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Spurs match reports

Liverpool 1-1 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sessegnon

I would be deceiving my public if I were to claim to have studied meticulously the every sprint and shimmy of Ryan Sessegnon in his Fulham days, but as the news on the airwaves back then seemed to communicate with some confidence that he was essentially a left-footed reincarnation of Pele, I was happy to wave him on-board when his transfer to N17 had its I’s dotted and T’s crossed.

No doubt he had some rotten luck in the months since then, with various sinews pinging and limbs crumbling. The net effect of which has been that whereas a regular run of games might have turned him into a passable imitator of peak Danny Rose, he has instead gone about his business with the nervous air of a man entirely unfamiliar with the script and desperately hoping that nobody will notice.

My principal concern with Sessegnon is that he treats the football as if it is some other-worldly object of obscurity, unsure quite how to interact with it, and emphatically incapable of keeping the thing under his spell. And for much of yesterday – with one notable exception – this truth appeared to be very much intact.

That moment in which he almost headed an own-goal neatly encapsulated his ongoing struggles with the thing. While by no means a straightforward scenario – the ball was airborne, an attacker lurked – it was neither a situation of the gravest conceivable peril. There were a couple of options available, the most obvious of which seemed to be to nod the ball out of play, dust the hands of the situation and regroup for the next scene.

Sessegnon, however, treating the object as a dodecahedron rather than a sphere, contrived to lob a header into the most dangerous area possible – a yard from goal, into the path of Salah and very nearly over the extended frame of Lloris.

Our goalkeeper did the decent thing on that occasion (and indeed every occasion on which called into action), but the episode was indicative of a broader malaise. Sessegnon’s touch was generally a cue for all in lilywhite to about-turn and resume defensive positions, as the ball bobbled away from him much as it would if lobbed gently against a brick wall. The Sessegnon of Fulham vintage might have been a veritable deity with ball at feet, but our version appears to wrestle with deep-rooted, ball-based trauma.

However, yesterday was not really the occasion for any in our ranks to dazzle with elegant touch and soft caresses in possession. A large part of Sessegnon’s remit was in simply adopting the appropriate stance, depending on how the situation was unfolding centre-stage. So if Liverpool were hammering at our door, as they spent much of the game doing, our man dutifully shuffled out to a spot about five yards west of Ben Davies, and doggedly biffed away at which red-clad stooge tried to slink past.

This, to his credit, he did well. I was particularly taken by the manner in which, on the occasion on which he made a pig’s ear of things and allowed Salah a clear run on goal, more sordid urges consumed him. Rather than adopting the more socially-acceptable modes of defending, involving such noble arts as the clean tackle or well-timed block, he simply wrapped his arms around the chap’s waist and pulled at him with him all his might, earning a pretty racy yellow card in the process.

Moreover, on those rare occasions on which attacking opportunities poked their heads above the surface, Sessegnon joined in the fun with impressive gusto. As ever, his touch generally brought an end to things, but his very presence, augmenting our three-pronged forward line with his appearances as an auxiliary left-winger, were of immense value. The game-plan may have been built upon nerveless defending, but it equally required a counter-attacking threat in which at least one wing-back supplemented things.

And never was this more evident than in our goal, when first Sessegnon provided the extra body in the area, and then, on receiving the ball, finally managed to tame the thing and deliver it with truth and purity, on a plate for Sonny. If Sessegnon were to hit one accurate pass in the whole game it had to be that pass, and he did so like a champion. All other ills and mishaps were instantly forgiven.

2. Emerson Royal

Seasoned drinkers at the AANP Tavern will be familiar with the residents’ arched eyebrows and seedy glares whenever the name of Emerson Royal passes the lips. However, those same drinkers are reasonable folk of sound judgement, so when Senor Royal puts in a performance worthy of praise, applause will ring out, and thus did it transpire yesterday.

His crossing remains pretty mysteriously abject, but this was not an evening on which to lament his wrongs. Defensively, as with each of his chums, Royal did not put too many feet wrong – which might not sound like much, but given the relentless nature of Liverpool’s probing when in possession and pressing when out, was a solid day’s work.

Indeed, Royal’s task was exacerbated by the fact that he had in opposition to him Luis Diaz, the sort of chappie who makes your standard eel seem a relatively docile and compliant customer. Warm applause is due also to Kulusevski for taking the hint and stationing himself as first reserve in the right-back environs, but Royal barely put a foot wrong defensively. Moreover, he also aided matters by playing the ball out from defence with a composure of which I would not have thought him to possess.

As has been pointed out to me with some truth, the fellow is a right-back rather than a wing-back, so to chide him for his inability to cross is to do him something of a disservice. Yesterday his role was primarily defensive and he fulfilled it. Going forward he showed plenty of willing, albeit again failing to make the great balefuls of hay one would have hoped for from his multiple crossing opportunities.

He did produce a rather unorthodox contribution to our goal however. He had the presence of mind to spot Kane in a rare unmanned patch of greenery, and while his approach to conveying the ball to Kane was not necessarily wreathed in beauty – involving as it did a vertical punt into the heavens – it achieved its end, and a priceless goal swiftly followed.

3. The Centre-Backs

But I speak of Messrs R.S. and E.R. by way of preamble only. The real stars of the defensive show were the three centre-backs, each of whom took to the task as if the future of humanity depended upon it.

(This in itself is something of a revelation, being pretty much the last thing I’d have expected of a Spurs team after my four and a bit decades of eyeballing, and credit here is presumably due to Our Glorious Leader.)

Romero admittedly took a slightly risky approach to the concept of safety and security. His array of passes from near his own goalline was certainly brave, and all things considered I tip my cap to the man for consistently attempting to start attacks from deep, rather than simply dabbing it back to the ‘keeper and scrambling out of the limelight.

Nevertheless, the heart did shoot up through the throat and straight into the mouth each time Romero dabbled in this art yesterday, and he might be advised to take into account such factors as quality of opposition when next struck by the urge.

Defensively, however, he was his usual reliable self, adopting good positions, making good choices, hurling limbs into the path of shots and generally carrying himself with the air of one who treats defence as a way of life rather than simply a day-job.

Dier and Davies were similarly motivated throughout, and it was telling that Liverpool scored only through a deflection and created little else of note to moisten the forehead of Monsieur Lloris.

And from that perspective one might fling a frustrated palm or two skyward and bemoan two dropped points. Certainly if the Hojbjerg compass had been whirring and clicking correctly we might have snatched a winner at the death, and at various points in both halves a little more care in our counter-attacking pay might have secured a rich harvest.

There can be no disputing that Liverpool dominated possession and set the tempo for most of the game however, and while we successfully blunted just about every idea they came up with, a draw seemed about right. On it crawls, therefore, setting the stage nicely for Thursday and the Woolwich.

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Spurs match reports

Aston Villa 0-4 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The First Three Goals

A casual observer might reasonably expect the opening lines here to be on Goal 1, principally in the interests of chronology; but also to purr a goodish deal about Sonny’s ping, via, perhaps, a carefree chortle about the geographic wildness of Kane’s initial effort.

Alternatively, the same observer would presumably understand if I opened with Goal 2, on account of its dashed handy timing, arriving as it did at the opportune moment to quell a Villa beast still violent and snorting from its first half excursions; as well as a complimentary word or two on the upper-body dimensions of Kane that had Villa defenders bouncing off him; and the dead-eyed finish by Kulusevski, delivered like Midas in the Hollywood days when the going was still good for him.

Or indeed passers-by might anticipate me starting with Goal 3, dwelling in particular upon the surreptitious glance Kane gave, before receiving ball to his dome and chivvying it along with just the appropriate amount of pace and direction, with credits in the small print to Romero for the sort of pass that is well above the pay-grade of the average centre-back, and Sonny for taking a leaf out of the Kulusevski book of making potentially tricky finishes look no bother at all.

2. The Fourth Goal

But I’ll kick things off instead with Goal 4, mainly because it was one of those rare beasts whose every constituent element was a thing of such beauty that by the time its finale rolled around you were practically begging for someone to do the decent thing and stick the ball in the net.  

Astonishingly, the opening line was belted out by Emerson Royal, who had spent the entirety of the first half accommodating his opponents, either by casually letting them drift past him without objection or giving the ball straight to them whenever he happened upon it. I was therefore as taken aback as the next man to see him contribute so proficiently to Goal 4.  

His role in the project began with a rare outbreak of good sense, in getting first to the ball down by his own corner flag and then playing a one-two with Kulusevski, before shovelling on to Hojbjerg and God-speeding him along. This had the dual benefits of emerging from the aforementioned corner – something of a cul-de-sac at the time – and transferring our collective weight from back-foot to front.

Kulusevski for his part threw in a ballerina’s pirouette that had not one but two Villa sorts grasping at thin air and needing a brief sit-down to clear their heads. Fast-forward along some solid keep-it-simpling from Hojbjerg and Kane, and the ball was out with Sonny on the right, who, faced with ever-decreasing options, rolled the ball through the legs of the latest Villa defender queueing up for a spot of ignominy.

