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Palace 0-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Lackadaisical From Top To Bottom

The quickest route from A to B, so the boffins used to instruct me, is in a straight line, which seems a reasonable enough way of approaching that particular conundrum; but if you are a member of the good ship Hotspur it pretty much is a condition of employment these days that anything resembling a straight line gets tossed out of the window, and the most convoluted and complicated way of doing things is instead selected. Be it Juve or Liverpool, or Newport or Rochdale, our lot have recently been quite taken by the idea of drawing out matters and increasing the tension minute by minute.

So, rather than scoring a couple of goals in the first ten minutes, as was briefly threatened, nerves were frayed, fingernails gnawed to bone and curses flung around like confetti, until the 89th minute for goodness sake.

Despite being utterly dominant from first bell to last, we managed also to be incredibly slack and error-strewn throughout. And whereas this is normally the cue to take a deep breath and launch into a tirade against Sissoko, today the culprits were the much-feted A-listers in our ranks, which makes the mind boggle a bit.

Eriksen and Dembele, upon whom one would normally bet one’s right arm to keep possession ticking over, kept gifting the ball to Palace as if they’d been practising it all week. Harry Kane, upon whom would happily wager the life of a less-cherished cousin to stick away a couple of six-yard chances, made rather a pig’s ear of his opportunities in the opening 88 minutes.

Just about everyone else in lilywhite was similarly careless (young Sanchez can maybe be exonerated). It was almost as if the collective attitude was a carefree shrug, and the general sentiment that “Accuracy doesn’t really matter, Kane will presumably pop up at the death and we’ll win anyway, what?”

2. Aurier Finding New Ways To Be A Liability

As mentioned, Sanchez got his lines right throughout, which is no mean feat when up against a robust soul like Benteke, and alongside him, while his distribution certainly veered towards the errant, Dier nailed the bread-and-butter of keeping Palace forwards at bay.

Come to think of it, Ben Davies also mixed rough with smooth in a passable sort of way. The chap’s crossing tends to have a success rate that lurks in 50-50 territory, but as the game wore and the second half became one-way traffic he at least had the good sense to set up camp well inside the Palace half and provide a left-flank option.

And on that note, of picking a respectable position and giving the opposition something about which to brood, one should probably give Serge Aurier his due; he was always available. Here at AANP Towers we also noticed Aurier execute an impeccably-timed sliding tackle to spare our blushes, which beforehand I would have ranked as about as likely as a flying dinosaur landing on the pitch, so it just goes to show.

But whereas Aurier is normally an absolute liability in defence, he picked today to demonstrate that when it comes to fouling things up in the most ghastly and imbecilic manner, he is as capable of demonstrating these abilities in attack. Taking multiple foul-throws is really the sort of rot for which a professional footballer ought to have a finger lopped off, as well as sacrificing his entire weekly packet. Just to hammer home the farcical nature of Life as Serge Aurier, the blighter then managed to miss an open goal from around three yards by treading on the ball or some such nonsense.

3. Dele Alli: Dives and Penalties

There was an unsightly moment midway through the second half when young Dele flung himself to ground over the onrushing goalkeeper, with not an opposition limb in sight.

I do not have much problem with he or anyone else rediscovering the joys of gravity if – and it’s rather a crucial if – an opponent has bludgeoned, belted or even gently brushed against him. After all, referees will not award a free-kick if a chap stays upright; and if contact is made with man rather than ball, then a jury has every right to convict.

As it happened, Dele might have had a penalty not long beforehand, when a Palace defender (van Aanholt?) tried to dispossess him with a fairly wild swing of his peg. But the dive over the goalkeeper was an attempt to cheat, and while he is unlikely to be shoved in a dungeon and have the key lobbed into a nearby moat, the young buck will hardly be able to complain if he is politely told to biff off and amuse himself in other ways for three games.

Aside from the charge sheet against Dele himself, it is probably worth pointing out that we had an absolutely nailed on penalty (the goalkeeper against Davies) turned down in the opening moments, for no discernible reason other than that goalkeepers are sometimes granted licence to clatter folk. Kane might also have had a penalty, on a technicality, but life sometimes gives us these crosses to bear.

4. Team Selection

While most of the game was spent huffing, puffing and misplacing, the choice of personnel at the outset did make me arch a quizzical eyebrow or two.

The absence of Vertonghen was fair enough – a man is allowed to be injured every now and then – but while the same can officially be said of Alderweireld, it seems that the latter’s days in lilywhite might be numbered, which is a dashed shame.

Now I don’t really know the ins and outs of these contract negotiations, and while I would love to imagine that it is simply two men sitting opposite each other and shouting numbers back and forth, I suspect the truth is a little more complex; but could we not just find a way to give the chap the dosh he wants, through bonuses or hidden treasure or whatever it is? Heck, and do the same for the rest of them, if it means parity of payment. Seems a tad simpler than trying to identify another world-class centre-back at a bargain price, but then I’ve always been pretty nifty at solving all of life’s problems from this particular armchair.

Getting back to the teamsheet, I had actually swallowed a gulp or two when I saw the back-four announced, neither Dier nor Aurier being exactly the most watertight in the business, but I need not really have worried on that front, as Palace struggled to get over the halfway line.

The demotion of Son made sense, as the chap has slightly gone off the boil in recent weeks, following his all-conquering winter spell, and Lamela has looked sharp. Given that, one wonders how long before Dele serves some time on the bench.

I had also hoped that Lucas Moura would produce a little more than he did when eventually introduced, but the chap’s engine barely started. Early days though.

5. A Triumph For Football

In truth, the whole affair was fairly forgettable, but having spent the entire game trying only to defend, it struck me as good for football, and mankind as a whole, that the ultra-defensive approach adopted by Palace was rewarded with concession of a last-minute goal. The moral of the story was that being defensive doesn’t pay, and I can’t think of a more noble message to send to the children.

Juve 2-2 Spurs: Six THFC Observations

1. That Calamitous Start

As calamitous starts go, this one was the poster-boy of a generation. It felt like just off-screen there must have been dodgy fitting collapsing and pipes springing leaks, because on the pitch every conceivable error in the book was being dredged up and paraded to the paying public in the most ghastly manner.

A doff of the cap to Juve, mind, for that inventive free-kick sorcery, straight out of the France ’98 Argentina vs England Manual. Beneath his simmering rage, I wondered if our glorious leader appreciated the irony.

And while on the subject, a further admiring tilt of the old bean to Higuain for the over-the-shoulder volley.

But from our lot it was slapstick of the highest order, an impeccably-observed if curiously-timed homage to the opening five minutes of the Naked Gun sequel. Entertaining fare, I suppose, but one did rather get the urge to murmur, “Not really the time, chaps, nor the place, come to think of it, what?”

