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Liverpool 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

Having not strung consecutive passes together since around 2014, and suffered defeats in recent weeks to such behemoths as Swansea and Southampton, there was a fairly morbid inevitability about the fact that Liverpool would rediscover their joie de vivre against us. Of course they would.

1. Davies

Credit where due, our hosts set off like a pack of hyenas spurred into action by the dinner gong at a zoo. Every time one of our lot were in possession they were rather rudely biffed and barged by at least two or three of the blighters in red, and naturally enough the mistakes duly flowed like it was open season on the things.

Our heroes certainly did not help themselves. Au contraire, they seemed fairly intent on doing their utmost to help Liverpool out of their new year slump, going the extra mile as it were. Which was neighbourly I suppose, but, it struck me, seemed to fly in the face of the overall mission imperative. Wanyama started this rot, setting his radar to “Liverpool Shirt” and letting fly with a mind-boggling five-minute spell in which all he did was intercept the ball and ping it straight to the nearest opponent. The brow furrowed.

Or at least the AANP brow furrowed. By contrast, one could almost see the eyes of Ben Davies light up as he noted the errant Wanyama peddling this insanity. Against Middlesborough and Wycombe and the like, Davies is pretty much the man for the occasion – sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but by and large doing enough to force the deal through. However, one suspects that you or I might be the man for the occasion against that lot. Liverpool away represents a different kettle of fish, something far likelier to test the iron will and moral fibre. This was Davies’ opportunity to prove himself as one of those beasts of the jungle who growls “Jump” and has his fellow beasts hopping to it pronto.

Alas, the reality that transpired was bleak, second-rate and error-strewn. Liverpool rather cruelly opted to hone in on Davies, having identified him as the weaker of the sentry guards on duty, and by golly were they were rewarded. Davies resembled a man who did not quite know which sport he was playing. Helpfully abandoned by Son, and without the reassuring presence and pristine side-parting of Jan Vertonghen beside him, the young bean floundered out of his depth and had his head dunked beneath the surface time and again by Liverpool. One would sympathise, but there is not really much room for sentiment in this narrative.

2. Dier

In a touching show of solidarity with his Welsh chum, Eric Dier peddled a similar line in incompetence, from his vantage point at centre-back. Dwelling on the ball, and displaying a turn of pace that would give hope to passing tortoises, he represented another ill-disguised chink in the lilywhite armour, as Christmas came early for our hosts.

The alarming sentiment continues to gain momentum that Dier is a centre-back who is woefully ill-equipped to perform as one half of a centre-back pairing. Within a back-three his lack of pace matters less, and as midfield cover he is able to slot in for his full-backs and mop things up neatly enough. But plant him at the core of a back-four, with little more than a “How-To” guide and his own autonomy, and the chap flounders. And flounder he did with some majesty yesterday, being directly culpable for the second, and generally unable to cope with the red shirts buzzing all around him.

(To his credit he flew in with one glorious sliding tackle to spare various blushes as Liverpool ran rampant at two-nil, but all a bit late at that juncture, what?)

It made for fairly ghastly viewing, but stepping back from things and giving the chin a little stroke, one starts to ponder the broader, philosophical questions of life, existence and Eric Dier. Not good enough to play in a back-four, and displaced in midfield by Wanyama, where does the young fish fit in?

3. Resources

If you don’t mind me veering away from the minutiae of the match itself, and instead trotting a little further down this existential line, the nub of the thing seems to be that our squad is not quite the all-singing, all-dancing, multi-talented troupe needed for the rigours of this lark. The first-choice XI is a match for the very best in the land, make no mistake. But take out Rose and Vertonghen, and we are a dashed sight weaker. Take out Kane, and poor old Janssen lollops on to stumble over his own feet. Remove Eriksen and it’s the uncontrollable limbs of Cissoko. Young Winks has some dash about him for sure, but he’s no Dembele.

And so on. Not exactly a novel train of thought, but while we were able to gloss over things in previous weeks, the lack of squad depth was exposed in fairly pointed fashion yesterday, and it made for some pretty awkward viewing.

4. Dembele

Still, amidst this rather dank state of affairs there were nevertheless one or two moments to stir the soul, and they typically emanated from the sturdy frame of Dembele. Noting with razor-sharp judgement that he was not about to receive a jot of support from any of his chums in lilywhite, Dembele set about on three or four separate occasions trying to right all the wrongs of the day single-handedly. It was like one of those tragic war-films they show on Sunday afternoons, when our half-dozen heroes are pinned into some sort of bunker by hordes of the enemy, and one particularly selfless old bean decides that the only way in which anyone is going to make it to the end credits is if he makes a noble dash right into the heart of enemy heartland and takes down a few dozen opponents, sacrificing himself in the process.

Dembele had clearly had enough of the imbecilic frippery of Davies, Dier et al, and repeatedly tried to rescue the day be single-handedly weaving his way through massed ranks of red shirts. Alas, he generally made it past two or three before being crowded out and dragged to his doom, but it stirred the loins somewhat to see this will to win.

5. Discipline

Things improved a mite in the second half, to the extent that we were not overrun quite as much, but the game was long gone by then, and we were frankly lucky to be only two down.

There were echoes of Stamford Bridge last season as the game wore on and our lot struggled to make the slightest dent in proceedings, as they instead resorted to losing their heads and lashing out with all the subtlety of a team of raging bulls in the ceramics aisle. Led, naturally, by Dele Alli, half the team got themselves cautioned for a stream of fairly wild and unseemly hacks and stamps (although young Winks can feel hard done by on that count, poor lamb). One should probably tut and pontificate, but in truth they were only doing on the pitch what I rather felt like doing from the sidelines. The whole thing was bally frustrating, and not least because Liverpool have been so poor in recent weeks.

However, just over the mid-point of the season, and with only home games vs Arsenal and Man Utd remaining of the top six, we are fairly well set. A Top Four finish is eminently doable. Quite what fresh madness awaits when the Europa League returns is anyone’s guess, and a couple of injuries could blast our season out of the water, but as long as this defeat does not trigger a slump there should not be too much cause of concern.

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

Boro 1-2 Spurs: Son, Janssen & Other Lilywhite Thoughts

1. Son’s Unique Brand of Selflessness

In football these days it seems you can’t swing a cat without someone chirping away about new-fangled formations, or all manner of quirky statistics and allsorts. All rather complicated, what?

Enter Son, stage-left, and suddenly football was broken down to playground level again The chap simply gets his head down and sets off on his onei-man mission to dribble past as many people as possible. If there were no white markings on the pitch he would presumably have taken off across Teeside, trying to shimmy around every man, woman and child in the North East. Frankly, once Sone has the ball, neither friend nor foe is going to see it for a while.