At this point Kulusevski took up the reigns again, but simply to report this is a bit like saying “Kong took on Godzilla”, a statement which might accurately capture the identity of the protagonists but actually omits much of the eye-catching nature of the moment. For Kulusevski, for the benefit of latecomers, was the bod who helped Emerson get the ball rolling five seconds earlier down by his own corner flag – and yet here he was, sprinting ahead of Sonny as the most advanced man in the attack, in what could be considered an absolute triumph for the fitness staff.

Kulusevski then took the opportunity to leave on his rear yet another embarrassed defender, the air by this time becoming thick with them, before looking up to pick his pass. And it was at this point that, as mentioned above, one dropped to one’s knees and positively pleaded with someone of Hotspur persuasion to deliver a fitting finale.

As such it was good work on the part of the creative souls who script such things that Son should pop up to complete his hat-trick, en route repeating his earlier gag involving the inside of the post, for added aesthetic value.

3. Lloris

It should not be overlooked that such perfectly-choreographed happy endings would have been a lot less rampant if a few first half moments had fluttered to earth only slightly differently.

Villa having established straight off the bat that the contest was to be undertaken using bar-room brawl rules, augmented their output in more palatable fashion by the deployment of Coutinho in an array of pockets seemingly beyond the remit of any our heroes. The net result was a half composed entirely of a procession of Villa chances, coming so thick and fast that at times it appeared that several were happening simultaneously.

No doubt there are some vastly knowledgeable eggs out there who could take one look at that first half and diagnose precisely the causes of our difficulties. Here at AANP Towers however, we simply watched in horror, occasionally damning the lineage of all those involved, as possession was repeatedly lobbed back to Villa to encourage them to try again.

Naturally we could only peddle such rot for so long without someone making a useful intervention, so it was as well that Monsieur Lloris was keeping up with current affairs.

Now I don’t want to stretch things by suggesting that this one of those days on which he leapt around doing the impossible, extending the appropriate paw to angles that defied physics or faster than the naked eye could detect, or any other such eye-popping stuff. Lloris had a good game, but not one of those that has one querying whether some deity has taken possession of his frame.

There certainly were some decent interruptions on his part, notably the one from the young nib Ramsey, which seemed to require that our man extended his mitts upwards with all the express pace of someone rising towards the heavens after sitting on an upturned drawing pin.

By and large, however, Lloris occupied his time making saves the like of which one would expect from a fellow who has collected a World Cup doing such things. Villa sorts thumped the ball well within his orbit; he extended his frame and thumped the ball off in another direction. Why goalkeepers these days scorn the act of catching shots is rather beyond me, but the point is that he made a string of decent saves without which we’d have been in some bother.

He also plucked a couple of crosses from the heavens, which might not sound much but spared us some pretty awkward moments in toe-poke territory. In general, Lloris is a fellow who eyes with suspicion any plot of land more than two or three yards from his own goal line, and while this can, on occasion, prove quite the shortcoming, yesterday it turned out to be rather a handy quirk, as various of the crosses requiring attention seemed to have a flight path of near enough the goal-line.

And between Lloris’ first half necessaries, and the flawless whirring of our attacking cogs, this, like last week against Newcastle, evolved from something of a first-half struggle into an absolute second half canter. What with Woolwich’s comical implosions and our goal difference going through the roof, the whole business has become rather good fun again.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 5-0 Everton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Doherty

Quite the curiosity last night, with our lot seemingly having only to lace their boots and string three or four passes together in order to rack up five goals, but if one fellow arrested the attention it was Matt Doherty.

I suppose for avoidance of doubt it is best to clarify that his was no throwback to the golden years of Walker or Trippier, sprinting up the line in a blur or heels. Nevertheless, Doherty’s contributions, particularly on the attack, were sound and plentiful.

For a start, I was rather taken by the positions he adopted. If he had simply edged up the right touchline, adopting appropriate poses as the ball did its thing further infield, I’d have accepted this as a pretty adequate contribution and passed on to the next item on the agenda. Which is not to downplay such input. Not all wing-backs are blessed with this capability. Young Tanganga, for example, seems to let ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’ when taking the role. So well done Doherty for passing this particular life lesson.

But what really caught the eye was the fact that he often squirted infield, ending up in what I suppose one might call a central midfield sort of position. My eyes did not deceive. In the very same patch of land on which I have been privileged to witness the likes of Hoddle, Gascoigne and Modric tread the boards, there was Matt Doherty. For added impact, and as if to hammer home that this was no mirage but an actual ploy devised by the great minds, Kulusevski appeared outside him in the space he was vacating, to provide width and bamboozle Everton minds further.

Now all of this would in itself have been something to relate to the grandchildren, one of those ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, but what really sealed the thing was the passing range then unleashed by Doherty, from this temporary midfield berth. For reasons best known to the gods, the young nib took it upon himself to morph occasionally into Christian Eriksen, and start pinging defence-splitters about the place.

I goggled. Everton fell apart at the seams. Pundits up and down the land simply ignored it, because Matt Doherty does not fit anyone’s thrilling, pre-ordained narrative. And yet there he was, in glorious technicolour, first destroying Everton to create Kane’s first, as mentioned above, and then clipping one over the top of the defence for Kane’s second.

Now there is plenty more work to be done in the project to turn Matt Doherty into the beating heart of this Tottenham team, but this was a pretty fine start. After all, having thrown around £25m at Emerson Royal in the summer, and then stood back and watched as he failed to deliver one successful cross in six months, it is fair to say that the wing-back experiment was meeting with pretty limited success.

The exploits of Doherty in the last couple of games therefore, with a goal, three assists and some splendid vision and execution on his passes, suddenly has an inner voice whispering that we might have at least a temporary solution on our hands.

2. Kulusevski

With each passing game, the AANP dial becomes ever redder, burning with shame at the early aspersions cast on the character of young Master Kulusevski.  Back then, in his opening cameos, I lamented the heaviness of his touch, the leaden-natured manner of his pace and the one-footedness of his general outlook on life.

My about-turn has been swift and complete. I suppose that early opinion of him was coloured by the fact that he was not Lucas Moura. Conditioned by affection and loyalty towards the latter, I huffed a fair bit when Kulusevski was introduced and failed immediately to introduce a spring-dance into proceedings such as by twinkling past three defenders and falling over.

Kulusevski, however, brings other attributes to the arena, by the bucketload.

Plucking one at random, one gets the impression that he does not slink out of the club canteen on steak day. The chap appears a pretty sturdy construction. I was particularly enamoured of the fact that at one point in the second half last night, when an Everton blister effected his best Cristian Romero impression and attempted to saw Kulusevski horizontally in half with a wild swing at the legs, our man tottered briefly, took stock and deciding that life actually wasn’t so bad after all carried on motoring down the flank.

My previous slight about him possessing a right foot for balance and aesthetic purposes only, can also be dismissed without further stain on his reputation. Naturally enough, the man has his preference. Only human to prefer one lower limb to the other, but whereas previously I would have sworn on all that was dear to me that Kulusevski would not have crossed the ball with his right peg if his life depended on it, yesterday he casually unloaded a few just to pass the time.

While it would be a stretch to describe the effect as sensational, it did make one raise a pleasantly surprised eyebrow. For as is well known, if a nib renowned for using his left foot and only his left foot starts using his right foot, well then the blighters in opposition will have to stop and swill things over in their mind a bit when getting involved in an exchange of views.

All of this was fruity stuff of course, but the real show-stopping part has been the man’s input in the final third. The dink to Son for his goal yesterday, the pass for Reguilon’s goal, and numerous other understated contributions in the past few games. Kulusevski might not have the crowd-pleasing appearance of a Lucas Moura gathering a head of steam and dancing one way and t’other, but he seems a pretty effective addition to the ranks, particularly in tandem with Doherty.

3. Kane

That rotter Harry Kane was at it again, and he really is a sight to behold. His input from midfield was actually a little more muted than against Man City and Leeds. The spirit was as willing as ever on this front, but the flesh a little weak – understandably enough given that whenever he touched the ball around halfway a mob of enforcers in Everton colours were swiftly dispatched to jostle and harass the chap.

However, the joy of Harry Kane is of course that he is at least two footballers in one, and if the creative juices have a lid placed upon them, the goalscorer that lurks within pretty swiftly comes lurking without.

Thus it transpired yesterday. As one who, in their younger days, rather fancied themselves in attack, I am well aware of the perils that await when clean through on goal and with plenty of time to run a finger down the index of options. Mercifully, a chap like Kane has his thoughts unclouded by any such detail, and, always keen to introduce a business-like touch into proceedings, tends simply to belt the thing home and be done with it.

Thus was his first goal executed yesterday. While it looked straightforward fare to the mere mortal, my days of glory in the Amateur Football Combination Division 6 North render Kane and I kindred spirits, and I am therefore better positioned than most to attest that his finish was mightily impressive. We strikers know.

