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Marseille 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sessegnon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Emerson’s Positive Contribution

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

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

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

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

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

3. Bentancur

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

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

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

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

4. First Half vs Second Half

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spurs 1-2 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris’ Error

Having rolled up his sleeves and put a bit of effort into fighting the good fight midweek, I suppose Monsieur Lloris had a bit of credit in the bank come 4.30pm yesterday, so it says something about his performance that he was pretty firmly established as persona non grata at AANP Towers by around 5.15pm.

Dealing first with what might, in the interests of anatomical accuracy, be described as the chest-bump, opinions will naturally differ on whether or not play ought to have been halted, and frankly that part is of pretty minimal interest over here (AANP being the philosophical sort brought up not to question the ref). Of greater concern was the sequence of choices made by Monsieur Lloris as the episode unfolded.

In the first place he exited the safety of his area, and stepped out into the big, wide world – which was a reasonable enough choice. Crucially, he was first on the scene, which seemed to justify the decision, and while I am pretty much a novice in the mystical arts of top-level goalkeeping, it seemed to me that he had achieved the most risk-laden element of the procedure, and at this point needed only to blast the thing off into the atmosphere or sidelines or wherever, to round off a successful – if rather basic – mission. One of those missions aimed simply at preventing any harm, rather than achieving any great progress.

At least that was the expectation, on having seen him reach the target a good couple of yards ahead of the Newcastle chappie. What followed, alas, was a textbook example of how to make hard-earned midweek goodwill disappear in a puff of smoke. Rather than launching the thing off amongst the stars and being rid of it, Lloris picked this moment to perform a rather curious pelvic thrust at the ball.

Now I’m not picky about aesthetics when it comes to the dirty business of clearing one’s defensive lines. There is a time for looking pretty, and a time for sneering at the pretty stuff and simply getting the job done; and when a strapping forward is haring towards your goal, the time is pretty obviously for s.a.t.p.s.a.s.g.t.j.d. And with this in mind, if the pelvic thrust had been the optimal means for clearing danger, then I’d have been all for it. “Thrust away, squire”, would have been the gist of the communique from these parts.

The trouble was, as well as looking a bit of an ass, Lloris also failed to solve the impending problem. In fact, not only did he fail to solve it, he significantly worsened it. Rather than bring the ball under control (which was presumably the intention, because no pelvic thrust in the world is going to send a ball twenty yards into touch) this daft routine simply transferred its temporary ownership from his own sphere of influence to that of the Newcastle sort.

This was Lloris’ first failing. Scholars could debate long into the night whether or not his second was as bad; either way, it prompted a pretty meaty piece of instant feedback from AANP. For having lost the ball, there then occurred the aforementioned chest-bump. Such things will happen, and a decision as to its legality or otherwise rested with those in authority. But what took the biscuit was that rather than simply getting on with the day-job after this contact, and endeavouring to prevent Callum Wilson from doing any harm, Lloris instead tried to convince the referee, VAR, the gathered hordes and the audience of millions, that some form of assault had been carried out, by dropping to the floor in a manner vastly more dramatic than the whole dance had merited.

(A helpful tip for any simulation-spotters is that if the player’s arms shoot up after contact then he’s up to some dastardly misdeed; one’s arms tend to shoot down to break one’s fall, when genuinely sent to ground.)

It amounted to the cardinal sin of failing to play to the whistle. Goalkeepers do admittedly tend to receive oddly preferential treatment from referees, but nevertheless this was a pretty risky game for Lloris to play, and I have precious little sympathy for the fatheaded oaf in opting to hit the deck rather than rescue the situation. If he had cleared the dashed thing in the first place the eventuality would have been avoided in its entirety; failing that, if he had stayed on his feet and hovered over Wilson to prevent his shot, the goal might yet have been prevented.

Whether the Wilson challenge was fair game or foul play, Lloris’ dubious choices immediately preceding and following it did little to win him the soothing tones and comforting arm around the shoulders here at AANP Towers. Withering glares were more the order of the day, and the fact that the little black book is starting to fill up a bit with these sorts of incidents about the chap does little to brighten the mood.

2. Lloris’ Passing

As if all of that were not enough, we were then also treated to Lloris’ role – understated though it was – in the second goal conceded.

Not wanting to linger too long over the gory details, but the problem had its genesis from a Lloris pass out towards Sess, which leant heavily on height and loop, and skimped a fair bit on accuracy.

