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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-2 Arsenal: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

After yesterday’s mess, anyone in the market for a spot of finger-pointing would have no shortage of options, for “Sub-Par” seemed to have been the motto adopted by our lot throughout. Nevertheless, even Hugo Lloris’s own family members would probably have to accept that their man played a pretty critical role in the whole sorry affair.

It would be a stretch to say that we were on top of things, or even matching Woolwich, at the time of his main clanger. Although the scores were level, they were making good use of their extra man in midfield, passing from the back and through our press a little too niftily for my liking and having oodles of joy in that Saka-Sessegnon mismatch.

But nevertheless. The scores were still level, and our lot were showing a bit of willing going forward. On top of which the atmosphere in the place, while hardly confident, was at least still hopeful. When a first-minute pass into the path of Sessegnon on halfway is greeted by a roar the like of which is normally reserved for a goal, you know that the watching masses are suitably bucked. Anything, one felt, might yet happen.

Alas, what did happen was Monsieur Lloris treating us to the latest malcoordinated flail of his limbs. Maddeningly, he had signposted that he was in the mood for a clanger just moments earlier. A back-pass of the harmless variety had landed his way, and rather than just deal with the thing through means cultured or otherwise, he went down the bizarre route of assuming that he would be allowed to saunter unchallenged across his area for as long as he fancied.

Well, it didn’t take 10 years in the Premier League, 100+ international caps and two World Cup Finals to see that that the scheme was doomed. Barely had Lloris started dribbling the thing than an opponent was at his back, and routes to escape were fast disappearing. Lloris sought solace in the form of a countryman, but popping the ball at Lenglet’s right peg added a further layer of complication.

Not that Lenglet should have had too much difficulty in simply blasting the ball to safety, whichever foot was required, being an international footballer and whatnot. But, perhaps taking a cue from his captain, he botched the operation further by giving the ball straight to a Woolwich player in the six-yard box, of all things. In the panic that followed, Lloris at least had the dignity to save at point-blank range, but the awkward glances were already being exchanged.

And sure enough, calamity soon struck. Which is to say a fairly straightforward undertaking was required, and Lloris made a pig’s ear of it again.

One might leap to his defence by pointing to the various mitigating factors about the place. Sessegnon might have done better than simply stepping aside and waving Saka through; the cross when delivered caught a deflection of the small-but-critical variety; and it also came flying in at a rate of knots.

And if the blister charged with minding the net had been a ten year-old, or perhaps an elderly and overweight sort whose hand-eye coordination has always been a bit off, these might well have been acceptable excuses. But for a chappie whose life is dedicated to catching footballs, and who, as mentioned above, has more Premier League and international appearances than one can shake a stick at, such excuses do not wash. Catch the bally thing. Or at the very least buffet it off into a safe space.

Watching Lloris instead pat the ball upwards and backwards into his own net really did have the will to live seep from every pore of my being.

Thereafter, all the saves in the world would have done little to rectify things, because in a game in which we were second-best anyway, it was pretty crucial to avoid gifting them a goal, and similarly crucial to keep the atmosphere charged and hopeful.

Not that Lloris did make all the saves in the world thereafter. Romero was to a large degree at fault for the second goal – first in not bothering to close down the chappie, and then turning his back on the shot, forsooth – but from 25 yards or so one would expect a luminary of the goalkeeping trade to cover his bases and extend a sturdy paw sufficiently. Lloris was beaten too easily, and I imagine there are now few about the place who expect him still to be in situ come the start of season 23/24.

2. Sessegnon

For young Sessegnon already to have been chastised twice above in a sermon about the failings of another player entirely is rather telling.

His selection certainly gave the eyebrows of all in N17 a bit of a pre-match jolt, but one could at least attempt to explain it away, loosely on the grounds of the vivacity of youth – Perisic, after all, while a bit of a specialist with the ball at his feet and the masses howling for a cross, is not the sort of chap at whom one would point and say, “There’s the fellow on whom I wish to build a defence, particularly on account of his breakneck speed”. With Saka in opposition, I presumed that Conte saw in Sessegnon a young bean with enough to pace to thwart Woolwich’s right-sided threat.

A nice idea in theory, but pretty wildly off the mark in practice. How Perisic might have fared in that first half against Saka we’ll never know, but the berth was Sessegnon’s and it was pretty obvious from even casual observation that he was pretty powerless to stop Saka doing whatever he damn well pleased. With neither Lenglet nor Son particularly inclined to help out, we pretty much just resigned ourselves, at least in the first half, to that flank being wide open for business and as good as unmanned.

Sessegnon did show some early inclination to carry out the more attack-minded elements of his role, but even there, having made the necessary gallops into threatening territory, he was let down time and again by a string of crosses that seemed to give up on their mission as soon as they left his foot.

In the interests of fairness it should be noted that his dash infield, which brought about the first-half chance for Sonny, was impressively bobbish. It showed a spirit of enterprise and adventure we otherwise lacked, and was topped off with a surprisingly crafty little diagonal through-ball. What the devil he was doing there, in some sort of Number 10 slot, is anyone’s guess, but it was much-needed.

He also combined neatly with Kane for his one-on-one in the second half, but whatever merit he earns for making the run, he rather loses for failing to bury the chance.

Those two little jaunts aside, I saw precious little in his performance to impress, and even before half-time I was constructing the argument for his removal and replacement by Perisic.

3. Sarr

The other selection of considerable note was that of Pape Matar Sarr. One rather sympathised with the young bounder, for as long Conte sticks with his 3-4-3 then the central midfield pair will almost always find themselves outnumbered, which seemed a rotten hand to deal a fellow on his full debut.

I suppose if one were to cast a cursory eye over a narrative of the first half, and digest that the Woolwich mob cantered through the centre pretty much at will, one might conclude that the Sarr selection was a failure on a par with that of Sessegnon.

However, I am inclined to launch a fairly robust defence of young Sarr. Given that Woolwich employed a midfield three, often supplemented by a fourth in Zinchenko, Sarr admittedly spent a lot of time simply chasing shadows, but, as I have thought of Messrs Benancur and Hojbjerg at various other points in the season, the lad can hardly be blamed for being outnumbered.

When Sarr was able to intervene, he did so well enough. He took to his tasks with plenty of zest, shuttled the ball along to others sensibly and seemed pretty composed when dwindling options forced him to quicken his feet and dance away from trouble.

He is by no means the finished article, and his yellow card was evidence of the fact that this was a midfield battle we definitely lost. On top of which, for all his positives, he is another in the depressingly long list of hard-working but rather functional sorts, when our midfield absolutely screams out for some creativity. However, both in terms of being outnumbered in midfield, and populating said midfield with functional bods, the blame lies squarely with Our Glorious Leader.

All things considered, I thought Sarr bobbed about pretty well. Quite where he stands in the midfield hierarchy is a little unclear – I heard a whisper that Bissouma had a knock, and Bentancur will certainly waltz straight back in, but Sarr, it appears, is now a credible alternative to and possibly preferred option above young Master Skipp.

4. Kulusevski (and Son’s Ongoing Struggles)

If Sarr’s performance was one of our better ones by virtue of being acceptable enough, Kulusevki’s was possibly the best, by virtue of offering an occasional threat.

Not that you’d have known he was playing in the first half, during which time our heroes struggled to string three passes together. Naturally, beginning the second half with a two-goal deficit was the prompt for a slightly improved performance, and it seemed little coincidence that we were far more threatening once it occurred to those in lilywhite that they were allowed to pass to Kulusevski.

He did his usual thing – running literally around opponents, and yet doing so in surprisingly effective fashion; standing up crosses towards the back post; cutting in to curl efforts with his left foot. And on another day, one or two of those little adventures might have brought slightly richer harvest, but even though the conclusion of his little incursions repeatedly fell a little short, his presence and involvement at least sparked us into life.

By contrast, on the other flank, poor old Sonny once again laboured away like the less talented twin of the chappie from last year. As happens every week, he simply failed to run up a head of steam in any respect. Be it a dribble, shot or attempt to shield and hold up the ball, his bright ideas repeatedly came a cropper at source, and not for the first time we were as ten men and one passenger.

Injury and conditioning no doubt forbad an earlier appearance from Richarlison, but the AANP line from pretty early in the second half was to hook Sonny and plop the Brazilian in his place.

5. Conte’s Role In All Of This

For all of the above, however, my principal grumble is not so much the individual performances as the masterplan (a term with which I play pretty fast and loose) from Our Glorious Leader. Yesterday was a neat illustration of how we are getting on under the chap.

The formation, and in particular the use of a back-three, irks the dickens out of me. I suppose in theory one might argue that the more defenders one thrusts onto the pitch the less likely we are to concede. And perhaps amongst most right-thinking folk, this would work out swimmingly, one fellow covering the next fellow, and so on. If the back-three were watertight and achieved clean sheets every week, the case for it would be pretty compelling.

Amongst our lot, however, the back-three is anything but watertight. And not only is it a pretty flimsy structure, its very existence also weakens our midfield. Deploying three central defenders means deploying only two central midfielders; and as evidenced yesterday – and in almost every match this season – our central midfield pair are routinely overrun by opponents with a midfield three.

On top of which our midfield pair offer precious little creativity because their principal role is to destroy rather than to create. In fact, I often wonder if their principal role is simply to gulp down great mouthfuls of oxygen at every opportunity and recover after galloping around trying to do between them the work of three men.

Aside from the formation, The Conte Way irritates because it seems the general philosophy being peddled is to defend rather than attack or entertain. The strength of our squad is undoubtedly its attacking riches, yet Conte’s primary goal each week seems to be to focus on shutting out the other lot. All of which inclines one to fling up the hands and implore them just to attack for heaven’s sake, what?

The fellow seems to be steering our ship until something more to his liking comes along. One year in and his brand of football is neither fun to watch nor particularly impressive on paper (fifth we may be, but we’re pretty comfortably beaten by all of our ‘rivals’). As I saw it put last night, “Conte’s priority appears simply not to mess up”, and this isn’t much fun to drink in every week.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-2 Aston Villa: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Not The Worst Opening Hour

Family commitments being what they are, AANP spent yesterday afternoon watching Disney princesses until the eyes bubbled, and as attempts to shield the self from the final score for 24 hours inevitably came a cropper, I found myself in that curious situation of settling down today to watch in its entirety a game the outcome of which I already knew.

