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Spurs 4-1 Liverpool: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Kane, A Thing of Awesome Wonder

It is not meant at all as a slight to say that Harry Kane simply does not look like a footballer, rather more like God intended to make a manual labourer but a mix-up at HQ resulted in him being slapped onto a football pitch in a shirt two sizes too small.

But by golly, for a man fairly bereft of any semblance of balletic grace or easy-on-the-eye technique, he repeatedly proves himself to be more effective than Alan Shearer, who was arguably the most complete striker of my three and a half decades. I simply wave my hands in incredulity, for Kane is fast proving to be utterly, incomprehensibly, brilliant.

Jolly decent-seeming chap to, for what it’s worth. We are thoroughly lucky to have him. Fingers crossed that that hamstring strain was nothing too sinister.

2. Managerial Tinkering and The Liability That is Aurier

Our glorious leader will presumably make quite the children’s entertainer should this whole top-level football management lark not quite work out, because he simply cannot resist springing a surprise upon his unsuspecting public with his selections, in much the manner of a chappie suddenly yanking a rabbit from his sleeve and turning it into a bunch of flowers, at little Timmy’s 4th. Yesterday’s treat featured a right-back at left-back while two left-backs sat it out on the bench, as well as the central midfield rejig, more of which later.

In that we beat a supposed equal at quite the canter, I suppose Operation Aurier at Left-Back could be considered a roaring success. Empirical evidence however, makes a fairly deafening case to the contrary.

Why the dickens the bounder cannot go five minutes without taking a running leap and landing on his posterior is quite beyond me, but it does nobody the darnedest bit of good. The term “hit-and-miss” may well have been invented for this technique, because Aurier’s sliding tackle success rate seems pretty much to verge on 50-50. Not the odds one wants a defender to carry into Premiership or Champions League clashes, particularly when one of those 50s is liable to involve conceding penalties or picking up a card or two.

Aurier would do well to elevate Jan Vertonghen to the top of his Christmas card list, and bundle in a bottle or two of the good stuff at various other points in the year as well, because the Belgian ended up playing babysitter to the blighter time and again. Liverpool’s Salah had the beating of our lot for pace, which was bad enough, but with Aurier’s decision mode consisting of “Lose A Straight Foot Race” and “Dive In Like Bally-O” poor old Vertonghen ended up marshalling the left-back pasture like a traffic warden. And a sterling job he did of it too, but it rather goes to show.

As for Aurier? Haul him out of the team and hammer some sense into him, leaving the full-back berths to Rose, Davies, Trippier and Walker-Peters.

3. Managerial Tinkering and Midfield Discipline

Having become so accustomed to seeing responsibility lie on the shoulders of Eriksen, Alli and chums to unpick a stubborn opposing defence, it made an interesting change to observe these fellows adopting more of the wait-and-see approach. “Tactical masterstroke” I think is the term, as these two natural attacking types sat back, kept their shape and let Liverpool collectively take aim and fire at their own feet, before picking them off.

It would not have worked if either Eriksen or Alli had deserted their post and gone storming up the pitch in search of neon lights, fast cars, loose women and headlines, so caps should be doffed. Dele in particular has seemed to struggle somewhat to control the urge to go wandering off and making up his own rules, so he jolly well deserved his goal. Nice to see him throw in a few party tricks as well.

4. Dependable Son

Having been curiously limited to a two-minute cameo against Real, I thought Sonny was a little unfortunate to be hooked around the hour mark yesterday. The chap was tireless, providing an excellent foil to Kane and contributing heartily to that mauling of the opening 20 minutes.

If anything, he should probably have had a first half hat-trick, but a hearty round of applause will suffice for the half-pitch gallop and controlled finish that brought him his goal.

The use of Son with Dele and Eriksen in a deeper role, following the use of Llorente up top on Tuesday, rather hammers home the versatility and options which Pochettino is somehow unearthing in this squad, like a loveable alchemist choc-full of bright ideas. If he can find the time I would rather like to see him manage the Ashes squad and oversee Brexit too.

5. The Wembley “Curse”

Those frenzied press witterings about a Wembley “curse” or “hoodoo” or whatnot had always struck me as rot of a pretty high order, and psychologically at least, yesterday’s rout ought to do our heroes good by the truckload when it comes to glancing at the fixture list and drinking in the “open bracket, h, close bracket” at the end of each line.

