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Man Utd 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

Apologies for ambling in a day late with this missive, you can blame it on the post-prandial snifter, which turned into two or three and a night carousing with the best of them in south London. Yesterday, consequently, I was in no fit state for human consumption, which seemed rather apt given the tame manner in which our season had fizzled out the day before.

1. A Cracking Goal In Every Way Imaginable

And yet things had all kicked off so swimmingly. Admittedly we did not quite repeat the ten-second salvo of a couple of months back, but Kane still managed a neat pirouette and shot before the patrons had taken their seats, and in the opening ten minutes Eriksen and Sonny were bobbing about like they owned the place. In short, we looked every inch the dapper gentlemen ready to tear up the town, and it was little surprise when Dele slid in to bulge the net with such gusto.

A cracking goal from start to finish too, with Davinson Sanchez somehow squaring a circle by making a fairly straightforward route-one punt look something like a thing of beauty. A doff of the cap to Messrs Young and Pogba, for obligingly wafting out of position, but in the blink of an eye defence had become attack, and of all people young Master Eriksen was tearing away.

What followed was good enough to impregnate the watching hordes, because the cross whipped in by Eriksen was an absolute belter. It really deserved to be slapped into the net, and when Dele obliged at a rate of knots, judges throughout the land were scribbling 10s on their scorecards, because in terms of aesthetics the goal was off the charts.

2. An Atrocious Goal in Every Way Imaginable

To describe as a dashed shame the fact that it was pretty swiftly negated does not begin to sum things up. The equaliser was all the more galling for the fact that it was pretty emphatically of our own making, dash it all.
The trouble started when the wretched Vorm needlessly and inexplicably chipped the ball about ten feet above Vertonghen’s head and out of play. His options at the time were manifold, he had time to light a cigar and contemplate his summer hols before acting, and yet he simply blooted the ball out for a throw, level with the edge of his own penalty area.

The ensuing throw-in wibbled its way to the other side of the penalty area, where Dembele took the reins, and one would have expected a healthy period of world peace and prosperity to ensue. Alas, Dembele, in a rare display of mortal frailty – albeit one that lasted pretty much his entire 78-minute stint – chose that moment to throw in a stinker, and with the United end of the pitch beckoning, opted needlessly and inexplicably to dip back towards his own goal, and in doing so pretty much presented the ball to Pogba, gift-wrapped and with a neat bow on top.

Dembele allowed himself to be shoved to ground for good measure, and nobody in our defence was quite ready for the cross which then followed. Credit to the other Sanchez – the rotten one – for a downward header off balance and all sorts, but matters were certainly compounded by Vorm needlessly and inexplicably opting to stand and watch the ball ping past him. The concepts of sticking out a limb or, heaven forbid, launching himself after the thing were a long way down the Vorm agenda. He was of strictly decorative value, and he did not care a jot who knew it.

3. Poch’s Selection Errors: Vorm

Which ties in neatly to the decision to select Vorm instead of Lloris. I understand that Vorm had been the Cup-tie choice, which made some sense when we were mooching around the lower-league teams in the early rounds with bigger fish to fry in Europe and elsewhere. Those were the moments for Walker-Peters, Llorente and Vorm. Understood.

But an FA Cup Semi-Final vs Manchester United is hardly the time for sentiment, what? If ever there were a time to roll up one’s sleeves and say, “Hoy! Time to sharpen the bayonets and go hell for leather, no mistake!” it’s an FA Cup Semi-Final vs Manchester United. And if it hurts the poor lamb’s feelings then I’ll cry a river for him at a later date.

Moreover, on a pedantic note, if the idea were to drop Lloris for these occasions, why was he on the bench? If the chap is in the squad, play him. Admittedly, he has been littering stadia across the land with his mistakes in recent weeks, but if there is one thing he does still do with aplomb it’s pull of a heck of a save. Which would have proved a useful trait as both goals 1 and 2 whistled within clutching distance of the decorative Vorm.

4. Poch’s Selection Errors: Toby Alderweireld

Yes, yes, I understand the principle – mutter about grass being greener elsewhere and you can expect a stint on Poch’s Naughty Step, followed by an undignified elbow off the premises, and our glorious leader has to display consistency and ruthlessness. No “I” in “Team” and all that. But there dashed well is an “I” in “FA Cup Semi-Final vs Manchester United”, and to leave out our best defender – again, in the squad, but on the bench – was a move so petty I wanted to grab the nearest unsuspecting sort and shake him.

He may not be of our gang for much longer, but we still pay the chap his wages, however paltry he may consider them. He is still our player, so why not use him while we can? And while Sanchez has his many, many assets, who amongst us would not feel better with Toby patrolling the back door at night?

Who knows how life might have panned it had Toby played, it is one of life’s great imponderables, but I have a suspicion that for a start he might have made a better fist of things than the two in situ when the cross was swung in for Alexis Sanchez’s header.

5. Killer Instinct (Or Lack Thereof)

The latest media narrative – following on from Totteringham’s Day, the Wembley Curse, beating Top 4 teams away and so on and so forth – is this business of failing to win silverware. And much though I’d have loved a trophy, the opinion at AANP Towers is that Top Four finishes and improvement in the Champions League is indicative of far greater progress than an FA Cup will ever evidence.

The notion of being “Spursy”, “bottling” our operations and so on and so forth also gets wheeled out pretty much whenever we fail to win a game these days, which is simply a cross we have to bear and as much a reflection on a bunch of players long since retired as it is on the current mob.

More pertinently, one thing which sidesteps the use of statistics for one’s own convenience, or historical performances that have little to do with the current day, is the fact that our present lot could show a heck of a lot more red-blooded killer instinct when the chances arise. Against Juve at home, and Man Utd on Saturday – two of the biggest occasions of the season – we were in the ascendancy, created chances a-plenty, but scored just the once and padded away in fairly self-satisfied mood, only for a less expansive but more savvy opponent to pilfer the goods from under our noses.

