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Spurs match reports

Arsenal 3-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactical Set-Up

Even the most committed creature of habit could learn a thing or two from Our Glorious Leader, who reacted to all the noise about playing a midfield three by sticking his fingers in his ears and scrawling ‘3-4-3’ across his teamsheet for the umpteenth consecutive game.

‘Twas the usual suspects then, in the usual formation – and funnily enough with the usual outcome, as our lot spent the opening twenty minutes penned back in and around our own area, looking longingly at all the possession the other lot were churning through.

Show me a nib who enjoys watching that sort of thing and I’ll show you a chappie who should go and boil his own head, because it makes for pretty ghastly viewing. The opposition hog the damn thing; their every pass feels like a prelude to something ominous; on top of which our defence is so deep that the slightest miscalculation is pretty much guaranteed to gift a goal to the foe (as Lloris helpfully demonstrated). Needless to say, watching it unfold blow by blow had the heart fairly racing along in a manner that would have even the most upbeat cardiologist chewing a nervous lip.

Nerve-shredding stuff to observe then, but as Senor Conte would presumably point out, if done properly it does tend to work. For all the prodding and probing, Woolwich only broke through in that first half via a long-range pop, and in the second via a goalkeeping mistake (I artfully dodge the 10 vs 11 activity). That at least would presumably be the gist of the argument. I’m not sure too many juries would be swayed, but there we go.

The argument would continue that our lot sprang into life on the counter attack enough times in that first half to have scored more than just the one – and towards that point I’m a bit more inclined to clink glasses and offer a friendly nod. There were a few occasions on which our front-three set off on a scamper, and but for a careless final ball would have been through on goal.

But even so, it’s all a bit thick, no? One can only hold one’s breath and hope that the opposition foul things up for so long, what? If one were feeling particularly unkind one might suggest that the whole setup is simply a more polished version of the utter dirge that was peddled under Jose. Opportunities were there on the break, and on another day we might have led by half-time, but as under Jose the strategy relies a little too heavily on both flawless defending and pretty damn clinical finishing.

We sit within the Top Four, so fans of this sort of stuff would have a pretty compelling point if they told me to shove off and take my bleating with me. Nevertheless, here at AANP Towers we would be whistling a lot more gaily if the mantra were to win games by controlling possession and whizzing along a dashed sight closer to the opposition area.

Having gone on a bit about the doom and gloom side of things, I probably ought to mention that, given the rather tough hand they’d been dealt, Messrs Hojbjerg and, in particular, Benancur, made a pretty decent fist of things in the midfield two. Every Bentancur involvement seemed to end with him winning the ball or locating a chum – or, indeed, doing both, as happened at the start of the move that led to our penalty. One sympathised with their plight, being but two men in a midfield swarming with Woolwich goons; and one cast a few longing glances towards the forms of Bissouma and Skipp on the bench; but this defeat was not for lack of good, honest perspiration from H. and B.

2. Emerson

No such comforting words and bobbish sentiment for Master Royal however. That dashed pest ought to be slung out onto the streets and given a good old-fashioned thrashing.

It occurred to me that there was something of a parallel between his character arc and that of England’s resident clot, Harry Maguire, vs Germany the other night – in that neither were too bad until the moment they were very bad indeed.

For most of the game Emerson did the sort of stuff we now expect Emerson to do. He galloped forward gamely enough, and then failed to produce any decent output when given the opportunity, his crosses being blocked for a corner or sailing beyond any souls in lilywhite. This being Emerson, and his bar being low, the AANP reaction was simply to roll the eyes, mutter a choice curse and then see what would happen next. It was pretty much standard fare.

And in fact, at one point in the first half, he made one of the better tackles of his entire Spurs career, inserting a well-timed foot when I think Gabriel Jesus went off on a jink. If he cannot offer anything useful in attack he might as well provide something in defence, or so goes the theory, so by the time the second half rolled around he was in pretty solid ‘6 out of 10’ territory.

However, there then followed his red card, which judging by the current internal mood might well prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, in what legal bods might term the case of “AANP’s Patience vs Emerson Royal”.

No doubt one or two hardy souls will protest that a yellow card would have sufficed, to which the usual AANP line is drearily trotted out, about not being daft enough to give the referee a choice to make in the first place.

And “daft” really doesn’t do the chap justice, for this was about as fat-headed a move as I’ve ever seen. There couldn’t have been less threat if the Woolwich lad had curled up in a ball to take a nap. He was oiling off towards his own corner flag for heaven’s sake! Nor was it the case that tempers had already flared and shoves been exchanged., or any of that sort of jolly guff.

Martinelli had generally led Royal a merry dance the whole afternoon, which admittedly is the sort of sinister sequence of events that might prompt a tantrum from amongst the younger AANP nephews and nieces, but for it to prompt a professional footballer to stamp on the ankle of an opponent makes the brain sizzle a bit.

The silver lining of this nonsense is that Royal will now be legally barred from entering the pitch for another three games, and opportunity knocks for Doherty, Spence, Perisic, Sessegnon, Kulusevski, Lucas, Tanganga or frankly anyone else who fancies a stab at beetling up and down the right for a while. Simply being there would be sufficient to reach the standards set by Royal; any further input would class as an improvement. Safe to say I’m rather fed up to the gills with that chap.

3. Lloris Mistake

Monsieur Lloris, of course, has a vastly larger stash of goodwill stocked up, and he would have grasped at great clumping handfuls of the stuff (possibly dropping some) after today’s faux pas.

A funny old oeuf, is Lloris, in that despite being about as loyal as they come, and having loitered about the corridors for longer than anyone else in the place, he is not necessarily revered as one of our heroes. This is hardly a scientific and robust, evidence-driven conclusion, but I get the sense that most of lilywhite persuasion are generally happy enough with him, but harbour a reservation or two. The sort of chappie about whom not too many tears would be shed if he biffed off and a half-decent newbie were unearthed.

