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Sheff Utd 1-3 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Ndombele’s Goal

Oddly enough, nobody has yet asked me to sit down with them and explain the rhyme and reason to the penning of my thoughts on Tottenham games, but were they to do so I would top up their bourbon and explain that sometimes these things are deliberately sculpted chronologically, and sometimes simply dictated by whim – but today it feels like it would be inappropriate to begin anywhere other than with the undoubted highlight of the production, the glorious parabola spawned from the outside of Tanguy Ndombele’s right boot.

Not that we should have been surprise, for fair warning had been sounded in the first half of the level of sorcery that could emanate from the aforementioned limb, when Ndombele had contrived to ping a pass, again with the outer-right clog, curled in between two opponents and around the back of the full-back, into the path of Aurier.

That touch had the punters purring, but the goal was on another level, prompting some pretty wild and joyous exclamations at AANP Towers, and no doubt in other lilywhite-tinged domiciles about the land.

Decorum of course dictates that in such circumstances those labouring behind the scenes are given due recognition. As such a ripple of polite applause is due to young Master Bergwijn, for general shimmying followed by a chipped pass that released the hero of the hour.

But at this point few amongst us, on surveying the scene, would have pulled out a wad of notes from their pocket and with a knowing nod bet handsomely on the next action being a first-time effort into the net. The laws of physics, while not rendering the thing impossible, certainly stacked up against our man. To this amateurish eye the three most salient points in the Debit column seemed to be that i) Ndombele at this point was trotting off in the opposite direction to goal; ii) the ball was mid-air and showing few signs of deviating from this mode of travel; iii) all of the above was taking place on the left of the goal, and as such, on Ndombele’s weaker foot.

Some of the more curmudgeonly amongst us have rather sniffily proposed that what happened next was a man misplacing a pass, nothing better than a hopeful lob of a grenade into a loosely advantageous error. Democracy, of course, permits and indeed encourages the voicing of such wildly erroneous opinions. Here at AANP Towers however, there was not a shred of doubt that Ndombele’s only thought was to attempt the near-impossible, and dink it via that exact arc, and into that exact spot.

I’m not sure any other trajectory could have rendered the goalkeeper quite so impotent (although to be honest, judging by his dramatic but ineffective flap at Kane’s goal, I doubt that such perfection was necessary to best the chap). It was a thing of skill and beauty – and for added aesthetic pleasure the ball entered the net via the foot of the post, as if simply thrilled to be part of the action.

2. Mentality

As it happened, when the entire operation is viewed as a whole, the timing of Ndombele’s goal was arguably of greater importance than the execution.

The mists of time might obscure the fact, but having breezed into a two-goal lead at the break, our heroes surprised absolutely nobody in the second half by easing up on the accelerator, showing less appetite for a ruck and gradually shuffling back towards their own goal. Inevitably, we conceded, and for approximately a minute and a half thereafter all manner of fruity curses escaped the lips, as the usual tortuous narrative looked set to unfold.

However, before there was opportunity for the prophets of doom to clear their throats and really get down to business, Ndombele had executed the world’s greatest toe-poke, and with the two-goal buffer restored we were able to progress to 90 in pretty serene fashion.

I am still inclined to veer between nervous and downright irate as I drink in our heroes’ approach to leading any given match, as there so rarely seems to be what an impartial observer would classify as genuine intent to score again and thereby eliminate all doubt.

Even in the first half, after the customary early goal, it seemed to be perfectly within our gift to stretch United and carve out chances, simply by increasing the intensity of our play by a notch or two. And yet ,rather than be possessed by an almost rabid desire to do precisely that, the mood around the camp seemed to be that actually a one-goal lead was plenty and there was no real imperative to double that.

Admittedly we did not immediately react to taking the early lead by surrendering possession and camping on the edge of our own penalty area, so I suppose I ought to be grateful for that much. Every now and then we upped a gear – and immediately looked threatening. It just seemed odd that we did not therefore adopt this higher-intensity approach for more of the half.

Mercifully, Sheffield United simply weren’t particularly good. None in their ranks were remotely capable of finishes of the quality of either Kane’s or Ndombele’s, nor of the creative spark of the likes of Lookman, Eze, Neto et al in recent weeks.

3. The Midfield Pair

Jose, one gets the impression, was not formed in the womb in the same way as you and I. So, for example, where most presumably enjoy seeing our lot knock the living daylights out of whomever is in our way, Jose seems instead to thrive upon a backs-to-the-wall one-nil.

But more positively, where the mere mortal would note that we’re playing the worst team in the league and tell the usual rabble to do proceed in their usual manner, Our Glorious Leader spotted the myriad benefits of deploying wing-backs to silence their wide threat, and dispensed with the usual defensive extra midfielder, instead using a third centre-back.

And credit where due, the man certainly knows how to pull tactical strings. The formation allowed both Aurier and Reguilon to fill their attacking boots, while still providing ample defensive cover (although Dier might want to buy young Master Rodon a post-match shandy or two, for a couple of timely sprints that doused threatening flames when he had sold himself far too cheaply).

The availability of Aurier and Reguilon meant that there we were rarely short of attacking options – the challenge, as noted above, was more that for patches of the game we did not seem to show the intensity to hammer this home.

Critical to the success of this formation tweak was the impressive shift put in by the central midfield pair. Both Hojbjerg and Ndombele were at the peak of their powers, whether donning their defensive hats and bearing down on opponents, or adding their presence and keeping possession ticking along in more attacking areas.

In fact, our second goal came about from Hojbjerg marrying these two delights, applying pressure in the attacking third and thereby winning possession from United high up the pitch, in a manner last witnessed to similarly fruitful effect against Leeds a couple of weeks ago. Having won possession behind enemy lines, as it were, he then did the sensible thing and shoved it with minimal fuss at first Sonny and then Kane.

There was a glorious simplicity to all this, but it neatly summed up the quiet effectiveness of both him and Ndombele.

And while I suppose any back-slapping should be effected within the context that this was against the lowest placed team in the division, it does make one wonder whether and when the approach might be adopted again. A year ago, few amongst us would have countenanced the notion of Ndombele forming one half of an effective central midfield pair, but there it was in glorious technicolour.

There was a pleasing discipline to his performance too, for while he broke forward to such glorious effect for his goal, by and large his movements were not those of one whose job description reads “Attacking Midfielder”. This was a performance that offered as much in defence as attack.

4. Dele Alli: Now Inferior to Gedson Fernandes

However, another idiosyncrasy of Our Glorious Leader is his seemingly irresistible urge to dish out a public flogging to one of his troops.

It should probably be remembered that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that Dele Alli’s form for a year or so pre-Covid had taken a pretty hefty dip southwards. Nevertheless, in his intermittent cameos over the past couple of months he has done approximately as much as could be expected.

It may surprise visitors to these pages to learn that I am not privy to what goes on in the hallowed confines of the training ground, so I can only speculate as to whether his produce or attitude when wearing a fluorescent bib is so poor as to merit this bizarre expulsion from the squad. However, perusing today’s teamsheet and discovering the absence of a D. Alli, and simultaneous presence of a G. Fernandes, struck me as laying it on a bit thick.

