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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-0 Crystal Palace: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lucas

Lucas’ ongoing transformation from ‘One-Off Miracle Worker in Amsterdam’ to ‘Regular Provider of Creative Spark’ continues pleasingly.

Scoring one goal and setting up two others is, of course, an eminently sensible way to attract a healthy outpouring of approbation, but if anything, today’s healthy stats were something of an anomaly. In general, Lucas’ contributions are not so much measurable in 1s and 0s as simply being the sort of exciting stuff in the middle act that gets us off our seats.

So ignore, if you will, his headed finish, and purr instead over his little amble that started off that move: collecting the ball up inside his own half, dipping a shoulder or two, motoring northwards and picking out a chum. It was fabulous stuff, well before he then finished off the move, and it’s the sort of marvellous act of spontaneity he has been producing for the best part of twelve months now. Few things quicken the pulse like Lucas collecting the ball deep-ish and unveiling some trickery.

However, any man of good sense and sound taste can ignore Lucas’ headed goal for only so long. That Lucas should have scored a header carries in itself little to surprise. We regular watchers of all things Hotspur are pretty well-versed in the marvellous spring provided by his lower limbs. For a fellow only moderately vertically blessed, he possesses one heck of a leap.

But there are headers, and then there are headers. Typically, Lucas seems to head from a standing start. Today he altered his approach by preceding it with a running leap, and the effect was pretty much that of a runaway tank hurtling off an upward slope. The chap absolutely flew into his header, making thumping contact with the ball – which he had the presence of mind to direct downwards, canny fellow – and then, most pleasingly, making such seismic impact with the unsuspecting Palace defender that I’m fairly sure he broke him into several large pieces, left scattered on the turf.

For good measure, Lucas’ passes for both Kane and Sonny’s goals were placed and weighted to perfection, and generally made to look a little too easy. Admittedly he got a little carried away by the final knockings, and took to swinging wildly at anything within his orbit, blasting a couple of late shots about thirty rows back, but by this point I’m not sure anyone on either side cared too much.

2. Skipp

If there’s a solid, convincing Spurs win to report then it’s becoming an increasingly safe bet that there’s a solid, convincing Oliver Skipp performance not far behind.

As ever, whenever the delicate issue of 50-50 challenges was raised, Skipp’s ears pricked up and he was straining at the leash. This is now starting to become a norm.

But we were also treated to a couple of other sides of the lad, almost as if whoever pens his narrative was keen to flesh out his character a little today.

So it was that during those stodgy, opening exchanges when nothing flowed and our lot spent more time huffing and puffing than actually blowing anything down, much of the emphasis was on Skipp to collect possession from the back-three and do something useful with it. This struck me as a pretty tough gig in truth. Skipp and his minder, Hojbjerg, appeared to be regularly outnumbered in midfield, meaning that much depended on the former’s ability to collect the ball on the half-turn and pivot away from rapidly incoming challenges. And this I thought he did pretty well, on the whole. His more glamorous, attacking co-stars were not exactly banging down the door and screaming for possession, and given this limited available assistance, Skipp protected the ball well enough when supplied by Dier and chums.

There were also a couple of sightings of Skipp’s attacking instincts, although these are evidently still a work in progress. He actually seems capable enough when it comes to nudging things along outside the box, and having tossed one cross up towards the back post he evidently developed a taste for it and started doing so quite regularly, which seemed reasonable enough.

Alas, when the situation demanded that he himself should put his head down and aim for the top corner, the cogs did not so much whir as overheat, and panic got the better of him. Sooner or later, I get the feeling that he will unleash an absolute screamer into the top corner, but for now it might be best to address his shooting with some diplomatic encouragement and swiftly change the subject.

3. Emerson Royal

Emerson Royal. While it is, objectively, a pretty impressive-sounding name – exotic, with a hint of Hollywood – when the bounder pitched up on the doorstep a few months ago I was as nonplussed as the best of them. A blank expression and a hasty Google about covered the breadth of my reaction to his arrival. But here at AANP Towers we are nothing if not pretty open-minded folk, so I resolved to give him a few shakes of a lamb’s tail before deciding permanently whether to bless him with my worship or curse him with loathing.

Those few months have now passed of course, the evidence of the eyes has been submitted and until about 15.28 GMT today the results did not make particularly eye-popping reading.

He has certainly not been randomly catastrophic, in the scarcely conceivable manner of his predecessor, Serge Aurier; but at the same time he has done little to blow up anyone’s skirt and make himself indispensable to operations. Whether offering his tuppence worth on the front-foot or tracking back to aid the rearguard, his has generally been the sort of input that makes one shrug and murmur, “Middling stuff, what?”

He has had good days and bad days – and if one were at this point to put the pen down and let that cover the entire narrative of his Tottenham career there would be few complaints. However, this being one of those good days, it seems only charitable to pause and slip him some credit.

In the blur of comeliness that was Moura’s gallop and pass, and that rotter Kane’s exceedingly smooth finish, for our first goal, it was easy to overlook the brief but crucial interjection from our man Royal, for his was the pass into space along the right flank that invited Lucas off on his aforementioned gallop. There will be finer passes played this season, ‘tis true, but let that not detract from the fact that at nil-nil, and with the bash as a whole having until this point failed to ignite, it was a pass that was as well-executed as it was conceived, and represented pretty much the first time we had got in behind Palace.

Thereafter, as tends to happen quite a lot with our heroes, buoyed by this initial success the chap seemed convinced that he had turned into Pele, and both his confidence and creative juices went into overdrive. His chipped pass for Lucas’ goal was an absolute delight, and with Palace increasingly stretched and ragged, it was Royal who in the second half frequently became the go-to man for delivery of bespoke, made-to-measure, whipped crosses.

Nor did he put too many feet wrong defensively, but then he had hardly had to use a defensive foot at all, such was the lop-sided nature of this contest.

I am still pretty convinced that we could use an upgrade out on the right, but Royal’s life principles certainly seem to accord with the wing-back-based philosophy of Our Glorious Leader, and today at least he provided some evidence of his value going forward.

4. Tanganga

A brief, congratulatory note might be due to young Master Tanganga. On the face of it, one could look back at full-time and decree that he had an easy time of things today, what with Palace self-destructing after half an hour and barely touching the ball thereafter.

However, reflection on the context of Tanganga’s selection does make one pause and think a bit. For a start, in a most curious turn of events, the sight of our Starting XI minus one Ben Davies actually had me furrowing the brow and asking concerned questions. Not a thing I’d have ever thought possible just a couple of months ago, but such is the value of Ben Davies to Conte-Ball.

Davies’ natural left-footedness has been a pretty critical part of the apparatus in recent weeks, making his absence today a bit of a poser. Tanganga, for all his willing and evident ease in possession, has been blessed with a left foot primarily for balance rather than anything more inventive, so through no fault of his it appeared that we were at a disadvantage before a ball had even been kicked.

On top of which, if any of the casual bystanders in N17 had forgotten about our last showdown with this lot it’s a pretty fair guess that Tanganga hadn’t, that occasion having been marked by his ongoing feud with one W. Zaha Esq, a conversation ended abruptly when Tanganga received two yellow cards and biffed out of the picture early.

