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Spurs match reports

Fulham 1-1 Spurs: Two Tottenham Talking Points

1. Ange’s Selection

You’ll be pretty relieved to hear that the drill today at AANP Towers is to err on the side of brevity, what with the need to spend the midweek daylight hours earning the monthly envelope rather than nattering away about our heroes. As such it’s just a couple of the standout points of discussion, but they don’t come much fruitier than what the daring amongst us might term Big Ange’s First Wrong Move.

Hindsight, of course, is always flawless, and it would be pretty easy to clear the throat and spend a goodish amount of time chirping away about how ill-considered was Our Glorious Leader’s choice of personnel in the aftermath of last night’s limp old showing. But I can at least look my fellow lilywhite in the eye and state with all sincerity that AANP has never bought into this business of mass changes in personnel. Never liked it at international level, don’t like it at club level. In fact, search long enough and you’ll find one or two souls who received a bit of a lecture from me making this point immediately before kick-off.

The principal objection is that for a fringe player to take a deep breath and deliver a performance that has the paying public rising to their feet and strewing the place with garlands, he really needs those around him to be regulars in their roles. Put another way, if we want to see what young Skipp is made of, then throw him in alongside two of Sarr, Maddison and Bissouma, rather than instead of. Or to get the real lowdown on Manor Solomon on the right of attack, make sure that the usual suspects are patrolling that flank alongside him. And so on. The principle generally applies across the team, and as mentioned, can be mimicked in national colours – if for example one wants to assess the cut of Ivan Toney’s jib in attack, or gauge the ticks and crosses of Trent in midfield, one keeps all (or most) other things equal, and lets them off the leash amongst established company.

This business of changing nine of the eleven, by contrast, generates precious few useful insights. They can be the best players around, but if they’re all new to their surroundings then they all rather stumble around the place in pretty rudderless fashion, not quite knowing who’s in charge and at what precise hour to unleash hell.

As it happens, I rather fancy that a Skipp-Hojbjerg-Lo Celso triumvirate would, after a few weeks of working together, function well enough to hold their own quite competently against someone like Fulham. But it would be a dickens of an ask to expect them to start purring from Minute 1 of their first appearance together. And the odds lengthen considerably when ahead of them they have Perisic and Solomon making their first starts, and behind them four more fresh faces out of five.

AANP would much rather have seen one of two of the usual midfield three in situ, and similarly one change in each of the defence and attack. The flow would not have been too wildly disrupted, and those brought in would have enjoyed more becoming conditions in which to peddle their wares.

The counter-argument, of course, is that Maddison and Bissouma in particular are the sort of fellows whose health and wellbeing for the bigger pond of the Premier League is just too bally important to go frittering away in the Carabao Cup. And one certainly understands the point. It is loaded with merit. Should Maddison have bounded around from the off and then twisted a limb at a right-angle half an hour in, a few pitchforks would have been grabbed amongst the faithful without too much delay.

Nevertheless, some sort of balancing act ought to have been achievable without too much strain upon the grey cells. Much like I understand is the case with the Royal Family, one wouldn’t shove the whole lot of them aboard the same aircraft – but that doesn’t mean forbidding any of them from flying at all. Which is to say, perhaps Maddison could have been rested, but Sarr and Bissouma started; Romero wrapped up with slippers and a bourbon while at least two of the other defensive three were readied for action. After all, playing twice in a week, once in a while, ought not to be too much of a stretch for these fine young specimens.

However, Our Glorious Leader presumably had his reasons. For a start he would have expected, reasonably enough, that even if they did resemble a bunch of strangers speaking in differing tongues, the eleven selected would at least each show the individual acumen to win their own individual battles and make more of a fist of things than they did in the first half in particular.

He might also have seen this as a rare chance to give as many as possible of his troops as close to 90 minutes as possible, there being limited opportunity for this sort of thing in the coming weeks without the benefit of European jollies. And with the transfer window looming rather awkwardly over proceedings, he might have considered this whole exercise a necessary precursor to a spot of September 1st culling.

