All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Spurs 3-3 West Ham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Second Half

What with the early carousing in which everything turns to gold, followed by a feeling ultimately of feeling sick to the stomach, this had all the hallmarks of a particularly exuberant night out for which one pays pretty heavily the next day. ‘Moderation’ is generally a watchword at AANP Towers until the drink starts to flow, and between you and me there has been more than one occasion on which I have woken bleary-eyed on the bathroom floor, still wearing the previous night’s layers, with head pounding like the dickens and a ghastly taste in the throat, leaving me to wonder at precisely what point things went from Rip-Roaring-Fun to Oh-So-Terribly-Wrong.

I mention this regrettable morning-after sentiment because that same question – of the point at which things went from RRF to OSTW – seems pretty ripe here.

It would be easy to suggest it was half-time – and the trail of breadcrumbs certainly points to our lot failing remotely to match West Ham’s second half lust for battle.

But here at AANP Towers there were one or two mutterings of discontent even in the first half, even amidst the Kane-and-Sonny double-act, because whenever West Ham probed down the flanks our lot seemed to make quite the song and dance about simply putting out the fires and getting on with life. While it was true that every time we attacked we looked like scoring, and a three-goal lead ought to have been plenty, our back-four could hardly have been described as hammock-swinging and cigar-puffing at any point.

Nevertheless, with a three-nil lead at home to middling opposition, the decent thing to do would have been to shuffle off with all three points. But whereas in the first half we cleared the set-pieces and had some generous spells of midfield possession – with occasional breakneck forward thrusts – in the second half it seemed the urgency levels were gently dialled down as the clock ticked towards 90. Where Ndombele, and Hojbjerg in particular, were pulling strings in the first half, they gently faded into the background in the second.

I suppose, just as one can identify the precise Jagerbomb on the night-before as the moment at which events suddenly veered south, one can point to the removal of Son and his energy, or Sissoko’s failure to challenge for a header at a set-piece, as turning points here. And such individual moments certainly did seem to contribute to the general malaise.

However, unlike the Newcastle last-minute equaliser a few weeks back, we can hardly claim that this was a bolt from the blue – our lot allowed West Ham to have too much of the game in the second half.

2. Aurier and the Void Between his Ears

This was probably one for ‘Collective Responsibility’ rather than zooming in on the obvious, traditional cause of calamity, but as we were increasingly on the defensive in the second half, and given that most of the damage was being done on the flanks, I took it upon myself to conduct a thorough study of Serge Aurier’s second half activity; and, unsurprisingly, the results made for pretty dubious viewing.

It may have been tactically ordained from on high, but Aurier constantly seemed to be ten yards further forward than the rest of the back-four. This obviously accommodated his impulse to attack, which made sense, and Sissoko more often than not slotted in behind him to cover.

This in itself seemed reasonable enough. Not a tactic with which I was terrifically thrilled, but one accepts such things with good grace. What irked no end, however, was that when possession was lost and the defensive gong had clearly sounded, Aurier tended to do little more than watch events unfold from ten yards away. When he ought to have been busting a gut to return to his quarters, he rarely did more than saunter back.

It was disturbing quite how often he was simply in the wrong position. This seemed to be compounded by his urge to race into tackles in midfield – simply because he happened to be in the vicinity. A dollop or two of defensive nous might have encouraged him to leave midfield battles for the midfielders, while he hurried back to his right-back post, but such thoughts rarely seemed to occur.

It was all a little odd, and I rather wish I had studied Reguilon on the other flank to see if similar events were unfolding there.

And then, to compound matters, in the dying seconds Aurier managed in a single movement to segue from being comfortably in possession to needlessly losing possession and conceding a free-kick, from which the equaliser was scored. All the attacking benefits in the world cannot convince me of that man’s worth as a defender.

3. Early Thoughts on Bale

Whisper it, but the much-heralded return of Gareth Bale proved to be one heck of a damp squib, as tends to be the case when one wanders onto the pitch and sees things immediately fall apart at the seams just in time for the final whistle.

Not since the signings were announced of Edgar Davids, and before him Jurgen Klinsmann, has the excitement at AANP Towers reached such giddy levels. For ten mind-boggling minutes we were even treated to the Son-Kane-Bale axis in all its glory. Nothing happened, as all three, in their own unique ways, all looked pretty shattered – but there it was! Actually unfolding!

In time, one suspects those three will absolutely blitz some poor, honest souls who amble up on the wrong day. This, however, was not that day. Bale, frankly, did not look fit. I suspect no-one begrudges him that, and at three-nil with twenty minutes to go it ought not to have mattered, but I suppose we will simply have to wait a few more weeks before that front-three fires on all cylinders.

A dashed shame that Bale fluffed his lines when the big moment arrived, particularly having done the hard work, but he seemed to receive an untimely shove that knocked him off his axis at the crucial moment. The good times will presumably roll soon enough.

4. Deep-Lying Kane

On a brighter note, the japes of the first sixteen minutes were all sorts of fun!

What seemed to begin as a mere whim or flight of fancy of Harry Kane’s, to drop deep and show off his passing range, now seems to have evolved into a bona fide plan, which presumably has files saved online and a ring-binder containing notes and coloured post-its in Jose’s inner sanctum.

When our lot begin passing from our own goal kick, Kane now stations himself in midfield as a matter of permanent residence, in order to collected the lofted ball and make merry.

Things are a little different when we’re in possession around halfway, in which case normality resumes and he’s as likely to be the attacking spearhead; but if the opposition defence is pushed up to halfway, Kane’s drill is to sow his wild oats from a deep-lying starting position.

And why not? His passing is sublime, and his runners willing. Teams will presumably suss this out and deploy appropriate counter-measures – but in a way this will be where the fun really does begin, because we have the option of simply having Kane wander back into attack, and dragging opponents with him.

5. Clinical Finishing

The heading ‘Clinical Finishing’ rings a little hollow now, admittedly, but in the opening twenty minutes or so our finishing was the very dictionary definition of clinical.

I recall several years ago in an away Champions League match – possibly Barcelona, possibly Dortmund – when Son was clean through and shot straight at the ‘keeper, I gave the blighter an absolutely rollicking for several weeks afterwards. Not much point, of course, as he couldn’t hear me, but I was convinced at the time that the lad was not one of nature’s born finishers.

