All Action, No Plot

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Spurs 3-1 Leicester: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Skipp

With various A-listers still quarantined, and Dortmund looming fast into view, Poch yet again dipped into his box of selection tricks, and this term emerged with young Master Skipp in midfield, with Sonny and Llorente upfront.
Now young Skipp may in time prove to be world football’s natural heir to Andres Iniesta, but this afternoon’s performance was not the one to secure him amongst the pantheon of greats.

In theory I suppose he did little wrong, for every time one of our number were in possession around the centre circle, young Skipp would station himself about three yards away and demand the ball. While this was a noble enough approach to life, in practice it actually served precious little benefit. At best he would receive the ball while practically standing on top of the passer – and while facing the opposite direction. Play was not spread, pressure was not relieved, life’s problems were not solved.

In his defence poor old Skipp drew the short straw, for that spot on the left of the midfield diamond has proved a tricky one to fill to date for even more seasoned pros. Sissoko seems to have mastered the art on the right – and peddled an impressive line in Messi-esque gliding dribbles today, as if to emphasise the fact – but an equivalent on the left is lacking. Leicester had the better of things in midfield, and for all his youthful scampering Skipp did little to impose himself upon proceedings. Better luck next time.

2. Lloris And The Rarest of Rarities

A penalty save from Hugo Lloris is about as rare in these parts as a left-footed unicorn, but credit where due, our resident last line of defence picked an excellent moment to perform this particular party trick.

Leading we may have been, but Leicester were jousting away with the best of them, and would have been good value for parity if not a lead. At 1-0, conversion of the penalty might have swung the thing pretty ominously towards our visitors, and I for one can hold up my hands and confess I had written off the spot-kick as a fait accompli, and was already contemplating a final half hour with scores level and pressure mounting.

Frankly, in all my years of Spurs-gazing I do not recall seeing Lloris diving into the right postcode when facing a penalty, so I don’t mind admitting I gawped and blinked and rubbed the eyes once or twice before digesting what had transpired.

(As an aside, the award of the penalty itself seemed pretty dashed soft when one compares and contrasts with the similar meeting of limbs that brought about Sonny’s yellow card in the first half. The inconsistency between the two calls prompted no end of grumbling at AANP Towers, but life – and particularly refereeing decisions – will send us these crosses to bear, so best we all just shrug the shoulders and take it with a philosophical smile.)

3. Danny Rose Brings Back The Slide Tackle

Come hail or shine, Danny Rose always blusters around the field as if personally aggrieved at the circumstances in which he has been thrust, and typically with a particular axe to grind against his opposing right-sided attacker.

The attitude is refreshing, as that level of aggression is not really something one would associate with the Tottenham Hotspur of years gone by. Kyle Walker used to possess it in spades, and it generally meant that irrespective of whatever else was happening in the broader geographic area, he was not about to lose his own personal duel. Frankly we could have done with some of it in midfield today, but that’s a chapter for another time.

Entertainingly, Rose’s general foul mood resulted in him deciding that today would be the day to unleash sliding tackles at every given opportunity. It made for some pretty nostalgic viewing, as slide tackles seemed to go the way of all flesh at around the same time as cassettes and shell suits. It was gloriously retro stuff, not least for the looks of outrage etched across the faces of the Leicester nobility deposited on terra firma.

4. Poch On The Defensive

Where normally we hog possession but find ourselves up against a nine-man defence, or super-human ‘keeper, or some combo of the above, today we rather forgot our lines, and spent as much of the game fending off Leicester thrusts as performing those of our own.

As hinted at above, our midfield were at times outfought, not helped by a defence that seemed oddly keen to dabble in the porous. With Skipp failing to impose himself, and Llorente offering his trademark lack of mobility, we occasionally looked like we were down to nine men.

Thank heavens for the stand-out moments of brilliance. Eriksen’s delivery for our first, and precision finish for the second, sandwiching a couple of critical Lloris saves, pretty much won the thing.

Amidst it all, Our Glorious Leader seemed to take an oddly low-key perspective on things, making as many defensive substitutions as the rules permitted as he sought to protect what he had, in a remarkable departure from the all-action-no-plot approach to life.

Hard to fault the approach I suppose (not that that will stop me trying), not least because ultimately we won, but also because the switch to a back-three made sense when Vardy appeared; while the replacement of Llorente with Wanyama, while a little more dull and sensible than the Moura alternative, simply made it more difficult for Leicester to claw things back in the final ten minutes.

5. Making The Best of Life Without Kane and Dele

Having kept a careful eye on these things I can confidently suggest that this was the umpteenth time we have eked our victory this season without playing particularly well, and most satisfying they typically are too.

How the devil we are doing it is something of a curiosity. It would be a mangling of the English language to suggest that we have coped with ease with the absences of Kane and Dele, but we have found ways to edge past Newcastle, Watford and now Leicester. Be it wringing every last drop of value out of Llorente, relying on random moments of Eriksen brilliance or simply pinning the weight of the world upon the dependable shoulders of Sonny, we muddle through.