In truth, we have some history in the department of Beginning The Biggest Game of Our Lives in Utterly Kamikaze Manner – see the Young Boys qualifying jaunt a few years back, under ‘Arry, which was redeemed after an appalling first half; or indeed the opening ten against Real Madrid the same season, which was most decidedly not redeemed.

Most irritating to AANP was the fact that we were 2-0 down without having been outplayed in any real sense. If Juve had torn us apart one would have been pretty morose about life, but one would have accepted a 2-0 deficit. But simply to hand them a two-goal lead, before anybody had broken sweat, struck me as simply complicating life for the hell of it. These young people, eh?

2. Eriksen Cracks It On The Big Stage

But at the nine-minute mark, the change in mentality from our heroes was the sort of stirring stuff that awestruck children learn about in classrooms. Utterly unfazed, unpanicked and with a steely determination, and confidence in their abilities that one more typically associates with swashbuckling heroes in adventure yarns, our lot simply knuckled down and went about righting wrongs like nobody’s business.

And chief amongst wrong-righters was Christian Eriksen. I feel like I now need to spend a good day and half in a confessional when I think back to the days, a year or three back, when on these very pages I penned odes of mild protestation against the chap for his seeming inability to step up on the biggest stage.

“The young sport simply isn’t hot enough when things get shaky” was pretty much the gist of it, circa 2015, “Dash it, he needs to take a game by the scruff of its neck and show the bally thing who’s boss.”

Well, loathe though I am to take credit for these things, Young Master Eriksen has clearly been poring over his AANP annals, because the chap set about unpicking the Meanest Defence Ever Seen like a master locksmith last night. Clever diagonals, whipped crosses, long-range shots, deft feet, off-the-ball scurrying and rasping long-range shots – Eriksen had the complete package last night, and no praise is too high for the rascal.

3. Dembele Cracks It On The Big Stage. Again.

If Eriksen were creator-in-chief, Dembele was some sort of similarly-ranked chappie keeping the engine well-oiled throughout – which may not sound like high praise, and I suppose isn’t really, so I should add that his performance, for the fourth crunch game in a row, was world class.

The Juve midfield, who my spies tell me are no assortment of mugs and dunderheads themselves, could not get near him, and in that respect have some stories to swap when they next get together with the Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal midfields, for an evening of bourbon and blackjack.

It has long been a habit of AANP to chew the fat with my old man AANP Senior, and opine rather wistfully that a man of Dembele’s talent could be a terrific asset to the whole show if he were just nudged a further fifteen yards up the pitch and started assisting and scoring. Making more of an impact, don’t you know?

Tommyrot, as it transpires. The chap pretty much manages the rotation of the earth on its axis from his position in and around the centre-circle, creating a base upon which Eriksen and chums can crack on with things in the final third.

4. Hustle

The Eriksen-Dembele double-act stole the show, but the supporting cast to a man (well, near enough, but more on that anon) backed them up with the sort of lung-busting performances that sweep the board in awards season.
It was very much a night for the troupe as a whole to demonstrate their boundless energy. This was rarely better exemplified than in the general pandemonium spread by our heroes in the home midfield and defence, in the build-up to our first goal.

In the minute or so preceding it I’m fairly sure Lamela and Dier flew in for a thumping challenge on each other, such was the feistiness emanating from every lilywhite pore; and for the goal itself, Eriksen pretty much slung a Juve player to the floor before feeding Dele, for Kane’s goal.

If Juve thought that the two-goal lead in eight minutes was the precursor to a night of gentle revelry and japes they were pretty wildly off the mark.

5. Aurier: A Liability

That said, the Achilles’ Heel in the whole set-up was, as ever, Serge Aurier. Just the sight of the name on the teamsheet inspires nothing short of unsullied dread in the AANP bosom, and so it transpired, with a typically block-headed lunge for the penalty, and an inevitable second-half caution, which Juve ought really to have exploited.

One gets the impression that Pochettino subjects a bag of fruit to pretty microscopic analysis before purchasing it, so he presumably has some pretty weighty dossiers on Monsieur Aurier, but egads the chap looks undercooked at present.

To the list of Real Madrid and West Ham can now be added the name of Juve, for beneficiaries of his Fly-In-First, Question-The-Sense-Of-The-Bally-Thing-Later philosophy.

6. Vertonghen, Underrated Hero

Naturally enough the limelight is hogged by the creative chappies up at the pointy end of affairs, and few would begrudge them this. Further back however, on a weekly basis ever since Toby hobbled off stage left with a grimace and a below-par hamstring, Jan Vertonghen has strode around the place like a man possessed.

Both in his reading and anticipation of what fate might befall, and in his speed to deal with any immediate crisis that befalls the back-line, the chap is pretty faultless. It can appear pretty fraught work, because for all the dominance we have exerted in recent games, the opposition have had plenty of attacking talent, and the occasional chance has inevitably loomed.

Vertonghen has taken on the mantle of defensive leader pretty emphatic fashion, and yesterday he once again packed his A-Game and displayed it throughout.

6. Some Musings on The Rather Odd Approach From Juve

This being a strictly lilywhite corner of the interweb I tend never to care a hang for the opposition tactics, grumbles, hopes and dreams. I have to admit however, in this instance I did put myself in the stylish loafers of a Juve fan for a few choice moments, and found the whole spectacle rather rummy.

The questions that leapt to mind, reading from North to South, were as follows:

1. What the dickens were they playing at?

2. Specifically, was the grand plan really just to set up camp on the edge of their own area, unfurl a sleeping bag or two, clink together their flasks of cocoa and simply bed in for 80 minutes and wait for the second leg?

3. Do their fans sit through that sort of bilge on a weekly basis? Do they enjoy it? Because it looked like the most frightful old muck to me.

4. Is their record of not having conceded a home goal since approximately the 1970s a result of channelling the spirit of Sven’s England in the ‘00s, and defending for their lives from minute one? (I confess, that one is more of a rhetorical shot – the answer seems a pretty firm negative, best delivered with an accompanying look of disdain.)

I suppose the point I’m drilling at, in an admittedly roundabout way, is whether Defensive Mode In Extremis was their strategy from the outset, or whether, having stumbled gaily upon a two-nil lead after eight minutes they simply looked around at each other, shrugged shoulders collectively and thought that there were worse ways to whittle away 80 minutes on this mortal coil than adopting a 4-6-0 and playing out time?

So, as mentioned, I’m not in the habit of dipping my nose into the affairs of other teams – but if you’re going to break a habit of a lifetime, might as well do it with gusto. More to the point, while I back our heroes to beat anyone at Wembley, we can probably expect a far shinier, sleeker Juve to knock on our doors in three weeks time. Robert Patrick’s T-1000, to yesterday’s ageing T-800 Schwarzengger. The first leg could hardly have ended better, especially considering how calamitously it began, but the tie is far from over.