Of course, there were about twenty further hoops for the Newcastle laddie to jump through before the ball ended up in the net, and if either of Sessegnon or Lenglet had registered even the faintest level of interest in their designated duties then this particular chat would be assuming a vastly rosier hue. But instead, they took one look at what was happening and waved their respective white flags – Sessegnon sticking out a leg to register his presence, Lenglet not even managing that much – and from a situation of fairly low risk by the right-hand touchline, fifty yards out, Newcastle were suddenly two up.

Lloris may not have been as directly culpable for this one as the first, but his kicking is of a standard that really ought to have the security bods giving each other a concerned look and raising the alert level from Amber to Red.

Conte-Ball seems to rely heavily upon distribution from the nether regions, and while the onus typically falls upon Dier and chums, the fact that Lloris’ passing is dreadful removes what would otherwise be a useful option. The curious fellow can manage those 5-yard goal-kicks to his centre-backs without too much calamity, but anything more adventurous than that seems to frazzle his circuits.

The modern-day goalkeeper, unfortunately, needs to be able to pick out a wing-back hugging the touchline to within a yard or so, and preferably at a height conducive to straightforward control, without the need for said wing-back to contort the limbs and stetch about eight feet. And in this respect Hugo runs into some pretty serious problems.

As mentioned, when building from a goal kick, it leaves those in question straining a bit to retain control of the thing, as such inviting pressure back. The notion of beating the opposing press is great in theory, and sometimes happens via a nifty Romero pass or whatnot – but I struggle to think of a time when Lloris has bypassed the other mob and put us on the front-foot with his passing.

And aside from goal-kicks, all manner of hollow groans ring out when our lot begin in a position of some advance, bob the ball back towards halfway and then decide that if it were done when ‘tis done then ‘twere well it were shuttled all the way back to the least competent passer on the pitch. Such hideous fare not only terminates whatever attack had been in motion, it also just about guarantees that the ball will soon be back with the opposition.

A few years back, the inability of a goalkeeper to pick out a teammate with an accurate pass would have barely made the footnotes, let alone been an agenda item; now, as we watch our back-three awkwardly shuffle left to right and back again, Lloris’ poor passing is causing something of a hindrance to our attacking play.


3. Dier

On the subject of errant passing from the back, if the name ‘Eric Dier’ isn’t burning the lips of anyone else, it dashed well is mine.

Now I appreciate that I have to tread carefully here. One does not want to upset the natives. One respects the natives. Eric Dier is a bean with his own song after all, and indeed, I’ll belt it out as lustily as the rest of them. But this train of thought, which seems to have quite some momentum behind it, that he is some sort of deep-lying font of creativity on account of his passing, is one of those lines that will have me biting the lip, and engaging in a slightly strained silence.

Credit where due, Dier can pick a lovely pass. He picked at least two of them yesterday – both, I noted, diagonals, from somewhere left of centre to a coordinate in approximately an inside-right sort of spot.

But he also, far too often for my liking, lobs the ball forward in a straight line, and gifts possession to the opposition. He, in common with those to his immediate left and right, is also a little too eager to wheel around on his axis and roll the ball back to Lloris; and if you’ve read this far you’ll know that such a manoeuvre prompts howls of anguish from AANP Towers.

I suppose in this respect he has my sympathy, because if a centre-back is forced to head back to goal – and to Lloris of all people – it reflects pretty badly on those employed ahead of him to scuttle off into space and frantically wave their arms at him. If nobody is offering Dier a reasonable passing option, what, he might well articulate, is he supposed to do?

One thing he really ought not to do is fire the ball back in a fashion that looks suspiciously like a shot at his own net, but at one point in the first half he managed to do precisely that. Now it would be pretty unreasonable to castigate the chap for this unless he made a habit of it. Even the finest amongst us rather lose the thread of things every once in a while. But when a fellow like Dier, the sort who seems to buy pretty readily into the hype about being a passer extraordinaire, ends up slapping the ball just a yard wide of his own goal when under no pressure, one starts, after removing head from hands, to reflect that our entire approach of passing out from the back is in need of some pretty drastic surgery.

4. Conte

The mood around the campfire is taking a bit of a dive, make no mistake.

Pre-match, the thought had occurred that we have been led a merry old dance by three of the traditional gang of 6 (Chelsea, Woolwich and Man Utd); and have toppled, albeit making the deuce of a palaver of it, various sides orbiting mid-table or lower. As such, Newcastle seemed a pretty solid test of our current status.

One might argue that we started sprightly, creating three or four reasonable chances. Skipp seemed to itch to shove things forward at every opportunity, and Sonny really ought to have put us one up. Benancur was a delight throughout.

Nevertheless, our best moments, as ever, came from the speedy counter-attack. The pattern was not one in which we, as the home team, asserted ourselves and hammered away. The inability to build from the back again loomed over our play.