To be parachuted into the middle of proceedings with this rather loaded history behind him did make me slightly fear for the lad, I have to admit, so it was to Tanganga’s credit that he simply got his head down and for 90 minutes dealt efficiently with anything that life threw at him. Defensively he was sound, and I noted that he put his attacking instincts to good use in mimicking the forward forays of Ben Davies, in that curious, inside-left-midfield channel. He did not do a great deal with the ball once he received it there, but his presence alone in heading into that channel seemed to create space and options for Messrs Reguilon and Son.

5. High Press

While we finished the game at an absolute canter, one probably ought to pause for a moment of solemn reflection and remembrance at the opening twenty or thirty minutes, in which nothing of note seemed to happen. We did not seem to be in much danger, Palace not really possessing much in the way of wit or imagination; but, equally, our lot were also pretty light on W. and I., with the result that things rather spluttered along for a while.

What was notable, however, was that for all the flatness of our creative output, whenecer Palace gained possession – and particularly when they did so in their own half – the effect was as that of a siren blaring and red lights flashing like nobody’s business. To a man our heroes seemed to drop whatever they were doing and swarm all over the man in possession. It was as remarkable as it was impressive.

Remarkable chiefly because this same group of players, just a few weeks back, seemed reluctant to break into a jog to regain possession. And yet here they were, seemingly convinced that the path to success lay in hounding the life out of whichever foe happened to have stumbled upon the ball near his own area.

Questions and caveats abound – regarding the capacity of our lot to maintain this approach, the time and place for it to be effected, the quality of the opposition, and so on. But this afternoon, I preferred simply to sit back and marvel. The intensity of this high press was not too far short of a seasonal miracle, and moreover the appetite for it seemed to spread like wildfire throughout the team. Amongst the growing number of indicators of the improvement under Our Glorious Leader, this ranks amongst the most exciting to behold.

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Spurs match reports

Palace 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lack of Effort

When one casts the mind back to the opening game of the season, in which we put in effort by the bucketload against Man City of all people, chasing down every loose ball like the fate of the free world depended on it and then haring off on breakneck counter-attacks, one does rather scratch the bean at the limp fare on offer yesterday.

One accepts defeat – even a 3-0 defeat – if the troops have fought tooth and nail, and simply come up against a mob that have fought toothier and nailier; or indeed, one takes it on the chin when a good fight has been fought and matters have been settled by a spot of magic, or even a dodgy refereeing decision.

But it really wasn’t cricket to watch our lot give it ten minutes and then take to ambling hither and thither, each with that distracted air, as if they one-by-one-realised that a more pressing engagement awaited elsewhere, and this pesky football lark was little more than an inconvenience.

I’m not sure that too many of lilywhite persuasion were getting particularly carried away by the fact that we began the day as league leaders, but even with the Expectations dial sensibly turned to a level somewhere between ‘Middling’ and ‘Low’ I think it was reasonable enough to have expected our chosen few to have least feigned interest in proceedings.

If the rallying pre-match battle cry against City had been about lung-busting determination to thunder into the faces of opponents, one can only assume that the final instructions ahead of kick-off yesterday was more along the lines of an anaemic shrug, because the notion of pressing the opposition seemed a long way down the various To-Do lists. Early on in proceedings, Hojbjerg offered a glimpse of what might be, when his high press helped pickpocket possession and created a chance that he then duly bungled – but nobody else took the hint, and Palace were left to knock the ball around between themselves in undisturbed fashion.

In possession things were just as miserable. Those in lilywhite appeared to consider it beneath them to motor around finding space and offering options for the man in possession. When opportunities for vaguely progressive passing did present themselves, they were firmly rejected, which seemed a pretty bizarre strategy.

Winks and Skipp were amongst the most prominent offenders here, seeming already to have decided to ostracise the new chap, Emerson Royal, by pointedly avoiding passes in his orbit, no matter how much space he tiptoed into. Whatever the question, the Winks-Skipp answer seemed to be ‘Sideways or Backwards’, which certainly tested the patience.

There seemed to be a plan of sorts to look for Reguilon on the left, but it was effected with such little enthusiasm that instead of passing directly to the poor soul the ball was generally just wafted into his postcode, leaving him to battle against the odds.

Even when eleven vs eleven I counted just the one burst of one-touch activity in the whole dashed match, the sort of move that had the ball whizzed around nice and promptly, shifting us the pitch faster than the Palace lot could scurry back. And frankly, one rather thought that if our heroes could only raise themselves for that single, thirty-second exhibition of passable football, then they rather deserved a three-nil hiding.

2. Absences

The absence of half a dozen regular cast members was trumpeted beforehand, and made a handy narrative, but here at AANP Towers we have a keen eye for detail, and it can’t have been much more than twenty-four hours before a few flaws in this story were detected. Admittedly, and in his defence, Nuno did not turn on the waterworks over this, and instead simply got on with life, but nevertheless it’s worth addressing this issue.

From the initial heady list of Sanchez, Romero, Sessegnon, Lo Celso, Bergwijn and Sonny, one could flick through and start discounting suspects, as it were.

Sessegnon, for starters, is rarely spotted anywhere near the first eleven, so dragging his name into things is pretty disingenuous stuff.

Until approximately three weeks ago, the absence of Sanchez, while not necessarily eliciting cheers would hardly have been lamented; while Romero is yet to feature in the league. Now admittedly, the absence of either of these fine specimens would ordinarily have been manageable, being countered by the presence of the other, as it were. The absence of both, therefore, admittedly created a mild quandary; but truth be told, if this were a world utterly bereft of Davinson Sanchezes I’d have no problem with that void being filled by Joe Rodon.

Further up the pitch, the absence of Lo Celso, as with Sessegnon, was hardly critical, meaning that the only real issue was up in attack, where both Sonny and Bergwijn had doctors’ notes to hand. As with Sanchez and Romero, the absence of one of this pair might have been covered by the presence of the other, but missing both did rather change the dynamic of the attack.

And here one might waggle a stern eyebrow in the direction of Our Glorious Leader, for when one has a perfectly serviceably Bryan Gil waiting in the wings, the decision to shove Dele into the ill-fitting role of pacy forward chappie seemed a tad misguided. (Not to mention that Dele’s removal from the midfield three also left us with a pretty functional and bland combo in the mid-section, of Hojbjerg, Skipp and Winks.)

So in truth, from the list of six, the only real challenge came around the two in attack – and could in itself have been countered through the deployment of young Gil. Hardly a justification for the dirge on show yesterday.

Where we were a tad unlucky was in the early exit of Dier. As mentioned, being a fan of Rodon I had no problem with his introduction yesterday, and actually lauded the move; but the fact that Tanganga had also to be shifted into central defence was a shame, for while Emerson Royal made a decent fist of things against Zaha, his was hardly a comfortable afternoon. It was a duel I’d have preferred had featured Tanganga.

3. Kane: Help or Hindrance?

As an aside, while touching on the subject of the front three, and the absences of Sonny and Bergwijn, this might be the moment for a rather awkward conversation about Harry Kane.

Carefully and deliberately leaving aside personal opinions about whether the absolute rotter should be welcomed back into the fold with open arms after having had the gall to try worming his way out of a contract without making a transfer request, several of my acquaintance have started to question whether the chap’s very presence is hindering operations; and they may have a point.

Referring again to the win against City, and indeed to various brighter moments the following week against Wolves, much of what was good about us in an attacking sense derived from the ability of Son, Bergwijn and Lucas to motor up the pitch as soon as possession was swiped, creating three-on-three situations that played out not just in real time but seemingly in fast-forward, the whole thing a blur of whizzing legs and interchanging positions.

