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West Ham 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dier, Lloris and Tanganga’s Role in the Opener

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m of the school of thought that has it that the purpose of a defence is to keep opponents as far away as possible from the goods. Something akin to the attitude of a Test batsman refusing to surrender his wicket at any cost, “Over-my-dead-body” pretty much being the anthem of choice.

By contrast, the attitude of our defence seems to be far more easy-going and liberal, seeming to suggest that if you fancy wandering straight into our inner sanctum then come right in and make yourselves at home. This was strongly evident from the off, as Lloris, Dier and Tanganga were politeness personified, not daring to do anything that might impede the serene progress of West Ham towards our holiest of holies.

The cross for the opener was undoubtedly a decent one, but nothing that a firm application of Dier’s forehead would have failed to remedy pretty swiftly, and at this stage I think most right-minded observers anticipated him taking the uncontroversial step of nodding the ball back whence it came and letting the experts get on with things further up the pitch. Dier’s decision therefore to adopt a policy of non-interference made the mind swim a bit, but this curious experiment in passivity having been executed we at least had Monsieur Lloris to fall back on.

Alas, Lloris clings to his goal-line in much the same way as a toddler might cling to a cherished blanket, and although the ball hove into view within the six-yard box, and Lloris, for clarification, was fully entitled to use his hands to affect proceedings as he saw fit, he instead took a leaf out of Dier’s “Wait and See” book. While this says much for his spirit of intellectual curiosity, it didn’t really aid us in the matter at hand.

For his part, the West Ham forward in the middle of this slapstick, Antonio, reacted with all the incredulity one would expect of a man who had heard much of the fabled spirit of generosity amongst the Tottenham defence but still could not quite believe it was happening. He helped himself to two unchallenged attempts at goal from inside six yards, and who could blame him for filling his boots so greedily?

A word in passing also for young Tanganga for his role in all this. With Dier dragged out of position by the front post runner, responsibility for chaperoning Antonio fell upon the shoulders of Tanganga. It was therefore unfortunate to see him look to his elders for inspiration, and do what Dier and Lloris had done before, by staying rooted to his position with resolute passivity, determined not to influence matters but instead to watch them unfold around him. Oh, Japhet.

To his credit Tanganga made an admirable stab at a rather brutal task against Man City last week, when he was asked to keep tabs on the combined might of Sterling and Gundogan, and in general he shown an adequate grasp of the basics to merit some time in the starting line-up, but this was the sort of sizeable clanger it is pretty difficult to laugh off.

2. Sanchez

Elsewhere in the heart of what passes these days for our defence, Davinson Sanchez made one of the smarter decisions of his entire Tottenham career to date by staying well clear of affairs for the opening goal, and entrusting duties to his colleagues.

This was about the only intelligent choice he made all afternoon. He may have avoided anything in the category of ‘Monumentally Catastrophic’, but this is hardly the sign of a job well done. In general there is much about which to shoot concerned glances when observing Sanchez in action, and for anyone wondering to what sort of things I might be referring, the chap kindly provided demonstrations of many of them today, like some grotesque form of Error-Strewn Bingo.

He misjudges the flight of aerial balls; is too easily turned inside out by any opposing attacker who has the temerity to attempt a stepover; is outmuscled too easily; appears pretty petrified of the ball when in possession, typically turning back to the goalkeeper as if afraid that the ball might combust if it moves forward; and at one point was outpaced by Declan Rice. Using the age-old AANP technique of asking who would buy him if he were available, it seems a fair bet that the queue of Champions League-chasing sides would not be stretching around the block – making one ask what the hell is he doing playing for our lot?

When watching two centre-backs struggling to negotiate the absolute basics of space and time, there is a temptation for the absence of others to make the heart grow fonder, and thus I find myself now yearning for a pairing of Toby and Rodon. But realistically, this is unlikely to present much of an improvement either.

Toby’s heart remains willing, but his flesh grows weaker with each passing match; and Rodon’s love of a dramatic sliding challenge rather masks the fact that his positional errors bring about the need for such challenges in the first place.

In short, none of the current bunch are what would you describe as a towering presence at the back, and throw in a goalkeeper whose understanding of his grasp of reality and his place within it is becoming ever shakier, and it’s a heck of a problem. Our defence (and ‘keeper) seem to be worth a two-goal deficit in each game they play.

It is probably a bit much to ask any manager to turn that disjointed and error-strewn rabble into world-beaters, but I had at least hoped on his arrival that Jose might turn our back four into something greater than the sum of their parts. There is precious little indication of this happening, which suggests that the for the foreseeable future the onus will be on the attacking mob to score at least two or three each game simply to give us a chance of a point.

3. Bale and Our Second Half in General

This being Jose’s Tottenham, we waited until two goals down before showing any particular attacking urgency, but when the penny did finally drop we put on a surprisingly compelling show. Given that the combined talents of Kane, Son, Bale, Dele, Lucas and Ndombele were all in attendance one wouldn’t expect much less, but it still made a pleasant change to feel a frisson of excitement as our lot pummelled away at the opposition.

Central to this late rally was Gareth Bale, which is not a phrase I necessarily ever expected to utter again. But there he was, in glorious technicolour, looking as if he cared, and showing an impressive knack for doing mundane things with superstar quality.

His list of merits included link-up play on the right with Doherty (albeit a deployment that was enforced when Plan A, of using Tanganga as a more containing full-back, went up in smoke inside five minutes when we went behind); occasional darts infield; runs behind the defence; and, most stylishly, the deft little flicks and nudges that on paper could be recorded as simply standing in one place and dangling a limb, but in practice amounted to gloriously misleading two or three opponents into setting off in one direction while facing in the opposite direction.

This is to say nothing of the assist for Lucas’ goal (which, by the by, I made approximately the umpteenth example of a goal from a corner since Eriksen left and took his corner deliveries with him) and the volley that grazed the crossbar. Of course, hitting the bar counts for little unless he were aiming for it – and even then it would be a pretty odd objective – but all these elements amounted to the sort of performance that was a notch or two above that of which most of his contemporaries are capable.

It bodes well. No doubt it is tempting to add a grumble that it is about damn time he boded well, having spent the last six months boding anything but, while seeming happy enough to claim his weekly envelope and not giving a fig about how things boded – but for the avoidance of doubt, this was good stuff.