Whatever the reasons, the dice has been cast, recorded and put back in its box now, so there’s no turning back. In truth it’s not really too great a blow, and frankly I struggle even to pretend to be particularly upset; but it is a dashed shame to toss away quite so casually a fairly straightforward opportunity to challenge for a trophy.

2. Richarlison

On the bright side, at least Richarlison pocketed some winnings. Considerably assisted though he might have been by the curious incident of the Fulham bobbie whose absence was temporarily enforced by a boot in a state of disrepair, one does not shrug off gift-horses when they rumble into view. One does instead precisely what Richarlison did, and loop a header back across the goalkeeper and into the net.

At kick-off, the list of wants from this fixture was pretty short and free of frills. Win the thing; have one or two of the reserves catch the eye; and by hook, crook or a penalty rustle up a goal for Richarlison. And one out of three will have to do.

It’s a good job that the wish-list did not extend to Richarlison delivering an all-round performance that blew the minds of all in attendance, because once again he stomped around the place looking like he didn’t quite belong. No shortage of effort, but whatever he tried, be it linking up the play or racing onto forward balls, it didn’t really work.

Even after his goal, which I rather bobbishly expected to stuff the lad full to bursting with confidence and brio, he continued to bump into others and generally bang the old loaf against a brick wall. For what it’s worth, I remain happy to keep giving him time, and remain confident that the goals will at least trickle, if not flow; and more to the point Big Ange seems similarly inclined, at least until such time as another striker worthy of the name is yanked into the building. Nevertheless, his overall performance was a bit of a non-event, punctuated by one isolated cause for cheer. Rather summed up the whole thing, what?

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Spurs match reports

Fulham 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane

Decency dictates that we start with this chap and do him a bit of homage. It’s hardly an unusual script – great swathes of tepid dross punctuated suddenly by a moment of quality from Kane completely out of keeping with the rest – but even more remarkable for it.

Covering the specifics first, and when Kane received the ball one would have hardly expected the Fulham gang to sound their klaxons and generally lose their heads. Admittedly, Kane receiving the ball just outside the area is not ideal for any opponent, but contextual factors at least seemed to be stacked marginally in their favour.

He received the thing with his back to goal for a start. This by no means neuters him, but one would have expected the Fulham ‘keeper at least to allow himself a short puff of the cheeks, for the immediate threat of a shot seemed pretty low on the Risk Assessment.

On top of which, Fulham had their back-line in position and ready to get down to brass tacks. The chappies on Sky Sports took to whining that one of the centre-backs might have moved half a yard more to the left or some such guff, but when such intricate witterings are being voiced it is time to block the ears and move on. Our attacking move was in what rugby bods might call its third or fourth phase, and Fulham were fairly well organised, with banks of four and five and whatnot all neatly arranged.

Moreover, on receiving the ball in this position of fairly bleak promise, it is not as if Kane then dipped a shoulder, unleashed a Cruyff and was suddenly clean through on goal. He, understandably, collected it and set off on the scenic route, around the outside of the area. If those in Fulham’s Control Room had started shooting each other quizzical looks, with hands hovering uncertainly over the button marked ‘Panic’, one would have understood, because through this manoeuvre Kane was, if nothing else, setting himself up on his right foot. Nevertheless, there was a whole gaggle of bodies stationed between him and the goal, so if alert levels had remained low one would have sympathised.

Kane, however, being of a different plane, cared little for any of the above, and simply spanked the thing, without even bothering to look. To repeat, it was a piece of skill entirely out of keeping with what any of what had gone before, and well worthy of winning a match of high quality, let alone this onerous dirge.

While the chatter in some quarters is that Greaves has two Charity Shield goals that have not been credited to his account, which would bump his tally up to 268, I am happy for the pedants to tie themselves in knots over that one. Kane would no doubt have settled for a deflection of a lesser-used body part while he looked the other way if it had added to his numbers, but for him to equal our record in this particular fashion felt particularly satisfying.

On top of which, sources of good repute have been reporting that the curious bean is actually interested in extending his contract at N17, which, while welcome news, does make me wonder if the poor fellow has lost his mind. Still, it all made for a match-winning innings and rounded off a fun night-time jaunt. Who knows, it might even make those who once considered him a rotter reconsider their stance.