However, remove one of the aforementioned three, plop in Kane, and the machinery doesn’t operate with half as much pace. In short, Kane slows down those counters, either by virtue of not whirring the little legs as quickly, or simply by deciding to take up residence about thirty yards further south. (Yesterday he seemed to offer neither, which was all the more odd.)

The AANP opinion has not yet been cast on this matter, and there seems more to it than just Kane (as mentioned, poor passing of the parcel from midfield to attacking full-backs didn’t help) – but with sterner tests awaiting, the optimal utilisation of that rotter Kane and his myriad talents cannot happen fast enough.

4. Lucas

Unusually in a performance of such ineptitude, there were actually a couple of presentable individual turns in amongst the dross.

Lucas, who can consider himself particularly unlucky to have been hooked for that rotter Kane last time out, was, not for the first time this season, particularly full of beans.

The young bean has never been averse to grabbing possession, putting his head down and wriggling like the dickens away from all-comers, but to this thoroughly agreeable trait he also appears to have now added a half-decent end-product, typically sensible distribution of the thing. In fact, one can imagine that in other teams (Exhibit A, Palace with Zaha) a chap of his ilk and predilections might be the sort around whom the team is built; but we being Tottenham he’ll presumably be back on the bench next week.

It was a joy to behold though, and, one imagines, a nightmare against which to defend.

5. Rodon

And in closing, an earnest salute in the direction of young Master Rodon. Quite why he is fourth cab on the centre-back rank is a mite baffling, given that those in front are hardly of the lineage of Moore, Beckenbauer and King; but fourth cab he is, and seemingly for use strictly in emergencies only.

However, he demonstrated a decent enough grasp of the basics when called upon last season; he seemed to do the necessaries for Wales during the Euros; and yesterday, if he put a foot wrong at all, I’m not sure I noticed it.

Actually, he and Tanganga both impressed, and it was just a dashed shame that the latter rather got carried away by things (although by the letter of the law Zaha should have been off himself, having tickled Tanganga’s face with a front paw at least thrice by my reckoning). While we were pretty woeful going forward, and the midfield was doing little to stem the flow of things in the second half, the centre backs were at least standing up to the challenge until the red card. Further outings for Rodon – and given the state of the various scattered centre-backs at the club, these seem inevitable – would be no bad thing.

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Spurs match reports

Palace 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sitting Back vs Attacking

So this feels like an iffy one to un-pickle. On the one hand, the Case For The Defence (which I think is a rather smart way of putting it) points to consecutive clean sheets against Man City, Chelsea and Other West Ham, as proof that the defensive approach, while verging on rope-a-dope, brings rewards by the sackful.

On t’other hand, the Case For Attack points to the last ten minutes, when not only did we not have to hold our breath while the thing pinballed around inside our area, but we also made several quite presentable chances. Against a ‘keeper who had not woken up this morning, taken one look out of the window and decided that today would be the day to deliver all of the very best he had to offer, we would probably have had an extra couple of goals.

(I appreciate that the equation is not quite as ‘One-or-Other’ as I have presented, for there were numerous other environmental concerns – Palace themselves easing up on the attacking front after scoring their goal, for example – but consider the above an executive summary.)

There’s no doubt that Jose knows his onions – as will be borne out by the title parade on the High Road next May – and when it comes to proof that the defensive blueprint generally delivers the goods, the evidence of the last three games is pretty incontrovertible stuff.

However, hindsight is the sort of all-seeing beast that tends not to miss a trick, and the back-six-all-defending-for-their-lives gambit can only be excused as long as the results trickle through. Drop two points from a winning position, and you can bet half your worldly possessions that someone of lilywhite leanings will be sharpening a knife or two.

In truth, the frustration at AANP Towers is not so much with the adoption of the defensive mindset as a general tactic, because as last week showed, it can be the perfect plan. The frustration today was that this was a game in which the opening half hour or so, as well as the closing ten, showed that actually we were better off playing on the front foot.

Sometimes, having all the possession is something of a poisoned chalice for our mob, and their sideways-passing inclinations go into overdrive. Today, however, we went about our attacking business with a pretty pleasing sharpness.

Not every incision necessarily cut Palace to ribbons, but everyone at least appeared to have read the memo that the first rule of Attack Club was to shift the ball quickly, and we looked pretty decent for it. The full-backs (more on whom anon) dutifully provided width, those in more central areas buzzed around and chances came along with a neat regularity.

And as we dropped deep and dug in from circa minute 55 to circa minute 80, I did restlessly cast my mind back to the halcyon era of circa minutes 1-30, and wish that we would shuffle about fifty yards up the pitch and conduct proceedings there, both reducing risk of concession and increasing chances of that hallowed two-goal buffer.

All academic now of course, as ‘One-One’ is stencilled large in the Book of Facts, but such are the frustrated post-match moochings around these parts.

2. Reguilon

As alluded to, things started far more cheerily, and not for the first time young Señor
Reguilon made a hefty contribution to that cheer.

The wretched Duo Lingo owl has yet to inform how one rattles off in perfect Spanish “I like the cut of that young man’s jib”, but few phrases would capture more accurately my sentiments towards Reguilon. When in the mood, young Harry Winks has something of 80s cartoon character Scrappy Doo about him, in terms of fearlessly racing into combat with those of vastly greater stature; and Reguilon similarly seems to enjoy nothing more than haring off for a man-to-man duel, no matter the odds.

He spent much of the opening half hour taking on the role of First Available Outlet, busting a gut to reach the wide, open spaces of the left wing, and offering plenty of support to Sonny, as well as displaying that pleasing knack for cutting inside and having a peek at what opportunities lay therein.

In both attitude and ability, the little fellow is fast proving his worth – and if he did not have around his neck that wretched buy-back clause that pretty much guarantees Real will swipe him back again as soon as the title parade is over, I’d suggest that he’s the sort who could reach cult hero status amongst the watching masses of N17.

3. Aurier

Out on the other side, Monsieur Aurier presumably had pretty similar instructions, but went about his employment with a jib that was cut slightly less impressively.

It is a quirk of this season that Aurier has now transformed into a positionally-aware defensive mainstay, but not so long ago the young bean’s chief attribute was his devilishly-whipped crosses. He had plenty of opportunity to give a masterclass in the art today, particularly in the afternoon, but alas, the crosses were a little hit and miss.

Still, simply by virtue of being stationed in the appropriate square yardage he did his job, and the regular switches of play out to his flank helped ensure that we ticked along well in the opening exchanges.

4. Lloris and the Mistake That No-One Seems to Have Mentioned

Ultimately, I suspect there were few grumbles across the lilywhite swathes of the land when we did concede, because most right-minded folk seemed to concur that Palace had earned that much.

Nevertheless, seeing these things happen is always dashed galling, and I’m still yet to deduce whether I dislike more being cut apart in open play or conceding from a set-piece.

And in this instance, while the delivery was of pretty top-notch quality, and various limbs flailed in the eyeline of our resident shot-stopper, I was still mightily unimpressed that Hugo spilled the thing, given that ‘Not spilling things’ is just about the principal headline in his job description. Would he, one is forced to ask oneself, have similarly allowed it to fall to ground had it been a small child rather than a football? One can only assume that the mantra on the Lloris lips as head hits pillow tonight will be “Room for improvement”, or whatever the Duo Lingo owl advises is the Gallic equivalent.