Things have moved on somewhat since then, and now Sonny is as deadly as they come when the frame of the goal looms into view. I did rather titter at the West Ham defender who did not think to prevent his right-footed shot in the first minute – it seems a safe bet that the entire watching global audience could see what Son was going to attempt as soon as he collected the ball – but it’s one thing attempting such manoeuvres and another thing crossing the t’s and dotting the I’s, and these days Sonny just doesn’t seem to miss.

Credit also to Kane for rolling out the double-nutmeg for his first goal, and a slap on the back for young Senor Reguilon and his glorious first-time cross, which practically begged to be nodded home. I cannot imagine that I was the only one who wondered how many attempts that might have taken Ben Davies.

Our lot can barely be contained going forward – if we could just work out how to defend (and no, Eric Dier is not the answer) just imagine where this season would take us. For now, however, it seems all action, no plot.

Southampton 2-5 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

As 5-2 victories go this one was of the lesser-sighted ilk, that has one slapping the thigh in satisfaction, for sure, but also musing to one’s neighbour that we pulled it off without at any point playing particularly well. It would be a little crude to say that this was simply a triumph of lobbing balls over the top of a fairly clueless opposition defence – but only a little.

1. Ndombele

Premier Sports appear to have hit upon one heck of a market strategy judging by the midweek experience, of pocketing AANP’s hard-earned cash and promptly downing tools. However, in between the blank screens and random Serie A montages during our Europa jaunt on Thursday I did get to see enough of Ndombele’s cameo to suggest that if the stars align he could be the one that gets the pistons firing.

The shoulder-dips to wriggle free of minders were reminiscent of Mousa Dembele – blessed be his name – while Ndombele also appeared instinctively to look for those short, defence-splitting, diagonal passes whenever the aforementioned shoulder-dip had allowed him room.

After the torpor that had preceded, it made for pretty radical viewing, and although one rarely knows quite how the cogs whir inside Jose’s curious little mind it was no massive surprise to see Ndombele given the opportunity to peddle his wares from the off today.

And when he did end up in possession I thought he delivered more of the same. The problem was that he only ended up in possession about five times in the entire half, but it ought not to detract from the fact that each of those occasions made for a pretty pleasing highlights reel. Shoulder-dip-enabled wriggles and diagonal passes were very much the instructions being delivered by the voices in his head, and he held up his part of the bargain.

Early on he played a pass through the middle, and while both Sonny and Kane were each comfortably offside, the very fact that he possessed both the vision and chops to attempt such a thing – in a land in which Harry Winks was haring around demanding the ball just so that he could immediately roll it backwards ten yards – was the sort of encouraging stuff one gulps down.

Ndombele’s piece de resistance of course, was the moment bang on half-time in which he somehow managed to unite in one movement tribute acts to both Mousa Dembele and Luka Modric, arguably our two finest midfielders of the past twenty years.

The strength and control to pirouette was worthy of Dembele, and took out two Southampton defenders at once; the placement and weighting of the pass took out another two. Kane and Sonny delivered their lines with the professionalism one would expect, and we went into half-time with a parity that was barely deserved.

Much of the purring around that goal was directed towards Kane and Son, which was understandable enough, given that each made a pretty difficult task look akin to shelling peas stolen from babies – but here at AANP Towers we have rather the soft spot for those unsung heroes who assist the assist, and Ndombele’s contribution did much to alter the momentum of a game that was drifting from us a tad.

2. Lo Celso

So it was no real surprise to see Jose hook Ndombele immediately and dabble in a spot of Lo Celso for the second half instead.

And credit where due, where Ndombele’s contribution had vitally altered the scoreline, Lo Celso’s altered the general pattern of play. One does not want to massage the ego any more than is absolutely necessary, but a congratulatory nod is probably due to our esteemed head coach.

Lo Celso appeared to pitch his tent a good ten or fifteen yards further north of Ndombele’s stomping ground, and it allowed for a little more subtlety to the general tactic of lobbing the ball over the top and chasing.

With Lo Celso pushing further up the field, and Kane dropping into deeper pockets, the relationship between midfield and attack, which in the first half had been little more than strangers in similar garb exchanging suspicious looks, blossomed into something vastly more convivial. As if to cement the entente cordiale, Lo Celso duly assisted two of the assists in the second half., which obviously made him the toast of the town within these four walls.

The successes – of sorts – of both Lo Celso and Ndombele in their respective cameos in that third midfield slot does make one dizzyingly wonder quite how the cup of creativity might overfloweth if the two of them were paired together. But perhaps we cannot expect Jose’s attacking instincts to extend quite so far, and for the foreseeable it will be one or the other, with two midfield minders in attendance to keep a lid on any frivolity.

3. Dele Alli

Quite where Dele Alli fits into all this is one for the square-peg-round-hole specialists to mull over. Our Glorious Leader does have something of the vindictive ex-wife about him when it comes to picking a scapegoat and slinging some mud, so Dele probably ought not to take his squad exclusion too greatly to heart, but for this month at least he appears to have been identified by Jose as The Cause Of All Life’s Ills, so he had better get used to the feeling.

One might argue, and in pretty compelling fashion, given the evidence of the senses, that Dele’s particular bag of tricks is not quite the right fit for the current formation. However, I am inclined to think that if Jose wanted team Hotspur to include one Alli, D. Esquire then Jose would find a way to do so. It is not so much that the young eel does not fit the formation as that Jose is simply casting his admiring glances at other shiny toys in his box – and Dele will simply have to apply more make-up in order to win back those lost affections.

While there have been some rumbles of discontent about the place at the omission of the chap, it would be remiss to suggest that pitchforks are being sharpened and villages burned in indignation. His absence is not being particularly lamented. When on song, Dele has the technique – not to mention eye for goal – to make himself a nuisance in and around the opposition box.

But when off the boil – and let’s face it, for various reasons this has been the case for at least a season – he appears neither one thing nor another. Unless one of those things is a midfield presence who takes far too many touches in possession, sucking momentum out of attacks, in which case he is absolutely that thing.

