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Spurs match reports

Leicester 2-3 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Midfield Three

A day later it is with a steadier – if throbbing – head that I pore over this one. The first point of note was that the formation – and specifically the use of a midfield three – struck oil.

For clarity, that midfield three read, from west to east:
– Hojbjerg (advancing)
– Winks (sitting)
– Skipp (advancing)

When Leicester had possession, this triumvirate seemed keen not to be any further than about ten yards from one another, presumably under careful instruction rather than simply a gnawing loneliness, and the effect was to narrow the gaps through which Leicester could operate. It was not fool-proof – Leicester did construct two perfectly serviceable goals by penetrating this outer crust – but in general that midfield gang provided a handy first line of defence.

Their real value, however, came in the other direction.

Young Master Skipp is a man of many talents, but I must confess that I had never numbered amongst these any particular capability in the field of galloping forward adventurously into the final third. And yet there he was, in glorious technicolour, trading in every last breath from his lungs in order to avail himself in a rather niche but surprisingly effective inside-right sort of position. It was not so much what he did with the ball that attracted the admiring glance, as the positions he took up in making himself available. Be it for Emerson on the right-hand touchline or Kane dropping deep, Skipp took seriously this role of Main Supporting Actor On The Right, and it contributed strongly to our general dominance.

In a slightly less energetic manner, Hojbjerg chipped in similarly in and around the inside-left channel, and all the while Winks held fort at the base of things (and also took a whole procession of some of the best corners I can remember from our lot).

As one would expect, a Hojbjerg – Winks – Skipp combo was a tad light on effervescent creativity, these particular beans preferring to shuffle things along in orderly fashion rather than scythe apart anyone in opposing colours. And yet nevertheless, first Skipp (in intercepting) and then Winks (in his excellently-weighted assist) put pretty much all the bricks and mortar in place for our first goal; Hojbjerg’s vision carved out our second; and Hojbjerg was at the base of things for our third as well, in intercepting the original Leicester pass.

It has not gone unnoticed that arguably our two finest performances of the fledgling Conte era have come in a 3-5-2 formations (Liverpool at home, lest ye be racking the brain). In this latest instance, the switch to 3-5-2 was forced somewhat by the absence of Sonny, and his return would prompt the ghastly question of whether Lucas ought to be relegated in order to maintain the 3-5-2. For now, however, we might as well just continue the ongoing period of basking, and enjoy the fact that the formation tweak and use of a midfield three worked out in pretty splendid fashion.

2. Doherty

If there were one failing in the first half it was that Emerson Royal was being Emerson Royal. There are worse things he could have been of course, and being Emerson Royal does not automatically make one a hindrance to operations; but nevertheless, it does limit forward-looking options – and by extension this slightly neuters the entire, carefully-constructed mechanism.

In plain English, our formation under Conte depends heavily on the wing-backs to motor into the final third and produce things of value once there. And there appears to be something lurking deep within the core of Emerson Royal that, for now at least, prevents him flinging off the shackles and living the riotous life of a wing-back with unfettered joy and gay brio.

Instead, having adopted the requisite positions north of halfway, Emerson’s life seems to grind to a halt, and those around him often seem to decide it best to carry on with things as if he weren’t actually there at all.

Bizarrely enough, it took the introduction of Matt Doherty of all people, to introduce a few rays of sunshine to the right wing-back position.

My surprise at this development can be readily explained. Doherty is the sort of egg whose lilywhite career to date has been so crushingly underwhelming that I rarely utter his name without the prefix “Poor Old”, or “That Wretched”, or even sometimes a choice of words less family-friendly. Whenever he has popped up on the right, the complexities of a life in football have generally seemed to overwhelm him, with the result that every choice he has made has been the wrong one.

(In an act of generosity I’ll spare him too much comment on those rather ghastly visits he’s had to endure to the left wing, as these are not his fault.)

Yesterday, however, as soon as he took to the field, Doherty seemed to stumble upon some unlikely alchemy for the role of right wing-back, and scarcely able to believe his luck made the decision simply to roll with it for as long as he could.

His very first involvement was a series of one-twos with Kane that seemed to blow the minds of all Leicester folk in the vicinity; and from that moment on he clearly decided that he was on a good thing in charging into the final third, and kept returning to that particular well for more.

Positionally, this was a choice stuffed with goodness. At any given point at which we attacked, it became an accepted truth that Doherty would be motoring up the right, and
one only had to glance the laziest of eyes in that direction to nail down his coordinates.

Crucially, however, in addition simply to being in useful places, Doherty also produced a flurry of half-decent crosses. Some were admittedly plucked out of the sky without too much inconvenience by Schmeichel, and others just missed their mark, but it nevertheless made a pleasant change to see such crosses being delivered at all, aerially and towards the back-post, rather than simply slammed into the first functioning opponent.

And Doherty’s spirit of adventure was ultimately critical in bringing about our equaliser, by dint of creating a sufficient nuisance for the ball to end up obligingly at Bergwijn’s size nines. Admittedly he lost possession and fell to earth at the crucial juncture, but fortune favoured him, and defeat turned into victory.

Might this prove a turning-point for the chap?

3. Kane

I noted in the home leg against Chelsea last week that that rotter Harry Kane appeared to have rediscovered his old swagger, and as if to hammer home the point he actively sought out every opportunity to showcase it last night. In fact, if anything, he rather overdid it at times. By the midway point of the second half one wanted to take him by the hand, give him a calming pat or two and point out that we were all now fully aware of his resurgence, and he really did not need to belt the ball as hard as he could into the stands at every opportunity.

However, the occasional misguided long-range swipe is part of the overall package of a Harry Kane brimming with confidence, as he genuinely seems convinced that he can do anything. While he will never, ever take even a half-threatening free-kick, everything else in his bag of tricks looked mightily impressive yesterday.

The headline acts of course were his goal, executed like the most seasoned assassin, and his pass to for Bergwijn to seal the win, spotted and delivered with huge bundles of aplomb.

However, two moments alone a highlights reel might make, but hardly tell the whole story. And the whole story was loosely along the lines that almost every time he touched the ball he did something useful with it, and that he played a pretty primary role in much that was good about our lot. And when you consider that our lot were on top for at least a good hour of the ninety, it reflects even more impressively on the chap.

His hold-up play, choices of when to drop deep and passes to bring in others for fifteen minutes of fame were all pretty wisely selected and effected. Moreover, in hitting the bar and having one cleared off the line he did almost enough to claim a hat-trick that few could really have begrudged him. Cracking stuff from a man back at the top of his game.

4. Sanchez

One of the oddities of last night was the fact that Davinson Sanchez looked oddly assured for the most part. Admittedly one might point to a needless lunge by the touchline to earn a caution, and the fact that he was wrong-footed for the second Leicester goal, and these would be fair points – the blighter was not faultless.

Nevertheless, having been inadvertently promoted, by virtue of injuries first to Romero and then Dier, from fourth choice centre-back to leader of the pack, a conclusion that nobody in their right mind would ever will into reality, he seems to have shrugged his shoulders, accepted his lot and started to make a decent fist of it.

It might be that he simply looks more impressive given that next to him resides young Tanganga, who while full of promise has looked in recent weeks like a man terrified of his own shadow. But much to my astonishment Sanchez showed authority, strength and pretty good judgement yesterday.

He even occasionally strolled out of defence with the ball at his feet. The enormity of this ought not to be underplayed, for in almost every previous lilywhite appearance he has danced around the ball as if scared that it will suddenly develop legs and attack him.

If I were a betting man I might stick a few bob on the name Sanchez being ridiculed in weeks to come on these very pages, but last night he took on responsibility within that back three, and at the very least that deserves acknowledgement.

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Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tanganga

One imagines Japhet Tanganga must have felt as pleased as punch to find out pre kick-off that he was officially Next Cab On Centre-Back Rank, but alas any such bobbish sentiment went up in smoke pretty much as soon as the curtain went up.

