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Spurs match reports

Liverpool 1-1 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sessegnon

I would be deceiving my public if I were to claim to have studied meticulously the every sprint and shimmy of Ryan Sessegnon in his Fulham days, but as the news on the airwaves back then seemed to communicate with some confidence that he was essentially a left-footed reincarnation of Pele, I was happy to wave him on-board when his transfer to N17 had its I’s dotted and T’s crossed.

No doubt he had some rotten luck in the months since then, with various sinews pinging and limbs crumbling. The net effect of which has been that whereas a regular run of games might have turned him into a passable imitator of peak Danny Rose, he has instead gone about his business with the nervous air of a man entirely unfamiliar with the script and desperately hoping that nobody will notice.

My principal concern with Sessegnon is that he treats the football as if it is some other-worldly object of obscurity, unsure quite how to interact with it, and emphatically incapable of keeping the thing under his spell. And for much of yesterday – with one notable exception – this truth appeared to be very much intact.

That moment in which he almost headed an own-goal neatly encapsulated his ongoing struggles with the thing. While by no means a straightforward scenario – the ball was airborne, an attacker lurked – it was neither a situation of the gravest conceivable peril. There were a couple of options available, the most obvious of which seemed to be to nod the ball out of play, dust the hands of the situation and regroup for the next scene.

Sessegnon, however, treating the object as a dodecahedron rather than a sphere, contrived to lob a header into the most dangerous area possible – a yard from goal, into the path of Salah and very nearly over the extended frame of Lloris.

Our goalkeeper did the decent thing on that occasion (and indeed every occasion on which called into action), but the episode was indicative of a broader malaise. Sessegnon’s touch was generally a cue for all in lilywhite to about-turn and resume defensive positions, as the ball bobbled away from him much as it would if lobbed gently against a brick wall. The Sessegnon of Fulham vintage might have been a veritable deity with ball at feet, but our version appears to wrestle with deep-rooted, ball-based trauma.

However, yesterday was not really the occasion for any in our ranks to dazzle with elegant touch and soft caresses in possession. A large part of Sessegnon’s remit was in simply adopting the appropriate stance, depending on how the situation was unfolding centre-stage. So if Liverpool were hammering at our door, as they spent much of the game doing, our man dutifully shuffled out to a spot about five yards west of Ben Davies, and doggedly biffed away at which red-clad stooge tried to slink past.

This, to his credit, he did well. I was particularly taken by the manner in which, on the occasion on which he made a pig’s ear of things and allowed Salah a clear run on goal, more sordid urges consumed him. Rather than adopting the more socially-acceptable modes of defending, involving such noble arts as the clean tackle or well-timed block, he simply wrapped his arms around the chap’s waist and pulled at him with him all his might, earning a pretty racy yellow card in the process.

Moreover, on those rare occasions on which attacking opportunities poked their heads above the surface, Sessegnon joined in the fun with impressive gusto. As ever, his touch generally brought an end to things, but his very presence, augmenting our three-pronged forward line with his appearances as an auxiliary left-winger, were of immense value. The game-plan may have been built upon nerveless defending, but it equally required a counter-attacking threat in which at least one wing-back supplemented things.

And never was this more evident than in our goal, when first Sessegnon provided the extra body in the area, and then, on receiving the ball, finally managed to tame the thing and deliver it with truth and purity, on a plate for Sonny. If Sessegnon were to hit one accurate pass in the whole game it had to be that pass, and he did so like a champion. All other ills and mishaps were instantly forgiven.

2. Emerson Royal

Seasoned drinkers at the AANP Tavern will be familiar with the residents’ arched eyebrows and seedy glares whenever the name of Emerson Royal passes the lips. However, those same drinkers are reasonable folk of sound judgement, so when Senor Royal puts in a performance worthy of praise, applause will ring out, and thus did it transpire yesterday.

His crossing remains pretty mysteriously abject, but this was not an evening on which to lament his wrongs. Defensively, as with each of his chums, Royal did not put too many feet wrong – which might not sound like much, but given the relentless nature of Liverpool’s probing when in possession and pressing when out, was a solid day’s work.

Indeed, Royal’s task was exacerbated by the fact that he had in opposition to him Luis Diaz, the sort of chappie who makes your standard eel seem a relatively docile and compliant customer. Warm applause is due also to Kulusevski for taking the hint and stationing himself as first reserve in the right-back environs, but Royal barely put a foot wrong defensively. Moreover, he also aided matters by playing the ball out from defence with a composure of which I would not have thought him to possess.

As has been pointed out to me with some truth, the fellow is a right-back rather than a wing-back, so to chide him for his inability to cross is to do him something of a disservice. Yesterday his role was primarily defensive and he fulfilled it. Going forward he showed plenty of willing, albeit again failing to make the great balefuls of hay one would have hoped for from his multiple crossing opportunities.

He did produce a rather unorthodox contribution to our goal however. He had the presence of mind to spot Kane in a rare unmanned patch of greenery, and while his approach to conveying the ball to Kane was not necessarily wreathed in beauty – involving as it did a vertical punt into the heavens – it achieved its end, and a priceless goal swiftly followed.

3. The Centre-Backs

But I speak of Messrs R.S. and E.R. by way of preamble only. The real stars of the defensive show were the three centre-backs, each of whom took to the task as if the future of humanity depended upon it.

(This in itself is something of a revelation, being pretty much the last thing I’d have expected of a Spurs team after my four and a bit decades of eyeballing, and credit here is presumably due to Our Glorious Leader.)

Romero admittedly took a slightly risky approach to the concept of safety and security. His array of passes from near his own goalline was certainly brave, and all things considered I tip my cap to the man for consistently attempting to start attacks from deep, rather than simply dabbing it back to the ‘keeper and scrambling out of the limelight.

Nevertheless, the heart did shoot up through the throat and straight into the mouth each time Romero dabbled in this art yesterday, and he might be advised to take into account such factors as quality of opposition when next struck by the urge.

Defensively, however, he was his usual reliable self, adopting good positions, making good choices, hurling limbs into the path of shots and generally carrying himself with the air of one who treats defence as a way of life rather than simply a day-job.

Dier and Davies were similarly motivated throughout, and it was telling that Liverpool scored only through a deflection and created little else of note to moisten the forehead of Monsieur Lloris.

And from that perspective one might fling a frustrated palm or two skyward and bemoan two dropped points. Certainly if the Hojbjerg compass had been whirring and clicking correctly we might have snatched a winner at the death, and at various points in both halves a little more care in our counter-attacking pay might have secured a rich harvest.

There can be no disputing that Liverpool dominated possession and set the tempo for most of the game however, and while we successfully blunted just about every idea they came up with, a draw seemed about right. On it crawls, therefore, setting the stage nicely for Thursday and the Woolwich.

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Spurs match reports

Brentford 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Matty Cash (Stay With Me Here)

When Mother Nature was fashioning right wing-backs I fancy she sneaked off for a few minutes away from prying eyes, to surreptitiously create a red herring in amongst the quality stock, because Emerson Royal may have his talents (a debatable point, come to think of it) but wing-backery is not one of them. In fact, I’m still not convinced that this man is actually a professional footballer, in terms of the fine print and T’s and C’s. And yet history will record that this utter charlatan thrice appeared for Barcelona, which if nothing else goes to show what sorcery a cunning football agent is capable of.

To the surprise of no-one Emerson was at it again on Saturday, charging into cul-de-sacs like a toddler thrilling at a new game, and taking every available opportunity to make a pig’s ear of things when in possession.

There’s a broken record resounding with the four walls of AANP Towers, which continually belts out the refrain that for Conte’s system to work it blasted well needs a pair of pretty inspired wing-backs. Until Christian Eriksen returns we’re certainly not going to set any pulses racing in central midfield, where Messrs Hojbjerg and Bentancur are unfailingly polite and diligent, but respond with rather blank looks and the offer of a sideways pass when asked to create something. As such, the burden of expectation falls on those patrolling the flanks.

And this is where that pest Matty Cash lumbers into view, because until he took it upon himself to fling his entire body-weight at the knee of Matt Doherty a few weeks back, our lot could go about their 9-to-5 with at least one semi-decent wing-back in the ranks. Doherty seemed to have read the manual and got the gist of where to be and when. Even though, curiously, crossing the thing was never too high on his To-Do list, he still had enough good sense to plant himself in helpful attacking spots about the place.

Emerson, by contrast, is cursed with an inability to contribute helpfully to attacking matters – which to be honest, quite likely stems from his underlying inability to contribute helpfully to footballing matters more generally.

So when attempts to weave pretty meticulous routes straight down the centre came to naught, hopeful looks were cast towards the flanks for a spot of timely inspiration, only for those looks to fall upon Emerson Royal and become infused with a few shades of anguish.

Nor did the other flank bring a more productive harvest, being populated by young Sessegnon, who appears still petrified of his own shadow. All of which leaves me cursing with a great deal of spirit that damned Matty Cash (and, for good measure, Steven Gerrard, still hoovering up the goodwill around the place from his playing career to get away with such uncouth tactics as a manager). The Woolwich would do well to reward both with a handsome chunk of the winnings should they make the CL spot, because the absence of Doherty, while not the sole factor, has caused the whole operation to sag a bit.

2. Plan A

As alluded to above, the well of central midfield invention, if not quite bone dry, was certainly not threatening to spill over at the sides on Saturday.

That said, I’m not one to slap on the sackcloth and ashes and start bleating that our heroes simply moped about the place without caring a hang for matters of the turf. That was their domain last weekend vs Brighton. On Saturday vs Brentford, investment was at least made in the concept of prising out a chance.

The flanks were pretty derelict, arid territories, but our lot did have a couple of stabs at that business of quick, one-touching passing straight through the middle. And a chief inspector of such things might note that these endeavours met with some success. On a couple of occasions we successfully transferred the orb from circa. centre circle to circa. oppo penalty area with minimal oppo interference.

The problem was that by the time we hit oppo p.a. the whole operation ground to a halt, as we discovered that Brentford had populated the place with about fifty of their finest, and every possible avenue for entry was sealed off.

And that was pretty much the beginning, middle and end of Plan A. There was simply no way through via the centre, and our wing-backs were too dashed gormless to conjure up anything out east or out west.

3. Plan B

With Plan A thus fizzling out pretty much upon take-off, one could not impress enough upon our heroes the importance of a sturdy and viable Plan B, the sort that would force the Brentford mob to reconsider their lot in life and conjure up chances from new and exciting angles.

Unfortunately, while the theory of Plan B was sound, the reality of Plan B hit upon a pretty sizeable flaw, of the existential variety, in that it didn’t actually exist.