In general, his shot-stopping has been top notch and his handling a touch squiffy. Today, however, his were a pretty basic couple of errors in the shot-stopping sector, and on a stage on which we needed the experienced sorts to bring their A-games.

First in padding out the shot centrally rather than off to the sides, and then in making a heck of a mess of the follow-up shot, Lloris put us in a bit of a spot.

For what it’s worth, I rather fancied us to equalise again when 11 vs 11, and Lloris alone was not at fault for our falling behind – the sluggish start to the second half was very much a collective effort. But dash it, that was pretty basic fare, and while one ideally one would rather not concede at all, if it has to happen I would much rather the other lot were made to work their socks off for the privilege.

4. Waving The White Flag

As mentioned, at 2-1 and while fully staffed, the AANP mood was still hopeful enough. “More of the first half routine” was pretty much the chorus on the lips – until the third goal went in. At that point, the odds no doubt lengthened, but hope still spluttered along. A second goal for our lot in the last few minutes would have caused the nerves to flutter amongst the Woolwich mob, what?

You can picture AANP’s displeasure, therefore, when Our Glorious Leader effectively threw in the towel with a good twenty or so minutes remaining. The swapping of Lenglet for Sanchez one could abide, in isolation; but the removal of Richarlison and Sonny, for various assembled defenders, left none in the galleries in any doubt. Conte conceded this one.

And I don’t mind admitting that I frowned at that. Might have folded the arms and pursed the lips a bit too. I’m of a vintage that waits all week (or however long) to see our lot play, and then expects maximum effort from every one of the blighters until the final toot. If they’ve done their jobs properly they should be collapsing in puddles on the ground at full-time, and scraped up in wheelbarrows by the support staff. Having the manager effectively signal that they can simply give up with twenty minutes remaining, against Woolwich of all teams, does not sit well around these parts.

The argument will presumably run that there are games every couple of days, and Lenglet, Richarlison, Sonny et al will be needed for the CL on Wednesday. All of which makes sense – but at the same time, throwing in the towel did not seem right. It’s not really cricket. Perhaps one or two might have been withdrawn, but whilst still maintaining some sort of attacking threat (flinging Gil up at the apex, to offer some pace alongside Kane, for example).

One continues to trust Conte, of course, but that does not preclude criticism of the chap. This was a pretty unpleasant end to a thoroughly unpleasant afternoon.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 6-2 Leicester: Four Tottenham Talking Points

While decency would normally dictate that I apologise for tardiness, between Vegas, Denver and some unspecified spot over the Atlantic, AANP can barely remember its own name, let alone the date and time.

1. Defensive Rotation

Discovering that the rarely-heard Drury was on comms for the screening of this match in Vegas was quite the pre-match mood-enhancer and morning-after pick-me-up; but alas, the good news ended there as a quick scan of the cast members indicated a Romero-shaped hole, awkwardly occupied by the various uncontrollable limbs of Davinson Sanchez.

Of course, being a man of chivalry and values, I let Sanchez proceed with perfect objectivity, and he duly took about two minutes to confirm, to what I now understand to be a global audience, that he is, in fact, a chump of the highest order. Everything about his diving, sliding, obvious and unnecessary foul was utterly clot-headed, and nor is it the first time he’s produced such mind-boggling idiocy at the earliest possible juncture (that time we hammered Man Utd away springs to mind, Sanchez similarly gifting away a penalty in the opening exchanges).

One understands that the fixture schedule requires a spot of management of the more important dramatis personae, what with World Cups, Champions Leagues, Carabao Cups and bread-and-butter League games every three days from now until around 2038. And if an A-lister like Romero can’t be allowed to put the feet up and catch the breath in a home fixture against the bottom team, then one might reasonably ask when the devil can he?

And all of this makes perfect sense, until one throws Sanchez into the equation, as first back-up. Now his legions of fans will no doubt point to the fact that prior to Saturday night we hadn’t conceded in an absolute age with him on sentry duty. On top of which, aside from the ridiculous early penalty he actually carried out his tasks dutifully enough – but that’s not really the point is it? What good is a defender trotting around doing the basics if he’s already stuffed up and given away a goal for nothing in the opening exchanges?

The debate will presumably loop around pointlessly until he is eventually sold, so best just accept it for now. Such was our lack of control that Conte saw fit to hook the blighter and interrupt Romero’s night off, calling upon him to keep the door bolted for the final twenty or so.

On the other side of defence, Lenglet oiled around reasonably enough in lieu of the indisposed Davies, with a straightforward interception here and a (usually, though not universally) accurate forward pass there. He might not sweep the board at the awards ceremonies for outstanding individual contributions come May, but he ticks enough boxes to give us two solid left-sided options.

The spots that furrow the brow are the other centre-back positions. Sanchez and Tanganga do not really instil confidence, even when flanked by more competent souls. Worse, opponents are exchanging knowing looks and beginning to target Sanchez. Somehow, we must muddle through.

2. Wing-Backs

However, if the centre-back rotation gambit was fraught with risk, the latest wing-back experiment had about it an air that was bonny, bright and gay.

A few muted voices had half-heartedly wondered aloud in recent weeks, on the back of Emerson’s obvious limitations, whether Perisic might be deployed on the right, but I’m not sure anyone really believed it would actually happen. And yet there it was, in glorious technicolour, from the off.

And it worked pretty well, at least going forward. Perisic was as game as ever going forward, his compass evidently still in full working order despite the switch from West to East. The restored Kulusevski marked his return to the fold by haring off down the right at every opportunity, and taking the full-back with him, while young Sessegnon was not about to miss out on the fun, signalling his intentions with a few early crosses from the left.

This was all well and good, but a fairly crucial component of its success was that we were in possession. And as time continued its irresistible march, and we rather surrendered the initiative (more on that below), the defensive frailties of our wing-backs rather awkwardly rose to prominence.

