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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-2 Wolves: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson

One did not have to be one of those medieval soothsayer types, who apparently were pretty sharp in matters of spotting what was about to happen, to feel a bit of the old dread creeping up when Big Ange gruffled the news that both of Messrs Porro and Udogie would spend their Saturday afternoon being patched up in some infirmary tent rather than fighting the good fight on-pitch.

No huge surprises in the identity of their replacements, Emerson on one side and Ben Davies t’other, and while their earnestness was never going to be in doubt, that wasn’t really ever going to be the point, what?

There was a general lack of the sharpened tooth about our play from starter’s gun to finish line yesterday, incidences of rapier-like passing that cut to ribbons the opposition being so few that one could count them on the fingers of one hand. Now of course it would be a bit much to lay all the blame for this at the doors of Emerson and Davies, and our endeavours might well have been similarly fruitless with Porro and Udogie at the roaming-full-back wheel, not least because the second half was pretty much a non-stop session of trying to pick a way through a back-ten in and around their own area.

But nevertheless. Particularly in the first half, when the game was a tad more open but our passing from deep-to-advanced was pretty uninspired, I did stare off into the distance and do a spot of yearning.

Emerson, being the sort of egg so curious that he merits his own unique category of one, could conceivably have offered a bit of attacking spark, if all his lights were on. While he is probably not one for a 40-yard Porro-esque pass onto a sixpence, I had hoped we might see him carry the ball forward and infield, and give the Wolves lot something about which to confer.

Unfortunately, with Emerson one has to take the bonkers with the smooth, and he gave a few early indications that this was to be one of his more exasperating innings. For a start there were a few horribly misplace passes, which I suppose can happen to anyone, but when emanating from the size nines of Emerson do tend to suggest that he is off on another planet. Confidence – or rather lack thereof – never having been an issue with this mad young bean, rather than rein it in a bit he simply carried on trying no-look passes and whatnot.

However, the moment that really made me tut and stew was when, having been lazily caught in possession and deposited upon his derriere, rather than bounce straight back up, hellbent on correcting his error, he remained in his seat and took to waving his arms for an imaginary foul. Wolves, meanwhile, simply got on with it, shoved their way into our area and almost scored, dash it.

Obviously I use the pen-wielder’s licence to colour the lad’s entire performance as unequivocally disastrous, when the truth is probably that he made plenty of quiet, positive contributions, but in the first half in particular too many of his inputs led to a skyward fling of the AANP hands, and a muttered imprecation as its soundtrack. In a first half badly lacking cohesion and threat, Emerson made a handy poster-boy for our troubles.

2. Ben Davies

Ben Davies, to give credit where due, was actually pretty solid defensively and expansive offensively. If there is a criticism of him – apart from the wild misdirection of that late header, which ought to have CPR-d the result – it is that he is not Destiny Udogie, which seems a rather cruel sort of mud to sling at a fellow. I mean, not much that one can do about being born as one person and not as another, what?

As mentioned, he did things well enough. The sort of willing chappie destined always to be in the ‘Supporting Cast’ category, he won a few early defensive arguments against his opposing winger, and also made regular visits to the Wolves final third. Truth be told, he was as effective an attacking spoke as anyone else, and if I could have toddled around the changing-room post-match and canvassed a few opinions, I suspect that Sonny, Maddison and Richarlison would have spoken kindly enough of his contributions.

But in a game in which we sorely lacked a bit of the old thrust, I did note that the most incisive first half passes into the final third came from Messrs VDV on the left and Romero on the right. A spot of Udogie from deep would have gone down well.

3. Kulusevski

The half-time mood was pretty dark at AANP Towers. There was no shortage of subjects of ire, and not really enough time to have the deep and meaningful rant that each of them deserved, but one point on which I (and a chum or two) were pretty clear was that the current iteration of Kulusevski was pretty seriously undercooked.

Naturally he then took 46 seconds to ram my words down my throat with a bit of meaning, dancing around defenders in that curious way of his that seems to defy physics (my eyes probably deceived, but I’m pretty convinced that at one point he ran literally through a Wolves defender – which I accept contradicts much of what we know of modern science, but there we go).

So bucketfuls of credit where due, it was a fabulously executed goal. However, I maintain that it was also quite the anomaly. Kulusevski’s outputs in general this season seem to have been pretty muted. Of the unstoppable buccaneer of Spring 2022 there is little sign these days. In his defence, none of the fifteen outfield players used yesterday had much attacking success, so I’m happy to slather some context about the place, but with Kulusevski these diminished returns have been evident for some time.

This business of constantly cutting back onto his left foot strikes me as constituting a hefty chunk of the problem. Funnily enough it does still catch the occasional opponent by surprise, but this isn’t much good given that it also tends to suck a decent gulp of momentum from the attacking move. Defenders who might a smidgeon earlier have been out of position and rushing back to their posts, with sirens for both panic and confusion sounding in their ears, are granted time to pack out the place and steady their feet. The diem passes frustratingly un-carpe’d.

Moreover, having completed the whole business of cutting back onto his left, Kulusevski very rarely then makes good on his pledge and does anything meaningful with the ball thereafter. When he first joined, a couple of years back, one lost count of the number of times he cut back and curled the ball either into the far corner or into the path of an onrushing forward sort. Whereas these days he just bunts the thing into the first opposing body and it bounces away, or else loops a shot high and wide.

Much of Kulusevski’s value has traditionally derived from his deceptive burst of pace carrying the ball from halfway onwards, which is fair enough, and a trait still occasionally in evidence against more adventurous teams playing higher up the pitch; but on the whole, and certainly on occasions like yesterday, when up against a deep-lying defence, there’s not much scope for such frivolity.

Towards the end of yesterday’s proceedings, when Our Glorious Leader adopted the Football Manager approach of shoving as many attackers onto the pitch as the rules allowed, we were treated to a brief glimpse of Kulusevski in a more central role, which, from my armchair, seems to suit him a little better. Again, however, there protrudes a spanner in the works, as with Maddison back one would not expect to see too much of Kulusevski at number 10.

As with Emerson, one could hardly lump all our woes into one neat pile at the door of Kulusevski and wait for him to solve everything, but it’s another of those charming little knots that Postcoglou et al will need to unravel.

4. Van de Ven and Vicario

On a positive note, both Van de Ven and Vicario were in pretty spiffing form yesterday, so that was a little treat for the gathered masses.

Rather a shame that it was all to no avail, but VDV’s recovery pace continues to make the eyes pop from the head, and will presumably receive greater acclaim on future dates, when deployed in a winning cause. It was not so evident in the second half, when the pattern of things shifted considerably, but in the first half every time Wolves got behind our high-line – the difficulty of which was right up there alongside taking sweets from babies – one could breathe easily in the knowledge that a locomotive in human form would pretty swiftly be arriving from across the pitch to hoover up the mess.

Vicario, similarly, took the opportunity to showcase his most eye-catching stuff. Point-blank save in each half were worth goals, and I have a feeling he had another chalked off by an offside flag, but it was enough to communicate the gist: here was a man in rare old form.

Moreover, given that so much hot air is now expelled on the topic of what goalkeepers do with their feet, there was a charmingly old-fashioned thrill in seeing our man stick out a reflexive paw a couple of time to execute some point-blank saves.

That said, both goals conceded were pretty maddening. The first in particular prompted a rather weary groan, an unmarked header from a corner of all things being the sort of offence that ought to have the lot of them docked a month’s wages and locked in dank cells. As for the second, it was pretty clearly scripted stuff by our opponents, which in turn reflects poorly on our Brains Trust. Much to ponder in the next couple of weeks.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Maddison as Vicario’s Bodyguard

Easy to forget amidst all the joyous bedlam of full-time, but one of the burning questions going into this one was around the thorny issue of Vicario receiving more of the rough stuff at corners, and the ploy devised by Our Glorious Leader to negate such dastardly acts.

We didn’t have to wait too long to see the fruits of such planning, with Vicario being assigned his own personal bodyguard at corners, evidently tasked with inserting self in between goalkeeper and opposing, interfering forward. In a world in which meaty specimens such as Romero and Udogie and Richarlison lurk about the premises, I have to confess to raising a slightly alarmed eyebrow upon discovering that the identity of Vicario’s saviour was to be one J. Maddison Esq.

Now in a sense this added up. Heavyweights such as the aforementioned presumably already had their own important duties to carry out at corners; while Maddison comes across as the willing sort, always happy to take on an additional task that will help the collective, and even more so if it’s a high-profile little number.

On the other hand, however, there’s the delicate issue of what one might politely term ‘Suitability for the Role’. Putting it delicately, Maddison’s is not a physique of pure, unadulterated brawn and sinew. If I were to request, from an agency that handled such things, the services of a bit of muscle to protect me from harm of an evening, I’d be pretty cheesed off if they sent James Maddison my way, and would probably send him straight back and demand a refund. Of the entire squad, I imagine that only the wisp-like Bryan Gil would have any difficulty in shoving aside Maddison in any form of physical combat.

Nevertheless, it was better than the alternative, of simply allowing whichever forward (Welbeck yesterday, I think) an unhindered run at Vicario to flap in his face and barge him around as he pleased. And one might reasonably argue that the proof of the pudding was in the fact that Vicario being forced into errors at corners simply was not an issue yesterday, as it had been in previous games. (Although the caveat here is that Brighton’s delivery from corners was not so accurate as to put him under proper scrutiny.) Certainly, Maddison got into the spirit of the thing, all bravado and tugging and pulling each time the principals set themselves for a corner.

So a solution of sorts, but I do consider that a more rigorous test of this scheme, and Maddison’s abilities in the area of personal security, could be yet to come.

2. Not Quite At The Races

Is it just me or does every outing of the Good Ship Hotspur end in some dramatic stoppage-time goal, one way or the other? It certainly feels that way, to the extent that if one of our games finished 5-3 but with all scoring wrapped up by the 80th minute, I’d probably slope away in a bit of a mood, grumbling about not having received my money’s worth.

Anyway, whichever soul launched the gag about all being well that ends well certainly hit the bullseye yesterday, and I blush to admit that I rather lost my sense of propriety when Johnson popped up at the end, bounding about the place like one possessed, truth be told. All of which was well and good, and pretty much captures why we make the weekly pilgrimage in the first place; but it did also paper over the fact that this was a slightly squiffy sort of showing from our heroes.

The dubious tone was set within the first 30 second when young VDV, normally the sort of egg upon whom you’d bet your mortgage as well as the life of your least-favoured child, oddly floundered, losing his bearings, his sight of the ball and his understanding of gravity. Under minimal pressure he tripped over himself and into a little heap, allowing Welbeck to race off and send an early greeting Vicario’s way.

VDV was at it again for the penalty, dipping a foot into a spot he ought to have avoided; an episode that had its genesis in Bentancur miscalculating pretty significantly and being hustled off the ball on the edge of his own area. Bentancur was perhaps the poster-boy for the day’s travails, occasionally delivering his trademark wriggle from trouble, but too often caught dwelling in possession and failing to provide the steady hand to which we’ve become accustomed.