If these two occasions have taught us anything it ought to be the value of taking what few chances come our way in crunch games. If we’re enjoying a fifteen-minute period of revels and gaiety, let’s score at least twice. If we’re giving an opponent a pummelling, let’s make sure the scoreline reflects it. One gets the gist. These unpretty but effective sides will as likely steal a goal against the run of play, and it is little use bemoaning how well we played and how dominant we were.

And breathe…

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

Brighton 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

Hmm, difficult to know what to make of that one, what? A bit of a struggle to find the delicate phrase that sums it all up. Not that my old man, AANP Senior, had much trouble, mind. “Rubbish,” was his pithy assessment as the bell sounded, and I suppose it’s hard to disagree.

1. The Central Midfield

Being an enlightened sort, who is all for a new wheeze once in a while, I have no problem with the modern concept of ‘change’. A spot of invention is as likely to do good as harm, so if some old bean wants to wheel out a new idea every once in a while it’s fine by me.

However, there is a limit to these things, so when Our Glorious Leader instructed Dembele to put his feet up, and unveiled Messrs Sissoko and Wanyama as his midfield axis of choice, the AANP blood did freeze over a mite.

No doubt both are good, honest chaps, and when it comes to destruction, Victor Wanyama struts around like a bloke who has a diploma in the field. Present him with a slick-passing outfit like Real Madrid, and the chap will likely prowl around like a bulldog scenting blood.

As for Sissoko – well, two years on it is still a little difficult to ascertain quite what benefit he brings to any situation conceivable, but the hound does have an engine on him, even if the connection between feet and brain has something of the Russian Roulette about it.

However, whatever argument one pitches in favour of these two young fish, one cannot look one’s neighbour in the eye and honestly opine that between them they are possessed of the guile and finesse required to unpick a well-organised couple of banks of four. Last night required our central midfield to spot a cute pass and deliver it in nary the blink of any eye. Alas, Wanyama and Sissoko spend that much time bringing the dashed thing under control and carefully laying out all their optins that dew began to settle on the turf around them.

To his credit, Wanyama at least used his destructive capabilities for good, in harassing the Brighton chappie into conceding possession to Son, who created our opener. But by and large, the deep-lying well of creativity was dry as a bone until Dembele lumbered on and began effortlessly rolling past approaching bodies.

2. Full-Backs And The Class Of ‘16/17

Cast your minds back twelve months or so, and you may recall that the Premier League was not quite the one-horse procession of 2018, and the good ship Hotspur was in fact making a dashed good fist of things. All-singing, all-dancing, golden boot-wearing and whatnot. But perhaps key to all this was the quality of our full-backs. Perhaps not, as the counter-argument might go, but still – perhaps.

Danny Rose on one side and Kyle Walker on the left were at the peak of their powers, combining the pace and attacking width of wingers with the pace and defensive upper-body strength of full-backs. Acting as all-rounders in the team, this indefatigable pair sneakily gave us the advantage of effectively having two extra sets of legs on the pitch.

In a team riddled with key personnel, a pretty convincing case could be made for those two being the most important of the lot. Fast forward to the present day and it’s fair to say our tails are not waggling with quite so much aplomb.

Each member of the current gaggle does brim with energy, and they are generally decent wide outlets, ever willing to go flying up the flank in search of glory. But this does not count for much if they consistently peddle utter rot once they get there, no?

To his credit, Trippier does a fairly nifty line in cushion-volleyed-first-time passes (the specimen that set up Dele Alli vs Real makes for a decent Exhibit A), but in general this lot seem to be of the ‘Close Your Eyes And Swing Your Boot’ School of Crossing, with the ball as likely to fly into orbit as it is to bend into a usefully chaotic area.

On top of which, the inclusion of Serge Aurier on matchday is essentially equivalent to conceding a goal start to the opposition, the chap delivering calamitous interventions like a seasoned pro. Yesterday, naturally was an opportunity for him to showcase his imbecilic rot, and he didn’t disappoint, while on t’other side Ben Davies delivered his usual slew of utterly average crosses. It makes the soul droop, it really does.

3. Toby Alderweireld

Might this prove the last appearance in lilywhite of Toby Alderweireld? Quite possibly.

One ought not to quibble with Daniel Levy and his careful management of every last penny, but it does seem a dashed shame that when we hit upon a world class egg like Alderweireld, a reason is promptly dug up to kick the chap off the premises and make clear to him that he is no longer welcome to break bread with us.

Davinson Sanchez is a hearty young buck, and in time might well become one of the best of the lot, but at present he still gets his head in an occasional tizz and blurts out the wrong lines. Toby, by contrast, is near faultless, and together with Vertonghen they form quite the bedrock. But what is one to do?

4. Harry Kane’s Fitness

I asked after Saturday’s defeat, and in that keen analytical way of mine, I’ll ask again now – is the blighter fully fit? There seems to be a slightl sluggishness about the fellow ever since his return, as if he is approaching the latter stages of a particularly gruelling cross-country trek and, all things being equal, would not say no to a cup of tea and a roaring fire.

Not a bad call from Senor Poch mind, to pull him back into the Number 10 role in the second half, as it at least meant that the young bean got to see a little of the ball. It still came to naught, but at least reacquainted him with his erstwhile spherical chum.

I do rather hope that the spring returns to his step fairly sharp-ish. We may well have fourth spot just about in the bag, but to put it bluntly an FA Cup win would be a darned sight easier if Harry Kane were donning a cape and leading opposing defenders a merry dance.

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

Spurs 1-3 Man City: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Off-The-Ball Struggles

I don’t think I’d be deceiving my public in suggesting that that was right up there with the more underwhelming nights in recent memory. Admittedly few of us would have had particularly wild expectations, but City’s recent form was enough to have some of us glancing surreptitiously at one another and whispering “What ho?” with a mischievous smile and a knowing wink or two.