The second however, was the sort of stuff that even had the AFCD6N veterans drawing a sharp intake of breath. One could pen a pretty hefty tome detailing the various ways in which that finish might have gone wrong, and yet Kane’s views on such opportunities were apparently the same as his views on the first half opportunity: viz. just belt the thing home and be done with it.

4. Sessegnon

Oddly enough, the ball was set rolling last night by young Master Sessegnon, his being the cross that the Everton laddie thoughtfully bulleted into his own net.

I say oddly enough, because after a couple of half-decent games Sessegnon was again looking last night like an egg for whom life as a footballer was a bed of roses until one introduced the actual football into the equation.

It was notable that for that opening goal his interaction with the ball was pretty limited. Ultimately, at its crescendo, he admittedly had to kick the thing, but his primary responsibility in the operation was simply to get his head down and run. And this at least is an art he seems swiftly to be mastering.

Helpfully he was up against Seamus Coleman in this undertaking, a gnarled old bounder who has been plugging away for about a century and a half, and who, as such, was likely to concede a few yards of pace and gasps of air to our young whippersnapper.  Accordingly, Sessegnon triumphed in the foot-race, and then, courtesy of Ben Davies’ laser-like accuracy of pass, was left only with the task of closing his eyes, swinging his left foot and hoping for the best.

To his credit, it was an excellent cross, pacy and delivered into a threatening area. And after this zenith, Sessegnon’s game degenerated pretty rapidly. I would suggest that his touch deserted him, but this would be to insinuate that his touch was ripe, ready and in situ in the first place. Not for the first time, he spent his evening being buffeted off the ball or tripping over the thing when attempting to take it out for a stroll.

At one point, having lost the ball, he hit upon the electric idea of crashing to earth and attempting to grab his opponent from the floor with his arms. He missed, of course, and the immediate consequence was a booking for Sonny, who had to intervene with a more socially recognisable foul.

As if to emphasise the learning that remains for Sessegnon, Reguilon replaced him and scored with his first touch.

I will repeat the mantra of recent weeks that the young fellow has a future ahead of him, but for present engagements I would rather see Reguilon on the left, mirroring the contributions of Doherty on the right.

5. Well-Crafted Goals

Unlikely though it sounds now that the lid has been put in place and the game lowered into the ground, Everton actually began things in the ascendancy. More to the point, our players seemed quite content for this to be the way of things.

Put another way, Everton pressed high up the pitch, and in that maddening way of theirs, our lot seemed to accept that this was simply an inescapable fact of life. Rather than resist it the collective attitude around the back-line seemed to be that they might as well all accept it with good grace as beyond their remit to influence.

Those opening exchanges troubled me. Principally, what rankled was the rather fat-headed way in which those in lilywhite attempted to pass their way casually out from defence. One understands the theory of course, and when well executed it can prove a delightful little routine, complete with promising finale.

But, crucially, last night it was not well executed. In fact, repeatedly, it was executed with a care-free frivolity that seemed entirely inappropriate to the occasion. Just about every time we tried those cute little passes around the Everton mob, the whole operation fell apart within spitting distance of our own area, and trouble loomed. Mercifully, Everton were utter rot from start to finish, and would not have scored if they had played until Easter, but I still did not look the manner in which our gang were going about things, and my stern glares towards them no doubt communicated as such.

And yet, despite insistence upon this strategy that was equal parts moronic and lackadaisical, within the blink of an eye our heroes were two or three goals to the good and skipping towards the finish line without shedding a bead of perspiration between them.

The key to it seemed to be simply to pick and execute a small handful of some absolutely glorious passes. The sort that would have the Sky mob purring if delivered from the size nines of de Bruyne or Fernandes, but rather pass under the radar when wheeled out by Ben Davies and Matt Doherty.

Exhibit A was Ben Davies’ pass around the defender and into space for young Sessegnon to gallop after. As mentioned, Sessegnon is a creature of pretty limited means, but point him in the right direction and release him from the traps, and you’re in business. Davies’ pass did precisely that, and deserved shiny gold stars for its weight and placement, both of which were immaculate.

This was soon followed by the lightest of dinks from Kulusevski, to put Sonny in the clear. Closer inspection revealing that not only did it put Sonny in the clear but it also made the brain of the nearest Everton defender explode, as he weighed up the benefits of chasing the ball and chasing the man, and found them tugging him with equal weight in opposite directions.

Matt Doherty’s pass for the third was the best of the lot, having the effect of lining up the entire Everton defence and then scattering them all over the place. Not many passes in football are so effective that they make the opposition players forget that a ball even exists, and start spinning around and bumping into one another, but this pass seemed to do that.

And as mentioned, Harry Kane isn’t the sort to put a hand on a hip and stand watching, admiringly – he simply ran off and scored – but had he been that sort he’d have noted with some admiration that he had time to jog the entire perimeter of the pitch before taking his shot, such was the devastating effect of the pass from Doherty.  

It was all breathtakingly simple in the end, and in a way justified the insistence upon all those curiously ill-planned attempts to pass out from the back. As it turned out, we only needed one of those to work and like magic our forwards and wing-backs were in on goal.

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Spurs match reports

Man City 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kulusevski

I probably ought to do the square thing here, and shove in one of those little pre-emptive speeches before I hit the ripe stuff, because although he’s only been hovering about the place five minutes I’ve not wasted an opportunity to stick the knife into poor old Dejan Kulusevski during his Tottenham career to date.

I suppose it shows how much I know, but those very early impressions did not have me clearing some floor-space to dance little jigs of delight. A solid-looking chap, for sure, but it struck me that his muscle and sinews did little to disguise a first touch that contained too much meat when finesse was required. Add to that his single trick, repeated far too often (cutting in on his left) and the AANP verdict was decidedly middling.

Fast forward to around 19.30 GMT on Saturday night however, and such was the change in impression made upon me that I was strongly considering naming my first-born after the chap.

In the first place Kulusevski drew the short-straw on the tactical front. Man City, being of sound mind, naturally took one look at our lot and made it a priority to spend the entire match targeting Emerson Royal and his surrounding landscape. Our Glorious Leader therefore made the eminently sensible call to parachute in some permanent support for Emerson – with the net result was that poor old Kulusevski had to balance life as principal supporting actor every time Sonny and Kane combined with the additional demands of being a full-time auxiliary right-back alongside Emerson.

A testing agenda at the best of times, this particular trial had a few additional bobbish notes thrown in for good measure. For a start, our man was up against the most testing opposition going. Sterling and Gundogan didn’t stop eyeing him throughout for any false moves; while on the other hand the nearest ally in attendance was Emerson, who with the greatest will in the world does tend rather to flit in and out of things when it comes to his defensive duties.

And yet Kulusevski took to the challenge like an absolute trooper. In the defensive quarter, diligence seemed to be the buzzword. Actually, in the D. Q. there were a heck of a lot of buzzwords – “discipline”, “concentration”, “fitness” and so on, and one probably need not grapple with the specifics of the most appropriate word to get the gist: here was a fellow happy to put in a shift.

Surveying the scene in the aftermath, one would probably remark that for all Man City’s beavering down that flank, their success in the neighbourhood was limited. One certainly does not have to cast the mind back too far to recall occasions when our right side was a door flung wide open to welcome in all-comers, but on Saturday night efforts were made from start to finish to impose some sort of order upon the area, and Kulusevski’s sweaty paw-prints were all over it.


But of course the joy of Kulusevski’s performance was that he managed to be two people at once. The dependable workhouse routine having been executed admirably in the defensive third, when we ventured forward he was equally as willing to infest the more exciting areas of the paddock. And if in previous weeks I have ground a disapproving jaw or two, on Saturday night the chap completed a pretty swift redemption.

For a start, his goal was taken with casual air of a man peeling a particularly accommodating banana. This was all the more impressive given that the serene route of an open goal, which Sonny had no doubt envisaged when playing his square pass, had morphed into one of considerably greater challenge by the time the ball actually reached Kulusevski – not least because a City sort had galloped back and stationed himself rather pointedly in the face of our newest hero. It was therefore to Kulusevski’s infinite credit that he remained thoroughly unfazed, even having the presence of mind to nutmeg the City bod.

And at the risk of reading a darned sight too much into some of life’s trivialities, I did also detect on the umpteenth viewing that Kulusevski’s reaction to scoring was in similarly casual vein, comprising little more than a shrug, a yawn and a rather stony-faced expression of boredom whilst being mobbed by chums, as if to suggest that this was the sort of thing he did to pass the time.

On top of which, he then delivered just about our first successful right-wing cross of the season, in creating the winner (and again celebrated by turning back and dolefully walking towards halfway, the strange fellow).

Admittedly the City lad tasked with preventing his cross seemed to lose all interest in the sport and simply nodded him through, but it was still a peach of a cross. A different kettle of fish from Lucas for sure, but in games such as these in which a we require someone with eyes in the back of his head as well as the more traditional arrangement, young Master K could fit the bill.