All that said, I would be pretty amazed if we emerged in credit from the first leg of the Dortmund joust, but in the league at least this has been a pretty critical and thoroughly impressive run of Kaneless success.

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

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…

Spurs 0-1 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Observations

1. A Heartening Performance

Curses are naturally flowing pretty liberally around the white half of north London, but here at AANP Towers we’re actually sipping the early-evening double whisky with a generous dollop of equanimity.

The wound of defeat obviously cuts deep, and so on and so forth – but after the laboured 90 minutes against Chelsea, and a first half here in which there was a collective air of legs ploughing through quicksand, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the rip-roaring stab of things made by our heroes in the second half.

No doubt about it, every lilywhite out there this afternoon looked utterly drained – and have done for a few weeks now – and I’m pretty sure I saw several of them being scooped up off the turf and carried off at the denouement.
Yet despite that, we kept beavering, making enough presentable chances to win a couple of games and frankly appeared to have a few bursts more energy than our opponents who were supposedly freshly sunned and rested.

Moreover, I was secretly rather chuffed that we kept our heads and continued to probe in those closing stages, rather than blindly whacking the thing north and offering up prayers. Up against a deep United defence-and-midfield I had wondered in the first half how the devil we were supposed to break them down at all. As it happened we did so on around a dozen occasions in the second half alone.

2. Our Finishing. Too Close To The Keeper, Don’t You Think?

Bunting is being decked and champagne sprayed around the United keeper, and one understands the sentiment, for the chap wasn’t allowed to catch his breath before sticking out another limb and keeping the good ship Hotspur at bay.

And far be it for me to deny the fellow his fifteen minutes, but I can’t help thinking we made his job a heck of a lot easier by firing most of those shots within his wingspan.

I trust my public will forgive me if I don’t list and analyse each individual chance separately, as I’m not sure the abacus has been invented that can track that sort of thing, but certainly both Kane and Dele shot at him rather than the corners when clean through, and one or two of the other less straightforward opportunities might also have been more emphatically tucked away.

Just one of those things I suppose. On another day – and there have been several of them in the past month alone – we might have hit the corners and been four or five up. Such is the rummy nature of life.

3. Poch’s Tactical Switch

And while immersing ourselves in rather pointless crumbs of comfort, a begrudging nod in the vague direction of Our Glorious Leader. One of the few sticks with which the sunny chap is ever beaten is his perceived inability to roll up his sleeves midway through a game and do some first-rate tinkering.

Come half-time today however, and with the likeliest form of attack having thus far been The Hopeful Alderweireld Punt, Poch duly tinkered away like the best of them, and produced more of a 4-2-3-1, of sorts.

Now the prosecution might well make the point that his hand was rather forced by the injury to Sissoko pretty much bang on half-time, and a jolly compelling point it would be too. I’m nevertheless inclined to give Poch the benefit of the doubt however, for he might have stuck with the midfield diamond and watched on gloomily.

Instead, Sonny went left, Davies was kept firmly under lock and key within the back-four – where many a cynic might observe he is far better placed – Eriksen sat deeper, and the outlook pretty instantly became a heck of a lot sunnier.

4. Squad Depth (Lack Thereof)

As alluded to above, one can only really applaud the efforts of the chaps out on the pitch, who appeared pretty much to use up their final bubbles of oxygen and every last ounce of energy in hammering away at the United door.

The unhappy fact remains, however, that the slew of crunch fixtures shows neither sign of abating nor adopting any less crunch. On top of which, the cast members themselves are now, rather inevitably, beginning to drop like flies.

The hooking of Sonny for yet another international tournament seems rather heartless, as he’s only just got over the jet-lag from the previous one, but into every life some rain must fall I suppose.

The injuries are just a plain nuisance, and no less annoying for being so utterly predictable. Winks and Sissoko seem to have partnered each other for around a dozen games in a row, so the sight of muscles twanging away mid-game was greeted with as many philosophical shrugs as gloomy grimaces.

Kane also seemed to exit the stage in far worse health than he entered, having taken a royal clattering in the dying embers of the game, and with Dier still not fit, Wanyama now just a picture on a Missing Person’s poster, Moura apparently injured and Dembele eyeing up the exit door, the whole carefully constructed and delicately held-together structure does look set to come tumbling down at any point.

Oh that we were minded to shell out a few quid in the transfer market, what? The party line remains that no signings will be made if they cannot improve the starting eleven, which sounds suitably bland and professional; but the argument grows stronger by the day that simply recruiting a few extra bodies of precisely the same quality would be no bad thing, if it allows for one or two of our mob to catch their breath between games.

Frankly there seems to be more chance of the sun exploding, which means we can potentially look forward to Skipp and Winks behind a front two of Lamela and Llorente in weeks to come.

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

Cardiff 0-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Doing The Necessaries in Defence

After boiling our own heads in the final 15 against Wolves it was pretty imperative that reason returned to her throne pronto, so this was very much the morning-after tonic of choice, and well done all concerned.

