1. Happy Birthday AANP Senior
This weekend was the 90th birthday of my old man, AANP Senior, which is a solid innings by most metrics.
Having seen our lot lift all but two of the trophies in their history, and seen in their entirety the lilywhite careers of Messrs Greaves and Kane, I classify the aged relative as something approaching Spurs royalty – so it seemed a bit rotten that he should spend his birthday sitting through that garbled nonsense yesterday. But I suppose if we’ve learnt anything it’s that our heroes will repeatedly find new and innovative ways to plumb new depths, what?
(He was pretty philosophical about it though.)
2. The Players
I recall in my younger days one of the female chums giving me a funny look, and possibly patting my head, saying, “There are many, many things wrong with you,” and it was a sentiment that sprung to mind last night as I recollected the day’s events and tried to make sense of them. For there was not really any single issue that sprung to mind. In fact, one cannot think back to the game without about eighteen different problems immediately jostling for position at the front of the queue.
But amidst the behind-the-scenes circus currently in full effect at the place, the players certainly contributed to the general spirit of full-blooded incompetence yesterday.
I could bang on all day about Romero waddling around from minute one in his own area with his hands behind his back, and it wouldn’t begin to address the problems in the vicinity – but nevertheless, why the dickens was Romero waddling around from minute one in his own area with his behinds his back? Yes, yes, we all know the handball rule means that merely possessing arms is in some cases a punishable offence, but really. The chap was facing down a fellow about to shoot, the situation seemed to demand a spot of spread-limbed antagonism. Instead of which, Romero made himself as small as possible, the complete opposite of what the impending crisis required. On top of which, this arms-behind-back nonsense had the unhelpful immediate consequence of constricting all his subsequent movements in the adventure, Romero hereafter proceeding about the place with all the freedom of one bound by a straitjacket.
Not that Romero was the sole culprit. Right from kick-off, Dier opted against bringing down an aerial ball when given the time and space to do so, instead heading it first time in a manner that stacked the odds against Sarr, who duly lost it. This may sound a pretty incidental detail, and a lot of the time it wouldn’t amount to much I suppose. But in a way, just carelessly tossing the ball around without too much concern for its eventual whereabouts sums up a lot of what is wrong with the troupe. Put another way, next time someone wonders aloud what is meant by the players lacking a winning mentality, I’ll plant them in front of a screen and show them a clip of Dier aimlessly heading the ball with the air of a fellow who thinks it’s someone else’s problem.
On top of which, it wasn’t quite such an incidental detail, because Newcastle promptly scooped up the thing and opened the scoring.
Perisic reacted to the save from Lloris, immediately prior to the first goal, by taking the sight of the loose ball squirming free as a cue to take his first break of the day. Perisic instead adopted a watching brief, as a Newcastle sort politely shuffled forward to poke the ball into the empty net.
Porro for possibly the second goal (I think, one rather loses count) had the decency to check over his right shoulder for imminent threats, and having clocked one such foe lurking with a spot of menace, reacted to the incoming cross by giving it his best Perisic impression and letting the ball sail past him, seemingly convinced that a strategy of non-interference must eventually come good. To his credit, where Perisic had simply goggled a bit, Porro at least made a perfunctory attempt to appear engaged, by raising an arm to appeal for offside. Pointless of course, and infuriating too, in this age of play continuing so that VAR can sort it out at a later date, but if the drill amongst our lot was to find ever more appalling ways to stuff things up then Porro was fitting right in.
Of course, no abject lilywhite capitulation would be complete without Monsieur Lloris adding his signature move of just not bothering to move at all, and he rolled out one of his best for number three (or was it four?), making zero effort even to stretch out an arm, or even twitch a limb, as the ball sailed past him.
This, of course, is but a selection. Everywhere one looked, there seemed to be one of our heroes stumbling off into some new crisis that only ended with the ball in our net and Eric Dier puffing away angrily as they marched back to starting positions. So, chronic and deep-rooted though the problems at the club may be, the current mob out on the pitch are certainly adding their tuppence worth of hokum to the mix at every opportunity.
3. The 4-3-3
The pre-match announcement of the switch to 4-3-3 struck me at the time as ripping news. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that it raised my level of expectation from ‘Nil’ to ‘A Flicker Of Hope’. I’d been baying for the thing all season after all, the sight of our midfield pair repeatedly being outnumbered and generally cut to ribbons week after week having an oddly discouraging effect upon the juices.
Of course, it’s difficult to measure such things as the success of one formation as compared to another, all sorts of wacky metrics being available in these days of Opta stats and XG and so on and so forth. But it’s seems a fairly safe bet to suggest that most right-minded folk would point to a 5-0 deficit after 20 minutes as evidence that the thing had not quite transpired as an unparalleled success.
So no real quibbling on that front, but nevertheless the whole thing left me rather miffed. Like most things in life, done properly a 4-3-3 would seem a perfectly reasonable way to conduct one’s day-to-day. Somehow however, our lot managed to take a pretty normal state of affairs and turn it into the sort of nightmare to rival a stretch in the flames of Hades.
Now there are a few rummy elements to this. One thing that occurred to me is that the club never waste an opportunity to bleat on about how our lot have one of the best training facilities in the business. As bragging rights go, it’s a peculiar one admittedly, but if it helps bring out the best in the troops then I’m all for it.
