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Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. The Eriksen-Modric Fantasy Clash

I don’t mind admitting that the heart skipped a lovestruck beat when I saw Messrs Modric and Eriksen line up in opposition in the centre of the Bernabeu. It was like one of those classic films in which an inspired casting director has called in a few favours and pulled a few strings, with the result that he has managed to obtain the services of two absolute giants of the silver screen, to peddle their muck alongside one another for the first time. Think Expendables 2 and you have the idea.

So there, in glorious technicolour, were Modric and Eriksen. Master and Apprentice if you will, of the control panel at N17. Creator Extraordinaire Past and C. E. Present. Even the dullest, most heartless observer would have salivated uncontrollably at the prospect.

Alas, what transpired was quite the mismatch. Modric, unsurprisingly, stuck to his part of the deal, and duly ran the show from first toot to last. All that we had known and loved on the hallowed turf of the Lane was blazing away again, from the man once voted Real’s Worst Ever Signing. The exquisite technique, vision and execution, all allied to an impressive degree of hither-and-thither scurrying. It was A-Game stuff, and our heroes had to be on their toes throughout to prevent the chap running riot (which, to their credit, they did with aplomb, but more on that later).

But alas, I said, and it’s worth repeating: alas. For Eriksen, who by any loose estimation has hit quite the heights already this season, was dreadfully off colour. The heir to the Moric mantle seemed to have attached left boot to right foot and vice versa, and possibly then tied the laces of both boots together for good measure. He barely struck a right note the whole evening. Dashed odd, and terrifically frustrating, because if ever we needed our String-Puller-In-Chief to earn the monthly envelope it was away to the European Champions.

He will have better days – in truth he can barely have worse – and his work-rate was as earnest as ever, but there could barely be fainter praise for the chap.

2. Harry Winks’ 60 Seconds Worth of Distance Run

Seasoned visitors to these 4 walls will know that the AANP cup overfloweth with good honest man-love for young Master Winks. That he is one of our own and lives the dream is certainly pleasing, and poetic and whatnot, but pleasing and poetic alone does not win football matches. But by heck what does win football matches is receiving the ball and instantly spinning the needle Northwards to see what is available, then ploughing forward via the best transport mode available, be it pass or dribble.

The chap is not faultless – his loss of possession on halfway resulted five seconds later in a one-on-one for one of the greatest goalscorers in history, not the sort of error of judgement one wants to make too readily.

But allowing for the fact that young Winks is mortal, and that to err will very much be an occasional part of his DNA, he held his own in the face of arguably the stiffest midfield test in world football today.

The assorted boxes ticked included “Body Strength to Protect the Thing”, “Defensive Awareness (Both Positioning and Tackling)” and, as mentioned above, a pleasingly anti-Jenas ability to prompt a forward move. Those doubting the young bean’s ability would be advised to soak up a replay of our goal, featuring Winks shrugging off a challenge and playing the short but effective forward pass which set the thing in motion down the right flank.

3. Aurier and Sissoko

A propos that right flank, quite the eventful evening for those on patrol. Aurier’s greatest hits in lilywhite now include an assist vs Real Madrid, a penalty conceded for a wild lunge, a red card for two wild lunges, and an absolute hatful of other wild lunges delivered at regular intervals, executed with groan-inducing wildness and as likely to succeed as the toss of a coin.

A rough diamond then, as a particularly kindly diplomat might put it. The cross for our goal was scrumptious, and after the initial 20-minute bedding-in period in which every member of our back-five had evidently been instructed to remain within spitting distance of our own penalty area upon pain of death, he gradually began to don his marauder’s hat and go marauding up the right with the best of them.

The link-up play with Sissoko certainly did have the occasional look of ‘Accident’ rather than ‘Design’, but effective is as effective does, and Aurier caused them problems.

That said, watching him perfect the needless art of the Wild Lunge did make me want to reach out and offer a consoling pat to the head of Kieran Trippier.

Elsewhere on the right, the broken clock that yesterday told the right time was Sissoko and his limb collection. The consensus is that the chap did a decent job, and he certainly contributed to the unlikely double-act with Aurier. However, I would hardly number myself amongst the converts. For every extravagant scorpion-kick control-on-the-run there was a wild swing and miss on the edge of his own area. It did the job, he played his part, so credit where due, but every passing day – and every errant pass – makes me yearn more for Dembele and Wanyama.

4. Lloris’ Disdain for Physics

To date this season Monsieur Lloris has been cultivating quite the eye-catching collection of monumental aberrations, but such big tent capers can be forgiven in an instant when one observes the frankly physics-defying stunts he pulls off in the name of the last line of defence.

As with the left-hand scoop vs Bournemouth at the weekend, his leggy block of Benzema’s header yesterday seemed to cause a rip in the very fabric of space-time. The thing just did not seem possible, and was worth toasting to the rafters every jot as much as a goal at t’other end.

The save from Ronaldo’s volley, while slightly more aligned to the laws of physics, was nevertheless similarly first-rate. The chap is a keeper, if you get my drift.

5. Pochettino’s Tactics

AANP has no bones about attributing the rightful name to a digging implement, and when our glorious leader erroneously gambled on Son at left wing-back vs Chelsea in the Cup last year, a bashing was duly administered which no doubt still makes the chap cower to this day.

Last night, the assorted absentees forced him into another tactical gamble, and a startling one it was too, with the teamsheet prompting around 18 different interpretations from seasoned onlookers of what shape and arrangement might transpire.

5-3-2 as it happened, in a pleasing throwback to AANP’s failed experiments on early 90s Championship Manager, but credit by the truckload to Pochettino for deciding upon it, and the lilywhite troupe for executing it.

Admittedly, the deep-defensive approach does induce palpitations by the bucketload amongst the observing throng, but by and large it worked. In the first half, after the early woodwork scare, Real struggled to get their paws into the meat of the thing, viz. our penalty area. Admittedly we in turn struggled to prevent the ball returning straight back at us, particularly at the start of the second half, but with Real looking vulnerable at the back, the “2” element of 5-3-2 proved a smart move, and we should have toddled off home with more than just the one goal.
Credit, on that cheery note, to Llorente, who, while no whippet, showed both strength and a delicate touch in his role as Robin to Kane’s Batman.

Other observations were that Son was surprisingly underused, and Danny Rose seems to have spent his entire rehabilitation period deprived of any grooming products, but in the absence of 4 of our first choice 11, a point away at the European Champions was a fantastic result. Qualification is all but guaranteed, and in the grand scheme of things, the development of this bunch continues apace. Marked progress from last year, the upward trajectory continues.

Liverpool 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

Having not strung consecutive passes together since around 2014, and suffered defeats in recent weeks to such behemoths as Swansea and Southampton, there was a fairly morbid inevitability about the fact that Liverpool would rediscover their joie de vivre against us. Of course they would.

1. Davies

Credit where due, our hosts set off like a pack of hyenas spurred into action by the dinner gong at a zoo. Every time one of our lot were in possession they were rather rudely biffed and barged by at least two or three of the blighters in red, and naturally enough the mistakes duly flowed like it was open season on the things.