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

Liverpool 2-2 Spurs: Six THFC Observations

As just about every living soul on the planet has immersed themselves in the rights and wrongs of the various decisions in those final ten minutes, I might incline the bean towards the various other goings-on.

1. Lloris Playing From The Back

Starting at the beginning, I think the shrewder observers amongst us would have been bang on the money in identifying that, in the first half, all was not well on the domestic front.

For a start, one imagines that unless Pochettino had been in a particularly eccentric mood, “Concede an early goal” would have been nowhere near the top of the to-do list, yet our lot couldn’t facilitate this fast enough, what with Sanchez spinning around like a dog incensed by its own tail, Dier slotting obliging passes to the opposition and Lloris prostrating himself about an hour too early as Salah approached.

So, two minutes in, and things were already squiffy. What then transpired was a farce not seen since the circus act away to Manchester City, as Monsieur Lloris went through the list of his less impressive attributes, picked the very worst one of the lot, and spent the rest of the half showcasing it.

The chap’s distribution is dreadful, with the ultimate destination of the ball often a complete lottery. Poor old Sanchez and Vertonghen had evidently been roped into this little charade against their will, and had their work cut out just keeping the dashed thing in play, as Lloris picked the worst possible time to indulge in his own warped little game of Fetch.

On top of which, even if his distribution were on a par with that of Pele himself, the whole ruse of zipping the ball to the centre-backs when pinned up against their own corner flags was about as ill thought-through as it gets. There was zero element of surprise, which meant that the nearest Liverpool player simply waddled up to the man, and immediately we were under pressure. The ball was desperately hacked to halfway, or less, and came straight back at us.

Honestly, my eyes bled just watching it, don’t you know. And we had got into exactly the same mess against City a few months back. Honestly, is this the grand plan for outfoxing Top Six opponents away from home? Literally backing ourselves into a corner? Heavens above.

2. First Half Possession

All that said, the first half struck me as a geographical game of two halves, if you follow me. What I’m getting at, is that inside our own half of the pitch, our heroes resembled the passengers on the Titanic after things turned sour. General panic and a distinct lack of clarity seemed about the sum of things, and Liverpool accordingly looked like scoring every time they breezed forward.

But once we passed the halfway line, I actually thought we looked rather nifty. Now I realise that this is the sort of statement that will have me pelted with rotten fruit and then trussed up in the nearest strait jacket and hurled into a small white room, as public opinion seems fairly firmly signed up to the manifesto that we were utter rot in the first 45.

But having seen us labour so excruciatingly in various games this season, when we have hopelessly passed the ball sideways and shown zero off-the-ball movement, I was pretty enthused by how we set about things when we got into the Liverpool half. Admittedly we fell short at the final hurdle, in that we created only the one real chance, for Son – and I admit some might point to that as evidence of a fairly crucial flaw in the plan. However, I nevertheless thought we pinged the ball around neatly, and on several occasions came within but one stretched Liverpool leg of being through on goal.

3. Dembele in Possession

Central to this was the surging of Dembele, from halfway. The chap simply glided straight through the middle, bypassing two or three foes at a time, and apparently was fouled for his troubles five times in the first half alone.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record about the blighter, it’s the same package he delivers with regularity – strength of an ox, grace of a ballerina. His defensive abilities have dipped to the level of simply hauling down whomever has the run on him, but when it comes to turning defence into attack, the chap is a marvel.

4. Dier Something of a Liability

Providing a neat symmetry to the quality of Dembele was the erratic offering from young Master Dier.

It’s not really black and white with this chap, because he has his qualities, and when he gets it right he looks quite the defensive giant. A well-timed Dier sliding challenge can put hair on a man’s chest, and if an opposing team politely enquires if anyone in lilywhite fancies a scrap, Dier will be one of the first to roll up his sleeves. I sometimes think the chap might feel more comfortable taking to the pitch with a giant club in his hands, or some similar bludgeoning instrument.

However, there is something about him that reminds one of a man running through quicksand, for blessed with a lightning quick turn of pace he is most definitely not. This particular crack tends to be papered over by planting him in midfield and closing one’s eyes tightly. Alas, there is no real escaping another fairly critical flaw in his DNA, which is that his ball distribution swings fairly wildly between passable-enough-old-sport and downright horrid.

The back-pass for Salah’s opener yesterday was the one that ended up in neon lights, but at various points the chap forgets to consult his compass and consequently pings the ball in whichever direction takes his fancy.

5. Sanchez

Perhaps it was the sight of Dier in front of him, struggling to align brain and feet, or maybe it was the constant threat of Lloris about to sell him out with another one of those calamitous short goal-kicks, but Sanchez looked like a man to whom shocked deer in headlights turn for modelling advice.

The poor egg has turned in some pretty robust showings in his half-season or so, but yesterday he looked utterly traumatised right from kick off.

Unable to cope with the movement of Liverpool, the trauma of it all fairly inevitably spread to his ball distribution, and we could all be pretty grateful that Jan Vertonghen alongside him had packed his A-game.

The second half withdrawal of Sanchez for Lamela had an obvious tactical glint to it, but nevertheless there was a whiff of euthanasia about the whole thing.

6. Cracking Second Half

Mercifully, things upped about a thousand notches in the second half, culminating in all manner of revelry in those moments before the final gong.

Liverpool ran out of energy pretty much as soon as the second half started, and our one-touch passing began to click like bally-oh. Dembele glided, Son and Dele did a roaring trade in neat first-time-flicks into space, and the full-backs looked at the patches of greenery ahead of them and thought “Wel,l why the devil not?”

I have read some column inches criticising Dele for his lack of input – or, I suppose, output – highlighting that his well of goals and assists is running dry. No arguing with the lies, damn lies and statistics I suppose, but aside from those numbers the chap appears to be rediscovering his joie de vivre, making the sort of runs from midfield that gets the masses chattering. One would hope that this will be the last we see of him hurling himself to terra firma as well.

A quick cap-doff to our glorious leader for making substitutions that pretty directly impacted the storyline, and to Kane for holding his nerve at the death.

As for the penalties, fouls, offsides and decisions – even those of fairly modest deductive capacity should be able to infer the side of the various fences on which I sit.

It was a rip-roaring spectacle, and although coronary failure is now a genuine risk at AANP Towers that our second half display giving some genuine cause for optimism. From two of these three crunch fixtures we now have a home win and away draw. Win at home to our dastardly neighbours and this will amount to a most satisfactory little jaunt.

Newport 1-1 Spurs: Four THFC Observations

I suppose the non-Spurs-supporting mob who traverse this Fair Isle allowed themselves a chuckle or two at our expense yesterday. In fact, I can do more than suppose, I can report the point as one of fact. And the reason I can do the aforementioned is that just about every blasted one of them spent the game helpfully reminding me, via the medium of the humble telephone-based messaging system, of such critical points as the scoreline, the time elapsed, the league placement of our opposition and other such salient information.