Casually gifting two pretty avoidable goals did not help things, but these seemed completely in keeping with our play at the moment – sloppy; no strong plan or belief in playing from the back; frankly poor-quality football.

Our Glorious Leader took to the soapbox afterwards to bleat his usual refrains about needing more time and money and such bobbins, and one appreciates that it is unreasonable to expect us to have blown away all-comers. But after a year at the controls, one would reasonably expect us to blow away some comers. After a year, one would reasonably expect our football to be a little more enjoyable to drink in – and not to rely so strongly on Kulusevski.

Conte rarely wastes an opportunity to drone on about more transfers, and again one sees his point. But while some amongst our number do peddle some rot, there are plenty of talented sorts there – enough to play football that brings to the soul a little more joy than the current slop. Moreover, if he is set to walk away next summer – and there seems a moderate chance he might – it is questionable whether there is any sense in stuffing a chequebook in his hands and encouraging him to go to Disneyland.

The concern is that Conte seems actively to be encouraging the dreary stuff. He could arrange our troops to set about things with more fizz and bang; he chooses not to.

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Spurs 6-2 Leicester: Four Tottenham Talking Points

While decency would normally dictate that I apologise for tardiness, between Vegas, Denver and some unspecified spot over the Atlantic, AANP can barely remember its own name, let alone the date and time.

1. Defensive Rotation

Discovering that the rarely-heard Drury was on comms for the screening of this match in Vegas was quite the pre-match mood-enhancer and morning-after pick-me-up; but alas, the good news ended there as a quick scan of the cast members indicated a Romero-shaped hole, awkwardly occupied by the various uncontrollable limbs of Davinson Sanchez.

Of course, being a man of chivalry and values, I let Sanchez proceed with perfect objectivity, and he duly took about two minutes to confirm, to what I now understand to be a global audience, that he is, in fact, a chump of the highest order. Everything about his diving, sliding, obvious and unnecessary foul was utterly clot-headed, and nor is it the first time he’s produced such mind-boggling idiocy at the earliest possible juncture (that time we hammered Man Utd away springs to mind, Sanchez similarly gifting away a penalty in the opening exchanges).

One understands that the fixture schedule requires a spot of management of the more important dramatis personae, what with World Cups, Champions Leagues, Carabao Cups and bread-and-butter League games every three days from now until around 2038. And if an A-lister like Romero can’t be allowed to put the feet up and catch the breath in a home fixture against the bottom team, then one might reasonably ask when the devil can he?

And all of this makes perfect sense, until one throws Sanchez into the equation, as first back-up. Now his legions of fans will no doubt point to the fact that prior to Saturday night we hadn’t conceded in an absolute age with him on sentry duty. On top of which, aside from the ridiculous early penalty he actually carried out his tasks dutifully enough – but that’s not really the point is it? What good is a defender trotting around doing the basics if he’s already stuffed up and given away a goal for nothing in the opening exchanges?

The debate will presumably loop around pointlessly until he is eventually sold, so best just accept it for now. Such was our lack of control that Conte saw fit to hook the blighter and interrupt Romero’s night off, calling upon him to keep the door bolted for the final twenty or so.

On the other side of defence, Lenglet oiled around reasonably enough in lieu of the indisposed Davies, with a straightforward interception here and a (usually, though not universally) accurate forward pass there. He might not sweep the board at the awards ceremonies for outstanding individual contributions come May, but he ticks enough boxes to give us two solid left-sided options.

The spots that furrow the brow are the other centre-back positions. Sanchez and Tanganga do not really instil confidence, even when flanked by more competent souls. Worse, opponents are exchanging knowing looks and beginning to target Sanchez. Somehow, we must muddle through.

2. Wing-Backs

However, if the centre-back rotation gambit was fraught with risk, the latest wing-back experiment had about it an air that was bonny, bright and gay.

A few muted voices had half-heartedly wondered aloud in recent weeks, on the back of Emerson’s obvious limitations, whether Perisic might be deployed on the right, but I’m not sure anyone really believed it would actually happen. And yet there it was, in glorious technicolour, from the off.

And it worked pretty well, at least going forward. Perisic was as game as ever going forward, his compass evidently still in full working order despite the switch from West to East. The restored Kulusevski marked his return to the fold by haring off down the right at every opportunity, and taking the full-back with him, while young Sessegnon was not about to miss out on the fun, signalling his intentions with a few early crosses from the left.

