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Spurs 3-0 Dortmund: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Rip-Roaring Stuff – After An Ominous Beginning

Heavens above, who saw that coming? This being AANP Towers, the mood ahead of kick-off was, naturally enough, about as gloomy and pessimistic as these things come, what with one thing (Kane and Dele absences) and another (Dortmund being 5 points clear in Germany).

And that first half did little to brighten the mood. Our lot approached it as something akin to the early stages of a chess match, in which a lot of harmless toddling is done in defence, but no incisions of note are made (bar the dreamy Moura volley out of the blue).

I suppose it made for terrific viewing for fans of centre-backs, as Our Glorious Leader indulged in his own private game of stuffing as many as he could onto the pitch, but the net result was a heck of a lot of sideways passing between the back three, as Dortmund stepped back and squeezed every last inch of space out of midfield. The lilywhite cup did not overfloweth with attacking options.

Moreover, whereas the sum of our endeavours was a countless stream of sideways passing between Messrs Sanchez, Toby and Foyth, Dortmund hit upon the idea of racing into the gaps behind our full-backs and letting that scamp Sancho ooze with the menace of a chap with his finger on the trigger. As the protagonists trooped off for half-time refreshment, the chin-stroking amongst the paying public was of the lugubrious variety.

2. A Love Note To My Best Mate Jan

Goodness knows what pearls of wisdom were imparted at half-time, but I suggest they be recited every morning in classrooms and offices across the country, by law and as a matter of urgency.

“Tactical tweak” seemed to be the buzzword, although I must confess that here the mechanics of the thing were rather lost on me, as the only alteration I spotted was the slightly physics-defying move of having our wing-backs both drop deep into a back-five, to counter Sancho and his whirring legs of wizardry, and simultaneously to push those same wing-backs right up the throats of Dortmund, to act as auxiliary wingers. So, in effect, fielding thirteen players.

Whatever the nature of the sorcery, it worked. Our heroes flew out of the traps, and once Dortmund had altered their game-plan to accept 1-0 we stumbled upon the brainwave of scoring enough goals to take the tie away from them.

As seasoned visitors to this parish may be aware, whether he knows it or not Jan Vertonghen is what I consider a bosom-friend, our paths having crossed a couple of times in the last year. I am therefore modestly willing to accept the credit for his transformation from solid, dependable centre-back to flying, all-action winger, and, no doubt benefiting from my inspiration, the chap delivered an absolute belter of a performance out on the left.

Be it harassing the life out of the Dortmund right-back – thereby forcing him and his chums onto the backfoot – making himself available, intercepting or swinging an array of crosses into that sensitive spot in the penalty area that has goalkeeper and centre-backs nervously looking at one another for a spot of authoritative command, Vertonghen ticked the boxes like a man possessed. And then chipped in with the ghosting run and finish of a seasoned striker.

3. Sonny Delivers Yet Again

The absences of Kane and Dele had weighed heavily upon my heart pre-match, and little I saw in the first half changed that sentiment, but where there is Sonny there is hope. Admittedly there was not an uninhabited ounce of turf for him to excitedly buzz into in the first 45, but this is a chap who emerged from the womb scampering into space, so it was little surprise that his enthusiasm remained undimmed by the first half travails.

Naturally he was the catalyst for the second half rout, and while Llorente has done his bit, and the stars of Moura and Lamela intermittently burn bright, it is Sonny who has embraced the role of General Saviour Of Our Skins in the absence of Kane.

Mercifully there now follows a 10-day intermission, at least half of which I would expect Son to spend simply asleep, because the chap has run himself into the ground for us ever since presumably running himself into the ground for his country.

4. Sissoko The Elder Statesman

It is a sign of the times that in our biggest games we can now fairly confidently shift our glances to the right in expectation of another towering performance from Sissoko, and he will deliver.

In the lamented absence of Dembele, he is now emerging as the sort of chap who can pick up the ball inside his own half and set off on an irresistible gallop. What he lacks in aesthetic finesse, he more than makes up for in effectiveness, and at various points he trotted out his usual blend of in-possession forward strides and out-of-possession harrying.

For all the talent in our team, we still occasionally look a little short of those types who will grab the nearest bayonet, sprint to the front-line and lead by example, even more so in the absence of Kane, but Sissoko is beginning to emerge as one of those dependable bods, an elder statesmen to whom others can turn and goggle.

5. Winks Steps Up

Young Winks has earned himself the occasional critical arching of the eyebrow from this quarter in recent weeks, for being a little too risk-averse and light on carpe-ing the nearest diem.

Last night, however, he nailed absolutely every bullet point on the job description. He made it a matter of professional obligation to keep possession in the first half, when others around him were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of options and occasionally sending passes awry; and then in the second half he straddled the line perfectly between playing safe and pushing us forward.

With a little more space within which to operate in the second half, he was always the first option available to our centre-backs, and once in possession took a leaf out of the Christian Eriksen Book of Picking Appropriate Passes, be they short ones backwards or of the more adventurous variety further north.

To do all this against a team of pretty illustrious ilk was thigh-slapping stuff – and indeed, that sentiment can apply to just about every member in lilywhite. It might not have been flawless – Messrs Foyth and Aurier will presumably have mumbled a prayer or two of thanks for some lucky escapes – but that second half in particular was fabulous, sensible and devastatingly effective stuff.