That said, as anyone of sound mind and body who witnessed proceedings will attest, it was a dashed peculiar sequence of events. We managed to take the lead without trying; then sewed the game up barely a quarter of the way through – again, without really dedicating any tremendous effort to the cause – and were then able to serenely idle away the remaining hour without breaking sweat.

One received the distinct impression that had we wanted to push foot down on pedal and break into a chorus of coruscating one-touch fizz we could well have done, at will – but quite frankly nobody wanted to. 3-0 away was enough.

Credit therefore – and for want of anybody else claiming it – to the defence. Admittedly Cardiff’s opening kamikaze act, as effective as it was comical, sapped the life out of them, with the result that they spent the majority of the match very obviously waiting for it to end. But if the Wolves debacle had taught us anything it was that if minds wandered all hell could break loose, so our back-four needed to have their shoes polished throughout, just on the off-chance.

And while there was precious little for them to do, they did it with minimal fuss. The most creative zips and spurts that Cardiff could muster were high diagonal crosses to a lumbering giant at the back post, and a handful of long throw-ins. Not exactly brimming with subtlety, but certainly enough to discombobulate our defence, so I applaud Danny Rose for fixing his eye on the ball to head clear on a couple of occasions, and every man in lilywhite for repelling most crosses swung into our box.

2. The Many Sides to Kane’s Game

Kane’s goal was about as far away on the other side of the spectrum from that he scored against Wolves as was possible, but it’s still a notch in the relevant column, so well done him. He lashed a few other efforts in various directions without much reward, but of greater impact was his work when dropping deep.

With Son a designated striker alongside him he had pretty strong licence to stroll back into midfield at his leisure, and where sometimes he delights in mooching out wide and pinging a crossfield ball to the opposite wing, yesterday his move of choice was to receive the ball sideways on and flick it early into the path of an onrushing chum.

The approach was as effective as they come, not least in contributing pretty crucially to the build-up to a couple of goals. Despite appearances the chap really is one of the most complete forwards I’ve ever cast eyes upon.

3. Eriksen’s Nifty Flick

Another quirk of yesterday’s events was that amidst the frankly soporific keep-ball were a handful of moments of joyous quality, utterly out of keeping with the rest of it.

At one point in the second half Dele Alli collected a pass while galloping up the left flank, and collected it with a glorious first touch that seemed to the naked eye to slice his defender clean in half. A neat little triangle involving Eriksen and Kane shredded the Cardiff defence. Sissoko produced a booming crossfield pass from one flank to the other that seemed to open a whole universe of possibilities. And so on.

But chief amongst these little gems was the Eriksen drag-back that wrong-footed half the Cardiff defence, just before he shot for his goal. As befits Eriksen there was no ceremony, he simply threw in a game-changing piece of skill as casually as if shelling nuts. Should I ever sire a daughter, Eriksen would be more than welcome to her hand in marriage.

4. Game Management

Big ticks all round then, and with the added bonus that we were able to revert to Snooze Mode as early as the 26th minute, as the game thereafter descended into a fairly tedious and perfunctory exercise in killing time. For fans of eye-watering square passes between centre-backs it was terrific stuff; for the rest of us, less so.

But lest we forget, this was an absolute masterclass in that which we so spectacularly failed to do against Wolves, so for all the whinges emanating from this quarter about lack of entertainment and ambition, in the second half in particular, the alternative does not really bear contemplation.

Pre-game I’d have chewed off the nearest flailing limb for a comfortable 3-0 sashay away from home, so this ticks the boxes pretty meatily.

5. The Bizarre Media Narrative

Here at AANP Towers we were particularly piqued at the broad reaction to our capitulation against Wolves, which seemed to be along the lines of laughter in the aisles – reasonable enough in itself – but on the grounds that our supposed title challenge had lasted all of 3 days or so – which struck me as pretty wildly inaccurate on a number of counts.

For a start one defeat did not a crisis make, as I thought was neatly illustrated by yesterday’s canter at Cardiff. To have to play four games in ten days also struck me as a pretty mitigating factor for what might be reasonably termed “a blip”.

And perhaps most pertinently, I’m not sure anyone in any way connected with the club genuinely believes we’re going to win the title this season, which made the whole business of laughing at Spurs for blowing a title push akin to criticising Terminator 2 for lacking in the rom-com stakes.

Still, papers have columns inches to fill and if the whole point of the exercise were to poke and prod the nearest Spurs fan until they yowled in childish resentment then it can be considered a job well done. And now that that’s done I’d be quite content if we can continue the low-key accumulation of wins that had served us pretty well for most of December.

Everton 2-6 Spurs: Six Tottenham Observations

1. Our Glorious Front Four

If you are anything like me you might have tucked into your pre-match reviver with a nervous frown on your lips, because “Everton (away)”, as the first of four bashes in ten days, while not exactly having us barricading the doors and praying for divine intervention, nevertheless seemed a fruity prospect. Local intelligence dictated that a stern test awaited.

But then what does local intelligence know? Even when Everton went ahead, our rapier-like attacking thrusts had already been dropping hints like the dickens that our front four were in the mood for running amok, and at a hefty lick too.