Not that I blame Perisic. Here is a man who made his name on the front-foot, and if he’s anything like AANP he has untold lung capacity for the forward charge, but needs a bit of a blow when it comes to the defensive side of things. As with Sporting in midweek, so against Leicester on Saturday, he seemed to be beaten a little too easily in the mano a mano items, and with Sanchez behind him the brow began to furrow with a decent amount of nervousness.

Similarly, Sessegnon gave a full display of his fallibilities, not for the first time being fairly straightforwardly beaten in the air in the build-up to the second goal, in a manner that suggested he offers decorative value only when it comes to aerial combat.

So for all the early promise and excitement of Perisic-right and Sessegnon-left, Conte then switched the pair, and ultimately resorted to Emerson, presumably in the name of tightening the locks a smidge.

The whole sequence did again make me wonder what the hell Matt Doherty has to do these days to get a game, while Djed Spence may also be stroking a thoughtful chin, but the Perisic-Sess experiment, while showing a few rays of promise, was not quite the unmitigated success for which I’d hoped.

3. Central Midfield

In those early exchanges our lot seemed mercifully undeterred by the early deficit, and I thought were fairly good value for the 2-1 first half lead, at least in possession. Alas, as the pattern evolved to that rot about sitting deep and looking to counter, Leicester began to get to grips with life – which really is utter muck if you think about it. This lot were bottom, conceding goals for fun – and yet there they were, controlling possession for five-minute chunks, in our own back yard!

Well, you can imagine the harrumphing emanating from this corner of Vegas, and the dashed thing is this is hardly the first time we’ve seen our midfield lose control of things. I don’t really blame either of Messrs Bentancur or Hojbjerg, as the problem seems to be quantity rather than quality. Any team with three in midfield simply has more available legs in the area.

The point of the 3-4-3 seems to be to ensure that we have plenty of men manning the back-door at any given point, but even within this packed environment Leicester did not have to break too much sweat to bop their way around us.

Helpfully, Leicester were simply not very good, so while we let them offer far more threat than decency ought to allow a team at the bottom of the table, there was rarely a point at which I felt we would not outscore them. However, any semblance of control of the dashed thing only really emerged once Bissouma was introduced and we switched to a three-man midfield.

Conte has made Bissouma kick his heels a tad, for reasons of fitness or tactical education or some such rot apparently, but the fellow was on the button once introduced on Saturday, happy to treat the masses to his fabled array of interceptions and tackles.

Various pundits will hone in on a chap who scores and mark them out as a standout performer, irrespective of anything else contributed or lacking during the course of the 90, and I’m a tad wary of doing the same with young Master Bentancur. His goal was certainly a triumph for high pressing and general alertness, and I’m pretty sure he contributed crucially to one of Sonny’s goals through another sprightly tackle. All told, however, he seemed to me to swan through life in his usual neat, tidy and effective way.

The challenge he faces each week is, as mentioned above, that that central midfield pair is too often outnumbered. All of which does make one wonder whether there might be scope for Bissouma to be added more permanently, and a switch to 5-3-2 to be effected (I’ve heard it mentioned that Kulusevski could occupy the right wing-back slot for such a move).  Such jiggery-pokery might also allow Bentancur to shove forward ten yards or so, and allow the creative juices to flow a little more freely. The Brains Trust, no doubt, have all options under consideration.

4. Sonny

Only right to give the chap a mention I suppose. Personally I’d have preferred him to make less of a song and dance about it all – stiff upper lip and all that – but a man has his feelings I suppose, and the whole business of getting dropped and then scoring from all angles would presumably have been a lot to digest in one afternoon.

Aside from the drama that surrounded the honest fellow, I was most taken by the gumption he displayed in striking the shot for his first goal. By the time of his third the narrative was well established – Leicester were falling to pieces, and Sonny’s redemption arc was well into its third act.

But when he collected the ball and set off towards goal at 3-2, he was still a man who had been dropped, was without a goal, hadn’t smiled since May and appeared to have forgotten which foot was which. Given this context, for him then to bend one from approximately a mile out, and shape it from outside the post to within, with whip and height and all sorts, was remarkable stuff indeed.

His confidence having been at a low ebb, one would have bottled up a sigh and forgiven him for shuffling off with the ball towards some cul-de-sac near the corner flag. And had he swiped at the ball and got his geometrics wrong, the groans would have been audible down the High Road. To eject himself from his rut, and in such fashion as that first goal, was a triumph. (As was the sweet, sweet strike for his second, while we’re on the topic.)

I suppose one might glance at the scoreline and label this a triumph for defensive rotation, but given that Hugo had to make three or four pretty spectacular leaps about the place this felt anything but comfortable until the final fifteen or so. It’s a remarkable thing to engineer an unconvincing 6-2 win, but there we are. I must confess to looking ahead to the game away to Woolwich with a fair amount of dread, given the way our lot have struggled to exercise control over any opponent so far this season. As such I might quietly start a campaign for a three-man midfield, in the hope that it grows into quite the din by 1 October. For now, however, despite being oddly off the boil, we remain comfortably ensconced in the top four.

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Sporting 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

With apologies for tardiness – gallivanting the States, timings a bit off

1. Emerson Royal

Fans of E. Royal Esquire – and there must be some, by the law of averages and whatnot – might want to avert their eyes at this point, or go for a spot of shut-eye or something. The signs are ominous for him after all: after a late and pretty thorough collapse, in which the man himself was in the vicinity for both goals conceded, and also bungled the best of the chances we created at t’other end, for him then to be first on the list of Talking Points, in a rag with a bit of a history of sticking the knife into him, suggests that the following is not going to be garlands around his neck and rapturous applause.

He actually contributed one of our better first half moments, digging out a cross from the by-line that flashed past around five rather panicked Sporting dignitaries and right across the face of the goal, dash it, with not a single natty sky-blue uniform in sight.

