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Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Formation

Starting at the beginning, Our Glorious Leader set tongues wagging like nobody’s business by penning a teamsheet that suggested he considered the road to success would be paved with six defenders.

Which was certainly eye-catching, but the more I thought about it the more I thought to myself, “Well, why not?” If a man wants to go about the place selecting more and more defenders, then let him. A tad peculiar, and not necessarily one of those fashions I envisage being adopted in every thriving metropolis, but good luck to him. It’s his prerogative after all, and moreover this particular chap has won shiny pots everywhere he’s been.

As it turned out, once events kicked in we did not after all set out with a back-six. In fact, some of us mere mortals watching from afar were having a devil of a time trying to work out quite what our formation was. And crucially, that confusion was not restricted to the viewing gallery, as various cast members seemed similarly unable to grasp the mysteries of the Tactics Board.

As my Spurs-supporting chum Mark pointed out early on in the production, at times it looked like Tanganga was playing at right wing-back and Doherty in a right-sided central midfield role. And while this was more of a temporary mirage, I did follow his thread, namely that a significant proportion of that aforementioned Defensive Six seemed not to strut around the place with the steady assurance of blighters who know exactly where they should and should not be at any given moment. Far from it.

I was particularly ill at ease with the fact that neither full-back appeared to have been informed that there were only two centre-backs inside them, rather than the usual three. Understandable of course, as every episode of Conte-ball to date has featured a back-three, but nevertheless. It was a bit ripe to think that neither full-back had been updated. You’d suppose that someone would have a friendly word in the ear.

But not so. Davies and particularly Tanganga appeared a little too willing to scamper up their respective flanks, and Messrs Sessegnon and Doherty, only too glad to have some company, scurried upfield with them. Nice to see them all enjoying themselves of course, but I couldn’t help chew a concerned lip each time it happened. To the notion of covering the vast yawning expanses left behind them, not a lick of thought appeared to be given.

As a result, in those early knockings we were treated to the unholy sight of Sanchez disappearing off to the left-back position like a moth to a flame, while Eric Dier, a man whose defensive reputation has been re-established in recent months largely on the back of shouting and not really having to move around too much, suddenly found himself having to scurry this way and that as if one man entrusted with the job of three.

Mercifully, in Lukaku Chelsea have one of those forwards who one might charitably say needs a little time for all the moving parts to function with any synchronicity, so we were spared any early embarrassment.

And then, in what should go down as a feather in the cap of Signor Conte, our lot gradually realised that the 4-4-2 expected of them was not in fact a riddle scrawled in a hitherto undiscovered dialect of hieroglyphics, but a fairly straightforward set-up.

And, once a small fire had been doused by the deployment of Hojbjerg as a seventh defender, I started to hum myself an upbeat little ditty, in celebration of the fact that from open play at least, we were nullifying Chelsea’s best efforts, and near enough cantering to half-time.

2. Disallowed Goal

And when Kane popped the ball into the bottom corner shortly before half-time, I half expected to see Conte stroking a white cat on his lap while letting out a maniacal laugh. The plan, it appeared, was working perfectly (if one overlooked those initial teething problems of the geographically-challenged full-backs).

But of course, this being Tottenham Hotspur, plans rarely work perfectly. Just when one thinks the plans are working perfectly, you can bet your last penny that either one dashed thing or another will appear from nowhere to cause a fresh headache. And in this instance it was the decision to disallow Kane’s goal.

Now regulars in this part of the world will now that the mantra hammered into me from my youth by my old man, AANP Senior, has been that the referee is always right. And having had the pleasure of watching today’s proceedings in the company of this same cheery soul, I was inclined to bite the lip rather than vent when the goal was disallowed. One knows one’s audience, and on this occasion I sensed that my complaints would meet with limited sympathy.

But AANP Senior does not go in for the words I pen on these pages (“I don’t understand a word you say” is the official reason given), so it is with freedom of indignation that I fling up my hands and howl into the night sky about that so-called foul.

One accepts, of course, that plenty of wiser minds than mine have taken one look at the incident and calmly adjudged it a transgression. Misguided stuff, of course, but one tolerates the views of one’s fellow man. One big happy family, and all that rot.

And similarly, one accepts that if Player A places a hand, palm first, on the back of Player B, and Player B collapses to earth as if hit by an RPG from a war-zone, then Player A runs the risk of a red line being drawn through all his fine work elsewhere. And there can be no doubt that Kane (Player A in the incident above, lest you were wondering) did indeed have his hand on the back of the dastardly Thiago.

But at this point I rather feel that the whole argument collapses – much like Thiago when receiving a gentle palm to the back – because consistency would dictate that every Palm-to-Back contact results in a foul. And if that were the case, then so be it, but we might all want to prepare ourselves for games in which fouls were given every thirty seconds.

I haven’t exactly studied these things academically, but I’m willing to suggest that every time two players convene to thrash out matters on the pitch, one will at some point place a delicate palm somewhere upon the frame of the other. And by today’s precedent, such villainy is not allowed. (One dare not even conceive what might happen every time a corner is gently drifted in, given the amount of palm-placement that seems to occur between the protagonists these days.)

You might argue that Chelsea’s superiority simply floated up to the top in the second half, and Spurs goal or not they would inevitably have bested us. And my lips are certainly sealed on the point of who was the better team. Not a murmur of complaint there. But dash it all, to disallow a goal for such a frivolous thing was just not cricket, and denied our lot the advantage that we had worked pretty hard to engineer.

3. Bergwijn

If you scoured these pages after the glorious finale at Leicester in midweek, and raised an eyebrow at the absence of mention for the undoubted hero of the piece, I can only assume you are even more bemused that I single out the same S. Bergwijn Esq. for praise after today’s game.

And yet, here we are. In the first half in particular, as the game settled into its pattern and Conte’s masterplan gradually began to emerge into view, young Bergwijn struck me as one of the most important cogs out there.

Sonny obviously pulls rank when it comes to such matters as providing the whirring blur of legs in support of Kane; and in the absence of Son it is now pretty well accepted that the honour falls to Lucas.

So for Bergwijn to get the nod over Lucas today was a call of some note from Our Glorious Leader. It was a plot thread that admittedly got somewhat buried beneath the outrage of Six Defender-Gate, but was nevertheless fairly hot stuff.

One saw the logic. The romantics in the audience would presumably not have had it any other way, after Bergwijn’s midweek exploits, and moreover the murmur from the inner sanctum seemed to be that Lucas had sustained some form of cracked fingernail that needed attending, thereby reducing his value as a starter.

