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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Fulham: Three Tottenham Talking Points

Parish Notice No. 1

In my experience, if you’ve dropped something of a howler it’s best to stiffen the upper lip and be out with it. Honesty the best policy and all that. And in that spirit it seems only right to look my public square in the eye and disclose – to gasps from the gallery, no doubt – that life being what it is, I didn’t get to see one minute of live action yesterday. Missed the whole thing. A heck of a shame if the reported 23 shots (and 10 on target) are anything to go by, but these things will happen.

The sum of it is that if you want an account of Actual Events then you’d be best off draining your glass and heading for the nearest exit. No grudges will be held on this side.

If, however, you are in the mood for what might be known as The Christian Eriksen Approach to Talking Points, in which only those moments that made the highlights packages are subject to consideration, while the rest is given Orwellian treatment and simply wiped from history, then by all means stick around.

1. Richarlison

For various reasons, most of the AANP column inches on Richarlison last week centred on the more mischievous side to his nature. No particular harm done, and all the sort of valid stuff that would stand up to legal scrutiny, but if ever there were a couple of highlights packages to make a man buck and up and think, “What ho! There’s a heck of a lot more to this blighter than I realised!” they were the highlights packages from yesterday’s game.

I suppose there must have been a few missteps here and there over the course of the full 90, but the overriding sense from the snippets was of a fellow pouring his heart and soul into the mission – and chalking up a fair number in the ‘Reap’ column as well as the ‘Sow’ column, if you follow my drift.

The headline stuff was the volley that gave a slap in the face to the goalpost, and the disallowed goal. That volley certainly grabbed the attention. Equal parts vicious and pretty, the thing was struck about as sweetly as physics will allow, but was all the more impressive for actually being a heck of a difficult shot to control. Sometimes the ball sits up perfectly – at just the right height, with few foreign objects in the way, and with all of nature giving the sense that it is cheering the fellow on and doing its best to create accommodating circumstances.

This was not one of those occasions. Instead, the ball was rather shoved down his gullet by Sonny – not to apportion any blame to the latter, it just happened that the pull-back was delivered with a bit too much meaning for Richarlison to wade onto it in leisurely fashion.

On top of which, it also sailed through the N17 atmosphere at a height that did not really lend itself to a first-time strike. A little elevation can be a wonderful thing; but this pass was at the sort of waist-height level that can have even the most decisive sort of nib flitting between his options, with “Shoot the dashed thing,” nestling somewhere between “Open the body and cushion to a chum,” and “Use the thigh, that’s why thy maker gave it to thee,” on the list of potential actions to be undertaken.

The lad therefore deserves all the more credit for contorting his body into all manner of right angles, looking like several limbs had been dislocated by the time he actually made contact – but as indicated above, what sweet contact it was. Rather than ballooning it off into orbit he actually angled the ball downwards, and it was a frightful shame that such technique ended up being a mere footnote. All the more unfortunate that Fulham promptly went up the other end and scored, but life does hand us these crosses to bear, what?

The poor imp’s luck did not deviate from ‘Rotten’ when his goal was chalked off (but his yellow card wasn’t, forsooth). No quibbling the decision, but given that every moment deemed highlight-worthy seemed to include Richarlison elbowing his way front and centre it did again seem a shame that he had no personal glory in which to revel.

And this is very much the point – Richarlison did not simply seem to pop up for his two near misses and flit back out of existence. He seemed involved in the genesis of every decent attacking moment, and even more impressively, appeared frequently to muck in with the plebs to chase back and press. The caveat remains that thirty minutes of highlights do not a fair appreciation provide, but nevertheless he seemed to produce a lot of positive output.

2. Romero

The problem, of course, with highlights, is that the valued contributions in possession of such apostles of the cause as Bentancur, Romero and, by all accounts, young Monsieur Lenglet, are rather scrubbed from the annals, so that one needs to rely on word of mouth rather than the evidence of the eyes to verify such things.

Instead, the principal involvement highlighted of the returning Romero did not cover the fellow in glory. This is a shame, because his absence has been keenly felt in previous games, both in terms of one might term the ‘day job’, of blocking, heading, repelling and whatnot, but also in terms of his ability on the ball. In his absence, distribution from the right side of defence has regressed to the most crude and basic of equations. Reliable sources inform me that this particular metric was upped like nobody’s business with Romero back in the fold yesterday, which is most welcome, even not having been able to bear witness to it myself.

What I did see, alas, was Romero do little more than dangle a foot in the face of impending danger, for the Fulham goal. Nor was it a decisive foot, one hewn of granite and polished over the course of a thousand red-blooded challenges. This was a pretty lazy and perfunctory foot, waggled in the general direction of danger as if to acknowledge danger in the vicinity, and formally register an attempt to prevent further harm, but containing little in the way of real meaning.

I rather fancy that this is not the first time Romero has simply stuck out a leg, while momentum is taking him off elsewhere and his bearings are generally nowhere to be seen. The fellow is hardly riddled with flaws of course, so one doesn’t look to hammer him too much for the occasional wobble, but still. This is his bread and butter. All things considered he did not make things as difficult for the Fulham cove as one might have expected.

An irritated tut in the direction of Dier too, who might have done more to close down the angle. As with Romero, the disclaimer applies that one doesn’t like to scrutinise the little things too heavily, but it just seemed a pretty soft one to concede.

Let none of this detract, however, from the more important communiqué, viz. that Romero is once again of rude health – and with CL and genetically-engineered goal-monsters fast approaching this is a most welcome tiding.

3. Lloris

The other fellow whose selected involvements caught the AANP eye was our resident last line of defence.

In ten years, the feeling still nags that Monsieur Lloris is accepted happily enough but not necessarily adored by the natives of N17. Be that as it may but his shot-stopping has generally been a forte, and as if to hammer home this point he pulled off a couple of saves that may have had much about them of the theatrical, but were nevertheless prime morsels.

Both were the products of deflections, and as such simultaneously added the complication of changing coordinates while subtracting the obstacle typically presented in such moments by good old-fashioned velocity.

For symmetry’s sake, one involved Lloris springing off a gauche, and the other a droite. I suppose he would have looked a bit of an ass if he had let the first one beat him, once he had adjusted to the re-directing of the thing, as it was pretty serviceable stuff, but still – a flying leap and full body extension was needed, and a f. l. a. f. b. e. he delivered, with solid delivery and a couple of accompanying rolls afterwards, just to make sure everyone knew about it.

So far so good, but the second save was the one that really gave HR the nudge that here was a man well worth his monthly envelope. For a start, it came at a time when it looked rather cruelly like we might exit the piece with only one point, for Fulham’s late rally was in full flight and the scoreline reduced to 2-1. Context mattered at this point, and Lloris did his bit.

But also, I thought it was one heck of a save in itself, aside from any context. Had he stopped to check the egg-timer Lloris may have noted with some alarm that time was not his ally at this point, because even with the deflection the ball was motoring along at a fair whack. And because of the deflection, a decent amount of back-pedalling was required and pronto, on top of which an even fuller body extension was summoned at the last.

One only has to cast the mind back to the deeply scarring Italia ’90 semi-final (AANP? Holding onto old football wounds far too long? Never!) to know that a goalkeeper’s back-pedalling is not a manoeuvre easily executed, so while the thirty-year psychological trauma might have been awakened deep within me, mercifully our lot at least escaped with the win. (Or evidently had done several hours earlier, when the game actually occurred.) Bravo, Monsieur Lloris.

Parish Notice No. 2:
AANP will be mingling with the locals of Denver Colorado by the end of the week (and Vegas the week after), so if you’re of lilywhite persuasion and of those parts do please drop me a line or tweet me a tweet, as viewing venues will be needed


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Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Bergwijn Out, Lenglet In: Four Tottenham Talkiing Points

1. Bergwijn: Unfulfilled Potential

Mention the term ‘parallel universe’, and the AANP mind tends to swim a bit, but it’s actually not too difficult to picture a world in which Steven Bergwijn became a roaring success in lilywhite.

It only really needed the adjustment of a few –admittedly critical – details: better luck with injuries, a manager who persisted with him as the regular third part of the forward line, and so on. Where Kulusevski now enjoys the run of things up the right flank, it might have been Bergwijn.

Bergwijn generally seemed sufficiently well equipped in the fields of puff, willing and a scent for goal to have made a fist of things, either centrally – where admittedly he would have found chances pretty hard to come by, giving existing personnel and the unspoken hierarchy about the place – or as a wider attacker. Watch him in the garish colours of his motherland and he seems bobbish enough as either.

Obviously those wider positions rather take care of themselves now in N17, but for every successful Sonny and Kulusevski there has been a Lamela or Lucas – by which I mean the sort of wounded puppy who, despite ticking a fair few boxes, somehow never quite got round to nailing down the position as their own. I don’t mind admitting some mild surprise that Bergwijn didn’t graduate to a more permanent role, as goodness knows a vacancy existed long enough.

In fact, if you can excuse the particularly daring line of thought, I wiled away a few idle hours wondering if he might have made a go of things as a wing-back, not least because it was precisely the sort of zany idea that seemed to grab Senor Conte over the years.   

Indeed, with the dawn of five substitutes that I keep prattling on about to anyone who will listen, Bergwijn might yet have found himself a niche this coming season if he’d stuck around the place. But after two and a half years largely spent wrapped up in a duffel coat on the bench, one understands the urge to scarper, particularly with a World Cup due to be dropped into the middle of the coming season.

