All Action, No Plot

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Spurs 3-1 Leicester: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Skipp

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

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

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

2. Lloris And The Rarest of Rarities

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

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

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

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

3. Danny Rose Brings Back The Slide Tackle

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

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

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

4. Poch On The Defensive

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

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

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

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

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

5. Making The Best of Life Without Kane and Dele

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

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

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

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

Spurs 1-0 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Sonny Saves The Day Again

As will be familiar to those who regularly stop by these parts, the AANP take on the midweek win against Newcastle brought peltings with rotten fruit in the Comments section, for the admittedly reckless decision to omit from the list of the venerated Son Heung-Min.

With that in mind, and given that the lively young bean scored the critical goal yesterday, it seems only right to shower him with all manner of praise.

In truth however, through no particular fault of his own, he was a little muted yesterday. The spirit was as willing as ever, as he buzzed hither and thither, and even when at a standstill his legs appeared slightly blurry with movement. Newcastle, however, had been up all night poring over their homework notes, with the result that they swarmed all over Son like he was a homing beacon, and for much of the game he was crowded out.

Mercifully, the chap is fleet of foot, and it is to his credit that he conjured from pretty much nothing a yard of space yesterday, and did not wait for a second invitation to leather the heck out of the ball.

Having flown around the world twice, and been out on his feet at the conclusion of the Newcastle match, Sonny’s contributions, particularly in the absence of Kane and Dele, have bordered on the super-human, injecting moments of inspiration when we have needed them most.

2. Vertonghen’s Exciting Day Out

Our Glorious Leader sticking to his principle that to play a wing-back in consecutive games would be madness of the highest order, and with Davies still absent injured and young Walker-Peters too dashed right-footed, there was a rare day out on the left flank for AANP’s close chum Jan Vertonghen.

As social experiments go it made for interesting viewing. Nature having decreed that any and all useful output should emanate from the chap’s left stem, he was at least appropriately balanced for left-backery. However, Vertonghen is a man of pretty lengthy proportions, sinewy and elegant, well-designed for tackle and stretch, and not necessarily the obvious pick for lung-busting runs along the flank, with chest thrust and muscles throbbing, a la Danny Rose.

It meant that the fellow did not necessarily look entirely at ease as he set about trying to make a fist of the role, life’s accelerations and bursts not coming entirely naturally to the chap.

Not that his team-mates gave the mildest hang about his travails, for the Player X-to-Vertonghen routine seemed a pretty well-rehearsed one, and pretty swiftly became the option of choice as Newcastle barricaded the various other routes to goal.

To his credit, Vertonghen beavered away as instructed, and while his crosses missed as regularly as they hit, he had a decent amount of joy, and gave our heroes a viable option throughout.

His eventual replacement by Rose nevertheless made sense as we switched to 3-5-2 in the closing stages, Rose being more genetically disposed to go hurtling down the flank. All told, the use of Vertonghen as left-back is probably not going to be nailed on for generations to come as the tactical ploy of choice, but for a random joust against a Newcastle mob set upon deep, deep defence it was at least moderately successful.

3. Llorente’s Impact, Again

Having lambasted Llorente whenever the opportunity has presented itself in recent weeks – and on several occasions when no such opportunity has existed, but the urge has simply become too strong – lovers of irony were in their element yesterday as I bemoaned the unfortunate egg’s absence throughout.

With our lot camped outside the Newcastle box, and the entire Newcastle lot camped within, the case for airborne crosses was pretty compelling, and the stage seemed set for Llorente to peddle his wares. Alas, the pairing of choice was Moura and Son, whose prowess on terra firma is unfortunately not matched by any particular renown in the air. A couple of decent headed chances popped the wrong side of the posts, and by and large we were kept at arms length by the massed ranks of Newcastle bodies.

Not to criticise Poch for this particular call, mind. Llorente has been used on a near-constant basis since Kane’s untimely departure, so there was some sense in rotating him out. And one might opine that the plan actually worked to perfection, given that the chap then set up Son’s goal when he was ultimately introduced.

4. Late Goals When Most Needed

So for the umpteenth time this season our heroes have come up with a late, late goal send us all home with a sentiment somewhere on the scale between relief and buoyancy. Much more of this and folk will start accusing us of having mettle and grit and not bottling our affairs.