Seasoned visitors to these parts will know that this chap is not necessarily my particular brand of cognac, but in a world of neat sideways passing that can often carry all the threat of a neutered rabbit, a quick-footed type like Son can have a well-organised defence thinking to themselves, “I say, this wasn’t in the manual.”

2. Janssen – A Man For Others

I think it’s fair to say we can forget all that rot, peddled on his arrival, about Victor Janssen being some sort of unstoppable goalscoring machine who hits the net in his asleep. The chap is clearly instead more of a great big lumbering giant with a heart of gold, the sort who reunites orphans with their kindly aunts and saves small villages from famine.

He was at it again yesterday, doing all the selfless stuff, with no goal in mind other than the greater good of those around him. The polar opposite of Son, some might suggest.

If there were a ball to hold up, he would manfully roll up his sleeves and hold it up. If possession needed shielding while team-mates galloped up in support, I’ll be damned if he were not shielding the thing like his life depended on it.

Naturally enough then, when Sonny decided he had gone a good 30 seconds without trying to dribble his way out of the North-East, Janssen once more did the honourable thing, holding off his man – with back to goal, naturally – and timing his lay-off just so, for Son to gather up without breaking stride and ping home.

And that rather summed up the chappie. If we are hoping for a van Nistelrooy sort of egg, who will loiter in the six-yard box resolutely folding his arms until the scent of a goal wafts his way, and consequently poking and prodding in 20-odd goals a season – well we had better make ourselves comfortable. Janssen’s strengths seem to lie in running defenders ragged away from goal, peeling into spaces to allow Alli and gang to grab the glory.

3 Squad Rotation

After last season’s team selections – which had all the reassuring consistency of the sun rising, right on cue, each morning – this season our glorious leader has chopped and changed as if discovering a shiny new toy with all manner of bells and whistles to keep him entertained.

This makes perfect sense. Ploughing into the Premier League one minute, and then Champions League and whatnot five minutes later, requires a pretty delicate set of fingers and toes, and Pochettino is duly doing his bit with some natty midfield tweaks.

Last season, dabbing on the war-paint with neither Dier nor Dembele in sight would have some of the weaker members of our clan hurling themselves out of the nearest window in despair. This time round however, the Brains Trust barely break sweat, and simply slot Messrs Wanyama and Cissoko into the middle.

Wanyama duly set about doing his best Dier impression, and although the chap tends not to concern himself too much with covering the full-backs, as is a particular signature of Dier, he put himself about with a healthy set of blocks and crunching tackles, to help things tick along.

Son, as mentioned, got the nod further forward, and this time Lamela was left to twiddle his thumbs on the bench – and so on. The gist of the thing is that this is rather a charmed life, what? The handful of signings made over the summer might not have caused robust types to go weak at the knees and reach for the smelling salts, but they have contributed to a healthy gaggle fit for the rigours of a midweek-weekend binge. Before you can turn to a nearby soul and remark “This squad depth lark is not such a bad thing after all?” we seem to have hit upon a formula that allows us to take down a lower-rate Premiership team and then turn our attentions to the CL meat, without breaking sweat.

4. Cissoko’s Room For Improvement

That said, I thought the boy Cissoko fluffed his lines at rather crucial junctures yesterday. I don’t really see the point of being built like a fortified tree trunk, if at the vital moment you allow some other soppy chap to clamber all over you and nod the ball apologetically into the net. Clamber right back at him, dash it.

On top of which, the instruction manual suggested that the whole premise of Cissoko is to burst forward from midfield scattering every man, woman and child in his way. Yesterday I would suggest the young bean did no more than dabble in this, which was fair enough given that we had Boro penned back for much of the game anyway, but nevertheless. All the more galling then, to see Boro bring on a substitute, the Traore chap, who promptly out-Cissokoed Cissoko with a full-length gallop which tore a sizeable strip through the heart of our team.

5. Quietly Mooching Into Second

Still, such things are minor quibbles. It was only Middlesbrough, and so on and so forth, but win these irritating little away days and the Top Four – or more – starts to take care of itself. Almost without anyone realising we’re up to second, and while there will be tougher tests, not least next weekend ,things have pootled around pretty darned serenely to date.

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

Spurs 1-1 Liverpool: Five Lilywhite Musings

I suppose in theory one could quite rightly point to a win and two draws as a solid, meat-and-two-veg sort of return on the opening few weeks, the sort of thing upon which vast and dashed successful empires were built in the days of yore.

Nevertheless, at the final whistle yesterday it felt not so much like we had purred through the gears so much as just about got the thing back into the garage in one piece, and with some pretty dubious coughing and spluttering sounds emanating from the engine.

1. Vorm Earns His Corn

Repeatedly the bridesmaid since arriving at the Lane, Vorm’s contributions to date have pretty much been limited to waving a pretty slippery pair of gloves around in the occasional cup match. Confidence in the chap has therefore not really been full to bursting, but by golly he corrected that with some gusto yesterday by taking every drop of a hat as his cue to go haring from his area like a particularly buoyant whippet and belting the ball into orbit before any onrushing foe could make merry. It made for quite the spectacle, albeit one which had palpitations surging through the very core of every watching lilywhite.

However, never let it be said that AANP is a man who fails to dish out great dollops of credit where it is due, for the old bean seemed to time his little sprints with some aplomb. In fact, after the first couple I started to get the sneaky suspicion that he was just doing it for sport, but it certainly did the job.

Perhaps rather more importantly was the unlikely save he made in the opening exchanges, by virtue of an outstretched leg, when the Liverpool chappie seemed so certain to score that various bookmakers were already dishing out. It was not his only useful save either, so should a single point at the end of the season mean the difference between dancing in the streets and doleful despair, we ought not to forget to wheel out Vorm for a hearty hand and some good-natured wolf-whistles.

2. The Strangely Impotent Forward Line

As the first half wore in somewhat troubling manner, Liverpool forwards buzzed around in a way that had our lot not quite knowing where the next one was about to appear. On top of which, one would hardly say that at the business end of the pitch our heroes were parading around with all the verve and entertainment of some sort of irresistible, all-singing-all-dancing  theatre troupe. Au contraire. There was a distinct lack of whatsit about our occasional forward jabs.

