from our captain as soon as the starter’s pistol sounded did not really chivvy matters along.

Worryingly, this is hardly an isolated incident. For both club and country Lloris’ errors of judgement are becoming something of a running theme, and one really does scratch the head and wonder. In goalkeeping years – which makes him sound a bit like a dog – he isn’t that old, and his actual shot-stopping still ranks amongst the best in the business. But no matter how much we bleat about his assets, such positive sentiments pretty much die on the lips if he keeps gifting goals like this.

(The chap didn’t cover himself in glory for the final goal either, which robbed us of another five minutes at 2-3.) (Nor for that attempt to start poking the ball past onrushing forwards midway through the second half.)

2. Absentees – and Transfer Policy Ramifications

Giving Messi and chums an immediate free goal was all the more galling in view of the fact that we were very much Tottenham Hotspur Lite. Even when at full strength the whole machine has rather sputtered along this season, central midfield in particular not really doing all that one would hope and dream.

Nevertheless, one might have optimistically opined that a full-strength Hotspur, under the lights at Wembley, might do the unthinkable – but alas, full-strength this was most decidedly not.

Jan Vertonghen’s was an absence sorely felt. Sanchez is an honest soul, but undoubtedly a little green behind the ears, and while he did a passable job of keeping a beady eye on Suarez, he was caught the wrong side more than once. If ever one wanted the Toby-Vertonghen axis to chug away at the rear it was last night.

The absence of Eriksen’s vision and guile was also to be lamented in odes and wails and whatnot. The three behind Kane beavered assiduously, but Eriksen would have added a liberal sprinkling of subtlety, and in truth Barcelona’s rearguard looked susceptible to the well-judged through ball throughout.

Personally I am of the opinion that we are better off without Dele in the ranks at present – his absence seems to encourage Kane to dip his toes into water further forward, and Dele’s style hinders the quick one-touch game, which is meant in exactly as pointed a manner as it sounds.

Demebele’s absence I felt more keenly, even allowing for the fact that the chap has his flaws, and occasionally does over-elaborate and lose possession.

Whatever one’s opinions on the aforementioned, the little slew of injuries shone a rather glaring light on our summer transfer policy. The central midfield could undoubtedly be stronger. Capable reserves for Eriksen and Kane are undoubtedly needed. Looking around at other teams who have this season strengthened with chappies like Arthur, Jorginho and Keiter in midfield hammers home that players are available, but we cannot continue to run a club on a Top Six budget and expect to be Top Four, dash it all.

3. Bright Notes

Back to matters at hand, and despite approaching the thing with one hand tied behind back, shoelaces tied together and a blindfold in situ around the eyes, our lot made a passable stab at it.

The gung-ho approach straight from kick-off may have spectacularly backfired pretty instantly, and Barcelona may have casually passed a thousand triangles around us in the first half, but to their credit our heroes charged around throughout as if utterly affronted by unfolding events.

Young Winks was certainly not flawless, but showed in flashes that that he has various strings to his bow, even if there were something about him that reminded one of a puppy snapping at the feet of an elephant.

Toby fought the good fight in noble fashion, and Trippier combined several threatening attacking forays with the sort of earnest, whole-hearted defending that makes him very much the short of chap with whom would want to sip a drink and chew over some of life’s problems.

Kane, it seems, selected his goal as the rest of us mere mortals select which shirt to wear. Rumours of the chap’s imminent demise seem quieter by the week.

And the lilywhite star of the show, from this vantage point at least, was Lamela, who really does currently look the sort of chap who would be a nightmare to play against at present. He sprinted around until his little legs would carry him no further, was as indefatigable off the ball as he was direct on it, and maintained his pretty impressive scoring record for the season as much through sheer will as any high degree of quality.

Sobering though it ultimately was, I don’t think there’s any need to be hot-footing it to the nearest cliff and hurling ourselves off quite just yet. As mentioned in dispatches, a solid handful of lilywhites made a jolly good fist of things.

Moreover, having been absolutely played off the park in the first act, and having twice trailed by two goals, the attitude of our lot was pretty breast-thumping fare, much like those black and white war films one occasionally sees on a Sunday afternoon, in which a doomed squadron face certain death with a zesty yell or two and some noble, if ultimately futile, acts of bravery. We could have given up the thing completely, but instead kept fighting away against one of the best teams around, is about the gist of it. And that’s something.