In recent weeks Sonny has been slightly more reticent, as if moved to find a quiet spot out on the left and reflect, undisturbed, upon life; and Kane’s radar today was around six inches away from where it ought to have been at any given moment; but it is now conceivable that all three of these might be about to hit their straps simultaneously, and with Burnley and Fulham looming large on the fixture list, a release of some pent-up frustration would be pretty timely.

4. Lamela

The general upturn in life’s events in the final half hour – in performance at least, if not in outcome – did much to soothe the savage beast that had been unleashed within me at half-time, on learning of the withdrawal of Lamela, a bullet that Lucas rather scandalously dodged.

Lamela, as has been the case on almost every occasion since his return, struck me as the pick of our bunch while in attendance. His little dribble from halfway to a spot well beyond, to set up Kane, struck me as a masterclass in how to run at pace away from would-be antagonists while being spectacularly one-footed and still managing to effect trademark stepovers even though nothing about the circumstances should, by rights, have allowed such a thing.

And in general, he combined his usual urgency with some decision-making that was probably as sensible as the situation allowed. Naturally he also found time for that customary combo of a yellow card for a late challenge aligned with a look of utter incredulity, but there is much to love about an attacker who is so affronted at not having possession that he considers it within his rights to fly into his man with the full force of every available limb in order to win the thing back.

By contrast, and as ever, any good intentions Lucas might have had at kick-off were swiftly drowned beneath his irrepressible urge to be dribbling at any point and in any part of the field, irrespective of whether the situation demanded such an undertaking or otherwise.

We will always have Amsterdam, of course, and there are times when to beat an opponent or two does everyone a service, but watching the chap get his head down and race off mazily into a cul-de-sac I cannot help but feel the I have watched him play the same game for Tottenham about a hundred times.

Of the aforementioned sextet of attacking talent with which we ended the game, Lucas struck me as arguably the weakest link, and in the straight shootout perennially in my head between Lucas and Lamela, the latter is comfortably ahead. I can only assume that Lamela, rather than Lucas, was hooked at the interval because of Lamela’s yellow: but in future weeks I expect to see a front four of Kane, Son, Bale and Lamela.

Wolfsberger 1-4 Tottenham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bale

The Gareth Bale Saga, what? With its assorted triumphs and disasters it’s already been a fairly exhausting ride, which seems to have much about it of the seven stages of grief, with each passing game swinging us wildly between hope and despair. For those struggling to keep up, yesterday’s input ranked amongst the more positive variety, and accordingly wild and fanciful expectations have shot through the roof and off into the horizon.

It’s probably best to get the caveats out of the way early. Wolfsberg, or Wolfsberger, or Pellets, or whatever the hell they were called were pretty game going forward, but seemed only to tick the boxes marked ‘Defence’ because they absolutely had to under UEFA regulations, and consequently offered little in the way of resistance once our heroes began motoring.

This was best summed up by the comedy villain sent sliding into a different postcode by Bale immediately preceding his goal. The chap had much about him of ‘Henchman Number 3’ in one of the old Bond films, his purpose seeming solely to appear on screen in order to wave some ineffectual limbs before being obligingly hurled aside by our hero.

There was much to admire about the artistic direction of that particular scene. That combination of Bale’s speed on the run, balance on the turn and then vicious whip on the shot lent itself to some pretty dreamy aesthetics, the sort of thing that could not have looked better if it had been the product of hours of choreography.

But as well as the splendid entertainment of the goal itself, the fact that this was a glimpse of Peak Bale, for the first time since his return, was what really got the masses chattering.

As has been pretty well documented, the chap has underwhelmed in recent months. No need to dwell on the unfortunate particulars, but suffice to say his most significant contributions have been a couple of headers delivered with feet planted pretty solidly on terra firma, as if to indicate his reluctance to exert himself any more than is absolutely necessary.

If one squinted, and added a pretty generous narrative, one could just about discern the occasional glimpse of a man of talent, but in truth these moments were no more spectacular than any of those provided occasionally by the least celebrated squad members. Even Moussa Sissoko or Steven Bergwijn occasionally sidesteps an opponent; to laud Bale for doing likewise once every few games was straw-clutching at its finest.

So to see the chap raise himself to the heights that are the preserve of only a fairly elite group of players certainly got the heart fluttering. Sissoko or Bergwijn do not and cannot and never will score a goal like Bale’s last night. And I don’t mind admitting that I had resigned myself to never seeing such output again from the man himself.

But if, for whatever reason – be it fitness, or confidence, or simply a whim-based shrug of the shoulders in which the young folk seem to delight – Bale has rediscovered something of that alchemist’s touch of yore, suddenly we might have a potent third appendage to the Kane-Sonny axis.

2. Dele

Sunny optimism clearly comes in twos, because just as we all began happily speculating about the longer-term meaning of Bale’s goal and assist (not sure he contributed an awful lot else, mind, but beggars and choosers and all that) we were treated to a few party tricks from young D. Alli Esq., which suggested that here was a man who considered his affairs to be in order.

Dele, as is well known, loves a nutmeg, and I suppose we should guard against getting too carried away on the basis of one such specimen, delicious in its execution though it was.

But for the purposes of a duly diligent reality check it is probably worth nothing that there was a decent stack of other impressive output from the man.

In possession, a lot of the old swagger had returned. This can actually tend to be a source of considerable frustration, as he often seems to derive ideas above his station and refuse to part with the ball as a result, holding onto it far too long and sapping momentum from our attacks. Yesterday, however, the need for urgency seemed impressed upon him, and he generally combined his trademark love of the elaborate with a good appreciation of the need to chivvy things along.

Moreover, off the ball he seemed perfectly happy to make a generous contribution to the collective act of The High Press. Again, worth noting that these were obliging opponents, but it’s the only fare Dele gets these days, so he may as well make the most of it.

With Ndombele now seemingly entrusted to the deeper-lying role, and Lo Celso still poorly, opportunity potentially knocks for Dele in the Number 10 spot, and a couple more eye-catching flourishes in the Europa would do him no harm.