The breathless nature of the fixture list in the coming weeks means that Dele need not sulk in the corner for too long, as his services will doubtless be required. The Carabao Cup must, after all, go on. He would be well advised, however, to take a cautionary glance over his shoulder, for with a sudden overload of attacking sorts mooching about the camp he will need to do more than simply go through the motions and attempt nutmegs every time he receives possession if he is to elbow his way back up the midfield pecking order.

4. Son, Kane… and Bale

Son and Kane naturally enough are the names in lights tonight, what with their clinical finishing and exquisite vision and passing. The humility overload as every figure in lilywhite attempted to pass credit to someone else did nauseate pretty swiftly, but that can be excused. They were five lovely goals, and whatever else is malfunctioning about the place we are dashed lucky to have those two up top.

Given what had gone before, this game seemed like it would result in anything but a five-goal salvo. The evidence of the first half suggested that this was set to be another dubious Jose performance, as low on fight as possession – but such is the benefit of having world-class strikers. Having been second best for half the game, our forwards randomly turned the scoreline into an absolute mauling before anyone had really registered how that midfield struggle of the first half was unfolding in the second.

And with the excitement of Bale’s return in recent days, it has made one reflect that the last time he was in our ranks, our lot were similarly low on a defined system. Back then, the plan as often as not was simply to cross halfway, give it to Bale and sit back in the knowledge that he’d likely find a way to score (typically by galloping forward twenty yards and then leathering it from distance, teammates present for decorative value only).

And in the first half at least, until Lo Celso did the honourable thing, the tactic seemed to be a variation on a similar theme – lob the ball into the final third for Son and Kane, and sit back in the knowledge that they’d likely find a way to score. The tactics barely need tweaking to accommodate Bale.

However, given that the excitement dial has simply exploded into a puff of smoke at AANP Towers, in a fashion not seen since Klinsmann’s signing was unveiled in ’94, one can be excused for simply waving away tactics and dreaming of quite how good the attack might look. If Kane and Son can magic up five goals between them at the head of a fairly rudimentary system, imagine what delights Kane, Son and Bale might provide. The mind boggles.

CL Final Preview: 5 Steps to the Final in the Lifelong Journey of a Tottenham Fan

5 things Tottenham must do to win here.
6 players who took Tottenham to the Final here.

1. The 1987 FA Cup Final

The day before the Champions League Final, and excitement levels have now shot fairly comfortably through the roof, and are gaily whizzing about in the stratosphere.
In a neat symmetry, AANP’s first lilywhite memory was also a Cup Final, the 1987 FA Cup, a cinematic viewing that made for a pretty fitting way in which to take one’s first step in this absurd journey.

At that stage I suspect I had little idea of what Europe was, let alone the Champions League ruddy Final, but there it began, in a terraced house in Tottenham in front of a black and white screen. The whole thing provided a neatly appropriate template for what was to come in the following three decades, and in particular this season’s Champions League romp – our lot would simply refuse to do things simply if they could instead be done in the most absurd, nerve-shredding fashion.

An early goal, a lead squandered and defeat achieved in barely credible manner – the seeds of the all action no plot approach were not so much sown as shoved down the throat. Our heroes, it was immediately clear, would insist on doing things the hard way.

As an impressionable youth I naively interpreted our second-minute goal that day as a sign that supporting Spurs would be a barrel of laughs, logic dictating that we would score at two-minute intervals for the rest of time.

Alas, the first, critical lesson of Spurs-supporting was yet to come. With the game poised at 2-2 in extra-time, our lot did not just contrive to lose, they flicked through the entire playbook of nonsense and picked out the most nonsensical option of the lot. A harmless cross bounced off the knee of Gary Mabbutt, and looped in a most geometrically-pleasing parabola over Ray Clemence and into the net. Death by own-goal, having led in the second minute. How very Tottenham.

Back in those days, before I had discovered the joys of a stiff bourbon, I digested proceedings by hitting the Lego bricks hard and recreating the barely credible scenes witnessed, but already there would be no turning back.

2: Gazza, 1991 And All That

By this stage the young AANP was already so obsessed with Spurs that it’s a wonder my parents did not cart me off to the nearest institution to have my head examined and some – any – other interests drilled into it instead. Every weekend was spent poring over Saint and Greavsie, Grandstand and The Big Match; every Monday saw me fill my ‘What I Did at the Weekend’ school books with a detailed analysis of Spurs’ fortunes.

Italia ’90 featured prominent contributions from Spurs’ two brightest young things, as well as the now familiar anguish of a drawn-out defeat, stretched out in the most dramatic fashion seemingly just out of cruelty from those on high.

The emergence of Gazza, all trickery and entertainment hammered home the fact that the game is about glory, about doing things in style and with a flourish. When he sized up the Arsenal wall at Wembley, and Barry Davies wondered if he were going to have a crack, I flew off around the place in the sort of celebration that would be unfurled again when Lucas Moura struck in the 95th minute.

The FA Cup Final that followed provided the template of virtually our entire Champions League Campaign in 2019, as, initially, everything that possibly could have veered off the rails duly did so. Gazza crumpled to the turf; Pearce belted home the free-kick; Gazza was stretchered off; Lineker had one wrongly disallowed; and then missed a penalty. This cycle of dismay and setbacks was to prove a solid grounding for the following 20 years or so – and certainly has me well prepared for defeat in some cruel fashion in the CL Final – but once bitten forever smitten, and the glimmer of hope remained.

Step forward Paul Stewart, and the head of poor old Des Walker, and the FA Cup was ours. Little did I know that it would be the first of only 3 trophies in my living memory (until, who knows, Madrid?)

Right up there with the celebrations with my family as Mabbutt lifted the Cup were the celebrations at St Francis de Sales school – a venue presumably well-recognised by most of lilywhite persuasion – the following Monday.

3. The 1990s

One does not want to denigrate the honest efforts of those who went before, but it’s a jolly good job that our heroes achieved both glory and glorious failure in those earlier years, because supporting Spurs in the 90s was a fairly joyless experience, and one compounded by the fact that most in secondary school were Arsenal fans.

There were little flashes of joy – my first visit to the Lane; Klinsmann scoring and then spinning around to stare me in the eyes in a rather generous and touching striker-to-striker moment; discovering that Steve Sedgley lived around the corner and knocking on his door for an autograph; Ginola’s glorious slalom vs Barnsley; the 1999 Worthington – but this was an era in which the hope was doing an impeccable job of killing me.