One cannot really blame them. Society’s greatest spin doctors would struggle to paint yesterday’s debacle in a salutary light. No doubt about it, the brow was doused with a pretty liberal sprinkling of perspiration as the game entered its final breaths, and it seems a suitable penance to have to start up the engine again in a week or two, when all concerned in lilywhite would much rather put their feet up with a box set and a bourbon.

1. No Stomach For The Fight

Anyone sniffing around pre kick-off for some indication of what was to come would have perused the teamsheet and promptly mooched off elsewhere to continue sniffing. A couple of subtle swaps at the back, but at least three quarters of them would still have lined up in a Premiership game without even quivering an eyelid, let alone batting one.

However, Messrs Dier and Vertonghen in particular appeared to have breezed up in body only, their spirit having been left back in North London. Our hosts set about the binge with gusto, as would be expected, but instead of going toe-to-toe and slugging it out, Dier and Vertonghen looked utterly affronted that anyone should be brazen enough to try tackling them in a football match of all things.

It was a cycle that repeated throughout the first half. Newport tore away at the contest like a team of rabid dogs; Vertonghen and Dier looked aghast every time their pristine white shirts were sullied. If they had wanted to satirise the societal gap between the haves and have-nots they could not have done a better job of it if they had been practising for months.

2. The Midfield

Similarly, the teamsheet gave few causes for concern when the eye dribbled down to the midfield. In fact, the teamsheet made one pause, gasp and murmur a wide-eyed “What ho!” when they eye dribbled down to the midfield, for a combo of Sissoko, Dembele and Wanyama hinted that we were in the business of removing the neighbourhood’s rowdier elements from the local dancehall, with meaty force strongly encouraged.

What transpired was underwhelming. Those three pounded around like a trio of automatons, all legs and no brain. It was as if none of them were particularly aware of the purpose of the mission, beyond perhaps meeting a certain number of footsteps by the time the curtain came down.

Oddly enough, Sissoko was the most proactive of them, but in general it was not immediately obvious which goal our midfield were charged with attacking, which ought to have the warning bells clanging away like the dickens.

3. Llorente, Where Is Thy Sting?

The memory is a little hazy in my advanced years, but I fancy that when news broke of the last-minute snaffling of Llorente last summer – from under the noses of Chelsea, no less – I might have grabbed a passing stranger an performed a neat pirouette, such was my satisfaction. On this very corner of the internet I sang the chap’s praises, and breathed a couple of hearty sighs of relief that we now had an experienced and capable striker available to deputise for Kane on such occasions as Cup ties against fourth-tier opposition.

And to give Llorente his due, the lumbering giant has a touch that could bring an end to world wars and send hollering toddlers gently to their slumbers. One imagines that a ball could be fired at him from a cannon and he would deftly cushion it, and, if feeling particularly rosy, maybe even weight a glorious five-yarder slap-bang into the path of some onrushing chum.

That sort of stuff cannot necessarily be taught, and as such one would think that Llorente has a pretty critical talent when it comes to being one of the most talented chappies going.

Alas, the very act of tying his shoelaces seems to expel every last ounce of oxygen from the old bean’s lungs. He gives the impression that he would rather be tied to a chair and have some nefarious scoundrel in a mask bludgeon his fingers with a hammer – as happened in a moving picture flick I stumbled upon recently – than work his way up to a sprint. The act of running is simply more than Llorente’s body can handle.

A team featuring Sissoko might already reasonably be considered to be one man light. Having Llorente wandering around, looking longingly at the blurry leg movements of those around him doesn’t half exacerbate things.

4. Kane, And A Modicum of Dignity

While all around him looked either disgusted at having to be involved in matters so beneath them, completely uninterested in the game, or one of the various points in between, Harry Kane at least had the dignity to become increasingly frustrated with how the tale was panning out.

The young fish appeared to care, and while his involvement tended to be of the peripheral variety in the first half – picking up the ball with back to goal on halfway and being promptly swarmed upon – he looked just about ready to swing a right hook at anyone who taunted him.

He was also responsible for our one moment of note in the first half, hitting the post as a pointed reminder that he is pretty much the hottest thing in Europe at the moment.

Mercifully, the whole bunch of them as a collective upped their game in the second half, Son and Dele arrived to raise the standard notch or two and, so on so forth. Precious little positivity to be gleaned from that mess, but hopefully we can all move on and never speak of it again. It remains our likeliest trophy this season.

Dortmund 1-2 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

There will be a cheery whistle on the lips today no doubt, as this was a vastly more satisfactory pitstop than Saturday’s rot. Not perfect, but on the scale of things this was far closer to click-the-heels-and-hat-at-a-jaunty-angle than morning-after-grogginess-and-for-the-love-of-all-things-please-close-those-infernal-curtains.


1. General Attitude: Commendable

Stand-out performances were evident all over the place, which does create something of a mathematical contradiction if you think about it, but the broad swish of things was that the knives were being sharpened, and an en masse reaction was rather urgently needed.

For our heroes to do so, and from a one-goal deficit away from home, was pretty much the sort of thing for which choirs of angels were introduced. Cast your minds back to the sepia-tinged days of last year, when we could not tiptoe from one Champions League fixture to the next without tripping over our shoelaces, and this sort of measured performance looks pretty mightily impressive.

Cast your minds back a mighty two years, to our last trip to Dortmund, when, to put the point delicately, we were royally stuffed from every angle and in every manner conceivable, and suddenly “mightily impressive” comes across as one of the great understatements of our age.

On falling behind, there was no desperation or rush to sever selves at the neckline and do the headless thing. They simply stuck to the gameplan, ticked the boxes and burrowed their way into the lead. Bravo, chaps.

2. Eric Dier Scrunches His Eyes and Concentrates Hard

You sometimes hear about these thoughtful types, who on experiencing a major life event, down tools, leave a note on the fridge and take off to Tibet or similar climes, to have a sit-down and a jolly long old think, returning with all the jigsaw pieces neatly laid out and edges squared away.

One can only logically assume that after the minor miscalculation against Man Utd a few weeks ago, Eric Dier managed to find time between international duty and training and social media to crack off to Tibet for his half hour of zen, because the chap’s defensive focus has rarely looked sharper.

Admittedly, as a unit, communication was awry between the back-three and full-backs, in the opening 20 minutes or so, but individually, Eric Dier was crossing t’s and dotting I’s like nobody’s business. Sliding blocks, covering challenges, towering headers – the young nail was dashed sure he got his full quota.

His passing range is not quite that of the lamented Toby Alderweireld, but as and when the moment arrived he was happy to bring the ball out of defence, and generally gave a happy balance to things on the right of the back-three.