2: Bergwijn: Memorable Moments

Still, any llilywhite of sound mind will send him on his way with pretty warm sentiments ringing in his ears, because despite only ever seeming to be flung on with ten minutes to go here and there, the blighter certainly knew how to make a bit of an impression on the natives.

Two moments in particular stood out, the first of which was that swing-and-ping of his – on debut, no less – against a City team who then, as now, were an all-conquering sort of mob. It was the sort of strike that leaves an impression for various reasons. For a start, a goal at home on debut is pretty much first on the list of proven ways in which to endear oneself to the newest fanbase, speaking volumes for the lad’s sense of occasion and timing.

On top of which, it set us up for one of the more memorable victories of the campaign, which adds a bit of clout to the thing.

And moreover, in those calmer moments later on, when one takes a breath or two and watches the highlights over again, everything about the way in which Bergwijn took his goal suggested that he had arrived at the club with a decent amount of technique fizzing in his size sixes (just going out on a limb here and assuming they’re small).

The celebration one could take or leave I suppose – the AANP verdict being that those of a certain age will insist upon such things so they must be suffered – but all told, it was one of the more memorable ways in which a laddie had announced his arrival in recent years.

All of which was blown out of the water by his cameo against Leicester last season. Again, context was everything – we were drifting deep into injury-time, staring defeat in the face – and Bergwijn’s late double prompted the sort of orgy of untethered ecstasy from all concerned that really is only permissible in exceptionable circumstances, and which seems to justify the years of grumble and toil that precede and follow.

His goals that night (particularly the second, including as it did that unique aesthetic sheen that comes with a shot going in off the post) will live long in the memory, as will the celebrations, what with Lucas Moura and that chappie’s hat and whatnot, giving us all something to relate to wide-eyed offspring a few decades hence.

So it is a pretty amicable parting. Things might – and really ought – to have blossomed rather more than they did, but Bergwijn takes off into the night having given us some pretty priceless stuff, Grandmaster Levy recoups the entire investment and Bergwijn’s career appears to have escaped any serious damage. Bon chance, mon brave.

3: Bienvenue, Clement Lenglet

If placed in the dock and instructed to tell the truth, the whole truth and so on and so forth, AANP would have no qualms sticking a paw on the Bible and testifying to having watched our newest arrival in action for a full 90 minutes, on more than one occasion.

Now if John Grisham novels and various courtroom dramas on the tellybox have taught me anything it is that those legal johnnies don’t really go in for sociable chit-chat once the action has kicked off. I’d therefore likely say no more than the above. However, should that change, and invitation be extended to me to elaborate upon my fascinating testimony, I imagine I’d oblige by relating to the stunned gallery that I’d also watched a full 90 minutes of the Austrian Women’s team, as recently as last week. And the crucial connection here, which I’d unfurl with a sweeping gesture or two, is that in neither case could I tell you the first bally thing about any of the players concerned.

I do sometimes wonder if I’m the only one who watches football in this way – able to peel off forensic analysis of every pass and shimmy of my lot, be they Spurs (male or female) or England (male or female), but all blank stares and clueless shrugs when it comes to literally any amongst the opposition.

The sum of it is that my knowledge of the deeds of M. Lenglet are restricted to the pearls of wisdom of those who study such things for an honest wage. As such, one understands that Lenglet is a little slow (I paraphrase), left-footed (horse’s mouth) and relatively competent in possession (I p. once more).

All of which means that, as has tended to happen quite a lot since Our Glorious Leader took over, I’m off down the road labelled Ben Davies Avenue.

 One of the more curious anthems being belted around the corridors of power this summer has been that big money must be spent on a Ben Davies upgrade.

Upgrades in any position are, of course, welcome with open arms and miles of bunting. After all, one always ought to strive to improve. This is no time to rest on laurels. And so on – you get the gist.

However, lasering in on Davies as the object most in need of improvement and upgrade within the eleven seems a slightly rummy one. I’m not convinced that Davies is more obviously in need of upgrading than, say, Dier (which is not to denigrate either of them, more to illustrate that they’re carrying out duties equally admirably). The feedback I’d personally file on Davies for his efforts would be pretty glowing stuff.

More pertinently I’d suggest that we ought to stick whatever cash is filed under ‘Ben Davies Upgrade’ into a right-wing-back-shaped basket, preferably identifying a nib who has a minute of top-flight football on his CV – but this, I suppose, is a debate for another day. Evidently someone with clout has been pretty wedded to the idea that Davies is the one upon whom to improve, so here we are, thumbing through the mugshots of Europe’s finest left-sided centre-backs.

Or at least I assume they’re Europe’s finest, because personally I’d not know any of Bastoni, Pau Torres, Bremer or chums if they tapped me on the shoulder, but as one can’t throw a brick without hitting someone giving them rave reviews I presume they’re the goods.

However, it appears that with each of the above being unavailable or unwilling to join the gang, The Brains Trust (Sub-Division: Transfers) have stood on one leg and pivoted 90. In the absence of an obvious upgrade we have scratched that particular phrase from the manifesto, and now seem content to pick up anyone in Europe who’s earned a respectable living as a left-sided centre-back. Put another way, the focus has switched from upgrading on Davies to providing cover for him.

4: Cover For Rather Than Upgrade Upon Ben Davies

This is fine in AANP’s book. As emphasised earlier, Davies seems to have done decent things, both defensively and in augmenting things as an unlikely forward-thrusting auxiliary. While he is honest, dependable, willing and all those other wholesome sort of things, it would be a bit much also to expect him to play every minute of every game this coming season.

It therefore makes good sense, in a Football Manager sort of way, to stock up for the next 12 months on a chappie capped 15 times by the World Champions, and who has earned his monthly envelope of the last couple of years at Barcelona. Even if he is not the best in business, one presumes he’s sufficiently capable to deputise for Davies as and when necessary, without standards falling off a cliff and into the territory of Davinson Sanchez at his most petrified.

A season’s loan minimises risk, and removes the awkward questions around selling on or pensioning off. On top of which, this is further evidence of Conte getting what Conte wants – all done, yet again, before a ball has been kicked in anger on the pre-season tour. It might not be the best deal going, but with the present incumbent of the position playing well enough, it strikes me as a sensible move.

Tweets hither

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-0 Arsenal: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sanchez

If there’s one thing AANP enjoys more than plucking one of the more unheralded players to laser in on as the first talking point, it’s finding sticks with which to beat poor old Davinson Sanchez. There’s a neat symmetry therefore in opening with a spot of praise for Senor D. S., after a game in which the chap swanned along more or less under the radar.

The marvellous pre-match atmosphere was punctured somewhat by yowls of anguish when the teamsheet was posted to reveal Sanchez where Romero ought to have stood. This was with good reason. Most of sound mind could rattle of the truths that not only is Romero comfortably a more dependable sort of bod in defence – crunching of tackle, intelligent of positioning, and so forth – but he also has turned into a pretty critical cog in our attacking machinery by dint of his ability to pick a forward pass from deep within the bowels of the back-line.

By contrast, Sanchez’s defensive attempts seem to come under as much pressure from factors such as gravity and control of his own limbs as opposing attackers; on top of which, while in possession, the list of options in his head seems to read:

  • Panic;
  • Send panicked pass backwards;
  • Blast panicked clearance into the atmosphere

As such, the reasons for concern were strong and manifold. The mood at AANP Towers, for a start, flipped from cautious optimism to “Death where is thy sting” in about the time it takes to read a teamsheet.

And those pre-match yowls were being repeated with some added vigour in the opening seconds of the match, when Sanchez received the ball and promptly wobbled through all three of his options. The omens were not good.

Worse still, the Woolwich rotter up against him – Martinelli – seemed to get whiff of the fact that here was a startled rabbit in headlights, and made a very public decision to get his head down and run at him every time he received the ball, no doubt reasoning that he was onto a good thing so why not.

Mercifully, the Martinelli threat was up in smoke once Woolwich went down to ten and reshaped themselves. Even so, the few threats they posed thereafter, Sanchez rose to sufficiently well. Be it on the ground or up in the air, he seemed on board with the basics of his role, and carried out sentry duty in his specific area pretty well.

As impressively, despite obviously being new to the centre-back troupe, he held his position well. Over the last couple of months, Dier, Romero and Davies have seemed particularly well drilled in the curious art of lining up alongside each other as if bound in position by taut rope, and in this respect Sanchez slotted in admirably.

He won’t have many gentler days, particularly in this fixture, but given the pre-match alarm prompted by his selection, the curious egg deserves a congratulatory fist-bump, or whatever it is the youth do these days.

Moreover, just when I was exhaling some of the 45 minutes’ worth of breath being held at the prospect of Sanchez being called into action, at the start of the second half he then went and played one of the best passes of the game in the build-up to our third.

Naturally it went under the radar, but his roll of the ball into Kane in the area was slyly spotted in the first instance, given that the onus at that point was on safe sideways passes and space was at something of a premium, and perfectly weighted in the second instance. From then on Kane and Son took charge – Kane using his strength, Sonny applying the finish – but that it all emanated from the size nine of Davinson Sanchez was impressive indeed.

2. Professionalism

All that said, one would hardly reflect on this game as one in which victory was obtained principally by the efforts of Sanchez. Rather, this was a triumph of lilywhite professionalism.