But I don’t mind admitting to letting out – or do I mean taking in? – a sharp breath at seeing Bergwijn named as Principal Supporting Act in attack. In a game like this, and, frankly, after a Tottenham career like his, it was a decision not without a fair splash of risk.

As it turned out, I need not have worried. Bergwijn turned out to be the most potent weapon on the pitch, in the first half at least. Evidently willing to do all the running on Kane’s behalf, he enthusiastically popped up whenever we had the merest sniff of a counter-attack, marrying his pace and energy with a pretty impressive touch.

The general way of things meant that by and large we didn’t spend a great deal of time over halfway, but whenever we did sneak possession and hare into the Chelsea half, Bergwijn seemed to be the chap carrying the greatest threat.

Alas, the mood became a lot more sombre in the second half, as the Chelsea goals rather blew our counter-attacking plans out of the water. Bergwijn’s effectiveness duly diminished, but it was nevertheless good to see the chap indicate that his repertoire includes more than simply the role of Impact Substitute.

4. Sessegnon

In closing, a note on young Sessegnon.

While I can hardly claim to have been an expert on his Fulham days, one does of course hear rumours around the camp-fire, and the consensus on signing the young bean was that we had ourselves a decent young mucker. On top of which, the arrival of Conte and his cherished faith in wing-backs would have seemed to suggest that opportunity did not so much knock for Sessegnon as clatter through the door and proclaim that his moment had arrived.

In this context, I must admit to have let slip a few pretty underwhelmed sighs each time Sessegnon was called upon to clear his throat and bellow out a few show-tunes.

Early days of course, and one hopes he’ll have plenty of time and numerous opportunities to find his bearings and un-muddle his feet, but at the moment the blighter does not appear to have the faintest clue, at any given point in any given game, of whether he is coming or going. And I can’t think of anything that would hinder a chap more.

His tackling hits a sweet spot between being poorly-judged and poorly-timed; his passing appears errant; and I do not recall a successful dribble. More positively, he does appear the sort who likes a foot-race, and that’s an asset that ought to come in handy in weeks (and dare I say years) to come. At present, however, we appear to have on the pay-roll not so much an unpolished diamond as a lump of coal.

To repeat, one assumes that in time he will restore himself to the former glories on which his reputation was built. Today, however, as in most of his previous appearances this season, the poor fellow floundered somewhat.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Chelsea: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Gollini

Gollini looked as surprised as the rest of us to be thrust into action from the off last night, and he seemed still to be goggling at the fact when that Chelsea corner swung its way towards him and over him.

It was a pretty awkward moment for the young bean, who presumably had ringing in his ears the instruction just to do the basic stuff and let the outfield players take care of everything else.

And to his credit, Gollini actually dealt pretty well with some of the sterner tests that life threw at him in the first half. He put a couple of legs in the way of one shot, and extended his frame to its full majestic length in pawing away another. Hardly a showing to indicate that here was Jennings reincarnated, but for those of us who like their goalkeepers to fling themselves around a bit when protecting the realm, this stuff ticked a few boxes.

Alas, diving full-length is but one of many items on the modern goalkeeper’s To-Do list, and if Gollini scored highly here, he haemorrhaged points in a couple of other areas. For a start there was the issue of playing the ball with his feet.

Now some traditionalists get rather sniffy about the notion of goalkeepers joining in with their feet. There’s a reason, goes the argument, that certain chaps earn the big bucks out on the pitch, and others are sent to mooch around between the posts. “Stick to your mittens”, seems to be about the gist of it. However, there’s no real escaping the fact that in these enlightened days the chap at the base of things is entitled as everyone else to join in with his feet, and in fact is actively encouraged to do so. Tactics are re-written specifically to bring the goalkeeper into the fray as part of the build-up play.

And so it transpired that early on in yesterday’s proceedings, as one of our lot was hounded down near his own area, Gollini was whistled for and the ball gently rolled towards his person. So far, so inclusive, and a diversity box was being ticked.

At this point, however, the thing started to unravel a tad. Gollini recognised the identity and purpose of the object coming towards him, which was a solid start, but thereafter seemed unsure of its function, or his own duties. With a Chelsea sort galloping towards him, Gollini then hit upon the idea of attempting some sort of half-hearted body-swerve, but this fooling absolutely nobody in N17 the problem began to exacerbate.

What ought really to have been little more than muscle-memory – the casual rolling of the ball from one lilywhite to another until the Chelsea forwards gave up and let us get on with things – turned into an unnecessarily tense game of cat-and-mouse, in which the cat was edging a bit too close into the no-fly zone. The mini-episode culminated with Gollini unceremoniously bunting the ball into touch, and up in flames went the suggestion that none of the watching masses would even notice the absence of Lloris.

And of course, this was not the worst of it. There was also That Corner. Gollini did at least appear to have read the manual on that one, and seemed sufficiently aware that the situation demanded he come bounding of his line with arms aloft and fists clenched – but as is often the way with these things, the neatly drawn illustrations that accompany the instructions bore little resemblance to what was happening in real life.

Gollini emerged into the night, and adopted the appropriate pose, but unfortunately appeared not to have given more than a cursory glance to the coordinates. As a result he leapt into the atmosphere and delivered a hearty swipe at thin air, which reflected well on his willing, but did little to contribute to the cause. Meanwhile, the ball was adopting a neat parabola above him, and with poor old Tanganga still stuck in last week’s pickle it was the work of an instant for Rudiger to nod the thing in and kill off the tie.

2. Kane

And once that goal trickled in, everyone in the vicinity seemed to recognise the futility of carrying on. Of course, people continued to run around in their little circles, as decorum dictated, but any casual onlooker would have realised that the game was up.

Given this rather unpleasant circumstance, I suppose one would have understood if one by one, our heroes had let their shoulders slump and surreptitiously edged into auto-pilot. Within this context, I was pleasantly surprised to see that rotter Harry Kane in particular take the opportunity to reawaken memories within himself of former feats.

To recap, Kane’s season to date has been notably underboiled. He spent a good few months trudging wearily from A to B like a man unsure of the best order in which to move his feet, and only ever burst into life when presented with amateur-level opponents.

In recent weeks things have started to look up, not least in the little matter of pinging the ball into the bottom corners; but last night, despite the gloomy and error-strewn way of things all around him, he seemed to edge back towards the all-round centre forward who can work opposing defenders into a deuce of a sweat.