So to shower the fellow only with oaths and criticism would be unfair. In the first half in particular it was pretty much a Standard Emerson Royal Production out on the right – little to recommend it, but nothing too egregiously wrong either.

But part of the problem is that Conte-ball requires a heck of a lot more than a Standard Emerson Royal Production on the right. Conte-ball relies greatly upon the wing-backs to do much of the heavy-lifting going forward.

Out on the left Master Perisic had the right idea, in theory at least. Forward he bobbed, and when he slung in his crosses they were creations of some quality, ticking various useful boxes like ‘Trajectory’, ‘Pace’, ‘Direction’ et cetera. It has been some time since the good ship Hotspur has boasted a fellow capable of such inviting delivery from out wide, and while, all told, this was not his finest hour (in particular, when we were out of possession the Sporting nibs seemed to tiptoe past him at will) one at least saw some benefits to his presence.

Emerson, on the other hand, yet again demonstrated some willing to attack without ever really researching the detail of what this would entail. Quite why the hell Matt Doherty has remained persona non grata this season, particularly after warming to the role at the end of last season, beats the dickens out of me, but there we go. Emerson it is.

And Emerson it was who thrice failed to deliver his lines when the Sporting back-line did its Red Sea thing and allowed him to swan right through to goal. Not necessarily the easiest chances in history, for sure, but I’d have given a limb or two for any of those chances to have fallen to one of the front-three (well, on current form perhaps not Sonny, eh?)

That said, I suspect we would all have settled for a point as the clock ticked over to 90. Now to lay the blame squarely at Emerson’s door for that opener really would be a bit thick. For a start it was a peach of a delivery, definitely in the realm of ‘Mighty Difficult to Defend’. Moreover, the post mortem suggests that the Sporting fellow who did the deed was the man-marking responsibility of that rotter Harry Kane.

Nevertheless, Emerson ended up closest to the action at the key juncture, and had he attacked the ball with the conviction of a man whose very life depended upon getting to it first he would have cleared the thing with plenty left in the account.

One nil was bad enough, but if Emerson’s failings in the first goal could arguably be excused, he really ought to be given a good public thrashing for his role in the second.

Senor Romero does not escape blame here either, making a pretty ham-fisted attempt – and I use the term pretty dashed loosely – at preventing the laddie getting his shot off, and not for the first time in recent weeks.

But it was Royal whose input really made the lip curl in utter disgust. He simply let the chap waltz straight past him, for heaven’s sake. Through his legs, forsooth! Shoulders slumped, pace down, energy barely registering, looking for all the world like he was simply off for an amble in the other direction.

Should he be delivering such high quality in the other 89 minutes of this and every other match as to make himself undroppable I would probably wave him along after a sharp click or two of the tongue (as I essentially do with Messrs Kane and Romero). But Emerson is anything but undroppable. Hook the bounder, fit Doherty for the necessary costume and let’s at least benefit from the latter’s attacking contributions.

2. Lloris

Heaven knows it was a thump and a half to the solar plexus to lose the bally thing thusly, but if there were one amongst our number who would have been excused an even heftier curse or two it was probably poor old Monsieur Lloris.

The poor sap appeared to have saved us a point with his flying leap at what had appeared to be the death, tipping around the post at full stretch one of those curling efforts whose trajectory seemed to scream ‘Bottom Corner’. Coming as it did in minute 89 it seemed a reasonable move to thank the chap for rescuing a draw, before simply bunging away the corner and awaiting the final whistle.

A dashed waste then, to see the resulting corner fly straight back into the net so earnestly protected just moments before, but sometimes life takes these opportunities to illustrate that if it is not one damned thing it will be another.

Had things petered out goallessly I fancy that Lloris would have been a solid bet for the Outstanding Performer gong, at least from our lot. When Sporting counter-attacked for the first time, way back in the in the early knockings, Lloris was on hand to do the full-stretch thing; and when Edwards dusted off his quite sensational Maradona impression it was again left to Lloris’ reflexes to keep the net undisturbed. He, if no-one else, seemed to merit a point.

3. The Son – Richarlison – Kulusevski Love Triangle

Conte has long established himself as one who knows his beans, so there will be precious little criticism of his preferred methods of skinning cats from this quarter, but I nevertheless allowed myself a raised eyebrow when the team news filtered in. Having banged on about the need for squad depth at various points since his N17 coronation, it is a tad rummy to see him so wedded to near enough the same XI, and galling when both performance and result fall flat.

Most eye-catching was this business of again selecting Kulusevski as the odd man out, while Sonny again started. This is of course a point under the heading of ‘Form’ rather than ‘Class’, and I’m not sure any one of sound mind doubts that Sonny will tearing strips out of opposing defences soon enough (indeed, his contribution in getting the Marseille monsieur sent off last week should not be forgotten in a hurry).

But frankly the fellow is off the boil, while Kulusevski has noticeably upped the overall performance level as soon as ushered in, no matter what the role he is asked to fulfil.

Richarlison, like Kulusevski, seems a pill who is on an upward form trajectory, similarly providing a series of headaches to opponents. The understanding of and partnership with Kane could do with a little finessing – witness the mistimed runs for one-on-ones that were flagged offside – but in general the fellow is worth his place.

Now I must hold up a paw or two and confess that I’m not quite sure who plays on which side if Sonny is removed and the equation becomes Richarlison-Kane-Kulusevski, and it might be that there is a significant impediment to this set-up. Frankly, however, I’m inclined to think that such an issue ought to be surmountable for these three. Grown men and all that.

Who knows what plans Our Glorious Leader had had in place for the postponed City game, and what plans he has in place for the upcoming Leicester game – but for the time being at least, it would seem uncontroversial to pluck Sonny from the frontline and utilise Kulusevski.  

4. It’s Been Coming

A bitter pill and all that, and I’d guarded pretty zealously the concept of picking up points while playing badly – but now that we’ve lost, and the dust is settling, I do scratch the bean and wonder if this might be a useful prompt. Encourage the assorted cast members to buck up their ideas, if you know what I mean?