I suppose some might stop me right there, and counter that our lot didn’t really have to do much more than check in on time, as Woolwich needed little encouragement to go about the place imploding in comical fashion at every opportunity. And I would not be able to deny that this were an argument of some substance.  

Nevertheless, it was mightily encouraging that once up a goal and a man, our lot scented blood and dispensed with the traditional niceties of a genial host. The sentiment seemed to be that if our visitors wanted to fire off rounds into their own feet that was their prerogative, but we were not about to pause and extend the hand of friendship. Instead, much like those cyborg assassins sent from the future that one occasionally sees at the picture house, those in employment at N17 went about their business without any thought of bargaining or reasoning, and without feeling any pity, remorse or fear.

As the inexperienced young coves in the opposition ranks sought to impose themselves through the medium of one rash and hot-headed decision after another, our lot suddenly bore the hallmarks of a troupe who have seen a few things in their time, and now approach such matters a lot more wisely.

Where Holding, for the other lot, approached the occasion like some wild and ill-considered skirmish in the playground, with little consideration of the bigger picture, and went to extreme lengths to ensure he’d be sent off at the earliest opportunity, those in lilywhite added plenty of crunch and clatter to things, but without straying into the more sordid realms.

Even the moments of ill-discipline seemed to have about them an air of knowing professionalism. When Davies lost control of the limbs and allowed Nketiah to sneak in front of him, he wasted little time in entrapping the fellow’s ankle between his own two legs and refusing to release. A yellow card duly followed, but an infinitely worse threat – of Nketiah bearing down on goal unchallenged – had been halted. This was no rash swipe; it was a calculated breach of the regulations for the greater good.

The urge to press high up the pitch seemed stronger than usual once the red card had been shown, and in general there was a sense that here was a Spurs team deciding collectively that their moment had arrived and they were dashed well going to make the most of it.

The second goal seemed to emanate as much from grinding down Woolwich as from Bentancur’s leap and Kane’s finishing instincts. All of which made a most pleasing change, bearing evidence of the sort of gritty ruthlessness one wouldn’t normally associate with our mob. As ever, credit can liberally showered upon Our Glorious Leader, the fingerprints of whom could clearly be seen all over this.

Even in the second half, when my primitive instincts urged our lot to fly forward every time they touched the ball and shoot from all angles, I could still appreciate that the gentle and inoffensive popping of the ball this way and that was serving a purpose. The game was won, our goal difference was already superior – there was no need to do anything other than gently and inoffensively pop the ball.

3. Dier

As mentioned above, Sanchez filled the Romero-shaped hole adequately enough, but I thought Eric Dier met with this particular disaster particularly well. Not only did he have to contend with the loss of a reliable sort of egg to his right, and take on a spot of baby-sitting, the absence of Romero also deprived us of a usual outlet for distribution, heaping a few extra handfuls of responsibility upon Dier to do the forward-prompting from defence.

And this was not a responsibility he shirked. Admittedly he did not exactly morph into a modern-day Hoddle when the ball was at his feet, but he took to heart the responsibilities that come with being a defender at the heart of Conte-ball, and sought to distribute the thing usefully each time.

This was sometimes simply a sideways pass to Sanchez – about which Dier seemed a lot more sanguine than AANP, who greeted each of these occasions with a sharp intake of breath and fevered hand over the eyes – but as often it was a more constructive attempt. Notably this included the chip forwards towards Sonny that led to Holding being gripped by the idea that raising a shoulder to the face would swing the pendulum decisively his way.

While I’m not sure too much credit can be laid at Dier’s door for that particular incident – Holding, frankly, was the gift that didn’t stop giving, and might have been fun to observe for another hour – the point is that Dier was happy to try playing the ball out from the back, and in the absence of Romero this was pretty critical to our set-up.

Indeed, when the head hit the pillow and I began contemplating the infinite last night, the thought did strike me that the national head honcho could do worse than bring Dier back into the fold, particularly when one observes the regularity with which Harry Maguire makes a pig’s ear of unthreatening situations at the heart of any given defence in which he is placed.

4. Bentancur and Hojbjerg

And once supremacy was achieved, and the mission parameter switched from establishing a lead to protecting it, Messrs Hojbjerg and Bentancur cleared their throats and spent the remainder of the evening gently directing operations.

In fact, well before this, I was particularly enamoured of the manner in which Hojbjerg had gone about his business. Woolwich had signalled from kick-off that they felt this was a game that would be won by means of sly elbows and crafty kicks as much as anything else, so it was handy to have in the ranks a fellow like Hojbjerg who, one feels, strains at the leash to launch into a full-blooded challenge on someone from the moment his eyes open in the morning.

Moreover, Hojbjerg’s partiality to a forward gallop has also been in evidence in recent weeks. Admittedly one tries to erase from the memory his late input into matters in the opposing penalty area vs Liverpool last weekend, but in general the sight of him eagerly chugging up into the final third is a welcome one, and his contributions, whilst maybe lacking a little finesse, tend to be useful enough.

But it was in maintaining control of things once the game was won that both he and Bentancur excelled last night. Bentancur in particular has the happy ability to grasp the geography of the place in advance of receiving the ball, which, married to a pretty silky first touch, allows him to improvise changes in direction and whatnot according to any challenges that may fly his way at short notice.

It all contributed to what was essentially a half-hour victory parade at the end of the game last night, as this pair kept careful watch of possession and Woolwich, sensing the thing was up, waved a white handkerchief and looked on glumly.

Alas, I suspect that a week on Sunday we will still be left shrugging the shoulders and settling for fifth, and I suppose life does give one such crosses to bear – but no doubt about it, yesterday’s was as emphatic a win as they come, and if nothing else it will leave the grin etched across the map for a goodish while yet.

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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.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 West Ham: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bentancur

If young Bentancur had taken to the pitch wedged behind the steering wheel of a Rolls Royce I’m not sure anyone would have noticed, because he absolutely purred around the place today. I have quite the soft spot for those coves who can trap a ball on the half-turn and then switch angles and whir off on a completely new adventure, while – and here’s the rub – completing the entire project in one single movement. They give the impression of ticking about eight different tasks off the To-Do list in one swipe, generally uncluttering life.

Bentancur seemed hell-bent on making this his signature move today, and I was all for it. The ability to receive the ball in midfield while opponents converge has typically been the sort of duty greeted by our lot with the distant, petrified stare of a team of astronauts being told that the oxygen tank has been ruptured beyond repair. Panic settles in, and the best they can do is shovel the ball backwards and hope that such hellish conditions never occur again.

Bentancur, by contrast, swans around the place as if receive-ball-whilst-opponents-converge was a game he played on a daily basis when still being bounced on his mother’s knee. Time and again he received the ball half-facing his own goal, tamed the thing, swivelled into more appropriate alignment and then weighed up his options and picked a corker of a next step, all as if it were the most natural thing in the world. If West Ham rotters heaved on him he simply dipped a shoulder or two and sent them flying off into different postcodes.

It was masterful stuff, and meant that playing out from the back was not just some frantic escape route, but actually a stepping stone towards new and exciting attacks.

In previous weeks I have stuck something of an asterisk against Bentancur’s name, noting that for all his obvious dreamy goodness in possession, he was not always cognizant of the fact that there were eleven hulking brutes in opposition, doing their damnedest to tread on his toes and whatnot. He would occasionally dwell on the ball and react with some shock to being bustled off it, as if such things were not part of the T’s and C’s.

This wrong, if it could be described as such, appeared to have been righted yesterday. I kept a close on the fellow, initially to chastise him for any repeat of this offence, but swiftly because my eyes were simply drawn towards him in admiration.

If any lessons had needed learning about the pace of the game in these parts they had evidently been digested with gusto. The chap makes our team tick – perhaps not in the stats-obsessed manner of a Kane, but in a manner pretty critical to the entire apparatus.

2. Romero (and Passing Out of Defence)

If Bentancur were the critical link between defence and Kane attack, then we still needed to ferry the ball from defence to Bentancur in the first place, in order for the whole system to sound its bells and whistles.

And in the days not too long behind us, the responsibility for such missions lay at the trembling size nines of Davinson Sanchez, and occasionally young Master Tanganga. The latter, most neturals would assert, was sufficiently able to sort out his right foot from his left to be able to pick out a lilywhite shirt if pressed to do so; the former danced around the thing as if scared it would burst into flames, at best toe-poking it back to Lloris and wobbling back towards his own goal. The zenith of our passing ability with these sorts patrolling the back-line tended to be a solid biff towards the nearest wing-back.

All of which makes the presence of Romero at the right of the back-three an absolute blessing from on high. For a start, he welcomes the ball like an old friend with whom he has shared many a fond adventure. Rather than recoil in fear at its presence, and swing a leg at it like an axe-murderer getting down to business, Romero happily skips around with it by his side, much like small children used to cavort with their dogs in Enid Blyton books.

On top of which, as well as the obvious option of feeding Doherty wide on the right, Romero as often as not has both the presence of mind and the ice-cool nerve to look further infield for the next available point of contact.

I don’t mind admitting that, at first this, business of bisecting a couple of opposing midfielders in order to pick out Bentancur had the AANP heart skipping one or two pretty critical beats, and leaping up the throat and into the mouth. But the more I watched Romero deliver such passes – diagonally, fifteen yards forward and taking out a couple of opponents to reach Bentancur – the more I felt a quiet thrill.