4. The 2000s, Jol, Bale and ‘Arry

By the turn of the millennium I had had the good sense to start devoting my hours to booze and females, the former reliably assisting in the process of Spurs-supporting, the latter simply putting up with it (or not).

The prominent memory of my University years is turning on the radio for the classified results, having known we were three goals to the good at half-time, and in a millisecond registering a) disappointment that we had still only scored three at full-time, and b) confusion that the intonation of the classified results-reader was indicating that the home team had lost, which was most peculiar, because that could only mean that Man Utd had, in the second half alone, at White Hart Lane, scored the princely total of…

A League Cup Final defeat was thrown in for good measure, before Martin Jol – blessed be his name – strode in like a lumbering bear, and I was off to my first ever European night at the Lane, a second honeymoon if ever there were one.

The zenith of this was yet another glorious failure compounded by several early shots to our own feet – needing to overturn a first leg deficit against Sevilla we were two-down before those around me had even taken their seats – but this at least was where the tide began to turn.

UEFA/Europa nights became the norm; a scrawny left-back called Gareth Bale was making blunders that had me calling for his head; Modric and Berbatov were making grown men go misty-eyed around me; and when ‘Arry Redknapp joined, and kicked things off with a 4-4 draw at the Emirates, featuring a 40-yard Bentley lob and not one but two last-minute comeback goals, the All Action, No Plot blog was born.

And with each passing season, the name seemed apt if not exactly tripping off the tongue. Which other team, needing a final-day result, could lose half its members to food poisoning? Which other team could finally break its Top Four hoodoo, only to find that despised rivals who had finished sixth would conjure up a last-minute equaliser, followed by a penalty shoot-out win, to take the trophy and our CL spot?

Supporting Spurs meant signing up to a series of absurdities that were all perfectly acceptable within the legislation, but seemed unlikely, barely credible and always plain bonkers. The difference is that in this season’s Champions League campaign, those unlikely and bonkers moments have fallen in our favour. To date…

On the pitch we crept closer to glory, but inevitably fell short in ever more galling circumstances, culminating to date with a Semi-Final penalty shoot-out defeat this season. Off the pitch a slightly unlikely dream was lived as I penned a curious book on Spurs, and in the process spent various afternoons in conversation with that same Gary Mabbutt whose knee kick-started the whole thing. (And, of course, became best mates with Jan.)

5: Poch and the Champions League Final

So without sacrificing the glory glory entertainment, Our Glorious Leader has introduced consistency, and raised the bar. A few years ago, in the season in which Walker and Rose tore up the flanks, we were the country’s most entertaining team. Over the course of two seasons we amassed more points than any other team, without winning a trophy.

A variety of sticks were used to beat us, and one by one they have been confiscated with some stern words. After all, there was a time when we were the team that never beat the Top Four teams, or that never won away at Chelsea. We never won at Wembley apparently – shortly before we beat Real Madrid there.

And at the start of this 2018/19 season, with no signings, a squad wearied by the World Cup and no home of which to speak, the Champions League Final was the last thing on anyone’s minds. In fact when we made it to the Quarter-Finals, and then started the Semi-Final, the Champions League Final was still the last thing on this particular mind. Not until Lucas’ final flourish, the moment that, in common with every other lilywhite, I only have to close my eyes to see and hear, which is a rather nifty trick.

After approximately ten days of floating around the place with a permanent grin etched across the visage, it’s been approximately ten further days of excitement building, until these current levels, when I really do need a stiff drink and a lie down.

It does not end in Madrid of course – if the best part of four decades on this mortal coil has taught me anything it is that life tends to churn on fairly relentlessly – but from the 1987 FA Cup Final lost by an extra-time own goal, the all action no plot process has wound its way, via comeback after mind-boggling dramatic comeback, to the 2019 Champions League Final.

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Man Utd 0-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. The Starting XI

Despite the telly box coverage suggesting long into the night that only one team was involved in last night’s binge, and accordingly spending hours dissecting the various ills of the vanquished hosts and their charming manager, my pretty keen sense of sight informed me that a second team was present, and, despite a decidedly iffy start, did a spot of top-notch smashing-and-grabbing, showing a clinical edge the absence of which has been bemoaned in AANP Towers since we were knee-high.

Pre kick-off the omens were surprisingly rosy. The harbingers of doom who have been dining for months off the revelations that Messrs Alderweireld, Rose and Dembele are getting their heads down and haring off towards the exit, were left a tad nonplussed when all three were named in the starting eleven.

And what a starting eleven! Crikey, it was as if the spirit of 2015/16 had suddenly awoken and sprouted the terrific idea to rock up in August 2018 at Old Trafford of all places!

Following a couple of game-changing cameos, Dembele was deposited slap-bang in the middle of the team, to renew the halcyon axis of yesteryear with Dier. And despite the brave faces and earnest explanations, few juries would be convinced that Sanchez and Davies are, pound for pound, better options than Toby and Rose, respectively at rear and rear-left.

With the possible, debatable exception of Son it was our strongest eleven. And all this against a United team that had appeared to have played at least once this season with their shoelaces tied together. “Optimism” would be stretching it, but the whiff at AANP Towers beforehand was definitely on the sweeter side, even if certain members of the mob were not quite up to match fitness.

2. Kamikaze Start

Naturally enough, therefore, the assembled dream team appeared to take the lead from their captain and stagger around the place in the opening thrusts like they had each downed one snifter too many.

Misplaced passes seemed to be the vogue, with Rose most obviously guilty but strongly supported by each of his defensive chums. Dembele’s shield of invincibility appeared to have run out of batteries, while up top we were treated to the sight of World Cup Kane, heroically doing all his work on halfway with back to goal.

One rather winced watching it all unfold, and though we missed out on that penalty call, one might fairly accurately opine that we were a touch fortunate to be level at half-time.

3. Clinical Finishing. Who Knew?

As mentioned in dispatches, our heroes then picked one heck of a time to right the wrong of countless previous seasons and suddenly start taking chances with all the dead-eyed ruthlessness of one of those black-clad snipers in action films shooting from a rooftop several blocks away.