Anybody who can make Davinson Sanchez look like a calming presence alongside him is evidently having the deuce of a time of things, and poor old Tanganga went about mangling just about every situation he stumbled upon.

In truth, that early pass of his in the general direction of Emerson Royal was hardly the worst one will ever see committed to turf. Admittedly it might have benefitted from a few extra m.p.h. behind it, and the delivery was certainly more “General Vicinity” than “Specified Postcode”. As passes go, however, I imagine young Japhet must have thought he’d done a decent job of things with that effort.

Unfortunately, this was not one of those occasions on which it was sufficient to get the general gist correct and let Mother Nature sort out the rest. Before he could let out an, “Oh crumbs,” the Chelsea lot were already whizzing the ball back at him, and they were pretty merciless about it.

And if Tanganga were hoping for a hiding place, or a quiet twenty minutes or so, he’d evidently misread the agenda for the evening. Chelsea seemed to take a rather cruel delight in repeatedly thrusting the young buck into the spotlight to field all sorts of new and challenging trials, so I’m not sure there were too many raised eyebrows when he erred again.

But by golly, even to us Spurs fans, well-versed as we are in defensive bobbins and calamity, the second goal was pretty thick stuff. Again, I actually had some sympathy for Tanganga, who with a degree of justification would have felt that he was ticking all the right boxes as he got his head to the cross. “Top work, old boy”, he no doubt whispered to himself as he soared to meet it, “another trial safely negotiated”.

And at that stage one understood his argument. It would be stretching things to say that all was well with the world, given that we had barely touched the ball the whole game, but the immediate danger appeared to have been averted, and Tanganga’s reputation, while hardly restored to former health, had at least avoided any further blemish.

However, this being a Spurs defence, the threat of buffoonery lingers strongly and permanently about the place. If I felt a dollop of sympathy for Tanganga there was a double serving for poor old Ben Davies, who must have felt that he was being dragged into the farce for no good reason and completely against his will. He would presumably argue that he was simply adopting the appropriate position and avoiding any unnecessary interference, when suddenly his torso became front and centre of activity, and in the blink of an eye he had an own goal to his name.

2. That First Half

Although Chelsea did not exactly pound relentlessly at the door during that first half – one does not really remember Monsieur Lloris being pressed into too much action – they were, by just about any other metric, absolutely all over us.

While Tanganga was the undoubted poster-boy of the unfolding horror, it struck me that the formation was as much to blame. When Chelsea had possession – which was virtually the entirety of the half – our wing-backs hastily edited their job titles and headed south to create a back-five. And in theory I suppose this made sense. What better way, one might have pondered beforehand, to keep things secure than to pack the defence?

But it’s a funny thing about life, that when one comes to putting into practice a seemingly faultless plan, the whole bally thing just comes apart at every conceivable hinge, leaving all involved looking rather silly. And so it transpired for our heroes. For a start, Chelsea did not have enough forwards to go around, with the result that for much of the time various members of our back-five were marking empty spaces rather than players, and no doubt shooting quizzical looks at one another.

Moreover, this routine of the wing-backs dropping deep also had the unholy consequence of leaving poor old Skipp and Hojbjerg utterly swamped in midfield. Chelsea hit upon the bright idea of pinging the ball about in whizzy, one-touch fashion, and the net result was one of the most one-sided 45 minutes in living memory.

3. Our Wing-Backs

I noticed a rather brutal gag doing the rounds following our game against Watford, namely that our opponents thought so little of Emerson Royal’s ability to cross the ball that they were happy to afford him the freedom of Vicarage Road all afternoon, safe in the knowledge that his deliveries would end up everywhere but the sweet spots inside the penalty area.

Frankly Claudio Ranieri seems a bit too nice to hatch a scheme quite so dastardly, but whatever the truth of the rumour it gets my vote. Emerson’s virtue is that he willingly gallops into the appropriate forward position, as such distracting defenders and offering a friendly face to whichever of our mob is in possession; his vice is that his actual attacking output is at best average, and often a few degrees lower.

However, with a midfield consisting of Skipp and Hojbjerg – honest sorts, but barely a creative bone between them – the onus within our system is very much upon the wing-backs to provide an endless stream of goods for those up top to devour.

This largely failed against Watford because of the quality of the output; last night it failed because any threat from Emerson was snuffed out before he ever sorted out his feet in the final third.

Meanwhile out on the left, the ploy was doomed each time at the moment of inception by dint of Matt Doherty’s allergy to his left foot. Whenever we broke on his side and gaps started appearing in the Chelsea defence, Doherty, understandably but infuriatingly, cut back inside onto his right, removing in that single motion all momentum we had.

(Given Royal’s general impotence on the right, I do wonder whether Doherty’s service might be employed in that particular residence; but this is a debate for another day).

The tactical switch in the second half – to a back-four ahead of which everyone else was loosely jumbled together and allowed to wander wherever they wanted, in the style of a children’s playgroup – at least gave us more bodies in midfield. More to the point, all in lilywhite received the memo that simply watching as Chelsea ran rings around us would not cut it, and things duly bucked up a bit. One would hardly make our lot favourites for the second leg, but score the next goal in the tie and that ill-conceived hope might spring into life again.

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Spurs 2-0 Brentford: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Skipp

As esteemed a judge as Glenn Hoddle piped up to say that he thought young Master Skipp was pick of the bunch last night.

(As an aside, and before getting into the meat of things on the pitch, given Hoddle’s tactical knowledge, and the fact he bleeds lilywhite, the AANP heart does yearn for him to be involved in the club in some way on the inside, rather than from the outside in the commentary box. Just a thought, albeit an oft-recurring one.)

Back to young Skipp. Hoddle had judged well, for Skipp ferreted about the place from first whistle to last like a man born to mop up loose ends, breaking down Brentford attacks before they started with the sort of challenges that put hair on the chest.

Alongside him, Hojbjerg put in a pretty convincing impression of a metronome, ticking along steadily and repeatedly in fairly controlled manner. One might say this was moderately pleasing, eliciting perhaps a polite ripple of applause. Skipp however, the enthusiasm of youth seeping from his every pore, was the more energetic of the midfield pair, displaying the sort of blood and thunder that had the natives bellowing approval. Oh that all in lilywhite would set about their business with his attitude and energy.

Moreover, as an unexpected bonus, Skipp’s rarely-sighted attacking juices were on display yesterday. He played a gorgeous pass to set Kane through for a one-on-one in the second half, and was also buzzing forward to good effect in the build-up to Kane squaring for Hojbjerg’s miss.

2. Sanchez

If Skipp was impressing in most things he did, poor old Davinson Sanchez was somewhere nearer the other end of the spectrum.

The spirit is obviously pretty willing – after all no defender of sound mind would ever take to the field intending to be bullied by his opposite number, or to wobble around the pitch when the night calls for strength of mind and body.

But somehow, Sanchez wandered the place last night with the air of a chap not really convinced of his own ability, a perspective that seemed to be shared by a decent proportion of the 60,000 onlookers.

I am occasionally inclined to tilt the head sympathetically and point out, on his more testing days, that he had the misfortune to come up against a tough opponent. However, this being the Premier League, that eventuality is likely to occur in just about every fixture. Every opponent has a tough old centre-forward leading their line, and Sanchez has rarely looked at ease against any of them.

So it was last night. Some duels he won; but in too many for my liking he was rather too easily shoved aside. Both in the air and on the ground, the fellow seems only just about to have a handle on things, and a nameless dread lingered throughout that the next attack directed towards him might be the one in which his legs collapsed beneath him and Brentford sauntered through unhindered.

On top of which, the poor old lamb looks utterly terrified in possession, dancing around the ball as if he has never in his life seen such a contraption, whenever it is gently rolled to him, before awkwardly pivoting back towards goal and shovelling it to Lloris. All while Joe Rodon watches on from afar.