There is a risk associated with the manoeuvre for sure, because any inaccuracy in direction or weight – or indeed Bentancur (or Hojbjerg or whomever) simply taking his eye off the thing – would result in conceding possession in a pretty frightful area.

But, as happens with these things, greater risk brings a greater reward. Bypass a couple of West Ham players en route from Romero to Bentancur, and suddenly our lot are within two shakes of a lamb’s tail of haring off towards the opposition area.

All of which is to say nothing of Romero’s actual defending, which was either top-notch or an isolated mistake swiftly followed by a top-notch recovery.

The above also overlooks the fact that Messrs Dier and Davies were also both willing and able to toe the company line in this respect. It’s pretty critical to the Conte m.o. that the defenders play the ball out from the back without succumbing to the urge to belt it over the horizon, and these three grow more comfortable by the week.

3. Kane’s Passing

Of course Harry Kane, being a rotter or some ilk, did not give a damn about all this fine spadework being applied in the background, and instead went about the place determined that if there were a headline going he was going to grab it.

In this regard Kane has fashioned for himself the particular advantage of being adept in two areas, namely those of creating and finishing chances. One might say he both maketh and taketh. If one cylinder is not firing for whatever reason, there’s a pretty strong chance the other will be; and thus did it transpire yesterday. His finishing was strangely awry, but it barely mattered, as he created all three of our goals and had a generous hand in the Sonny chance that hit the post too.

Kane’s pass for the opener was what you might call a triumph for hard work, involving as it did putting his head down, puffing his chest out, going for a run and then squaring the ball.  It was not a presentation dripping with aesthetics and finery, having much about it of the sweat-stained 80s playground footballer; but when the great minds thrash things out afterwards they’ll conclude it did the job.

This sort of stuff was pretty unusual fare from Kane, whose days of bursting past defenders seem to have long gone. He was on more familiar ground with his pass for our second, bunging in vision and weighting, and generally doing as much one could reasonably ask in such circumstances. Sonny still had to gallop forward and lash the thing, but the pass from Kane (and to him, from Bentancur) had the effect of cutting to ribbons much of the resistance around the place.

The assist for the third can probably be glossed over, owing more to the dull stupidity of the defenders around him, curiously drawn towards him and leaving Son to roam as he pleased ahead of them.

But for all these interventions, I was actually a little underwhelmed by Kane’s attempts to spray the ball around. The quarterback act is ripping stuff when it works, but he seemed to make three or four attempts in the second half – from an inside-right sort of spot around halfway, trying to pick out Son or Reguilon who were little more than specks in the distance on the left – and generally fouled up the mechanics, pinging the ball straight to the covering centre-back instead.

This is not to suggest that he should give up on the practice, or any such rot. On the contrary, I rather admire his gumption, and am all for a little risk-taking when on the attack. It just seemed to me that while he clocked his assists merrily enough, his attempts at the big, sweeping, crossfield numbers fell rather flat on each occasion he tried them yesterday. He can consider himself rather lucky that he found time to cram in three other assists, cunningly deflecting attention from his failings elsewhere.

(With apologies for going off-radar after the Brighton win – Covid rather knocks the stuffing out)

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Spurs match reports

Man City 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kulusevski

I probably ought to do the square thing here, and shove in one of those little pre-emptive speeches before I hit the ripe stuff, because although he’s only been hovering about the place five minutes I’ve not wasted an opportunity to stick the knife into poor old Dejan Kulusevski during his Tottenham career to date.

I suppose it shows how much I know, but those very early impressions did not have me clearing some floor-space to dance little jigs of delight. A solid-looking chap, for sure, but it struck me that his muscle and sinews did little to disguise a first touch that contained too much meat when finesse was required. Add to that his single trick, repeated far too often (cutting in on his left) and the AANP verdict was decidedly middling.

Fast forward to around 19.30 GMT on Saturday night however, and such was the change in impression made upon me that I was strongly considering naming my first-born after the chap.

In the first place Kulusevski drew the short-straw on the tactical front. Man City, being of sound mind, naturally took one look at our lot and made it a priority to spend the entire match targeting Emerson Royal and his surrounding landscape. Our Glorious Leader therefore made the eminently sensible call to parachute in some permanent support for Emerson – with the net result was that poor old Kulusevski had to balance life as principal supporting actor every time Sonny and Kane combined with the additional demands of being a full-time auxiliary right-back alongside Emerson.

A testing agenda at the best of times, this particular trial had a few additional bobbish notes thrown in for good measure. For a start, our man was up against the most testing opposition going. Sterling and Gundogan didn’t stop eyeing him throughout for any false moves; while on the other hand the nearest ally in attendance was Emerson, who with the greatest will in the world does tend rather to flit in and out of things when it comes to his defensive duties.

And yet Kulusevski took to the challenge like an absolute trooper. In the defensive quarter, diligence seemed to be the buzzword. Actually, in the D. Q. there were a heck of a lot of buzzwords – “discipline”, “concentration”, “fitness” and so on, and one probably need not grapple with the specifics of the most appropriate word to get the gist: here was a fellow happy to put in a shift.

Surveying the scene in the aftermath, one would probably remark that for all Man City’s beavering down that flank, their success in the neighbourhood was limited. One certainly does not have to cast the mind back too far to recall occasions when our right side was a door flung wide open to welcome in all-comers, but on Saturday night efforts were made from start to finish to impose some sort of order upon the area, and Kulusevski’s sweaty paw-prints were all over it.


But of course the joy of Kulusevski’s performance was that he managed to be two people at once. The dependable workhouse routine having been executed admirably in the defensive third, when we ventured forward he was equally as willing to infest the more exciting areas of the paddock. And if in previous weeks I have ground a disapproving jaw or two, on Saturday night the chap completed a pretty swift redemption.

For a start, his goal was taken with casual air of a man peeling a particularly accommodating banana. This was all the more impressive given that the serene route of an open goal, which Sonny had no doubt envisaged when playing his square pass, had morphed into one of considerably greater challenge by the time the ball actually reached Kulusevski – not least because a City sort had galloped back and stationed himself rather pointedly in the face of our newest hero. It was therefore to Kulusevski’s infinite credit that he remained thoroughly unfazed, even having the presence of mind to nutmeg the City bod.

And at the risk of reading a darned sight too much into some of life’s trivialities, I did also detect on the umpteenth viewing that Kulusevski’s reaction to scoring was in similarly casual vein, comprising little more than a shrug, a yawn and a rather stony-faced expression of boredom whilst being mobbed by chums, as if to suggest that this was the sort of thing he did to pass the time.

On top of which, he then delivered just about our first successful right-wing cross of the season, in creating the winner (and again celebrated by turning back and dolefully walking towards halfway, the strange fellow).

Admittedly the City lad tasked with preventing his cross seemed to lose all interest in the sport and simply nodded him through, but it was still a peach of a cross. A different kettle of fish from Lucas for sure, but in games such as these in which a we require someone with eyes in the back of his head as well as the more traditional arrangement, young Master K could fit the bill.

2. The Defensive Set-Up: Dier

Post-match, there was a pretty sombre air in the Sky Sports studio as the assembled brains moaned about how City’s possession merited more – but I thought this overlooked the more telling stat that our lot piped up with more Shots On Target than their lot. Actually, the most telling stat was in the ‘Goals’ column, but you get the point – for all their possession, City couldn’t actually edge near enough our net to really spit on their hands and get cracking.

Our Glorious Leader obviously takes credit here, for opting for a back-five-plus-Kulusevski approach that ought to be enshrined in a museum as a model of watertightness. Impressively, all six of them seemed to function as one, shuffling north, east, south and west as if bound by shackles across the waist. And here I thought much credit went to the returning Eric Dier.

As has been often remarked around these parts, set Dier off in a foot-race, or tell him to turn around and not be out-sprinted by a forward, and trouble isn’t far off. But in these backs-to-the-walls operations, in which no pace is required and deep defending is the order of the day, the chap pretty much shoots a knowing wink and spends ninety minutes directing operations, emerging at the other end in a deuce of a sweat but triumphant nevertheless.

And so it panned out here. If City’s goals had emanated from the sort of dashing routines demonstrated by our lot, I might have chewed a nervous lip and marked Dier as one for questioning in the aftermath.

But City’s goals were nothing of the sort. The first was a cross equal parts harmless and hopeful, which Lloris treated with the sort of idea that there are times in a goalkeeper’s life when the last thing one should do is catch the bally thing; and the second was one of those penalties which can only be avoided by those blessed with detachable arms. In short, neither City goal came about because of any flaw in the performance of the back-five six.

3. The Defensive Set-Up: Romero

And even more impressive than Dier in the midst of all this gallant security was Senor Romero. Be it blocking, shadowing, tackling or whatever other noble task required, Romero seemed either to come with pre-loaded expertise, or to learn pretty dashed quickly on the job.

When one thinks back to the wild panic with which Davinson Sanchez has treated every involvement with the ball in recent weeks, one’s gaze towards Romero only becomes more admiring. I’m not entirely sure how rapidly he shifts from A to B, but as with Dier, parking up within a back-three and marshalling visitors with an air of authority is the sort of task-list that brings out the best in the man.

On top of which, the young nib is incredibly adept with ball at feet too. In general, upon receipt of the thing near-ish his own goal he resists the urge traditionally embedded into Spurs defenders to view it with horror and stumble over their own feet as all manner of potentially horrific consequences terrorise them.