If one were the bingo-playing sort one might well have licked a pencil and scrawled a giant X over such entries as “Hold-up play”, “Slalom through challenges”, “Pick a natty pass” and “Finish with aplomb” (even if that aplomb was then subject to the displeasure of the VAR gods).

Of course, there was also the usual abject free-kick, but it seems now to have reached the stage that nobody dares tell Kane he’s not actually any good at free-kicks. Better just to let him keep trying, convinced that the next one will signal a change in his fortunes.

But to return to the point: Kane seemed to have bucked up, and looked approximately a million miles better than anyone else in lilywhite. Chelsea seemed to have done their homework, and dropped whatever they were doing to swarm around him and block off his shots, whenever he picked up possession within striking distance, but despite this I was quite heartened by his shift. While this is admittedly of limited value when everyone else is peddling utter garbage, with crunch games queueing up as far as the eye can if nothing else it is timely to have the chap nearing the peak of his powers again.

3. Lo Celso

If there were positive stuff coming from the Kane corner, reviews were a little more mixed on Senor Lo Celso.

No doubt his family, friends and other admirers will point and wave enthusiastically at the various occasions on which he could be seen flying into block challenges inside his own area, treating the cause as if it were a matter of life and death, as well he should.

But while this was all topping stuff, those who know him best would presumably admit that the real value Lo Celso adds to any given social gathering is scattering his creative juices about the place. And unfortunately, last night that stuff was in decidedly short supply.

Watching Lo Celso blunder from one failed attempt at creativity to another reminded me of that gag about the fellow King Midas. Feel free to let your eyes glaze over if you’ve already heard it, but the punchline was that he stumbled upon the happy knack of literally turning into gold everything he touched. Good luck to him, I say, but I bring this up because last night it occurred to me that our man seemed to cursed to produce the exact opposite. A kind of reverse-Midas, if you will. Those sliding blocks aside, precious little that Lo Celso attempted seemed to work.

It should be pointed out that this wayward approach to accuracy and care was very much a team effort – if one were pressed to name a fellow who bounced off the pitch with reputation enhanced one would be scratching the bean for quite a few hours. But nevertheless, with Sonny absent, Ndombele banished to the naughty step and goals desperately needed, this seemed an occasion for Lo Celso to prove to the watching masses that he is the sort of bean around whom great things can be constructed. He didn’t however, and the case strengthens for a winter shopping spree.

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Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tanganga

One imagines Japhet Tanganga must have felt as pleased as punch to find out pre kick-off that he was officially Next Cab On Centre-Back Rank, but alas any such bobbish sentiment went up in smoke pretty much as soon as the curtain went up.

Anybody who can make Davinson Sanchez look like a calming presence alongside him is evidently having the deuce of a time of things, and poor old Tanganga went about mangling just about every situation he stumbled upon.

In truth, that early pass of his in the general direction of Emerson Royal was hardly the worst one will ever see committed to turf. Admittedly it might have benefitted from a few extra m.p.h. behind it, and the delivery was certainly more “General Vicinity” than “Specified Postcode”. As passes go, however, I imagine young Japhet must have thought he’d done a decent job of things with that effort.

Unfortunately, this was not one of those occasions on which it was sufficient to get the general gist correct and let Mother Nature sort out the rest. Before he could let out an, “Oh crumbs,” the Chelsea lot were already whizzing the ball back at him, and they were pretty merciless about it.

And if Tanganga were hoping for a hiding place, or a quiet twenty minutes or so, he’d evidently misread the agenda for the evening. Chelsea seemed to take a rather cruel delight in repeatedly thrusting the young buck into the spotlight to field all sorts of new and challenging trials, so I’m not sure there were too many raised eyebrows when he erred again.

But by golly, even to us Spurs fans, well-versed as we are in defensive bobbins and calamity, the second goal was pretty thick stuff. Again, I actually had some sympathy for Tanganga, who with a degree of justification would have felt that he was ticking all the right boxes as he got his head to the cross. “Top work, old boy”, he no doubt whispered to himself as he soared to meet it, “another trial safely negotiated”.

And at that stage one understood his argument. It would be stretching things to say that all was well with the world, given that we had barely touched the ball the whole game, but the immediate danger appeared to have been averted, and Tanganga’s reputation, while hardly restored to former health, had at least avoided any further blemish.

However, this being a Spurs defence, the threat of buffoonery lingers strongly and permanently about the place. If I felt a dollop of sympathy for Tanganga there was a double serving for poor old Ben Davies, who must have felt that he was being dragged into the farce for no good reason and completely against his will. He would presumably argue that he was simply adopting the appropriate position and avoiding any unnecessary interference, when suddenly his torso became front and centre of activity, and in the blink of an eye he had an own goal to his name.

2. That First Half

Although Chelsea did not exactly pound relentlessly at the door during that first half – one does not really remember Monsieur Lloris being pressed into too much action – they were, by just about any other metric, absolutely all over us.

While Tanganga was the undoubted poster-boy of the unfolding horror, it struck me that the formation was as much to blame. When Chelsea had possession – which was virtually the entirety of the half – our wing-backs hastily edited their job titles and headed south to create a back-five. And in theory I suppose this made sense. What better way, one might have pondered beforehand, to keep things secure than to pack the defence?

But it’s a funny thing about life, that when one comes to putting into practice a seemingly faultless plan, the whole bally thing just comes apart at every conceivable hinge, leaving all involved looking rather silly. And so it transpired for our heroes. For a start, Chelsea did not have enough forwards to go around, with the result that for much of the time various members of our back-five were marking empty spaces rather than players, and no doubt shooting quizzical looks at one another.

Moreover, this routine of the wing-backs dropping deep also had the unholy consequence of leaving poor old Skipp and Hojbjerg utterly swamped in midfield. Chelsea hit upon the bright idea of pinging the ball about in whizzy, one-touch fashion, and the net result was one of the most one-sided 45 minutes in living memory.

3. Our Wing-Backs

I noticed a rather brutal gag doing the rounds following our game against Watford, namely that our opponents thought so little of Emerson Royal’s ability to cross the ball that they were happy to afford him the freedom of Vicarage Road all afternoon, safe in the knowledge that his deliveries would end up everywhere but the sweet spots inside the penalty area.

Frankly Claudio Ranieri seems a bit too nice to hatch a scheme quite so dastardly, but whatever the truth of the rumour it gets my vote. Emerson’s virtue is that he willingly gallops into the appropriate forward position, as such distracting defenders and offering a friendly face to whichever of our mob is in possession; his vice is that his actual attacking output is at best average, and often a few degrees lower.