3. Winks And His First Touch

Every day is Valentine’s Day here at AANP Towers, with lovestruck odes and rhyming couplets of adoration being flung around like confetti, all in honour of Harry Winks. The chap is like a tiny metronome sitting in front of the defence, shoving things along and keeping everyone honest.

If he can go forward he will, but if circumstances demand that the dashed thing just goes back whence it came because frankly life is like that sometimes, well then so be it, Winks is still the man for the occasion.
Particularly noteworthy is his judgement of whether his first touch should just kill the thing dead, or take him a yard away from trouble. If opponents are snuffling at his heels the chap does not need to wait for a telegram to announce the news, he just makes sure his first touch sends him away from the foreign legions and closer to friendly climes.

Working back to Point 1, above, re the general sense and patience with which the whole troupe approached things, especially after going behind, Winks set the tone and things pretty much followed from there.

4. Rose Gradually Gets Up To Speed

Having taken a deep breath, contacted the relatives and made the necessary adjustments for life after Danny Rose, following his not-too-subtle elbowing from proceedings on Saturday, I don’t mind admitting I had quite the shock on observing the barrel-chested young buck bounding out onto the pitch last night with not a care in the world. Much as I understand Macbeth felt when, having put an end to Banquo’s innings, he looked up while mangling a spot of lunch and spotted the ghost of the chap, of all things, knocking back the hors d’oeuvres at the far end of the dining table.

But back in the fold Danny Rose most certainly was, nailing that Banquo impression. And, much like Banquo’s ghost, Rose was looking like he might have raided the larder at some point, because that figure-hugging shirt seemed to betray a spot of extra timber around the waist.

Nothing wrong with Rose’s confidence though, as evidenced by the bizarre moment in which he opted to use his shoulder of all things to find a teammate. However, in those early stages he did seem one teaspoon short of his full set of cutlery. Rusty, if you will. Rough around the edges.

To his credit, the young whelp seemed to remember his lines better the longer the game wore on, and by the end of proceedings he gave the impression that he was rapidly approaching tickety-boo.

5. Ever-Dependable Son

Son is a dependable chap, what? One imagines that if Dele Alli’s tap sprung a leak, or Ben Davies was missing the appropriately-sized screwdriver to hang the family portrait, Son would drop whatever he was up to and dash over to casa Alli or Davies, as the case may be, with the necessary tools and a cheery grin.

Yesterday, he bustled around with all the energy one has come to expect, and we appeared to have an added dimension to our attacking play. Dele has been a little off-colour of late (although to his credit yesterday, while still struggling to strike oil, he made a couple of game-changing suggestions), so Son’s presence was all the more important. Because let’s face it, the chap is a pest. He also seems pretty keen to buzz around Kane as a bona fide supporting striker, rather than the Number 10 attacking midfield role, or whatever label the kids are using to describe Dele these days.

Quite right then, that he should have the honour of applying the coup de grace, a subtle first touch followed by a pretty emphatic swish to get the job done. Food for thought for the Brains Trust, because the chap delivers the goods every time.

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

Arsenal 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Off the Boil

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

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

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

2. Alli Anonymous…

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

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

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

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

3… While Son Sits It Out

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

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

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

4. Midfield Protection

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

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

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

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

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

5. The Curious Incident of Danny Rose

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs 1-0 Palace: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Ongoing Labours Vs Defensive Types

If there were a dawn chorus this morning the last folk you will want to ask for a blow-by-blow account of it will be the eleven who began for us, because when the sun peaked and the midday kick-off loomed, our heroes were still emerging from the mists of sleep. And in truth there they stayed throughout the first half. Now while I am not one to knock the benefits of nature’s sweet restorer, the thought did strike me that this approach did not really contribute anything towards the principle aim of the exercise.

However, like many of the choice fairytales of our age, the thing can be deemed a success by virtue of having ended well, and no doubt come the May harvest few in lilywhite will care a hang for how three November points against Palace were ground out.

Nevertheless I don’t mind admitting that watching the troupe make such dashed hard work of things – and indeed flirt a little too publicly with the notion of conceding the opener – gives the whole coronary network a going-over that is far more robust than could possibly be desired on a Sunday lunchtime, not to mention adding a handful more grey hairs to the clan.

The sages who know such things have not been slow to unpick the rationale behind this effortless switch between vanquishers of Real and labourers against Palace. Physical exhaustion has been identified, the injuries have been noted, and the dreadfully modern concept of “emotional tiredness” has also been lobbed into the ring, which strikes me as utter rot, but there you go.

Whatever balderdash is identified, the fact remains that every time a struggling team pull up at our shores and sit back in numbers, our lot labour like the dickens to break them down. My personal solution would be to give the ball to Eriksen, position Son/Alli/Whomever five yards from him, and let the pair one-two their way through the minefield like ballerinas, but smarter minds than mine are presumably applying the grey matter to this issue.

2. Gazzaniga Earns His Corn

While the loss of Lloris was greeted with dismayed groans throughout the land as might be expected, I must admit to feeling decidedly more sanguine about the news of Vorm’s absence, greeting it with the sort of carefree shrug one reserves for a moderate weather forecast. The chap has rarely blown my skirt up, saving some, conceding as many, and generally rolling through life with the air of one who might in another universe be Swansea’s first choice.

Step forward Paolo Gazzaniga then, a man who in name at least has taken a few sensible steps towards winning favour with the patrons of N17. The early signs may not have been massively encouraging, as he wasted little time in emerging from his line to deliver a massive flap at thin air, landing a meaty punch upon the head of an opponent in the process – which might, on another day and under stricter supervision, have had a calamitous outcome.

Things improved no end thereafter however, with a couple of saves of the full-stretch, aesthetically agreeable variety, as well as one or two well-judged decisions to rush from his line and scoop up the bits and bobs.
Hardly a challenge to Lloris’ supremacy, but nice to know that there is some competition for the rank of First Reserve.

3. Dier in the Back Three

In the land of the blind and so on and so forth, so with most of his other chums generally employed in scratching their heads and sucking their thumbs, Eric Dier was able to enjoy a rare day in the sun.

The young nib’s lack of pace generally makes him persona non grata as a centre-back, particularly within a traditional back-four. Such a sin is generally more forgivable within a back-three, but the whole critique was rendered fairly redundant by Dier suddently finding within himself the gift of a clean pair of heels and nifty turn of pace. Where it came from one knows not, although presumably the whole thing was aided by the rather stinging criticism meted out in his direction last week when he rocked on his heels during the slow-motion car-crash that was the United goal.