Instead, Romero treats matters with appropriate sentiment. Set a striker upon him and he’ll crunch the fellow; but simply roll a football to his feet and he’ll control the thing, look around and pick his pass. Sometimes it will be square and harmless, which is as much as one would expect from a centre-back. But the beauty of Romero in possession is that as often as not, he’ll skip the ‘Harmless’ level and plunge straight into ‘Handily Taking Out Several Opponents’.

Re-watch the third goal and you’ll see him twice receive the ball on halfway, and twice sneer at those advocating that the 95th minute away to the champions dictates a safe sideways nudge. Instead, on both occasions he transferred matters 10 yards north, very much with the air of a man keen to turn his present bounty into even greater future riches, and on the second occasion Bentancur – a fellow who, while occasionally taken by surprise by the rigour of things, nevertheless displayed a dreamy touch throughout – spun forward to Kulusevski the sort of glorious, defence-splitting pass of which Winks, for example, would not dream.

4. Sessegnon

This being AANP Towers I obviously cannot let pass our finest display of the season without grumpily dragging into the office at least one of our number for a stern eye and verbal lashing, and on this occasion it’s young Sessegnon.

Mitigating circumstances abound, of course. In recent history the young pill has struggled to make it to the half-hour mark without some calamity striking him. It is therefore unsurprising that when battle commences he does not stride about the place with the confident vim of a man who knows his worth. The lad’s confidence has been hung, drawn, quartered, pelted with rotten fruit and hacked at a bit with an axe for good measure. One sympathises.

Nevertheless, seeing him yet again interact with the football as if it were trying to attack him was a bit thick. I presume that in his lighter moments, away from the noise of the crowd and glare of the cameras, young Sessegnon demonstrates an ability to move from place to place as well as the best of them. No doubt he’s mastered the art of moving one leg, and then the other, and then the first leg again and so on. Heavens, he probably can do all of the above while nurdling a ball along the ground too.

But stick him on the pitch and all that training and muscle memory rather cruelly deserts him, and he seems instead utterly incapable of getting the machinery working. His every touch seemed to bring about a U-turn in the narrative, as possession switched from lilywhite to light blue.

Moreover, one got the impression that his was a career in which he had somehow escaped ever having to compete against an opponent, such was his shock and inability to deal with the buffeting of his fellow man. To say that he was easily muscled off the ball would be to understate things.

Nevertheless, Sessegnon persisted, and deserves credit for sticking to the plan. Defensively he held his position, and given that he had the likes of Foden and De Bruyne lurking in his postcode he did a solid job of at least standing them up and forcing them to look elsewhere.

Moreover, just about the only moment I can remember him retaining possession was in his contribution to the second goal. No particular bells and whistles about it, but he was there and reeled off his lines correctly (in feeding Son), so I’m happy to slather praise upon him for it. Unlike certain others in lilywhite, I remain convinced that he is one who might yet rediscover the glories of his previous lives and prosper.

5. Kane

Naturally one can hardly skirt over proceedings without giving Kane some of the old oil.

The AANP heart, being formed primarily of ice and stone, does little in the way of the forgive-forget routine, so I remain dubious of the fellow’s broader motives – but by golly he brought his A-game on Saturday night.

Those who know me best will know that few things make the AANP heart flutter quite like a well-weighted pass inside a full-back, and the specimen produced by Kane in the build-up to the opener deserves its own special gong at whatever might be the next awards ceremony going.

The vision, direction and weight of the thing was absolutely as ripe as they come. When the grandchildren come clustering around decades hence, and ask for the highlights of my innings, the witnessing of that Kane pass will be the headline.

Nor was it an isolated incident. Kane’s vision and execution throughout oozed class from every pore. There are times when his obsession with midfielding rather grates; but when he starts high, drops 5-10 yards, receives the ball on the half-turn and fizzes a pass onto a postage stamp, one cannot help but cast an admiring eye.

Handily, the fellow also chipped in with a couple of goals. Occurring as they did, almost as afterthoughts, rather hammered home the fact that he was the hub of creativity rather than simply the chap in fancy garb who applies the finishing touch. Nevertheless, both were well taken, his second goal in particular a decent exhibition of the virtues of barrel-chested upper-body strength.

6. Our Goals and the Counter-Attack Myth

A final musing is on the nature of our goals.

It is naturally tempting to suggest that this was opportunistic stuff. The well-rehearsed narrative would have it that our heroes defended for dear life, and then nicked the ball and raced off to score.

The truth makes for a more interesting narrative, at least for those who like to don the spectacles and get a handle on the fine print.

Our first goal came from playing out from a goal-kick; our second from playing out from a goal-kick; Kane’s miss came from playing out from a goal-kick but with the added drama of losing and then regaining possession inside our own half; and the third was the happy ending to a minute-long story of our patient possession. Of nicking-and-countering there was not a whiff. (Well, perhaps a whiff about the Kane miss, when we lost and then regained possession – but not really countering in the classical sense of their entire team camped high up around our area.)

In truth, the telling element of all this is not so much around anything big and clever from our lot, as the rather fat-headed choice from City to station their defenders high up the pitch, leaving vast expanses for Kane’s passing and midfield runners to exploit. Nevertheless, once in possession our heroes knew the drill each time, and there was something of the well-rehearsed about the way in which the ball was swiftly transferred from one protagonist to another. No standing on ceremony here; our lot were quick and punchy.

As mentioned above, even in the third goal, when patient possession was the order of the day, the sudden injection of pace came from a first-time pass from Bentancur, out to Kulusevski on the right. Precious few teams will defend as high, allowing the tactic of Kane-passes-for-midfield-runners to thrive; but the progressive passing from Romero, and first-time pass from Bentancur to set up our third, gave a glimpse of where our creative sparks might lie for future bouts.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Formation

Starting at the beginning, Our Glorious Leader set tongues wagging like nobody’s business by penning a teamsheet that suggested he considered the road to success would be paved with six defenders.

Which was certainly eye-catching, but the more I thought about it the more I thought to myself, “Well, why not?” If a man wants to go about the place selecting more and more defenders, then let him. A tad peculiar, and not necessarily one of those fashions I envisage being adopted in every thriving metropolis, but good luck to him. It’s his prerogative after all, and moreover this particular chap has won shiny pots everywhere he’s been.

As it turned out, once events kicked in we did not after all set out with a back-six. In fact, some of us mere mortals watching from afar were having a devil of a time trying to work out quite what our formation was. And crucially, that confusion was not restricted to the viewing gallery, as various cast members seemed similarly unable to grasp the mysteries of the Tactics Board.

As my Spurs-supporting chum Mark pointed out early on in the production, at times it looked like Tanganga was playing at right wing-back and Doherty in a right-sided central midfield role. And while this was more of a temporary mirage, I did follow his thread, namely that a significant proportion of that aforementioned Defensive Six seemed not to strut around the place with the steady assurance of blighters who know exactly where they should and should not be at any given moment. Far from it.

I was particularly ill at ease with the fact that neither full-back appeared to have been informed that there were only two centre-backs inside them, rather than the usual three. Understandable of course, as every episode of Conte-ball to date has featured a back-three, but nevertheless. It was a bit ripe to think that neither full-back had been updated. You’d suppose that someone would have a friendly word in the ear.

But not so. Davies and particularly Tanganga appeared a little too willing to scamper up their respective flanks, and Messrs Sessegnon and Doherty, only too glad to have some company, scurried upfield with them. Nice to see them all enjoying themselves of course, but I couldn’t help chew a concerned lip each time it happened. To the notion of covering the vast yawning expanses left behind them, not a lick of thought appeared to be given.

As a result, in those early knockings we were treated to the unholy sight of Sanchez disappearing off to the left-back position like a moth to a flame, while Eric Dier, a man whose defensive reputation has been re-established in recent months largely on the back of shouting and not really having to move around too much, suddenly found himself having to scurry this way and that as if one man entrusted with the job of three.

Mercifully, in Lukaku Chelsea have one of those forwards who one might charitably say needs a little time for all the moving parts to function with any synchronicity, so we were spared any early embarrassment.

And then, in what should go down as a feather in the cap of Signor Conte, our lot gradually realised that the 4-4-2 expected of them was not in fact a riddle scrawled in a hitherto undiscovered dialect of hieroglyphics, but a fairly straightforward set-up.

And, once a small fire had been doused by the deployment of Hojbjerg as a seventh defender, I started to hum myself an upbeat little ditty, in celebration of the fact that from open play at least, we were nullifying Chelsea’s best efforts, and near enough cantering to half-time.

2. Disallowed Goal

And when Kane popped the ball into the bottom corner shortly before half-time, I half expected to see Conte stroking a white cat on his lap while letting out a maniacal laugh. The plan, it appeared, was working perfectly (if one overlooked those initial teething problems of the geographically-challenged full-backs).

But of course, this being Tottenham Hotspur, plans rarely work perfectly. Just when one thinks the plans are working perfectly, you can bet your last penny that either one dashed thing or another will appear from nowhere to cause a fresh headache. And in this instance it was the decision to disallow Kane’s goal.