However, with a midfield consisting of Skipp and Hojbjerg – honest sorts, but barely a creative bone between them – the onus within our system is very much upon the wing-backs to provide an endless stream of goods for those up top to devour.

This largely failed against Watford because of the quality of the output; last night it failed because any threat from Emerson was snuffed out before he ever sorted out his feet in the final third.

Meanwhile out on the left, the ploy was doomed each time at the moment of inception by dint of Matt Doherty’s allergy to his left foot. Whenever we broke on his side and gaps started appearing in the Chelsea defence, Doherty, understandably but infuriatingly, cut back inside onto his right, removing in that single motion all momentum we had.

(Given Royal’s general impotence on the right, I do wonder whether Doherty’s service might be employed in that particular residence; but this is a debate for another day).

The tactical switch in the second half – to a back-four ahead of which everyone else was loosely jumbled together and allowed to wander wherever they wanted, in the style of a children’s playgroup – at least gave us more bodies in midfield. More to the point, all in lilywhite received the memo that simply watching as Chelsea ran rings around us would not cut it, and things duly bucked up a bit. One would hardly make our lot favourites for the second leg, but score the next goal in the tie and that ill-conceived hope might spring into life again.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-3 Chelsea: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. RIP Jimmy Greaves

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

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

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

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

2. First Half Positives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Dele, Lo Celso and Ndombele

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Gil

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

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

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

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

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

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Chelsea: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Second Half Improvement (It’s An Admittedly Low Bar…)

I thought it would make a sunny change to start with the positives, and before you raise a suspicious eyebrow and lead me away gently to the nearest padded cell, let me pick out the nuances of that one. The second half struck me as, if not quite a wind of change, then at least a breath of air marginally less stale and rancid than the first half.

Whereas in the first 45, with the possible exception of the ever-frenzied Hojbjerg, our lot barely raised themselves out of a collective sulk, huffily chasing Chelsea players because they absolutely had to, and then moodily booting the ball away whenever it was given to them; in the second half they at least roused themselves to amble forward into attacking positions, as if suddenly introduced to the concept of being allowed to score goals, and being quite taken by it.

Admittedly we were still a few miles short of looking like we might win, or even draw, but the tentative dipping of toes into the world of ambitious football seemed a massive step up from the first half (and from what feels like about a hundred preceding games), in which the plan from the starter’s gun has been to retreat into our penalty area with a bizarre paranoia and refuse to come out.

To sum up things, at one point in the second half, having committed approximately half of the team forward into attack, we lost possession around the halfway line and (I think) Kovacic picked up the ball and simply sauntered, unopposed, all the way to the edge of our penalty area, with not a lilywhite shirt anywhere near him. At which point he promptly had a nosebleed and bunted the ball harmlessly out of play; but the point is that this is the sort of goal I’d much rather concede. I’d much prefer that we get caught short because we have committed too many bodies forward, and end up with literally nobody between halfway and our own penalty area to make a challenge, than the usual goals we concede, of dragging ten men back to the edge of our own area and spending 80 minutes desperately trying to clear our lines and catch our breath before the next wave hits.

That was how we conceded to Fulham, and Leeds, and Palace, and Liverpool, to name but four. In each of those cases there was a gloomy inevitability to the whole sorry mess; and moreover it was soul-destroying to watch. At least in yesterday’s second half, albeit still rather tactically clueless and light on creativity, we applied some pressure and there seemed a hint that some sort of goalmouth threat might brew.

And that’s where things have got to at AANP Towers – success is now measured not by how many goals we score, or how few we concede, but whether the goals we do concede are less dreary than previously.

2. Lamela

Next in the long line of two positives was the extended cameo from everyone’s favourite Master of the Dark Arts, Erik Lamela. That he comfortably became our man of the match despite playing around half an hour speaks volumes about the competition, but it was still an eye-catching bop.

The young mutt’s capacity to scuttle around incessantly like a wind-up toy unleashed has never been in doubt. Indeed, cynics might suggest it ranks alongside Dark Arts as one of his greatest talents. And, naturally, it was on show yesterday, his relentless energy looking ever relentlesser when contrasted to the moping, static teammates around him.

But in a pleasing and unexpected development, Lamela’s buzzing turned out not to be pointless. In fact, every time he buzzed, he seemed to do so with the express intent of demanding the ball – which might not sound like rocket-science, but in a world in which the mantra on everyone’s lips seemed to be, “I know you have the ball and are looking for a passing option, but I’m quite happy standing in my own spot and minding my own business, so you can look around for the next option, Miladdio,” Lamela’s eagerness to be at the hub of things made him seem like a veritable Maradona circa ‘86.

It occurred to me while watching him do his damnedest to breathe life into the collective lilywhite corpse that if Gareth Bale had at any point since his return put in a shift of that ilk the adulation would be wild and long.

Whether or not Lamela has done enough to merit a place in the starting line-up probably depends on what the voices in Jose’s head are whispering, for the current drill seems to be to ask Bergwijn to carry out all manner of defensive duties (which, to his credit, he tends to do pretty well). The concept of Bergwijn as a bona fide attacking threat seems to have become ever more foreign. If it is attacking brio that is required, then Lamela might well be the man – but when does ask oneself when Jose has ever required attacking brio.

3. Vinicius

The fact that Jose picked Bale in the last game and Vinicius in this, points squarely at him having little faith in either, but that can probably be logged away in the rather lengthy file marked ‘Jose: Questionable Choices’.

This was Vinicius’ big opportunity, if being starved of the ball or any company, and given three burly minders for the duration, can legally be described as a ‘big opportunity’. If ever a game were going to remind a man that life at Spurs is not all training ground japes and hat-tricks against Marine then this was that game.

Much of his first half was spent watching Chelsea bods knock the ball away from him, and when we occasionally lobbed it up towards him I was disappointed to note that the rather elegant touches of a refined support striker occasionally evidenced in the Europa League had rather cruelly deserted him, he instead resembling a brick wall as the damn thing simply bounced harmlessly off him.

His big first-half opportunity came, inevitably, when we countered, and he found himself at the hub of things, with Son advancing at pace to his left. However, when the crucial moment arrived he seemed unsure whether he had too many feet, or perhaps too few feet; and by the time he had finished counting his feet the moment had passed and the ball had been spirited away.

This was pretty much the extent of his involvement until the dying embers of the second half. In true Jose style, having trailed for an hour, our heroes waited until the 87th minute to swing a cross into the area. And it was a pretty decent cross too, replete with whip, pace and all the trimmings.