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Spurs match reports

Palace 1-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Eric Dier’s Return

Those whose dispositions are hard and eyes unsmiling will no doubt have noted that after three consecutive wins in a team without Eric Dier, his return to the starting eleven immediately brought an end to the winning sequence. Admittedly – and as fans of Jose will be particularly aware – when it comes to proving anything, Statistics are right up there on the rostrum alongside Lies and Damned Lies. That we failed to win with Dier restored does not automatically make him culpable.

However, the fang-baring critics would no doubt hammer home the fact that young Master Dier can hardly be excused blame simply by citing the age-old defence that It’s-a-team-game-and-all-the-lads-are-in-it-together-so-it’s-collective-responsibility-in-victory-and-defeat-what?

Alas for young Master Dier, when the queue forms for those individually responsible for the goal we conceded, the man himself is slap bang at the front, head bowed and not daring to look either way – as such pretty accurately mimicking his behaviour at the corner from which Palace scored. ‘Dereliction of duty’ just about covers it.

Over in these parts, the objections to Dier’s presence in the team have been pretty well documented, but for those who take one look at the AANP pages and decide they’d be better employed in sawing of their own thumbs than bothering to read it, the gist is that for all his bone-jarring challenges and hard-man persona, the young bean appears to have been designed for stature rather than speed, and therefore seems too often to be a few steps behind the breakneck pace of things; on top of which, for one supposedly comfortable on the ball, his passing strikes me as being as frequently off-boil as on.

The case for the defence would doubtless point to much of his performance yesterday, notably in bailing out the excruciatingly average Davies when trouble began to smoulder on the left side of our defence, and also in taking a few opportunities to stride out of defence and play a forward pass.

Commendable moments indeed, and I suppose it goes to show that life is rarely black and white. Dier has his assets; Dier has his flaws. I nevertheless maintain that he is not of high enough standard, particularly within a team that appears set up to spend up to 70% of a game on the defensive.

(As an aside, it’s also worth noting that when Toby is one side of the centre-back pairing, his partner always looks a notch or two better than when Toby is absent. As with Sanchez in recent weeks so with Dier yesterday. The moral of the story appears to be that Toby is a prized asset whose every wish must be granted and every ailment treated with the utmost concern; and that a top-class partner for the chap would not go amiss.)

2. Another Game, Another Kane Masterclass

Another week, another tour de force from Harry Kane. It’s a quirk of circumstance that if he produced such impressive feats only on an occasional basis they might well be greeted by crowds lining streets, strewing of garlands and a zoom call from the nearest available on-the-ball royal. Instead, precisely because he trots them out so regularly, the general reaction now is simply to shrug, playfully punch someone on the shoulder and declare, “Ah, that Harry Kane, eh? Doing the scarcely believable yet again! And by the way, rain is forecast in the Third Test, wouldn’t you know?”

We take his magnificence for granted because he produces the scarcely believable so regularly. So, ultimately, if the chap is underappreciated, I suppose it’s his own fault.

Yesterday, his goal was made to look pretty straightforward fare, when in fact, of the multiple combinations on offer, the one he adopted was just about the only one that could have brought about a goal. With the entire Palace defence around him and the space of approximately one shoebox in which to operate, he had shifted feet, brought the ball under control and planted a shot at the near post before most of us mere mortals had clocked that he had even taken possession.

On top of which, even those moments in which he drops into midfield to ping an inch-perfect, no-look pass hither or yonder are now becoming something of a weekly occurrence. The chap has somehow turned himself into a combination of both Shearer and Sheringham.

3. A Rush of Excitement When We Concede A Corner

Part of this dubious ‘New Normal’ under Jose, within the hallowed gates of N17, is that the jar marked “Priorities” has been opened, tipped upside down and its contents scattered about the place, so that now one is never really quite sure whether they are coming or going.

It’s a world in which 30% possession is good; semi-permanent residence in or around our own penalty area is to be cheered to the rafters; and a key element of The Grand Plan is quite often simply to bloot the ball 60 yards up the pitch and unleash the hounds in attack.

And an adjunct to this curious state of affairs is that now when we concede a corner, the AANP blood begins to rush around the arteries that much quicker, and the excitement begins to build. This, to repeat, when we concede a corner. When near enough all eleven members of the gang are parked inside our own area and the ball is about to go within spitting distance of our own net.

But such is The Jose Way. Concede a corner, and the opposition merrily send all but two or three of their own mob up the pitch and out of position. Bop the ball away from immediate danger – and the chances of doing so are generally at least in 50-50 territory – and suddenly the tables turn Spurs-wards, because the break is on, and Kane, the three musketeers and any other soul in lilywhite who happens to be captured by the whim are haring up the pitch.

And so, to repeat, when we concede a corner, the AANP eyes light up. Our lot have demonstrated often enough that we can sally along from our area to theirs within about ten seconds and three well-placed passes – and if most of the opposition defence are already up north and well out of position then so much the better.

The principal observation on this peculiar state of affairs (besides from creating a brand of football completely at odds with the Tottenham way) is that it’s a pretty dashed risky game. Now I’m as fond of yelling “Pull” and downing a clay pigeon as the next fellow, but if there is one trait of AANP it is that he knows when and when not to take risks, and as such my dalliance with firearms ends about there. Offer me the clay pigeon and I’m your man; slide a loaded pistol into my hand and murmur about the benefits of Russian Roulette, and I’ll have my polite letter of refusal whipped up within seconds.

Jose, however, seems to thrive on this risk-laden scenario, actively encouraging the opposition to come ever closer to our goal, all with the aim of increasing the chances of a breakneck game of cat-and-mouse when possession is turned over. Its success relies upon the opposition drawing ever nearer to our own goal. The risks were laid pretty bare when Palace used one of their corners to score.

On top of which, on several occasions yesterday, rather than simply clear their lines and be done, our lot played themselves into trouble by dallying on the edge of their own area in search of the perfect pass to set up a counter-attack. One understands the thought-process, but the risks seem huge. As I observed this fandango play out with morbid fascination, the thought did occur that there surely ought to be less risk-laden ways of eking out wins, given the personnel on hand.

4. Europa

It seems almost to discredit the tumultuous nature of the season just endured to declare it over with little more by way of summary than the words, “Sixth; Europa” – and yet, anyone uttering such a truth would be right on the money.

There have, of course, been countless other highs and lows, from Sonny wonder goals to Poch exit-shuffles, but the long and short of it is that Europa it is.

Opinion on this seems somewhat divided. In the Credit column, it is, apparently, a tenth consecutive season of European competition, which, as well as having a pleasing ring about it, also suggests that as a club we are in fairly solid shape, and presumably are spoken of in the high-flying smoking rooms around Europe in terms that are complimentary enough.

Moreover, lest Daniel Levy is casting his eye over these pages, I probably ought to mention that qualification also brings with it £10m, to be stuffed into the back pocket at the earliest convenience. So far, so good, and approving nods all round.

The AANP verdict however, is a little more on the cooler side of things. Whereas every game in the Champions League is sprinkled with some Hollywood sparkle, the earlier stages of the Europa have much about them of the boys’ stag-weekend in some seedy corner of the continent.

