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Palace 1-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Eric Dier’s Return

Those whose dispositions are hard and eyes unsmiling will no doubt have noted that after three consecutive wins in a team without Eric Dier, his return to the starting eleven immediately brought an end to the winning sequence. Admittedly – and as fans of Jose will be particularly aware – when it comes to proving anything, Statistics are right up there on the rostrum alongside Lies and Damned Lies. That we failed to win with Dier restored does not automatically make him culpable.

However, the fang-baring critics would no doubt hammer home the fact that young Master Dier can hardly be excused blame simply by citing the age-old defence that It’s-a-team-game-and-all-the-lads-are-in-it-together-so-it’s-collective-responsibility-in-victory-and-defeat-what?

Alas for young Master Dier, when the queue forms for those individually responsible for the goal we conceded, the man himself is slap bang at the front, head bowed and not daring to look either way – as such pretty accurately mimicking his behaviour at the corner from which Palace scored. ‘Dereliction of duty’ just about covers it.

Over in these parts, the objections to Dier’s presence in the team have been pretty well documented, but for those who take one look at the AANP pages and decide they’d be better employed in sawing of their own thumbs than bothering to read it, the gist is that for all his bone-jarring challenges and hard-man persona, the young bean appears to have been designed for stature rather than speed, and therefore seems too often to be a few steps behind the breakneck pace of things; on top of which, for one supposedly comfortable on the ball, his passing strikes me as being as frequently off-boil as on.

The case for the defence would doubtless point to much of his performance yesterday, notably in bailing out the excruciatingly average Davies when trouble began to smoulder on the left side of our defence, and also in taking a few opportunities to stride out of defence and play a forward pass.

Commendable moments indeed, and I suppose it goes to show that life is rarely black and white. Dier has his assets; Dier has his flaws. I nevertheless maintain that he is not of high enough standard, particularly within a team that appears set up to spend up to 70% of a game on the defensive.

(As an aside, it’s also worth noting that when Toby is one side of the centre-back pairing, his partner always looks a notch or two better than when Toby is absent. As with Sanchez in recent weeks so with Dier yesterday. The moral of the story appears to be that Toby is a prized asset whose every wish must be granted and every ailment treated with the utmost concern; and that a top-class partner for the chap would not go amiss.)

2. Another Game, Another Kane Masterclass

Another week, another tour de force from Harry Kane. It’s a quirk of circumstance that if he produced such impressive feats only on an occasional basis they might well be greeted by crowds lining streets, strewing of garlands and a zoom call from the nearest available on-the-ball royal. Instead, precisely because he trots them out so regularly, the general reaction now is simply to shrug, playfully punch someone on the shoulder and declare, “Ah, that Harry Kane, eh? Doing the scarcely believable yet again! And by the way, rain is forecast in the Third Test, wouldn’t you know?”

We take his magnificence for granted because he produces the scarcely believable so regularly. So, ultimately, if the chap is underappreciated, I suppose it’s his own fault.

Yesterday, his goal was made to look pretty straightforward fare, when in fact, of the multiple combinations on offer, the one he adopted was just about the only one that could have brought about a goal. With the entire Palace defence around him and the space of approximately one shoebox in which to operate, he had shifted feet, brought the ball under control and planted a shot at the near post before most of us mere mortals had clocked that he had even taken possession.

On top of which, even those moments in which he drops into midfield to ping an inch-perfect, no-look pass hither or yonder are now becoming something of a weekly occurrence. The chap has somehow turned himself into a combination of both Shearer and Sheringham.

3. A Rush of Excitement When We Concede A Corner

Part of this dubious ‘New Normal’ under Jose, within the hallowed gates of N17, is that the jar marked “Priorities” has been opened, tipped upside down and its contents scattered about the place, so that now one is never really quite sure whether they are coming or going.

It’s a world in which 30% possession is good; semi-permanent residence in or around our own penalty area is to be cheered to the rafters; and a key element of The Grand Plan is quite often simply to bloot the ball 60 yards up the pitch and unleash the hounds in attack.

And an adjunct to this curious state of affairs is that now when we concede a corner, the AANP blood begins to rush around the arteries that much quicker, and the excitement begins to build. This, to repeat, when we concede a corner. When near enough all eleven members of the gang are parked inside our own area and the ball is about to go within spitting distance of our own net.

But such is The Jose Way. Concede a corner, and the opposition merrily send all but two or three of their own mob up the pitch and out of position. Bop the ball away from immediate danger – and the chances of doing so are generally at least in 50-50 territory – and suddenly the tables turn Spurs-wards, because the break is on, and Kane, the three musketeers and any other soul in lilywhite who happens to be captured by the whim are haring up the pitch.

And so, to repeat, when we concede a corner, the AANP eyes light up. Our lot have demonstrated often enough that we can sally along from our area to theirs within about ten seconds and three well-placed passes – and if most of the opposition defence are already up north and well out of position then so much the better.

The principal observation on this peculiar state of affairs (besides from creating a brand of football completely at odds with the Tottenham way) is that it’s a pretty dashed risky game. Now I’m as fond of yelling “Pull” and downing a clay pigeon as the next fellow, but if there is one trait of AANP it is that he knows when and when not to take risks, and as such my dalliance with firearms ends about there. Offer me the clay pigeon and I’m your man; slide a loaded pistol into my hand and murmur about the benefits of Russian Roulette, and I’ll have my polite letter of refusal whipped up within seconds.

Jose, however, seems to thrive on this risk-laden scenario, actively encouraging the opposition to come ever closer to our goal, all with the aim of increasing the chances of a breakneck game of cat-and-mouse when possession is turned over. Its success relies upon the opposition drawing ever nearer to our own goal. The risks were laid pretty bare when Palace used one of their corners to score.

On top of which, on several occasions yesterday, rather than simply clear their lines and be done, our lot played themselves into trouble by dallying on the edge of their own area in search of the perfect pass to set up a counter-attack. One understands the thought-process, but the risks seem huge. As I observed this fandango play out with morbid fascination, the thought did occur that there surely ought to be less risk-laden ways of eking out wins, given the personnel on hand.

4. Europa

It seems almost to discredit the tumultuous nature of the season just endured to declare it over with little more by way of summary than the words, “Sixth; Europa” – and yet, anyone uttering such a truth would be right on the money.

There have, of course, been countless other highs and lows, from Sonny wonder goals to Poch exit-shuffles, but the long and short of it is that Europa it is.

Opinion on this seems somewhat divided. In the Credit column, it is, apparently, a tenth consecutive season of European competition, which, as well as having a pleasing ring about it, also suggests that as a club we are in fairly solid shape, and presumably are spoken of in the high-flying smoking rooms around Europe in terms that are complimentary enough.

Moreover, lest Daniel Levy is casting his eye over these pages, I probably ought to mention that qualification also brings with it £10m, to be stuffed into the back pocket at the earliest convenience. So far, so good, and approving nods all round.

The AANP verdict however, is a little more on the cooler side of things. Whereas every game in the Champions League is sprinkled with some Hollywood sparkle, the earlier stages of the Europa have much about them of the boys’ stag-weekend in some seedy corner of the continent.

Moreover, I cannot shake from my memory the recollection of those seasons in which we did make a decent fist of a Title challenge, only to fall away in the final stages, and be bested by Leicester and Chelsea teams that were free from any European football at all. Not that these things can necessarily be quantified of course, but common sense does suggest that their respective gangs might have been a little fresher towards the latter end of the season for the absence of a constant midweek game in the earlier part. As such, I would quite happily have finished outside the European spots if it meant an improved chance of Top Four qualification next season.

5. Jose’s Talk of Winning The Europa

An additional argument in favour of Europa entry is that it’s an eminently winnable trophy, and indeed this line has been peddled by Our Glorious Leader himself in recent weeks. In fact, he’s been referring to it as a given, stating that if we finish sixth this season we will the Europa next. This did strike me initially as making a fairly sizeable assumption or two, but if he liked to put things that way I saw no reason to stop him.

However, on reflection I found myself growing to admire this take on things. Some might call it arrogance, and it would be a reasonable shout, but Jose comes across as the sort of egg who does not sneeze without carefully planning its timing, audience and calculated effect. When Jose says we will win next season’s Europa, I have a sneaky suspicion that what he is trying to do is gently shove a winning mentality into the heart of the club.