But poppycock though the notion of a curse may be, life on the hallowed turf is likely still to present some problems. Liverpool yesterday pretty much offered a step-by-step illustrated masterclass in how not to play the mighty Spurs. Pouring men forward, defending with a high line and leaving the back-door guided by a chap who resembled one of those harmless, aged, partially blind shaggy dogs that is kept around on this mortal coil strictly for sentimental purposes only, Liverpool well and truly gifted the thing to us.

The concern then, or at least the food for thought, is around how we deal with other guests at Wembley who are not quite so obliging. Liverpool and Dortmund were lured into something of a trap, invited to pile forward and then counter-attacked with all the rapier-like thrusts of a team of particularly sprightly musketeers. A loosely similar plan, of soak up and counter-attack, was effected, creditably enough, at the Bernabeu, and will presumably be adopted again in a couple of weeks.

But what we do with against the dross of the bottom half of the Premiership table remains a concern. Such blighters will not be quite so accommodating, but will doubtless sit back themselves with 9 or 10 behind the ball. One for the Brain’s Trust then, but at least Wembley has now become a place in which we can tear an opponent limb from limb.

6…

And finally, nothing to do with our heroes, but I happened to catch, on Match of the Day 2 last night, possibly the most brilliant goal I’ve ever seen. If you can, check out the random Southampton bean, Boufal I think he calls himself. Utterly incredible goal.

Liverpool 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

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

1. Davies

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

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

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

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

2. Dier

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

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

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

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

3. Resources

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

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

4. Dembele

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

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

5. Discipline

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

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

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

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

Spurs 4-0 WBA: Four Lilywhite Observations

Enjoying Themselves

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

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

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

Eriksen

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

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

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

Cracking Goals

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

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

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

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

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

Vertonghen Injury Repurcussions

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

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

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

Spurs 2-0 Villa: Five Lilywhite Observations

From the sublime of the markedly, almost scarily professional dismantling of Chelsea, to the pointedly less sublime of an FA Cup 3rd round win against lower league gubbins. This looked every inch the performance of reserves that was advertised in the trailer.

1. First Half Snoozing

The first half was marvellously soporific stuff, as players, fans and the viewing public alike settled in for a gentle Sunday afternoon nap. Naturally enough our first-reserves could not be faulted for effort, but for all their busy scurrying the product tended generally to be little more than a pass to the left, followed by a pass to the right. Even Mike Dean seemed rather uninterested by events on the greenery.

The most notable element of that snoozy opening 45 was the sight on the Villa bench of one Stephen Clemence, a man who once had the pleasure of sharing a nightclub urinal with AANP back in the 90s heyday. It was that sort of half really.

There was a dreadful lack of that neat trickery just outside the penalty area that Messrs Eriksen and Alli have turned into such a dreamy artform. The quick shifting of the orb, and busy off-the-ball buzz, was woefully absent. That Villa fielded literally a back-six did not really help matters, but that was almost the point of the thing, for they were hardly about to rock up to the gates, wave a white flag and politely request to be butchered.

2. Cissoko

Amongst those given a rare chance to flaunt his wares was Cissoko. One moment in the first half rather captured the chap in a microcosm, as he picked up the ball just inside his own half, surged past two or three opponents like some sort of warrior buffalo, then trod on the ball whilst running at full pelt, squirting it onto an opponent whereby it flew straight back off his shin and catapulted fifty yards forward into touch. Not something you or I could have done if we had practised for weeks.

Credit where due however, and the chappie’s day improved a notch or several in the second half. He will probably never be the subtlest bean on the counter, but that head-down/chest-out/limbs-everywhere/charge-right-through-you approach reaped a dividend or two as the game wore on. On a couple of occasions he managed to burst right through the Villa defence like a fist through a paper bag, and while he fluffed his lines after fashioning for himself a one-on-one, he did nifty job of setting up Son for our second.

3. Janssen. Sigh.

It was case of the old plus ca change and whatnot for poor old Janssen. Everything we have seen before, from the plodding attempts to outpace his man, to the well-weighted lay-offs, the look of a man who won’t score if he plays for another thousand years, right through to the early withdrawal. Nothing a seasoned watcher would not have predicted. Poor egg.

