All Action, No Plot

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Spurs 3-1 Leicester: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Skipp

With various A-listers still quarantined, and Dortmund looming fast into view, Poch yet again dipped into his box of selection tricks, and this term emerged with young Master Skipp in midfield, with Sonny and Llorente upfront.
Now young Skipp may in time prove to be world football’s natural heir to Andres Iniesta, but this afternoon’s performance was not the one to secure him amongst the pantheon of greats.

In theory I suppose he did little wrong, for every time one of our number were in possession around the centre circle, young Skipp would station himself about three yards away and demand the ball. While this was a noble enough approach to life, in practice it actually served precious little benefit. At best he would receive the ball while practically standing on top of the passer – and while facing the opposite direction. Play was not spread, pressure was not relieved, life’s problems were not solved.

In his defence poor old Skipp drew the short straw, for that spot on the left of the midfield diamond has proved a tricky one to fill to date for even more seasoned pros. Sissoko seems to have mastered the art on the right – and peddled an impressive line in Messi-esque gliding dribbles today, as if to emphasise the fact – but an equivalent on the left is lacking. Leicester had the better of things in midfield, and for all his youthful scampering Skipp did little to impose himself upon proceedings. Better luck next time.

2. Lloris And The Rarest of Rarities

A penalty save from Hugo Lloris is about as rare in these parts as a left-footed unicorn, but credit where due, our resident last line of defence picked an excellent moment to perform this particular party trick.

Leading we may have been, but Leicester were jousting away with the best of them, and would have been good value for parity if not a lead. At 1-0, conversion of the penalty might have swung the thing pretty ominously towards our visitors, and I for one can hold up my hands and confess I had written off the spot-kick as a fait accompli, and was already contemplating a final half hour with scores level and pressure mounting.

Frankly, in all my years of Spurs-gazing I do not recall seeing Lloris diving into the right postcode when facing a penalty, so I don’t mind admitting I gawped and blinked and rubbed the eyes once or twice before digesting what had transpired.

(As an aside, the award of the penalty itself seemed pretty dashed soft when one compares and contrasts with the similar meeting of limbs that brought about Sonny’s yellow card in the first half. The inconsistency between the two calls prompted no end of grumbling at AANP Towers, but life – and particularly refereeing decisions – will send us these crosses to bear, so best we all just shrug the shoulders and take it with a philosophical smile.)

3. Danny Rose Brings Back The Slide Tackle

Come hail or shine, Danny Rose always blusters around the field as if personally aggrieved at the circumstances in which he has been thrust, and typically with a particular axe to grind against his opposing right-sided attacker.

The attitude is refreshing, as that level of aggression is not really something one would associate with the Tottenham Hotspur of years gone by. Kyle Walker used to possess it in spades, and it generally meant that irrespective of whatever else was happening in the broader geographic area, he was not about to lose his own personal duel. Frankly we could have done with some of it in midfield today, but that’s a chapter for another time.

Entertainingly, Rose’s general foul mood resulted in him deciding that today would be the day to unleash sliding tackles at every given opportunity. It made for some pretty nostalgic viewing, as slide tackles seemed to go the way of all flesh at around the same time as cassettes and shell suits. It was gloriously retro stuff, not least for the looks of outrage etched across the faces of the Leicester nobility deposited on terra firma.

4. Poch On The Defensive

Where normally we hog possession but find ourselves up against a nine-man defence, or super-human ‘keeper, or some combo of the above, today we rather forgot our lines, and spent as much of the game fending off Leicester thrusts as performing those of our own.

As hinted at above, our midfield were at times outfought, not helped by a defence that seemed oddly keen to dabble in the porous. With Skipp failing to impose himself, and Llorente offering his trademark lack of mobility, we occasionally looked like we were down to nine men.

Thank heavens for the stand-out moments of brilliance. Eriksen’s delivery for our first, and precision finish for the second, sandwiching a couple of critical Lloris saves, pretty much won the thing.

Amidst it all, Our Glorious Leader seemed to take an oddly low-key perspective on things, making as many defensive substitutions as the rules permitted as he sought to protect what he had, in a remarkable departure from the all-action-no-plot approach to life.

Hard to fault the approach I suppose (not that that will stop me trying), not least because ultimately we won, but also because the switch to a back-three made sense when Vardy appeared; while the replacement of Llorente with Wanyama, while a little more dull and sensible than the Moura alternative, simply made it more difficult for Leicester to claw things back in the final ten minutes.

5. Making The Best of Life Without Kane and Dele

Having kept a careful eye on these things I can confidently suggest that this was the umpteenth time we have eked our victory this season without playing particularly well, and most satisfying they typically are too.

How the devil we are doing it is something of a curiosity. It would be a mangling of the English language to suggest that we have coped with ease with the absences of Kane and Dele, but we have found ways to edge past Newcastle, Watford and now Leicester. Be it wringing every last drop of value out of Llorente, relying on random moments of Eriksen brilliance or simply pinning the weight of the world upon the dependable shoulders of Sonny, we muddle through.

All that said, I would be pretty amazed if we emerged in credit from the first leg of the Dortmund joust, but in the league at least this has been a pretty critical and thoroughly impressive run of Kaneless success.

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

Spurs 1-0 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Sonny Saves The Day Again

As will be familiar to those who regularly stop by these parts, the AANP take on the midweek win against Newcastle brought peltings with rotten fruit in the Comments section, for the admittedly reckless decision to omit from the list of the venerated Son Heung-Min.

With that in mind, and given that the lively young bean scored the critical goal yesterday, it seems only right to shower him with all manner of praise.

In truth however, through no particular fault of his own, he was a little muted yesterday. The spirit was as willing as ever, as he buzzed hither and thither, and even when at a standstill his legs appeared slightly blurry with movement. Newcastle, however, had been up all night poring over their homework notes, with the result that they swarmed all over Son like he was a homing beacon, and for much of the game he was crowded out.

Mercifully, the chap is fleet of foot, and it is to his credit that he conjured from pretty much nothing a yard of space yesterday, and did not wait for a second invitation to leather the heck out of the ball.

Having flown around the world twice, and been out on his feet at the conclusion of the Newcastle match, Sonny’s contributions, particularly in the absence of Kane and Dele, have bordered on the super-human, injecting moments of inspiration when we have needed them most.

2. Vertonghen’s Exciting Day Out

Our Glorious Leader sticking to his principle that to play a wing-back in consecutive games would be madness of the highest order, and with Davies still absent injured and young Walker-Peters too dashed right-footed, there was a rare day out on the left flank for AANP’s close chum Jan Vertonghen.