2. Our Passing (First Half vs Second Half)

To say that things started poorly is to speak rather kindly of affairs. We were, as is so often the case, pretty dreadful from the off. Fulham sorts seemed to scurry down the flanks at their convenience, producing a steady stream of crosses into our area throughout the first half, with which our heroes dealt with varying degrees of assurance and success. I suppose the important stat is the big fat zero in the ‘Goals Conceded’ column, but this vulnerability did make me sweat a bit, or at least would have done if I had had any optimism left in me while watching Spurs these days.

Anyway, aside from the free pass Fulham received down our sides, I found myself registering considerable bafflement at the passing display by our lot in the first half. Obviously, this being Spurs, one is used to seeing experienced international players set about their tasks like they’ve never seen a football before, but even by our standards the errant passing on display was pretty tough to digest.

Of course, nobody is perfect, and the occasional pass that doesn’t reach its mark one tries one’s best to shrug off. There tend to be mitigating circumstances – proximity of an opponent, lack of options, pressure to clear danger – that sort of stuff.

But as I watched on with ever growing incredulity in the first half hour or so, our lot seemed routinely to pass straight to opposing players. Sometimes under pressure, sometimes under none. And not those near-miss passes, the sort when an attacking nib is trying to thread one through the eye of a needle to set a chum clean through on goal – this was just basic five-yard stuff inside our own half. For the life of me I couldn’t fathom what was going on.

Anyway, whatever the mysterious goings-on afoot, we made it through to circa minute 44 unscathed, at which point we then turned up the dial a few notches and gave Fulham a few things to think about for a pretty impressive spell of about three minutes, culminating in Kane’s goal. Which did make me wonder quite how things might have panned out if we’d found our range and given them a bit of going-over a little earlier in the piece, but sometimes it is best not to overthink these things.

In the second half, our heroes tightened things considerably, and Fulham barely had a sniff. As impressive as the defensive arrangements was the fact that having blunted any approaching danger, our troops, in eye-catching distinction to the first half, started passing the ball around opponents and out of defence as if pinging it through a field of mannequins.

It was jolly impressive stuff per se, but particularly in light of the nonsense that had preceded it in the first half, I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. Put it this way, if you were in the market for thirty seconds of crisp, one-touch diagonals, you need not have looked much further.

After a while, these little moves stopped happening in any real attacking sense – the on-field consensus seeming to be that one goal ought to be enough – but whenever possession was won in and around our own area, the impressive little triangles would kick off once more.

3. Son

Those who care about such things would probably hammer home the fact that Sonny, strictly speaking, set up our winner. This I suppose is true by the letter of the law but does have about it the sense of one claiming to be a chef after producing a plate of beans on toast.

Still, it is one for the tally, so good for him. But if anyone were to point to that and use it as a defence of his performance, I would personally lean over and give them a pretty meaningful eye.

Make no mistake, Sonny continues to struggle through matches well below par. Every attempted dribble ended in a calamitous ball of limbs as he was pretty much snuffed out at source. In fact, every time he simply tried to run with the ball it looked as if either his feet or the ball, or all of the above, were drenched in treacle and then deposited in quicksand for good measure. In short, this vexing trend of things just not quite clicking for him continued to vex.

The gentle pass into the path of Kane, for his goal, was something of a highlight, not just because it led to the goal, but simply by virtue of it being an instance of him successfully finding a teammate.

Now I doubt there is a soul alive of lilywhite persuasion and sound mind who advocates any particular draconian fate ought therefore to befall the chap. Nobody is calling for his head, or suggesting we slap a price-tag on him and cart him off to the highest bidder.

But given that we have invested in a fellow of the beans of Richarlison, it does not seem too radical a proposition to suggest we swap the two of them around every now and then, what? If Sonny is simply not firing as programmed, so be it. Let him sit out a game or two, and there will hardly be a dip in quality if we shove Richarlison on in his place with instructions to do his worst. Different sorts of laddies no doubt, but the Brazilian seemed pretty bucked while on World Cup duty (albeit playing as central striker), and more to the point he would do no worse than the Sonny of Season 22/23.