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Inter 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Absolute Gut-Wrenching Frustration, Dash It

Back in the mid-90s, if you had suggested that there is no shame in losing away to Inter, I’d have yelled “Gollazo”, thrust my false ID in your general direction and agreed vigorously. However, things – as sometimes happens – have changed. Inter’s stripey ensemble might retain a certain appeal, but their 2018 on-pitch vintage is pretty crushingly average.

Accordingly, most of the trouble we faced was overwhelmingly of our own doing – and more grumbles on that particular topic below – while our hosts did little more than huff, puff and complain about this and that.
In fact, by around the 70-minute mark Inter had fairly unashamedly thrown in the towel, and simply mooched around the place, killing time until the post-match snifters at the nearest Milanese watering-hole. Our heroes were required to do little more than light cigars and apologetically keep possession as the game and all around it drifted towards a happy conclusion.

In a group like this, three points away from home would have swung the odds pretty handily in our favour. Even one point would have been accepted, albeit sniffily in the cirucmstances. But to have the larder so completely raided, barely ten minutes after having been in complete control, was about as rotten a conclusion as one can imagine.

2. The Morbidly Fascinating Tactic of Repeatedly Trying to Pass Out From The Back

Mind you, it was a good 30 or 40 minutes before one cottoned on to the fact that Inter were not quite the prowling behemoth of yore. In the opening thrusts, we seemed to have our work cut out to keep them at bay, and it is no exaggeration to say that one pursed the lips with concern.

On closer inspection however, it became pretty evident that the nub of all these problems were our own dashed heroes – and in particular the ludicrous tactic of repeatedly trying to pass the ball out from the area at goal kicks.

To say that the plan had a mild flaw or two in its mechanics is to make a pretty fruity bid for Understatement of the Year. Time and again the ball was passed to one or other of the centre-backs, who promptly staggered around it like men who had been drinking in the city centre since mid-morning.

On the rare occasions that they managed to dispense with the thing, it only bobbed around ten yards further up the field, where either Davies or Aurier were on hand to pass it straight to an opponent or trip over themselves while the ball gently rolled out of play. Precious little assistance came from midfield either, where every lilywhite in sight was determined to add their own glaring miscontrol or errant pass to the collection, and the whole thing made football look like the most complex operation imaginable.

It was mind-boggling to behold. Our heroes peddled a solid demonstration of the definition of madness, wondering why a different outcome was not materialising, and seemingly oblivious to the presence of alternatives – the concept of simply blasting the ball into the half being pretty firmly off the agenda. I’m not sure we managed serene progress to the halfway line from a single one of around a dozen first half attempts to pass our way out from the back.

These persistent, determined attempts to stuff the same square pegs into round holes, and the consequent bother they caused us in conceding possession on the edge of our own area, rather distracted from the fact that going forward our front four or so were quietly burrowing their way into the Inter ranks.

Nothing too blistering, heaven forbid, but the little dink from Eriksen to Kane; the occasional over-elaboration from Lamela; the odd dribble from Dembele over halfway – one started to get the impression that Inter were actually there for the taking, if we just applied ourselves. And cleared the lines from goal-kicks, of course.

3. Moura The Impact Sub

Lucas Moura seems not to have received the club-wide memo that all in lilywhite must trudge about the premises looking like they have been flogged half to death all summer. Sprightly whenever he has started a game so far this season, he hit upon the terrific idea of displaying precisely the same degree of spright when introduced as a substitute, and it produced exceptional results.

Credit to the manager were due – and he has a sizeable portion of blame heading his way soon enough – it was a decision that could not have been better timed if he had been rehearsing it for weeks. We led by a goal, Inter were beginning to over-commit and their general energy levels were sapping away like nobody’s business.

Enter Moura, and every Inter defender in sight began queuing up to have the dickens twisted out of them. The only shame was that it did not bring about the second goal that it merited.