To be clear, however, this was not a case of VDV and Bentancur alone being at the heart of our troubles. Most in lilywhite seemed a little undercooked. Take Udogie, for example. Strangely muted, no? Vicario at one point ill-advisedly underarmed the ball to Bentancur in a most precarious spot; and so on.

Being a gracious sort, I can grudgingly admit that a lot of our under-performing was down to Brighton, whose high-press was pretty snappy, and whose short passing was at times terrific. In fact, the whole thing struck me as what would happen if our heroes played against themselves in one of those shiny computer games with fancy graphics.

Whatever the reason, for the first twenty or so, our lot were comfortably second best; and while we got back on top in the latter part of the first half, this owed as much to pressing high and turning over possession as to any particular guile in our build-up play. Following ingestion of the half-time victuals, our lot hit first gear for a good 25 minutes or so, which looked like it would bring a lot more that just the equaliser, and I confess that at that point I settled back into my seat with a rather smug sense of anticipation; only for our lot to lose their way again, and end up rather clinging on as the clock struck 90. A strange old knocking from our heroes, then.

3. Richarlison

Richarlison was another who didn’t quite hit the right notes, until he eventually did circa minute 96.

His first half miss when clean through (doff of the cap to Maddison for the pass, by the by) was pretty unforgiveable. One can bleat away all day about the goalkeeper spreading himself and whatever else, but that was about as straightforward as chances come, and a chap in his current form ought to have crossed t’s and dotted i’s with minimal fuss.

He delivered similar rot when given the opportunity to tee up Maddison for a straightforward finish, again before half-time. Admittedly that was a pass that required a tad more timing and weighting, but nevertheless it ought not to have been beyond a fellow  whose juices have been flowing like his in the last six weeks or so.

It was a curious performance from Richarlison, because it was not one of those in which he skulked about the place like a moody teen, or wobbled unconvincingly, beset by a critical absence of confidence. He seemed right as rain in matters of the head, full of confidence and positivity. He just failed to deliver at the critical moments – until the finale.

At that point, he did a cracking job, delivering his lines to perfection. His pass for Son looked simple enough, but had he played it with any greater or lesser force Sonny would probably have had to break his stride – or strayed offside – and we’d all be grumbling about another drawn game we should have won. Instead, Richarlison (having been involved in the earlier build-up too), picked his moment and weighted his pass, and AANP duly forgave his earlier transgressions.

4. The Winning Goal

While Richarlison’s minor but critical role receives a light ovation from these parts, I’m inclined to shove the Best Supporting Actor trophy towards Sonny. One can take it for granted, but there aren’t too many nibs around who can go flying off at that sort of pace. His timing had to be on the money too, to stay onside, but mercifully the chap was fully alert to the situation, and crammed the best of all worlds into one single package – staying onside whilst building up a sufficient head of steam to outpace his opposing defender pretty comfortably.

There then followed the most critical part of the operation, viz. delivery of the pass. We could all see it, of course – and being the helpful sort, AANP took the opportunity to scream at the blighter a pithy but accurate instruction as to what was needed at this juncture – but it’s one thing seeing, and a different kettle of fish actually doing.

Mercifully, Son delivered to the millimetre. There was no messing around with additional touches, or considerations of taking it on himself, or any such nonsense. Son pinged the pass first-time, with a spot of curl to evade the stretching Estupinan, leaving Johnson with a pretty straightforward mission from 5 yards.

Johnson, as is well known, has attracted a decent amount of opprobrium over the months, principally for his delivery of a final ball, but if he excels in one area it is in understanding the value of arriving at the back post when potential is bubbling away on the opposite flank. He does it better than most of the others in our ranks, and there is something particularly pleasing about seeing a goal created by one wide attacker to be executed the other. If Son deserves credit for his burst of pace on the left, Johnson ought also to be lauded for acting similarly on the right – for all his attributes I’m not sure Kulusevski would have eaten up those yards.

For one horrific moment I did actually think that Johnson had managed to blast the ball over the bar, but the lad had the good sense not to lash at the thing, and the happy ending was safely tucked away.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-2 Brentford: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Udogie

Not unusually for our lot this was a performance high on action and low on plot, the chaotic whole perhaps best represented by the various triumphs and misadventures of Destiny Udogie.

Taking things on a scale of Ripping to Ghastly, Udogie’s attacking inputs were productive and bountiful. There was more to it than just his goals: in the opening fifteen minutes or so, when we looked a good bet for the usual early salvo, Udogie was one of those at the forefront of the intricate pass-and-move stuff being furiously marketed.

Naturally, however, his role in our goals attracts the eye, and for both our first and third he was front and centre, albeit slightly off to the left.

Having laboured for so much of the first half against a deep-set and heavily fortified Brentford defence, I’m not quite sure how it came to pass in the first ten minutes of the second half that we kept catching them out of position, undermanned and generally disorganised and tripping over one another, but there we were. Gift-horses and all that.

And given this situation Udogie set about them with the relish of one who had elbowed his way to the front of the queue and could barely wait to be let loose. Udogie on the charge really is one of the finer sights in nature, a terrific combination of pace, technique, awareness, muscle and other wholesome stuff. When the call goes out for volunteers to stop the man in his tracks I can assure you that AANP would keep his head down and surreptitiously shuffle off into the background, and the Brentford mob similarly seemed not really to relish the fight.

For both our first and third goals, the marvellous specimen collected the ball around halfway and motored off towards the penalty area. For the first, having got this far and popped the thing off to Werner, he did not ease off with the air of one content with his night’s work and ready for a spot of refreshment, but treated the job as very much half-done and carried on sprinting. No doubt he benefited from a spot of bright and breezy fortune at that point – Brentford legs converging and the ball rebounding pretty kindly for him – but when one exhibits so many of the critical traits of an unstoppable force of nature, I tend to think that one earns a spot of luck.

And then, being one of those eggs who lives by the principle that if a thing works once it might as well be milked for a few more helpings of the good stuff, seven minutes later he set off on the charge again, sticking to the same geographical route – halfway line, left off centre – and opting to release the ball at pretty much the same moment.

At this point he did deviate from the blueprint, but it proved a strong choice, opting not to pass left to Werner but instead threading a pretty precise little number into Maddison in the penalty area, where further riches were to follow.

So three cheers for Udogie when gripped by the urge to make merry in the Brentford half; but by golly he did leave a trail of catastrophe behind him. In the first place the Brentford opener had at its genesis his misdirected pass on halfway. Under no pressure and with pretty much the entire cast list to aim at, it was careless in the extreme, what the racket-wielding folk refer to as an unforced error.

There is a sense in which that mistake for the first was considerably worse than that for the second, as the first was the sort you’d file under ‘Poor Play’, while the second seemed more along the lines of ‘Failing to Spot A Camouflaged Opponent’, which let’s face it, is one of the more unique categories around and not the sort of eventuality for which one trains.

Anyway, fail to spot him he did, and what ought to have been a bit of a cakewalk turned into the classic Nervous Final 20 At The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. All’s well that ends well of course, and young Signor Udogie remains a particular favourite around these parts, but the urge to load up, take careful aim and fire into our own feet remains bizarrely strong around the on-field practitioners of N17.

2. The Defence in General

Udogie may have stolen the limelight when it came to knuckle-headed decisions, but watching Brentford repeatedly stroll unaccompanied through our half of the pitch and right up into our penalty area, in the first half, did reiterate that nagging sensation at AANP Towers that something might not be quite right with our defence.

As individuals, each of VDV, Romero, Porro and Udogie are top-notch, bursting at the seams with all manner of qualities. However, shove them together and instruct them to Angeball for an hour and a half, and they pretty swiftly degenerate into a quartet of drunks unclear what sport they are playing.

I suppose part of the challenge is Our Glorious Leader’s instructions, which seem to be along the lines that when one of the quartet is in possession, at least two of the others ought to leave their designated posts and go find some space elsewhere. To call this laden with risk is to understate the thing. It only takes one casually misplaced pass, a la Udogie last night and the opposition is away, with half a pitch to gallop into unopposed.

Brentford had clearly not just received the memo but had put in a fair amount of time studying it and turning it into a complete thesis, and as a result pressed our back-four at every opportunity. In turn, our back-four, diligently sticking to the values of Angeball, kept dicing with death – trying to pirouette around the opponent and so forth – achieving a success rate of approximately 50%.

As well as this business of losing possession on halfway and sprinting back to try saving the day in the nick of time, I also noted the pretty dubious behaviour of Cristian Romero in Brentford’s first goal. Having done the hard work of keeping pace with – and indeed gaining some ground on – Toney, rather than finish the job by steaming across and executing some form of meaty block, Romero opted to hold his line and give Toney a free hit at goal, which seemed unnecessarily generous.

In Romero’s defence, I understood the rationale – he presumably wanting to prevent a square pass to the onrushing Maupay, and banking on VDV’s pace take care of Toney. Nevertheless, it did strike me that he slathered on the business of backing off a bit too heavily. The key to the manoeuvre ought to have been subtlety, in edging towards Toney whilst keeping a watchful eye on Maupay, thereby keeping Toney in two minds. Instead, he might as well have hired one of those planes to fly over the stadium with a banner proclaiming that he was going to back right off Toney and block the pass, so if Toney wanted to get his shot off then the floor was his. I did not approve.

And my mood darkened further after Vicario saved the shot, as Romero simply slackened the shoulders and downed tools, evidently of the opinion that he had played his part in the scene, and the leftovers could be taken care of by those around him. It was quite the dereliction of duty, and an odd one coming from a chappie who does not seem himself unless flying full-blooded into some challenge or other, but off he clocked and Maupay seized the moment.

The curious lapses from Romero and Udogie can, I suppose, be excused as human error; but this business of being caught on halfway and then duking it out in a sprint to goal is rather more structural. It appears that we are stuck with it, however, as just one of those consequences of Angeball, the only remedy for which is simply to keep scoring more than the other lot, which should be a wheeze.

3. Werner

Fair to say it’s been a slightly underwhelming start to life in lilywhite for Herr Werner. He seems enthusiastic enough, and is obviously blessed with the ability to motor from A to B at a fair old lick, but once he’s got himself into a dangerous position he seems not quite to know what do next (or, in the case of shooting, how to do it). The general impression is of one whose northernmost tip simply cannot keep up with his southernmost base, those whirring little legs outpacing his brain each time.  

The vexing trend continued in the first half yesterday. Presumably under instruction, both he and Kulusevski tucked inside, to relatively narrow positions, which seemed right up Brentford’s street, and in general he seemed to pick wrong options.

However, life improved considerably in the second half. In the build-up to our first goal he pulled his usual trick of racing off into the distance in a puff of smoke, but where previously he has stuttered, and paused, and had a bit of a think, and then a bit of an overthink, this time he was a bit more committed in his conclusion, cutting back, sidestepping a couple of defenders and feeding young Udogie.

This seemed to do the chap a world of good. When released again a minute or so later he took it as his cue to deliver his finest moment yet in our colours, racing off again as is his preference, but then eschewing the usual option of slowing things down to pick through his options, and instead firing the ball across goal with a note pinned to it on which was scrawled the invitation ‘Tap me into the empty net, bitte’. Young Master Johnson duly licked his lips in the centre.