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

Spurs 3-1 Leicester: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Skipp

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

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

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

2. Lloris And The Rarest of Rarities

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

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

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

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

3. Danny Rose Brings Back The Slide Tackle

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

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

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

4. Poch On The Defensive

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

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

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

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

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

5. Making The Best of Life Without Kane and Dele

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

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

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

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

Fulham 1-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Grinding It Out – Again

Credit where due. Traditionally our lot have never really gone in for the business of knuckling down and sweating out every last drop, preferring the fancy stuff when it suits, and capitulation when it doesn’t.

This season however we have dragged ourselves back in the dying embers of three Champions League games, won a stack of Premier League games without playing remotely well in the early months – and now a last minute winner when bereft of our three leading scorers, and having last our another leading attacking light during proceedings.

No doubt we’ll be accused of choking again the next time someone sneezes out of turn, but this was the latest in a string of impressive displays that suggests that some stern stuff resides deep within the cores of our troops.

2. The Tragic Llorente

I suspect I might be in a minority of one on this particular point, but I’ve always been rather fond of Llorente. Always cast a rather admiring eye at his ability to cushion an arriving ball into the path of a chum with the delicacy of one of Venus’ suitors giving it their tenderest work. Admittedly there’s not much else to his game, but his cushioned lay-offs were always top-notch.

Alas, I counted but one of those against Fulham – arriving in the 79th minute – and with his heading compass woefully awry there was not a dashed thing to commend about his lumberings.

As a Plan B in the final ten minutes of a cup game, shoved on alongside Kane, he has some merit; as the focal point from first toot to last, the poor blighter offers all the threat of a rabbit in headlights – rooted to spot, limbs incapable of shifting him from point A to point B, a look of utter dread etched across his features.

Bar the occasional headed flick, Llorente offered nothing. He did not drop deep to partake in any build-up play; he did not hare off into channels; he did not hold up the ball; and I don’t recall him at any point collecting the ball with his feet. Given that at the best of times he traipses around the pitch like a weary farm-beast just waiting to be put out of his misery, one imagines the own-goal did not help his confidence.

I suppose the charitable stance is to excuse him on the grounds that none of the above have ever exactly been listed on his CV as attributes, and one can hardly expect him to do that of which he is physically incapable. The pointed counter-argument is that he is a professional footballer – and a striker at that – and therefore dashed well should be able to offer a handful of those assets normally found in a target man.

3. The Other Ten: Politely Ignoring Llorente Throughout

In a charming sort of way, playing with Llorente reminded me of those schoolboy games in which some poor young scab is picked solely because the teacher recognises the name, having taught his older sibling. Everybody was too polite to admit openly that he was utter tripe, but they all knew it.

No particular blame attached to the other ten, who played gallons of football that was neat and tidy and patient – and some that was even effective – but from the off there was a sense of a team playing with ten men.

The sorry conclusion to it all was that out there on the pitch our heroes pattered along with things while ignoring Llorente as respectfully as was possible, and seemingly actively avoiding any opportunity to lob a cross towards him; while here at AANP Towers yours truly sat with head in hands, muttering a choice variety of curses as the game serenely passed the wretch by.

If this is a sign of things to come – we field Llorente, simply ignore him and continue to play our usual intricate way but in effect without a striker – I would prefer we put the Spaniard out to pasture, and field a youngling of the ilk of Kazaiah Sterling instead.

4. Dele Alli, All Our Hopes Rest On Y- Oh

There was something wonderfully predictable about Dele Alli’s headed goal, but it was no less delightful for it. The young bean seems to have perfected the art of ghosting in at the back post to nod the ball in, and all with an appearance of effortless ease that must have Senor Llorente casting all manner of envious glances in his direction.

In recent seasons I have been inclined to give young Dele quite the bashing. Too much frippery and not enough substance, has been the gist of the charges.

To his credit, the young fish has been poring over my words religiously, and this season has done his level best to win back my approval. For this I graciously applaud him. His marvellous technique is now applied to the greater good, if you get my drift, looking to unpick the opposition rather than drifting off on his own little meandering game of nutmegging as many passers-by as possible.

Given the hopeless efforts of Llorente alongside him, much seemed to depend on Dele, both today and in future weeks with sterner tests to come, so the sight of him shuffling to the bench and adopting the gloomy disposition of a man whose hamstring has just gone ‘ping’ was fairly crushing stuff for all concerned.

Where the dickens we go from here is anyone’s guess, but logic dictates that Llorente might get another bash at things. One suspects that back at Casa Pochettino, away from the gaze of the cameras, our glorious leader is lamenting this necessity, and wondering whether he ought to dig out his size nines and start in attack against Chelsea.

5. Winks’ Moment of Glory

Not the likeliest of heroes, but a fairly deserving one, I suspect you’d agree, for it was an honest, if fairly unspectacular day’s work.

Young Winks never wants for eagerness; and if that faint praise sounds a tad damning it was rather meant to be – having been a fully signed up member of the Winks Fan Club in seasons gone by, his doings in recent weeks have left me a tad underwhelmed, and I’ll explain precisely why.