I suppose this may have been a one-off punishment for his pretty cheesed off reaction (via the medium of social media) to not being involved against Leeds, but either way it’s all fairly unpleasant stuff. This is not a third-choice right-back; it is a bean who only a year or two back was one of the brightest young things in world football. Simply to shrug the shoulders and elbow him out, rather than looking for a way to bring out his best, seems pretty rummy stuff – but alas, the odds of him slinking off across the channel appear to shorten by the day.

Stoke 1-3 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dele

Amidst the non-stop excitement of what was happening on the pitch yesterday, I missed whatever ruckus transpired a yard or two off it, when apparently after Dele was removed from the premises a handful of moody stares and possibly even unsavoury mutterings were exchanged between him and Our Glorious Leader.

Judging by the post-match sermon Jose’s targeting of Dele continues with some gusto, which is his prerogative I suppose, but from my perch up here on the AANP Towers balcony I thought that, far from being the root of all evil, Dele had a pretty good stab at the Man of the Match rosette.

What caught the eye was his willingness to work in finding space to receive the ball. Whenever Hojbjery, Winks, Dier or whomever else was surveying the scene with ball at feet around halfway, invariably it was Dele who was zipping around in search of space and waving an arm or two in request for possession.

One of the hats I wear around these parts is that of an uncle – with, at the latest count, seven nephews and nieces in the brood – and a significant element of this role comprises being badgered fairly relentlessly to partake in board games, hide-and-seek or other such frivolous entertainment. And I was reminded of this relentless badgering yesterday by Dele, given his positive and fairly ceaseless attitude towards availability.

In a game such as this, when the counter-attack is pretty much redundant, and much depends upon finding space between the lines and quick shuffling of the ball, Dele’s movement was, I thought, close to exemplary. (Certainly it struck me that a handsomely-paid Welsh teammate might have taken a leaf or two from his book when it came to energetic beavering.)

And moreover, when it came to topping things off at the other end, Dele was the man making the runs into pockets in and around the area, and generally giving a glimpse or two of the Platt- or Scholes-esque Dele of old. But for a well-judged limb or two from the goalkeeper he might even had had a goal to his name.

Jose’s post-match gripe seemed to revolve around an errant Dele flick leading to Stoke’s goal, in much the same way as a flap of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazon brings down governments in the West. And I’m sure that, ultimately, through a process of cause and effect, one could trace back a series of episodes and identify that this was indeed the case; but to single out the young eel and castigate him thusly – when the entire back-four were on their heels and out of position, and when Serge Aurier was summarily excused of blame for his far worse and more costly mistake at the weekend – smacked of hidden agendas and borderline bullying.

A real shame, because Dele appeared to me to prove his worth as at least a squad member capable of filling the attacking midfield role. Instead, the odds now seem shorter than ever on him linking up with, say, Poch, at PSG, in the coming weeks.

2. Bale

While Dele worked hard and met with scant reward, Gareth Bale meanwhile interrupted his golfing trip with a gentle mooch around the pitch for half a game.

As if to hammer home to Dele how unfair life can be, not only was Bale rewarded for his lack of effort with a goal, but that very goal came about rather symbolically by virtue of him not moving. It turned out to be exactly the right thing to do at the time, but I did nevertheless allow myself a chuckle that simply by standing still he was able to get himself into precisely the right place at the right time.

When Bale swanned back into our lives a couple of months ago the consensus was that he was unlikely to possess the electricity of old, but would still offer much in the way of general energy and threat on the move, as well as a thunderous long-range left clog. Christmas, we told ourselves, would see the return of the fully-fit Bale, and until then he would be awarded a period of grace.

Fast-forward to the present day, and with Christmas literally hours away, there is still no sign of Bale breaking a sweat for the club, let alone rediscovering any of his former glories.

He appears to have immunity from Jose, and will presumably be shoved on for half-game cameos in some more of the gentler approaching fixtures, but it is nigh on impossible to see what he is adding. It mattered little yesterday, in what was ultimately a canter, but Bale remains a passenger. In the rather more bustling environment of a Premier League game, his lack of either work-rate or attacking output will make him something of a liability.

At kick-off yesterday, given the quality of the opposition and the length of time he has been back, I had expected to see him move up a gear or two. I do now rather wonder if that gear-change will happen at all.

3. Winks (Compare and Contrast to Hojbjerg)

At the conclusion of yesterday’s proceedings I don’t mind admitting I was pretty startled to discover a wreath being placed around the neck of young Master Winks for his services to the preceding 90 minutes.

Given the lopsided squad dynamics so lovingly hand-crafted by Jose, every game Winks starts (as with Dele) is now a pretty critical moment in his lilywhite career. Yesterday was no exception, and with Stoke set up to defend, the opportunity for Winks to showcase his more progressive talents was neatly handed to him on a plate of fine china and with all the trimmings.

With the stage set and audience hushed it seemed reasonable to expect pretty great things, and as such I was, yet again, a tad underwhelmed. He did little wrong – but at the same time I felt that this was an opportunity to boss things, which simply melted away.

By contrast, I thought that Hojbjerg rather bossily took responsibility, in precisely the manner in which I had hoped Winks might. When the ball was being ferried out from the back Hojbjerg was the one demanding it, and on receiving it his instinct was to look for a forward pass. Winks seemed content to play his sidekick.

Winks had his moments, it is true. The pass for the opening goal was a curious beast – having little angle or flight – and ought really to have been easier to defend than it was, but it did a pretty critical job because that opening goal settled our nerves as much as it deflated their spirits.

Similarly, Winks’ pressure in closing down his man led to the Stoke mistake in possession that brought about our third.

So my observation on Winks is not that he had a poor game; more that on a stage like this he had the opportunity to dominate and control proceedings, and it seemed to me that the chap alongside him did that better.

4. Kane’s Finish

I’m not convinced that it was the wisest move to play Kane for the entirety, given that the games pile on a tad at that time of year, but had he been hooked early we would have been denied the sight of yet another high-class finish.

The delay and dummy before his shot, so perfectly executed, were a joy to behold. The Stoke chappie trying to prevent the thing had the odds stacked against him from the start, but was almost knocked off his feet simply by Kane’s feints.

After which, the conclusion of the project was to lash the ball high into the centre of the net. This approach was adopted to similarly strong effect against Other West Ham a few weeks back, and struck me as a useful additional string to Kane’s finishing bow. Where previously he has tended to aim low and for the near or far corner, he now appears to throw into the mix the option of waiting for the ‘keeper to spread himself low, and then lash the ball above him and into the roof of the net. As ever, we are lucky to have the chap.

Have a merry and blessed Christmas.

Spurs 0-2 Leicester: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Style of Play (Again)

I would normally pity the poor souls who part with their hard-earned wage, and write off an afternoon of their lives, to attend such a ghastly matinee as that, but on this occasion, mercifully, we were at least spared such punishment in the flesh.

Not that the 2D alternative did much to mask the unfolding rot. A peculiarity with The Jose Brand is that it relies absolutely entirely upon results for its success. In fact, its very raison d’être is its results.