While not exactly a tap-in, this certainly seemed a presentable chance for one standing in excess of six foot, of sound mind and body and who had spent a lifetime being drilled in the necessary art. Alas, where Vinicius needed to summon the spirit of Harry Kane, he was possessed instead by the ghosts of Soldado, Janssen, Postiga and Llorente, and planted the header six inches west of the desired sweet spot.

A shame, because as the studio bods pointed out, taking his one chance in a game like that would have excused 89 other minutes of anonymity, whilst also doing wonders for his confidence.

As it happens, the miss seemed to confirm that here is a promising sort of bean, who may in time develop into a competent all-round forward, but who at present is far from being the solution to the Harry Kane-shaped hole. Of course, the quirk of science that means he is not the exact genetic replica of Harry Kane is not his fault, but it nevertheless leaves us no nearer to filling the aforementioned hole.

4. Dier

Vinicius being relatively wet behind the ears (and there is something about him that gives the impression of a small boy born into a body about eight sizes too large for him) he can probably be excused the worst of the rotten fruit being pelted in the direction of our heroes. Elsewhere, and all over the pitch, there seemed to be worse offenders.

Principal amongst these, and not for the first time by my reckoning, was Eric Dier. Dier is a curiosity, being a central defender without any pace, and whose decision-making and passing can veer from Pretty Good to Pretty Dreadful, with both extremes typically on show in any given game. He seems designed, appropriately enough, for a Jose style of play, that requires a line of six defenders to stay in the same spot and block all shots and crosses that enter their immediate radius. Feed him according to this diet, and he looks a happy man.

True to form, on occasions yesterday he dribbled or distributed the ball out of defence with some elegance. However, he could have played the entire game like Franz Beckebauer and it would not have excused the absolute mind-boggling stupidity of his foul for the penalty, conceded, incredibly, at the third attempt, and while lying on the ground for heaven’s sake.

Nor was it the first penalty he has rather needlessly conceded since the Covid interruption, and as if to hammer home quite what a vacuum exists between his ears he then blasted a half-volley towards the head of Lloris in the second half.

Admittedly we are hardly replete with reliable defensive alternatives, but with gate-keepers like Dier patrolling the rear one is tempted to conclude that the safest thing would be to keep the ball as far away from our defence as possible – an idea it seems unlikely that Jose will adopt.

5. Jose’s Future

As an afterthought, and in common with many of lilywhite persuasion, I have wondered quite what the future holds for Jose. Not in terms of whether he’ll live out his years on a vineyard in Portugal, you understand, but more the immediate future, and specifically his employment at N17.

Having worked so hard to secure him, I presume that Levy will be more patient with him than, for example, the tax-payers of AANP Towers. (Some have mooted that the prospect of paying off his contract will dissuade Levy from sacking him: I suspect not, on the grounds that this has hardly stopped Levy before.)

The drill was very much to win trophies, so there is a good chance that winning the Carabao would buy Jose more time – and if there is one thing it is possible to imagine Jose doing, better than almost anyone else, it is masterminding victory in a one-off, winner-takes-all match.

However, keep losing league games and the Carabao will not save him. I suspect only a Europa win would, should league form continue to nosedive.

I suspect the style of play does not particularly bother Levy either, particularly without any fans around to give polite reminders of the mood amongst the masses.

This is fairly exasperating, because it is the style more than anything else that is causing my own, personal, current flap. I am the odd sort of egg who thinks that if we are going to lose anyway, (and at present we usually do), then we might as well lose while having a dashed good go, rather than camping in our own area and showing zero attacking spark. Which is why I was mildly comforted by the second half last night: while still pretty dire, it at least had us committing men forward. Jose’s defensive style was only palatable as long as it brought results and had us challenging for the title. At present, we might as well set out with Ossie’s 5-0-5 and at least go down in a blaze of glory. We certainly have the personnel to play more entertainingly.

And finally, I wonder where this leaves Harry Kane, and indeed Sonny. It seems criminal for a manager to have two of the best forwards in the world, in the prime of their careers, and design a system that gives them mere scraps. Irrespective of the style of play, if results continue and we finish mid-table, I do fear that Kane, and Son, might consider that their final years are better spent elsewhere.

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Spurs match reports

Chelsea 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Rodon’s Debut

Presumably during the upbringing of young J. Rodon Esq. there were one or two wild nights around the campfire, but it is difficult to imagine that his clan would have been much more a-twitter than today, with one of their gang thrust into the spotlight, from the off, and against one of our principal challengers for the end-of-season jug.

Given the much-vaunted success of our summer shopping spree, and the consequent strength in depth across the board, the prospect of enforced changes at N17 have generally been met with a fairly care-free shrug at AANP Towers, as if to suggest that there is no need to panic because the next cab on the rank is a pretty reliable sort.

You get the gist – a Lamela twists a knee and a Lucas bounds into view; a Reguilon stubs a toe and a Ben Davies is wheeled into action. Some reserves are better than others, but in general the fellows on show are of the tried and tested variety. The panic station claxons need not be sounded.

However, when Toby limped off last week a distinct shudder passed down the spine, because if there is one area in which we have a few cracks it is centre-back. None of the current mob are in the “Top Notch” bracket, with Toby himself the best of a middling bunch, and while the passage of time might reveal young Rodon to be one of the game’s all-time greats, one still gulped at the news that his first start in lilywhite would be away to Chelsea.

Naturally, no judgement can be passed after one game – but observations abound.

Evidently AANP was not the only indulging in a nervous gulp or two at the prospect of the Rodon limbs being flexed, for in the opening exchanges the lad himself – understandably enough – gave the impression of one trying hard not to show how nervous he was. A few simple passes went astray, which were duly noted in the debit column; but he displayed an early knack of toddling forward a few paces to intercept usefully, bringing himself into credit.

As was well documented, he used up a couple of lives, to top and tail the game – losing possession in an ill-judged mooch forward early on, resulting in the Chelsea offside goal, and then the weak header that let in Giroud at the death – but frankly such mistakes have been made on multiple occasions by other centre-backs stationed not a million miles away from him.

All told, in dashed difficult circumstances Rodon seemed alert and did not shirk the challenge. While I formally cough up my penny for the thoughts of Japhet Tanganga, this seemed promising enough.

The longer-term test, as ever, will be whether Rodon progresses a level or six, à la Ledley, or fails to eradicate the flaws and improve notably – in which respect he would join a pretty crowded gang, including all sorts from Gardner and Thelwell to Wimmer, Foyth and, dare I say it, Sanchez.