Options wait eagerly in the wings – Lamela looked his usual rather arrogant, niggly self when unveiled in the second half, and Lucas, lest we forget, was talk of the town in the early weeks of the season – but there is little point arguing with the notion that Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Son are about as irresistible an attacking quartet as one might find if languidly spinning a globe, closing one’s eyes and jabbing one’s finger at it to compare the options from some other part of the world. Best simply to let the notion wash over oneself and embrace it. Those four, when on song, are as close as one gets these days to unstoppable.

It was as much the case at 0-0 and 1-0 down as it was when 1-3 up and beyond.

It certainly helped that Everton opted to fight fire with all manner of flammable material, essentially opening up the double doors, laying down a red carpet and inviting our attacking quartet to make merry as they pleased, with great yawning expanses all over the midfield and precious little protection for a pair of centre-backs faced with both Son and Kane in attack.

2. A Cautionary Note on Winks

Before tucking into the main course, a cautionary word about young Winks, who by and large admittedly had a whale of a time in the centre, but who is beginning to display a worrying tendency to bite off a darned sight more than he can chew.

Every now and then he seems possessed by the urge when collecting the ball to put his head down and wriggle away from approaching swarms as if it’s all just one sunny jamboree in the local park. I’m all for encouraging the chap’s inner Modric, but there a few delicate steps to be taken by the young muskrat before he can consider himself anywhere near that sort of celebrated level, and he would do well to keep things a dashed sight simpler for now.

Taking leaf out of the book of young Skipp might not be the worst move at the current juncture, Skipp bounding on for a brief cameo in which he did not put a foot wrong either in possession or out.

3. Sonny’s Goals

But back to the fun stuff. Specifically Son’s first goal, which boasted two constituent parts of considerable swash and buckle.

In the first place, the first time pass from Kane was the swivel-and-ping of a man having an absolute blast, and not really caring who knows it. As against Arsenal in midweek, he demonstrated how there is so much more to his game than simply planting ball into net, with both awareness and execution at the top of the dial.

Everton at this point continued their theme of seasonal generosity, with Zouma and Pickford making balloon animals and firing each other out of cannons before bumping into each other, tumbling into a clown-like heap and daring Sonny to shoot into an open goal from a fast-diminishing angle.

But by heck how well he finished. Sprinting in the wrong direction and with daylight seeping away by the millisecond, it was a brilliant effort.

4. Dele’s Goal

On another occasion I would have rattled away about the technique deployed by Dele to keep low his shot when the ball was bobbing and bouncing at him like an over-animated yo-yo, but when there are five other goals to choose from, Dele’s finish merits little more than a shrug and a polite ripple of applause, before we all excitedly chatter about the Eriksen volley or passing move for Kane or whatnot.

Mind you, the build-up to Dele’s goal had a hefty swig of punch to it. Sissoko’s one-two was fairly pleasing on the eye, and like a broken clock surprising us twice a day the big man also managed to nail a perfectly weighted pass, into the path of Son. The rest is history, but that build-up neatly encapsulated much that was sublime about our forward play today – swift, incisive passing, aided by intelligent, buzzy movement.

5. Eriksen’s Goal

Oh to have in any walk of life the ability that Eriksen has when striking a football. I suppose such things are a little easier to attempt at 3-1 up – the shoulders are less hunched, the spirit runs a little freer, the whole soul sways this way and that with a casual air as if to say “Well it doesn’t really matter either way, does it, whether I make a pig’s ear of this or the sweetest connection imaginable?”

And of course, this being Eriksen, he went down the route of a connection so sweet I pledged my undying love to it, there and then. Watch the replay closely and you’ll notice the ball itself is smiling as it flies in.

6. Kane’s Second

If you’ll excuse the disservice done to Trippier’s free-kick-taking abilities, I will coast blithely past Kane’s first, and instead cut straight to the business of ogling and salivating and stamping my feet at the second.

The numbers bods counted precisely umpteen passes in the build-up to this one, which I’m pretty sure automatically qualifies it for some sort of award for Services to Aesthetics. In fact, at the outset of the move, when our back-four and Lloris were carefully slipping the ball this way and that around our own area, my old man AANP Senior, whose lifetime of Spurs-supporting has understandably imbued him with a certain cynicism when watching, grumpily opined that he was not the most ardent supporter of the policy of playing out time in such joyless fashion.

Hush, aged one, I might have replied – but didn’t – because within approximately a dozen more glorious first-time passes in neat triangles around the hapless Everton mob, we were breaking away down the left like a bunch of escaped convicts breathing in glorious freedom.

Davies, in a rare moment of not-incurring-the-wrath-of-AANP, fed Son first-time, who whizzed it across to Kane first-time, who did what Kane does; and the whole thing had me purring away like a cat who stumbles upon a whole vat of the semi-skimmed good stuff.

So of the 4 games in 10 days, the least winnable one has been won. Traditionally I would sullenly mutter that we will probably undo all that good work in the next game or two, but this Spurs team repeatedly and pointedly demonstrates the stern stuff of which it is made, so shoots of festive optimism pop forth. Have a merry and blessed Christmas.