After all, that glorious afternoon of Woodgate’s unknowing header was back in 2008 – we are not a club used to winning trophies. Ours is not a trophy-winning mentality. Eke our way towards a Cup Final and we the fans will dolefully peer around at the other teams left in the competition, and play down our chances – it is a pretty fair bet that the players themselves rarely consider themselves favourites.

So maybe Jose is onto something when he drills into the otherwise vacant loaves of the players that actually this is a trophy that they should be winning. Maybe this is all part of The Plan.

Spurs 2-1 Arsenal: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Jose’s Masterplan

Being a noble sort, having spent the last six months aiming pelters at Jose from all angles for the bad he has done our club, I have no problem whatsoever in muttering a grudging half-compliment in his direction, for masterminding The Most Jose Victory Imaginable. Cut AANP open and you find humility coursing through his veins.

I asked on these very pages last week whether we would take a trophy playing the way we have been (specifically it was after beating Everton in a game that made the nation’s eyes bleed) – and while the answer over here is, I’m afraid, still a resounding “Not on your life,” nothing soothes the soul like beating that ‘orrible lot from South London. Seeing Sol Campbell looking so deflated in the telly box afterwards was a charming bonus.

The second half in particular spelled out in huge font exactly how The Masterplan was to work. Team Lilywhite kept their shape admirably, and made the conscious decision to rock onto the back foot and soak up all that Arse could throw our way. An approach not without risk, but to their credit each individual carried out their instructions, maintaining discipline in both position-keeping and decision-making.

It would be stretching things to say it was backs-to-the-wall stuff, “Arm’s length” being the more accurate headline for that particular half hour’s frivolities, and let’s not forget that Arse were within a lick of paint of getting their goal and leaving us in a considerable pickle.

The reward on this defensive investment came in the form of counter-attacks, which gradually increased in frequency as the second half wore on. The pace of Sonny and occasionally Lucas, coupled with the usual bloody-mindedness of Kane, ensured that there was plenty of threat about this counter-attack, and with Arse boasting their very own version of Serge Aurier in that lad Mustafi, opportunities for our lot going forward were scattered surprisingly liberally. Indeed, in the final ten or so, once Arse had to chase the game, we might have had far more than just the single-goal lead.

2. Formation

Having tinkered on a weekly basis with personnel, formations and intricate instructions involving lopsided wing-backs when attacking and interchanging of positions depending on the angle of the sun in the sky, Jose switched to 4-4-2, and a calm descended upon the team.

Given that this has become the worst Tottenham side since the 90s, there was a pleasing symmetry to the choice of this most 90s-esque formation, but it proved a good move. For a start, any reversion to 90s popular culture gets the AANP Seal of Approval, and moreover 4-4-2 seemed a sufficiently uncomplicated system for even our most stupid personnel to understand.

It was pretty rigid stuff, but after the interpretative dance routines that have been on display defensively in recent games, some rigidity was much needed. Within this 4-4-2 the instructions were pretty clear all round. Essentially, all eleven were popped into position at the outset, ordered to stay there throughout, and just like that we had some much-needed structure.

In fact, rather than a 90s homage, there was something of ‘Arry’s Tottenham about the set-up, with Winks and Lo Celso giving passable imitations of Hudd and Modric on sentry duty in front of a back four.

Whether or not this is the formation to be adopted going forward remains to be seen, but it was both charming and, crucially, effective in its simplicity. Our lot held their positions and repelled whatever was thrown at them, limiting Arse to precious few clear chances, and countered in a speedy blur of legs as the game wore on.

3. Lucas’ Contribution

Of course, all the planning in the world, masterful or not, would have counted for precious little if our heroes had wandered off and boiled their heads, so it was a blessed relief that by and large they obediently carried out instructions like a pack of well-trained Labradors.

It was also pretty crucial that they displayed a dashed sight more vim about their business than in recent weeks. Admittedly, the bar in this respect could hardly have been lower, but it was still necessary that someone set the tone, and in this respect Lucas made his most important – and, some cynics might impertinently intone, his first – contribution since The Miracle of Amsterdam, by racing out of the starting blocks to thwack a first-minute effort against the palms of the Arse goalkeeper.

That it did not go in was relatively moot – the important point was that at least one of our lot appeared sufficiently awake to have understood that a football match was in progress, and if any of his teammates had missed the memo beforehand, that contribution might have reinforced the message.

Lucas looked lively throughout the first half, albeit within the confines of his left midfield pen. In a curious way, the limitations of his position seemed to liberate him, and he did not need asking twice to get his head down and attempt a dribble.

Even more impressive was his vision and weighting of a pass into Kane in the second half – from which, I think, Kane’s saved shot brought about the corner from which Toby scored. Admittedly there is something of the butterfly-flapping-wings-in-one-continent-and-all-hell-breaking-loose-in-another about that, but it was a heck of a pass nevertheless. Others may get the plaudits (although the game was not brimming with stand-out contributions), but Lucas’ little inputs played their part.

On an editorial note, I have since found out that he made more tackles than anyone else seemingly in history, so back-slaps galore in his direction.

4. Serge Aurier – Still Our First Choice Right-Back

Meanwhile, Serge Aurier was busy doing what Serge Aurier does.

That none of his moments of utter cranial absence resulted in goals/penalties/red cards does not mask the fact that he still continues to litter them about the place with the carefree insouciance of a man who knows there is not another bona fide right-back at the club.

(Strictly speaking one might point an accusing finger at him for not mopping things up immediately prior to the first Arse goal, but given that the goal was both a) random and b) blistering in nature, I’ll deign to excuse him for that one.)

The goal aside, Aurier produced his usual medley – a needless corner here, a needless going to ground there. And this, head-scratchingly, is our undisputed number one when it comes to the number 2 shirt.

Young Walker-Peters has at least been gaining playing time out at Southampton, but the chap does not yet appear anywhere near the standard needed for a supposed CL team. Other options at right-back include Foyth, Toby and Sissoko – none of whom were sculpted for the role by Mother Nature.

When one harks back to the Walker-Rose axis of a few years ago, one realises quite what a difference a top class full-back can make. Aurier at right-back is a wrong that needs righting as a matter of priority this summer.

5. Toby’s Many Virtues (Including Not Being Eric Dier)

Mercifully, at the other end of the scale of Defensive Ability from Aurier sits Toby Alderweireld.

Had Eric Dier not waded into the stands to engage in polite conversation all those months back, he might not have been banned, might still be starting in defence and, arguably, our back-four would not have looked half as robust as it has done since he was bundled off the stage and Toby brought in.

Random, unprompted moments of defensive madness are now at a minimum, which might sound a strange compliment to pay any team above Sunday League level, but when one considers quite how many goals we’ve conceded from individual errors this season, this absence of U.M. of D.M. actually becomes pretty crucial. And Toby can take a heck of a lot of credit for this.

For a start, he just does not make as many mistakes as Dier and Sanchez, on top of which his reading of the game generally has the effect of dousing a fire before the flames ever really kick in and make merry.

One can only speculate, but as a supporter the presence of Toby in the back four immediately lowers the pulse, reduces the greying and adds a few years onto life expectancy; one imagines that behind the diplomatic witterings the players themselves must be queueing up to thank Jose for picking him.

Lovely headed goal, too (and when was the last time we ever saw the late, lamented Christian Eriksen deliver a corner of that quality?)

6. The Jose Way’ vs ‘The Tottenham Way’

A win against that lot is always to be enjoyed, but I maintain that there is something galling about seeing our heroes set up to defend and counter. Ceding possession and camping in our own defensive third seems to me a little too close to announcing that we consider ourselves not as good as the other lot, and avoiding going toe-to-toe.

One would understand the sentiment against Barcelona away, but this is a fairly moderate Arse side. At what point do we consider ourselves capable enough simply to outplay an opponent? And, more to the point, aren’t we a club built upon the notion of outplaying an opponent, making exceptions only for the likes of Barcelona away – and even then only because there is a home leg to come?

It might be, however, that insisting that we stick to The Tottenham Way, at a time when confidence is shot and a result is desperately needed, is simply allowing pride to have its devious way – and since we’re going so big on 90s themes today, it is probably worth remembering that Marcellus Wallace, of Pulp Fiction fame, had some pretty pointed and uncomplimentary thoughts on pride. In short, he was not a fan.

I maintain that most other managers worth their salt would find more pleasing ways to get us from A to B. However, for now at least, Jose it is – and this appears to be The Masterplan. Yesterday it could not have been much more effective, but the prospect of this approach becoming the norm in N17 does still makes one shudder with a nameless fear.