This was all well and good, but a fairly crucial component of its success was that we were in possession. And as time continued its irresistible march, and we rather surrendered the initiative (more on that below), the defensive frailties of our wing-backs rather awkwardly rose to prominence.

Not that I blame Perisic. Here is a man who made his name on the front-foot, and if he’s anything like AANP he has untold lung capacity for the forward charge, but needs a bit of a blow when it comes to the defensive side of things. As with Sporting in midweek, so against Leicester on Saturday, he seemed to be beaten a little too easily in the mano a mano items, and with Sanchez behind him the brow began to furrow with a decent amount of nervousness.

Similarly, Sessegnon gave a full display of his fallibilities, not for the first time being fairly straightforwardly beaten in the air in the build-up to the second goal, in a manner that suggested he offers decorative value only when it comes to aerial combat.

So for all the early promise and excitement of Perisic-right and Sessegnon-left, Conte then switched the pair, and ultimately resorted to Emerson, presumably in the name of tightening the locks a smidge.

The whole sequence did again make me wonder what the hell Matt Doherty has to do these days to get a game, while Djed Spence may also be stroking a thoughtful chin, but the Perisic-Sess experiment, while showing a few rays of promise, was not quite the unmitigated success for which I’d hoped.

3. Central Midfield

In those early exchanges our lot seemed mercifully undeterred by the early deficit, and I thought were fairly good value for the 2-1 first half lead, at least in possession. Alas, as the pattern evolved to that rot about sitting deep and looking to counter, Leicester began to get to grips with life – which really is utter muck if you think about it. This lot were bottom, conceding goals for fun – and yet there they were, controlling possession for five-minute chunks, in our own back yard!

Well, you can imagine the harrumphing emanating from this corner of Vegas, and the dashed thing is this is hardly the first time we’ve seen our midfield lose control of things. I don’t really blame either of Messrs Bentancur or Hojbjerg, as the problem seems to be quantity rather than quality. Any team with three in midfield simply has more available legs in the area.

The point of the 3-4-3 seems to be to ensure that we have plenty of men manning the back-door at any given point, but even within this packed environment Leicester did not have to break too much sweat to bop their way around us.

Helpfully, Leicester were simply not very good, so while we let them offer far more threat than decency ought to allow a team at the bottom of the table, there was rarely a point at which I felt we would not outscore them. However, any semblance of control of the dashed thing only really emerged once Bissouma was introduced and we switched to a three-man midfield.

Conte has made Bissouma kick his heels a tad, for reasons of fitness or tactical education or some such rot apparently, but the fellow was on the button once introduced on Saturday, happy to treat the masses to his fabled array of interceptions and tackles.

Various pundits will hone in on a chap who scores and mark them out as a standout performer, irrespective of anything else contributed or lacking during the course of the 90, and I’m a tad wary of doing the same with young Master Bentancur. His goal was certainly a triumph for high pressing and general alertness, and I’m pretty sure he contributed crucially to one of Sonny’s goals through another sprightly tackle. All told, however, he seemed to me to swan through life in his usual neat, tidy and effective way.

The challenge he faces each week is, as mentioned above, that that central midfield pair is too often outnumbered. All of which does make one wonder whether there might be scope for Bissouma to be added more permanently, and a switch to 5-3-2 to be effected (I’ve heard it mentioned that Kulusevski could occupy the right wing-back slot for such a move).  Such jiggery-pokery might also allow Bentancur to shove forward ten yards or so, and allow the creative juices to flow a little more freely. The Brains Trust, no doubt, have all options under consideration.

4. Sonny

Only right to give the chap a mention I suppose. Personally I’d have preferred him to make less of a song and dance about it all – stiff upper lip and all that – but a man has his feelings I suppose, and the whole business of getting dropped and then scoring from all angles would presumably have been a lot to digest in one afternoon.

Aside from the drama that surrounded the honest fellow, I was most taken by the gumption he displayed in striking the shot for his first goal. By the time of his third the narrative was well established – Leicester were falling to pieces, and Sonny’s redemption arc was well into its third act.

But when he collected the ball and set off towards goal at 3-2, he was still a man who had been dropped, was without a goal, hadn’t smiled since May and appeared to have forgotten which foot was which. Given this context, for him then to bend one from approximately a mile out, and shape it from outside the post to within, with whip and height and all sorts, was remarkable stuff indeed.

His confidence having been at a low ebb, one would have bottled up a sigh and forgiven him for shuffling off with the ball towards some cul-de-sac near the corner flag. And had he swiped at the ball and got his geometrics wrong, the groans would have been audible down the High Road. To eject himself from his rut, and in such fashion as that first goal, was a triumph. (As was the sweet, sweet strike for his second, while we’re on the topic.)