It’s difficult to say where the blame lies for this. Certainly the obvious direction for the accusatory finger to point is that of Our Glorious Leader, he being the nib tasked with devising such ruses. Conte appears very much a creature of tactical habit, wedded not only to his wing-backed 3-4-3, but also to pretty much an identical XI every week, if availability allows.

However, having played two games without registering a shot on target one might reasonably suggest that opponents are starting to get the hang of The Conte Way and, worse, finding ways to neuter it. And this, surely, is where the Big Cheese earns his monthly envelope, shrugging his shoulders at the unfortunate fate of Plan A and unveiling with a flourish some dastardly Plan B – and, ideally, also Plans C, D and E for good measure, if he is really in the mood.

Instead, Conte seems at as much of a loss as the rest of us, if the 3-4-3 and identical XI aren’t delivering the goods.

Now strictly speaking, if recording these musings under oath I would be in a bit of a spot, because this is a mild untruth. Cast your mind back to the rip-snorting draw with Liverpool back in December, and Conte lined up our heroes in a 5-3-2, to pretty decent effect when one takes all things into account.

These days however, Conte’s gambling blood doesn’t really extend much beyond flinging on Lucas for a ten-minute scamper and possibly Bergwijn in the dying embers of added time, neither of which really tear up the manual and indicate a wild and daring inversion of tactics.

Aside from Conte, I suppose one might direct a chastising poke of the ribs towards the actual players themselves, they being the souls in most direct command of proceedings. One never really feels comfortable attributing to footballers the capacity of enlightened thought and ingenuity, so it is perhaps asking a bit much of them to fix the tactical machinery mid-game. However, while it would be nice to see, unfortunately beyond Kane dropping into his little holes the market for such in-game player spontaneity is pretty much closed.

The alarming thing is that with only a handful of games left and precious little scope for further dropped points, we need a few viable alternatives and pronto. Actually, the alarming thing is the failure to hit a bally shot on target in two games, but you appreciate the forward-looking concern too.

4. Eriksen’s Corners

Of course, all such miseries and concerns rather faded away when one drank in the sight of Christian Eriksen treading the boards again, and long may he continue to do so.

His touch remains in pretty decent working order, and I noted with interest that the data bods awarded him the rosette for Most Distance Covered, which is the sort of stat that will do no harm to the Returning To Spurs rumours.

Back in his lilywhite days, my main gripe with the chap was that he tended to deliver his wizardry in fits and starts, flitting around the periphery of the match for much of it, rather than wading around knee-deep in the stuff from first whistle to last, as a man of his talent ought. Whether he is therefore the solution to our ills is debatable – although his advocates would make the pretty reasonable point that with him pottering around the midfield it is unlikely that we would go two games without a shot on target.

But aside from all that, what really caught the eye was the sight of him pinging corners and free-kicks about the place like a chap who’d been blessed with such ability since childhood.

Much has been made of the fact that three first-half corners were delivered pretty much on a sixpence to Toney at the far post. Anyone within earshot of AANP as these sailed over would have recoiled at the coarse and earthy language being gaily splashed around the place, such was my disgust at the complete abandonment of marking duties displayed by Sonny on these occasions, he evidently not being the sort for any of that enlightened thought or ingenuity I mentioned earlier (or even the plain common sense to spot the same thing happening and act upon it at the third time of asking).

However, the more charitable pundits about the place chose instead to focus their energies upon a spot of good old-fashioned sycophancy at Eriksen and his set-piece delivery, and I must admit that I did give it an eye. It was all the more remarkable to me, however, because one of the abiding memories of the chap’s final season in N17 was his bizarre inability to deliver a decent set-piece. It was quite the curiosity that so many of his corners would skim along the turf and straight to the first defender, incurring some early variations of that coarse and earthy language.

On Saturday, however, set-piece delivery appeared, once again, to have become his speciality, and it dashed well near enough sank us, leading to two rattles of the frame and one off-the-line clearance.

So much for Eriksen, and good luck to the honest fellow. As for our lot, one heck of an upturn is needed, and pronto, because this thing is slipping away. Strictly speaking it does remain in our hands – win all remaining fixtures, including the North London derby, and fourth is ours – but for any of the above to materialise, on-pitch matters need some pretty immediate and effective surgery.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Brighton: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Midfield Distribution

After games such as this one can pretty much close the eyes and point a moody finger in any direction, and one will hit upon a failing. And on Saturday one such failing was the complete absence of interest in attacking play from those dozing away in central midfield.  

What struck me as particularly galling was that the business of playing the ball from defence to attack was not one of those disasters beset in problems from start to finish. It was not one of those tragedies in which the knowledgeable onlooker can spot from a mile away that the whole scheme is destined for failure as soon as it begins. At various points during the game, the beginning of our play-ball-from-defence-to-attack strategy was actually pretty neat and tidy stuff.

For a start, any sniff of danger from what masqueraded as the Brighton high-press around our area was swatted away pretty dismissively. The control of possession demonstrated by Hugo, the three centre-backs and any kindly wing-back who happened to be passing by, was of sufficient quality to sidestep any hint of trouble around our own net. Manoeuvring the ball from A to B – with A being the feet of Hugo and B the feet of anyone else in lilywhite – was an operation for which our lot demonstrated all the requisite levels of competence.

So far, so good. Our lack of a single shot on target could not be pinned upon any perceived difficulties in emerging unscathed from our own penalty area.

At this point, however, the plan started spouting leaks. The challenge seemed to be not so much the risk of losing possession in our own defensive third, as much as the conundrum of how to do anything meaningful with it, at the same point on the map.

In recent weeks, Hojbjerg and, in particular, Bentancur and Kane, have attracted their fair share of awe-struck gazes through the ability casually to flick a ball first-time around the corner, and into space up the flanks for one of the attacking cohort to gallop after. As well as being the sort of scenic stuff one could bring a picnic to watch, such first-time flicks have had the pragmatic advantage of turning the narratives completely on their head, leaving opposition defenders galloping back towards their own goal and pulled apart in all sorts of directions.

And yet on Saturday, of those first-time flicks there was no sign. Instead, both Bentancur and Hojbjerg (Kane having been muzzled by that Bissouma fellow, who I’m sure would look fetching in white upper garments come August) seemed entirely preoccupied with the notion that if anything good were to come of things it would have to have its genesis in a first-time backwards pass. No matter the coordinates, or time of day, or any other consideration of external circumstance: first-time backwards passes had been adopted as the panacea for all ills, and any other consideration was tossed aside.

Now I’m all for the practice of one passing the way they are facing. If anything, I consider it a somewhat neglected art. At the appropriate time and in the appropriate place, few things in life can top a swift nudge of the ball backwards by a fellow who has his back to goal and senses opponents hunting him down. Done in suitable conditions, it can be precisely what the doctor ordered, throwing opponents off the scent and ensuring quick movement of the ball.

But note well the preamble: “in suitable conditions’; “the appropriate time”; and “appropriate place”. All key components, and yet merrily ignored by our heroes, who seemed to think that the backwards-pass routine was such a good yarn they should thrust it into the heart of whatever was happening, irrespective of whether the circumstances required it or not.

While the occasional backward pass can be a ripping little gag, doing it every dashed time one receives the ball starts to make the regulars raise an eyebrow and wonder if all is well at HQ.

While I appreciate that it is difficult to flick around a corner when everyone in lilywhite is static and all Brighton-folk are already in position and set, there were nevertheless opportunities to start attacks, when Brighton had committed numbers up the pitch. On such occasions, some effort had gone into bypassing the Brighton press, and finally the ball was funnelled up to Bentancur and Hojbjerg (and occasionally Son), with the stage set for them to ping the ball into the spaces ahead for attacking sorts to run onto – and instead they simply bunged the thing back into defence again, and everyone in Brighton colours re-took their sentry positions.

It was as if they considered that a quick shove of the ball back towards goal were some sort of triumph in itself, and once completed they could consider their jobs done for the day.

I suppose there are multiple contributory factors here, but from the AANP viewpoint our lot seemed to be missing one heck of a trick. Instead of zipping up the pitch, all in lilywhite ponderously rolled the ball around the halfway line, and by the time last orders were called it was little wonder that we had not managed a single shot on target.

2. The Absence of Doherty

I once heard a pretty ripping gag about chickens and eggs, the nub of which was to speculate as to which arrived on the scene first, which, when you stop to consider it, starts to make the mind swim a bit. I was reminded of this when trying to fathom the root of our problems on Saturday, because on the one hand, as documented above, our midfield mob appeared in no mood to set in motion anything of attacking promise – but on the other hand I did wonder if this might be because the supporting cast were neglecting their duties.

In recent weeks, Master Doherty has carried himself full of buck and vim, taking every opportunity to chip in with his tuppence worth on the right flank, and indeed infield from said flank. He, and whichever less talented equivalent has been patrolling the left flank, have been key components of our attacking apparatus. The front three have hogged headlines and statistics, but the two wing-backs have quietly been going about the place adding meat to things.

The absence of Doherty has now coincided with a game in which we have failed to strike a bally shot on target, which might sound like a spot of AANP amateur dramatics, but, rather disturbingly, is a statement of fact. And the point I’m driving at is to speculate as to whether the two are in some way causally linked.

Certainly, Doherty’s replacement, Emerson Royal, seemed in customary fashion to offer all the on-pitch value of a mannequin, making himself visible without contributing anything of the slightest value. However, it should be noted that on the other flank Senor Reguilon was similarly impotent – and frankly neither did any of the front three display the necessary wit or intelligence to escape the beady Brighton eyes upon them and enjoy a spot of freedom in the attacking third.

So to castigate Emerson in this instance might be a touch rough. Doherty, for all we know, might similarly have laboured pointlessly.

But nevertheless, I rather considered that if the central midfield consists of Hojbjerg and Bentancur – a couple of lads with plenty going for them, but not the fellows you’d back to create twenty goals a season – then your wing-backs are going to deliver some pretty special stuff going forward. And this was precisely the sort of prime fare that Doherty had been spewing forth until having his knee rearranged last week.

To suggest that Doherty has become the most important player in our setup would be laying it on rather too thick, but he was starting to look a pretty important sort of bean in the whole mechanism. One can only hope that Saturday’s ills were indicative of a wider – and isolated – malaise, rather than due to the absence of Doherty and Doherty alone.

3. Hojbjerg

Possibly not the sort of suggestion that will have the paying public hoisting me on their shoulders and sending down the ticker-tape, but in the absence of anyone else dangling a remarkable foot, I thought that P-E H Esq. at least had the decency to suggest he cared about things.