If Richarlison is still labouring under whatever the latest ailment might be, then one grudgingly accepts that he is best left on the bench for now. Otherwise, however, the whole bally approach makes little sense. If he is not started now, when Sonny is at his lowest ebb, then when the hell will he be started?

4. Our Travelling Fans

A note in passing on the racket kicked up by our lot in the stands. Dashed impressive, I thought. High energy and relentless from first whistle to last, the only shame being that it did not occur to the eleven on the pitch to emulate them, but one can’t have everything I suppose. At one point our fans even cleared the throats for a rendition of McNarama’s Band, which had me raising a particularly impressed eyebrow.

On this business of the polite requests for structural reorganisation within the corridors of N17, AANP waves a weary hand, happy to let those better informed exercise their democratic right. But I was certainly taken by the din produced, back-slaps all round.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Fulham: Three Tottenham Talking Points

Parish Notice No. 1

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

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

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

1. Richarlison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Romero

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Lloris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Categories
Spurs match reports

Fulham 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Front Four

Not sure how well versed you are on your scripture, but as I recall there’s one wheeze in The Good Book along the lines of Character A bumping into Character B, who – and this is crucial to the plotline – happens to be pregnant, with the punchline that on seeing Character A, it is reported by Character B that “the child in her womb leapt for joy”.

A pretty rummy line, and not something I can personally relate to, having, for various reasons, not experienced a child or indeed a womb myself – but had I been so blessed it is absolutely nailed on that the child would not just have leapt but would have performed an Irish jig at seeing the teamsheet yesterday. The universal reaction amongst all lilywhites of my acquaintance on learning of the starting eleven was one of barely containable excitement, as the star-studded quartet of Kane, Son, Bale and Dele was unleashed.

That said, the gratification was not quite instant, with Fulham inconsiderately deciding to start on the front foot for the first 10 minutes or so, and our lot revealing a pretty sizeable disconnect between defence and attack. However, when things did click it was pretty fruity stuff, and the fact that Fulham were still waltzing into our area a little too easily when in possession simply added to the feel that this whole thing was an Ossie Ardiles ’94 tribute act.

It will be interesting to see how stronger teams cope, but when our front four did purr last night there wasn’t a great deal Fulham could do to stop it. In time one would imagine that their interplay will improve, if the telepathy between Sonny and Kane extends to the other two; and, being an indulgent sort, I’d rather like to see the various band members interchange positions and go a-wandering.

As it was, Sonny obediently stayed out on the left, presumably because Bale had announced that he intended to stick to the right, with Kane varying his longitude if not his latitude. I’m not sure of the extent of the tactical coaching this mob received, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose simply told them to toddle out there and do as they please, relying on their individual quality to do the necessary. It certainly brought about enough clear first half chances to have more than just the single goal.

In that respect Harry Kane deserves a slap on the wrist and a spell on the naughty step, as he was guilty of the sort of basic errors in front of goal that, had they been committed by Vinicius, would have had us booting him out the door and hurling a suitcase and his passport after him.

2. Dele Alli

The star of the show was probably Dele. While the headlines have been grabbed by his glaring miss that turned into an own goal by the chap next to him, the existential point he made by simply popping up in the area at that moment, with a good sense of dramatic timing, did a lot to justify his inclusion.

In a team so heavily reliant upon Son and Kane for the beginning, middle and end of its goals, Dele’s presence and natural inclinations to tiptoe forward immediately open up new routes to goal, and as such give fresh headaches to opposing defences.

On top of his attacking threat, I feel legally obliged to mention that he also knuckled down to the meat and veg of a midfielder’s role, performing such unglamorous tasks as tracking back, making tackles and helping to dab possession about the place. However, the principal benefits he brought were in the attacking spots, which does make one wonder why the hell Jose saw fit to kick him out of the squad for the first two thirds of the season, but I suppose life is full of such mysteries.

3. Ndombele

Having missed out on parity by a whisker with the last kick of the first half, Fulham decided to try the same approach in the second, with the result that we spent a full 45 minutes clinging on for dear life against a team that for all intents and purposes is from the division beneath us. From the Championship they came, and to the Championship they will return, but this did not stop them relentlessly attacking us and coming within one rulebook absurdity of equalising.