That particular sequence earned Werner a spontaneous ovation from AANP Towers. The obsession with inverted wingers, forever cutting inside to deliver their produce, has its value no doubt, but given that Werner’s pace will generally position him a yard ahead of his man, it does madden me somewhat that he repeatedly sacrifices that yard in order to cut back onto his right foot. There was no such rot last night for the second goal – once Werner was away, he evidenced a show of faith in his lesser-spotted left foot and it worked out splendidly for all concerned.

As with Kulusevski when stationed on the right, I yearn for him to display a bit more confidence in his weaker foot – and I do scratch the head and wonder how an elite-level player can get by in life with such reluctance to use it – but last night’s rich harvest ought to give him a spot of the old oil on this front.

And as a valedictory note, marvellous to observe that the resurgence of Richarlison continues apace, his goal arguably the least emphatic contribution of a night that included a decent repertoire of hold-up and link-up play.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 Bournemouth: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lo Celso

When Senor GLC departed to hearty tidings from all four corners late on, I was struck by the notion of what a difference 37 minutes or so can make, for I don’t mind admitting that when the curtain came down for the half-time intermission I had already set about sharpening the knives for the chap.

Now it’s true that he contributed to our one outstanding moment of the first half. His lunge for a loose ball, while owing as much to wild enthusiasm as to impeccable timing, was enough to free young Sarr, who did a good job of things thereafter to give us our customary early lead. A tick was duly scrawled against the name of Lo Celso (as well as Bentancur, whose perky outlook had helped turn over possession in the first place).

But aside from that, AANP eyed Lo Celso with gradually increasing distaste, and unseemly mutterings that steadily grew in volume. The common thread of my gripes at the fellow in the first half was that he simply did not apply himself enough. Or put another way, if he devoted as much care and attention to chasing the ball, availing himself of the ball and wisely using the ball as he did to flinging himself to earth at every contact, he’d be quite the player.

As the second half demonstrated, there lurks within the Lo Celso frame, a pretty elegant and creative soul that could carve up the place when the mood suited; but in that first half he seemed too often to lope about the place with the air of one for whom this wasn’t the perfect platform and so he therefore wouldn’t bother. And confirmation bias being what it is, once convinced of this notion I decided that only a delicious pass with the outside of the left boot to create a goal would change my mind. Thus, at half-time, I chuntered a fair amount.

Well of course you can imagine my delight in the second half when Lo Celso roused himself, had a bit of a stretch and set about upping his game about seventy or so notches. The game was no more or less open than it had been in the first half, but now when he received the ball he decided to swan about the place like Maradona, nipping away from opponents and releasing onrushing chums with well-weighted passes into space.

He had already taken it upon himself to become something of a conduit between our playing-from-the-back and bearing-down-on-goal, and came within a whisker of creating a goal for the more centrally-positioned folk when he whipped in a cross that had the words ‘Convert Me!’ scrawled all over it in block capitals.

And finally his big moment arrived with that gorgeous pass for Son’s goal, which achieved the impressive feat of gaining full marks for both effectiveness and aesthetics, and which pretty much did enough to kill the game as a contest (albeit with the caveat that, our lot being our lot, one can never really state with any certainty at any scoreline that the game is truly killed off, and even after the full-time whistle sounds I do look around a little suspiciously in case another surprise lurks).

2. Udogie’s Defending

AANP has never been one for Greco-Roman wrestling, generally filling the leisure hours with more sedentary pursuits, but if circumstances did force me to go down that route I decided after watching today’s proceedings that the one chap I wouldn’t want to meet in the ring or on the mat or whatever it is, is Destiny Udogie.

Generally this season the column inches about the young specimen have been filled with praise for his attacking exploits, and quite rightly so, he having become one of the more essential cogs in the whole attacking appartus. But today he seemed pretty set on reminding all in attendance that he was indeed fashioned by Mother Nature as a defender first and foremost, which came as a bit of a shock, but turned out to be quite timely.

If he had planned beforehand to use today to showcase his defensive wares he certainly picked a good day for it. As happens with depressing regularity, our lot seemed to be absolutely wide open every time Bournemouth came forward. Of course, those lilywhites in the vicinity adopted earnest expressions, and did that peculiar dance of tucking their arms behind their backs while going down on one knee, and generally did their best to make it look like defending was a Big Deal to them. But in practice they seemed only to offer a spot of decoration about the place, while Bournemouth folk queued up to take a pot at goal as and when they pleased.

In this situation, and in particular with that VDV-shaped hole still strongly evident at the heart of the defence, Udogie took the opportunity to appear stage left for a series of dramatic, last-gasp interventions that arrested the attention and conveniently saved the day.

It was impressive stuff, as it had somehow slipped beneath the AANP radar all this time that he is actually a pretty darned quick blighter. One doesn’t quite notice this personality trait when we’re on the front-foot and several different attacking elements are on the go simultaneously.

But when we’ve lost possession and the other mob are lobbing the ball over the top of our high defensive line, creating a basic foot-race between our lot and their lot, one is suddenly struck by the blurry nature of the little Udogie legs, whizzing into view, catching up with the opponent and generally Van de Ven-ing the threat away.

Which brings me back to Udogie’s Greco-Roman attributes, for as well as demonstrating himself to be one of the quickest pair of heels in N17, he also showcased an upper body stacked full of brawn and muscle. His chest, barrel-like in both appearance and, evidently, substance, was put to full use in sending Solanke sprawling across the turf when the latter decided to dabble in a spot of surreptitious barging when in on goal, and simply bounced away. And to repeat, this was Solanke, himself a creature of considerable heft and sinew.

It said much of our defending, yet again, that in order to keep Bournemouth at bay we had to rely upon several last-ditch interventions from a left-back who’d much rather be Number Tenning it up the other end. Truth be told, we took quite the battering at various points in this game, but as silver linings go, the discovery of these rarely-sighted super-powers tucked away in the Udogie back pocket was a cheery one.

3. Brennan Johnson

It has not escaped the beady AANP eye in recent weeks that young Brennan Johnson has attracted a spot of the red ink and some glowering looks. One understands the sentiment of frustration, as he has occasionally shown a bit of a tendency to make a pickle of some promising situations – but in this he is hardly alone, and any self-respecting prosecutor would surely haul in Messrs Richarlison and Son for a spot of the old cross-examination here.

In general, however, the slap I direct at Johnson’s back is one of encouragement rather than censure, and indeed, I’m more inclined to raise a disapproving eyebrow at those who lay into the chap. Ignoring momentarily his eventual outputs, his general tendency to stretch his legs and go haring off down the right provides a useful outlet – one that has not gone unnoticed by the radar of Pedro Porro – as well as making him quite the nuisance for opposing left-backs.

And while it has been a frustration at various points in recent weeks that having worked himself into a threatening position, he has made a pickle of things when it comes to pulling the trigger – either in terms of shots or crosses – this strikes me as the sort of element to his game for which only minor adjustments are needed.

Today, things seemed to click a bit more smoothly. His very early pass for Son was perfectly serviceable, ticking all the boxes that any goal-producing cross ought to require – first-time, decent pass, no requirement for the oncoming striker to break stride – so full marks to young Johnson, and few unrepeatable sentiments towards Son.

He put in at least one more cross from the right that was so well-judged and executed it ought to have been accompanied by a musical ping; before his good work did eventually strike oil, through the inch-perfect cross for Richarlison’s goal, which it’s worth noting was pretty much a replica of both construction and finished article against Everton.

So while acknowledging that the earnest young thing will continue to make the odd mistake, I’d much rather celebrate his achievements – coming at the rate of around one goal contribution per game at the moment – than harp on too much about any opportunities missed. Given the context of him playing in his first season at the place, and adjusting to his different role and so on, he seems to be pootling along well enough.

4. Au Revoir Hugo Lloris

And a quick raise and clink of the glass for Monsieur Lloris, after 11 years of grind around these parts. One shares his frustration not to have won a trophy, but well over 400 appearances – a decent chunk of which have been as captain – are worthy of generous applause.

In his pomp he was one of the best shot-stoppers on the circuit, Dortmund away springing to the AANP mind as perhaps his finest hour, while the penalty save from Aguero in the Champions League is a strong contender for the first truly thrilling moment at the new stadium. One trusts that the Los Angeles climate will be to his liking.

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Spurs match reports

Brighton 4-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Attacking

It has been bleated at AANP a goodish amount – and I suppose with some justification – that I have a tendency to treat our heroes as a mother tiger would a favoured cub. That is, I can apparently land on the side of being a tad more generous towards them than their behaviour necessarily merits. Glossing over their mistakes, goes the claim, and rather over-egging things when it comes to dishing out the complimentary word.

And those who watched our lot magic a 4-0 deficit out of thin air last night might well waggle an exasperated finger at me and claim I’m letting them off too lightly yet again when I suggest that in possession at least, we generally crossed t’s and dotted i’s in required fashion, at least until we hit the Brighton penalty area.

But 4-0 or not, I remained pretty impressed with the speed and simplicity with which our lot peddled their usual routine of shifting the ball from south to north, lickety-split. Not quite ten out of ten for build-up, admittedly, but a general thumbs-up nevertheless.

The problem – in the first half in particular – was that once the build-up was taken care of and it came to spitting on their hands and seeing the thing through to completion, all concerned became rather bogged down in detail. The concept of just walloping the thing towards goal once within 20 yards or so was evidently a foreign one. An obsession seemed to have gripped all members of the troupe for passing the thing to death, and then squeezing out an additional pass or two for luck.

A fair amount of hot air was expelled at AANP Towers in yowling at Son and Richarlison in particular – but by no means exclusively – to yank on the dashed trigger at the earliest opportunity, rather than keep trying to thread their way to within spitting distance of the net.

I’m all for the style of play in general, which is off the scale in comparison to the dross of Conte, Nuno and Jose, but as Our Glorious Leader himself gruffled a few weeks ago, it’s not such great football if it fizzles out in a forest of opposition legs before topping up the Goals Scored column because we’ve overdone the build-up.

There was an improvement of sorts in the second half, notably in the umpteen efforts to play in Richarlison for a pop at goal. I suppose one has to wag a disapproving finger at the chap for straying a few inches offside each time, but I was at least heartened by his principle of having an immediate swing at goal rather than pirouetting away and searching for yet another needless pass.

And I was also encouraged by young Veliz, who made the most of a rare twenty-minute opportunity to show the watching world that he’s not one for procrastination when it comes to penalty area scraps. Sling him the ball in any sort of contortion of limbs, and his mantra seemed to be that he would untangle his feet, use the absolute minimum number of touches to work an opportunity and dig out a shot – typically all in a single, efficient movement. It brought him one goal, one shot saved at close-range and a delicious lay-off that nobody else in pinkish brown seemed to care about, but I was also for the young bimbo’s approach to life.

2. Defending

Oh that life in N17 comprised simply one attack after another. Irritatingly, these easy-on-the-eye moments are rather rudely punctured by the other mob scything through us pretty much at will whenever they have possession.

The ease with which opponents get at us is rather difficult to ignore. Even in the Van de Ven-Romero era, one was nagged by the sentiment that while that pair would do a fine job of extinguishing fires before they blazed out of control, they were still being called into action with alarming frequency. The issue is all the more concerning in their absence.