Lamela has rather won me over in recent months, just by virtue of seeming to get the message that these eggs do not crack themselves, and consequently rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in each week, but the chap looked strangely neutered yesterday. Alli stomped around like the angry young buck he is, but by and large got his feet in a tangle each the ball went anywhere near him; and Eriksen was so peripheral that at times I rather fancied he faded in and out of existence like Marty McFly when all was going awry at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance.

And so it went on. Janssen is a man who applies himself well enough, but this never looked like being an occasion which would end with his name blazing out in neon lights across Broadway, and by full-time he had reddened his face but achieved very little. Kane had a rather awful time of things, but one expects that he will be back.

The moral of the story is that as tick followed tock it became pretty dashed difficult to identify which particular goose was going to lay a golden egg and get us back to parity.

3. Useful Input From Rose

Cometh the hour, cometh the flying chunkster. In truth, well before his goal, young Master Rose had popped up on the left with reassuring regularity, to add a little drive to proceedings when all around him seemed to be losing interest. I’m not sure if Liverpool thought it was against the rules or perhaps the spirit of the thing to try to stop him, but he seemed our most likely creative option in the first half.

And just when it seemed that we really would continue to bash our heads fruitlessly against a wall, he delivered one of the most exquisite mis-hits of the season. I would suggest that he rather earned his luck there, by displaying the willingness to lope forward in the first place.

This was not his most reassuring defensive display ever, but the chap does add a certain je ne sais quoi when he hurtles forward. On top of which, the sight of him flying horizontally through the air every time there is a clash of limbs absolutely never fails to entertain.

4. A Small Nod in the Direction of Wanyama

The attack might have resembled the soft, toothless gums of a newborn rather than the menacing gnashers of one of those great big wild cats of the Sahara; and the back four seemed to come replete with sizeable gaps in their very core; but Victor Wanyama at least turned up for work with the right idea.

As appropriate, the young egg chipped in with interceptions and tackles, and generally appeared impervious to the ghastly malady of pinging the thing straight to the nearest opponent whenever the cutting-edge concept of passing was required. On a day of precious few cockle-warming positives, Wanyama at least seemed to do the minimum.

5. Return of Dembele – What of Dier?

Whichever sage chirped that absence makes the heart grow fonder no doubt had in mind Moussa Dembele as he sits out half a dozen games for eye-gouging, because the whole thing is currently flatter than a warm beer left on a table the morning after one of those terrific all-night binges you have before kids enter your life. Going forward, our heroes had the same look as King Kong when atop the tower and being peppered by fighter planes, a look that rather suggests that all is not as much fun as was advertised.

As mentioned above, Wanyama is earning his corn well enough, and few would doubt the importance of Dier to the whole fandango – but both are essentially destructors, whose duty lies in snuffling out the opposition and then handing things over to the more handsome cast members. To date this season our midfield has been notable for a distinct absence of the sort of chap that has opponents gasping “Crumbs, here comes a human tank with an absolute barrel for a chest”, and diving for cover accordingly. Such a sequence of events is not just quite the spectator sport, but also creates all manner of fun opportunities for Kane et al further forward.

So there can be little doubt that Dembele will head straight back into the eleven at the earliest opportunity – but at whose expense? Dier may be the more established cog, but it was notable last week that he was hooked before the hour, and this week he has been shunted into defence to accommodate a change in formation.

And what would the connotations be if Dier did find himself demoted to first reserve? How would Dele Alli react? All in the realms of speculation for the time being, but it does rather make one think, what?

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

Summer Lilywhite Musings

Here at AANP Towers we are pretty firmly of the opinion that not a dashed jot ought to be read into the great big tease that is The Pre-Season Friendly, and in that spirit I’m inclined to care not a hang about the two defeats. Of rather more interest were the shiny new personnel who gambolled around the Melbourne Cricket Ground (a turn of events that did get me thinking that the last time I tried playing football on a cricket green I was unceremoniously booted off, with the threat the local constabulary were to be involved, but such is life).

Wanyama

I probably ought to caveat at the outset that while I pride myself on my ability to procrastinate and undertake myriad pointless hobbies, researching the whys and wherefores of Europe’s – or indeed the Preimership’s – top talent does not really feature on the 500 or so on my list. So if you are looking for an infallible scout’s guide to the players we ought to be welcoming to N17, I’m afraid you’ve quite markedly stumbled upon the wrong corner of the interweb.

With that ringing endorsement in place, I may as well run the rule over the chap Wanyama.

In a nutshell – I’m jolly glad that we’ve pickled this particular egg. No doubt about it, sans Dier, Dembele or – heaven forbid – both, we are a dashed sight less rambunctious than with. Dier seemed to be wheeled out for just about every game of every competition last season, either on guard-dog patrol in front of the back-four or as cup competition centre-back. While it seems unlikely that Wanyama will dislodge Dier in a hurry, he does offer both reserve and competition, in what is possibly the most important position in our team.

From what I remember of previous seasons (although again, I can hardly profess to being a seasoned Wanyama-watcher) the chap can get stuck in and is rarely happier than when harassing an opponent to within an inch of his life. The pre-season gubbins appeared to bear out this point, as he seemed happy enough to sit deep and go snuffling for possession. On paper therefore, the chap seems a pretty sensible purchase, so a gold start to someone in the Brains Trust.

Janssen

Again on paper, the concept of a reserve for (or possibly competitor to) young Master Kane makes sense by the bucketload. Kane is blessed with a natural gait and demeanour that makes him look a tad weary at the best of times, but by the end of the season (and during those wretched, wretched Euros) he looked to have wrung every last drop of energy from his body. As with Dier then, news of another pair of legs to fill the striking berth seems as good a reason as any to strike the celebratory gong.

However, as just about every lilywhite who has roamed the earth will testify, and as the names Postiga and Soldado rather damningly evidence, there is no guarantee that any expensive foreign striker who swans into the Lane will necessarily blow up anyone’s skirts once throats are cleared and business begins. One frets.

Good luck to the chap nevertheless. He showed some nifty touches in the Atletico friendly in particular, linking up and holding up, as the jargon has it, although I’m not sure he had a sight of goal over the course of the two games so judgement on his ability to score from every angle is necessarily deferred. I suppose that in the meantime one is inclined to keep fingers firmly crossed and mutter a gentle prayer as the season draws near.

Euros Personnel

It is still difficult to hark back to the Euros without seeking out the nearest wall and banging my head against it repeatedly in a fit of something between frustration and rage, but this is the hand we are dealt.

As mentioned earlier, Harry Kane trudged around as if every lost drop had been sucked from his body, and alas the endearing memory of his participation will likely be the image of him blasting corners and free-kicks way off into the stratosphere.