As social experiments go it made for interesting viewing. Nature having decreed that any and all useful output should emanate from the chap’s left stem, he was at least appropriately balanced for left-backery. However, Vertonghen is a man of pretty lengthy proportions, sinewy and elegant, well-designed for tackle and stretch, and not necessarily the obvious pick for lung-busting runs along the flank, with chest thrust and muscles throbbing, a la Danny Rose.

It meant that the fellow did not necessarily look entirely at ease as he set about trying to make a fist of the role, life’s accelerations and bursts not coming entirely naturally to the chap.

Not that his team-mates gave the mildest hang about his travails, for the Player X-to-Vertonghen routine seemed a pretty well-rehearsed one, and pretty swiftly became the option of choice as Newcastle barricaded the various other routes to goal.

To his credit, Vertonghen beavered away as instructed, and while his crosses missed as regularly as they hit, he had a decent amount of joy, and gave our heroes a viable option throughout.

His eventual replacement by Rose nevertheless made sense as we switched to 3-5-2 in the closing stages, Rose being more genetically disposed to go hurtling down the flank. All told, the use of Vertonghen as left-back is probably not going to be nailed on for generations to come as the tactical ploy of choice, but for a random joust against a Newcastle mob set upon deep, deep defence it was at least moderately successful.

3. Llorente’s Impact, Again

Having lambasted Llorente whenever the opportunity has presented itself in recent weeks – and on several occasions when no such opportunity has existed, but the urge has simply become too strong – lovers of irony were in their element yesterday as I bemoaned the unfortunate egg’s absence throughout.

With our lot camped outside the Newcastle box, and the entire Newcastle lot camped within, the case for airborne crosses was pretty compelling, and the stage seemed set for Llorente to peddle his wares. Alas, the pairing of choice was Moura and Son, whose prowess on terra firma is unfortunately not matched by any particular renown in the air. A couple of decent headed chances popped the wrong side of the posts, and by and large we were kept at arms length by the massed ranks of Newcastle bodies.

Not to criticise Poch for this particular call, mind. Llorente has been used on a near-constant basis since Kane’s untimely departure, so there was some sense in rotating him out. And one might opine that the plan actually worked to perfection, given that the chap then set up Son’s goal when he was ultimately introduced.

4. Late Goals When Most Needed

So for the umpteenth time this season our heroes have come up with a late, late goal send us all home with a sentiment somewhere on the scale between relief and buoyancy. Much more of this and folk will start accusing us of having mettle and grit and not bottling our affairs.

More serene, comfortable victories would obviously be preferable, but I must confess to a little thrill at the manner in which we can now enter the final furlong still needing a goal but with an underlying sense that actually we might dashed well go and grab one from somewhere.

We almost certainly will not win a trophy this season, but it appears that another string is being added to the lilywhite bow, as we have now become one of those teams who can eke out goals in the dying embers.

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

Spurs 2-1 Watford:

1. The Many Twists and Turns of the Llorente Soap Opera

If Fernando Llorente had been hoping for one of those quiet, drama-free nights that flits swiftly from the memory, he was in for quite the shock.

When the incorrigible old bean contrived to knee the ball over the bar from practically underneath it, the hills were alive with the sound of groans, curses and around thirty thousand palms simultaneously slapping foreheads.

For his own part Llorente did the honourable thing and duly adopted the pose of a man doing his level best to be swallowed up by the earth. More broadly, the omens were not particularly cheery, our heroes still being one goal in debit. The thought began to crystallise that if we were going to escape from this particular hole the odds appeared heavily stacked in favour of us doing so despite rather than because of the gangly fellow.

And yet, fast forward fifteen minutes or so and the chap was galloping off to the touchline in celebration, face contorted and fist clenched. He may have cut a pretty calamitous figure for much of his Tottenham career, but loft the ball towards his upper regions and Llorente will tend to find a way to plant a header into the net.

The curiosity in amongst all of this is that the ten lilywhites around him, while presumably having met him at some point, nevertheless seem utterly oblivious to the fact that Lorente is not, never has been and never will be Harry Kane, and just continue to play as if he is. They ignore his limitations – namely his stunning lack of mobility – and indeed his strengths – all that aerial muck – and instead whizz around the pitch as normal, and tell him to keep up if he can. Which he can’t.

The net sum of all this is that for much of the binge we play almost as if a man short. When a cross finally was lobbed onto his head, the blighter scored. Makes one think a bit, what?

2. Poch’s Changes

Going back to the beginning, it was another one of those dirge-like first half knocks, which suggests that some of the wiring is not quite right at HQ. Bar young Sonny, whose effervescence from the off was rather eye-catching, there was a distinct lack of movement and general urgency in that first half.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, Our Glorious Leader therefore took a sip or two from the chalice of half-time tinkerings, and with Lucas Moura introduced, and Sissoko drawing the short straw of right wing-back, things pretty immediately assumed a much rosier hue.

In truth, Sissoko hardly looks at ease in any position on the pitch, so right wing-back was as reasonable a shout as any other, and the chap did all that was necessary, including delivering the perfectly serviceable cross that resulted in Llorente’s one-yard moment of horror.

Further credit to Poch for recognising that there was more to be gained from introducing a more bona fide crosser onto the right, and accordingly shoving Trippier into action; and even his gambit of Lamela-for-Vertonghen was surprisingly – and pleasingly – proactive, for a man who has spent several years carefully cultivating his image as one firmly welded to the laissez-faire principle of letting matters take their own course during play without dreaming of injecting any tactical interference.

The changes ultimately worked, but if one were to quibble – and let’s face it, the interweb exists for precious little other reason – one might politely opine that we would have been better off by beginning in such manner rather than falling behind and adjusting like the dickens.

3. Moura

For all the nuanced alterations, it was Moura’s introduction that really turned the thing on its head and blew all our skirts up.

Where Son had previously ploughed an effervescent but pretty lonely furrow, Moura’s direct running noticeably achieved the double-whammy of shoving fresh handfuls of problems at a Watford defence used to the markedly less mobile threat of Llorente, whilst simultaneously giving our lot a wealth of fresh options, either in the penalty area or attacking from rather deeper districts.

He might not have scored or directly created a goal, but there were certainly hints of the early-season Moura who merrily ran riot at Old Trafford, and with Messrs Kane and Alli still some distance away from being fully paid-up members of the parish, his was a welcome return.