The football itself at times borders upon the painful – for there were times in the first half in particular, when still nil-nil, that our heroes seemed to be actively looking to concede possession because the situation did not lend itself to a counter-attack, which rather beggars belief; and when pressed into a more progressive state of mind in the second half, when trailing, the absence of ingenuity was enough to make a grown man weep, or at least fling his hands heavenwards and curse the day.

So results, for sure, are front and centre of this operation, and when we proudly surveyed the land from atop the pile, any grumbles about the aesthetics, or lack thereof, could be merrily waved away. After all, if the open-topped bus could be booked for May ’21 on the back of a six-man defence and a few counter-attacks, I’m not sure too many of us would mind.

Over the last week, however, for one reason or another we have begun to depart increasingly wildly from the script.

Part of the problem with playing so defensively and deep each week is that the odds increase that every minor error can result in fairly seismic fallout. Against Liverpool we saw how a random deflection can upset the defensive ecosystem; today it was first a moment of mind-numbing stupidity; and then an unwelcome ricochet. (One might consider the deflections and ricochets unlucky – but by defending so deep we rather make our own rotten luck, or at the very least invite it a tad.)

The crux of the thing is that while the rewards are high – table-topping and title-challenging, no less – the risks are magnified. Spend three quarters of the game camped on the edge of our own area and there is no coming back from a looping deflection or an Aurier brain-fade. On top of which, up the other end, there is minimal margin for error in front of goal,

And so on days like today, when the result is not produced, we are left instead to pore over the remains of a failed defensive performance, and frankly it looks utterly dreadful. These things will happen, but they cannot happen too often. Thrice in a week is enough.

2. Aurier

As mentioned, the dirge-like output requires everyone in the back-line to perform pretty flawlessly, in order to set up the platform for the counter-attack and three points.

And to his credit, Serge Aurier has spent the last month or two pretty diligently abiding by what must seem to him a pretty radical reinterpretation of his day-job. By and large, the needless lunges and mad decisions have been rinsed from his DNA, and while a wild glint occasionally develops in his eye, it rarely manifests any more on the pitch.

Jose himself would probably have argued that the plan had worked in the first half, as Leicester, for all their sharper play in midfield, had barely tested Lloris.

However, Aurier’s retro moment of mind-boggling stupidity completely upended the Jose Masterplan. What might have been passed off as a solid, if utterly uninspiring, defensive display suddenly became a disastrous first half, as we found ourselves not only having created nothing but also a goal behind.

Difficult to know what to make of Aurier. For sure the blister has previous, but if this is merely an isolated incident then we can potentially sweep it under the carpet and look forward to another half-dozen performances in which he keeps his head down and steers clear of trouble.

On the other hand, I suppose we dare not contemplate that this might be the beginning of a full-blown relapse, and the return of the Aurier of the past couple of seasons, whose every appearance seemed to be marked by at least one completely unnecessary aberration. Time will tell, and he probably has enough goodwill in the bank for now, but I’m not sure many more such moments will be suffered too gladly.

3. The Ndombele-Lo Celso Dream Axis

Odd to say it now, but in the first five minutes or so I actually had pretty high hopes.

Proceedings began with Ndombele sending half the Leicester team into the wrong postcode with a series of his trademarked upper body swerves that are seemingly impossible to resist.

A couple of free-kicks were duly won, and the omens looked pretty positive, pointing as they did towards an afternoon spent on the front foot and giving the Leicester mob a few things to think about in the defensive third.

Moreover, this marked one of (if not the) first blessed union of Messrs Ndombele and Lo Celso in holy midfield partnership. Quite what the tactical implications would be were fairly happily overlooked, because the prospect of these two peddling their silky wares in tandem seemed to override any need for detail. “Just give them the ball and let them dovetail” was the AANP mantra, and when Ndombele began proceedings in that shoulder-swerving manner of his, the omens appeared good.

Alas, thereafter things did not so much go downhill as fall directly off a cliff. Lo Celso’s principal contributions seemed to be lose possession and then slide in to win it back, before rolling around in feigned agony – until he ended up rolling around in bona fide agony.

With Ndombele having drifted to the periphery before himself being hooked, the dream combination ultimately turned into something of a disaster.

One hopes that Jose will not take this as his cue to banish any further of a future Ndombele-Lo Celso axis, simply on the grounds of one heavily undercooked display. Such a pair of talents ought to be able to combine to pretty decent effect, given a little love and tactical direction.

4. Bale (and Dele)

Another day, another mightily underwhelming extended cameo from G. Bale Esq. He did at least have the decency to look occasionally as if he cared today, at one point even breaking into a sweat to challenge for a 50-50. However, for those in the gallery eagerly awaiting a glimpse of the man who just a year or two back was still skinning international defenders and blasting the thing home from distance, this was another afternoon of frustration.

Bale’s introduction did precious little to improve, or in any way change, the dynamic of the game. It is probably reasonable to assume that the fellow is still not quite 100%, but by now one would at least hope to see a glimpse or two of the global superstar of recent times.

Frustratingly, of this there has been not a squeak. Were the name on his shirt anything other than ‘Bale’, it is difficult to imagine that he would be considered a better fit for the current eleven than any of Bergwijn, Lucas, Lamela – or, dare I say it, Dele Alli.

Admittedly there’s been precious little opportunity for Dele, but each time he has been trotted out, he has done so under the microscope, and to his credit has at least tried to contribute. Difficult to judge on the back of ten minutes here and there, but his brief fling against Liverpool at least saw him roll up his sleeves and get on the ball. Not much about which to write home – but not any worse than Bale, and to this untrained eye, probably slightly better.

With games coming every couple of days over Christmas, both will presumably get an opportunity or two. And in a team crying out for some attacking ingenuity, who knows, maybe this time next month one of them will be undroppable?

Royal Antwerp 1-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. ‘Squad Depth’ and What It Actually Means

Generally in my relentlessly advancing years there’s not much that moves me to the state of excitable animation. The 90s output of either The Prodigy or Arnold Schwarzenegger; a well-weighted pass played by literally anyone inside the opposing full-back; and a decent bourbon – this would probably fill that list in its entirety.

Recently, however, a further addition was made, when someone sent me an image of the current Spurs squad by position, featuring at least two pretty decent, international players in each spot. It would be deceiving my public to say that I salivated, but the thought certainly occurred that if ever there were a time to rub one’s hands in glee then that was it.

Much has been made of the strength in depth of the current Hotspur vintage, as enabled by the oddly generous spirit of giving that overcame the resident purse-string holder this summer. And quite rightly too, as the view here at AANP Towers is that as long as the defence can find a way to muddle through each week then we might all be able to head over to N17 next May for one heck of a shin-dig.

However, ‘Squad Depth’ is a potentially misleading term. What it suggests in this corner of the interweb is that should a couple of players pick up knocks – or worse, be absented for longer periods – then fully functional and relatively able reserves can seamlessly slot in, and the general equilibrium of the whole operation remains unsullied. Life goes on; day follows night; and where once a Lo Celso picked the midfield passes now a Ndombele does so.