I suppose one might glance at the scoreline and label this a triumph for defensive rotation, but given that Hugo had to make three or four pretty spectacular leaps about the place this felt anything but comfortable until the final fifteen or so. It’s a remarkable thing to engineer an unconvincing 6-2 win, but there we are. I must confess to looking ahead to the game away to Woolwich with a fair amount of dread, given the way our lot have struggled to exercise control over any opponent so far this season. As such I might quietly start a campaign for a three-man midfield, in the hope that it grows into quite the din by 1 October. For now, however, despite being oddly off the boil, we remain comfortably ensconced in the top four.

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Spurs 4-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson

Emerson had what might officially go down in the tome of such things as his best game in lilywhite. Admittedly the bar in this particular area is pretty low, the memory lingering long of countless dreadful attempted crosses last season, but let that not detract from some surprisingly impressive stuff in all areas for the peculiar chap. Who knew he had it in him?

If Emerson is the sort to let the failings of previous seasons weigh on him, he hides it well. Here is a fellow not wanting for self-confidence, irrespective of how much the evidence of the senses and weight of data has suggested he ought to think otherwise.

Watching him scurry off down the right, find himself incapable off beating a man or whipping in a cross, therefore decide to keep scurrying and eventually hit the byline, before attempting to pull back the ball out of necessity as much as anything else, you would think from his manner that he had long ago decided, with supreme confidence from the off, that scurrying to the byine and pulling back the ball was in fact the best possible plan, and nobody on earth could convince him that any alternative would be better – or indeed that any other living soul could execute it better than he. 

Impressively, however, it worked. In fact, just about everything Emerson tried on Saturday struck oil. From the starter’s clap he went about his business yesterday like a newly-born lamb having his first taste of spring and deciding that he’d be dashed if he was going to be prevented from gambolling about the place.

With Kulusevski on hand to provide attacking finesse as required, Senhor E’s willing and energy, and runs and uncomplicated passes, had the left side of Southampton scampering around in something of a muddle throughout.

His input for Kulusevski’s goal illustrated much of what he was doing well – first summoning the energetic spirit of that new-born lamb to bound off towards that murky area in between corner flag and penalty area, then picking a pass as simple as it was effective for Master K, who did the rest with customary aplomb.

His contribution to the own-goal was ultimately a little less conventional, his self-confidence by this point reaching the stratospheric height at which simply being wing-back was beneath him, and he fancied himself rather as a Haaland sort, motoring through the centre as the furthermost forward – but mark the preamble. Emerson tackled his man cleanly in the traditional right-back berth, then, rather than sitting back to admire his handiwork, led the charge over halfway at the sort of lick that was less new-born lamb and more thoroughbred racehorse.

Having successfully communicated the message that one need not whip in crosses from deep in order to fulfil one’s attacking remit as a wing-back, it is also worth noting that his attacking success did not come at the expense of his defensive duties. In fact, he was as diligent as the next man when on sentry duty. It was all most impressive. Whether he can hit such heights next week, say, at Chelsea, is for another day, but with Dohertys and Spences now littering the place one cannot fault Emerson’s first stab at the role of 22/23 RWB.

2. Kulusevski

Not that Saturday was simply the Emerson Show, with others in attendance offering supporting roles only. Far from it. The list of standout performers was pretty extensive – which mangles the language somewhat when you think about it, but such was the quality of the various presentations.

Kulusevski, yet again, hit impressive heights. He is quite the curio, being one of those attackers who bursts with creativity despite not having some obvious eye-catching quality. He is neither lightning-quick, nor possessed of stepovers and mazy dribbles and whatnot, and can sometimes give the air of one of those types who was not bestowed abundant gifts by Mother Nature, but made the most of what he had through hard work. Think Lampard or Kane.

And yet, his wealth of talents were on full display on Saturday, rendering him quite the unpredictable force. He seemed at any given moment as likely to go on the gallop; or pick a cute, short pass; or drag the ball back and switch directions, making the entire Southampton back-line trip over themselves; or whip in a cross begging to be despatched; or have a shot for himself. Whenever the ball entered his orbit, marvellous things began to happen.

If he had done nothing more than deliver the cross for Sessegnon’s goal I’d still have purred about him a goodish bit – but that was arguably not even the best cross he delivered, one in the second half that Romero might have flung himself at being arguably of finer quality. The second half also saw him pick out something close to the perfect pass for Sessegnon to steam onto; on top of which there was his goal, stroked in with the nonchalance of one idly pinging a ball from A to B while stretching his limbs on the training pitch.