4. Aurier Turns In A Half-Decent Display

Frequent visitors to this parish – and indeed, any man, woman or child alive, who has ever cast the merest glance in our direction over the past season – will be well aware that Serge Aurier is a man of questionable defensive prowess.

“Liability” has generally been the mot juste, as the blighter has conceded penalties, earned red cards, sliced clearances and misplaced passes in a pretty determined attempt to establish himself as a dashed nuisance, and raise the blood pressure of approximately half the population of North London.

He started proceedings in typical fashion yesterday – albeit in common with most of his defensive chums. A miscontrol to concede a throw, a wayward header to concede a corner – so far, so Aurier.

Come the second half however, the chap got his act together like a man possessed. Filling in behind the centre-backs like a seasoned sweeper, he cleared up the occasional mess at the back, whilst also channelling his inner Kyle Walker by bombing up the back as if wing-backing were his specialist subject.

All in vain ultimately, and a genuine shame that he was the AWOL marker for the winning goal, but having taken every opportunity to hammer the chap over the past year, it is only fair to applaud him when he remembers his p’s and q’s, so to speak.

5. Poch Decisions

If one were to spot a gentleman going about his business with an umbrella tucked underneath his arm, and then cast a glance skywards and spot cloud formations of the murky variety – well, while one would hardly burst into spontaneous applause, one would nevertheless understand the chap’s rationale, and accept that decision as acceptable enough.

Thus did the replacement of Lamela with Winks strike me. I don’t mind admitting that I eyed the progress of Messrs Son, Eriksen and Lamela with an enthusiastic eye every time they broke over halfway to sniff out glory, and when Lamela was hooked a gentle sadness struck me. Not one of those deep, sighing sadnesses; more of a mildly disappointed shrug. Nevertheless, like the gentleman preparing for rain, one followed the thought process – we led away from home, and Winks, on paper at least, was the sort of egg who could offer a little more protection as the clock ticked down.

However, one can only judge these things in hindsight, and on results. We did lose a sliver of that attacking thrust of the previous twenty minutes, and – while neither goal had much to do with young Winks – we did concede twice. As if Our Glorious Leader did not have enough on his plate, he now has AANP raising a disapproving eyebrow at his mid-game switches.

To say nothing of his pre-game choices. The omissions of both Toby and Trippier rank amongst the most deeply suspicious of our time. Rather like one of those young brides one reads about who convinces her new octogenarian spouse to alter his will and leave her the whole dashed inheritance mere days before his death, this was a fishy move. And once again, hindsight and the result ultimately points to Poch making the wrong calls. Heaven help him if he engages in a game of Scissors-Paper-Stone, for every choice he makes this week, while honest and well-intentioned, ultimately brings about a soggy ending.

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Spurs 1-2 Juventus: Five Tottenham Observations

1. That Sickening Feeling

It was with a moody, morose, hangdog expression that I picked at the morning repast, I don’t mind admitting. One sometimes reads the phrase, “Sick to the pit of his stomach”, in murder mysteries and horror yarns and the like, and I never quite knew what the chap was getting at, although it sounded something one definitely wanted to swerve.
But now I know. Sick to the pit of my stomach. It pretty much hits nail squarely on head, when it comes to capturing the mood at AANP Towers ever since that blasted final whistle. The feeling of not wanting to get out of bed, even when you’re not actually in bed.

Or, more specifically, that feeling of having by and large, all things considered, outplayed a team over two legs, save for ten minutes in the first joust and five minutes in the second – and still ending up trudging home empty-handed and out of the competition for another year, after months of labour which actually begin at the start of last season when just qualifying for the bally thing. There’s something World Cup-esque about it all.

There were no injustices about which to complain (okay, the stamp on Son, the odd tenuous handball appeal – but if anything Lady Luck leant towards lilywhite), and no real complaints about the outcome. And yet the manner of the dashed thing is bitterly difficult to take. A lesson for us all, what?

2. Be More Clinical

And on the subject of lessons, they flew at us by the absolute bucketload yesterday. Most obviously I suppose was the need to make all the hay available when the sun is out and the conditions ship shape.