Our heroes certainly did not help themselves. Au contraire, they seemed fairly intent on doing their utmost to help Liverpool out of their new year slump, going the extra mile as it were. Which was neighbourly I suppose, but, it struck me, seemed to fly in the face of the overall mission imperative. Wanyama started this rot, setting his radar to “Liverpool Shirt” and letting fly with a mind-boggling five-minute spell in which all he did was intercept the ball and ping it straight to the nearest opponent. The brow furrowed.

Or at least the AANP brow furrowed. By contrast, one could almost see the eyes of Ben Davies light up as he noted the errant Wanyama peddling this insanity. Against Middlesborough and Wycombe and the like, Davies is pretty much the man for the occasion – sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but by and large doing enough to force the deal through. However, one suspects that you or I might be the man for the occasion against that lot. Liverpool away represents a different kettle of fish, something far likelier to test the iron will and moral fibre. This was Davies’ opportunity to prove himself as one of those beasts of the jungle who growls “Jump” and has his fellow beasts hopping to it pronto.

Alas, the reality that transpired was bleak, second-rate and error-strewn. Liverpool rather cruelly opted to hone in on Davies, having identified him as the weaker of the sentry guards on duty, and by golly were they were rewarded. Davies resembled a man who did not quite know which sport he was playing. Helpfully abandoned by Son, and without the reassuring presence and pristine side-parting of Jan Vertonghen beside him, the young bean floundered out of his depth and had his head dunked beneath the surface time and again by Liverpool. One would sympathise, but there is not really much room for sentiment in this narrative.

2. Dier

In a touching show of solidarity with his Welsh chum, Eric Dier peddled a similar line in incompetence, from his vantage point at centre-back. Dwelling on the ball, and displaying a turn of pace that would give hope to passing tortoises, he represented another ill-disguised chink in the lilywhite armour, as Christmas came early for our hosts.

The alarming sentiment continues to gain momentum that Dier is a centre-back who is woefully ill-equipped to perform as one half of a centre-back pairing. Within a back-three his lack of pace matters less, and as midfield cover he is able to slot in for his full-backs and mop things up neatly enough. But plant him at the core of a back-four, with little more than a “How-To” guide and his own autonomy, and the chap flounders. And flounder he did with some majesty yesterday, being directly culpable for the second, and generally unable to cope with the red shirts buzzing all around him.

(To his credit he flew in with one glorious sliding tackle to spare various blushes as Liverpool ran rampant at two-nil, but all a bit late at that juncture, what?)

It made for fairly ghastly viewing, but stepping back from things and giving the chin a little stroke, one starts to ponder the broader, philosophical questions of life, existence and Eric Dier. Not good enough to play in a back-four, and displaced in midfield by Wanyama, where does the young fish fit in?

3. Resources

If you don’t mind me veering away from the minutiae of the match itself, and instead trotting a little further down this existential line, the nub of the thing seems to be that our squad is not quite the all-singing, all-dancing, multi-talented troupe needed for the rigours of this lark. The first-choice XI is a match for the very best in the land, make no mistake. But take out Rose and Vertonghen, and we are a dashed sight weaker. Take out Kane, and poor old Janssen lollops on to stumble over his own feet. Remove Eriksen and it’s the uncontrollable limbs of Cissoko. Young Winks has some dash about him for sure, but he’s no Dembele.

And so on. Not exactly a novel train of thought, but while we were able to gloss over things in previous weeks, the lack of squad depth was exposed in fairly pointed fashion yesterday, and it made for some pretty awkward viewing.

4. Dembele

Still, amidst this rather dank state of affairs there were nevertheless one or two moments to stir the soul, and they typically emanated from the sturdy frame of Dembele. Noting with razor-sharp judgement that he was not about to receive a jot of support from any of his chums in lilywhite, Dembele set about on three or four separate occasions trying to right all the wrongs of the day single-handedly. It was like one of those tragic war-films they show on Sunday afternoons, when our half-dozen heroes are pinned into some sort of bunker by hordes of the enemy, and one particularly selfless old bean decides that the only way in which anyone is going to make it to the end credits is if he makes a noble dash right into the heart of enemy heartland and takes down a few dozen opponents, sacrificing himself in the process.

Dembele had clearly had enough of the imbecilic frippery of Davies, Dier et al, and repeatedly tried to rescue the day be single-handedly weaving his way through massed ranks of red shirts. Alas, he generally made it past two or three before being crowded out and dragged to his doom, but it stirred the loins somewhat to see this will to win.

5. Discipline

Things improved a mite in the second half, to the extent that we were not overrun quite as much, but the game was long gone by then, and we were frankly lucky to be only two down.

There were echoes of Stamford Bridge last season as the game wore on and our lot struggled to make the slightest dent in proceedings, as they instead resorted to losing their heads and lashing out with all the subtlety of a team of raging bulls in the ceramics aisle. Led, naturally, by Dele Alli, half the team got themselves cautioned for a stream of fairly wild and unseemly hacks and stamps (although young Winks can feel hard done by on that count, poor lamb). One should probably tut and pontificate, but in truth they were only doing on the pitch what I rather felt like doing from the sidelines. The whole thing was bally frustrating, and not least because Liverpool have been so poor in recent weeks.

However, just over the mid-point of the season, and with only home games vs Arsenal and Man Utd remaining of the top six, we are fairly well set. A Top Four finish is eminently doable. Quite what fresh madness awaits when the Europa League returns is anyone’s guess, and a couple of injuries could blast our season out of the water, but as long as this defeat does not trigger a slump there should not be too much cause of concern.

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

Spurs 4-0 WBA: Four Lilywhite Observations

Enjoying Themselves

Have you ever seen a set of players just enjoying life as much our lot did yesterday? While the pre-match prognostications had naturally been cheery thoughts of how West Brom derailed us last year, and we rarely beat them, and wouldn’t it just be so very Tottenham to follow up a win over Chelsea with a pickle against WBA – our heroes sauntered onto the pitch as if they had been having the mother of all jollies in the changing room, and were determined that nothing as irrelevant as a referee’s whistle was going to interrupt their fun.

West Brom trotted out with miserable countenances and a 6-3-1 formation, rather like a chap who sits next to you at a dinner party and spends the night complaining that he loathes nothing more than being at dinner parties. Mercifully, our lot could not have given two hoots, and spent the afternoon running rings around them. Such was the merriment that Wanyama was bursting through the middle to create the opening for the first goal; Danny Rose was racing around in the right wing position to set up the second; and a pre-injury Jan Vertonghen was lapping up every opportunity to bound forward in search of whatever glory was going spare. It was an absolute riot.

West Brom, with their hangdog expressions, dutifully chased shadows, but I cannot remember seeing a team dominate possession quite as much as our heroes, in that first half in particular. Seasons changed and empires rose and fell before West Brom got a foot on the ball. In years gone by our heroes have struggled against brick walls and locked doors when faced with these defensive mobs, but yesterday it seemed they could carve out chances at will.