While very much in the game I’m not sure we had a clear-cut opportunity prior to taking the lead, and even that was hardly a regulation slip-catch. It’s not quite a professional medical opinion, but I wouldn’t mind writing a short paper to assert that Harry Kane is not currently fully fit – however, be that as it may, the young nib still knows how to make the best of a raw deal, and leaning backwards, with little more than a postage stamp at which to aim, it was a terrific header.

Moreover, a hop and a skip later we were doing it again. Eriksen is hardly the most flappable chap around anyway, but the coolness he showed to look up and pick his pass, while racing towards the area, was worthy of a cap-doff.
Marvellous also to observe that in a world of dinks and step-overs, Lucas does not hang around when a chance presents itself. While some might idly stand around and gossip – or Lukaku might swing in shots from all angles, hitting everything in sight except the net – Lucas just blasts the dashed thing into the bottom corner before running off to execute that fantastic leap-celebration routine that makes me love him even more.

4. Good Honest Man-Love for Lucas

And while on the subject, this chap had quite the night all round. He seems to do what one has hoped for several years that Lamela might do, if you get me drift. (And to his credit, it was exactly what Lamela did do, last weekend, in setting up Kane’s goal, if you pardon me becoming a little meta.)

To whomever hit upon the idea of playing Lucas as a second striker, rather than an inverted-winger-type, I raise my glass, because it worked a treat. Bursting from deep and haring around like a lifer suddenly granted his freedom, Lucas evidently put the fear of God into the poor, back-pedalling souls ahead of him.

For all the neat, zippy passing, we have rarely boasted an egg with these attributes, not since Bale and rarely beforehand. One or two swallows doth not a sun-tan provide, ‘tis true, but the signs are encouraging. The chap won’t do it every week, but it is a dashed handy string to the bow.

5. Toby

Naturally enough Moura gets the neon lights, but much of the dirty work was done – and with lashings of aplomb – by Toby at the back. Admittedly the first half hour was about as rickety as a poorly-constructed wooden bridge in a gale, but during the second half semi-onslaught in particular the young fish delivered a performance almost as immaculate as his hair.

Sanchez has bedded in exceptionally well over the past 12 months, but Toby is utterly peerless. This may still be a cunning ruse to bump his value before shoving him out Stage Left, but if this were a valedictory performance it was a rousing one. Hang on to him, and the chances of this being a defining season at N17 increase exponentially. And who doesn’t want one of those curves on their graph?

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

Palace – Spurs Preview: 8-Point Wishlist For Spurs This Season

What ho, and welcome to 2013/14. With our season now literally minutes away this seems as appropriate a juncture as any to push away the second helping of kippers, retire to the favoured reading chair, stuff a pipe and consider the (by no means exhaustive) AANP Towers Eight-Points Wishlist for the new season.

See Rose Bloom

Do you see what I did there? Do you get it? It’s a play on the lexical duplicity of the name… Anyway, we at AANP Towers have never been particularly enamoured of this particular chunkster, primarily because, one wonder-goal aside, he has generally resembled a Kabaddi player who has been tossed a pair of football boots and told to fit in. Previous appearances in lilywhite have seen him pound around the pitch constantly looking as if he is about to lose control of the ball, his balance and his very limbs, typically making skin-of-the-teeth interceptions by the force of accident and momentum rather than design.

Still, last year by all accounts he had a rollicking time of it at Sunderland, and while I found this dashed difficult to comprehend, it would be no bad thing if some vaguely robust competition were offered to the present incumbent, given that Benny is hardly the very paragon of defensive solidity.

Kaboul On Fire Once More

In truth he is neither poor nor old, but it nevertheless seems jolly rotten luck for the poor old blighter to have missed the entire season through no fault of his own. By a most curious quirk of nature however, the steaming behemoth of two seasons back seems to have been forgotten by just about everyone everywhere, with common discourse now marvelling at how lucky we were not to have sold Daws to QPR after all last season. Such garbled musings baffle me no end, for whole-hearted though he is Daws has failings aplenty. Kaboul is faster, stronger, has better technique and is generally the Six Million Dollar Man to Dawson’s mere mortal who got bashed up in the pilot episode. Whether instead of or alongside Daws, Kaboul should be immense this season – providing he stays fit.

Set pieces

I am not sure what diabolical dark arts are involved in this ‘Zonal Marking’ sorcery, but at AANP Towers we nervously drain our whisky tumblers and gasp for more every time the whistle blows around our area. There presumably are iterations of the Zonal Marking system that work absolutely tickety-boo, but already in pre-season there have been groans from all sides as our heroes have diligently stuck to their allocated zones, allowing cunning opponents to saunter unopposed into the gaps in-between, rending poor old Lloris (again, neither poor nor old) and his ear-piercing shriek of “Awaaaay” little-to-no chance.

There seems to be a fairly basic flaw of physics around the concept of allowing opponents a running leap, while our lot try to defend from standing starts, but while never again conceding a corner or free-kick in our own half would be one solution, a potentially simpler and more feasible approach would be to find a better way to defend these set-pieces.

Lennon’s final ball

Time, it would appear, waits for no man, and hot on the heels of the jettisoning of Hudd, the awkward realisation is beginning to dawn that neither is young Master Lennon the spring-chick he once was, and that the time for fulfilling his youthful potential has now begun to slip by. Where once he shaved go-faster lines into his eyebrows – an emblem of the carefree insouciance of youth if ever there were one – now the speedy imp is cultivating a hirsute visage, a more traditional badge of advanced years. Where once it was easy enough to assume that Lennon would eventually learn to deliver his final ball once he matured, the uncomfortable truth is that the bounder simply has not mastered that particular art, despite season after season in which that particular failing slapped him repeatedly in the face with a wet fish. Skinning the opposing full-back is manageable enough, but whether his cross makes it to the danger-zone seems to be largely a matter of chance. Get that final ball right and he will be a world-beater – as we have all been murmuring for years.

Hang on to Bale

He might have his uses, and as the laughing-stock down the road have illustrated all summer, oodles of cash is no substitute for having a chap actually kitted up and scuttling around on the greenery.