But any such inclings of unlikely glory were given a damn good kicking in that opening half hour. I had, reasonably enough, hoped that we might have taken the game to our visitors and got stuck in at them from the off, to test their mettle so to speak.

Whether that approach might have worked we will never know, because they zapped the ball around as if it were a beam of light, and none of our lot touched the dashed thing until we were two down.

We were not undone by any moments of individual brilliance as much as a bit of a tactical shoeing, as the City chappies oozed from one position to another, and collectively from one formation to another, all of which made our brains melt. Our off-the-ball approach, so often something of a nifty secret weapon, was reduced to the rather depressing sight of simply pattering around a couple of yards behind play, desperately wanting to pause for breath and clarify north from south.

2. Dembele – Genius With A Potential Flaw

I suspect the weekly adoration of Dembele might become a little wearisome to the unconverted, but in this parish it continues like nobody’s business. To say that the chap is merely a “dribbler” is a bit like saying that Grace Kelly or some other such Hollywood siren is “rather a looker” – that is, while true enough per se, it doesn’t really begin to do justice the manifold talents on show.

I can honestly say I have never set eyes upon another soul who gildes past opponents as well as our man. And without wanting to labour the point, it is not as if he throws in an array of befuddling stepovers and party-tricks either. The chap can seemingly send two or three opponents spiralling off in the wrong direction simply by means of a shoulder-dip, some pretty magnetic close control and the body strength of one of the more Herculean bulls going around.

All of which is topping stuff, and has the locals bursting into applause on a regular basis. Look closely enough at the fledgling stages of any Tottenham attack and as often as not you’ll find Dembele’s fingerprints riddling the thing.

However, when we are not in possession – as happened for great swathes of the match yesterday – Dembele’s star burns a little less brightly. The chap is not really blessed with the indefatigable energy reserves of many of his lilywhite chums, and in truth his principle means of terminating an opposing attack tends to be the slightly unrefined Cynical Haul of the Shoulders.

Now personally I am of the opinion that Dembele’s value on the ball pretty much excuses his failings as a defensive midfielder when not in possession, but it is a thought worth chewing over. To pad out the point, a general inability to affect things when not in possession is my principle reason for arguing against the inclusion of First-Rate Rotter Jack Wilshere in the England team.

3. Kane – Fully Fit?

Given the moral outrage generated this week by the public declaration of a striker that he wanted to score goals, I was under the impression that Harry Kane would only ever touch the ball to shoot or tee himself up for a shot. Picture my surprise then, when he found himself around the edge of the area and opted to slide a pass in for Eriksen (to do what Sonny never would, and go flying in amongst the limbs to score), rather than blast the thing goalwards himself.

That, alas, was about as fruity as the participation got for our golden boy. Had I noticed him at any other point in the game I would have observed that he was pretty anonymous, which makes one think.

As someone with zero medical knowledge I don’t mind opining that the young bean did not look fully fit, from my vantage point. Where previously he would dash down the channels like some buccaneering hero, or drop deep to shield the ball and spray to onrushing chums, yesterday there was something of the amble about his gait.

No doubt he sweated a good honest gallon or so of the honest stuff, but he barely got anywhere near the ball throughout. (Not that much can really be done if he is indeed lacking match practise, other than giving him more matches.)

4. Upbeat Stuff From Lucas

By contrast, Lucas Moura set about the thing with all manner of vim and gusto once introduced.

There is, I suppose, the eternal pessimist’s concern that the blighter might be all flash and glitz and whatnot, and no actual end-product – presumably Time, as she often does, will have the final say on that one.

But for now, or, more accurately, then, Lucas’ quick feet and general impression of an eel of the particularly slippery variety quickened the pulse in a most welcome manner. One imagines that tiring defenders would groan and curse at the introduction of such a rascal, and I for one hope that he upgrades from cameo roles sooner rather than later.

5. Another Day, Another Lloris Clanger

What the dickens is up with the chap? His errors of judgement are becoming so regular and costly that somebody somewhere will soon write a strongly-worded letter about it to the one of the big cheeses.

Admittedly the foul was outside the area – but, by heck, what a foul! He could not have been less subtle if he had set off from his line with an axe slung over his shoulder and brandishing a sign that read “Regardez! I’m looking for a striker to upend.” Not the sort of thing for which he earns the weekly envelope, I’m pretty damned sure.

Watching the ghastly scene unfold did make me pause and stroke the chin, and wonder what had become of those halcyon days in which Lloris played as a genuine “Sweeper Keeper”, to coin a phrase. Back then, it was as common a sight as a singing lark to see the young egg haring fully thirty yards from his goal to triumphantly intercept an opposition pass and boot it roughly back when it came.

Such interventions would be jolly useful in season 2017/18, given that our eye-wateringly high defensive line often begins business up around the halfway line, but Lloris seems to have decided that racing off his line to help out his back four is now strictly for nostalgic reminiscence only.

So we are left with a defeat that we suspected might come our way, and which does not do much damage to our Top Four push – but finishing third has now become a mite trickier, which bothers me a tad, given that 4th spot would presumably mean a CL play-off during post-World Cup season. The brow furrows.

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

Stoke 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Another Lovely Dembele Day

A bad day for fans of the black and white portrayals of teams as either World-Beaters or Abject Failures, as we pretty neatly straddled the middle ground between those two throughout. It would be a defamation of character to suggest that our heroes were bereft of ideas, but neither was this the electric, pacey, one-touch stuff that makes hearts race and impressionable types swoon.

Not enough of the first-time passing and little dinks around the corner from my vantage point, which I suppose was partly due to the pressing game Stoke employed, but the front four still sprinkled in a enough neat and tidy combos to keep our hosts honest.

Naturally enough, much of what was good came from the deific feet of Mousa Dembele, who these days seems to play a completely different game to the average mortal. While everyone else in the stadium had to negotiate the movement from Point A to Point B through the traditional medium of getting their little legs working like the clappers, Dembele glided across the turf looking for all the world like he was rolling along on a set of wheels.