Now regulars in this part of the world will now that the mantra hammered into me from my youth by my old man, AANP Senior, has been that the referee is always right. And having had the pleasure of watching today’s proceedings in the company of this same cheery soul, I was inclined to bite the lip rather than vent when the goal was disallowed. One knows one’s audience, and on this occasion I sensed that my complaints would meet with limited sympathy.

But AANP Senior does not go in for the words I pen on these pages (“I don’t understand a word you say” is the official reason given), so it is with freedom of indignation that I fling up my hands and howl into the night sky about that so-called foul.

One accepts, of course, that plenty of wiser minds than mine have taken one look at the incident and calmly adjudged it a transgression. Misguided stuff, of course, but one tolerates the views of one’s fellow man. One big happy family, and all that rot.

And similarly, one accepts that if Player A places a hand, palm first, on the back of Player B, and Player B collapses to earth as if hit by an RPG from a war-zone, then Player A runs the risk of a red line being drawn through all his fine work elsewhere. And there can be no doubt that Kane (Player A in the incident above, lest you were wondering) did indeed have his hand on the back of the dastardly Thiago.

But at this point I rather feel that the whole argument collapses – much like Thiago when receiving a gentle palm to the back – because consistency would dictate that every Palm-to-Back contact results in a foul. And if that were the case, then so be it, but we might all want to prepare ourselves for games in which fouls were given every thirty seconds.

I haven’t exactly studied these things academically, but I’m willing to suggest that every time two players convene to thrash out matters on the pitch, one will at some point place a delicate palm somewhere upon the frame of the other. And by today’s precedent, such villainy is not allowed. (One dare not even conceive what might happen every time a corner is gently drifted in, given the amount of palm-placement that seems to occur between the protagonists these days.)

You might argue that Chelsea’s superiority simply floated up to the top in the second half, and Spurs goal or not they would inevitably have bested us. And my lips are certainly sealed on the point of who was the better team. Not a murmur of complaint there. But dash it all, to disallow a goal for such a frivolous thing was just not cricket, and denied our lot the advantage that we had worked pretty hard to engineer.

3. Bergwijn

If you scoured these pages after the glorious finale at Leicester in midweek, and raised an eyebrow at the absence of mention for the undoubted hero of the piece, I can only assume you are even more bemused that I single out the same S. Bergwijn Esq. for praise after today’s game.

And yet, here we are. In the first half in particular, as the game settled into its pattern and Conte’s masterplan gradually began to emerge into view, young Bergwijn struck me as one of the most important cogs out there.

Sonny obviously pulls rank when it comes to such matters as providing the whirring blur of legs in support of Kane; and in the absence of Son it is now pretty well accepted that the honour falls to Lucas.

So for Bergwijn to get the nod over Lucas today was a call of some note from Our Glorious Leader. It was a plot thread that admittedly got somewhat buried beneath the outrage of Six Defender-Gate, but was nevertheless fairly hot stuff.

One saw the logic. The romantics in the audience would presumably not have had it any other way, after Bergwijn’s midweek exploits, and moreover the murmur from the inner sanctum seemed to be that Lucas had sustained some form of cracked fingernail that needed attending, thereby reducing his value as a starter.

But I don’t mind admitting to letting out – or do I mean taking in? – a sharp breath at seeing Bergwijn named as Principal Supporting Act in attack. In a game like this, and, frankly, after a Tottenham career like his, it was a decision not without a fair splash of risk.

As it turned out, I need not have worried. Bergwijn turned out to be the most potent weapon on the pitch, in the first half at least. Evidently willing to do all the running on Kane’s behalf, he enthusiastically popped up whenever we had the merest sniff of a counter-attack, marrying his pace and energy with a pretty impressive touch.

The general way of things meant that by and large we didn’t spend a great deal of time over halfway, but whenever we did sneak possession and hare into the Chelsea half, Bergwijn seemed to be the chap carrying the greatest threat.

Alas, the mood became a lot more sombre in the second half, as the Chelsea goals rather blew our counter-attacking plans out of the water. Bergwijn’s effectiveness duly diminished, but it was nevertheless good to see the chap indicate that his repertoire includes more than simply the role of Impact Substitute.

4. Sessegnon

In closing, a note on young Sessegnon.

While I can hardly claim to have been an expert on his Fulham days, one does of course hear rumours around the camp-fire, and the consensus on signing the young bean was that we had ourselves a decent young mucker. On top of which, the arrival of Conte and his cherished faith in wing-backs would have seemed to suggest that opportunity did not so much knock for Sessegnon as clatter through the door and proclaim that his moment had arrived.

In this context, I must admit to have let slip a few pretty underwhelmed sighs each time Sessegnon was called upon to clear his throat and bellow out a few show-tunes.

Early days of course, and one hopes he’ll have plenty of time and numerous opportunities to find his bearings and un-muddle his feet, but at the moment the blighter does not appear to have the faintest clue, at any given point in any given game, of whether he is coming or going. And I can’t think of anything that would hinder a chap more.

His tackling hits a sweet spot between being poorly-judged and poorly-timed; his passing appears errant; and I do not recall a successful dribble. More positively, he does appear the sort who likes a foot-race, and that’s an asset that ought to come in handy in weeks (and dare I say years) to come. At present, however, we appear to have on the pay-roll not so much an unpolished diamond as a lump of coal.

To repeat, one assumes that in time he will restore himself to the former glories on which his reputation was built. Today, however, as in most of his previous appearances this season, the poor fellow floundered somewhat.

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Spurs 2-1 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

The lot of the goalkeeper is a pretty dreary and thankless one. Make a mistake and their reputation is up in flames; but do all that is asked of them and more, and come the end of the game they’ll still look up to see that the chap being hoisted on shoulders and having their name shouted into the night sky is the middling striker who spent most of the game dribbling into trouble and failing to hold up the ball.

And last night seemed a good case in point. I thought Monsieur Lloris was near enough faultless in just about every respect, but when I donned the robe and scanned the morning papers, the headlines led me to believe that this was a single-handed Bergwijn success. For all the coverage given to the goalkeeping, the uninformed amongst us might have inferred that this was one of those cup ties in which one from the conveyor belt of unremarkable reserves was shoved between the sticks.

If I have had a criticism of Lloris over the years it is that, while his shot-stopping is right up there with the best of them, when it comes to ambling forward from his line to wave his limbs and do decisive things – command the area, collect crosses and so forth – the venerable fellow’s powers seem not so much to wane as to fall off a cliff and disappear.

Yesterday, however, Lloris set about his business as if personally piqued by such stinging criticism, and determined to address it in no uncertain terms. Limited in imagination though West Ham may have been in the first half, they executed pretty well their tactic of relentlessly swinging in crosses and set-pieces. The effect was to spoon huge dollops of confusion all over our penalty area. In short, it was the sort of situation that called for a goalkeeper to roll up his sleeves, sharpen his elbows, wade through all-comers and take charge of events.

And where previously I’ve felt that Lloris has been all too easily bullied into the background in such situations, yesterday he flung himself into the midst of them like a slightly too well-oiled Englishman abroad. He grabbed and/or punched whenever the situation required, and, in particularly extreme circumstances, back-pedalled like the dickens to arch his back and fingertip the ball away from peril.

The furniture was rearranged a tad in the second half, when our heroes followed a worryingly Jose-esque strategy of sitting back and looking to hit on the counter (although to the extent that this generally reduced West Ham to little more than hopeful pops from the edge of the area, I suppose one could argue that it worked. It did few favours for the heart-rate, mind – we are most decidedly not a team built to defend a narrow lead).

The crosses were a little less threatening and majority of shots were straight at Lloris, but on the one occasion when a ball over the top seemed to out-fox our centre-backs, Lloris had the presence of mind to gallop off his line – again, a quality he has not typically demonstrated to have been in his armoury in recent years – and crisis was averted.

It has not gone unnoticed that the fellow’s contract is up next summer, and there has not been a whisper to date around the camp-fire about it being extended, which seems something of an oversight. However, Conte seems the sort of fellow who knows his eggs, so I would imagine that some sort of plan is being hatched to address this eventuality.

2. Bergwijn

As mentioned, many of the column inches were dedicated to young Master Bergwijn, and this is understandable enough, as we live in an era in which the principal currency is Goals and Assists. (A shame, for such statistics do little justice to the talents of deep-lying creative sorts like Carrick and Modric, but that’s a debate for another day).

Bergwijn began his game in exactly the manner one would expect of someone restored to the team for the first time in an age, and with the expectant eyes of the better half of North London focused upon him. He beavered willingly but nervously, and, with each unsuccessful dribble and charged down shot, seemed to be learning on the hoof one of life’s critical lessons, that things don’t really go according to plan.

However, when, around half an hour later, things did click for him, they did so pretty spectacularly. In the first place, he might want to send a particularly fruity Christmas present the way of Hojbjerg Towers. The Dane’s sprightliness to burst into the area, followed by his presence of mind to cut the ball back, were markedly more impressive than much that had gone before, and presented Bergwijn with about as straightforward a chance as one could hope for on one’s return to the fold.

And buoyed by this sudden turn of events, Bergwijn took it upon himself to turn temporarily into Lionel Messi, wriggling around opponents in the area before teeing up Lucas (who himself might consider his goal a neat reward for that glorious pass into Kane in the early exchanges).

While Bergwijn did not necessarily thereafter replicate such heady success, he did at least look a dashed sight more comfortable in his role, joining in the slick, half-turn counter-attacking interplay with gay aplomb, and generally giving the impression of one who, as required, would probably do an adequate job of deputising for either of Messrs Son or Lucas in a 3-4-3.