Every time our defence desperately thwacked the ball clear it came back at us, as the concept of hanging onto the thing seemingly lost on those members of the collective who were stationed further north.

The whole nerve-shredding spectacle did make me stop and wonder about the role of Ndombele in these scenarios. No matter how many times and how large the phrase “Defensive Midfielder” is stamped across his frame, it does not alter the fact that here is a chap who looks longingly at his attacking chums on the other side of the halfway line, desperately wanting to remove himself to such sunnier climes.

This seemed to be emphasised by the fact that he raced forward over halfway at every opportunity, not even really caring about the specific destination as long as he could glimpse the sight of the opposition goalposts and take a few gulps of oxygen from the Fulham half.

Which is all well and good, and is the sort of back-up act that makes the dreamy front four even more irresistible; but when he is stationed as one of two chappies sitting in front of the back four, there is something of a statutory requirement that he puts on his defensive hat and offers some protection.

Alas, he didn’t offer much in this department. If anything I noticed Dele’s defensive contributions more than his. This is not so much a criticism of Ndombele himself, more an observation that if we are going to field a stardust-sprinkled front four then we probably do require something a bit more solid behind them.

4. Davinson Sanchez

For the second successive game I was struck by the thoroughly disorienting sensation that Davinson Sanchez was, just about, doing an adequate job of keeping intruders at bay. Much though I would like to, I cannot really bring myself to describe him as a reassuring presence back there, as he does give the impression that calamity is only one opposing stepover away.

However, he stuck to his task yesterday, and by and large emerged in credit with a number of solid interventions and tackles to his name. There were a couple of moments, notably one at the very end of the first half, when it seemed that the ghost of Gundogan had returned, and threatened to leave him writhing on the floor again, but he recovered well and generally did the necessaries.

Ultimately, I thought his night was rather summed up by the disallowed goal: an agricultural clearance (which is better than no clearance at all), combined with a spot of luck, with the net result that the clean sheet remained intact.

In the final analysis it is a bit difficult to get one’s head around things: two consecutive wins is excellent stuff; albeit the opposition have been relegation strugglers; the front four could potentially light up our end to the season; yet our defence remains pretty wobbly at best. Luckily the games come so quickly these days there isn’t much time to dwell on these imponderables.

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Spurs match reports

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.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 Fulham: Four Tottenham Observations

1. The Return of Toby Alderweireld

Quite the unexpected bonus to hoop up and see Toby’s name on the teamsheet, what? Rather like turning up to school expecting the usual six hours of drudgery, and being told instead that all lessons are off as a visiting circus has popped in to entertain the dickens out of everyone.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that, and there was something terrifically reassuring about seeing Toby and his immaculate hair pop himself on the right of the back three and get to work.

Not that there was much work to be done in truth. Bar that awkward fifteen minutes or so when Fulham scored, one got the feeling that our defensive bods spent most of the afternoon simply swapping stories about their World Cup adventures.

So if you want a blow by blow account of the young imp’s performance it might make for pretty dreary reading. Suffice to say he did little wrong, and if blame should be apportioned anywhere for the goal conceded Messrs Sanchez and Davies ought probably to have fingers wagged in their direction.

What the future might hold for Toby is presumably known only by Levy, Poch, Toby himself and one or two select others, who communicate via knowing nods and mysterious handshakes. This whole episode might simply have been a cunning plan to scrape off the rust and give the chap a glossy sheen with which to preen in the transfer window. Hope nevertheless springs like nobody’s business here at AANP Towers that the chap will still be in situ for the coming season’s rigours.

2. Lucas Moura-Watch

For those amongst you who are not up to date on these things, I can assure you that one or two nibs have been quite beside themselves at the fact that our Commander-in-Chief kept the wallet firmly out of view all summer, with not a single signing made. That particular barrel of fish is worth an entire thesis in itself, with rights, wrongs and nuances in every dashed direction – but the upshot of it all is that the nearest thing we have a to a new signing this season is a fully-acclimatised Lucas Moura.

