All Action, No Plot

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Villa 2-3 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Shaky Defence and Avoidable Opening Goal

Villa started like a runaway train, which was a reasonable enough stance for them to adopt, so no complaints there, but what did irk was the unnecessarily obliging fashion in which we let them rampage about the place.

The legend surrounding our newest Glorious Leader is that he is the sort of bean who likes nothing better than sitting down with a troupe and instilling the fundamentals of defending deep within their very souls. And Jose having been treated to a good ten days or so to do exactly that, my hopes of seeing some green shoots of defensive stability were, if not exactly high, at least registering on the scale.

However, the evidence paraded was pretty emphatically to the contrary, right from kick-off. In fact, we managed to begin the game looking for all the world like a team hanging on for dear life in the dying embers, which made the mind swim a bit.

Evidently swimming minds was a bit of a theme, because our back four spent those opening exchanges stumbling around as if punch drunk. The fault did not lie entirely at their door, as little was offered by our midfield by way of protection from their runners or wing-backs, but in general the phrase “Knife through butter” was the one that sprung to mind as Villa repeatedly cantered through.

Their opener neatly summed up the state of things at the back. He has generally escaped censure, but I thought Ben Davies could have done more than merely waggle a leg in the first place, allowing the Newcastle lad to gather a head of steam down their right.

The cross that followed admittedly caught a deflection that made it dip in the flight, but I still jabbed an accusatory finger at Monsieur Lloris, for taking one meaningful step towards the ball – as if to come out all guns blazing to gather it and uproot any other object in his path – and then deciding that the quiet life was for him.

And Toby similarly might have averted catastrophe if he had approached the matter with a decisive air and clouted the ball to kingdom come, but alas, between the ball’s dipping flight and Lloris’ quiet life there appeared to be too many variables for the chap to compute, and one could almost see the steam rise from his frazzled circuits as he plopped the ball into his own net.

2. The Front Four And Chances Made

Mercifully, matters improved steadily thereafter. There was still a flimsiness about our defence (although I thought Sanchez went about earning his weekly envelop with admirable composure and solidity), but further north we gradually found our bearings.

Oddly enough, we actually benefited from Villa’s bright opening, as they seemed emboldened to throw men forward, which set things up nicely for our counter-attack. A pleasing irony.

The interplay of Son, Lucas, Dele and Bergwijn acted as a pretty welcome restorative, after the shambles we had sprayed in all directions when in retreat. It appeared that all four members of the quartet were well rehearsed in their dinky passes and searing runs, and the chances duly flowed.

In fact, I cannot remember many occasions in recent times on which the chances have flowed quite so liberally. Playing a lesser light of the Premier League undoubtedly chivvies these things along, but nevertheless. It seemed that every couple of minutes one of our front four were haring into the penalty area.

The effect was admittedly spoilt by the inability of the aforementioned front four to applying the finishing touch, but they undoubtedly generated goodwill in the construction of each chance, and the mood at AANP Towers was accordingly positive. The goals will come”, whispered the voice in my head, and it had a point, for the important thing seemed to be to continue to create chances, rather than worrying too much about the fact that they every one of them seemed to be pinged straight down the gullet of the Villa ‘keeper.

Aside from the general, warm fuzziness provided by seeing our lot repeatedly carve out opportunities, perhaps the most pleasing aspect was the fact that rather than run out of ideas and pass sideways, with half-hearted shrugs as if to say “Out of ideas over here, guv,” when in possession our lot began dabbling in neat, short, diagonal passes forward, complemented by intelligent running ahead of them. Just five- and ten-yard stuff, but it was between the lines, visibly befuddled Villa and generally created a platform for one or other of our mob to have a crack.

Where previously hammering away at teams has much about it of simply banging one’s head against a wall, today, rather than scuttle up cul-de-sacs, our forwards regularly picked out sensible, short, forward passes that moved matters swiftly on. Admittedly none of the three goals were directly due to such devilry, but one could plausibly argue that the cumulative effect of our pressure had some bearing.

3. Dele Alli’s Swagger

He may have spurned chance after chance after chance, but I shall assume that when Dele Alli lights up his meditative evening pipe he will look back on his day with some satisfaction.

Stationed, in the first half at least, high up the pitch behind the main striker, he timed his forward bursts well to provide options to those around him, which we would all do well to bear in mind next time heated dispute breaks out over the whereabouts of his most effective position.

This in itself was pretty stirring stuff, and appreciative nods were therefore already the order of the day. However, what really had me nudging those nearby and murmuring that the chap looks to have returned to former glories was the general swagger with which he peddled his wares.

Not that I go in for this sort of thing in my daily rounds, but seeing him breeze around the pitch with a certain arrogance, wanting to be at the hub of things and rolling out the occasional flick and trick, made for an encouraging sight.

4. Another Breezy Showing From Bergwijn

The boy Bergwijn was another who had evidently taken it up himself pre-game to endear himself to AANP, and I am happy to report that the delivery was every bit as effective as the intent.

Where Son, Lucas and Dele seemed keen to jink inside and sniff around in central areas, as if keen to be up-to-date on all current affairs in the vicinity, Bergwijn tended to keep to himself a little more, generally stationing himself within shouting distance of the left-hand touchline and letting the others take care of things more centrally.

Which is not to say he shirks his responsibilities; far from it. Once the ball approached his sphere of influence – and in fact, pleasingly, even when it did not – he sparked into life and went tearing up the left flank.

His pace causes problems, he is not shy about taking a shot and, with the enthusiasm one would expect of a new cadet eager to please, he seems happy enough to toddle back and muck in with the less glamorous stuff. “Quietly effective” just about sums it up. In common with his attacking chums he spurned a handful of presentable chances, but he made himself a nuisance throughout, and appears to be a handy additional string to the bow.

Calling all Spurs fans – if you like to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players, then leave a comment below, or drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

Spurs 2-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

The gist of the opening 50 or so minutes is that nothing happened, and at a pretty relentless rate.

Well, for the benefit of the pedants who like things just so, nothing positive happened. Pedantically speaking, there was plenty going on about which to slap palm to forehead and liberally scatter curses.

In fact, the tone was set straight from kick-off, when the ball was rolled back to Toby, and the ensuing opening minute was spent observing – in rather aghast fashion, I don’t mind adding – the sight of each member of our central defensive triumvirate dwelling upon the ball for half a dozen touches, before rolling it sideways to the next member of the Toby-Jan-Davinson axis to do exactly the same. Towards the concept of bright and enterprising forward progression, precious little thought was devoted.

1. Lucas Provides the Saprk

So it was that approximately 49 minutes later, Lucas Moura stumbled upon the dramatic concept of applying some urgency to proceedings. The results were both immediate and gratifying. The Brighton defence, which, until that point, to a man, had been gently dozing as our heroes scratched heads and pottered ineffectively in front of them, were suddenly forced to react to improvised attacking play, and it’s fair to opine that they preferred life the way it had been in the preceding 49-odd minutes.

Lucas, who has about him much of the naturally-talented-but-exasperatingly-selfish playground footballer, took up a position that can probably be loosely described as Central Midfield, and opted each time he received the ball to ignore his teammates and instead try dribbling past every man and his dog bedecked in Brighton black.

Ricochets abounded, and precious little in the way of clear goalscoring chances were created, but the simple act of tearing straight at the heart of the Brighton defence like a rabid beast was enough both to cause obvious discomfort to Brighton, and to rouse all around in lilywhite from their slumbers.

The paying public were invigorated – and not before time – while Lucas’ own teammates took the hint and, one by one and in stages, began to contemplate removing the handbrake.