2. The Defensive Set-Up: Dier

Post-match, there was a pretty sombre air in the Sky Sports studio as the assembled brains moaned about how City’s possession merited more – but I thought this overlooked the more telling stat that our lot piped up with more Shots On Target than their lot. Actually, the most telling stat was in the ‘Goals’ column, but you get the point – for all their possession, City couldn’t actually edge near enough our net to really spit on their hands and get cracking.

Our Glorious Leader obviously takes credit here, for opting for a back-five-plus-Kulusevski approach that ought to be enshrined in a museum as a model of watertightness. Impressively, all six of them seemed to function as one, shuffling north, east, south and west as if bound by shackles across the waist. And here I thought much credit went to the returning Eric Dier.

As has been often remarked around these parts, set Dier off in a foot-race, or tell him to turn around and not be out-sprinted by a forward, and trouble isn’t far off. But in these backs-to-the-walls operations, in which no pace is required and deep defending is the order of the day, the chap pretty much shoots a knowing wink and spends ninety minutes directing operations, emerging at the other end in a deuce of a sweat but triumphant nevertheless.

And so it panned out here. If City’s goals had emanated from the sort of dashing routines demonstrated by our lot, I might have chewed a nervous lip and marked Dier as one for questioning in the aftermath.

But City’s goals were nothing of the sort. The first was a cross equal parts harmless and hopeful, which Lloris treated with the sort of idea that there are times in a goalkeeper’s life when the last thing one should do is catch the bally thing; and the second was one of those penalties which can only be avoided by those blessed with detachable arms. In short, neither City goal came about because of any flaw in the performance of the back-five six.

3. The Defensive Set-Up: Romero

And even more impressive than Dier in the midst of all this gallant security was Senor Romero. Be it blocking, shadowing, tackling or whatever other noble task required, Romero seemed either to come with pre-loaded expertise, or to learn pretty dashed quickly on the job.

When one thinks back to the wild panic with which Davinson Sanchez has treated every involvement with the ball in recent weeks, one’s gaze towards Romero only becomes more admiring. I’m not entirely sure how rapidly he shifts from A to B, but as with Dier, parking up within a back-three and marshalling visitors with an air of authority is the sort of task-list that brings out the best in the man.

On top of which, the young nib is incredibly adept with ball at feet too. In general, upon receipt of the thing near-ish his own goal he resists the urge traditionally embedded into Spurs defenders to view it with horror and stumble over their own feet as all manner of potentially horrific consequences terrorise them.

Instead, Romero treats matters with appropriate sentiment. Set a striker upon him and he’ll crunch the fellow; but simply roll a football to his feet and he’ll control the thing, look around and pick his pass. Sometimes it will be square and harmless, which is as much as one would expect from a centre-back. But the beauty of Romero in possession is that as often as not, he’ll skip the ‘Harmless’ level and plunge straight into ‘Handily Taking Out Several Opponents’.

Re-watch the third goal and you’ll see him twice receive the ball on halfway, and twice sneer at those advocating that the 95th minute away to the champions dictates a safe sideways nudge. Instead, on both occasions he transferred matters 10 yards north, very much with the air of a man keen to turn his present bounty into even greater future riches, and on the second occasion Bentancur – a fellow who, while occasionally taken by surprise by the rigour of things, nevertheless displayed a dreamy touch throughout – spun forward to Kulusevski the sort of glorious, defence-splitting pass of which Winks, for example, would not dream.

4. Sessegnon

This being AANP Towers I obviously cannot let pass our finest display of the season without grumpily dragging into the office at least one of our number for a stern eye and verbal lashing, and on this occasion it’s young Sessegnon.

Mitigating circumstances abound, of course. In recent history the young pill has struggled to make it to the half-hour mark without some calamity striking him. It is therefore unsurprising that when battle commences he does not stride about the place with the confident vim of a man who knows his worth. The lad’s confidence has been hung, drawn, quartered, pelted with rotten fruit and hacked at a bit with an axe for good measure. One sympathises.

Nevertheless, seeing him yet again interact with the football as if it were trying to attack him was a bit thick. I presume that in his lighter moments, away from the noise of the crowd and glare of the cameras, young Sessegnon demonstrates an ability to move from place to place as well as the best of them. No doubt he’s mastered the art of moving one leg, and then the other, and then the first leg again and so on. Heavens, he probably can do all of the above while nurdling a ball along the ground too.

But stick him on the pitch and all that training and muscle memory rather cruelly deserts him, and he seems instead utterly incapable of getting the machinery working. His every touch seemed to bring about a U-turn in the narrative, as possession switched from lilywhite to light blue.

Moreover, one got the impression that his was a career in which he had somehow escaped ever having to compete against an opponent, such was his shock and inability to deal with the buffeting of his fellow man. To say that he was easily muscled off the ball would be to understate things.

Nevertheless, Sessegnon persisted, and deserves credit for sticking to the plan. Defensively he held his position, and given that he had the likes of Foden and De Bruyne lurking in his postcode he did a solid job of at least standing them up and forcing them to look elsewhere.

Moreover, just about the only moment I can remember him retaining possession was in his contribution to the second goal. No particular bells and whistles about it, but he was there and reeled off his lines correctly (in feeding Son), so I’m happy to slather praise upon him for it. Unlike certain others in lilywhite, I remain convinced that he is one who might yet rediscover the glories of his previous lives and prosper.

5. Kane

Naturally one can hardly skirt over proceedings without giving Kane some of the old oil.

The AANP heart, being formed primarily of ice and stone, does little in the way of the forgive-forget routine, so I remain dubious of the fellow’s broader motives – but by golly he brought his A-game on Saturday night.

Those who know me best will know that few things make the AANP heart flutter quite like a well-weighted pass inside a full-back, and the specimen produced by Kane in the build-up to the opener deserves its own special gong at whatever might be the next awards ceremony going.

The vision, direction and weight of the thing was absolutely as ripe as they come. When the grandchildren come clustering around decades hence, and ask for the highlights of my innings, the witnessing of that Kane pass will be the headline.

Nor was it an isolated incident. Kane’s vision and execution throughout oozed class from every pore. There are times when his obsession with midfielding rather grates; but when he starts high, drops 5-10 yards, receives the ball on the half-turn and fizzes a pass onto a postage stamp, one cannot help but cast an admiring eye.

Handily, the fellow also chipped in with a couple of goals. Occurring as they did, almost as afterthoughts, rather hammered home the fact that he was the hub of creativity rather than simply the chap in fancy garb who applies the finishing touch. Nevertheless, both were well taken, his second goal in particular a decent exhibition of the virtues of barrel-chested upper-body strength.

6. Our Goals and the Counter-Attack Myth

A final musing is on the nature of our goals.

It is naturally tempting to suggest that this was opportunistic stuff. The well-rehearsed narrative would have it that our heroes defended for dear life, and then nicked the ball and raced off to score.

The truth makes for a more interesting narrative, at least for those who like to don the spectacles and get a handle on the fine print.

Our first goal came from playing out from a goal-kick; our second from playing out from a goal-kick; Kane’s miss came from playing out from a goal-kick but with the added drama of losing and then regaining possession inside our own half; and the third was the happy ending to a minute-long story of our patient possession. Of nicking-and-countering there was not a whiff. (Well, perhaps a whiff about the Kane miss, when we lost and then regained possession – but not really countering in the classical sense of their entire team camped high up around our area.)

In truth, the telling element of all this is not so much around anything big and clever from our lot, as the rather fat-headed choice from City to station their defenders high up the pitch, leaving vast expanses for Kane’s passing and midfield runners to exploit. Nevertheless, once in possession our heroes knew the drill each time, and there was something of the well-rehearsed about the way in which the ball was swiftly transferred from one protagonist to another. No standing on ceremony here; our lot were quick and punchy.

As mentioned above, even in the third goal, when patient possession was the order of the day, the sudden injection of pace came from a first-time pass from Bentancur, out to Kulusevski on the right. Precious few teams will defend as high, allowing the tactic of Kane-passes-for-midfield-runners to thrive; but the progressive passing from Romero, and first-time pass from Bentancur to set up our third, gave a glimpse of where our creative sparks might lie for future bouts.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-2 Wolves: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris and Davies Setting the Tone

After the midweek debacle, what we all needed – apart from perhaps a bracing drink and a holiday in sunnier climes – was for the more experienced souls amongst our number to march to the centre of the stage and begin proceedings by announcing in no uncertain terms that this was an afternoon for clear thinking and sensible decision-making.

Unfortunately, as seems to happen around these parts, somewhere between the changing room and the pitch such wholesome principles were discarded as far too bland, replaced by motives far more eye-catching, if dubious. By the time the game kicked off our lot seemed convinced that this was the day for playing fast and loose with the finer points of the sport, and simply went about the place lobbing in whatever madcap scheme struck them, with zero consideration for consequences.