As the mathematically-talented will have noted, it’s two starts in two games for the chap now. I don’t mind admitting that the fleeting glimpses of him last season had set my hopes sky-rocketing, for here appeared to be a chap who’s great thrill in life was to put his head down and run at pace at terrified defences, rather like a Brazilian version of our own tearaway Prime Minister.

Curiously enough, this season has seen precious little of those mazy, pacy dribbles. There is a sense in which I wanted to dig out the receipt and check the T’s and C’s of the Moura purchase, because I was very much of the opinion that we were sold the chap precisely on that proviso, but in fairness it turns out that he has various other strings to his bow.

Most impressive to me was his out-of-possession workrate. This should not surprise, I suppose, because Poch has long been an evangelist of that sort of muck, so it would have made little sense to sign the blighter unless he were fully on board. Nevertheless, like one of those chappies at school who would spend every spare minute with his head down, beavering away at his geography homework, Lucas seemed to determine to impress the man in charge, and the Fulham back-line were barely given a moment’s peace.

End-product was a rather mixed bag. He overran an early chance (and might have had a penalty for his troubles), missed a jolly straightforward header and then scored an absolute peach of a goal. For the second consecutive week I consider that we have not yet seen the best of the blighter, but nevertheless there was a decent amount in there to encourage.

3. A Loving Ode to Kieran Trippier

Unlikely thought it might have sounded a year or two ago, Kieran Trippier is fast establishing himself as one of the most well-loved cherubs in our ranks.

For a start he has the distinct advantage of not being Serge Aurier, and this talent manifested itself in abundance on Saturday, in the first half in particular, when Trippier time and again made himself available as the de facto right winger, and was duly handed the ball and invited to make merry. Be it a delicate dink from Eriksen or a cross-field ping from Kane or Dele, the ball was repeatedly churned out to him and he made pretty nifty use of it.
Blessed with the ability to deliver crosses whipped or half-volleyed, he was pretty much our main attacking outlet.

When the opener did eventually come it was sparked by neither a whip nor a half-volley, but a cute dink to the byline where Eriksen was chasing. Quite how Fulham overlooked Trippier’s threat after the summer he’s had is a little perplexing, but thus did the cookie crumble.

And then to top things off, that free-kick was positively Beckham-esque. Hard-working and blessed with a wand of a right-foot, Trippier is fast establishing himself as the sort of egg I would like a daughter to bring home.

4. In-Game Changes

As frequenters to these parts will know, I worship fairly committedly at the altar of Our Glorious Leader, but being an honest sort I am equally unafraid to point out his flaws, with all the expert knowledge of a seasoned armchair critic. And chief amongst these is his typical inability to affect a game in good time. Throw a mid-game crisis Poch’s way and his tendency is to wait until the clock ticks beyond 80+ before swapping a full-back, and maybe throwing on Llorente for injury-time. Hardly the zenith of innovation (and a textbook from which Gareth Southgate appears similarly to operate).

On Saturday however, Pochettino was flinging around game-changing inputs like a chap with a sports almanac in one hand and the keys to a DeLorean in the other. With Fulham level and threatening to lead, Dier was hooked, the back-three dispensed with and a diamond introduced, with Dembele at its base. The balance of power gradually eased back our way, and an admiring glass could be raised in the direction of the grand fromage.

Lamela’s introduction followed soon after, and again the impact was pretty prompt. Lamela did what I had rather expected Lucas to do, and hared straight through the middle, to set up Kane.

There was even time to re-introduce young Master Winks from the bench, giving us what might be our last ever glimpse of the Winks-Dembele midfield axis, for around 45 glorious seconds.

All told, it was a smart few minutes between the Pochettino ears, and having buried the chap often enough on these grounds it is only right to praise him now.

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

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 Fulham: Lennon’s Left Foot & Other Marvels

So with the Top Four a fast-disappearing speck in the distance, the guillotine hovering over Tim and envious glances at Liverpool gently convincing the denizens of AANP Towers that a seventh-placed finish and quiet avoidance of Europa 2014-15 would probably do us the world of good, our heroes have decided to buck up their ideas and consolidate sixth. Thanks, heroes.