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…

Leicester 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

I’m not sure how public opinion will come down once the votes are in, but by my estimation this ranked amongst the best results of our season.

Before you gather your rotten tomatoes and start flexing your throwing arm, consider the evidence. Leicester, though not world-beaters, are no slouches, and had been in pretty rare fettle prior to last night’s events. On top of which, this rather cruel habit of the Fixture Gods, of scheduling a game every five minutes or so, continues unabated. Barcelona await on Tuesday, and to that end, most crucially, we entered battle with our two key weapons safely ensconced in training gear on the bench.

Throw in the usual raft of injuries – Dembele, Sanchez, Trippier, Lamela, Wanyama – and by the time the preliminaries were done I was fully expecting our heroes to drop a couple of points at the minimum.

1. Life Without Kane and Eriksen

After his disastrous Foyth-For-Toby gambit around this time last week, I don’t mind telling you that AANP was in unforgiving mood when the teamsheet went up in lights, revealing both Kane and Eriksen to be surplus to requirements. The eyebrow shimmered upwards with displeasure, make no mistake.

Now admittedly, ever since the World Cup, yours truly has been near the front of the queue of those yowling that Harry Kane needs to be given the occasional night off with his feet up and a mug of something warming in his hands. Pretty rich, you might therefore say, of me to yowl with equal displeasure when that very same wish is granted. And you would in fact have a fairly watertight point.

But the nub of the thing is that to drop one key player at a time might seem like common sense, but to drop two in one go, dash it, is really taking one heck of a chance.

Or so the argument ran pre-match.

As things transpired, Our Glorious Leader played his hand to perfection, keeping our star men about as fresh as a particularly buoyant couple of daisies ahead of the date with Barcelona, whilst maintaining league form that, if not quite relentless, feels like it’s about seven eighths of the way there. A mumbled apology duly falls from the AANP lips and wings its way Pochwards.

That said, for around 45 of 46 first half minutes we did scuttle around with a distinct absence of cut and thrust.
Kane’s absence, while hardly something for which one can compensate with an insouciant shrug of the shoulders and a carefree whistle on the lips, is nevertheless one of those trials in life with which one learns to cope. Not even Sonny’s own parents would suggest that he has the bulk and build to hold up the ball like Kane, and indeed the chap seemed to present all the physical presence upfront of a particularly wet piece of card, but with his pace and trickery he is at least capable of posing a threat as a striker. Lucas similarly has enough about him to make an opposing defender scratch his head and curl a lip or two.

Eriksen’s absence, however, is an altogether thornier subject to broach over post-prandial coffee. Nobody else in the team can pick and execute his brand of scything chances, and while we can tinker with formation and personnel until blue in the face, we look a darned sight more ordinary without him. That we ultimately won at such a cigar-puffing canter is a credit to Sonny for his quite marvellous opener, and Dele for a fabulous all-round performance.

2. Dele

Dele has never quite blown my skirt up as one would expect of a 50-goal midfielder, but by the time the curtain came down on proceedings yesterday I was one of the first out of my seat strewing the stage with flowers and yelling for an encore.

Eriksen he might not be when it comes to unpicking a lock with minimal fuss and a hefty dollop of suaveness, but the young imp still has a heck of a lot of technique and good-old fashioned schoolboy skill in his size eights. Last night he took the opportunity to rattle through a back-catalogue of his Greatest Hits, doing a passable impression of a young Gascoigne in the process.

What really made the world a sunnier place was that his dribbling and flicks were integrated within a pretty sound all-round display of decision-making. Whereas previously he has simply hogged the ball for the heck of it, ignoring the imploring pleas of better-placed colleagues, last night he seemed surprisingly alert to the fact that passing the thing was a real and credible option, and he hit a healthy balance between solo dribbles and well-judged distribution.

One still gets the impression that he would rather gnaw off his own arm than dish out a pass, but he mixed it up to good effect. In the absence of Kane and Eriksen, he seemed quite happy to take the lead, and his goal – though marginally the wrong side of the law, if we quibble about these things – was as richly deserved by the individual as by the team.

3. Full-Backs: No Longer A Forte

I saw this point made in one of last week’s evening papers, so if you already caught it yourself you might want to potter off and pour yourself a cheeky whiskey at this juncture, and rejoin the action in a couple of paragraphs’ time.

It’s the old gag about the current vintage of full-backs vs the circa 2015/16 vintage. Back then, Walker and Rose struck the fear of God into just about any opposing wide-men and managers you cared to name. They genuinely were amongst the best in Europe, and in a team full of assets and prized individuals had made a pretty solid stab at being the pick of the bunch.

But, as the cliché so neatly puts it, what a difference a couple of seasons, a huge transfer fee and personal ambition in a right-back, and a bout of depression, homesickness and injuries in a left-back makes. Walker is off dancing with the stars, Rose is a puzzlingly neutered version of his old self, and whichever personnel we use these days one’s instinct as an onlooker is to hold the breath and fear the worst.