Eriksen

‘Derided’ is a strong old term, but the chap has certainly taken the odd verbal biff from these quarters, in months gone by, for not really turning his abundant talent into the full twenty-four carat once on the pitch and in the thick of battle. But by golly there were no such concerns yesterday. If there were a whiff of magic in the air, Eriksen was more often than not in the vicinity, wand in hand.

Admittedly charging down free-kicks in his capacity as a one-man wall was not really in the remit, but in so-doing the well-mannered young bean seemed to reinforce the view that pretty much everything he touched would turn to the bright stuff. There were tricks and flicks, scything diagonals, and generally puppet-mastery of the highest order.

And it has been thus for several weeks now. The chap does occasionally seem to stumble upon these purple patches, and for a couple of months makes the game look as easy as the nabbing of candy from a minor. Which is obviously marvellous stuff, and six wins in a row smacks of us making balefuls of hay while this particular sun has shone. The nub of the thing is that Eriksen keeps up this form. The whole system is working dreamily at the moment, and there are creative options a-plenty – as West Brom will wearily testify – but an on-song Eriksen does make the various bits and pieces tick in most pleasing manner.

Cracking Goals

When up against a six-man back-line – not to mention a goalkeeper who struts around with the air of a man who knows he has in fact been sired by one of the gods – that early opening goal is pretty dashed crucial. All that dominance might have become something of a millstone if we had trundled up to half-time without a breakthrough, and as such any old opening goal would have been gratefully received.

We were rather spoiled then by a selection of goals which may not necessarily live too long in the memory, but which were classy enough to be waved into clubs with strict dress codes nonetheless. The little pinged passes and precise finish for the opener were slick enough to be presented to visiting dignitaries.

Admittedly the second had as much luck about it as guile, as the persistence of Rose and Dembele were rounded off by the umpteen deflections, but if you ping 20 shots at the opposition goal, one would expect one of them to be coated in good fortune.

As for the third, I have already sent my application for membership to its very own fan club. The accuracy of the drilled Walker pass was bona fide eye of the needle stuff; and one would have to be a particularly curmudgeonly sort – a West Brom player perhaps – not to enjoy the acrobatic scissor-kick finish.

Then there was the scooped Dele Alli pass for the fourth. Frankly, there should be a law against such stuff.

Vertonghen Injury Repurcussions

Alas, there was a blot on this particular escutcheon, in the right-angled shape of Jan Vertonghen’s ankle. The beauty of this current all-conquering vintage is that the entire XI seem to play their roles to perfection and gel with one another absolutely dreamily. Remove one part, and… well. One rather wonders.

Ben Davies performend the role commendably enough during the Euros, and the alternative would presumably be Kevin Wimmer, whose performances so far this season have not quite matched the impressive heights of last season. I rather hope that the last cab on this particular rank is reversion to a flat back four, because unless Vertonghen and Alderweireld are at its helm this is not a structure exactly oozing infallibility from its every pore. One for the Brains Trust to ponder over.

The injury to Vertonghen does also direct a little attention towards what is, if not exactly an elephant, then certainly a mammal of relatively conspicuous proportions. This starting XI has an all-singing, all-dancing and frankly all-conquering feel about it. However, once the reserves are called upon – and the Europa League soirees kick off once more – I fear that cracks might appear in this thing. Worries for another day perhaps. This was arguably our finest, and most enjoyable performance of the season.

Stoke 0-4 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Musings

A curious sport seems to have broken out amongst our heroes, whereby they amuse one another by replicating exactly all results from last season. I must confess I have come across more entertaining gags in my time, but if it means meeting Stoke away and treating that impostor with a disdainful 0-4 then I am all for it.

1. Strength in Reserve

AANP is not really one of those chappies who spots a single, lone swallow on the horizon and drops what he is doing to give the gong a good thrashing and announce that summer is here and in rude health. As such, when Erik Lamela is deemed not quite ripe and ready, and the next cab is duly hauled off the rank and produces a nifty two-goal salvo, I am not about to pop the nearest champagne cork and proclaim that our strength in depth is such as to make us nailed-on Title favourites.

For a start, as swallows go, Son is the type of young sport who will perform all manner of eye-catching party tricks when he first hits town, but then rather slink out of view as matters progress. Be that as it may later on in the season, his input yesterday, as Lamela’s replacement, was jolly handy yesterday.

One knows what one is getting with Son. Eagerness to impress, some fancy footwork and rather a talent for neat finishing, but all packaged within a frustratingly lightweight frame that is liable to see him picked up and deposited elsewhere by a particularly fruity gust of wind. He carefully paraded all facets of his character yesterday, but in this instance being routinely bumped off the ball was eminently excusable because his goals – and the second in particular – were a delight to behold.

2. Good Fortune

This being Tottenham, at 1-0 up things could certainly go either way. Granted, the Pochettino vintage is made from much sterner stuff than many of the variations that have gone before, but one never really gets the impression that things are bobbing along with the serene majesty of a Greek goddess in one of her more idyllic moments when the score is but 1-0.

And there but for the grace of the Almighty would we have tip-toed, if the day’s arbiter of proceedings had decided that the fairly obvious second yellow card offence committed by Master Wanyama – the body-check of an opponent in full counter-attacking flow – ought to have merited the flourishing of a second yellow card. For reasons that nestle firmly in the unfathomable, the long arm of the law awarded a foul but opted against a second yellow. We continued with eleven vs eleven, our glorious leader sneakily took the opportunity to remove Wanyama before he could destroy anything else in this particular chinashop, and our heroes promptly ran riot.

3. Fine Young Things In Midfield

To date this season young Master Eriksen has loafed about with the moody air of a teenager being forced to wear a suit, flitting in and out of things and occasionally waving a talented leg, but generally wishing he were elsewhere.

Mercifully however – and by sheer coincidence just a matter of days after his weekly corn has been doubled – the young bean was back to something approaching the peak of his powers yesterday. His touch was once more that of a man with more a hint of the footballing deity coursing within his veins, his vision and execution were up several notches on previous weeks, and the occasional snap-shot hinted at something of the ice-cold marksman. The net result of all this was that when the whim grabbed him he led Stoke a merry dance, transformed from whining schoolboy to bearded solider quicker than one could say, “But how are Stoke letting in goals left, right and centre when they have literally six bodies – plus the goalkeeper – back in their own area at any given time?”

Heart-warming also to note that Dele Alli also seemed a dashed sight happier with his lot yesterday. His rather natty diagonal set Eriksen on his merry way to assisting the opening goal, but more than that, his movement and inclination to introduce himself to all and sundry within the confines of the Stoke penalty area helped to cement the impression that this was our binge and we were going to do as we pleased.