Monsieur Lloris, the sort of oeuf on whom one would normally bet a healthy chunk of the mortgage on doing the sensible thing, set the tone with their opener, by deciding that today was as good as any to dispense with the safety-first approach to goalkeeping.  

This is not to excuse from blame those around him of course, for just about everyone (bar perhaps Kane) lent their full support to the drive not only to usher Wolves in at their leisure, but to do so in the manner that gave best expression to visual comedy. So when the first Wolves chappie steadied himself to shoot goalwards in the build-up to their opener, rather than wave a deterring limb at him, those in lilywhite simply stood aside and urged him on.

To his credit Lloris at least had the decency to leap hither and thither repelling the initial attempts, safe in the knowledge that none of his teammates were inclined to interrupt with any preventative measures. But when the opportunity finally presented itself for him simply to catch the ball gently lobbed towards him, he unveiled the sort of needless mid-air flap that seemed better suited to interpretative dance than the rigours of penalty area necessaries.


Not content with gifting Wolves their opener thusly, Lloris then took it upon himself to set in train the slapstick sequence for their second. He picked the most unlikely method to do so too, as if to demonstrate that here within the confines of N17, no situation, no matter how harmless and child-proof, is exempt from buffoonery. His method of choice was to take the simple five-yard pass and turn it into a construction fraught with danger, utterly wrong-footing Ben Davies by thumping it towards the by-line, a radical alternative to the conventional approach of rolling gently it to his feet.

Davies, by this point, needed no further invitation to muscle in on the slapstick. He was, after all, fresh from losing a battle with his own feet against Southampton, which had resulted in him collapsing in a heap when the easier option was to effect a clearance, thereby allowing our midweek visitors their first goal.

Today therefore, for him simply to resume where he had left off was the work of a moment. As options abounded for quelling the danger – conceding a corner, finding row z, hoicking the thing towards the heavens – Davies cunningly whipped the ball back into play and straight at a Wolves sort.

And inspired by the lunacy of these esteemed figures, those all around them in our back-line scrambled to get in on the act, skidding on the surface and bungling their clearances until a Wolves bod almost apologetically put an end to the routine by dabbing the ball home.

That our visitors did not score a third was something of a curiosity, and not for lack of further cluelessness amongst the principals in lilywhite. While I thought Romero could again be excused from too much blame, alongside him young Sanchez continued to make a drama out of any of the most mundane situations imaginable; while the midfield pair seemed to make a joint, executive decision that they would keep their interference to a minimum and leave the defence to sort out their own troubles.

2. The Early Substitution

Having seen his plan for settling into the match in calm and sensible fashion merrily torn to shreds by his troops, Our Glorious Leader understandably enough went for the nuclear option, and after twenty-five minutes simply closed his eyes and stuck a finger blindly at a different formation on his iPad.

I must confess to emitting a sigh of some disappointment at this. Admittedly a sigh of disappointment was a pretty different response from the disbelieving curses that had been flowing freely in the preceding moments, but nevertheless, trusting sort that I am, at kick-off I had rather been looking forward to seeing this line-up.

For a start I had welcomed the opportunity to watch Doherty fill the size nines of Emerson Royal, but more on that below.

Bentancur for Hojbjerg was also a selection that met with approval. Bentancur had spent the first ten seconds or so of his league debut midweek convincing us that he was our best signing ever, when he followed one nifty drag-back with a mightily impressive forty-yard diagonal.

As such I was determined to greet his every touch with the sort of parental pride you find in a lioness gazing adoringly upon a cherished cub. And to his credit, he does have pretty slick technique, which he was quite happily to showcase as being superior to most of those around him. A handy sort of egg then, but a midfield enforcer – of the ilk we rather crave – he is not. Nor is he two people, and while he can hardly be blamed for this, it proved nevertheless a drawback in the early stages, as he and Winks were comfortably outnumbered in the centre.

Conte’s attempt to remedy this numerical conundrum was to hook poor old Sessegnon, shove Kulusevski into midfield and rearrange the deck-chairs into a 4-3-3.

Sessegnon has achieved impressive feat of having me feel both sympathy and exasperation in perfect concurrence. On the one hand, I get the impression that if a piano were to fall from the sky, the fates would conspire for Sessegnon to set off on a stroll in the exact spot it hit the earth, such is the sort of luck he attracts.

On the other hand, he currently tiptoes around the place looking like a lad who has never laced a pair of boots before, and is aware that he is about to be found out. He can hardly be singled out for blame for his twenty minutes today – Lloris and Davies were worse – but of the high-flying youngster signed a few moons back there is currently not a whiff.

As mentioned, Sessegnon’s removal brought Kulusevski bounding into frame. He seems a harmless sort of fellow, and adds some squad depth, which was evidently an itch that Conte wanted scratching. But if the question is whether we have brought in someone who can improve our First XI, Kulusevski seems at first glance not to be the answer. However, at that price, and in that window, I suspect we all already knew that.

3. Doherty

As mentioned, being the wide-eyed, gullible sort, I had greeted with enthusiasm the news that Doherty was to be entrusted with RWB duties. Admittedly this reaction was principally based upon the manner in which Emerson Royal’s performances in that position have sucked so much of my very being from my soul. Nevertheless, if pressed I could also point to Doherty’s second half against Leicester a few weeks back as a pointer that the chap might know his way about the right flank.

Alas, to say that Doherty did nor really cover himself in glory is to understate things. Remarkably, he managed to achieve the feat of looking like a poor version of Emerson (stay with me here). While Emerson does little more defensively than stand and wave as opponents waltz past him, and while history has yet to record him delivering a cross worthy of the name, he does at least have the decency to run into appropriate attacking positions when we are on the front-foot. Things may fall to pieces swiftly afterwards, but he gets that much right. Today, as well as being defensively average, Doherty could not even muster the courage to station himself in the final third.

There is a mitigating circumstance I suppose, for the switch to a back-four meant that Doherty’s wing-back slot faded out of existence, and he became a more conventional right-back. Charitably, one might suggest that we would need to see Doherty given a full 90 minutes at wing-back – and more than once – to get a sense of whether he has either the interest or grey cells for the role.

But today, even before the tactical switch neutered him, he seemed pretty reluctant to set foot over halfway, and oddly overwhelmed by events every time he touched the ball. This is not to cast him as the villain of the piece – most around him were similarly impotent. It was just rather a let-down. Conte-ball does, after all, depend rather heavily on a pair of wing-backs who bristle with life and brio.

4. Winks

Young Winks is a peculiar fish. One cannot fault his willing. Even the most casual and uninterested observer would be struck by his determination to do things right and, rather tellingly, make amends for the mistake he has just executed. He has much about him of the over-excited puppy, simply pleased to be there.

But by golly he makes a lot of mistakes. We should be grateful, I suppose, that in his present incarnation, under Conte, Winks v3.0 is pretty open to the notion of The Forward Pass, for so long a manoeuvre shrouded in mystery to him. And I ought therefore to cut him some slack when he gives away possession in the name of attempting something progressive – for I have not forgotten the days of yowling at him at least to try going forward, rather than forever spinning southwards.

But at the same time, for a chap who built his reputation upon passing of the neat-and-tidy variety he does seem to fudge a lot of that bread-and-butter stuff. On top of which, one can add “Caught In Possession” and “Failing To Close Down Shots” to his rap-sheet.

I do wonder whether a lot of the individual errors in midfield would be removed by adopting a midfield three, as vs Leicester and Liverpool in recent weeks, but that might be a debate for a different day. On the other hand, one might argue with some justification that we did indeed have a midfield three today, and a fat lot of good it did us. Either way, the suspicion lingers that that midfield area needs more than just cosmetic surgery.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-3 Southampton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

This turned out to be one of those imbroglios so madcap and all-action-no-plot that, come the credits, I could not quite keep track of what emotion I ought to register. I therefore made a quick check of my in-match notes, which revealed the following:

FACT: First half was a one-one hammering.

Comment: Eh? That doesn’t sound right.

FACT: Trust me on this one.

Comment: “One-one” suggests a pretty even state of affairs, what? Perhaps some ebb and flow, but all things being equal-

FACT: ‘Twas an unholy battering.

Comment: Crumbs. I say, I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, but the phrase still seems to suggest parity.

FACT: This is Tottenham Hotspur. The laws of logic go out the window.

Comment: Fair.

FACT: We did have five good minutes in that first half though.

Comment: Scoring one and missing a pretty clear chance for another? This suggests that at least something about Conte’s counter-attacking format has t’s crossed and i’s dotted.

FACT: Second half we started to edge on top.

Comment: Decent goal to show for it too.

FACT: Indeed.

Comment: Rather.

FACT: But our attempt then to manage the game was utterly ham-fisted

Comment: Evidently. Within five minutes we were losing, dash it.

FACT: Well, quite. We conceded exactly the same goal twice.

Comment: Yes, I noted that. Rather like watching a car-crash in slow motion. You know the feeling – can see it all unfolding, know it’s going to end disastrously, yet can’t tear the eyes from it.