While we sit prettily enough in the Premier League table, and have had a couple of tricky fixtures, I’m not sure we’ve played particularly well for more than half an hour in any game so far this season.

The trend had actually been to start each game with a dreadful, dirge-like apathy, so in that respect at least one improvement was made yesterday – our lot started each half full of beans, pressing high and generally trying to impose themselves. But yet again, it was rather fleeting stuff, and on balance we looked as likely to concede as to score.

As mentioned above, I’m pretty reluctant to chide Conte, so it is in a spirit of well-meaning altruism that I suggest a couple of changes, to either or both of personnel or playing style. If wing-backs or central midfielders need rearranging then rearrange like the dickens; if a more creative centre would deliver the eggs then inject creativity like the stuff is going out of fashion. Either way, this particular mob has a lot more talent than has been displayed in the last couple of months.

Frankly, the AANP dollar is still on qualification from the CL Group Stage and a Top Four finish, but we might as well try to make it a little easier for ourselves, what?

Another of those polite AANP requests: if any of you fine folk know of Vegas venues that show Premier League games, do be a frightful sport and wing over the details, would you? Much obliged.

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Spurs match reports

West Ham 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The First Half: Actually Not Too Bad

Obviously when sifting through the wreckage, shaking the head sadly and tutting knowingly, it seems almost inappropriate to reflect that in the first half things had actually been pootling along fairly comfortably. And yet, when the curtain came down at the halfway stage the mood at AANP Towers was that this was probably the best we’d looked since Day 1. A low bar, admittedly, but still.

For a start, whereas at Forest on Sunday the entire concept of a midfield was ignored and everyone involved just slapped the ball up to the front three at the earliest opportunity, in the first half last night our lot pinged the thing through the pitch in neat, little diagonals. From defence the ball would roll along to Hojbjerg or Kane dropping deep; and from there be worked in another neat little diagonal to Kulusevski or Sonny or Perisic; and the net result was that we regularly worked our way from back to front in bright and breezy fashion. Although none of this was remotely Brazil 1970, our opponents seemed to have their minds blown by it, simply standing around gawping as our heroes slid passes around them at half pace.  

The biggest early impediment to all this was that blasted VAR delay, after which our lot rather dozed off and the other lot remembered their obligations. Even so, by half-time it did feel like anything less than victory would represent a pretty major faux pax on our part.

In particular I was rather taken by the way that rotter Harry Kane made use of the wide, open spaces nearer halfway, West Ham seemingly oblivious to the trouble he can cause from such positions and he accordingly picking forward passes hither and thither.

Perisic was another who caught the AANP eye, ever willing to explore the lane ahead of him and ever able to deliver a decent cross. Indeed, the winnings from Perisic’s recent crosses have been considerable – the VAR incident here, the penalty against Forest on Sunday, the late equaliser against Chelsea (from a corner admittedly) and a near-miss header from Kane against Wolves.

On top of which, the fellow is as wily as they come, well-versed in the murky arts that facilitate the shielding of the ball and winning of free-kicks and whatnot. Not since Edgar Davids have we been blessed with one of these more experienced eggs, who manages to deliver the goods with little more than a knowing wink and spot of upper-body muscle.

2. Our Goal

I alluded earlier to the crispness of some of our first half interplay from defence onwards, and rarely was this better exemplified than in our goal, a move of such slickness it looked like they’d been rehearsing it for weeks.

In the first place it came about when the defensive siren was being sounded, with the other lot on the attack and attempting to tiptoe their way into our area. At this juncture Eric Dier made a couple of his better life-choices, firstly in stepping forward from the defensive line to intercept an opposing forward pass. This having been done he then rattled through the options, and rather than belting the ball to within an inch of its life, slid the thing about ten yards north to the waiting Kane.

As mentioned, despite having turned into an art-form the practice of dropping deep, and having given fair warning of his ability in this sector for a good three or four years now, West Ham seemed utterly oblivious to the threat posed by Harry Kane in such situations. There were few complaints from AANP Towers. Kane collected the ball ten yards outside his own area, toddled along with it another ten yards and then biffed it out to Kulusevski, in about the time it takes to murmur, “Defence into attack”.


One of the marvellous things about Kulusevski is that he is the sort of bean who’s happy to run first and think later, seemingly living by the maxim that life will present a solution further down the line. Having collected the pass from Kane around the halfway line he injected a little more urgency into the move, flicking the dial from “Saunter” to “Gallop”, which in turn was a signal for Kane and Sonny to rev up and pick their supportive spots. Kane went outside, Sonny inside, and by the time Kulusevski had arrived at the edge of the West Ham area all sorts of options were presenting themselves, fitting confirmation of the Swede’s aforementioned life motto.

It would be easy to overlook, but in dinking inwards, giving the impression of being the sort of fruit who’s about to ping a shot with his left clog, Kulusevski did just enough to sway all three claret shirts around him in one direction, leaving the streets free for Kane to charge off in the other direction. As his pièce de résistance, Kulusevski then timed his flicked pass to perfection, ensuring that Kane was onside and his view unimpaired for the climax of the piece.

Sonny’s luck being what it is these days, an opposing sort got in first to poke the ball home, but rarely has an own goal been crafted with such beauty and precision.

As mentioned, come half-time, although a long way from first gear, AANP gazed upon the breadth of the domain and greeted it with a fairly care-free shrug. Matters seemed in hand.

3. Their Goal

Matters, however, then pretty swiftly u-turned. For a bod who appears to pride himself, and build entire empires, on defensive organisation, one can imagine that Senor Conte would have been out for blood after observing the goal we conceded, sloppiness oozing from its every pore.

At the time the throw-in was (rather dubiously, to my beady eye) taken, both Perisic and Hojbjerg were looking in directions other than the ball, which at any level of football is pretty thick stuff.