3. Vincius: Offering Value of Sorts

The curious egg that is Carlos Vinicius was given his traditional airing yesterday, and duly continued to leave us all a little undecided as to whether it was best to castigate or sympathise with him.

The answer, of course, lies in between the two extremes. Passing judgement with moderation is something of a forgotten art in these days of non-stop and ubiquitous news coverage, but there might be value in taking this approach with Vinicius and simply appreciating both what he offers and his limitations.

In the Credit column, his mere existence allows us such luxuries as the complete resting of Harry Kane. I distinctly remember tearing out great big clumps of hair in midweek Cup matches of years gone by, at the fact that we were forced to deploy Kane in pretty meaningless matches, simply because we had nobody else in the squad worthy of the description “Striker”. Kane, of course, never dissented – quite the opposite in fact, the eyes of the honest fellow tended to light up when he realised easy goals were to be had – but that’s not the point. Wheel him out for every game and he will eventually break; so having a Vinicius in the squad affords him and Sonny some respite and saved energies for tougher tests.

On top of which, while Vinicius does have his limitations as an all-round centre-forward, it was good to see him show something of the Lineker about him yesterday in poaching his goal. It’s something of a dying art, but one for which AANP reserves a special place in the affections.

That snaffle aside, Vinicius did not offer a great deal, which seems to point to a couple of causal factors. On the one hand he has plenty of room for improvement. He might have been more alert to pounce when Bale had a shot parried, and he might have used the ball more wisely when it did come his way.

But on t’other hand, this is not the sort of creature who will drop deep a la Kane, or spend his afternoons working the channels. Vinicius comes across as the type who would like a few testing balls to whirl around the penalty area, either along the ground or otherwise, and if his chums are not donating to the cause it leaves him pretty unemployed for sizeable chunks.

4. Lloris

I rather reluctantly offer a mention to Monsieur Lloris, primarily because justice demands as much.

In recent games he has dropped such howlers that one wondered if he were doing so deliberately, but more salutary habits were on display yesterday, with the one-handed first half save, from close range, a particular highlight.

So, having jostled to the front of the queue to pelt the chap with rotten fruit over the last couple of games, the AANP Code of Honour has seen to it that I now similarly commend him for his efforts yesterday.

Elsewhere, the combination of Dier’s poor pass and Sissoko’s poor control contributed to another pretty careless penalty, but in general this was a fair result, and given our recent struggles, against both capable and weaker opponents, it was pretty welcome stuff.

Man city 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

One does not really like to dwell on the misfortune of others, but it would be remiss not to record in the Book of Events the latest series of errors from our resident gate-keeper.

For the first two goals (and some might make convincing arguments also for the third) he seemed to do the hard part, of stationing himself at the appropriate coordinates and at the appointed time, with relevant limb duly outstretched, in order to make the necessary saves. These boxes having been ticked, all that remained seemed to be for him to complete the job by ensuring that aforementioned outstretched limb completed its principle purpose in life, viz. to prevent the ball entering his net.

Of course at this juncture the operation seemed to collapse in pieces. It is pretty vexing stuff, because shot-stopping has tended to be Lloris’ headline trick. One rarely sees him dashing from his line to claim crosses, and his distribution tends not to win too many awards: but for the past however many years he has at least amassed a decent array of saves. Take this away from him and tongues will wag.

And on the subject of his diminishing shot-stopping powers, I’ve noted a recent tendency of his to fall backwards as he attempts to carry out this particular duty. The second and third goals yesterday, and also the first goal against Everton (Calvert-Lewin’s powerful volley, for those struggling to keep track), each featured our man tumbling back onto his derriere.

Now not having been particularly schooled in the art as a whole I couldn’t offer much expertise on the matter, but it does seem a peculiar quirk. One would have thought a chap aiming to spring into action ought to plant his weight on his toes. This business of falling backwards suggests that the chap is more inclined to rock on his heels.

2. Hojbjerg

Regulars in this part of the world will be well aware that the affection for Hojbjerg all season has been strong. Alas, yesterday he dipped below the expected standards.

Following his errors against Everton in midweek, Hojbjerg was at it again yesterday. Some have suggested that the penalty should not have been awarded, but before examining the case for that particular defence I chide the man for getting himself into that position in the first place. The opponent in questions was Gundogan, who, in order to station himself for the aforementioned drama to unfold, had to amble forward into the area, while a chum was in possession; and at this point Hojbjerg simply watched him skip past.

As derelictions of duty go it was pretty thick stuff, and most unlike the chap. Had he tracked this run with the eagerness of a boy scout I dare say the various legs that then became tangled would have remained in tangle-free state.

Personally I had no beef with the decision itself, as it appeared that Hojbjerg kicked the chap’s standing leg, the principal crime here being one of clumsiness. All in all, as bursts of five-seconds-of-action go, this was one of the more flawed exhibits.

3. Lamela and Lucas

While Hojbjerg has been looked upon fondly all season, a more recent favourite at AANP Towers has been Erik Lamela, primarily for his combination of high energy, skulduggery and useful – if heavily left-footed – creative spark. It was also a rare opportunity for Lucas to do his damnedest, and whether by accident or design the pair of them interchanged their first half roles pretty regularly.

However, as with Hojbjerg, this seemed not to be the sort of performance upon which either man will look back with any particular fondness. It was not so much that they made any specific, game-changing mistakes – there were plenty others queueing up to do that.

Rather, it was the fact that Lamela having begun to display his talents in the final third in recent games, nothing really clicked for the young nib yesterday, and Lucas was similarly wanting. Both were guilty of making the occasional poor decision, when the very limited opportunities arose for us to poke and prod at the City back-line.

City defended well, no doubt, but our game tends to rely on correct choices in the counter-attack, to ensure that the ball whizzes from point A to B, and onto C, with blink-of-an-eye alacrity, and while this pair had fairly regular opportunities to bring the ball over halfway, neither seemed to pick the most effective options having done so.

4. Ndombele and the First Half Formation

By the time the last rites came round City were basically toying with us, but in the first half the front-page news seemed to be that Jose had dispensed with the customary tactic against Man City, of deploying a back-six under strict instruction to venture no further than their own penalty area. Instead, while hardly expansive, our lot seemed willing to poke cautious noses into the swathes of turf that lay further north.