How long it will be before he is spoken of in the exalted terms generally reserved for English-born folk remains to be seen – it took Sonny a good half-dozen years – but if he continues to deliver on a weekly basis to limited acclaim beyond N17 then there will be no complaints over here.

3. Bentancur

And yet even Kulusevski cannot necessarily be deemed the outright champion of all he surveyed on Saturday. As seems to have happened every time he skims the surface in lilywhite, Master Bentancur breezed through the game on a different plane from anyone else.

He really is the rarest of nibs, one who seems to see the game from a vantage point about twenty yards above ground level, with panoramic vision that takes in the positions and movements of all other bodies on the pitch. How else to explain the marvellous fellow’s ability to flick first-time passes in directions well beyond the realms of terrestrial vision?

Here at AANP Towers we are very much of the opinion that passes do not necessarily need to be earth-shattering as long as they are popped along swiftly. A first-time pass can rearrange the pieces just as effectively as one of those pearlers that bisects a clutch of opponents. Bentancur seems effortlessly to have mastered both disciplines, often at the same time. One could remover the goals from the pitch, and still delight in watching him dip his shoulders and ping his passes, simply for the heck of it.

On top of which, any asterisked concerns in his early days about him sometimes being ambushed by the pace of things over here seem to have been dispelled. The young bean was shuttling the ball off in new directions before opponents realised he had it; on top of which he was pretty zesty in the tackle too.

4. Sessegnon

Here at AANP Towers we are certainly fond of the grumble, and at various and regular points last season wasted little time in jabbing an accusing finger at young Master Sessegnon.

As with Emerson on t’other flank, Sessegnon seems to have used his summer weeks wisely, and went about his business on Saturday looking a darned sight more assured about his trade than previously.

The early goal presumably helped chivvy him along in this sense, but in general where last season a nameless fear seemed to envelop everything he did, often manifesting itself in heavy touches and complete absence of ball control, on Saturday he seemed vastly more capable when it came to the basics, and was a viable option on the left throughout his hour.

It was rather satisfying to note that the chap has well and truly got to grips with Conte-ball, regularly popping up in the area as an auxiliary attacker, as any wing-back should under Our Glorious Leader. He scored one, had one disallowed for offside – admittedly his own fault for jumping the gun, but again reflecting an eagerness to elbow his way into positions from which he can observe the whites of the goalkeepers’ eyes – and was denied a second goal only by a last-ditch tackle from KEP.

(A note on KWP while on the subject – the young pip has attracted some attention, with various fellow lilywhites reverently bawling that we should be in for his services again. To these I wave a dismissive hand, because no self-respecting defender ought ever to be outmuscled in the air, and in his own six-yard box, by anyone, let alone by the waif-like physique of Sessegnon; and to anyone who marvelled at the aforementioned last-ditch tackle I suggest that the best defenders read the game well enough not to need to make up five yards and execute sliding tackles from behind.)

But reverting back to Sessegnon – as with more than one of the above, this was comfortably one of his better days in lilywhite. One would expect Perisic to assume responsibilities for bigger tests, but if Sessegnon gets wheeled out for Southampton and the like he’ll get a glowing reference and rousing hand from me.

5. The Debutants

After six summer signings, I rather liked the fact that the only new sight was the gleaming kit (top marks from AANP by the way, a fan of the simple white shirt over here) and a couple of new-fangled set-piece operations. It sent the message that one has to earn one’s place in this team – earn one’s spurs, if you will – and helped to cement the notion that ours is a setup that increasingly needs to think like a big club.

Bissouma only got five minutes or so, but seemed determined not to be constrained by such mortal limitations as time, and set about cramming as much action as possible into his brief cameo. Thus we were treated to Bissouma blocks, interceptions, sensible passes, a yellow card and, intriguingly, a long-distance effort hit with some wattage. With Hojbjerg hitting (the pass in the build-up to Kulusevski’s goal was a weighted delight) but also missing (various misplaced passes littered the place), Bissouma’s brief bustle made for quite the hors d’ouevres.

Perisic had a little longer to acquaint himself with things, and similarly caught the AANP eye. The headlines of his half-hour were a couple of forays in the meaty end of things – stepovers and party-tricks to evade his man, followed by a couple of crosses into dangerous squares of the penalty area. These bode well, and in time one imagines Kane and chums feasting on his produce.

