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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-2 Wolves: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson

One did not have to be one of those medieval soothsayer types, who apparently were pretty sharp in matters of spotting what was about to happen, to feel a bit of the old dread creeping up when Big Ange gruffled the news that both of Messrs Porro and Udogie would spend their Saturday afternoon being patched up in some infirmary tent rather than fighting the good fight on-pitch.

No huge surprises in the identity of their replacements, Emerson on one side and Ben Davies t’other, and while their earnestness was never going to be in doubt, that wasn’t really ever going to be the point, what?

There was a general lack of the sharpened tooth about our play from starter’s gun to finish line yesterday, incidences of rapier-like passing that cut to ribbons the opposition being so few that one could count them on the fingers of one hand. Now of course it would be a bit much to lay all the blame for this at the doors of Emerson and Davies, and our endeavours might well have been similarly fruitless with Porro and Udogie at the roaming-full-back wheel, not least because the second half was pretty much a non-stop session of trying to pick a way through a back-ten in and around their own area.

But nevertheless. Particularly in the first half, when the game was a tad more open but our passing from deep-to-advanced was pretty uninspired, I did stare off into the distance and do a spot of yearning.

Emerson, being the sort of egg so curious that he merits his own unique category of one, could conceivably have offered a bit of attacking spark, if all his lights were on. While he is probably not one for a 40-yard Porro-esque pass onto a sixpence, I had hoped we might see him carry the ball forward and infield, and give the Wolves lot something about which to confer.

Unfortunately, with Emerson one has to take the bonkers with the smooth, and he gave a few early indications that this was to be one of his more exasperating innings. For a start there were a few horribly misplace passes, which I suppose can happen to anyone, but when emanating from the size nines of Emerson do tend to suggest that he is off on another planet. Confidence – or rather lack thereof – never having been an issue with this mad young bean, rather than rein it in a bit he simply carried on trying no-look passes and whatnot.

However, the moment that really made me tut and stew was when, having been lazily caught in possession and deposited upon his derriere, rather than bounce straight back up, hellbent on correcting his error, he remained in his seat and took to waving his arms for an imaginary foul. Wolves, meanwhile, simply got on with it, shoved their way into our area and almost scored, dash it.

Obviously I use the pen-wielder’s licence to colour the lad’s entire performance as unequivocally disastrous, when the truth is probably that he made plenty of quiet, positive contributions, but in the first half in particular too many of his inputs led to a skyward fling of the AANP hands, and a muttered imprecation as its soundtrack. In a first half badly lacking cohesion and threat, Emerson made a handy poster-boy for our troubles.

2. Ben Davies

Ben Davies, to give credit where due, was actually pretty solid defensively and expansive offensively. If there is a criticism of him – apart from the wild misdirection of that late header, which ought to have CPR-d the result – it is that he is not Destiny Udogie, which seems a rather cruel sort of mud to sling at a fellow. I mean, not much that one can do about being born as one person and not as another, what?

As mentioned, he did things well enough. The sort of willing chappie destined always to be in the ‘Supporting Cast’ category, he won a few early defensive arguments against his opposing winger, and also made regular visits to the Wolves final third. Truth be told, he was as effective an attacking spoke as anyone else, and if I could have toddled around the changing-room post-match and canvassed a few opinions, I suspect that Sonny, Maddison and Richarlison would have spoken kindly enough of his contributions.

But in a game in which we sorely lacked a bit of the old thrust, I did note that the most incisive first half passes into the final third came from Messrs VDV on the left and Romero on the right. A spot of Udogie from deep would have gone down well.

3. Kulusevski

The half-time mood was pretty dark at AANP Towers. There was no shortage of subjects of ire, and not really enough time to have the deep and meaningful rant that each of them deserved, but one point on which I (and a chum or two) were pretty clear was that the current iteration of Kulusevski was pretty seriously undercooked.

Naturally he then took 46 seconds to ram my words down my throat with a bit of meaning, dancing around defenders in that curious way of his that seems to defy physics (my eyes probably deceived, but I’m pretty convinced that at one point he ran literally through a Wolves defender – which I accept contradicts much of what we know of modern science, but there we go).

So bucketfuls of credit where due, it was a fabulously executed goal. However, I maintain that it was also quite the anomaly. Kulusevski’s outputs in general this season seem to have been pretty muted. Of the unstoppable buccaneer of Spring 2022 there is little sign these days. In his defence, none of the fifteen outfield players used yesterday had much attacking success, so I’m happy to slather some context about the place, but with Kulusevski these diminished returns have been evident for some time.

This business of constantly cutting back onto his left foot strikes me as constituting a hefty chunk of the problem. Funnily enough it does still catch the occasional opponent by surprise, but this isn’t much good given that it also tends to suck a decent gulp of momentum from the attacking move. Defenders who might a smidgeon earlier have been out of position and rushing back to their posts, with sirens for both panic and confusion sounding in their ears, are granted time to pack out the place and steady their feet. The diem passes frustratingly un-carpe’d.

Moreover, having completed the whole business of cutting back onto his left, Kulusevski very rarely then makes good on his pledge and does anything meaningful with the ball thereafter. When he first joined, a couple of years back, one lost count of the number of times he cut back and curled the ball either into the far corner or into the path of an onrushing forward sort. Whereas these days he just bunts the thing into the first opposing body and it bounces away, or else loops a shot high and wide.

Much of Kulusevski’s value has traditionally derived from his deceptive burst of pace carrying the ball from halfway onwards, which is fair enough, and a trait still occasionally in evidence against more adventurous teams playing higher up the pitch; but on the whole, and certainly on occasions like yesterday, when up against a deep-lying defence, there’s not much scope for such frivolity.

Towards the end of yesterday’s proceedings, when Our Glorious Leader adopted the Football Manager approach of shoving as many attackers onto the pitch as the rules allowed, we were treated to a brief glimpse of Kulusevski in a more central role, which, from my armchair, seems to suit him a little better. Again, however, there protrudes a spanner in the works, as with Maddison back one would not expect to see too much of Kulusevski at number 10.

As with Emerson, one could hardly lump all our woes into one neat pile at the door of Kulusevski and wait for him to solve everything, but it’s another of those charming little knots that Postcoglou et al will need to unravel.

4. Van de Ven and Vicario

On a positive note, both Van de Ven and Vicario were in pretty spiffing form yesterday, so that was a little treat for the gathered masses.