This I welcomed. It made a pleasant change, reduced the chances of conceding and was less painful to watch than might otherwise have been the case. In practice, of course, it mattered little, but the symbolism of the thing was duly recorded here at AANP Towers.

And directly linked to this mildly more progressive outlook was the deployment of Ndombele as one of the two deeper-lying midfield souls. Pre-Christmas, the Mourinho Dirge had been founded upon a deep-lying pairing of Sissoko and Hojbjerg, both of whom seemed pretty well drilled in the art of slotting in betwixt full-back and centre-back at the drop of a hat.

With Ndombele occupying the berth however, it’s a different kettle of fish. He follows the T’s and C’s of defensively midfielding adequately enough, but coursing through his veins is an urge to pick up the ball and drag it with him over halfway and into opposition territory. In short, his deployment in the role changes the dynamic of our play. This scheme was initially pursued against West Brom last week, which, in the politest terms, was a pretty low-risk test of its efficacy. It was then wheeled out for the manic Cup-tie vs Everton, the sheer lunacy of which game made it pretty difficult to gauge its success, although Ndombele’s breaks from deep did add a useful additional dynamic to our play.

However, then to use Ndombele in the deeper role against the juggernaut that is City struck me a a pretty significant act of faith in his abilities.

The experiment went the way of all flesh in the second half, as Sissoko came on and sat deep, while Ndombele shoved forward, before being hooked – but not before this additional piece of symbolism had similarly had its details taken. Amidst the doom and gloom about the place, I do at least look forward to further use of Ndombele as a deep-lying attacking threat, in coming weeks.

5. Bale and Alli

Funnily enough it flew completely under the radar that we finished the game with something of a fantasy line-up, of Kane, Son, Bale and Dele Alli in attack.

I don’t really keep track of these things but I’d imagine it can’t have been that long ago that a decent proportion of the world’s lilywhites would have given their right arms to see that quartet in action simultaneously.

Now obviously when this dream team is assembled within the circumstances of a three-goal deficit in the dying embers of a match, it loses much of its sheen. But if somehow the best can be coaxed out of Dele, and anything remotely near fitness and form out of Bale, we might potentially have a front four that, frankly, would be far beyond anything Jose has ever done to deserve.

I suspect most of us are scratching our heads at Bale’s odd flurry of non-performances so far, but in one fleet-footed dribble past multiple City legs yesterday he gave a brief flash of hope that perhaps his appetite for such things may not have fizzled out completely.

With transfer speculation about Dele now put to bed for at least the next few months it appears that Jose has moodily decided he might as well play the two-time Young Player of the Year, on the off-chance that he has something about him. There is still enough time in the season for he and Bale to hit some loose approximation of form – and should either, or, God-willing, both do so, and with Ndombele prompting things from deep, our attacking options would suddenly abound.

Spurs 1-3 Liverpool: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg a Lone Ray of Sunshine

While one never really knows what to expect with our lot, generally it seems safest to assume the worst, so when the teamsheet hit the airwaves – with its absence of Alderweirelds, and unnecessarily liberal scattering of right-backs – my profile took on a pretty ashen hue, and remained that way for kick-off and the opening sallies.

At which point it actually gained a pretty healthy tint, because oddly enough our lot began proceedings like they meant business. And not the usual Jose-induced business of retreating into the collective shell and guarding the edge of their own penalty area. Au contraire. The intent on show, if not exactly that of a mob beelining for the opposition goal, was at least that of a mob spitting on its hands and getting down to it.

‘Zip’ was the word that sprung to mind, in those early exchanges. We moved the ball with a swiftness and positivity so rarely seen these days that I eyed it with some suspicion. Equally, when out of possession, for the opening ten minutes or so at least, we raced about the place sniffing out mini-contests in which to embroil ourselves. Zip abounded. It was just a shame about the final eighty minutes.

Central to this pleasingly sprightly preface was, as ever, P-E Hojbjerg Esq. Although every week the commentators seem to talk about his debut against Everton as a reference point, as if that performance caused Covid, the fact is that if Player of the Season rosettes were awarded on the basis of Being Outstanding Whilst All Around You The Walls And Ceiling Are Burning, then Hojbjerg would be Kevin de Bruyne. And again yesterday, he set the tone.

By the end of the piece, at which point the walls and ceilings really had burnt to the ground, Hojbjerg was the only one who could have left the stage with head held high, having been right at it from the opening buzzer. It was hardy his fault that he and Ndombele were outnumbered in the centre – I will chide a player for many things, but not for failing to be two people – and it was good to see him spend much of the opening salvo in conference with Thiago, slap-bang in the meat of the thing (bearing in mind that Thiago is a man who, but a year ago, had the freedom of the stadium as Bayern stuck seven past us).

Hojbjerg did not necessarily boss the game (as mentioned, we were regularly outnumbered in the centre), and, as befits a mortal, he made his fair share of mistakes. Yet he, more than anyone else in lilywhite, seemed to carry out his duties with the determined attitude of a man whose life mission it is to see a thing done. Even when he inadvertently miscontrolled the ball out of play he seemed to do it with a wild frenzy in his eyes.

His goal (one heck of a hit, by the by) and indeed celebration were cut from similarly frenzied cloth. As noted above, by the time the final curtain fell most of our lot had slowed to sulky walks and long given up, but Hojbjerg at least seemed to care.

2. Ndombele Continuing to Mesmerise

While dwelling on the positives – all two of them – it’s satisfying to note that Ndombele’s transformation from timid and clumsy, bespectacled Daily Planet reporter to cape-wearing, superhuman saver-of-the-day is nearing completion.

As demonstrated when he set the cogs in motion for Sonny’s disallowed goal, there are times when the ball is absolutely stuck to his feet and no number of opponents can do the damnedest thing about it. In bobbing from A to B in that move he seemed to take out half the Liverpool team, and it was something of a running theme throughout the first half.

In general his talents were fairly wasted, either receiving the ball too deep or in circumstances too pressurised to do much more than shove it elsewhere like a hot potato, but whenever opportunity presented itself – and frequently when it did not – he was swivelling away from a man in red like a mean uncle toying with a small child.