But as a long-time admirer of the chap, I kept a particular eye on his positioning at every given point, and noted that it is safe to say that rumours of him being well attuned to the whims of Senor Conte are resoundingly true. As soon as we turned over possession he was off on the gallop, well in advance of the defensive line – and, as often as not, in advance of the midfield line too. Where Sessegnon seems content enough to stay within a stone’s throw of Ben Davies, Perisic has more heady ambitions, and could regularly be spotted further up the pitch than anyone else, and frankly straining at the leash for a ball to be released onto which he might run.

All of which meant that when we lost possession he was a good-ish distance up the pitch, but the honest fellow made the effort to sprint back to his post. Should he feature against Chelsea next week I’ll be intrigued as to the extent to which his attacking instincts are indulged or otherwise.

And finally there was also a brief cameo for Lenglet, who took up the appropriate position on the left, and seemed to make the sensible hand-gestures of one who wants at least to look he knows what he’s about. He also picked a handy pass in the move that led to Bissouma’s long-distance shot, which earned him a subtle nod of approval – but his appearance was little more than a chance for Conte to flex a bicep and show the world that he has Levy eating out of the palm of his hand.

So after one fixture we sit pretty atop the pile. While it is, of course, mathematically possible that we might yet blow this, frankly anything less than the title would now be a massive disappointment.

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Categories
Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Bergwijn Out, Lenglet In: Four Tottenham Talkiing Points

1. Bergwijn: Unfulfilled Potential

Mention the term ‘parallel universe’, and the AANP mind tends to swim a bit, but it’s actually not too difficult to picture a world in which Steven Bergwijn became a roaring success in lilywhite.

It only really needed the adjustment of a few –admittedly critical – details: better luck with injuries, a manager who persisted with him as the regular third part of the forward line, and so on. Where Kulusevski now enjoys the run of things up the right flank, it might have been Bergwijn.

Bergwijn generally seemed sufficiently well equipped in the fields of puff, willing and a scent for goal to have made a fist of things, either centrally – where admittedly he would have found chances pretty hard to come by, giving existing personnel and the unspoken hierarchy about the place – or as a wider attacker. Watch him in the garish colours of his motherland and he seems bobbish enough as either.

Obviously those wider positions rather take care of themselves now in N17, but for every successful Sonny and Kulusevski there has been a Lamela or Lucas – by which I mean the sort of wounded puppy who, despite ticking a fair few boxes, somehow never quite got round to nailing down the position as their own. I don’t mind admitting some mild surprise that Bergwijn didn’t graduate to a more permanent role, as goodness knows a vacancy existed long enough.

In fact, if you can excuse the particularly daring line of thought, I wiled away a few idle hours wondering if he might have made a go of things as a wing-back, not least because it was precisely the sort of zany idea that seemed to grab Senor Conte over the years.   

Indeed, with the dawn of five substitutes that I keep prattling on about to anyone who will listen, Bergwijn might yet have found himself a niche this coming season if he’d stuck around the place. But after two and a half years largely spent wrapped up in a duffel coat on the bench, one understands the urge to scarper, particularly with a World Cup due to be dropped into the middle of the coming season.

2: Bergwijn: Memorable Moments

Still, any llilywhite of sound mind will send him on his way with pretty warm sentiments ringing in his ears, because despite only ever seeming to be flung on with ten minutes to go here and there, the blighter certainly knew how to make a bit of an impression on the natives.

Two moments in particular stood out, the first of which was that swing-and-ping of his – on debut, no less – against a City team who then, as now, were an all-conquering sort of mob. It was the sort of strike that leaves an impression for various reasons. For a start, a goal at home on debut is pretty much first on the list of proven ways in which to endear oneself to the newest fanbase, speaking volumes for the lad’s sense of occasion and timing.

On top of which, it set us up for one of the more memorable victories of the campaign, which adds a bit of clout to the thing.

And moreover, in those calmer moments later on, when one takes a breath or two and watches the highlights over again, everything about the way in which Bergwijn took his goal suggested that he had arrived at the club with a decent amount of technique fizzing in his size sixes (just going out on a limb here and assuming they’re small).

The celebration one could take or leave I suppose – the AANP verdict being that those of a certain age will insist upon such things so they must be suffered – but all told, it was one of the more memorable ways in which a laddie had announced his arrival in recent years.

All of which was blown out of the water by his cameo against Leicester last season. Again, context was everything – we were drifting deep into injury-time, staring defeat in the face – and Bergwijn’s late double prompted the sort of orgy of untethered ecstasy from all concerned that really is only permissible in exceptionable circumstances, and which seems to justify the years of grumble and toil that precede and follow.

His goals that night (particularly the second, including as it did that unique aesthetic sheen that comes with a shot going in off the post) will live long in the memory, as will the celebrations, what with Lucas Moura and that chappie’s hat and whatnot, giving us all something to relate to wide-eyed offspring a few decades hence.