Moreover, I cannot shake from my memory the recollection of those seasons in which we did make a decent fist of a Title challenge, only to fall away in the final stages, and be bested by Leicester and Chelsea teams that were free from any European football at all. Not that these things can necessarily be quantified of course, but common sense does suggest that their respective gangs might have been a little fresher towards the latter end of the season for the absence of a constant midweek game in the earlier part. As such, I would quite happily have finished outside the European spots if it meant an improved chance of Top Four qualification next season.

5. Jose’s Talk of Winning The Europa

An additional argument in favour of Europa entry is that it’s an eminently winnable trophy, and indeed this line has been peddled by Our Glorious Leader himself in recent weeks. In fact, he’s been referring to it as a given, stating that if we finish sixth this season we will the Europa next. This did strike me initially as making a fairly sizeable assumption or two, but if he liked to put things that way I saw no reason to stop him.

However, on reflection I found myself growing to admire this take on things. Some might call it arrogance, and it would be a reasonable shout, but Jose comes across as the sort of egg who does not sneeze without carefully planning its timing, audience and calculated effect. When Jose says we will win next season’s Europa, I have a sneaky suspicion that what he is trying to do is gently shove a winning mentality into the heart of the club.

After all, that glorious afternoon of Woodgate’s unknowing header was back in 2008 – we are not a club used to winning trophies. Ours is not a trophy-winning mentality. Eke our way towards a Cup Final and we the fans will dolefully peer around at the other teams left in the competition, and play down our chances – it is a pretty fair bet that the players themselves rarely consider themselves favourites.

So maybe Jose is onto something when he drills into the otherwise vacant loaves of the players that actually this is a trophy that they should be winning. Maybe this is all part of The Plan.

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Spurs match reports

Palace 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Different Cup Tie, Same Pattern

I’m not sure where the viewing public stand on this, but personally I’m not a fan of our recent trend of turning in pretty rotten first half performance and giving ourselves two-goal deficits and whatnot. Something about the whole approach strikes me as rummy, and few would argue that it mades life a dashed sight more complicated than it needs to be.

Nevertheless, our heroes were at it again this afternoon. Admittedly this first half was a step up from that against Chelsea on Thursday, as on this occasion we did actually acquaint ourselves with the ball. Near-monopolised the thing in fact.

But with Dier and Skipp sitting in front of the back three, the well of creativity through the middle was absolutely bone dry. Those in lilywhite having therefore been instructed that the route to salvation lay in the form of young Walker-Peters on the left, the ball was obligingly shoved over to the lad on regular occasions in the
first half, to do with as he pleased.

Alas, nature has decreed that Walker-Peters’ left foot is predominantly for balance and aesthetics, so crosses to the head of Llorente were at a premium, as he simply cut back onto his right foot and pottered around in that little corner of the pitch, and for all our huff and puff, chances were at a premium.

2. The Life And Increasingly Trying Times of Kieran Trippier

These are odd times to be Kieran Trippier. Cast the mind back to the halcyon summer of 2018, and the fellow was starting to emerge as something of a national treasure.

A personal highlight at AANP Towers, was the focus with which he stepped up to take his penalty vs Colombia, marching up to the spot with the look of a man whose head was about to explode due to the intensity of his concentration levels, before slapping the ball with military precision into the top corner and marching back again, cranial explosion still very much on the cards.

The whole glorious episode gave the impression that if one’s life were to depend on a man burying a penalty, Trippier’s name would be up there on the list, not far behind the likes of Messrs A. Shearer and H. Kane.

Fast forward six or so months and the chap’s stock has taken something of a tumble, no doubt about it. Aberrations both in and out of possession have become distressingly commonplace. And now, as if to emphasise the point to any kindly onlooker still inclined to give the poor bean the benefit of the doubt, he even makes a complete pig’s ear of a penalty that one suspects would have made quite the difference to things.

Nobody misses these things on purpose, of course, but that moment was of the utterly avoidable ilk that has one slapping one’s thigh and wondering what the dickens else might go wrong.

3. Lamela

Since returning from his latest injury Lamela has been rather heavy on bluster while delivering precious little in the way of end-product – bar a neatly taken penalty, which I suppose ought not to be underestimated in these troubled times. Today however the bouncy young imp received the message loud and clear, and entered the fray choc full of strut and tricks, injecting a hitherto unseen energy into our activities from a central position of which he clearly approved.

Whereas in the first half those in possession tended to pause, and stroke chins, and ponder a handful of life’s great mysteries before doing anything with it – and even then doing little more than passing sideways – Lamela’s compass was pointing very decidedly northwards, and every time he received possession he hared off towards the Palace goal.

The effect was invigorating. Whether directly from Lamela’s size nines, or just taken by the general principle he brought with him, the team as a collective upped their zest and urgency.

The combo work between Lamela and Trippier out on the right was also pretty niftily done, but alas, as with everything we tried, it all come to nought.

4. Foyth

There are some situations in life one would rather shift to the poor unfortunate standing at one’s side. Being chased around town by a shape-shifting cyborg killer, for example, or idling one’s way down a path only to realise and enormous boulder is rolling along in hot pursuit.

And to that list I think I would add having the slippery eel Zaha racing towards you, with nothing in the way of a safety net other than a vast expense of greenery.

In such circumstances I was rather impressed with the young man, for caught on the counter a couple of times, as we inevitably were, I was rather inclined to fling my hands skywards and accept the worst. Foyth, however, took the opportunities to display that he is made of sterner stuff, and kept his eye on the ball, stopped Zaha in his tracks and got on with things.

Admittedly it amounts to barely a shimmer of light behind the pretty stormy-looking clouds that gather about the place, but it made for a pleasant surprise, particularly given Foyth’s general penchant for occasional defensive clangers.

So a chastening few days, littered with bad luck, individual mistakes and injuries littered in every dashed corner you care to look, but such is the nature of the beast. Three winnable games approach, nine points from which would be one heck of a fillip.

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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.

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Palace 0-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Lackadaisical From Top To Bottom

The quickest route from A to B, so the boffins used to instruct me, is in a straight line, which seems a reasonable enough way of approaching that particular conundrum; but if you are a member of the good ship Hotspur it pretty much is a condition of employment these days that anything resembling a straight line gets tossed out of the window, and the most convoluted and complicated way of doing things is instead selected. Be it Juve or Liverpool, or Newport or Rochdale, our lot have recently been quite taken by the idea of drawing out matters and increasing the tension minute by minute.

So, rather than scoring a couple of goals in the first ten minutes, as was briefly threatened, nerves were frayed, fingernails gnawed to bone and curses flung around like confetti, until the 89th minute for goodness sake.

Despite being utterly dominant from first bell to last, we managed also to be incredibly slack and error-strewn throughout. And whereas this is normally the cue to take a deep breath and launch into a tirade against Sissoko, today the culprits were the much-feted A-listers in our ranks, which makes the mind boggle a bit.

Eriksen and Dembele, upon whom one would normally bet one’s right arm to keep possession ticking over, kept gifting the ball to Palace as if they’d been practising it all week. Harry Kane, upon whom would happily wager the life of a less-cherished cousin to stick away a couple of six-yard chances, made rather a pig’s ear of his opportunities in the opening 88 minutes.

Just about everyone else in lilywhite was similarly careless (young Sanchez can maybe be exonerated). It was almost as if the collective attitude was a carefree shrug, and the general sentiment that “Accuracy doesn’t really matter, Kane will presumably pop up at the death and we’ll win anyway, what?”