4. Alli and a Change in Fortune

Insult duly toddled along and positioned himself next to injury, as Janssen’s replacement, Dele Alli, promptly brought with him a change of tempo and fortunes. Alli offered oodles more movement and creativity on the ball, and the win pretty much took care of itself.

5. Other Semi-Bright Spots

On an underwhelming afternoon, there were a few half-decent performances. N’Koudou as ever looked like a lively sort of pup when he was flung on; young Winks gave another mature and feisty performance; Carter-Vickers at the back did little wrong, albeit without enduring the most testing afternoon.

Frankly, the point of the exercise was probably three-pronged: avoid a replay; avoid injuries/suspensions; win the dashed thing. As such, and with a welcome break for the regulars, this can go down as that most curious of beasts – an eminently forgettable, unqualified success.

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. A Distinct Lack of Energy

Well I can’t say that did much to whelm me. It’s not yet Christmas and the whole bally season already feels dreadfully flat. Even the 5-0 win last week was an oddly muted affair, with all and sundry still lamenting the Champions League debacle. Today it seemed that our heroes simply turned up and expected to walk off with the thing, with a distinct lack of hum or ding about them.

The peculiar game plan seemed to be to construct a series of pretty triangles between our own goalkeeper and defence, before losing the ball around halfway. To their credit the players seemed to nail this. A triumph of sorts then, but not really of much value in the grand scheme of things when all and sundry return to the ranch and compare notes.

The principle of playing out from the back is of course noble and gallant, but when not a smidgeon of creativity exists further forward one does rather wonder why they bother at all. More often than not it seemed to be left to Dembele and Wanyama to provide the creative spark, but with little movement around them it was a fairly lost cause.

2. Backwards Passing

Eriksen in recent weeks seems to have rediscovered his joie de vivre, and as such we peered eagerly in his direction for a little to joy to spread around the place, but today he seemed content to pass the ball backwards as often as not.

By and large the malady spread throughout the team, only really punctuated by such a bevy of misplaced passes that one wondered if some sort of private, festive game were underway within the dressing-room, in the finest tradition of footballers’ japery. If this were indeed the case then Kane presumably wins for striking the jackpot with a six-yard pass straight to an opponent that set up the winning goal. Bingo.

3. Lamela and the Pressing Game

That inadvertent assist appeared to be one of only a two or three occasions on which Kane touched the ball at all, which summed up the dreary state of things. Both he and Alli seemed to decide that today was absolutely 100% not the day to play the Pochettino high pressing game, and when the two furthest forward scoff at the notion the whole idea rather loses its way.

As such, I suddenly found myself with the most peculiar yearning to see Lamela back on the pitch. The young imp has never exactly proven himself to be a game-changer of the ilk that one would expect for £30 million, but he dashed well knows how to hurtle towards an opponent with the express intention of hurrying him along and breathing down his neck, what?

The absolute archetype of the pressing game was our win against Man City earlier in the season, and in a fixture like today’s, with a chance to put some daylight between ourselves and our nearest challenger, it would have seemed appropriate to replicate that particular formula. Alas not. No Lamela, and little in the way of high-pitch press from Kane, Alli or any of their chums. Instead, a gentle and harmless drift towards defeat.

4. Sissoko, Unlikely Near-Hero

Things perked up briefly around ten minutes into the second half, but by and large there seemed little likelihood of our lot stumbling into parity, until Sissoko of all people tripped over himself and landed on the pitch. To date, Sissoko has come across as a chap who can neither bat, bowl nor keep wicket, if you get my drift, so his introduction did little more than elicit a standard groan or two from the watching faithful.

But I’ll be dashed if the chap didn’t suddenly look the most threatening lilywhite on the pitch. Whether by accident or design is debatable, but as sure as day following night he managed to bundle his way past the full-back every blinking time he touched the thing. Moving like the alien queen in Aliens, all tangled limbs and awkwardness, he suddenly seemed the likeliest route back into the match. While he sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from, say, the silky touch of Son, he has a darned sight more brute force, and today gave an injection of pace and power that had been lacking throughout.