Dele Alli hardly did himself justice either, although I felt jolly miffed on the chap’s account that the shoe-horning of Rooney into the team meant that young Alli was shunted around from his natural habitat… Apologies, ‘tis a rant that ought to be left to rest

Dier, Walker, Rose

On a brighter note, Messrs Dier, Walker and Rose were more impressive. Walker and Rose for the most part carried on doing what they had done with aplomb for the best part of 2015/16, hurtling up the flanks with startling indefatigability. Alas, having spent the first three games of the tournament with concentration etched across his face as he strained every sinew to avoid lobbing in a seismic defensive mistake, Walker eventually switched off and lost his man for the first Iceland goal – an unfortunate blot on an otherwise cheery showing.

Dier too appeared to be at fault for an Icelandic goal, but again this ought not to detract from some impressive nine-to-five stuff in front of the defence. Where the dickens that free-kick came from is anyone’s guess.

Davies, The Belgiums, Lloris

Elsewhere, Belgium’s decision to play Vertonghen at left-back had eyebrows arching up and down the High Road, and Toby Alderweireld was made to look rather silly by that Welsh chap who was not registered with any club, which is something of a low.

Ben Davies playing as one third of a back-three prompted the mother of all dull-and-inebriated discussions between AANP and a chum, and Monsieur Lloris confirmed what most of the watching world already knew about his ranking as a tip-top net guardian. The poor lamb can consider himself dashed unlucky not to have lifted the shiny vase at the end of it all.

However, the real losers of the whole tournament appeared to be our lot, with Spurs players apparently spending more minutes on the pitch than any other Premiership team. One can barely contain excitement at the prospect of a sluggish lilywhite start to season 2016/17. My medical expertise does not quite extend to knowing whether the rigours of the summer will leave them too tired or not up to match-fitness come mid-August, but the first excuse of the season is already well prepared here at AANP Towers.

New Kit

Such is the dearth of activity in these moribund summer months that it comes to this. We have a new kit, sensationally it is white and blue. As befits a curmudgeonly grump, I am not a fan (of the blue shoulder thing in particular), but no point in complaining. Young people will do these things, and somewhere a cash register is whirring. As ever though, they could play in bin-liners for all I care, as long as there is success to toast come May 2017…

Liverpool 1-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Oberservations

1. Non-Stop

I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed a game played in such a rush throughout. Every man and his dog on show charged around like they were late for their own wedding, and as a result not one chappie on either team had time to draw breath, let alone pause in possession and take a second touch.

This must be how other mobs feel when they come up against Spurs, because to their credit Liverpool charged at whichever of our heroes were in possession, particularly in the first half. Our heroes pottered about their business with an odd sense of complacency in those opening exchanges, as if trying a little too hard not to appear disturbed by the constant harassment. Unforced errors duly flowed liberally – again, on both sides – and the whole drama played out with all the harum-scarum intensity of a classroom of 5 year-olds high on soft drinks and sweets. Cagey it most certainly was not.

Grudging credit again to Liverpool for a neat and tidy goal (although a rare finger of admonishment ought to be waggled at Eric Dier, for letting his man go walkies). Then as the second half pootled along the upper hand swung this way and that, and it really did seem we were as close to winning as losing, and vice versa, so that by the end of things I was in truth a little perplexed as to what the overriding sentiment ought to be.

2. Dembele

I had tried yesterday, in conversation with some of the regulars, to put across the point that in the grand scheme of such things I felt Dembele’s performance was a little off. Not quite primed, polished and up to usual standards. In my book he was biting off far more than he could chew, and regularly being dispossessed by some combination of two or three in red.

That at least was the intended gist of the thing when I cleared my throat and eyed up my listening public, but I had barely got across the opening ice-breakers when I was being unceremoniously ushered off stage by a stream of rotten tomatoes, that left fairly unmistakeable the general reaction to my notion. So that is pretty much that.

3. Eriksen

One would not really invest their millions into a campaign with the message that Christian Eriksen Bossed The Thing From Start To Finish. Such is not really his way, and nobody in their right mind would chide him for it.

However, in a game of stakes so high, and with time at such a premium (as whiffled on about above), Eriksen caught the AANP eye, particularly in the second half, for a generous handful of creative moments that attracted the attention like Venus emerging from some sort of mass of water in particularly dreamy fashion.

Lest you be slamming an angry fist on the nearest hard surface and demanding evidence, I decisively thrust in your direction the assist for Kane’s goal for a start – although admittedly this was more an act of desperation to keep the thing in play, rather than an example of semi-deific vision.

More impressive to my eye were the little chipped pass that Dele Alli took on the chest but could not quite bring under control; or the cross-field swipe on the counter-attack that so nearly laid on a chance for Chadli on a plate, with silver service and a respectfully bowing waiter; or the 20-yard effort that drew a full-length save from the ‘keeper. He does not – and perhaps never will – puff out his chest and bark out orders, but Eriksen does do a splendid line in wizardry.

4. Son

One cannot really fault the effort of Son, the chap certainly does a good line in scuttling hither and thither. There is nevertheless something about the old bean that does not quite sit right, and it has that ineffable quality of being difficult to pinpoint, which is dashed annoying (not least on a word-based forum such as this, but such is life).

He is certainly a tad lightweight for the bustle and nudge of a Premiership ding-dong, which may or may not be his fault. But as well as that, his little bits and bobs just did not seem to work, and have not really done so since those heady debut weeks of his. His performance was summed up rather by that volley in the second half that he executed well but not quite well enough. He strikes me as that sort of player.

In truth, I am not a fully paid-up member of the Lamela fan club either – an improved player, and hard worker, but glancing ahead to Season 16/17 I fancy we would benefit from an upgrade in that position.

5. The Sum Of Things

If Leicester win tomorrow I fancy that might well be that. Either way, I have often ventured to anyone within earshot that watching Spurs will be the death of me, and if this afternoon’s absolutely nerve-shredder is anything to go by, at some point in the remaining six games I genuinely will keel over and tiptoe my way off this mortal coil.

The disappointment at not closing the gap is unavoidable, but if, come mid-May, we miss out by two points, I’m not sure anyone can hold today’s performance against them. Every sinew was duly strained, and we might equally have lost the thing as won it. The Arsenal home game is that one that still bugs me, if we’re counting such things, but today’s was a race run well enough.

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

Germany 2-3 England: Three Observations (Spurs-Tinted)

Admittedly only a friendly, but nevertheless one of those jamborees to have you climbing a rooftop and ringing a bally great big bell. A performance and comeback with an almighty amount of biff, and against no lesser opponents than the world champions, this felt like one to get the rowdier members of the parish council standing up and paying heed.