As often as not, when he picks up the ball, his instinct has been to pivot back towards the safety of home, and pass the thing sideways or backwards. It is all something of a contrast to his earlier days in lilywhite, when he seemed to have a more adventurous streak to his DNA. The safety-first approach undoubtedly has its merits, and is often enforced upon him, as the deepest lying midfielder – but as indicated, has left me a couple of notches short of being truly whelmed.

Today seemed to be a welcome return to the more forward-thinking Winks of yesteryear. This was partly helped by the obliging hosts admittedly, who did little to pressurise him when in possession. Nevertheless, whether passing the thing or taking the initiative himself and setting off on a northbound gallop, he generally contributed his tuppence worth to the cause in proactive fashion.

And once Dier was slung on alongside him he pretty well took the hint that the shackles were off and he had licence to poke his nose further forward – and poke his nose he duly did, and with some aplomb.

Spurs 0-1 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Observations

1. A Heartening Performance

Curses are naturally flowing pretty liberally around the white half of north London, but here at AANP Towers we’re actually sipping the early-evening double whisky with a generous dollop of equanimity.

The wound of defeat obviously cuts deep, and so on and so forth – but after the laboured 90 minutes against Chelsea, and a first half here in which there was a collective air of legs ploughing through quicksand, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the rip-roaring stab of things made by our heroes in the second half.

No doubt about it, every lilywhite out there this afternoon looked utterly drained – and have done for a few weeks now – and I’m pretty sure I saw several of them being scooped up off the turf and carried off at the denouement.
Yet despite that, we kept beavering, making enough presentable chances to win a couple of games and frankly appeared to have a few bursts more energy than our opponents who were supposedly freshly sunned and rested.

Moreover, I was secretly rather chuffed that we kept our heads and continued to probe in those closing stages, rather than blindly whacking the thing north and offering up prayers. Up against a deep United defence-and-midfield I had wondered in the first half how the devil we were supposed to break them down at all. As it happened we did so on around a dozen occasions in the second half alone.

2. Our Finishing. Too Close To The Keeper, Don’t You Think?

Bunting is being decked and champagne sprayed around the United keeper, and one understands the sentiment, for the chap wasn’t allowed to catch his breath before sticking out another limb and keeping the good ship Hotspur at bay.

And far be it for me to deny the fellow his fifteen minutes, but I can’t help thinking we made his job a heck of a lot easier by firing most of those shots within his wingspan.

I trust my public will forgive me if I don’t list and analyse each individual chance separately, as I’m not sure the abacus has been invented that can track that sort of thing, but certainly both Kane and Dele shot at him rather than the corners when clean through, and one or two of the other less straightforward opportunities might also have been more emphatically tucked away.

Just one of those things I suppose. On another day – and there have been several of them in the past month alone – we might have hit the corners and been four or five up. Such is the rummy nature of life.

3. Poch’s Tactical Switch

And while immersing ourselves in rather pointless crumbs of comfort, a begrudging nod in the vague direction of Our Glorious Leader. One of the few sticks with which the sunny chap is ever beaten is his perceived inability to roll up his sleeves midway through a game and do some first-rate tinkering.

Come half-time today however, and with the likeliest form of attack having thus far been The Hopeful Alderweireld Punt, Poch duly tinkered away like the best of them, and produced more of a 4-2-3-1, of sorts.

Now the prosecution might well make the point that his hand was rather forced by the injury to Sissoko pretty much bang on half-time, and a jolly compelling point it would be too. I’m nevertheless inclined to give Poch the benefit of the doubt however, for he might have stuck with the midfield diamond and watched on gloomily.

Instead, Sonny went left, Davies was kept firmly under lock and key within the back-four – where many a cynic might observe he is far better placed – Eriksen sat deeper, and the outlook pretty instantly became a heck of a lot sunnier.

4. Squad Depth (Lack Thereof)

As alluded to above, one can only really applaud the efforts of the chaps out on the pitch, who appeared pretty much to use up their final bubbles of oxygen and every last ounce of energy in hammering away at the United door.

The unhappy fact remains, however, that the slew of crunch fixtures shows neither sign of abating nor adopting any less crunch. On top of which, the cast members themselves are now, rather inevitably, beginning to drop like flies.

The hooking of Sonny for yet another international tournament seems rather heartless, as he’s only just got over the jet-lag from the previous one, but into every life some rain must fall I suppose.

The injuries are just a plain nuisance, and no less annoying for being so utterly predictable. Winks and Sissoko seem to have partnered each other for around a dozen games in a row, so the sight of muscles twanging away mid-game was greeted with as many philosophical shrugs as gloomy grimaces.

Kane also seemed to exit the stage in far worse health than he entered, having taken a royal clattering in the dying embers of the game, and with Dier still not fit, Wanyama now just a picture on a Missing Person’s poster, Moura apparently injured and Dembele eyeing up the exit door, the whole carefully constructed and delicately held-together structure does look set to come tumbling down at any point.

Oh that we were minded to shell out a few quid in the transfer market, what? The party line remains that no signings will be made if they cannot improve the starting eleven, which sounds suitably bland and professional; but the argument grows stronger by the day that simply recruiting a few extra bodies of precisely the same quality would be no bad thing, if it allows for one or two of our mob to catch their breath between games.