2. Aurier Finding New Ways To Be A Liability

As mentioned, Sanchez got his lines right throughout, which is no mean feat when up against a robust soul like Benteke, and alongside him, while his distribution certainly veered towards the errant, Dier nailed the bread-and-butter of keeping Palace forwards at bay.

Come to think of it, Ben Davies also mixed rough with smooth in a passable sort of way. The chap’s crossing tends to have a success rate that lurks in 50-50 territory, but as the game wore and the second half became one-way traffic he at least had the good sense to set up camp well inside the Palace half and provide a left-flank option.

And on that note, of picking a respectable position and giving the opposition something about which to brood, one should probably give Serge Aurier his due; he was always available. Here at AANP Towers we also noticed Aurier execute an impeccably-timed sliding tackle to spare our blushes, which beforehand I would have ranked as about as likely as a flying dinosaur landing on the pitch, so it just goes to show.

But whereas Aurier is normally an absolute liability in defence, he picked today to demonstrate that when it comes to fouling things up in the most ghastly and imbecilic manner, he is as capable of demonstrating these abilities in attack. Taking multiple foul-throws is really the sort of rot for which a professional footballer ought to have a finger lopped off, as well as sacrificing his entire weekly packet. Just to hammer home the farcical nature of Life as Serge Aurier, the blighter then managed to miss an open goal from around three yards by treading on the ball or some such nonsense.

3. Dele Alli: Dives and Penalties

There was an unsightly moment midway through the second half when young Dele flung himself to ground over the onrushing goalkeeper, with not an opposition limb in sight.

I do not have much problem with he or anyone else rediscovering the joys of gravity if – and it’s rather a crucial if – an opponent has bludgeoned, belted or even gently brushed against him. After all, referees will not award a free-kick if a chap stays upright; and if contact is made with man rather than ball, then a jury has every right to convict.

As it happened, Dele might have had a penalty not long beforehand, when a Palace defender (van Aanholt?) tried to dispossess him with a fairly wild swing of his peg. But the dive over the goalkeeper was an attempt to cheat, and while he is unlikely to be shoved in a dungeon and have the key lobbed into a nearby moat, the young buck will hardly be able to complain if he is politely told to biff off and amuse himself in other ways for three games.

Aside from the charge sheet against Dele himself, it is probably worth pointing out that we had an absolutely nailed on penalty (the goalkeeper against Davies) turned down in the opening moments, for no discernible reason other than that goalkeepers are sometimes granted licence to clatter folk. Kane might also have had a penalty, on a technicality, but life sometimes gives us these crosses to bear.

4. Team Selection

While most of the game was spent huffing, puffing and misplacing, the choice of personnel at the outset did make me arch a quizzical eyebrow or two.

The absence of Vertonghen was fair enough – a man is allowed to be injured every now and then – but while the same can officially be said of Alderweireld, it seems that the latter’s days in lilywhite might be numbered, which is a dashed shame.

Now I don’t really know the ins and outs of these contract negotiations, and while I would love to imagine that it is simply two men sitting opposite each other and shouting numbers back and forth, I suspect the truth is a little more complex; but could we not just find a way to give the chap the dosh he wants, through bonuses or hidden treasure or whatever it is? Heck, and do the same for the rest of them, if it means parity of payment. Seems a tad simpler than trying to identify another world-class centre-back at a bargain price, but then I’ve always been pretty nifty at solving all of life’s problems from this particular armchair.

Getting back to the teamsheet, I had actually swallowed a gulp or two when I saw the back-four announced, neither Dier nor Aurier being exactly the most watertight in the business, but I need not really have worried on that front, as Palace struggled to get over the halfway line.

The demotion of Son made sense, as the chap has slightly gone off the boil in recent weeks, following his all-conquering winter spell, and Lamela has looked sharp. Given that, one wonders how long before Dele serves some time on the bench.

I had also hoped that Lucas Moura would produce a little more than he did when eventually introduced, but the chap’s engine barely started. Early days though.

5. A Triumph For Football

In truth, the whole affair was fairly forgettable, but having spent the entire game trying only to defend, it struck me as good for football, and mankind as a whole, that the ultra-defensive approach adopted by Palace was rewarded with concession of a last-minute goal. The moral of the story was that being defensive doesn’t pay, and I can’t think of a more noble message to send to the children.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-0 Palace: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Ongoing Labours Vs Defensive Types

If there were a dawn chorus this morning the last folk you will want to ask for a blow-by-blow account of it will be the eleven who began for us, because when the sun peaked and the midday kick-off loomed, our heroes were still emerging from the mists of sleep. And in truth there they stayed throughout the first half. Now while I am not one to knock the benefits of nature’s sweet restorer, the thought did strike me that this approach did not really contribute anything towards the principle aim of the exercise.

However, like many of the choice fairytales of our age, the thing can be deemed a success by virtue of having ended well, and no doubt come the May harvest few in lilywhite will care a hang for how three November points against Palace were ground out.

Nevertheless I don’t mind admitting that watching the troupe make such dashed hard work of things – and indeed flirt a little too publicly with the notion of conceding the opener – gives the whole coronary network a going-over that is far more robust than could possibly be desired on a Sunday lunchtime, not to mention adding a handful more grey hairs to the clan.

The sages who know such things have not been slow to unpick the rationale behind this effortless switch between vanquishers of Real and labourers against Palace. Physical exhaustion has been identified, the injuries have been noted, and the dreadfully modern concept of “emotional tiredness” has also been lobbed into the ring, which strikes me as utter rot, but there you go.

Whatever balderdash is identified, the fact remains that every time a struggling team pull up at our shores and sit back in numbers, our lot labour like the dickens to break them down. My personal solution would be to give the ball to Eriksen, position Son/Alli/Whomever five yards from him, and let the pair one-two their way through the minefield like ballerinas, but smarter minds than mine are presumably applying the grey matter to this issue.

2. Gazzaniga Earns His Corn

While the loss of Lloris was greeted with dismayed groans throughout the land as might be expected, I must admit to feeling decidedly more sanguine about the news of Vorm’s absence, greeting it with the sort of carefree shrug one reserves for a moderate weather forecast. The chap has rarely blown my skirt up, saving some, conceding as many, and generally rolling through life with the air of one who might in another universe be Swansea’s first choice.

Step forward Paolo Gazzaniga then, a man who in name at least has taken a few sensible steps towards winning favour with the patrons of N17. The early signs may not have been massively encouraging, as he wasted little time in emerging from his line to deliver a massive flap at thin air, landing a meaty punch upon the head of an opponent in the process – which might, on another day and under stricter supervision, have had a calamitous outcome.

Things improved no end thereafter however, with a couple of saves of the full-stretch, aesthetically agreeable variety, as well as one or two well-judged decisions to rush from his line and scoop up the bits and bobs.
Hardly a challenge to Lloris’ supremacy, but nice to know that there is some competition for the rank of First Reserve.

3. Dier in the Back Three

In the land of the blind and so on and so forth, so with most of his other chums generally employed in scratching their heads and sucking their thumbs, Eric Dier was able to enjoy a rare day in the sun.

The young nib’s lack of pace generally makes him persona non grata as a centre-back, particularly within a traditional back-four. Such a sin is generally more forgivable within a back-three, but the whole critique was rendered fairly redundant by Dier suddently finding within himself the gift of a clean pair of heels and nifty turn of pace. Where it came from one knows not, although presumably the whole thing was aided by the rather stinging criticism meted out in his direction last week when he rocked on his heels during the slow-motion car-crash that was the United goal.