Watching Stoke players lunging at him in uncouth manner brought to mind a simple-headed hound trying to catch its own tail, as our man neatly swerved this way and pirouetted that.

In a first half in which we dominated possession but created only the one clear chance (Sonny really ought to have scored, but he did at least hit the target) Dembele’s silky movement was a pleasant distraction. Given his rotten luck with injuries historically we should probably all count ourselves lucky that we’re being treated to his masterclasses on a weekly basis at the moment – who knows how often this will happen again?

2. Eriksen’s Eye For Goal

Christian Eriksen is another whose tail has most definitely been up in recent weeks. While full-backs may come and go, Dier and Wanyama seem to be slugging it out for a single spot, and any two from three could be picked in the roving attacking roles, Eriksen, like Dembele, is a pretty vital cog in the machinery.

Stoke are evidently fans of the young nib, as they couldn’t go five minutes without conceding a free-kick just to see him peddle his wares once again. One imagines that the manner in which he whips in those deliveries will give the young folk nightmares, because as an opposing defender there is not a lot that can be done beyond closing one’s eyes, sticking out one’s neck and muttering a Hail Mary or two.

Where Dembele slinks past folk, Eriksen is more the sort to pick a pass, but no doubt about it, his recent successes have given him a taste for goal. Once upon a time Eriksen might have modestly deferred saying “Boo” or any other sort of introductory salutation to a passing goose, but the recent goal glut has given him the confidence now to ping in shots from anywhere south of 25 yards.

Oddly enough, neither of his goals yesterday actually came from that sort of approach to life, but his ability to strike gold from distance adds a pretty useful string to our attacking bow.

3. Dele’s Decision-Making

After seven years – or near enough – of famine, Dele seems to be enjoying something of a purple patch. His goals last week were triumphs for technique and presence of mind, and he was at it again yesterday.

Naturally enough, being the armchair genius that I am, when the young imp was through yesterday and opted against feeding Harry Kane, I took the opportunity to launch into a fairly fruity tirade against his choice of action, the gist of which was that he was a wretch of the highest order, who was spurning opportunities like nobody’s business.

No doubt should our paths ever cross Dele will gleefully recount exactly how events transpired, and who could blame him if he were to snigger at AANP’s expense, because the chap had a pretty nifty plan in his head, which involved pausing proceedings, using Kane by not using him (to borrow from Barry Davies) and languidly rolling the path into the nearest onrushing Dane as if it were a move they had been rehearsing for weeks.

It’s the sort of stuff those Mensa bods would lap up, and can be filed next to his drag-back for the second goal vs Chelsea last week in the compendium of Dele’s Cerebral Moments From Recent Times.

Contrast that with the Stoke forward in possession when they had a 4 vs 1 counter-attack in the dying seconds, who opted to tamely slip the ball to one of our defenders, and one starts to see the value in a chappie who can pick the right option when push comes to shove

4. Hugo’s Wobblies

Another day, another rather glaring error from Monsieur Lloris. A few more of these, and the neighbours might start to murmur.

On the bright side, these misguided flaps and clearances straight to opponents are the sort of basic errors that can, in theory, be ironed out via a stern talking to and a few hours practise in the back garden. That is to say, it’s not like we require Lloris to learn the art of leg-spin or speaking Mandarin or some such taxing task. Nope. Just the basics. Put another way, nobody really thinks that the chap is out of depth, or is some sort of mal-coordinated incompetent, merely that he has started to lose concentration.

The prosecution, however, might reasonably point out that it’s a bit like shrugging off as merely a lazy lapse of concentration an aeroplane pilot who is occasionally prone to gazing off into the mid-distance just as the landing gear is lowered and touchdown looms. In some jobs simply switching off for a few moments and doing something almightily fat-headed is not really an option. Not to be too hard on the honest fellow, but being a goalkeeper he really should know better.

When all is said and done, however, there are relatively few complaints from this quarter. At this stage of the season the mission priority is pretty much to make sure that we emerge from whichever hellhole with all limbs attached and the precious cargo of three points safely stowed away. In that sense this was an absolute roaring success, especially with Liverpool rather furtively dropping a couple of points elsewhere.

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

Spurs 6-1 Rochdale: Five THFC Observations

1. VAR, Apparently

Just as well we started thumping in goals from all angles in the second half, because by the midway point of the first half the two dozen or so brave souls who had made the pilgrimage to Wembley appeared ready to grab the nearest pitchfork and riot, in protest at VAR and the accompanying lunacy.

If you are looking for some semblance of sanity or explanation in this direction you can jolly well look elsewhere, because AANP was even more discombobulated than usual. Not only were VAR decisions being made according to the toss of a coin or spin of a wheel, or whatever sorcery it is, but I had the pleasure of watching the whole thing unfold from the rear end of a bar in Malta of all places, which had wisely decided to shun the witterings of the standard commentators and instead peddle a marvellous range of 80s power ballads and 90s pop as the audio backdrop to proceedings. A pretty ripe deal, you might think, and I certainly would not trade it, but without someone narrating the thing it was blank looks all round whenever the ref’s eyes lit up and the VAR machine rolled into town.

So when Lamela’s early “goal” was disallowed, with replays showing nobody offside, no simulation and about as much physical contact as one would normally expect from a game of chess, I could do little more than exchange a quizzical look with my old man, AANP Senior, while R. Kelly warbled in my ear that he could fly.

The decision to award the penalty seemed a slightly rummy one to me, the foul having begun a good few metres outside the area, but having bravely fought off the attentions of his marker for as long as was bearable, young Trippier’s little legs could support him no longer. And while few juries would possibly have convicted on those grounds, Trippier wisely enough reasoned that where there is VAR there is hope for even the most unlikely infraction to be awarded; and Bryan Adams gently crooned his satisfaction.