Still, with Romero out for the foreseeable, the sight of Sanchez riding his luck for 90 minutes is one we can expect to see a lot more of.

3. Kane

That rotter Harry Kane had another game in which the good and bad mingled pretty freely.

There is in general still a stodginess about his play, as if the turf turns to treacle beneath his feet, giving him heck of a challenge simply to lumber from Point A to Point B when in possession. In his defence, his cause was not helped by the swarm of opposing bodies that closed ranks on him whenever he neared the area. Nevertheless, the air exuded was not one of slickness and confidence (one might refer to the pass he played to Lucas early on in the piece, when he might have shot but didn’t, and then overhit the pass for Lucas).

In this context his second half miss was dashed frustrating, but in truth I doubt that anyone is too concerned on that front – if he is getting himself into positions for one-on-ones then the goals will flow soon enough. The greater worry tends to be when he boycotts the area and lingers in midfield.

To his credit however, his contribution in link-up play to our second goal yesterday was an absolute delight. Nothing melts the AANP heart like a well-weighted ball inside the full-back – and there were a few of them on offer yesterday, with Skipp, as mentioned above, and Winks each producing one that made me go a little weak at the knees. Kane’s into the path of Reguilon was weighted to perfection, and deserved nothing less than the goal that followed for Sonny.

4. Set-Pieces

Our lot started things in pretty ripe fashion last night, pressing high, winning the ball and generally charging about the place like a bunch who’d been told in no uncertain terms to buck up following the Mura debacle.

This early pressure brought as its princely reward a slew of corners – at which point AANP’s enthusiasm waned considerably. Because for some reason, our effectiveness from corners is near enough on a par with repeatedly banging one’s head against a brick wall. It’s an oddity, frankly, because there are enough strapping sorts in our line-up to cause aerial problems, and even those who are less hefty – Moura, Davies – can be pretty effective in such situations. And yet we never score from the dashed things.

Mercifully, the trend was bucked last night, albeit in a manner that was equal parts luck and good, honest comedy.

However, own-goal though it might have been, I heap praise on the slender frame of Sonny, who has managed to take the thankless and quite possibly cursed role of Spurs’ Corner Taker and turn it into a surprisingly effective weapon.

I’m not quite sure why the likes of Eriksen and Lo Celso – chaps you’d bet could literally land the ball on a postage stamp from twenty yards – completely malfunction when faced with a stationery ball next to a corner flag, but Son is proving himself pleasingly adept in this particular field. Not only does his delivery consist of the requisite proportions of whip and height, but the little variations he threw in yesterday, in engineering short-corners, were effective enough to bring us a goal.

This bodes well. In the same way that I loudly denounce each conceded set-piece goal as something of a nonsense, being so cheaply conceded, so I delight in what is essentially something of a freebie when we score from one.

(As an aside, I’m minded to pop down to Hotspur Way myself and pointedly show all and sundry a few videos of the old Sheringham-Anderton corner routine, which despite being devilishly effective has lain neglected for two and a half decades.)

And while on the subject of set-pieces, I was particularly pleased with how our lot coped with the barrage of long throws from Brentford. Not a fan of such things myself, but one has to stiffen the upper lip and deal with this type of nonsense, and ultimately our heroes did so effectively enough – a precis that might well be applied to the game as a whole.

Tweets here; AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, here, lest ye be thinking of Christmas gifts

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Mura 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sessegnon

Young Sessegnon probably deserves the first column inch or two. Indeed, the casual observer, drinking in only the lurid headlines, might infer from the chronology of events that Sessegnon was the sole architect of this latest calamity. One would, of course, understand the sentiment, as early red cards rarely chivvy matters along in positive and serene fashion; but those of us who watched the piece unfold in real-time would be well aware that the truth is entirely more disturbing, involving as it did ineptitude and complacency from all bedecked in lilywhite faded blackcurrant and lime.

Back to Sessegnon. The football gods showed the full range of their cruel sense of humour by shoving him and his return to the fold front and centre of the pre-match hype. And I dn’t mind admitting that AANP fully subscribed to this narrative. When we signed him a couple of years back he was the bright young thing of English football, arguably further in his development than Bellingham, Saka et al.

And frankly, he might – and hopefully will – still be a roaring success. One red card, after all, doth not a failure make.

But by golly, it was one heck of a red card.

I note that some of lilywhite persuasion are trying to argue that his misdeeds were not worth two yellow cards. This, for avoidance of doubt, is utter rot. The first caution was idiotic to an immeasurable degree – making no attempt to play the ball, and aiming a kick at an opponent on the gallop. Nor was it one of those that could be filed under the heading ‘Tactical Foul’. Not that I’m a particular fan of such things, but sometimes these cynical numbers are desperately needed to prevent a highly dangerous counter-attack – this was not of the ilk.

And having already been booked, to leap into another flying challenge – again, hardly in a goal-saving context – defied belief. To those arguing that contact was minimal, I curtly reply that the young fool should not give the referee the option to make such a decision.

It has become something of a habit on these pages to witter on about how staggeringly block-headed footballers are as a collective, but these two bookings seemed to plumb new depths of stupidity.

On the bright side, young Master S. has now set his bar so low that whatever he does in his forthcoming engagements will represent vast improvement. Maybe he’s not so thick after all.

2. Dele

To say that Dele looked a shadow of his former self would be a bit stiff on shadows.

The all-singing, all-dancing buccaneer of a few years back, with velvety touch and a knack for timing a late burst into the area, is such a distant memory that I now wonder if he ever existed at all. If the current incumbent of his shirt gives a dam about his football, he disguises the fact in pretty convincing fashion.

Each time Dele received the ball yesterday he generally took six touches, lost possession and then promptly lost interest in the game altogether, preferring to wander off to a quiet spot of land, alone with his thoughts. And it was this latter part that represented a new low, this business of registering zero emotion once he had lost the ball. For a few years now, his output when in possession has been dreadful; but to see him shrug his shoulders and slow down to a walk once dispossessed really made one grind the teeth and hiss a bit.

If he really is trying to play himself back into favour, by golly he is going about it in a most peculiar fashion.

3. Kane

As for that rotter Harry Kane, I must confess his performance had me scratching at the old bean. Neither one thing nor another – or, to be more accurate, both one thing and another, if you follow my drift.

Sorry if that’s a bit cryptic. What I mean is that he managed to incorporate a pretty wide range of features within his night’s work.

For almost all of the first half he was as dreadful as anyone else. On that I think we can all agree. He lumbered about the place like a man donning his boots for the first time in a few years, failed to hold up the ball, failed to find teammates with intended passes and generally looked like a man who, on encountering the Slovenian mid-tablers, was a long way out of his depth.

The one moment in the first half that offered a glimpse of a record goalscorer was when he was stationed within the penalty area, and on receiving the ball conjured a shot from nowhere. He missed, narrowly, but the incident was still in pretty startling contrast to all that had gone before. The lesson, I recall murmuring at the time, seemed to be that dash everything else, Kane should just stick to the penalty area and get his shots off. No shame in that.

Then in the second half, when he spotted his friends arriving – in the form of Sonny and Lucas – Kane suddenly perked up, much like a small child who – well, who has spotted his friends arriving. The link-up play improved, he seemed more of a threat in possession and, to his credit, took his goal with a hefty dollop of aplomb.

And yet despite all this, the feeling still persisted that, unbeknownst to him, some rascal in the changing room had filled at least one of his boots with cement. He seemed to be having a devil of a time controlling his feet, and in the end appeared to give up on them and let them do as they pleased.

All things considered, it was a rather peculiar performance. The only certainty was that this was not a chap for whom anyone will ever pay £150m in a hurry.

4. Sanchez

I don’t suppose there are many tomes out there that have recorded that when Davinson Sanchez bounded onto the pitch in the latter stages of the win vs Leeds on Sunday, he actually managed to put not one foot wrong during the entirety of his cameo. It may only have been fifteen minutes or so, but it was a faultless fifteen minutes or so.