4. Rose, The Useful Alternative Attacking Option

The ever-feisty Danny Rose also caught the eye, as he often does. In the second half in particular he seemed rather to enjoy the self-assigned task of trying to dribble past as many yellow shirts as he could spot, at one point beating a man and then re-tracing his steps purely for the purpose of finding the same man and beating him again.

All of which would have served little purpose, but he did at least have the courtesy to sail in a few crosses at the end of it all, or at least attempt to do so. More often than not they brought corners, but in the final throes it brought Llorente’s goal, and as such he did precisely that for which he was put on God’s green earth.

Aside from such direct involvement, it was also notable how often we resort to the diagonal switch of play, from the right or centre to the feet of Rose stationed wide left, when the well of creative ideas runs dry and all in lilywhite simply mooch around with gormless faces and shrugging shoulders. Where Walker-Peters is forced to cut back onto his right, and Davies’ attacking talents are somewhat limited, Rose time and again offers a viable alternative against the deep-lying defensive units.

5. Late Comebacks: Becoming A Habit, Would You Believe?

Mercifully our persistence paid off, and not for the first time. Time and again our heroes are finding ways to drag themselves back into games and produce late wins when the outlook has been decidedly gloomy but five or ten minutes earlier. It will not win us a trophy any time soon, nor can we be considered credible title challengers, but one does get the impression that another box is being ticked this season.

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

Chelsea 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. The First Half: As Rotten As I’ve Seen

The first half was just about as rotten as we’d all feared. We Spurs fans are rarely the most optimistic breed at the best of times, but with our three leading lights absent and Llorente as the nominated focal point, the mood pre-match was one of undiluted dread, a sentiment that proved entirely justified in an opening 45 that was dross of the highest order.

Most of that period was spent simply haring around in the slipstream of the Chelsea lot, barely laying a foot on the ball and generally giving the sense that an almighty thrashing was in the post and on its way.

Llorente seemed to pick up where he left off against Fulham, seemingly unable to find a team-mate if his life had depended on it, and he received precious little support from a midfield that seemed to view the ball with the gawking confusion of a group of wide-eyed innocents being introduced to it for the first time.

One rather felt for Eriksen, who stood head and shoulders above his teammates, but who all too often tiptoed his way around numerous snapping ankles only to look up and find that not a soul was in the vicinity to offer support. Or that Llorente was there, which essentially amounted to the same thing.

2. The All Action Second Half

The transformation amongst our mob in the second half was of the sort normally reserved for cartoon characters with little concern for realistic plot devices.

Our Glorious Leader, for so long a manager who seems to have treated a football match as a cinematic experience to be enjoyed passively and in a silent spirit of non-interference throughout, took it upon himself to switch to a back three, which gave Danny Rose in particular the licence to hare upfield with the sort of zeal that one would rather not argue with.

And aside from the tactical change, the whole bally gang of lilywhites took to the second half with a frenzied determination if not exactly to strategically out-manoeuvre Chelsea, chess-like and subtle, then at least with a frantic spirit of all-action-no-plot frenzy that seemed to rely upon living by the sword and dashed well dying by it too. It was marvellous fun, albeit pretty wearing stuff for the nerves.

3. Llorente’s Moment of Redemption. Good Egg.

The first half might have gone on for several days and we would not have got anywhere near scoring; but within five minutes of the second half we had done the business, and I think only those of the most heartless dispositions could have failed to feel some pleasure for Senor Llorente.

I’m quite happy to admit that I was amongst the most vocal in chiding the wretched chap at the weekend for his buffoonery, so his perseverance last night was worthy of some grudging admiration; but his headed goal merits a far more sincere slap on the back and splash of the good stuff.

A combination of brute force and bravery, when it would have been easy for him to sulk and mope and just give up on the whole dashed thing, it was impressive stuff (even if the hope it thereby provided did ultimately make the eventual defeat all the more galling).

4. Gazzaniga Passing

Although there was a deflection en route that perhaps messed with his mechanics, I was not exactly bowled over by Gazzaniga’s attempt to repel Kante’s goal; but the chap’s distribution is fast becoming one of the more impressive sights to behold.

We’ve seen it from him a few times now, this inclination to volley the ball from his hands deep into the heart of a panicky opposition defence, and Gazzaniga was at it again last night, niftily straddling that line between a hopeful, moronic punt and a devilishly identified and executed ping of a wonder-pass.

The pass that set Eriksen free on the right very nearly created The Best Goal Ever – Llorente, in one of life’s more unsurprising developments, failing to make a clean connection with Eriksen’s cross.

Then Gazzaniga set Moura free on the inside left, and the ensuing volley was only a few inches away from being another goal the aesthetics of which would have flown through the roof.

Lloris presumably retains the edge for his instinctive shot-stopping, but Gazzaniga’s passing is one heck of a string to his bow. I look forward to his next foray in the FA Cup on Sunday.

5. Injuries

Ultimately it was not to be, and we might as well have exited the competition at the first hurdle (although I think the win at the Emirates did a world of good, so silver linings and all that muck).

The sight of Davies limping off after half an hour actually caused me not a jot of upset – as, it might surprise my public to know, I’ve never been the most ardent supporter of the young bean – but the principle of another day bringing about another injury is about as much as any sane chappie can bear.

The lunacy of the summer transfer policy is not just an elephant in the room, it’s an entire herd of the things. Almost every one of our players who went to the World Cup has since picked up some form of injury, and we have barely had a week free of a midweek fixture.

The official party line of not buying players who cannot improve upon the current starting eleven is being exposed as utter tosh with each passing day, for we simply need additional players just to take to the pitch. If no better players can be bought, buy players of equal quality and field them instead, rather than fielding the same honest souls every game until they literally break.

Alas, there seems little likelihood of any of this changing, and frankly we seem more likely to sell than to buy this month. It’s a dreary append to an oddly glorious failure.

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

Fulham 1-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Grinding It Out – Again

Credit where due. Traditionally our lot have never really gone in for the business of knuckling down and sweating out every last drop, preferring the fancy stuff when it suits, and capitulation when it doesn’t.

This season however we have dragged ourselves back in the dying embers of three Champions League games, won a stack of Premier League games without playing remotely well in the early months – and now a last minute winner when bereft of our three leading scorers, and having last our another leading attacking light during proceedings.

No doubt we’ll be accused of choking again the next time someone sneezes out of turn, but this was the latest in a string of impressive displays that suggests that some stern stuff resides deep within the cores of our troops.

2. The Tragic Llorente

I suspect I might be in a minority of one on this particular point, but I’ve always been rather fond of Llorente. Always cast a rather admiring eye at his ability to cushion an arriving ball into the path of a chum with the delicacy of one of Venus’ suitors giving it their tenderest work. Admittedly there’s not much else to his game, but his cushioned lay-offs were always top-notch.