Ultimately it was another of Lucas’ not entirely flawless slaloms that did the trick, as he ran out of space and flung his hands into the air, while the ball helpfully pinged off several Brighton limbs and into the path of Kane, who did the rest.

Until Lucas’ little display of indulgence precious little creativity had emanated from any of our heroes, so while far from perfect I am quite happy to bestow upon the chap the epithet Gamechanger-In-Chief.

2. Lo Celso’s Impressive Cameo

Every Batman needs a Robin however, and the unlikely sidekick to Lucas, in his sudden twenty-minute burst of intensity, was the rarely-sighted Giovanni Lo Celso.

A fleeting cameo it might have been, but the chap showed numerous tantalising glimpses of talent and appetite for the scrap. Not that he is one of life’s natural scrappers, but it was certainly pleasing to see that upon losing possession he fought like a wronged infant to retrieve it.

Moreover, the aesthetes amongst us could not fail to be impressed by the sight of him receiving the ball and sweetly pinging it first-time to diagonally-positioned chums. None of that six-touch nonsense being peddled so enthusiastically by the back-three in minute one. Lo Celso gave the impression of one who looks this way and that prior to receiving possession, so that as soon as the ball reaches him he can instantly send it elsewhere.

For a rather bizarre fifteen minutes or so, he and Lucas were the architects of the swing of momentum back towards N17.

3. Our Winning Goal and Its Constituent Parts

On Lucas and Lo Celso’s example, various others roused themselves to battle, and ultimately it was a win, comprising greater parts fight than beauty – which in the grand scheme of things is rare enough around N17 to be pretty satisfactory.

That said, the winning goal shone out like a beacon in a land of eternal night-time, boasting a couple of moments of gorgeous quality.

For a start there was the backspun, crossfield ball from Eriksen, over the head of a retreating Brighton bod and into the path of the northward-bound Aurier. Now Eriksen has done much in the last 12 months or so to make himself persona non grata around AANP Towers, but being a reasonable soul I can still appreciate top-notch foot-to-ball contact, and there will be few nuts struck more sweetly this Boxing Day than that particular Eriksen pass.

Credit also by the sackful to Serge Aurier. He may display much about him of the leaking pipe when asked to do the defensive thing, but stick him in and around the opposition area and his eyes seem to light up.

Admittedly he was prompted to dash towards the byline by the irresistible cross from Eriksen, but once there, he displayed a hitherto unknown delicacy in cushioning a volley backwards into the onrushing Dele. It was a pretty difficult-looking skill to execute, but one he did like one trained in the art for years.

And finally, Dele, a man transformed under Jose, had the presence of mind to whizz through the pretty long list of ways in which he might have made a pig’s ear of the finish, ignore them all and instead deliver the required coup de grace with an impressive combo of delicacy and power.

4. Winks Frustrates Again

Another curious – and largely frustrating – chapter in the life of Harry Winks. Stationed as one half of a two-man defensive barricade that barely had a defensive bone in its two bodies, the onus on Winks was largely to collect the ball from those within earshot and spray accordingly.

I suppose by the letter of the law he generally did this. He just did it in such a frustratingly defensive fashion that one was inclined to click the tongue and ask what the hell the point of it was. Time and again he received possession, swerved as if to go forwards, much to the delight of the paying public, and then checked, as if the angel on his shoulder had called an impromptu conference and was delivering some pretty stern words, and before one could yelp “Just travel forward with the ball, dash it”, he had swerved back towards his own goal, and taken the distribution option marked ‘Safety First, Safety Always’.

Watching the aforementioned Eriksen ping for our second goal did make me yearn for Winks to show a little more ambition in his passing. One suspects that the chap has such tricks lurking in his top hat, but alas, one of life’s risk-takers he is not. (Unless the risk involves scything down an opponent in bookable fashion, in which case he’s all for it.)

Gratingly, the one flash of invention he did display was such a peach of a pass that Harry Kane felt obliged to dab it into the net, only for VAR to rear its automated head. A few more of those such game-changing passes, however, would not go amiss.

Spurs 5-0 Burnley: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sonny’s Wonder Goal

Only one place to start. Bless him, Sonny appeared to misread the invitation, and rather than going through the motions in dirge-like fashion as would befit a cold and wet December afternoon, he trotted out the sort of once-in-a-lifetime fare that one normally reserves for when the Queen oozes into town.

I suspect that even now, 24 hours later, some of the patrons are still on their feet applauding, because that was a goal the like of which is now only ever seen in the playground or on the computer box. Put bluntly, nobody dribbles past the entire team any more. It was a relic of a bygone era, and a pretty glorious one at that.

For all the tittle-tattle about Jose, new tactics, ballboys, and so on and so forth, there was something most gratifying about seeing a mist descend upon a player, and then seeing said player give a shrug as if to say “To heck with all this, I’m going to run the entire length of the pitch and take on literally every player in the opposing team before scoring”.

2. The Front Four

It seems over-generous to tip the hat in Dele’s direction, for the decoy run that created a yard of space for Son to set off on his gallop, because it would not have mattered if there were no team-mates on the pitch at all – Son would still have taken on anyone Burnley threw at him.

Nevertheless, Dele did head off in a westerly direction as Son headed north, and it struck me as a pleasing aspect of Jose’s Tottenham that enthusiastic backing from the supporting cast of forwards is very much a feature of our attacking play now.

Dele has attracted the recent headlines, Kane tends to score whatever the circumstances and Son will never stop buzzing around – but it is the fact that when the ball breaks this lot spring into action as a quartet (featuring Lucas or Sissoko, as appropriate, as the fourth musketeer) that catches the eye.

Watching all four of them hare off as one towards goal reminds me of those nature programmes in which a veritable gaggle of fish take it upon themselves to switch direction en masse, almost as if they’ve been rehearsing the move for weeks. Flocks of birds dabble in this practice too, I’ve noticed over the course of my thirty-eight summers. And now, on the signal of a ball blooted towards the opposition goal, our front four of Kane, Dele, Son and Lucas/Sissoko have taken this particular gag, first demonstrated in nature, and neatly perfected it while wearing football boots and Nike clobber.

It’s a heck of a party piece, providing numerous moving parts upon which the opposition defence need to keep tabs. As it happened, of our five goals, the one with the least to recommend it in the aesthetics department was the one which owed most to the all four members of the quartet. Lucas’ goal came about as a result of Sonny’s dribble, Kane’s decoy run and Dele snuffling for scraps. Had but one of them lost interest halfway through the routine, and ambled along towards the area at half-pace, the goal would not have been forced. Which just goes to show.

3. Kane – An Unlikely Undercard

The problem with the metronomic, robotic efficiency of Harry Kane is that after a while it is tempting to take the young stub for granted. One is inclined to mooch around noting that the sun has risen, a selection of leaves have fallen and Harry Kane has notched another goal. Human nature I suppose, and I am as guilty of this as the best of them.

So, easy though it is to lose sight of his input during a five-goal rout that featured arguably the goal of the season, one probably ought to scribble a note to remind oneself that Kane scored two – and not just that but his opener was all his own work and set a tone that was very necessary.

Had he not scored so early, one can never be quite sure how things might have panned out, but on the back of a mightily underwhelming midweek performance, a fast start was dashed handy stuff.

Nor was that opener a tap-in either, or the result of a finely-crafted team move. When he collected the ball the opposition goalkeeper may have began preparing his game-face, but one would be hard pressed to suggest that there was any imminent danger. And yet Kane demonstrated, not for the first time, that he does not really care for such niceties and social norms. Few others would think to leather a shot from that range, but that’s part of the quality of the chap.