More serene, comfortable victories would obviously be preferable, but I must confess to a little thrill at the manner in which we can now enter the final furlong still needing a goal but with an underlying sense that actually we might dashed well go and grab one from somewhere.

We almost certainly will not win a trophy this season, but it appears that another string is being added to the lilywhite bow, as we have now become one of those teams who can eke out goals in the dying embers.

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

Spurs 2-1 Watford:

1. The Many Twists and Turns of the Llorente Soap Opera

If Fernando Llorente had been hoping for one of those quiet, drama-free nights that flits swiftly from the memory, he was in for quite the shock.

When the incorrigible old bean contrived to knee the ball over the bar from practically underneath it, the hills were alive with the sound of groans, curses and around thirty thousand palms simultaneously slapping foreheads.

For his own part Llorente did the honourable thing and duly adopted the pose of a man doing his level best to be swallowed up by the earth. More broadly, the omens were not particularly cheery, our heroes still being one goal in debit. The thought began to crystallise that if we were going to escape from this particular hole the odds appeared heavily stacked in favour of us doing so despite rather than because of the gangly fellow.

And yet, fast forward fifteen minutes or so and the chap was galloping off to the touchline in celebration, face contorted and fist clenched. He may have cut a pretty calamitous figure for much of his Tottenham career, but loft the ball towards his upper regions and Llorente will tend to find a way to plant a header into the net.

The curiosity in amongst all of this is that the ten lilywhites around him, while presumably having met him at some point, nevertheless seem utterly oblivious to the fact that Lorente is not, never has been and never will be Harry Kane, and just continue to play as if he is. They ignore his limitations – namely his stunning lack of mobility – and indeed his strengths – all that aerial muck – and instead whizz around the pitch as normal, and tell him to keep up if he can. Which he can’t.

The net sum of all this is that for much of the binge we play almost as if a man short. When a cross finally was lobbed onto his head, the blighter scored. Makes one think a bit, what?

2. Poch’s Changes

Going back to the beginning, it was another one of those dirge-like first half knocks, which suggests that some of the wiring is not quite right at HQ. Bar young Sonny, whose effervescence from the off was rather eye-catching, there was a distinct lack of movement and general urgency in that first half.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, Our Glorious Leader therefore took a sip or two from the chalice of half-time tinkerings, and with Lucas Moura introduced, and Sissoko drawing the short straw of right wing-back, things pretty immediately assumed a much rosier hue.

In truth, Sissoko hardly looks at ease in any position on the pitch, so right wing-back was as reasonable a shout as any other, and the chap did all that was necessary, including delivering the perfectly serviceable cross that resulted in Llorente’s one-yard moment of horror.

Further credit to Poch for recognising that there was more to be gained from introducing a more bona fide crosser onto the right, and accordingly shoving Trippier into action; and even his gambit of Lamela-for-Vertonghen was surprisingly – and pleasingly – proactive, for a man who has spent several years carefully cultivating his image as one firmly welded to the laissez-faire principle of letting matters take their own course during play without dreaming of injecting any tactical interference.

The changes ultimately worked, but if one were to quibble – and let’s face it, the interweb exists for precious little other reason – one might politely opine that we would have been better off by beginning in such manner rather than falling behind and adjusting like the dickens.

3. Moura

For all the nuanced alterations, it was Moura’s introduction that really turned the thing on its head and blew all our skirts up.

Where Son had previously ploughed an effervescent but pretty lonely furrow, Moura’s direct running noticeably achieved the double-whammy of shoving fresh handfuls of problems at a Watford defence used to the markedly less mobile threat of Llorente, whilst simultaneously giving our lot a wealth of fresh options, either in the penalty area or attacking from rather deeper districts.

He might not have scored or directly created a goal, but there were certainly hints of the early-season Moura who merrily ran riot at Old Trafford, and with Messrs Kane and Alli still some distance away from being fully paid-up members of the parish, his was a welcome return.

4. Rose, The Useful Alternative Attacking Option

The ever-feisty Danny Rose also caught the eye, as he often does. In the second half in particular he seemed rather to enjoy the self-assigned task of trying to dribble past as many yellow shirts as he could spot, at one point beating a man and then re-tracing his steps purely for the purpose of finding the same man and beating him again.