Not really being the most tactically-minded I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes to uncovering the root cause of this unholy mess, but it I have been struck a few times by the fact that anyone wanting to get at us from the wings can simply waltz straight through with minimal interference from security personnel. I’m not sure if this is a result of Messrs Porro and Udogie galloping forward at every opportunity and therefore being ill-prepared for defensive duties, or whether the full-backs are deliberately instructed to tuck in fairly narrowly, giving opponents the freedom of the flanks. Be it one of those or some other genesis, the conclusion each time seems to be that if anyone on around the halfway line fancies a mooch around our penalty area a visit can be arranged tout de suite.

One might dig up extenuating circumstances for the various goals last night. The Kulusevski foul for the first penalty was as knuckle-headed as they come and not the sort of input for which one can really prepare; and the long-range goal from the corner, although strictly the sort of effort that decency should ensure is closed down before any harm can arise, was nevertheless something of a freak effort.

But the Lo Celso foul for the second penalty came about because he had let his man drift the wrong side of him in the penalty area; while the opening goal sprouted from the Joao Pedro being granted the freedom to jig his way past no fewer than five of our lot, none of whom seemed inclined to sharpen the elbows and take a spot of initiative.

On top of which, Vicario was called upon for a point-blank save from Welbeck, and Brighton hit the post on two other occasions. I continue to offer a mitigating shrug to Emerson and Davies, both of whom are evidently trying their damnedest in foreign climes at centre-back – but neither are fit for purpose in the role.

Put another way, our back-four seems to be populated in its entirety by a squadron of chappies who are all pretty competent on the ball, but, rather crucially, none of whom seem actually to be much good at defending. While I continue to be thoroughly entertained each week by the 90-minute mystery of whether we can simply outscore the other lot, the porous nature of our back-line does hinder the objective somewhat.

I suppose the other point that’s worth a spot of air-time is that the entire collective is now clearly quite frazzled. Ange-ball, though an absolute delight to behold, does seem to require each individual concerned to do the work of several men on a bi-weekly basis, one minute donning their attacking hat and hurtling into the penalty area, the next minute – or sometimes the very same minute – replacing that attacking hat with its defensive equivalent, and tearing back towards the criminally undermanned rear. Little wonder that the pose de jour appears to be being bent double, hands on knees, great gulps of O2 being glugged at every opportunity. Those January reinforcements cannot come fast enough.

3. Hojbjerg

Regular drinkers at this particular inn will no doubt see the headline ‘Hojbjerg’ and brace themselves for a spot of unrestrained AANP vitriol, the chap’s tendency to pass backwards with religious fervour, pausing only to wave his arms pointlessly at those around him, having rather made the forehead veins throb over recent years.

But in a pretty spectacular plot-twist, I come to praise Hojbjerb, not to bury him. I thought he made a pretty good fist of things last night. Limitations apply, of course. Any praise for Hojbjerg must be asterisked with the acknowledgement that he has nothing about him of the Mousa Dembele or Luka Modric, and as such ought not to be judged by such lofty standards. Instead, Hojbjerg picked up where young Oliver Skipp had left off at the weekend, and where Skipp insisted on biffing the ball straight back to whomever had given it to him with relentless monotony, Hojbjerg had at least enough sense of adventure to collect the ball on the half-turn, and look to pop it to someone in a more advanced spot.

He also threw in a couple of forward runs and picked a couple of forward passes into the path of the wingers, and in general gave the impression of a man not wedded to passing backwards upon pain of death, but instead approaching life with the more care-free attitude that dictates that if an opportunity for forward-thinking creativity opens he’ll shove in his chips. I approved.

And amidst these occasional dipping of toes into attacking waters, Hojbjerg also appeared to understand with perfect clarity that his primary purpose was to supplement the rearguard. Thus it transpired that when Brighton ambled into our territory, Hojbjerg was typically present, inserting himself either between or ahead of Emerson and Davies, and trying to stick a few fingers in dikes as the situation required.

The moral of the story remains that the squad is in pretty desperate need of upgrades, but nevertheless, an honourable shift from Hojbjerg, better fare than he has been in the habit of trotting out, and very nearly crowned with a late goal that would have set up the most mind-boggling finish.

4. The Late Flurry

And what a dashed shame that that mind-boggling finish did not materialise, Hojbjerg’s injury-time tuppence worth coming back off the post rather than bouncing in, but I suppose hitting the frame of the goal isn’t really the point of the exercise. Christmas, as Hans Gruber neatly put it, is a time for miracles, but even by the most extreme, all-action-no-plot standards of our lot at their most madcap, a comeback from 4-0 down at the 80-minute mark would have been a bit much to swallow. Instead we had to settle for the curious coda that was our exhausted mob finding from nowhere a second wind that brought two late goals and several other presentable chances.

The sudden sense of urgency was an odd one to drink in. There remained a bit of a tendency to elaborate unnecessarily in and around the Brighton 6-yard box, when all in lilywhite were screeching at our heroes just to take a shot, old habits dying hard I suppose. But by and large, dithering was kept to a minimum and we gave the Brighton goal a bit of a peppering.

The caveat here is that Brighton, as one would at 4-0 up, had signed the thing off as a done deal, withdrawing personnel and fiddling with their formation. Nevertheless, it was heartening to see our lot pick them apart through various different approaches in that finale.

Oddly enough, the late flurry seemed to owe more to the collective than to any particular individuals. For all his honest beavering and body-feints, I’m not sure that Bryan Gil delivered one useful cross. Lo Celso conceded one penalty, came pretty close to conceding another and provided little more useful value during his cameo. But by virtue of popping around some slick one-twos, and whipping in a couple of handy crosses, the chances flowed fairly steadily in the closing stages.

As mentioned, young Veliz made the most of a pretty nondescript hand, and Sonny also perked up a bit in those closing stages. And, perhaps because they were unencumbered by the rigours of defending, Messrs Udogie and Porro made themselves useful in the attacking third. It all amounted to a strange old game, in which our lot weren’t particularly impressive, defended dreadfully at times, generally got bogged down whenever within shooting distance and yet still would have been good value for three or four goals. Give it a year or so and our lot will be quite the proposition, but for now it’s head-scratching stuff.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson at Left-Back

Destiny Udogie’s chequered history having caught up with him, we found ourselves in the awkward position of requiring Emerson Royal to fill in at left-back-cum-midfield yesterday. On this matter three outstanding points immediately arrested the attention and refused to let go, viz:

  1. Emerson is right-footed
  2. Emerson has not dabbled much in the inverted-full-back role
  3. Emerson is as mad as a bag of cats

No shortage of reasons, then, to give the lower lip a nervous chew, and it is with a cheek burnished with shame that I report to having had the knives sharpened well ahead of time, in anticipation of the worst.

As it happened, what actually transpired was a performance so steady and reliable that, come the closing credits I toyed long and hard with the notion of feting Emerson with the prestigious Nod of the Head awarded for being the game’s outstanding contributor. Admittedly this was largely earned by default, our heroes having clocked a round of individual performances so middling that Emerson’s rose to the top by virtue of being amongst the least flawed, but nevertheless – some credit to the lad for overcoming each of the 3 challenges highlighted above.

Without necessarily contributing anything eye-catching and game-changing, I thought that Emerson got right just about everything at which he tried his hand yesterday. Positionally, he seemed up-to-speed from the off, knowing where to go and whose shoulder to lurk behind, when to give the arms a frantic wave and when to keep a low profile. He availed himself to Davies, Skipp et al when we were in possession, and kept a diligent eye on affairs in his jurisdiction when we were defending.

That said, he dithered away like nobody’s business and needed a sizeable dollop of luck with the disallowed Everton goal. Too complacent for my liking, and who knows how things might have panned out had that one been allowed to stand, what?

Equally, however, at one point in the first half he almost had a moment of glory, finding space for Sonny to set him loose up the left flank and curling a most inviting pass – with that rarely-spotted left appendage, no less – into the path of an incoming Brennan Johnson that, but for a rather wild finish, would have put us three up and afforded all concerned a much gentler snooze of an afternoon.

That was about as glamorous as it got for him but, given the anxiety with which I had anticipated Emerson taking the inverted left-back reins ever since Udogie’s yellow card last week, the young nib’s largely error-free shift was received with quiet but fervent prayers of gratitude.

 2. Skipp

The prospect of 90-plus minutes’ worth of out-of-position Emersoning was not the only element causing a few worry-lines to form on the AANP map pre-kick-off yesterday. Skipp for Bissouma is nobody’s idea of a fair trade, even allowing for the latter’s dreary dip in form, but there we were yesterday – and there we will remain for the foreseeable, given that Bissouma is currently being detained at His Majesty’s pleasure before flying off for that blasted AFCON next month.

Skipp at least came armed with a spot of positional experience, having occupied defensive midfield spots pretty much ever since he first learned to walk, but his presence there from the off still gripped me with an unspeakable fear. Stick Skipp in a Sean Dyche team and one would emerge pretty satisfied; ask the honest fellow to spend his afternoon Ange-balling and it’s a little difficult to know quite how events will unfold.

Understandably enough, once the whistle sounded Skipp just rolled up his sleeves and gave the impression of not giving too many damns about Ange-ball, Sean Dyche or anyone else. He just rattled through the catalogue in order to locate the most Oliver Skipp performance he could find, and delivered that with all the trimmings.

It was perfectly sufficient. Whenever our centre-backs were in possession he immediately scampered to within five yards of them, yelping to be allowed to play. They rolled the ball to him, he immediately rolled it back whence it had come and the sequence was able to begin again.

Those of us who have watched with quiet satisfaction as Bissouma, or indeed Bentancur or whomever, have received the ball from the centre-backs on the half-turn, and with one quick shoulder-dip been away from their marker and on the front-foot, had to moderate our expectations pretty quickly. This was Oliver Skipp’s world, and fancy shoulder-dips or changes of direction were pretty strictly outlawed. Skipp would dab the ball straight back to whomever passed it to him, and no more.

He served his purpose well enough. With Porro, Emerson, Romero and Davies on hand to do more of the heavy-lifting, in terms of picking the more incisive passes from deep, it was basically enough for Skipp simply to occupy appropriate areas and create space for others. He also beavered away earnestly enough when we were out of possession, holding a protective central position and occasionally taking it upon himself to snap at a pair of Everton ankles if the mood took him. There were occasional mistakes and fouls, but on the whole he did what was required.

As a temporary solution, filling in every now and then when an A-lister is unexpectedly withdrawn, I’ll shrug the shoulders and mutter that he’ll do I suppose, and prepare to scrawl a 6 out of 10 against his name. I can’t really say that the prospect of him scuttling about the starting XI for another month fills me to the gills with joy, but unless the January window brings a Connor Gallagher or some such, we may well be stuck with him.

3. Sonny

I mentioned that it was an odd sort of showing all round, with various cast members appearing a little off-colour, and few summed up this peculiar state of affairs better than our on-field lieutenant.