4. Kyle Walker and His Three Lungs

Pre kick-off I don’t mind admitting that I had chewed a nervous fingernail at the prospect of young boyo Ben Davies stepping into the Danny Rose-shaped whole at left-back. Davies is now proud owner of a hat bearing the inscription “Bona fide Euros Semi-Finalist”, but I am not yet convinced that he is possessed of quite the same level of verve as Rose, particularly when it comes to the forward gallop.

Frankly though, as Minute 1 ticked into Minute 2 and so forth, I gradually forgot about Davies, Rose and whatnot, my attention arrested by Kyle Walker out on the opposite flank. Whether it was recovering to block a shot with his face, or steaming forward to make merry in the opposition area, the blighter put on a bravura performance.

The pièce de résistance was his assist for the Dele Alli goal, an assist which began with him guarding his own post at a Stoke corner, of all things. From there he absolutely hurtled forward, literally from his own post, over halfway and into the opposition area at full pelt, to deliver on a plate for Dele Alli.

5. Kane Breaks His Duck

If Pochettino could have hand-crafted his own fairytale ending to a dreary afternoon in Stoke, it would presumably have involved a goal from approximately one yard for Harry Kane. This being that sort of day, the gods duly obliged, and Kane pored over the opportunity in forensic detail before doing the honourable thing. Cheeks were duly puffed all around, and that was that.

Given that our performances to date this season have resembled those of a new-born foal desperately trying to fathom the purpose of its long spindly underlimbs, to stroll up to Stoke and swat them away with quite such ease is frightfully cheery stuff. To limber up thusly for a CL return renders it all the cheerier. And to nudge and nurdle back into form a couple of key personnel in the process is just about as tickety-boo as these things get.

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

Spurs 1-1 Liverpool: Five Lilywhite Musings

I suppose in theory one could quite rightly point to a win and two draws as a solid, meat-and-two-veg sort of return on the opening few weeks, the sort of thing upon which vast and dashed successful empires were built in the days of yore.

Nevertheless, at the final whistle yesterday it felt not so much like we had purred through the gears so much as just about got the thing back into the garage in one piece, and with some pretty dubious coughing and spluttering sounds emanating from the engine.

1. Vorm Earns His Corn

Repeatedly the bridesmaid since arriving at the Lane, Vorm’s contributions to date have pretty much been limited to waving a pretty slippery pair of gloves around in the occasional cup match. Confidence in the chap has therefore not really been full to bursting, but by golly he corrected that with some gusto yesterday by taking every drop of a hat as his cue to go haring from his area like a particularly buoyant whippet and belting the ball into orbit before any onrushing foe could make merry. It made for quite the spectacle, albeit one which had palpitations surging through the very core of every watching lilywhite.

However, never let it be said that AANP is a man who fails to dish out great dollops of credit where it is due, for the old bean seemed to time his little sprints with some aplomb. In fact, after the first couple I started to get the sneaky suspicion that he was just doing it for sport, but it certainly did the job.

Perhaps rather more importantly was the unlikely save he made in the opening exchanges, by virtue of an outstretched leg, when the Liverpool chappie seemed so certain to score that various bookmakers were already dishing out. It was not his only useful save either, so should a single point at the end of the season mean the difference between dancing in the streets and doleful despair, we ought not to forget to wheel out Vorm for a hearty hand and some good-natured wolf-whistles.

2. The Strangely Impotent Forward Line

As the first half wore in somewhat troubling manner, Liverpool forwards buzzed around in a way that had our lot not quite knowing where the next one was about to appear. On top of which, one would hardly say that at the business end of the pitch our heroes were parading around with all the verve and entertainment of some sort of irresistible, all-singing-all-dancing  theatre troupe. Au contraire. There was a distinct lack of whatsit about our occasional forward jabs.

Lamela has rather won me over in recent months, just by virtue of seeming to get the message that these eggs do not crack themselves, and consequently rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in each week, but the chap looked strangely neutered yesterday. Alli stomped around like the angry young buck he is, but by and large got his feet in a tangle each the ball went anywhere near him; and Eriksen was so peripheral that at times I rather fancied he faded in and out of existence like Marty McFly when all was going awry at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance.

And so it went on. Janssen is a man who applies himself well enough, but this never looked like being an occasion which would end with his name blazing out in neon lights across Broadway, and by full-time he had reddened his face but achieved very little. Kane had a rather awful time of things, but one expects that he will be back.

The moral of the story is that as tick followed tock it became pretty dashed difficult to identify which particular goose was going to lay a golden egg and get us back to parity.

3. Useful Input From Rose

Cometh the hour, cometh the flying chunkster. In truth, well before his goal, young Master Rose had popped up on the left with reassuring regularity, to add a little drive to proceedings when all around him seemed to be losing interest. I’m not sure if Liverpool thought it was against the rules or perhaps the spirit of the thing to try to stop him, but he seemed our most likely creative option in the first half.

And just when it seemed that we really would continue to bash our heads fruitlessly against a wall, he delivered one of the most exquisite mis-hits of the season. I would suggest that he rather earned his luck there, by displaying the willingness to lope forward in the first place.

This was not his most reassuring defensive display ever, but the chap does add a certain je ne sais quoi when he hurtles forward. On top of which, the sight of him flying horizontally through the air every time there is a clash of limbs absolutely never fails to entertain.

4. A Small Nod in the Direction of Wanyama

The attack might have resembled the soft, toothless gums of a newborn rather than the menacing gnashers of one of those great big wild cats of the Sahara; and the back four seemed to come replete with sizeable gaps in their very core; but Victor Wanyama at least turned up for work with the right idea.

As appropriate, the young egg chipped in with interceptions and tackles, and generally appeared impervious to the ghastly malady of pinging the thing straight to the nearest opponent whenever the cutting-edge concept of passing was required. On a day of precious few cockle-warming positives, Wanyama at least seemed to do the minimum.

5. Return of Dembele – What of Dier?

Whichever sage chirped that absence makes the heart grow fonder no doubt had in mind Moussa Dembele as he sits out half a dozen games for eye-gouging, because the whole thing is currently flatter than a warm beer left on a table the morning after one of those terrific all-night binges you have before kids enter your life. Going forward, our heroes had the same look as King Kong when atop the tower and being peppered by fighter planes, a look that rather suggests that all is not as much fun as was advertised.

As mentioned above, Wanyama is earning his corn well enough, and few would doubt the importance of Dier to the whole fandango – but both are essentially destructors, whose duty lies in snuffling out the opposition and then handing things over to the more handsome cast members. To date this season our midfield has been notable for a distinct absence of the sort of chap that has opponents gasping “Crumbs, here comes a human tank with an absolute barrel for a chest”, and diving for cover accordingly. Such a sequence of events is not just quite the spectator sport, but also creates all manner of fun opportunities for Kane et al further forward.

So there can be little doubt that Dembele will head straight back into the eleven at the earliest opportunity – but at whose expense? Dier may be the more established cog, but it was notable last week that he was hooked before the hour, and this week he has been shunted into defence to accommodate a change in formation.

And what would the connotations be if Dier did find himself demoted to first reserve? How would Dele Alli react? All in the realms of speculation for the time being, but it does rather make one think, what?