Bournemouth 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Jose’s Masterplan

Being the trusting sort – the sort who, when a friend says they’re popping out for a minute, will dutifully count to sixty before wondering whether to call the police – I’ve always been inclined to trust that my elders and betters have a pretty panoramic view of things and know exactly what they’re up to.

It would happen under Sven, when, like an obedient dog wagging the tail at its master, I’d ignore the evidence of every previous knockout game in which we clung on to a one-goal lead for dear life before losing on penalties, and assume that this time the chap had learnt from mistakes and hatched a more nuanced plan.

So when Jose breezed through the front door, despite having yowled beforehand that he wasn’t the AANP choice, I sucked up the theory that here was a chap who by hook or by crook – or by downright negativity – ground out results, and duly toddled over to present him with the benefit of the doubt.

Alas, that innocence of youth has now been ground into the dust, and replaced by the sort of cynical and weary scowl generally reserved for Dickensian undertakers who go around startling folk in the shadows. Where previously I would have stuck up for the blighter in charge, match after match, this time I’ve seen enough, and I sneer at the man who claims he hasn’t.

The bods who know about these sort of things define “despair” as “the absence of hope”, and if that’s the case then it exists by the sackload within these four walls. There is nothing to offer a semblance of hope at present. To a man, not one of our lot seem to be playing above themselves; as a team there is no sense of a plan. Regarding the former, it would be a handy bonus if Jose could coax a little individual improvement here or there; but in terms of the latter the chap ought to take full responsibility, and this absence of a plan has seen AANP fly through all seven stages of grief within the space of 90 minutes while observing our heroes impotently flail away.

I now watch our lot out of a sense of duty, rather than any sliver of hope, excitement or enjoyment – and if that isn’t a nadir I don’t know what is.

This season is now a write-off. Much therefore hinges on how well – or otherwise – we begin 20/21.

The hope is that, irrespective of results, we start playing with some flair or, at the very least, some semblance of a strategy (beyond soak up and hope to counter). If Jose has a masterplan, it absolutely has to be unveiled this summer.

Likelier, and presumably the subject of Daniel Levy’s bedtime prayers, is that the turgid style of play remains in situ but results at least improve. This strikes me as the worst of all worlds, as it would mean this bizarre brand of anti-football remains without a cat in hell’s chance of shifting the man at the helm.

The other potential scenario is that even after a pre-season and a signing or two, we start next season peddling this same garbage, and results remain no better than mid-table fare, or worse. If CL qualification next season appears unlikely from the autumn, Paymaster Levy’s trigger finger would presumably itch. By virtue of including the most welcome by-product of the sacking of Jose, this is numero uno on the AANP wishlist, scrawled in block capitals and double-underlined.

2. Lo Celso: Counter-Attacking vs Static

When one can witter away about the manager for so long and still struggle for comment about the game itself, you know it’s been a stinker, and this, yet again, was another contender for “Worst We’ve Witnessed.”

For the second time in a week, Lo Celso, having slightly desperately been heralded over here as the great hope for our future, was given the luxury of a couple of more defensive-minded sorts behind him. As such, he appeared to have a licence to slink forward and do his darnedest – and while the awfulness of recent weeks has tempered excitement levels, there was still a little hope here at AANP Towers that this might be the moment for the lad to puff out his chest and take on the responsibility of string-puller-in-chief.

No such luck. Whatever malaise is infecting our heroes, Lo Celso is not immune, and he pottered around no more or less toothless than anyone around him.

It currently appears that he is at his best when taking the reins as we counter-attack. When everything is a blur of limbs, and everyone is on the gallop towards the opposition goal, Lo Celso sparks into life. He seems to be blessed with the knack of spotting a pretty smart pass whilst on the run, as well as the ability to weight it just so.

By contrast, when the game stodgily meanders, with the opposition in defensive position and our lot endlessly knocking the ball sideways, Lo Celso seems no better informed than anyone else on how to put an end to the dreadful torpor.

3. Important Save From Lloris

The stock of our World Cup-winning captain has just about fallen off a cliff in the last season or two, as needless clanger has followed needless clanger, but yesterday he earned his weekly envelope in pretty smart fashion, on the one occasion on which some quick thinking was required.

It was towards the end of proceedings, when a Bournemouth chappie randomly scampered into our area, his progress completely unimpeded by anyone in light blue. A disastrous finale appeared imminent, but Lloris displayed a hitherto unseen sprinkling of common sense by dashing from his line, spreading himself in the manner of one attempting to frighten a small child and generally doing enough to smother the incoming shot before the attacker had a chance properly to weigh his options and do anything decisive.

It was worth a goal, and having stocked up on rotten tomatoes with which to pelt Lloris for errors in previous weeks, decorum dictates that I tip the cap in his direction for this.

4. Toby and Jan

It might not necessarily be a popular view, but I was far from disappointed to hear that Eric Dier was to be marched off the premises and locked in a dungeon for the next couple of weeks. Weighing the chap’s pros and cons, I find little to recommend his presence amongst the troupe.

His principle asset appears to be that aggressive, no-nonsense outlook he has on life, which typically translates into crunching tackles, the like of which, admittedly, are not usually a feature of Team Lilywhite. However, such challenges are of little value when mistimed, which his seem to be as often as not. Rather than keeping a lid on things they tend to result in free kicks and yellow cards.

Neither is he blessed with blistering pace, and when stationed in central defence, the notion of him being one of life’s natural leaders and organisers is not necessarily supported by the evidence of recent weeks, in which our defence has shown all the organisation of a gaggle of toddlers on a sugar rush.

In contrast to the shambles of recent weeks, for which Dier was not the only culprit but certainly amongst them, yesterday we were treated to the restoration of the Jan-Toby axis, and life at the rear of the team immediately appeared more serene.

Blistering pace they might not boast, but both Belgians know their eggs and position themselves adroitly, and their performances were notable for the general absence of drama throughout. No Dier-esque mistimed challenges, no Sanchez-esque misjudgements of flighted balls. Two appearances by Toby have brought two consecutive clean sheets. All set for Sunday then.

Spurs 2-0 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane Getting Back Up to Speed

This whole thing was a marked improvement on the previous grilling, vs Man Utd – which admittedly was not difficult, given how low we set the bar on that occasion – and as Kane motored off into the distance to pop the cherry on things it struck me that his individual performance loosely summed up the general gist of things.

Against Man Utd he had barely registered his participation, seeming to serve decorative value only and appearing to have forgotten many of the basics of physics whenever involved in the action, judging by his negligible ball control and pretty severe case of the huffs and puffs when required to move. Similarly, our lot as a whole seemed unfit, devoid of ideas and pretty content to tick the box marked ‘Passive’ rather than ‘Active’.

Yesterday, however, Kane gave a pretty good impression of one who, if not necessarily firing on every conceivable cylinder, was nevertheless giving the engine a pretty thorough going-over – and indeed, the team as a whole at least seemed to peddle a bit more ambition than before, albeit against pretty limited opposition.

Those keenly observing Kane’s performance, with checklist in hand and pen at the ready, were kept well involved throughout. There were early hints that his memories of former glories were returning, as in the first half he pinged a shot from distance and then spread play to the wings – with the outside of his boot, no less – both pretty sure signs that, having been kept hidden from view against Man Utd, the Kane of old was making a bid for freedom here.

It continued in the second half with a lung-busting sprint of all things. Admittedly this ended in anticlimactic fashion, with him dragging his shot wide, but nevertheless, for a chap whose likeliest weakness is probably a lack of pace, the sight of him overtaking various defenders as he hared towards the penalty area would no doubt have had some pretty knowing looks exchanged in living rooms across the country.

And as if to emphasise the point, he did near enough the same thing again ten minutes later, but to better effect. The weighting of Sonny’s pass helped no end, meaning as it did that there was little need to break stride or take too many touches, but Kane’s hamstrings still held up well to the rigours of a dash towards goal, and his finish made the whole thing look vastly more straightforward than it was.

He then lay on the ground for around a minute refilling his lungs, but one can excuse that. It might not quite be peak Kane just yet, but this was far brighter stuff than I had dared hope.

2. Dele’s Free(Ish) Role

After West Ham’s initial ten-minute surge had gone up in smoke, and possession was ours to do with as we pleased, the game gradually settled into that age-old conundrum of how to break down two banks of four that have set up camp and desire little more in life than to remain that way with net untroubled.