Quite what this means for the future is a little terrifying to contemplate, but after a series of displays that have been comically poor it was nice to see him bulldozing his way forward to some good effect.

5. Strange, Muted Times

It has been such a peculiar season to date that I rather than try to make sense of it I would prefer to pour myself a bourbon and have a lie down. A 5-0 win followed by defeat at Old Trafford is, all things digested, marginally cheerier than the relentless series of draws previously being churned out. The defeat at Chelsea was actually one of our better performances. The Champions League campaign has been as disastrous as these things can get without bursting into flames. What the deuces is it all about?

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint. One for a Secret Santa, what?

Spurs 2-0 Man City: Four Lilywhite Musings

As I dip the nib into the ink-pot and absorb the sparrows outside gaily linking arms and tangoing the afternoon away, I can’t help thinking that the mood in these parts is just about as perky as it has ever been, for this performance was right up there.

On the attack from literally the first toot, and impeccable in defence throughout (but particularly in that nerve-riddled final 20 or so), all against an all-conquering mob who generally blitz the dickens out of opponents with four or five goals per game – when have our heroes every played quite so well?

1. Son Up-Front

Poor old Janssen has lumbered around with the weight of the world on his shoulders since biffing up at the Lane, and it was no real surprise that on the biggest stage of all he was taken to one side and politely asked to shake hands with the unemployed. He snuffled things out on the bench, young Sonny was asked to fight the good fight upfront, and within twenty seconds the decision was vindicated with a blast of trumpets, for Son had already nutmegged the nearest City stooge and slammed a shot goalwards.

It set the tone. Harry Kane Mk II he may not be, but Son came armed to the gills with a different set of bells and whistles, and buzzed around the place from first minute to last, worming his way up the noses of any City defender within a stone’s throw and generally being a complete pest.

One does not really begrudge him for shooting rather than passing whenever he had the faintest whiff of goal, given his current form, and in general it was glorious to watch. On top of which, the reverse pass for the Alli goal prompted a chorus of delighted coos from across North London too.

When it was mentioned last year that in the absence of Kane we would pootle along just fine because Lamela, Son and the like could fill his boots, I rushed for the nearest wall and banged my head against it in exasperation. Well that rather teaches me, what? Son might not be the archetypal striker, but the chap will certainly make any back-four think twice before kicking off their shoes and settling in for a snooze.

2. The Pressing Game

Son’s gung-ho charge in the opening seconds set the tone for an attacking performance that could not have been more Pochettino-esque if it had started spouting slightly broken English with a cherubic grin.

Son, Alli, Eriksen, Lamela and just about anyone else who could fob off their defensive duties tore about City defenders like a pack of over-excited puppies scenting a new tree against which to raise a leg. As game plans go it might not necessarily have been rocket science, but our heroes clearly understood the Ts and Cs, and had a whale of a time haring after any City defender in possession.

The whole adventure was aided no end by the remarkably generous clown in the City goal, who resolutely refused simply to hack the ball to safety, but instead insisted on picking the most inappropriate moments to try out his Pele impressions. Looking every the sort of egg who gets his kicks from juggling knives, this so-called Last Line of Defence simply invited trouble at every juncture, and our lot could barely believe their luck.

And on it went, our relentless high pressing game. Indefatigable is the word, albeit with the caveat that they had all fatig-ed themselves out by about the 75th minute, and traipsed around the pitch on empty tanks thereafter, but the ploy was a cracking one and ultimately struck oil.

3. Midfield Bite

While our forwards made merry, the midfield battle was one for the grime-covered, gnarled, unshaven veterans of a muddy Wednesday night in Stoke. Wanyama in particular seemed thoroughly to enjoy the whole notion of clearing out ball, man and any women and children who happened to be in the vicinity, and frankly City’s dandy fun-makers were not allowed to settle.

Our lot wanted it more, ferreting around for loose balls as if they were nuggets of gold, and maintaining the tempo throughout. It really is one heck of a thing that Pochettino is lovingly moulding here, and one gets the impression that if he were to politely mumble “Jump”, to a man this entire squad would roar back at him, “How high, dash it?”

4. Rock-Solid Defence

Like any good action flick, having shot down the enemy and high-fived their way into the closing act, the action then switched to a good old-fashioned defence of the fortress for the finale, at which point Messrs Alderweireld and Vertonghen politely cleared their throats, polished their boots and marched into position.