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

Summer Lilywhite Musings

Here at AANP Towers we are pretty firmly of the opinion that not a dashed jot ought to be read into the great big tease that is The Pre-Season Friendly, and in that spirit I’m inclined to care not a hang about the two defeats. Of rather more interest were the shiny new personnel who gambolled around the Melbourne Cricket Ground (a turn of events that did get me thinking that the last time I tried playing football on a cricket green I was unceremoniously booted off, with the threat the local constabulary were to be involved, but such is life).

Wanyama

I probably ought to caveat at the outset that while I pride myself on my ability to procrastinate and undertake myriad pointless hobbies, researching the whys and wherefores of Europe’s – or indeed the Preimership’s – top talent does not really feature on the 500 or so on my list. So if you are looking for an infallible scout’s guide to the players we ought to be welcoming to N17, I’m afraid you’ve quite markedly stumbled upon the wrong corner of the interweb.

With that ringing endorsement in place, I may as well run the rule over the chap Wanyama.

In a nutshell – I’m jolly glad that we’ve pickled this particular egg. No doubt about it, sans Dier, Dembele or – heaven forbid – both, we are a dashed sight less rambunctious than with. Dier seemed to be wheeled out for just about every game of every competition last season, either on guard-dog patrol in front of the back-four or as cup competition centre-back. While it seems unlikely that Wanyama will dislodge Dier in a hurry, he does offer both reserve and competition, in what is possibly the most important position in our team.

From what I remember of previous seasons (although again, I can hardly profess to being a seasoned Wanyama-watcher) the chap can get stuck in and is rarely happier than when harassing an opponent to within an inch of his life. The pre-season gubbins appeared to bear out this point, as he seemed happy enough to sit deep and go snuffling for possession. On paper therefore, the chap seems a pretty sensible purchase, so a gold start to someone in the Brains Trust.

Janssen

Again on paper, the concept of a reserve for (or possibly competitor to) young Master Kane makes sense by the bucketload. Kane is blessed with a natural gait and demeanour that makes him look a tad weary at the best of times, but by the end of the season (and during those wretched, wretched Euros) he looked to have wrung every last drop of energy from his body. As with Dier then, news of another pair of legs to fill the striking berth seems as good a reason as any to strike the celebratory gong.

However, as just about every lilywhite who has roamed the earth will testify, and as the names Postiga and Soldado rather damningly evidence, there is no guarantee that any expensive foreign striker who swans into the Lane will necessarily blow up anyone’s skirts once throats are cleared and business begins. One frets.

Good luck to the chap nevertheless. He showed some nifty touches in the Atletico friendly in particular, linking up and holding up, as the jargon has it, although I’m not sure he had a sight of goal over the course of the two games so judgement on his ability to score from every angle is necessarily deferred. I suppose that in the meantime one is inclined to keep fingers firmly crossed and mutter a gentle prayer as the season draws near.

Euros Personnel

It is still difficult to hark back to the Euros without seeking out the nearest wall and banging my head against it repeatedly in a fit of something between frustration and rage, but this is the hand we are dealt.

As mentioned earlier, Harry Kane trudged around as if every lost drop had been sucked from his body, and alas the endearing memory of his participation will likely be the image of him blasting corners and free-kicks way off into the stratosphere.

Dele Alli hardly did himself justice either, although I felt jolly miffed on the chap’s account that the shoe-horning of Rooney into the team meant that young Alli was shunted around from his natural habitat… Apologies, ‘tis a rant that ought to be left to rest

Dier, Walker, Rose

On a brighter note, Messrs Dier, Walker and Rose were more impressive. Walker and Rose for the most part carried on doing what they had done with aplomb for the best part of 2015/16, hurtling up the flanks with startling indefatigability. Alas, having spent the first three games of the tournament with concentration etched across his face as he strained every sinew to avoid lobbing in a seismic defensive mistake, Walker eventually switched off and lost his man for the first Iceland goal – an unfortunate blot on an otherwise cheery showing.

Dier too appeared to be at fault for an Icelandic goal, but again this ought not to detract from some impressive nine-to-five stuff in front of the defence. Where the dickens that free-kick came from is anyone’s guess.

Davies, The Belgiums, Lloris

Elsewhere, Belgium’s decision to play Vertonghen at left-back had eyebrows arching up and down the High Road, and Toby Alderweireld was made to look rather silly by that Welsh chap who was not registered with any club, which is something of a low.

Ben Davies playing as one third of a back-three prompted the mother of all dull-and-inebriated discussions between AANP and a chum, and Monsieur Lloris confirmed what most of the watching world already knew about his ranking as a tip-top net guardian. The poor lamb can consider himself dashed unlucky not to have lifted the shiny vase at the end of it all.

However, the real losers of the whole tournament appeared to be our lot, with Spurs players apparently spending more minutes on the pitch than any other Premiership team. One can barely contain excitement at the prospect of a sluggish lilywhite start to season 2016/17. My medical expertise does not quite extend to knowing whether the rigours of the summer will leave them too tired or not up to match-fitness come mid-August, but the first excuse of the season is already well prepared here at AANP Towers.

New Kit

Such is the dearth of activity in these moribund summer months that it comes to this. We have a new kit, sensationally it is white and blue. As befits a curmudgeonly grump, I am not a fan (of the blue shoulder thing in particular), but no point in complaining. Young people will do these things, and somewhere a cash register is whirring. As ever though, they could play in bin-liners for all I care, as long as there is success to toast come May 2017…

Spurs 3-0 Bournemouth: Six Lilywhite Observations

1. Fast Start

No time to bed in and have a few early sighters, not with our lot. The opening toot of the whistle was the signal for the hounds to be released, and before one even had time to pour a stiff something into a tumbler and give it a swirl, young Kane was already racing away to dish out back-slaps and “What hos”.

Many a sage has trotted out the slightly peculiar adage that the best time to score is just before half-time – I’ll be pickled if I know quite why – and there certainly can be occasions when an early goal actually has a negative effect – disrupting game-plans, spurring on the opposition etc (I’m looking at you, England-Germany in Euro ’96).

But on this occasion a goal in the opening 44 seconds was happened to be the exact scribbling on the doctor’s prescription, absolutely verbatim. This Sunday kick-off business by and large means that every time we kick off we are already a decent glug behind Leicester in the timetable, and the tension around the place was lingering in a none-too-healthy way as the clock ticked down to 4pm today – so credit in abundance to Messrs Walker and Kane for coming up with the idea of scoring in the first minute. For thereafter our lot oozed confidence, Bournemouth looked like a team who would willingly run for the hills if the laws of the game allowed such things, and the whole jamboree resembled a fairly breezy cakewalk.

2. Top-Notch First Half

The first half was very much the stuff of the new-look, consistent and effective Tottenham. A world away from the Spurs who made my childhood such dashed agony, it appeared that confidence, rather than perspiration, oozed from the pores, as our heroes kept the ball for what seemed like full ten-minute stretches at a time and ground down the opponents with relentless efficiency. The full-backs set up camp alongside the midfielders, chances were carefully created, every man in lilywhite bobbed along with a spring in their step and all was right with the world.