Rather a shame that it was all to no avail, but VDV’s recovery pace continues to make the eyes pop from the head, and will presumably receive greater acclaim on future dates, when deployed in a winning cause. It was not so evident in the second half, when the pattern of things shifted considerably, but in the first half every time Wolves got behind our high-line – the difficulty of which was right up there alongside taking sweets from babies – one could breathe easily in the knowledge that a locomotive in human form would pretty swiftly be arriving from across the pitch to hoover up the mess.

Vicario, similarly, took the opportunity to showcase his most eye-catching stuff. Point-blank save in each half were worth goals, and I have a feeling he had another chalked off by an offside flag, but it was enough to communicate the gist: here was a man in rare old form.

Moreover, given that so much hot air is now expelled on the topic of what goalkeepers do with their feet, there was a charmingly old-fashioned thrill in seeing our man stick out a reflexive paw a couple of time to execute some point-blank saves.

That said, both goals conceded were pretty maddening. The first in particular prompted a rather weary groan, an unmarked header from a corner of all things being the sort of offence that ought to have the lot of them docked a month’s wages and locked in dank cells. As for the second, it was pretty clearly scripted stuff by our opponents, which in turn reflects poorly on our Brains Trust. Much to ponder in the next couple of weeks.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Maddison as Vicario’s Bodyguard

Easy to forget amidst all the joyous bedlam of full-time, but one of the burning questions going into this one was around the thorny issue of Vicario receiving more of the rough stuff at corners, and the ploy devised by Our Glorious Leader to negate such dastardly acts.

We didn’t have to wait too long to see the fruits of such planning, with Vicario being assigned his own personal bodyguard at corners, evidently tasked with inserting self in between goalkeeper and opposing, interfering forward. In a world in which meaty specimens such as Romero and Udogie and Richarlison lurk about the premises, I have to confess to raising a slightly alarmed eyebrow upon discovering that the identity of Vicario’s saviour was to be one J. Maddison Esq.

Now in a sense this added up. Heavyweights such as the aforementioned presumably already had their own important duties to carry out at corners; while Maddison comes across as the willing sort, always happy to take on an additional task that will help the collective, and even more so if it’s a high-profile little number.

On the other hand, however, there’s the delicate issue of what one might politely term ‘Suitability for the Role’. Putting it delicately, Maddison’s is not a physique of pure, unadulterated brawn and sinew. If I were to request, from an agency that handled such things, the services of a bit of muscle to protect me from harm of an evening, I’d be pretty cheesed off if they sent James Maddison my way, and would probably send him straight back and demand a refund. Of the entire squad, I imagine that only the wisp-like Bryan Gil would have any difficulty in shoving aside Maddison in any form of physical combat.

Nevertheless, it was better than the alternative, of simply allowing whichever forward (Welbeck yesterday, I think) an unhindered run at Vicario to flap in his face and barge him around as he pleased. And one might reasonably argue that the proof of the pudding was in the fact that Vicario being forced into errors at corners simply was not an issue yesterday, as it had been in previous games. (Although the caveat here is that Brighton’s delivery from corners was not so accurate as to put him under proper scrutiny.) Certainly, Maddison got into the spirit of the thing, all bravado and tugging and pulling each time the principals set themselves for a corner.

So a solution of sorts, but I do consider that a more rigorous test of this scheme, and Maddison’s abilities in the area of personal security, could be yet to come.

2. Not Quite At The Races

Is it just me or does every outing of the Good Ship Hotspur end in some dramatic stoppage-time goal, one way or the other? It certainly feels that way, to the extent that if one of our games finished 5-3 but with all scoring wrapped up by the 80th minute, I’d probably slope away in a bit of a mood, grumbling about not having received my money’s worth.

Anyway, whichever soul launched the gag about all being well that ends well certainly hit the bullseye yesterday, and I blush to admit that I rather lost my sense of propriety when Johnson popped up at the end, bounding about the place like one possessed, truth be told. All of which was well and good, and pretty much captures why we make the weekly pilgrimage in the first place; but it did also paper over the fact that this was a slightly squiffy sort of showing from our heroes.

The dubious tone was set within the first 30 second when young VDV, normally the sort of egg upon whom you’d bet your mortgage as well as the life of your least-favoured child, oddly floundered, losing his bearings, his sight of the ball and his understanding of gravity. Under minimal pressure he tripped over himself and into a little heap, allowing Welbeck to race off and send an early greeting Vicario’s way.

VDV was at it again for the penalty, dipping a foot into a spot he ought to have avoided; an episode that had its genesis in Bentancur miscalculating pretty significantly and being hustled off the ball on the edge of his own area. Bentancur was perhaps the poster-boy for the day’s travails, occasionally delivering his trademark wriggle from trouble, but too often caught dwelling in possession and failing to provide the steady hand to which we’ve become accustomed.

To be clear, however, this was not a case of VDV and Bentancur alone being at the heart of our troubles. Most in lilywhite seemed a little undercooked. Take Udogie, for example. Strangely muted, no? Vicario at one point ill-advisedly underarmed the ball to Bentancur in a most precarious spot; and so on.

Being a gracious sort, I can grudgingly admit that a lot of our under-performing was down to Brighton, whose high-press was pretty snappy, and whose short passing was at times terrific. In fact, the whole thing struck me as what would happen if our heroes played against themselves in one of those shiny computer games with fancy graphics.

Whatever the reason, for the first twenty or so, our lot were comfortably second best; and while we got back on top in the latter part of the first half, this owed as much to pressing high and turning over possession as to any particular guile in our build-up play. Following ingestion of the half-time victuals, our lot hit first gear for a good 25 minutes or so, which looked like it would bring a lot more that just the equaliser, and I confess that at that point I settled back into my seat with a rather smug sense of anticipation; only for our lot to lose their way again, and end up rather clinging on as the clock struck 90. A strange old knocking from our heroes, then.

3. Richarlison

Richarlison was another who didn’t quite hit the right notes, until he eventually did circa minute 96.

His first half miss when clean through (doff of the cap to Maddison for the pass, by the by) was pretty unforgiveable. One can bleat away all day about the goalkeeper spreading himself and whatever else, but that was about as straightforward as chances come, and a chap in his current form ought to have crossed t’s and dotted i’s with minimal fuss.

He delivered similar rot when given the opportunity to tee up Maddison for a straightforward finish, again before half-time. Admittedly that was a pass that required a tad more timing and weighting, but nevertheless it ought not to have been beyond a fellow  whose juices have been flowing like his in the last six weeks or so.

It was a curious performance from Richarlison, because it was not one of those in which he skulked about the place like a moody teen, or wobbled unconvincingly, beset by a critical absence of confidence. He seemed right as rain in matters of the head, full of confidence and positivity. He just failed to deliver at the critical moments – until the finale.