Sensibly enough, everyone else in lilywhite promptly took their cue from these two, adopted their positions, and flung limbs in the way of City attacks like the things were going out of fashion. No doubt about it, City have a trick or two up their tattooed sleeves when going forward, and Aguero is an absolute force of nature, but our back-line were bound together let a particularly niftily constructed spider web, and there was no way through.

Bar the one that Lloris somehow managed to shovel onto the post, and admittedly bar the other half-dozen that the also had to save – but one gets the gist: our lot held firm, and the villagers were saved. Huzzah!

An absolute triumph then, for Spurs, Pochettino and what feels like the whole of humanity. The art of penalty-taking aside, every aspect was delivered with a whiff of a trooper at the peak of his powers, and against the finest team in the land. We probably will not win the Title, may not even finish Top Four, but performances like this dashed well make a man want to tame a lion, court a maiden and slam back a whisky.

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

Stoke 0-4 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Musings

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

1. Strength in Reserve

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

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

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

2. Good Fortune

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

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

3. Fine Young Things In Midfield

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

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

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

4. Kyle Walker and His Three Lungs

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

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

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

5. Kane Breaks His Duck

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

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

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

Spurs 1-1 Liverpool: Five Lilywhite Musings

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

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

1. Vorm Earns His Corn

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

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

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

2. The Strangely Impotent Forward Line

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

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

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

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

3. Useful Input From Rose

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

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

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

4. A Small Nod in the Direction of Wanyama

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

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

5. Return of Dembele – What of Dier?

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs 1-0 Palace: Four Lilywhite Musings

A new season, and to all intents and purposes the same serving of near-incessant pressure against a well-drilled defensive mob – but we at AANP Towers are nothing if not eagle-eyed, and the subtle differences being paraded to the masses yesterday did not escape detection.

There was the giant hole in the stadium for a start, which those with less keen powers of observation might simply have overlooked, or dismissed as one of those things that happens during the summer months. And then there were the moderate but unmistakeable tweaks to various knobs and dials that Pochettino had effected in advance of proceedings. For a start we tumbled out onto the pitch with a Dele Alli-shaped hole in the midfield; and with Kane now occupying a more withdrawn role; while Janssen swanned around atop the formation. Changes so delicate that many would have failed to notice, but the AANP detective squad were all over them, every sense atuned and sinew strained.

1. Janssen’s Home Debut

Football observers of a particularly wily vintage will tell you that mid-August is no time to be flinging around judgements of new signings. The Test series has only just ended, the Olympians are still just about aiming faster, higher and whatnot – give the big-money signing another five minutes at least to catch his breath and re-read his notes.

So the distinctive whiff emanating from AANP Towers is not judgement, or any particular doubt about the new lad’s ability, but simply fear. The unmistakeable fear of the Spurs fan who has watched on over the years, as the shiny and rather pricey new bounder takes to the field in attack, and proceeds to fluff his lines. Postiga, Bent, Soldado – all men who arrived at the Lane looking bucked and full of the joys, and with good reason too, because all were, in their own ways, rather nifty in one medium or other. But somehow things simply did not fall into place in front of goal, and now if one closes the eyes and tiptoes down Memory Lane, the first dashed image that springs to mind is the pained look of disbelief shared by each of Messrs Postiga, Bent and Soldado (typically accompanied by hands raised headwards) as yet another chance flew left, or right, or into the ‘keepers arms, or into the side netting, or into orbit – frankly any dashed place but the net.

One shudders. And one certainly does not judge Janssen, because in truth he seems a decent sort of bean when kitted out in lilywhite, ticking such boxes as “Laudable Movement”, “Lay-Offs Weighted Just So” and “Robust Sort of Blighter”. So if anything, the judgement is that the chap does indeed appear to cross enough t’s and dot enough i’s to give Kane five minutes every now and then to catch his breath and swig an isotonic whatsit.

But the fear remains, because the chap dashed well needs to beg, steal or borrow a goal at some point soonish, or the thing will start weighing on his mind, what? The chance last week he tucked into well enough, but the ‘keeper thrust out a paw and such was life. With the first chance yesterday – the rebound from Kane’s effort – again one could hardly quibble that he failed to get the basics right or suchlike, but life being what it is the ball stayed out.