Whatever the mechanics of it, what ended up on the plate was an Eric Dier in pretty formidable mood. Zaha was an obvious threat, but Dier did a sterling job of proving himself not as green as he is cabbage-looking, shackling the scamp, notably on several occasions through the medium of the no-holds-barred sliding tackle. The absence of Alderweireld had had the potential to get right in amongst our lot and gnaw away from the inside, like those unpleasant microbes one occasionally hears about, but Dier’s no-nonsense of the rear entrance did much to soften the blow.

4. Aurier’s Buffoonery

Honestly, this chap and his predilection for the ghastly, what? While the wealth of pinged hamstrings and strained muscles tumbling from every nook and cranny rather hammers home the point that our heroes have been flogging themselves to the bone and therefore dashed well deserve a little squad rotation, and the omission of Trippier can therefore be logically sequenced, I would personally twing my own hamstring and strain every muscle in my body if it meant that Serge Aurier were kept well away from affairs on the lawn.

The chap is a liability, as any jury in the land would unanimously agree. For a start, all the willpower – and sage counsel from his betters and elders – in the world seemingly cannot prevent him from hurling himself feet first at the nearest foe, with little regard for the likely success of the operation. The chap just wants to fling himself through the air feet first, consequences be damned. Having restrained himself for a good half hour yesterday he could restrain himself no longer and shortly before half-time performed the usual brainless lunge, and was jolly lucky to do in front of a particularly benevolent referee, who generously kept his cards hidden from sight.

Then as the second half ticked agonisingly by, and we sought to break the deadlock, the blighter dashed well opened the back door and ushered through Palace’s speediest and most menacing threats, with appallingly misplaced six-yard sideways passes. Heavens above, remove the chap from the premises and hack his limbs apart. At least ensure that the next hamstring or muscle pinged or strained is his.

5. Squad Depth

On the bright side, yesterday again provided some evidence that the shelves are healthily stocked at HQ when it comes to squad depth. It was not so long ago that the absence of all of Messrs Lloris, Alderweireld, Wanyama and Alli – not to mention Lamela, plus a less than entirely chipper Dembele – would have been greeted with mass protests, clenched fists of fury, doleful wailing in the streets or some combination of the above.

Now however, Our Glorious Leader simply peers over his shoulder and gives knowing nods in the directions of Gazzaniga, Sissoko, Winks and Son. My spectacular distaste for Aurier I have mentioned, but should a piano happen to fall upon his head we have Walker-Peters to deputise for Trippier. Rose and Davies can slug it out on the left. Llorente may not exactly be a blur of limbs, but he can give Kane a rest for fifteen minutes, and has a deft touch about him. The arrival of Sanchez and versatility of Dier provides ample cover at centre-back, with Foyth waiting in the wings – and so on and so forth. One gets the gist.

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Spurs 1-0 Palace: Four Lilywhite Musings

A new season, and to all intents and purposes the same serving of near-incessant pressure against a well-drilled defensive mob – but we at AANP Towers are nothing if not eagle-eyed, and the subtle differences being paraded to the masses yesterday did not escape detection.

There was the giant hole in the stadium for a start, which those with less keen powers of observation might simply have overlooked, or dismissed as one of those things that happens during the summer months. And then there were the moderate but unmistakeable tweaks to various knobs and dials that Pochettino had effected in advance of proceedings. For a start we tumbled out onto the pitch with a Dele Alli-shaped hole in the midfield; and with Kane now occupying a more withdrawn role; while Janssen swanned around atop the formation. Changes so delicate that many would have failed to notice, but the AANP detective squad were all over them, every sense atuned and sinew strained.

1. Janssen’s Home Debut

Football observers of a particularly wily vintage will tell you that mid-August is no time to be flinging around judgements of new signings. The Test series has only just ended, the Olympians are still just about aiming faster, higher and whatnot – give the big-money signing another five minutes at least to catch his breath and re-read his notes.

So the distinctive whiff emanating from AANP Towers is not judgement, or any particular doubt about the new lad’s ability, but simply fear. The unmistakeable fear of the Spurs fan who has watched on over the years, as the shiny and rather pricey new bounder takes to the field in attack, and proceeds to fluff his lines. Postiga, Bent, Soldado – all men who arrived at the Lane looking bucked and full of the joys, and with good reason too, because all were, in their own ways, rather nifty in one medium or other. But somehow things simply did not fall into place in front of goal, and now if one closes the eyes and tiptoes down Memory Lane, the first dashed image that springs to mind is the pained look of disbelief shared by each of Messrs Postiga, Bent and Soldado (typically accompanied by hands raised headwards) as yet another chance flew left, or right, or into the ‘keepers arms, or into the side netting, or into orbit – frankly any dashed place but the net.

One shudders. And one certainly does not judge Janssen, because in truth he seems a decent sort of bean when kitted out in lilywhite, ticking such boxes as “Laudable Movement”, “Lay-Offs Weighted Just So” and “Robust Sort of Blighter”. So if anything, the judgement is that the chap does indeed appear to cross enough t’s and dot enough i’s to give Kane five minutes every now and then to catch his breath and swig an isotonic whatsit.

But the fear remains, because the chap dashed well needs to beg, steal or borrow a goal at some point soonish, or the thing will start weighing on his mind, what? The chance last week he tucked into well enough, but the ‘keeper thrust out a paw and such was life. With the first chance yesterday – the rebound from Kane’s effort – again one could hardly quibble that he failed to get the basics right or suchlike, but life being what it is the ball stayed out.

It was the final chance, through on goal in the second half, which really brought the first sense of fear my way. Clean through, defenders politely stepping aside, net beckoning warmly. The thing only required him to sign on the dotted line, but instead he channelled the spirit of a thousand Bents or Soldados. The major concern is that if he goes without a goal for any length of time the issue might begin to gnaw away at him, as can happen to a blighter with a thing on his mind, and before you know it he has packed his bags and shuffled off with tears in his eyes, and his friends turn to each other and say “What the deuces happened to him, he seemed rather a sharp old nut?”

However, with a bit of luck he’ll casually bang home a couple next time out, and we can all live happily ever after.

2. Kane’s New Home

Should any defence be needed of young Master Janssen, one might point out that Kane has not exactly been pelting them in from all angles so far this season either.

Yesterday, our glorious leader took the fairly radical measure of deploying two in attack, with Kane playing Sheringham to Janssen’s Shearer. Given that this was a home match against a team whose drill was always likely to be sit back, lap the thing up and hope for a handy bolt of lightning from above or some other such stroke of luck, the Two-In-Attack gambit made a truckload of sense, so Pochettino duly receives an approving nod.

And to his credit, Kane seemed to roll through proceedings like a man pretty well versed in the art (not entirely surprisingly, given that he has dabbled in it before). Yesterday was not necessarily a masterclass, but he rolled up his sleeves and ferried things around like a well-trained hound, and did not scrimp when it came to blasting the bally thing towards goal with everything he could muster.

A couple of shots from distance, plus a header narrowly wide, suggested that here was a man whose lust for life was not diminished by his new set of responsibilities – and for good measure he rallied round just when things appeared to be slipping away, to nod the thing goalwards for Wanyama to pop it in.

3. Dele Alli

No doubt about it, one or two tongues wagged pre kick-off yesterday, when news of Dele Alli’s demotion rippled around, but the truth of thing was rather more mundane than some would have had us believe. The poor lamb had been under the weather, nothing more sinister.