As ventured above, his tendency always to biff the ball back to Romero or Dier upon receipt had me banging the head against whichever wall fancied it, but as the game wore on and most of our lot stubbornly refused to give a damn, I did at least admire the fact that he did not simply slump his shoulders and slink off into the shadows.

In the final knockings, he and he alone could be seen diving into tackles, and, despite the above character assassination built entirely upon his insistence on passing backwards, he did eventually get the gist of things and try to carry the ball forwards once or twice as close of play beckoned.

Hojbjerg is actually a curious egg in that it becomes harder with each passing week fully to grasp what he does. There is a danger that he might simply turn into this season’s Joe Hart, viz. a man of limited playing talent whose principal role seems to be to shout at people. He does not possess either energy, passing ability, tackling ability, dribbling ability or any other ability – bar shouting at people – that really catches the eye, and as such there is a sense that he is merely keeping a seat warm for young Master Skipp.

And yet he fits rather neatly within the Conte system, by virtue of knowing how both to patrol in front of the back-three and ward off foes, and how to collect the ball from the back-three and shovel it along, albeit usually unadventurously. (He does occasionally demonstrate an appetite for an effective forward pass, but these are generally filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Rule’.)

However, given that everyone around him was determined simply to mope about the place until they could scuttle off down the tunnel, Hojbjerg can, if he fancies, treat himself to the AANP going for the day, by dint of his perspiration rather than inspiration. And that rather sad state of affairs neatly captures the whole performance.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 5-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Doherty

Having spent the last couple of years drooping his frame and acting like the whole football lark is a new one on him, in the last few weeks Matt Doherty has ripped off the mask to reveal that all along he was actually one of the better right wing-backs around.

It therefore seemed pretty cruel to react to the absence of Reguilon and Sessegnon by shoving him in at left wing-back. I mean, really. He’s only just found his feet, and now we jab a finger at him and say, “But can you do it on the left-hand side?”

On top of which, the re-jig meant that Emerson Royal and his mobile clown show was the custodian on the right. Moving our one decent wing-back to an alien position, in order to accommodate an infinitely less competent wing-back, seemed rather knuckle-headed thinking to me. As our heroes lined up at kick-off, I chewed a pretty nervous lip.

As it turned out, the one Johnnie completely unflustered by all this behind-the-scenes complexity was Doherty himself. These days it seems he wakes up each morning convinced he’s some distant relative of Pele, and not giving too many damns which flank he’s asked to patrol.

It actually works to Doherty’s advantage that he’s not really one for whipping in crosses all day and night. As far as Doherty is concerned, a wing-back’s job is to make himself available at various points up the flank, and indeed further infield, popping short passes to chums who fizz around nearby.

‘Interplay’ seems to be the anthem on Doherty’s lips, with ‘Whipped Crosses’ coming a long way down his list. And this being the case, it doesn’t really matter if he’s on his weaker foot, because even the weakest limb going will not stop a man adopting useful positions and dabbing handy five-yard passes that keep attacks healthily ticking along.

Our opening goal (the Ben Davies header) was a case in point. Naturally, much has been made of Sonny’s whipped cross for that goal, but rewind a good minute or so, and the corner was earned after Sonny went on the gallop from circa halfway to circa the six-yard box; and (stay with me here) rewind a further ten seconds or so and, crucially, this gallop would not have happened but for a perfectly-weighted, first-time, half-volleyed cushioned pass from Doherty.

For context, immediately prior to this, Romero and Lloris had been rolling the ball left and right to no real purpose, before the latter punted it upfield in the general direction of Doherty. Until then our entire game had been characterised by the absence of quick, forward-thinking distribution. Doherty’s first-time pass to Son admittedly did not look like much at the time, but I’d suggest that it was precisely the sort of injection of urgency we’d been begging for.

Admittedly I suppose we could keep on rewinding indefinitely, and count our lucky stars that the game kicked off at all, but having kept a pretty beady eye on Doherty and his left-sided escapades I clocked this one with approval.

As if to hammer home the point that being right-footed is neither here nor there if you tick all the other left wing-back boxes, Doherty then popped up with a goal at the far post, which is the sort of good habit to be encouraged in any wing-back, and even followed it up with some jiggery-pokery to set up Emerson to clown-shoe in our third.

2. Romero

Young Master Romero continues to raise his performance level drastically with each game, which by my reckoning means that he should become the best defender in the history of the game by approximately Easter Sunday.

When the match was long won, a four-goal lead established that even our lot couldn’t have messed up, I derived some entertainment from watching that Saint Maximin fellow scuttle away and perform step-overs and whatnot, looking for all the world like he possessed eight legs rather than the designated two. It generally required three in lilywhite to crowd him out on such occasions – except, however, when Romero sized him up.

There was a marvellous thrill in watching Romero trot over, cut through the bluster and fly into a challenge that pretty emphatically took ownership of the ball, whilst also uprooting young S-M and sending him a few feet into the atmosphere.

Simply to close the chapter on that violent note would, however, be to do Romero a grave injustice. The rattling challenges constitute only approximately 50% of the sketch. As has been noted with awe in recent weeks, part of the fellow’s magnetism lies in the fact that he also uses the ball with such good sense.

Romero tends to look for something fresh and spring-like when delivering a pass, as if to send the ball on its way with a message that he isn’t simply idling away the hours but genuinely believes that that act might be the start of something magnificent.

Which is not to suggest that every pass he plays scythes open the opposition: that is more the domain of rotter-in-chief, Harry Kane. Much of the time Romero’s passes are pretty gentle beasts – but they seem to me to have two critical points of delight.

Firstly, they are almost always forward, looking to advance the play by shifting the narrative from Defence to Midfield. Only in extreme circumstances does Romero go in for the rather negative business of bunging it back to the goalkeeper.  And secondly, they are generally very specific in nature, plastered all over with the name and whereabouts of the recipient, as opposed to simply being hoicked up the line with a fair amount of meat, for an unholy scrap to ensue between opposing members of the supporting cast.

It says much about the chap that when the ball rests at his size nines, rather than letting my eyes glaze over and contemplating the infinite, I crane the neck with a goodish amount of fevered anticipation.

3. Kane

I’m not sure whether Kane determines such things by poring over the data or simply tossing a coin, but this was evidently a day on which he decided that he would be Creator rather than Finisher, and after going through the motions a bit in the first half – like everyone else in lilywhite – he duly rolled up his sleeves and became unplayable thereafter.

I did wonder quite what the Newcastle tactical bods did with their time in the lead-up to this game, because Kane’s ability to drop deep and spray the ball wherever he damn well pleases is hardly an innovation. But as often as not when he picked up the ball around halfway, the Newcastle mob seemed to think he could be left to his own devices without causing any damage, seemingly oblivious to his ability to pick out teammates from just about anywhere on the pitch.

As ever there was some dreamy stuff, and the only shame was that he couldn’t be on the other end of his own passes. But I suppose that would be asking rather a lot, even for him, so we had to make do with him having the absolute time of his life in that withdrawn sort of role, orchestrating things like nobody’s business. In fact, by the end of proceedings he was starting to deliver no-look flicks and pings, which really are the hallmark of a chappie in his absolute prime.

Moreover, those around him started to pick up the rhythm of the thing too, realising that if Kane were in possession around them then they had better upgrade their own personal outputs. Thus it happened that Kulusevski started his dashes before Kane had even received the ball, and Emerson Royal – who in truth, rarely takes much convincing that he is a far better player than he actually is – began unleashing back-heeled passes and whatnot whenever his path crossed with Kane.

Of course, being a rotter, it is unclear quite how much longer Kane will remain a member of this particular parish, but while we’ve got him we might as well marvel at him.

4. Bentancur

Far fewer column inches will be devoted to young Master Bentancur. This strikes me as something of an injustice, for if column inches were to be dished out for artistry alone then Bentancur ought to have entire volumes written about him, as he both glides around the place and then typically picks a dickens of a useful forward pass, to chivvy things along and have the attackers snapping to it.

Even in that slightly moribund first half, when our heroes seemed to think that every pass required a detailed dossier of pros and cons before execution, Bentancur had the presence of mind to give the dashed thing swiftly, a hint rather lost on his colleagues.

This might not have been a day on which Bentancur’s passing brought obvious rewards – in terms of leading to goals and near-misses and the like – but with an egg like him taking possession of the thing in the middle third, life feels a lot less worrisome than it otherwise might.  

While Hojbjerg alongside him had one of his better days, I nevertheless remain impatient for the return of Skipp, and the unleashing of a double-act that promises to blow up the skirts of all onlookers. I rather fancy that Skipp’s energy would complement Bentancur’s smooth amblings around the place, and the overall effect would be ultimately to overwhelm all-comers.

5. Conte’s Attacking Substitution

On a final note, I was mightily impressed with Our Glorious Leader’s decision, in the final knockings, to replace Emerson with Bergwijn, and switch from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 (terms I use loosely, given the fluidity of it all, but you get the gist). I was jolly surprised too, for the record, but mightily impressed nonetheless.

Lest we overlook the context, this change was made when we were already 4-1 up, so hardly the sort of situation that called for flinging on an extra attacking body. If anything, I would have expected the rather dispiriting if understandable sight of Davinson Sanchez tripping over his feet and into the fray, stage right, while Sonny or someone similarly attack-minded made the long walk around the perimeter.

Quite what the rationale was I cannot be sure, Conte still opting not to single out AANP for a quick tactical chat about this and that after the curtain falls. However, if the thinking was to press the foot on the accelerator and up the goal difference while opportunity knocked, then I think I might have to hastily rewrite the will and bequeath everything I own to this genius of a man.

It has long been a frustration of mine that when dishing out a hammering, and faced with an opponent desperately wanting to exit the premises and disappear up the motorway, rather than taking full advantage and peppering them with attack after remorseless attack as the clock winds down, our lot will too often stroke the ball around between themselves, as if content that their work is done. The concept of making a bit more hay while the sun is blazing down like the dickens appears lost on them.

All of which made the Emerson-Off-Bergwijn-On gambit yesterday even more pleasing. And you can probably picture AANP’s delight when the thing brought near-instant rewards, with Bergwijn bobbing along for his customary goal. As well as the entertainment value of dishing out a good thrashing, these things may also have some practical value come mid-May when the points are totted up. It was only a month ago that our goal difference was ten or so worse than the other lot; now we’re ahead by a nose. Long may the needless attacking substitutions continue.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 5-0 Everton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Doherty

Quite the curiosity last night, with our lot seemingly having only to lace their boots and string three or four passes together in order to rack up five goals, but if one fellow arrested the attention it was Matt Doherty.