2. Dier

Meanwhile, a few yards to the west, Eric Dier once again dined out on what the tomes will record as a clean sheet, but which left the AANP lips pursed and arms folded, in a manner that sharper minds will recognise as communicating displeasure.

Dier has the advantage of being part of a unit that is greater than the sum of its parts. Under Jose, the back-four functions practically as one single entity, existing to keep marauders one heck of a distance away from goal and crowding the spaces into which trouble can drop. (I use the term ‘back-four’ pretty loosely, because Sissoko and Hojbjerg see to it that it’s often a back-six, with no shortage of additional helping hands from the attackers.)

No doubt it’s a successful operation, but this seems to owe more to the collective and its organisation levels, than to any outstanding quality from the individuals concerned. And in fact, when it comes to Dier, the quality repeatedly strikes me as a hefty distance away from outstanding.

On two notable second half occasions his passing from in or around his own area was unnecessarily risky and just plain inaccurate, gifting Chelsea possession that turned into half-chances; and his marking of Abraham for one cross was abysmal, featuring as it did Dier not even looking at the ball but watching the striker. That Abraham fell over rather than tapping in will inevitably wipe from many memories the pretty glaring error.

Throw in a couple of mistimed, lurching challenges that left him out of a position, and one may understand why the lips-pursed-arms-folded routine began to kick in at AANP Towers. This is not the stuff of a defensive lynchpin upon whom title-winning teams are built. The compactness and organisation (to which, in fairness, Dier presumably contributes) has given us the meanest defence in the division, but Dier himself instils precious little confidence.

3. Tanguy’s Lovely Touches

With caution making its masterpiece from the opening gong, this stuff was not exactly easy on the eye, but bless him, Tanguy Ndombele is the sort who to whom wriggling out of unwriggleable spots comes pretty naturally, and amidst the tactical proddings his little cameos lit up the place.

Given the current vogue for passing out from the back it’s just as well, because he often receives the ball in rather hairy spots and with opponents homing in on him like vultures. More fool them. Via the blessed combination of quick feet, low centre of gravity, general upper body strength and whatever other tricks he has up his sleeves, no position seems too tight for Ndombele, and like some mesmeric conjurer he’s away.

4. The Final Ball (In The First Half)

In the second half we barely laid a glove on our foes; but the pretty comfortable first half was lit up by the occasional forward foray. Alas, whereas in recent weeks, “Clinical Finishing” has been the mantra of all in lilywhite, this week the final ball was either poorly selected or not quite correctly executed.

Bergwijn’s shot over the bar, or Sonny trying to pass rather than shoot when haring towards the penalty area – these were moments that were impeccably and ruthlessly popped away in previous games, but today, with the radar not quite in full working order, the moments came and went.

I confess I expected them to come and go again in the second half, but with the emphasis on preserving what we had rather than venturing out for the win, the whole thing petered out about as unspectacularly as these can.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-2 Chelsea: Five Tottenham Talking Points

Against the backdrop of the pre-match buzz – around the closing of the gap, the master and the apprentice, the Top Four, and so on and so forth – the limp and error-strewn manner of this latest capitulation was scarcely believable. There was such a rich and bountiful catalogue of errors that one could quite comfortably file them alphabetically, and potentially colour-code them for good measure.

1. The Utterly Incomprehensible Gazzaniga Karate Kick

Going in at half-time 0-1 down would certainly have represented a deviation from the script that Jose and chums had been lovingly penning all week, but catastrophic it would not necessarily have been. A few stern words here, a cunning tactical switch there, and one might have thought our lot could have emerged for the second half, given the challenge the once-over and declared en masse “Far from insurmountable, what?”

Shortly before half-time, however, one of the more outstanding of the numerous moments of idiocy was rolled out. Quite what went through Gazzaniga’s head is a conundrum that will have the best and brightest minds in the country stymied for some years to come.

Heaven knows what sort of goalkeeping drills are undertaken at the shiny new training ground these days, but the art of simply catching a ball gently lobbed towards them like a dandelion in the breeze has evidently had the dickens complicated out of it. After Lloris dropping a harmless cross at the feet of a striker a yard from goal, and dislocating his elbow in the process, a few weeks back, when required to carry out the task – mastered by all seven of my nephews and nieces shortly after nappies – of catching a gently lobbed ball, yesterday we were treated to Gazza’s wild, head-height karate kick, which sat on the list of options some way beneath “Catch it – no, really, just catch the gently floating ball” and the criminally underrated “Or just leave it, to loop gently out for a goal-kick”.

The most reasonable explanation I can think of is that he forgot he possessed hands, which I suppose can happen from time to time, to a chap with a lot on his mind – and in his defence there has been an awful lot to ponder in this of all weeks, what with an election at one end of it and Christmas at the other. Even such a momentary and inconvenient moment of amnesia, however, did not preclude him from sticking his lot on the second option, and accepting the goal-kick.

If there were any murmurs that Gazza might be making a fist for the number one jersey on a permanent basis, I suspect they have been silenced by this little moment of career suicide.

2. Sonny’s Own Moment of Idiocy

Not to be outdone in the idiocy stakes – the notion of edging back into the game having long since been dismissed as folly of the highest order – Sonny decided to chip in with his latest in a growing series of fairly needless red cards.

The Everton red can be expunged from the records, and with good reason, but as against Bournemouth late last season this was a pretty unholy contribution to proceedings, and betrayed the fact that the chap has a flame within that needs quelling and pronto. We can’t have every opponent within his armspan tapping their forehead knowledgeably and giving him a sly prod here, sly dig of the elbow into ribs there and sly stomp on the foot elsewhere, safe in the knowledge that the red mist will descend and Son will wave a retaliatory limb in less sly fashion.

Some might object that Rudiger went down as if impaled by a narwhal task when actually the contact from Son’s boot was more akin to a tickle, and that nameless chorus would have a point. But, oddly enough, that point misses this point. Which is that if you wave your studs at someone’s chest, you automatically run the risk of the whole episode rolling into the High Court.

It’s something of a mantra around AANP Towers, but if you want to avoid being on the sharp end of an officiating decision – be it a soft penalty or a disputed red card – then simply don’t give the referee the option.

3. A Musing or Two on Tactics

Individual moments of mind-boggling lunacy aside, there was plenty else about which to sink head into hands (and that is deliberately limiting comment to on-pitch matters).