Nevertheless, news that he was only on the bench was generally greeted with a considered and approving nod around these parts. This season promises to be quite the ordeal, with European concerns now to be treated as meaningful rather than a chance for the reserves to parade their wares. At some point or other, our heroes will need to be omitted, and at home to Palace seems as reasonable a time as any.

As it happened, when he was finally introduced, Alli’s impact was a credit to the NHS, because the chap seemed to be in rude health. The pass to Janssen for the second half chance was masterfully delivered, and later on he let fly with a shot that earned top marks for technique and aesthetics, if falling short by a whisker or two in the accuracy stakes.

4. Life Without Dembele

A congratulatory word for Victor Wanyama, who looked suitably braced with his efforts, and why not? Wanyama certainly applies himself with the sort of rigour that one likes to see from the stands, and which one hopes sends a message to the chums either side of him that there is something to be said for getting stuck in and giving it what for.

It is probably fair to say that he does not quite replicate the role of Dembele, in terms of acting as marauder par excellence, but that’s not really the point. I’m not sure that another man exists in Christendom who can replicate the Dembele role. Wanyama offers a different sort of basket of eggs, and it is a dashed useful one to have, and certainly a notch up on the alternatives (Carroll, Mason and the like).

Dembele will presumably be welcomed back into the fold with open arms and a hearty embrace once his sentence is served; but bear in mind that whenever he was absent last season, we more or less folded like a pack of cards on a blustery day at the seafront. This time round we have a win and a draw without him already, so let this be a ringing endorsement for squad reinforcement.

A solid start then, and already an improvement on this time last season. To have achieved this without two of the more influential souls in the line-up (Lloris and Dembele), and having fairly successfully integrated a couple of new faces, bodes jolly well.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

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Spurs match reports

Palace 1-3 Spurs: THAT Goal & 4 Other Lilywhite Observations

1. THAT Goal

Hoddle-esque. Gazza-esque. A goal so good you would let it marry your daughter. Words cannot really do justice to the strike and technique itself, so instead I’ll waft over a couple of associated thoughts. The move in its entirety for example, had the jolly pleasing aesthetic quality lent to it by the fact that the ball did not touch the ground from the moment Kane swirled in his cross, to Eriksen’s cushioned header, to Alli’s one-two-three touch, swivel and shot.

On a separate note, young Alli must have one heck of a brand of confidence flowing through his veins, to even contemplate trying a gag like that. ‘Instinct’ seems to be the buzzword, but if he had had the general blues about his game, the way the match had treated him or life in general, he may well have looked simply to shovel the ball back whence it came and let someone else take responsibility. Mind you, he’s never exactly come across as a shrinking violet on the field.

One lilywhite chum messaged me to say that if you look at the ‘onrushing’ Palace defender tasked with blocking the shot, he decides against flinging himself body and soul into the path of the ball, and turns his back on the shot. Channelling his inner Vertonghen, if you will. Now this seems a rather joyless way to critique one of the finest ever lilywhite goals, but on watching the replay I take the point. Let’s not spoil the thing though, what?

2. Blur of Movement

Stepping out onto the balcony and taking a more panoramic view of things, this should go down as another cracking little win, one which  hammers home the point that this 2015/16 vintage are not as green as they’re cabbage-looking. For a second consecutive week, the rasping injustice of falling behind in a game we were absolutely dominating was deemed nothing more than a minor inconvenience, and they ploughed ahead with the policy line of jinking one-touch passes around the opposition area. There is nothing particularly new to our heroes about having to work right from the first toot on breaking down two defensive banks of four – our reputation evidently precedes us. What brought a rosy glow to the cheeks on observing events unfold was the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed manner in which they set about the task yesterday.

There have been times in weeks gone by (at least one of the Leicester games, maybe Newcastle at home) when our attempts to penetrate the impenetrable have essentially been, when broken down into raw constituent parts, a series of sideways passes. Earnest and willing, but a little lacking in creativity – more akin to repeatedly shoving a blunt knife at a lock and hoping something will give. Yesterday however there was all manner of off-ball movement, right from the moment the curtain went up. This lent itself fairly naturally to the full range of slick, short, first-time passes; and the gist of the thing was that we buzzed around with intent throughout, and particularly in the first half. Worth lobbing an honourable mention for this week’s chosen full-backs too, who set up camp firmly in the final third of the field, meaning that we also had a cracking spread of busy options spanning the width of the field from right to left. And by extension, the weekly tip of the hat to Dier, whose immaculate positioning enables the attacking juices of the aforementioned full-backs to flow so liberally.

3. The Latest Team Tinkerings

While one broadly understands the gist of things when it comes to Pochettino scribbling down the names of the chosen ones, there are an increasing number of spicy little sub-plots bubbing away under the surface. The full-back hokey-cokey for one thing, and in recent weeks, the choice of Dembele or Carroll (which is hardly a contest at all, but became a matter of concern when the Belgian was returning to fitness). The latest tete-a-tete has been between young Sonny jimbo and Eric Lamela. Son’s bravura midweek performance earned him the nod, and I was jolly glad to see it , for te much-vaunted Lamela Resurgence of 2015-16 has yet to utterly convince in these four walls of the interweb. Yes he certainly beavers away with the right attitude, chasing back and scrapping for things like anyway Pochettino minion should, but the chap’s principal role is as one of our resident Magicians-in-Chief, and in this respect he always seems to underwhelm a tad. Son, however, seemed to work things out pretty quickly, and set out taking on his man and thumping in his shots tout de suite. Given the strength of Chadli’s late cameo as well, I wonder if Lamela has suddenly been bumped down the list of cabs on the rank.

4. Substitutions

Generally out glorious leader seems to enjoy a degree of structure to his life. Who knows, maybe he is the sort to neatly fold his clothes on a chair the night before, and opt for a couple of Weetabix every morning with a banana for elevenses. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, he tends to avoid tearing up the teamsheet and trying all manner of new and exciting permutations if a like-for-like substitution is available. A polite ripple of applause then, for his decidedly more proactive move yesterday when we were one down, in hooking the ever-dependable Eric Dier, instructing Dembele to operate ten yards further back, and introducing Chadli into the attacking maelstrom. Most obviously, Chadli duly created one, scored a beauty (and delivered an absolute peach of a crossfield ball in the dying moments); and more broadly, it left us with eight outfield players blessed with a natural urge to burst forward and create (plus two ball-playing centre backs).

On top of which, the Pocehttino applecart was duly upset further by the hobble sustained by Vertonghen, which meant that for the first time this season our sacrosanct centre-back duopoly was separated, and young Master Wimmer was introduced. He did well enough, in increasingly frantic circumstances, but certainly had a solid game vs Leicester in midweek.

5. Lady Luck

One to remember next time we don the sackcloth and ashes, and bemoan the way of the world – at one apiece Palace managed to slap the crossbar twice in around five seconds. Crumbs. Mind you, Alli gave the crossbar a hefty thwack himself, so for those who keep track of these things I suppose there is much to ponder.

In the final analysis however, this was a victory well earned, built on superiority rather than good fortune. The first half in particular was absolutely one-way traffic, punctuated only by that blasted own-goal; whilst our three goals were all, in their own ways, absolute snorters – and a five-point gap is now in evidence, between us and the fifth-placed mob.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.