At that point, he did a cracking job, delivering his lines to perfection. His pass for Son looked simple enough, but had he played it with any greater or lesser force Sonny would probably have had to break his stride – or strayed offside – and we’d all be grumbling about another drawn game we should have won. Instead, Richarlison (having been involved in the earlier build-up too), picked his moment and weighted his pass, and AANP duly forgave his earlier transgressions.

4. The Winning Goal

While Richarlison’s minor but critical role receives a light ovation from these parts, I’m inclined to shove the Best Supporting Actor trophy towards Sonny. One can take it for granted, but there aren’t too many nibs around who can go flying off at that sort of pace. His timing had to be on the money too, to stay onside, but mercifully the chap was fully alert to the situation, and crammed the best of all worlds into one single package – staying onside whilst building up a sufficient head of steam to outpace his opposing defender pretty comfortably.

There then followed the most critical part of the operation, viz. delivery of the pass. We could all see it, of course – and being the helpful sort, AANP took the opportunity to scream at the blighter a pithy but accurate instruction as to what was needed at this juncture – but it’s one thing seeing, and a different kettle of fish actually doing.

Mercifully, Son delivered to the millimetre. There was no messing around with additional touches, or considerations of taking it on himself, or any such nonsense. Son pinged the pass first-time, with a spot of curl to evade the stretching Estupinan, leaving Johnson with a pretty straightforward mission from 5 yards.

Johnson, as is well known, has attracted a decent amount of opprobrium over the months, principally for his delivery of a final ball, but if he excels in one area it is in understanding the value of arriving at the back post when potential is bubbling away on the opposite flank. He does it better than most of the others in our ranks, and there is something particularly pleasing about seeing a goal created by one wide attacker to be executed the other. If Son deserves credit for his burst of pace on the left, Johnson ought also to be lauded for acting similarly on the right – for all his attributes I’m not sure Kulusevski would have eaten up those yards.

For one horrific moment I did actually think that Johnson had managed to blast the ball over the bar, but the lad had the good sense not to lash at the thing, and the happy ending was safely tucked away.

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Spurs match reports

Everton 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. That Late Equaliser

Nothing quite wrenches the gut like conceding an added-time equaliser, what? If you don’t mind a remarkably early tangent, one of the oddities of such things is the change in narrative it brings about, with the great and good effortlessly swivelling from a narrative of Spurs showing spirit to grind out a win to, one set-piece later, Spurs’ lack of game management in one of their worst showings of the season.

Back to the wrenched gut, and when all concerned adopted their positions for that final free-kick, AANP would gladly have directed all three wishes from the nearest genie towards a Tottenham head getting to the ball first. Picture my delight then, when, upon delivery of the f.k., the head that rose to prominence belonged to one of our own, Cristian Romero taking a spot of initiative. It was high-fives all round at AANP Towers, Everton having seemingly been denied and the danger averted.

Alas, to my considerable consternation it quickly became evident that this was but the first element in a quite horrific two-parter. Romero’s part having been played well enough, the immediate sequel somehow saw the Everton laddie Branthwaite and poor old Vicario drawn together in close-quarter combat, with nary another soul in sight.

The mood at AANP Towers swiftly darkened. Vicario is a man of many goalkeeping (and, indeed, outfield) talents, the strings to his bow being rich and plentiful; but standing up to some brutish lump in a duel to the death is not amongst them. Vicario, already back-pedalling was duly flattened, as that Branthwaite creature skirted over the finer points and simply bundled into the net the ball, goalkeeper, self and anything else that happened to catch his eye. In neatly appropriate fashion, Vicario sustained a blow to the gut in the process.

So no blame attached to Romero; and while Vicario might have offered a bit more resistance (as shall be explored below) the damage by that point seemed already done. As such, the initial reaction was simply to bemoan the rotten luck of the ball looping so invitingly to an Everton head.

But a little further investigation revealed that in fact there were culprits galore dotted about the place.

The dashed free-kick in the first place. Review the footage and one notes Richarlison losing possession in his own half in the first place, which was unimpressive but I suppose not, at that stage terminal. Next, and after a spot of this and that amongst the principals, the responsibility for matters fell upon Kulusevski.

Having lost a 50-50, which was excusable enough, rather than try something constructive to redeem the situation, or indeed simply put his head down and chase back, Kulusevski took an unsubtle swipe at the legs of the Everton man from behind. It was comfortably the most knuckle-headed option on offer, being both utterly unnecessary whilst also presenting a free-kick in prime position to a side whose only threat had been from set-pieces.

Nor did the ignominy end there. The headlines of that second goal may by now be familiar to all – Romero, Branthwaite, et cetera – but there comes a time in a man’s life when he must pause and ask himself precisely why it was that Branthwaite was left unchallenged in the six-yard box at the depth.

The guilty party, rather regrettably, given his contributions in other areas, was Richarlison. Attached to Branthwaite at the moment of delivery, he retained an observer’s interest in events as they unfolded, his beady eye remaining on the ball throughout. The crux of the thing, however, was that Richarlison’s presence ought to have been in the capacity of a participant rather than an observer, and in this respect he erred pretty sensationally. Once the ball was airborne, the chap simply stopped moving. Branthwaite jostled his way into prime position, whether in hope, expectation or whatever else; but behind him, Richarlison was making it pretty clear that his race was won. ‘If anyone is going to stop that chap’, he seemed to intimate, ‘it dashed well won’t be me.’

2. Richarlison’s Happier Moments (Or What Ought To Have Been Happier Moments) – Part One

As mentioned, a shame that the trail of evidence can be traced back to Richarlison for that one, because in other respects he looked a man in the form of his life.

Now a cynic might suggest that his first goal didn’t amount to much, perhaps pointing out that he simply stood in one spot and had the ball fed to him on a plate, leaving him with a To-Do list that contained little more than to stand on one leg and swing with the other. Not necessarily untruths I suppose, but this in itself seemed to illustrate the fellow’s brimming confidence. The nous to stand in one spot, for a start, was indicative of a striker who knows he is on a bit of a roll, rather than trying too hard to be in all places at once.

And even the finish, whilst low on technical requirements such as first touch, the side-stepping of defenders or the deceiving of the goalkeeper, was nevertheless a bit of a triumph of slick technique. After all, who amongst us hasn’t witnessed this very same man at the vital moment tripping over real or imaginary obstacles, or thumping the ball everywhere except within the frame of the goal? To see him simply slap the ball first-time into the net, without pausing to dwell on any of the ways in which the operation might go wrong, was mightily pleasing.