Frankly there seems to be more chance of the sun exploding, which means we can potentially look forward to Skipp and Winks behind a front two of Lamela and Llorente in weeks to come.

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

Cardiff 0-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Doing The Necessaries in Defence

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Many Sides to Kane’s Game

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

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

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

3. Eriksen’s Nifty Flick

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

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

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

4. Game Management

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

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

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

5. The Bizarre Media Narrative

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

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

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

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

Everton 2-6 Spurs: Six Tottenham Observations

1. Our Glorious Front Four

If you are anything like me you might have tucked into your pre-match reviver with a nervous frown on your lips, because “Everton (away)”, as the first of four bashes in ten days, while not exactly having us barricading the doors and praying for divine intervention, nevertheless seemed a fruity prospect. Local intelligence dictated that a stern test awaited.

But then what does local intelligence know? Even when Everton went ahead, our rapier-like attacking thrusts had already been dropping hints like the dickens that our front four were in the mood for running amok, and at a hefty lick too.

Options wait eagerly in the wings – Lamela looked his usual rather arrogant, niggly self when unveiled in the second half, and Lucas, lest we forget, was talk of the town in the early weeks of the season – but there is little point arguing with the notion that Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Son are about as irresistible an attacking quartet as one might find if languidly spinning a globe, closing one’s eyes and jabbing one’s finger at it to compare the options from some other part of the world. Best simply to let the notion wash over oneself and embrace it. Those four, when on song, are as close as one gets these days to unstoppable.

It was as much the case at 0-0 and 1-0 down as it was when 1-3 up and beyond.

It certainly helped that Everton opted to fight fire with all manner of flammable material, essentially opening up the double doors, laying down a red carpet and inviting our attacking quartet to make merry as they pleased, with great yawning expanses all over the midfield and precious little protection for a pair of centre-backs faced with both Son and Kane in attack.

2. A Cautionary Note on Winks

Before tucking into the main course, a cautionary word about young Winks, who by and large admittedly had a whale of a time in the centre, but who is beginning to display a worrying tendency to bite off a darned sight more than he can chew.

Every now and then he seems possessed by the urge when collecting the ball to put his head down and wriggle away from approaching swarms as if it’s all just one sunny jamboree in the local park. I’m all for encouraging the chap’s inner Modric, but there a few delicate steps to be taken by the young muskrat before he can consider himself anywhere near that sort of celebrated level, and he would do well to keep things a dashed sight simpler for now.

Taking leaf out of the book of young Skipp might not be the worst move at the current juncture, Skipp bounding on for a brief cameo in which he did not put a foot wrong either in possession or out.

3. Sonny’s Goals

But back to the fun stuff. Specifically Son’s first goal, which boasted two constituent parts of considerable swash and buckle.

In the first place, the first time pass from Kane was the swivel-and-ping of a man having an absolute blast, and not really caring who knows it. As against Arsenal in midweek, he demonstrated how there is so much more to his game than simply planting ball into net, with both awareness and execution at the top of the dial.

Everton at this point continued their theme of seasonal generosity, with Zouma and Pickford making balloon animals and firing each other out of cannons before bumping into each other, tumbling into a clown-like heap and daring Sonny to shoot into an open goal from a fast-diminishing angle.

But by heck how well he finished. Sprinting in the wrong direction and with daylight seeping away by the millisecond, it was a brilliant effort.

4. Dele’s Goal

On another occasion I would have rattled away about the technique deployed by Dele to keep low his shot when the ball was bobbing and bouncing at him like an over-animated yo-yo, but when there are five other goals to choose from, Dele’s finish merits little more than a shrug and a polite ripple of applause, before we all excitedly chatter about the Eriksen volley or passing move for Kane or whatnot.

Mind you, the build-up to Dele’s goal had a hefty swig of punch to it. Sissoko’s one-two was fairly pleasing on the eye, and like a broken clock surprising us twice a day the big man also managed to nail a perfectly weighted pass, into the path of Son. The rest is history, but that build-up neatly encapsulated much that was sublime about our forward play today – swift, incisive passing, aided by intelligent, buzzy movement.

5. Eriksen’s Goal

Oh to have in any walk of life the ability that Eriksen has when striking a football. I suppose such things are a little easier to attempt at 3-1 up – the shoulders are less hunched, the spirit runs a little freer, the whole soul sways this way and that with a casual air as if to say “Well it doesn’t really matter either way, does it, whether I make a pig’s ear of this or the sweetest connection imaginable?”

And of course, this being Eriksen, he went down the route of a connection so sweet I pledged my undying love to it, there and then. Watch the replay closely and you’ll notice the ball itself is smiling as it flies in.

6. Kane’s Second

If you’ll excuse the disservice done to Trippier’s free-kick-taking abilities, I will coast blithely past Kane’s first, and instead cut straight to the business of ogling and salivating and stamping my feet at the second.

The numbers bods counted precisely umpteen passes in the build-up to this one, which I’m pretty sure automatically qualifies it for some sort of award for Services to Aesthetics. In fact, at the outset of the move, when our back-four and Lloris were carefully slipping the ball this way and that around our own area, my old man AANP Senior, whose lifetime of Spurs-supporting has understandably imbued him with a certain cynicism when watching, grumpily opined that he was not the most ardent supporter of the policy of playing out time in such joyless fashion.