Trippier, for all his whipped crosses onto the ample Kane forehead, sits rather awkwardly within a back-four as opposed to outside a back-three, as if itching for someone else to do the defensive stuff so that he can motor on into attack.

Aurier, while having generally cut the wild and reckless horizontal lunges from his game, is still neither one thing nor another, being both average at defending his patch and middling at attacking another’s.

As for Davies, the blighter would have my hair going a rich and glistening shade of grey if he had not already caused me to yank out great clumps of it in sheer frustration. His defending, as with the aforementioned, is generally no more than adequate – and quite often a few shades short of even that.

And as for his attacking, I can barely remember the last time one of his crosses hit the sweet spot in the heart of an opponent’s area. The Data Analysts amongst you will I’m sure report that the majority of his crosses bounce harmlessly off the nearest opponent. Even his less adventurous distribution seems oddly ill-executed, with misplaced passes and frequent instances of his being dispossessed seeming to litter the highlights reel.

To his credit, his infield pass ultimately set up our second goal yesterday, but this struck me very much as one to be filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Rule’. The young sore’s calling in life may well be within the safety-netted no-man’s-land that is the left side of a back three.

In general however, whomever one picks from the models on offer, our full-back selection is no longer a thing of menace and threat.

4. Doing Remarkably Well – Despite Evidence To The Contrary

Getting back to the specifics, Leicester were oddly obliging about things once Sonny had struck oil right on the half-time gong, and the second half was about as serene as I’ve witnessed Spurs in seeing out one of these away wins.

Lloris did eventually have to make a couple of saves, but nothing of the ilk to have one clutching feverishly at the nearest friend for support. Toby and Jan were unruffled at the back, which bodes well for Tuesday and makes one yet again rue the team selection vs Arsenal, and while young Winks does often opt to for the safety-first option of a backwards pass when something a little more adventurous would not go amiss, his was a very secure performance, laced with an occasional forwards surge.

One cannot really go into the Barcelona game with any sentiment further north of hope, but even should the worst happen and we fall into the doom-laden pit of despair that is the Europa League, we still find ourselves in remarkably fine health. This despite playing 10 of 16 games away from home; despite ‘home’ itself now emitting a decidedly unwelcome whiff; despite muscle injuries for 9 of our 12 World Cup Semi-Finalists; and despite the fact that aside from one (vs Chelsea) and a half (vs Man Utd) games we have yet to play genuinely well, in the truest sense of the word, all season.

Start actually playing consistently well and good knows where we might end up.

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 3-1 Chelsea: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Pochettino’s Tactical Triumph

Here at AANP Towers we have always looked kindly upon Our Glorious Leader, but more for his cherubic features, endearing humility and general good way with the youth of today. ‘Tactical Nous’ has always ranked a fair few rungs down the ladder, so to speak, when it comes to dishing out the gold stars.

Well not any more. I won’t pretend to be an expert in the dark arts of tactics, but by anyone’s rope Pochettino delivered a masterclass last night.

The whole delicately-planned jamboree reminded me of that scene in 80s rom-com Predator, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger and his sunny chums rig a whole array of nets and trip-wires and booby traps for the eponymous predator, the only difference being that whereas in the film the predator promptly escaped and killed them all, yesterday Pochettino’s traps left the Chelsea mob trussed up and at our mercy.

Right from kick-off, Poch’s tactics had Chelsea feathers ruffled, with glances exchanged amongst their number as if to say “What’s going on here then chaps?”

In a glorious throwback to around two seasons ago, Poch hit upon the nifty idea of pressing the life out of every Chelsea player who looked remotely dangerous. No sooner had one of them received possession and begun clearing their throat to voice their grand plans than lilywhite shirts were swarming around them and snapping at every available ankle.

2. Dele on Jorginho

Principal amongst ankle-snappees was Jorginho. I hadn’t been keeping up with current events myself, so was not aware that this chap was actually the second coming of something pretty special, but apparently he starts attacks, stops attacks, cures cancer and unmuddles Brexit, so he was evidently what is known in circles as A Big Deal.

Muzzling this blight upon society was therefore top of the agenda, and Our Glorious Leader hit on the unlikely plan of using Dele as a loose approximation of a man-marker.

On paper this might reasonably have been described as lunacy of the highest order, but as it happened, on grass the reinvigorated 2018/19 version of Dele was absolutely the perfect man for the job, loitering closer than the man’s own shadow.

Pochettino’s tactical masterclass wasn’t just limited to the deployment of Dele as one of history’s less likely man-markers. The use of Son as pretty much an out-and-out striker, always available as a blurry, whizzing outlet in the top right quadrant of the pitch, was another on his list of masterstrokes. The midfield diamond in general, and use of Sissoko in particular, pretty much kept Hazard kept securely under lock and key. Even Aurier, whose name I pretty sure translates into English as “Liability” kept Alonso on the back foot, and was pretty much faultless in defence throughout.

The whole set-up was a triumph, nabbing our rotten opponents hook, line and sinker. It was 2-0 after 15 minutes or so, 3-1 at full-time, but could, peculiarly, have legitimately been 6, 7 or more.