That goal out of nothing set the tone, and within five minutes the game was as good as done.

And that is before mentioning the absolutely exquisite pass he played a moment later, inside the Burnley full-back and into the path of Aurier. It is likely to be forgotten as the dust settles and other highlights are re-watched, but during the entire game that pass was bettered only by Son’s goal. (The perfectly-weighted return pass for Sissoko’s goal was another masterpiece – and yet only the fourth best thing Kane did yesterday.)

4. Toby’s Long Passes

A feature of the Jose reign has been the welcome return, like some long-lost lover, of the sight of Toby Alderweireld pinging fifty-yard passes slap bang into the path of one of the attacking mob.

Quite why this feature disappeared from our play is an oddity, having been such a tool in the armoury for a couple of years, but disappear it did, as part of the general implosion of the final year or so of Poch’s reign.

However, it is back now in glorious technicolour, and wheeled out at least a couple of times each game – and why not? Not only does Toby have the happy knack of sticking a pass onto a postage stamp from absolute miles out, but the whole routine is a pretty nifty way of keeping opponents on their toes, varying the type of attack and making for a pleasant change from the short-pass routine.

It won’t always work, I suppose, but when dusted down and wheeled out yesterday all the pipes appeared in rude health, and we can expect it to continue to be a feature.

A rare clean sheet, an improved Dier shielding performance and some enthusiastic flaps from the younglings all helped to round off a pretty satisfactory afternoon. It’s the sort of thing we should be doing regularly at home against the middling lot – but it was a habit that became neglected under Poch, so this sort of result helps no end to shove us towards the Top Four.

AANP’s book is available online – making a handy Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Everton 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. One Red Card and Two Penalty Shouts

First of all one wishes Andre Gomes well.

Yet at the risk of drawing a dirty glance or two, the severity of the injury ought not to colour one’s observations on the bread and butter of things – as was the case with poor old Monsieur Lloris a couple of weeks ago, whose arm injury did not exonerate a faux pas of pretty seismic proportions.

So today, though one did not particularly want to dwell on the replays of the incident, there seemed little to merit a red card, and the official rationale – that the challenge endangered the safety of the opponent – is hardly watertight stuff. A late challenge for sure, a yellow card offence most sages would agree, but the injury appeared to come from poor old Gomes’ landing.

This left our lot down to ten men for around fifteen or twenty minutes – as ever, there’s no knowing how we might have fared with eleven, but being down to ten was hardly of assistance.

As for the penalty shouts – a clash of knees by the Everton chap on Son, and a rogue, waving hand from Dele – the AANP stance, as ever, is that as soon as one makes contact with an attacker, or raises a hand in the area, one’s grounds for complaint quickly descend to wafer-thin levels. Don’t give the referee the option, and there will be no need to practice the poker face as the VAR bods do their stuff.

2. Yet Another Eriksen Off-Day

One does not like to denigrate one’s fellow man, particularly when they clock in for a shift at the office simply to put a loaf or two on the table, but this was pretty dreadful fare from most concerned, and Christian Eriksen obligingly epitomised the dross on show by turning in what is now becoming his trademark for season 2019/20.

The game was absolutely yowling for a midfielder with a sprinkling of class in his size nines to holler for possession and dominate proceedings accordingly. Eriksen’s CV certainly has enough about it to suggest that in circumstances such as these, he’s your man, but once again the Eriksen who spent his afternoon misplacing passes was a shadow of the chap who once picked out the eyes of needles and demonstrated the sort of technique of which we mortals can only dream.

With the Sissoko-Ndombele axis behind him providing a fairly serviceable and solid base, and his position in the Number 10 role essentially giving him a free pass on the defensive front, the stage was set for Eriksen to enjoy himself and wow the regulars.

He did hint at a return to the Eriksen of yore on a couple of occasions – one first half pass from the centre circle almost had Son in behind the last defender; and a second half free-kick was neatly placed into a dangerous area behind the Everton defensive line – but really, when one pays one’s entrance fee and sees the chap’s name in lights, one expects a heck of a lot more from his performance.

3. More Glimpses From Ndombele

He’s still not quite motoring along like the reincarnation of peak Mousa Dembele, but Tanguy Ndombele is continuing to inch his way in that direction.

Ideally one would have liked the chap regularly to have picked up the ball just inside his own half, and within two shakes of a lamb’s tail have turned back-foot into front-foot, either via the medium of a particularly cunning pass, or otherwise a drop of the shoulder and short gallop north.

There were hints of this sort of thing, but generally the bounding fellow tended to adopt more of a safety-first option, turning back-foot into more of a position of calm than anything definitively front-foot, by picking up the ball in a position of potential peril, and finding someone nearby in considerably less peril. It wasn’t the sort of stuff that turned the game on its head; rather it put out the occasional fire and restored order to those in lilywhite. In a game desperately low on quality, it rather caught the wearied eye.

4. A Moment of Class From Dele

The rehabilitation of Dele Alli slowly continues. In common with everyone else who set foot on the pitch, he hardly delivered a performance that blew the mind and challenged everything we ever knew – but he did at least inject into the game our one moment of quality.

Son’s pass to him was pretty topping stuff by the way, and has been rather underrated, but once Dele had the thing in his possession he weaved his way goalward with admirable poise – aided, admittedly, by some comically generous defending – and then delivered a similarly pleasing coup de grace. Amidst the dirge-like goings-on of the rest of the game, the aesthetics of it all stood out a mile, and would have made for a fitting winner.

It hardly constitutes a return to the headiest heights for the young nib, but cumulatively the signs are beginning to stack up that the chap is remembering his lines. One would like to see him make some more telling contributions to our build-up play, and offer more regular goalscoring threat, but within a desperately sub-par team, Dele’s trajectory is at least a positive one.

So this most mediocre of seasons limps on. This really ought to have been won, for Everton lack either the quality of the bigger teams or tenacity of the lesser ones; on top of which they barely threatened until they did finally score. A chance missed then, and the wait for a genuine upturn in fortunes continues.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Liverpool 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Waiting Until We Trail To Begin Playing

So that was a game of one seven-ninth and one two-ninth, if ever I saw it. (Strictly speaking, it was more a game of one minute, one seven-ninth and one two-ninth, but I suppose such pedantry can be overlooked on Sundays.)

Having got our noses in front at the earliest possible convenience, our heroes collectively decided to shuffle back as deeply as the laws of the game allowed, and rather inevitably did not budge from this obviously doomed tactic until Liverpool had taken the lead, at around the 70 minute mark.

Thereafter, and with only 20 minutes remaining, they hit upon the remarkable notion of actually taking the fight to their hosts. The whole farcical spectacle made one fling one’s hands in the air and wonder what the point of it all is.

Who knows how things might have panned out had our lot tried to keep possession and link midfield to attack earlier in the piece? One understands the principle of exercising some caution and avoiding unnecessary risks, but we seemed to afford our hosts the sort of respect one would normally reserve for 1970 Brazil. Arguably if we had displayed more attacking intent in the first hour we would still have lost, but the All-Action-No-Plot streak that courses through the veins rather wishes we had lived a smidgeon more by the sword, rather than waiting until the dying embers, to die wondering.

Easy to blame Our Glorious Leader for the ultra-conservative approach, but I doubt that the instructions were to sit quite so deep. In fact, for the first twenty, a semblance of a gameplan seemed to poke its head into view and offer a cheery wave. The formation appeared to be along 4-2-3-1 lines rather than 4-5-1; our counter-attack had a sprinkling of menace (witness our opener); and if anything there was something heartening about the zeal with which our lot adopted a well-organised set-up when out of possession.