Understandably enough the energy and enthusiasm dials appeared to be turned down considerably in the second half, as frankly the first half contained so many spoilers that we all knew how things would turn out fairly early on. And as our heroes dozily toyed with Bournemouth in the second half, every inch as flies to wanton boys, the thought struck me – ought we to have demonstrated the more clinical edge, of say a City or Chelsea of yesteryear? In their title-winning pomp, City have not simply gone through the motions in such instances, but instead put opponents to the sword and racked up five, six, seven.

Or did it make more sense simply to do as our lot did, take no risks, avoid any over-exertion, and simply see the thing out? Given that our goal difference is already comfortably superior to the other mobs, there is a strong case to be made for suggesting that our heroes got things absolutely spot on today. Three nil with minimal effort is more than enough at this stage of the thing.

Not a criticism, you understand, more of an idle musing as things wound down in the latter stages. (Although during those latter stages, we still came dashed close to scoring one of the goals of the season – that moment with the nifty Eriksen footwork and a few one-touch passes, before Alli got himself in a muddle and shot wide.)

3. Substitutions

With the game up before the hour mark, the next point of interest was the substitutes’ bench, as seasoned people-watchers subjected Pochettino to the usual scrutiny. I must confess I found myself raising an intrigued eyebrow as his first action was to give young Lamela the hook, particularly as the game was won. With Dier having been an injury doubt beforehand, and Alli, Demebele etc fairly critical to the upcoming denouement, it surprised me a smidge that one of the supporting cast was deemed ripe for plucking.

Still, Pochettino has demonstrated many a time and oft that he knows his apples from his oranges, so I will graciously allow him the benefit of the doubt. He will, no doubt, be thrilled.

4. What Now For Full-Back Rotation?

There are few sights in nature more eye-catching than young Kyle Walker flicking the switch to Turbo and absolutely steaming forward 50 yards to join an attack, and having struck oil with his very first foray he remained in the mood throughout.

The routine of swapping him and Rose for Trippier and Davies appears to have worked well enough, ensuring that all of them have enough puff in their lungs for their weekly assignment – but with our heroes now having been unceremoniously elbowed from European competition, I am intrigued to see what the official party line will be for full-backs in the coming weeks. There is now but one game a week, yet Pochettino is a man who will swap his full-backs if his own life depended upon retaining the same ones. An interesting little sub-plot, and for what it’s worth I think he will stick with Walker-Rose as the games tick by and push meets shove.

5. Vindication for Rotation

On the subject of rotation, Pochettino is far too polite a sort to brag, but having been subjected to various snuffles of disapproval (not least from within the four walls of AANP Towers) for abruptly deciding to wave the white flag at Dortmund in the last few weeks, our glorious leader will presumably allow himself a discreet nod of satisfaction that the resting of various luminaries in midweek paid off so handsomely this afternoon.

Credit where due, and if our lot do indeed wave the shiny thing around come May, nobody will care two hoots about squad rotation in Dortmund.

6. Wimmer Tribute

The whispers from behind the bike-shed suggest that Jan Vertonghen will be ready to burst back onto the scene, singing, dancing and looking immaculately coiffured, after the international break. Should that be the case he would, naturally enough, be welcomed back with a manly handshake and possibly a rugged back-slap, but if events should indeed transpire thusly, it seems only right to pay a brief but heartfelt tribute to his young deputy, Kevin Wimmer.

Despite appearing oddly like he ought to be wearing a tux and playing the bassoon in an orchestra somewhere, the chap has managed to put barely a foot wrong in the last few months. When Vertonghen limped off against Palace there were furrowed brows across N17, as we wondered whether our Title push was limping off with him, but Wimmer has patrolled the grounds with considerable aplomb.

There are ten others who can justifiably feel a tad miffed at having not had their five minutes here at AANP Towers tonight, for this was a top-notch stuff throughout the team. Sterner tests await no doubt, but while we could not win the league today, we could well have lost it had things gone South today. A most professional performance to take us into the international break. Merry Easter one and all.

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

Spurs 2-2 Arsenal: Five Dashed Frustrated Lilywhite Observations

1. A Dampish Squib

I suspect I was not the only one who, as matters progressed yesterday, found myself murmuring “Not so good, not so good.” The opening salvos were dished out well enough, and the ten-minute spell after the red card obviously had us all leaping from our seats like men possessed. Those shimmers aside however, this was decidedly not one that will have us gathering the grandchildren around the knee in decades to come.

The hows and whys of this particular dampish squib will require a fair amount of head-scratching and chin-stroking from our glorious leader. As mentioned, our heroes appeared to have the basics right in the opening few moments – facing the right way, stringing the passes along, slapping a few long-range efforts towards the chap in goal – but none of it was of the ilk to blow up anyone’s skirt. For all the scurrying and scuttling, we just weren’t getting anywhere.

And then before you knew it, we were one-down, it was the second half, and the concept of bludgeoning our way back into the game seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s minds. The brow furrowed.

Mercifully, that horrible lot from down the road had included in their ranks The Village Idiot, and his suitably dim-witted departure was more or less the equivalent of politely opening the door, waving us through, taking our coats from our shoulders and offering a glass of champagne. We could not have been ushered back into the game more agreeably, and at 2-1 with 20 minutes to go against ten men the thing really ought to have been beyond question.

But it wasn’t, and we didn’t, and so on and so forth. Consensus seems to have landed somewhere between ‘Fatigue’ and ‘Nerves’, which is fair enough on both counts. But nevertheless. This was not just supposed to be a toe-to-toe, tentative jabbing sort of affair. This was supposed to be the one in which we ripped Arsenal limb from limb and laughed manically at their bloodied torsos, then marched on irresistibly towards Leicester.

2. Luck

Moreover, I can fairly decidedly mark a big black cross across the phrase “Rotten Luck”, because if anything the gods of these things more or less nodded more in our direction. The goal-line technology moment could broadly be classified as a mite unfortunate, given that around eight ninths of the ball were behind the line, but rules is rules and the incident was little more than a footnote.

Instead, one might fairly validly point out that if the chappie had not got his red card we would probably have continued huffing and puffing all night to no avail. The advantage bestowed was certainly not one of our making.

On top of which, young Master Dier did rather well to keep his head down and wander off into the crowds when caught red-handed, on CCTV and in front of a global audience of near enough a billion. Admittedly one or two others also appeared to escape second bookings – but the gist of the thing was that our luck was decidedly in. And still, we talked our way out of a victory.

3. Lloris

Perhaps symbolic of how oddly uncooked they all looked was the performance of Monsieur Lloris. By and large one of the finer purveyors of such things, he pootled along sensibly enough yesterday until given his first significant piece of work – at which point he managed no more than to flap a soggy hand at the source of trouble, and the ball skidded and scuttled its way through almost apologetically.