Sonny did of course pop away the crucial goal, and as such excuses a multitude of other sins across the other 95 or so minutes. That his goal was an odd, scruffy sort of job is neither here nor there – basking in the satisfaction of fourth spot the morning after, few amongst us will grumble that the second goal lacked a bit in the aesthetic stakes. ‘Shove the damn thing into the net’ has been a fairly critical instruction in the last couple of months, and not one that our heroes have necessarily adopted too gaily, so if Sonny wants to bobble the thing through a crowd in order to score his goals that’s fine by AANP. Bobble away through as many crowds as you like, is pretty much the approving response over here.

But his headline contribution having been thus secured, I thought that Son spent the rest of his afternoon mangling his lines in all manner of ways. Just a temporary blip of course, and his absence will be lamented with some pretty meaningful wailing and gnashing of teeth when he flies off for that blasted Asian Cup next month. But still. This was not his finest hour and a half.

If he were on the run with the ball, he found a bizarre series of ways to extinguish the threat himself, be it losing control of his own feet, treading on the ball or slightly forgetting who and where he was, and scuttling off on his own towards the edge of the playing surface while an Everton man collected the ball and trotted off with it in the opposite direction.

There was also a series of opportunities to feed a nearby chum who would have been in on goal, which Sonny curiously kept miscalculating, poking the ball out of play or straight to a defender or some other such oddly-judged ideas that didn’t quite hit the spot.

Anyway, there was no want of effort on his part, and the honest fellow is allowed an off-day – particularly as he got the most important part right, in front of goal – and moreover, even if his end-product was generally all over the place, he clearly kept the Everton mob on their toes throughout just by virtue of being Son and all the energy that entails.

4. A Mixed Bag

When the employer invites AANP to tick the boxes in one of those psychometric tests, invariably the findings are that I am one of those souls who likes things neatly squared off. Spades are called spades. Everyone knows where they stand. And it is in such a spirit that I generally like to assess the outputs of our heroes in lilywhite. A thumbs-up for a job well done; a thumbs-down when they’ve stunk the place out; and not too much time wasted sugar-coating things in the middle.

All of which leaves me in a bit of a spot about yesterday’s goings-on. It was a strange old showing from our lot, when one steps back and thinks about it. On the bright side, I could count probably a good half a dozen instances of Ange-ball at its finest. “Ping, ping, ping,” would be a pretty accurate way to describe those moments, when the stars aligned, everyone gave everyone else a knowing nod and in the blink of an eye the ball was being whizzed from our area to theirs.

The first goal was an example of the above, even if strictly speaking the whizzing took the ball from the middle third to their area. There was the usual flurry of one-touchery, a lovely spot of body-feinting thrown in by young Sarr (the one bean I thought might beat Emerson to the Nod of the Head when all votes were counted) and a finish that oozed confidence from Richarlison.

Even the second goal, for all the rougher edges about its coup de grâce, had a pleasing look about its build-up. But in general, our heroes seemed to be off the boil as often as they were on it.

Passes were misplaced as if there were an internal competition to which everyone had pretty feverishly dedicated themselves; and a lot of the time those in lilywhite simply lost possession. It was pretty rummy to behold, but on several occasions some well-meaning sort in lilywhite would have possession, without too much imminent danger presenting itself other than an Everton bounder surreptitiously edging into view – and before you knew it possession had swapped hands. The Everton bounder now had possession, our hero was forlornly nibbling at his ankles and the entire cast had to reconfigure and don their defensive hats again.

These days one does not see to much of the straightforward, honest tackle – interceptions and blocks being all the rage – but yesterday it seemed that every couple of minutes we were losing possession because an Everton sort had simply wandered over, and without having to put in too much thought or effort, positioned himself between ball and lilywhite and made off with the dashed thing.

We brought no end of problems upon ourselves towards the end of the first half, the whole business of playing out from the back being executed with pretty scant regard for the delicacies that such an operation requires, with the result that Everton time and again were presented with the ball some twenty yards from goal and invited to amuse themselves as they saw fit.

And towards the end of things, that blasted Danjuma was made to like a bit too much like Pele for my liking. A handy chap in the final third we can all agree, having been treated to his cameos at close quarters last season, but for him thrice in ten minutes to befuddle our defensive mob and blast a shot at goal seemed a bit thick. Porro, Dier and Skipp seemed to find the lad unplayable, which was alarming, and quite what strain of sorcery Vicario has signed up for is anyone’s guess, but he seems to have had other-worldly intervention on his side in his last couple of matches, and it’s no stretch to say we’ve been centimetres from conceding – and missing out on two points yesterday.

All told, it was a hard-earned win – against a team slap bang in the middle of a hot streak, and with our usual slew of absentees. The general sloppiness in our play suggests more than anything that our heroes could do with a few days off, with some massages and scented candles and whatnot, but to be four points off the top having had such a rotten old November reflects well.

Merry Christmas, on we trot to Brighton.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 4-1 Newcastle: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kulusevski Central

It would be over-stretching things to suggest that AANP is like a broken clock in stumbling upon a notion of some virtue twice a day, but, like a broken calendar, bang on the money once a year sounds about right – and having bleated away about the virtues of Kulusevski through the centre rather than on the wing, in the aftermath of the West Ham defeat, I was pretty pleased to see the pieces duly rearranged today.

Not that Kulusevski was necessarily the standout performer today. In fact, I’d shove him at least halfway done the list. Which is not to say he did much wrong, far from it, but various colleagues around him seemed to tick the ‘Above and Beyond’ box more obviously, and things ought to be done in right and proper way.

But having Kulusevski through the midfield seemed both to reduce the more vexing elements of his game (viz. the propensity, come hell or high water, to drag the ball back onto his left foot as if under contractual obligation) and also to lend a useful platform to some of his more amenable personality traits. These might be said to include but not be limited to: the thoughtful burst into the penalty area as delivery arrives from wider spots; the licence occasionally to bob up on the left; the application of what strikes me as pretty considerable body-weight forcefully into any of the opposing back-four dallying on the ball; and the generally wholesome practice of racing towards goal from a central berth whilst simultaneously weighing up options right and left.

In short, the shackles seem removed when he plays as a Number 10. Quite what reconfiguration occurs when Maddison returns is anyone’s guess, but if there’s a society for the Repositioning of Kulusevski From The Right To The Centre then they can count on my signature and enthusiastic attendance at fundraisers and whatnot. Keep him there, I say, or at least resist the urge to move him right again when Maddison returns.

2. Sonny on the Left

Of course, much like a butterfly flapping its wings out in the Amazon, one cannot yank Kulusevski from the right and re-position him centrally without all manner of implications rippling away across N17, so there would no doubt have been a few arrows scrawled across the pre-match whiteboard .

The fallout involved the remarkable sight of a right-footed player on the right wing, as Brennan Johnson won that particular raffle; which in turn necessitated a change in personnel on the left. One can well imagine Our Glorious Leader scanning the changing room, spying young Bryan Gil, and without even pausing to think just getting right on again with his scanning.

Sonny got the nod, and wasted precious little time in slotting back into the old uniform. Whether it was a first-time flick into the path of a chum while dropping deep, or a stepover-laced dribble into the penalty area topped off with some pretty inviting end-product, Son brought a healthy dose of A-game to just about everything he did out on the left.

And it was worth remembering, as he set about creating both first half goals in near-identical fashion, that the opposing right-back with whom he toyed was none other than the fondly-remembered Master Trippier, a chap who doesn’t surrender his territory too lightly.

Whilst the risk of deploying Sonny on the left was that it left things uncertain in the central striking role, the decision seemed a pretty smart one if only for the nuisance he made of himself throughout. For all their willing, it is difficult to imagine that Gil or Johnson might have brought home quite such riches; while Richarlison is more of a striker itching to move infield than any sort of left winger. This was pretty electric stuff from Son, who fully merited his late goal.

3. Richarlison

That Amazonian butterfly clearly put in quite the shift, for the after-effects did not end with Sonny’s move to the left. That, of course, left an awkward conversation to be had behind closed doors, given that Richarlison has spent the last couple of years since his arrival diligently pinging his shots everywhere but the nearest net, pausing only to occasionally trip over his own shoelaces.

And when a couple of missed half-chances in the opening 5 minutes brought that all-too-familiar Brazilian scowl, I did scuttle over to the nearest wall against which I might bang the old head a few times. The early signs were that this was a production I’d seen once or twice before.

Mercifully, however, after a conflab of twenty minutes or so, the gods evidently gave it a shrug and granted Richarlison a spot of respite. His first goal might not have been the purest strike of the weekend, but I doubt there’s a lilywhite in the land who gave too many hoots about that. If Richarlison has any sense of decency he’ll spot Sonny a slap-up meal at an over-priced restaurant in the coming days, for his captain did a spiffing job in moulding the opportunity that, if not quite unmissable, was certainly in not-too-much-work-required territory.

And in this day of the tedious knee-slide celebration I always consider that I can spot a man who really enjoys his goal, if he leaps into the thinner part of the atmosphere and swipes a clasped fist. Richarlison certainly enjoyed the moment.

Evidently, it takes more than one poacher’s goal to shed the alter ego and adopt a new persona completely, and the Richarlison of old swiftly returned when a presentable airborne opportunity ricocheted his way shortly afterwards, the man flinging himself at the thing a moment too late, as has been his wont for about two years now.

I also fancy he enjoyed another splash of luck with his second (footing another bill at one of London’s premier eating spots by the by, in gratitude to Pedro Porro), as his first touch when in on goal was not necessarily ideal. But to his credit, having taken a presentable chance and complicated it, he then redeemed himself in the blink of an eye, taking what had therefore become a complicated chance and despatching it, with minimal further fuss. One scratched the head a bit, but a joyous outcome is not to be sniffed at; and importantly R9 is a fellow the quality of whose next deed seems to depend significantly upon the quality of his previous deed – so this all bodes pretty well.

And as a sidenote, even before he was gaily tucking away his goals, I noted with great satisfaction that Richarlison could frequently be observed to commit his full body and I suspect a decent part of his soul to the act of tracking back and winning possession from the Newcastle mob. A well-executed slide tackle is always appreciated, and Richarlison delivered at least three of them. The young bean’s commitment to the cause has never faltered; that his radar began working again today was all the more pleasing.

4. Udogie and Porro

I mentioned above that there were a good few names above Kulusevski when it came to the matter of Star Performer, and both of Udogie and Porro would feature in such a list.

Udogie, I consider, rather owed us a stand-out performance, given that his entirely unnecessary two-footed lunge against Chelsea seemed to spark off the calamitous sequence that we have only just arrested. Admittedly he cannot be blamed for the injuries, and he actually got away with the lunge, but not being one to let the truth get in the way of a decent narrative I continued to murmur, “And well he should,” during the early minutes, in which he seemed to have assumed the role of String-Puller-In-Chief.

And by golly he was in fine old fettle. Even though it happens every week that he simply ambles up the field and presents himself as some sort of free-spirited attacking egg, I did nevertheless gawk a bit at the positions he adopted and the array of neat, sly passes he dished out.

Good of him to chip in with a goal too, and it says much about his role in the team that the sight of him tapping in from six yards did not raise too many positional eyebrows. This, it appears, is just what he does.