A pretty convoluted plan seemed to have been concocted in this respect, with The Brains Trust deciding to cut their losses on Aurier by stationing him up the pitch as a right winger, thereby minimising his capacity to produce the calamitous within shooting distance of his own goal.

Meanwhile on t’other flank Ben Davies had presumably been fitted with one of those tagging devices that prevented him from mooching too far beyond the halfway line.

All of which meant that Sonny was our sole representative on the left flank and therefore had limited opportunity to cut infield and hare towards goal, and the AANP was left swimming a bit as it tried to work out the mechanics of the whole thing.

In short however, all the tactical scrawls in the world could not disguise the fact that our lot were pretty ponderous in possession – neither shifting the ball quickly when they had it, nor moving enough off the ball when they didn’t.

The pleasing exception to this rigidity was Dele. Whether under instruction to do so or simply exercising his autonomy and going where he pleased, as young folk will do, the rascal floated hither and thither, and by so-doing added a drop of the unexpected to our gentle probings.

Only a drop, mind. There was much of the inside left about his role, but when opportunity arose he seemed to go for a wander into pockets of space – on one such occasion inviting a lovely through ball from Davies, who had evidently broken his own positional diktat to wander up the pitch, and Dele was away in the penalty area.

The young egg’s swagger was also in evidence once again, with drag-backs and flicks aplenty. This can grate a little – there is, after all, a time and a place for such nonsense – but in general I thought he struck the right balance, injecting a little spontaneity into our attacking play that otherwise was pretty heavily steeped in the monotony of sideways passing.

It was a shame for him that he was hooked early in the second half, just as the game began to open up and the fun to start, but this constituted a decent innings on his return to the side.

3. Lo Celso Easing Into The Groove

The Man of the Match gong was officially awarded to Lo Celso, which was reasonable enough, but there is certainly more to come from the chap.

In the first half in particular, when, as mentioned above, we laboured to precious little effect, I thought we might have benefitted from grabbing the lad by his armpits, hoisting him into the air and depositing him some twenty yards further up the pitch, to sprinkle some mischief. In a world of sideways pass upon sideways pass, the vision and technique of Lo Celso makes him stand out as one of the few amongst us who might magic a chance out of nothing.

Indeed, on the one occasion that he did make it to the heady heights of the edge of the West Ham area his jinking feet made an instant impact, creating the chance for Sonny that was ruled out.

As the game became rather more stretched in the second half he became more prominent, able to indulge his partiality for embarking on a gentle gallop with ball at feet. One suspects he will be a pretty significant presence within the Mourinho vintage.

4. Ndombele – Persona Non Grata

There were other, low-key points of note – Sissoko became more dominant as the game progressed, Aurier not for the first time seemed rather to enjoy life without all that defensive nonsense burdening him – but one of the more significant developments of the evening was the conspicuous absence of a certain member of the troupe.

What future for Tanguy Ndombele in lilywhite? Fit enough for the elongated bench, but presumably not rated highly enough even for a late cameo to add some protection to midfield (young Master Winks instead thrown on for the final few minutes, to play the role of burly doorman), a betting man would presumably steer well clear of any wager on Ndombele to be the fulcrum around which the team is built.

Much was made pre-lockdown of Ndombele’s rather alarming lack of puff, and the young bean’s training regime during lockdown received similarly hefty coverage. As such, I suspect I was not the only one eagerly awaiting the sight of him emerging trim and buoyant, newly entrusted by Jose to turn defence into attack.

The reality appears vastly at odds with this scenario. The shape of the things in the immediate future appears to include the move of Dier back into defence, Sissoko and Winks as the more trusted deep-lying sorts, and Lo Celso pulling strings for the headline-seekers in attack – with Ndombele left to socially distance in the stands.

With games coming thick and fast in coming weeks one would expect that he’ll be beckoned to the fore at some point, but if the first two games are indicators of how Jose sees the world – and there’s every reason to interpret them as such – then this new normal does not appear to include Ndombele.

Leipzig 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Lloris – More Basic Errors

Tough times at Casa Tottenham, with the rot seemingly having set in from the stem and spreading – if you don’t mind the cunningly topical analogy – like a virus.

World Cup-winning captain or not, our resident custodian has assured us in recent times that if all else fails, he can be relied upon to drop a clanger of pretty gargantuan proportions with healthy regularity, and in this respect he did not fail us.

One understands the principle of walking a mile in the shoes of a fellow mortal before pelting him from all angles, and I readily confess that from the comfort of my armchair I certainly have never failed to make a save.

Nevertheless, the first goal appeared to be of the breed of regulation muck that you would expect a seasoned pro to shovel up without much more than a bat or two of the eyelid. As our Beloved Glenn also mentioned, one wonders whether the chap might have dared to stray forward from his line beyond the eight or so millimetres that he seems to consider statutory – but in truth when it comes to the technicalities of the profession I defer to others.

The headline, however, remained, that Lloris half-heartedly waggled a mitt when what was required was something made of far sterner stuff. The second goal left the dumb soul similarly red of face, involving as it did the cardinal sin of being bested at the near post. In his defence the whole episode did occur at double quick speed, the attacker’s header catching everyone off balance – but again, one would have expected Lloris to have had the apparatus arranged for such eventualities.

It was galling stuff, for several reasons. As mentioned, “error-prone” hardly does justice to the state of things, for off the top of one’s head one can name half a dozen pretty seismic howlers bearing his signature from the last couple of seasons. Within this mess, he has at least generally been able to fall back on the fact that he is a shot-stopper par excellence – but these two goals, plus that against Burnley at the weekend, suggest that his powers are fading at a fair old lick.

And frankly, the team as a whole having surpassed expectations by starting the game with intent and a reasonable threat, to have the captain and last line of defence undo the good work going on around him, by conceding two soft ones within the first twenty minutes, had about as elevating an effect on matters as shoving a pin into a balloon.

2. Winks – Not A Defensive Midfielder

After a reasonable opening ten minutes, in which our high press threatened to reap benefits, calamity struck when Leipzig found a pretty straightforward way of dealing with this – namely winning an individual battle or two in midfield. Within a blink of an eye they were racing at various isolated unfortunates within our defence, and it was a problem with which we never really got to grips.

Seeing their mob race towards our goal, with Harry Winks five yards behind in their slipstream, did make me wonder what effect a bona fide defensive midfielder might have had. At the weekend vs Burnley, the repositioning of Eric Dier from centre-back to defensive midfield, in the second half, helped contribute to a marked improvement. In Leipzig, Winks looked pretty woefully ill-suited to such a task.

One does not question the young pup’s willing, but positionally he appeared way off the mark, rarely in the appropriate spot for an interception, and typically caught too far upfield to effect any sort of tackle or simply to slow or divert an onrushing attacker. A feature of every Leipzig attack seemed to be Winks’ distinctive white boots labouring to make up ground.

It does beg the question – what is the lad’s purpose? Not a defensive midfielder, and still too reticent in his passing to be considered an attacking fulcrum, of the Lo Celso ilk, he appears best suited as a spare man in midfield, keeping possession ticking over – but something more substantial is needed.

He has churned out enough proactive displays to merit his place as a squad member, but indispensable he currently is not.

3. Sessegnon Looking Devoid of Confidence

The rather predictable gag about Dele Alli’s brother taking his place on the pitch takes a turn for the complicated when applied to Ryan Sessegnon, as he does indeed have a brother who peddles his wares in the same profession.

However, the moral of the story remains intact, because the Sessegnon currently on display at N17 has not yet offered even a whiff of the starlet signed to generous fanfare in the summer.

One suspects he will come good in time, so no need to panic; and there are numerous mitigating circumstances the defence lawyers might reasonably point to – injuries, chopped and changed formations and personnel, generally dreadful performances all around him – so nobody in their right mind is demanding the chap’s head.

It was simply disappointing to see such a promising young egg look so devoid of confidence. Rabbits in headlights have looked more inclined to take on their man, or more likely to beat him. His short passes are often inaccurate and he rarely contributes to neat interplay in the way that Aurier occasionally does on t’other flank. And when one points to Aurier as an example of what ought to be done correctly, one knows that matters are pretty serious.

In time young Sessegnon will almost certainly come good. It is just a dashed shame that a point in the season when the squad is depleted, and opportunity practically bangs the door down, he does not appear ready to step up.