Football, however, being a pretty fickle mistress, I suspect that while Sunday’s input went under the radar, you won’t be able to throw a stone in the northern hemisphere without hitting someone ready to yowl about Sanchez’s ghastly contributions to yesterday’s disaster.

I have heard it said – by my Spurs-supporting chum Dave, no less – that Sanchez deserves some sympathy for being played out of position, on the left of a back three. This, as you might well imagine, received pretty short shrift at AANP Towers. If he were a right-handed darts player being asked to play on the left of a back-three, I might tilt my head, and utter an understanding word or two. But a right-footed, international centre-back being asked to play on the left of a back three – against Slovenian mid-tablers, dash it – ought to swan around the pitch producing the performance of his life.

Instead, not once but twice for heaven’s sake, Sanchez delivered a mistake so basic that all in attendance could anticipate it perfectly, well before it had happened. Even as he gathered pace, it seemed pretty clear that he was going to overshoot, be forced to cut back inside and end up off-balance and in coordinates entirely inappropriate for the job at hand. And so it transpired. Twice.

5. Same Players, Terrible Performances

I thought that the one soul to emerge with a modicum of credit was young Skipp, who at least seemed to pick up on the urgency of the occasion (although even he let himself down somewhat in the second half, misplacing and miscontrolling more and more as the game progressed).

This, however, is largely irrelevant. By the AANP reckoning – which admittedly is far from infallible – four of the worst Spurs performances of my lifetime have now occurred within the last 12 months (Zagreb away, Villa at home, Arsenal away, Mura away). I suspect there are a few more, given the number of games under Jose in which we scored early and then tried to defend the penalty area for 85 minutes.

One may quibble over the contents and ordering of that list, but what’s notable is that in this period we have had 4 different managers – which suggests that the common denominator here is the players.

It’s pretty meaningless gubbins for them to emerge after the game and talk about how such things are ‘Not good enough’ and ‘Unacceptable’, (although I have found that sinking a splash of bourbon each time I hear one of these phrases is a pretty handy way to numb the pain) when a month later it will simply happen again. There is no accountability at all, no repercussions. More or less the same mob simply reappear the following week. They can’t be placed on disciplinary or performance management courses – or simply sacked – as would happen if most of us under-performed in the day job.

Now it’s hardly a practical solution to suggest they be replaced en masse by various youth players who do not share their complacency and sense of entitlement, but as neither fining nor physically thrashing them for poor performances are allowed, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to punish them for peddling such rubbish, and have no idea how one might buck them up and improve their attitudes. Over to you, Conte.

Tweets here; AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, here, lest ye be thinking of Christmas gifts

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Palace 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lack of Effort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Absences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Kane: Help or Hindrance?

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

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

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

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

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

4. Lucas

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

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

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

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

5. Rodon

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

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

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

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Spurs match reports

Wolves 0-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dele’s Dive

An oddity about the goal was that once the ref had given the incident the once-over, and this season’s new, incredibly laid-back VAR had waved the replays away so as to return to its afternoon snooze, the whole affair was stamped Perfectly Acceptable and we all went back to discussing Adama Traore’s baby-oiled biceps, or whatever else the topic de jour happened to be.

However, here at AANP Towers we are men of honour, and frankly it stuck in the throat to see one of our number gain a pretty decisive advantage in this way. I’d normally back our chaps to the death, but it didn’t take much more than one replay from the appropriate angle to indicate that Dele had executed something slightly dastardly, in essentially dangling a leg or two into the body of the ‘keeper.

This strategy was all the more peculiar when one considers that if he’d maintained a vertical posture he’d have scored anyway. Having successfully nudged the ball beyond the ‘keeper, the critical manoeuvre then appeared to be to run onto it, at which juncture all that would have remained would have been to tap the ball into what would have been, by then, an unguarded net. Where the ball had travelled, as it were, so Dele needed to follow. Why he then opted to deviate from the obvious route, and engineer a collision, was a pretty rummy one to me.

2. Dele’s Role in Midfield

Returning to the 9-to-5, Dele’s duties primarily involved posing as a member of that compact midfield three, assiduously shuffling from left to right and back again, as they sought to protect the souls behind them.

This he did well enough – I’m pretty sure that anyone gathering his perspiration would have had buckets of the stuff by the time the curtain came down – but, if there’s one thing I have in common with a Dickensian orphan it’s that I tend to want more, and so it was as I cast my beady eye over Dele’s contribution yesterday.

Essentially, the AANP thought process was that it’s all well and good our midfield three working non-stop off the ball to keep Wolves at arm’s length (although frankly even this had limited success, as their wingers – and Traore in particular – seemed to make mincemeat of us down the flanks whenever the whim arose) but we also needed to see some vague wisp of ingenuity when in possession and looking to advance. And here the onus surely fell upon Dele.

Skipp and Hojbjerg are the sorts more fashioned by Mother Nature to close down opponents and win possession (although Hojbjerg-watchers during Euro 2020 might argue he has a few more strings to his bow than that); whereas Dele is one whose DNA hints at greater creativity in his size 9s. So it was pretty disappointing that when he did get on the ball yesterday, Dele did little of note. He tended to dwell on it for too long, and then seemingly kept trying to thread nutmegged passes to chums, most of which failed to bypass the man.

And if Dele isn’t creating much when stationed in that midfield three, we might as well replace him with a workhorse who will sweat similarly copious amounts but take a bit more care in possession.

3. Skipp

While Dele spent his afternoon trying the AANP soul, whenever I felt that my mood required brightening I had only to look five yards to his right, and there I was able to feast my eyes upon the boy Skipp.

Which is ironic, because his dial is hardly that of a boyband member, but by golly his contribution as a central midfielder is rocketing in my estimation. As was put to me last week, Skipp seems to have the most charming personality trait of having the ball follow him, and this, on inspection, seems to be due to his combination of a workrate that’s through the roof, and some pretty cunning behaviour in the decision-making department. Skipp judges his moments well, seemingly knowing when to sit back and let plotlines unfold, and when to summon all his energies for a full-blooded challenge.

On top of which, I rather like the fact that when in possession he does not pause to consider the pros and cons of every available option and compose some sort of after-dinner speech about them all, but simply passes the ball, quickly and simply. It’s not defence-splitting stuff, but simply moving the ball immediately to a new location serves a purpose of moving the opposition around, and also prompts his teammates to shift it along with similar speed. Rarely does Skipp take more than two touches. I have a suspicion that on current form an England call will sound before too long.

4. Tanganga and Sanchez (vs Traore)

Where last week we were treated to the sight of young Tanganga evolving from boy to man before our very eyes in the space of eighty minutes, this week he looked more like a chap who just wanted to lie down and find his bearings.

No shame in that of course, as he was up against Traore, a bulldozer of a fellow who seems to take it upon himself twice a year to plough through our defence whenever and however the hell he chooses. If the rumours of a £40m bid are true I implore those who oversee such things to sign on the dotted line, just so that we never have to play against him again.

Having coped admirably with the combined might of Sterling and Grealish last week, Tanganga seemed to find Traore a bridge too far yesterday, and it was a blessed relief that in the second half the fellow eased up on the punishment.

It was pretty white of Sanchez to see trouble brewing and amble over with his offer of help to a friend in need, but I’m not sure he quite appreciated the gravity of the situation, and it was not long before Sanchez was finding himself in exactly the same sort of trouble – i.e. tied in knots and left groping at thin air – as Tanganga.

In fact, it seemed that half the team pitched in at various points, with Hojbjerg and Skipp also donning helmets and rushing over, but all to little avail. Mercifully, Traore’s many talents do not extend to shooting, so once he had bludgeoned his way through our right side the danger dissipated in pretty organic fashion, as he simply blasted the ball wide and everyone was able to reset.