I suppose for avoidance of doubt it is best to clarify that his was no throwback to the golden years of Walker or Trippier, sprinting up the line in a blur or heels. Nevertheless, Doherty’s contributions, particularly on the attack, were sound and plentiful.

For a start, I was rather taken by the positions he adopted. If he had simply edged up the right touchline, adopting appropriate poses as the ball did its thing further infield, I’d have accepted this as a pretty adequate contribution and passed on to the next item on the agenda. Which is not to downplay such input. Not all wing-backs are blessed with this capability. Young Tanganga, for example, seems to let ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’ when taking the role. So well done Doherty for passing this particular life lesson.

But what really caught the eye was the fact that he often squirted infield, ending up in what I suppose one might call a central midfield sort of position. My eyes did not deceive. In the very same patch of land on which I have been privileged to witness the likes of Hoddle, Gascoigne and Modric tread the boards, there was Matt Doherty. For added impact, and as if to hammer home that this was no mirage but an actual ploy devised by the great minds, Kulusevski appeared outside him in the space he was vacating, to provide width and bamboozle Everton minds further.

Now all of this would in itself have been something to relate to the grandchildren, one of those ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, but what really sealed the thing was the passing range then unleashed by Doherty, from this temporary midfield berth. For reasons best known to the gods, the young nib took it upon himself to morph occasionally into Christian Eriksen, and start pinging defence-splitters about the place.

I goggled. Everton fell apart at the seams. Pundits up and down the land simply ignored it, because Matt Doherty does not fit anyone’s thrilling, pre-ordained narrative. And yet there he was, in glorious technicolour, first destroying Everton to create Kane’s first, as mentioned above, and then clipping one over the top of the defence for Kane’s second.

Now there is plenty more work to be done in the project to turn Matt Doherty into the beating heart of this Tottenham team, but this was a pretty fine start. After all, having thrown around £25m at Emerson Royal in the summer, and then stood back and watched as he failed to deliver one successful cross in six months, it is fair to say that the wing-back experiment was meeting with pretty limited success.

The exploits of Doherty in the last couple of games therefore, with a goal, three assists and some splendid vision and execution on his passes, suddenly has an inner voice whispering that we might have at least a temporary solution on our hands.

2. Kulusevski

With each passing game, the AANP dial becomes ever redder, burning with shame at the early aspersions cast on the character of young Master Kulusevski.  Back then, in his opening cameos, I lamented the heaviness of his touch, the leaden-natured manner of his pace and the one-footedness of his general outlook on life.

My about-turn has been swift and complete. I suppose that early opinion of him was coloured by the fact that he was not Lucas Moura. Conditioned by affection and loyalty towards the latter, I huffed a fair bit when Kulusevski was introduced and failed immediately to introduce a spring-dance into proceedings such as by twinkling past three defenders and falling over.

Kulusevski, however, brings other attributes to the arena, by the bucketload.

Plucking one at random, one gets the impression that he does not slink out of the club canteen on steak day. The chap appears a pretty sturdy construction. I was particularly enamoured of the fact that at one point in the second half last night, when an Everton blister effected his best Cristian Romero impression and attempted to saw Kulusevski horizontally in half with a wild swing at the legs, our man tottered briefly, took stock and deciding that life actually wasn’t so bad after all carried on motoring down the flank.

My previous slight about him possessing a right foot for balance and aesthetic purposes only, can also be dismissed without further stain on his reputation. Naturally enough, the man has his preference. Only human to prefer one lower limb to the other, but whereas previously I would have sworn on all that was dear to me that Kulusevski would not have crossed the ball with his right peg if his life depended on it, yesterday he casually unloaded a few just to pass the time.

While it would be a stretch to describe the effect as sensational, it did make one raise a pleasantly surprised eyebrow. For as is well known, if a nib renowned for using his left foot and only his left foot starts using his right foot, well then the blighters in opposition will have to stop and swill things over in their mind a bit when getting involved in an exchange of views.

All of this was fruity stuff of course, but the real show-stopping part has been the man’s input in the final third. The dink to Son for his goal yesterday, the pass for Reguilon’s goal, and numerous other understated contributions in the past few games. Kulusevski might not have the crowd-pleasing appearance of a Lucas Moura gathering a head of steam and dancing one way and t’other, but he seems a pretty effective addition to the ranks, particularly in tandem with Doherty.

3. Kane

That rotter Harry Kane was at it again, and he really is a sight to behold. His input from midfield was actually a little more muted than against Man City and Leeds. The spirit was as willing as ever on this front, but the flesh a little weak – understandably enough given that whenever he touched the ball around halfway a mob of enforcers in Everton colours were swiftly dispatched to jostle and harass the chap.

However, the joy of Harry Kane is of course that he is at least two footballers in one, and if the creative juices have a lid placed upon them, the goalscorer that lurks within pretty swiftly comes lurking without.

Thus it transpired yesterday. As one who, in their younger days, rather fancied themselves in attack, I am well aware of the perils that await when clean through on goal and with plenty of time to run a finger down the index of options. Mercifully, a chap like Kane has his thoughts unclouded by any such detail, and, always keen to introduce a business-like touch into proceedings, tends simply to belt the thing home and be done with it.

Thus was his first goal executed yesterday. While it looked straightforward fare to the mere mortal, my days of glory in the Amateur Football Combination Division 6 North render Kane and I kindred spirits, and I am therefore better positioned than most to attest that his finish was mightily impressive. We strikers know.

The second however, was the sort of stuff that even had the AFCD6N veterans drawing a sharp intake of breath. One could pen a pretty hefty tome detailing the various ways in which that finish might have gone wrong, and yet Kane’s views on such opportunities were apparently the same as his views on the first half opportunity: viz. just belt the thing home and be done with it.

4. Sessegnon

Oddly enough, the ball was set rolling last night by young Master Sessegnon, his being the cross that the Everton laddie thoughtfully bulleted into his own net.

I say oddly enough, because after a couple of half-decent games Sessegnon was again looking last night like an egg for whom life as a footballer was a bed of roses until one introduced the actual football into the equation.

It was notable that for that opening goal his interaction with the ball was pretty limited. Ultimately, at its crescendo, he admittedly had to kick the thing, but his primary responsibility in the operation was simply to get his head down and run. And this at least is an art he seems swiftly to be mastering.

Helpfully he was up against Seamus Coleman in this undertaking, a gnarled old bounder who has been plugging away for about a century and a half, and who, as such, was likely to concede a few yards of pace and gasps of air to our young whippersnapper.  Accordingly, Sessegnon triumphed in the foot-race, and then, courtesy of Ben Davies’ laser-like accuracy of pass, was left only with the task of closing his eyes, swinging his left foot and hoping for the best.

To his credit, it was an excellent cross, pacy and delivered into a threatening area. And after this zenith, Sessegnon’s game degenerated pretty rapidly. I would suggest that his touch deserted him, but this would be to insinuate that his touch was ripe, ready and in situ in the first place. Not for the first time, he spent his evening being buffeted off the ball or tripping over the thing when attempting to take it out for a stroll.

At one point, having lost the ball, he hit upon the electric idea of crashing to earth and attempting to grab his opponent from the floor with his arms. He missed, of course, and the immediate consequence was a booking for Sonny, who had to intervene with a more socially recognisable foul.

As if to emphasise the learning that remains for Sessegnon, Reguilon replaced him and scored with his first touch.

I will repeat the mantra of recent weeks that the young fellow has a future ahead of him, but for present engagements I would rather see Reguilon on the left, mirroring the contributions of Doherty on the right.

5. Well-Crafted Goals

Unlikely though it sounds now that the lid has been put in place and the game lowered into the ground, Everton actually began things in the ascendancy. More to the point, our players seemed quite content for this to be the way of things.

Put another way, Everton pressed high up the pitch, and in that maddening way of theirs, our lot seemed to accept that this was simply an inescapable fact of life. Rather than resist it the collective attitude around the back-line seemed to be that they might as well all accept it with good grace as beyond their remit to influence.

Those opening exchanges troubled me. Principally, what rankled was the rather fat-headed way in which those in lilywhite attempted to pass their way casually out from defence. One understands the theory of course, and when well executed it can prove a delightful little routine, complete with promising finale.

But, crucially, last night it was not well executed. In fact, repeatedly, it was executed with a care-free frivolity that seemed entirely inappropriate to the occasion. Just about every time we tried those cute little passes around the Everton mob, the whole operation fell apart within spitting distance of our own area, and trouble loomed. Mercifully, Everton were utter rot from start to finish, and would not have scored if they had played until Easter, but I still did not look the manner in which our gang were going about things, and my stern glares towards them no doubt communicated as such.

And yet, despite insistence upon this strategy that was equal parts moronic and lackadaisical, within the blink of an eye our heroes were two or three goals to the good and skipping towards the finish line without shedding a bead of perspiration between them.

The key to it seemed to be simply to pick and execute a small handful of some absolutely glorious passes. The sort that would have the Sky mob purring if delivered from the size nines of de Bruyne or Fernandes, but rather pass under the radar when wheeled out by Ben Davies and Matt Doherty.

Exhibit A was Ben Davies’ pass around the defender and into space for young Sessegnon to gallop after. As mentioned, Sessegnon is a creature of pretty limited means, but point him in the right direction and release him from the traps, and you’re in business. Davies’ pass did precisely that, and deserved shiny gold stars for its weight and placement, both of which were immaculate.

This was soon followed by the lightest of dinks from Kulusevski, to put Sonny in the clear. Closer inspection revealing that not only did it put Sonny in the clear but it also made the brain of the nearest Everton defender explode, as he weighed up the benefits of chasing the ball and chasing the man, and found them tugging him with equal weight in opposite directions.

Matt Doherty’s pass for the third was the best of the lot, having the effect of lining up the entire Everton defence and then scattering them all over the place. Not many passes in football are so effective that they make the opposition players forget that a ball even exists, and start spinning around and bumping into one another, but this pass seemed to do that.

And as mentioned, Harry Kane isn’t the sort to put a hand on a hip and stand watching, admiringly – he simply ran off and scored – but had he been that sort he’d have noted with some admiration that he had time to jog the entire perimeter of the pitch before taking his shot, such was the devastating effect of the pass from Doherty.  

It was all breathtakingly simple in the end, and in a way justified the insistence upon all those curiously ill-planned attempts to pass out from the back. As it turned out, we only needed one of those to work and like magic our forwards and wing-backs were in on goal.