All of which would have served little purpose, but he did at least have the courtesy to sail in a few crosses at the end of it all, or at least attempt to do so. More often than not they brought corners, but in the final throes it brought Llorente’s goal, and as such he did precisely that for which he was put on God’s green earth.

Aside from such direct involvement, it was also notable how often we resort to the diagonal switch of play, from the right or centre to the feet of Rose stationed wide left, when the well of creative ideas runs dry and all in lilywhite simply mooch around with gormless faces and shrugging shoulders. Where Walker-Peters is forced to cut back onto his right, and Davies’ attacking talents are somewhat limited, Rose time and again offers a viable alternative against the deep-lying defensive units.

5. Late Comebacks: Becoming A Habit, Would You Believe?

Mercifully our persistence paid off, and not for the first time. Time and again our heroes are finding ways to drag themselves back into games and produce late wins when the outlook has been decidedly gloomy but five or ten minutes earlier. It will not win us a trophy any time soon, nor can we be considered credible title challengers, but one does get the impression that another box is being ticked this season.

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

Chelsea 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

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

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

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

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

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

2. The All Action Second Half

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Gazzaniga Passing

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

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

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

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

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

5. Injuries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardiff 0-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Doing The Necessaries in Defence

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Many Sides to Kane’s Game

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

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

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

3. Eriksen’s Nifty Flick

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

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

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

4. Game Management

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

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

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

5. The Bizarre Media Narrative

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

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

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

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

Leicester 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

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

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

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

1. Life Without Kane and Eriksen

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

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

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

Or so the argument ran pre-match.

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

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

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

2. Dele

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

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

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

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

3. Full-Backs: No Longer A Forte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Doing Remarkably Well – Despite Evidence To The Contrary

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

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

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

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

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

Man Utd 0-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. The Starting XI

Despite the telly box coverage suggesting long into the night that only one team was involved in last night’s binge, and accordingly spending hours dissecting the various ills of the vanquished hosts and their charming manager, my pretty keen sense of sight informed me that a second team was present, and, despite a decidedly iffy start, did a spot of top-notch smashing-and-grabbing, showing a clinical edge the absence of which has been bemoaned in AANP Towers since we were knee-high.

Pre kick-off the omens were surprisingly rosy. The harbingers of doom who have been dining for months off the revelations that Messrs Alderweireld, Rose and Dembele are getting their heads down and haring off towards the exit, were left a tad nonplussed when all three were named in the starting eleven.

And what a starting eleven! Crikey, it was as if the spirit of 2015/16 had suddenly awoken and sprouted the terrific idea to rock up in August 2018 at Old Trafford of all places!

Following a couple of game-changing cameos, Dembele was deposited slap-bang in the middle of the team, to renew the halcyon axis of yesteryear with Dier. And despite the brave faces and earnest explanations, few juries would be convinced that Sanchez and Davies are, pound for pound, better options than Toby and Rose, respectively at rear and rear-left.

With the possible, debatable exception of Son it was our strongest eleven. And all this against a United team that had appeared to have played at least once this season with their shoelaces tied together. “Optimism” would be stretching it, but the whiff at AANP Towers beforehand was definitely on the sweeter side, even if certain members of the mob were not quite up to match fitness.

2. Kamikaze Start

Naturally enough, therefore, the assembled dream team appeared to take the lead from their captain and stagger around the place in the opening thrusts like they had each downed one snifter too many.

Misplaced passes seemed to be the vogue, with Rose most obviously guilty but strongly supported by each of his defensive chums. Dembele’s shield of invincibility appeared to have run out of batteries, while up top we were treated to the sight of World Cup Kane, heroically doing all his work on halfway with back to goal.

One rather winced watching it all unfold, and though we missed out on that penalty call, one might fairly accurately opine that we were a touch fortunate to be level at half-time.

3. Clinical Finishing. Who Knew?

As mentioned in dispatches, our heroes then picked one heck of a time to right the wrong of countless previous seasons and suddenly start taking chances with all the dead-eyed ruthlessness of one of those black-clad snipers in action films shooting from a rooftop several blocks away.