An honorary mention to those involved in the build-up to that first goal, the neat, quick passing of that move summing up our approach in those glorious first ten minutes or so, before we spent the remainder of the half struggling to control proceedings. Hojbjerg (whose contributions typically swung wildly between Decent and Rotten), Udogie and Werner all made smart choices in possession out on the left before Richarlison applied the coup de grâce, and at that stage I must confess that I topped up the lunchtime bourbon in rather self-satisfied fashion. The early signs were pretty promising.

3. Richarlison’s Happier Moments (Or What Ought To Have Been Happier Moments) – Part Two

By the time Richarlison’s second goal rolled around, the atmosphere had shifted somewhat, from heady optimism to something considerable sterner, our heroes struggling to demonstrate any semblance of control when in possession in our own half. But out of the blue they chiselled another delightful goal, and while Richarlison again made a point of showing the world that he was a changed man in front of goal, the build-up once more merited acclaim.

Maddison in particular emerged with credit from that second goal. In truth, it was a bit tricky to follow in its entirety quite what sorcery he produced, the naked eye being rather unfairly limited to seeing these things in real-time, but the headlines seemed to be that having received the ball in a bit of a pickle, circumstances not really being at their optimum – ball stuck under his feet, defenders poking their noses into his business – by the time he had finished conducting his affairs the ball was neatly rolling into the path of Richarlison to spit on his hands and get down to business.

Not that the end result was a tap-in for R9. The pouty Brazilian still had a fair amount of legwork to get through before he could go reaping the harvest, but again it was indicative of the mood of the young fish that he didn’t pause to fret and over-think, nor rush into his shot and hit any one of the various blue-shirted bounders scattered between him and the goal.

To his credit, Richarlison had the presence of mind to open up his body a tad, in the split-second or so in which the opportunity presented itself, this allowing a route to the top corner to present itself where previously there had been only Everton limbs. Moreover, the chap then nailed the pretty testing combination of placement and power, managing to sidefoot his shoot such that it dripped with accuracy, whilst also shoving enough heft behind it that it flew in at a decent rate of knots.

It’s taken some time, but the young nib is now marauding about the place like a bona fide finisher, which, for all his earnest endeavour and essential contributions in other areas (holding up the ball, effecting the high press etc) is really the meat and drink of the role.

All that said, it did rather irritate to see him making such a song and dance of not making a song and dance about scoring. This trend for refusing to celebrate goals against one’s former employer is one of those maddening modern fads that AANP would punish with a good thrashing if I ever came to power, but I suppose we’re stuck with it for now, so I can do little more than point out that in trying so hard not to upset his former fan-base, he’s rather irked at least one member of his current fan-base. I trust he will toss and turn and lose a goodish amount of sleep puzzling over that one in the coming nights.

4. Van de Ven

The other notable contributor de jour was young Micky Van de Ven, whose importance to the setup seems to grow with each passing game.

AANP’s latest whizz for whiling away the idle hour is to try to decide who amongst our number is the most important cog in the machine. And while Maddison, Son, Sarr and Vicario all have their merits, and in more left-field moments one might propose Udogie or even, when in his pomp, Bissouma, yesterday was the sort of afternoon on which the merits of Van de Ven seemed almost irresistible.

That turn of pace is really quite astonishing. The memory of his hamstring snap a few months ago against Chelsea does linger uncomfortably in the memory, so every time I witness him rev up and move through the gears I do hold the breath and murmur a silent prayer or two, but to witness him in action is quite something.

I have heard it pointed out that not only does he eat up the ground like some prize racehorse, but he is also blessed with the good sense to know when to dive in and when to stay on his feet – which may sound straightforward enough, but in a world of Romeros and Bissoumas and so on, is probably something to be appreciated.

Having a chap of his ilk manning the rear provides an attacking thrust as well as the defensive security, allowing the entire mob to play high up the pitch, safe in the knowledge that VDV’s pace provides something of a safety net, and while the other personnel did not really fulfil their side of the bargain yesterday, Van de Ven did not miss a trick.

5. Vicario

One could probably make a decent case for the notion that Everton’s aggression caused us problems all over the pitch, but it was at corners and against Vicario that the issue really came to a head.

Various of those in lilywhite have invested a decent amount of energy and outrage in complaining that the general buffeting of Vicario at corners is just not cricket, and that such behaviour ought not to be allowed. Personally I’m inclined to give the shoulders a shrug at that one. If the officials allow it – and the evidence of recent weeks indicates that they have done and will continue to do so for the foreseeable – then complaints ought to be silenced and energies devoted to fixing the issue.

Assigning Vicario some sort of burly minder might be an agreeable first step. One appreciates that all involved at corners have their dedicated roles and responsibilities (not that these necessarily carry too much weight in practice, if Richarlison’s marking of Branthwaite is anything to go by), but I would suggest that some physical protection for Vicario is now a priority.

And we’re not short of suitable candidates either. Even allowing for two or three man-markers, there are plenty amongst our number who are constructed from layer upon layer of thick muscle and ligament, so finding a volunteer to park himself next to our goalkeeper and prevent opponents from interfering in his business ought to be achievable.

The other option, of course, would be to train Vicario himself in a spot of self-defence, and perhaps investigate ways in which a bit of bulk could be added to his frame while at it. Vicario’s first reserve, Fraser Forster, I imagine, by virtue of being built like a sizeable oak, is not the sort of fellow who is too often barged off balance as he goes about his business, so he may have a tip or two to impart on these fronts.

Whatever the route they go down, something will have to be done. Clearly it is not sufficient for Vicario to be shoved to one side and bleat away at the ref after the ball is prodded in. Everton did not create too many chances from open play, but the mood amongst my little squadron of onlookers was one of ever-increasing panic each time they were awarded a corner, so it is conceivable that a certain anxiety may enter the minds of those on the pitch. Having achieved so much in open play, it would be vexing in the extreme to concede repeatedly from corners because of one single issue. Time for The Brains Trust to earn their keep.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Man City: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Vicario and The Goal

The fires of righteous indignation were blazing away like nobody’s business amongst vast swathes of lilywhites after that City goal, with “Foul play!” the principal anthem howled. One understands the sentiment, given that the City chappie was dancing a pretty intimate number with Vicario, but the sentiment at AANP Towers was to give the shoulders a shrug. Seen them given of course, but tend to roll the eyes skywards when they are.

‘Football-playing folk will inevitably bump limbs’ was the official line around these parts, and as the chap’s arms and elbows maintained a relatively conservative existence during the episode, rather than being flailed abaft the head in overly reckless fashion, I was pretty sanguine about the challenge. Spitting feathers and blood boiling at the concession of a late winner of course, ranting and blaspheming into the night sky at that, but not particularly outraged about the decision of the judiciary.  