1. Tottenham Core

During an international break it takes a particular breed of toothsome fruitiness to stir AANP from the wine cellar, but the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the quill has indeed been applied to parchment. At the nub of the thing is a sentiment that cannot have escaped every beady eye – namely that the best England performance in a month of Sundays was founded upon a core of players that had a distinct lilywhite gloss to them.

The high pressing, high-tempo approach to life, which just about throttled the life out of the Germans, will have looked mighty familiar to anyone who has pootled along the roads of N17 in recent months. This, oddly enough, was an England team playing the image of Tottenham. Every time they lost the ball they swarmed as one to win it back, looking every inch like a team of excitable beasts let off the leash, and having served Spurs to the point of a Title-pop this season, the same recipe dashed well appeared to put the World Cup winners to the sword.

As if to add a pinch of subtlety to the comparison, this England team was fashioned from a backbone of Dier, Alli and Kane, who pretty much set the standard for things by putting into effect a meaty combo of ball-winning, harassment and some gloriously slick interplay. This Spurs core, right down the centre of the pitch, set the tone, and while it struck me that Henderson, Lallana, Welbeck and chums were not quite charging their glasses with quite the same gusto, they certainly got the gist of things.

2.  Back Four (And In Particular The Centre-Backs)

So when piling forwards our heroes certainly seemed braced for matters, cane in hand and hat tipped just so, but at the back one could not help feeling a less enthused by matters. The first goal was to a large extent just the way the cookie crumbles, what with poor old Butland having to alternate between broken ankle and unbroken ankle for an unfortunate minute or so. A black mark against young Dier, it should be noted, in failing to prevent the Kroos shot, but in the grand scheme of things this was not one to bring civilisation to its knees.

The second goal, however, was a different kettle of fish, not least because it was of the ilk that England seem to concede so dashed regularly. Against Balotelli and Suarez in the World Cup I seem to recall relatively straightforward balls into the area causing no end of bedlam within our back four. And as sure as night follows day, on Saturday night the England centre-backs again paraded around like toddlers in blindfolds, befuddled to within an inch of their lives by the combination of leather orb and lurking top-notch attacker. Not an easy task for them, granted, but progress in an international tournament will require a somewhat tighter padlock around the rear entrance, because Europe’s finest do not hang around for a snifter and cigar when presented with half a sight of the England net.

3. The Rooney Conundrum

Pop into your video box a flashback to Euro 2004 and its qualifiers, and I dare say you will rub your eyes in a heightened state of wonder, near enough agog at the sight of a young Wayne Rooney tearing through various European defences like a young bull doing his best to destroy a china shop in double-quick time. Fast forward a few birthdays, and Rooney’s performances tend to veer a little closer to ridiculous than sublime. The occasional eye-goggling volley does certainly ping into the top corner with the sweetness of a ripened nut, but as often as not the chap’s first touch seems to have packed its travel bag and wandered off for an extended sabbatical.

Given the general aplomb with which the England front five (or so) swagger this way and that as they go about their lawful business, one spots the issue at a pretty nifty rate of knots. This England attack is dashed well primed, with Alli behind Kane, pacy options in the wider areas and substitutes offering various combinations of speed and trickery. Barrelling Rooney into the midst of this is rather like attempting one of those awkward long-division sums as a child, that ends up with an answer of 17 but with a calamitous remainder of 13 or so, that just causes headaches whichever way one stares at the paper.

All eyes then on wise old Corporal Hodgson, who on the one hand has pledged understandable allegiance to his captain – who did after all make a habit of finding the net during the 100% qualifying campaign – but on the other hand will not be oblivious to the strengths of this new-look, all-singing, all-dancing England.

One notable addendum to this is the fact that despite his appearance as a kindly grandfather with no particular clue about how to operate the remote control, Hodgson does actually have a history of turning his baseball cap back to front and making some eye-catching calls. Cast your minds back to the last World Cup, and when James Milner appeared to offer the safety-first option in our opener against Italy, Hodgson inked himself a tattoo on his arm, moodily answered back to his parents and threw Raheem Sterling into the thick of the thing. The chap, it seems, moves in mysterious ways his team selections to perform.

Spurs 3-0 Bournemouth: Six Lilywhite Observations

1. Fast Start

No time to bed in and have a few early sighters, not with our lot. The opening toot of the whistle was the signal for the hounds to be released, and before one even had time to pour a stiff something into a tumbler and give it a swirl, young Kane was already racing away to dish out back-slaps and “What hos”.

Many a sage has trotted out the slightly peculiar adage that the best time to score is just before half-time – I’ll be pickled if I know quite why – and there certainly can be occasions when an early goal actually has a negative effect – disrupting game-plans, spurring on the opposition etc (I’m looking at you, England-Germany in Euro ’96).

But on this occasion a goal in the opening 44 seconds was happened to be the exact scribbling on the doctor’s prescription, absolutely verbatim. This Sunday kick-off business by and large means that every time we kick off we are already a decent glug behind Leicester in the timetable, and the tension around the place was lingering in a none-too-healthy way as the clock ticked down to 4pm today – so credit in abundance to Messrs Walker and Kane for coming up with the idea of scoring in the first minute. For thereafter our lot oozed confidence, Bournemouth looked like a team who would willingly run for the hills if the laws of the game allowed such things, and the whole jamboree resembled a fairly breezy cakewalk.

2. Top-Notch First Half

The first half was very much the stuff of the new-look, consistent and effective Tottenham. A world away from the Spurs who made my childhood such dashed agony, it appeared that confidence, rather than perspiration, oozed from the pores, as our heroes kept the ball for what seemed like full ten-minute stretches at a time and ground down the opponents with relentless efficiency. The full-backs set up camp alongside the midfielders, chances were carefully created, every man in lilywhite bobbed along with a spring in their step and all was right with the world.

Understandably enough the energy and enthusiasm dials appeared to be turned down considerably in the second half, as frankly the first half contained so many spoilers that we all knew how things would turn out fairly early on. And as our heroes dozily toyed with Bournemouth in the second half, every inch as flies to wanton boys, the thought struck me – ought we to have demonstrated the more clinical edge, of say a City or Chelsea of yesteryear? In their title-winning pomp, City have not simply gone through the motions in such instances, but instead put opponents to the sword and racked up five, six, seven.

Or did it make more sense simply to do as our lot did, take no risks, avoid any over-exertion, and simply see the thing out? Given that our goal difference is already comfortably superior to the other mobs, there is a strong case to be made for suggesting that our heroes got things absolutely spot on today. Three nil with minimal effort is more than enough at this stage of the thing.