But inch by inch and minute by minute, good organisation out of possession morphed into something vastly more negative, and by the half hour mark we appeared to have set up legal residence in the fifteen yards or so outside our own penalty area, the thought of venturing any further north evidently the last thing on anyone’s mind.

2. Eriksen

If Christian Eriksen thinks the blame is all going to be directed at tactics and he can simply sidle quietly out of view, he will jolly well have another think coming.

In his defence, it was hardly his fault that he spent his entire match chasing Robertson’s shadow. This did admittedly appear a thankless task for someone whose DNA does not exactly brim with the ins and outs of tracking opposing attackers. Moreover, ill-suited though he was to such an activity, he did not shirk it, and instead hared around with willing, albeit to only moderate effect.

However, in a game that increasingly cried out for some control and possession, I don’t mind pointing a finger in Eriksen’s direction, and giving it a couple of meaningful jabs for good measure, for we barely strung three passes together for the first hour or so – and if Eriksen cannot contribute to this particular challenge, for which nature appears specifically to have created him, then one is entitled to wonder what the dickens he is doing on the pitch.

The game-plan was evidently to hit Liverpool at breakneck speed on the counter, but after incessant defensive drills one would have thought there would have been some merit in simply retaining possession for a few minutes, and letting Liverpool shuffle back into their own half. This ought to have been Eriksen’s brand of cognac, but the chap offered precious little in possession, and while he was by no means the only culprit, this can go down as yet another big game in which he offered precious little to justify the reputation.

3. Dele Alli

In recent games young Dele seems to have rolled up his sleeves and at least given the appearance of trying to right a few wrongs. This has presumably been due to his jettisoning from the England squad rather than anything else, but the shoots of a return to form have been spotted by the particularly eagle-eyed, so one was inclined to hope for the best today.

Alas, as with Eriksen, the whole back-foot set-up seemed to grab young Dele squarely by the shoulders and fling him a considerable distance out of his comfort zone. Where we looked to the young bean to link midfield to attack, instead he simply had to roll out an Eric Dier impression and chase Liverpool shadows in midfield.

To an extent both Eriksen and Dele can plead mitigating circumstances, because they certainly did not sign up to such nonsense as tracking opposing forwards thirty yards from their own goal. Yet there they both were, and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that neither appeared particularly thrilled with life.

Sympathy was in short supply from these quarters, however. When life gives you lemons, you must, as the adage has it, make lemonade; and when Liverpool hog possession and throw wave after wave of attack at you, you must cherish the few touches of the ball that they offer, and show some composure in possession. Alas, it is a damning indictment on both Messrs Eriksen and Alli that neither lemonade nor any semblance of composed possession was on display.

I suppose we should not be surprised that Dele seemed more like his old self once we fell behind, for at that point the whole team shifted forward into attacking positions, and he appeared vastly more comfortable with his surroundings.

4. Gazzaniga

A note on Paolo Gazzaniga, who did not do a whole lot wrong, throughout the ninety.

Now this might sound like the faintest praise with which to damn a chap, but when one puts it into the context of Hugo Lloris and his ever more inventive modes of calamity, simply “not doing a whole lot wrong” gives Gazzaniga the sheen of some divine being, sent from on high.

His saves were solid enough, but in truth shot-stopping was never Lloris’ weakness. It was the other business, the bread and butter stuff, that caught the eye – which again, sounds a bit of an oddity until one puts it into the context of Lloris. Gazzaniga caught crosses that Lloris would arguably have spilled. Gazzaniga punted the ball upfield when Lloris would arguably have played his centre-backs into trouble. Gazzaniga stayed on his feet when Lloris would arguably have tripped over his own shoelaces and shoved the ball into the path of an attacker.

The penalty wrong-footed him, which was a shame, but there was a vaguely reassuring presence about him, which bodes well for the coming weeks.

One might make other observations about our mob – a promising cameo from Ndombele; yet another remarkable finish from Kane; Aurier actually a mite unlucky with this week’s calamity – but having been sucked into a defensive vacuum for over an hour we can hardly complain about having lost. The infuriatingly inconsistent season bobbles on, and one must hope that next week we summon the spirit of last week, and finally turn that dashed corner.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Spurs 1-1 Watford: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lots of Tinkering, No Obvious Strategy

If ever there were a sign that a manager is not quite sure how to fix things, it is when he makes 7 changes of personnel and a switch in formation, and then switches formation again at half-time.

Not entirely the fault of Poch of course, for if the eleven on the pitch last time out had performed to their abilities no changes would have been needed at all – but nevertheless. The current approach by Our Glorious Leader smacks of a chap whose best-laid plans are but a distant memory, and who is now experimenting his little heart out, with little clear strategy in place.

By and large Our Glorious Leader retains enough credit that the masses are willing to let him untie the various knots and restore some normality. But where previously there was a fairly clear approach – such as the high press, or faith in youth – and one might have correctly named nine or ten of the starting eleven, now it is difficult to know quite what the plan will be from one game to the next.

The first half performance duly reflected the confused organisation of things, with little discernible identity amongst our lot, and we ended up seeming to rely on Toby’s long punts as our main attacking gambit. Few on the pitch seemed particularly clear on how to go about their honest work, and the outputs were suitably uninspiring.

Poch has talked a lot about “trust” and “confidence” and various other concepts that seem to the AANP ears to wander rather off-topic, but I’m none the wiser about what tactical approach he thinks is best to reverse our fortunes. At present the approach appears to be try something new every half hour or so, until we strike oil.

2. Lack of Deep-Lying Creativity

The first half provided the sort of turgid fare that various lilywhite managers of the 90s fought tooth and nail to mark their own trademark.

It seemed from my vantage point that chief amongst our ills was the absence of a deep-lying playmaker, if you get my drift. A Modric/Carrick sort of chap, who could pick up the ball from the defenders and play a pass – long or short, the finer points matter little – that would bypass one or two opponents in the blink of an eye, and make its recipient sit up and say “What ho, if I point my compass north I might have a few yards of space into which to amble and make mischief”.

Or, indeed, a Dembele type of fellow, who, rather than pass, would simply dip a shoulder or puff out a chest, and breeze past one or two opponents – similarly in the blink of an eye – carrying the ball fifteen yards and forcing friend and foe alike to view proceedings in a different way.

Instead, our central midfield pairing were Winks and Sissoko. Now the effort of these two can hardly be faulted, and both have assets that are useful and have earned the respect and affection of most right-minded fans. However, neither of these young eggs really possess in spades the sorts of talents upon which Messrs Modric, Carrick or Dembele made their careers.

Sissoko has it in him to carry the ball 30 yards – which I suppose is the net effect of a Dembele – when a cloud envelops him and he seems to be possessed by some unearthly compunction to take on all-comers. But yesterday, and this season in general, that particular party-trick has remained in his locker.

And Winks constantly appears to be on the cusp of changing the game. He seems to tick numerous boxes – availing himself when defenders have the ball, picking up possession on the half-turn, driving forward – but ultimately his final pass, nine times out of ten, goes sideways or backwards. He keeps possession and fizzes with energy, but hardly tests opposing defences with his passing range.

The causes of these two were not helped by both Lucas and Dele generally adopting positions within a couple of yards of Kane, leaving precious little in the way of link-up between midfield and attack. (On the one occasion in which Lucas did drop a little deeper, the planets aligned and we almost scored – Winks fed Lucas straight through the middle, Lucas fed Dele – still straight through the middle – and, not standing on ceremony, Dele took our one and only shot on target in the first half.)