Admittedly I was already pretty used to challenging viewing, following the marathon of wicked stepmothers and whatnot, but I naturally braced myself. The gist of the communication received overnight had been that, while not necessarily our lowest ebb, this performance was making itself quite at home amongst the great heapfuls of decidedly low ebbs we’ve had to experience in recent times.

But oddly enough, as the game unfolded I though our lot did reasonably well, albeit without being particularly good.

I probably ought to take this opportunity to duck out of the way of any rotten fruit being hurled my way by whomever is reading, for I suspect this is not a popular opinion. The masses, one fears, will not approve. Nevertheless, having expected the usual business of settling in for minimal possession until two down, or forlornly shuttling the ball along the back-three from east to west, and then west to east, each of the principals dwelling on their opportunity as if trying to get through a chapter of War and Peace before playing a pass, I was taken aback to note a degree of urgency throughout.

While there was a definite blank in the column marked ‘Creativity’, there seemed to be a consensus amongst our lot that if we were going to explore dead-ends we might as well do it snappily. (As an aside, I attribute much of this to the absence of Eric Dier, a chappie who, when in possession, does not consider his day’s work worthwhile unless he has wasted about half an hour rolling the ball from one foot to the other while contemplating his next move.)

In the absence of Dier, and in a general spirit of hurriedness, our lot managed at least to roll the ball from A to B within two touches each time. This struck me as a few notches up from rock-bottom, so I welcomed it happily enough. Moreover, but for some pretty iffy refereeing calls in the opening ten minutes, we might have been through on goal a couple of times. Before half-time Perisic found himself clean through, leading to the Kane header that was cleared off the line, and we started the second half looking far likelier to score.

Obviously things fell apart pretty spectacularly thereafter, and in an odd reversal of recent history, on finding ourselves two down with 30 to go our lot gave the shoulders a collective slump and dialled their efforts right down – but here at AANP Towers we viewed the first hour or so, if not exactly with uncontained enthusiasm, then at least with a degree of optimism. The urgency of that first hour was a welcome sight.

2. Bissouma

The flip-side of this, apart from conceding two more goals that made eyes bleed and soul weaken, was that for all our urgency there was no attacking spark.

The absence of Bentancur from central midfield does not help matters in this regard, but I suggest that the problems run a little deeper. Talented soul though he is, Bentancur alone is not the solution to our lack of midfield spark.

We seem to lack a fellow of ingenuity and whizzy ideas, slap bang in the centre of the stage (or perhaps ten yards advanced of that spot). And this seems to come back to the formation, the use of three central defenders meaning that we are restricted to two in central midfield – and while Hojbjerg and Bentancur have been amongst our starrier sorts this campaign, neither really are the creative masterminds whose reputations have been built on creating and scoring goals through an array of shoulder-dips and defence-splitting passes.

There has been a fair amount of chatter in recent weeks about the similarities between England and Spurs – I found it instructive to note how the national team nailed its colours to the Back-Four mast, thereby adding a sprinkle of creativity to midfield, and as a result died fighting, as it were, rather than waving a white flag in meek surrender.

Back to our lot, and in the absence of Bentancur, young Master Bissouma had another crack at the big-time. Alas, as with most of his previous appearances, nothing quite seemed to work for the chap. Not being one of those creative mastermind types alluded to above, his raison d’être could reasonably be concluded to be more along the lines of a defensive sort – collecting scraps, making tackles and intercepting Villa moves at their genesis.

And while he occasionally did each of the above, he just as often seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Villa attacks bypassed him; he picked up a booking essentially for being out of position and tripping a fellow from behind; and in possession he again seemed oddly uneasy with the physics of a sphere, seeming a little too easily confused by its propensity to roll, and bounce, and whatnot.

His nadir came with the second Villa goal, when for the second consecutive game the notion of tracking his man into the penalty area appeared a long way down his To-Do list, leaving the bounder in question with more space in our box than was reasonable to afford. One would understand – not accept, but understand – if a born-and-bred centre-forward made such an error, but here is a chap whose job title essentially reads “Defensive Midfielder”. To neglect the first rule of defensive midfielding, twice in consecutive games makes ones eyes bulge a bit, what? And it’s not as if he has a whole sackful of attacking party tricks into which he can dip to atone, at the opposite end of the pitch.

The fellow needs to get himself up to speed, and pronto. Frankly, if he is not going to carry out his defensive duties as if his life depends on them, I’d sooner he were politely shoved from his spot and someone more creative used in his stead (admittedly a practical problem or two emerges here, given that we have no-one matching that description in our ranks, but you see my point).

As it happened, I thought that the young lad Sarr looked a bit more familiar with things in the defensive midfield vicinity during his ten-minute cameo than Bissouma did during his eighty minutes, but the pecking order seems well established.

3. Lloris

If a few stern words can be bellowed in the direction of Bissouma, decency forbids elaborating upon the suitable punishments for Lloris after his latest hare-brained input.

Cast your minds back to the World Cup and the Lloris on display looked every inch the seasoned professional, carrying out his duties correctly and with minimal fuss, neat-and-tidying his way to the Final. Of the various clangers magicked out of thin air in our colours every few weeks there was no sign. It would be a stretch to describe him as ‘The Best on Duty’, but a reliable sort of egg he most certainly was.

What the hell happens to him once he pops up for our lot is therefore anyone’s guess, but this rot he springs from nowhere is simply too much. Fully paid-up members of the Lloris Fan Club may warble about the ball moving, or the ball bouncing, or the ball turning a somersault en route, but that guff won’t wash at AANP Towers. The chap’s job is first and foremost to catch the dashed thing, and if he can’t master that particular basic then I’m at a bit of a loss to understand what purpose he serves.

These mistakes are far too frequent. Moreover, while one of the johnnies of yesteryear once came up with a decent gag, that to err is human, the gist being that just about every player will make the occasional mistake, the goalkeeper is well aware of his lot in life. There’s little in the way of safety nets or bail-outs in that position. Either get it right or be off, is pretty much the AANP message to the goalkeeping fraternity, and Monsieur Lloris has now created quite the catalogue of foul-ups for our lot.

4. Gil (and Perisic)

If absence makes the heart grow fonder it pretty much bursts through the ribcage and howls for Dejan Kulusevski at present. Still, no use complaining, what? The absence of D.K., plus a couple of the other preferred options, meant that young Senor Conte had to dip his hand into the box marked ‘Last Resort’, and pulled out a Bryan Gil.

I suppose the one-line summary is that we found out nothing that we did not know before. He was full of willing, itching throughout to unleash a trick or six and, containing practically zero in the way of muscle about his frame, was always liable to come out second-best in any man-on-man combat.

I thought the young nib made a decent stab of things. If points were awarded for body language he’d have needed a decent-sized bag to carry off his prizes, because he seemed to burst with enthusiasm for the task at hand. There were a few good link-ups with Matt Doherty (who I thought also fared well enough, certainly incurring less rage in his decision-making than the other fellow) and a few moments when he dipped a shoulder or two to create space for a cross. Alas, Gil continues to look like a boy in a man’s world. A delightful and earnest boy, the sort who would take great pleasure in doing his mother’s bidding – but a boy nevertheless. Still, I was glad to see him get a game, combine with Doherty and buy into the general mentality of urgency.

And on the other flank, I thought this was one of Perisic’s better days, at least when on the front-foot. The ‘Back’ part of the wing-back role is, as touched upon before, not one to which Perisic attaches too much concern, but going forward he is a pretty nifty so-and-so. His ability to choose from right or left clog when it comes to swinging in crosses is a bit of a blessing, even if his only targets tend to be Kane and Doherty, and as often as not he was our most advanced forward.

However, for all the silver linings and first half urgency and whatnot, this was another dreadful defeat. A couple of opportunities await to right these wrongs, before a few rather alarming fixtures come flying at us later in the month.

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Spurs match reports

Brentford 2-2 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Same Old Same Old

For those of us so distracted by all that World Cup guff that we forgot how the good souls of N17 go about their business, our heroes helpfully wasted no time at all in reminding us of their preferred Don’t-Bother-Until-Two-Down gambit.

No point in fighting it at this stage. Best just to shrug the shoulders, stiffen the upper lip and accept. They’ve had a whole month to chew over the tactics, practise their drills and so on, and this is the result, so no matter how nonsensical it seems to those of us in the outside world, the plan – of waiting until two down and then going full throttle for the final 30 – is evidently here to stay.

There is of course a temptation categorise our performance as only fitting the extremes of Gubbins on the one hand and England-vs-Holland-at-Euro-96 on the other; but actually there are plenty of nuances in between, and I thought our lot hit a few of those yesterday.

In possession in the first half, even at 0-0, I thought we at occasionally least tried, to force matters. It was not as turgid and sideways as it has sometimes been. Hojbjerg in particular seemed struck by an urge to get through his day’s work in a hurry, and generally tried to shovel the ball along tout de suite, often looking for a diagonal pass “in between the lines”, as they say, which seemed a pretty progressive idea.

Of course, behind him Eric Dier was doing his best to negate any such urgency, the fellow seemingly deciding that, having spent a lifetime receiving the ball and taking approximately 23 touches before distributing it, he would be damned if he were going to change the routine so soon after Christmas. So this was a bit of a spanner in Hojbjerg’s plan, but help was on hand from other quarters, notable Sonny, who at least seemed to recognise what the Dane was attempting and bobbed up in space to receive the thing.

Short we may have been on clear-cut chances in the opening hour or so, but intermittently there were clearly recognisable attempts from various members of the clan to insert themselves deep within enemy territory and fashion something. Nevertheless, it wasn’t quick or inventive enough, until we conceded the second and the whole bally lot of them reacted like a bunch of Roman slaves being freed from their shackles and given the run of the town.

2. Dreadful Goals Conceded

Beavering about in slightly uninspiring fashion might have been bearable, but married to defending so bad that one wondered if some of them had spent six weeks actively un-learning how to play the game, it made for some pretty serious lip-chewing from the galleries.

For the first goal, I apportion little blame to Forster (big man). The deflection was unhelpful, and he displayed adequate reflexes in simply blocking the thing as it flew at him. Of course it would have made for a pleasant festive treat if his hands like a frying pan had scooped up the thing, but we can’t have everything, and he at least did the basics.

Which is more than can be said of those in snazzy sky blue around him. The initial cross picked out a Brentford forward on the right, who appeared to have been gifted the freedom of the Tottenham penalty area, or at least half of it. One appreciates that this was something of a counter-attack, but really, to leave the chappie unattended in his own acre of land seemed to be laying it on a bit thick, even for the first game back.