The Rarely-Seen Left Foot of Aaron Lennon

Still, Saturday will live long in the memory of all seasoned lilywhites, as for the first time since that winning goal vs Chelski circa ’05, there was a surprise guest appearance from Aaron Lennon’s left foot. Previously only employed for the purpose of enabling his unique strut, there it was in all its glory, sending in absolute peach of a cross for the forehead of young Master Kane. Oh that Lennon had pinged in such left-footed wizardry a little earlier and more regularly in his career, who knows what heights he might have scaled by now? But as it happens that cross on Saturday was a bit of a fluke.

Two More Strings To The Eriksen Bow

As ever, the magic ingredient in Saturday’s glory of glories was young Master Eriksen. Not necessarily in the sense of running rings around the Fulham mob, but the delivery of the free-kicks for Paulinho and Kaboul to do the necessaries was so downright vicious that it had me shielding the eyes of nearby impressionable infants. Even Paulinho, with his obsession for all things sideways and backwards, had little option but to apologetically tap the ball the requisite two forward inches required for doing the goal thing, so undefendable was the whipped cross from Eriksen.

And when Eriksen found himself the unwitting purveyor of a penalty for our visitors, he could be excused, not just for a season’s worth of gold dust in his boots, but because the penalty itself turned into an opportunity to add another million to Lloris’ summer transfer value.

(Insert Gag About the Lexical Flexibility of the Name ‘Kane’)

Three goals in three for young Kane, which must have Senor Soldado keeping his head down and dreaming of sunny Spain. Increasingly bearing the demeanour and gait of a man brought up on a diet solely of raw horsemeat – consumed without the assistance of either a knife or fork – Kane pleasingly demonstrated that his repertoire extends beyond lashing the ball with every ounce of energy from 20-plus yards, which I suppose counts as a step in the direction of becoming a more complete centre-forward. One would hardly suggest that in Kane and Adebayor we have a new Smith and Greaves, but each of them seem eminently capable of working opposing centre-backs into a healthy sweat over the course of 90 minutes.

So as this dismal mish-mash of a season stumbles to its conclusion there are at least a couple of straws clutched within the AANP fist. Lennon’s left foot is unlikely to be seen ever again in public, but where there is Eriksen there is hope, and with a little polish around the edges, and a steady stream of horsemeat, young Kane might prove an asset in next season’s Top Four push. A push that, on current form, is likely to be aided by the marvels of the Europa League, but such is life.

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Spurs preview

Spurs – Fulham Preview: One Final Hurrah

So it all comes down to a rather rummy type of Cup Final in which victory might not necessarily suffice. No need to remind anyone of all the permutations, with England managers and Bayern Munich and the alignment of the planets and so forth. Our heroes might be advised simply to concentrate on the glorious stretch of greenery that is White Hart Lane, and the 90-odd minutes that lie ahead. One suspects that at some point this evening the other necessary morsels of information will be made known.

Excitingly enough we have a bona fide selection dilemma to serve as a sub-plot. And not the usual “Adebayor-plus-who?” question that isn’t really a question at all. Danny Rose is nowhere to be seen (huzzah!). ‘Arry therefore has a choice to make at left-back, and the quiet option would be to slide Ledley back into defence and moving Gallas/Kaboul to the left (my preference would be Kaboul at left-back, due to the fact that the very sight of him striding forward does get the blood pumping somewhat). However, ‘Arry has not exactly ground out a reputation as being one to take the simple option if a square peg can be hammered relentlessly at a round hole in a manner that would make the toddling AANP nephews and nieces blush, so do not be wholly surprised to see Bale at left-back, Lennon moved left, VDV right and Gomes up top.

The personnel and formation ought not to matter too greatly – at home this ought to be three points, and the rest is beyond our control. As ever, it’s the hope that kills me.

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Spurs match reports

Fulham 1-3 Spurs: Cardiac Concerns All Round

The adage has it that winning while playing poorly is a sign of a good time, but the sentiment in this corner of the interweb is that we win these games because our forward line between them just have more quality than most others in the division. Lennon’s, Defoe’s and even Bale’s ability in the way they took their goals were of the highest order; Fulham for all their pressure did not have that class and clinical touch to apply the coup de grace as necessary. ‘Twas a similar story last week against QPR, when for all the opponents’ huffing and puffing at 2-1 we still had the flair to conjure up a third; ditto, one might suggest, the wins against Blackburn and l’Arse.