In fact, after a while it all went to his head, and he started throwing in stepovers and body-swerves when there was really no need, but this could be excused. The fellow appears to be fulfilling his side of the bargain and making good on that potential. Just a shame that he is peddling his wares in a team that almost seems designed to minimise his abundant talent (see also Son, H-M and Kane, H).

3. Jose’s Tactics

Having been one of the principal cast members in the first half, Ndombele barely saw the ball in the second half, as Jose’s rearrangement of deck-chairs looked less the work of a multiple Champions League-winning genius and more the work of AANP desperately trying whatever springs to mind while overseeing another Football Manager failure.

I will go relatively easy on Jose for this, because his tactics, though they often make me want to stab out my own eyes, do regularly seem to bring home the bacon. I’d be willing to bet this season’s Carabao Cup, and possibly Europa, on that.

On this occasion however, Jose tried to be far too clever for his own good, and rather than deriving a few percentage gains here and there, he seemed instead to create an amorphous mess that handed the initiative to an out-of-form and injury-hit Liverpool we’ll rarely have a better chance to beat.

The Doherty Experiment, featuring an out-of-form player playing out of position, failed. Doherty looked all of the above. I suppose it’s not his fault that having spent a lifetime honing his left leg for decorative purposes only he was at a loss when asked to use it as an attacking weapon against the Champions, but frankly we might as well have stuck Bale or Rose (or Tanganga) out there. Or been completely radical and used Toby at centre-back with Davies on the left…

(The thought actually struck me that perhaps Doherty, well advertised as a lifelong Arsenal fan, was executing the perfect con – infiltrating the enemy to destroy it from within. I’ll let that idea ferment.)

The choice of a back-three was similarly dubious in concept and wretched in execution. Young Rodon looks like he might one day become a decent – or even majestic – centre-half, but if a young pup is flying in with mightily impressive sliding tackles it tends to mean he has been caught out of position in the first place. Between he and Aurier we managed to usher in Mane for around half a dozen face-time chats with Hugo, the dam eventually bursting on half-time.

On top of which, the use of a back-three left us undermanned in midfield. Everything about the approach seemed flawed.

In his defence Jose did try to remedy this by switching to a back-four and adding an extra body in midfield, but that extra body happened to be possessed by young Master Winks, who seemed oddly convinced that the road to success lay in passing to Liverpool players at every opportunity.

Jose can probably be excused the blame for that inventive approach to tide-turning, but for ignoring Messrs Bale and Vinicius, and sticking Sonny atop the tree and starving him, he deserves all the eye-rolling and incredulous outstretched hands going. Lamela, of whom I am generally quietly fond, entered the arena and promptly disappeared, and when Bale was tossed on he yet again found it beneath him to sprint.

Meanwhile at the other end, young Rodon took a rather unforgiving physics lesson in front of a worldwide audience of millions, discovering that a bouncing ball on a wet surface doth not a loving bedfellow make; and Lloris, having admirably performed his half of a Chuckle Brothers tribute act with Eric Dier for the first goal, obligingly set up Liverpool for some target practice for their second.

I daresay one of those Renaissance chappies with a palette and one ear might have quite enjoyed depicting on canvass this perfect storm of tactical calamity and individual disaster, but at AANP Towers the reaction was simply to clasp hands to head and wish that Jose would hurry up and win his trophy so that we can get rid of him and start again.

4. McManaman and the Art of Not Kicking In One’s Own Television

The plan on settling down with parchment and quill had been also to muse on Kane’s injury, Sonny’s first half miss, Dier, Bale and so on and so forth. But simply dredging up the memories has rather sapped my will to live, so instead forgive me if I veer off-topic to finish.

Back in the heady summer of 2019, on inviting various chums over to AANP Towers for the Champions League Final, the one stipulation that accompanied this golden ticket was that, whatever their allegiance, attendees must not cheer on the opposition. My rationale being that if I wanted a partisan crowd, I could simply venture to a public house, and enjoy to my heart’s content the thrill of an irritating Liverpool fan nattering incessantly in my ear.

Last night, I rather feel that I was treated to that exact experience. McManaman infuriated throughout. Whether eulogising over often fairly by-the-numbers Liverpool passing (and not treating our lot the same); castigating Sonny for perceived diving (and not treating his lot the same); bleating for the handball to be ignored even when told otherwise by the resident studio ref (and conveniently forgetting the Champions League Final ‘handball’ by Sissoko); or casually admitting that he has not watched much of Spurs (the job for which he is paid, and for which most of us would kill) and asking someone else how Bale has been playing, the fellow drove me to within one swing of a Hojbjerg right foot of kicking in my own television.

Ex-players as pundits is not an issue per se, if they can keep their allegiances neatly compartmentalised, or perhaps offer inside knowledge that the average tax-payer would miss. But employing an ex-player simply to hear him emit joyous, wordless noises when his former team is in action is a bit thick.

It’s an argument I’m happy to wave in the direction of Messrs Jenas and Hoddle too – it naturally grates a little less to hear them refer to our lot as “we”, but I’d be perfectly happy if someone completely neutral were roped in for the gig instead.

So all in all, pretty rotten stuff. One hopes that the players feel sufficiently enraged to dish out an absolute hammering to Brighton on Sunday.

Stoke 1-3 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dele

Amidst the non-stop excitement of what was happening on the pitch yesterday, I missed whatever ruckus transpired a yard or two off it, when apparently after Dele was removed from the premises a handful of moody stares and possibly even unsavoury mutterings were exchanged between him and Our Glorious Leader.

Judging by the post-match sermon Jose’s targeting of Dele continues with some gusto, which is his prerogative I suppose, but from my perch up here on the AANP Towers balcony I thought that, far from being the root of all evil, Dele had a pretty good stab at the Man of the Match rosette.

What caught the eye was his willingness to work in finding space to receive the ball. Whenever Hojbjery, Winks, Dier or whomever else was surveying the scene with ball at feet around halfway, invariably it was Dele who was zipping around in search of space and waving an arm or two in request for possession.

One of the hats I wear around these parts is that of an uncle – with, at the latest count, seven nephews and nieces in the brood – and a significant element of this role comprises being badgered fairly relentlessly to partake in board games, hide-and-seek or other such frivolous entertainment. And I was reminded of this relentless badgering yesterday by Dele, given his positive and fairly ceaseless attitude towards availability.