I hesitate to scribble, “And opposite Udogie,” when describing young Porro, because it is similarly difficult to pin down the latter, but he was also in attendance, and also having quite the night. The diagonal into the path of Richarlison for our third probably takes the spot on the mantlepiece for his most eye-catching contribution (and with perfect timing too, Newcastle at that stage having given it 15 minutes of honest toil, and threatening to make a game of things).

But in general, and as against West Ham, Porro combined intelligent positions with effective contributions, whether popping up in midfield to chivvy things along, or getting his head down in the final third to try to help finish things off.

5. Sarr: Outstanding

But from the AANP vantage point young Sarr took the gong today. For much of the game our heroes gave the impression of having a numerical advantage over the other lot, swarming them and not giving them the time to collect their thoughts and admire the sights when they were in possession;, and triangling the dickens out of them when we were in possession, regularly appearing to have an extra man at whichever point on the pitch the action was unfolding. And as often as not that extra man appeared to be Sarr.

I don’t know what sort of diet he goes in for but I wouldn’t mind finding out and dabbling, because the chap seemed not to stop running throughout. Which, logically enough I suppose, had the consequence that he seemed always to be involved. He was strongly in the market for tackles, interceptions, passes and then, in common with most of our heroes in those rather fun-filled final 20 minutes or so, shoulder-dips and dribbles out of tight spots. It was one of the more complete central midfield performances amongst our lot in recent times.

It also had the pleasing side-effect of making Bissouma look a bit more like his former self, and making me reflect, in idler moments, at quite what a difference there was between a team built upon Sarr and one built upon Hojbjerg.

6. Davies, Romero and the Defence

The individual performances helped no end, but it also made a world of difference that the now standard Dominant First Half was augmented by not one but two goals. To the list of teams comprehensively outplayed we can add Newcastle, but whereas in 4 of the previous 5 games we have had but a one-goal lead to show for some lovely build-up play and almost playground-esque possession, this time the world felt a much happier place when the cast trooped off at half-time two goals to the good.

There was still ample time to stuff up various further opportunities, and one does drop to the knees and implore the forward mob to take a tad more care in the final third and make sure of things, but it was a definite improvement.

And yet it might well have been to no avail, because at nil-nil we continued to look pretty open and inviting at the rear. It might be a consequence of full-backs being allowed to go wandering off, or it might be something else entirely, but whereas when our defence is arranged in a low block I feel that matters are relatively well contained, when we are caught in possession on halfway and the opposition counter, the whole thing does tend to unfold with a pretty alarming inevitability. Put another way, teams do not really have to work too hard to fashion clear-cut chances against our lot. Nab the ball on halfway and they’re as good as in.

And with that in mind I might take a few suggestions from Richarlison and splash out myself on one of those expensive meals, this time for Ben Davies, in commemoration of what was actually a scarcely believable intervention in the first half to keep Newcastle at bay. Pretty easy to let the mists of time do their thing and forget it ever happened, but when a Newcastle type on their left scuttled unopposed from halfway to our area, his square pass seemed to have doom scrawled all over it.

Davies flung himself at it full length, in what appeared to be an admirable but futile gesture. At best, I mused while wincing in expectation of the inevitable, this will be an own-goal. The laws of physics seemed to allow for little else, given that Davies was extending himself at full stretch and in the wrong direction.

Quite how he therefore managed to avoid poking the ball into this own net having made contact with it, was a conundrum of the highest order. That he additionally managed to do just enough to divert the thing sufficiently that the waiting Newcastle forward behind him then missed the target, was quite remarkable.

Mercifully, having figured out, at least for one night, how to apply finishing touches to all the gorgeous build-up play, it didn’t matter too much that we remain pretty open at the back sans Van de Ven. It helps that for the most part, Davies and Romero know their eggs when it comes to the sort of defending that isn’t just a flat foot-race from halfway.

But had Romero been sent off for his bizarre late lunge, the AANP teeth would have been ground with a fury rarely previously witnessed. The game was won, our heroes were bedded in and well into their stroke-the-ball-about routine, when out of nowhere Romero took it upon himself to wait for the ball to depart the scene and then leave his studs upon the lower leg/above-the-foot region of some Newcastle sort. Irrespective of any sort of provocation – and frankly there didn’t appear to be much – it was about as knuckle-headed as they come, particularly as the young fool has only just reappeared after the previous three-month ban. Egads.

Still, we got away with that, and more broadly, delivered the sort of walloping that we’ve been threatening in at least 4 of the previous 5 games (or at least first halves). Continue to execute three or four of the numerous chances created each week, and we ought to be pretty well set when Maddison and VDV return; but irrespective of that, the mood is lightened for the week.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-4 Chelsea: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The First Twenty Or So

And that, lest there be any confusion, is why it’s called All Action, No Plot.

Easy to forget after a binge like that, but way back in the opening 20 or so minutes our heroes were playing some of the best football I’ve seen in any season at N17. These racy starts have become something of a trend amongst our lot, one amongst a number of bobbish habits instilled by Our Glorious Leader in double-quick time, but in a pleasing break from recent tradition we actually had the good sense to turn complete domination into an early goal (and were a moderately-sized whisker from two).

Maddison may not be credited in the record books in years to come with any meaningful contribution to our opener, but by golly he was front and centre of the action – albeit from a temporary left-back mooring. His was a pass for the ages, transferring events from defence to attack, and taking out the entire Chelsea midfield in one thoughtful swipe of the clog.

Nor was it particularly anomalous. Everywhere one looked there was the sight of a lilywhite playing what on paper would seem a pretty nondescript pass – not much more than ten yards, A to B, ordinary fare – but actually delivered in such a way as to temporarily remove from action at least two or three Chelsea rotters, and turn the rest of them completely on their axis.

These passes came from our centre-backs, from our inverted full-backs, and actually from pretty much anyone who happened to be wandering in the vicinity bedecked in white. Typically played first-time and typically reversed, they were lightning-quick, and Chelsea could barely get a sight of the ball, never mind a touch. Had life continued thusly for the following seven-ninths or so of the match, I can only assume we would have racked up dozens of goals and beetled away up the High St still top of the pile.

I was also settling in for a full evening of Brennan Johnson and his assorted delights. Pre-match I had rather hoped that he might get the nod, he having displayed in his two or three cameos that instant grasp of the mechanics that seemed every week to befuddle Richarlison. Not wanting to wade into any debate about who is actually a better player, it nevertheless seems apparent that the former is a better fit for this particular position and in this particular team than the latter. A dashed shame then, that life being what it was, young Master Johnson’s night was pretty abruptly curfewed – and not for the first time. At the current rate, he might actually get to complete a full 90 for us some time around 2028, what?

2. The Non-Sendings Off

“Dashed shame” is how I described it, but in this I perhaps misled my public, or at least withheld a decent wedge of the facts. For while the departure of Johnson was duly mourned, the events that precipitated it were a pretty different kettle of fish, and the AANP mood was not quite as forgiving.

Taking things in calendar order, Udogie’s two-footed lunge was as thick-headed as it was peculiar. I’ve never understood the strategic thinking behind a two-footed lunge. Apart from the fact that just about any referee with a pulse will delight at the chance to thrust a red card in the relevant face, it’s also such an odd manoeuvre. Unnatural, is what I mean. And one does not really need to have played football at the highest level to appreciate that. In fact, one only really needs to possess feet. In my experience, natural motion is generally a one-foot-at-a-time affair, anything else typically leading to physical disarray and a pretty significant confusion of the limbs.

So had Udogie had stretched a single leg for all his worth, I’d have been with him. Had he slowed down and attempted to block off young Sterling, I’d have understood his thinking. But to interrupt his usual stride pattern, specifically to introduce into proceedings an entirely unnatural act was rummy enough; to introduce such an act in the knowledge that it is specifically flagged as being immediately worth a red card – well, to say AANP was perplexed is to understate things.

Had his follow-through clipped the man – and that was well beyond his control, and in the lap of the gods – he could have had no complaints about a red card. Rather than moaning at the ref, I would have strongly urged the defender himself to have his head examined and do a spot of mental arithmetic or something, to jimmy the grey matter along.

Next up was Romero, another who seemed oblivious to the fact that we were giving the other lot a pretty emphatic tonking, with little cause to upset the status quo, and decided instead to pick up the nearest axe and swing.

Once again, his little off-the-ball kick at an opponent seemed unnecessarily to invite a dubious appraisal of things by the ref. And once again, had the officials taken a militant view there would not have been any grumbling towards them from over here, but a few paragraphs of the coarsest Anglo-Saxon directed at the player instead.

3. The Sendings-Off

Romero somehow walked away from that one with his rap-sheet in pristine nick, and perhaps by this point considering himself invincible in the eyes of the law he continued hacking away until spotted and ejected. As a side-note, I do rather miss the days when winning the ball was sufficient and not too many cares were given about the follow-through, but it’s pretty common knowledge that leaving studs on a shin as a parting-gift will receive a pretty dim eyebrow from VAR these days. Once again there were no complaints about the decision, only hands flung skywards at the fat-headedness of our man.

And that really was the turning-point – or the first of them at least. That led to the removal of Johnson, at a point at which it seemed clear that he was well on top in his own private debate out on the left, and ensured that Chelsea’s temporary dominance of possession would become more permanent.

As it happens, I’m actually inclined to shrug off Udogie’s second yellow card. He’s still a prime dolt for his two-footed nonsense earlier in the piece, and admittedly he ought really to have listened to the cautionary whisper from the angel on one shoulder, urging him to exercise a spot of restraint, rather than bowing to the demands from the devil on t’other shoulder, encouraging a lunge on Sterling when he’d already been booked.

But as I say, I had a degree of sympathy, because he had just foiled a 3-v-2 attack by Chelsea, rather heroically and against the odds – and who amongst us has not got a little carried away by a moment of success and promptly over-egged the thing?

4. The High Line

The injuries, of course, were just dashed bad luck. All season there has lurked in the background the nameless fear that an injury or two might rip the spine from our lot, but we had chugged along thus far unscathed, mainly due to the absences being enforced on a strictly one-by-one basis.

Well last night that all went up in flames. Last night I got the distinct sense that if it were not one bally thing it would damn well be another. Romero’s red was followed by VDV’s hamstring, which was followed by Maddison’s ankle, which was followed by Udogie’s red, and there went our spine, for the moment and for the foreseeable.

This four-part calamity, however – and in particular the removals of Messrs VDV and Romero – served only to introduce possibly the most eye-catching segment of the production, which is saying something on a night of 5 goals and 5 disallowed goals and 2 red cards and countless VARs.

The high-line, featuring at its heart Eric Dier, was simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. Defensively – and let’st start with the defensive aspect – it was utterly bonkers. Dier is a loyal servant, and a vocal presence apparently, and various other things that sound good and might serve pretty well in the SAS or some such – but a lightning-quick athlete he isn’t. As such, I found myself holding my breath each time Chelsea dithered around the centre-circle, and our lot lined up on halfway, ready to turn and sprint back to goal.

But it actually happened so often, pretty much most of the time the ball was in play, that I quickly worked out that holding my breath every time was not the way forward. Not enough oxygen. Anyway, we were helped out in this operation by the fact that Chelsea, for all their millions, were actually pretty vacant between the ears themselves, either too impatient or not quite bright enough to time their runs behind us.