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Spurs match reports

Middlesbrough 1-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Conte’s Tactics

By and large AANP is not one go in for controversial opinions for the hell of it. ‘Live and let live’ is pretty much the anthem around these parts, leaving the stirring of hornets’ nests to those better suited.

So you can take it as a sign of how just deeply I was moved by last night’s rot that I’m willing to stick the neck out and chant an ode or two in opposition to Our Glorious Leader, a chap who’s generally been immune to criticism since donning the robes.

Now this is not to exonerate the eleven-plus on the pitch, who trotted around in half-hearted circles all night to no great effect. (Talking of which, if I hear one more player clear his throat and drone on about having to “learn lessons” and “do better” there’s a good chance that the next you hear of AANP he’ll have been arrested for murder.)

But even allowing for the doleful and half-hearted way in which our heroes went about their business last night, as if it were really a bit thick to ask them to play football for 90 minutes, I thought a decent chunk of the blame should be lobbed in the direction of Signor Conte.

Faced with a perfectly winnable fixture, against a side in a division below us for goodness’ sake, he seemed oddly convinced that Middlesbrough might pull off their masks and reveal themselves to be one of the great footballing superpowers of the modern age. As a result, the strict instruction was that we were to surrender possession, pull everyone back behind the ball and watch nervously, seemingly based on the principle that one never knew when our hosts might suddenly sit up and annihilate us. I suppose there is always that risk in any game of football, but it did seem to be an unnecessarily circumspect outlook.

One understands that in life one must exercise some level-headedness. It would be no good sticking ten forwards on the pitch and instructing them all to hare into the opposition area the whole time. Some common sense is key. And I suppose the A.C. Fan Club might point out that in the first half at least, the tactic could be said to have worked – Boro were kept at arm’s length, while our lot had the occasional sniff on the counter.

But nevertheless, watching on as our entire eleven camped behind the ball and held their breath, while our hosts ineffectively rolled the thing from side to side, I did think that we were laying on the caution a little too heavily. Without wanting to sound too outrageous, I wondered whether we might not adopt a slightly more adventurous spirit, by taking possession ourselves and keeping them penned back for a while.

Conte was having none of it however, and in the second half if anything the situation worsened, as any attacking sentiment remained well down the agenda, but our defence started to creak.

To his credit, Conte did briefly stick in his finger and give things a swish, rearranging from 3-4-3 to 4-4-1-1, for those who like to slap numbers on things. And while this – and specifically young Master Bergwijn – jolted our lot out of their slumbers and reminded them that they were actually allowed to attack, it also seemed to have the effect of removing whatever piece of frayed string was holding our defence together.

The ad hoc back-four struggled not so much with their new arrangement as with the very concepts of space and time. Ben Davies seemed not to realise that he was supposed to shuffle from centre-back to left-back; while  in Emerson Royal we have a blister who has spent his entire Tottenham career to date failing to master the basics of defending, so he was not about to right all his wrongs in the blink of an eye last night. Boro waltzed in amongst us whenever they pleased, and their goal felt as inevitable a progression as night following day.

As mentioned, none of those on the pitch (bar perhaps Bergwijn) seemed remotely concerned by the gravity of the episode, and as such they are all culpable here – but the nagging question at the heart of all this remains, viz. why on earth Conte set us up so passively in the first place.

2. Kane

Come the summer there’s a reasonable chance that that rotter Harry Kane will once again toss a toy from his pram and find some roundabout way to let it be known that, rather than stick around the place, he’d prefer to shove a few belongings in a rucksack and take off looking for shiny pots. But after last night’s guff, one element of this jars. It’s this business of Kane wanting to leave so as to win stuff.

On the face of it this is an understandable sentiment for any man of ambition. I have no truck with any fellow who would rather win a Cup Final than lose one. Dashed sensible way of going about things if you ask me.

But when Kane moans about it – or has his entourage leak a story to the press about it, which to be honest strikes me as not really playing the game – I butt in with an irate waggle of the forefinger.

The gist of my objection is that if Kane really wants to win a trophy so badly, then he can bally well go out there and win one. It’s not as if, come the biggest games, we omit him from the team and leave it up to everyone else to decide whether or not a medal will be hung around his neck. He is part of the set-up himself. In fact, he’s not just part of it, these days he’s the building block around which the whole damn set-up is constructed. This means that when it comes to winning trophies, the responsibility lies upon him more than anyone else about the place.

Were you or I to whinge that we wanted trophies, if nothing else everyone could agree that the whole thing is beyond our control. But for Kane, this business is very much within his control. One might say it’s his specialist subject. Winning trophies is precisely the thing he’s paid handsome sums to do.

So next time this pest has his minions issue a decree to the effect that he wants a medal and won’t stop whingeing until he gets one, I’ll direct his attention to the perfectly serviceable opportunity he passed up on last night. Supposedly in the form of his life, and up against a team from the division below, Kane reacted to the occasion by withdrawing into his shell in a manner that would attract admiring glances from nature’s most reticent tortoises, emerging only to stray occasionally offside and moan a bit about the opposition and ref, who will now have a goodish idea of what it feels like to be a Spurs fan reading the back pages in the summer.

A trophy has to be earned – which I suppose one might want to whisper if within earshot of the teachers on Sports Day – and frankly last night Kane missed the cut by some distance. If he therefore pipes up this summer, draped in a sense of entitlement, that he’d rather look elsewhere he’ll have a pretty meaty curse or two filling his ears from this quarter.

 3. Wing-Backs

As remarked earlier, this was not an occasion on which any of our lot will look back particularly fondly, I imagine. Kane and Son were oddly neutered, while anyone who rocked up in the breezy expectation of Winks and Hojbjerg providing any attacking vim was in for a pretty nasty shock.

In such situations, much depends upon the wing-backs to inject into proceedings some gaiety and spunk. After their triumphs of the weekend it seemed reasonable enough that Messrs Sessegnon and Doherty were again invited to go forth and do wondrous deeds, and in the early knockings it actually appeared that they might have some joy.

Sessegnon seemed game. One could admittedly fill a whole book with the various lessons he still has to learn, but he entered into the spirit of thing willingly enough and at least started the game looking like someone who knew that good things would come to those who pelted over halfway and up into the final third.

And on the right, having weighed up the options of parking himself north of the halfway line or south of it, Doherty seemed similarly convinced that more fun was to be had in attack. While not blessed with the same raw pace as Sessegnon, he nevertheless appeared to enjoy the licence to explore the attacking third.

It was a shame then, that when opportunity did finally present itself, in the form of near-enough an open goal, Doherty went down the ill-advised route of blasting the thing with gusto and violence. It was a poor choice. One could have told him straight away that what the situation demanded was a cool mind and steady hand – or, in this case, foot. Simply rolling the ball towards the target would have sufficed. Doherty instead seemed convince that the solution required rather more emphasis, and almost evacuated the ball from the ground.


This was undoubtedly a setback, but, ever the optimist, I nevertheless reasoned that simply having got himself into such a situation reflected well on the chap. It would be a stretch to say that he and Sessegnon dominated things, but they did at least offer regular attacking outlets. One got the sense, at least at the outset, that their souls were fired by the confidence of recent events.  

At that point, it seemed that not only did this pair represent our best hope of ingress on the night, but their advances also carried some symbolic weight. The success of Conte-ball does, after all, depend on the wing-backs, and these two appeared to be catching the gist of things.

Unfortunately, whatever hopes and dreams these two carried in their first half were pretty unceremoniously stamped into oblivion thereafter. Their fortunes collectively fell off a cliff in the second half. Both seemed to drift out of the game in search of amusement elsewhere, and Conte, presumably feeling that one ineffectual wing-back is as good as another, hooked both before the end.

All of which means that the wait for a trophy will now enter a fifteenth year, our inability to string two decent results together remains entrenched and it is a pretty even thing whether our players, managers or we the fans are enjoying this least.

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Spurs match reports

Leeds 0-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. A Decent Winks Moment

Given current circumstances at N17, I suspect most of us would have taken an early goal in just about any format, but there was particular delight to be had in celebrating an opener such as yesterday’s, which had about it finery in its every component.

For a start, there was the role of young Winks. As has been well advertised for some time now, Winks is the sort of bounder who is liable to swing pretty heavily in one of two polarising directions. Sometimes a buccaneering type, adventure coursing through the veins and happy to smatter handy passes about the place; but oftentimes a rather tiresome egg, shovelling the damn thing sideways and then trotting after it to demand it back, only then to shovel it backwards and repeat the whole routine from the top.

Yesterday, however, he played the game. Collecting the ball on the half-turn inside his own half, he made his first smart choice in giving the rudder a yank so that he was facing the Leeds end; then followed up with a second S.C. by scampering off like a terrier that has spotted a goodish looking tennis ball, his little legs taking him to the heady heights of the halfway line.

At this point, with options abounding thanks to the movement of his superiors in attack, young Winks took the opportunity to melt the AANP heart by playing my favourite pass in the world. If you’ve ever wandered these parts before you’ll know exactly the one I mean, and are probably rolling your eyes and urging me to get on with it – but nothing makes this particular spine tingle quite like a perfectly-weighted pass inside the full-back, and Winks hit the sweet spot.

2. Sessegnon

And at this point, young Master Sessegnon grabbed the mic and seized the day. If Winks displays flashes that are occasionally good and occasionally bad, poor old Sessegnon has been accumulating nothing but the rotten stuff of late. If ever a blighter needed to dodge the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and unwrap a spot of game-changing produce, that blighter was Sessegnon.

Having been let off the leash by Winks’ pass Sessegnon duly ticked all the necessary boxes – haring onto the thing and then delivering a peach of a cross into the centre, the sort of cross so invitingly whipped that only a man of the dullest intelligence would have contrived to miss out on it.

Nor was this an isolated incident, which is more the point really. On the front-foot, Sessegnon played with the gay abandon of a soul strangely untroubled by any of his recent trials. In recent weeks he has merely tiptoed forward, with the sheepish air of a cove who, not feeling he belongs, considers his best options to be either bursting into tears or running away to the safety of his own half – in short, anything but contributing in confident and productive manner.

Yesterday, however, he bobbed about the place like a man from whose shoulders the weight of the world had recently been removed, and who was dashed well going to celebrate the fact.

Take a look at our second and third goals, and the chap furthest up the pitch on the left was Sessegnon. With Sonny dragging the Leeds right back infield as if a small animal on a string for sport, there were acres in front of Sessegnon and he duly bounded into them at every opportunity.