FACT: We equalised in added time!

Comment: Huzzah! That Bergwijn is certainly good for a-

FACT: Disallowed by VAR.

Comment: Curses.

That being cleared up, the talking points rise to the surface, rather like bloated bodies in a pool.

1. The Counter-Attack Strategy

On paper, it could hardly sound more straightforward: let the oppo have the ball, nick it from them, hare up the pitch and strike.

And as my notes above indicated, when our heroes got to the fun part of this plan – namely haring up the pitch and striking – all was lollipops and rainbows. Sonny, Kane and Lucas have rehearsed this scene often enough to know all the moves with their eyes closed. As if to illustrate this, despite having an otherwise muted sort of time of things Lucas burst into life twice, creating a goal each time; while Sonny and Kane’s combo ought to have led to a goal for Reguilon, who had evidently got wind of the fun being had by the front-three and arrived like a steam train to get in on the frivolity.

When his head hit the pillow, Senor Conte may therefore have noted that the ‘attacking’ element of counter-attacking needs little work. It’s cigars and generous bourbons in that part of the world.

The challenge lies in the earlier premise, of letting the oppo have the ball. Harmless enough on paper, the reality was that Southampton ran rings around our lot for the majority of the first half. And not just the innocuous sort of rings that involve shoving the ball east and west without a whiff of penetration.

Southampton seemed to cut through our heroes at will, fashioning chances whenever the hell they fancied it. Now one accepts that such eventualities will unfold over the course of the season. Go up against the billionaires of Man City, or Liverpool or Chelski on one of their better days, and one can expect that sleeves will be rolled up in all quarters, and the dickens of a defensive shift be put in by every crew member.

But to be pulled from pillar to post non-stop, at home, by Southampton, seemed a bit thick. A decent outfit, for sure, and no doubt they’ll be plundered for their riches come the summer – but really not the sort of opponent that should have any self-respecting team hanging on for dear life. Yet come half-time one rather wanted to throw in a sympathetic towel and lead each of our heroes away for a sit-down and a warm glass of milk.

Difficult to pinpoint any single problem, but a couple of them seemed to reside in midfield, and one at right-back, as will be explored below.

Hojbjerg and Winks did not seem to have enough fingers between them to stick in the countless dykes appearing all over the place. By the end of the first half the pair seemed to offer little more than decorative value, their tactic of dangling an occasional limb proving pretty ineffectual in countering Southampton’s relentless switches to the left.

Watching the horror unfold, I did wonder whether a change of personnel might have eased things a tad. Messrs Skipp and, from early sightings, Bentancur both seem a bit more geared towards actually winning the ball, an approach I’d be happy to see at least attempted, in contrast to the Winks-Hojbjerg slant of staring at the opponent from a distance of five yards and hoping nothing dangerous follows.

Alternatively, the thought occurred that a switch to 3-5-2 might have swung things in our favour. One will never know of course, and it would also mean sacrificing Lucas, but in its previous incarnations (Leicester away, Liverpool home) our lot have rustled up a couple of pretty humdinging performances, which makes one chew a bit.

2. Hojbjerg

Well, this is awkward. That is to say, one doesn’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but Hojbjerg does appear to be discreetly shuffling from the queue marked “Solution” to that marked “Problem”.

Tough to stomach, because one rather admires the attitude of the chap – too often our midfield has been manned by blisters who will casually shrug off defeat as one of life’s little irritations, which rather get in the way of a neat pirouette and dainty flick. Hojbjerg, by contrast, comes across as the sort who spends his down-time chewing on glass and glaring at his offspring, an attitude I for one think we need a dashed sort more of in the corridors of N17.

But alas, attitude alone doth not a midfield general make. Watching as Hojbjerg dabbed pass after pass into a curious ether that couldn’t accurately be classified as “Here” or “There” made one clear the throat and shoot an embarrassed look towards the nearest chum, as if to say, “He’s rather off the boil tonight, what?” And frankly, that nearest chum would shoot a look back as much as to suggest, “And not for the first time, I fear”.

On top of his startling abandonment of geography in his passing, Hojbjerg, as mentioned above, became ever less effective as a defensive screen. It all adds up to a chap who currently seems to be in the team based on tattoos and anger alone. He may just need a rest of course, something that does not seem to have been afforded to him since approximately the summer of 2020. Whatever the cause, something seems amiss.

All that said, such things are not entirely black and white. Hojbjerg’s finer recent moments seem to have been performed up in the final third, either in lending his frame to the high-press or bobbing off on a little jaunt into the opposition area. Such a jolly brought about our opening goal last night, which had me scratching the loaf and wondering if we’ve misunderstood him all this time.

3. Emerson Royal

There seems a lot less misunderstanding to be done on the matter of Emerson Royal. Bang average going forward and pretty woeful going back, I can only assume he produces stuff in training that would make Maradona blush, because game after game the young wag peddles some first-rate rot.

I’ll stick him the charitable stuff first: going forward he at least has the right idea. He knows the drill, and obediently charges off up the right flank, which if nothing else will give the fellow on the other side something to think about.

The problems seem to begin once he has the ball at his feet. If there’s a wrong option to choose, Emerson homes in on it like a moth to a flame. Alternatively, if the situation demands he whip in a cross – and let’s face it, in a wing-back’s line of work this is going to be bread-and-butter stuff – the fabric of the universe seems to melt before his eyes, and the peculiar fellow just cannot seem to muster the capacity. If you excuse the physics lesson, nothing about his crosses suggests he knows anything about trajectory or curl.

It’s pretty maddening stuff, as this must surely have been right up there in bold font on the Job Description, yet I struggle to remember a single decent cross he’s swung in. Tellingly, unlike Reguilon on the other side, Emerson gets nowhere near our set-pieces.

(Lest anyone point to his deflected effort vs Brighton at the weekend, I have a stash of rotten fruit waiting to be hurled, for in the first place there was no-one in the area at whom he could have been aiming, and in the second place the eventual arc of the ball owed everything to the deflection and precious little to Emerson’s own input.)

Moreover, defensively Emerson is such a liability that Southampton made no bones about the fact that he and he alone would be the point of all their attacks. Time and again, in the first half in particular, they targeted him, and time and again he melted away in the face of it all.

While the two late goals conceded made for pretty nasty viewing, there could be little surprise about the fact that Emerson was the nearest in the vicinity for the winning goal in particular. (I exonerate him re Southampton’s second, as Kulusevski switched off instead of tracking his man, leaving Emerson in the unenviable position of having two unmarked forwards on his plate.)

The winning goal, however, was a neat illustration of Emereson’s pretty odd approach to defending, involving him attempting to allow the chap a header and banking on his ability to block its path to goal, rather than actually challenging for the dashed thing.

Meanwhile, Matt Doherty stares on listlessly from the sidelines. This is not to suggest that Doherty’s presence would transform operations, but I do wonder quite what depths Emerson has to plumb before being bundled out the back and having the door locked behind him.

4. Romero

Strange to say, having conceded thrice, but at the heart of defence Romero filed away another solid shift. Not flawless – at one point in the first half he was utterly undone by a straightforward long-ball hoicked over his head – but by and large, whatever came into his sphere was mopped up with minimal fuss, and often a few extra servings of meat.

He would benefit from a few more capable souls to his left and right, and indeed in front of him, but defensively, both on terra firma and up in the atmosphere, he seems a pretty handy nib to have on the premises.

Intriguingly, the fellow is also evidently possessed of a pretty eye-catching pass from deep. Given the general absence of creative spark from our central midfield pair, this could prove to be a pretty significant outlet in weeks to come.

Alas, there were simply too many duds in the defensive unit last night, and it is a bit fruity to expect Romero single-handedly to put out every fire going. The latest cameo from Bentancur suggests that there’s a chap who needs fast-tracking into the starting eleven, and the eventual return of Skipp might also add a sharpened elbow or two to the midfield, but after the dominant performance against Brighton at the weekend, this was mightily disappointing stuff.

Tweets hither

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

With apologies for tardiness.

1. Winks

Understandably enough the murmur about the place pre kick-off was around the return to the cast list of Messrs Son and Romero; but once all concerned spat on their hands and got down to it, the chappie who quietly emerged to AANP as having a say on things was one H. Winks Esq.

In a way, the current Winks vintage – Winks 3.0, you might say – requires for full appreciation an acknowledgement of what he is not. That is to say, Winks is not some all-singing, all-dancing box of trickery. If it’s Ndombele-esque body-swerves you’re after, of indeed Mousa Dembele-esque wriggles-from-tight-corners, then look elsewhere. And if you’re the sort who needs a Luka Modric eye-of-the-needle pass to get your pulse racing, then young Winks will not do much to soothe the savage beast lurking within.