Not a criticism, you understand, more of an idle musing as things wound down in the latter stages. (Although during those latter stages, we still came dashed close to scoring one of the goals of the season – that moment with the nifty Eriksen footwork and a few one-touch passes, before Alli got himself in a muddle and shot wide.)

3. Substitutions

With the game up before the hour mark, the next point of interest was the substitutes’ bench, as seasoned people-watchers subjected Pochettino to the usual scrutiny. I must confess I found myself raising an intrigued eyebrow as his first action was to give young Lamela the hook, particularly as the game was won. With Dier having been an injury doubt beforehand, and Alli, Demebele etc fairly critical to the upcoming denouement, it surprised me a smidge that one of the supporting cast was deemed ripe for plucking.

Still, Pochettino has demonstrated many a time and oft that he knows his apples from his oranges, so I will graciously allow him the benefit of the doubt. He will, no doubt, be thrilled.

4. What Now For Full-Back Rotation?

There are few sights in nature more eye-catching than young Kyle Walker flicking the switch to Turbo and absolutely steaming forward 50 yards to join an attack, and having struck oil with his very first foray he remained in the mood throughout.

The routine of swapping him and Rose for Trippier and Davies appears to have worked well enough, ensuring that all of them have enough puff in their lungs for their weekly assignment – but with our heroes now having been unceremoniously elbowed from European competition, I am intrigued to see what the official party line will be for full-backs in the coming weeks. There is now but one game a week, yet Pochettino is a man who will swap his full-backs if his own life depended upon retaining the same ones. An interesting little sub-plot, and for what it’s worth I think he will stick with Walker-Rose as the games tick by and push meets shove.

5. Vindication for Rotation

On the subject of rotation, Pochettino is far too polite a sort to brag, but having been subjected to various snuffles of disapproval (not least from within the four walls of AANP Towers) for abruptly deciding to wave the white flag at Dortmund in the last few weeks, our glorious leader will presumably allow himself a discreet nod of satisfaction that the resting of various luminaries in midweek paid off so handsomely this afternoon.

Credit where due, and if our lot do indeed wave the shiny thing around come May, nobody will care two hoots about squad rotation in Dortmund.

6. Wimmer Tribute

The whispers from behind the bike-shed suggest that Jan Vertonghen will be ready to burst back onto the scene, singing, dancing and looking immaculately coiffured, after the international break. Should that be the case he would, naturally enough, be welcomed back with a manly handshake and possibly a rugged back-slap, but if events should indeed transpire thusly, it seems only right to pay a brief but heartfelt tribute to his young deputy, Kevin Wimmer.

Despite appearing oddly like he ought to be wearing a tux and playing the bassoon in an orchestra somewhere, the chap has managed to put barely a foot wrong in the last few months. When Vertonghen limped off against Palace there were furrowed brows across N17, as we wondered whether our Title push was limping off with him, but Wimmer has patrolled the grounds with considerable aplomb.

There are ten others who can justifiably feel a tad miffed at having not had their five minutes here at AANP Towers tonight, for this was a top-notch stuff throughout the team. Sterner tests await no doubt, but while we could not win the league today, we could well have lost it had things gone South today. A most professional performance to take us into the international break. Merry Easter one and all.

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

Spurs 2-2 Arsenal: Five Dashed Frustrated Lilywhite Observations

1. A Dampish Squib

I suspect I was not the only one who, as matters progressed yesterday, found myself murmuring “Not so good, not so good.” The opening salvos were dished out well enough, and the ten-minute spell after the red card obviously had us all leaping from our seats like men possessed. Those shimmers aside however, this was decidedly not one that will have us gathering the grandchildren around the knee in decades to come.

The hows and whys of this particular dampish squib will require a fair amount of head-scratching and chin-stroking from our glorious leader. As mentioned, our heroes appeared to have the basics right in the opening few moments – facing the right way, stringing the passes along, slapping a few long-range efforts towards the chap in goal – but none of it was of the ilk to blow up anyone’s skirt. For all the scurrying and scuttling, we just weren’t getting anywhere.

And then before you knew it, we were one-down, it was the second half, and the concept of bludgeoning our way back into the game seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s minds. The brow furrowed.

Mercifully, that horrible lot from down the road had included in their ranks The Village Idiot, and his suitably dim-witted departure was more or less the equivalent of politely opening the door, waving us through, taking our coats from our shoulders and offering a glass of champagne. We could not have been ushered back into the game more agreeably, and at 2-1 with 20 minutes to go against ten men the thing really ought to have been beyond question.

But it wasn’t, and we didn’t, and so on and so forth. Consensus seems to have landed somewhere between ‘Fatigue’ and ‘Nerves’, which is fair enough on both counts. But nevertheless. This was not just supposed to be a toe-to-toe, tentative jabbing sort of affair. This was supposed to be the one in which we ripped Arsenal limb from limb and laughed manically at their bloodied torsos, then marched on irresistibly towards Leicester.

2. Luck

Moreover, I can fairly decidedly mark a big black cross across the phrase “Rotten Luck”, because if anything the gods of these things more or less nodded more in our direction. The goal-line technology moment could broadly be classified as a mite unfortunate, given that around eight ninths of the ball were behind the line, but rules is rules and the incident was little more than a footnote.

Instead, one might fairly validly point out that if the chappie had not got his red card we would probably have continued huffing and puffing all night to no avail. The advantage bestowed was certainly not one of our making.

On top of which, young Master Dier did rather well to keep his head down and wander off into the crowds when caught red-handed, on CCTV and in front of a global audience of near enough a billion. Admittedly one or two others also appeared to escape second bookings – but the gist of the thing was that our luck was decidedly in. And still, we talked our way out of a victory.

3. Lloris

Perhaps symbolic of how oddly uncooked they all looked was the performance of Monsieur Lloris. By and large one of the finer purveyors of such things, he pootled along sensibly enough yesterday until given his first significant piece of work – at which point he managed no more than to flap a soggy hand at the source of trouble, and the ball skidded and scuttled its way through almost apologetically.

On a related note, both yesterday and against West Ham, Lloris’ general attitude towards any backpasses nudged his way was to tapdance around the thing and invite all manner of trouble, which does no end of mischief to the constitution of those watching. It is absolutely beyond me why the chap cannot perform absolutely flawlessly for every single minute of every single occasion he plays for us.