Whatever the mechanics of it, what ended up on the plate was an Eric Dier in pretty formidable mood. Zaha was an obvious threat, but Dier did a sterling job of proving himself not as green as he is cabbage-looking, shackling the scamp, notably on several occasions through the medium of the no-holds-barred sliding tackle. The absence of Alderweireld had had the potential to get right in amongst our lot and gnaw away from the inside, like those unpleasant microbes one occasionally hears about, but Dier’s no-nonsense of the rear entrance did much to soften the blow.

4. Aurier’s Buffoonery

Honestly, this chap and his predilection for the ghastly, what? While the wealth of pinged hamstrings and strained muscles tumbling from every nook and cranny rather hammers home the point that our heroes have been flogging themselves to the bone and therefore dashed well deserve a little squad rotation, and the omission of Trippier can therefore be logically sequenced, I would personally twing my own hamstring and strain every muscle in my body if it meant that Serge Aurier were kept well away from affairs on the lawn.

The chap is a liability, as any jury in the land would unanimously agree. For a start, all the willpower – and sage counsel from his betters and elders – in the world seemingly cannot prevent him from hurling himself feet first at the nearest foe, with little regard for the likely success of the operation. The chap just wants to fling himself through the air feet first, consequences be damned. Having restrained himself for a good half hour yesterday he could restrain himself no longer and shortly before half-time performed the usual brainless lunge, and was jolly lucky to do in front of a particularly benevolent referee, who generously kept his cards hidden from sight.

Then as the second half ticked agonisingly by, and we sought to break the deadlock, the blighter dashed well opened the back door and ushered through Palace’s speediest and most menacing threats, with appallingly misplaced six-yard sideways passes. Heavens above, remove the chap from the premises and hack his limbs apart. At least ensure that the next hamstring or muscle pinged or strained is his.

5. Squad Depth

On the bright side, yesterday again provided some evidence that the shelves are healthily stocked at HQ when it comes to squad depth. It was not so long ago that the absence of all of Messrs Lloris, Alderweireld, Wanyama and Alli – not to mention Lamela, plus a less than entirely chipper Dembele – would have been greeted with mass protests, clenched fists of fury, doleful wailing in the streets or some combination of the above.

Now however, Our Glorious Leader simply peers over his shoulder and gives knowing nods in the directions of Gazzaniga, Sissoko, Winks and Son. My spectacular distaste for Aurier I have mentioned, but should a piano happen to fall upon his head we have Walker-Peters to deputise for Trippier. Rose and Davies can slug it out on the left. Llorente may not exactly be a blur of limbs, but he can give Kane a rest for fifteen minutes, and has a deft touch about him. The arrival of Sanchez and versatility of Dier provides ample cover at centre-back, with Foyth waiting in the wings – and so on and so forth. One gets the gist.

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

Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid: Seven Lilywhite Observations

1. Bright Moments From Dele

Young Dele has been smothered in fuss for around two years without a pause for breath, so naturally the young fish is today being feted as the second coming, after one scrappy poke, a heavily deflected second and an open goal miss.

A curious specimen this chap, because his performances frequently feature errors strewn about the place like confetti, alongside the glimpses of match-winning élan. Dives, attempted nutmegs and a bizarre tendency to channel his inner Moussa Sissoko and overrun the ball have generally been in evidence this season, and a selection of the above again made themselves known in the opening minutes last night, prompting me to raise an eyebrow or two.

But lo, when the planets align the young imp becomes something of a force of nature. His timing of runs, slap bang into the meat of an opponent’s soft underbelly could not have been more effective if he were waving an axe and yelling “Ho!”. Whether as a supporting act to Kane (arriving those critical few moments later and when defenders are already preoccupied), or as a temporary central striker(when the leading man had gone snuffling away down the flanks) Dele got his numbers right yesterday.

It certainly helped that Real adopted the Shrug-And-Scatter art of defending, but our man had his green cross code down to a t, knowing almost instinctively when to stop and when to pelt it forward.

On top of which, he made a far better fist of life as a midfielder than he has done to date this season. As mentioned, the dribbles have rarely struck oil in 2017/18, but yesterday his twinkling little toes were deployed to cracking effect, notably in the build-up to the third goal.

2. The Other Side of Kane’s Game

So we can all take a deep breath and get used to another nine months or so of press hysteria about Dele leading us to World Cup glory, but in the meantime there was a slightly more subtle demonstration of things great and good from Harry Kane.

Not one of those days on which he rams home his ability to flick through the A-to-Z of goalscoring and score literally every type of goal invented, instead this was a game in which he beavered away for the cause, like one of those unsung heroes in a black and white war epic on a Sunday afternoon.

The harassment to win that early throw-in that led to our opener – and the presence of mind to keep the metronome clicking away by taking the aforementioned throw-in swiftly – were early indications that he would scrap away for everything, because you never quite know.

Then when haring away, to have the awareness and skill to pick out Eriksen with a pass weighted to perfection, again suggested that this was a man who knew when to stick, when to twist and when to do the honourable thing by his chums.

Moreover, I quite enjoyed the fact that when high balls were lobbed into his general vicinity, opposing defenders simply bounced off his ample frame, possession was retained and an air of brute-like superiority was established.

3. Trippier Bosses Things

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Our Glorious Leader likes to alternate his wing-backs pretty much every game, but I dashed well wish that Aurier would be tucked away at the back of the cupboard and forgotten about until the next spring clean. Not that I wish ill upon the chap, but whereas he has the letters L-I-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y stamped across the back of his shirt, Trippier busily does everything required of him by contract, then goes back and pointedly exceeds each one of his duties, as if curious to ascertain precisely how devastatingly effective one single right wing-back can be on a field with 21 others.

The result was that while memories of Aurier flying in feet first hovered in the air, Trippier got down to brass tacks and delivered an absolute masterclass in spying a downed opponent and applying his foot to said opponent’s neck. As solid as dutifully required when defending, Trippier delivered a tour de force going forward, which on a night of counter-attacking frolics was precisely what the doctor ordered.

The first time volleyed deliveries across the penalty area ought really to belong in a museum, and even though he had a bucket of luck tipped all over him in being adjudged onside for the opening goal, here at AANP Towers we were too busy drooling over the technique to care a hang. Fingers are firmly crossed that Pochettino finds a sneaky way to ensure that Aurier is employed against the small-fry, and Trippier gets the nod for every crunch game.

4. Eriksen Makes Hay

A couple of weeks ago I lamented, if that’s the word I want, that our magnificent Dane forgot to take his magnificence with him when he travelled to the Bernabeu, and delivered about as anaemic as a an earthworm having a particularly pallid time of things.

It was very much consigned to the annals yesterday, however, as the bizarre tactics of Real allowed Eriksen to have an absolute blast, like a teenager whose parents have vacated the premises for the weekend and allowed him to run wild.