3. Glorious Goals

As our goals flew in yesterday, the thought occurred that despite being as different as these things can be, each was a thing of beauty in its own way.

Eriksen scattered the game with flashes of his impish best, and never more so than in the absolutely vicious delivery that set up our opener. It would have been an affront to decency for Dele to do anything else but glance home a cross like that.

Much comedy ensued for the second, with Chelsea defenders waggling their limbs and leaping out of the way of the ball, but a long-range shot has a unique and glorious quality, and although every man, woman and child who saw it took a brief moment to register that it had gone in, aesthetically it was a smashing effort.

(As an aside, I do rather wonder at the wisdom of the Chelsea bods for that one. Kane is hardly a new face on the scene, and has basically spent the last four years picking up the ball from distance and immediately belting it towards goal. Did none of them anticipate that this was going to happen? Really? The mind absolutely boggles.)

As for Son’s goal, it was the stuff of Hollywood scribes. My Spurs-supporting chum Ian casually opined that “He did not have to do much,” a sentiment with which I immediately took exception and delivered a lengthy rant, strong on emotion and light on fact, as seems to be required in this internet-based age.

The pedants amongst us will have noticed that Son actually collected the ball in his own half – therefore having a heck of a lot to do, Ian – before scuttling exactly half the length of the pitch, producing a slick two-step dance move that befuddled Jorginho (who by this stage was looking anything but the saviour of humanity) and then outsprinting the chap despite having to do so with the ball at his feet.

He then sprinted exactly half the width of the pitch, from touchline to near enough penalty spot. Admittedly he was not required to do much to beat David Luiz, who was busily haring away towards the corner flag, but as a grand finale Sonny then had to pick the right finish. And this, as he had proved repeatedly in the first half, was not something that had been coming particularly easily to him during the preceding hour.

4. Many, Many Misses

I don’t mind admitting that the inner Spurs fan who resides deep within my soul – sullying every fun moment with the ominous warning that this is Spurs, and it might therefore all come crashing down within five minutes of expertly-executed kamikaze – was at it again yesterday. At 2-0 I was adamant that the next goal was crucial, and that if we conceded we might as well wave a white flag at 2018/19 and tear down the new stadium while we were at it.

Mercifully, the next goal was handed on a plate to Sonny, who did not have to do much, but for all the joyous yelping and back-slapping, we were still outrageously guilty of missing an entire sackful of dashed presentable chances.

It may seem jolly ripe to complain about profligacy having put 3 past a previously unbeaten team, but you all saw the thing play out, and can therefore corroborate – we had enough straightforward chances to have scored six by half-time, and nine by full-time. Son missed three straightforward first half chances, and one of Toby or Foyth (I think) ought to have scored from a corner; while in the second half Kane and Dele forgot to factor in gravity when applying their finishing touches.

Still, might as well miss them on a day when we don’t need them, what?

5. Sissoko

As ever on these glorious nights, I feel I ought to prefix any personal praise with apologies for a whole raft of others who will go unmentioned despite doing sterling work – but yet again Moussa Sissoko delivered a performance that was as brilliantly effective as it was utterly baffling.

In a team full of technical geniuses and silky attackers, Sissoko’s uncontrollable limbs and unstoppable power ought not to fit, yet increasingly seems he like the crucial cog in the machinery.

As he has been doing for weeks now, he ran rampant in the defensive midfield area, blitzing everything in his path when not in possession, and somehow gliding away from challenges when he was, like a weird, malfunctioning Dembele.
Should the day arrive when he gets things wrong it will be absolutely ghastly to behold, but for now he gets most things right, and we have somehow stumbled – and never was there a more appropriate term – upon something utterly marvellous.

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

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Foyth

When Juan Foyth’s name and number was fanfared pre-kickoff, we lilywhite hordes did the civil thing and wished the young bean well, with images of his rather painful flurry of mishaps from last week’s debut trot still pretty fresh in the memory.

The early signs in this week’s concerto, it seems fair to say, were not the rosiest. A clumsy foul here, a strong contender for the 2018 instalment of Most Idiotic Concession of a Corner there, and within fifteen minutes one was already casting anxious glances in the direction of Our Glorious Leader as to whether the decent thing might simply be to hook the young fish and let him pass out the rest of his lilywhite days in the U23s.

Such a rush to judgement proved wildly misguided. Thereafter, young Foyth handled himself with several hefty slabs of aplomb.

Now one might argue that the Palace attack, baring as it did all the threat of a kitten entangled in a ball of wool, did not pose the fiercest threat, particularly when shorn of young Master Zaha.

However, spirited defenders of the boy Foyth might very reasonably counter by pointing to the weather, the nerves, the rollicking home crowd and the fact that everyone in Palace colours had read the memo recommending that whenever young Foyth went within sniffing distance of the ball he was to be homed in upon by anyone in the vicinity not otherwise engaged. The nub of the thing is that this was no cakewalk for the chap.