Hush, aged one, I might have replied – but didn’t – because within approximately a dozen more glorious first-time passes in neat triangles around the hapless Everton mob, we were breaking away down the left like a bunch of escaped convicts breathing in glorious freedom.

Davies, in a rare moment of not-incurring-the-wrath-of-AANP, fed Son first-time, who whizzed it across to Kane first-time, who did what Kane does; and the whole thing had me purring away like a cat who stumbles upon a whole vat of the semi-skimmed good stuff.

So of the 4 games in 10 days, the least winnable one has been won. Traditionally I would sullenly mutter that we will probably undo all that good work in the next game or two, but this Spurs team repeatedly and pointedly demonstrates the stern stuff of which it is made, so shoots of festive optimism pop forth. Have a merry and blessed Christmas.

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Arsenal 0-2 Spurs: Six Tottenham Observations

So all those “North London is red” cackles seem pretty ill-judged now. A peculiar bash this one, as Arsenal arguably had most of the chances, without ever looking in the slightest like winning. In fact the final 20 or so passed off with all the peaceful serenity of one of those delightful afternoon naps in the sun, when the greatest exertion is simply waving a lazy hand at passing flies.

1. Dele’s Goal

I trust the viewing public will understand if I dispense with chronology and skip straight to the evening’s highlight, because Dele’s goal was of the sort to be placed in a commemorative box and paraded at family reunions.

As part of the preamble the young scoundrel plucked Kane’s cross from the skies, which was neat and tidy but hardly the sort of stuff to have those in the stalls jumping to their feet and strewing flowers around.

At this point I think most self-respecting bookies would have pulled down the shutters and announced that they had stopped taking bets on ball ending up in net, because it was a fairly routine opportunity. And yet herein lay the beauty of the thing, because even before we mere mortals had a chance to process the sequence of events – and certainly before Master Cech in the Arsenal goal had had a chance to get his bearings and adjust his feet and wave his arms – Dele was already taking the plaudits, having dinked away with all the impudence of the Artful Dodger at his most artful.

Having spent much of last year over-elaborating simply for the heck of it, this season the point appears to have wormed its way into his brain that at his best he is on a level above most others on the pitch, and can therefore change games, rather than dribbling into odd little cul-de-sacs in midfield.

2. Kane’s Impact

Son, Lucas and Dele himself all buzzed around in their own ways, but each offered the same sort of thing in attack, if you get my drift. If glancing over the CV of each you would no doubt be impressed, but might struggle to differentiate one from the other with any emphatic judgement, and as a result all our attacks were cut from similar cloth – namely intricate and sneaky, with trickery at every corner.

Enter Kane, and within 60 seconds or so he had demonstrated a useful alternative piece of apparatus, and our lead had doubled. A goalscoring anomaly he undoubtedly is, but the young bean’s work in deeper pastures continues to boggle the mind. On this occasion it was trapping on his chest the sort of 50-yard punt that would have had an evens chance of sending me flying across the turf if I had attempted the same.

That done, he took one look, and weighted a pass into the path of Dele that pretty much begged to be despatched as a matter of decency.

3. The First Goal

And while I’m at it, it seems only right to pay a little deference to the first goal too.

Dele’s assist again illustrated the point made above, that when on song he effortlessly rises to a level above the rabble surrounding him. It was a pass identified while most onlookers were still adjusting to the bodies falling to earth around him, and executed to perfection.

And neatly finished by Sonny, just as my mind was flitting back to his saved one-on-one vs Barca around this time last week.

Naturally enough, with that impeccable judgement that his earned me my armchair seat a million miles away from the actual football, I spent the opening exchanges lamenting the presence of Son in a game of this feist. Certainly if you’re advertising for someone to lose 50-50 battles in the heat of battle, then he’s the man to hang your hat on.

But just trying to imagine having to defend against him makes me want to sit down in a darkened room for a few minutes and compose myself, and despite the Barca miss he is quite the dab-hand in front of goal. Many a time and oft I have used these pages to vent an anguished howl or two at our wastefulness in front of goal; yesterday the mantra on all lilywhite lips was “Clinical finishing”.

4. The Weekly Sissoko Adoration

Well, almost clinical finishing. The one notable chance that went begging was that which fell to Moussa Sissoko, and such is the chap’s tortured history in front of goal that as he the ball rolled invitingly towards him most self-respecting bookies were pulling down their shutters and announcing that they had stopped taking bets on ball launching into orbit.

Apart from that he did not put too many feet wrong. His performances have become a mesmerising phenomenon. He remains utterly imperious, and yet this being despite – as the skied shot illustrated – so oddly lacking in the finesse of a natural footballer.

However, as Arsenal had done to us a couple of weeks back, so last night we successfully strangled the life out of them every time they touched the thing, with an instant press that no doubt had onlooking packs of hounds nodding admiringly; and Sissoko – along with the indefatigable, if error-riddled, Winks – was central to the mechanics of this.

5. Gazzaniga Reassures Again

Elsewhere, Paolo Gazzaniga continues to throw a few choice lumps of earth over the grave of Michel Vorm’s Spurs career. His shot-stopping is what most obviously catches the eye and no doubt brings him the glamorous women and fast cars, and as if to hammer home the point he thrust out his paws to such good effect last night that they were worth a couple of goals.