That said, the decision then to disallow the Son’s goal made me cast a few severe glances around the place like nobody’s business. A Spurs-supporting chum of mine kindly sent me an image from the FA website no less, on the various dos and don’ts of penalty kickery, on which was inscribed the specific words “Feinting is permitted”. It’s permitted, dash it! If anything, the FA bods are practically encouraging it! And while Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” admittedly did a mighty job of soothing this particular savage soul, the injustice of it all had me chuntering away into my Maltese lager.

2. Attacking Trio

So it was with a cocktail comprising two thirds bewilderment and one third effrontery that I sipped the half-time restorer and was serenaded by that virile old devil, Marvin Gaye. VAR had stood virtually as an extra line of defence; our own defence had switched off a little too regularly for comfort, and the Sissoko-Winks defensive screen had a distinctly porous whiff about it.

The saints be praised then, that the attacking triumvirate of Lamela, Son and Lucas were going about their business with gay old abandon. Each one of them bounded around the place as if to say, “Hello! If we play our cards right there could be all sorts of goods on offer here,” and accordingly they came fully armed with trickery on the ball and a decent level of work off it.

Lucas in particular appears to do exactly as advertised in the catalogue, which ought really to be barely worthy of mention, but given that our history of big-money signings has the same calamitous air about is as the passenger list of The Titanic, this is actually quite the triumph. Unlike anyone else in lilywhite he seems capable of skipping past opponents at in Full Gallop mode. On top of which, the young bean knows when to hang on to the ball and when to give it, as evidenced by the part he played in more than one goal. While admittedly this particular flexibility has only been fully demonstrated to date in two encounters with Rochdale, it still gets the juices flowing, as it were.

And if one were to step back, stroke the chin and survey the wider landscape, one might even suggest that there is now a degree of competition or reserve for Messrs Eriksen and Alli. Admittedly nobody is in the class of the former, but having a couple of viable options is no bad thing.

3. Llorente

I suppose that having wasted no opportunity to throw curses around like confetti whenever Senor Llorente has tripped over his own feet, it is only right to doff a cap and raise a glass or two when he scores a perfect hat-trick.

Prior to that point it was the usual fare from him: delightfully-weighted lay-offs coupled with an infuriating inability – or maybe just stubborn refusal, who knows? – to throw his weight around, work up a sweat and win a few blasted headers.

However, his first goal was an exquisite finish, and thereafter he did what a good striker ought to do. While goals at home to Rochdale perhaps do not raise the chap’s stock to the extent that global markets will be in disarray, it does mean that his confidence will be heading north, his teammates might be a little less nervous about his presence than they were 24 hours ago, and Harry Kane was granted a night off.

4. The Usual Array of Slightly Bewildering Substitutions

Other luminaries were less fortunate than Kane, however. With the tie in the bag, and the weather atrocious, our glorious leader hit upon the faintly ludicrous area of instructing Mousa Dembele, the undisputed owner of the Most Important Whilst Being Most Fragile award, to don a t-shirt and go haring about in the snow for half an hour. And ten minutes later he had Dele doing the same.
Quite what the heck he thought any of the above would achieve is absolutely beyond me. No good could possibly have resulted, and there seemed, in shipping forecast parlance, a moderate-to-fair chance of someone hurtling through the snow to their doom.
On top of which, while Erik Lamela charged around the pitch on his weekly mission to get himself sent off in double-quick time, Pochettino saw fit to remove Son, and leave Lamela to challenge the referee to a thirty-minute game of Chicken.

For all his virtues – and the list is as long as they come – Pochettino does come across as an odd sort of egg when it comes to substitutions, the type who will see we need a goal in the final ten minutes and bring on Trippier for Dier.

5. Snow

It matters little I suppose, but if you are after a blow-by-blow account of the final half hour or so you are most certainly in the wrong neck of the woods, because I could barely see a blasted thing. Having spent five minutes shouting over Justin Bieber to suggest to AANP Senior that they might want to use a yellow ball, I finally noticed that they were indeed using a yellow ball, and it was adding nothing in the Visibility column.

Nice to see Walker-Peters get five minutes; nicer to see that the Grand Fromage opted against hurling on Harry Kane for a wince-inducing and pointless five minutes; and thoroughly heart-warming to see Walker-Peters sprinting away in celebration after presumably scoring his first Spurs goal, although in real-time it simply appeared that he was going through a rigorous warm-up routine sans ball.

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

Southampton 1-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Full-Backs Exposed

I think it’s fair to conclude that that did not really go as planned. Instead of taking the game to our hosts from the off, we were a tad off-colour and distrait, and the early initiative having been up for grabs for any willing taker, Southampton had a whirl at it.

In the first 45 they opted to drill away at our flanks, which made them hay by the absolute shedload, and it would not be stretching things to say that certain members of our all-star cast rather obliged them in this endeavour. Messrs Son and Sissoko simply peered over at their full-backs and decided that they would rather give the whole jamboree a wide berth, offering precious little more than moral support, and leaving Davies and Aurier to fight the actual physical battle on their own.

When these things are discussed over port and cigarettes later this evening, the full-backs might make the point that that was really not quite cricket, and should they be feeling particularly fruity might even introduce, as Exhibit A, the goal that we conceded, its genesis indeed arriving from a waylaying of Aurier. All deeply unsatisfactory, even if the weeping and gnashing off teeth lasted only around a minute or two.

2. Conditions. Which Affected Both Teams Equally, Mind

This slight dereliction of duty on the part of Son and Sissoko was indicative of a wider sloppiness across the ranks. Presumably when accustomed to playing on the sort of pristine lawn on which one would normally crack open the croquet set and get boshing, one raises an eyebrow or two if instead presented with a sodden bog being lashed upon from the heavens.

Our heroes certainly did seem to approach the task as if having just had the rug whipped from beneath them, and to suggest that they struggled a tad through the conditions would not be overstating the case. Passes as often missed their targets as hit, control became a near-mythical entity and anyone trying to run with the ball at feet quickly came to curse the decision as they stumbled and bumbled like an entire squadron of Moussa Sissokos.