What such squad depth does not do is give licence to The Brains Trust to change all eleven (or near enough) in one crazed swoop, and hope that nobody notices. The England team has done this often enough to teach anyone with a smidge of good sense that swapping out more than half of the regulars for a bunch of capable substitutes simply will not pass without a dip in quality. The individuals involved might all be good enough, but the spine of the team is gone, and instead there stands on the greenery a bunch of fellows who presumably have never once played together en masse.

Changing maybe four of the line-up ought generally to be manageable, whilst retaining the core of the team. But sticking with Lloris and hoping that a jumble of the rest of them will cope is a bit like holding onto the Ace, throwing the rest of the cards into the air and expecting them to fall in order.

The complete absence of first half fluency was therefore lamentable but fairly unsurprising. A new back-four, a new midfield three and a new front three predictably enough all looked around for someone else to take the lead.

Which is not to excuse them from blame – the lack of movement from those not in possession was fairly criminal stuff, and presumably most of them will at some point in the coming days have their heads flushed down a nearby toilet as a pointed reminder that a professional footballer ought to run until his lungs burst.

But nevertheless, I’m not sure what miracle Jose was expecting, having fielded a brand new eleven.

2. The Ongoing Struggles of Young Master Dele

Fair to say that Dele Towers will have witnessed happier times. The young squirt is clearly not Jose’s preferred tipple, which must be tough enough on a chap who not so long was being feted as The Next Big Deal.

But as if to really twist the knife, whenever he does get a start these days, the planets do anything but align, he scrabbles around for his best form and the it’s a safe bet that by half-time he’ll be invited to model some of the exciting THFC bench-warming garb.

Dele’s performance tonight sat somewhere between Terrible and Brilliant. In truth it was pretty typical Dele fare. Some nice touches and a few attempted cute passes were interspersed with him dwelling on the ball longer than necessary and flinging his arms in the time-honoured fashion of a toddler who can tantrum like the best of them. Personally I thought his work-rate was acceptable enough, and he was a little hard done by to be hooked at half-time; but such is life.

Part of the problem is that he does tend to swan around the place with the air of one who would like the team to be built around him. Dele, one sometimes suspects, would like to be the superstar flair player, or if not The Main Man then dashed well first amongst The Supporting Cast. And once upon a time that was indeed the case, with Dele the foil to Kane’s leading light.

At present, alas, he is being required simply to roll up his sleeves and put in a shift like the rest of the plebs. This does not appear a role for which Nature has fashioned him.

One wonders how long the impasse will last – or at least one would if this were a transfer window, but it isn’t, and presumably a few more opportunities for redemption await in the Europa.

3. Ben Davies, AANP’s Nemesis

Few things get the juices flowing like a pantomime villain, and as such I sometimes wonder if Ben Davies was put on this earth purely to give yours truly someone at whom to vent after five minutes of gently simmering discontent.

In truth he’s a pretty honest trooper – but when the reasonable fan has half an eye on title celebrations next May, then ‘Honest Trooper’ does not cut it.

As a full-back his crosses typically hit the first man (think back to the delicious Reguilon cross for Kane vs West Ham, and imagine how many attempts it would have taken Davies), and as a centre-back he seems best when in amongst a three.

It ought not to have mattered tonight, but just as the simmering discontent began to make itself felt, there was Davies to clatter over his own feet and pretty much usher in Antwerp with a route to goal.

Alas, we are hardly blessed with talent in the centre-back area at present, and if anything will halt the title parade next May it’s that particular berth. However, having incurred the AANP wrath from his general lack of threat as a bona fide left-back, I need hardly describe how the passions were stoked by his faux pas tonight.

4. Bale’s Lack of Fitness

Another game, and another underwhelming showing from our resident Galactico.

As ever, one is reluctant to chide Bale for the crime of being dreadfully undercooked, but it is difficult to tell how effective he might be at full-blast when he shows reluctance to break sweat, as is currently the case.

Bale currently ambles around the place with the air of one paranoid his muscles might snap if he approaches anything near a sprint – which may well indeed be exactly his mindset. And if that is indeed the case then there’s not much anyone can do but fling him into the pit on Thursday nights and hope that the cylinders begin to fire before too long.

It didn’t help the cause tonight however, not least given that, as articulated above ad nauseam, he was one amongst a group of relative strangers all looking to each other for inspiration. Moreover, one got the impression that young Lo Celso was in a similar boat of being a little wary of stretching the limbs as far as they would go, being also freshly returned from injury.

The net result was a team that looked like they were carrying one or two passengers, which certainly stuck a few spanners in the works.

On top of which, it remains nigh on impossible to gauge what sort of Gareth Bale we find ourselves in possession of. He is still capable of lung-busting gallops? Is his sole purpose in life now to lamp the ball at goal from thirty yards? There is no way of knowing at present.

5. Oddly Reticent Full-Backs

No doubt that the game was lost in that oddly neutered first half. The glut of half-time substitutions nearly had the desired effect in terms of result, and certainly bucked up things performance-wise, with Messrs Sonny, Lamela and Hojbjerg each offering the levels of energy one has come to expect.

It was notable in that second half that Monsieur Aurier in particular was suddenly struck by the whim to attack down the flank. Quite why he didn’t do so in the first half was a rummy one to me, with Reguilon on the other flank similarly shy on the matter.

A failing in that first half was the narrowness of our lot, alongside the absence of movement and general lethargy about the place. But a key component of Jose’s Spurs has generally been the willingness of the full-backs to push forward, allowing the forwards to shuffle infield, and generally sprinkling the place with options.

As noted, Aurier did so in the second half, but it was all lacking in the first. Maybe it was due to the slow tempo of the build-up play, maybe not, who knows? It was not the only failing, and certainly not the only reason we lost – but as with all the shortcomings, it left the interested observer with a sense of irritation.

Sheff Utd 3-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Exciting Front Four In The First Half!

Nothing like a jot of positivity before we get stuck into the gloom, what? And in that jolly vein, I thought that in the first half, going forward our lot had a decent dollop of oomph.

In that glorious first 45, possibly excluding the opening 5 or 10 in which Sheff Utd started stronger, the case was made for a front four sans Dele, at least when counter-attacking. Lucas, Bergwijn and particularly Son seemed each to derive a certain pleasure from getting their heads down, revving up the motor and haring away.

Where Dele dances and pirouettes and takes umpteen touches seemingly intent on slowing things down so that we might all take our seats and marvel at the Dele Alli Fancy Touches Show, these three were keener to get from A to B in the quickest time possible.

The disallowed goal, far from knocking the stuffing from us, seemed instead to pique our lot, and by the time the half-time toot sounded an equaliser, if not exactly an inevitability, looked a heck of a decent bet.

Admittedly, despite our 70% possession, on the two or three occasions on which our hosts set foot in our area they looked like scoring, but more about our defensive shambles anon. For one further sentence, let’s just marvel at the first half threat we occasionally posed!

2. Yet Another of the Worst Performances We Can Remember (Esp. The Defending)

Thereafter, alas, things took a lurch southwards, and the second half ranks as one of our worst since the 90s – or it would do if there weren’t so many poor performances this season alongside which it shuffles neatly into place. Brighton away and Leipzig spring immediately to mind, but I suspect that I’ve managed successfully to expunge a couple of other debacles from the loaf, through the cunning use of copious amounts of post-match bourbon.