It was the final chance, through on goal in the second half, which really brought the first sense of fear my way. Clean through, defenders politely stepping aside, net beckoning warmly. The thing only required him to sign on the dotted line, but instead he channelled the spirit of a thousand Bents or Soldados. The major concern is that if he goes without a goal for any length of time the issue might begin to gnaw away at him, as can happen to a blighter with a thing on his mind, and before you know it he has packed his bags and shuffled off with tears in his eyes, and his friends turn to each other and say “What the deuces happened to him, he seemed rather a sharp old nut?”

However, with a bit of luck he’ll casually bang home a couple next time out, and we can all live happily ever after.

2. Kane’s New Home

Should any defence be needed of young Master Janssen, one might point out that Kane has not exactly been pelting them in from all angles so far this season either.

Yesterday, our glorious leader took the fairly radical measure of deploying two in attack, with Kane playing Sheringham to Janssen’s Shearer. Given that this was a home match against a team whose drill was always likely to be sit back, lap the thing up and hope for a handy bolt of lightning from above or some other such stroke of luck, the Two-In-Attack gambit made a truckload of sense, so Pochettino duly receives an approving nod.

And to his credit, Kane seemed to roll through proceedings like a man pretty well versed in the art (not entirely surprisingly, given that he has dabbled in it before). Yesterday was not necessarily a masterclass, but he rolled up his sleeves and ferried things around like a well-trained hound, and did not scrimp when it came to blasting the bally thing towards goal with everything he could muster.

A couple of shots from distance, plus a header narrowly wide, suggested that here was a man whose lust for life was not diminished by his new set of responsibilities – and for good measure he rallied round just when things appeared to be slipping away, to nod the thing goalwards for Wanyama to pop it in.

3. Dele Alli

No doubt about it, one or two tongues wagged pre kick-off yesterday, when news of Dele Alli’s demotion rippled around, but the truth of thing was rather more mundane than some would have had us believe. The poor lamb had been under the weather, nothing more sinister.

Nevertheless, news that he was only on the bench was generally greeted with a considered and approving nod around these parts. This season promises to be quite the ordeal, with European concerns now to be treated as meaningful rather than a chance for the reserves to parade their wares. At some point or other, our heroes will need to be omitted, and at home to Palace seems as reasonable a time as any.

As it happened, when he was finally introduced, Alli’s impact was a credit to the NHS, because the chap seemed to be in rude health. The pass to Janssen for the second half chance was masterfully delivered, and later on he let fly with a shot that earned top marks for technique and aesthetics, if falling short by a whisker or two in the accuracy stakes.

4. Life Without Dembele

A congratulatory word for Victor Wanyama, who looked suitably braced with his efforts, and why not? Wanyama certainly applies himself with the sort of rigour that one likes to see from the stands, and which one hopes sends a message to the chums either side of him that there is something to be said for getting stuck in and giving it what for.

It is probably fair to say that he does not quite replicate the role of Dembele, in terms of acting as marauder par excellence, but that’s not really the point. I’m not sure that another man exists in Christendom who can replicate the Dembele role. Wanyama offers a different sort of basket of eggs, and it is a dashed useful one to have, and certainly a notch up on the alternatives (Carroll, Mason and the like).

Dembele will presumably be welcomed back into the fold with open arms and a hearty embrace once his sentence is served; but bear in mind that whenever he was absent last season, we more or less folded like a pack of cards on a blustery day at the seafront. This time round we have a win and a draw without him already, so let this be a ringing endorsement for squad reinforcement.

A solid start then, and already an improvement on this time last season. To have achieved this without two of the more influential souls in the line-up (Lloris and Dembele), and having fairly successfully integrated a couple of new faces, bodes jolly well.

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

Everton 1-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Slow Start

Cantering past Inter in a pre-season jaunt is one thing, but the whole purpose of those warm-up jamborees was to ensure that our entire mob snapped into the agenda as soon as the referee tooted his whistle to begin 2015/16. Alas, our heroes took to the first half with all the dash and verve of a languid cat casually settling in for forty afternoon winks.