4. Bright Spots

A tradition here at AANP Towers in the late hours of a weekend is to pour a glass of bourbon and muse on the standout lilywhite performances of the weekend, but this evening the task is by no means straightforward. The whole thing was oddly lacking in ripsnort, and as a result, of standout performers there are few.

Dembele certainly rolled around the pitch with the languid air of a man fully aware that he is a couple of levels ahead of the rest, but otherwise there were slim pickings. Rose was a self-contained conundrum, pounding forward enough to cause opposition concern, but invariably slapping his crosses against the nearest defender. The back-four dealt with the move which led to Arse’s second with all the alacrity of an elite group of napping elephants, and further up the pitch the whizz and bang of weeks gone by was a little lacking. It was no disaster, but all a mite underwhelming, given building the pre-match crescendo.

5. Kane goal

A dashed shame that Kane’s goal will be lost within the detail, because that was arguably the best of his lot so far. It reminded one of a cocky young sailor stepping ashore and sweeping the nearest young maiden off her feet – and the place duly erupted as if they had witnessed a North London derby winner of the highest order. Oh that the rest of them had read the script, but one must take the rough with the smooth.

A most peculiar barrel of eggs then, with its highs and lows standing shoulder to shoulder, but the nub of things is that chasing this Title has become a darned sight harder. On to the next one.

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

Fiorentina 1-1 Spurs: Naughty Dele Alli & 5 Other Lilywhite Notes

1. Who’s a Naughty Boy?

Every man and his dog in the television studios greedily lapped up the opportunity to pontificate like there was no tomorrow over Dele Alli’s latest indiscretion, and in truth one can understand it. The seasoned lilywhite observers will no doubt be well aware of young Master Alli’s penchant for the naughty. The furtive elbow into the ribs here, the trailing leg there and a generally irresistible urge to start a push-and-shove with anyone in the vicinity at least once per game.

Those of us who have been brought up on a strict diet of powderpuff Tottenham midfielders who can spray a delightful pass but would rather run for the hills than go crunching into a 50-50 will frankly be delighted with the attitude of young Alli. The last thing anyone wants is for the chap to retreat into his shell and pootle along in the shadows of each game – and in all honesty the chances of that actually happening are just about nil. More than likely, we will probably have to resign ourselves to the fact that every now and then Alli will be yanked aside by an eagle-eyed ref and told in no uncertain terms to remove himself from proceedings. So be it, for as anyone who has ever stared up at a guillotine will know, there comes a time in life when you just have to take the rough with the smooth. (Whether I will be quite so sanguine when picking up the pieces of his red cards is another matter). On a related note – worth a wager, for those who are that way inclined, on the fellow getting himself sent off at the Euros, what with the continental referees and all that nonsense.

2. Confidence – A Preference to the Habitual Voyeur

I have not paid too much attention to the vagaries of Italian club football since the halcyon days of Gazza, Winter Signori et al, to the glorious soundtrack of “GOOOOOOLAAAAAZZZZOOOOO” back in the early ‘90s. As such I have absolutely no idea what sort of standard Fiorentina are these days, or the strength of their XI that toddled out. Either way, it was pretty striking that until the (dashed fortunate) equaliser our heroes looked relatively comfortable. In the first half in particular we looked every inch the home side, such was our level of possession, and confidence on the ball. Given that we started similarly against City on Sunday, it did make me wonder, when exactly was the last time we played an away match in the traditional style of an away team? The point I’m harping about is that it seems a further testament to the progress of our heroes, that irrespective of opposition, venue or general prevailing social norms, even as an away team they tend to yank hold of initiative, confidence positively coursing through the veins, and just strut about like they own the place.

3. Protection for the Back-Four & The Bentaleb Scenario

For all that first half dominance, there were nevertheless a couple of occasions when Fiorentina worked their way jolly close to our goal, even at nil-nil and nil-one. The usual Dier-shaped protection that hovers in front of (and alongside) the back-four was rather conspicuously absent, and neither Mason nor Carroll quite delivered the same meaty chunks of goodness. There is no parallel universe in existence in which the replacement of Carroll with Dembele is a bad idea, and naturally enough the latter’s demonstration of muscle proved a marked contrast to the neat, tidy but lightweight bits and bobs of the former. Nevertheless, the point was made – Dier reaches the parts that various other central midfielders cannot.

Amidst all this the absence of Bentaleb was a curious one – it may be that he was simply injured? But if not, conspiracy theorists the world over will be shelving their moon-landing projects and tucking into the Great Bentaleb Disappearance story instead.

Pochettino for all his lovely cuddliness evidently does not suffer fools gladly, so it may be that Bentaleb has fallen foul of the law. Obviously heaven forbid that anyone should question the judgement of the great man, but it would be a wistful AANP who digested such a decision, if indeed such a decision has been made, because Bentaleb bears his canines with a darned sight more menace than Mason or Carroll when patrolling in front of the back line.

4. Game-Changer

Cruise control was rather rudely interrupted in the second half, by that deflected goal. It would be rather rich of us to complain about bad luck after Sunday’s events, but nevertheless we are probably entitled to take thirty seconds out of our rigorous daily routines to feel sorry for ourselves for the manner in which that equaliser looped in. Somewhere in the mists of time, Paul Parker and Peter Shilton are no doubt offering sympathetic inclines of the head.

That said, Mason could have broken into a gallop and worked up a full-blooded body-fling in an attempt to prevent the shot; and while Vorm’s travel bag is no doubt full to the brim with benefit of the doubt proffered from all sides, I am inclined to think he might have done better than that tangled flap. But then here at AANP Towers we always did prefer the stick to the carrot.

Once the goal was scored the match changed fairly dramatically. Credit to our heroes for weathering the initial storm that followed, and as the game edged towards its final toot events panned out in a manner that could be appropriately described as ‘To and Fro’, but the whole binge was far less comfortable than it might have been. Without exactly being overrun, we could well have lost the thing.

5. The Attack

For all the energy, and confidence, and possession, and all those similarly positive epithets that seem to be plastered over our every performance these days, the nagging concern remains at AANP Towers that when it comes to the final third, our lot are still one or two kippers short of a full English breakfast. An attempt was made to beef things up in the closing stages by bringing on Kane for Son, but it’s the supply-line as much as the anointed striker – we still lack a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to carving up an opponent as if gutting a fish. The occasional neat diagonal pass does not an irresistible force make.

In fact, the majority of our attacking thrust comes from any of our four full-backs, and Davies and Trippier certainly flew the flag with gusto today, at least when on the front foot. Davies’ latest forward burst brought a penalty, and by the end of the game Trippier appeared to be our principal attacking outlet, pitching up every sixty seconds or so on the corner of the opposition penalty area with a cheery wave, ready to whip in his latest offering.