AANP approaches his football much as I understand the Romans approached the fun and games of the amphitheatre – wanting to be entertained by action, without too much consideration for the underlying plot. As such, the chapter in the AANP book on “Tactical Analysis” is a pretty light read, and I wouldn’t pretend to have layer upon layer of insight into the stuff.

The long and short of it seemed to be that Chelsea’s setup completely bewildered our mob. Both their back three and front three respectively seemed only too happy to saunter up the field and press, winning the ball high up the pitch and denying us options to escape.

As ever, Jose opted for the lopsided approach of Aurier roving up the right wing, while at left-back my best mate Jan kept a respectful distance south of the halfway line, and tucked in alongside the centre-backs. This single-wing-back take on life is all fun and games in matches against lower-quality dirge, but yesterday it was nullified from the off. Chelsea hit upon the notion of attacking Aurier – not rocket-science, given his track record for dancing with calamity at every opportunity – and with Vertonghen not daring to advance beyond halfway we were oddly narrow.

Sprinkle into that mix the painfully limited ball-playing abilities of Dier and Sissoko in central midfield, and it’s little wonder that our first half descended into an endless stream of pretty hopeful punts from the centre-backs that sailed harmlessly over everyone’s heads.
This is the normally the point at which I and the various other armchair critics come oiling out of the woodwork to rant and rave about Poch’s inability to make game-changing tweaks, so it is only fair to wag a similarly critical finger at Jose. The formation change at half-time did not have the desired effect, with Lucas’ role as near enough a wing-back simply resulting in him being asked to take on defensive duties for which, though willing, he has not been well equipped by nature.

4. General Lack of Anything Resembling Lustre

For all the hours of riveting tactical chuntering, there is a pretty lucid counter – or perhaps additional – thread of argument along the lines of “Tactics be damned if we simply outfight the other lot”.

Had our heroes came shooting out of the blocks like a whole brigade of moths legging it towards the nearest flame like their lives depended on it, then all the wonky full-backs in the world would have been of little consequence.

Instead, alas, as against Man Utd a few weeks back, so yesterday against Chelsea. Our lot turned up, had a quick look around and appeared immediately to decide that such competitive pursuits were beneath them. Chelsea, accordingly, won at a canter.

The complete absence of urgency was as baffling as it was maddening. Do these blighters not realise the magnitude of these things? One wonders what the hell else has been passing through their tiny brains all week if not the absolute imperative to strain every sinew going in pursuit of a favourable outcome at yesterday’s set-to.

Depressingly, Chelsea seemed to get the gist. From the off they were executing the high press – and, come to think of it the low and middling presses too – like they had been doing it all their lives. I did briefly hope that our lot might simply ride out the storm before vrooming into top gear, but such basic concepts were obviously far beyond their collective capacities, and within ten minutes Serge Aurier was doing his thing and Chelsea were ahead.

5. A Begrudging Word in Defence of Sissoko

I suppose it would be a little harsh – only a little, mind – to tar Sissoko with the same brush as the rest of the incompetents who wandered gormlessly across N17 between the hours of 16.30 and 18.30 while Chelsea made merry.

Man of the match stuff it was not, but Sissoko did at least have the decency, after watching the game bypass him for long enough, to roll his sleeves up, put his head down and attempt on several occasions to bludgeon his way through the entire Chelsea team. One understands his rationale, as nobody else in lilywhite had given the faintest indication that they were worth involving in the fightback.

It didn’t work, apart from the mild satisfaction of clobbering the Chelsea ‘keeper and getting away with it. But for the sake of the annals, let the records show that Sissoko was slightly less bad than the rest for some portion of the first half.

And that faintest of faint praise is about the only etching in the Credit column. This was sensationally poor fare. Mercifully the next games come thick and fast, and by the time 2020 lands this garbage ought to have been long forgotten.

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Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

If not quite a full-blown disaster, this ongoing implosion has all the core ingredients, in pretty much the right measures and with all requisite utensils.

The casual scattering of six points in half a week has left brows furrowing like nobody’s business, and should we lose to that ‘orrible lot on Saturday – which on present form, is a pretty conceivable scenario – the gap will have narrowed from the chasmic 10 points of what seemed like yesterday, to a thoroughly slippable 1 point.

1. Too Dashed Slow

Rather disappointingly, our heroes simply picked up where they had left off against Burnley. There was a general air of men treading through quicksand throughout, on top of which several feted luminaries seemed to have the dickens of an issue bringing the ball under control. Numerous seemingly perky counter-attacking opportunities were beheaded in their infancy when one of Sonny, Lamela or whomever stumbled upon the ball and let it slip away.

Having weathered any early storm, matters were pretty even at half-time, but the pattern changed after Chelsea’s opener. Thereafter they seemed fairly content to sit back, squeeze everyone into neat defensive formation and, truth be told, light cigars.

For rather than cause them any discernible difficulties, our lot – earnestly but thoroughly ineffectively – took to dwelling on the ball. Every man in possession swivelled this way, and then that, and then hit upon the brain wave of going back the first way again on the off-chance that it might miraculously have opened up invitingly in the preceding 1.5 seconds; meanwhile Chelsea simply cleared the cigar smoke and waited.

The game was crying out for some lilywhite urgency, some swift, one-touch hopping around this way and that. A few neat first-time passes, a triangle here and one-two there might have been sufficient to prise Chelsea from their fort. But alas, it was four-touch stuff as a minimum, all the way.

As a principal but by no means sole culprit, I noted, with pretty aghast eyes, that young Winks made the highest number of passes, with a 97% accuracy rate – but how many of those did the slightest dashed jot of good? Wouldn’t it have been preferable for him to try something a tad more incisive, say attempting 6 or 7 killer balls, on the off-chance that 1 or 2 would strike oil? Heaven forbid, it might have disturbed his pass accuracy stats…

2. Eriksen Decidedly Off The Boil

The game was screaming out for Christian Eriksen to have the whiff of battle in his nostrils, and start pulling strings from midfield like there were no tomorrow.

But alack, the chap simply mooched around with the air of one who would rather be sitting on a small fishing boat in the middle of a calm lake, straw hat on head and toothpick in mouth. He looked, in short, like a man who had taken a look around and thought, “Stuff this, I’m off to Madrid.”

Where we needed some sort of conduit between the southern axis of Sissoko and Winks and the more northerly mechanics of Eriksen-Son-Lamela, the Dane kept his head down and did his best to blend into the background.

3. Lamela Not Fit For Purpose

Earlier this season Lamela hit something of a purple pitch, running at defenders with something that could officially be registered as “menace” and popping up to nab goals with pleasing frequency.