Instead, on Saturday night, “neat and tidy” seemed to be the chorus on the lips of the fellow. I was rather taken by the manner in which our heroes regularly one- and two-touched their way out of ever-diminishing little defensive alleys, and Winks was as often as not front and centre of these operations. He availed himself whenever crisis (in the form of onrushing Brighton folk) approached a defensive chum, and having received the ball, did not stand around making speeches or counting his blessings, but swiftly shoved it along to someone better placed and less harassed.

A criticism of Winks, from this corner of the interweb as much as any other, has been his tendency, after surveying the terrain and weighing up all options, to take the rather excessive step of deciding that the slightest whisper of danger means the immediate cancellation of all forward-thinking possibilities. As a result, whatever the question, Winks’ answer has tended to be to go backwards.

This, however, might be described as Winks 2.0. The current, Conte-fied version (Winks 3.0) is by no means averse to passing backwards, but – crucially – does not view such retreat as the panacea to all that life throws at him. Winks 3.0 instead seems to be motivated primarily by an urge to do whatever the situation requires, as long as it’s done without too much hesitation.

This, at least to my uneducated eye, seems an infinitely more productive approach. It means that his primary motivation is simply to move the ball along, and preferably into a less troubled climate – and if that means going forward, backwards, underground or up into the atmosphere, Winks is on board.

And so on Saturday, we were treated to such delights as Winks dabbing little diagonals, Winks nudging the ball back towards goal, Winks chipping the ball square into space, and so on. The imp seemed to understand that what mattered was simply moving the object of the piece from Point A to Point B with minimal delay – and in the first half in particular this seemed to amount to a pretty critical part of the overall operation of pinching the thing from under Brighton’s noses and racing off on the counter-attack.

Winks was not perfect – the growing influence of Brighton’s Bissouma in the second half was evidence of that – but he seemed fully attuned to the company policy of swiftly turning defence into attack through swift distribution, and in this sense did enough to earn himself a much sought-after nod of approval from AANP.

2. Romero

As mentioned, Saturday brought about the welcome return of Senor Romero, and a welcome one it was too.

Everything seemed in working order, at least until his various sinews malfunctioned on 75 mins, but by then I think all concerned had seen enough to have any doubts about his return to the front-line suitably eased.

Part of the appeal of Romero is that he seems to do the majority of his business in an understated way, such that one wouldn’t necessarily notice he were there if one weren’t actively on the lookout for him. It helps that he is but one cog in an increasingly well-oiled defensive machine, all five of them (plus midfield helpers) seeming to know their lines and starting spots. The back-line was not necessarily impenetrable, but nor did it have the look of a gang hastily cobbled together with all concerned improvising their way through life. When on the back-foot, our defensive five appear to know their eggs, and Romero seemed perfectly content with his role and responsibility as bean-at-centre-of-things.

As well as simply being in the appropriate location at the appointed time, Romero also went off on the occasional wander to pretty good effect. If a Brighton wag had the temerity to scuttle into dangerous territory with the ball at his feet, Romero was perfectly happy to trot along after him and present himself as a rather imposing barrier, which in the circumstances seemed a reasonable enough approach.

On one occasion he was also temporarily possessed by the spirit of Beckenbauer, and accordingly went for a spin up over halfway and deep into opposition territory. Such day-trips appear to be heartily encouraged by Our Glorious Leader, and are facilitated by the presence of a back-three plus midfield minders, so we can probably get used to such raids.

3. Sanchez

On the subject of defensive eggs finding themselves tempted into the sordid world of the opposition half, Davinson Sanchez was oddly emboldened from start to finish.

Context here is crucial, for in all his appearances in lilywhite to date, Sanchez has given the impression that nothing distresses him more than finding the ball at his feet and being instructed to do something useful with it.

Go charging after an attacker, and Sanchez is in his element, bobbing from side to side like an out-of-control rowing boat until he is able to go charging into a challenge, sometimes taking ball, sometimes taking man, but always walking away from the crime-scene with the look of a man satisfied that he has done all asked of him.

Alternatively, if faced up by an attacker and given the opportunity to clear the ball to safety, Sanchez defers to no man in his ability to blast the thing as far from danger as possible, like a committed trooper hurling a live grenade out of his immediate sphere. There are few frills to Sanchez’ game, and one can almost read within his eyes that he sees no reason why there should be. Football, to Davinson Sanchez, is a game played by clearing all immediate danger, using whatever means necessary. Given this framework, he appears only too glad to have been blessed with the ability to draw back his right peg and deliver an almighty swing.

All of which had me rubbing the eyes and raising a puzzled finger on Saturday night, as we were treated to regular viewings of Sanchez charging up the right and towards the promised land of Brighton territory. What the hell possessed the chap is anyone’s guess. Personally, I blame Ben Davies, whose forays up towards the enemy penalty area in recent months have evidently not gone unnoticed in the Colombian quarter.

Admittedly, Sanchez’ actions betrayed the mentality of a man whose strategy seemed to be to act first and think later. He would set off full of buck and brio, looking every inch a fellow driven by an irresistible spirit of adventure – but on approaching halfway, reality seemed to hit and he typically slammed on the brakes, suddenly aware of the practical implications of his behaviour.

It’s a pretty telling indication of the state of things when one turns to Emerson Royal for help, but as it dawned upon Sanchez that all eyes were on him and that the thing at his feet was a real, live football, Emerson suddenly became the life-raft to which he felt the urge to attach himself.

At one point, unless my eyes deceived, Sanchez even found himself up in something like a centre-forward position. The whole thing was most peculiar in truth, but here at AANP Towers we were all for it. All too often we have been treated to the sight of Sanchez receiving a harmless pass and doing his best not to spontaneously combust at the shock of it all, so if he is prepared to venture like some new-born lamb, over halfway and up along the right flank, then it seems a more productive approach to life.

4. Kuluslevski and Bentancur

The other headline of the evening was the unveiling of our shiny new toys. Actually, the headline as far as AANP was concerned was the burst of pace shown by Sonny to set up our third goal, a blur of heels so rapid that the nearest Brighton defender completely lost control of his limbs and all sense of spatio-temporal awareness, and somehow found himself dribbling the ball unstoppably towards his own goal.

(The sub-headline of the evening was Ben Davies randomly unleashing an inch-perfect fifty yard cross-field pass to Kane.)

Back to the debutants. Kuluslevski was given half an hour or so entertain himself, and did so principally by making clear to the gallery that he has one preferred trick and will keep repeating it until time is called. In fairness, the old “Cutting Infield Onto Your Left Foot” gambit was sufficient for Arjen Robben to carve out an entire career, so Kuluslevski might argue that this is no bad tree up which to bark. Nevertheless, after seeing him put into practice this same manoeuvre a fourth time in his single cameo I did wonder about the extent of the research taken into this chap.

Bentancur on the other hand was given only five minutes, a period he put to good use in diving straight for the heart of the action in central midfield. One obviously hesitates to read anything into a five-minute teaser, but nevertheless I was encouraged by the fellow’s gusto in homing in on the busiest hub, as well as his neat footwork and one or two well-judged interventions.

He even found time to pick up a caution for a foul low on subtlety and high on efficiency, in putting a stop to an opponent’s forward intent by simply grabbing him by a couple of his limbs and refusing to relinquish. Again, what struck me here was not so much the specifics of the interaction as the general message it sent: for here was a soul concerned only to stop the other chap prospering, and if that meant brazenly committing Rule Violation 101 in full view of the ref then our man had absolutely no compunction. And I rather liked that about him.

Of course, the coming weeks and months will tell us a lot more about both, but it was nevertheless handy that each could take in a personal tour of the place. More broadly, given that Brighton are no mugs, a comfortable win against them should go down as a pretty slick evening’s work.

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Spurs news, rants

Spurs’ January Transfer Window: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dele

AANP has traditionally been one to greet bad news with a stiffening of the upper lip and, if pushed, a solemn, unspoken nod at a nearby chum who feels similarly. And rarely has the upper lip been stiffer in recent times than upon learning of the departure of young Dele.

Utterly inevitable of course. The young bean had long ago fizzled out, and generally only popped up in lilywhite in recent years to drift along in his own little world before another month or two on the bench. If any other wag did what he’s been doing – slowing down the game, hogging the ball, moodily waving the arms and giving up the cause when dispossessed – the knives would have been out and pitchforks flung in his direction a long time ago.

By the time the bitter end swung around Dele offered purely decorative value. We’d spot him pre-match, forlornly nutmegging his fellow subs during the warm-up, but thereafter his biggest contribution tended to be in unwrapping a blanket for his legs as he watched on from the bench. If ever a former bright young thing needed a change of scenery, it is Dele. One does not disagree with the unceremonious binning.

Quite why it all went wrong is a rummy one. Dele’s problem seemed ultimately to be an existential one, in that his favoured No. 10 position simply ceased to exist. Disappeared into the ether. This must have been pretty tough for the chap to take, essentially turning up to work to find that his desk had been removed, but I suppose time – and systems involving one central striker and two inverted wingers – wait for no man.