On top of which, young Signor Vicario (more on whom later), turned out to take to the role of Auxiliary Sweeper in His Quieter Moments with a casual shrug that did a disservice to quite how capable he was. Whenever Chelsea did time their runs correctly and race off towards goal, they were generally greeted by the well-timed presence of a goalkeeper yet to put a foot wrong, in comparison to a few thousand feet he’s put right in his time at N17.

And so it happened that from a state of pessimism and doom, the mood at AANP Towers swiftly turned into one of enjoyment and hilarity. No matter what Chelsea did, they seemed utterly incapable of what ought to have been completely straightforward, and one could almost taste their frustration.

Whenever they did get behind us, Vicario swept up; and when he didn’t sweep up he made an extraordinary save, or one of our panting outfield mob caught up and hacked it away – and the general sense increasingly developed that this was going to be an absolute blast to watch.

It couldn’t last forever of course, but I have since wondered how it might have played out with VDV in the fold, even down to nine men. I rather fancy that Chelsea could have played all night and they would have failed to pick that particular lock.

Anyway, Big Ange seemed pretty unrepentant about it all, and while it made for a fascinating watch while we were defending, I have since filled the idle moment by wondering what the rationale might have been. The best I can come up with is that by playing such a high defensive line, our attackers were able to continue the high press of Chelsea defenders, and sniff around for opportunity. Or, put another way, down to nine men, Big Ange still wanted us to attack.

5. Vicario

As if the game itself wasn’t non-stop, madcap entertainment, I discovered later on that Nicolas Jackson had had the Man of the Match rosette pinned to his breast, which afforded me another chuckle, he having delivered one of the worst striking displays I’ve seen at the place.

From the AANP monocle the standout performer was pretty comfortably the lad Vicario. Again, it was easy to lose in the mists of time, but in the first half, when still 11 v 11, he pulled off a now customary Save-That’s-Actually-Worth-A-Goal, sprawling full length to his left and, that done, having the presence of mind to extend a beefy paw, to make sure of things.

There then followed his quite sensational display of judgement and timing in repeatedly scampering from his line and facing down the assorted Chelsea forwards while Dier and chums were struggling to keep up. On top of which he made some further, remarkable saves, flinging every available limb and, I’m pretty sure, his face into the way of danger to ensure that Chelsea were kept at bay and the hilarity continued.

For the umpteenth time this season I reflected that this was the sort of super-human produce of which our former custodian could only have dreamt. I’m not too sure whose brainwave it was to drag Vicario over to these shores; I’m pretty sure I gave him a murky and quizzical eye when he did arrive; but by golly I’d sell every material possession I own, and quite possibly throw in my soul too, to ensure he stays in N17 long into the future.

Three rousing cheers for Vicario then, and an additional yip thrown in for Hojbjerg too. I’m yet to be convinced that he’s really the man for Ange-Ball, but if ever there were a situation for which he most certainly is the man it’s when the team is down to nine-men. I half-expect his eyes lit up when the red cards were flashed. Hojbjerg scowled and tackled and crunched his way through proceedings, clearing one shot off the line and generally giving the impression that he was born to play in this particular match.

It’s just a shame we couldn’t quite hold out; and then, having failed to hold out, couldn’t quite nab the equaliser, before Chelsea finally worked out how to beat the world’s most obvious offside trap.

But by golly, if one is going to lose one might as well as go down swinging, and I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed such game, determined and entertaining swinging as that. We could all have done without the final three or so minutes of injury-time and what was contained therein; and I know that to admit enjoying a Spurs defeat is one of those cardinal sins for which one is expected to make a grovelling apology on some social media nonsense; and if we entertain while getting stuffed every week then I’ll have a pretty solid rethink.

But this was, yet again, just thoroughly entertaining stuff, the sort of fare I could happily gobble down for an hour and a half every week for the rest of my days. As you’re no doubt aware, the AANP blog began on a wave of still-flowing adrenaline the morning after our 4-4 draw at The Emirates, and last night’s adventure was two hours of the same madcap nonsense. Long may it continue.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Palace 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1.  Davies vs Royal at Left-Back

Squad depth – or lack thereof – seems as likely as anything else to unstrap the safety harness and eject us from the vehicle this season. It’s hardly cold sweats in the middle of the night territory just yet, but the thought of pretty much any two or three of the choice XI (bar poor old Richarlison, perhaps) being simultaneously absented from a performance does make one widen the eyes and murmur, “Golly.”

And given this context I’ve been rather grateful to those gods responsible for these things for dealing us but a single absentee each week, allowing us just to dip a tentative toe into the ‘Strength In Reserve’ waters rather than having to plunge in fully and immerse the whole frame. Last week Bissouma was missing; this week Bissouma was back, and Udogie was missing.

In the sort of move that would baffle AANP’s better half, Our Glorious Leader therefore made an entirely rationale decision, and opted for Ben Davies – but any fans of like-for-like performance-matching might have been advised to prepare for a bit of a letdown. Where Udogie gives the term “Left-Back” the loosest possible interpretation, and bounds off to see what’s happening in midfield and attack and so forth, Davies’ approach is what you might call a tad more traditional.

Giving the air of a schoolboy who always did as told, Davies obediently trotted off to the left side of our defence, and made safe upkeep of this territory his priority. Which is not to say he didn’t partake in Ange-Ball and its liberal use of full-backs in attacking areas, but somehow when he ventured up the field he seemed to do so in a slightly robotic manner. If Richarlison received the ball on the left touchline and in advance of halfway, Davies took this as his cue, and dutifully trotted about 20 yards in advance of the action, and waved his arms around as instructed.

Now one could argue that this was precisely what was required, and in precisely the right circumstances – yet somehow this very precision was the problem. Much of the joy of Udogie’s performances is that one never knows quite what the hell he’ll do next, or where for that matter, whereas one could set one’s clock by Ben Davies.

On top of which, I’m not entirely convinced that Davies even had the conventional, defensive duties of a left-back entirely under control. Ayew and various others seemed to cause a spot of consternation down that particular flank, and with such limited outputs in either northerly or southerly directions, one understood the half-time move to trade in a Davies, B. for a Royal, E.

Emerson, whose lilywhite career has already waxed and waned like nobody’s business, is now finding himself having to make a fist of things as a reserve inverted left-back. And while on paper this might sound a bit thick for a born and bred right-back, it’s a role so madcap that it suited rather well a chap quite clearly missing a few key screw upstairs. Emerson swiftly beetled off into a deep-lying central midfield sort of role – alongside Porro, naturally – and the slightly chaotic nature of Ange-Ball’s formations was restored.

2. Richarlison vs Brennan Johnson

As ever, it was a tough old gig for Richarlison, who could not look more like a square peg struggling with a round hole if he were composed entirely of right angles and straight lines. As ever, there was no faulting his effort. Worker ants of the tireless variety could take a few tips from the lad, as he closed down Palace defenders, tracked back after their more attacking bimbos and patiently tried to outwit his man when actually in possession.

He might even have set up a first half goal, and quite brilliantly too, stretching all available sinews to head delicately back into play a ball that seemed to be sailing pretty serenely off into the stands – only for Maddison to lash the resulting gift off into the gods.

But while the various members of the backroom staff will no doubt be lining up to slap his back and commend him on his effort, the slightly awkward truth is that he’s not really delivering much in the way of an attacking harvest.

It’s probably worth reiterating his value in assisting our high press, for this seems to have brought about a decent percentage of the goals we’ve scored in recent weeks – and I can think of one recently-departed member of this parish who, for all his goalscoring, didn’t have the puff to chase down the opposition defence non-stop over the course of a full 90.

But alas. When it came to key passes, tantalising crosses or shots on target, the cup could hardly be said to floweth over. There have been a few inviting passes into dangerous areas during Richarlison’s stint on the left, and a fair number of shots from in and around the area, of varying degrees of inaccuracy. All ten-out-of-ten-for-effort sort of stuff, but it’s not really only effort we’re after, what?

Enter Brennan Johnson, who within about two shakes of a lamb’s tail had played a pretty critical part in a goal, first in rather inventive use of the forehead to control a cross and pass to a chum in the same motion; and then in dashing to the by-line to set up Sonny for a tap-in.

Better minds than mine will pore over the tactical minutiae that distinguished Richarlison’s performance from Johnson’s, but, put bluntly, we just seem to have a bit more attacking threat with the latter buzzing around on the left. One for Our Glorious Leader to ponder in the coming days.

3. Neil Ruddock and Des Walker

Back in the summer of 1993, a pre-teen AANP could be heard excitedly nattering away to anyone who would listen, and many who wouldn’t, that the gossip pages of 90 Minutes and Shoot and whatnot suggested that the lightning quick feet of Des Walker would imminently be speeding around the hallowed turf of White Hart Lane. This would have been pretty sensational stuff on its own, but the prospect of the jet-heeled Walker partnering with resident centre-back Neil Ruddock, a chap whose dispute-settling style might generously be termed ‘firm’, had the youthful AANP pretty giddy with excitement.

Alas, in confirmation of what had gone before, and a dashed certain omen of what was to come, Spurs rather broke my heart, by not only failing to bring Walker to our shores, but also parting with Ruddock that same summer.

The intervening thirty years spent watching our heroes have occasionally been somewhat trying – in fact, at times, particularly during the 90s, it felt like the life has rather drained from my core while watching our lot – but finally it feels that that promise of pace and power at the heart of our defence is being realised. Van de Ven and Romero are quickly morphing into a pretty sensational combo.

Both are about as comfortable in possession as central defenders come these days, which I’m not sure is the sort of accusation that could ever have been levelled at either of Messrs N.R. or D.W. But it is the glorious marriage of Romero’s clattering tackles – light on nonsense, heavy on force – and VDV’s swiftness of travel between points A and B that gives the impression that we have stumbled upon something special here.

Both were, in their own ways, in fine old fettle on Friday night. When Palace did breach the rear – which they did a mite too often in the first half – it seemed to be despite rather than because of our centre-backs, and indeed, Romero and VDV could as often as not be spotted planting a well-timed intervening clog in the way of things, to abate incoming trouble.

The earlier concern, about the potential absence of critical bodies, applies more to Romero and VDV than most, and another Top Four-standard centre-back will almost certainly be needed at some point between now and May. For the time being however, we might as well just enjoy the rare delights of a solid centre-back pairing.

4. Slow-Slow-Fast

My old man, AANP Senior, had the honour of being a regular at the Lane during our Double-winning season no less, so was presumably as excitable as the rest of us in his prime; but now, in his 91st year, he casts the beady eye in rather less forgiving manner. And when Messrs Romero and Vicario spent sizeable chunks of the second half dwelling on the ball under no pressure, before shrugging their shoulders and rolling it between each other, a certain cantankerous gruffling emanated from the aged relative. He was not amused.

Which was a shame, because I thought it was an absolute blast. Palace, understandably enough, had had a game-plan at nil-nil, to sit back and allow our goalkeeper and defenders all the possession they wanted, safe in the knowledge that no harm would come of it. But once our lot were one-nil up, it took a while for Palace to compute that their cause was not helped by simply sitting back and allowing Romero and Vicario to light cigars and natter away amongst themselves.