6. “Vital” Away Goal

It is, of course, a legal requirement that any away goal scored in the first leg of a European tie is automatically classified as “vital”. Non-vital away goals simply do not exist. Which makes it all the more regrettable that the whole fabric of the European away-goal continuum could have been broken if we had capitalised upon our opening hour serenity by pilfering a couple more away goals, rendering them all non-vital, and turning things into a straightforward three-goal lead to defend at the Lane.

I’ll start again. In the grand scheme of things, one-one away from home can be greeted with cautious optimism, but this does feel rather like doing things the traditionally Tottenham way. Advantage lilywhite, but plenty of perspiration still to go. The nifty squad rotation was a qualified success, but next week will be no cakewalk and so on and so forth. You get the gist.

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

Spurs 1-0 Watford: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Davies

Amongst they many sunny innovations introduced by our glorious leader into N17 is the fact that when it comes to attacking, just about every man and his dog is heartily encouraged to fasten his bayonet, clear his throat and charge straight in. Admittedly Monsieur Lloris is excluded from all the fun, but at any given time we have at least seven men sniffing blood and yowling at the moon. That Kane and the three behind him will be primed to attack is a given, and Dembele is never particularly averse to puffing out his chest and bulldozing forward; but with Eric Dier obediently filling in as a third centre-back whenever we are in possession, licence is also duly granted to the full-backs to go hurtling forward at the merest whiff of an attack. (The casual reader ought to be made aware at this point that the strategy of employing a defensive midfielder to act as a locum third centre-back was first introduced by AANP on Championship Manager in the late ‘90s – albeit to slightly less devastating effect than the current Spurs vintage, as relegation was only avoided on the final day of the season as I recall.)

Back in the realms of the real world, young Messrs Davies and Trippier duly got stuck in like a pair of kids granted the bonus of opening a present on Christmas Eve of all things, as neither could be restrained from tearing forward into the final third. Davies in particular scurried forward like a man possessed, channelling is his inner Bale to set up camp in a position about twenty yards from the Leicester by-line, and the afternoon quickly became notable for the sight of him haring off into the area at approximately every thirty seconds.

Not that this gung-ho spirit alone was sufficient to win the game, cure cancer and end global poverty, for Davies’ final ball still tends to miss as well as hit – but no doubt about it, the mere presence of a left-back galloping at them in fifth gear undeniably had the Watford back-line exchanging worried looks, as if to say to one another “What ho!”

2. Trippier

A dashed shame that Davies’ forays brought little more than wistful groans from the crowd, for he deserved more. Merrily however, out on t’other flank, Trippier similarly took the hint and, having waved a cheery ‘Adieu’ to his chums in the lilywhite back-four, he spent the afternoon making himself at home in the role of de facto winger, flying forward as the right-sided member of our attacking septet. Clearly such things have an addictive edge, for not content with the role of flying winger he then went the whole hog and turned himself into a Number 9, poaching from inside the six-yard box. Young people will do such things. All a far cry from my days as an eminently forgettable schoolboy right-back when any journey north of the halfway line required a brief lie-down to cope with the drama of it all, but Pochettino knows his apples from his pears, and this season every outfield player is buying into the notion that ‘Someone has to score, dash it, so why not get involved?’

3. Profligacy

Mind you, it’s a good job that young Trippier did indeed take time out from the day-job to treat us to his Gary Lineker (circa 80s-90s) impression, because nobody else seemed to have solved the riddle of putting ball in net. Apparently we pinged in 26 shots during the course of yesterday’s binge – 26! – which really begs the question of what on earth is wrong with our heroes’ radars. Admittedly Gomes in the Watford goal was in elastic mood, but nevertheless. One goal from twenty-six shots is the sort of thing that ought to have the whole lot of them queueing up at the confessional. It is more of a side-note than a grumble, but it occurred to me as Watford won their first corner, with about ten minutes remaining, that by that stage the thing really ought to have been tucked up in bed with a soothing lullaby, rather than still hanging in the balance.

4. Lamela – Chadli

Pochettino comes across as far too good an egg to do anything as naughty as make rude gestures or anything similarly dastardly, but I do wonder whether he might have aimed a meaningful look at one or two observers, as he handed in his teamsheet. A fair amount of hot air and ink has been invested in questioning the depth of our squad this season (not least in these quarters, I should probably admit), but having made a habit of swapping his full-backs around like ping-pong balls under paper cups in some sort of magic trick, our glorious leader took his squad rotation to a new level yesterday by fiddling with the knobs and dials further up the pitch. Out went Dele Alli and Sonny Jimbo, and in came Lamela, the furry rodent that sits permanently atop Lamela’s head and Nacer Chadli.

Lamela and Chadli both did adequately enough without exactly leaving grown men quivering in speechless delight, but the proof of the pudding was in the scoreboard at around 16.52 GMT, and as such we can laud a selection well tinkered. Dele Alli was given some extra time to catch his breath and post on social media, or whatever it is the young folk do these days, and the world was reminded that there are plenty of ensemble members willing and able to slot into the spots behind the front man. And that, in as many words, is just about the point of squad rotation, no?

With Dembele having already had an enforced break this season, and young Wimmer having marked his replacement of Vertonghen with consecutive clean sheets, it appears that squad depth is not necessarily quite the headache that one had anticipated when the clocks went back a few months ago. Indeed, the only chaps whose services seem to be required come hell or high water are Dier (either in midfield or, in the Cups, at centre-back) and Kane. One does not really want to contemplate the consequences of a long-ish term absence of the latter, so we just won’t. The point is, changes can be made but our spine remains strong and the incoming personnel seem capable enough.

5. Second In The League!

And by golly, just look where we are now! Some may suggest that we have been here before, and there would be a modicum of truth in the claim – but not in mid-February, what? At the time of writing we are still at least five points clear of fifth, and still, bizarrely, in with a sniff of the title. Which is simply not a thing I ever thought would happen in my lifetime. My head currently says third, the minimum now must be fourth, and, absurdly, we have an outside shot at the title. A head-scratcher for sure. But given that at the start of the season I had realistically suggested fifth, there already seems reason enough to start sharpening the knives and throwing pointed glances in the direction of the fattened calf. Just about every Spurs fan I know has that sentiment of part-gloom, part-realism deep within their core, and consequently we are all fairly adamant that there something will go wrong between now and mid-May – but I am quite happy to worry about that at the appropriate time. For now, second in the league is a splendid way to end the weekend.

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

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