Rather than launch into a passionate diatribe about the indignity of having his path hindered, I would have much preferred Vicario to have taken the more rudimentary approach in the first place of Cleaning Out Everyone In Front Of Him and Punching The Ball To Kingdom Come. Less scope for perceived injustices that way.

To his credit Vicario did actually get a fist to the thing, despite that City rascal whispering sweet nothings in his ear. His contact was hardly of the Kingdom Come variety, but he might nevertheless feel that he had put in place the basics and could reasonably look to a nearby associate to firm the thing up. It was rather a shame, then, that this part of the procedure having been ticked off, the ball bounced off the back of young Van de Ven, who seemed rather astonished to find himself in the vicinity, and neatly into the airspace of that Ake fellow.

Thereafter there was not much to be done, but with the dust having settled I hope that young Vicario, in his quieter moments, decides to focus his thousand hours of practice on that aforementioned art of C.O.E.I.F.O.H.A.P.T.B.T.K.C. Because in most other areas the chap seems well in control of matters – playing the ball from feet when under pressure, shot-stopping, and so forth. Indeed, these very qualities were proudly advertised on Friday night – City’s press being of the intense variety, and their shots low and punchy. As such, one would not want opponents to sniff a weakness at set-pieces and accordingly crowd and jostle our gate-keeper to within an inch of his life each time. Remedy that chink in the armour, young man.

2. Van de Ven (and Udogie)

Alongside Vicario, young Van de Ven struck me as one of the more impressive of our number. A blessed relief to have him back, for his composure and comfort in possession in the first place, but also, as he rather pointedly emphasised on several occasions, for his red-face-sparing pace, that allows him to save the day time and again, with the well-judged skin-of-the-teeth timing that is the hallmark of so many of life’s finest action heroes.

We muddled through with varying degrees of success without him, but having him back at times feels like having a twelfth player in the ranks. (As it happens, I feel similarly when casting the beady eye upon former N17 parishoner Kyler Walker.) That is to say, the day-job entails performing all the duties of any self-respecting centre-back, but, blessed with jet-heeled pace, young VDV is also able to masquerade as something of a sweeper, racing in from wherever he may be when emergency arises, to act as last line of defence and give it that Kingdom Come treatment. This flexibility was displayed against both Foden in the first half and De Bruyne in the second, to name but two instances, and is a mightily useful bonus string to the bow.

And while on the subject of those who performed adequately enough I might as well direct an admiring whistle towards young Signor Udogie, whose offensive and defensive mechanics both appeared to be in fine working order. Admittedly City had a bit too much joy down their left/our right in the first half, but when Udogie was put to the test in one-on-one combat he tended to deploy either or both of his speed and upper-body strength, as appropriate and to good effect. All a bit futile in the final analysis, but one ought to record such things.

3. Absent Friends

Whichever bean it was who came up with the gag that absence makes the heart grow fonder was clearly quite the football aficionado. It’s a maxim that has heightened the standing of many a Spurs player, from Gil and Winks to Sammways and Nayim, and while some of the aforementioned may have underwhelmed a tad when eventually given their opportunity, on Friday night it was with some legitimacy that I bemoaned the ongoing absences of Sarr, Son and Maddison (and, to an extent, Bissouma).

That midfield in particular needed a bit of guile and mischief. Bentancur, as ever, was doing a fine job of availing himself for passes from the centre-backs, and, despite the rather impatient intrusions from City’s forwards, upon receipt calmly spraying the ball to safe zones; but further forward for approximately an hour we did rather scream out for Maddison.

As has been remarked fairly widely, on a few occasions, various of our heroes overlooked the opportunity to release Herr Werner into wide open spaces, and I suppose one never really knows quite how things would have played out in an alternate universe, but one does moodily mutter that Maddison might have picked him out a bit more cannily than those honoured with selection from the start.

Sarr similarly would have been an asset, with Hojbjerg demonstrating once again that being an adequate sub to see out the final fifteen against a side from the bottom half does not really equate to being the measure of the best team on the planet; and seeing our lot labour to create or finish a decent chance worthy of the name I did also lament the ongoing absence of Sonny.

I suppose it’s more important that we stay in touch with the popular kids in the Title race (or Top Four/Five race if you prefer), than that we turn over Man City of all teams in the Cup. Despite the fact that lamentations towards the absence of a trophy ring louder at AANP Towers than in most places, I’d still take a loss against City at home in an early round of the Cup if we can instead turn them over in a few weeks’ time in the League. And as Our Glorious Leader loosely put it, there’s no huge shame in losing to that lot when they’re a good few years ahead of us in their development (and bank balance – witness them flinging on De Bruyne and Doku, and not even bothering to fling on Grealish, while we had the luxury of Dane Scarlett as our In Case of Emergency call).

So the frustration at the continued absences of key players ought not to be over-egged much further, but as one by one they slip back into the fold, by golly I hope, and to an extent envisage, that we can recreate that early season run of wins.

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Spurs match reports

Brighton 4-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Attacking

It has been bleated at AANP a goodish amount – and I suppose with some justification – that I have a tendency to treat our heroes as a mother tiger would a favoured cub. That is, I can apparently land on the side of being a tad more generous towards them than their behaviour necessarily merits. Glossing over their mistakes, goes the claim, and rather over-egging things when it comes to dishing out the complimentary word.

And those who watched our lot magic a 4-0 deficit out of thin air last night might well waggle an exasperated finger at me and claim I’m letting them off too lightly yet again when I suggest that in possession at least, we generally crossed t’s and dotted i’s in required fashion, at least until we hit the Brighton penalty area.

But 4-0 or not, I remained pretty impressed with the speed and simplicity with which our lot peddled their usual routine of shifting the ball from south to north, lickety-split. Not quite ten out of ten for build-up, admittedly, but a general thumbs-up nevertheless.

The problem – in the first half in particular – was that once the build-up was taken care of and it came to spitting on their hands and seeing the thing through to completion, all concerned became rather bogged down in detail. The concept of just walloping the thing towards goal once within 20 yards or so was evidently a foreign one. An obsession seemed to have gripped all members of the troupe for passing the thing to death, and then squeezing out an additional pass or two for luck.

A fair amount of hot air was expelled at AANP Towers in yowling at Son and Richarlison in particular – but by no means exclusively – to yank on the dashed trigger at the earliest opportunity, rather than keep trying to thread their way to within spitting distance of the net.