While very much in the game I’m not sure we had a clear-cut opportunity prior to taking the lead, and even that was hardly a regulation slip-catch. It’s not quite a professional medical opinion, but I wouldn’t mind writing a short paper to assert that Harry Kane is not currently fully fit – however, be that as it may, the young nib still knows how to make the best of a raw deal, and leaning backwards, with little more than a postage stamp at which to aim, it was a terrific header.

Moreover, a hop and a skip later we were doing it again. Eriksen is hardly the most flappable chap around anyway, but the coolness he showed to look up and pick his pass, while racing towards the area, was worthy of a cap-doff.
Marvellous also to observe that in a world of dinks and step-overs, Lucas does not hang around when a chance presents itself. While some might idly stand around and gossip – or Lukaku might swing in shots from all angles, hitting everything in sight except the net – Lucas just blasts the dashed thing into the bottom corner before running off to execute that fantastic leap-celebration routine that makes me love him even more.

4. Good Honest Man-Love for Lucas

And while on the subject, this chap had quite the night all round. He seems to do what one has hoped for several years that Lamela might do, if you get me drift. (And to his credit, it was exactly what Lamela did do, last weekend, in setting up Kane’s goal, if you pardon me becoming a little meta.)

To whomever hit upon the idea of playing Lucas as a second striker, rather than an inverted-winger-type, I raise my glass, because it worked a treat. Bursting from deep and haring around like a lifer suddenly granted his freedom, Lucas evidently put the fear of God into the poor, back-pedalling souls ahead of him.

For all the neat, zippy passing, we have rarely boasted an egg with these attributes, not since Bale and rarely beforehand. One or two swallows doth not a sun-tan provide, ‘tis true, but the signs are encouraging. The chap won’t do it every week, but it is a dashed handy string to the bow.

5. Toby

Naturally enough Moura gets the neon lights, but much of the dirty work was done – and with lashings of aplomb – by Toby at the back. Admittedly the first half hour was about as rickety as a poorly-constructed wooden bridge in a gale, but during the second half semi-onslaught in particular the young fish delivered a performance almost as immaculate as his hair.

Sanchez has bedded in exceptionally well over the past 12 months, but Toby is utterly peerless. This may still be a cunning ruse to bump his value before shoving him out Stage Left, but if this were a valedictory performance it was a rousing one. Hang on to him, and the chances of this being a defining season at N17 increase exponentially. And who doesn’t want one of those curves on their graph?

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

West Brom 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Not The Abysmal Showing I’d Been Promised

A confession of sorts to begin with, as it’s generally best to air these things at the outset – I did not view the game live, so by the time the telly-box re-ran the binge in its entirety I was already well aware of the outcome.

The reports I received gave the impression that it was one of those catastrophic affairs, in which the undead roam the streets, cars and buildings are set alight and humanity is generally going to pot. I braced myself accordingly, poured a more generous than normal dram of the good stuff and settled in.

And was pleasantly surprised. I hesitate to say it, as one prefers not to incur the wrath of one’s public, but I thought we started fairly healthily. Admittedly every set-piece swung into our area caused absurd levels of panic, but those were pretty rare as we cunningly hogged possession. Moreover this was not one of those turgid affairs in which the ball is monotonously shuttled sideways, and all and sundry stick rigidly to their place of dwelling, offering no movement.

Au contraire, there was decent movement and the ball was accordingly shoved around pretty nippily, as well as the usual work-rate that ensured we tended to win back the ball before most of the dignitaries had registered that it had gone. Toby was back in the fold, and wasted little time in pinging his diagonals, while the back-three allowed both Vertonghen to sneak into midfield and the wing-backs to set up camp well over halfway.

We made some respectable chances too – both Kane and Lamela were clean through, and Wanyama’s effort drew a save. Frankly, had I not been oddly blessed with the benefit of hindsight I would have suggested that while no classic, we seemed to be peddling our wares in honest fashion.

2. Short Corners

I appreciate that our Glorious Leader would have taken one look at the opposition teamsheet and decided that the aerial route was strictly for extreme circumstances only, but nevertheless the relentless barrage of comically inept short-corner routines that we delivered throughout did rather make one scratch the head.