4. Aurier’s Latest

On the subject of Aurier, another game brought another catastrophic error. To his credit he does find new and inventive ways of strewing calamity, the 360 degree pivot while preparing a headed clearance certainly making a change from the usual rash lunges on terra firma.

The sale of Trippier looks ever-more bizarre by the game; the need for someone with just a smidgeon of defensive sense to take over at right-back, ever more pressing.

5. No Shortage Of Effort In Attack

As mentioned above, our lot actually produced a surprisingly sprightly opening ten minutes, giving the impression that a reasonable fist of things might be made.

In a pleasingly retro homage to a former Glorious Leader, they began with a high press, led by the forwards, and for a couple of exciting minutes one even half-expected to see Messrs Rose and Walker gallop up the flanks in support.

More fool those of us observing from the pews. By the time the second goal came around the stuffing had disappeared from within us and was ambling away and out of sight. Instead of prime Rose and Walker we now have undercooked Sessegnon and unreliable Aurier.

And instead of Kane and Son we have whomever is still standing. Dele, Lucas and Lamela did not click at any point, but I quite happily exonerate them, and save my muttered imprecations for others.

There was no shortage of willing amongst the three of them, and by the time the game drifted into its final half hour I rather wanted to give each of them a consoling pat on the shoulder.

Play together week in and week out, and they possess between them enough quality and energy that they might stumble upon a dashed effective understanding. But consistency of approach does not appear to be The Jose Way, nor does any obvious plan, and so it was unsurprising that when thrown together as a triumvirate for the first time they simply failed to click.

Calling Spurs fans from the ‘60s – I’d love you to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players. Just leave a comment below, drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

Burnley 1-1 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

I hesitate to say it goes from bad to worse, because we went into this one on the back of a home defeat to relegation fodder after which one of our number waded in to throttle a ‘fan’. So strictly speaking this was a marked improvement, given that no defeat was recorded and relationships between players and fans appeared to be in perfect harmony.

Nevertheless, it does not require particularly forensic analysis to identify that this was again pretty limp stuff.

1. Ndombele (And Jose’s Treatment Of The Chap)

As is often the case, Our Glorious Leader appeared to have given more thought to his post-match narrative than to righting the multiple wrongs on the pitch, with few left in doubt about the identify of the latest scapegoat de jour.

Monsieur Ndombele was the unlucky punter, suffering the twin ignominies of being hooked at half-time and then given both barrels by Jose at the press conference.

One understands the frustration. When we bought the young egg last summer the trailers advertised a pretty dominating sort, capable of muscling his way onto the ball, weaving past all-comers and then splitting defences as if shelling peas.

And rather gallingly, the evidence has actually hinted that the young man’s locker does indeed contain all of the aforementioned. It’s all just packed away so tightly that he seems to require special dispensation to access it, if you get my drift.

Each appearance will feature a few choice flashes of his talents, as if to tease seasoned watchers into thinking the reincarnation of Mousa Dembele walks amongst us, but it all occurs in such fitful manner that invariably we depart murmuring frustrations at his inability to produce his act on something close to a 24-7 basis.

Yesterday was a particularly egregious example. Ndombele was sound if unspectacular in his passing, and on a couple of occasions attempted that neat trick of wriggling out of pretty confined spaces, but in the area of busting a gut to win possession from the Burnley midfield he was notably absent, and his removal from proceedings, if maybe a tad extreme, was certainly understandable.

The chap’s fitness – or lack thereof – continues to startle, a good six months after he joined, but then these millionaire professional athletes will move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform. And a distinctive feature of the mysterious way in which Ndombele moves is that it all happens at approximately half the speed of the average footballer, and ends with him panting as if upon death’s door, which contributes in no small amount to opposing midfielders cantering away from him at will.

Here at AANP Towers we’re not entirely convinced that Jose’s repeated public castigation of the chap is quite the optimal way to manage him – but one might argue firstly that Jose has a dashed sight more experience in such matters than I; and secondly that it really doesn’t matter what I think because my influence in Jose’s behavioural choices appears strangely limited.

2. Skipp

So while Ndombele was being pelted with rotten fruit, his midfield partner of the first half walked away with not a blemish on his record.

I cannot profess to having ever been particularly awestruck by the performances of young O. Skipp Esquire. “Earnest and Nervous” about sums him up in my book, a chap who might consider himself a tad fortunate to be in the first team squad – and conducts himself as if he thinks along identical lines.

I actually thought that his midweek jolly against Norwich was one of his finest in lilywhite. Admittedly the competition in this department is hardly stiff, but we needed a midfielder who might put in a tackle or two and he did his best to oblige (albeit not to the extent that it stopped Norwich looking pretty comfortable in possession against us – a statement that pretty much sums up the state of things). On top of which Skipp is hardly one of life’s great risk-takers when it comes to demanding or using possession, striking me as more Harry Winks than Harry Winks himself.

That was against Norwich; yesterday against Burnley he seemed barely to be involved. In his defence two hours of energy exerted midweek presumably took its toll, on top of which his midfield partner, as mentioned above, was himself hardly a bundle of energy. However, Skipp’s presence yesterday appeared to be for little more than decorative value.

If this were his chance to cement a spot in the team, I suspect his argument might well be that he wasn’t actually there, and few who witnessed proceedings would be able to recall evidence to the contrary.

Jose, however, was having none of it, and exonerated the young pup of all blame. One awaits with curiosity to see whether actions match these words when it comes to future selections.

3. Dele Alli Upfront

An administrative error in each of the last umpteen transfer windows having left us short of a legally qualified striker, and Lucas Moura having been run into the ground in recent weeks, Dele Alli was the poor sap square-pegged into service atop the formation yesterday, and it was hard not to feel for him.

He went about it gamely enough, reasoning that, irrespective of his nominal position he was still Dele Alli and must therefore try to backheel and nutmeg his way through proceedings, and was only a heartbeat away from doing so to goalscoring effect as early as the first minute.

In general however he was limited by simply not having been on the roster when Mother Nature was carving out strikers. Service hardly overflowed, but whenever my best mate Jan did whip in a cross, Dele’s approach to life betrayed that of a man more accustomed to making a late burst into the box rather than being the focal point of attack.

He, Lamela and Bergwijn did their best to one-two their way to glory, but it was all rather narrow and intricate, and in the first half at least, Burnley were not unduly threatened.

4. Second Half Improvement

Mercifully things improved after half-time. Whether this was due to the change in personnel or formation is debatable, and convincing cases could be made for both lines of argument.

The switch to a back four meant that our midfield population increased significantly; the presence of Lo Celso brought a hitherto unseen creative spark.

I dare not ask Eric Dier what he made of being shunted from centre-back to defensive midfield, but he made a good enough fist of it that young Skipp might have been advised to take a shorthand note or two; and if Lucas were aggrieved that his evening off had been rudely interrupted he did not show it, and in fact gave a convincing impression of a domestic dog being allowed a bonus run in the park, bounding around with energy and to pretty decent effect.

In short however, all that was good tended to emanate from Lo Celso, and the others simply followed his lead. The equaliser, on balance, was deserved, and it was just a shame that some encouraging second half attacks did not bear the fruit that seemed possible.

5. Sanchez – Something Of A Shocker

For fairly understandable reasons Our Glorious Leader began with a back three, and indeed a total of five centre backs across the width of the pitch, which rather telegraphed his expectation that we were in for an aerial joust.

One understood the logic, but unfortunately Davinson Sanchez seemed to have identified 7 March 2020 to be as good a date as any other to peddle the very worst he had to offer.

In recent weeks I have actually identified the chap as one of the brighter performers, but yesterday’s was a pretty wild deviation from this contemporary history.

His inability to judge a flighted cross seems ingrained into his DNA, so these moments, while unwelcome, at least did not surprise. However, seeing him outmuscled, dispossessed and tripping over his own feet was as unpleasant as it was unexpected, and although lines of communication generally appeared to have been cut between him and the rest of the defence, Messrs Alderweireld, Dier and Tanganga were at least sufficiently savvy to come flying in with last-ditch interceptions that maintained a level of decency.

6. Random Right-Wing Serge Aurier

With the game in the balance in the final stages, and substitute options limited, Jose stuck out his tongue at all those critics who accuse him of being out of touch with the modern game by not just thinking outside the box but removing himself from the box completely and throwing into the recycling bin, with the introduction of Serge Aurier into a right-wing role.