In a game such as this, when the counter-attack is pretty much redundant, and much depends upon finding space between the lines and quick shuffling of the ball, Dele’s movement was, I thought, close to exemplary. (Certainly it struck me that a handsomely-paid Welsh teammate might have taken a leaf or two from his book when it came to energetic beavering.)

And moreover, when it came to topping things off at the other end, Dele was the man making the runs into pockets in and around the area, and generally giving a glimpse or two of the Platt- or Scholes-esque Dele of old. But for a well-judged limb or two from the goalkeeper he might even had had a goal to his name.

Jose’s post-match gripe seemed to revolve around an errant Dele flick leading to Stoke’s goal, in much the same way as a flap of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazon brings down governments in the West. And I’m sure that, ultimately, through a process of cause and effect, one could trace back a series of episodes and identify that this was indeed the case; but to single out the young eel and castigate him thusly – when the entire back-four were on their heels and out of position, and when Serge Aurier was summarily excused of blame for his far worse and more costly mistake at the weekend – smacked of hidden agendas and borderline bullying.

A real shame, because Dele appeared to me to prove his worth as at least a squad member capable of filling the attacking midfield role. Instead, the odds now seem shorter than ever on him linking up with, say, Poch, at PSG, in the coming weeks.

2. Bale

While Dele worked hard and met with scant reward, Gareth Bale meanwhile interrupted his golfing trip with a gentle mooch around the pitch for half a game.

As if to hammer home to Dele how unfair life can be, not only was Bale rewarded for his lack of effort with a goal, but that very goal came about rather symbolically by virtue of him not moving. It turned out to be exactly the right thing to do at the time, but I did nevertheless allow myself a chuckle that simply by standing still he was able to get himself into precisely the right place at the right time.

When Bale swanned back into our lives a couple of months ago the consensus was that he was unlikely to possess the electricity of old, but would still offer much in the way of general energy and threat on the move, as well as a thunderous long-range left clog. Christmas, we told ourselves, would see the return of the fully-fit Bale, and until then he would be awarded a period of grace.

Fast-forward to the present day, and with Christmas literally hours away, there is still no sign of Bale breaking a sweat for the club, let alone rediscovering any of his former glories.

He appears to have immunity from Jose, and will presumably be shoved on for half-game cameos in some more of the gentler approaching fixtures, but it is nigh on impossible to see what he is adding. It mattered little yesterday, in what was ultimately a canter, but Bale remains a passenger. In the rather more bustling environment of a Premier League game, his lack of either work-rate or attacking output will make him something of a liability.

At kick-off yesterday, given the quality of the opposition and the length of time he has been back, I had expected to see him move up a gear or two. I do now rather wonder if that gear-change will happen at all.

3. Winks (Compare and Contrast to Hojbjerg)

At the conclusion of yesterday’s proceedings I don’t mind admitting I was pretty startled to discover a wreath being placed around the neck of young Master Winks for his services to the preceding 90 minutes.

Given the lopsided squad dynamics so lovingly hand-crafted by Jose, every game Winks starts (as with Dele) is now a pretty critical moment in his lilywhite career. Yesterday was no exception, and with Stoke set up to defend, the opportunity for Winks to showcase his more progressive talents was neatly handed to him on a plate of fine china and with all the trimmings.

With the stage set and audience hushed it seemed reasonable to expect pretty great things, and as such I was, yet again, a tad underwhelmed. He did little wrong – but at the same time I felt that this was an opportunity to boss things, which simply melted away.

By contrast, I thought that Hojbjerg rather bossily took responsibility, in precisely the manner in which I had hoped Winks might. When the ball was being ferried out from the back Hojbjerg was the one demanding it, and on receiving it his instinct was to look for a forward pass. Winks seemed content to play his sidekick.

Winks had his moments, it is true. The pass for the opening goal was a curious beast – having little angle or flight – and ought really to have been easier to defend than it was, but it did a pretty critical job because that opening goal settled our nerves as much as it deflated their spirits.

Similarly, Winks’ pressure in closing down his man led to the Stoke mistake in possession that brought about our third.

So my observation on Winks is not that he had a poor game; more that on a stage like this he had the opportunity to dominate and control proceedings, and it seemed to me that the chap alongside him did that better.

4. Kane’s Finish

I’m not convinced that it was the wisest move to play Kane for the entirety, given that the games pile on a tad at that time of year, but had he been hooked early we would have been denied the sight of yet another high-class finish.

The delay and dummy before his shot, so perfectly executed, were a joy to behold. The Stoke chappie trying to prevent the thing had the odds stacked against him from the start, but was almost knocked off his feet simply by Kane’s feints.

After which, the conclusion of the project was to lash the ball high into the centre of the net. This approach was adopted to similarly strong effect against Other West Ham a few weeks back, and struck me as a useful additional string to Kane’s finishing bow. Where previously he has tended to aim low and for the near or far corner, he now appears to throw into the mix the option of waiting for the ‘keeper to spread himself low, and then lash the ball above him and into the roof of the net. As ever, we are lucky to have the chap.

Have a merry and blessed Christmas.

Spurs 0-2 Leicester: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Style of Play (Again)

I would normally pity the poor souls who part with their hard-earned wage, and write off an afternoon of their lives, to attend such a ghastly matinee as that, but on this occasion, mercifully, we were at least spared such punishment in the flesh.

Not that the 2D alternative did much to mask the unfolding rot. A peculiarity with The Jose Brand is that it relies absolutely entirely upon results for its success. In fact, its very raison d’être is its results.

The football itself at times borders upon the painful – for there were times in the first half in particular, when still nil-nil, that our heroes seemed to be actively looking to concede possession because the situation did not lend itself to a counter-attack, which rather beggars belief; and when pressed into a more progressive state of mind in the second half, when trailing, the absence of ingenuity was enough to make a grown man weep, or at least fling his hands heavenwards and curse the day.

So results, for sure, are front and centre of this operation, and when we proudly surveyed the land from atop the pile, any grumbles about the aesthetics, or lack thereof, could be merrily waved away. After all, if the open-topped bus could be booked for May ’21 on the back of a six-man defence and a few counter-attacks, I’m not sure too many of us would mind.