Within Conte’s 3-4-3, there is no room for a midfielder who yearns deep inside to be a forward. Conte’s midfielders must midfield first, and ghost into the opposition area only on special occasions.

(Admittedly the 3-5-2 set-up, which brought something like the best out of Dele vs Liverpool a few weeks back, suggested that there might be life in the old dog yet, and I confess to being a mite surprised that this experiment was not repeated, but Conte presumably had seen enough.)

So off he has popped – and yet it does lower the mood about the place, what? Peak Dele was, if not necessarily the heartbeat, then certainly one of the essential organs of the whole glorious-without-actually-bringing-home-any-specific-glory Poch era.

This is not so much for what he did (although the list is plentiful and glorious: popping up as young scamps will do, with goals against Real, and Arse, and Chelsea; demonstrating some quite glorious touches to pluck falling footballs from the sky; grinning cheekily while kicking out slyly; contorting thumb and forefinger; and so on).

It’s as much for what the very presence of the chap said about our last fun adventure: Poch-era Tottenham. Here was a brash young bounder who oozed talent and positively revelled in flicking the ears of shinier opponents. Think of him in his bursting-from-midfield pomp, and it’s hard not to think of that all-singing, all-dancing team of nearly-men who had an absolute blast and took us to within a whisker of pots of various sizes.

And by a similar token, removing Dele in effect dismantles more of that Poch machinery, leaving behind just the top and tail of the thing.

“Here’s Dele Alli… here’s Lucas Moura… OH THEY’VE DONE IT!

2. Ndombele and Lo Celso

Tottenham Hotspur is, of course, where talented foreign footballers go to die, so we probably should not be too surprised that having looked like the sort of beans around whom Title-challenging teams could be built in their YouTube compilations and international performances, Ndombele and Lo Celso are now being bundled out of the nearest exit.

Dashed shame though. One didn’t need to boast the keenest football eye to detect that each of the aforementioned were capable of some pretty ripping stuff with a ball at their feet – and I rather fancy that they’ll do more of the same in sunnier climes in the months and years to come, when bedecked in anything but lilywhite.

And yet, present them with the lush greenery of N17 and the pair of them struggled to remember what game they were playing.

Actually, I do Ndombele a disservice there. The chap’s great flaw was not his touch, or delivery, or any such thing. The main challenge Ndombele seemed to encounter any time he finished tying his laces was that after one quick trot around the pitch he seemed to need a full week to recover, gasping for air, his lungs aflame and legs as jelly.

If inclined one could probably write a long-ish essay on what went wrong and what might have been a bit right-er about Ndombele’s time at Spurs. There were moments when he would receive the ball in the narrowest of corners, boxed in by a variety of opposing limbs, and still mesmerically emerge from said dead-end with ball at feet and opponents dizzied. Sometimes he would even throw in end-product too, a delightfully-weighted pass or a shot from the edge of the area.

Ultimately, however, neither he nor Lo Celso seemed remotely cut out for a life in the heart of the Tottenham midfield. Lo Celso in particular seemed to make a habit, in recent months, of doing small things with great error, be it a simple pass to tick along the midfield or a corner to beat the first man.

Perhaps if any of the umpteen managers who oversaw them had seen fit to take either of these two souls, stick them slap-bang in the heart of things and construct a team around them, their talents might have blazed forth and all would have been right with the world.

But it is telling that none of those managers did. Sometimes no words need uttering, and these appears to be those times. A knowing nod, and tap of the nose speaks volumes. “Ndombele and Lo Celso”, one manager after another seems to have been saying, without actually saying, “not the sort of eggs upon whom one can rely.” And if an egg can’t be relied upon in midfield, there’s not much left for them other than the scraps of substitute appearances and an occasional Europa start.

3. Bryan Gil

There are loans and then there are loans, and while Ndombele and Lo Celso’s loans seem to carry with them a rather unsubtle message that if they want to stick around in their new homes then it’s fine by all back at HQ, the loan of Bryan Gil has more of the bona fide have-him-for-a-bit-but-then-return-him about it.

The view at AANP Towers is pretty unimpressed about this one, from start to finish. One probably should let bygones be bygones and whatnot, but I still chafe a bit at the thought that we traded in one perfectly serviceable Lamela – plus £20m, dash it – for this Gil character.

Not Gil’s fault of course, he can do little more than turn up where told, at the appointed hour and with hair combed just so. But the logic behind the whole trade-off to this day has me scratching the old loaf. I should probably revisit the whole script in a few years’ time, when Gil has discovered the joys of steak lunches and bench presses, but for now he is a boy in a man’s world if ever there were one.

The loan at least means he can get his size fives in contact with a ball again, so silver linings and all that. More terrifyingly, in conjunction with the paperwork on Dele, Ndombele and Lo Celso, it leaves the creative cupboard pretty bare – but this is presumably a contingency for which Our Glorious Leader has planned.

4. Bentancur and Kulusevski

As ever, if you want a detailed analysis of these fellows’ strengths, weaknesses, preferences and whatnot then you are in a laughably bad spot of the interweb, but do stick around anyway.

AANP can be pretty sharp at times, and having seen Conte get rid of three creative central midfield types, and summon Bentancur – yet another of those fellows whose idea of a good time is rolling up their sleeves, scrapping for the ball and then shoving it sideways – I get the impression that Our Glorious Leader has a type.

As such this means another seat will be needed around the Central Midfield campfire, next time Messrs Hojbjerg, Skipp and Winks gather to chew the fat. Whether Bentancur proves to be any improvement on current produce remains to be seen, but he is another pair of legs for that midfield slot, so this can be considered a good week for anyone who has ever taken a look at our squad and tearfully warbled about its depth.

As for Kulusevski, this is apparently a chap fitted out for life in the more advanced positions, either coming in from the right or, intriguingly, straight through the centre (albeit as a supporting act rather than line-leading sort).

It would be a bit of a stretch therefore to suggest that in him we have that much-needed back-up to Harry Kane, but I think the gist is that he can be shoved into any of the attacking spots and expected to know his way around the premises.

As ever, one wishes him the best, and patience will be the watch-word, and so on and so forth – but having witnessed Lamela, Lucas, Bergwijn and Gil all try their luck in these wide-ish attacking positions, my enthusiasm for another off the production line is a little muted.

5. Non-Purchases

The failed attempts to snaffle Traore and Luis Diaz, while rather embarrassing, seem hardly calamitous.

The Traore affair struck me as good for a chuckle rather than having any obvious, analytical merit. Here was a chap who in the first place was undoubtedly muscular, and seemed nigh on unstoppable whenever he played against us. So far so good, one might suggest.

Get down to the nitty-gritty however, and a few plot-holes seemed to emerge. For all his muscles and love of a direct approach to attacking life, his end-product seemed pretty wild – and having sat through half a season of Emerson Royal’s struggles to deliver just one adequate cross from the right, I’m not sure Traore and his blast-it-anywhere approach is quite the remedy we’re after.

Moreover, the fellow is not a defender, and while Conte has some history of alchemy in this respect (Exhibit A, Victor Moses), the whole thing leaves me pretty sanguine about missing out on him.

As for Diaz, my Porto-dwelling chum Hawth has for some time been raving about the fellow’s attributes, and it is not hard to see why, so this one does rankle a tad. Even here though, the blow is softened considerably by the fact that Diaz earns his weekly wage in exactly the same position as one Son Heung-Min Esquire. So while the ignominy of rejection is again hard to swallow, this particular plot-twist did not exactly leave us any worse off than a month prior.

More of a frustration at AANP Towers is the passing of yet another transfer window without a sniff of a worthy understudy to that rotter Harry Kane. Lovely though it is to see Kane returning to his finest fettle in recent weeks, we are yet again left hoping that he navigates the remainder of the season without injury. Sonny, Bergwijn or potentially the new chap Kulusevski could all theoretically deputise on the odd occasion, but lose Kane for, say, six weeks or so and the panic button will be slammed with some gusto.

The failure to bring in another right wing-back is similarly being declared a mis-step by some sages, but in truth I’m rather encouraged by the 45-minute cameo of Matt Doherty against Leicester a few weeks back, so would be all for the chap being given a further stab at the gig, if only to keep Emerson Royal off stage.

6. Lloris

Perhaps the greatest triumph of the window, however, was the retention for the foreseeable future of Monsieur Lloris. It seemed a little bizarre that we even reached the stage that he was free to bat eyelids at other suitors, but Grandmaster Levy and chums move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform, and the moral of the story is that the chap remains ours for a couple more years, so it’s back-slaps and cigars all round.

While Lloris’ standards have taken a few notable wobbles in recent years, this season he has come out swinging, and our lot have looked all the better for it. Nobody is perfect of course, and I still wonder for example whether he might have waved a paw at that Chelsea opener from Ziyech in our last game – but one only has to cast the mind back to Gollini’s bizarre flap against Chelsea a few weeks earlier to realise how grateful we should be that Lloris is prepared to ride off into the sunset with AIA tattooed across his gut.