There is a precedent of sorts in lilywhite, as I recall Danny Rose having occasionally been stationed ahead of, say, Ben Davies, out on the left-wing, but nevertheless I would not be deceiving my public to say that the sight of Aurier galloping into position ahead of Tanganga left me momentarily stunned.

In theory however, such a move made a lot of sense. As we are all now well aware, Aurier’s impeccable sense of calamity makes him quite the liability at right-back; whereas if his compass points north he offers a handy attacking threat, being one of the better purveyors of whipped crosses on the market. Stationing him in a right-wing role for twenty minutes therefore removes the Con while retaining the Pro, so to speak.

And in practice too, as it happened, the move had much to recommend it. Lucas shuffled off into the centre, and Aurier seemed eager to get stuck in, offering decent link-up play, decent pace and one or two of those crosses.

One idly speculates what went through Gedson’s mind as all this unfolded, but the cameo was certainly innovative, and, in a way that unfortunately rather sums up how far we have sunk, was probably one of the highlights of the evening.

Calling Spurs fans from the ‘60s – I’d love you to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players. Just leave a comment below, drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

Spurs 2 – 3 Wolves: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. 60 Vaguely Encouraging Minutes

A shame we lost this one – well, it always is a shame to lose – but a particular shame to lose this one, because I thought that, at least until we went behind, our lot played fairly well.

Some qualifying context is perhaps needed here. I heard a pretty nifty gag once, which went along the lines that in a land full to the rafters with blind folk, any chap who happened to be one-eyed would as likely as not be king. And that sprang to mind today, as I watched our lot hit the front-foot pretty much straight off the bat, for it struck me that in the land of the utterly dreadful performances at home to Leipzig and away to Chelsea, today’s fare was, by comparison, something of an unexpected improvement.

Such has been the rot peddled in recent weeks that I fully expected that a match at home to Wolves would see us stuck in 30% possession territory, allowing our visitors to roll the ball around amongst themselves unchallenged and perhaps launching a desperate salvage operation in the final 20. Because let’s face it, we now have a certain recent history in this woeful regard.

So instead to be greeted by the sight of Harry Winks collecting the ball, ambling forward ten yards and then bopping a pass forward another ten yards was pretty sensational stuff.

(I single out young Winks not for any particular reason, as to a man our lot seemed to have their dials switched if not exactly to ‘Attack’ then seemingly to ‘Let’s At Least Be A Little More Progressive In Our Approach Than In Recent Weeks’. I suppose seeing Winks embody this approach was just a little eye-catching, as he’s not always been one of nature’s born forward-passers.)

And for an hour or so we looked good value for a lead – but alas, Wolves are no mugs, and as befits the non-mug ilk they’re also pretty dashed clinical in front of goal. Thus having got their noses ahead they shut up shop and that, for a mob as limited as ours, was that. Not even the inspired decision to throw on the boy Parrott for the entirety of injury-time could effect the required rescue.

Still, having seen glimpses of quick passes from middle-to-top, and the sort of level of off-the-ball movement that suggests the collective torpor might have been shaken off, I at least trudged home a notch of two up from the Pit Of Despair that had taken hold post-Leipzig and -Chelsea.

2. Lucas

For that halcyon first hour or so when we made a decent fist of things, Lucas struck me as one amongst our number who had doubled down on his spinach pre-match.

Although employed as often as not in a deep-lying position that may or may not have been part of a strikerless formation, he seemed to be at the hub of things, evidently having adopted as his word of the day ‘Scamper’. For every time he touched the ball he scampered like a man who had amassed prizes for it in a former life.

There is something particularly compelling about watching a man get his head down and dribble mazily past the despairing, hacking legs of opponents, and when on song Lucas channels his inner playground footballer like few others.

Ultimately the effect of all this was not as devastating as one would have hoped, but with Messrs Aurier, Lo Celso, Alli and Bergwijn all happy to assist, there appeared to be potential for a most welcome rise in spirits about the place.

3. Aurier

The slightly unlikely source of the mid-game hoick in spirits was Serge Aurier, who continues to flit effortlessly between sublime and ridiculous.

His finish for two-one was taken with a huge dollop of aplomb, and in the second half, with a whole chorus of angels by now stationed on one shoulder and whispering sweet nothings at him, he delivered a couple of delicious crosses of the whipped variety, that deserved better than simply to have been watched and admired from afar by panting midfielders.

However, the pack of devils stationed on his other shoulder rarely go five minutes without making their presence known, as we well know. And so it was that misplaced simple pass followed misplaced simple pass, efforts to wriggle casually free off attention ended in ceding possession, and at one point he simply picked up the ball when under the illusion that it had left the field for a throw-in – a faux pas which would have been classified as Peak Aurier were it not for the countless red cards and penalties and own goals and whatnot that seem to be part of his very fabric.

4. The Back Three

The extent of Jose’s defensive masterplan currently appears to be write all names on paper, pick them out of a hat and roll with them for the following 90, and so it was that we began with a three-man core of Dier, Sanchez and the boy Tanganga.

My sentiments on these three at the end of proceedings were decidedly mixed. Plenty of scribbles in both the Credit and Debit columns, if you follow my drift.

Take Dier, a great big log of a fellow whose star has taken a bit of a plummet in the eyes of AANP over the last few years. I actually thought he acquitted himself relatively well yesterday, exceeding expectations that were, admittedly, not far off the floor pre-match.

As often as not finding himself up against the man-mountain that is Adama Traore, a fate one wouldn’t really wish upon a loathed enemy, Dier seemed at first to have his wits about him, timing his tackles well and then bouncing back to his feet with a most serious expression etched across his face, a sure sign of knowing that a job is being done well and that admiring comment is heading one’s way.

And yet when push came to shove, the Wolves forwards ended up skipping past Dier and chums as if none of them were there (or, more accurately, as if they were certainly there but fitted with roller skates and attempting to navigate an ice rink covered in marbles). Wolves forwards sashayed one way; Dier and co flew off the way, Wolves forwards drilled the ball home. Thrice.

As such, my sentiments on Tanganga were not a million miles away from those on Dier. Lots of solid tackles, initially giving the sense that here was a chap who had arrived at the office in a mood not to be trifled with – but then suddenly undone by a pretty basic error for their first goal, followed by that roller-skate-ice-rink routine for the next goals.

Obviously Tanganga still has plenty of credit in the bank, and there really does appear to be an excellent defender waiting to emerge, but each of the three crucial moments that our lot had to defend were ultimately turned into pigs ears – and if one wanted to make the case that these cost us the game, there would be a decent stash of evidence at which to poke.

(For what it’s worth I’ve been increasingly impressed with Sanchez week by week, albeit his inability to judge the flight of airborne missiles still rankles a tad.)

So we find ourselves simultaneously on the cusp of the Top Four, in a fairly literal sense, and approximately a million miles away, on observing the dross being peddled on the turf. A run of wins would improve matters, an obvious style and identify even more so, so I suppose there is little more to do than stiffen the upper lip and hope for the best.

Calling all Spurs fans – if you like to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players, then leave a comment below, or drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

Spurs 0-2 Chelsea: Five Tottenham Talking Points

Against the backdrop of the pre-match buzz – around the closing of the gap, the master and the apprentice, the Top Four, and so on and so forth – the limp and error-strewn manner of this latest capitulation was scarcely believable. There was such a rich and bountiful catalogue of errors that one could quite comfortably file them alphabetically, and potentially colour-code them for good measure.

1. The Utterly Incomprehensible Gazzaniga Karate Kick

Going in at half-time 0-1 down would certainly have represented a deviation from the script that Jose and chums had been lovingly penning all week, but catastrophic it would not necessarily have been. A few stern words here, a cunning tactical switch there, and one might have thought our lot could have emerged for the second half, given the challenge the once-over and declared en masse “Far from insurmountable, what?”

Shortly before half-time, however, one of the more outstanding of the numerous moments of idiocy was rolled out. Quite what went through Gazzaniga’s head is a conundrum that will have the best and brightest minds in the country stymied for some years to come.

Heaven knows what sort of goalkeeping drills are undertaken at the shiny new training ground these days, but the art of simply catching a ball gently lobbed towards them like a dandelion in the breeze has evidently had the dickens complicated out of it. After Lloris dropping a harmless cross at the feet of a striker a yard from goal, and dislocating his elbow in the process, a few weeks back, when required to carry out the task – mastered by all seven of my nephews and nieces shortly after nappies – of catching a gently lobbed ball, yesterday we were treated to Gazza’s wild, head-height karate kick, which sat on the list of options some way beneath “Catch it – no, really, just catch the gently floating ball” and the criminally underrated “Or just leave it, to loop gently out for a goal-kick”.