Quite what his injuries have been nobody seems quite sure – the official party line is the rather generic suggestion of “Hip Problem”, although the rumours that have reached AANP Towers make the mind boggle – but since his latest return, for all his purposeful scuttling, he has achieved precious little whenever in possession.

In common with every one of his chums he was wont to dwell on the ball, and with Chelsea intent on pressurising through the medium of The Swarm, he lacked the requisite nimbleness of foot to produce anything remotely productive.

On the bright side, with the referee calling an amnesty on all fouls for 90 minutes he did at least avoid his customary Yellow Card For Mistimed Lunge, but when that is the extent of one’s victory, one jolly well has to slink back and re-read the job description, what?

4. Oh, Trippier!

As one pretty well versed in the art of the Own Goal, on the back of around a thousand of the dashed things in my well-meaning but uncommunicative 5-a-side moonlighting, I am reluctant to do little more than dismiss last night’s circus act with a well-chosen curse and some choice gesticulations.

One might quibble that as schoolchildren, as well as being taught to play the recorder and recite that verbs are doing words, a pretty core element of education is that if you pass back to the goalkeeper, do so wide of the posts, just on the off-chance that should he go haring off in the wrong direction no more lasting damage will be done.

Oh that the infant Trippier had paid more attention in class. Instead, faced with the onrushing Lloris, a man who at any given point in his life looks thoroughly clueless as to what course of action he ought to take, Trippier forgot his ABC, and the consequent toe-poke killed off our chances. Such moments are all part of life’s rich tapestry, I suppose.

Not that the blame lies entirely at his door – I apportion blame in fairly equal ratios between the two protagonists – but it all makes for the most bizarre year in the life of young Master Trippier, whose football career not only seemed to peak with that free-kick in the World Cup Semi-Final, but has now seemed to plumb to its lowest depth and, finding it quite fun, set up camp and stay there. Generally loose play in the right-back area all season has been topped off first by a woeful penalty miss, and now by the most comical of own goals. One fears that in order to complete the set, a red card will be his before the season is out.

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Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. The First Half: As Rotten As I’ve Seen

The first half was just about as rotten as we’d all feared. We Spurs fans are rarely the most optimistic breed at the best of times, but with our three leading lights absent and Llorente as the nominated focal point, the mood pre-match was one of undiluted dread, a sentiment that proved entirely justified in an opening 45 that was dross of the highest order.

Most of that period was spent simply haring around in the slipstream of the Chelsea lot, barely laying a foot on the ball and generally giving the sense that an almighty thrashing was in the post and on its way.

Llorente seemed to pick up where he left off against Fulham, seemingly unable to find a team-mate if his life had depended on it, and he received precious little support from a midfield that seemed to view the ball with the gawking confusion of a group of wide-eyed innocents being introduced to it for the first time.

One rather felt for Eriksen, who stood head and shoulders above his teammates, but who all too often tiptoed his way around numerous snapping ankles only to look up and find that not a soul was in the vicinity to offer support. Or that Llorente was there, which essentially amounted to the same thing.

2. The All Action Second Half

The transformation amongst our mob in the second half was of the sort normally reserved for cartoon characters with little concern for realistic plot devices.

Our Glorious Leader, for so long a manager who seems to have treated a football match as a cinematic experience to be enjoyed passively and in a silent spirit of non-interference throughout, took it upon himself to switch to a back three, which gave Danny Rose in particular the licence to hare upfield with the sort of zeal that one would rather not argue with.

And aside from the tactical change, the whole bally gang of lilywhites took to the second half with a frenzied determination if not exactly to strategically out-manoeuvre Chelsea, chess-like and subtle, then at least with a frantic spirit of all-action-no-plot frenzy that seemed to rely upon living by the sword and dashed well dying by it too. It was marvellous fun, albeit pretty wearing stuff for the nerves.

3. Llorente’s Moment of Redemption. Good Egg.

The first half might have gone on for several days and we would not have got anywhere near scoring; but within five minutes of the second half we had done the business, and I think only those of the most heartless dispositions could have failed to feel some pleasure for Senor Llorente.

I’m quite happy to admit that I was amongst the most vocal in chiding the wretched chap at the weekend for his buffoonery, so his perseverance last night was worthy of some grudging admiration; but his headed goal merits a far more sincere slap on the back and splash of the good stuff.

A combination of brute force and bravery, when it would have been easy for him to sulk and mope and just give up on the whole dashed thing, it was impressive stuff (even if the hope it thereby provided did ultimately make the eventual defeat all the more galling).

4. Gazzaniga Passing

Although there was a deflection en route that perhaps messed with his mechanics, I was not exactly bowled over by Gazzaniga’s attempt to repel Kante’s goal; but the chap’s distribution is fast becoming one of the more impressive sights to behold.

We’ve seen it from him a few times now, this inclination to volley the ball from his hands deep into the heart of a panicky opposition defence, and Gazzaniga was at it again last night, niftily straddling that line between a hopeful, moronic punt and a devilishly identified and executed ping of a wonder-pass.

The pass that set Eriksen free on the right very nearly created The Best Goal Ever – Llorente, in one of life’s more unsurprising developments, failing to make a clean connection with Eriksen’s cross.

Then Gazzaniga set Moura free on the inside left, and the ensuing volley was only a few inches away from being another goal the aesthetics of which would have flown through the roof.

Lloris presumably retains the edge for his instinctive shot-stopping, but Gazzaniga’s passing is one heck of a string to his bow. I look forward to his next foray in the FA Cup on Sunday.

5. Injuries

Ultimately it was not to be, and we might as well have exited the competition at the first hurdle (although I think the win at the Emirates did a world of good, so silver linings and all that muck).

The sight of Davies limping off after half an hour actually caused me not a jot of upset – as, it might surprise my public to know, I’ve never been the most ardent supporter of the young bean – but the principle of another day bringing about another injury is about as much as any sane chappie can bear.

The lunacy of the summer transfer policy is not just an elephant in the room, it’s an entire herd of the things. Almost every one of our players who went to the World Cup has since picked up some form of injury, and we have barely had a week free of a midweek fixture.

The official party line of not buying players who cannot improve upon the current starting eleven is being exposed as utter tosh with each passing day, for we simply need additional players just to take to the pitch. If no better players can be bought, buy players of equal quality and field them instead, rather than fielding the same honest souls every game until they literally break.

Alas, there seems little likelihood of any of this changing, and frankly we seem more likely to sell than to buy this month. It’s a dreary append to an oddly glorious failure.

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