Given that Modric had bested him at the Bernabeu, there was something particularly poetic – and downright hilarious – about seeing the Croat desperately try, and fail, to prevent Eriksen poking in our third. It was a goal that did as much credit to the Dane’s indefatigability as to his technique, those little legs going like the clappers to carry him just about the full length of the pitch at breakneck pace.

5. The Defence Just About Holds Firm

An air of mystery still surrounds the absence of Davinson Sanchez from proceedings at the weekend, the blighter having done little wrong in previous excursions, but normality was restored to her throne last night, and as it happens Davinson and chums as one made a pretty solid fist of things.

It would be rather glossing over things a tad too enthusiastically to suggest that the defence were in supreme control throughout, their 90 minutes unsullied by the weight of duty, because while the balance of play seemed to be firmly lilywhite, there were a number of close calls in front of – or indeed level with – Monsieur Hugo, which had the heart leaping out of the chest, beyond the throat and embedding itself within the mouth.

Nevertheless, by hook, crook or by one Real attacker slamming the ball against another but a yard from the goal-line, our heroes just about kept the visitors at bay, which in the final analysis was joly well deserved both ways.
The loss of Alderweireld will have to be classified as collateral damage, sustained within the great swathe of fixtures that currently envelops, but the international break might help to the various sinews and muscles to return to former glories.

Alderweireld’s unscheduled exit meant a nifty shuttling of Dier into the back three, and the young mass of muscle did a sterling job. The whole troupe did likwiese in fact, with Vertonghen picking a few moments to provide Ronaldo with a delicate welcome back to these shores, and Sanchez showing a little more guile on the ball than in recent weeks.

6. Winks Assisting Assists

Naturally enough, a celebratory AANP Towers would not be the same without a few splashes of the good stuff in honour of current flavour of the month, Harry Winks. Rather like a poor lamb diving headfirst into his GCSEs, it has been one gruelling test after another for Master Winks in recent weeks, and the engine just about ran out of juice in the second half.

The chap does seem fond of an errant pass or two, but by and large he fought the good fight, and it was marvellous to see that instinct for a useful forward pass bearing fruit, not once but twice. In setting up the first girl he pinged the ball wide to Trippier, when easier, less risky options abounded. Then for the third goal, it would be easy to overlook that from within his own area, rather than blast the thing into orbit, he picked out Dele, who skinned his man, fed Kane, and Eriksen was in.

Few folk care too much about the man who assists the assist, but five years on I still remember fondly that when we beat Milan at the San Siro, the man who set Aaron Lennon away on halfway, to assist Crouch, was one Luka Modric. Whisper it, but Winks may have something similar about him.

7. This Game’s Sissoko Moment

Naturally enough, a celebratory AANP Towers would not be the same without a few splashes of the good stuff to calm the nerves following the latest Sissoko farce. A couple of weeks ago it was his errant last-minute pass when we counter-attacked 4 vs 1. At the weekend it was his shot vertically into the air after De Gea fumbled.

Yesterday it was his wild air shot when the ball was gently rolled into his path, a napkin attached around his neck and gleaming cutlery placed in his hands. I realise that Winks did the same, but Winks then redeemed himself by dribbling through half the Real defence, as well as setting in motion two goals. Sissoko decidedly did not.

One can only assume that Sissoko plays like Pele in training, because there is little other reason for him to be so heavily involved in things.

Sissoko’s guff mattered not in the end, for this was right up there with the very best in our history. The upward trajectory continues, and players, and particularly the manager, deserve all the acclaim going spare.

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

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Struggles Without Kane

Having spent the last 48 hours or so confidently assuring friend and foe alike that we are plenty more than a one-man team, and the loss of Kane would be swatted away with the care-free insouciance of an elephant dispatching a few errant flies on its muzzle, you can well imagine the awkwardness at AANP Towers as events unfolded on Saturday.
Naturally there was no shortage of huff, puff and elbow-grease by the bucketload, but having opted for a team without a recognised, bona fide striker, funnily enough we rather turned in the performance of a team without a recognised bona fide striker.

Son, Alli and, heaven help us, Sissoko, were each in their own way relatively willing to meander forward and cautiously poke their noses into the opposition area every now and then, but each seemed set on playing a supporting role, seemingly forgetting that Harry Kane was not amongst the troops.

After the scratchy opening 15 minutes or so in which we barely touched the ball, we had a fair amount of possession, without ever looking remotely threatening. Our lack of an imposing central striker was utterly, glaringly obvious. And curiously it was not a matter massively improved when Llorente waddled on either, the chap lacking the imposing Untameable Beast-like quality of our absent friend.

It all had the sombre gloom of a Greek tragedy, dealing a sharp slap to the AANP face into the bargain, for all those churlish, positive, pre-match suggestions that we would handle Kanelessness like billy-o. Against lesser teams I imagine either Son and/or Llorente will do the trick, but this time out the whole masterplan had that same nagging flaw about it that one feels when one trots off to the office and discovers en route that a machete is embedded in one’s back and blood is draining out like nobody’s business. It hinders things.

2. Opting Against The Forward Pass

No doubt operating without a designated forward was limiting in the way that operating complex machinery without a head on one’s shoulders can prove quite the obstacle, but I felt that matters were exacerbated by a curious snese of caution that seemed to envelop our heroes as they plied their business.

The two may well be interlinked of course, but time and again it seemed that when the ball was at the feet of Eriksen, and a world of possibilities opened up before him, promising health, wealth, happiness and allsorts, he rather moodily about turned and sucked the joy out of life by seeking a sideways or backwards pass.

This exercise in pessimism and gloom was all the more curious given the gay abandon with which he and chums had torn into Liverpool last week, and indeed puffed out their chests and gone biff-for-biff with Real at the Bernabeu. As mentioned, perhaps the acute awareness of the Kane-shaped hole up the top of the pitch wormed its way into their subconscious.

3. Sissoko and Dembele

To general acclaim so far this season I heroes have muddled through without either Dembele or Wanyama with admirable stiff upper lips and the positivity in the sense of adversity that one hears went down a storm amongst those Christians when they were thrown to the lions and left without a bally hope.

All well and good, but I feel that the narrative takes a fairly hefty swerve when the great and good start waxing lyrical about the alleged improvement in Moussa Sissoko this season. The fact that he is being picked each week does not in itself constitute improvement. To my admittedly heavily biased and untrained eye, it simply reflects the fact that the all the other cabs on the rank have been temporarily pulled from service or are elsewhere employed.

Anyway, the hour came, the man came, and the limbs entangled once more. The chap is simply not up to scratch, seemingly as uncertain about what will happen when he approaches the action as any of the rest of us, due to the disconnect between his brain and limbs that stretches the very boundaries of human biology. This week’s Sissoko Moment was the wild slash of a ball vertically into the air, when the goal gaped, in the first half.