It is praise of a pretty dashed high order to state that when I see his name on the teamsheet, the second thought that springs to mind is that there is no need to panic about the absence of Monsieur Lloris. (The first thought is, naturally, to reminisce about our first Gazza.)

A stern eyebrow did however waggle northwards when Gazzaniga took his Lloris impression a little too far and began fooling around with the ball at his feet, a block-headed move that very nearly let Arsenal back into the game, but the broader point remains that he is an entirely able deputy between the sticks – and that puts him streets ahead of Vorm.

6. Davies At Centre-Back

A final observation on the personnel was young Ben Davies. Never exactly a favoured son here at AANP Towers, primarily due to being pretty thoroughly average in all respects, I’ve been intrigued to see the chap nudged into the left side of central defence in recent days.

This is not quite the bold and pioneering manoeuvre it might appear on first glance, Davies having cut his teeth on the left side of a back-three while on national duty, but to see the chap become our fifth centre-back of the season has still been enough to prompt chattering amongst the paying punters.

When passing judgement it is easy to suggest that he is better suited to life at centre-back than dashing up the wing, simply by virtue of not being required to do any attacking or, more pertinently, deliver any crosses. Whereas at left-back his crosses either into the first opponent or ballooned into vast expanses beyond the back post have me tearing out my hair, at centre-back he is required to concentrate on defence and defence only.

And this, to his credit, he did solidly enough. His reading of the game was sound, and as a result he made useful interceptions throughout the piece.

His was not an entirely blameless showing, mind. After the Gazzaniga first half error Davies took the wild thin-air swing of a man testing a newly-attached limb for the first time; but by and large the experiment proved successful – and also spared young Foyth what might have been a tortuous return to the lions’ den.

So a good night all round, and while the fixture pile-up does begin to sport a rather ominous look about it, superiority over that horrible lot down the road has been reasserted with minimum fuss.

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

Barcelona 1-1 Spurs: Five Glorious Tottenham Observations

1. Our Most Significant Result

Now this is what makes it all worthwhile. If you did not bound out from beneath the sheets with a sore head and a sunny whistle on your lips then I rather despair.

This was magnificent. Yes we have convincingly beaten Real, City, Arsenal, Liverpool, United and Chelsea at various points in recent seasons – and while marvellous fun one and all, and richly deserved, and prompting all manner of gaiety and revelry there was nevertheless margin for error on each of those occasions. Failure in those games actually was an option, as we could simply shrug our shoulders and eye up the fixture list for our next joust.

But when push has met shove, and everything has absolutely rested on one single game, with no option of returning next week to make amends – those games in which boys become men and wild animals slink around you with a look in their eye that says “It’s you or me, old mucker, because only one of us will emerge from this alive I’m afraid,” – we have generally fallen short. Cup finals, cup semi-finals, crunch winner-takes-all CL games – that is where wheat is separated from chaff, and a most unwanted reputation has come our way.

All of which makes yesterday our most significant result in as many years as you care to remember. This was the first time we met elite opponents in what was essentially a knock-out tie, and we delivered.

Caveats abound of course – we didn’t win the thing, for a start, as we really ought to have done, and Barcelona obligingly removed a number of luminaries before the bash had even started. But they were still a dashed talented mob, it was still a daunting task in a daunting venue, and our lot still delivered when previously they had failed.
Add this to our late two goals against PSV and the late winner against Inter – again, two more games with no margin for error – and there are finally hints that our heroes now have the mentality to deliver in these crucial one-off matches.

2. Heroes All Round

There were thrilling performances littered all round the pitch. In the first half the front four looked a constant threat, four players neatly approaching their peak form in a fashion so well coordinated it was like they had been rehearsing for weeks. A shame that Sonny left his shooting boots back in Blighty, but from the off one sensed that we would certainly create a hatful of chances – even if the inherent pessimist in me, cultivated by years of watching Spurs, rather fretted that we would miss every blinking one of them.

From my vantage point on the AANP sofa (and with volume muted, such is my distaste for that particular commentator and his off-topic rambles) it seemed that Danny Rose became better with each passing minute.

Greeting everyone in his neck of the woods with aggressive glares and meaty challenges when defending, and springing into action with boundless energy when attacking, it was all a rather nostalgic throwback to a bygone era when our full-backs were our main attacking threat.

On t’other side, the campaign to build a statue in honour of Moussa Sissoko received yet another irresistible boost. That glorious combo of beast-like strength in defence, and powerful – if rather uncomplicated – forward gallops when seguing into attack had the Barcelona types scratching their heads, unsure of quite how to deal with the chap.

On top of which he then went from being a helping hand on the right, to assuming complete ownership of it, after the hooking of young KWP. Admittedly Sissoko never quite knows what to do once he has powered into the heart of the opposition defence, but he might as well have started charging others to enter his little strip of land, such was his dominance of it.

As if to plant a cherry on top of the icing, he then became the one-man answer to the question that’s been unanswerable for the last ten years – how does one stop Lionel Messi? When Messi picked up the ball and began slaloming, it all looked horribly inevitable – until he ran into Sissoko and pretty much bounced straight back off him, leaving our hero to emerge with ball at feet and wild determination in eye.