In the first half in particular we did a pretty topping job of opening up the Juve defence, and creating a decent fistful of presentable opportunities, but only scored one. The key protagonists, if not quite allowed the freedom of a fortnight back, were still looking pretty hot. Dembele was gliding, Eriksen was picking his men, Son was a little blur of whirring legs. But just the one goal. At half-time that seemed a pretty satisfactory night’s work, and there were back slaps all round; but how young and foolish we were back in those halcyon days of half-time.
In the second half it was more a case of well-set shots flying just wide of the mark. At school this would have earned that slightly patronising praise for effort, but yesterday it didn’t really tackle the meat of the problem, namely ticks in the Goals Scored column.

By contrast, Juve created two clear chances, tucked both away and that was enough. The lesson is not just obvious, it stands directly in front of you and raps you over the head with a blunt instrument.

Our heroes can certainly be proud of the fact that they twice took the game to that lot, outplayed them for large periods and created a hatful of chances. The next step, then, is to score goals at the slightest hint of an invitation, and in every period of dominance, because this stage of the Champions League is evidently pretty unforgiving, and points are not awarded for artistic finesse.

The Kane chance when he rounded the keeper; the Son effort dragged wide just before his goal; the Son header straight at the ‘keeper; Lamela’s slight delay in chasing the Kane header which hit the post – whereas in the Premier League, even against the top teams, another opportunity will likely toddle along (and if not, within seven days there is an opportunity to right all wrongs and forget about past mistakes), in the last 16 of the CL there is evidently a limit to the number of bites at the cherry over the course of 180 minutes, and if you miss your moment then you are simply plucked by the shoulders and tossed unceremoniously to the back of the queue.

3. Various Other Lessons Learned

Aside from simply sticking the thing in the blasted net from time to time, there was plenty else to learn from the way Juve got the job done, so I trust that our glorious leader and indeed those on the pitch took the time to whip out their notepads and scribble away like nobody’s business.

I suppose a lot of it could be filed under the loose heading of “General Savviness and Nous”. Things like tactical fouls, changing shape (and reacting to shape-changes), delaying play, and general game management. Some would probably be labelled fairly dark arts, but others are considerably brighter, and simply reflect a little exercising of the grey matter. Oddly enough it seems there’s more to playing football than simply playing football, which really makes one stop and think.

On a side note, amongst numerous other things I give credit to the Juve top dog for staggering his double substitution at the hour mark. Where most would simply have bunged both subs onto the pitch in one dollop, signalling a clear change of tack, the Allegri chap made his changes a minute apart.

Nothing too sinister in that, one might think, but as one of the TV bods pointed out, the effect was to give our lot more food for thought than their little minds could handle. Barely had they computed Sub No. 1 and the accompanying change in approach, than Sub No. 2 was galloping into view, and more time was spent by those in lilywhite scratching their heads and trying to figure out what the dickens was happening. Within five minutes, while we were still adjusting our dials, Juve had scored and it was all too late.

4. A Team In The Manager’s Image (For Better And Worse)

An Arsenal-supporting chum, of all things, noted to me that possibly the only flaw in the management style of Senor Pochettino is a slightly rudimentary approach to the art of substitutions, and I suppose I am inclined to agree there, because for all his qualities the old bean rarely turns a game on its head with his mid-match tinkering.

By and large we tend to muddle through anyway, but on occasions like yesterday some inspiration from Stage Right would certainly not have gone amiss. However, I suppose that, like the troupe out on the pitch, our glorious leader himself is also rather green behind the ears in these matters.

The whole team is very much in the manager’s image, which by and large makes for pretty topping stuff – the whole cast singing from the same hymnsheet as it were – but it also means that they share his few flaws, and the inexperience from top to bottom cost us yesterday.

5. Progress and Next Steps

It is often said that while you can take AANP out of the analysis I’ll be dashed if you can take the analyst out of AANP, and as such we probably ought to consider next steps.

Beating Bournemouth seems like a sensible starting point. Ordinarily this would go without saying, but given the soul-destroying nature of last night, Sunday’s game shoulders an extra wedge or two of significance. Get back on the wagon and despatch that lot, and our season remains on track. Feel sorry for ourselves and roll around morosely, and we might start dropping points, and before you know it the whole thing is falling apart and locals are running for the hills.