On a related note, both yesterday and against West Ham, Lloris’ general attitude towards any backpasses nudged his way was to tapdance around the thing and invite all manner of trouble, which does no end of mischief to the constitution of those watching. It is absolutely beyond me why the chap cannot perform absolutely flawlessly for every single minute of every single occasion he plays for us.

4. Bright Spots

A tradition here at AANP Towers in the late hours of a weekend is to pour a glass of bourbon and muse on the standout lilywhite performances of the weekend, but this evening the task is by no means straightforward. The whole thing was oddly lacking in ripsnort, and as a result, of standout performers there are few.

Dembele certainly rolled around the pitch with the languid air of a man fully aware that he is a couple of levels ahead of the rest, but otherwise there were slim pickings. Rose was a self-contained conundrum, pounding forward enough to cause opposition concern, but invariably slapping his crosses against the nearest defender. The back-four dealt with the move which led to Arse’s second with all the alacrity of an elite group of napping elephants, and further up the pitch the whizz and bang of weeks gone by was a little lacking. It was no disaster, but all a mite underwhelming, given building the pre-match crescendo.

5. Kane goal

A dashed shame that Kane’s goal will be lost within the detail, because that was arguably the best of his lot so far. It reminded one of a cocky young sailor stepping ashore and sweeping the nearest young maiden off her feet – and the place duly erupted as if they had witnessed a North London derby winner of the highest order. Oh that the rest of them had read the script, but one must take the rough with the smooth.

A most peculiar barrel of eggs then, with its highs and lows standing shoulder to shoulder, but the nub of things is that chasing this Title has become a darned sight harder. On to the next one.

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

City 1-2 Spurs: 7 Lilywhite Observations

1. Dreamland (For Now)

As my ill-treated cardiovascular system desperately creaked its way through those wretched “four minutes” of injury-time, I noted today – and not for the first time – that watching Spurs will presumably one day be the death of me. Having been in something approaching rude health at kick-off (a brief social binge to Malta will do that to a man), by minute 94+ I was little more than a slab of meat slung over a chair, fingernails gnawed into submission, and oxygen collected only by the most rudimentary gasps that sounded like a radiator from a bygone era.

A nerve-shredding finale, is what I’m driving at, but heavens above, take a step back and look at the end-product. For the first time in my life – and presumably a decent percentage of lives of the wider Spurs-supporting public – we can dare to dream about the title. Probably not much more than “dare to dream” at this stage, what with the night of a thousand Cup ties waiting to hurl our way key injuries and whatnot, and plenty of meaty league fixtures still standing in our way with folded arms and menacing scowls.

But nevertheless. Only one team in the country would not sidle up to us behind closed doors and surreptitiously offer to trade their position for ours. Twelve games to go, the final straight if you will, and we sit on the shoulder of the leader. Probably best to enjoy the moment, what?

2. A Different Breed These Days

It’s been said many a time in recent weeks and months, but this Tottenham vintage truly is a group that knows how to fry their eggs. A tad short on final-third wizardry they may have been, but in all other areas they functioned like a team of particularly well-oiled robots, rather like in corking 70s flick Westworld before (spoiler) they all went loopy. Ball lost? No problem, ball won back. By about half the team functioning in unison. Tight spot? A moot concern, for in a blur of white movement several players avail themselves – or Dembele just turns and turns again until the spot is considerably more airy. And so on.

All a mite deceptive admittedly, because in a first half that strangely resembled a giant game of moving chess, City actually made the better of the chances. That said, it was still encouraging to see the general control and composure being wafted around by our heroes in a game of this magnitude.

However, what really sent the mustard flying was the fact that City reacted to the injustices of life by flicking the switch marked “Warp Speed” and raising their game approximately eleven hundred notches, our heroes absolutely refused to curl up and die like so many of the insects from that experimental period in my primary school days. Whereas Spurs teams in just about every season I have ever watched would ultimately capitulate, gloriously or otherwise, somehow this lot clung on. And then went and won the bally thing.

3. The Lamela Pass, The Eriksen Finish

All season long, over in this corner of the interweb we have viewed the supposed Lamela renaissance with a fair degree of suspicion. The blighter undoubtedly works hard, but moments of creative magic that make one go weak at the knees have tended to be in fairly short supply, and if the chap isn’t doing that then what the heck, if you get my drift.

But credit where due. For whatever reason, those City players in the vicinity did not seem unduly concerned when he sauntered forward, and simply ushered him further into the meat of the thing. So further he duly biffed, before delivering something of a pointed gesture to all his doubters, by threading a delicate pass that could not have had more cheek if it had pulled down its trousers and waggled its exposed posterior. Well weighted, well-targeted and through the legs of a defender for good measure.

On top of which, the resurgent Eriksen appears to have picked up a thing or two about applying a cool coup de grace when the occasion merits. To this untrained eye it appeared at first that the chap had got the thing muddled in his feet, but instead, with all the cunning of a particularly Machiavellian fox he was simply inviting the monstrous Joe Hart to over-commit, before dabbing the ball past him. Slyly done.

And doesn’t he just have the happiest smile when he scores?

4. Wimmer

In a state of affairs that rather typifies the season, it seems a little inappropriate to single out one chap or another, for this was one of those occasions in which all eleven seemed to blend into a single, slightly compact beast. (Albeit a beast that had a Danny Rose in lieu of a left arm.)

That said, I have absolutely zero problem in contradicting myself in the blink of an eye by singling out several of them. The young chap Wimmer for a start. Rather sharp intakes of breath greeted the sight of Vertonghen being led off Stage Left a few weeks back, but Wimmer has done an admirable job, against some of the sharper tools in the striking box, and it was another intelligent performance from the oddly-shaped Austrian, particularly in the frantic dying embers.

5. Walker

Young Walker was another one who caught the eye. Up against Raheem Sterling he was happy enough to sacrifice the usual upfield gallivant, and instead put all his eggs in the basket marked ‘Deal With That Sterling Blighter’. And then he threatened to ruin it all in the closing stages of the match by unleashing his best Kyle Walker impression and repeatedly tapping the ball to the nearest opponent whilst falling over and generally endangering everything for which we had worked so hard, but isn’t that just part of his charm?

6. Rose

Rose, in the first half in particular, also caught the eye, albeit in the more traditional role of the ultra-attacking full-back (a phrase which comes dangerously close to making no sense). With everyone else in lilywhite jostling to cram themselves into a narrow strip of turf through the centre of the pitch, young Rose seemed to be high on a diet of 80s action heroes and spent the first half in particular getting so caught up in everything that he was quite possibly quipping one-liners with each piece of involvement. If he wasn’t blocking shots by throwing his body full-length at the thing at one end, he was pelting volleys off his own at the other, and so on.