Alas, I counted but one of those against Fulham – arriving in the 79th minute – and with his heading compass woefully awry there was not a dashed thing to commend about his lumberings.

As a Plan B in the final ten minutes of a cup game, shoved on alongside Kane, he has some merit; as the focal point from first toot to last, the poor blighter offers all the threat of a rabbit in headlights – rooted to spot, limbs incapable of shifting him from point A to point B, a look of utter dread etched across his features.

Bar the occasional headed flick, Llorente offered nothing. He did not drop deep to partake in any build-up play; he did not hare off into channels; he did not hold up the ball; and I don’t recall him at any point collecting the ball with his feet. Given that at the best of times he traipses around the pitch like a weary farm-beast just waiting to be put out of his misery, one imagines the own-goal did not help his confidence.

I suppose the charitable stance is to excuse him on the grounds that none of the above have ever exactly been listed on his CV as attributes, and one can hardly expect him to do that of which he is physically incapable. The pointed counter-argument is that he is a professional footballer – and a striker at that – and therefore dashed well should be able to offer a handful of those assets normally found in a target man.

3. The Other Ten: Politely Ignoring Llorente Throughout

In a charming sort of way, playing with Llorente reminded me of those schoolboy games in which some poor young scab is picked solely because the teacher recognises the name, having taught his older sibling. Everybody was too polite to admit openly that he was utter tripe, but they all knew it.

No particular blame attached to the other ten, who played gallons of football that was neat and tidy and patient – and some that was even effective – but from the off there was a sense of a team playing with ten men.

The sorry conclusion to it all was that out there on the pitch our heroes pattered along with things while ignoring Llorente as respectfully as was possible, and seemingly actively avoiding any opportunity to lob a cross towards him; while here at AANP Towers yours truly sat with head in hands, muttering a choice variety of curses as the game serenely passed the wretch by.

If this is a sign of things to come – we field Llorente, simply ignore him and continue to play our usual intricate way but in effect without a striker – I would prefer we put the Spaniard out to pasture, and field a youngling of the ilk of Kazaiah Sterling instead.

4. Dele Alli, All Our Hopes Rest On Y- Oh

There was something wonderfully predictable about Dele Alli’s headed goal, but it was no less delightful for it. The young bean seems to have perfected the art of ghosting in at the back post to nod the ball in, and all with an appearance of effortless ease that must have Senor Llorente casting all manner of envious glances in his direction.

In recent seasons I have been inclined to give young Dele quite the bashing. Too much frippery and not enough substance, has been the gist of the charges.

To his credit, the young fish has been poring over my words religiously, and this season has done his level best to win back my approval. For this I graciously applaud him. His marvellous technique is now applied to the greater good, if you get my drift, looking to unpick the opposition rather than drifting off on his own little meandering game of nutmegging as many passers-by as possible.

Given the hopeless efforts of Llorente alongside him, much seemed to depend on Dele, both today and in future weeks with sterner tests to come, so the sight of him shuffling to the bench and adopting the gloomy disposition of a man whose hamstring has just gone ‘ping’ was fairly crushing stuff for all concerned.

Where the dickens we go from here is anyone’s guess, but logic dictates that Llorente might get another bash at things. One suspects that back at Casa Pochettino, away from the gaze of the cameras, our glorious leader is lamenting this necessity, and wondering whether he ought to dig out his size nines and start in attack against Chelsea.

5. Winks’ Moment of Glory

Not the likeliest of heroes, but a fairly deserving one, I suspect you’d agree, for it was an honest, if fairly unspectacular day’s work.

Young Winks never wants for eagerness; and if that faint praise sounds a tad damning it was rather meant to be – having been a fully signed up member of the Winks Fan Club in seasons gone by, his doings in recent weeks have left me a tad underwhelmed, and I’ll explain precisely why.

As often as not, when he picks up the ball, his instinct has been to pivot back towards the safety of home, and pass the thing sideways or backwards. It is all something of a contrast to his earlier days in lilywhite, when he seemed to have a more adventurous streak to his DNA. The safety-first approach undoubtedly has its merits, and is often enforced upon him, as the deepest lying midfielder – but as indicated, has left me a couple of notches short of being truly whelmed.

Today seemed to be a welcome return to the more forward-thinking Winks of yesteryear. This was partly helped by the obliging hosts admittedly, who did little to pressurise him when in possession. Nevertheless, whether passing the thing or taking the initiative himself and setting off on a northbound gallop, he generally contributed his tuppence worth to the cause in proactive fashion.

And once Dier was slung on alongside him he pretty well took the hint that the shackles were off and he had licence to poke his nose further forward – and poke his nose he duly did, and with some aplomb.

Spurs 0-1 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Observations

1. A Heartening Performance

Curses are naturally flowing pretty liberally around the white half of north London, but here at AANP Towers we’re actually sipping the early-evening double whisky with a generous dollop of equanimity.

The wound of defeat obviously cuts deep, and so on and so forth – but after the laboured 90 minutes against Chelsea, and a first half here in which there was a collective air of legs ploughing through quicksand, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the rip-roaring stab of things made by our heroes in the second half.

No doubt about it, every lilywhite out there this afternoon looked utterly drained – and have done for a few weeks now – and I’m pretty sure I saw several of them being scooped up off the turf and carried off at the denouement.
Yet despite that, we kept beavering, making enough presentable chances to win a couple of games and frankly appeared to have a few bursts more energy than our opponents who were supposedly freshly sunned and rested.

Moreover, I was secretly rather chuffed that we kept our heads and continued to probe in those closing stages, rather than blindly whacking the thing north and offering up prayers. Up against a deep United defence-and-midfield I had wondered in the first half how the devil we were supposed to break them down at all. As it happened we did so on around a dozen occasions in the second half alone.

2. Our Finishing. Too Close To The Keeper, Don’t You Think?

Bunting is being decked and champagne sprayed around the United keeper, and one understands the sentiment, for the chap wasn’t allowed to catch his breath before sticking out another limb and keeping the good ship Hotspur at bay.

And far be it for me to deny the fellow his fifteen minutes, but I can’t help thinking we made his job a heck of a lot easier by firing most of those shots within his wingspan.

I trust my public will forgive me if I don’t list and analyse each individual chance separately, as I’m not sure the abacus has been invented that can track that sort of thing, but certainly both Kane and Dele shot at him rather than the corners when clean through, and one or two of the other less straightforward opportunities might also have been more emphatically tucked away.