The current vintage are at their best when nudging first-time passes to one another, and that particular brand of quality output was in desperately short supply. All the more galling that Southampton seemed to adjust better and do the first-time thing rather more niftily at times (although that might just be a view coloured by the mournful, pessimistic lenses of an observer who has seen two points frittered away).

3. To Absent Friends, Part 1: Eriksen

Can’t really blame the chap for sitting it out with a hot drink and some paracetamol, because man-flu is scientifically proven to make one’s head explode if not kept in check, but Eriksen’s all-seeing eye and unique brand of sorcery was most certainly missed. As lamented earlier, our one-touch game was replaced by a giant bowl of stodge, and whereas these things usually have Eriksen at their hub, like a human heart doing the decent thing and keeping every other organ on top of its game, today there was simply an awkward impotence about the place.

Replacing Eriksen with Sissoko is like being told on entering the gladiatorial arena that your sword and shield are being replaced by a scrunched up ball of paper but best of luck anyway. One is inclined to make a fist of things, but cannot escape the sense that the odds have been rather cruelly reversed and things are about to take a turn for the nightmarish.

Pre kick-off I had, with what turned out to be fairly outrageous optimism, opined that I would rather Eriksen were missing for this game than the upcoming ones vs Man Utd, Arsenal and so on. Quite the misjudgement. We simply do not have another of his ilk in the ranks. Personally I would have opted for Lamela over Sissoko – although in truth, I would have volunteered to play myself rather than pick Sissoko. The point is that we are too reliant on Eriksen, and lacking a suitable deputy.

4. To Absent Friends, Part 2: Lloris

Monsieur Lloris was also sniffling his way through proceedings from his sick-bed, meaning the rarely-spotted Vorm was duly trotted out. I have to admit I did not envy the chap, who appeared to be on a hiding to nothing with the heavens flung wide open and every drop of rain available being sloshed around the surface.

Credit to the bean then, for getting his mitts onto everything that came his way. The own-goal left him with little in the way of an escape-route, but in addition Southampton fired in a handful of low shots that slid across the tur, and had the AANP heart leaping the odd somersault or two, and it was to Vorm’s credit that he snaffled up everything with a decent slab of assurance.

5. Dembele: Frustrated and Frustrating

If there were one man who perhaps might have conjured up a little inspiration, it was possibly Dembele. He seemed to have been encouraged to run with the ball and do as he pleased, and briefly it looked like this might do the trick, for he certainly does it have in him to glide past two or three of the opposing fish with barely a sideways glance.

Alas, things did not really click for him today, and he was as likely to be swarmed upon and diverted as he was to do any good wholesome damage. In the end he reverted to bundling folk over and waving his arms around, and the whole drama ended rather soberly with a booking and a substitution.
If we cannot ping quick passes we need someone capable of beating a man, and today we had neither.

So the Top Four is still eminently doable, but equally looking quite the delicate operation, if you follow. The next month or so will require some deep breaths, rousing performances – and Eriksen restored to full health.

Spurs 4-0 Everton: Six Tottenham Conclusions

1. A Half-Hour of Vintage Dembele

One of my cohort of Spurs-watchers was fairly underwhelmed by the entire binge yesterday, which rather goes to show that you can never be too sure of things; but I fancy that if you had been sitting close enough you might have heard me purr at certain points.

Not vintage lilywhite, but we pinged the thing about pretty quickly, and whereas on occasion previously the hills have been alive with the sound of Spurs players meandering around thoroughly unable to unlock a packed defence, yesterday the cup at times overfloweth with bright ideas and nifty passes.

Central to this in the early stages was Dembele, who for whatever reason had evidently woken up thinking that he was going to teach everyone around him a lesson they would dashed well never forget, and spent accordingly spent the first half hour imperiously brushing aside the Everton midfield.

For a bean so brimming with talent it can be pretty frustrating to watch him languidly knock the ball sideways and then shove off behind the bike shed for a quick smoke, but yesterday brought out the best in the man. He ran with the ball, picked some lovely passes and, of course, shoved folk left and right like a particularly hefty jungle beast with little time for the weedier species.

As well as being an aesthetically pleasing sight of itself, this also served the useful purpose of giving his ten chums an act to follow, and the whole thing buzzed with a decent energy.

Dembele faded a little thereafter, as more advanced teammates took the hint and started to run riot, but it was nice to see him rediscover a little of that old swagger.

2. Use of Aurier

Serge Aurier cannot defend, cross or shoot; that much is uncontroversial. However, our glorious leader is clearly one of those “Waste not, want not” types, who will make a soup out of last night’s leftover vegetables through sheer force of habit, and seeing that Aurier simply exists, Poch rather niftily wrung some value out of him. Accordingly, the whole cast was on strict orders yesterday to yank Everton all over the place, by switching play towards the reckless right-back.

Everton, obligingly, spent that time scratching their heads and observing in fairly statue-esque fashion as Aurier roved forward time and again, and although he was as likely to cure cancer as he was to do anything useful with the ball, the tactic helped us to away at our guests.

The opening goal, when it came, was from a shot that might have been arrowing towards the corner flag (and that after a first touch that nearly took him into a different time zone). When one factors in the appalling cross he delivered a few weeks ago that ended up in the back of the net, one starts to wonder if the safest place to be when Serge Aurier is pointing a gun at your face is actually right in front of him.

3. Eriksen

If Dembele were the man to burst through the heart of Everton in the opening exchanges, Eriksen found a niche hovering around him and sprinkling the piece with all manner of glorious flicks and diagonal passes.

When he is at his best, he does not really tend to stand on argument, but instead nudges the ball this way and that in the blink of an eye, in a manner that can muddle even the most organised of opposition.

He was on song in those crucial early stages yesterday, and his goal was rather fitting, for the romantics amongst us. More on that anon.