7. Lady Luck

And so to the elephant in the room. As one of the more blinkered, one-eyed, Spurs-tinted spectacle-wearers, my take on the penalty is relatively predictable. However, one or two sages from various ends of the interweb have pointed out that Lady Luck does not look kindly (nor, evidently does Mark Clattenberg) upon multi-million pound footballers who attempt to block a cross by turning their backs on it. Had young Sterling taken a leaf out of the Danny Rose 80s Action Handbook every man and his dog would tonight instead be debating whether Yaya, Yaya Yaya might have got away with a bookable offence or two.

Thus ends one of the best weekends we have had in a while. The next few days at AANP Towers will be spent gazing lovingly at a picture of the Premiership table. The bubble may well burst in time, but for now this is absolutely rip-roaring stuff.

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

Spurs 4-1 Sunderland: 4 Lilywhite Points of Note

The Return of Dembele

Coincidence? Around these parts we certainly think not. For the last couple of weeks young Master Carroll has been hopscotching around the place, with pretty passes a-plenty and a very serious expression, which does not make him look any less like a 10 year-old but is noble enough. However, if a Dembele performance were to comprise pretty passes and hopscotch I think we could all legitimately worry that some deviant had stolen his very soul. The difference between a Spurs midfield powered (and I use the term in the loosest possible sense) by Carroll and one built on Dembele is pretty noticeable, and with the former traded for the latter we were back to winning ways. Yes he gave away free-kicks, and at times possession, but Dembele also shoved opponents aside and drove things forward. There will potentially be a time and a place for Carroll, and we all ought to get used to his waif-like frame as he is evidently one of the little brood of younglings that Pochettino is – creditably – trying to integrate into the big wide world. And N17 is after all the spiritual home of the pretty passer with lovely technique. However, the relief at seeing Dembele’s name back in the starting line-up was justified by his general air of belligerence throughout. Between him and Alli that notoriously soft and squishy Spurs underbelly is being given a few layers of reinforcement.

Eriksen-sen-sen

As the first half wore on, and Sunderland’s dogged 10-0-Defoe formation proved quite the immovable object, the AANP cogs started to whir out a point about Eriksen’s effectiveness – or lack thereof. Then he went and scored, and scored again, which rather showed me, but I will conveniently ignore the small matter of those two fairly critical goals, and hammer home the point anyway. The chap seems to have lost that alchemist’s touch in recent weeks, what? In games like this particularly, and in the opening exchanges vs Leicester (Cup) last week, when a sprinkle of subtlety was needed about the place as a matter of urgency, to thread a pass through the eye of a needle or some such jiggery-pokery, the chap’s creative juices seemed to run a little dry. In fact, he went down a notch further in the first half hour today, and started misplacing straightforward six-yard passes.

The goals, naturally were welcomed, and it would probably be the decent thing of me to let bygones be bygones and simply slap the chap’s back and ask about the health of his family, but where’s the fun in that? He does seem to have gone off the boil a tad in recent weeks. I don’t mind lobbing into the air the theory that this might be at least partially due to being nudged out of his spiritual home, slap bang in the centre. Dele Alli appears to have dibs on the Number 10 role, while Dembele, as mentioned, does a fine job prowling up and down either side of the centre circle. All of which seems to leave Eriksen forced to set up camp in an inside right or left position. It ought not to make a difference to the price of eggs for a player with his natural ability, but somehow things just aren’t quite right with his size nines. None of which would be too concerning, but there appears to be a sort of pattern to things at the moment, whereby we start a game like a team of wild horses unleashed, fail to get an early goal against a massed rank of defenders, and gradually allow the opposition more and more oxygen, damn their eyes. Someone somewhere needs to find a way to unlock a packed defence, lickety-split.

Full-Back Mix-and-Match

It would appear that the Brains Trust have not tired of their Christmas toy, a shiny new full-back mix-and-match kit. An interesting one this, as quite a few debates have been thrashed out amongst my chums this season weighing up the relative merits and concerns around our various right- and left-backs. It is not entirely clear to me whether Pochettino is selecting them on a suitability basis – horses-for-courses, if you will – or simply deciding that one-game-on, one-game-off is the decorous manner in which such things should be done, but  either way the four in question are being kept on their toes. And then elbowed back to the bench.

So was Walker’s omission today his purgatory for the sins of just about every game in which he has ever played, when he has had that brain fade and gifted an opportunity to an opponent? Is Rose seen as the better option against weaker opposition because of his willingness to hare forward? But isn’t Davies just about doing exactly that anyway? Does it count for anything that young Trippier looks ever so slightly like a young, squashed up Wayne Rooney? Whatever the deep-lying narrative, all four of them seem to be pretty happy to have been given licence to slap the words “Gung-Ho” on their family crest and go flying up the flanks to provide 90 minutes of width to proceedings. Frankly it is dashed difficult to call a winner on either flank at the moment, and maybe that’s exactly the point. As sub-plots go, it is perhaps not quite on a par with Karl looking to avenge the death of his brother in Nakatomi Plaza, but nevertheless a useful conundrum has been added to the lilywhite mix.

Squad Tiredness?

Not wanting to sound like a broken record, but at some point before man colonises Mars will we need to rotate some of these chaps? Vertonghen, Alderweireld in particular (apparently the only game he’s missed all season was Arsenal in the Capital One Cup, which feels I’m pretty sure was played in black and white, it was so long ago), Dier and Kane seem to be reeled out come hell or high water.

There are no doubt associated risks with rotating, not least the likely drop in quality that they entail, what with every point being so vital. It is a truth fairly universally acknowledged that we simply do not have an adequate substitute for Kane; and the fleeting glimpses of Wimmer have not exactly screamed that he is such a watertight deputy for Alderweireld or Vertonghen that the casual viewer would fail to notice the difference. Moreover, the eagle-eyed will have spotted that there is only one of him, so half of the centre-back combo will always be required (in common with the club management, I am assuming that Fazio is absolutely the last option conceivable).

Dier, one would have thought, could be allowed an afternoon off at some point with Bentaleb wrapped up on the bench each week, but this does not seem to be the way that Pochettino butters his bread. I would guess that one of the centre-backs plus Dier will start again against Leicester in midweek, which is all well and good, but we still have half a season to play, and sooner or later these chaps’ limbs are going to start dropping off.

There is, I suppose, a counter-argument that these chaps ought to be perfectly capable of playing twice a week. It is, after all, what a Champions League season would require. I nevertheless would like to see the aforementioned quartet occasionally yanked out of the spotlight every now and then, because if a tendon snaps or some similar fate befalls then we won’t look half as clever. And even if all tendons maintain fine working order, mistakes will presumably creep in (Alderweireld, for example, looked a little more fallible than usual last week in the Cup against Leicester, and while Kane has been blessed with a natural expression of exhaustion, his recent performances have not been quite polished).

In closing however, and dealing again with the present moment, it was another good day at the office. The response to defeat last week and to falling behind today was as positive as we could have hoped. 4-1 was a fair reflection of the way the cutlery was laid out, and the goal difference continues to prompt rubbed eyes and double-takes from seasoned Lane-goers across the land. The Top Four remains realistic.

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

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