Had Perisic been on the right planet he might have assisted with the general operation to nullify Antonio, but by the time the penny dropped matters had progressed and the danger heightened. Now Perisic is something of a favourite around these parts, but there are times in life when one has to put one’s foot down. All the whipped crosses and wily know-how in the world doesn’t count for much if one is then going to drift off to the land of fairies when a throw-in is being taken within spitting distance, dash it.

Had any one of Sessegnon, Sanchez or Emerson been guilty of this they’d have had the book – and various heavier, blunter instruments – thrown at them by AANP, so there is no reason for Perisic to escape censure. The fellow deserves stern words and a brief thrashing.

Meanwhile Hojbjerg, another who really ought to know better, was, unbelievably, similarly gazing elsewhere at the crucial juncture. In his defence he was at least facing the ball, and had seemingly turned his head to yell at someone in the way footballers like to do to pass the time, but it was still a heck of an oversight.

Worse than this however, once he had refocused on current affairs, he (along with Bissouma) was far too slow to respond to the forward dart of Soucek. Both Messrs H. and B. had a couple of yards on Soucek, and yet while the latter built up a head of steam, our two did not accelerate beyond a common jog. By the time Hojbjerg bucked up his ideas it was far too late, while Bissouma didn’t even reach the point of bucking up ideas, and simply ambled along providing decoration to the piece.

All in all, a pretty soggy goal to concede, and one which rather summed up much of our play in the second half. Inevitably, Richarlison immediately brought a little spark when introduced, and one might charitably suggest that an away draw in a London derby is no small fry, but really, throwing away a lead against this mob was pretty criminal stuff. They were not particularly good; but frankly, neither were we.

4. Bissouma

I mentioned young Bissouma’s input – or lack thereof – into the goal conceded, and it summed up a rather underwhelming first start for the chap.

I actually thought his early knockings were pretty encouraging. He seemed more comfortable than most in receiving possession, unflustered by the presence of opposing legs around him and generally doing a pretty good impression of Bentancur when it came to receiving and redirecting the ball around the halfway line.

Matters started to take a turn for the murky when he picked up his yellow card. This in itself was pretty fat-headed stuff – unlucky though he was to be penalised for a foul, seemingly on the basis of crowd reaction rather than the referee having actually seen anything, thumping the ball away in response marked him out as a pretty dim cove.

If one wanted to quibble one might have cleared the throat and politely mentioned that thereafter he didn’t always have to play the way he was facing, his habit of popping the ball straight back to Davinson Sanchez frankly doing more harm than good given the latter’s pretty limited passing ability (it seems no coincidence that Emerson barely offers an attacking threat when Sanchez rather than Romero lines up for company inside him).

By half-time, it seemed from my vantage point that Bissouma had morphed from Bentancur to Winks during the course of proceedings, so it was some relief to see him approach the second half in a marginally more offensive spirit, receiving the ball on the half-turn and generally looking north for a useful pass to pick.

Nevertheless, it was all a little disappointing. Of his fabled zeal for intercepting and tackling there were only glimpses, and as mentioned, his role in the goal conceded was lamentable.

None of which is to write the chap off; far from it, he is one of the shrewdest signings we’ve made for some time. Just a shame that his middling performance last night was in keeping with all around him, and led to the forfeiting of a couple of quite obtainable points.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 4-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson

Emerson had what might officially go down in the tome of such things as his best game in lilywhite. Admittedly the bar in this particular area is pretty low, the memory lingering long of countless dreadful attempted crosses last season, but let that not detract from some surprisingly impressive stuff in all areas for the peculiar chap. Who knew he had it in him?

If Emerson is the sort to let the failings of previous seasons weigh on him, he hides it well. Here is a fellow not wanting for self-confidence, irrespective of how much the evidence of the senses and weight of data has suggested he ought to think otherwise.

Watching him scurry off down the right, find himself incapable off beating a man or whipping in a cross, therefore decide to keep scurrying and eventually hit the byline, before attempting to pull back the ball out of necessity as much as anything else, you would think from his manner that he had long ago decided, with supreme confidence from the off, that scurrying to the byine and pulling back the ball was in fact the best possible plan, and nobody on earth could convince him that any alternative would be better – or indeed that any other living soul could execute it better than he. 

Impressively, however, it worked. In fact, just about everything Emerson tried on Saturday struck oil. From the starter’s clap he went about his business yesterday like a newly-born lamb having his first taste of spring and deciding that he’d be dashed if he was going to be prevented from gambolling about the place.

With Kulusevski on hand to provide attacking finesse as required, Senhor E’s willing and energy, and runs and uncomplicated passes, had the left side of Southampton scampering around in something of a muddle throughout.

His input for Kulusevski’s goal illustrated much of what he was doing well – first summoning the energetic spirit of that new-born lamb to bound off towards that murky area in between corner flag and penalty area, then picking a pass as simple as it was effective for Master K, who did the rest with customary aplomb.

His contribution to the own-goal was ultimately a little less conventional, his self-confidence by this point reaching the stratospheric height at which simply being wing-back was beneath him, and he fancied himself rather as a Haaland sort, motoring through the centre as the furthermost forward – but mark the preamble. Emerson tackled his man cleanly in the traditional right-back berth, then, rather than sitting back to admire his handiwork, led the charge over halfway at the sort of lick that was less new-born lamb and more thoroughbred racehorse.

Having successfully communicated the message that one need not whip in crosses from deep in order to fulfil one’s attacking remit as a wing-back, it is also worth noting that his attacking success did not come at the expense of his defensive duties. In fact, he was as diligent as the next man when on sentry duty. It was all most impressive. Whether he can hit such heights next week, say, at Chelsea, is for another day, but with Dohertys and Spences now littering the place one cannot fault Emerson’s first stab at the role of 22/23 RWB.