Back to the second half. As soon as the players were released from the traps the set-up began to wobble like the dickens. We continued to have the bulk of possession, making it a smashing evening for fans of multiple-touch football and slow and ineffective passes.

It was a less triumphant affair for those who had rather hoped that our lot might fight tooth and nail for every loose ball. It should not be possible to be so obviously second best despite having twice as much possession, and yet there in full technicolour was the proof.

As if the impotent attacking play and general lack of fight were not enough, we were also treated to defending the like of which had us rubbing our eyes and wondering if some elaborate hoax were in effect. Despite having been under the watchful tutelage of that supposed master of the art of defending, Our Glorious Leader himself, for the past few months, our lot approached their defensive duties in the style of a troupe to whom the concept of football had been newly introduced only an hour or two earlier.

It began in the first half, as each time a United player set foot in our area, despite there being copious bodies back in the general vicinity, not one of them thought to close the blighter down. We got away with it once or twice, but when United scored their opener the chap did so having had the time to settle in and make a cup of tea beforehand, despite half our team being in situ in the penalty area.

And then it happened again for their second. The various Tottenham bodies scuttled back into the six yard box, and then actively ignored the whereabouts of either ball or opposing players. They simply loitered in their chosen spots and watched as the United lot freely sauntered into the gaping spaces.

What the dickens is Jose teaching them? What are they saying amongst themselves? How are these paid professionals quite so incapable of grasping the basics?

Time for a sit-down and a stiff drink.

3. Pretty Poor Stuff in Midfield Too

Nor was this solely a disaster for the back four, although the tactic of squashing themselves into a narrow line within the six yard box and hoping that nothing bad would happen beyond that was pretty peculiar stuff. The midfield played their part by virtue of letting United breeze through them at will when on the defensive, and offering precious little going forward.

Perhaps I do them an injustice, when one considers the first half. Lo Celso certainly didn’t offer much, happy to slink into the shadows when he really ought to have been bounding around screaming for the ball so that he could direct operations.

But Sissoko in the first half made a couple of rather odd forays into the limelight, demonstrating much that is good and bad about him, often in the same motion. More than once he picked up possession from deep and charged forward in that unstoppable fashion of his, only to reach the point at which a decision ought to be made and duly panicking, in that slightly comical fashion of his.

The pair of them were neither a defensive shield nor a font of attacking ideas, and by the second half they numbered amongst our numerous passengers.

(A note on the rarely-sighted Ndombele: not much reason either to laud or chide the fellow, but the one pass he played, for an offside Son to pop into the net, was a little reminder that he does have in his locker absolutely exquisite vision.)

4. Lamela and His Many, Many Touches

I happened to read the other day that Erik Lamela has been at the club something like six or seven years now, which is a pretty extraordinary act of misdirection on his part. How did he get away with that?

So often hinting at a game-changing trick or two, and always charging around with the very welcome sackfuls of aggression but also rather regrettably low intelligence of a wounded bull, the young bean yet again expended a lot of energy without delivering anything of note.

Heaven knows how he fares in those training ground exercises in which only one or two consecutive touches are allowed, because he wanders the pitch with the air of one who was deprived of his own ball as a child, and now insists on keeping it to himself for as long as possible, before being swarmed upon by opponents.

Lockdown has been a test for all of us, but few things have driven me to swear out loud within an empty room like the sight of Lamela taking umpteen more touches than is necessary before messing up the end-product.

5. VAR – Not A Game-Changer, As We Were Perfectly Rubbish Without It, But Still Odd

Few right-minded folk will stomp their feet with too much animation about the VAR decisions, given how bad we were thereafter, but as ever the decisions did make one scratch the head and wonder if the point of spotting clear and obvious errors has been lost somewhat.

With respect to the disallowed goal, eggs is eggs and rules, unfortunately, are rules. Deliberate or not, fouled or not, if the ball hit Lucas’ hand then the case for the prosecution can sign off early. An iffy rule no doubt, but the honest souls paid to watch on a screen and make a decision are only carrying out orders.

My objection, rather, was that it did not appear 100% – or, to you use the parlance de jour, it was not “clear and obvious” – that the ball struck the hand/arm of Lucas at all. A case could be made that it did, a case could be made that it did not, but clear and obvious it was not. (And of course, it should have restarted with a free-kick.)

I was equally miffed that a moment or two later a Sheff Utd player (Norwood?) who had only just been booked escaped scot-free having taken a look at Sonny, raised an arm and given him a healthy clobbering to the head. A straight red card in the AANP book of such things, and even when looked at more objectively it might have been deemed a second yellow; but such is life’s rich tapestry.

Let none of it distract minds, however, from the fact that we were utter garbage and our defence is populated by incompetents.

Spurs 2-0 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane Getting Back Up to Speed

This whole thing was a marked improvement on the previous grilling, vs Man Utd – which admittedly was not difficult, given how low we set the bar on that occasion – and as Kane motored off into the distance to pop the cherry on things it struck me that his individual performance loosely summed up the general gist of things.

Against Man Utd he had barely registered his participation, seeming to serve decorative value only and appearing to have forgotten many of the basics of physics whenever involved in the action, judging by his negligible ball control and pretty severe case of the huffs and puffs when required to move. Similarly, our lot as a whole seemed unfit, devoid of ideas and pretty content to tick the box marked ‘Passive’ rather than ‘Active’.

Yesterday, however, Kane gave a pretty good impression of one who, if not necessarily firing on every conceivable cylinder, was nevertheless giving the engine a pretty thorough going-over – and indeed, the team as a whole at least seemed to peddle a bit more ambition than before, albeit against pretty limited opposition.

Those keenly observing Kane’s performance, with checklist in hand and pen at the ready, were kept well involved throughout. There were early hints that his memories of former glories were returning, as in the first half he pinged a shot from distance and then spread play to the wings – with the outside of his boot, no less – both pretty sure signs that, having been kept hidden from view against Man Utd, the Kane of old was making a bid for freedom here.

It continued in the second half with a lung-busting sprint of all things. Admittedly this ended in anticlimactic fashion, with him dragging his shot wide, but nevertheless, for a chap whose likeliest weakness is probably a lack of pace, the sight of him overtaking various defenders as he hared towards the penalty area would no doubt have had some pretty knowing looks exchanged in living rooms across the country.

And as if to emphasise the point, he did near enough the same thing again ten minutes later, but to better effect. The weighting of Sonny’s pass helped no end, meaning as it did that there was little need to break stride or take too many touches, but Kane’s hamstrings still held up well to the rigours of a dash towards goal, and his finish made the whole thing look vastly more straightforward than it was.

He then lay on the ground for around a minute refilling his lungs, but one can excuse that. It might not quite be peak Kane just yet, but this was far brighter stuff than I had dared hope.

2. Dele’s Free(Ish) Role

After West Ham’s initial ten-minute surge had gone up in smoke, and possession was ours to do with as we pleased, the game gradually settled into that age-old conundrum of how to break down two banks of four that have set up camp and desire little more in life than to remain that way with net untroubled.