Just one of those things I suppose. On another day – and there have been several of them in the past month alone – we might have hit the corners and been four or five up. Such is the rummy nature of life.

3. Poch’s Tactical Switch

And while immersing ourselves in rather pointless crumbs of comfort, a begrudging nod in the vague direction of Our Glorious Leader. One of the few sticks with which the sunny chap is ever beaten is his perceived inability to roll up his sleeves midway through a game and do some first-rate tinkering.

Come half-time today however, and with the likeliest form of attack having thus far been The Hopeful Alderweireld Punt, Poch duly tinkered away like the best of them, and produced more of a 4-2-3-1, of sorts.

Now the prosecution might well make the point that his hand was rather forced by the injury to Sissoko pretty much bang on half-time, and a jolly compelling point it would be too. I’m nevertheless inclined to give Poch the benefit of the doubt however, for he might have stuck with the midfield diamond and watched on gloomily.

Instead, Sonny went left, Davies was kept firmly under lock and key within the back-four – where many a cynic might observe he is far better placed – Eriksen sat deeper, and the outlook pretty instantly became a heck of a lot sunnier.

4. Squad Depth (Lack Thereof)

As alluded to above, one can only really applaud the efforts of the chaps out on the pitch, who appeared pretty much to use up their final bubbles of oxygen and every last ounce of energy in hammering away at the United door.

The unhappy fact remains, however, that the slew of crunch fixtures shows neither sign of abating nor adopting any less crunch. On top of which, the cast members themselves are now, rather inevitably, beginning to drop like flies.

The hooking of Sonny for yet another international tournament seems rather heartless, as he’s only just got over the jet-lag from the previous one, but into every life some rain must fall I suppose.

The injuries are just a plain nuisance, and no less annoying for being so utterly predictable. Winks and Sissoko seem to have partnered each other for around a dozen games in a row, so the sight of muscles twanging away mid-game was greeted with as many philosophical shrugs as gloomy grimaces.

Kane also seemed to exit the stage in far worse health than he entered, having taken a royal clattering in the dying embers of the game, and with Dier still not fit, Wanyama now just a picture on a Missing Person’s poster, Moura apparently injured and Dembele eyeing up the exit door, the whole carefully constructed and delicately held-together structure does look set to come tumbling down at any point.

Oh that we were minded to shell out a few quid in the transfer market, what? The party line remains that no signings will be made if they cannot improve the starting eleven, which sounds suitably bland and professional; but the argument grows stronger by the day that simply recruiting a few extra bodies of precisely the same quality would be no bad thing, if it allows for one or two of our mob to catch their breath between games.

Frankly there seems to be more chance of the sun exploding, which means we can potentially look forward to Skipp and Winks behind a front two of Lamela and Llorente in weeks to come.

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

Barcelona 1-1 Spurs: Five Glorious Tottenham Observations

1. Our Most Significant Result

Now this is what makes it all worthwhile. If you did not bound out from beneath the sheets with a sore head and a sunny whistle on your lips then I rather despair.

This was magnificent. Yes we have convincingly beaten Real, City, Arsenal, Liverpool, United and Chelsea at various points in recent seasons – and while marvellous fun one and all, and richly deserved, and prompting all manner of gaiety and revelry there was nevertheless margin for error on each of those occasions. Failure in those games actually was an option, as we could simply shrug our shoulders and eye up the fixture list for our next joust.

But when push has met shove, and everything has absolutely rested on one single game, with no option of returning next week to make amends – those games in which boys become men and wild animals slink around you with a look in their eye that says “It’s you or me, old mucker, because only one of us will emerge from this alive I’m afraid,” – we have generally fallen short. Cup finals, cup semi-finals, crunch winner-takes-all CL games – that is where wheat is separated from chaff, and a most unwanted reputation has come our way.

All of which makes yesterday our most significant result in as many years as you care to remember. This was the first time we met elite opponents in what was essentially a knock-out tie, and we delivered.

Caveats abound of course – we didn’t win the thing, for a start, as we really ought to have done, and Barcelona obligingly removed a number of luminaries before the bash had even started. But they were still a dashed talented mob, it was still a daunting task in a daunting venue, and our lot still delivered when previously they had failed.
Add this to our late two goals against PSV and the late winner against Inter – again, two more games with no margin for error – and there are finally hints that our heroes now have the mentality to deliver in these crucial one-off matches.

2. Heroes All Round

There were thrilling performances littered all round the pitch. In the first half the front four looked a constant threat, four players neatly approaching their peak form in a fashion so well coordinated it was like they had been rehearsing for weeks. A shame that Sonny left his shooting boots back in Blighty, but from the off one sensed that we would certainly create a hatful of chances – even if the inherent pessimist in me, cultivated by years of watching Spurs, rather fretted that we would miss every blinking one of them.

From my vantage point on the AANP sofa (and with volume muted, such is my distaste for that particular commentator and his off-topic rambles) it seemed that Danny Rose became better with each passing minute.

Greeting everyone in his neck of the woods with aggressive glares and meaty challenges when defending, and springing into action with boundless energy when attacking, it was all a rather nostalgic throwback to a bygone era when our full-backs were our main attacking threat.

On t’other side, the campaign to build a statue in honour of Moussa Sissoko received yet another irresistible boost. That glorious combo of beast-like strength in defence, and powerful – if rather uncomplicated – forward gallops when seguing into attack had the Barcelona types scratching their heads, unsure of quite how to deal with the chap.

On top of which he then went from being a helping hand on the right, to assuming complete ownership of it, after the hooking of young KWP. Admittedly Sissoko never quite knows what to do once he has powered into the heart of the opposition defence, but he might as well have started charging others to enter his little strip of land, such was his dominance of it.

As if to plant a cherry on top of the icing, he then became the one-man answer to the question that’s been unanswerable for the last ten years – how does one stop Lionel Messi? When Messi picked up the ball and began slaloming, it all looked horribly inevitable – until he ran into Sissoko and pretty much bounced straight back off him, leaving our hero to emerge with ball at feet and wild determination in eye.

3. Kyle Walker-Peters

A testing night for young Kyle Walker-Peters, mind. ‘Educational’, might be the mot juste. The chap actually made a start that if not exactly rollicking by every measurement nevertheless seemed to bode quite well, as he confidently went on a little maraud down the right and earned a free-kick in what is legally known as “a dangerous area”.

Alas, the poor fish must have wished he hadn’t, because within about ten seconds he was slap bang in the middle of the sort of nightmarish sequence that usually receives a pretty stern telling-off from the legal bods for having been aired before the watershed.