And as if to emphasise all of the above, he was replaced by Mousa Dembele who, while not faultless, demonstrated a level of control and smooth technique on the ball that a whole team of Sissokos would not achieve if they were left at typewriters for an eternity.

4. Rare Mistakes at the Back

By and large, there is rarely much to say about our back-three, which in itself is quite the compliment. They rather diligently just put heads down and get on with things, snaffling attacks, sweeping up messes, crossing t’s and dotting I’s.

All of which renders the more galling the subtle combination of errors that brought about our downfall yesterday. Messrs Alderweireld, Vertonghen and, I thought in particular Dier, were making a fairly decent fist of things, but each put a foot slightly wrong in the blur of events that was the United goal, and before you could splutter “But that is literally just a straightforward punt down the centre of the pitch” the ball was in our net and things had gone abruptly south. Just goes to show.

Why this could not have happened on one of those days when we were already four goals to the good I don’t know (I suppose if you were being clever you could say it actually did happen on one of those days when we were already four goals to the good, just last weekend, against Liverpool, so there). However, happen it did, and losing to a goal as soft as that was a bit like seeing two rhinoceroses going toe-to-toe only to have the clash settled by a stubbed toe.

But as I like to think in these situations, I would rather win one and lose one then draw two, so to have three points and a couple of goals in the bag from two fixtures against Liverpool and Man United is passable.

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

Spurs 1-2 Chelsea: Four Lilywhite Points

A mathematically-minded chum rather threw me this week when he told me there are 10 types of folk in this world – those who understand binary numbers and those who don’t, apparently – but I presume that 2 more of those types will include those who thought our heroes controlled this particular joust, and those who thought Chelski bossed the thing like a team of evil puppetmasters.

Maybe it is the three decades of bias, but I fall into the former camp (that is to say, backing our heroes, rather than dabbling in binary numbers). Dashed travesty this one, if you ask me. Admittedly there was a slightly odd opening salvo, in which everyone bar Dembele looked like they’d just landed at a foreign airport and didn’t quite know what to do next. Thereafter, however, a switch was flicked, and our lot increased the pressure biff by biff.

For five minutes either side of half-time we gave our esteemed guests a most thorough going over, prodding and poking like there was no tomorrow, lobbing in corners, hammering away and shooting whenever the nearest defender paused for breath. To no avail, naturally, but it seemed to cause a commotion. And generally from then until the Dier-Son swapsie (more on that later), the central thread of the game seemed to adhere to a highly intricate pattern of:

a) Spurs attack
b) Chelski clear
c) Repeat.

But, as mentioned, there is a sizeable element of the population who have quite pointedly made clear they consider this sentiment to be drivel of the highest order, which I suppose means that this one can be marked down as a triumph for democracy.

(If a preamble is longer than the meat of the thing, is it still a preamble?)

1. DEMBELE

If it is incisive and highly original insight you seek I can only really apologise and suggest you amuse yourself in other ways for the next paragraph or two, because this point is not exactly a shock to anyone: Dembele is quite something.

I know it; you know it; just about every team-mate interviewed seems to name him as the most talented chap in the troupe; and I’m pretty sure that if you read any piece of prose ever committed to paper you will find a subtle reference to the same effect – so safe to say it is common knowledge.

But by golly, it is nevertheless still a sight to behold, that astonishing hybrid of ox-like strength and balletic driftiness. All around him took a good half hour to adjust their radars and practise the whole right-leg-followed-by-left-leg routine a few times, but not Dembele. Straight into the action from the off. Marvellous stuff. And whenever spirits flagged thereafter too he seemed happy enough to drop a shoulder and charge into the melee, in that languorous style of his, oppo defenders bouncing off the forcefield that surrounds him like small children off a playground bully. Frankly there are times when I want to abandon the notion of keeping score, and just watch the chap cut a swathe wherever he pleases.

2. WANYAMA

By contrast, this was not one that will go down in Wanyama family folklore. Absent from the starting eleven last week, Wanyama definitely tootled around the place with the air of a chap couple of gins short of his traditional morning snifter.

The usual, violent dispossessing of foes was generally rattled off straightforwardly enough, but when it came to pinging the ball to someone – anyone – in lilywhite, the blighter came across like a man intent upon massively over-complicating the basic principles of binary code. Umpteen touches were taken when he really only needed one – to roll the dashed thing square to a chum. All easy enough to say from the AANP vantage point, admittedly, but thusly do cookies crumble.

Anyway, to top the thing off he then dithered once more, crucially, at the death, allowing our guests to pinch the ball from him once again, fire straight at Lloris’ feet and still score, curse them all.

3. THE DIER-SON SUBSTITUTION

Nothing wrong with it on paper, really, was there? Boxes were ticked, votes counted, experts consulted – and the verdict was pretty uncontroversial: Son for Dier. We were one down, had been hammering away, without making too many entries in the column marked “Clear-Cut and Glorious Chances”, and with Chelski failing to hold up the ball an axis of Dembele, Wanayam and Dier seemed rather to miss the point of the exercise- namely that we needed a sprinkle of je ne sais pas in the final third. Son for Dier (already on a yellow card) made sense.

But oddly enough, things did not quite pan out as planned. Now it would be a little dramatic to suggest that an absolute meltdown occurred, once this change was made, and that women and children ran for the hills as our visitors ran riot across Wembley.

Yet nevertheless, for the 10 minutes or so following the change, the lilywhite grip on things (as much as grips can grip a 0-1 deficit) seemed to loosen. When Chelski repelled our attacks, they starting turning them into counter-attacks of their own, the impudent rotters, and the possibility of 0-2 started to make its presence known, whereas since half-time the case for 1-1 had started to seem near-irresistible. It was pretty disturbing stuff.

4. SILVER LININGS AND WHATNOT

Ultimately, the Son-Dier change became one of the least relevant footnotes of our time. There was an element of risk attached – and we scored anyway. And then conceded. So, ultimately, what the dickens does it matter?

This, however, was one of those defeats that left me genuinely quite pleased with the manner in which we went about things. Actually, that’s an untruth. More than anything it left me incredibly bitter and twisted and snapping at anyone within earshot that the whole blasted thing was JUST NOT FAIR.

But additionally, as I poured the evening whisky, I did muse that we had had a jolly good stab at the thing, so somebody somewhere probably deserved a toast. In the context of a new season, and 20-odd games at Wembley, it was something of a relief to see us boss possession against the champions and generally play much the same way we had done last season. Frankly, I had feared much worse, particularly given the absolute whale of a summer being had by the prophets of doom, who were warning about the larger Wembley dimensions as if they signalled an impending apocalypse.

So 1-2 was not the desired outcome at all, and the manner of the thing was absolutely blinking galling – with the joy, and then the despair, damn their eyes – but there was enough to suggest that this could be another half-decent campaign.

(Apart from the squad depth issue, but that’s a tale for a different day).

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

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