2. Kulusevski

Not that Saturday was simply the Emerson Show, with others in attendance offering supporting roles only. Far from it. The list of standout performers was pretty extensive – which mangles the language somewhat when you think about it, but such was the quality of the various presentations.

Kulusevski, yet again, hit impressive heights. He is quite the curio, being one of those attackers who bursts with creativity despite not having some obvious eye-catching quality. He is neither lightning-quick, nor possessed of stepovers and mazy dribbles and whatnot, and can sometimes give the air of one of those types who was not bestowed abundant gifts by Mother Nature, but made the most of what he had through hard work. Think Lampard or Kane.

And yet, his wealth of talents were on full display on Saturday, rendering him quite the unpredictable force. He seemed at any given moment as likely to go on the gallop; or pick a cute, short pass; or drag the ball back and switch directions, making the entire Southampton back-line trip over themselves; or whip in a cross begging to be despatched; or have a shot for himself. Whenever the ball entered his orbit, marvellous things began to happen.

If he had done nothing more than deliver the cross for Sessegnon’s goal I’d still have purred about him a goodish bit – but that was arguably not even the best cross he delivered, one in the second half that Romero might have flung himself at being arguably of finer quality. The second half also saw him pick out something close to the perfect pass for Sessegnon to steam onto; on top of which there was his goal, stroked in with the nonchalance of one idly pinging a ball from A to B while stretching his limbs on the training pitch.

How long it will be before he is spoken of in the exalted terms generally reserved for English-born folk remains to be seen – it took Sonny a good half-dozen years – but if he continues to deliver on a weekly basis to limited acclaim beyond N17 then there will be no complaints over here.

3. Bentancur

And yet even Kulusevski cannot necessarily be deemed the outright champion of all he surveyed on Saturday. As seems to have happened every time he skims the surface in lilywhite, Master Bentancur breezed through the game on a different plane from anyone else.

He really is the rarest of nibs, one who seems to see the game from a vantage point about twenty yards above ground level, with panoramic vision that takes in the positions and movements of all other bodies on the pitch. How else to explain the marvellous fellow’s ability to flick first-time passes in directions well beyond the realms of terrestrial vision?

Here at AANP Towers we are very much of the opinion that passes do not necessarily need to be earth-shattering as long as they are popped along swiftly. A first-time pass can rearrange the pieces just as effectively as one of those pearlers that bisects a clutch of opponents. Bentancur seems effortlessly to have mastered both disciplines, often at the same time. One could remover the goals from the pitch, and still delight in watching him dip his shoulders and ping his passes, simply for the heck of it.

On top of which, any asterisked concerns in his early days about him sometimes being ambushed by the pace of things over here seem to have been dispelled. The young bean was shuttling the ball off in new directions before opponents realised he had it; on top of which he was pretty zesty in the tackle too.

4. Sessegnon

Here at AANP Towers we are certainly fond of the grumble, and at various and regular points last season wasted little time in jabbing an accusing finger at young Master Sessegnon.

As with Emerson on t’other flank, Sessegnon seems to have used his summer weeks wisely, and went about his business on Saturday looking a darned sight more assured about his trade than previously.

The early goal presumably helped chivvy him along in this sense, but in general where last season a nameless fear seemed to envelop everything he did, often manifesting itself in heavy touches and complete absence of ball control, on Saturday he seemed vastly more capable when it came to the basics, and was a viable option on the left throughout his hour.

It was rather satisfying to note that the chap has well and truly got to grips with Conte-ball, regularly popping up in the area as an auxiliary attacker, as any wing-back should under Our Glorious Leader. He scored one, had one disallowed for offside – admittedly his own fault for jumping the gun, but again reflecting an eagerness to elbow his way into positions from which he can observe the whites of the goalkeepers’ eyes – and was denied a second goal only by a last-ditch tackle from KEP.

(A note on KWP while on the subject – the young pip has attracted some attention, with various fellow lilywhites reverently bawling that we should be in for his services again. To these I wave a dismissive hand, because no self-respecting defender ought ever to be outmuscled in the air, and in his own six-yard box, by anyone, let alone by the waif-like physique of Sessegnon; and to anyone who marvelled at the aforementioned last-ditch tackle I suggest that the best defenders read the game well enough not to need to make up five yards and execute sliding tackles from behind.)

But reverting back to Sessegnon – as with more than one of the above, this was comfortably one of his better days in lilywhite. One would expect Perisic to assume responsibilities for bigger tests, but if Sessegnon gets wheeled out for Southampton and the like he’ll get a glowing reference and rousing hand from me.

5. The Debutants

After six summer signings, I rather liked the fact that the only new sight was the gleaming kit (top marks from AANP by the way, a fan of the simple white shirt over here) and a couple of new-fangled set-piece operations. It sent the message that one has to earn one’s place in this team – earn one’s spurs, if you will – and helped to cement the notion that ours is a setup that increasingly needs to think like a big club.

Bissouma only got five minutes or so, but seemed determined not to be constrained by such mortal limitations as time, and set about cramming as much action as possible into his brief cameo. Thus we were treated to Bissouma blocks, interceptions, sensible passes, a yellow card and, intriguingly, a long-distance effort hit with some wattage. With Hojbjerg hitting (the pass in the build-up to Kulusevski’s goal was a weighted delight) but also missing (various misplaced passes littered the place), Bissouma’s brief bustle made for quite the hors d’ouevres.

Perisic had a little longer to acquaint himself with things, and similarly caught the AANP eye. The headlines of his half-hour were a couple of forays in the meaty end of things – stepovers and party-tricks to evade his man, followed by a couple of crosses into dangerous squares of the penalty area. These bode well, and in time one imagines Kane and chums feasting on his produce.

But as a long-time admirer of the chap, I kept a particular eye on his positioning at every given point, and noted that it is safe to say that rumours of him being well attuned to the whims of Senor Conte are resoundingly true. As soon as we turned over possession he was off on the gallop, well in advance of the defensive line – and, as often as not, in advance of the midfield line too. Where Sessegnon seems content enough to stay within a stone’s throw of Ben Davies, Perisic has more heady ambitions, and could regularly be spotted further up the pitch than anyone else, and frankly straining at the leash for a ball to be released onto which he might run.