3. Kyle Walker-Peters

A testing night for young Kyle Walker-Peters, mind. ‘Educational’, might be the mot juste. The chap actually made a start that if not exactly rollicking by every measurement nevertheless seemed to bode quite well, as he confidently went on a little maraud down the right and earned a free-kick in what is legally known as “a dangerous area”.

Alas, the poor fish must have wished he hadn’t, because within about ten seconds he was slap bang in the middle of the sort of nightmarish sequence that usually receives a pretty stern telling-off from the legal bods for having been aired before the watershed.

Naturally enough, KWP’s confidence promptly took a nosedive as he spent much of the rest of the evening looking quite unashamedly like he was scouring the Nou Camp turf for a spot that would open up and swallow him whole. One would rather have felt for him if there were not a job to be done.

This is not to lambast his overall performance mind. He toiled away earnestly enough, generally avoided any further mishaps and made one pretty crucial block at 1-0 in the second half. But in general he did look exactly as had been advertised, namely a fish slightly out of water, gasping away appropriately.

All of which suggests that his career could go one of two ways, as he will presumably either push on and become a terrific player, or fizzle away into obscurity. Shove him into the starting eleven against Newcastle and he can produce a man of the match performance; do the same at Barca and he can make a crucial mistake. It’s far too early to pass judgement on the chap. As with young Foyth he will need more chances and be allowed to make more mistakes.

It is worth remembering a skinny young mite named Ledley King making a terrific pig’s ear of things inside his own area in the 2002 Worthington Cup final, costing us the match – and then making an identical mistake the following week in the league for good measure. The young people will do such things, and luckily for them, Our Glorious Leader is quite a forgiving sort in these matters.

4. Eriksen and Dele

Back to sunnier matters. As caution was picked up and hurled at the wind, we ended up in a glorious throwback to the Ossie Ardiles reign, as just about every soul in lilywhite bar the centre-backs and ‘keeper became an attacker. Sissoko and Rose became wing-backs, Winks was replaced by a forward, and rather thrillingly it became clear that even our deep-lying midfielders were now forward-thinking sorts, as we were treated to the sight of Dele and Eriksen dropping deep to dictate matters from around the centre circle, a task they each performed with aplomb.

Dele looks a man reborn these days, presumably having benefited from the enforced rest brought about by his injury. He brimmed with energy, and his touch looked most appropriately top-notch, given the surroundings.

We have come to expect nothing less from Eriksen of course, who took to reminding me of Modric in his White Hart Lane pomp, assisting the chap who provides the assist, if you get my drift.

5. Substitutes and Substitutions

Having berated Our Glorious Leader a couple of weeks ago for his curious decision-making against Arsenal, I now heap praise upon him by the sackload for his management not just of this game, but Leicester a couple of days ago.

The omissions of Kane and Eriksen on Saturday were perfectly gauged. The introduction of substitutes last night were perfectly timed and achieved precisely the desired effect. Lamela injected fresh energy, ideas and aggression; Moura’s directness ultimately brought him his goal. Even throwing on Llorente for Winks ensured that the pressure remained firmly clamped down upon the Barca back-line. I rather start to get the impression that Poch is getting the hang of this management lark.

And as pleasing as the contributions of the personnel was the approach used as the game wore on. While the AANP heartrate reached dangerously unsustainable levels, the calmest gang out there were the Spurs personnel themselves. There were no desperate long balls or speculative long-range efforts; our heroes remained remarkably level-headed and kept playing as they had done throughout, with quick, slick passing and off-ball movement. Barcelona’s best moments came from individual brilliance, which is fair enough when you fling £100 million plus at a player; ours repeatedly came from neat and incisive team moves.

Naturally, this being Spurs, it could have been done so much more easily – in recent weeks and last night – but it just adds to the fun of the thing, no?

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

Leicester 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

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

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

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

1. Life Without Kane and Eriksen

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

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

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

Or so the argument ran pre-match.

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

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

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

2. Dele

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

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

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

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

3. Full-Backs: No Longer A Forte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Doing Remarkably Well – Despite Evidence To The Contrary

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs 1-0 Inter: Five Tottenham Observations

1. All Hail Sissoko. Again.

Nowhere else to begin, of course. The chap’s stock continues to soar, greeted from all sides with a peculiar mixture of bewilderment and delight. The all-action defensive style, which sees him gallop like a thoroughbred before using a vast array of limbs to wipe out opponents, has been of great value in our two most recent jaunts, in patrolling the right-and-central defensive areas, providing some friendly companionship to Serge Aurier.

But his occasional forays up the pitch, rarely in anything more than a straight line, have been weirdly mesmeric, and yesterday they struck oil when oil was the one thing we jolly well needed to strike most.

To begin at the beginning, once it became clear that Inter were not about to do as Chelsea did, and simply roll over to have their tummies tickled, we became embroiled in one of those tense, suspenseful larks, like the twisty spy thrillers one occasionally reads, in which everyone is actually double-crossing their dearest chum and one never quite knows what is coming on the next page, other than a heck more tension.

Patiently we prodded and poked, and introduced our starry subs, and admirably did not panic – but the problem remained. We needed a spark.