There was one glorious throwback to the Anderton-Sheringham era, when Eriksen swept in a low corner and Kane swung a boot at the near post.

That aside one received the impression that precisely nobody involved in these little scenes had remembered their lines. It was questionable whether any of them had been rehearsed at all, as nobody seemed quite sure what was supposed to happen, and between two or three men in lilywhite they contrived to oversee an elaborate process of funnelling the ball back towards halfway, or allowing the ball to trickle apologetically out of play. A little more training ground time appears in order.

3. Toby and Danny Rose

Why these two were suddenly included yesterday, having been pretty unsubtly sidelined for months, is anyone’s guess.

Maybe Poch is keen to remind potential suitors of their value? Maybe he would like to see them sharpen up ahead of the World Cup? Maybe he simply puts all the squad numbers in a hat and picks them out at random?

Whatever the rationale, it was nice to see the pair back in lilywhite. Toby slotted in like he had never been away, and seemed to inspire Davinson Sanchez to similarly great heights. That said, the caveat should be added that this serenity applied only to open play, for set-pieces were an entirely different kettle of fish, with none of our lot looking remotely comfortable when peering upwards at the West Brom aerial barrage.

Danny Rose had a marvellous joust with the West Brom right-back Nyom, winning some and losing some but competing throughout like his life depended on it, which is not something that has ever been said of Ben Davies in the entirety of human history.

Rose’s push-and-shove with Nyom, who stood around two feet taller and three stone heavier, was possibly the highlight of the entire game, and although by the letter of the law Rose might have seen red for raising hand to face, the delayed and dramatic dive that followed from Nyom was good, wholesome comedy.

As with Kyle Walker back in yesteryear, Rose seems to be the sort of bean who cares deeply about his personal duels, and has more than a sprinkling of robustness in his DNA. Not the sort of character upon whom Spurs has traditionally built its reputation, and we will be weaker for his likely departure. Even if he did make quite the pig’s ear of his attempted clearance for the West Brom goal.

4. Lucas Moura’s Cameo

One presumes that next season Lucas Moura will be upgraded from Special Guest Star to Main Cast, because glimpses of him have been pretty fleeting since his January arrival, but generally worth the wait.

Yesterday was no exception, as he put his head down and made a beeline straight for the heart of the West Brom defence every time he received possession, drawing fouls and generally prompting our hosts to run scurry around in a bit of a tizz.

While Son, Lamela and Dele all have quick, jinking feet, none have Lucas’ capacity to run with the ball at pace. It nearly did the trick yesterday, despite limited air-time, and it would be good to see the young egg play a more prominent role in things when next season rumbles around.

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

Brighton 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

Hmm, difficult to know what to make of that one, what? A bit of a struggle to find the delicate phrase that sums it all up. Not that my old man, AANP Senior, had much trouble, mind. “Rubbish,” was his pithy assessment as the bell sounded, and I suppose it’s hard to disagree.

1. The Central Midfield

Being an enlightened sort, who is all for a new wheeze once in a while, I have no problem with the modern concept of ‘change’. A spot of invention is as likely to do good as harm, so if some old bean wants to wheel out a new idea every once in a while it’s fine by me.

However, there is a limit to these things, so when Our Glorious Leader instructed Dembele to put his feet up, and unveiled Messrs Sissoko and Wanyama as his midfield axis of choice, the AANP blood did freeze over a mite.

No doubt both are good, honest chaps, and when it comes to destruction, Victor Wanyama struts around like a bloke who has a diploma in the field. Present him with a slick-passing outfit like Real Madrid, and the chap will likely prowl around like a bulldog scenting blood.

As for Sissoko – well, two years on it is still a little difficult to ascertain quite what benefit he brings to any situation conceivable, but the hound does have an engine on him, even if the connection between feet and brain has something of the Russian Roulette about it.

However, whatever argument one pitches in favour of these two young fish, one cannot look one’s neighbour in the eye and honestly opine that between them they are possessed of the guile and finesse required to unpick a well-organised couple of banks of four. Last night required our central midfield to spot a cute pass and deliver it in nary the blink of any eye. Alas, Wanyama and Sissoko spend that much time bringing the dashed thing under control and carefully laying out all their optins that dew began to settle on the turf around them.