Anyway, on the point of deep-lying playmakers – perhaps Lo Celso or Ndombele can, in time, provide the answer. Or the more attacking sorts can simply drop ten yards deeper. Either way something has to change, because watching the ball end up with Toby time and again, to punt a hopeful diagonal, made the eyes water a tad.

3. Introduction of Son

Things perked up noticeably once Sonny was introduced – which, on reflection, is the sort of statement that would ring true on just about any given day in any given circumstances.

The removal of Sanchez and reversion from 3 centre-backs to 2 made bucketloads of sense. While Watford threatened on the counter a few times, the third centre-back was by and large a wasted player, given that his most significant role tended to be simply rolling the back right or left to his neighbouring centre-back, in what was reminiscent of those pointless bureaucratic processes one sometimes encounters in life.

Watford did not present enough of a threat to merit such defensive caution; and if the idea were more of an attacking one, to allow our wing-backs to bomb forward in the manner of Walker-and-Rose-circa-2016, it fell pretty flat. I have called Serge Aurier a few choice names in my time, but “An impressive likeness to the Kyle Walker of 2016” has not been amongst them. Similarly, Danny Rose is now an angry shadow of the marauding soul who set the tone in those halcyon days.

So after the break Son moved to the right, to provide an extra body linking defence to attack, and both the changed shape and the particular individual improved things ten-fold. Sonny tore around like a puppy reunited with its owner, and others around him seemed to perk up, as if struck by the thought that his high-octane approach to life might bring about a change in fortunes.

Moreover, with Son installed on the right, where once midfield and attack had resembled strangers harbouring deep, mutual suspicions, in the second half there appeared to be consensus amongst all that collaboration would bring about a goal.

4. VAR Luck

Ultimately we were good value for the draw, having bossed possession and had the decency to show some urgency in the second half. That said, Lady Luck gave us a few admiring glances along the way, for Dele’s goal could quite reasonably have been ruled out.

I’m pretty sure that a few weeks ago Man City had a late winner against us disallowed for use of the upper arm in the build-up, so to say I was perplexed that Dele’s shoulder-nudge was waved on is to understate things.

More to the point, my best mate Jan rather forget the laws of the game in the first half, when he slid in and aimed one or two little kicks at his man. It’s not allowed, Jan! Except that in this instance, it was. The inconsistency of the thing is most puzzling, but there we go and here we are.

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Spurs 0-2 Liverpool: Five Tottenham Talking Points

Well this was a most peculiar anti-climax. Full of effort and yet somehow devoid of urgency, and with excitement and quality levels similarly low on the barometer, the whole thing resembled seeing a balloon being immediately deflated and then simply left lying unattended for another 89 minutes.

Rather than lumber tragically through the seven stages of grief, or find some perceived injustice and rage at it, the sentiment at AANP Towers is therefore one of curious frustration. Given that Liverpool themselves were oddly underwhelming, this ought probably to be listed as a Missed Opportunity, alongside the Leicester season – and yet somehow, the mood is one of philosophical acceptance.

Probably best just to toddle over to the corpse and begin dissecting.

1. The Penalty Decision

Not all will agree – and judging by the high-pitched apoplexy emanating from his larynx, Glenn Hoddle most certainly did not – but I must confess I had little problem with the penalty decision itself.

To clarify, I did not perform any sort of jig of delight – in fact those around me needed to deliver a rigorous prod between the ribs to check that the blood was still flowing, such was the horror-stricken, frozen chill with which I reacted – but I did follow the logic of the sturdy fellow making the call. Although the ball bounced off chest first, it did then receive an inadvertent stroke from the incoming arm of Sissoko.

Worse crimes have undoubtedly been perpetuated within the vicinity of the 18-yard rectangle during the history of the game, but I understood why, in that situation, a jury might convict.

Just a dashed shame – if quintessentially, absurdly Tottenham – that it happened within thirty seconds of the start of the biggest game in our history.

2. Best Laid Plans vs First-Minute Penalty

More of a concern was the impact of that early farce upon the best-laid plans of Our Glorious Leader. According to the newswires, Pochettino’s three-week preparations had included inviting the players to plant their feet on hot coals (a strategy that, if you ask me, carries an inherent flaw, given that these chaps’ feet are the most important dashed parts of them), breaking arrows with their necks and all manner of other eyebrow-raising sorcery. Frankly it struck me that he might have had a little too much preparation time on his hands.

Alas, the one circumstance for which he presumably had not prepared was the concession of a penalty in the opening minute. One sympathises, for why would he?

And in fact, our lot reacted to this decidedly unseemly new set of circumstances with admirable stiffening of the upper lip and some neat and tidy interplay around halfway.

The problem with the early goal was not so much its effect upon our heroes as its effect upon Liverpool. It meant that for the remaining 89 minutes they did not need to take any sort of risk, or show any sort of forward intent that would allow even a whiff of an opening behind them. They were content to strangle the life out of us, and pretty much did just that.

3. The Kane Selection

Our Glorious Leader had made the reasonable point that hindsight would tell whether his team selection would go down as masterstroke or clanger, so naturally enough the knives are out in some quarters. All of which places me in a terrifically delicate spot, as Poch, having presumably pored over these very pages in recent days, rather scarily opted for the precise team and formation for which I had been marching around town campaigning in the past week or two.

Kane undoubtedly had fairly minimal effect upon proceedings, finally threatening around the peripheries in the final twenty or so, without ever eking out – or having eked for him – that half a yard that would have allowed him a decent pot at goal.

However, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the better half of North London, I do not think our general bluntness was much to do with him, for the chap was barely given a touch of the ball by his chums in the opening hour or so.

He might have been in the form of his life and it would not have mattered, because our build-up play, particularly in the first half, was thoroughly bogged down by the time we hit the final third (almost as if the players were sinking beneath the weight of tactical instruction, which rather makes one wonder).

Even in hindsight I am still not particularly convinced that starting Lucas instead would necessarily have been the solution, for sniper-quality though his finishing was against Ajax, his involvement in build-up play was nothing about which to ring the church bells, and when he was eventually introduced last night his impact was neither here nor there.

The problem struck me as not so much to do with Kane’s fitness or the absence of Lucas, as the dearth of creativity and service from the ranks behind them.

4. Eriksen, The Selected Scapegoat

At such times as these I feel legally obliged to identify a scapegoat.

With Liverpool content to allow us the ball and take their chances as a defensive unit, plenty of onus was placed upon the assorted size nines in our midfield. We found ourselves in desperate need of some wit and ingenuity, someone who could make use of ample possession in midfield, and boast both the vision to pick a defence-splitting pass and the technique also to deliver it.

In short we needed Christian Eriksen.

The opportunity could not have been better made for him if it had taken him aside beforehand and measured him for size. This was the precise scenario that Mother Nature had had in mind when she fashioned him all those years ago, and the stage was that for which one would expect the true greats of the game to don their capes and leap into action.

But cometh the hour, Eriksen had little to offer that dropped the jaw and made the heart skip a beat or two.

It’s a source of some pretty ripe debate in lilywhite circles. The chap’s ability is not in question – he produces some silky stuff of which most teammates simply aren’t capable. The issue here at AANP Towers is that he is something of a Match of the Day player: his best bits make the highlights reel, and come 10.30pm on a Saturday night he can look pretty spectacular. But roll up and watch the whole 90 minutes, and too often he does too little to effect things, much less boss an entire match. Last night was a case in point.