Perisic was barely in shot on the TV cameras, while Bissouma, having tracked the fellow’s run stride-for-stride, had rather maddeningly veered off towards the centre rather than sticking with him to make a challenge, evidently attracted to the ball like one of those less intelligent moths you see going hell for leather at a flame.

So much for part one of the attack; the sequel, picking up immediately after Forster (big man) had parried the shot, was pretty much entirely contained in a single act, comprising a Brentford chappie strolling up to the ball and tapping it in, not one objecting soul anywhere near him.

Rewind the VHS and one sees that the Brentford bod in question started his gallop forward at the same time and from the same starting point as one P-E Hojbjerg, only for the Dane to keep his jog carefully within the limit of ‘Slow and Steady’, rather than busting a lung or two to ensure he stayed with his man.

Crosses will be made and shots will be taken, one accepts this; but simply to stand – or jog – around and watch the aftermath, rather than trying to muscle in and prevent ensuing calamity, is just not cricket.

And if that first goal had AANP crafting a few choice curses, the second had the air turning purple. For a start, Dier’s shank to gift the corner in the first place inflamed the passions of the watching masses.

And then, once the corner was delivered, Hojbjerg was again at fault, incredibly waiting for the ball to bounce towards him on the goal-line rather than charging towards it like a frenzied bull determined to clear all in its path. Rather inevitably, a more alert opponent was vastly more proactive about the whole thing, and simply trotted a couple of steps forward, a manoeuvre sufficient to earn him pole position ahead of Hojbjerg, Lenglet and Perisic.

The whole business of zonal marking has a rationale to it, but I rather fancy that if those involved take literally the business of staying in their zones, and simply do not budge from their allotted spots, then the entire system crumbles like a house of cards. One cannot overstate the obvious flaw, that if the defenders in a zonal system do not move at all, then the opponents will pretty swiftly learn to pop the ball around them. It is breathtakingly empty-headed, and yet this is precisely what each of Hojbjerg, Perisic and Lenglet – seasoned internationals – did in allowing Toney to mooch past them and tap in.

3. Perisic’s Crosses

On the subject of Perisic, few in our ranks are quite so maddening in the way they go about things. Credit where due, first of all, his crosses are things of beauty. Be it with right foot or left, he ticks every box you can think of in the Crossing Department, whipping in the things with pace, curl, elevation, top-spin and whatever else is relevant.

I don’t mind admitting that there have been times this season when I have watched our lot labour to get the ball anywhere near the penalty area, and been struck by the thought that we should simply abandon all pretence of subtlety, give the ball to Perisic and queue up in the six-yard box.

On the flip side, bar these crosses (and occasional long throw-ins) the chap seems to do little else at all. Of defending he wants no part, seemingly viewing that particular exercise as little more than the pause that exists in between attacks, a chance to catch his breath and ponder with which foot he might deliver his next cross. As mentioned, when Brentford pushed forward for their first, Perisic was a good ten yards behind the action.

Of course, this is the consequence of buying a wing-back who is a little long in the tooth. As AANP knows any too well, the march of Father Time is pretty relentless, and anyone expecting Perisic to motor up and down the flank is in for an unpleasant surprise.

All of which would be pretty vexing – but by golly, he does whip in some glorious crosses.

4. Tanganga

If Perisic can at least point to his crosses as justifying his participation, young Tanganga has no such get-out. Now one ropey defensive performance doth not a dreadful centre-back make, and the young bean will doubtless have better days, but alas this was a stinker. If there were an opportunity to make a pig’s ear of a contribution, Tanganga was first in the queue every time.

His headers were wildly mistimed, which was as peculiar as it was ghastly to observe, and he fared little better on terra firma. Even his distribution was below par, passes to Doherty often delivered with too much force or too little accuracy for the wing-back to do much more than scramble to keep the dashed thing within the confines of the playing surface.

His selection was understandable enough – he has featured in recent friendlies, and one would have supposed he were possessed of the sort of assets that would be useful enough in a tete-a-tete with a fellow like Ivan Toney.

Alas, you know you’ve had a pretty miserable afternoon when you look up to see your number raised and the awkward figure of Davinson Sanchez giving those limbs a swing in preparation to replace you; and it speaks volumes of Tanganga’s contribution that Sanchez of all people seemed a clear upgrade once stationed within the back-three.

5. Doherty and Kulusevski

On any other weekend this season, the news that Doherty had been preferred over the wretched Emerson would have been pretty sensational front-page stuff, but in truth when the team news filtered through, such had been the gap between fixtures that the seismic relevance of this pick failed to register in the AANP loaf.

And in fact, for much of the first half it didn’t have a particularly big impact either. I suppose one forgets quite how much the endless faux pas of Emerson prompted howls of rage and despair in those pre-World Cup days, and instead the sight of Doherty keeping his head down and not really doing anything particularly wrong or right in the first half just drifted by me.

But in the second half, once the concession of the second goal forced all concerned to buck up their ideas, Doherty’s assets as an attacking wing-back gently surfaced, not least in bobbing up at the back post as an auxiliary forward, when Perisic or Lenglet or whomever delivered crosses across the box.

However, the real star of the right flank was undoubtedly Kulusevski. Probably our brightest spark in the first half, he was a pretty key figure in the second as well, setting up our equalizer and generally thrusting himself slap bang in the middle of events whenever they unfolded on the right flank. The Kane-Son-Kulusevski triumvirate has still not quite clicked, but this seemed to be due to no fault of his.

With Doherty appearing vastly more attuned to what ought and ought not to be done as supporting act on the right, one imagines that Kulusevski will continue to play a pretty major role in the second half of the season – and Emerson, with a little luck, will have to make do with guest appearances from the sidelines.

6. Hojbjerg

A word in passing on Hojbjerg. At fault, to varying extents, he may have been for both goals conceded, he did a lot to atone for these mistakes in the rest of his game. As mentioned above, in that often lacklustre first half he seemed motivated to push matters along rather than wait for death to reach him, and in the second, as if to ram home the point that he was taking the gig seriously, he popped up with an extremely well-taken goal.

Hojbjerg’s all-round contribution was much-needed too, given that Bissouma, in the first half in particular seemed not to know what sport he was playing. His touch in the first half was oddly appalling, the ball bouncing off his size nines as if allergic to them, and the memory of a few imperious performances for Brighton last season seemed all the more distant.

Mercifully, he picked up a bit in the second half, but there could be no doubt that, particularly in the absence of Bentancur, Hojbjerg was the boss of the central areas yesterday.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-2 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris’ Error

Having rolled up his sleeves and put a bit of effort into fighting the good fight midweek, I suppose Monsieur Lloris had a bit of credit in the bank come 4.30pm yesterday, so it says something about his performance that he was pretty firmly established as persona non grata at AANP Towers by around 5.15pm.

Dealing first with what might, in the interests of anatomical accuracy, be described as the chest-bump, opinions will naturally differ on whether or not play ought to have been halted, and frankly that part is of pretty minimal interest over here (AANP being the philosophical sort brought up not to question the ref). Of greater concern was the sequence of choices made by Monsieur Lloris as the episode unfolded.

In the first place he exited the safety of his area, and stepped out into the big, wide world – which was a reasonable enough choice. Crucially, he was first on the scene, which seemed to justify the decision, and while I am pretty much a novice in the mystical arts of top-level goalkeeping, it seemed to me that he had achieved the most risk-laden element of the procedure, and at this point needed only to blast the thing off into the atmosphere or sidelines or wherever, to round off a successful – if rather basic – mission. One of those missions aimed simply at preventing any harm, rather than achieving any great progress.

At least that was the expectation, on having seen him reach the target a good couple of yards ahead of the Newcastle chappie. What followed, alas, was a textbook example of how to make hard-earned midweek goodwill disappear in a puff of smoke. Rather than launching the thing off amongst the stars and being rid of it, Lloris picked this moment to perform a rather curious pelvic thrust at the ball.

Now I’m not picky about aesthetics when it comes to the dirty business of clearing one’s defensive lines. There is a time for looking pretty, and a time for sneering at the pretty stuff and simply getting the job done; and when a strapping forward is haring towards your goal, the time is pretty obviously for s.a.t.p.s.a.s.g.t.j.d. And with this in mind, if the pelvic thrust had been the optimal means for clearing danger, then I’d have been all for it. “Thrust away, squire”, would have been the gist of the communique from these parts.

The trouble was, as well as looking a bit of an ass, Lloris also failed to solve the impending problem. In fact, not only did he fail to solve it, he significantly worsened it. Rather than bring the ball under control (which was presumably the intention, because no pelvic thrust in the world is going to send a ball twenty yards into touch) this daft routine simply transferred its temporary ownership from his own sphere of influence to that of the Newcastle sort.

This was Lloris’ first failing. Scholars could debate long into the night whether or not his second was as bad; either way, it prompted a pretty meaty piece of instant feedback from AANP. For having lost the ball, there then occurred the aforementioned chest-bump. Such things will happen, and a decision as to its legality or otherwise rested with those in authority. But what took the biscuit was that rather than simply getting on with the day-job after this contact, and endeavouring to prevent Callum Wilson from doing any harm, Lloris instead tried to convince the referee, VAR, the gathered hordes and the audience of millions, that some form of assault had been carried out, by dropping to the floor in a manner vastly more dramatic than the whole dance had merited.

(A helpful tip for any simulation-spotters is that if the player’s arms shoot up after contact then he’s up to some dastardly misdeed; one’s arms tend to shoot down to break one’s fall, when genuinely sent to ground.)

It amounted to the cardinal sin of failing to play to the whistle. Goalkeepers do admittedly tend to receive oddly preferential treatment from referees, but nevertheless this was a pretty risky game for Lloris to play, and I have precious little sympathy for the fatheaded oaf in opting to hit the deck rather than rescue the situation. If he had cleared the dashed thing in the first place the eventuality would have been avoided in its entirety; failing that, if he had stayed on his feet and hovered over Wilson to prevent his shot, the goal might yet have been prevented.

Whether the Wilson challenge was fair game or foul play, Lloris’ dubious choices immediately preceding and following it did little to win him the soothing tones and comforting arm around the shoulders here at AANP Towers. Withering glares were more the order of the day, and the fact that the little black book is starting to fill up a bit with these sorts of incidents about the chap does little to brighten the mood.

2. Lloris’ Passing

As if all of that were not enough, we were then also treated to Lloris’ role – understated though it was – in the second goal conceded.