Naturally enough, KWP’s confidence promptly took a nosedive as he spent much of the rest of the evening looking quite unashamedly like he was scouring the Nou Camp turf for a spot that would open up and swallow him whole. One would rather have felt for him if there were not a job to be done.

This is not to lambast his overall performance mind. He toiled away earnestly enough, generally avoided any further mishaps and made one pretty crucial block at 1-0 in the second half. But in general he did look exactly as had been advertised, namely a fish slightly out of water, gasping away appropriately.

All of which suggests that his career could go one of two ways, as he will presumably either push on and become a terrific player, or fizzle away into obscurity. Shove him into the starting eleven against Newcastle and he can produce a man of the match performance; do the same at Barca and he can make a crucial mistake. It’s far too early to pass judgement on the chap. As with young Foyth he will need more chances and be allowed to make more mistakes.

It is worth remembering a skinny young mite named Ledley King making a terrific pig’s ear of things inside his own area in the 2002 Worthington Cup final, costing us the match – and then making an identical mistake the following week in the league for good measure. The young people will do such things, and luckily for them, Our Glorious Leader is quite a forgiving sort in these matters.

4. Eriksen and Dele

Back to sunnier matters. As caution was picked up and hurled at the wind, we ended up in a glorious throwback to the Ossie Ardiles reign, as just about every soul in lilywhite bar the centre-backs and ‘keeper became an attacker. Sissoko and Rose became wing-backs, Winks was replaced by a forward, and rather thrillingly it became clear that even our deep-lying midfielders were now forward-thinking sorts, as we were treated to the sight of Dele and Eriksen dropping deep to dictate matters from around the centre circle, a task they each performed with aplomb.

Dele looks a man reborn these days, presumably having benefited from the enforced rest brought about by his injury. He brimmed with energy, and his touch looked most appropriately top-notch, given the surroundings.

We have come to expect nothing less from Eriksen of course, who took to reminding me of Modric in his White Hart Lane pomp, assisting the chap who provides the assist, if you get my drift.

5. Substitutes and Substitutions

Having berated Our Glorious Leader a couple of weeks ago for his curious decision-making against Arsenal, I now heap praise upon him by the sackload for his management not just of this game, but Leicester a couple of days ago.

The omissions of Kane and Eriksen on Saturday were perfectly gauged. The introduction of substitutes last night were perfectly timed and achieved precisely the desired effect. Lamela injected fresh energy, ideas and aggression; Moura’s directness ultimately brought him his goal. Even throwing on Llorente for Winks ensured that the pressure remained firmly clamped down upon the Barca back-line. I rather start to get the impression that Poch is getting the hang of this management lark.

And as pleasing as the contributions of the personnel was the approach used as the game wore on. While the AANP heartrate reached dangerously unsustainable levels, the calmest gang out there were the Spurs personnel themselves. There were no desperate long balls or speculative long-range efforts; our heroes remained remarkably level-headed and kept playing as they had done throughout, with quick, slick passing and off-ball movement. Barcelona’s best moments came from individual brilliance, which is fair enough when you fling £100 million plus at a player; ours repeatedly came from neat and incisive team moves.

Naturally, this being Spurs, it could have been done so much more easily – in recent weeks and last night – but it just adds to the fun of the thing, no?

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Bournemouth 1-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Reaction to Defeat

“The true test of a team is not how they celebrate victory, but how they react to defeat.”

I’d be deceiving my public if I claimed that line – paraphrased, don’t you know – as one of my own. In fact I’m not sure who said it, and frankly with gags like that, whoever did say it could hardly have been the life and soul of a Saturday night jaunt on the town, but whatever the chap’s personal flaws he certainly had a point when it came to football.

The mood at AANP Towers over the last few days since Juve has pretty much boasted all the joyous revelry of the wake of a fondly-remembered family pet. Morose, gloomy and pretty starkly lacking even a splash of the traditional joie de vivre. I imagine it has been the same in lilywhite households across the land too, so heavens knows how the players felt as they laced up the footwear and prepared for today’s skirmish.

Unsurprisingly, they began proceedings with the same moroseness and gloom with which I had become so familiar in recent days, and when Bournemouth hit the bar and then hit the net within the first five minutes, the reaction to Wednesday’s defeat appeared to be one of general listlessness. The omens, it is fair to say, were pretty negative.
Matters worsened when the poster boy limped off, so our heroes deserve enormous credit for snapping out of their hangovers and raising their level.

Undoubtedly the scoreline flattered us, but the win was richly deserved, and in truth having lamented our lack of midweek ruthlessness in front of goal like one of the miserable Greek poets who only ever bangs on about the bad things in life, I was buoyed like nobody’s business to see us bury our chances so efficiently today.

I had remarked on these very pages last time out that there was a danger of feeling sorry for ourselves and needlessly dropping points; thumping backslaps all round then, to the players for bouncing straight back.

2. Front Four

As mentioned, the rolling of the precious Kane ankle might have been the cue for a general waving off the white flag and a whole cacophony of wailing and gnashing of teeth, so it was good to see that instead our lot took the opportunity rather sneakily to showcase their talents. There was something of “The King is dead – I say, rather than lament the chap, we could go and make names for ourselves here” about it all.

The decision not to bring on Llorente was hardly surprising, as the old bean simply is not at the required quality notch, irrespective of his Rochdale hat-tricks and whatnot. Moreover, tactically I had feared that wheeling him out would have made us a little too one-dimensional. Firing everything at a static beanpole, if you get my drift, for Llorente’s assets cannot be truthfully said to include indefatigable energy levels.

Instead, Lamela skipped on, brash young buck that he is, Son moved upfront, and those two, along with Dele and Eriksen spent the following hour buzzing around all over the place. The loose plan was Son up top; but each of the aforementioned appeared to have been granted carte blanche when it came to whizzing hither and thither into each other’s nominal patch of turf, and with the full-backs providing width we had a decent attacking armoury, even sans Kane.

Admittedly the full-backs’ actual crosses nine times out of ten ranked under the Pretty Dashed Woeful column, but their very presence helped stretched things, and like a broken clock Serge Aurier took time out from foul-throwing and other general acts of imbecility to deliver a peach of a cross for young Dele’s goal.

3. Life Without Kane

Digressing from the 90 minutes in question, the likely absence of Kane for presumably 4-6 weeks can hardly be greeted with thunderous cheers of acclaim, but we have managed without him for such periods in recent seasons, and today did demonstrate that we have the personnel to at least maintain the sprightly style of play.