By contrast, Winks and Sissoko – neither of whom anyone of sound mind and teetotal disposition would ever suggest were better players than Eriksen – did more at least to attempt to inject a little vim and energy into our midfield play.

5: Clinical Finishing (And Lack Thereof)

Whatever the virtues or otherwise of Eriksen’s performance, it seemed that, like me, the players were labouring under the misapprehension that clear-cut chances would simply materialise automatically, because this was the Champions League 2019 and frankly that’s what has tended to happen. This time however, we were a little too patient and passive for our own good.

By around the 70-minute mark the memo to get heads down and dig out a goal had evidently reached all in lilywhite, and there was an urgency to our play in the final third. The Liverpool goalkeeper was even having to get his gloves dirty, as our heroes stumbled upon the novel idea of trying an occasional, polite shot at goal.

Alas and alack and woe upon woe, we did not actually create one decent chance throughout the whole desperate affair. Instead, we needed to be at our clinical best to take advantage of whatever scraps and glimmers of opportunities came our way.

In short, we needed to produce the sort of clinical finish from one of those half-chances that Divock Origi did at the other end, at the death, summoning the ghost of Lineker in the Italia ’90 Semi-Final to turn a sniff of a chance into a goal.

But where Origi caught his shot as sweetly as a front-foot cover drive at Lord’s, Sonny and Lucas did not quite make the clean connection that makes the heart skip a beat and young ladies swoon; and Dele’s chipped effort was rather cruelly made to look a heck of a lot closer to hitting the top corner than it actually did, by that most wretched and evil prankster, the Deceptive Camera Angle.

And that was that. The whole Champions League campaign has been, until this point absolutely riotous fun, so warm applause and stiff drinks are deserved all round. Just a shame that the finale was such an oddly damp squib, but such is life I suppose.

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CL Final Preview: 5 Things Tottenham Must Do To Win

1. Kane at His Sharpest

Not to point too fine a point on it, but Kane’s contribution to proceedings will be constitute pretty critical stuff.

Casting minds all the way back to the start of the season, and in that post-World Cup fug much of the chatter revolved around the fact that the chap looked every inch a man in desperate need of a good lie-down. His touch was heavy, his movement was laboured. He protested otherwise, and the goals generally continued to flow, but for whatever reason we certainly were not witnessing Peak Kane.

In the here and now, Kane is once again insisting that he is in fine fettle, and I’m inclined to believe that the ankle is now fully healed. The concern remains however, that his match sharpness – by which I mean that aforementioned touch and movement – is several marks off the ideal.

While we have stumbled our way through previous rounds using patched-together teams, and often sans Kane, this match of matches really requires our star player to be at the peak of his powers.

The question of whether he should start or come off the bench continues to linger (the AANP tuppence-worth is to start with him), but starting also presents a problem, because sharp or not, he presumably will struggle to last 90 minutes, and were he to start and the game to drag into extra-time, one suspects he will toddle off for a warm coat and isotonic snifter at some point.

Kane at his best, however, would be a massive asset to our heroes, and cause Liverpool all sorts of problems, from all sorts of angles. Fingers firmly crossed.

2. Sense Over Sentiment in Team Selection

Following his Amsterdam heroics, young Lucas is quite rightly being lauded everywhere he goes, and one would hope the chap will never have to buy his own drink ever again.

However, many are calling for his inclusion in the starting line-up for the Final, on the basis of an argument that can essentially be distilled down to “It would be harsh not to”. Such discourse is greeted with a narrowing of the eyes at AANP Towers, and a sniff that could be considered haughty. This is a Champions League Final, not a mid-summer testimonial or a Sunday afternoon 1950s romance on Channel 4.

There should be no room for sentiment in this one, we absolutely need to pick the team that will win on the day – and if that means shunting Lucas into the attack then so be it, but I fall pretty firmly into the camp that thinks that Kane and Son ought to be the front pairing.

The alternative suggestion is cramming all three of Kane, Son and Lucas into attack – which would presumably mean a midfield of Dele, Sissoko and Eriksen. This, I fancy, would be madness of the highest degree. Away to Man City, and at home to Ajax, Eriksen and Dele confirmed what was already universally known, that they pretty much offer cosmetic value only when doing off-the-ball defensive work. Not their faults of course, as nature created them to attack. Set up with that 4-3-3 and I fear Liverpool will be over the hills and out of sight before we know what has hit us.

Sense, rather than sentiment, would appear to dictate that we use a midfield 4, with one of Winks, Dier or Wanyama in amongst the rest, tasked with rolling up sleeves and mucking in.

3. A Plan to Nullify Their Full-Backs

We have played Liverpool twice this season, receiving something of a spanking at home, albeit by only one goal, which rather flattered us, and losing by one own goal away from home, which rather flattered them.

Prominent in both encounters, particularly during those chunks during which Liverpool were in the ascendancy, were the red full-backs. When we played at Wembley, our own full-backs were in full kamikaze mode, and charged up the pitch, leaving Robertson and TAA plenty of room to set up camp and make merry. At Anfield, our lot went to the other extreme, and began in an ultra-conservative back five.

The solution, one imagines, lies somewhere in between. A back-four, perhaps, with both Rose and Trippier afforded a degree of protection from those in front? The second half at Anfield might prove a useful template, as we edged on top on that occasion, and were dashed unlucky to lose.

Whatever the solution, this is one of the notable problems over which Our Glorious Leader and his Brains Trust will need to chew and ruminate, preferably long into the night and within clouds of cigar smoke.

4. No Ludicrous Mistakes

Conceding a goal is always galling, but when it comes about because the other lot whir into hyperspace and slice us open with a thousand cuts – as in the style of Ajax in the first leg, for example – at least there are few regrets or recriminations. One might point a half-hearted finger at the left-back who may have moved a step to the side in the build-up, but essentially it is blameless stuff, and all involved are best off simply stiffening the upper lip and contemplating the riposte.

What is utterly infuriating is conceding a goal out of nowhere and under no pressure, as a complete gift to the opposition. Disturbingly, our heroes have made something of a habit of this over the course of the season, and it goes without saying that such nonsense makes the job in hand massively more taxing.

Trippier’s own goal; Lloris’ palm against Liverpool; Foyth’s own-area dallying; Trippier’s own-area attempted nutmegs; Lloris’ rushes of blood to the head and rushes of feet from his goal – the list is worryingly long. To say nothing of free headers at set-pieces.

Playing Liverpool will be hard enough, and the drill ought to be to force them to work dashed hard for every chance. On this of all occasions we need to cut out the utterly absurd, unforced errors.

5. No More Comebacks

No doubt about it, our heroes have turned the sensational comeback into something of an art-form during this Champions League campaign.

After the three-games-one-point ‘Arry Redknapp tribute at the start of the group phase, we went into the final 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and sixth games needing at least one goal to avoid elimination – and duly delivered each time. Against City we again needed a late-ish goal (and an even later VAR call), and then there was the madness of Amsterdam. On top of which, we seem to have imprinted into the gameplan the slightly curious tactic of conceding within the opening 5 minutes.

All thrilling stuff and so on and so forth, but this insanity really must end, for the good of all concerned. The constitution simply cannot take it, for a start – and heaven knows what the nerves will be like during a Champions League Final – but more pertinently we just cannot repeatedly rely upon comebacks. A two-goal half-time deficit will not always be overturned, and I certainly wouldn’t fancy our chances of doing so against this lot.

Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, to canter into a lead, and then hold onto it?