Not wanting to linger too long over the gory details, but the problem had its genesis from a Lloris pass out towards Sess, which leant heavily on height and loop, and skimped a fair bit on accuracy.

Of course, there were about twenty further hoops for the Newcastle laddie to jump through before the ball ended up in the net, and if either of Sessegnon or Lenglet had registered even the faintest level of interest in their designated duties then this particular chat would be assuming a vastly rosier hue. But instead, they took one look at what was happening and waved their respective white flags – Sessegnon sticking out a leg to register his presence, Lenglet not even managing that much – and from a situation of fairly low risk by the right-hand touchline, fifty yards out, Newcastle were suddenly two up.

Lloris may not have been as directly culpable for this one as the first, but his kicking is of a standard that really ought to have the security bods giving each other a concerned look and raising the alert level from Amber to Red.

Conte-Ball seems to rely heavily upon distribution from the nether regions, and while the onus typically falls upon Dier and chums, the fact that Lloris’ passing is dreadful removes what would otherwise be a useful option. The curious fellow can manage those 5-yard goal-kicks to his centre-backs without too much calamity, but anything more adventurous than that seems to frazzle his circuits.

The modern-day goalkeeper, unfortunately, needs to be able to pick out a wing-back hugging the touchline to within a yard or so, and preferably at a height conducive to straightforward control, without the need for said wing-back to contort the limbs and stetch about eight feet. And in this respect Hugo runs into some pretty serious problems.

As mentioned, when building from a goal kick, it leaves those in question straining a bit to retain control of the thing, as such inviting pressure back. The notion of beating the opposing press is great in theory, and sometimes happens via a nifty Romero pass or whatnot – but I struggle to think of a time when Lloris has bypassed the other mob and put us on the front-foot with his passing.

And aside from goal-kicks, all manner of hollow groans ring out when our lot begin in a position of some advance, bob the ball back towards halfway and then decide that if it were done when ‘tis done then ‘twere well it were shuttled all the way back to the least competent passer on the pitch. Such hideous fare not only terminates whatever attack had been in motion, it also just about guarantees that the ball will soon be back with the opposition.

A few years back, the inability of a goalkeeper to pick out a teammate with an accurate pass would have barely made the footnotes, let alone been an agenda item; now, as we watch our back-three awkwardly shuffle left to right and back again, Lloris’ poor passing is causing something of a hindrance to our attacking play.


3. Dier

On the subject of errant passing from the back, if the name ‘Eric Dier’ isn’t burning the lips of anyone else, it dashed well is mine.

Now I appreciate that I have to tread carefully here. One does not want to upset the natives. One respects the natives. Eric Dier is a bean with his own song after all, and indeed, I’ll belt it out as lustily as the rest of them. But this train of thought, which seems to have quite some momentum behind it, that he is some sort of deep-lying font of creativity on account of his passing, is one of those lines that will have me biting the lip, and engaging in a slightly strained silence.

Credit where due, Dier can pick a lovely pass. He picked at least two of them yesterday – both, I noted, diagonals, from somewhere left of centre to a coordinate in approximately an inside-right sort of spot.

But he also, far too often for my liking, lobs the ball forward in a straight line, and gifts possession to the opposition. He, in common with those to his immediate left and right, is also a little too eager to wheel around on his axis and roll the ball back to Lloris; and if you’ve read this far you’ll know that such a manoeuvre prompts howls of anguish from AANP Towers.

I suppose in this respect he has my sympathy, because if a centre-back is forced to head back to goal – and to Lloris of all people – it reflects pretty badly on those employed ahead of him to scuttle off into space and frantically wave their arms at him. If nobody is offering Dier a reasonable passing option, what, he might well articulate, is he supposed to do?

One thing he really ought not to do is fire the ball back in a fashion that looks suspiciously like a shot at his own net, but at one point in the first half he managed to do precisely that. Now it would be pretty unreasonable to castigate the chap for this unless he made a habit of it. Even the finest amongst us rather lose the thread of things every once in a while. But when a fellow like Dier, the sort who seems to buy pretty readily into the hype about being a passer extraordinaire, ends up slapping the ball just a yard wide of his own goal when under no pressure, one starts, after removing head from hands, to reflect that our entire approach of passing out from the back is in need of some pretty drastic surgery.

4. Conte

The mood around the campfire is taking a bit of a dive, make no mistake.

Pre-match, the thought had occurred that we have been led a merry old dance by three of the traditional gang of 6 (Chelsea, Woolwich and Man Utd); and have toppled, albeit making the deuce of a palaver of it, various sides orbiting mid-table or lower. As such, Newcastle seemed a pretty solid test of our current status.

One might argue that we started sprightly, creating three or four reasonable chances. Skipp seemed to itch to shove things forward at every opportunity, and Sonny really ought to have put us one up. Benancur was a delight throughout.

Nevertheless, our best moments, as ever, came from the speedy counter-attack. The pattern was not one in which we, as the home team, asserted ourselves and hammered away. The inability to build from the back again loomed over our play.

Casually gifting two pretty avoidable goals did not help things, but these seemed completely in keeping with our play at the moment – sloppy; no strong plan or belief in playing from the back; frankly poor-quality football.

Our Glorious Leader took to the soapbox afterwards to bleat his usual refrains about needing more time and money and such bobbins, and one appreciates that it is unreasonable to expect us to have blown away all-comers. But after a year at the controls, one would reasonably expect us to blow away some comers. After a year, one would reasonably expect our football to be a little more enjoyable to drink in – and not to rely so strongly on Kulusevski.

Conte rarely wastes an opportunity to drone on about more transfers, and again one sees his point. But while some amongst our number do peddle some rot, there are plenty of talented sorts there – enough to play football that brings to the soul a little more joy than the current slop. Moreover, if he is set to walk away next summer – and there seems a moderate chance he might – it is questionable whether there is any sense in stuffing a chequebook in his hands and encouraging him to go to Disneyland.

The concern is that Conte seems actively to be encouraging the dreary stuff. He could arrange our troops to set about things with more fizz and bang; he chooses not to.

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Spurs match reports

Man Utd 2-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. At Least Lloris Put On A Show, What?

This being a new day I thought I’d begin with a once-over of the positives from last night. Alarmingly, there was in fact only one, but never mind that, and step forward Monsieur Lloris.

There’s a train of thought that it’s a bit redundant to bleat, “We would have lost by such and such an amount if not for our goalkeeper,” because the whole point is that the fellow is our goalkeeper, and that making those saves is precisely his job within our team – but nevertheless seeing everyone in front of him simply melt away time after time, forcing the poor chap into about eighty different extended reaches, did seem a bit much.

Oddly enough, Lloris’ evening had threatened to get off to a pretty horrendous start. Just about his first involvement occurred when a United sort spotted him off his line after a botched clearance, and attempted a lob. These are usually pretty anticlimactic interludes, promising much but typically fizzling out on launch, and so it proved as the shot barely reached head height.

Now I’m no goalkeeper, but if I see a ball gently float towards me I prefer to take the old-fashioned approach and catch it, ideally keeping any additional fuss to a minimum. And this had appeared the designated tactic of Lloris, until at the last minute he appeared to lose control of just about all of his critical limbs, and somehow, from a standing start, ended up flailing around on the ground, only just managing to pat at the ball, and diverting it marginally wide of the post.

It had seemed a pretty ominous start, and had me bracing myself from one of those nerve-riddled routines of his between the sticks. However, in one of those nifty little quirks of fate, that moment actually turned out to be the cue for everyone else to peddle absolute rot, while Lloris transformed into something vastly beyond the realms of mortal man, pulling off a whole sequence of full-stretch saves from around that point until the end of the match an hour later.

One in particular (from Rashford, if I recall correctly) had him in full flight in one direction, but having the presence of mind to stick out a paw in the other direction, whence he had come, creating the overall effect of a chappie who had mastered the matrix and was able to defy physics by bobbing around faster than the eye could make sense of. It just seemed rather a shame that this whole exhibition was of pretty minimal value. I mean, it stopped us losing about eight-nil, so I suppose it could be argued that it did in fact teem at the edges with value, but you know what I mean. Losing cause and whatnot. Still, bravo Hugo – which is more than any other of the blighters deserve.

2. The Fabled 3-5-2

With the regular 3-4-3 having made dashed hard work of such luminaries as Forest and Everton so far this season, in recent days you couldn’t have lobbed a brick in North London without it hitting on the head someone pleading for Our Glorious Leader to switch to 3-5-2.

All such wishes were granted last night, as injuries to Richarlison and Kulusevski rather tied poor old Conte’s hands on this front (admittedly I think most reasonable folk of lilywhite persuasion would have gnawed off their own arm to have Kulusevski restored, he being pretty much the missing link in all this). And moreover, with Emerson by his own idiocy absented, we armchair experts even had the luxury of Doherty on the right. As such, the pre-match sentiment at AANP Towers was one of cautious optimism. Quietly smug, knowing smiles were very much the order of the day. This one seemed winnable.

Or at least it did until the game actually started, at which point it pretty swiftly fell apart at the seams. Having howled away that we were getting outnumbered in midfield with the 3-4-3, the sight of our lot having rings run around them in a 3-5-2 had the AANP map turning a pretty impressive shade of crimson. Numbers of pairs of legs, it appeared, had not a dashed thing to do with it. Quite frankly, our lot were utter rot.

It’s all very well pointing out that United were on pretty spiffing form, but if any team can make Fred look like a master of all he surveys then one has to wonder if there’s some deep-rooted failure lies within. And sure enough, the problems amongst our lot were so numerous that I started to look about me for parchment and quill, for simply trying to keep track in my head was becoming increasingly problematic.

Defensively, despite having five fine specimens neatly lined up across the back, with a further three doing the doorman thing in front of them, there were great yawning gaps out wide. When United did tuck inside, our heroes seemed pretty spooked by the novel approach being used against them, of quick, one-touch passing, and gaps promptly appeared amongst our clustered bodies. Out on our left, all of the years of experience and League Title medals about his frame did little to prompt Ivan Perisic to stop Anthony chap cutting infield with gay abandon.

There was a train of thought within the AANP circle that part of the problem was that Bentancur seemed to have licence to roam forward, leaving us understaffed further south. While true enough at the outset, thereafter it seemed that even if Bentancur got his coordinates bang on it was of little use.

Moreover, the 3-5-2 meant that there was no useful means by which to stop their wide chaps chugging forward at will, as Sonny and Kane were both narrow.