The presence of Lucas on the bench provides another option, as I suppose does Llorente, in his own loveable way, so I suspect we’ll muddle through. Mind you, the first hint of a below-par showing and the internet will presumably combust under the weight of rabid commentators insisting that we cannot cope without the chap.

Much rides on our next two encounters.

4. Son’s Miskicks

Having retreated into his shell somewhat during February, Son has responded as one would expect to the indignity of being sold from the AANP Fantasy Football Team. He now boasts a couple of fancy new party tricks in his repertoire, as well. The rounding-the-keeper gag never fails to impress onlookers, and it was entertaining to see him wave an arm at Lamela as part of the routine to deceive the Bournemouth custodian into thinking that he would square the ball. The scamp!

But as deception goes, he will have to go some distance to top his array of miskicks. First the scuff onto his standing foot vs Juve, and this week the thump into the turf to create a delicate loop over the goalkeeper.

It does all suggest that he ought to stop watching Sissoko for his footballing inspiration, but on a less facetious note the chap should be applauded for getting into the right positions, and if a slice of luck is shoved his way then few can begrudge him.

5. Eriksen

So the record books will record for posterity that Son scored twice, and decades down the line few will be the wiser as to the intricacies of the job, but one really had to watch matters unfold with one’s own two eyes to appreciate the role played by Christian Eriksen in all of this.

Unruffled and in control throughout, he was patient in his passing, always looking for the killer ball but more often than not simply nudging it more straightforwardly if the circumstances dictated it. Yet he just makes things tick, and when the opportunity arises will supplement things with an outrageously well-spotted and weighted through ball.

The pass to Kane (for the disallowed goal which brought about the injury) was one such example, and the pass to Son for his second, while being simpler, was still delivered to perfection. I can certainly imagine some amongst our number who would have made rather a pig’s ear of that one.

Also worth noting the energy the chap displays week in, week out. Not for the first time he could be seen leading the chase when Bournemouth countered, shepherding the ball out for goal-kicks of all things.

So a particularly knowing tip of the cap to Eriksen, but it’s high-fives and elaborate handshakes all round, for this might have been the moment when our season started to unravel. Not a bit of it.

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

Spurs 6-1 Rochdale: Five THFC Observations

1. VAR, Apparently

Just as well we started thumping in goals from all angles in the second half, because by the midway point of the first half the two dozen or so brave souls who had made the pilgrimage to Wembley appeared ready to grab the nearest pitchfork and riot, in protest at VAR and the accompanying lunacy.

If you are looking for some semblance of sanity or explanation in this direction you can jolly well look elsewhere, because AANP was even more discombobulated than usual. Not only were VAR decisions being made according to the toss of a coin or spin of a wheel, or whatever sorcery it is, but I had the pleasure of watching the whole thing unfold from the rear end of a bar in Malta of all places, which had wisely decided to shun the witterings of the standard commentators and instead peddle a marvellous range of 80s power ballads and 90s pop as the audio backdrop to proceedings. A pretty ripe deal, you might think, and I certainly would not trade it, but without someone narrating the thing it was blank looks all round whenever the ref’s eyes lit up and the VAR machine rolled into town.

So when Lamela’s early “goal” was disallowed, with replays showing nobody offside, no simulation and about as much physical contact as one would normally expect from a game of chess, I could do little more than exchange a quizzical look with my old man, AANP Senior, while R. Kelly warbled in my ear that he could fly.

The decision to award the penalty seemed a slightly rummy one to me, the foul having begun a good few metres outside the area, but having bravely fought off the attentions of his marker for as long as was bearable, young Trippier’s little legs could support him no longer. And while few juries would possibly have convicted on those grounds, Trippier wisely enough reasoned that where there is VAR there is hope for even the most unlikely infraction to be awarded; and Bryan Adams gently crooned his satisfaction.

That said, the decision then to disallow the Son’s goal made me cast a few severe glances around the place like nobody’s business. A Spurs-supporting chum of mine kindly sent me an image from the FA website no less, on the various dos and don’ts of penalty kickery, on which was inscribed the specific words “Feinting is permitted”. It’s permitted, dash it! If anything, the FA bods are practically encouraging it! And while Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” admittedly did a mighty job of soothing this particular savage soul, the injustice of it all had me chuntering away into my Maltese lager.

2. Attacking Trio

So it was with a cocktail comprising two thirds bewilderment and one third effrontery that I sipped the half-time restorer and was serenaded by that virile old devil, Marvin Gaye. VAR had stood virtually as an extra line of defence; our own defence had switched off a little too regularly for comfort, and the Sissoko-Winks defensive screen had a distinctly porous whiff about it.

The saints be praised then, that the attacking triumvirate of Lamela, Son and Lucas were going about their business with gay old abandon. Each one of them bounded around the place as if to say, “Hello! If we play our cards right there could be all sorts of goods on offer here,” and accordingly they came fully armed with trickery on the ball and a decent level of work off it.

Lucas in particular appears to do exactly as advertised in the catalogue, which ought really to be barely worthy of mention, but given that our history of big-money signings has the same calamitous air about is as the passenger list of The Titanic, this is actually quite the triumph. Unlike anyone else in lilywhite he seems capable of skipping past opponents at in Full Gallop mode. On top of which, the young bean knows when to hang on to the ball and when to give it, as evidenced by the part he played in more than one goal. While admittedly this particular flexibility has only been fully demonstrated to date in two encounters with Rochdale, it still gets the juices flowing, as it were.

And if one were to step back, stroke the chin and survey the wider landscape, one might even suggest that there is now a degree of competition or reserve for Messrs Eriksen and Alli. Admittedly nobody is in the class of the former, but having a couple of viable options is no bad thing.

3. Llorente

I suppose that having wasted no opportunity to throw curses around like confetti whenever Senor Llorente has tripped over his own feet, it is only right to doff a cap and raise a glass or two when he scores a perfect hat-trick.

Prior to that point it was the usual fare from him: delightfully-weighted lay-offs coupled with an infuriating inability – or maybe just stubborn refusal, who knows? – to throw his weight around, work up a sweat and win a few blasted headers.

However, his first goal was an exquisite finish, and thereafter he did what a good striker ought to do. While goals at home to Rochdale perhaps do not raise the chap’s stock to the extent that global markets will be in disarray, it does mean that his confidence will be heading north, his teammates might be a little less nervous about his presence than they were 24 hours ago, and Harry Kane was granted a night off.