To his credit, Wanyama at least used his destructive capabilities for good, in harassing the Brighton chappie into conceding possession to Son, who created our opener. But by and large, the deep-lying well of creativity was dry as a bone until Dembele lumbered on and began effortlessly rolling past approaching bodies.

2. Full-Backs And The Class Of ‘16/17

Cast your minds back twelve months or so, and you may recall that the Premier League was not quite the one-horse procession of 2018, and the good ship Hotspur was in fact making a dashed good fist of things. All-singing, all-dancing, golden boot-wearing and whatnot. But perhaps key to all this was the quality of our full-backs. Perhaps not, as the counter-argument might go, but still – perhaps.

Danny Rose on one side and Kyle Walker on the left were at the peak of their powers, combining the pace and attacking width of wingers with the pace and defensive upper-body strength of full-backs. Acting as all-rounders in the team, this indefatigable pair sneakily gave us the advantage of effectively having two extra sets of legs on the pitch.

In a team riddled with key personnel, a pretty convincing case could be made for those two being the most important of the lot. Fast forward to the present day and it’s fair to say our tails are not waggling with quite so much aplomb.

Each member of the current gaggle does brim with energy, and they are generally decent wide outlets, ever willing to go flying up the flank in search of glory. But this does not count for much if they consistently peddle utter rot once they get there, no?

To his credit, Trippier does a fairly nifty line in cushion-volleyed-first-time passes (the specimen that set up Dele Alli vs Real makes for a decent Exhibit A), but in general this lot seem to be of the ‘Close Your Eyes And Swing Your Boot’ School of Crossing, with the ball as likely to fly into orbit as it is to bend into a usefully chaotic area.

On top of which, the inclusion of Serge Aurier on matchday is essentially equivalent to conceding a goal start to the opposition, the chap delivering calamitous interventions like a seasoned pro. Yesterday, naturally was an opportunity for him to showcase his imbecilic rot, and he didn’t disappoint, while on t’other side Ben Davies delivered his usual slew of utterly average crosses. It makes the soul droop, it really does.

3. Toby Alderweireld

Might this prove the last appearance in lilywhite of Toby Alderweireld? Quite possibly.

One ought not to quibble with Daniel Levy and his careful management of every last penny, but it does seem a dashed shame that when we hit upon a world class egg like Alderweireld, a reason is promptly dug up to kick the chap off the premises and make clear to him that he is no longer welcome to break bread with us.

Davinson Sanchez is a hearty young buck, and in time might well become one of the best of the lot, but at present he still gets his head in an occasional tizz and blurts out the wrong lines. Toby, by contrast, is near faultless, and together with Vertonghen they form quite the bedrock. But what is one to do?

4. Harry Kane’s Fitness

I asked after Saturday’s defeat, and in that keen analytical way of mine, I’ll ask again now – is the blighter fully fit? There seems to be a slightl sluggishness about the fellow ever since his return, as if he is approaching the latter stages of a particularly gruelling cross-country trek and, all things being equal, would not say no to a cup of tea and a roaring fire.

Not a bad call from Senor Poch mind, to pull him back into the Number 10 role in the second half, as it at least meant that the young bean got to see a little of the ball. It still came to naught, but at least reacquainted him with his erstwhile spherical chum.

I do rather hope that the spring returns to his step fairly sharp-ish. We may well have fourth spot just about in the bag, but to put it bluntly an FA Cup win would be a darned sight easier if Harry Kane were donning a cape and leading opposing defenders a merry dance.

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

Rochdale 2-2 Spurs: Four THFC Observations

1. Aggression, or Lack Thereof

Should any passing strangely politely enquire whether we have the ability to field two separate elevens they can now be answered fairly emphatically in the affirmative, the evidence being paraded on the pitch at kick-off. Eleven completely different pairs of legs, from those that did the business in Turin, and if pre kick-off our glorious leader allowed himself a private moment of self-congratulation on the fact, who could have begrudged him?
However, should the line of questioning trickle towards the ability of that back-up eleven to bring home the goods as required, there may be one or two shuffles of feet and sheepish sideways glances.