A pretty convoluted plan seemed to have been concocted in this respect, with The Brains Trust deciding to cut their losses on Aurier by stationing him up the pitch as a right winger, thereby minimising his capacity to produce the calamitous within shooting distance of his own goal.

Meanwhile on t’other flank Ben Davies had presumably been fitted with one of those tagging devices that prevented him from mooching too far beyond the halfway line.

All of which meant that Sonny was our sole representative on the left flank and therefore had limited opportunity to cut infield and hare towards goal, and the AANP was left swimming a bit as it tried to work out the mechanics of the whole thing.

In short however, all the tactical scrawls in the world could not disguise the fact that our lot were pretty ponderous in possession – neither shifting the ball quickly when they had it, nor moving enough off the ball when they didn’t.

The pleasing exception to this rigidity was Dele. Whether under instruction to do so or simply exercising his autonomy and going where he pleased, as young folk will do, the rascal floated hither and thither, and by so-doing added a drop of the unexpected to our gentle probings.

Only a drop, mind. There was much of the inside left about his role, but when opportunity arose he seemed to go for a wander into pockets of space – on one such occasion inviting a lovely through ball from Davies, who had evidently broken his own positional diktat to wander up the pitch, and Dele was away in the penalty area.

The young egg’s swagger was also in evidence once again, with drag-backs and flicks aplenty. This can grate a little – there is, after all, a time and a place for such nonsense – but in general I thought he struck the right balance, injecting a little spontaneity into our attacking play that otherwise was pretty heavily steeped in the monotony of sideways passing.

It was a shame for him that he was hooked early in the second half, just as the game began to open up and the fun to start, but this constituted a decent innings on his return to the side.

3. Lo Celso Easing Into The Groove

The Man of the Match gong was officially awarded to Lo Celso, which was reasonable enough, but there is certainly more to come from the chap.

In the first half in particular, when, as mentioned above, we laboured to precious little effect, I thought we might have benefitted from grabbing the lad by his armpits, hoisting him into the air and depositing him some twenty yards further up the pitch, to sprinkle some mischief. In a world of sideways pass upon sideways pass, the vision and technique of Lo Celso makes him stand out as one of the few amongst us who might magic a chance out of nothing.

Indeed, on the one occasion that he did make it to the heady heights of the edge of the West Ham area his jinking feet made an instant impact, creating the chance for Sonny that was ruled out.

As the game became rather more stretched in the second half he became more prominent, able to indulge his partiality for embarking on a gentle gallop with ball at feet. One suspects he will be a pretty significant presence within the Mourinho vintage.

4. Ndombele – Persona Non Grata

There were other, low-key points of note – Sissoko became more dominant as the game progressed, Aurier not for the first time seemed rather to enjoy life without all that defensive nonsense burdening him – but one of the more significant developments of the evening was the conspicuous absence of a certain member of the troupe.

What future for Tanguy Ndombele in lilywhite? Fit enough for the elongated bench, but presumably not rated highly enough even for a late cameo to add some protection to midfield (young Master Winks instead thrown on for the final few minutes, to play the role of burly doorman), a betting man would presumably steer well clear of any wager on Ndombele to be the fulcrum around which the team is built.

Much was made pre-lockdown of Ndombele’s rather alarming lack of puff, and the young bean’s training regime during lockdown received similarly hefty coverage. As such, I suspect I was not the only one eagerly awaiting the sight of him emerging trim and buoyant, newly entrusted by Jose to turn defence into attack.

The reality appears vastly at odds with this scenario. The shape of the things in the immediate future appears to include the move of Dier back into defence, Sissoko and Winks as the more trusted deep-lying sorts, and Lo Celso pulling strings for the headline-seekers in attack – with Ndombele left to socially distance in the stands.

With games coming thick and fast in coming weeks one would expect that he’ll be beckoned to the fore at some point, but if the first two games are indicators of how Jose sees the world – and there’s every reason to interpret them as such – then this new normal does not appear to include Ndombele.

Spurs – Man Utd Preview: 4 Tottenham Talking Points

And so it begins again – and in truth receiving a pretty frosty reception in this part of town.

Given our form, injuries and the general way of all things lilywhite pre-apocalypse, I had greeted the abrupt end to proceedings with secret relief, and was all for the expunging of records. “Restore the end-18/19 standings,” was the anthem resounding at AANP Towers, “And if the managerial changes can also be undone, so much the better.”

Alas, such reasonable requests have been ignored. Joseball will be making our eyes bleed again quicker than we can ask “Is a tactic of 35% possession at home and looking to nick something in the final ten really the best way to go about things?”

1. Jose’s Tactics

The Ben Davies Gambit, unveiled to considerable success in Jose’s first game (of 4 at the back when defending and 3 when attacking, resulting in joyous attacking overloads and Good Dele) has proved a hoax. Jose’s true intentions all along appear to have been to retreat 20 years into our own half straight from kick off, and, broadly, hope for the best.

While one sucks up this rot when it’s an injury-hit Champions League night vs Leipzig, the whole routine is rather heavy going when it’s at home to Norwich or some such dross on the lower rungs.

Now admittedly the chap took on a tough gig. CL Finalists we might have been in name, but the mob he inherited needed more than just a lick of paint to get rediscover the old swagger. Key players were past their peak; those who weren’t had been flogged into the ground over the last few seasons; and there was an odd lop-sidedness to the whole mechanism.

So not necessarily the sort of vehicle one would proudly parade in front of envious neighbours – but neither was it the sort of decrepit cast of vagrants and amateurs fit only for ceding possession and playing on the counter-attack. Just about every young bean on the payroll was an international, capable of attracting admiring glances from CL Teams if subjected to the ‘Who Would Buy Them?’ test. Clueless, pootling mid-tablers they were not.

However, Jose has now had a few weeks to mould this lot to his foul preferences. While not exactly a bona fide pre-season it’s probably been the next been thing, so while it is probably a bit much to expect some sort of all-singing, all-dancing, feast of whirring goodness, at the very least one would hope for some defensive solidity and a game-plan slightly more expansive than soak-it-up-and-hope.

2. Injuries No More (Almost)

I still don’t think it fully excused the unique blend of negativity and chaos that stank the place out each week, but the swathe of injuries certainly did knock the stuffing somewhat, pre-Covid.

Merrily that excuse is can now elbowed aside – well, to an extent, as it appears that the boy Lo Celso is made of biscuits and therefore not yet ready for action. This is actually one heck of an elbow to the ribs, as the young egg gave a good impression of the sort around whom a team might be built.

Young Tanganga is also tucked up in bed necking paracetamol, but better news resounds on those other beans who were last seen covered from stern to stem in bandages. Messrs Kane, Son and Sissoko are apparently now injury-free, which is a blessed relief, because without them we increasingly resembled the victims of cinematic ne’er-do-well The Predator once their spines had been ripped from them, they too ending up with a bereft and useless air.

Young Master Bergwijn has also apparently been given an approving nod by some intelligent sort with a stethoscope, which means that Our Glorious Leader will have options a-plenty when the twenty-minute mark rolls along and he decides to make five substitutions at once.