So it was the usual stuff from our lot – leading at half-time (albeit far from our best this time); emerging in the second half with an infuriatingly negative approach of sitting deep and heartily encouraging the other lot to apply pressure as they saw fit; a chronic inability to defend set-pieces that saw unadulterated panic sweep throughout the ranks every time the ball was dropped into our area from the heavens (in fact, winning long-balls at either end proved completely beyond us today, Hangeland constantly beating Adebayor, ensuring precious little second half respite; while at the other end the ball frequently stuck with Zamora, despite Ledely’s attentions); but ultimately three more points for the N17 pot. ‘Arry is presumably not alone in suffering heart problems brought about by this sort of performance, for it cannot only have been at AANP Towers that pulse-rates soared and fingernails were gnawed to the bone, during that tortuous second half.

Vindication of Our Summer Signings

That said, the contribution of kindly old Brad Friedel also helped, ever so slightly. I have liked the chap so far this season because he just gets the basic stuff done with no alarms and no surprises, a wonderfully calming alternative to that mental Brazilian chap. While there were probably not any full-stretch acrobatic saves in there today, his reflexes and concentration were impeccable throughout, and each of the countless saves that needed to be made were duly made with no hint of error. Bravo sir, or whatever equivalent is preferred by our cousins over the pond.

Also worth noting that for our first goal Adebayor held up the ball in a manner that was generally beyond Crouch last season, and Kyle Walker showed a turn of pace that would have been completely alien to Vedran Corluka. Our summer signings have advanced us a level, be ye in no doubt. (Yes yes, I’m fully aware that Walker was already strictly speaking a lilywhite last season, but really, since when has a moot point like the truth been allowed to disturb the weekly gubbins around these parts?)

The usual stuff from another summer signing too. I rather hope that, like Ledley, Scott Parker is given the entire week off in between games, and packed off to Butlins, or Benidorm, or wherever he fancies, with a couple of energy drinks and a good book, while a crack team of surgeons re-attach the relevant body parts and generally do whatever they did to that Six Million Dollar Chap back in the 70s. Put yer feet up fella, you’ve earned a rest. (Incidentally, I asked the venerable AANP Senior today whether Parker really did compare to Dave Mackay – the latter having been a particular favourite of my old man – and the response was that the question was invalid, as Mackay would not have made it through a game in the modern era without getting sent off.)

I still rather hesitate to suggest that we are now a team capable of rolling up our sleeves and grinding out results on these away days, for this seemed to owe as much to luck as defensive ability. Nevertheless, away wins such as these – so gruesome to behold that they probably made the midwife shriek – are very much the stuff of which a Top Four finish is made.

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Fulham – Spurs Preview: Cagey and Defensive Away Performance?

Anyone else feeling a little sorry for the boy Defoe? He couldn’t be much sharper if he had great big glinting blades attached to his elbows, and yet come matchday he is left to watch on pensively as VDV ripples the net like it’s going out of fashion. The ultimate ignominy – inclusion amongst the tots and second-raters for the trip to Russia – cannot possibly have lightened his mood. Poor blighter.

Still, if he sits it out again tomorrow, VDV does his usual trick and we toddle off home three points better off, there will be no complaints from this quarter. It would be quite delightful if our heroes cocked a snook at the age-old notion that the away team must dig a trench on the edge of their penalty area and station ten bodies therein. Mercifully, our lot seem rather to enjoy the breakneck, back-and-forth basketball approach to away days, whereby caution is left bound and gagged in the dressing room, and harum is joyfully united with scarum for the best part of 90 minutes. Grist to the mill of Lennon, Bale, Walker et al, one would assume.

Seasoned fantasy footballers will be well aware of the threat posed by that Dempsey character, while other points of note about our esteemed opponents are that they are managed by Martin Jol (blessed be his name) and have decided this season to play in their pyjamas. On paper – and indeed at the Lane – we would turn this lot over with the usual mixture of first half aplomb and decidedly less second half urgency, so this really should be another three point affair. Over to you, chaps.