Enter Sissoko, simultaneously the least and most likely hero. His run was, again, little more than a gallop in a straight line – but what a gallop! Inter folk bore the look of a mob who had never quite seen this sort of thing before, torn between being drawn towards him and backing off him.

Mercifully, he ended his little dash by following the instructions that appear to have been hammered home to him by the entire coaching stuff, namely to keep it simple. Keep it simple he duly did, slipping the ball to Dele, and the rest was marvellous, fabulous history.

2. Nagging Concerns About Sissoko

After the rotten start to his N17 career the young fish deserves every plaudit going. He also deserves quite the formally-worded letter of apology, from AANP Towers amongst others, which I am quite happy to pen myself.
In my quiet moments, however, I do still stroke the chin and scratch the head and murmur to myself, “Really? I mean, dash it, really?”

There can be no doubting the empirical evidence: Sissoko is now a crucial component of this team, providing a defensive barrier, of strength and pace, as well as an attacking outlet – also of strength and pace, as it happens.

And as noted above, he is well aware of the need to keep things simple, and that he does, with his awkward, very telegraphed, but successful six-yard passes to the nearest lilywhite.

My concern remains that the bubble looks at any and every given moment like it is about to burst. I would be deceiving my public to say I wake up in cold sweats thinking about it, but I cannot shake off the worry that at any given point his control will utterly desert him, and he will once again become a liability. And by “control” I refer both to his control of the ball, when in possession, and his control of his limbs when moving up the gears. Put bluntly, it always seems as if his control of ball and limbs is as much a matter of luck as design. I sense he is about to overrun the ball, or trip over his own feet, every time.

This may well be thoroughly unfair; it may well just be the inherent pessimistic Spurs fan inside me; but I suspect I will need a few more months of this new, magic Sissoko before I am truly converted.

Still, the chap’s cult hero status is already pretty much secured, what?

3. Irreplaceable Eriksen

I suspect anyone with their ear pinned to the walls of the Away Dressing Room would report back that there were few grumbles from the Italian quarter about the outcome. A tight old joust it might have been, but our lot were superior, and 1-0 seemed about right.

1-0 it almost wasn’t however, because for all our superiority, and the generally more forward-thinking attitude, we did lack that little sprinkle of ingenuity in the final third. In short, we lacked Eriksen.

This is not to quibble with the team selection – more on that below – but just to note that the one, crucial position in which lack a quality reserve seems to be Eriksen’s. Even Kane, if removed, can be handily deputised for by Sonny’s scampering – a different kettle of fish, admittedly, but one that proves effective.

But remove Eriksen, and the wit and devilry of the whole troupe seems to dial down a notch. The nifty one-twos on the edge of the area fall a tad short, attempts to dribble past countless opponents are thwarted at the last, crosses are swung in, shots are fired from outside the area. Sissoko’s burst did the trick yesterday, but the moments of true guile come from Eriksen.

It presents a two-fold problem, of how to cope without the honest chap, and whether we can hang on to him beyond his current contract.

4. Squad Rotation

The pre-match natter was all about Eriksen and Sonny mooching on from the sidelines, with plenty of scribbles in both the Credit and Debit columns on this one.

Hindsight, surprisingly enough, has just about come down in favour of Our Glorious Leader’s position – we won, just, and kept the two imps fresh for Sunday.

The Case for the Prosecution, at kick-off and throughout the first hour or so, was that the front four of Eriksen, Son, Dele and Kane had absolutely shredded Chelsea at the weekend, so why the devil weren’t they being unleashed again here, when victory was essential?

A compelling point, actually. Poch’s Sustitution Gambit was risky, even if ultimately successful, but the philosophical AANP view at kick-off was that simply picking Son and Eriksen was no guarantee that they would replicate their success of Saturday. It is not impossible to imagine that they, like Lucas and Lamela, might have huffed and puffed from a distance of twenty-plus yards and to little effect, if played from the start.

As it happened, Sonny’s impact was immediate. He may well have been as effective if he’d started, or he may simply have benefited from being introduced against wearying limbs. Who knows?

It’s all a little moot now, and it ended well enough. On an uplifting sidenote, the lad appears to have rediscovered that joie de vivre that appeared to be absent in the opening weeks of the season, when he was shuttling across the globe.

5. Maturing

And so this most taxing of weeks is beginning to assume a surprisingly sunny hue. A romp against Chelsea, a tough old points-victory against Inter, and just the wretched Woolwich lot left to come. (And then another hundred or so games between now and 2019.)

One thing that strikes me in the final analysis is that our current vintage seem finally to be playing with a generous splash of maturity. The late PSV win, from one-down after a minute, was a triumph for persistence, skill and discipline, when it would have been easy to have neglected any or all of those three.

And here again, to keep ticking along patiently until the 80th minute, without panicking or losing their discipline, and against pretty high-quality opponents, was another little marker.

(On the discipline point – I didn’t really spot what happened with Winks, but Erik Lamela needs to be on the receiving end of a damn good thrashing, because his challenge was appalling. Could have injured the opponent, could have had us down to ten men with a lot of the game to play. But that aside, I thought our heroes kept their heads fairly well.)

Our ability to hang on to a lead for any length of time against top opposition still remains questionable, I suppose, but when we’ve needed goals we’ve found a way. It’s almost the sort of thing that is enough to win a trophy.

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

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