I’m all for the style of play in general, which is off the scale in comparison to the dross of Conte, Nuno and Jose, but as Our Glorious Leader himself gruffled a few weeks ago, it’s not such great football if it fizzles out in a forest of opposition legs before topping up the Goals Scored column because we’ve overdone the build-up.

There was an improvement of sorts in the second half, notably in the umpteen efforts to play in Richarlison for a pop at goal. I suppose one has to wag a disapproving finger at the chap for straying a few inches offside each time, but I was at least heartened by his principle of having an immediate swing at goal rather than pirouetting away and searching for yet another needless pass.

And I was also encouraged by young Veliz, who made the most of a rare twenty-minute opportunity to show the watching world that he’s not one for procrastination when it comes to penalty area scraps. Sling him the ball in any sort of contortion of limbs, and his mantra seemed to be that he would untangle his feet, use the absolute minimum number of touches to work an opportunity and dig out a shot – typically all in a single, efficient movement. It brought him one goal, one shot saved at close-range and a delicious lay-off that nobody else in pinkish brown seemed to care about, but I was also for the young bimbo’s approach to life.

2. Defending

Oh that life in N17 comprised simply one attack after another. Irritatingly, these easy-on-the-eye moments are rather rudely punctured by the other mob scything through us pretty much at will whenever they have possession.

The ease with which opponents get at us is rather difficult to ignore. Even in the Van de Ven-Romero era, one was nagged by the sentiment that while that pair would do a fine job of extinguishing fires before they blazed out of control, they were still being called into action with alarming frequency. The issue is all the more concerning in their absence.

Not really being the most tactically-minded I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes to uncovering the root cause of this unholy mess, but it I have been struck a few times by the fact that anyone wanting to get at us from the wings can simply waltz straight through with minimal interference from security personnel. I’m not sure if this is a result of Messrs Porro and Udogie galloping forward at every opportunity and therefore being ill-prepared for defensive duties, or whether the full-backs are deliberately instructed to tuck in fairly narrowly, giving opponents the freedom of the flanks. Be it one of those or some other genesis, the conclusion each time seems to be that if anyone on around the halfway line fancies a mooch around our penalty area a visit can be arranged tout de suite.

One might dig up extenuating circumstances for the various goals last night. The Kulusevski foul for the first penalty was as knuckle-headed as they come and not the sort of input for which one can really prepare; and the long-range goal from the corner, although strictly the sort of effort that decency should ensure is closed down before any harm can arise, was nevertheless something of a freak effort.

But the Lo Celso foul for the second penalty came about because he had let his man drift the wrong side of him in the penalty area; while the opening goal sprouted from the Joao Pedro being granted the freedom to jig his way past no fewer than five of our lot, none of whom seemed inclined to sharpen the elbows and take a spot of initiative.

On top of which, Vicario was called upon for a point-blank save from Welbeck, and Brighton hit the post on two other occasions. I continue to offer a mitigating shrug to Emerson and Davies, both of whom are evidently trying their damnedest in foreign climes at centre-back – but neither are fit for purpose in the role.

Put another way, our back-four seems to be populated in its entirety by a squadron of chappies who are all pretty competent on the ball, but, rather crucially, none of whom seem actually to be much good at defending. While I continue to be thoroughly entertained each week by the 90-minute mystery of whether we can simply outscore the other lot, the porous nature of our back-line does hinder the objective somewhat.

I suppose the other point that’s worth a spot of air-time is that the entire collective is now clearly quite frazzled. Ange-ball, though an absolute delight to behold, does seem to require each individual concerned to do the work of several men on a bi-weekly basis, one minute donning their attacking hat and hurtling into the penalty area, the next minute – or sometimes the very same minute – replacing that attacking hat with its defensive equivalent, and tearing back towards the criminally undermanned rear. Little wonder that the pose de jour appears to be being bent double, hands on knees, great gulps of O2 being glugged at every opportunity. Those January reinforcements cannot come fast enough.

3. Hojbjerg

Regular drinkers at this particular inn will no doubt see the headline ‘Hojbjerg’ and brace themselves for a spot of unrestrained AANP vitriol, the chap’s tendency to pass backwards with religious fervour, pausing only to wave his arms pointlessly at those around him, having rather made the forehead veins throb over recent years.

But in a pretty spectacular plot-twist, I come to praise Hojbjerb, not to bury him. I thought he made a pretty good fist of things last night. Limitations apply, of course. Any praise for Hojbjerg must be asterisked with the acknowledgement that he has nothing about him of the Mousa Dembele or Luka Modric, and as such ought not to be judged by such lofty standards. Instead, Hojbjerg picked up where young Oliver Skipp had left off at the weekend, and where Skipp insisted on biffing the ball straight back to whomever had given it to him with relentless monotony, Hojbjerg had at least enough sense of adventure to collect the ball on the half-turn, and look to pop it to someone in a more advanced spot.

He also threw in a couple of forward runs and picked a couple of forward passes into the path of the wingers, and in general gave the impression of a man not wedded to passing backwards upon pain of death, but instead approaching life with the more care-free attitude that dictates that if an opportunity for forward-thinking creativity opens he’ll shove in his chips. I approved.

And amidst these occasional dipping of toes into attacking waters, Hojbjerg also appeared to understand with perfect clarity that his primary purpose was to supplement the rearguard. Thus it transpired that when Brighton ambled into our territory, Hojbjerg was typically present, inserting himself either between or ahead of Emerson and Davies, and trying to stick a few fingers in dikes as the situation required.

The moral of the story remains that the squad is in pretty desperate need of upgrades, but nevertheless, an honourable shift from Hojbjerg, better fare than he has been in the habit of trotting out, and very nearly crowned with a late goal that would have set up the most mind-boggling finish.

4. The Late Flurry

And what a dashed shame that that mind-boggling finish did not materialise, Hojbjerg’s injury-time tuppence worth coming back off the post rather than bouncing in, but I suppose hitting the frame of the goal isn’t really the point of the exercise. Christmas, as Hans Gruber neatly put it, is a time for miracles, but even by the most extreme, all-action-no-plot standards of our lot at their most madcap, a comeback from 4-0 down at the 80-minute mark would have been a bit much to swallow. Instead we had to settle for the curious coda that was our exhausted mob finding from nowhere a second wind that brought two late goals and several other presentable chances.

The sudden sense of urgency was an odd one to drink in. There remained a bit of a tendency to elaborate unnecessarily in and around the Brighton 6-yard box, when all in lilywhite were screeching at our heroes just to take a shot, old habits dying hard I suppose. But by and large, dithering was kept to a minimum and we gave the Brighton goal a bit of a peppering.