Over the last week, however, for one reason or another we have begun to depart increasingly wildly from the script.

Part of the problem with playing so defensively and deep each week is that the odds increase that every minor error can result in fairly seismic fallout. Against Liverpool we saw how a random deflection can upset the defensive ecosystem; today it was first a moment of mind-numbing stupidity; and then an unwelcome ricochet. (One might consider the deflections and ricochets unlucky – but by defending so deep we rather make our own rotten luck, or at the very least invite it a tad.)

The crux of the thing is that while the rewards are high – table-topping and title-challenging, no less – the risks are magnified. Spend three quarters of the game camped on the edge of our own area and there is no coming back from a looping deflection or an Aurier brain-fade. On top of which, up the other end, there is minimal margin for error in front of goal,

And so on days like today, when the result is not produced, we are left instead to pore over the remains of a failed defensive performance, and frankly it looks utterly dreadful. These things will happen, but they cannot happen too often. Thrice in a week is enough.

2. Aurier

As mentioned, the dirge-like output requires everyone in the back-line to perform pretty flawlessly, in order to set up the platform for the counter-attack and three points.

And to his credit, Serge Aurier has spent the last month or two pretty diligently abiding by what must seem to him a pretty radical reinterpretation of his day-job. By and large, the needless lunges and mad decisions have been rinsed from his DNA, and while a wild glint occasionally develops in his eye, it rarely manifests any more on the pitch.

Jose himself would probably have argued that the plan had worked in the first half, as Leicester, for all their sharper play in midfield, had barely tested Lloris.

However, Aurier’s retro moment of mind-boggling stupidity completely upended the Jose Masterplan. What might have been passed off as a solid, if utterly uninspiring, defensive display suddenly became a disastrous first half, as we found ourselves not only having created nothing but also a goal behind.

Difficult to know what to make of Aurier. For sure the blister has previous, but if this is merely an isolated incident then we can potentially sweep it under the carpet and look forward to another half-dozen performances in which he keeps his head down and steers clear of trouble.

On the other hand, I suppose we dare not contemplate that this might be the beginning of a full-blown relapse, and the return of the Aurier of the past couple of seasons, whose every appearance seemed to be marked by at least one completely unnecessary aberration. Time will tell, and he probably has enough goodwill in the bank for now, but I’m not sure many more such moments will be suffered too gladly.

3. The Ndombele-Lo Celso Dream Axis

Odd to say it now, but in the first five minutes or so I actually had pretty high hopes.

Proceedings began with Ndombele sending half the Leicester team into the wrong postcode with a series of his trademarked upper body swerves that are seemingly impossible to resist.

A couple of free-kicks were duly won, and the omens looked pretty positive, pointing as they did towards an afternoon spent on the front foot and giving the Leicester mob a few things to think about in the defensive third.

Moreover, this marked one of (if not the) first blessed union of Messrs Ndombele and Lo Celso in holy midfield partnership. Quite what the tactical implications would be were fairly happily overlooked, because the prospect of these two peddling their silky wares in tandem seemed to override any need for detail. “Just give them the ball and let them dovetail” was the AANP mantra, and when Ndombele began proceedings in that shoulder-swerving manner of his, the omens appeared good.

Alas, thereafter things did not so much go downhill as fall directly off a cliff. Lo Celso’s principal contributions seemed to be lose possession and then slide in to win it back, before rolling around in feigned agony – until he ended up rolling around in bona fide agony.

With Ndombele having drifted to the periphery before himself being hooked, the dream combination ultimately turned into something of a disaster.

One hopes that Jose will not take this as his cue to banish any further of a future Ndombele-Lo Celso axis, simply on the grounds of one heavily undercooked display. Such a pair of talents ought to be able to combine to pretty decent effect, given a little love and tactical direction.

4. Bale (and Dele)

Another day, another mightily underwhelming extended cameo from G. Bale Esq. He did at least have the decency to look occasionally as if he cared today, at one point even breaking into a sweat to challenge for a 50-50. However, for those in the gallery eagerly awaiting a glimpse of the man who just a year or two back was still skinning international defenders and blasting the thing home from distance, this was another afternoon of frustration.

Bale’s introduction did precious little to improve, or in any way change, the dynamic of the game. It is probably reasonable to assume that the fellow is still not quite 100%, but by now one would at least hope to see a glimpse or two of the global superstar of recent times.

Frustratingly, of this there has been not a squeak. Were the name on his shirt anything other than ‘Bale’, it is difficult to imagine that he would be considered a better fit for the current eleven than any of Bergwijn, Lucas, Lamela – or, dare I say it, Dele Alli.

Admittedly there’s been precious little opportunity for Dele, but each time he has been trotted out, he has done so under the microscope, and to his credit has at least tried to contribute. Difficult to judge on the back of ten minutes here and there, but his brief fling against Liverpool at least saw him roll up his sleeves and get on the ball. Not much about which to write home – but not any worse than Bale, and to this untrained eye, probably slightly better.

With games coming every couple of days over Christmas, both will presumably get an opportunity or two. And in a team crying out for some attacking ingenuity, who knows, maybe this time next month one of them will be undroppable?

Royal Antwerp 1-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. ‘Squad Depth’ and What It Actually Means

Generally in my relentlessly advancing years there’s not much that moves me to the state of excitable animation. The 90s output of either The Prodigy or Arnold Schwarzenegger; a well-weighted pass played by literally anyone inside the opposing full-back; and a decent bourbon – this would probably fill that list in its entirety.

Recently, however, a further addition was made, when someone sent me an image of the current Spurs squad by position, featuring at least two pretty decent, international players in each spot. It would be deceiving my public to say that I salivated, but the thought certainly occurred that if ever there were a time to rub one’s hands in glee then that was it.

Much has been made of the strength in depth of the current Hotspur vintage, as enabled by the oddly generous spirit of giving that overcame the resident purse-string holder this summer. And quite rightly too, as the view here at AANP Towers is that as long as the defence can find a way to muddle through each week then we might all be able to head over to N17 next May for one heck of a shin-dig.