All of which meant that when we lost possession he was a good-ish distance up the pitch, but the honest fellow made the effort to sprint back to his post. Should he feature against Chelsea next week I’ll be intrigued as to the extent to which his attacking instincts are indulged or otherwise.

And finally there was also a brief cameo for Lenglet, who took up the appropriate position on the left, and seemed to make the sensible hand-gestures of one who wants at least to look he knows what he’s about. He also picked a handy pass in the move that led to Bissouma’s long-distance shot, which earned him a subtle nod of approval – but his appearance was little more than a chance for Conte to flex a bicep and show the world that he has Levy eating out of the palm of his hand.

So after one fixture we sit pretty atop the pile. While it is, of course, mathematically possible that we might yet blow this, frankly anything less than the title would now be a massive disappointment.

(Tweets hither)

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Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Djed Spence: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Basics on Spence

Having prattled on a bit about Perisic and Forster (hither), Bissouma (thither), Richarlison (yonder) and Lenglet (abaft) it seems only decent to mangle the language for a few additional paragraphs in honour of young Master Spence.

The usual disclaimer applies here, as, in common with most folk plucked from anywhere but the Premier League or uppermost echelons of Europe, my folder of research notes on the young bean is pretty light stuff. “Potential and whatnot” is pretty much the sum of it.

Stringing that out a bit, he featured in a couple of entertaining Cup games against Premier League teams last season (including one not a million miles from N17), which gave casual observers such as AANP an opportunity to cast the beady eye.

During these Spence could be observed bounding forward with all the gay abandon of youth, unhindered by such concerns as hangovers, childcare arrangements and defensive cover. It was all harmless enough fun and he didn’t lack for wiling, but in truth there was nothing on show that had me grabbing the megaphone and parading the High Road to declare that the answer to our right wing-back woes was incarnate and to be found putting in his shift in Notts NG2.

However, I’m not about to judge a fellow on a couple of matches half-watched while getting down to the serious business of studying Duo Lingo Spanish and thumbing the pages of a PG Wodehouse, and I rather sneer at the ass who does. Far better to base judgement of the chap on the musings of more celebrated sages in the field. Actually, it would be better to give the poor cove a chance before judging him at all – but celebrated sages it will be, and the consensus amongst them seems to be that Spence is rather a goer in the market for frontfoot attacking larks, has great big handfuls of energy and occasionally lets the mind drift when the defensive klaxon sounds.

2. Conte’s View

All of which points to a signing that is a bit removed from the Conte template, and instead bears all the grubby pawprints of a classic Daniel Levy signing from each of the last fifteen or so years. Young, English, a bit of talent about him but swathes of room for improvement and, crucially, potential for a pretty hefty whack when it comes to cashing in a few years’ hence. The fact that Spence and young Sessegnon have been acquainted since shortly out of nappies rather hammers home the point, as the similarities in profile abound.

It’s little wonder that Conte has gone on record to deliver a near-perfect Pontius Pilate impression, if you don’t mind me introducing a spot of Scripture into things, and washing his hands of the signing.

“Not my idea,” has been the loose translation of Conte’s thoughts on the signing – but nevetheless he’s been quite happy to play the game and stick him on the subs bench, presumably because in Messrs F, P, B, R and L he already has most of what he wanted (experienced, proven sorts), and has them nice and early in the piece too.

Still, if Conte had taken an instant dislike to the fellow I can’t imagine we’d have gone through with this, and presumably that Paratici chap is also a believer. The moral of the story here would seem to be that anyone who hoped Spence might be shoved into the starting XI and left to get on with things, popping up in the Premier League Team of the Season at the end of the year and collecting a Young Player’s Award en route, might be in for some disappointment. At best I would expect him to share wing-back duties on the right with whomever of Doherty or Emerson isn’t sold, no doubt making a few mistakes along the way, and accordingly attracting instant and damning censure, not least from AANP Towers.

3. Emerson and Doherty

Talking of E.R. and M.D., I’ve gone round in a goodish number of circles trying to establish how their immediate prospects shape up.

If this were left to me it would be one of the shortest meetings on record – keep Doherty, give Emerson the elbow and off to the nearest watering-hole for some refreshment – but the powers that be seem intent on making rather a production of this.

Emerson seems a genuinely likeable soul – seemingly missing a few critical neurons and whatnot, but one of the boys and pretty committed to all things lilywhite. And were this a land of milk, honey and 4-4-2 then I’d suggest his Spurs future would have a pretty rosy tint to it, for when it comes to ticking boxes as a right-back in its purest form he knows his eggs.

Alas, ours is a world of wing-backs, and in the attacking respect, Emerson seems to have a pretty strong catalogue of evidence to suggest that this is not his game. No shame in that, of course, it’s not for everyone – but the point is that this having been established, there doesn’t seem too much point in having him around the place. Starts to get a bit awkward, what?

Doherty, despite a wobbly start, seemed to have received the memo towards the end of last season and generally seemed happy to confirm that if this were a wing-back system then he would be part of the gang. Although, like Emerson, he wasn’t necessarily the most natural when it came to swinging over a peach of a cross into an inviting area, he nevertheless seemed to know the how, where and when of the job. While I’d have happily welcomed an upgrade, his presence was reassuring enough.

Moreover, with Spence now on board to apply a spot of breath down the Doherty neck, we seem well equipped for a world sans Emerson. I’ll therefore waggle a pretty irritated eyebrow if I read over the morning kippers next week that Doherty has been given a handshake, commemorative pen and wished good luck elsewhere, but I suppose I’d better brace myself nonetheless. Either way, young Spence now has the most certain immediate future in N17 of the trio, and good luck to him.

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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.