4. Counter-Attacking at 2-0 And Beyond

After the good honest toe-to-toe-ing of the first half, the second goal about a minute into the second half gave the dynamic of the whole thing a fairly concerted shift, as Everton, understandably, became rather flustered, and in the pursuit of goals lost their sense of space, time and defensive composure. Our heroes obligingly applied boot to throat and squeezed until the last bubbles of life quietly departed them. It was fairly ruthless stuff, in truth, and those of us with a blood lust were well satisfied.

Having looked chipper enough from the outset, by the time we had stretched into a lead, the whole game was just a series of pauses before our next thrilling counter-attack. Son, Eriksen, Alli and Kane appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, having discovered that toying with those vastly inferior can actually bring endless entertainment.

I suppose in moments of sobriety we can reflect that making hay, knocking back drinks and generally indulging in revels of the highest order has never been a problem for our heroes once a couple of goals to the good. The issue tends to be more around fashioning that opening goal, and that was a problem overcome yesterday.

5. That Glorious Fourth Goal

Whichever chappie it is entrusted with maintaining the much-vaunted record books must be a dreadfully dull sort, because his output yesterday would simply have read “Son, Kane, Kane, Eriksen”, with maybe a footnote on the attendance, and unused subs, and other such dreary fluff.

Which I suppose is the sort of honest stuff one needs in life, but it seems to have wandered off around a mile in the wrong direction simply to describe the fourth goals as “Eriksen”, what? That goal was the sort about which lovestruck youths ought to pen odes.

It was glorious, from inception to delivery. In particular the interplay between Son, Alli and Eriksen had me off my feet and hollering “Encore”, three sublime touches, which looked picture perfect on the Wembley turf. Son’s dink and Alli’s backheel could not have been better delivered, and Eriksen’s shot had all the clean contact of leather on willow on a sunny morning at Lord’s.

6. Son

If Son were named Sonaldinho he’d probably be worth around £236.5 million in today’s slightly squiffy market. The chap is current Asian Player of the Year, which I guess isn’t bad given that there are at least a billion to choose from, and is currently motoring along like one of those fellows in a fast car on a country lane, who is feeling top of the world and doesn’t care who knows it.

Oddly enough, his run in the team has come about as a result of the injury to Toby, and the consequent switch from a back three to back four, which, if you do the maths, cunningly opens up a job opportunity in attack.

Be that as it may, it’s quite the bag of tricks he now slings over his shoulder and brings along to each bash. Quick feet, boundless energy, a lovely clean shot, and yesterday, a couple of glorious touches – notably the spin that set him off for the Kane assist, and the flick in the build-up to Eriksen’s goal.

On top of which, the young chap’s attitude marks him out as something of a champion. After his screamer against West Ham, when the television bod shoved a mic in his face and demanded superlatives, Sonny looked utterly broken – due to the fact that, wonder goal or not, we had failed to win. And no praise can be high enough for that sort of thing.

Arsenal 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Off the Boil

No doubt about it, that performance stank like the rancid contents of last week’s lunch, left to its own devices in the AANP refrigerator. No man (bar the boy Davinson Sanchez) escapes censure. Despite having successfully negotiated the tests of Dortmund, Liverpool and Real blinking Madrid for goodness sake, by the oh so devastatingly subtle technique of sitting back and then countering like the dickens, the slightly more dubious ploy yesterday appeared to be to go into it toe to toe, and trust that good would triumph over evil.

All well and good, but the plan swiftly morphed into close-eyes-and-keep-fingers-crossed territory, which admittedly is often sufficient to overcome that incompetent rabble – but which yesterday missed the mark like a wild Sissoko swing at thin air.

This being their cup final they threw the kitchen sink at us, pressing us all over the pitch and capitalising upon the mistakes, dash it. Our heroes simply failed to muster sufficient nous, wiles or good old-fashioned gung-ho to make a spectacle of the thing. No excuses, that horrible lot bettered us tactically, and fought for the thing tooth and nail, while our strangely subdued heroes seemed a little perplexed that they did not simply roll over and invite us to tickle their tummies.

2. Alli Anonymous…

Another day, another fairly impotent showing from young Dele. No doubt some of the great thinkers of our age lock themselves away in secluded spots to ponder the mysteries of ethics, aesthetics and the specifics of Dele Alli in the Number 10 role.

To date this season he has chugged away to pretty minimal effect, his outputs primarily notable for unsuccessful dribbles, unsuccessful nutmegs and that toddler tantrum routine whereby he flings himself to the ground then flings his arms skywards, with a particularly grieved expression delicately etched all over his visage, while life just meanders on around him uninterrupted.

But the crux of the thing with this particular scamp is that on the rare occasions (this season) when the planets do align and he ticks his necessary boxes, the result tends to be a goal, which in a way makes the whole laboured fandango worthwhile.

Which obviously sounds marvellous, that being pretty much the nub of the whole exercise, but unless he chips in thusly, he essentially mooches around for the rest of the game like a deaf, blind mute. One might qualify yesterday as Exhibit A in all this, except that it sits alongside multiple other, similar Exhibits from this season. Something must be done.

3… While Son Sits It Out

Which leads seamlessly to the substitutes’ bench where young Sonny twiddles his thumbs. Given that Dele’s contributions seem to be fading from natural sight much like that picture of Marty McFly when things got rather hairy, one wonders whether he might be snaffled from view and sneakily replaced by Son, before anyone notices.

This sort of mild slap on the wrist might do Dele some good, while Son has rarely made it his business to let anyone down when called upon. More specifically, the energy and movement offered by Son would not just have been welcomed yesterday, it would have been clasped to the bosom in a fairly tender embrace, such was the remoteness that existed between defence and attack.

A better technical footballer Dele might be, but at present he neither avails himself sufficiently nor uses the ball with requisite shrewdness.