So, as much by luck as by design we have two clean sheets, and Tanganga will rarely have more pressing concerns than those he has faced in these first two games, but I suspect my heart will beat a little more gently should Romero occupy one of those central spots.

5. Kane

At present one cannot swing a cat without hitting some commentary on Kane’s likely whereabouts, but in the matter of on-pitch contribution I thought his introduction was timely and rather useful.

Until then our lot had created precious little going forward. What few attacks we had seemed to be limited to a couple of counter-attacks, bar Reguilon’s pass from nothing that set up the penalty and a searching cross from Tanganga on the stroke of half-time. Both pretty worthy efforts in themselves I suppose, but when you consider that between them they amounted to about thirty seconds worth of threat in a first half that went on for fifty minutes, you start to realise that this was not one of those all-singing, all-dancing, attacking routs.

And while it would be a stretch to say that the introduction of Kane turned the thing on its head and had us pillaging the place, it did at least give the top of the tree a bit of a shake. For a start, Kane is blessed with the sort of hulking frame well designed for holding up the ball, so when it was gently lobbed clear of danger by those at the back, he was able to make it stick a lot better than any of Son, Lucas or Bergwijn had down until that point.

Moreover, those aforementioned three being all cut from similar cloth, they all tend to offer the same, pacy option – which I suppose makes sense when set up to counter-attack, but it did all become a tad predictable. Having Kane drop deep, and shuffle this way and that, lent a bit more unpredictability to our northbound adventures, bringing teammates into the game and giving the Wolves mob a few different patterns to consider. I rather fancy the chap might have a future in the game.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1 – 0 Man City: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tanganga

There were a few ripe efforts out there today, with lungs being busted left, right and centre by those in lilywhite, but if J. Tanganga were to be presented with the gong for Standout Chappie De Jour, I suspect that any, few dissenting murmurs would be drowned out by pretty rapturous applause.

The key to this one seemed to be not only to stack up the young bean’s numbers (tackles won, crosses blocked, displays of upper-body strength executed and so forth – by each of which metric I suspect he delivered chart-topping stuff); but also to take into account the identities of those against whom he was pitting his wits.

I suspect even the most confident and capable amongst us might baulk a bit if turning up to the office and being informed by The Man that the day’s duties involved going toe-to-toe against first Raheem Sterling, and then Jack Grealish, and then quite possibly also both of them at once. And that baulking might have had an encore when informed, on enquiring as to the levels of assistance available for the gig, that help would primarily be delivered in the form of Davinson Sanchez, a chap whose most memorable contribution against these opponents involved being outfoxed to such an extent that he was left prostrate and face-down in the turf.

(Although in the interest of fairness let The Book of Such Things show that Sanchez put in a jolly impressive shift, both at his official sentry post in the centre, and when shuttling across to add his tuppence worth to the anti-Sterling/Grealish campaign.)

But to return to Tanganga. His delivery of defensive duties was not necessarily flawless, involving as it did a liberal sprinkling of manoeuvres deemed illegal by those who oversee such things. However, the fouls that were conceded in a strange way seemed to contribute to the sense that here was a fellow not about to shirk his duties. Quite the opposite in fact, for they were fouls that stemmed from full cylinders of enthusiasm and strength, rather than desperation or inadequacy.

From opening pips to his late withdrawal, Tanganga harassed and bustled away at his more illustrious foes, at least matching them and typically besting them; and even when they did wriggle free, one sensed that they were unlikely to look back upon their engagements with our man with any particular fondness.

All the more pleasing given that the last time he was sighted on official duty it was in the sorry state of being stretchered out of the arena, with his leg in a brace and an expression that told of one whizzing through various of the seven stages of grief.

2. Lucas

If there were to be any arguments against the crowning of Tanganga as today’s standout, one imagines that the principal case would be made in favour of Lucas Moura.

Few amongst us have ever failed to recognise that Lucas has been generously blessed by Mother Nature with a capacity to get his head down and mazily weave his way through oncoming traffic. The challenge seems to have been in harnessing that ability to generate optimal results for both the individual and the team. In short, I suppose, all too often, those mazy dribbles have tended to fizzle out into possession squandered and a tumble to terra firma.

Today however, as seemingly in pre-season, the stationing of Lucas as a trusted member of a swift attacking triumvirate, alongside the similarly fleet-footed Son and Bergwijn, seemed to bring out the best in the chap.

Neatly brushing under the carpet, to be dissected another day, the question of how one H. Kane Esquire would fit into a team whose main attacking thrust is built upon pace, it was a most pleasing surprise to witness Lucas delivering that of which we have known him capable, and for which we have yearned, pretty much since the day he arrived on the N17 doorstep.

Nor was his performance was solely one of direct runs at rather panicked defenders. His twinkling toes were also put to good use in winning possession, winning fouls and clipping lay-offs to nearby chums. Lucas was quite happy to do the hard work as required, as well as enjoying the more glamorous side of the game allowed by charging over halfway in a three-on-three.

As a side note, this dedicated, pace-based attacking system, bringing the best out of certainly Lucas and Bergwijn, did make me wonder whether the dearly-departed Lamela might have had a role to play in Nuno’s brave new world; but that particular king is dead, and here, presumably is where we wish long life to the newest king, Bryan Gil.

3. Skipp

This particular book having closed with a happy ending, all is now, naturally enough, sweetness and light, but in the early knockings AANP was observing proceedings with the customary pained grimace and unhealthily heightened pulse, and was paying particular attention to one of our number.

Much of the summer weeks at AANP Towers have been spent in robust and at times pretty fruity dialogue with others of lilywhite persuasion, specifically debating the merits or otherwise of young Master Skipp. The thrust of these particular back-and-forths has generally been that while others have championed playing the young nib, I thought it best to give him another season at Norwich (where by all accounts he was the absolute toast of the town last time out).

The AANP rationale here, was that while he had indubitably proved to all observers that he was a stripling who could excel in the Championship, I was far from convinced that similar glory awaited in the top flight, and therefore though that we might as well gauge his suitability for Premier League life by watching how he got on once again at Norwich. This would have both the benefit of testing his ability whilst also avoiding any risk that the illustrious Spurs midfield would suffer, were he to be found out of his depth.

As it happened, Our latest Glorious Leader, was evidently convinced of Skipp’s ability, and into the starting eleven he duly rumbled.

The opening thrusts did not actually bode terrifically well. Within the first five minutes Skipp had been caught in possession and also conceded a free-kick in a pretty dangerous spot, due to what appeared to be the general failing of not being quite at the races.

Thereafter however, and to his credit, if he put many feet wrong he disguised it well, because few in lilywhite better advertised the general theme of the day, of getting stuck right into the meat of things.

Pre-season has confirmed that Skipp has a handy pass or two in his locker, for lighter occasions; but today, understandably enough given the vaunted opposition, his mantra when in possession seemed to be “Safety first”, and it was a sound decision.

More impressive and eye-catching today was the earnest lad’s willingness to launch into any tackle with heart, soul and just about all his body-weight. If there were an opportunity to challenge a City man for the ball, Skipp did not hold back on the gusto, and while City’s undoubted quality in final third ball-pinging can often be difficult to contain, he was evidently damned if he were going to let any of their number simply skip through the centre.

Watching Skipp charge into an opponent, pick himself up and charge into the next opponent also prompted the exciting notion that against some of the lesser teams we face, there might be scope for him to sit back, manning the gates as it were, and allow one P-E Hojbjerg to head off further up the field, as he did to surprisingly good effect for Denmark during the Euros.

4. General Approach

Tet for all the individual honours, perhaps what was most pleasing was the general mentality of those in lilywhite (and, indeed, green). This was no smash and grab victory in the style of certain managers of our history, the sort that would feature all eleven camped in and around our own area attempting to snatch a goal and then repel a siege for eighty-plus minutes.