There was a sizeable slab of onus on the dainty shoulders of Eriksen in that first half, to grab the thing by the scruff of its neck, but instead he preferred to ruffle its fur and tickle its tummy. Alli and Lamela applied themselves with suitable levels of huff and puff, but success in these matters is measured by skewered opposition defences rather than beads of perspiration.

Inevitably enough, in a nostalgic nod to the days of Stephen Carr at the turn of the century, our most meaningful threat seemed to emanate from right-back, where Kyle Walker gleefully took one deep breath and proceeded to motor up and down the line non-stop for 45 minutes, like a particularly fleet-footed cheetah hitching a lift on one of those modified supercars that are capable of breaking the sound barrier.

The Everton defence, however, sailed through that opening 45 in remarkably unconcerned fashion. Mover, there was a whiff of fallibility each time our centre-backs were made to turn and run. As if to put a representative stamp on things, Monsieur Lloris then hobbled off stage right, and matters were most certainly in rum territory when the half-time pips sounded.

2. Pochettiono Lives By The Sword

If affairs in the first half were undertaken with a distinct air of the underwhelming, they jolly well perked up a notch second time around. Much of this was due to the introduction for the first time in lilywhite of young Master Janssen – and particularly for the cunning decision to play him alongside rather than instead of Kane. As such, our glorious leader can bask in the warm glow of his first congratulatory gold star of the new season. His decision to dispense with resident guard-dog Eric Dier, in order to accommodate Janssen in a two-man attack, was a jolly bold one only ten minutes into the second half.

The risk of duly dying by the sword was lingering in the air, but the move paid dividends. With two strikers flaunting their wares, the Everton rearguard found themselves working overtime, and our supporting cast of Lamela, Eriksen and Alli started to enjoy things a little more.

3. Bodies In The Box

One of the problems of playing Kane as a lone striker last season was that he often resembled the deeply unpopular chap at school, left to mooch around on his own, not a chum within twenty yards of him. How it warmed the cockles then, bang on the hour, to see Walker whip in a cross towards more than one lilywhite shirt in the penalty area. Lamela showed the hunger for the fight that is fast becoming a trademark of sorts, in getting his immaculately-coiffeured crown to the thing, and thereafter it became a Tottenham-run affair.

4. Janssen Debut

The introduction of Janssen then was certainly a turning point of sorts, but one would be rather stretching things to say that the chap himself made the difference, if you get my drift. The change in formation did the necessaries.

Janssen himself? Well no doubt about it, his jib is cut in a way that meets with approval here at AANP Towers. He boasts the sort of commanding frame that one would generally steer clear of, seems to know his left from right when it comes to linking up play and partaking in general one-touchery, and by and large seemed happy enough to run the good race and make himself a nuisance.

A shame then that he was unable to apply the coup de grâce when the goal beckoned like an inviting lady of the night, but such is the run of things. One senses that he has enough of an all-round game for his name to flash in neon lights in the not too distant future.

5. Wanyama on Debut

Nice to have Wanyama in the fold. Where last season the absence of Dembele would result in the Panic Gong being hastily sounded as Mason or some such middling sort was foisted into the middle, this time round it does at least seem like we have a first-reserve who looks at home on sentry duty. Wanyama strikes me as the sort who would quite happily spend all season chasing down an opponent like a feral animal sensing blood, winning the ball, giving the aforementioned opponent a healthy shove into the bargain, and playing a simple five-yard pass to a nearby chum. A useful summer signing.

Not without his flaws, mind. One would hope it is not too obvious a sign of things to come that his first half was punctuated with concession of a pair of central free-kicks, one of which led to the Everton goal, the other bringing a fingertip save from Lloris. Three red cards last season suggests that dedicated adherence to the rules and regulations is not the chap’s principal asset.

6. Six On A List Of Five. I Spoil You.

And thus we up and run. An opening day fixture away to Everton, particularly under new management, did not look the most straightforward task conceivable, and so it proved. Mildly irksome in truth, as I would happily venture that with a head of mid-season steam we might have turned them over, but in such ways do cookies crumble.

Having started sluggishly last season, one hopes that our heroes will be firing on every cylinder available by next weekend, because these dropped points do not really contribute to a barrel of laughs come May.

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

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