The most reasonable explanation I can think of is that he forgot he possessed hands, which I suppose can happen from time to time, to a chap with a lot on his mind – and in his defence there has been an awful lot to ponder in this of all weeks, what with an election at one end of it and Christmas at the other. Even such a momentary and inconvenient moment of amnesia, however, did not preclude him from sticking his lot on the second option, and accepting the goal-kick.

If there were any murmurs that Gazza might be making a fist for the number one jersey on a permanent basis, I suspect they have been silenced by this little moment of career suicide.

2. Sonny’s Own Moment of Idiocy

Not to be outdone in the idiocy stakes – the notion of edging back into the game having long since been dismissed as folly of the highest order – Sonny decided to chip in with his latest in a growing series of fairly needless red cards.

The Everton red can be expunged from the records, and with good reason, but as against Bournemouth late last season this was a pretty unholy contribution to proceedings, and betrayed the fact that the chap has a flame within that needs quelling and pronto. We can’t have every opponent within his armspan tapping their forehead knowledgeably and giving him a sly prod here, sly dig of the elbow into ribs there and sly stomp on the foot elsewhere, safe in the knowledge that the red mist will descend and Son will wave a retaliatory limb in less sly fashion.

Some might object that Rudiger went down as if impaled by a narwhal task when actually the contact from Son’s boot was more akin to a tickle, and that nameless chorus would have a point. But, oddly enough, that point misses this point. Which is that if you wave your studs at someone’s chest, you automatically run the risk of the whole episode rolling into the High Court.

It’s something of a mantra around AANP Towers, but if you want to avoid being on the sharp end of an officiating decision – be it a soft penalty or a disputed red card – then simply don’t give the referee the option.

3. A Musing or Two on Tactics

Individual moments of mind-boggling lunacy aside, there was plenty else about which to sink head into hands (and that is deliberately limiting comment to on-pitch matters).

AANP approaches his football much as I understand the Romans approached the fun and games of the amphitheatre – wanting to be entertained by action, without too much consideration for the underlying plot. As such, the chapter in the AANP book on “Tactical Analysis” is a pretty light read, and I wouldn’t pretend to have layer upon layer of insight into the stuff.

The long and short of it seemed to be that Chelsea’s setup completely bewildered our mob. Both their back three and front three respectively seemed only too happy to saunter up the field and press, winning the ball high up the pitch and denying us options to escape.

As ever, Jose opted for the lopsided approach of Aurier roving up the right wing, while at left-back my best mate Jan kept a respectful distance south of the halfway line, and tucked in alongside the centre-backs. This single-wing-back take on life is all fun and games in matches against lower-quality dirge, but yesterday it was nullified from the off. Chelsea hit upon the notion of attacking Aurier – not rocket-science, given his track record for dancing with calamity at every opportunity – and with Vertonghen not daring to advance beyond halfway we were oddly narrow.

Sprinkle into that mix the painfully limited ball-playing abilities of Dier and Sissoko in central midfield, and it’s little wonder that our first half descended into an endless stream of pretty hopeful punts from the centre-backs that sailed harmlessly over everyone’s heads.
This is the normally the point at which I and the various other armchair critics come oiling out of the woodwork to rant and rave about Poch’s inability to make game-changing tweaks, so it is only fair to wag a similarly critical finger at Jose. The formation change at half-time did not have the desired effect, with Lucas’ role as near enough a wing-back simply resulting in him being asked to take on defensive duties for which, though willing, he has not been well equipped by nature.

4. General Lack of Anything Resembling Lustre

For all the hours of riveting tactical chuntering, there is a pretty lucid counter – or perhaps additional – thread of argument along the lines of “Tactics be damned if we simply outfight the other lot”.

Had our heroes came shooting out of the blocks like a whole brigade of moths legging it towards the nearest flame like their lives depended on it, then all the wonky full-backs in the world would have been of little consequence.

Instead, alas, as against Man Utd a few weeks back, so yesterday against Chelsea. Our lot turned up, had a quick look around and appeared immediately to decide that such competitive pursuits were beneath them. Chelsea, accordingly, won at a canter.

The complete absence of urgency was as baffling as it was maddening. Do these blighters not realise the magnitude of these things? One wonders what the hell else has been passing through their tiny brains all week if not the absolute imperative to strain every sinew going in pursuit of a favourable outcome at yesterday’s set-to.

Depressingly, Chelsea seemed to get the gist. From the off they were executing the high press – and, come to think of it the low and middling presses too – like they had been doing it all their lives. I did briefly hope that our lot might simply ride out the storm before vrooming into top gear, but such basic concepts were obviously far beyond their collective capacities, and within ten minutes Serge Aurier was doing his thing and Chelsea were ahead.

5. A Begrudging Word in Defence of Sissoko

I suppose it would be a little harsh – only a little, mind – to tar Sissoko with the same brush as the rest of the incompetents who wandered gormlessly across N17 between the hours of 16.30 and 18.30 while Chelsea made merry.

Man of the match stuff it was not, but Sissoko did at least have the decency, after watching the game bypass him for long enough, to roll his sleeves up, put his head down and attempt on several occasions to bludgeon his way through the entire Chelsea team. One understands his rationale, as nobody else in lilywhite had given the faintest indication that they were worth involving in the fightback.

It didn’t work, apart from the mild satisfaction of clobbering the Chelsea ‘keeper and getting away with it. But for the sake of the annals, let the records show that Sissoko was slightly less bad than the rest for some portion of the first half.

And that faintest of faint praise is about the only etching in the Credit column. This was sensationally poor fare. Mercifully the next games come thick and fast, and by the time 2020 lands this garbage ought to have been long forgotten.

Brighton 3-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Latest Lloris Howler

Decorum naturally dictates that in speaking of Monsieur Lloris one first ought to wish him a speedy recovery, because the slings and arrows of performance-critiquing are one thing, but a particularly nasty-looking injury rather trumps all that, and is not a fate one wishes upon an enemy, let alone one of our own.

As to performance-critiquing however, in his two-minute appearance Lloris was gently lobbed one task, and – as has become his most unwelcome trademark – he made a complete hash of it, conjuring up a mistake where none had seemed possible.

Over the last season or two his aberrations have assumed a gloomy inevitability, albeit generally involving an envelopment of panic when the ball reaches his feet. This time, perhaps in order to vary the monotony, he opted to make a pig’s ear of things with his hands rather than with his feet. Credit is due, he may argue, for livening things up from the off, but today of all days it was the last thing we needed.

After the midweek scoreline and murmurs of internal unrest, there was a fairly obvious need to launch into things today with purpose and confidence. And although physiognomy is a pretty complex art at the best of times, immediately before kick-off our heroes did at least have the dignity to look suitably determined as they prepared for the task at hand.

It really needed a solid opening spell to set the tone, and, above all, an end to the sloppiness and silly mistakes that have littered our season to date. Alas, Lloris’ latest, absurd, needless howler had pretty much the opposite effect, deflating the whole lot of them within the opening two minutes.

The evident severity of Lloris’ injury suggests that his enforced absence will be considerable in length; but even a fully-fit Lloris cannot continue to make such costly errors with such regularity before tongues start wagging and awkward conversations are planned.

2. Listless Players & The Problem This Poses Poch

My inclination in such post-match reflections as these is to pour myself a celebratory or consolatory splash of the good stuff, and single out one or two of the troupe for a stiff going-over. On this occasion however, the whole bally team were so insipid that it is difficult to hone in upon any given one of them as the fellow to whom attention was immediately drawn.

The problem appeared to be a team-wide malaise, which is bad news in anyone’s book. Tactically one might quibble – as indeed I did, during the first half – that Ndombele and Lamela did little to protect the back four, or that Eriksen needed to arrive in support of Kane rather than assume that position as his starting spot.

But after a while I rather flung my hands in the air and muttered “Blast it all,” and wondered if there were any formation in the world that might have arrested the decline of a group of players so consistently failing to win their personal 50-50 challenges, and misplacing their passes, and failing to move enough to provide options for the man in possession, and regarding their required short sprints with the disdain of a reluctant schoolboy sloping off to class.