A success then, and I would also highlight that this practice, of making two changes to core personnel, whilst maintaining the spine who know each other’s’ games, seems a much better way of executing squad rotation than changing eight or nine at once and expecting them immediately to gel.

3. Doherty

The rarely-sighted Matt Doherty was the other key change, and it’s probably fair to say that his evening did not quite reach the heights achieved by Bergwijn.

Which is not to fault his willing. In fact, Doherty’s performance had much in common with the early knockings of the Dutchman, being similarly full of enthusiasm, coloured somewhat by nerves and generally resulting in things not quite going according to plan.

To his credit, Doherty seemed to follow instructions positionally. He happily provided attacking width and offered himself as an option on the right, whilst also having the energy to scuttle back when the defensive klaxon sounded.

It was just a slight shame that, to put it bluntly, his crossing wasn’t up to much. It was actually rather an eye-catching curiosity that most of his crosses seemed to be dragged back behind the waiting queue of penalty area snafflers, rather than whipped into their path. Needless to say, from the comfort of my viewing perch, I have never misplaced a cross so egregiously.

However, while his output might have been better, he at least adhered to the plan, and could hardly be accused of dereliction of duties. I would be interested to see how he might perform given a run of games, because there is little about Emerson Royal to suggest that the right wing-back slot is closed for business. And as Walker & Rose – and indeed Trent & Robertson – have shown, a cracking pair of wing-backs can absolutely transform a side.

4. Dier

Having been singled out by Our Glorious Leader a day earlier as having the potential to become the ‘best in the world’ in his position – a suggestion I can only presume was intended as motivational hyperbole rather than factual prediction – Eric Dier wasted little time in correcting any such wild and fanciful notions by reminding us all of some of the flaws in his DNA.

Now before I assassinate the chap’s character, I am happy to admit that his performances in recent weeks have been amongst the brightest of the whole troupe, in terms of positioning, organisation, concentration and distribution. Moreover, the limitations of his that have previously driven me to distraction (principally his lack of pace and late, lunging challenges) are well compensated for by the switch to the back-three.

Yesterday, however, he made rather a pig’s ear of things, in his role in the West Ham goal. In the first place, his pass out of defence was dreadful, and put us in one heck of a pickle. I can only imagine he was aiming for Kane, up near the halfway line, but to attempt this pass from within his six-yard box and along the ground was a risky idea at best, and the execution pretty ghastly.

All of which is a shame, because in general his long passing from the back has been a real asset in recent weeks, adding a useful string to our attacking bow.

However, such things happen. It was then all the more unfortunate that in attempting to rectify the situation by blocking Bowen’s shot, Dier lunged off into a different postcode as the ball was flicked from left foot to right. In fairness, I don’t really blame Dier for this, as it made sense for him to spread his limbs and attempt as wide a block as possible. It just looked rather silly.

Thereafter – and, in fact, beforehand – he seemed to do all that was required of him. In the first half he was in the midst of the aerial carnage, and in the second he played his part in restricting West Ham to the more speculative stuff from the edge of the area, and then extending the necessary appendages to block said stuff. Talk of being the world’s best does still make raise an AANP eyebrow or three, and as a unit the back-three still strike me as slightly cumbersome, but they withstood the pressure last night, and Dier’s latest renaissance continues to inch along.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-2 Vitesse: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. An All-Action-No-Plot Welcome for Conte

I recall a few years ago visiting the pictures in order to watch a talkie, which started off sensibly enough following a couple of bank robbers, but then took a sudden swerve into a completely different genre, in which everybody turned into vampires, of all things. I distinctly recall stumbling out of the place as amused as I was bewildered by what I had witnessed. Last night’s outlay had about it much in common with that motion picture, starting as it did one way, turning into a bit of a struggle – and then swerving violently into a different sort of thing altogether by the close. Sort of segueing abruptly from the Thriller genre to Slapstick Comedy, if you get my drift.

Given the frankly hilarious nature of the finale, it was easy to forget that for an hour or so we had a tight – if pretty amateurish – football match on our hands. Yet towards the latter stages this descended into the sort of farce that was reminiscent of two groups of drunks challenging each other to a kickabout on an oversized field, encapsulated by Emerson Royal attempting multiple step-overs (and doing so for the first time in his life, judging by their cumbersome execution), Sergio Reguilon doing keepie-uppies during the game and wide open spaces everywhere you looked, as befitted a match of 10 vs 9.

If Signor Conte were in any doubt about the madcap, all-action-no-plot way of things at N17 beforehand, he would have seen just about everything he needed to know last night.

2. Shiny New Formation

I cannot quite remember the last time I watched a game staring so intently at the formation of the collective, rather than the what was actually happening with the ball – but after all the chatter and videos about Conte’s supposed strategy, this was definitely one such occasion.

Much of the pre-match wisdom had been that we could expect to feast our eyes upon some form of 3-5-2, so I don’t mind admitting that I raised an eyebrow or two when our heroes trotted out adhering to a strict 3-4-3, with Sonny and Lucas either side of that rotter Kane.

And within that 3-4-3 there was not a hint of Kane dropping deep, Conte seemingly true to his word about viewing the fellow as one best employed in and around the penalty area.

Admittedly it might not be everyone’s idea of a wild day out, but I shall watch with considerable interest to see whether we stick with 3 in attack, or revert to a front 2 and an extra creative soul in midfield.

Yesterday, at least, it seemed a case of Conte moulding the formation to the personnel, rather than vice versa, and therefore accommodating Lucas within the front 3; but in time I wonder whether he might find himself shoved into a Number 10 role, demoted to the bench in favour of A.N. Other at Number 10 – or even reinvented as a wing-back. There seems a rather unfortunate irony in the fact that he and young Skipp – arguably our two standout players of the season so far (slim pickings, admittedly) – appear the least likely fits into Conte’s supposedly favoured 3-5-2 system, so it was awfully square of our newest Glorious Leader to accommodate both last night.

Further south, Conte pretty emphatically nailed his colours to the Back-3-And-Wing-Backs mast, to the extent that even when reduced to 10 men, and therefore presented with every excuse to revert to a back-four, he instead hooked a sweaty midfielder and brought on another centre-back, to ensure that B-3-A-W-Bs remained the order of the day.

It’s certainly an exciting idea in theory, but perhaps slightly flawed in practice, at present, by the fact that the various centre-backs at our disposal seem to demonstrate between them a few different shades of dubiousness.

The other captivating point of note around our formation was quite how wide the wing-backs stayed when we were in possession. If this were park football, with jumpers for goalposts and no set boundaries, both Reguilon and Emerson would have disappeared over the horizon and only reappeared at tea-time; but as it happened they each stuck pretty obediently to their respective touchlines, no matter which of our mob had possession, or where. And one understands the principle. We have a huge pitch, so why not utilise every blade, and give the opposition full-backs something to ponder?

(Of course, all the formation-tweaking in the world is of little use if Dier is going to be beaten to a straightforward header from a corner; and various of them contrive to make a pig’s ear of passing out of defence to gift Vitesse their second; but these are the joys on which Conte can reflect as his head hits his pillow each night.)

3. Romero

A word on the dismissal of young Romero, who by and large seems to have had the right idea about things since joining the madhouse.

Now footballers are not renowned for being the most cerebrally blessed, but even the thickest among them ought to be able to compute that once cautioned they should avoid like the plague any interaction that might land them a second yellow, unless absolutely necessary. (And for avoidance of doubt, ‘absolutely necessary’ here covers pretty much only saving a life or preventing a goal.)

So for Romero to go carting through the back of an opponent – on halfway – having already been booked, was pretty unforgiveable stuff. There was hardly any imminent danger, and the mind simply boggles at what the hell his thought process might have been. We dodged that particular bullet last night, thanks to Vitesse’s handy implosion, but on a bigger stage that would be one heck of a blunder.

As mentioned, the fellow has generally done more right than wrong so far, and indeed one ought to tip the cap in recognition of his neat pass through the lines that set up the lovely goal for Lucas. But Romero’s bread and butter is at the opposite end, and no professional with an ounce of common sense ought to pick up a second yellow for a challenge on the blasted halfway line.

4. Davies

Regular drinkers at the AANP well will be fully aware that Ben Davies is not regarded with any particular fondness by yours truly. A decent enough egg, for sure; a footballer worthy of the lilywhite shirt, I’m not so sure.

It’s been a bone of some contention, mind, mine being an opinion that is not universally shared, which seems fair enough, as one is always happy to chivvy democracy along with a friendly wave.

But rather than enter into that debate again, I highlight him here more to marvel at the fact that, like some sort of cat that’s already died eight times and is now being dropped from a considerable height, the chap seems to have landed plum on his feet with the arrival of Antonio Conte.

The evidence of a few hundred appearances suggests to me that Davies is not much of a left-back, primarily because his crosses too often go anywhere but the waiting limbs of a comrade. On top of which, he’s racked up his fair share of pretty avoidable and careless defensive lapses (and he was dashed lucky to get away with another one yesterday, waggling an errant foot at an opponent in the area when the game was still 0-0, and thanking the watching gods that the Europa Conference is too cool for VAR).

It is possibly because of those lapses that one would head a long way down the pecking order before selecting him as a centre-back in a back-four.