Eventually therefore, our hosts rather reluctantly committed a body or two towards the ball, and our heroes duly picked them off with aplomb. On several occasions, as soon as a Palace forward inched towards Romero or Vicario, one or other of this pair expertly bisected approximately half their team with a sudden forward pass into midfield.

This in itself provided a healthy dollop of aesthetic reward, but the fun didn’t stop there, as those receiving the thing in midfield were clearly well up on current events, and fully aware of the next stage of the plan. Whether it was Hojbjerg, Porro, Maddison or Sarr, the midfield johnnie receiving the ball would ping it wide, first-time and on the half-turn, and before you could say “This slow-slow-quick approach allows our lot to cut through Palace like a knife through butter, what?”, our heroes were in on goal.

This impeccable choreography was rarely better displayed than in our second goal, that slow-slow-quick approach being at the very core of the move. Romero dwelt and dwelt before neatly picking out Hojbjerg, and he swiftly conveyed the thing to Sarr, who crowned what I thought was a man-of-the-match performance with a glorious cross-field switch, from an innocuous right-back position over to Brennan Johnson in a more threatening left-wing spot. Johnson, as alluded to earlier, used his head to good effect, and a couple of classic Ange-Ball one-touch passes later Sonny was tapping in from point-blank range.

The move, in its entirety from back to front, was an absolute masterpiece, and while the television bods seemed to underplay it a tad, the fact that even AANP Senior was moved to mutter a pithy word or two of semi-satisfaction more accurately reflected its quality.

The late goal – which could be pinned pretty squarely on the otherwise decent Porro – was a reminder to our lot not to settle in for their nap before time is up, but this on balance was another deserved win, leaving only the question of whether Bentancur and Gil will make enough appearances this season to collect their League-winners’ medals in May.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Fulham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg

Evidence of the last couple of months suggests that, even though obliged to change his preferred XI by the rules and regulations, Ange did so only with the greatest reluctance, and likely a decent slab of harrumphing. But there we were, Bissouma’s previous follies meaning that Hojbjerg received a promotion, and at AANP Towers we rubbed an ever-so-slightly nervous chin before the curtain went up.

Anyone expecting Hojbjerg simply to get his head down and mimic the every shoulder-drop and forward burst of Bissouma would, of course, have been misreading the situation pretty drastically. Messrs P-E.H. and Y.B. are radically different beasts. Mercifully, however, if one could have drawn up a list beforehand of the preferred fixtures in which to replace the buzz and drive of Bissouma with the stasis and arm-flapping of Hojbjerg, I think a home date with Fulham might well have been pretty high up the list.

And frankly, it proved as gentle a stroll as hoped. In fact, in those opening ten minutes it appeared that we might not need Hojbjerg at all. As against Luton last time out, we had much of the runaway train about our work in last night’s opening scenes, running rings around our opponents and without too much need for the deeper-lying folk. This seemed to owe much to our pressing (which was mightily impressive throughout, strangling the life out of Fulham in their own half, bringing about both goals and generally compensating for a fair amount of sloppiness in the second half).

Back to Hojbjerg, and to his credit he did the various odd-jobs asked of him with pretty minimal fuss. The setup seemed to require him to fill in around various unglamorous locations towards the rear, but Hojbjerg being one of those curious eggs whose take on life is that the grubbier the task the better, this turned out to be a pretty convenient marriage. Fulham tried to clear to halfway, and Hojbjerg stepped up to snuffle it out; our heroes were forced to poke the ball backwards for a moment, and Hojbjerg availed himself to receive and re-distribute; and for good measure, when we threatened to become irresponsibly blasé about a one-goal lead, Hojbjerg was there to win possession high up the pitch and set up Sonny to set up Maddison for our second.

On the debit side, he did pick up an unnecessary and slightly odd booking, for opting to lunge at a Fulham body, changing his mind about matters fairly swiftly but finding that the laws of physics prevented him from effecting any alteration, and having simply to skid irresistibly about ten yards along the turf until he ploughed into his man; but then on the credit side he also played one of the passes of the season, about midway through the first half, reversing matters from left to right in a Harry Kane sort of way; so all told it was a perfectly acceptable night’s work.

Not a performance to win him any awards, nor to earn him a starting spot when Bissouma returns; but he did not look miles off the pace nor appear visibly out of sync when stepping into a unit that has been tightly-knit without him for 8 games, so he probably merits a nod of acknowledgement.   

2. Udogie

Never mind the miracles Big Ange has worked for our lot – his decision to hook young Master Udogie before we hit the 60-minute mark has left a pretty sickly hue over my fantasy team, so I’ll be demanding a full explanation at our next tete-a-tete.

I don’t know about you, but Udogie – or rather the positions and instructions Udogie is given – make my mind boggle like nobody’s business. It’s one of those awkward situations in which the more one tries to understand the thing the more complicated it all seems to become.

What I’m getting at is where the devil does he actually play? Convention would dictate ‘left-back’; the achingly fashionable amongst us call it ‘inverted full-back’; but watching the match unfold he seemed to decide that it was open season anywhere on the left, and if he had to slap a hand on the Bible and absolutely swear under oath he’d announce that an attacking midfield role, ever-so-slightly left of centre, was the spot for him. And since everyone around him was too polite or too consumed with their own affairs to correct him, there he stayed.

In the interests of accuracy, I probably ought to acknowledge that when we were out of possession he did trot back to an old-fashion left-back spot. In general, however, I cast a beady eye, spotted him a-wandering and duly scratched my head.

Anyway, whatever the hell you want to call his role, he did it pretty well, at least in an attacking sense. Maddison, as ever, was the brains of the operation, but I derived a fair amount of enjoyment in seeing Fulham simply unable to cope with the mere presence of Udogie as an additional forward body, adding to the numbers and generally making a nuisance of himself in between Richarlison and Son.

Out on the other side, Porro seemed more inclined to obey the rules of convention and hover within spitting distance of the touchline, generally limiting himself to one or two visits to the opposition area; but Udogie appears constantly to be one well-timed burst away from being our second striker.

As is often the case with these things, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when Udogie was removed I thought we missed him somewhat. Emerson Royal, being a barmy sort, gave his own, rather madcap interpretation of the role, and with the entire collective being not quite at the races in the second half, the quality dipped notably.

So while I don’t pretend to understand his precise purpose, with each game I enjoy more and more the input from young Udogie, and hope that his early retirement last night was merely precautionary.

3. Romero

Not for the first time, some occasionally breathtaking football did not quite produce the rich harvest one would have hoped, and with only one first half goal to show for our efforts, those in the rear needed to pay a dashed sight more attention than one would have thought necessary.

At this point one could easily have gazed into the mid-distance, painted vivid images in the mind’s eye of Van de Ven neatly defusing bombs and extinguishing fires – and perfectly weighting passes that led directly to our opener, come to think of it – and purred appropriately at the chap for his highly impressive Jan Vertonghen Tribute Act.

But instead the AANP eye was drawn more towards the other side of central defence, where young Romero was busily plotting a flawless course through the night. Whenever Fulham broke down our right – and it seemed to happen far too often for my liking, considering the one-sided nature of proceedings – we seemed rather taken by surprise, as if such an eventuality simply hadn’t figured in all the pre-match planning. It was all a little too easy for Fulham to use that route to get within shooting distance. Where Senor Porro was in all this I’m not too sure, but happily the 2023/24 version of Cristian Romero has such matters well in hand.

On several occasions Romero popped up in precisely the spot in which trouble appeared about to befall, and for good measure, rather than simply blooting the ball to kingdom come, he typically had the presence of mind to make good use of it, either with a calming pass sideways, or, occasionally, with a gallop up the pitch.

As the game wore on and all in lilywhite cared less and less, Romero was called upon to do more than just intercept loose balls in his own area, increasingly being called upon to sprint back towards his own goal and put a lid on any looming trouble.

Much has been made of the calmer and wiser Romero, who this season thinks before hacking to pieces an opponent, but even with this new thoughtful head atop his shoulders, he still took every opportunity to put a bit of meaning into his tackles, going to ground and caring little if he upset the surrounding furniture.

As mentioned, Van de Ven did everything asked of him on the left, but I did particularly enjoy Romero’s bad-cop routine on the right.

4. Vicario

I trust that when Signor Vicario dived beneath the duvet and started totting up sheep last night, he was able to reflect on a pretty satisfactory day’s work for the employer. So far this season the young bean has attracted plaudits as much for his contributions to penalty area keep-ball as anything else, but last night he was called upon on a couple of occasions to lend a hand in the more traditional sense, and he did so in mightily impressive fashion.

It was the first half save that really caught the eye. A full-length extension, to a headed effort that for all the world looked already to be nestling in the net, was not to be sniffed at. Moreover, this came when the score was still 0-0, and when, although our lot were dominant, it was not yet clear that Fulham would be quite as bad as they were. It was worth a goal, and young Master V. ought to be serenaded appropriately for his efforts.

He had to make a couple more sharp-ish stops towards the end of things too, at that point at which a pact seemed to have been agreed by all concerned that 2-0 it would be, yet Fulham sneakily tried to score anyway. These later saves were a dash more straightforward, the ball being leathered pretty much straight at his frame, but I can think of former members of the parish who might have made a pig’s ear of them. They needed saving; and save them Vicario did.

Ironically enough, for one whose major contribution to date has been his confidence and capability with ball at feet, Vicario actually dropped something of a clanger in precisely that field in the first half, gifting possession to some Fulham sort inside our own area. Luckily enough, one of the main principles of the day – that Fulham were dreadful from root to stem – was swiftly reinforced, and they made little of the moment, but I thought it was a pleasing indication of quite how much Vicario has already banked that none in the galleries reacted with any opprobrium towards him.

5. A Below-Par Second Half

By my reckoning we ought to have been about 6-2 up at half-time, but instead had to make do with just the one – which would have been reasonable enough had we begun the second half with the same vim and vigour as that with which we ended the first.

Alas, our lot appeared to have tucked into sizeable portions of pasta at half-time, quite possibly washed down with an ale or two, because the sluggish second half approach was very much that of a troupe who felt their night’s serious business was done, and were content to pay only the loosest attention to proceedings for the remainder, seemingly adopting the view that any matters of precision and accuracy would take care of themselves.

Against anyone else this might have been a problem. Mercifully, Fulham – and in particular that lad Bassey, at the back – appeared to be Spurs fans at heart, and did their best to ensure a smooth passage to victory for us, both in spurning an alarming number of late chances but also, crucially, in gifting us a second goal to wrap things up, just when it seemed that we were starting to lose control of things.

How our heroes might have coped with the late concession of a goal, bringing the score back to 2-1, will forever remain unknown, but AANP certainly ground a displeased tooth as that second half unfolded. One would hope that the careless attitude was a product of the circumstance – a poor opponent; the sense that we could go up a gear or two if needed; the fixture list throwing up another joust on Friday night – but I would much rather have seen us roll up sleeves, apply boot to neck and see off the thing a little more professionally.

Still, it ended up being a mightily comfortable win, and with the Title now practically sewn up, the only question left at AANP Towers is whether we will bag the FA Cup as well.