3. Kane And The Need to Hit The Ground Running

The life and works of Harry Kane are generally headline news, so all eyes will presumably be trained in his direction once he lumbers into action, and while his return from injury for these final ten games is a blessing, there is a distinct caution in the air.

For all his assets – and one generally cannot swing a cat without hitting two or three of them – he is generally not the quickest out of the blocks when first settling into things, be it at the start of a new season or on his return from an injury.

Having been bunkered away for something like six months, one fears that it might take him several games to build a full head of steam, and with the games coming thick and fast we rather need him to dispense with the gentle warm-up and go flying straight into battle at full pelt.

Not to over-egg the point but much depends on the honest fellow, so while the empty stadium will not resound to much more than grunts and curses of those playing, you can bet that living rooms across the country will be filled with the muttered prayers of the long-suffering, willing the chap to hit peak form and pronto.

4. An Improved (And Fit) Ndombele?

In theory I suppose one might hone in every member of the squad and wonder what sort of player they will be when emerging back onto the greenery, but Ndombele will make for a particularly fascinating case-study.

Having been feted as up there alongside sliced bread and the wheel when first unveiled, and even now boasting a highlights reel that makes him look pretty unplayable, a full, unedited 90 minutes makes for a slightly more underwhelming spectacle.

One doesn’t like to poke fun, but the lad did seem rather to struggle with the pace of things here in sunny north London, to the extent that it appeared necessary to ration him to one single, solitary sprint per match, after which he could do little more than stagger around the centre circle in exhaustion.

The whispers from on high suggest that improving Ndombele’s fitness became something of a personal crusade for Jose during lockdown. If it bore fruit it will have been time well spent, because one imagines that a fit and active Ndombele could be a thing of beauty, and one heck of an asset to his nearby chums. The fear, of course, is that his allergy to stamina will live with him from cradle to grave, so one holds the breath and rattles off a few more of those living-room prayers.

All told, there is a nameless dread filling the air at AANP Towers, in case you hadn’t picked up as much already. And yet, beneath it all, there lurks that tiny sliver of hope – that actually, we’re still within social distance of the CL places; that the injury crisis is over; that Jose has drilled some tactical sense into even those stupid enough to post pictures of themselves on social media breaking lockdown; that these remaining games might even be a moderate success, and we might yet make the Champions League.

Leipzig 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Lloris – More Basic Errors

Tough times at Casa Tottenham, with the rot seemingly having set in from the stem and spreading – if you don’t mind the cunningly topical analogy – like a virus.

World Cup-winning captain or not, our resident custodian has assured us in recent times that if all else fails, he can be relied upon to drop a clanger of pretty gargantuan proportions with healthy regularity, and in this respect he did not fail us.

One understands the principle of walking a mile in the shoes of a fellow mortal before pelting him from all angles, and I readily confess that from the comfort of my armchair I certainly have never failed to make a save.

Nevertheless, the first goal appeared to be of the breed of regulation muck that you would expect a seasoned pro to shovel up without much more than a bat or two of the eyelid. As our Beloved Glenn also mentioned, one wonders whether the chap might have dared to stray forward from his line beyond the eight or so millimetres that he seems to consider statutory – but in truth when it comes to the technicalities of the profession I defer to others.

The headline, however, remained, that Lloris half-heartedly waggled a mitt when what was required was something made of far sterner stuff. The second goal left the dumb soul similarly red of face, involving as it did the cardinal sin of being bested at the near post. In his defence the whole episode did occur at double quick speed, the attacker’s header catching everyone off balance – but again, one would have expected Lloris to have had the apparatus arranged for such eventualities.

It was galling stuff, for several reasons. As mentioned, “error-prone” hardly does justice to the state of things, for off the top of one’s head one can name half a dozen pretty seismic howlers bearing his signature from the last couple of seasons. Within this mess, he has at least generally been able to fall back on the fact that he is a shot-stopper par excellence – but these two goals, plus that against Burnley at the weekend, suggest that his powers are fading at a fair old lick.

And frankly, the team as a whole having surpassed expectations by starting the game with intent and a reasonable threat, to have the captain and last line of defence undo the good work going on around him, by conceding two soft ones within the first twenty minutes, had about as elevating an effect on matters as shoving a pin into a balloon.

2. Winks – Not A Defensive Midfielder

After a reasonable opening ten minutes, in which our high press threatened to reap benefits, calamity struck when Leipzig found a pretty straightforward way of dealing with this – namely winning an individual battle or two in midfield. Within a blink of an eye they were racing at various isolated unfortunates within our defence, and it was a problem with which we never really got to grips.

Seeing their mob race towards our goal, with Harry Winks five yards behind in their slipstream, did make me wonder what effect a bona fide defensive midfielder might have had. At the weekend vs Burnley, the repositioning of Eric Dier from centre-back to defensive midfield, in the second half, helped contribute to a marked improvement. In Leipzig, Winks looked pretty woefully ill-suited to such a task.

One does not question the young pup’s willing, but positionally he appeared way off the mark, rarely in the appropriate spot for an interception, and typically caught too far upfield to effect any sort of tackle or simply to slow or divert an onrushing attacker. A feature of every Leipzig attack seemed to be Winks’ distinctive white boots labouring to make up ground.

It does beg the question – what is the lad’s purpose? Not a defensive midfielder, and still too reticent in his passing to be considered an attacking fulcrum, of the Lo Celso ilk, he appears best suited as a spare man in midfield, keeping possession ticking over – but something more substantial is needed.

He has churned out enough proactive displays to merit his place as a squad member, but indispensable he currently is not.

3. Sessegnon Looking Devoid of Confidence

The rather predictable gag about Dele Alli’s brother taking his place on the pitch takes a turn for the complicated when applied to Ryan Sessegnon, as he does indeed have a brother who peddles his wares in the same profession.

However, the moral of the story remains intact, because the Sessegnon currently on display at N17 has not yet offered even a whiff of the starlet signed to generous fanfare in the summer.

One suspects he will come good in time, so no need to panic; and there are numerous mitigating circumstances the defence lawyers might reasonably point to – injuries, chopped and changed formations and personnel, generally dreadful performances all around him – so nobody in their right mind is demanding the chap’s head.

It was simply disappointing to see such a promising young egg look so devoid of confidence. Rabbits in headlights have looked more inclined to take on their man, or more likely to beat him. His short passes are often inaccurate and he rarely contributes to neat interplay in the way that Aurier occasionally does on t’other flank. And when one points to Aurier as an example of what ought to be done correctly, one knows that matters are pretty serious.

In time young Sessegnon will almost certainly come good. It is just a dashed shame that a point in the season when the squad is depleted, and opportunity practically bangs the door down, he does not appear ready to step up.

4. Aurier’s Latest

On the subject of Aurier, another game brought another catastrophic error. To his credit he does find new and inventive ways of strewing calamity, the 360 degree pivot while preparing a headed clearance certainly making a change from the usual rash lunges on terra firma.

The sale of Trippier looks ever-more bizarre by the game; the need for someone with just a smidgeon of defensive sense to take over at right-back, ever more pressing.