But introduce a back-three, and suddenly Davies becomes a pretty credible option. Being left-footed is the principle advantage here; but not far behind that is the fact that he’s not a particularly – or indeed remotely – devastating wing-back. Whereas Reguilon was fashioned from clay specifically in order to make merry on the wing, and should therefore on no account be regarded as a centre-back, Davies is sufficiently circumspect to be useful in a back-three.

Having two others alongside him is a useful insurance policy, to guard against those accidents to which he is prone; and being left-footed serves him well both in facing up opponents and in distributing the ball.

He still strikes me as the luckiest man in N17 to have found himself in Conte’s first line-up, but that position, on the left of a back three, strikes me as the one for which Mother Nature has best equipped him, and until January reinforcements arrive he might well become a regular feature of Conte-ball.

(Still not sure quite how he ended up furthest forward, and inside the opposition area, to create our third goal; and I’ll skimp on the praise because he actually made a pickle of an intended shot, rather than deliberately picking out a pass – but the assist goes down to Davies, B. so well done him.)

One could go one – there is much to be said about the pros and cons of Emerson Royal; the potential re-introduction of Winks; the Ndombele body-swerve and Lo Celso’s latest clanger – but this was a presentation to Conte, rather than a representation of him. What the hell he truly made of it all is anyone’s guess, but it was good of our lot to make crystal clear to him the size of the task that awaits. And frankly, if the entertainment continues to be as good as it was last night, then the remainder of this season will be an absolute blast.

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Spurs match reports

Newcastle 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Coming Back From Behind

Given the frenzied build-up to this one, it was entirely predictable that within two minutes our defence would have waved obliging hands to guide various Newcastle players into our area and nod in an opener. It is one of the more peculiar traits of our lot. If there’s an opposition player making a return from injury, you can bet your mortgage on him scoring against us; if a reserve goalkeeper is being plucked from obscurity just sit back and watch him dive around the place like a feline with elastic in its joints.

So of course, with Newcastle’s takeover having been the front-page story all week one could guarantee that for our lot to concede early would be up there with death and taxes.

And for ten minutes or so, with the ref seemingly granting an amnesty on on-pitch violence, Newcastle players flung themselves in around the limbs, and it looked like we might be bullied into submission. The outlook was not promising.

Mercifully, thereafter it pretty quickly became evident that Newcastle were dreadful, so matters largely took care of themselves. The lad Saint-Maximin was a slippery sort, but that aside they offered nothing in possession, and even more usefully when not in possession they simply stood around and watched as our lot knocked the ball around them in leisurely fashion. The lack of pressure applied to our mob when we were in possession was mind-boggling, but given that one takes the rough as a Spurs fan, one damn well does not shirk an opportunity to take the smooth, and it does not come much smoother than it came yesterday.

However, while Newcastle’s surrender undoubtedly helped chivvy things along, a few words of acclaim are nevertheless due to our lot for not folding like a pack of cards in the face of the early onslaught, particularly as the technique of utter capitulation had been feverishly practised in the weeks before the international break.

This time, we went behind and dug in, Skipp in particular to the fore in ensuring that Newcastle could not simply waltz through to goal at will. It might have ended up as the most one-sided 2-3 battering ever seen, but at 1-0 down there was a genuine risk that the wheels might fly off, so bravo our lot for getting back into the game.

2. Ndombele

Much like a girl in a nursery rhyme, when Tanguy Ndombele is good he’s very, very good. It has taken a few weeks to stumble upon, but the 4-2-3-1 system, gifting him the freedom to do whatever the hell he wants behind the bona fide attacking trio without any compulsion to track back, is tailor-made for a man of his talents and outlook.

Yesterday he shone both as the creative spark through whom wholesome things happened, and also as an additional attacker, popping up in threatening areas to add weight to the general force of attack (witness Exhibit A, his goal).

When Ndombele first arrived, he struck me as a chap potentially in the Mousa Dembele mould – capable of gathering the ball in his own half and mazily bringing it over halfway, turning defence into attack, bypassing opposing midfielders and so on and so forth. The flaw in that plan, however, was that such a deep-lying role would require him to roll up the sleeves and sweat off a gallon or two as and when the need arose. And while Ndombele is capable of winning the occasional tackle, one can see that this is not the sort of thing that motivates him when he draws back the curtains of a morning.

Ndombele is the kid in the playground who delighted in dribbling around everyone else, and then going back and dribbling around them all over again just to rub it in their faces. Such kids are not motivated by the thought of tracking back thirty yards to intercept. With his defensive shackles removed, Ndombele can simply pop up in whichever attacking area tickles his fancy, and treat us all to his endless bag of foot-based trickery. By the time the curtain came down yesterday he seemed to be having an absolute blast.

Oh that Dele might have shown such flair when granted the same opportunities, rather than loitering on the ball endlessly and attempting countless nutmegs. For the foreseeable, the role is Ndombele’s.

3. Lucas

As tends to happen when lining up alongside neon-lit sorts like Kane and Son, the performance of Lucas went rather under the radar, but for approximately the umpteenth consecutive occasion I thought he bordered on the marvellous.

Where Saint-Maximin receives possession and all around lose their minds, Lucas tends to do fairly similar things and the general reaction is to complain that Kane is dropping too deep. It’s possibly a stretch to say that Lucas is in the category as Saint-Maximin but he’s not far off, and this (and, I suggest, last) season he has gone up a notch by virtue of sorting out his compass and not charging off into cul-de-sacs.

This new, improved Lucas now picks up the ball and leaps past two or three flailing challenges, before – and this is the crucial bit – doing something useful with the ball. Typically, he either plays a sensible and pretty darned effective pass, or gets hacked down (witness Exhibit B, his role in Son’s goal – a goal that exemplified all that was good about both his and Ndombele’s performance).

I’m also rather a fan of the fact that Lucas does not feel chained to his flank, or even his starting position, but is happy to gallop infield and central as the mood takes him, whilst always beavering away with the general aim of heading towards goal. As mentioned, he tends to feature relatively lowly on the list of superstars, but I’d suggest he’s been one of our best performers this season, and is a pretty critical cog in the 4-2-3-1 machine.

4. Reguilon

The halcyon days of peak Rose and Walker might be long gone, but on his good days young Senor Reguilon does remind us of all that a good attacking full-back should be, and yesterday was one such day.

As I recall he arrived on these shores with something of a reputation for getting amongst the goals, so whenever he does treat us to his forward-looking forays I feel that it is the least we deserve. Yesterday, with Newcastle presenting such limp opposition it evidently struck him as rude not to gallop forward at every opportunity, and he augmented our play well.

With Sonny always happy to cut in towards goal, and Ndombele making fairly frequent guest appearances on the left, Reguilon’s presence helped contribute to the collective application of foot to Newcastle’s throat. His presence alone gave them a set of positional problems to deal with, on top of which his output was pretty impressive too, not least in setting up our opener and then getting Shelvey sent off.

On top of which he also helped save someone’s life, which I’m not sure even peak Rose and Walker ever did.

5. Son’s Corners

It would be easy to relegate this to a footnote, but by golly Son swings in some delicious corners.

It does not seem so long ago that I would perch on the balcony of AANP Towers and yowl in frustration at the sight of Christian Eriksen raising one arm (what is that about? Why do all corner-takers raise one arm before flinging over their product? No matter what sort of corner, they always raise one arm) and then sending in an abysmal corner that barely reached the shin of the first defender, an output all the more frustrating given the undoubted talent of the man.

By contrast, Sonny never really struck me as the sort who would be a set-piece wizard, and yet there it was in glorious technicolour, a whole slew of corners whipped right into the business-end of the penalty area, and really meriting more than for everyone to stand and gawp at them. It was a real shame that Lucas hit the bar from one of them, because I can’t remember seeing our lot so consistently deliver them so well.

6. Dier’s Mistake

Anyone who has had the privilege of playing alongside AANP will know that I am no stranger to the occasional own-goal, and as such I am rarely inclined to criticise the man who does the deed. The way I see it, scoring an own goal is generally an indication that a defender is at least in the appropriate sort of area, to carry out his duties and typically has just had too little time to react to a ball rapidly approaching (one might point to Exhibit C, yesterday, Dier’s own own goal).

So it is not for the own goal that I chide young Master Dier. It is for the needless and rash concession of the free-kick, in the dying seconds, that brought about the own-goal in the first place.

What the hell was Dier thinking, charging out of position and blundering through the back of his man so? And this, to be clear, is a multi-faceted complaint. For a start, when has the blunder-through-the-back approach ever resulted in anything other than a free-kick? Secondly, the whole routine was thoroughly unnecessary, given that the Newcastle player had his back to goal, was out near the touchline and at least 30 yards from goal. And thirdly, the entire team had managed the game to near-perfection until that point. Granted, we had not scored the fourth that we really ought to have, but that aside we simply did not let Newcastle touch the ball – either rolling it around amongst ourselves at the back, or neatly playing between the lines further forward.

It was thoroughly professional game management, ruined by Dier’s clumsiness and rashness – and very nearly cost us the win (credit to all concerned for then managing the following five minutes expertly, not allowing Newcastle to touch the ball).

That aside, Dier had a good game; but this is hardly the first time he has committed exactly that sort of foul, and a central defender of his experience ought by now to have cut those mistakes from his game.

But let it not distract too much from another well-deserved win, in challenging circumstances. Back-slaps all round.

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