All of the above, and various other failings, created the bizarre scenario that our massed defensive ranks seemed bizarrely incapable of robbing United of the ball outside our area, or preventing either their passes or shots in around the same vicinity.

On top of which, whenever our lot did stumble upon the ball they made a point of stumbling back off it again pretty sharpish. Not one of them seemed to have the good sense to seek out a teammate when in possession, the drill seeming to be that life might as well be made as difficult as possible. And unable to play beyond the United press, the net result was a pretty incessant barrage of all things United, from bally start to bally finish.

The 3-5-2 will see better days, but by golly this was a mess.

3. Conte

Rather awkwardly, the whole sorry affair does rather make one shoot a dubious look at Senor Conte, and clear the throat in meaningful manner. Knocking over Forest and such rot is one thing; and if we were losing with grace and elan to Top Four types that would be another; but simply mooching about on the edge of one’s own area and waiting to be blown away, against each of Chelsea, Woolwich and Man Utd, really is a bit thick, what?

It’s the style of play, of course. Watching the likes of Newcastle and Woolwich bound about the place with gusto and attacking intent does make one scratch the chin and wonder why our mob couldn’t be cajoled into something similar. It’s not as if we lack the talented individuals for such things.

Instead, we have a slicker version of Jose’s anti-football, all defence and countering. Against the weaker teams it’s rarely much fun to watch; and against the better teams we barely hang on to the coat-tails.

The counter-arguments, however, are pretty loaded. It would be a pretty significant dereliction of duty as a fan of the good ship Hotspur to forget quite what a stinker poor old Nuno had left us in, and quite what a job Conte did of dragging the club up by the armpits and into the Top Four.

Moreover, by the end of last season, the football was starting to flow and the goals fly in from all angles. There’s a pretty reasonable train of thought that if we can get to the World Cup in or around the Top Four, then a similar gallop in the second half of the season, possibly nudged along by a January signing or two, would be just the ticket.

And then, as alluded to earlier, there’s Kulusevski. Now a cautionary note ought not just to be struck, but given the full gong treatment, because nothing increases the value of a young nib like his absence from the team. One can gloss over how good he actually is – simply the fact that he is not in a team that is performing badly is generally enough to convince the human mind that the lad in question is the answer to all prayers. As recently as last week this was the case for Doherty; already it is becoming the case for Spence; and one does not have to cast the mind back too far to find umpteen other examples.

Nevertheless, Kulusevski became pretty critical to our play in his guise as ‘Johnnie Linking Defence to Attack’, and also providing our lot with some creativity beyond simply ‘Kane Diagonalling the Thing into Son’. That surge in the second half of last season, to which I alluded above, owed much to the fact that Kulusevski was fit and firing in just about every game. His absence is keenly felt. Bring him back, or so goes the narrative, and the Jose-esque dross currently being peddled morphs into something vastly more palatable.

Either way, the garbage on show last night was nowhere good enough. The visit of Newcastle this Sunday therefore takes on a rather meatier hue – not quite Top Four sorts yet, they are certainly a notch or two above Everton and the like, so our performance as much as our result will be watched with a pretty critical eye.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 6-2 Leicester: Four Tottenham Talking Points

While decency would normally dictate that I apologise for tardiness, between Vegas, Denver and some unspecified spot over the Atlantic, AANP can barely remember its own name, let alone the date and time.

1. Defensive Rotation

Discovering that the rarely-heard Drury was on comms for the screening of this match in Vegas was quite the pre-match mood-enhancer and morning-after pick-me-up; but alas, the good news ended there as a quick scan of the cast members indicated a Romero-shaped hole, awkwardly occupied by the various uncontrollable limbs of Davinson Sanchez.

Of course, being a man of chivalry and values, I let Sanchez proceed with perfect objectivity, and he duly took about two minutes to confirm, to what I now understand to be a global audience, that he is, in fact, a chump of the highest order. Everything about his diving, sliding, obvious and unnecessary foul was utterly clot-headed, and nor is it the first time he’s produced such mind-boggling idiocy at the earliest possible juncture (that time we hammered Man Utd away springs to mind, Sanchez similarly gifting away a penalty in the opening exchanges).

One understands that the fixture schedule requires a spot of management of the more important dramatis personae, what with World Cups, Champions Leagues, Carabao Cups and bread-and-butter League games every three days from now until around 2038. And if an A-lister like Romero can’t be allowed to put the feet up and catch the breath in a home fixture against the bottom team, then one might reasonably ask when the devil can he?

And all of this makes perfect sense, until one throws Sanchez into the equation, as first back-up. Now his legions of fans will no doubt point to the fact that prior to Saturday night we hadn’t conceded in an absolute age with him on sentry duty. On top of which, aside from the ridiculous early penalty he actually carried out his tasks dutifully enough – but that’s not really the point is it? What good is a defender trotting around doing the basics if he’s already stuffed up and given away a goal for nothing in the opening exchanges?

The debate will presumably loop around pointlessly until he is eventually sold, so best just accept it for now. Such was our lack of control that Conte saw fit to hook the blighter and interrupt Romero’s night off, calling upon him to keep the door bolted for the final twenty or so.

On the other side of defence, Lenglet oiled around reasonably enough in lieu of the indisposed Davies, with a straightforward interception here and a (usually, though not universally) accurate forward pass there. He might not sweep the board at the awards ceremonies for outstanding individual contributions come May, but he ticks enough boxes to give us two solid left-sided options.

The spots that furrow the brow are the other centre-back positions. Sanchez and Tanganga do not really instil confidence, even when flanked by more competent souls. Worse, opponents are exchanging knowing looks and beginning to target Sanchez. Somehow, we must muddle through.

2. Wing-Backs

However, if the centre-back rotation gambit was fraught with risk, the latest wing-back experiment had about it an air that was bonny, bright and gay.

A few muted voices had half-heartedly wondered aloud in recent weeks, on the back of Emerson’s obvious limitations, whether Perisic might be deployed on the right, but I’m not sure anyone really believed it would actually happen. And yet there it was, in glorious technicolour, from the off.

And it worked pretty well, at least going forward. Perisic was as game as ever going forward, his compass evidently still in full working order despite the switch from West to East. The restored Kulusevski marked his return to the fold by haring off down the right at every opportunity, and taking the full-back with him, while young Sessegnon was not about to miss out on the fun, signalling his intentions with a few early crosses from the left.

This was all well and good, but a fairly crucial component of its success was that we were in possession. And as time continued its irresistible march, and we rather surrendered the initiative (more on that below), the defensive frailties of our wing-backs rather awkwardly rose to prominence.

Not that I blame Perisic. Here is a man who made his name on the front-foot, and if he’s anything like AANP he has untold lung capacity for the forward charge, but needs a bit of a blow when it comes to the defensive side of things. As with Sporting in midweek, so against Leicester on Saturday, he seemed to be beaten a little too easily in the mano a mano items, and with Sanchez behind him the brow began to furrow with a decent amount of nervousness.

Similarly, Sessegnon gave a full display of his fallibilities, not for the first time being fairly straightforwardly beaten in the air in the build-up to the second goal, in a manner that suggested he offers decorative value only when it comes to aerial combat.

So for all the early promise and excitement of Perisic-right and Sessegnon-left, Conte then switched the pair, and ultimately resorted to Emerson, presumably in the name of tightening the locks a smidge.

The whole sequence did again make me wonder what the hell Matt Doherty has to do these days to get a game, while Djed Spence may also be stroking a thoughtful chin, but the Perisic-Sess experiment, while showing a few rays of promise, was not quite the unmitigated success for which I’d hoped.

3. Central Midfield

In those early exchanges our lot seemed mercifully undeterred by the early deficit, and I thought were fairly good value for the 2-1 first half lead, at least in possession. Alas, as the pattern evolved to that rot about sitting deep and looking to counter, Leicester began to get to grips with life – which really is utter muck if you think about it. This lot were bottom, conceding goals for fun – and yet there they were, controlling possession for five-minute chunks, in our own back yard!

Well, you can imagine the harrumphing emanating from this corner of Vegas, and the dashed thing is this is hardly the first time we’ve seen our midfield lose control of things. I don’t really blame either of Messrs Bentancur or Hojbjerg, as the problem seems to be quantity rather than quality. Any team with three in midfield simply has more available legs in the area.

The point of the 3-4-3 seems to be to ensure that we have plenty of men manning the back-door at any given point, but even within this packed environment Leicester did not have to break too much sweat to bop their way around us.

Helpfully, Leicester were simply not very good, so while we let them offer far more threat than decency ought to allow a team at the bottom of the table, there was rarely a point at which I felt we would not outscore them. However, any semblance of control of the dashed thing only really emerged once Bissouma was introduced and we switched to a three-man midfield.

Conte has made Bissouma kick his heels a tad, for reasons of fitness or tactical education or some such rot apparently, but the fellow was on the button once introduced on Saturday, happy to treat the masses to his fabled array of interceptions and tackles.

Various pundits will hone in on a chap who scores and mark them out as a standout performer, irrespective of anything else contributed or lacking during the course of the 90, and I’m a tad wary of doing the same with young Master Bentancur. His goal was certainly a triumph for high pressing and general alertness, and I’m pretty sure he contributed crucially to one of Sonny’s goals through another sprightly tackle. All told, however, he seemed to me to swan through life in his usual neat, tidy and effective way.

The challenge he faces each week is, as mentioned above, that that central midfield pair is too often outnumbered. All of which does make one wonder whether there might be scope for Bissouma to be added more permanently, and a switch to 5-3-2 to be effected (I’ve heard it mentioned that Kulusevski could occupy the right wing-back slot for such a move).  Such jiggery-pokery might also allow Bentancur to shove forward ten yards or so, and allow the creative juices to flow a little more freely. The Brains Trust, no doubt, have all options under consideration.

4. Sonny

Only right to give the chap a mention I suppose. Personally I’d have preferred him to make less of a song and dance about it all – stiff upper lip and all that – but a man has his feelings I suppose, and the whole business of getting dropped and then scoring from all angles would presumably have been a lot to digest in one afternoon.

Aside from the drama that surrounded the honest fellow, I was most taken by the gumption he displayed in striking the shot for his first goal. By the time of his third the narrative was well established – Leicester were falling to pieces, and Sonny’s redemption arc was well into its third act.

But when he collected the ball and set off towards goal at 3-2, he was still a man who had been dropped, was without a goal, hadn’t smiled since May and appeared to have forgotten which foot was which. Given this context, for him then to bend one from approximately a mile out, and shape it from outside the post to within, with whip and height and all sorts, was remarkable stuff indeed.