My soul was also stirred by the quality of his crossing. As noted, the delivery for Doherty’s goal was the sort of good stuff that attracted top marks for everything from geometrical precision to the timing of the gag, and in the early stages of the game in particular, seemingly well aware that he was onto a good thing, he took to dashing down the left and pinging crosses into the area as if the whole thing were a new toy that he couldn’t get enough of.

The early flurry then subsiding, it was time for Sessegnon to ditch the frivolity and get on with the more sombre business of defending his corner. With the elastic-legged Raphinha up against him this threatened to be taxing stuff. Now admiring though I am of Sessegnon’s all-round performance yesterday, I hesitate to turn this into some sort of propaganda leaflet for the chap. So let history record that he made a moderate stab of the defensive side of things, but life in this quarter was not without its hitches.

In plain English, once or twice he was bested. Once or twice, of course, he himself emerged triumphant from the battle of wills and limbs; but once or twice he was bested. In sum, therefore, I suppose you could say it was an even sort of thing.

A sterner judge than AANP might also note that he received a caution for one of his less impressive endeavours, and also contributed a pretty ghastly pass that put into motion the sequence that saw Lloris go racing off into a different postcode, leaving the Leeds chappie to make a pig’s ear of an open goal. All side-splitting stuff come the punchline, but let it not be overlooked that its genesis was the errant boot of Sessegnon.

So all told, definitely one of the lad’s better days, and promising stuff for all who consider paradise to be a world littered with wing-backs who can offer value in the final third; but let it not be overlooked that he is not yet fitted with the all the necessary equipment.

3. Doherty

And on the subject of wing-backs who can offer value in the final third, Matt Doherty looked frightfully pleased with himself for his early contribution, and as well he might.

His finish itself was well taken, but probably no more than that. I think we’d have all have felt pretty disappointed if he had spooned the ball off into the atmosphere somewhere wide of the mark, given the quality of the delivery and relative lack of impediments standing in his way. So well done him.

But more than the finish, the impressive thing here was that Doherty had first hit upon the idea of bolting into the area as the apex of the attack, and then had undertaken the necessary spadework to ensure that this dream became reality.

Had any of Kane, Son or Kulusevski assumed the role of ‘Unnamed Extra Applying Finishing Touch’ one would have breezily shrugged it off as part of the day-job, and joined in with the back-slaps and high-fives as if the whole process were the most natural thing in the world. Arriving in the area to apply the finishing touch is, after all, one of the first bullet-points on the job description of such folk.

For Doherty to have dabbled in this area, however, makes one sit up and chew the thing over a bit. For a start, this was no freak occurrence. Sometimes, for example in the aftermath of a set-piece, a bean such as Davinson Sanchez or Eric Dier or whomever might find himself slap bang in the middle of the six-yard box with the ball bouncing kindly at his right foot and the goal at his mercy. Serendipitous, of course, but hardly part of the masterplan.

Doherty’s arrival as leader of the cavalry, however, seemed to be the conclusion of something that had had a good deal more production value and rehearsal time. When Winks received the ball in his own half – even before he had turned to set off towards the halfway line – Doherty had taken that as his cue and was already switching to Sprint mode, overtaking each of Kane, Son and Kulusevski in the process.

Obviously a joyous conclusion was then reached in this particular sub-plot, but the broader narrative seemed to be something along the lines that here, finally, was an example of a pair of wing-backs making maximum use of all the natural assets bestowed upon them by Mother Nature.

I have rarely been shy of preaching on these very pages of the positive, transformative effect that a good, wholesome, attacking pair of wing-backs can have upon a team, and the contributions of both Sessegnon with his cross and Doherty in having the good sense to motor to the front of the queue, demonstrated this.

Of course, playing a team as tactically naïve and wide open as Leeds did chivvy the thing along no end, and by the final knockings even Emerson Royal was popping up in the centre-forward position, so one ought probably ought not to get too carried away by either the system or the contribution of Doherty. But nevertheless, it was heartening stuff.

One question that remained unanswered by yesterday’s goings-on was around the crossing of Doherty. Emerson’s repeated attempts in this area over the last few months have driven me close to apoplexy, so I tuned in yesterday with pretty feverish anticipation of what delights Doherty might bestow. Alas, I’m not sure I remember him delivering one cross the whole game. The early knockings bore fruit from the left, and later on our tactic became counter-attacking via the size nines of Kane, so there is no further evidence to submit.

4. Kane

But when that rotter Harry Kane is drifting off into his own little world, far advanced of the mere mortals around him, I suppose it does not really matter whether or not one’s right wing-back can cross or not. Such considerations recede in importance. This seemed also to be the train of thought of Kane. In fact, just about every other position on the pitch, and the identities of those occupying them, seemed to recede in importance in the mind of Kane, in the second half, as he took it upon himself to orchestrate every bally thing.

It was ripping stuff. As and when the whim took him, he would collect the ball on the half-turn and calmly bisect with one expertly-judged pass the entire Leeds back-line, with all the languid ease of a man stroking his knife through butter. These moments caused a bit of sensation, leading to such highlights as Doherty’s one-on-one and Sonny’s goal.

But as well as the headline-grabbing stuff, what really caused the punters to murmur was the fact that as the game wore on he gradually just assumed a position of complete control of everything that was happening on the pitch. It rather reminded me of that skinny fellow in the cinematic flick “The Matrix”, who after a while exerted so much control over the ones and zeroes that he just sauntered about the place doing as he bade, and the assorted villains could do little more than say, “Righto”, and leave him to it.

Thus did Kane dominate things. Just wandering about the midfield, collecting the ball and doing whatever he damn well pleased with it. If he were not our best striker he’d arguably be our best midfielder, and towards the death he could be spotted tracking back feverishly in the right-back vicinity, as if to make a further point.

As last week against City, so yesterday against Leeds, his actual goal seemed almost an afterthought, despite being one heck of a finish. Many an inferior striker would have been overcome by the arc of the pass, the angle from which the ball dropped, the tightness of the angle to goal and multiple other taxing elements at play. Kane simply extended a casual limb and deposited the thing in the net.

5. Chances Conceded

Four-nil is obviously a thrashing in anyone’s book, and after the events of recent weeks, when the general sentiment has been that if it is not one thing it is dashed well going to be another, it was a very welcome turn of events too.

Leeds for their part looked like they could keep playing until the end of the year without scoring, such was the dizzying wealth of ways in which they contrived to miss fairly straightforward opportunities. And while this no doubt made for entertaining viewing, it did stir some nameless foreboding deep within me. That is to say, they seemed to carve us open rather too often and too easily, what?

Obviously one does not want to bring down the mood of the thing. If an away day brings four goals and three points then I would be the last person to request that the noise is kept down. But whereas last week we were so systematically organised that City could barely fashion a clear chance – relying on a goalkeeping flap and an iffy penalty – yesterday Leeds seemed to carve us open every five minutes.

Watching them tip-toe time and again to the very brink of our net, I did feel a sense of concern. Had we conceded at three-nil you would not have found a bullish, confident AANP, insisting that ‘twas merely a flesh-wound. You’d have found instead a deeply troubled AANP, convinced that some terrible fate lurked, and was going to upgrade from “lurking” to “dashed well happening” in a matter of minutes.

That we didn’t concede that first goal seemed to owe little to our own defensive capabilities, and much to the inability of Leeds to hit the target.

I suppose it is not one about which I should lose too much sleep, for the next game will be another day, and we may well tighten things up both in defence and in those more porous parts of the midfield. And for large parts of the second half in particular, our game-management and control of possession actually ticked along reasonably well. Nevertheless, for all the frivolity about the place at the final whistle, it seemed to me that a soft warning had been sounded, which those in power might do well to cast an eye over.

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Spurs match reports

Burnley 1-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Classic Spurs

First things first: of course, none of what played out last night will have come as any surprise to anyone who’s ever put more than five minutes of their life into supporting Spurs.

Having put heart and soul into beating the league leaders – who’d only lost twice all season – on the Saturday, it was the most natural progression in the world for exactly the same Spurs eleven then to splutter like a dying engine three days later against a side near enough bottom, who’d only won twice all season, dash it. Barely a Tottenham fan of my acquaintance registered even a flicker of surprise at the sequence of events.

It had a grim but absolutely irresistible inevitability about it. Anything else would have been like those stories you hear of a butterfly flapping its wings in Germany and inadvertently setting off a volcano in Peru as a result. Upset the status quo and before you know it things are spiralling. For Spurs not to have lurched from glorious on Saturday to impotent last night would have set off some pretty catastrophic natural disaster elsewhere.

And not only was it inevitable we would lose, it was inevitable we would lose in precisely that fashion too. Being hounded in possession, toothless going forward and, of course, conceding a pretty avoidable header from a pretty unnecessary free-kick. All against the backdrop of rain that fancied laying it on thick for a night, and a gigantic Burnley striker off whom each of our lot bounced in turn.

The goal itself was one of those routines at which we might have had 57 centre-backs stationed in the area and still somehow have failed to prevent the critical header. It is difficult to close one’s eyes and imagine a world in which we do not concede precisely this goal to a team in the relegation zone.

Naturally, Monsieur Lloris took one look at the ball drifting into the six-yard box at eminently catchable height and made a swift and emphatic decision not to get involved, the whole concept of moving from his line being one which he has for around ten years now considered well beyond his remit.  

So, whereas the defeat against Southampton had me tearing clumps of hair from the scalp, and the nonsense against Wolves had me thumping the loaf against the nearest brick wall, last night’s elicited little more than a shrug absolutely loaded to the brim with resigned acceptance.

2. Conte’s Reaction

As mentioned, for those of us who make a habit of watching Spurs, this was all pretty familiar stuff. Not exactly the fare that sends us home with a cheery whistle on our lips, but at least we’ve all long known what we’re letting ourselves in for.

For poor old Antonio Conte however, this evidently landed pretty heavily. One does not need to have framed diplomas on the wall to know that he was taking it thick. It’s easy to forget when you’ve been watching our lot week in and week out for a lifetime, but sudden exposure to the madness of Tottenham Hotspur can be pretty damaging stuff, and a real-time example of it was playing out in the post-match sparring last night.

Now I’ve never actually seen a man still alive after having had his soul removed, but from the haunted, vacant look in his eyes I’d be willing to lay a few bob that such a fate had befallen Signor Conte last night. While on the one hand I wanted to lay a consoling hand on his shoulder, at the same time it seemed wiser to tiptoe quietly away and let whatever demons were tormenting him have five minutes, to see which way things would go.