In short they looked any semblance of urgency, dash it. Very few individuals appeared to be busting a gut for the cause. Lamela and Winks, when introduced, showed glimpses of determination, and Sissoko stuck to his task pretty manfully, in that rather clumsy way of his – but just about all the others appeared simply to go through the motions, failing to give their all and looking for all the world like they wanted the final whistle to arrive.

It all rather feeds the train of thought that Our Glorious Leader is the type of soul at his best when he is cajoling bright, hungry young things to fulfil their potential. This lot are neither young nor, on today’s showing, particularly hungry – which, according to the theory at least, limits Poch’s abilities with them. The signing of Sessegnon and willingness to allow Rose to move on seems to fit this narrative, and it would also explain Poch’s very public calls over the summer for the chance to clear out the closet and go shopping for new outfits, if you get my drift.

Instead, we appear to be left with a group of players brimming with listlessness, and a manager hardly in his element when working with them. It all makes the mind boggle and brow furrow a tad, what?

3. Dier’s Ignominious Return

Back to the action itself, and I suppose it was a big day for Master Dier. The blighter’s fall in the AANP graces has been fairly solidly documented over the last year or two, my principal objections to the chap being that for all his airs of intimidation and aggression, he is rather lacking in timing of the tackle, accuracy of the pass and swiftness of the sprint. (Leaving him with precious little else in the way of a professional footballer, one might suggest, but that’s a matter for a different time.)

In theory, however, Dier makes sense as a footballer, and in his absence in recent weeks, some have understandably called for his inclusion, given that nobody else in lilywhite appears to demonstrate the faintest interest in such boring, menial tasks as protecting the back-four. I was not personally amongst that chorus, but I did appreciate the rationale. According to the instructions on the side of the box in which he is packaged, Dier’s purpose in life is apparently to protect the back-four.

And to his credit, as he buzzed slowly around the pitch, he did appear at least to have the correct instructions ringing in his ears. He chugged over to whichever Brighton soul were in possession and gave a nudge and a kick, then shuffled over to the next chap in possession and repeated the exercise.

It was all rather laboured however – or, to dispense with euphemisms, slow – and therefore to minimal effect. Brighton beat the Dier press by simply passing or dribbling around him, and goodness knows nobody else in midfield was minded to stop them.

Moreover, Dier’s distribution was that of a man whose faith in compasses is long gone, and has resorted to being guided by guesswork, or possibly smell. Whatever it was, his six-yarders rarely hit the target, and it was little surprise to see him shoved back into defence at the interval and a new plan dreamt up.

Not that Dier alone was responsible for the whole sorry mess. He didn’t look remotely fit for a start, but his inclusion did shine something of a light upon the glaring lop-sidedness of our squad, full of nippy attacking sorts, and pretty short passers, and bursting at the seams with centre-backs, but without an adequate defensive midfielder worthy of the name.

But as mentioned above, more than the tactics or formation, this seemed to be a failing of application.

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CL Final Preview: 5 Things Tottenham Must Do To Win

1. Kane at His Sharpest

Not to point too fine a point on it, but Kane’s contribution to proceedings will be constitute pretty critical stuff.

Casting minds all the way back to the start of the season, and in that post-World Cup fug much of the chatter revolved around the fact that the chap looked every inch a man in desperate need of a good lie-down. His touch was heavy, his movement was laboured. He protested otherwise, and the goals generally continued to flow, but for whatever reason we certainly were not witnessing Peak Kane.

In the here and now, Kane is once again insisting that he is in fine fettle, and I’m inclined to believe that the ankle is now fully healed. The concern remains however, that his match sharpness – by which I mean that aforementioned touch and movement – is several marks off the ideal.

While we have stumbled our way through previous rounds using patched-together teams, and often sans Kane, this match of matches really requires our star player to be at the peak of his powers.

The question of whether he should start or come off the bench continues to linger (the AANP tuppence-worth is to start with him), but starting also presents a problem, because sharp or not, he presumably will struggle to last 90 minutes, and were he to start and the game to drag into extra-time, one suspects he will toddle off for a warm coat and isotonic snifter at some point.

Kane at his best, however, would be a massive asset to our heroes, and cause Liverpool all sorts of problems, from all sorts of angles. Fingers firmly crossed.

2. Sense Over Sentiment in Team Selection

Following his Amsterdam heroics, young Lucas is quite rightly being lauded everywhere he goes, and one would hope the chap will never have to buy his own drink ever again.

However, many are calling for his inclusion in the starting line-up for the Final, on the basis of an argument that can essentially be distilled down to “It would be harsh not to”. Such discourse is greeted with a narrowing of the eyes at AANP Towers, and a sniff that could be considered haughty. This is a Champions League Final, not a mid-summer testimonial or a Sunday afternoon 1950s romance on Channel 4.

There should be no room for sentiment in this one, we absolutely need to pick the team that will win on the day – and if that means shunting Lucas into the attack then so be it, but I fall pretty firmly into the camp that thinks that Kane and Son ought to be the front pairing.

The alternative suggestion is cramming all three of Kane, Son and Lucas into attack – which would presumably mean a midfield of Dele, Sissoko and Eriksen. This, I fancy, would be madness of the highest degree. Away to Man City, and at home to Ajax, Eriksen and Dele confirmed what was already universally known, that they pretty much offer cosmetic value only when doing off-the-ball defensive work. Not their faults of course, as nature created them to attack. Set up with that 4-3-3 and I fear Liverpool will be over the hills and out of sight before we know what has hit us.

Sense, rather than sentiment, would appear to dictate that we use a midfield 4, with one of Winks, Dier or Wanyama in amongst the rest, tasked with rolling up sleeves and mucking in.

3. A Plan to Nullify Their Full-Backs

We have played Liverpool twice this season, receiving something of a spanking at home, albeit by only one goal, which rather flattered us, and losing by one own goal away from home, which rather flattered them.

Prominent in both encounters, particularly during those chunks during which Liverpool were in the ascendancy, were the red full-backs. When we played at Wembley, our own full-backs were in full kamikaze mode, and charged up the pitch, leaving Robertson and TAA plenty of room to set up camp and make merry. At Anfield, our lot went to the other extreme, and began in an ultra-conservative back five.

The solution, one imagines, lies somewhere in between. A back-four, perhaps, with both Rose and Trippier afforded a degree of protection from those in front? The second half at Anfield might prove a useful template, as we edged on top on that occasion, and were dashed unlucky to lose.

Whatever the solution, this is one of the notable problems over which Our Glorious Leader and his Brains Trust will need to chew and ruminate, preferably long into the night and within clouds of cigar smoke.

4. No Ludicrous Mistakes

Conceding a goal is always galling, but when it comes about because the other lot whir into hyperspace and slice us open with a thousand cuts – as in the style of Ajax in the first leg, for example – at least there are few regrets or recriminations. One might point a half-hearted finger at the left-back who may have moved a step to the side in the build-up, but essentially it is blameless stuff, and all involved are best off simply stiffening the upper lip and contemplating the riposte.

What is utterly infuriating is conceding a goal out of nowhere and under no pressure, as a complete gift to the opposition. Disturbingly, our heroes have made something of a habit of this over the course of the season, and it goes without saying that such nonsense makes the job in hand massively more taxing.

Trippier’s own goal; Lloris’ palm against Liverpool; Foyth’s own-area dallying; Trippier’s own-area attempted nutmegs; Lloris’ rushes of blood to the head and rushes of feet from his goal – the list is worryingly long. To say nothing of free headers at set-pieces.

Playing Liverpool will be hard enough, and the drill ought to be to force them to work dashed hard for every chance. On this of all occasions we need to cut out the utterly absurd, unforced errors.

5. No More Comebacks

No doubt about it, our heroes have turned the sensational comeback into something of an art-form during this Champions League campaign.

After the three-games-one-point ‘Arry Redknapp tribute at the start of the group phase, we went into the final 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and sixth games needing at least one goal to avoid elimination – and duly delivered each time. Against City we again needed a late-ish goal (and an even later VAR call), and then there was the madness of Amsterdam. On top of which, we seem to have imprinted into the gameplan the slightly curious tactic of conceding within the opening 5 minutes.

All thrilling stuff and so on and so forth, but this insanity really must end, for the good of all concerned. The constitution simply cannot take it, for a start – and heaven knows what the nerves will be like during a Champions League Final – but more pertinently we just cannot repeatedly rely upon comebacks. A two-goal half-time deficit will not always be overturned, and I certainly wouldn’t fancy our chances of doing so against this lot.

Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, to canter into a lead, and then hold onto it?

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