His confidence having been at a low ebb, one would have bottled up a sigh and forgiven him for shuffling off with the ball towards some cul-de-sac near the corner flag. And had he swiped at the ball and got his geometrics wrong, the groans would have been audible down the High Road. To eject himself from his rut, and in such fashion as that first goal, was a triumph. (As was the sweet, sweet strike for his second, while we’re on the topic.)

I suppose one might glance at the scoreline and label this a triumph for defensive rotation, but given that Hugo had to make three or four pretty spectacular leaps about the place this felt anything but comfortable until the final fifteen or so. It’s a remarkable thing to engineer an unconvincing 6-2 win, but there we are. I must confess to looking ahead to the game away to Woolwich with a fair amount of dread, given the way our lot have struggled to exercise control over any opponent so far this season. As such I might quietly start a campaign for a three-man midfield, in the hope that it grows into quite the din by 1 October. For now, however, despite being oddly off the boil, we remain comfortably ensconced in the top four.

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Sporting 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

With apologies for tardiness – gallivanting the States, timings a bit off

1. Emerson Royal

Fans of E. Royal Esquire – and there must be some, by the law of averages and whatnot – might want to avert their eyes at this point, or go for a spot of shut-eye or something. The signs are ominous for him after all: after a late and pretty thorough collapse, in which the man himself was in the vicinity for both goals conceded, and also bungled the best of the chances we created at t’other end, for him then to be first on the list of Talking Points, in a rag with a bit of a history of sticking the knife into him, suggests that the following is not going to be garlands around his neck and rapturous applause.

He actually contributed one of our better first half moments, digging out a cross from the by-line that flashed past around five rather panicked Sporting dignitaries and right across the face of the goal, dash it, with not a single natty sky-blue uniform in sight.

So to shower the fellow only with oaths and criticism would be unfair. In the first half in particular it was pretty much a Standard Emerson Royal Production out on the right – little to recommend it, but nothing too egregiously wrong either.

But part of the problem is that Conte-ball requires a heck of a lot more than a Standard Emerson Royal Production on the right. Conte-ball relies greatly upon the wing-backs to do much of the heavy-lifting going forward.

Out on the left Master Perisic had the right idea, in theory at least. Forward he bobbed, and when he slung in his crosses they were creations of some quality, ticking various useful boxes like ‘Trajectory’, ‘Pace’, ‘Direction’ et cetera. It has been some time since the good ship Hotspur has boasted a fellow capable of such inviting delivery from out wide, and while, all told, this was not his finest hour (in particular, when we were out of possession the Sporting nibs seemed to tiptoe past him at will) one at least saw some benefits to his presence.

Emerson, on the other hand, yet again demonstrated some willing to attack without ever really researching the detail of what this would entail. Quite why the hell Matt Doherty has remained persona non grata this season, particularly after warming to the role at the end of last season, beats the dickens out of me, but there we go. Emerson it is.

And Emerson it was who thrice failed to deliver his lines when the Sporting back-line did its Red Sea thing and allowed him to swan right through to goal. Not necessarily the easiest chances in history, for sure, but I’d have given a limb or two for any of those chances to have fallen to one of the front-three (well, on current form perhaps not Sonny, eh?)

That said, I suspect we would all have settled for a point as the clock ticked over to 90. Now to lay the blame squarely at Emerson’s door for that opener really would be a bit thick. For a start it was a peach of a delivery, definitely in the realm of ‘Mighty Difficult to Defend’. Moreover, the post mortem suggests that the Sporting fellow who did the deed was the man-marking responsibility of that rotter Harry Kane.

Nevertheless, Emerson ended up closest to the action at the key juncture, and had he attacked the ball with the conviction of a man whose very life depended upon getting to it first he would have cleared the thing with plenty left in the account.

One nil was bad enough, but if Emerson’s failings in the first goal could arguably be excused, he really ought to be given a good public thrashing for his role in the second.

Senor Romero does not escape blame here either, making a pretty ham-fisted attempt – and I use the term pretty dashed loosely – at preventing the laddie getting his shot off, and not for the first time in recent weeks.

But it was Royal whose input really made the lip curl in utter disgust. He simply let the chap waltz straight past him, for heaven’s sake. Through his legs, forsooth! Shoulders slumped, pace down, energy barely registering, looking for all the world like he was simply off for an amble in the other direction.

Should he be delivering such high quality in the other 89 minutes of this and every other match as to make himself undroppable I would probably wave him along after a sharp click or two of the tongue (as I essentially do with Messrs Kane and Romero). But Emerson is anything but undroppable. Hook the bounder, fit Doherty for the necessary costume and let’s at least benefit from the latter’s attacking contributions.

2. Lloris

Heaven knows it was a thump and a half to the solar plexus to lose the bally thing thusly, but if there were one amongst our number who would have been excused an even heftier curse or two it was probably poor old Monsieur Lloris.

The poor sap appeared to have saved us a point with his flying leap at what had appeared to be the death, tipping around the post at full stretch one of those curling efforts whose trajectory seemed to scream ‘Bottom Corner’. Coming as it did in minute 89 it seemed a reasonable move to thank the chap for rescuing a draw, before simply bunging away the corner and awaiting the final whistle.

A dashed waste then, to see the resulting corner fly straight back into the net so earnestly protected just moments before, but sometimes life takes these opportunities to illustrate that if it is not one damned thing it will be another.

Had things petered out goallessly I fancy that Lloris would have been a solid bet for the Outstanding Performer gong, at least from our lot. When Sporting counter-attacked for the first time, way back in the in the early knockings, Lloris was on hand to do the full-stretch thing; and when Edwards dusted off his quite sensational Maradona impression it was again left to Lloris’ reflexes to keep the net undisturbed. He, if no-one else, seemed to merit a point.

3. The Son – Richarlison – Kulusevski Love Triangle

Conte has long established himself as one who knows his beans, so there will be precious little criticism of his preferred methods of skinning cats from this quarter, but I nevertheless allowed myself a raised eyebrow when the team news filtered in. Having banged on about the need for squad depth at various points since his N17 coronation, it is a tad rummy to see him so wedded to near enough the same XI, and galling when both performance and result fall flat.

Most eye-catching was this business of again selecting Kulusevski as the odd man out, while Sonny again started. This is of course a point under the heading of ‘Form’ rather than ‘Class’, and I’m not sure any one of sound mind doubts that Sonny will tearing strips out of opposing defences soon enough (indeed, his contribution in getting the Marseille monsieur sent off last week should not be forgotten in a hurry).

But frankly the fellow is off the boil, while Kulusevski has noticeably upped the overall performance level as soon as ushered in, no matter what the role he is asked to fulfil.

Richarlison, like Kulusevski, seems a pill who is on an upward form trajectory, similarly providing a series of headaches to opponents. The understanding of and partnership with Kane could do with a little finessing – witness the mistimed runs for one-on-ones that were flagged offside – but in general the fellow is worth his place.

Now I must hold up a paw or two and confess that I’m not quite sure who plays on which side if Sonny is removed and the equation becomes Richarlison-Kane-Kulusevski, and it might be that there is a significant impediment to this set-up. Frankly, however, I’m inclined to think that such an issue ought to be surmountable for these three. Grown men and all that.

Who knows what plans Our Glorious Leader had had in place for the postponed City game, and what plans he has in place for the upcoming Leicester game – but for the time being at least, it would seem uncontroversial to pluck Sonny from the frontline and utilise Kulusevski.  

4. It’s Been Coming

A bitter pill and all that, and I’d guarded pretty zealously the concept of picking up points while playing badly – but now that we’ve lost, and the dust is settling, I do scratch the bean and wonder if this might be a useful prompt. Encourage the assorted cast members to buck up their ideas, if you know what I mean?

While we sit prettily enough in the Premier League table, and have had a couple of tricky fixtures, I’m not sure we’ve played particularly well for more than half an hour in any game so far this season.

The trend had actually been to start each game with a dreadful, dirge-like apathy, so in that respect at least one improvement was made yesterday – our lot started each half full of beans, pressing high and generally trying to impose themselves. But yet again, it was rather fleeting stuff, and on balance we looked as likely to concede as to score.

As mentioned above, I’m pretty reluctant to chide Conte, so it is in a spirit of well-meaning altruism that I suggest a couple of changes, to either or both of personnel or playing style. If wing-backs or central midfielders need rearranging then rearrange like the dickens; if a more creative centre would deliver the eggs then inject creativity like the stuff is going out of fashion. Either way, this particular mob has a lot more talent than has been displayed in the last couple of months.

Frankly, the AANP dollar is still on qualification from the CL Group Stage and a Top Four finish, but we might as well try to make it a little easier for ourselves, what?

Another of those polite AANP requests: if any of you fine folk know of Vegas venues that show Premier League games, do be a frightful sport and wing over the details, would you? Much obliged.

Categories
Spurs match reports

West Ham 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The First Half: Actually Not Too Bad

Obviously when sifting through the wreckage, shaking the head sadly and tutting knowingly, it seems almost inappropriate to reflect that in the first half things had actually been pootling along fairly comfortably. And yet, when the curtain came down at the halfway stage the mood at AANP Towers was that this was probably the best we’d looked since Day 1. A low bar, admittedly, but still.

For a start, whereas at Forest on Sunday the entire concept of a midfield was ignored and everyone involved just slapped the ball up to the front three at the earliest opportunity, in the first half last night our lot pinged the thing through the pitch in neat, little diagonals. From defence the ball would roll along to Hojbjerg or Kane dropping deep; and from there be worked in another neat little diagonal to Kulusevski or Sonny or Perisic; and the net result was that we regularly worked our way from back to front in bright and breezy fashion. Although none of this was remotely Brazil 1970, our opponents seemed to have their minds blown by it, simply standing around gawping as our heroes slid passes around them at half pace.  

The biggest early impediment to all this was that blasted VAR delay, after which our lot rather dozed off and the other lot remembered their obligations. Even so, by half-time it did feel like anything less than victory would represent a pretty major faux pax on our part.

In particular I was rather taken by the way that rotter Harry Kane made use of the wide, open spaces nearer halfway, West Ham seemingly oblivious to the trouble he can cause from such positions and he accordingly picking forward passes hither and thither.

Perisic was another who caught the AANP eye, ever willing to explore the lane ahead of him and ever able to deliver a decent cross. Indeed, the winnings from Perisic’s recent crosses have been considerable – the VAR incident here, the penalty against Forest on Sunday, the late equaliser against Chelsea (from a corner admittedly) and a near-miss header from Kane against Wolves.