The caveat here is that Brighton, as one would at 4-0 up, had signed the thing off as a done deal, withdrawing personnel and fiddling with their formation. Nevertheless, it was heartening to see our lot pick them apart through various different approaches in that finale.

Oddly enough, the late flurry seemed to owe more to the collective than to any particular individuals. For all his honest beavering and body-feints, I’m not sure that Bryan Gil delivered one useful cross. Lo Celso conceded one penalty, came pretty close to conceding another and provided little more useful value during his cameo. But by virtue of popping around some slick one-twos, and whipping in a couple of handy crosses, the chances flowed fairly steadily in the closing stages.

As mentioned, young Veliz made the most of a pretty nondescript hand, and Sonny also perked up a bit in those closing stages. And, perhaps because they were unencumbered by the rigours of defending, Messrs Udogie and Porro made themselves useful in the attacking third. It all amounted to a strange old game, in which our lot weren’t particularly impressive, defended dreadfully at times, generally got bogged down whenever within shooting distance and yet still would have been good value for three or four goals. Give it a year or so and our lot will be quite the proposition, but for now it’s head-scratching stuff.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson at Left-Back

Destiny Udogie’s chequered history having caught up with him, we found ourselves in the awkward position of requiring Emerson Royal to fill in at left-back-cum-midfield yesterday. On this matter three outstanding points immediately arrested the attention and refused to let go, viz:

  1. Emerson is right-footed
  2. Emerson has not dabbled much in the inverted-full-back role
  3. Emerson is as mad as a bag of cats

No shortage of reasons, then, to give the lower lip a nervous chew, and it is with a cheek burnished with shame that I report to having had the knives sharpened well ahead of time, in anticipation of the worst.

As it happened, what actually transpired was a performance so steady and reliable that, come the closing credits I toyed long and hard with the notion of feting Emerson with the prestigious Nod of the Head awarded for being the game’s outstanding contributor. Admittedly this was largely earned by default, our heroes having clocked a round of individual performances so middling that Emerson’s rose to the top by virtue of being amongst the least flawed, but nevertheless – some credit to the lad for overcoming each of the 3 challenges highlighted above.

Without necessarily contributing anything eye-catching and game-changing, I thought that Emerson got right just about everything at which he tried his hand yesterday. Positionally, he seemed up-to-speed from the off, knowing where to go and whose shoulder to lurk behind, when to give the arms a frantic wave and when to keep a low profile. He availed himself to Davies, Skipp et al when we were in possession, and kept a diligent eye on affairs in his jurisdiction when we were defending.

That said, he dithered away like nobody’s business and needed a sizeable dollop of luck with the disallowed Everton goal. Too complacent for my liking, and who knows how things might have panned out had that one been allowed to stand, what?

Equally, however, at one point in the first half he almost had a moment of glory, finding space for Sonny to set him loose up the left flank and curling a most inviting pass – with that rarely-spotted left appendage, no less – into the path of an incoming Brennan Johnson that, but for a rather wild finish, would have put us three up and afforded all concerned a much gentler snooze of an afternoon.

That was about as glamorous as it got for him but, given the anxiety with which I had anticipated Emerson taking the inverted left-back reins ever since Udogie’s yellow card last week, the young nib’s largely error-free shift was received with quiet but fervent prayers of gratitude.

 2. Skipp

The prospect of 90-plus minutes’ worth of out-of-position Emersoning was not the only element causing a few worry-lines to form on the AANP map pre-kick-off yesterday. Skipp for Bissouma is nobody’s idea of a fair trade, even allowing for the latter’s dreary dip in form, but there we were yesterday – and there we will remain for the foreseeable, given that Bissouma is currently being detained at His Majesty’s pleasure before flying off for that blasted AFCON next month.

Skipp at least came armed with a spot of positional experience, having occupied defensive midfield spots pretty much ever since he first learned to walk, but his presence there from the off still gripped me with an unspeakable fear. Stick Skipp in a Sean Dyche team and one would emerge pretty satisfied; ask the honest fellow to spend his afternoon Ange-balling and it’s a little difficult to know quite how events will unfold.

Understandably enough, once the whistle sounded Skipp just rolled up his sleeves and gave the impression of not giving too many damns about Ange-ball, Sean Dyche or anyone else. He just rattled through the catalogue in order to locate the most Oliver Skipp performance he could find, and delivered that with all the trimmings.

It was perfectly sufficient. Whenever our centre-backs were in possession he immediately scampered to within five yards of them, yelping to be allowed to play. They rolled the ball to him, he immediately rolled it back whence it had come and the sequence was able to begin again.

Those of us who have watched with quiet satisfaction as Bissouma, or indeed Bentancur or whomever, have received the ball from the centre-backs on the half-turn, and with one quick shoulder-dip been away from their marker and on the front-foot, had to moderate our expectations pretty quickly. This was Oliver Skipp’s world, and fancy shoulder-dips or changes of direction were pretty strictly outlawed. Skipp would dab the ball straight back to whomever passed it to him, and no more.

He served his purpose well enough. With Porro, Emerson, Romero and Davies on hand to do more of the heavy-lifting, in terms of picking the more incisive passes from deep, it was basically enough for Skipp simply to occupy appropriate areas and create space for others. He also beavered away earnestly enough when we were out of possession, holding a protective central position and occasionally taking it upon himself to snap at a pair of Everton ankles if the mood took him. There were occasional mistakes and fouls, but on the whole he did what was required.

As a temporary solution, filling in every now and then when an A-lister is unexpectedly withdrawn, I’ll shrug the shoulders and mutter that he’ll do I suppose, and prepare to scrawl a 6 out of 10 against his name. I can’t really say that the prospect of him scuttling about the starting XI for another month fills me to the gills with joy, but unless the January window brings a Connor Gallagher or some such, we may well be stuck with him.

3. Sonny

I mentioned that it was an odd sort of showing all round, with various cast members appearing a little off-colour, and few summed up this peculiar state of affairs better than our on-field lieutenant.

Sonny did of course pop away the crucial goal, and as such excuses a multitude of other sins across the other 95 or so minutes. That his goal was an odd, scruffy sort of job is neither here nor there – basking in the satisfaction of fourth spot the morning after, few amongst us will grumble that the second goal lacked a bit in the aesthetic stakes. ‘Shove the damn thing into the net’ has been a fairly critical instruction in the last couple of months, and not one that our heroes have necessarily adopted too gaily, so if Sonny wants to bobble the thing through a crowd in order to score his goals that’s fine by AANP. Bobble away through as many crowds as you like, is pretty much the approving response over here.