To his credit as a ball-playing footballer, and as a man of mental fortitude and fire-filled belly, he metamorphosed during the following hour or so into one heck of a dependable egg. His composure in possession did give the occasional palpitation but was broadly laudable, while his actual day-job of defending became increasingly impressive, in a right-place-right-time sort of way.

With Messrs Sanchez, Vertonghen and Dier at differing stages of fitness, Foyth’s performance does makes the world seem a cheerier place.

On top of which, his goal was poached with impressive swiftness of thought and movement, and was greeted with pretty unrestrained joy by his colleagues, which suggests that he’s a popular chap amongst the gang.

2. Sissoko

It speaks volumes about the instantly forgettable first half that its highlight was a marauding stroll past four opponents, finishing with a blocked shot, by one Moussa Sissoko, but that was where we found ourselves.

Let not that detract however, from the latest oddly impressive showing from our limited but effective cult hero.

Seemingly now fully aware that his role in proceedings is simply to follow two or three basic instructions, Sissoko patiently fed early balls to Trippier/Aurier in no-frills fashion; obediently tracked back to assist the aforementioned in defence as required; and occasionally trotted out his mesmerising dispossess-and-gallop routine.

Simple it might have been, but it also became pretty dashed effective, and as all around him laboured to unpick the Palace defence Sissoko suddenly started to emerge as a star shining particularly brightly amongst the lilywhite ranks.

By the time the second half was in full swing, the honest fellow was beginning to display hitherto unknown flashes of quality. A delightful first-time cushioned lay-off, some wrong-footing of oncoming foes whilst on the charge – it was bewildering, but mightily impressive stuff.

I still wouldn’t trust the blighter to knock a square pass five yards to a team-mate unchallenged if I were told to pick any professional footballer ever and have my life depend on it, for he retains within his genetic constitution something of the clumsy and calamitous; but in recent weeks the applause for Sissoko at AANP Towers has segued from ironic to sincere.

3. Lloris

The occasional panicked flap there may have been, but this will go down as one of Monsieur Lloris’ performances from the column marked “Game-Saving Stuff”.

Some saves were relatively routine, and some were of the faster-than-the-naked-eye-can-clearly-detect ilk, but after an unflustered opening hour or so our resident gate-keeper was called upon on several occasions, and can reflect with some serenity today as he collects the weekly envelope that this was a salary well-earned.

Doubts still nibble away, around his catching, kicking and sprinting hopelessly from his line, but the case for his abilities as a shot-stopper is pretty cut and dry.

4. Lack of Forward Thinking in Midfield

If sitting through the opening hour made your heart swell and pulse race then you’re made of sturdier stuff than I.
Palace, as noted above, might as well not have bothered crossing halfway for all the threat they offered until around the 70-minute mark; but our heroes, for all their possession, seemed to consider actually exploring the route to the opposition goal to be way down the list of priorities.

It was pretty infuriating stuff to behold, particularly in central midfield. Perhaps the weekly diet of Eriksen, with his keen eye and delicate thread of pass, has spoiled me, but none of those employed for the task seemed to cotton on the fact that taking their own sweet time about things, and looking sideways and backwards as a first instinct, served only to swell the massed ranks of Palace defenders.

Where Dembele or Winks will receive possession and immediately explore the options that lay in a northerly direction, yesterday Wanyama, Sissoko and Dele seemed to treat forward distribution as the absolute last resort.

A win is a win, as sure as eggs is eggs, and a goal from a set-piece has value in its own special way, but good grief – until we nabbed them on the counter late on there was precious little about which to beat the drum and yell a rousing chorus.

5. Hanging On. Again.

So after a turgid opening hour in which we hogged possession and did nothing with it; and a ten-minute spell after our goal in which we hogged possession and smoked cigars a little more nonchalantly than a one-goal cushion really merited; the game culminated in the inevitable nail-biting final twenty minutes in which we desperately clung on to the lead with the sort knuckle-whitening tension of which Hitchcock would have been proud.

On paper this string of victories, and the cosy position snugly ensconced within the Top Four, might give the uninitiated the impression that all is bright and breezy at Casa Tottenham. Oh that this were so.

The truth is that given the choice between an eternity spent in the fires of hell or the opportunity to escape and instead watch Spurs trying to close out a win, the souls of the damned would as likely as not opt for the never-ending flames, for there really is no strain upon the nerves comparable to seeing our lot doing the last-ditch routine for the final ten-to-fifteen, particularly given that they will have spent the previous half hour casually missing chance after chance.

Somehow, incredibly, we pull it off every time, in the sort of fashion that would have Houdini stroking his chin suspiciously. But this skin-of-the-teeth stuff seems utterly unsustainable; and if it is indeed sustainable it should frankly be banned on the grounds of being damaging to public health, because viewing it is enough to prompt any man of even the most regular constitution yelp in anguish and start birthing kittens.

Can someone please instruct our heroes to do the honourable thing and start wrapping up these matches by three or four goals so that we can all let the final ten minutes drift by with the serenity of an ocean cruise?

That aside, this was most satisfactory.

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

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