While naturally pretty circumspect, after the testing opening quarter hour and particularly in the second half our lot looked to attack where possible, notably avoiding the option of sitting back to defend the lead once established.

The mentality appeared to be to fight for the ball, by pressing opponents and approaching tackles with the philosophy that nothing less than full-blooded would suffice. Indeed, when the dust settles, that spirit of determination to win the ball in fifty-fifty challenges might be what lingers longest in the memory, all the more so for being frankly the polar opposite of what we’ve come to expect of our lot.

Credit here should go to Our Glorious Leader, for the fitness levels displayed were impressive. We may have benefitted from various cast members having a summer free from international responsibilities, and I also wonder if the choice of Woolwich as our final pre-season opponents was of particular benefit, in sharpening a few reactions.

On top of all of which, as pointed out by my Spurs-supporting chum Dave, the general philosophy of tempting fate by trying to pass out from the back, when woefully ill-equipped to do so, has seemingly been replaced by the infinitely wiser approach of shifting the ball to the quicker players and letting them make merry.

There will no doubt be tougher days ahead, but this was an absolute triumph, and, most pleasingly, one richly-deserved.

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Spurs match reports

Leicester 2-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sanchez and Rum Justice

This dreariest of seasons ended with a selection switch entirely in keeping with the utter rot that been on show for the last nine months, as one wet sponge of a defender was replaced by another.

Presumably with an eye on the pace of Jamie Vardy, Our Glorious Leader cunningly scribbled out Eric Dier’s name and scrawled instead ‘Davinson Sanchez’, a move that was swiftly exposed as pretty pointless as Vardy gave Sanchez a couple of yards headstart and still sprinted past him, in earning the first penalty.

(On which point, I hope that Toby does not walk away from this saga without a slap on the wrist, because that backwards-dangled-leg approach that conceded the penalty was an atrocious dereliction of duty.)

Now admittedly a sentient brick would have had more pace than Dier, so one did see the logic of the selection. Alas, Sanchez is blessed with so many other shortcomings that it seemed inevitable that one way or another he would have a grim time of things, and Vardy was pretty merciless in targeting the poor bean.

By and large, here at AANP Towers if there is an opportunity to castigate young Sanchez we do not hang around and wait for the paperwork. Today, however, while it would be a stretch to say my heart bled for the chap, I did feel that he was rather hard done by.

In the first place, one can basically be excused for simply not being as fast in a flat sprint as the next man. One might argue that Sanchez could think about his positioning so as not to be exposed, and so on and so forth; but a pretty forgivable failing. (Certainly vastly more forgivable than Dier’s extensive repertoire of flaws, most notably that of picking a spot in the six yard box and digging in his heels, as opposition strikers dart hither and thither all around him.)

But more to the point, Sanchez was victim to a pretty appalling miscarriage of justice for the second penalty. One tries not to judge Vardy simply because he the Almighty has bestowed upon him the face of one up to no good, but the chap was an absolute blighter for the second penalty, grabbing Sanchez’s arm and yanking it around his own body, before waiting until he was inside the area and executing an arched-back swallow-dive, dash it all. It was stuff so ripe that pantomime villains across the country would have been taking notes.

One understands that at first glance the ref would have been conned; but for VAR to interrupt their snooze and wave the thing on was outrageous. The Sky commentators, wedded to their ‘Plucky Leicester’ narrative, were similarly happy to embrace this outrage, and poor old Sanchez was left with the rum end of the deal. The guy is hardly faultless, but to be chastised for that was a nonsense, and there was a pretty hefty dollop of karma in his challenge on Schmeichel for our second goal being (rightly) allowed. And the Kane handball claim being waved away for our third, come to think of it.

However, with all that said, forget the Kane and Bale chatter: if this is Sanchez’s last appearance in lilywhite I might just clear the immediate area and perform an awkward cartwheel of delight.

2. Kane’s Performance

Given the plotlines that swirl around him presumably much about Kane’s performance will be swept under the nearest carpet, and those paid to voice their opinions will simply point to his goal, maybe his assist and then start carping on about for whom he should play next season (casually ignoring the thee years left on the contract he signed of his own volition, dash it).

However, for those of us concerned to see our lot win the game itself, Kane’s performance until his goal was pretty ragged stuff. Looking for all the world like a chappie with other things on his mind, he seemed oddly intent on dwelling on the ball when he received it, which typically resulted in him being bundled out of the way. On top of which, when he did finally shove it along, he tended to do so in pretty slapdash fashion.

The whole routine had ‘Not One Of His Better Days’ plastered all over it; until, from nowhere, he produced a strike so sweet that it even managed to fly, clean as a whistle, through the legs of the goalkeeper.

Kane’s highlight reel also included him lashing one miles over the bar, the anthem ‘Golden Boot’ no doubt on his lips, when Sonny was better placed for that sort of operation; oddly fluffing his lines when clean through on goal at the end; and then getting away with use of the hand as he almost fluffed his lines again, in setting up Bale.

So a slightly mixed bag of a performance, but as so often it is difficult to look past the quality of his finish for the goal he did actually score.

3. Kane’s Future

The AANP tuppence worth on the fellow’s transfer situation is that in the first place I don’t think much of this business of him trying to engineer a move by way of unsubtle hints and choreographed interviews. If he wants to biff off then he ought to accept that one cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, and say so in no uncertain terms; and if that eats into his seven years of goodwill in N17 then he’ll have to lug that over his shoulder and live with it.

More to the point, he signed a six-year contract, so there’s not too much sympathy for him in this neck of the interweb. (The secret yearning over here is that Levy folds his arms; we bring in a manager with enough between the ears to steer us into the Top Four next season; and thereafter, Kane or no Kane, good times start rolling again.)

And as a final point, albeit one to chew over rather than anything compelling, while one understands Kane’s howls of despair at not winning any trophies, he might do well to remember that he was front and centre of those second-place finishes, and lost finals and semi-finals. He, as much as – and in fact more than – most others, could have influenced whether or not he toddled off with a winner’s medal or two.

4. Bale’s Charmed Life

As has been his wont, Gareth Bale ambled on in the closing stages to mooch around without breaking sweat, before giving his late-season stats their customary shot in the arm.

The chap is quite the oddity. Were it anyone else sauntering about the place in such languid fashion I suspect we might shout ourselves hoarse in attempting to communicate every curse imaginable; but this being Bale, frankly he receives exemption.

And while Messrs Bergwijn, Lamela, Lucas et al might shoot some hurt glances and mutter about favouritism, the fact is that, even if he contributes little else in any other part of the pitch and during any other part of the game, Bale contributes more goals than one can wave a stick at. The aforementioned B., L. and L. can only dream about the sort of goals return being produced by Bale.

It’s a bizarre trade-off, and makes for pretty unenviable stuff for whichever manager happens to be overseeing things, because as we’ve seen in recent weeks, should the opposition pin us back then Bale joins Dier in the queue of players playing second fiddle to that sentient brick. But frankly, if he can produce a goal or two – call it 1.5 – per game, then some might say it rather seems worth the hassle.

Moreover, the chap has now discovered that the whole trick can be performed from the delayed entry point of substitute, meaning that he can spare himself the ignominy of working up a sweat in the opening seventy minutes or so.

5. Farewell, 20/21

I suppose if today has taught me anything it’s that I’d much rather play in the Europa Conference, whatever the heck it is, than finish below that lot from Woolwich. (And if today taught me a second thing it was that watching a game on Sky with commentary muted , as I did for the final twenty or so, is a surprisingly pleasing experience, but one man’s meat and all that I suppose.)

It’s been an absolute mess of a season, neatly typified, I thought, by the midweek Villa game (scoring early; calamitous defending; minimal effort), has brought about a regression of approximately four years and sent us dangerously close to the pre-Jol days of mid-table obscurity. (Still finished above Woolwich, mind.)