The Delivery of Defence-Splitting Passes Around the Edge of the Area

No arguing with the spine of our team, which now consists entirely of genetically-engineered monster-beasts, but here at AANP Towers a drum we’ve been banging throughout the ages has been around the merits of that most cherished of footballing gifts, the Defence-Splitting Pass Around the Edge of the Area. Often – though not necessarily – delivered via the medium of diagonality, ‘tis the sort of tool that can unlock any defence, and prove particularly useful against those infernal weaker teams who arrive at the Lane to set up camp on the edge of the area. Behind Soldado our creative trio will be formed of three from Lennon, Dembele, Sigurdsson, Holtby, Townsend or Chadli – each of whom are blessed in their own particular way, but none of whom are necessarily cut of the Mata/David Silva cloth. While the sideways-and-sideways-again approach does reflect admirable patience on the part of the players, all too often it ends with a cross from wide or reversion to the Bale gambit. The occasional, devastatingly cunning defence-splitter would most certainly not go amiss.

Tom Carroll to Establish Himself

Sackcloth and ashes are being worn, and a flag and flagpole have been hastily created in order that aforementioned flag can be flown at half-mast –all in doleful commemoration of the passing of Hudd and his dreamy brand of passing. Discreetly glossing over the subjects of his weight, immobility and speed (or lack thereof) the AANP bottom lip has positively quivered at the thought of that impeccable technique no longer being the lawful property of THFC. However, a pint-sized phoenix might yet rise from the Huddlestone flames, for in his brief cameos young Tom Carroll has done enough to suggest that he has the vision and technique when pinging a pass that elevates him above the mere mortals of the Premiership. He is highly unlikely to dislodge the man-machines of Paulinho, Sandro and Dembele, but with Cup games of various sorts coming out of the goddam walls in the coming weeks this might yet prove to be Carroll’s season-long moment.

Hit The Ground Running

The start of last season appeared to take all concerned in N17 somewhat by surprise, featuring as it did a renegade Modric and unwanted VDV, and a paltry point was gleaned from the opening three fixtures (I think) as a result, as our heroes a little too gradually awoke from their summer slumbers. Alas, that wretched start had cost us dear come mid-May, when we missed out on the Top Four by a single point. It may not be rocket-science, but a marginally more sprightly start this time round could make a world of difference later on in proceedings. Player-for-player newly-promoted Palace represents the sort of three points we need to wrap up to make the Top Four, so opportunity rather bangs on the door today for a fast start to 2013/14.

Idle Witterings on Bale, Caulker, Dempsey & Monaco

My goodness these have been busy times at N17. A striker has finally been brought into the fold, seemingly only two and a half years too late, and reportedly a bit more in the poacher mould than the brick outhouse we have craved, but this is not the time to pick nits. Young Chadli has also arrived, and although the assembly instructions that came with this lad suggest that he is for squad depth rather than tearing up the Premiership week in and week out, he being of the jolly handy coterie of Belgians currently invading our shores we can probably express some optimism.

Bale

These young folk and their peccadilloes. Rumour has it that young Master Bale is toying with the quite preposterous notion of plying his trade elsewhere, as if the prospect of weekly Europa League action is not enough for the hottest young property in British football. Someone talk some sense into the lad.

Still, heart-warming consolation has been offered in recent weeks by witnessing the fruits of that ‘special relationship’ of bonhomie and understanding with Madrid, which was struck up a year or two back as part of the Modric sale. Those fun-loving rogues have injected much-needed humour and amity into the summer’s proceedings with the decorum of their enquiries. On a frivolous note however, I do sometimes wonder if the prestige of Real slightly obscures the reality that they have not won the Champions League for over a decade. Something like a more glamorous version of Liverpool, over-dependent on reputation and history? Just an idle thought.

Back o the Bale nonsense, for here at AANP Towers we men of honour consider such parchment as Four-Year Contracts – of the ilk signed by Bale last summer – to be more than the mere fashion accessories, and as such I am all in favour of Messrs Levy and V-B politely clearing their throats and bluntly refusing to let the lad scarper. This coming season I want to see our heroes make the Champions League, and this seems a darned sight likelier with Bale than without.

On the subject of £80 mil, I can hardly see us using it to bring in a player worth £80 mil, or for that matter two worth £40 mil. In fact were we to sell Bale this very evening I would be amazed if we brought in two £25 mil players by the end of the transfer window. No matter how many bags of cash are flung in our direction, the players brought in will not be as good as Bale, because we have neither the lure of CL football nor of sky-high wages. The party line in this neck of the interweb is therefore to reject all offers, hang on to Bale and make the Top Four next season, which might at least then give us another bargaining chip when attempting to bring in top-notch purveyors of the trade.

Caulker

This was a rummy one. Admittedly Caulker trails Vertonghen, Kaboul and possibly Dawson in the centre-back pecking order, and at present he has the flaws in his game one would expect of an Under-21, but with Europa games flying at us from all angles and Caulker a work in progress there would have been a fairly solid case for his retention. Still, one presumes the Brains Trust have a something up their sleeve on the central defensive front.

Dempsey

My Spurs-supporting chum Ian was not presumably not alone in expressing a sentiment nearing full-on delight that we will no longer be treated to any more 20-yard volleys looping off the Dempsey shin and into the North Stand. A little unfair on the blighter I appreciate, for if nothing else he had the knack of poaching jolly important late goals against Manchester clubs.  However, his exit is vaguely akin to the demise of a minor supporting cast member within the first 30 minutes of a half-decent action film. And when we have Hudson, Vasquez, Hicks et al manning the barricades, who particularly cares about the various nameless marines who were dragged to their doom in that early carnage scene?

Tactically however one might raise an eyebrow at the Dempsey sale. Goodness knows who fits where within our attacking axis, what with Bale potentially thither rather than hither, and Adebayor potentially extending that languid stroll all the way to the exit, but between Lennon, Chadli, Sigurdsson, Holtby, Townsend and potentially Dembele I suppose we ought to have enough bodies to fill those attacking spots, albeit not necessarily of the quality of title challengers.

The Monaco Defeat

Somebody somewhere is presumably banging on the door of the N17 ticket office and demanding a full refund for their season ticket following yesterday’s muddle in Monaco. Precious little can be read into a game that had the look of a Europa qualifier at kick-off, and went downhill from there, with one of the few seniors (Defoe) limping off early, and AVB seemingly plucking lads from the travelling lilywhite support to scurry around as subs by the time the clock ticked to 90.