And that was before he’d even opened his mouth. If his look, of a man well and truly broken by Spurs, were not already enough to have us  wondering if there were a professional on hand equipped to deal with this sort of thing, the words he came out with dashed well had us all dropping what we were doing and sprinting to our panic stations.

Obviously at the time this was the sort of stuff that had us goggling a bit, for although some of his speech patterns lacked perfect coherence, it did not require the keenest intelligence to pick up that here was a chap unhappy with his lot in life. More specifically, Conte seemed to be wondering out loud if the role of Master and Commander of the Good Ship Hotspur were really worth the monthly envelopes.

But sometimes the thing to do in life is take a step back, and just see how things land. Obviously, this is a mantra one would preferred our defence and goalkeeper not to have adopted around minute 71 last night, but drinking in Conte’s pearls of wisdom in front of the cameras each week, I start to get the sense that here’s a lad who might benefit from the deep-breath-and-count-to-ten approach.

So now, twenty-four hours on, I suspect that he’s probably surveying the world around him in more considered fashion. Maybe he looks back on last night with a certain sheepishness; maybe he doesn’t. But while various sub-plots might bubble away behind closed doors, any notion of him thrusting hands into pockets and mooching off, never to return, can, for now, probably be considered unlikely. I suspect we might all just have to get used to his airing of unedited, real-time sentiments – and he to the infuriating world of managing our lot.

3. On-Pitch Impotence

As to matters on the pitch, aside from the goal conceded the whole bally thing just had one gnawing at one’s arm in frustration. It was that sort of performance.

Taking things in their proper order, in the first half we struggled to keep heads above water. The worry here is two-fold, because for a start a side second from bottom ought not to be strangling the life out of us; and secondly this is hardly an isolated occurrence.

One can point to the weather, and the fact that Burnley had just won with a clean sheet days earlier, and the alignment of planets and so on and so forth – but really, there’s no excuse. This is a side that went into their appointment nineteenth in the league, and at this stage of the season that can hardly be laughed off as one of those unfortunate misunderstandings.

And as mentioned, in recent weeks several teams have hit upon the notion that if they just press our midfield sorts in turn, then soon enough the whole damn edifice will come crumbling down.

Bentancur has dropped the occasional hint that he is the type of bird who doesn’t mind where or how he receives the ball – it’s all the same to him, he’ll just bring the thing under his spell, drop a shoulder or two and roll it onwards without ceremony.

The rest of the midfield mob, however, view opposition pressure as one of those evils in life from which there is no escape and against which there is no cure. Hojbjerg, Winks and too many of our defenders appear all to malfunction if an opponent scuttles in too close by. Possession may be retained, but if so it is not done with any degree of comfort or control – and frankly half the time possession simply isn’t retained.

And in a way this general unease amongst our midfield when in contact with the ball wouldn’t really matter so much if our wing-backs could be relied upon as dependable sources of inspiration.

But Sessegnon continues to stare at his feet as if only recently bequeathed to him, and Royal remains impeccable in all areas of his work apart from attacking and defending. It was notable that the best right-sided cross of the night came when that rotter Harry Kane took it upon himself to demonstrate that as well as half a dozen other positions he may also be our best right wing-back.

With four defeats in five, a midfield that cannot create, wing-backs who cannot cross and a manager who appears one defensive clanger away from a complete breakdown, one might suggest that the outlook is not entirely sunshine and blue skies. Our next opponents, Leeds, have just shipped six, which I suppose some might view as a positive – but it is probably in the best interests of the club if someone has a word in Conte’s ear about how that particular narrative tends to pan out.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-3 Southampton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

This turned out to be one of those imbroglios so madcap and all-action-no-plot that, come the credits, I could not quite keep track of what emotion I ought to register. I therefore made a quick check of my in-match notes, which revealed the following:

FACT: First half was a one-one hammering.

Comment: Eh? That doesn’t sound right.

FACT: Trust me on this one.

Comment: “One-one” suggests a pretty even state of affairs, what? Perhaps some ebb and flow, but all things being equal-

FACT: ‘Twas an unholy battering.

Comment: Crumbs. I say, I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, but the phrase still seems to suggest parity.

FACT: This is Tottenham Hotspur. The laws of logic go out the window.

Comment: Fair.

FACT: We did have five good minutes in that first half though.

Comment: Scoring one and missing a pretty clear chance for another? This suggests that at least something about Conte’s counter-attacking format has t’s crossed and i’s dotted.

FACT: Second half we started to edge on top.

Comment: Decent goal to show for it too.

FACT: Indeed.

Comment: Rather.

FACT: But our attempt then to manage the game was utterly ham-fisted

Comment: Evidently. Within five minutes we were losing, dash it.

FACT: Well, quite. We conceded exactly the same goal twice.

Comment: Yes, I noted that. Rather like watching a car-crash in slow motion. You know the feeling – can see it all unfolding, know it’s going to end disastrously, yet can’t tear the eyes from it.

FACT: We equalised in added time!

Comment: Huzzah! That Bergwijn is certainly good for a-

FACT: Disallowed by VAR.

Comment: Curses.

That being cleared up, the talking points rise to the surface, rather like bloated bodies in a pool.

1. The Counter-Attack Strategy

On paper, it could hardly sound more straightforward: let the oppo have the ball, nick it from them, hare up the pitch and strike.

And as my notes above indicated, when our heroes got to the fun part of this plan – namely haring up the pitch and striking – all was lollipops and rainbows. Sonny, Kane and Lucas have rehearsed this scene often enough to know all the moves with their eyes closed. As if to illustrate this, despite having an otherwise muted sort of time of things Lucas burst into life twice, creating a goal each time; while Sonny and Kane’s combo ought to have led to a goal for Reguilon, who had evidently got wind of the fun being had by the front-three and arrived like a steam train to get in on the frivolity.

When his head hit the pillow, Senor Conte may therefore have noted that the ‘attacking’ element of counter-attacking needs little work. It’s cigars and generous bourbons in that part of the world.

The challenge lies in the earlier premise, of letting the oppo have the ball. Harmless enough on paper, the reality was that Southampton ran rings around our lot for the majority of the first half. And not just the innocuous sort of rings that involve shoving the ball east and west without a whiff of penetration.

Southampton seemed to cut through our heroes at will, fashioning chances whenever the hell they fancied it. Now one accepts that such eventualities will unfold over the course of the season. Go up against the billionaires of Man City, or Liverpool or Chelski on one of their better days, and one can expect that sleeves will be rolled up in all quarters, and the dickens of a defensive shift be put in by every crew member.

But to be pulled from pillar to post non-stop, at home, by Southampton, seemed a bit thick. A decent outfit, for sure, and no doubt they’ll be plundered for their riches come the summer – but really not the sort of opponent that should have any self-respecting team hanging on for dear life. Yet come half-time one rather wanted to throw in a sympathetic towel and lead each of our heroes away for a sit-down and a warm glass of milk.

Difficult to pinpoint any single problem, but a couple of them seemed to reside in midfield, and one at right-back, as will be explored below.

Hojbjerg and Winks did not seem to have enough fingers between them to stick in the countless dykes appearing all over the place. By the end of the first half the pair seemed to offer little more than decorative value, their tactic of dangling an occasional limb proving pretty ineffectual in countering Southampton’s relentless switches to the left.

Watching the horror unfold, I did wonder whether a change of personnel might have eased things a tad. Messrs Skipp and, from early sightings, Bentancur both seem a bit more geared towards actually winning the ball, an approach I’d be happy to see at least attempted, in contrast to the Winks-Hojbjerg slant of staring at the opponent from a distance of five yards and hoping nothing dangerous follows.

Alternatively, the thought occurred that a switch to 3-5-2 might have swung things in our favour. One will never know of course, and it would also mean sacrificing Lucas, but in its previous incarnations (Leicester away, Liverpool home) our lot have rustled up a couple of pretty humdinging performances, which makes one chew a bit.

2. Hojbjerg

Well, this is awkward. That is to say, one doesn’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but Hojbjerg does appear to be discreetly shuffling from the queue marked “Solution” to that marked “Problem”.

Tough to stomach, because one rather admires the attitude of the chap – too often our midfield has been manned by blisters who will casually shrug off defeat as one of life’s little irritations, which rather get in the way of a neat pirouette and dainty flick. Hojbjerg, by contrast, comes across as the sort who spends his down-time chewing on glass and glaring at his offspring, an attitude I for one think we need a dashed sort more of in the corridors of N17.

But alas, attitude alone doth not a midfield general make. Watching as Hojbjerg dabbed pass after pass into a curious ether that couldn’t accurately be classified as “Here” or “There” made one clear the throat and shoot an embarrassed look towards the nearest chum, as if to say, “He’s rather off the boil tonight, what?” And frankly, that nearest chum would shoot a look back as much as to suggest, “And not for the first time, I fear”.

On top of his startling abandonment of geography in his passing, Hojbjerg, as mentioned above, became ever less effective as a defensive screen. It all adds up to a chap who currently seems to be in the team based on tattoos and anger alone. He may just need a rest of course, something that does not seem to have been afforded to him since approximately the summer of 2020. Whatever the cause, something seems amiss.

All that said, such things are not entirely black and white. Hojbjerg’s finer recent moments seem to have been performed up in the final third, either in lending his frame to the high-press or bobbing off on a little jaunt into the opposition area. Such a jolly brought about our opening goal last night, which had me scratching the loaf and wondering if we’ve misunderstood him all this time.

3. Emerson Royal

There seems a lot less misunderstanding to be done on the matter of Emerson Royal. Bang average going forward and pretty woeful going back, I can only assume he produces stuff in training that would make Maradona blush, because game after game the young wag peddles some first-rate rot.

I’ll stick him the charitable stuff first: going forward he at least has the right idea. He knows the drill, and obediently charges off up the right flank, which if nothing else will give the fellow on the other side something to think about.

The problems seem to begin once he has the ball at his feet. If there’s a wrong option to choose, Emerson homes in on it like a moth to a flame. Alternatively, if the situation demands he whip in a cross – and let’s face it, in a wing-back’s line of work this is going to be bread-and-butter stuff – the fabric of the universe seems to melt before his eyes, and the peculiar fellow just cannot seem to muster the capacity. If you excuse the physics lesson, nothing about his crosses suggests he knows anything about trajectory or curl.

It’s pretty maddening stuff, as this must surely have been right up there in bold font on the Job Description, yet I struggle to remember a single decent cross he’s swung in. Tellingly, unlike Reguilon on the other side, Emerson gets nowhere near our set-pieces.