In truth, the ability of the “reserves” paraded today is not in question, as most are internationals and by my reckoning around eight-elevenths of them would do the necessaries if flung into a Premier League game alongside their more vaunted associates. (Sissoko, Llorente and Vorm, since you ask.)

For some reason however, pitch them together at a lower-league ground and they collectively wobble away like nobody’s business, looking rusty even if they aren’t, and slightly bewildered by the pace, and the crowd, and even the very concept of a cup tie for goodness sake.

Now given that the above pretty much hammers home that this was a collective failing, one might opine that I’m something of a rotter for picking on one individual, particularly when that individual is as loveable and honest as Son, but such is life.

Son in fact at least had the decency to look interested and energetic throughout; his motivation was not really in question. Rather, he seemed to be lacking in willingness to get stuck into things and emerge with a few cuts and scrapes for the sake of the greater good. One can imagine that if offered a sword and shield before a gladiatorial biff, he would look at them in horror, and enquire if the whole affair could be settled without any need for physical contact. The spirit, one might say, is willing enough in Son, but the flesh is as weak as they come.

And so, predictably, the young nib could be seen pulling out of 50-50 challenges, getting wrestled off his chosen path and generally being bullied this way and that. And in a way, that was our performance in a microcosm, at least for the first hour or so.

2. Substitutes Raising The Entire Team

That general sentiment of tentativeness and dislike for the less fragrant elements of cup football only really began to change once the substitutes were shoved on. Admittedly young Winks came out in the second half looking suitably mortified for his error, and determined to atone by scurrying around for as long as his legs would obey, but by and large we continued to potter about the place with only a passing degree of interest, and if the final whistle had sounded and we had been eliminated I’m not sure the eleven on the pitch would have been motivated to do much more than shrug shoulders and enquire what was for dinner.

So it was left to the subs to address matters. They were introduced iteratively, and our performance improved in direct proportion. Lamela and Dele brought with them not only energy, speed of thought and some deft touches; they also managed to haul everyone around them up to a fairly similar level.

Quite why we could not have started with that same sharpness is beyond me, but I suppose we should just be glad that it transpired at all. Lamela and Dele suggested the novel concept of picking their way through Rochdale midfield and defence, and the rest of our heroes cottoned on to the idea and joined in, as if it were the first time they had ever heard of such a scheme but by golly they wanted part of it.

3. The Curious Incident of Danny Rose Randomly Upping His Game

If Son’s timidity in the face of a flailing limb or two were frustrating, but mitigated by that willing spirit, the contrast in Danny Rose’s attitude pre- and post-substitutions was downright bizarre. For the first hour or so the Rose locker was utterly bereft of willing spirit. The young bean seemed to do little more for two thirds of the game than go through the motions, as if to wave his arms and wonder out loud why some people were picked to play away to Juventus while some other people were picked to play away to Rochdale.

All of which made some sense, for here, after all, is a man who, when not happy with his lot at N17, will grab the nearest megaphone and broadcast the fact to society at large.

But what followed made for pretty odd viewing, because as Lamela, Dele and Kane popped in to wave hello, young Rose went through the gears at breakneck speed, until he ended up as some sort of Gerrard-esque driving force ploughing straight through central midfield and towards the Rochdale penalty area. Willing spirit, flesh that was anything but weak – by the time our second goal came round Rose had discovered the whole bally lot.

(And then he lost his bearings slightly for the equaliser.)

4. Moura Looks A Nifty Sort

The silver linings in all this admittedly took quite some locating, they not being of the ilk that jostled for position and yelled “Me! Me! Me!” in a desperate attempt to make themselves stand out from the crowd.
However, the newbie looks a fun sort of fish, what? If “Lack of match practice” were the official party line, the memo sure as heck did not reach Moura Towers, because the young buck tore about the place like a kid on Christmas morning.

He managed in the opening ten minutes the sort of feats that nobody at Spurs has done in several season – viz. waltz around opponents for the sheer joy of being alive. A pretty handy type of name to have in one’s address book, if you get my drift.

A (near-enough) debut goal will also do the honest fellow some good, I imagine. And a propos that equaliser – and at the risk of having the universe collapse under the weight of absurdity – I must commend Monsieur Sissoko for a perfectly-weighted through ball for our newest recruit. Odd, isn’t it?

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