Many Spurs-supporting chums of minehave been moping about the place prophesying doom in a fashion that would have had some of those Old Testament sorts nodding in admiration, and one understands the mindset.

Nevertheless, the mood at AANP Towers is actually rather more upbeat. I remain convinced that, while admittedly some way behind the current Top Four, player for player we are a match for and should be bettering just about everyone else in the league (by which I mean Leicester, West Ham, Woolwich etc), should we hire a manager capable of dragging the current mob into some semblance of shape. No doubt there will be Ins and Outs over the summer, but even looking at the current squad, it hardly seems inconceivable that with some half-competent moulding and coaching they could be outdoing the likes of Leicester, West Ham and whatnot next season.

As ever, my gauge for these players is to ask who would buy them if they were up for sale – and by that metric, we have enough talent in the squad to match the aforementioned mobs outside the Top Four at least. Our squad is lop-sided, the performances are pretty aimless, every dashed one of them looks unfit – but a manager worth his salt ought to have enough to work with.

Not that such ramblings count towards anything, but fingers crossed and all that.

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Spurs match reports

Newcastle 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Intensity: Only To Be Shown When We Fall Behind

Now don’t get me wrong, one need not be one of those intellectual sorts clothed in lab coats and spewing out formulae to be able to pop a positive spin on this one. There was decent attacking interplay; we created a solid fistful of pretty reasonable chances in front of goal; Lucas continues to look a game number 10, Sonny is back and Ndombele picked a couple of those natty slide-rule passes of which Luka Modric would be proud.

But if you are anything like AANP then you dismiss these so-called silver linings as rot, and your face is as thunder. One might argue that we fared reasonably, and that two goals and a point on the road represents a commendable effort: but don’t be fooled. Newcastle, every time we play them, for all their willing are blisteringly average and we should have been perfectly capable of tearing them to pieces.

Even allowing for the fact that our defence is so incapable of getting their little heads around the most basic precepts of the game that they are basically worth two goals to the opposition every match, we still ought to have made mincemeat of Newcastle. And lest you be in the slightest doubt about this, pray cast your gaze upon Exhibit A, the Tottenham Starting Eleven; and Exhibit B, the five minutes or so after we fell behind.

That starting eleven (Exhibit A, that’s for those who, much like Davinson Sanchez, are struggling to keep up with things going on around them) had enough talent to have one hand tied behind their backs, play in blindfolds and only use their weaker foot, and still be pretty evenly matched with a team as devastatingly mediocre as Newcastle. Alas, our heroes seemed determined to take this challenge literally, and set about the thing as if deliberately doing so at half-pace, just to ensure an even contest.

With Jose seemingly giving instruction that the mega-cautious approach of two holding midfielders was to be torn to shreds for one night only, we were even treated to the most becoming sight of an attacking midfield packed with the delights of Ndombele, Lo Celso, Lucas and Kane, with Reguilon eager not to miss out on the left.

It ought to have had the makings of a mauling. Any two of those alone, in combination, could probably have given Newcastle the run around if sufficiently motivated.

And, as per Exhibit B, once the indignity had been suffered of going behind, the pistons started pumping and all concerned treated us to five minutes or so of their collective A-game, all forward passes between the lines and movement in between defenders. Two goals duly followed lickety-split, and those manning the floodgates sounded due warning that all hell was about to break loose.

And then, dash it all, the half-time gong sounded, our heroes paused long enough to realise that they were actually ahead and all need for intensity vanished as swiftly as it had arrived.

Sure, we made the occasional second half dart, and could pretty easily have increased the lead on the strength of those chances alone; but any manic intensity that would have strangled the life out of Newcastle – and of which the personnel were perfectly capable – was gone.

Put simply, had they approached the second half with that same, aggrieved determination as they had approached the five minutes after conceding the opener, we would have witnessed a rout.

Instead, and for apparently the eighth time this season (Eighth! Egads!), we have thrown away points by conceding in the final ten minutes of the season. (I pause at this juncture, for a stiff, Sunday afternoon cordial, to give the necessary strength.)

2. Sanchez

I have a feeling that in each of the most recent half-dozen or so games, I have featured prominently in my post-match ruminations the doings (and, typically, misadventures) of Davinson Sanchez.

If the repetition is grating, then I can only beg your pardon; but let’s face it, the wretched blighter hardly helps himself.

He gave early signal of his intention this afternoon, with a second-minute header into the lap of a Newcastle forward who was still catching breath from him pre-game warm-up, and while that chance was duly wasted (this, after all, is modern-day Newcastle), young Master Sanchez evidently considered that he had found the appropriate level for his afternoon’s work.

Thereafter, seasoned players of Davinson Sanchez Bingo were in for an Easter Sunday treat, as the young blister treated us to his just about his entire array of ignominy, from countless wayward passes to a couple of mistimed leaps, culminating in not one but two tours de force: the clearance (I use the term loosely) that presented Newcastle with the opportunity for their opening goal; and the decision to clatter with his whole body into the nearest chum while attempting to defend (I again use the term loosely) the cross that brought their second goal.

(Although on the subject of the second goal, a dozen lashes each across the backs of Messrs Lamela and Lo Celso for casually and criminally slowing to a halt as the Newcastle attack germinated, and allowing Willock to run beyond them, unmanned, to slap home the goal. Eminently avoidable stuff, and quite possibly indicative of a broader attitudinal issue.)

But back to the lamentable Sanchez, before he thinks he has escaped admonishment. One can only assume that the blighter plays like some sort of holy amalgamation of Ledley King and peak Jaap Stam in training, because little he does on the pitch suggests that here strides a Champions League-level defender.

3. Rodon and Tanganga

Blessed with Sanchez alongside him for company I did wonder what despicable acts Joe Rodon must have committed in a former life to earn the privilege. I must admit that the morbid fascination with Sanchez meant that I did not necessarily pay due attention to the beaverings of young Rodon alongside him, and it generally became a little difficult to match the blame for our numerous defensive mishaps to the appropriate defender.

Rodon gives the impression of one with whom it is worth persisting, on the basis of some well-judged interventions. Whether or not he is an organiser of things, a quality in which we are in desperate need, is an unanswered question at present, but I thought he emerged with some credit.

And t’other side of the lamentable Sanchez, young Tanganga probably reserved his finest moments for the front-foot. When called to defend, not for the first time in his fledgling career his decisions seemed a little too heavily influenced by some positional naivety, not least in being sucked infield to help out Sanchez, and leaving in the lap of the gods those activities in operation behind him.

With Toby’s use-by date just about upon us, and Dier operating at precisely 0.5 times the speed of every other professional in the game, the grim conclusion is that we are pretty desperately need of at least one prime centre-back to slot straight into the starting line-up and liven the dickens out of the rest of the defensive mob.

4. Kane

Mercifully, when all about are losing their heads – and, more pertinently, their slim leads in the final five minutes – one can always seek (and find) solace in the quite astonishing outputs of Harry Kane.

For a player at pretty much the opposite end of the Natural Talent Spectrum to the game’s true greats, the quality he delivers game after game is absolutely unreal. His first goal was hardly a lesson in the finer arts, but as exemplars for persistence, presence and a striker’s instinct to gamble it was something from which young Master Vinicius might have taken copious notes, Vinicus being one found a little too often rocking casually on his heels for my liking.

Kane’s second, however, was an absolute dream, contact so sweet one wanted to football’s governing bodies to compose for it one of those special anthems they insist on blaring out as the players line up for every game.

For Kane to be top-scorer in the league, and near enough top assist-provider, within a team that is as inclined to defend their own penalty area as to attack the opposition’s, makes the man a pretty strong contender for player of the season (particularly given the fact that the success of the runaway leaders is not really due to the stand-out efforts of any particular individual).

All of which still does Kane a disservice, because to judge the honest fellow purely on the basis of his goals and assists is to ignore most of what he does in a game. Even the chances he misses are ripe for study, given the manner in which he so frequently shifts the ball between his feet and then lashes a shot that nutmegs the defender and leaves the ‘keeper rooted to the spot (note today’s effort that hit the post).