5. No Shortage Of Effort In Attack

As mentioned above, our lot actually produced a surprisingly sprightly opening ten minutes, giving the impression that a reasonable fist of things might be made.

In a pleasingly retro homage to a former Glorious Leader, they began with a high press, led by the forwards, and for a couple of exciting minutes one even half-expected to see Messrs Rose and Walker gallop up the flanks in support.

More fool those of us observing from the pews. By the time the second goal came around the stuffing had disappeared from within us and was ambling away and out of sight. Instead of prime Rose and Walker we now have undercooked Sessegnon and unreliable Aurier.

And instead of Kane and Son we have whomever is still standing. Dele, Lucas and Lamela did not click at any point, but I quite happily exonerate them, and save my muttered imprecations for others.

There was no shortage of willing amongst the three of them, and by the time the game drifted into its final half hour I rather wanted to give each of them a consoling pat on the shoulder.

Play together week in and week out, and they possess between them enough quality and energy that they might stumble upon a dashed effective understanding. But consistency of approach does not appear to be The Jose Way, nor does any obvious plan, and so it was unsurprising that when thrown together as a triumvirate for the first time they simply failed to click.

Calling Spurs fans from the ‘60s – I’d love you to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players. Just leave a comment below, drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

Spurs 2 – 3 Wolves: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. 60 Vaguely Encouraging Minutes

A shame we lost this one – well, it always is a shame to lose – but a particular shame to lose this one, because I thought that, at least until we went behind, our lot played fairly well.

Some qualifying context is perhaps needed here. I heard a pretty nifty gag once, which went along the lines that in a land full to the rafters with blind folk, any chap who happened to be one-eyed would as likely as not be king. And that sprang to mind today, as I watched our lot hit the front-foot pretty much straight off the bat, for it struck me that in the land of the utterly dreadful performances at home to Leipzig and away to Chelsea, today’s fare was, by comparison, something of an unexpected improvement.

Such has been the rot peddled in recent weeks that I fully expected that a match at home to Wolves would see us stuck in 30% possession territory, allowing our visitors to roll the ball around amongst themselves unchallenged and perhaps launching a desperate salvage operation in the final 20. Because let’s face it, we now have a certain recent history in this woeful regard.

So instead to be greeted by the sight of Harry Winks collecting the ball, ambling forward ten yards and then bopping a pass forward another ten yards was pretty sensational stuff.

(I single out young Winks not for any particular reason, as to a man our lot seemed to have their dials switched if not exactly to ‘Attack’ then seemingly to ‘Let’s At Least Be A Little More Progressive In Our Approach Than In Recent Weeks’. I suppose seeing Winks embody this approach was just a little eye-catching, as he’s not always been one of nature’s born forward-passers.)

And for an hour or so we looked good value for a lead – but alas, Wolves are no mugs, and as befits the non-mug ilk they’re also pretty dashed clinical in front of goal. Thus having got their noses ahead they shut up shop and that, for a mob as limited as ours, was that. Not even the inspired decision to throw on the boy Parrott for the entirety of injury-time could effect the required rescue.

Still, having seen glimpses of quick passes from middle-to-top, and the sort of level of off-the-ball movement that suggests the collective torpor might have been shaken off, I at least trudged home a notch of two up from the Pit Of Despair that had taken hold post-Leipzig and -Chelsea.

2. Lucas

For that halcyon first hour or so when we made a decent fist of things, Lucas struck me as one amongst our number who had doubled down on his spinach pre-match.

Although employed as often as not in a deep-lying position that may or may not have been part of a strikerless formation, he seemed to be at the hub of things, evidently having adopted as his word of the day ‘Scamper’. For every time he touched the ball he scampered like a man who had amassed prizes for it in a former life.

There is something particularly compelling about watching a man get his head down and dribble mazily past the despairing, hacking legs of opponents, and when on song Lucas channels his inner playground footballer like few others.

Ultimately the effect of all this was not as devastating as one would have hoped, but with Messrs Aurier, Lo Celso, Alli and Bergwijn all happy to assist, there appeared to be potential for a most welcome rise in spirits about the place.

3. Aurier

The slightly unlikely source of the mid-game hoick in spirits was Serge Aurier, who continues to flit effortlessly between sublime and ridiculous.

His finish for two-one was taken with a huge dollop of aplomb, and in the second half, with a whole chorus of angels by now stationed on one shoulder and whispering sweet nothings at him, he delivered a couple of delicious crosses of the whipped variety, that deserved better than simply to have been watched and admired from afar by panting midfielders.

However, the pack of devils stationed on his other shoulder rarely go five minutes without making their presence known, as we well know. And so it was that misplaced simple pass followed misplaced simple pass, efforts to wriggle casually free off attention ended in ceding possession, and at one point he simply picked up the ball when under the illusion that it had left the field for a throw-in – a faux pas which would have been classified as Peak Aurier were it not for the countless red cards and penalties and own goals and whatnot that seem to be part of his very fabric.

4. The Back Three

The extent of Jose’s defensive masterplan currently appears to be write all names on paper, pick them out of a hat and roll with them for the following 90, and so it was that we began with a three-man core of Dier, Sanchez and the boy Tanganga.

My sentiments on these three at the end of proceedings were decidedly mixed. Plenty of scribbles in both the Credit and Debit columns, if you follow my drift.

Take Dier, a great big log of a fellow whose star has taken a bit of a plummet in the eyes of AANP over the last few years. I actually thought he acquitted himself relatively well yesterday, exceeding expectations that were, admittedly, not far off the floor pre-match.

As often as not finding himself up against the man-mountain that is Adama Traore, a fate one wouldn’t really wish upon a loathed enemy, Dier seemed at first to have his wits about him, timing his tackles well and then bouncing back to his feet with a most serious expression etched across his face, a sure sign of knowing that a job is being done well and that admiring comment is heading one’s way.

And yet when push came to shove, the Wolves forwards ended up skipping past Dier and chums as if none of them were there (or, more accurately, as if they were certainly there but fitted with roller skates and attempting to navigate an ice rink covered in marbles). Wolves forwards sashayed one way; Dier and co flew off the way, Wolves forwards drilled the ball home. Thrice.

As such, my sentiments on Tanganga were not a million miles away from those on Dier. Lots of solid tackles, initially giving the sense that here was a chap who had arrived at the office in a mood not to be trifled with – but then suddenly undone by a pretty basic error for their first goal, followed by that roller-skate-ice-rink routine for the next goals.

Obviously Tanganga still has plenty of credit in the bank, and there really does appear to be an excellent defender waiting to emerge, but each of the three crucial moments that our lot had to defend were ultimately turned into pigs ears – and if one wanted to make the case that these cost us the game, there would be a decent stash of evidence at which to poke.

(For what it’s worth I’ve been increasingly impressed with Sanchez week by week, albeit his inability to judge the flight of airborne missiles still rankles a tad.)

So we find ourselves simultaneously on the cusp of the Top Four, in a fairly literal sense, and approximately a million miles away, on observing the dross being peddled on the turf. A run of wins would improve matters, an obvious style and identify even more so, so I suppose there is little more to do than stiffen the upper lip and hope for the best.

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

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

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