On top of which, the fellow is as wily as they come, well-versed in the murky arts that facilitate the shielding of the ball and winning of free-kicks and whatnot. Not since Edgar Davids have we been blessed with one of these more experienced eggs, who manages to deliver the goods with little more than a knowing wink and spot of upper-body muscle.

2. Our Goal

I alluded earlier to the crispness of some of our first half interplay from defence onwards, and rarely was this better exemplified than in our goal, a move of such slickness it looked like they’d been rehearsing it for weeks.

In the first place it came about when the defensive siren was being sounded, with the other lot on the attack and attempting to tiptoe their way into our area. At this juncture Eric Dier made a couple of his better life-choices, firstly in stepping forward from the defensive line to intercept an opposing forward pass. This having been done he then rattled through the options, and rather than belting the ball to within an inch of its life, slid the thing about ten yards north to the waiting Kane.

As mentioned, despite having turned into an art-form the practice of dropping deep, and having given fair warning of his ability in this sector for a good three or four years now, West Ham seemed utterly oblivious to the threat posed by Harry Kane in such situations. There were few complaints from AANP Towers. Kane collected the ball ten yards outside his own area, toddled along with it another ten yards and then biffed it out to Kulusevski, in about the time it takes to murmur, “Defence into attack”.


One of the marvellous things about Kulusevski is that he is the sort of bean who’s happy to run first and think later, seemingly living by the maxim that life will present a solution further down the line. Having collected the pass from Kane around the halfway line he injected a little more urgency into the move, flicking the dial from “Saunter” to “Gallop”, which in turn was a signal for Kane and Sonny to rev up and pick their supportive spots. Kane went outside, Sonny inside, and by the time Kulusevski had arrived at the edge of the West Ham area all sorts of options were presenting themselves, fitting confirmation of the Swede’s aforementioned life motto.

It would be easy to overlook, but in dinking inwards, giving the impression of being the sort of fruit who’s about to ping a shot with his left clog, Kulusevski did just enough to sway all three claret shirts around him in one direction, leaving the streets free for Kane to charge off in the other direction. As his pièce de résistance, Kulusevski then timed his flicked pass to perfection, ensuring that Kane was onside and his view unimpaired for the climax of the piece.

Sonny’s luck being what it is these days, an opposing sort got in first to poke the ball home, but rarely has an own goal been crafted with such beauty and precision.

As mentioned, come half-time, although a long way from first gear, AANP gazed upon the breadth of the domain and greeted it with a fairly care-free shrug. Matters seemed in hand.

3. Their Goal

Matters, however, then pretty swiftly u-turned. For a bod who appears to pride himself, and build entire empires, on defensive organisation, one can imagine that Senor Conte would have been out for blood after observing the goal we conceded, sloppiness oozing from its every pore.

At the time the throw-in was (rather dubiously, to my beady eye) taken, both Perisic and Hojbjerg were looking in directions other than the ball, which at any level of football is pretty thick stuff.

Had Perisic been on the right planet he might have assisted with the general operation to nullify Antonio, but by the time the penny dropped matters had progressed and the danger heightened. Now Perisic is something of a favourite around these parts, but there are times in life when one has to put one’s foot down. All the whipped crosses and wily know-how in the world doesn’t count for much if one is then going to drift off to the land of fairies when a throw-in is being taken within spitting distance, dash it.

Had any one of Sessegnon, Sanchez or Emerson been guilty of this they’d have had the book – and various heavier, blunter instruments – thrown at them by AANP, so there is no reason for Perisic to escape censure. The fellow deserves stern words and a brief thrashing.

Meanwhile Hojbjerg, another who really ought to know better, was, unbelievably, similarly gazing elsewhere at the crucial juncture. In his defence he was at least facing the ball, and had seemingly turned his head to yell at someone in the way footballers like to do to pass the time, but it was still a heck of an oversight.

Worse than this however, once he had refocused on current affairs, he (along with Bissouma) was far too slow to respond to the forward dart of Soucek. Both Messrs H. and B. had a couple of yards on Soucek, and yet while the latter built up a head of steam, our two did not accelerate beyond a common jog. By the time Hojbjerg bucked up his ideas it was far too late, while Bissouma didn’t even reach the point of bucking up ideas, and simply ambled along providing decoration to the piece.

All in all, a pretty soggy goal to concede, and one which rather summed up much of our play in the second half. Inevitably, Richarlison immediately brought a little spark when introduced, and one might charitably suggest that an away draw in a London derby is no small fry, but really, throwing away a lead against this mob was pretty criminal stuff. They were not particularly good; but frankly, neither were we.

4. Bissouma

I mentioned young Bissouma’s input – or lack thereof – into the goal conceded, and it summed up a rather underwhelming first start for the chap.

I actually thought his early knockings were pretty encouraging. He seemed more comfortable than most in receiving possession, unflustered by the presence of opposing legs around him and generally doing a pretty good impression of Bentancur when it came to receiving and redirecting the ball around the halfway line.

Matters started to take a turn for the murky when he picked up his yellow card. This in itself was pretty fat-headed stuff – unlucky though he was to be penalised for a foul, seemingly on the basis of crowd reaction rather than the referee having actually seen anything, thumping the ball away in response marked him out as a pretty dim cove.

If one wanted to quibble one might have cleared the throat and politely mentioned that thereafter he didn’t always have to play the way he was facing, his habit of popping the ball straight back to Davinson Sanchez frankly doing more harm than good given the latter’s pretty limited passing ability (it seems no coincidence that Emerson barely offers an attacking threat when Sanchez rather than Romero lines up for company inside him).

By half-time, it seemed from my vantage point that Bissouma had morphed from Bentancur to Winks during the course of proceedings, so it was some relief to see him approach the second half in a marginally more offensive spirit, receiving the ball on the half-turn and generally looking north for a useful pass to pick.

Nevertheless, it was all a little disappointing. Of his fabled zeal for intercepting and tackling there were only glimpses, and as mentioned, his role in the goal conceded was lamentable.

None of which is to write the chap off; far from it, he is one of the shrewdest signings we’ve made for some time. Just a shame that his middling performance last night was in keeping with all around him, and led to the forfeiting of a couple of quite obtainable points.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-0 Wolves: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Perisic

The nomination of I. Perisic Esq. from the gun was welcomed pretty heartily here at AANP Towers, where we’ve taken every opportunity to pen admiring odes and poems and whatnot about the chap, and this week even went as far as to bring him into the fantasy team.

Alas, the distinct absence of fizz about the place in the first half extended to the Croat. Quite why our lot simply don’t bother spitting on their hands and getting down to business during minutes 1-45 is beyond me. Thrice in three games it’s happened this season, to say nothing of some similar guff last season, but there it is.

As well as the strange impotence in open play, the Brains Trust had also opted to pop Sonny on corners rather than Perisic, and while the whole thing worked a dream in the second half, during that opening 45 there was some prime chuntering emanating from these parts. As if to make the point that he considered this set-piece-taking hierarchy an oversight, Perisic proceeded to whip in a peach of a cross from absolutely nowhere right at the end of the half, when seemingly penned into a corner and facing the wrong way, resulting in a Kane header that but for the grace of God and extended goalkeeping limb would have hit the top corner.

Of course one decent cross doth not a wing-back masterclass make, and it was only in the second half that Perisic really put a wriggle on and started making hay down the left. It was impressive stuff. Evidently no slouch over fifteen yards, Perisic stacked the odds further in his favour in every going sprint by stationing himself as high up the pitch as decency allowed, meaning that when our lot hit the final third he had morphed into every inch the bona fide winger.

On top of which, the chap threw in stepovers and feints and all sorts, the type of jiggery-pokery that looks all the more impressive after a wing-back diet of Emerson, Doherty and Sessegnon for the last year, and it all tended to finish off with some devilish delivery.

The near-post flick for Kane’s goal was another tick in the box, but it was his output with ball at feet and engines revved that really caught the eye. I would not go as far as to say Perisic’s second half contribution changed the game, because levels were upped in just about all attacking spots after half-time, but it was cracking stuff to drink in.

2. Kulusevski

Dejan Kulusevski was another whose presence barely registered in the first half, only to whip off the mask and give the punters their money worth in the second. The chap had clearly been at the spinach during the half-time pause-for-thought, because the figure that re-emerged was the Kulusevski of old, all strangely unstoppable running and delicious delivery.

I am not and probably never will be the sort who advocates statues for players, but if anyone fancies plotting on a spreadsheet the prefect arc of Kulusevski’s curling crosses I’ll happily frame the thing, hang it on a wall and narrate its back-story to all who pass through the place. The cross that Kane headed against the bar was a thing of considerable beauty, the sort of pass I’d happily watch endlessly whistle through the air.

But as much as his delivery it was the general energy with which Kulusevski approached life in the second half that made itself felt. He took to the pitch seemingly intent on putting his head down and running, at every opportunity, and the attitude bore multiple fruits.

For a start it served to jolt into life those around him, so that it wasn’t too long before the pitch was abuzz with lilywhites haring off into attacking spaces.

And moreover, Kulusevki’s running seemed to cause Wolves a dickens of a problem every time. As a minimum their emergency panel evidently deemed it prudent to assign two men to him each time he went off on the charge, and on at least one occasion he earned a yellow card for one of them who had evidently had enough of chasing the chap’s shadow around the place.

With Sonny again oddly muted throughout, and Emerson’s attacking produce some way short of the standards set by Perisic, it was as well that Kulusevski bucked up his ideas in the second half.

3. Sanchez

I suppose you might say it’s not really cricket to spy a fellow’s name on the teamsheet and resolve from the off to subject him to the beady eye throughout, in search of any hint of error – but show me the name “Sanchez, D” in Arial 12 and the first thing I’ll do is train the monocle on the chap, pitchfork at the ready.

If one were in philosophical mood one might consider the absence of Romero for the next few games to be oddly just, given that he escaped a red card and three-match ban by what you might describe as a hair’s breadth last time out. So here we were, Romero-less, which meant that we were Sanchez-ful, and as befitting the occasion there was a sharp intake of breath every time the Colombian went near the ball.  

And I was not the only one showing my appreciation when the young prune’s first involvement proved to be as punchy as it was crucial, some Wolves laddie haring off towards the right-hand side of the area, with circumstances somehow dictating that Sanchez was the last line of defence between him and the whites of Lloris’ eyes.