However, seeing them scuttle about the pitch yesterday like they’d not previously heard of football, let alone adjusted to the rigours of a 4-3-3, did get me wondering what they hell they’ve been doing all week in those gleaming training facilities. One appreciates that change is always a bit much to stomach, we homo sapiens being creatures of habit and whatnot, but honestly. They began proceedings looking uncertain if they were in the right half of the pitch.
Another challenge that has been widely highlighted is that apparently having a wing-back play at wing-back is hunky-dory, and a full-back play at full-back is tickety-boo; but if a wing-back is every required to play at full-back cracks will appear in the sky and the very fabric of reality will come crashing down.
This seems to be the expert take, and is used to explain why, for example, Perisic was utterly incapable of exhibiting any signs of life when the situation at Goal 1 yesterday required him to extend a leg and poke the ball clear. Wing-backs, after all, are incapable of defending. Similarly, Porro’s inability to jog back alongside the striker on his shoulder was not so much his fault, as a desperate flaw in the system – wing-backs are incapable of defending.
So if that’s the unquestionable truth then I suppose we ought to accept it, but I did occasionally pass a hand over the fevered brow and wonder, as our lot fell apart at the seams, whether anyone had tried training Perisic and Porro – and indeed Romero and Dier – to adapt to this new and mind-boggling setup, viz. The Back Four. In this age in which every baked bean ingested is recorded and every drop of perspiration monitored, I’d have thought they’d have the resource at the gleaming training facility to sit down with a couple of the players and shove a few hours of analysis at them, touching on some of the key do’s and don’ts of the role.
It obviously got rather lost in the mists of general wretchedness knocking about the place, but Harry Kane popped up with a heck of a goal. On another day I would have lit a cigar, been pretty liberal with the bourbon and scrawled some of the best prose going in salute to it. There was a spot of one-touch stuff at the outset, completely out of character with the general sentiment of not-knowing-what-day-of-the-week that had been adopted by one and all, before Kane was released on halfway.
And while his little dribble to beat his man owed much to general bluster and force than any particular finesse, it achieved the objective, and left him to make a left-foot shot that many would have dragged wide.
So well done him, although for how much longer such jolly sentiments are lobbed his way remains to be seen. If he decided to sprint out the door as soon as the whistle blows on the final game of the season, one would understand the sentiment.
However, one point I have begun to mull in my quieter moments, is whether a permanent absence of Kane might work to our benefit. One treads carefully here, dodging the slew of incoming rotten fruit, and picking the words delicately, but the point I’m driving at is that we no longer press from the front, with any real sense of verve or spirit when Kane is leading the line.
Essentially this is because the poor fellow is completely out of puff, having strained every sinew non-stop for about four years under Poch. These days, his top speed is something of a chug, which is more than adequate for most of the tasks on his morning To-Do list – finish with the right foot; finish with the left foot; win a foul; drop deep and ping; finish from outside the box; and so on.
But when it comes to pressing the opposition, Kane is something of a spent force these days. This is entirely his prerogative, so no complaint there; it does, however, prevent the rest of our mob from effecting a high press as a team.
This is a bit of a tangent that probably needs some cove with a screen and some whizzy graphics to do justice to, and if push came to shove I’d certainly keep the fellow in the ranks and let him do his damnedest pretty much any way he pleases. But as well as wing-backs who can’t play full-back, the generally decrepit nature of whichever system we’re peddling does seem to include an inability to shove any pressure on the other lot when in possession at the back.
5. The Running of the Club
Well that Stellini chap has taken the well-trodden path, so no need to bother about him any longer, and poor old Ryan Mason is now faced with the gargantuan task of trying not to devastate his CV before he’s had a chance to write the first entries.
But further up the food-chain, if I have correctly picked up the occasional whisper, it seems that there might just be one or two murmurs of displeasure against one D. Levy Esquire.
If he would stick to the business side, steer well clear of the football side and bring in a few qualified eggs with a good knowledge of the club, AANP would probably be happy enough, in truth. Off the pitch he knows his beans well enough, and if things pootle along well on the pitch then I’m happy not to give him a further thought. But things on the pitch could not really be much worse, which does rather bend the argument a good 180 degrees.
The complete lack of strategy in the pre-Nuno and pre-Conte appointments (as evidenced by shortlists containing all manner of managerial styles) was troubling stuff, and since then it seems like the blighter has stumbled upon a whole series of choices on the football side of things, which, while no doubt well-intentioned, have really piled one steaming mess upon another.
The ominous silence around the managerial situation in recent weeks – bar, bizarrely, a few off-topic lines at the old alma mater last week – may have been just the job in the 1970s, when one waited patiently week to week for news from the club, but these days serves only to infuriate an already pretty restless bunch of natives.
And frankly twenty years at the head of any company strikes me as pretty unhealthy, although I don’t suppose I’d be giving tongue to too many grumbles if we’d picked up some trophies and waltzed into the Top Four with Levy still at the helm.
However, be all that as it may, we appear to be stuck with the chap, for the foreseeable anyway. And in truth, if we could only appoint a manager capable of giving some direction to the current rabble, I’d once again shove Levy from my mind and just enjoy the ride. One understands the calls for the entire useless shower to be shoved out the door and start from scratch; but looking at Villa, Newcastle and, to an extent, Man Utd, turning their fortunes around with only minimal cosmetic surgery, I do still cling to the hope that a competent manager would give a spot of direction to the existing squad.