But on a cheerier note, there is pretty visible progress from one season to the next. A couple of years ago we stumbled and crashed through a fairly ghastly Europa experience.
Last season we were gifted a pretty cheery-looking CL group, and made a most awful mess of things, then did the same in the Europa.

This season we were pretty solid third favourites in a group of four, but topped the thing, beating the current champions, then rather cruelly were rewarded with a knockout against the other finalist, and made a respectable fist of things.

As trajectories go, the Pochettino Vintage is up there with some of the great parabolas of our time, and you cannot get much higher praise than that.

Juve 2-2 Spurs: Six THFC Observations

1. That Calamitous Start

As calamitous starts go, this one was the poster-boy of a generation. It felt like just off-screen there must have been dodgy fitting collapsing and pipes springing leaks, because on the pitch every conceivable error in the book was being dredged up and paraded to the paying public in the most ghastly manner.

A doff of the cap to Juve, mind, for that inventive free-kick sorcery, straight out of the France ’98 Argentina vs England Manual. Beneath his simmering rage, I wondered if our glorious leader appreciated the irony.

And while on the subject, a further admiring tilt of the old bean to Higuain for the over-the-shoulder volley.

But from our lot it was slapstick of the highest order, an impeccably-observed if curiously-timed homage to the opening five minutes of the Naked Gun sequel. Entertaining fare, I suppose, but one did rather get the urge to murmur, “Not really the time, chaps, nor the place, come to think of it, what?”

In truth, we have some history in the department of Beginning The Biggest Game of Our Lives in Utterly Kamikaze Manner – see the Young Boys qualifying jaunt a few years back, under ‘Arry, which was redeemed after an appalling first half; or indeed the opening ten against Real Madrid the same season, which was most decidedly not redeemed.

Most irritating to AANP was the fact that we were 2-0 down without having been outplayed in any real sense. If Juve had torn us apart one would have been pretty morose about life, but one would have accepted a 2-0 deficit. But simply to hand them a two-goal lead, before anybody had broken sweat, struck me as simply complicating life for the hell of it. These young people, eh?

2. Eriksen Cracks It On The Big Stage

But at the nine-minute mark, the change in mentality from our heroes was the sort of stirring stuff that awestruck children learn about in classrooms. Utterly unfazed, unpanicked and with a steely determination, and confidence in their abilities that one more typically associates with swashbuckling heroes in adventure yarns, our lot simply knuckled down and went about righting wrongs like nobody’s business.

And chief amongst wrong-righters was Christian Eriksen. I feel like I now need to spend a good day and half in a confessional when I think back to the days, a year or three back, when on these very pages I penned odes of mild protestation against the chap for his seeming inability to step up on the biggest stage.

“The young sport simply isn’t hot enough when things get shaky” was pretty much the gist of it, circa 2015, “Dash it, he needs to take a game by the scruff of its neck and show the bally thing who’s boss.”

Well, loathe though I am to take credit for these things, Young Master Eriksen has clearly been poring over his AANP annals, because the chap set about unpicking the Meanest Defence Ever Seen like a master locksmith last night. Clever diagonals, whipped crosses, long-range shots, deft feet, off-the-ball scurrying and rasping long-range shots – Eriksen had the complete package last night, and no praise is too high for the rascal.

3. Dembele Cracks It On The Big Stage. Again.

If Eriksen were creator-in-chief, Dembele was some sort of similarly-ranked chappie keeping the engine well-oiled throughout – which may not sound like high praise, and I suppose isn’t really, so I should add that his performance, for the fourth crunch game in a row, was world class.

The Juve midfield, who my spies tell me are no assortment of mugs and dunderheads themselves, could not get near him, and in that respect have some stories to swap when they next get together with the Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal midfields, for an evening of bourbon and blackjack.

It has long been a habit of AANP to chew the fat with my old man AANP Senior, and opine rather wistfully that a man of Dembele’s talent could be a terrific asset to the whole show if he were just nudged a further fifteen yards up the pitch and started assisting and scoring. Making more of an impact, don’t you know?

Tommyrot, as it transpires. The chap pretty much manages the rotation of the earth on its axis from his position in and around the centre-circle, creating a base upon which Eriksen and chums can crack on with things in the final third.