4. Midfield Protection

If one were to feistily counter that it is a little harsh to single out the boy Dele when barely anyone else sloshed themselves in glory then I would reply in similarly spirited manner, “Well, that is fine by me, and frankly I laud both your honesty and your eagle-eyed sense of observation.” One could not swing a cat without hitting a chap in lilywhite delivering a sub-par performance.

Kane in truth never looks sharp, simply by virtue of his paradoxically lumbering manner, but there seemed to be a consensus that he was decidedly unfit yesterday. Eriksen cut a strangely peripheral figure, as often running away from the action as demanding to hog the limelight and orchestrate the binge; and while Sissoko saw a fair amount of the ball, and applied himself with his usual eagerness, his ability to misplace short passes continues to eat away at my very soul.

On top of which, the absence of Toby meant that Dier was shunted back into central defence, and as a result the protection afforded to the defence was rather negligible throughout.

Where once Wanyama, or latterly Dier, patrolled the middle like nightclub bouncers with chips on their shoulders, yesterday the Arsenal mob were able to play all manner of little diagonals behind our full-backs, with their runners haring away into space like a team of young bucks exploring a great big spring meadow. The runs were neither prevented at source nor tracked during their lifespan, and it was little surprise to the nation’s soothsayers when one such sequence brought about a goal.

Neither Dembele nor Sissoko are the types of midfielder whose neuro-wirings are typically set to Protect and Defend, and we suffered for it yesterday.

5. The Curious Incident of Danny Rose

So not really an episode with which to regale the grandchildren in years to come, and as well as the limp showing on the pitch, there was also some rummy old business off it.

The exclusion of Danny Rose from the entire matchday squad was one of those that is pretty much guaranteed to raise an eyebrow or two amongst the baying masses, and Our Glorious Leader’s explanations did little to tighten the loose ends. The young blighter is not fit apparently, which makes fair enough grammatical and conceptual sense, but pause to examine the evidence and suddenly one heck of a mystery starts to simmer amongst the eagle-eyed.

For Master Rose played near enough 90 minutes against both Palace a fortnight ago and Germany last week, and while one does not want to work the chap into the ground so soon after his return from the desert island on which he had been stranded during injury, the whole business has a decidedly unnatural whiff to it.

His ill-chosen words during the summer might well have made him persona non grata chez Pochettino, but if that were the case then why the devil was he back in the fold in recent weeks? All terrifically mysterious, but one imagines that the blighter is unlikely to live happily ever after at N17. A rather unhappy footnote to a deeply unsatisfying weekend.

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

Liverpool 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

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

1. Davies

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

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

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

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

2. Dier

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

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

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

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

3. Resources

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

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

4. Dembele

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

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

5. Discipline

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

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

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

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

Sunderland 2-2 Spurs: Reasons To Be Cheerful

Such is life I suppose, but AANP is remarkably sanguine about the Late Own-Goal Fiasco. Mellowing with age, no doubt.

Dembele > Bentaleb

Pre kick-off, hearty roars of approval could be heard to resonate from every corner of the globe, as news filtered through that Bentaleb had been jettisoned and Dembele selected in his stead. No doubt a startled and dismayed Bentaleb instinctively looked sideways and backwards and backwards and sideways for explanations when the news was broken to him, but Sunderland away was no time for such unproductive ambling. All the possession in the world is of little use if we get nowhere near the opposition net, and while Bentaleb would presumably react to such a sentiment by slamming his hands on his ears and howling in dismay, Dembele dithers not. Straight from kick-off the chest was puffed out, opponents bounced off him and every time he received possession he looked to drive forward, and a positive tone was duly struck.

The Attacking Triumverate

Matters were also helped no end by the attacking triumvirate of Chadli, Eriksen and Lamela. Where two weeks ago Chadli and Eriksen in particular flittered around with all the menace and intent of a pair of particularly absent-minded butterflies, yesterday the two of them and Lamela brought with them bucketloads of brio and gusto, and proceeded to slosh it all around the park with gay abaondon.

If there were a pocket of space in between Sunderland’s defence and midfield one or more of that lot were popping up in it, and if there were a cute, eye-of-the-needle pass in the vicinity you could bet every last penny plus a couple of stamps that the aforementioned would be trying their darnedest to deliver it.

Frankly, everything went swimmingly from start, through the middle, via a couple of sub-plots and just about all the way until finale. But dash it all, instead of running riot and popping away the six or so goals we more or less merited, things went vaguely awry each time at the final hurdle. The ball would ping off the woodwork, or splat against the chest of that gormless goalkeeper without him even realising. A last-ditch tackle here, a narrow miss there, and before you knew it we had conceded a bally own goal of all things, and were left wandering off at the final whistle scratching our heads in bewilderment.

The Exciting World Of Vlad Chiriches

Presumably Master Vertonghen had a stubbed toe or man-flu or some other such malady, to explain his absence from the entire squad. As a result, young Chiriches bounded up to the plate, and promptly convinced himself yet again that this was a school playground and his name was Pele. Paying scant attention to the basic principles of defending the lad simply could not prevent himself from trying to dribble past everyone in sight every time he touched the ball. Here is a bean who no doubt grew up watching and re-watching that Saudi lad from World Cup ’94 who picked up the ball in his own half and ran the length of the pitch before scoring. The law of averages suggests that one day Chiriches will do the same, and I rather hope we stick with him because in the medium-term a ball-playing centre-back is not to be sniffed at. But at present the chap ought to have the word ‘CALAMITY’ written across the back of his shirt, because his penchant for dribbling into trouble is as predictable as it is hilarious.

Chins Up, What?

Back to the grand scheme of things, and disappointment aside I that in the marathon that is The Pochettino Era this represented another vaguely successful outing. Two points dropped no doubt, but given that we will regularly face teams looking to sit back and stifle the dickens out of us, the performance was encouraging. Sideways passes and meaningless possession can go boil their own heads, for there was creativity by the sackful here.

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

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