So it is a pretty amicable parting. Things might – and really ought – to have blossomed rather more than they did, but Bergwijn takes off into the night having given us some pretty priceless stuff, Grandmaster Levy recoups the entire investment and Bergwijn’s career appears to have escaped any serious damage. Bon chance, mon brave.

3: Bienvenue, Clement Lenglet

If placed in the dock and instructed to tell the truth, the whole truth and so on and so forth, AANP would have no qualms sticking a paw on the Bible and testifying to having watched our newest arrival in action for a full 90 minutes, on more than one occasion.

Now if John Grisham novels and various courtroom dramas on the tellybox have taught me anything it is that those legal johnnies don’t really go in for sociable chit-chat once the action has kicked off. I’d therefore likely say no more than the above. However, should that change, and invitation be extended to me to elaborate upon my fascinating testimony, I imagine I’d oblige by relating to the stunned gallery that I’d also watched a full 90 minutes of the Austrian Women’s team, as recently as last week. And the crucial connection here, which I’d unfurl with a sweeping gesture or two, is that in neither case could I tell you the first bally thing about any of the players concerned.

I do sometimes wonder if I’m the only one who watches football in this way – able to peel off forensic analysis of every pass and shimmy of my lot, be they Spurs (male or female) or England (male or female), but all blank stares and clueless shrugs when it comes to literally any amongst the opposition.

The sum of it is that my knowledge of the deeds of M. Lenglet are restricted to the pearls of wisdom of those who study such things for an honest wage. As such, one understands that Lenglet is a little slow (I paraphrase), left-footed (horse’s mouth) and relatively competent in possession (I p. once more).

All of which means that, as has tended to happen quite a lot since Our Glorious Leader took over, I’m off down the road labelled Ben Davies Avenue.

 One of the more curious anthems being belted around the corridors of power this summer has been that big money must be spent on a Ben Davies upgrade.

Upgrades in any position are, of course, welcome with open arms and miles of bunting. After all, one always ought to strive to improve. This is no time to rest on laurels. And so on – you get the gist.

However, lasering in on Davies as the object most in need of improvement and upgrade within the eleven seems a slightly rummy one. I’m not convinced that Davies is more obviously in need of upgrading than, say, Dier (which is not to denigrate either of them, more to illustrate that they’re carrying out duties equally admirably). The feedback I’d personally file on Davies for his efforts would be pretty glowing stuff.

More pertinently I’d suggest that we ought to stick whatever cash is filed under ‘Ben Davies Upgrade’ into a right-wing-back-shaped basket, preferably identifying a nib who has a minute of top-flight football on his CV – but this, I suppose, is a debate for another day. Evidently someone with clout has been pretty wedded to the idea that Davies is the one upon whom to improve, so here we are, thumbing through the mugshots of Europe’s finest left-sided centre-backs.

Or at least I assume they’re Europe’s finest, because personally I’d not know any of Bastoni, Pau Torres, Bremer or chums if they tapped me on the shoulder, but as one can’t throw a brick without hitting someone giving them rave reviews I presume they’re the goods.

However, it appears that with each of the above being unavailable or unwilling to join the gang, The Brains Trust (Sub-Division: Transfers) have stood on one leg and pivoted 90. In the absence of an obvious upgrade we have scratched that particular phrase from the manifesto, and now seem content to pick up anyone in Europe who’s earned a respectable living as a left-sided centre-back. Put another way, the focus has switched from upgrading on Davies to providing cover for him.

4: Cover For Rather Than Upgrade Upon Ben Davies

This is fine in AANP’s book. As emphasised earlier, Davies seems to have done decent things, both defensively and in augmenting things as an unlikely forward-thrusting auxiliary. While he is honest, dependable, willing and all those other wholesome sort of things, it would be a bit much also to expect him to play every minute of every game this coming season.

It therefore makes good sense, in a Football Manager sort of way, to stock up for the next 12 months on a chappie capped 15 times by the World Champions, and who has earned his monthly envelope of the last couple of years at Barcelona. Even if he is not the best in business, one presumes he’s sufficiently capable to deputise for Davies as and when necessary, without standards falling off a cliff and into the territory of Davinson Sanchez at his most petrified.

A season’s loan minimises risk, and removes the awkward questions around selling on or pensioning off. On top of which, this is further evidence of Conte getting what Conte wants – all done, yet again, before a ball has been kicked in anger on the pre-season tour. It might not be the best deal going, but with the present incumbent of the position playing well enough, it strikes me as a sensible move.

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