4. Hustle

The Eriksen-Dembele double-act stole the show, but the supporting cast to a man (well, near enough, but more on that anon) backed them up with the sort of lung-busting performances that sweep the board in awards season.
It was very much a night for the troupe as a whole to demonstrate their boundless energy. This was rarely better exemplified than in the general pandemonium spread by our heroes in the home midfield and defence, in the build-up to our first goal.

In the minute or so preceding it I’m fairly sure Lamela and Dier flew in for a thumping challenge on each other, such was the feistiness emanating from every lilywhite pore; and for the goal itself, Eriksen pretty much slung a Juve player to the floor before feeding Dele, for Kane’s goal.

If Juve thought that the two-goal lead in eight minutes was the precursor to a night of gentle revelry and japes they were pretty wildly off the mark.

5. Aurier: A Liability

That said, the Achilles’ Heel in the whole set-up was, as ever, Serge Aurier. Just the sight of the name on the teamsheet inspires nothing short of unsullied dread in the AANP bosom, and so it transpired, with a typically block-headed lunge for the penalty, and an inevitable second-half caution, which Juve ought really to have exploited.

One gets the impression that Pochettino subjects a bag of fruit to pretty microscopic analysis before purchasing it, so he presumably has some pretty weighty dossiers on Monsieur Aurier, but egads the chap looks undercooked at present.

To the list of Real Madrid and West Ham can now be added the name of Juve, for beneficiaries of his Fly-In-First, Question-The-Sense-Of-The-Bally-Thing-Later philosophy.

6. Vertonghen, Underrated Hero

Naturally enough the limelight is hogged by the creative chappies up at the pointy end of affairs, and few would begrudge them this. Further back however, on a weekly basis ever since Toby hobbled off stage left with a grimace and a below-par hamstring, Jan Vertonghen has strode around the place like a man possessed.

Both in his reading and anticipation of what fate might befall, and in his speed to deal with any immediate crisis that befalls the back-line, the chap is pretty faultless. It can appear pretty fraught work, because for all the dominance we have exerted in recent games, the opposition have had plenty of attacking talent, and the occasional chance has inevitably loomed.

Vertonghen has taken on the mantle of defensive leader pretty emphatic fashion, and yesterday he once again packed his A-Game and displayed it throughout.

6. Some Musings on The Rather Odd Approach From Juve

This being a strictly lilywhite corner of the interweb I tend never to care a hang for the opposition tactics, grumbles, hopes and dreams. I have to admit however, in this instance I did put myself in the stylish loafers of a Juve fan for a few choice moments, and found the whole spectacle rather rummy.

The questions that leapt to mind, reading from North to South, were as follows:

1. What the dickens were they playing at?

2. Specifically, was the grand plan really just to set up camp on the edge of their own area, unfurl a sleeping bag or two, clink together their flasks of cocoa and simply bed in for 80 minutes and wait for the second leg?

3. Do their fans sit through that sort of bilge on a weekly basis? Do they enjoy it? Because it looked like the most frightful old muck to me.

4. Is their record of not having conceded a home goal since approximately the 1970s a result of channelling the spirit of Sven’s England in the ‘00s, and defending for their lives from minute one? (I confess, that one is more of a rhetorical shot – the answer seems a pretty firm negative, best delivered with an accompanying look of disdain.)

I suppose the point I’m drilling at, in an admittedly roundabout way, is whether Defensive Mode In Extremis was their strategy from the outset, or whether, having stumbled gaily upon a two-nil lead after eight minutes they simply looked around at each other, shrugged shoulders collectively and thought that there were worse ways to whittle away 80 minutes on this mortal coil than adopting a 4-6-0 and playing out time?

So, as mentioned, I’m not in the habit of dipping my nose into the affairs of other teams – but if you’re going to break a habit of a lifetime, might as well do it with gusto. More to the point, while I back our heroes to beat anyone at Wembley, we can probably expect a far shinier, sleeker Juve to knock on our doors in three weeks time. Robert Patrick’s T-1000, to yesterday’s ageing T-800 Schwarzengger. The first leg could hardly have ended better, especially considering how calamitously it began, but the tie is far from over.

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

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