Lloris, Walker, Lennon and Dembele played most of the game – but Daws and Vertonghen were injured,  as was Holtby; Sandro and Kaboul are not yet fit; Paulinho and Soldado are apparently still too sparkling new to be allowed to run around and get dirty; while all sorts of intrigue surrounds the non-appearances of Bale and Adebayor.

For what it was worth, Livermore and Zeki Fryers found themselves promoted to first-choice centre-back pairing, and looked suitably flummoxed, the poor lambs having to contend with £50m of that Falcao chap amongst others. Further up the pitch the new lad Chadli pottered around a little forlornly, and Harry Kane’s legions of admirers will have been thrilled to observe their hero for almost the entirety of proceedings, even nabbing himself one of those goal things. But ultimately the whole episode was fairly pointless. I’m rather impatient for the real thing to begin now, truth be told.

Spurs Summer Musings – Paulinho, Hudd & New Blue Socks

With a month or so until the new season lollops into view ‘tis a tad disconcerting no doubt that the Ghost of Transfer Windows Past is beginning to make disconcerting noises, for yet again there is no real sniff of a new striker, which already suggests that this is veering into final-hours-of-the-window territory. Hopefully one that will be more successfully revisited in the next few weeks, but until then we have one or two matters to pop into a Petri dish and pore over.

Paulinho (and Indeed Dembele)

Welcome to the fold Master Paulinho, a masterly career-move and not just because membership of the lilywhite elite earns you the right to an honorary bourbon at AANP Towers any time you jolly well please. A Brazilian axis of Sandro and Paulinho looks likely to bulldoze everything in its path, and while that may not fit the stereotypical image of his twinkle-toed samba-dancing compatriots it ought nevertheless to equip our heroes swimmingly for the hurly-burly of Premiership jousting.

On an equally exciting note, the arrival of this particular bounder potentially allows AVB to flash a knowing grin and, at the opportune moment, play The Dembele Gambit. Regular visitors to the AANP abode during the sepia-tinged era that was Season 2012/13 will be aware that snorts of displeasure were regularly to be heard in response to what was at times a mighty disconcerting lack of creativity in the final third. Admittedly the derring-do of the marvellous young Bale often papered over this particular crack by virtue of his subtle delivery of 30-yard howitzers to net, but the issue remained: our heroes lacked the requisite nous to thread camels through needle-eyes and defence-carving diagonal six-yard passes into the area. As a result the orb was typically shunted sideways – or popped out to Bale – while envious glances were shot at the likes of Mata and David Silva elsewhere. Holtby and Sigurdsson fought the good fight with plenty of willing, but without necessarily quickening the pulse (or, indeed, scything to ribbons opposing defences), while Dempsey’s 20-yard contributions tended to consist of volleys gently looped into the stands.

For such reasons then should we allow ourselves no more than an understated nod of satisfaction at the prospect of The Dembele Gambit being effected, for while he may not be high priest amongst footballing conjurors he nevertheless has a penchant for dipping his shoulder, beating his man and thrusting deep into the fleshy underbelly of a newly-promoted defence.

Hudd

On a less salubrious note, alas, the arrival of Paulinho could result in a quivering of the upper lip and firm valedictory handshake with young Master Hudd. Whether or not Scott Parker features next season Hudd will certainly not be first choice in a squad already including the Sandro-Paulinho-Dembele triumverate, and one presumes that at 26 he will want to spend his time doing more than absent-mindedly twiddling his locks on the bench. Debate has raged since dinosaurs roamed the earth as to whether Hudd’s immobility renders him baggage (and dashed heavy baggage at that), or whether his Hodd-esque passing ability merits regular involvement, and at AANP we have been ticking the box marked ‘Hodd’ for years and years. However, murmurs around a move to Sunderland or Fulham have been increasing in volume, and the presence in the ranks of another pass-picker extraordinaire, in the form of youthful urchin Tom Carroll, would soften the blow of a Hudd exit. Frankly though, I could tap away at this keyboard for a further aeon and ‘twould make minimal difference, for the chap’s fate will almost certainly be decided by those residing beyond the four walls of AANP Towers. A shame.

Blue Socks

The other development of note at N17 has been the release of a new kit. Not altogether unsurprising, for the young rascals could hardly take to the pitch minus any apparel whatsoever. Nor indeed is the choice of colour a huge shock, what with lilywhite upper-body wear seemingly have been in vogue amongst our heroes for well over a century. Nevertheless, it would be remiss to let proceedings end without casting an austere eye over the latest sartorial choice. And exhale with relief, all ye kit-designing interns of Under Armour, for the home kit at least gains an upturned thumb from this corner of the interweb. (A mild untruth actually, for initially the dawning of a new kit was greeted with an unconcerned shrug and forty winks). A return to blue shorts is certainly preferable, but a whole heap of further brownie-points has been gaily sprinkled around for the choice of blue socks, for a man adorned thus seems to carry the authoritative air of one who knows how to tame a lion and fling a distressed damsel over his shoulder. The choice of away kit blue I can comment on but briefly, having had the retina scarred by that first glimpse, but as has ever been the case, if they ensconce themselves within the Top Four this season it will matter little what knitwear they select while so doing.

Spurs Summer Musings – Baldini, Fixtures & Folk Released

Out yonder on the horizon there has been barely a flicker of action since the end of the season, not even a new kit over which to pore. Mercifully this sorry circumstance changed ever so slightly this week, as there has now been some semblance of news, so pour yourself a bourbon, make yourself comfortable and join me for a perusal.

The Fixture List

It’s official. Next season we play every team, both home and away.

In an effort to make things slightly more exciting I did scour the final six fixtures or so and note the absence of any of the likely Top Four challengers – but was unable to decide whether this should be categorised as blessing or curse. And re-scheduling gubbins probably means that there will be additional fixtures haphazardly sprinkled in anyway.

Baldini Arrives

If ever proof were needed that this has been a grey, barren wasteland of a Spurs summer it is in the fact that the biggest – nay, only transfer summer so far has been neither a player nor even a manager. After his fairly impercetible contribution as Assistant to Fabio Capello with England, Franco Baldini has joined the Lane as Technical Director or some such business. Quite what difference he will make to the 11 who trot out onto the pitch each week is questionable, but I suppose if he can see to it that deals are done a little earlier than 23.59 on August 31, or whenever the window closes, then he will have achieved some purpose.