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CL Final Preview: 6 Players Who Took Tottenham To The Final

1. Hugo Lloris

Heaven knows I’ve been at the front of the queue when it’s come to sticking the knife into our skipper – and giving it a vigorous twist for good measure too – because the absurd, unforced errors have come thick and fast in the last season or two. However, when push met shove in the business end of this season’s Champions League, Lloris thrust out limbs like nobody’s business.

The Dortmund away leg springs to mind, a game into which we took a three-goal lead but looked for all the money in the world like we wouldn’t make it to half-time without being pegged back.

Dortmund brought their A-game, slicing us apart with the sort of blurry whizz of motion that Ajax were to replicate in the semi-final. Time and again they skipped past each of our massed ranks until finding themselves staring into the whites of Lloris’ eyes; but time and again our captain did the necessary, no matter how unlikely the laws of physics suggested this would be. Re-watch the highlights of that first half in particular, and one needs to dust off the abacus to rack up the precise number of point-blank saves made.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and within ten minutes of the quarter-final first leg at home to Man City, VAR had awarded a penalty against Danny Rose, and the customary uphill slog looked set to kick in.

Enter, yet again, Monsieur Lloris, to repel Aguero’s spot-kick and breathe fresh life into this unlikeliest of campaigns. Had Aguero scored, the away goals advantage would have gone up in smoke there and then, and more pertinently City might well have racked up a hatful.

2. Moussa Sissoko

AANP’s player of the season, Sissoko seems to have improved with every game, transforming before our goggling eyes from figure of fun to critical cog in the machinery. One moment that summed up this metamorphosis was his gallop forward in the closing stages at home to Inter.

By that stage of the campaign it was win or bust, thrice in a row. A sloppy start had left our heroes with one point from three games, and any thoughts of winning the whole dashed thing had been tied up in a sack, weighed down with bricks and dropped overboard. Needing a win to avoid elimination in each of Matchdays 4, 5 and 6, this seemed rather unlikely against Inter, until the final 10 minutes, when Sissoko took it upon himself to put his head down and charge into enemy territory.

One is reluctant to blame the Inter mob for backing off, for it would be a brave man to try to impede a Sissoko gathering a head of steam. The chap drove from Point A, around 10 yards inside his own half, to Point B well inside the Inter penalty area, with the sort of steely determination that one dares not interrupt, and with each step began imprinting himself into Tottenham folklore.

He found Dele, who swivelled and found Eriksen, and his finish kept our heads above water. Just.

Further approving nods to Sissoko for setting up Kane away to Dortmund, and filling in at auxiliary right-back away to Barcelona, after KWP was hooked and we went in desperate search of an equaliser.

And of course, his introduction against Ajax in the semi-final first leg did just about enough to wrest the game away from them.

3. Jan Vertonghen

One of several who made pretty vital, last-ditch stretches away to Dortmund, to keep our hosts at bay and our 3-0 lead in tact when it seemed that calamity might befall, my best mate’s true value was demonstrated in the first leg of that same tie.

Playing at left wing-back Vertonghen first went toe-to-toe with Jadon Sancho, by the skin of his teeth keeping the young pup contained in a first half in which we were decidedly second best.

In the second half, however, Vertonghen emerged as an irresistible creative force from left-back, flying down the flank with unsullied abandon, whipping in a series of crosses that sent the Dortmund central defence into a frightful tizz and capping things off with a striker’s finish to put us two goals ahead and take something of a knife to Dortmund’s spirits.

That Vertonghen-inspired win gave us enough breathing space to survive the second leg onslaught – and just like that, we were in the quarter-finals.

4. Harry Kane

An enforced absentee for various critical stages of the campaign, Kane still popped up with a number of pretty vital finishes hither and thither. Hardly a surprise, as 14 goals in 18 Champions League appearances does point to a chap who bounds around the place ticking boxes at this level like it’s going out of fashion, but it’s still rather easy to forget his contribution to this season’s effort.

Most notably this occurred at home to PSV in the group stage. Again, it was a game in which nothing less than victory would suffice – so obviously we went behind in the first minute.

And there we remained until the final 10, when Kane’s relentless focus on hitting the target paid off, albeit in slightly more nerve-jangly fashion than would have been ideal.

First a pot-shot in a crowded area found the bottom corner; and then in the final moments a header towards the right-hand corner took a hefty deflection of one PSV torso to send it towards the middle of the goal, and then for good measure detoured again, of another PSV limb, to trickle apologetically into the bottom left.

They all count – as Kane, more than most, will testify – and on we stumbled marched.

5. Fernando Llorente

Another of those chaps who puts the “fickle” into “AANP”, I can quite easily wile away a spare half hour by simply lambasting Fernando Llorente – and yet few have been more critical to what might be the most brilliant success in our history.

As aforementioned, when needing a win at home to PSV, we did it the Spurs way and entered the final 10 minutes a goal down. By this point Llorente had been unceremoniously deposited into the PSV area, and duly earned his keep. Give him a chance two yards in front of goal and the ball might end up anywhere in the solar system, but tell him to hold up the ball, hold off a central defender and lay the ball delicately into the path of Harry Kane, and he’s in business. He did just that, Kane scored and we went on to scrape a win.

Fast forward to the quarter-final away leg at Man City, and Llorente produced the sort of finish that only a man of his questionable finishing ability can produce. Closing his eyes and hoping to win a header from a waist-height cross, he did enough to bundle his way in front of his man, and use a questionable combination of hip and possibly-or-possibly-not wrist to force the ball in. And then celebrated like we fans were celebrating.

Fast forward even further, and with nothing left to lose in the semi-final second leg against Ajax, Llorente’s very presence, introduced at half-time, did enough to sow seeds amongst the Ajax defence. Daly Blind in particular spent most of that half casting a perturbed hand across a distinctly fevered brow, as Llorente simply bullied him.

Aside from any contributions to goals, this helped changed the pattern of play, and momentum of the game. And then, ultimately, his ungainly, angular poke of the ball, in the final minute of added time, was enough to give Dele a yard, and then Lucas Moura… [goosebumps]

6. Lucas Moura

Not just a man for a semi-final hat-trick, Lucas also scored in the dying minutes against Barcelona, in yet another of those group stage games in which we desperately needed a win and therefore conceded early.

Lucas charged in to slap the ball home from close range, and with a little help from PSV we went from one point after three games, to qualification for the knockouts.

And what a knockout it was shaping up to be in the semi-final. In truth, until he scored I was rather despairing of Lucas’ contribution. Frenetic and a little wasteful when on the gallop; unable to link with midfield when dropping deep with back to goal; and without a shot in anger in the whole first half, he seemed just another one of those waving forlornly as the game passed him by.

But then, by golly what an impact. The surge of pace to latch on to Dele’s touch for the first goal was worthy of an Olympic sprinter.

The footwork to dance around the Ajax 6-yard box before scoring the second was worthy of any head-down 9 year-old in the playground.

And then the winner, placed into the only available spot in the net, at the last possible moment before two Ajax defenders could and would have blocked it, and as the clock ticked from 94:59 to 95:00…

I’m not sure there will ever be a Tottenham Hotspur moment quite like it. The bedlam, the en masse Ajax faceplant, the repeated viewings and the full 24 hours it took to register the enormity. On top of which, it’s rather pleasing that the hero of the hour was one of the more unlikely sorts, as it does hammer home that the whole thing was quite the collective effort (which makes a mockery of a list of 6 individuals, but over that we quietly gloss). Heroes, predictable and otherwise, at every turn – one wonders if there is room for one more name to be heralded on Saturday…

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Ajax 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

Real life rather rudely interrupted the celebrations at AANP Towers last week, but since we’re all still floating around atop a cumulonimbus there seems no harm in peddling a few belated observations from our gloriest of glory glory nights…

1. The Complete Absence of Hope

Had we cantered to victory in serene and most un-Tottenham fashion it would undoubtedly have been a thrill, but presumably not one that will live in the memory quite like this magnificent absurdity.