However, ‘Squad Depth’ is a potentially misleading term. What it suggests in this corner of the interweb is that should a couple of players pick up knocks – or worse, be absented for longer periods – then fully functional and relatively able reserves can seamlessly slot in, and the general equilibrium of the whole operation remains unsullied. Life goes on; day follows night; and where once a Lo Celso picked the midfield passes now a Ndombele does so.

What such squad depth does not do is give licence to The Brains Trust to change all eleven (or near enough) in one crazed swoop, and hope that nobody notices. The England team has done this often enough to teach anyone with a smidge of good sense that swapping out more than half of the regulars for a bunch of capable substitutes simply will not pass without a dip in quality. The individuals involved might all be good enough, but the spine of the team is gone, and instead there stands on the greenery a bunch of fellows who presumably have never once played together en masse.

Changing maybe four of the line-up ought generally to be manageable, whilst retaining the core of the team. But sticking with Lloris and hoping that a jumble of the rest of them will cope is a bit like holding onto the Ace, throwing the rest of the cards into the air and expecting them to fall in order.

The complete absence of first half fluency was therefore lamentable but fairly unsurprising. A new back-four, a new midfield three and a new front three predictably enough all looked around for someone else to take the lead.

Which is not to excuse them from blame – the lack of movement from those not in possession was fairly criminal stuff, and presumably most of them will at some point in the coming days have their heads flushed down a nearby toilet as a pointed reminder that a professional footballer ought to run until his lungs burst.

But nevertheless, I’m not sure what miracle Jose was expecting, having fielded a brand new eleven.

2. The Ongoing Struggles of Young Master Dele

Fair to say that Dele Towers will have witnessed happier times. The young squirt is clearly not Jose’s preferred tipple, which must be tough enough on a chap who not so long was being feted as The Next Big Deal.

But as if to really twist the knife, whenever he does get a start these days, the planets do anything but align, he scrabbles around for his best form and the it’s a safe bet that by half-time he’ll be invited to model some of the exciting THFC bench-warming garb.

Dele’s performance tonight sat somewhere between Terrible and Brilliant. In truth it was pretty typical Dele fare. Some nice touches and a few attempted cute passes were interspersed with him dwelling on the ball longer than necessary and flinging his arms in the time-honoured fashion of a toddler who can tantrum like the best of them. Personally I thought his work-rate was acceptable enough, and he was a little hard done by to be hooked at half-time; but such is life.

Part of the problem is that he does tend to swan around the place with the air of one who would like the team to be built around him. Dele, one sometimes suspects, would like to be the superstar flair player, or if not The Main Man then dashed well first amongst The Supporting Cast. And once upon a time that was indeed the case, with Dele the foil to Kane’s leading light.

At present, alas, he is being required simply to roll up his sleeves and put in a shift like the rest of the plebs. This does not appear a role for which Nature has fashioned him.

One wonders how long the impasse will last – or at least one would if this were a transfer window, but it isn’t, and presumably a few more opportunities for redemption await in the Europa.

3. Ben Davies, AANP’s Nemesis

Few things get the juices flowing like a pantomime villain, and as such I sometimes wonder if Ben Davies was put on this earth purely to give yours truly someone at whom to vent after five minutes of gently simmering discontent.

In truth he’s a pretty honest trooper – but when the reasonable fan has half an eye on title celebrations next May, then ‘Honest Trooper’ does not cut it.

As a full-back his crosses typically hit the first man (think back to the delicious Reguilon cross for Kane vs West Ham, and imagine how many attempts it would have taken Davies), and as a centre-back he seems best when in amongst a three.

It ought not to have mattered tonight, but just as the simmering discontent began to make itself felt, there was Davies to clatter over his own feet and pretty much usher in Antwerp with a route to goal.

Alas, we are hardly blessed with talent in the centre-back area at present, and if anything will halt the title parade next May it’s that particular berth. However, having incurred the AANP wrath from his general lack of threat as a bona fide left-back, I need hardly describe how the passions were stoked by his faux pas tonight.

4. Bale’s Lack of Fitness

Another game, and another underwhelming showing from our resident Galactico.

As ever, one is reluctant to chide Bale for the crime of being dreadfully undercooked, but it is difficult to tell how effective he might be at full-blast when he shows reluctance to break sweat, as is currently the case.

Bale currently ambles around the place with the air of one paranoid his muscles might snap if he approaches anything near a sprint – which may well indeed be exactly his mindset. And if that is indeed the case then there’s not much anyone can do but fling him into the pit on Thursday nights and hope that the cylinders begin to fire before too long.

It didn’t help the cause tonight however, not least given that, as articulated above ad nauseam, he was one amongst a group of relative strangers all looking to each other for inspiration. Moreover, one got the impression that young Lo Celso was in a similar boat of being a little wary of stretching the limbs as far as they would go, being also freshly returned from injury.

The net result was a team that looked like they were carrying one or two passengers, which certainly stuck a few spanners in the works.

On top of which, it remains nigh on impossible to gauge what sort of Gareth Bale we find ourselves in possession of. He is still capable of lung-busting gallops? Is his sole purpose in life now to lamp the ball at goal from thirty yards? There is no way of knowing at present.

5. Oddly Reticent Full-Backs

No doubt that the game was lost in that oddly neutered first half. The glut of half-time substitutions nearly had the desired effect in terms of result, and certainly bucked up things performance-wise, with Messrs Sonny, Lamela and Hojbjerg each offering the levels of energy one has come to expect.

It was notable in that second half that Monsieur Aurier in particular was suddenly struck by the whim to attack down the flank. Quite why he didn’t do so in the first half was a rummy one to me, with Reguilon on the other flank similarly shy on the matter.

A failing in that first half was the narrowness of our lot, alongside the absence of movement and general lethargy about the place. But a key component of Jose’s Spurs has generally been the willingness of the full-backs to push forward, allowing the forwards to shuffle infield, and generally sprinkling the place with options.

As noted, Aurier did so in the second half, but it was all lacking in the first. Maybe it was due to the slow tempo of the build-up play, maybe not, who knows? It was not the only failing, and certainly not the only reason we lost – but as with all the shortcomings, it left the interested observer with a sense of irritation.

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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