4. The Usual Array of Slightly Bewildering Substitutions

Other luminaries were less fortunate than Kane, however. With the tie in the bag, and the weather atrocious, our glorious leader hit upon the faintly ludicrous area of instructing Mousa Dembele, the undisputed owner of the Most Important Whilst Being Most Fragile award, to don a t-shirt and go haring about in the snow for half an hour. And ten minutes later he had Dele doing the same.
Quite what the heck he thought any of the above would achieve is absolutely beyond me. No good could possibly have resulted, and there seemed, in shipping forecast parlance, a moderate-to-fair chance of someone hurtling through the snow to their doom.
On top of which, while Erik Lamela charged around the pitch on his weekly mission to get himself sent off in double-quick time, Pochettino saw fit to remove Son, and leave Lamela to challenge the referee to a thirty-minute game of Chicken.

For all his virtues – and the list is as long as they come – Pochettino does come across as an odd sort of egg when it comes to substitutions, the type who will see we need a goal in the final ten minutes and bring on Trippier for Dier.

5. Snow

It matters little I suppose, but if you are after a blow-by-blow account of the final half hour or so you are most certainly in the wrong neck of the woods, because I could barely see a blasted thing. Having spent five minutes shouting over Justin Bieber to suggest to AANP Senior that they might want to use a yellow ball, I finally noticed that they were indeed using a yellow ball, and it was adding nothing in the Visibility column.

Nice to see Walker-Peters get five minutes; nicer to see that the Grand Fromage opted against hurling on Harry Kane for a wince-inducing and pointless five minutes; and thoroughly heart-warming to see Walker-Peters sprinting away in celebration after presumably scoring his first Spurs goal, although in real-time it simply appeared that he was going through a rigorous warm-up routine sans ball.

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

Spurs 2-0 Newport: Four THFC Observations

1. Squad Depth Like A Military Parade

Pre kick-off, our glorious leader made every change conceivable to the starting eleven, which, he’ll be delighted to know, was fine by me. Bigger fish await, and all that. Amongst other things this gave the opportunity to parade to the watching world the full extent of our squad depth, as one understands some of our foreign cousins are rather fond of doing, as if to say to neighbours, “Don’t you get any ideas, you bounders.”

While hardly comparable to the bankrolled elite who trouser several hundred thousand big ones per week, when fully restored to health our list of first reserves is nevertheless of respectable ilk. Hardly world class, granted, but enough there to suggest if some players exit stage left while others enter stage right, there will not be any discernible dips in quality in the majority of positions.

Accordingly, when the curtain went up we were able to showcase one of the best centre-backs in the country, a central midfield pairing potentially capable of going toe-to-toe with most in the Champions League, and a couple of inside forwards of nimble mind and fleet foot. Useful tins of muck to have knocking around in storage, as the pointy end of the season beckons.

2. Lackadaisical Start

Having suffered the indignity of having to appear at a lower-division pitch a couple of weeks ago, and almost paid the price for such thinly-veiled snobbery, the replay appeared a more straightforward proposition, given the size and quality of the pitch if nothing else. It did, however, require our chosen few to fasten the bayonets and get into the spirit of the thing, for at least long enough to put the whole ruse to beyond doubt.

In truth, things did not initially unfurl in as hot a manner as was hoped. In the opening five minutes or so, the curiously chosen buzzword was “lackadaisical”. A funny old term, given that it looks like a flower and is routinely mispronounced despite being about as phonetically straightforward as they come; but it pretty much summed up the way of things in our back-line straight from kick-off.

The much-peddled system of playing from the back was rolled out once more, but cast members in defence insisted on taking every chance available, as if convinced that they were impervious to harm. Passes were despatched in errant manner on the edge of our own area of all places, and an ominous sense arose that we were approaching the whole affair in far too slapdash a manner. Newport, in those opening breaths, hared about with decent gusto – and amongst our lot, “lackadaisical” just about summed it up. “A better team,” a voice in my ear seemed to whisper, “might have made hay, don’t you know, and then where would we be?”

Mercifully, however, that was about as hairy as things got. Newport ran out of steam, and thereafter our heroes remembered what the whole wheeze was about, and light-heartedly went about sealing the deal.

3. Returnees Picking Up Where They Left Off

No alarms and no surprises, as the chap warbled, just the reinforcing of various stereotypes.

Son and Lamela darted around in good spirits, and were generally at the heart of all moments of inspiration. Lamela certainly seems to have rediscovered his joie de vivre, looking sharp and mischievous, and ended up strolling around the place with rather a swagger, as if this were his game and he would dashed well do as he pleased. It was good to see, and the young buck provides a useful option should any part of the Alli-Eriksen-Son axis fail to motor as advertised. (As, one hopes, will Lucas Moura).

Winks was neat and tidy, if a little reluctant to play some of the more incisive passes of which he is capable, and complemented well the blood and thunder of Wanyama, whose shooting has returned to a more familiar a style.

Of the other key returnees, Rose played with decent energy, and it was nice to see him resuming that habit of yore, whereby he cannot simply stumble to the floor, but has to fly horizontally around three feet off the ground before hitting the deck.

And possibly the most pleasing sight of all, Toby Alderweireld rolled up, not a hair out of place, to amble through proceedings unbothered and unscathed.

4. The Lost Causes

Naturally, some of the less vaunted members of the troupe were also let loose, and, in a manner of speaking, they did not disappoint either.

Sissoko was as clumsy as ever. I had rather laughably harboured hopes beforehand that a lower quality of opposition might make the cove appear more sophisticated – by comparison, don’t you know – but evidently there is just no refining a certified buffoon. He simply did what he usually does, forcing his way through any crowded alley, misplacing as many passes as he nailed, and generally making life seem pretty dashed complicated.

There was a perverse symmetry to the fact that he created a goal by firing the ball straight at an opponent and seeing it ping off him in a different direction.

And Llorente did everything we have come to expect of the chap. Further evidence was offered that in a previous life he may have been an enormous cushion, as he spent the first hour or so gently laying the ball off to nearby chums with warmth and love.

Running, as ever, was rather a tall order for the chap, and made for pretty painful viewing, as his limbs moved one at a time, as if controlled from on high by a particularly nervous puppeteer. Alas, his two golden opportunities flashed inches wide, as if to convince anyone stopping by that he could play football all night without ever scoring.

The suspicion remains that should any ill fate befall Kane, then Son will be pressed into service atop the tree before the siren ever sounds for Llorente.

So no reason to slaughter the fattened calf, but as these things go it was a jolly enough little bash, and the 90 or so minutes achieved by Toby, Rose, Winks, Wanyama and Lamela feel like they could prove useful as sub-plots in the coming weeks.

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