After about 5 minutes of the first leg I was already groaning the groan of a man on death row who hears fresh coins being popped into the electricity meter; by half-time in the second leg I had already whizzed through all seven stages of grief and was starting to wonder about England’s batting line-up for the Ashes.

Even after Moura’s first two goals I simply refused to countenance the possibility of anything other than glorious failure, which in hindsight says quite a lot about how damaging the last three decades of lilywhite faith have been.

But to score the goal that sends us into the Champions League Final, just as the clock in the top left corner ticked over literally to the final second of the allocated extra 5 minutes – well it’s little wonder that we’ve all rewound and watched that moment about a hundred times each. Frankly just writing about it makes me need another lie-down, and etches that massive grin across the chops once more.

2: Llorente: Flawed But Wonderful Hero

As if to encapsulate the glorious lunacy of the night, the man who made the difference was Fernando Llorente.

With reserves so depleted that we genuinely checked beforehand whether Vincent Janssen was eligible, Our Glorious Leader made the call of a man who realises that his entire life’s possessions have gone down the drain so he might as well go all in on his last hand because to hell with it. If Janssen were eligible I suspect he might have been flung on too, but as it happened the only resource left was Llorente, the striker with a penchant for missing from 2 yards. On he duly shuffled.

And it changed the entire pattern of the game. By simply attaching himself to Daly Blind and swaying gently in the Amsterdam air every time the ball was lofted into orbit, he did more to discombobulate Ajax than any amount of fancy footwork and attempted sorcery from the more illustrious colleagues around him.

With the sort of cruel irony that just about proves that the gods like nothing more than toying with the mortals below, this Ajax team who were so masterful and fizz-popping in possession that they made one dizzy just by watching, were utterly flummoxed by the most basic tactic in football. Time and again our heroes launched the ball to the big man, time and again he angled himself in suitably ungainly fashion to ensure that the ball apologetically bounced off him and into the general vicinity of Dele, Lucas and chums.

Naturally, being Fernando Llorente, he contrived to miss from two yards when the laws of physics seemed to dictate that it was impossible to do so; and naturally, being Fernando Llorente he spurned what appeared to be our final chance of the tie by heading over from a corner when unmarked in the dying embers. But nobody cares a jot, because Llorente’s value that night was priceless.

Seemingly created as a striker in concept alone, who adds value in theory, but abandoned by nature before any of the practical specifics of being a striker could be added, Llorente swung the game back our way before Lucas had even begun adjusting his sighter. All credit to him and Poch.

3: Dele’s Touch

Amidst the general bedlam, it was pretty easy to overlook the cutting-edge, shiny, 24-carat quality of Dele Alli’s soft dab of the ball into Lucas Moura’s path for the third.

The general mood around the campfire has been that Dele has owed a decent contribution for a while now. Not his fault, of course, that his season has been staccatoed by injuries, and there have been times when an outbreak of class has threatened. By and large, however, this has been another of those seasons in which one winces, and scratches the head, and generally starts digging for suitable excuses for the chap.

Last Wednesday however, the memo finally wound its way to the Alli grey matter, and he obligingly picked one heck of an occasion to make a handful of those flicks and flourishes finally count.

Observers first stirred at the sight of him making a Platt/Scholes-esque dash to the far post, early in the second half, only for his volleyed close-range mid-air shot to be patted away by the Ajax ‘keeper. The juices were however flowing, as, funnily enough, he seemed rather to enjoy life at the top of a diamond behind the front two.

I suspect that in setting up the first goal for Lucas he was trying to do it all himself, and might have thrown something of an arm-waving tizzy at his colleague for steaming onto the ball, had it not wound up in the net.

But it was the flick that set up the third goal that really had me purring. Well, I tell a gross untruth, because “purring” is not really the adjective to describe what madness ensued as the third rolled in – but the point is that it was an absolutely exquisite touch.

Simply to have the nerve to attempt a pass like that, at a time like that, with stakes like that, borders on the unfathomable. Watch the goal back for the 101st time and treat yourself to a goggle at the fact that he plays it the wrong side of the defender, and without even looking. How the dickens he knew that Lucas was curving his run into that area is beyond me, given that he was looking in the other direction completely, but that I suppose is why he earns the hefty envelope.

4: Danny Rose Starting The Comeback

A loving pat on the head also for Danny Rose – who no doubt would enjoy that sort of thing – for getting the ball rolling, in a matter of speaking. Three down on aggregate, his nutmeg on the Ajax chap, followed by cross-field pass to Lucas, set the whole comeback in motion.

Of course if one wants to trace the origins of the thing back even further one could start heaping credit upon Sonny for feeding Rose in the preceding moments, or Paul Stalteri for haring into the West Ham penalty area, because these things are all part of the sequence of contributory events don’t you know? It was, however, a slick little piece of skill.

5: Hugo’s Saves

Since I’m here and dishing out gold stars in slightly scattergun fashion, I might as well gobble down a frog’s leg and raise une verre to Monsieur Lloris, for a couple of critical saves that kept the thing simmering along nicely.

Stick the ball at his feet and one is inclined to dive behind the nearest sofa and cover the eyes, for fear of what fresh hell might unfold.

However, tell the chap to stick to the business of leaping hither and yon with arms outstretched, and he gets the gist in double-quick time. At 2-2 on the night, and with the clock ticking down in that ominous fashion so typical of the things, Lloris was called upon to do produce the cat-like stuff, and he did not fluff his lines.

6: Everyone’s Positioning At The Final Goal

I have to admit to raising a particularly quizzical eyebrow at the manner of Christian Eriksen’s immediate post-match interview, in which he gave the impression of struggling to stay awake for sheer boredom, even as the walls of AANP Towers were resounding to the clatter of yells and leaps and a general orgy uncontainable excitement. However, if Eriksen spoke one truth it was that tactics rather packed their bags and exited the premises sharpish in that second half.

The introductions of Llorente for Wanyama, and Lamela for Trippier, gave pretty broad hints that as attempts at conventional 4-5-1s and 4-4-2s were bringing little joy, the approach would swiftly alter to more of an Everyone-Pelt-Forward-At-Every-Opportunity-And-Let’s-See-How-It-Lands.

And so we ended up in that last minute with Sissoko starting the attack from a sweeper position (which made some sense because, as we now all recognise, the chap is actually a football genius); Eriksen and Ben Davies alongside him; Toby and Jan desperately edging into wing-back positions; Sonny as a deep-lying midfielder; and everybody else haring straight up the middle in attack. And all this about thirty seconds after Hugo had raced into the opposition penalty area.

It was glorious stuff, utterly in keeping with the all-action-no-plot madness of the game, and fully justifies the constant re-watches, because one never really tires of watching the careering reactions of absolutely everyone involved.

To say nothing of Lucas himself, who seemed only to touch the ball on the three occasions in which he planted it into the net with the dead-eyed precision of a sniper (plus, I suppose, the extraordinary dribble of an uncle toying with his nephews that set up his own second).

Quite why there is a three-week wait for the Final is anyone’s guess, but if it allows more time to revel in the absolute glory of Amsterdam, then it gets the AANP vote.

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