(Lest anyone point to his deflected effort vs Brighton at the weekend, I have a stash of rotten fruit waiting to be hurled, for in the first place there was no-one in the area at whom he could have been aiming, and in the second place the eventual arc of the ball owed everything to the deflection and precious little to Emerson’s own input.)

Moreover, defensively Emerson is such a liability that Southampton made no bones about the fact that he and he alone would be the point of all their attacks. Time and again, in the first half in particular, they targeted him, and time and again he melted away in the face of it all.

While the two late goals conceded made for pretty nasty viewing, there could be little surprise about the fact that Emerson was the nearest in the vicinity for the winning goal in particular. (I exonerate him re Southampton’s second, as Kulusevski switched off instead of tracking his man, leaving Emerson in the unenviable position of having two unmarked forwards on his plate.)

The winning goal, however, was a neat illustration of Emereson’s pretty odd approach to defending, involving him attempting to allow the chap a header and banking on his ability to block its path to goal, rather than actually challenging for the dashed thing.

Meanwhile, Matt Doherty stares on listlessly from the sidelines. This is not to suggest that Doherty’s presence would transform operations, but I do wonder quite what depths Emerson has to plumb before being bundled out the back and having the door locked behind him.

4. Romero

Strange to say, having conceded thrice, but at the heart of defence Romero filed away another solid shift. Not flawless – at one point in the first half he was utterly undone by a straightforward long-ball hoicked over his head – but by and large, whatever came into his sphere was mopped up with minimal fuss, and often a few extra servings of meat.

He would benefit from a few more capable souls to his left and right, and indeed in front of him, but defensively, both on terra firma and up in the atmosphere, he seems a pretty handy nib to have on the premises.

Intriguingly, the fellow is also evidently possessed of a pretty eye-catching pass from deep. Given the general absence of creative spark from our central midfield pair, this could prove to be a pretty significant outlet in weeks to come.

Alas, there were simply too many duds in the defensive unit last night, and it is a bit fruity to expect Romero single-handedly to put out every fire going. The latest cameo from Bentancur suggests that there’s a chap who needs fast-tracking into the starting eleven, and the eventual return of Skipp might also add a sharpened elbow or two to the midfield, but after the dominant performance against Brighton at the weekend, this was mightily disappointing stuff.

Tweets hither

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

With apologies for tardiness.

1. Winks

Understandably enough the murmur about the place pre kick-off was around the return to the cast list of Messrs Son and Romero; but once all concerned spat on their hands and got down to it, the chappie who quietly emerged to AANP as having a say on things was one H. Winks Esq.

In a way, the current Winks vintage – Winks 3.0, you might say – requires for full appreciation an acknowledgement of what he is not. That is to say, Winks is not some all-singing, all-dancing box of trickery. If it’s Ndombele-esque body-swerves you’re after, of indeed Mousa Dembele-esque wriggles-from-tight-corners, then look elsewhere. And if you’re the sort who needs a Luka Modric eye-of-the-needle pass to get your pulse racing, then young Winks will not do much to soothe the savage beast lurking within.

Instead, on Saturday night, “neat and tidy” seemed to be the chorus on the lips of the fellow. I was rather taken by the manner in which our heroes regularly one- and two-touched their way out of ever-diminishing little defensive alleys, and Winks was as often as not front and centre of these operations. He availed himself whenever crisis (in the form of onrushing Brighton folk) approached a defensive chum, and having received the ball, did not stand around making speeches or counting his blessings, but swiftly shoved it along to someone better placed and less harassed.

A criticism of Winks, from this corner of the interweb as much as any other, has been his tendency, after surveying the terrain and weighing up all options, to take the rather excessive step of deciding that the slightest whisper of danger means the immediate cancellation of all forward-thinking possibilities. As a result, whatever the question, Winks’ answer has tended to be to go backwards.

This, however, might be described as Winks 2.0. The current, Conte-fied version (Winks 3.0) is by no means averse to passing backwards, but – crucially – does not view such retreat as the panacea to all that life throws at him. Winks 3.0 instead seems to be motivated primarily by an urge to do whatever the situation requires, as long as it’s done without too much hesitation.

This, at least to my uneducated eye, seems an infinitely more productive approach. It means that his primary motivation is simply to move the ball along, and preferably into a less troubled climate – and if that means going forward, backwards, underground or up into the atmosphere, Winks is on board.

And so on Saturday, we were treated to such delights as Winks dabbing little diagonals, Winks nudging the ball back towards goal, Winks chipping the ball square into space, and so on. The imp seemed to understand that what mattered was simply moving the object of the piece from Point A to Point B with minimal delay – and in the first half in particular this seemed to amount to a pretty critical part of the overall operation of pinching the thing from under Brighton’s noses and racing off on the counter-attack.

Winks was not perfect – the growing influence of Brighton’s Bissouma in the second half was evidence of that – but he seemed fully attuned to the company policy of swiftly turning defence into attack through swift distribution, and in this sense did enough to earn himself a much sought-after nod of approval from AANP.

2. Romero

As mentioned, Saturday brought about the welcome return of Senor Romero, and a welcome one it was too.

Everything seemed in working order, at least until his various sinews malfunctioned on 75 mins, but by then I think all concerned had seen enough to have any doubts about his return to the front-line suitably eased.

Part of the appeal of Romero is that he seems to do the majority of his business in an understated way, such that one wouldn’t necessarily notice he were there if one weren’t actively on the lookout for him. It helps that he is but one cog in an increasingly well-oiled defensive machine, all five of them (plus midfield helpers) seeming to know their lines and starting spots. The back-line was not necessarily impenetrable, but nor did it have the look of a gang hastily cobbled together with all concerned improvising their way through life. When on the back-foot, our defensive five appear to know their eggs, and Romero seemed perfectly content with his role and responsibility as bean-at-centre-of-things.

As well as simply being in the appropriate location at the appointed time, Romero also went off on the occasional wander to pretty good effect. If a Brighton wag had the temerity to scuttle into dangerous territory with the ball at his feet, Romero was perfectly happy to trot along after him and present himself as a rather imposing barrier, which in the circumstances seemed a reasonable enough approach.

On one occasion he was also temporarily possessed by the spirit of Beckenbauer, and accordingly went for a spin up over halfway and deep into opposition territory. Such day-trips appear to be heartily encouraged by Our Glorious Leader, and are facilitated by the presence of a back-three plus midfield minders, so we can probably get used to such raids.

3. Sanchez

On the subject of defensive eggs finding themselves tempted into the sordid world of the opposition half, Davinson Sanchez was oddly emboldened from start to finish.

Context here is crucial, for in all his appearances in lilywhite to date, Sanchez has given the impression that nothing distresses him more than finding the ball at his feet and being instructed to do something useful with it.

Go charging after an attacker, and Sanchez is in his element, bobbing from side to side like an out-of-control rowing boat until he is able to go charging into a challenge, sometimes taking ball, sometimes taking man, but always walking away from the crime-scene with the look of a man satisfied that he has done all asked of him.

Alternatively, if faced up by an attacker and given the opportunity to clear the ball to safety, Sanchez defers to no man in his ability to blast the thing as far from danger as possible, like a committed trooper hurling a live grenade out of his immediate sphere. There are few frills to Sanchez’ game, and one can almost read within his eyes that he sees no reason why there should be. Football, to Davinson Sanchez, is a game played by clearing all immediate danger, using whatever means necessary. Given this framework, he appears only too glad to have been blessed with the ability to draw back his right peg and deliver an almighty swing.

All of which had me rubbing the eyes and raising a puzzled finger on Saturday night, as we were treated to regular viewings of Sanchez charging up the right and towards the promised land of Brighton territory. What the hell possessed the chap is anyone’s guess. Personally, I blame Ben Davies, whose forays up towards the enemy penalty area in recent months have evidently not gone unnoticed in the Colombian quarter.

Admittedly, Sanchez’ actions betrayed the mentality of a man whose strategy seemed to be to act first and think later. He would set off full of buck and brio, looking every inch a fellow driven by an irresistible spirit of adventure – but on approaching halfway, reality seemed to hit and he typically slammed on the brakes, suddenly aware of the practical implications of his behaviour.

It’s a pretty telling indication of the state of things when one turns to Emerson Royal for help, but as it dawned upon Sanchez that all eyes were on him and that the thing at his feet was a real, live football, Emerson suddenly became the life-raft to which he felt the urge to attach himself.

At one point, unless my eyes deceived, Sanchez even found himself up in something like a centre-forward position. The whole thing was most peculiar in truth, but here at AANP Towers we were all for it. All too often we have been treated to the sight of Sanchez receiving a harmless pass and doing his best not to spontaneously combust at the shock of it all, so if he is prepared to venture like some new-born lamb, over halfway and up along the right flank, then it seems a more productive approach to life.

4. Kuluslevski and Bentancur

The other headline of the evening was the unveiling of our shiny new toys. Actually, the headline as far as AANP was concerned was the burst of pace shown by Sonny to set up our third goal, a blur of heels so rapid that the nearest Brighton defender completely lost control of his limbs and all sense of spatio-temporal awareness, and somehow found himself dribbling the ball unstoppably towards his own goal.

(The sub-headline of the evening was Ben Davies randomly unleashing an inch-perfect fifty yard cross-field pass to Kane.)

Back to the debutants. Kuluslevski was given half an hour or so entertain himself, and did so principally by making clear to the gallery that he has one preferred trick and will keep repeating it until time is called. In fairness, the old “Cutting Infield Onto Your Left Foot” gambit was sufficient for Arjen Robben to carve out an entire career, so Kuluslevski might argue that this is no bad tree up which to bark. Nevertheless, after seeing him put into practice this same manoeuvre a fourth time in his single cameo I did wonder about the extent of the research taken into this chap.

Bentancur on the other hand was given only five minutes, a period he put to good use in diving straight for the heart of the action in central midfield. One obviously hesitates to read anything into a five-minute teaser, but nevertheless I was encouraged by the fellow’s gusto in homing in on the busiest hub, as well as his neat footwork and one or two well-judged interventions.

He even found time to pick up a caution for a foul low on subtlety and high on efficiency, in putting a stop to an opponent’s forward intent by simply grabbing him by a couple of his limbs and refusing to relinquish. Again, what struck me here was not so much the specifics of the interaction as the general message it sent: for here was a soul concerned only to stop the other chap prospering, and if that meant brazenly committing Rule Violation 101 in full view of the ref then our man had absolutely no compunction. And I rather liked that about him.

Of course, the coming weeks and months will tell us a lot more about both, but it was nevertheless handy that each could take in a personal tour of the place. More broadly, given that Brighton are no mugs, a comfortable win against them should go down as a pretty slick evening’s work.

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