Bale Trademarks His Finger-Heart Celebration

Oh the ignominy. Mind you, it looks a lot less awful when produced 5 seconds after one of his blinding last-minute winner wondergoals.

Released Players

Gallas and Bentley were amongst the slew of players inevitably released a week or two back. In the case of the former it is just as well – frankly he had become a liability, even in the gentlest of Europa League ambles, and with Kaboul to return we should be fairly well stocked in the centre-back department.

The case of Bentley is viewed with a little sadness here at AANP Towers. Full of potential, a willing tryer and capable of the occasional moment that prompted a murmur of approbation, things simply did not click for the lad, despite the fairly regular need for an able right wing deputy. Admittedly for that 40-yard moment against l’Arse if nothing else, he will be remembered with a certain curious fondness around these parts.

And amidst the flotsam and jetsam, it pained me to note that also amongst those released was one J. Bostock Esquire. Signed in something approaching a frenzied hype, he genuinely was touted as the next big thing in English football, but had even fewer moments of lilywhite glory than Bentley. One wonders to what extent that was our fault as well as his; but alas, ‘tis done, as if it barely even happened at all.

Until the next piece of action of the vaguest substance, toodle-pip.

Spurs 1-0 Sunderland: Dash It All

A rummy thing, football. Up diddly up, down diddly down, whoops poop twiddly dee, to quote one particularly sagacious soul – after which Man Utd win the whole dashed thing and our lot get edged out by that other lot. And that, it appears, is how football works. But when 38 games end with us essentially taking pride of place at the head of a 16-strong cohort of no-man’s-land stragglers, I am rather inclined to think ‘Dash it all, what’s the point?’

The Game Itself

Still, a game of football was there to be win, and win it we did, which I suppose ticks a box somewhere, albeit one of the more pointless boxes in football history. The urgency shown from the off was commendable enough, a clean sheet rather furtively sneaked its way into the stadium, we jolly well peppered the Sunderland goal throughout – oh that it counted a jot.

The mystery surrounding penalties at White Hart Lane remains as mind-boggling as ever. We can now add ‘Ill-Disguised Rugby Tackle Complete With Unsubtle Thump In Back’ to the list of offences, already including relatively uninteresting items such as ‘Handball’ and ‘Blatant Trip On Galloping Forward’, for which Spurs will most definitely not be awarded a penalty, and for which Bale will probably be cautioned.

On a general note I remain a little miffed at the use of just one genuine striker plus Dempsey, while Defoe picks his nose on the bench, in one-sided must-win games such as this. Similarly, the selection of two holding midfielders seems a little daft once the match pattern is established – although in fairness Parker remains convinced that he is the man to scythe open an opposing defence with one surging run after another, and AVB did eventually introduce Dembele into a fairly progressive role. While the patience shown by our heroes was probably to be lauded, and they did not simply resort to the aimless pumping of long aerial balls, someone somewhere might want to address our lack of lock-pickery, given that it was just about 90 minutes before said lock was unpicked (and even then ‘twas not done by any particular act of subtle wizardry and slick passing interchanges but rather by a sledgehammer swung by Bale).

An End-of-Season Thought On The Main Man

There was nothing particularly new about events on Sunday, but I hope you don’t mind awfully if I bang a favourite drum one last time, for while there is quite astonishing match-winning goodness in those size nines of his, Bale probably has room for improvement in terms of being the man to dictate games. Last season all things good tended to begin with Modric, and often travelled via VDV; whereas now Bale can be fairly peripheral for long periods (admittedly before then slapping the ball in from 20+ yards). The next step for him might be to evolve to match-bosser. Since he clearly is not doing enough for us already.

Further reflections on the season will follow in due course, and the more masochistic among us have already had hours of fun poring over the season’s fixtures to pinpoint the exact moment at which we threw it all away (Everton away? Fulham at home? Those blasted first three fixtures of the season?), but in terms of Sunday’s affair it was all rather hollow. And that’s it. Consummatum est, and in such disappointing manner that the whole bally thing might as well not have taken place. Dash it all.

Stoke – Spurs Preview: Lessons From Last Time Out

Stoke away is traditionally the cue for an AANP diatribe against the merits or otherwise of the long-ball game, and assorted elbows, long throw-ins and whatnot. This time however there are bigger fish to fry, and by golly our heroes need to be at the ready with chef’s hats tipped just so.

The curious goings-on of Wednesday night leave some food for thought. In defence there was the tale of two full-backs, with Benny again believing his own hype, repeatedly attempting moments of trickery closer to ridiculous than sublime and consequently getting himself and the team into pickle after pickle, a performance that had AANP murmuring that he needed to be taken out the back and shot (the common means of dealing with transgressions here at AANP Towers). On t’other flank by contrast, young Master Walker looked suspiciously like a whippersnapper who had stumped scientist types the world over by growing a third lung. The lad looked unstoppable whenever he bombed forward, and if Lennon is below par again today his interventions will be jolly useful.

Glory be, Dembele is reportedly back to fitness for today’s encounter, for the Parker-Hudd combo was painfully lacking in verve. Understandably so, for they are third and fourth choice, but no less galling for that. Hudd’s passing range swung bizarrely between scrumptious and plain awful, while Parker simply no longer looks good enough for games against the country’s finest. He might fare well enough against Stoke however.

And as for attack, head-scratching all round. Bale did his best to shake off the ‘One-Man Team’ tag on behalf of his team-mates (credit to Chelski for the shackling job, but AVB might hav countered this by moving him into the centre). Meanwhile, the suspicion grew that Adebayor is a 5 year-old trapped in a set of limbs too long for his control. As with AANP’s pre-school nephews, when things went well for him his spirits rose and he became amazing; when things go less well he dons the invisibility cloak. Fingers crossed then that he scores or assists approximately every 15 minutes today, as that would probably be enough to maintain an unplayable performance level throughout (as well as providing us with six goals).

Traditionally a point away to Stoke would be acceptable enough for our heroes, but anything less than victory today would almost certainly blow things for the season. No pressure then chaps.

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