Now if Sanchez has demonstrated one thing in his time at N17 it’s that he is not one for the subtle interception. Not for him a delicate toe stretched at just the optimum moment, to nick the ball from an opponent’s foot. When Davinson Sanchez intervenes he does so with meaning, pouring heart and soul into the act. In fact, to “heart” and “soul” in the above description you can generally add “body” too. There is no changing direction or arresting momentum. A Davinson Sanchez block is very much a one-way ticket.

And so it came to pass that in this particular incident Sanchez executed a block by flinging his entire self, feet first, in the way of the ball. It makes for a peculiar look, this giant of a man skidding along the turf on his rear, both legs sticking out in front of him like an oversized child on a water-slide. And if any attacker were to do their research they’d know that one straightforward drag-back would leave Sanchez sliding away into a different postcode, the path to goal no longer obscured.

However, the manoeuvre proved immensely effective, which is the point of the thing, and as with so many of Wolves’ attacks in and around the area, the whole episode was snuffed out before Lloris was summoned to action.

Having started his afternoon thusly, I had hoped that Sanchez might use his early success as a prompt for calmness of mind and further success, but for the remainder of the first half at least it was a slightly mixed bag. No crisis befell, but nor did I feel much assurance when play drifted into his orbit.

Whatever his attributes as a defender, when opportunity presents itself to act decisively he still seems instead gripped by nerves, as if weighing up the best and worst of all possible worlds and finding himself irresistibly drawn towards the latter. This was illustrated around halfway through the first half, when he engaged in some back-and-forth in the right-back neck of the woods, and ended the exchange on the floor and decidedly second best, requiring Emerson to tidy up the mess.

Still, no lasting damage was done, and in the second half activity in Sanchez Avenue was a lot quieter, largely due to the general dialling up of quality from out lot in other areas. With fewer mano-a-mano battles the honest fellow was largely tasked with holding his shape within the back three, and the time passed largely without incident.

His distribution was, understandably enough, some way short of the standards of Romero, but as eye-of-the-needle passing has never been the primary purpose of a Davinson Sanchez I am generally prepared to turn a blind eye as long as nothing too calamitous emanates from his size nines. And apart from a few aimless hoicks into the mid-distance he generally had the good sense to keep things simple, dabbing the ball off to Dier inside him or Emerson outside.

If one could pick a fixture into which to fling the chap, ‘Wolves (H)’ would be near the top of most lists, given that they consider winning to be beneath them, and tend to set about their business without a striker worthy of the name. A similarly kind fixture list in the coming weeks means that we should muddle through the absence of Romero – and consequent inclusion of Sanchez – without too much further incident. The chap cannot be faulted for effort and, as evidenced by that early block, he has a grasp of the basics, but the pulse will certainly ease down a tad when Romero returns.

Tweets hither

Categories
Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-2 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Second-Quickest to Everything, Dash It

As happens maybe every five years or so before a crunch game, I actually approached this one in a spirit of quiet optimism. The summer transfers, the pre-season hard work, Chelsea not quite looking themselves – it would be a stretch to say I foresaw us steamrolling them, but word definitely got about the place over the weekend that AANP thought we would edge this one.

I should have known better of course. Four decades of watching our lot should have taught me that if nothing else, just when it seems that things are looking up, we would find some way to make a pig’s ear of things.

The preferred method yesterday of gamming up the entire operation was to approach the thing from about five minutes in with a spirit of half-paced drowsiness. Our lot seemed convinced that they would have this thing won if only the other lot would leave them alone for a dashed minute or two. Each time anyone in lilywhite received the ball, the immediate reaction appeared to be to celebrate the fact by pausing, taking another touch, dwelling on it for a goodish bit, taking an additional touch, having a look around and then setting about the business of deciding what to do next.

I suppose one might kindly say that the theory behind this was reasonable enough, as one likes to get things just right in life, but in a bash against one of the best teams out there this was never going to wash. Chelsea rotters were swarming around our heroes as soon ball hit lilywhite boot. The above sequence never progressed beyond “pausing”. If it had not dawned upon our lot beforehand that matters were going to be conducted at breakneck pace in all areas of the pitch, it ought to have become clear once the game started and our every touch saw blue shirts harass the dickens out of us.

I’m not sure any of our number escapes censure for this, which is pretty troubling stuff. Kane had one of those days, which occasionally happens, when he drops deep in search of the thing, but finds the opposition are wise to the ruse, and have designated someone to shadow him like Mary’s bally lamb, nicking the ball from him before it even reaches him (I seem to recall Bissouma doing this to him last season).

Sonny’s every involvement had much about it of Hudson’s last stand in Aliens, as he was generally crowded out and made to disappear from view before he knew what had hit him.

Even Kulusevski, who for six months has been carving out quite a career for himself as A Chap Who Always Finds A Way, now found himself muzzled at every turn. Indeed, so rotten was Kulusevski’s day that he ended up as one of the principal villains in the second goal conceded, being shoved to the floor when in possession and left to wave a few forlorn arms in protest – a sure sign of guilt – as Chelsea got on with things and scored.

The introduction of Richarlison and tweak of shape helped to ease things a bit – more on that below – but a fifteen-minute uplift in matters was not simply going to paper over the cracks of the previous hour as if all had been bonny and gay throughout. AANP does not easily forget. If anything, AANP stews in his juices and reproaches bitterly all in lilywhite long after it is appropriate to continue doing so.

As such I remain deeply troubled by the general approach of being second-quickest to just about every exchange that happened on the pitch until that point. Whether it was a tactical flaw brought about by the stationing of Chelsea’s midfield bodies, or technical flaws on the part of each of our own mob, or indeed attitudinal flaws on the part of each of our own m., or some unholy combination of the above, it was not something that we ought to peddle, and we were pretty fortunate to escape with a point.

2. Richarlison

I read in some post-match critique or other that Richarlison only touched the ball seven times, a revelation which, if true, is quite the shot in the arm for those who like to trumpet the merits of quality over quantity.

It did not require the keenest intelligence to note that things bucked up a bit when he entered the fray and went stomping about the place. I suppose this upturn in fortunes could be attributed in part to the change in shape that he brought with him – giving the Chelsea defence an extra body to keep their beady eyes upon (a factor that almost brought home immediate bacon when Koulibaly was caught wondering whether to shadow the newly-arrived Richarlison or stick to his position, and ended up dithering for long enough to allow Kane to march in on goal unmarshalled, for the chance that was dragged wide).

Equally, the upturn in fortunes could be attributed to Richarlison himself. Seven touches he may only have had – and I’m dashed if I can remember any of them to be honest – but he took to the challenge of changing the game like a man who had spent the preceding hour itching to get involved in the various scraps unfolding on the pitch.

He bounded about the place with an energy I’m not sure any of his colleagues had displayed, and generally gave the impression of a chap who, rather than fling up his arms every time he received a barge to the upper half, instead positively sought out such stuff as precisely the kind of bally-hoo for which he was designed. This felt like the exact stage and scenario for which he was brought to the club.

3. The Second Equaliser

That said, the congratulatory back-slaps and whoops were rendered pretty hollow within minutes, as Chelsea reacted to conceding the first equaliser by rearranging their own pieces on the board, upping the intensity and scoring again.

(A cursory note on the general din surrounding our first goal, while on the subject – Bentacur touched the ball, and the goalkeeper could see the ball.)

Come the 96th and final minute, things were bubbling nicely, with Senor Romero no doubt fortunate that the eye in the sky did not take a dimmer view of his latest approach to settling differences. It was understandable enough that he felt the urge to tug the chap’s sensational mane – had I shared a pitch with Cucurella I’d have given it a friendly pull every time I passed him, for sporting a coiffure that voluminous in any sporting arena should not come without consequence – but using the ridiculous hairpiece as a lever by which to yank him to the ground was ill thought-through on Romero’s part.

Nevertheless, there was deep satisfaction to be gained from the antics of Romero and Richarlison in general. Dastardly stuff of course, and one would never publicly advocate this sort of thing, but behind closed doors all manner of knowing winks are exchanged, and rightly so. One assumes that somewhere in Spain, Erik Lamela nodded approvingly before shrugging his shoulders in a gesture of wide-eyed innocence. Moreover, as Thiago Silva will remind us from last season, this is a fixture in which one simply has to accept the referee’s call and stiffen the upper lip.

Back to our second equaliser, and there was much to digest. Let the quality of Perisic’s deliveries in that final minute not be overlooked in the first place, for goodness knows we have seen our fair share of terrible corners over the years (in fact, Master P’s first effort of the match was something of a shocker, but one forgives and forgets).

The timing of the thing also merits a moment’s consideration. Scoring a late equaliser of course always comes drenched in lashings of smug satisfaction and schadenfreude, but for our lot to beaver away until the end reflects rather well on the mindset of those involved – all the more so on a day on which any slump in shoulders would probably have seen Chelsea wrap the thing up.

But most eye-catching from my viewpoint was the fact that as the corner came in it was greeted by a veritable parade of Tottenham bodies. Kane of course took the credit, but had he decided against jumping for the thing his absence would not have been lamented, for Richarlison was right behind him in the queue. I noted that Richarlison was strangely unattended by anyone in blue, which seemed one heck of an oversight given the situation but also thoroughly at odds with the approach Chelsea had taken the whole game.

Not that I quibbled, of course, and in fact, even had Kane not been there I doubt Richarlison would have been able to indulge, because at the crucial moment we were additionally treated to the sight of Lucas Moura absolutely hurling himself at the ball, having taken a running leap at the thing.

Again, there was not a resisting defender in sight, which was rather rummy – but I was simply thrilled to see three of our number so emphatically intent on winning the ball and bagging the goal. Having been second best in so much of what had gone before, and seemingly unmoved to attempt to remedy it, the sight of three of them doing their damnedest to barge to the front of the queue for the equaliser was satisfying stuff. Had every challenge been greeted with such bloody-minded gusto the whole thing might have turned a different shade, but this was good enough.

This was a rare occasion on which even in the face of seeming defeat I rather enjoyed the thing as a spectacle, which just goes to show. The rapidly escalating mutual dislike between the two managers – which, of course, no-one likes to see – was the sort of stuff everyone loves to see, and added a pleasing garnish to the general spectacle. And having thought beforehand that this would serve as a useful gauge of our progress (and having, as mentioned, registered some optimism about our chances) the reality-check, that work remains in order to overhaul this lot, was useful; while at the same time fighting back to nab a point in the face of defeat, away to a Top Four side, sent us off home in cheery enough mood.

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