On top of all of which, the chap has even taken to modelling his looks upon AANP’s lockdown, swept-back, no-longer-giving-a-damn haircut. A most becoming choice, if I may so.

5. The Awkward Subject of Kane’s Free-Kicks

If there is one, gaping in flaw in Kane’s DNA it is his comically bad free-kick taking ability. I have a feeling that one of, if not his very first league goal for us, might have been a free-kick, but an equally strong suspicion that it was deflected (which would make a heck of a lot of sense, because nature’s elements alone will not divert the ball from its wild trajectories towards goal).

Now it seems that on the basis of this one, freakishly fortunate, close-your-eyes-and-thwack effort half a decade ago – albeit probably in conjunction with his standing as the greatest striker of his generation – Kane’s general ineptitude when presented with ball, wall and twenty yards is no impediment. His teammates simply present him with the ball and sidle off to their positions in preparation for the coming goal-kick.

It is quite the oddity for one so plainly dedicated to every element of his craft, but his abilities seem to drain from him as he soon as he spots the ball from twenty-plus yards – to the extent that the greatest PR agency in the world would struggle to sell Kane on free-kick duty, unless the aim of the exercise is the bloot the thing into the wall, into the orbit or into any other vacant space not occupied by the goal webbing.

That aside however, the lad is worth his weight in the 24-carat stuff, and we should cherish his every contribution.

The occasional AANP tweet to be found hither

Categories
Spurs match reports

Arsenal 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Most Lamela Performance Imaginable

If you want to describe the mood at AANP Towers as “sombre” that will be fine with me, because that was pretty rotten stuff. Since the final whistle I have mostly just aimlessly wandered about the place: not as a devastatingly accurate tribute to those in lilywhite today, but because there was precious little about which to cheer.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, pretty much the sole beacon of light amidst this gloom was – or at least, was until he wasn’t – Erik Lamela.

Quite unperturbed by his rather hurried introduction into affairs, Lamela just set about the game as I imagine he sets about dressing himself in the morning, or eating his breakfast: viz. with high energy, sneaky fouls and a total reliance on his left foot.

It would be a stretch, and in fact a plain untruth, to say that he brimmed with creativity, but as ever he seemed pretty keen to engage in robust exchanges of views with just about anyone clad in red who wandered anywhere near him.

The highlight, of course, was his goal. Has any mortal ever held his right foot in such disregard as Lamela? Not that I’m complaining of course, because I suspect most of us would happily retire after scoring a goal like that, in a game like this (and for added delectation the shot also nutmegged some lost soul en route to goal). For a while it seemed that Lamela had done the most Lamela thing imaginable.

Except, alas, there was more classic Lamela to come. Any game of Lamela Bingo requires a yellow card borne of a fully determined but slightly mistimed tackle, and being the excitable sort of fellow he is, this duly followed. However, on this matter I have a healthy dollop of sympathy for the man, because the sequence of events that earned that first yellow card involved, in chronological order, i) Lamela winning ball, and ii) Lamela flying into opponent.

One might argue that this is simply the manner in which games are officiated these days, and that would be a pretty irresistible point; but in the latter stages I’m pretty sure Xhaka went flying into a challenge on Doherty, taking first ball and then clattering man, and earning nothing more than an unconcerned shrug from those in authority. Scandalous stuff.

Frankly I thought Lamela’s second yellow was also rather soft. Not the wisest course of action from a man already cautioned, ‘tis true, but the supposedly flailing arm could pretty reasonably have been construed as a fairly harmless attempt push away the chest of his opponent. Spilt milk now, of course.

And thus we had every aspect of Lamela, in an hour-long microcosm.

2. Doherty and Bale

Lamela’s goal, and Lucas’ diligent beavering in the final fifteen, were about as uplifting as things got.

Just about everywhere else on the pitch there seemed to be a pretty hefty dereliction of duty, as all involved misplaced passes (Hojbjerg being oddly culpable on multiple occasions), wandered into dead-ends or generally turned in curiously lethargic performances, as if the current state of affairs in the world were weighing on their minds a little too heavily today.

In the first half in particular, much of the success had by the other lot came down our right. I had neither the energy nor inclination to try to diagnose the problem, but the quartet of lilywhites covering that patch of land (Doherty, Bale, Hojbjerg and Sanchez) between them seemed pretty ill-equipped even to understand what was happening around them, let alone address it.

Doherty in particular gave the impression of a defender on life-support, repeatedly outfoxed by his opponents’ mind-blowing tactic of kicking the ball past him and running. The excuse repeatedly trotted out for this pest is that he is a wing-back, not a full-back, as if this is akin to asking a right-handed fast bowler to design a spaceship, and not something that should be expected of him. Utter rot.

In my calmer moments I actually consider that Doherty is someone who has shown enough in recent seasons to suggest that he will, if still around next campaign, eventually come good. Today, however, he was a shambles, whether in possession or trying to defend.

(Bale, it seemed, took one look at the car crash unfolding behind him and decided to steer well clear. One understands the sentiment, I suppose, but it’s hardly mucking in with the boys.)

3. Sanchez

Another week, and another blot on the Davinson Sanchez escutcheon. Apparently some are arguing that the penalty should not have been awarded; and by the letter of the law perhaps it should not, I did not stick around for the debate. My misgiving about the whole incident was that Sanchez saw fit to clatter into an opponent in the penalty area. Irrespective of what other events were unfolding, that course of action stacked the odds against him. Pull off a stunt like that and immediately the ref has a reason to take action.

It was actually something of a shame, because while Sanchez never has and never will inspire me with the slightest confidence, he was somehow getting things right. Blocks, headers, timing of challenges: all the parts of his game that have me covering my eyes with hands and muttering fevered prayers, in these this afternoon he seemed to emerge triumphant.

But such is the lot of a centre-back. I’m not sure it does much good to turn in an impeccable 89 minutes, if you fill your remaining 60 seconds flattening opposing attackers in the penalty area.

4. Negative Approach

I have no idea who gives the orders to our lot as they limber up, as I am scandalously excluded from the inner sanctum of the club at such times, but after games like these the anthem on my lips is, “Accident, or design?”

That is to say, is it simply an unhappy stroke of fate that our lot mooch gormlessly around the pitch for an hour showing minimal intent to break forward (until they eventually, inevitably, concede and have to)? Or do they conduct themselves with such apathy because someone in the upper echelons has force-fed them the instruction to act in precisely such manner?

All neither here nor there of course. It wouldn’t make much difference if the instructions were being delivered by a booming voice from the clouds, as the net effect is one we have witnessed pretty regularly. We defend, and defend, and only bother attacking once behind.

While at least avoiding the ignominy of defending along the edge of our own area, our heroes did not cover themselves in glory for the first hour or so, by seeming oddly indifferent as to whether or not they had the ball. Whereas the other lot gave the impression of familiarity with the equation that the scoring of goals facilitates the winning of games, those in lilywhite appeared pretty relaxed about the flow of events. “If Arsenal want to attack”, went the thought process of our eleven, “then who are we to interfere?”

That our only shot in the first half brought about a goal seemed to be taken as vindication by those involved that all was well with the world. However, the fact that the other lot twice hit the woodwork during this period, rather than jolting anyone into alternative action, was seemingly taken as further evidence that everything was under control, and even after they equalised the plan remained unmoved: just bob gently about the place, and everything will be alright in the end.

That it took the unholy combination of falling behind and having a man sent off to prompt any change of approach was about as frustrating as these things get, not least because thereafter came the astonishing discovery that if we went and attacked our chances of scoring improved exponentially.

One is tempted to suggest that there is a salutary lesson in there, but it would be a stretch to assume that the combined brain power of those strolling the corridors of power will do anything to change this approach in the next big game we play.