But his headline contribution having been thus secured, I thought that Son spent the rest of his afternoon mangling his lines in all manner of ways. Just a temporary blip of course, and his absence will be lamented with some pretty meaningful wailing and gnashing of teeth when he flies off for that blasted Asian Cup next month. But still. This was not his finest hour and a half.

If he were on the run with the ball, he found a bizarre series of ways to extinguish the threat himself, be it losing control of his own feet, treading on the ball or slightly forgetting who and where he was, and scuttling off on his own towards the edge of the playing surface while an Everton man collected the ball and trotted off with it in the opposite direction.

There was also a series of opportunities to feed a nearby chum who would have been in on goal, which Sonny curiously kept miscalculating, poking the ball out of play or straight to a defender or some other such oddly-judged ideas that didn’t quite hit the spot.

Anyway, there was no want of effort on his part, and the honest fellow is allowed an off-day – particularly as he got the most important part right, in front of goal – and moreover, even if his end-product was generally all over the place, he clearly kept the Everton mob on their toes throughout just by virtue of being Son and all the energy that entails.

4. A Mixed Bag

When the employer invites AANP to tick the boxes in one of those psychometric tests, invariably the findings are that I am one of those souls who likes things neatly squared off. Spades are called spades. Everyone knows where they stand. And it is in such a spirit that I generally like to assess the outputs of our heroes in lilywhite. A thumbs-up for a job well done; a thumbs-down when they’ve stunk the place out; and not too much time wasted sugar-coating things in the middle.

All of which leaves me in a bit of a spot about yesterday’s goings-on. It was a strange old showing from our lot, when one steps back and thinks about it. On the bright side, I could count probably a good half a dozen instances of Ange-ball at its finest. “Ping, ping, ping,” would be a pretty accurate way to describe those moments, when the stars aligned, everyone gave everyone else a knowing nod and in the blink of an eye the ball was being whizzed from our area to theirs.

The first goal was an example of the above, even if strictly speaking the whizzing took the ball from the middle third to their area. There was the usual flurry of one-touchery, a lovely spot of body-feinting thrown in by young Sarr (the one bean I thought might beat Emerson to the Nod of the Head when all votes were counted) and a finish that oozed confidence from Richarlison.

Even the second goal, for all the rougher edges about its coup de grâce, had a pleasing look about its build-up. But in general, our heroes seemed to be off the boil as often as they were on it.

Passes were misplaced as if there were an internal competition to which everyone had pretty feverishly dedicated themselves; and a lot of the time those in lilywhite simply lost possession. It was pretty rummy to behold, but on several occasions some well-meaning sort in lilywhite would have possession, without too much imminent danger presenting itself other than an Everton bounder surreptitiously edging into view – and before you knew it possession had swapped hands. The Everton bounder now had possession, our hero was forlornly nibbling at his ankles and the entire cast had to reconfigure and don their defensive hats again.

These days one does not see to much of the straightforward, honest tackle – interceptions and blocks being all the rage – but yesterday it seemed that every couple of minutes we were losing possession because an Everton sort had simply wandered over, and without having to put in too much thought or effort, positioned himself between ball and lilywhite and made off with the dashed thing.

We brought no end of problems upon ourselves towards the end of the first half, the whole business of playing out from the back being executed with pretty scant regard for the delicacies that such an operation requires, with the result that Everton time and again were presented with the ball some twenty yards from goal and invited to amuse themselves as they saw fit.

And towards the end of things, that blasted Danjuma was made to like a bit too much like Pele for my liking. A handy chap in the final third we can all agree, having been treated to his cameos at close quarters last season, but for him thrice in ten minutes to befuddle our defensive mob and blast a shot at goal seemed a bit thick. Porro, Dier and Skipp seemed to find the lad unplayable, which was alarming, and quite what strain of sorcery Vicario has signed up for is anyone’s guess, but he seems to have had other-worldly intervention on his side in his last couple of matches, and it’s no stretch to say we’ve been centimetres from conceding – and missing out on two points yesterday.

All told, it was a hard-earned win – against a team slap bang in the middle of a hot streak, and with our usual slew of absentees. The general sloppiness in our play suggests more than anything that our heroes could do with a few days off, with some massages and scented candles and whatnot, but to be four points off the top having had such a rotten old November reflects well.

Merry Christmas, on we trot to Brighton.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-4 Chelsea: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The First Twenty Or So

And that, lest there be any confusion, is why it’s called All Action, No Plot.

Easy to forget after a binge like that, but way back in the opening 20 or so minutes our heroes were playing some of the best football I’ve seen in any season at N17. These racy starts have become something of a trend amongst our lot, one amongst a number of bobbish habits instilled by Our Glorious Leader in double-quick time, but in a pleasing break from recent tradition we actually had the good sense to turn complete domination into an early goal (and were a moderately-sized whisker from two).

Maddison may not be credited in the record books in years to come with any meaningful contribution to our opener, but by golly he was front and centre of the action – albeit from a temporary left-back mooring. His was a pass for the ages, transferring events from defence to attack, and taking out the entire Chelsea midfield in one thoughtful swipe of the clog.

Nor was it particularly anomalous. Everywhere one looked there was the sight of a lilywhite playing what on paper would seem a pretty nondescript pass – not much more than ten yards, A to B, ordinary fare – but actually delivered in such a way as to temporarily remove from action at least two or three Chelsea rotters, and turn the rest of them completely on their axis.

These passes came from our centre-backs, from our inverted full-backs, and actually from pretty much anyone who happened to be wandering in the vicinity bedecked in white. Typically played first-time and typically reversed, they were lightning-quick, and Chelsea could barely get a sight of the ball, never mind a touch. Had life continued thusly for the following seven-ninths or so of the match, I can only assume we would have racked up dozens of goals and beetled away up the High St still top of the pile.

I was also settling in for a full evening of Brennan Johnson and his assorted delights. Pre-match I had rather hoped that he might get the nod, he having displayed in his two or three cameos that instant grasp of the mechanics that seemed every week to befuddle Richarlison. Not wanting to wade into any debate about who is actually a better player, it nevertheless seems apparent that the former is a better fit for this particular position and in this particular team than the latter. A dashed shame then, that life being what it was, young Master Johnson’s night was pretty abruptly curfewed – and not for the first time. At the current rate, he might actually get to complete a full 90 for us some time around 2028, what?

2. The Non-Sendings Off

“Dashed shame” is how I described it, but in this I perhaps misled my public, or at least withheld a decent wedge of the facts. For while the departure of Johnson was duly mourned, the events that precipitated it were a pretty different kettle of fish, and the AANP mood was not quite as forgiving.

Taking things in calendar order, Udogie’s two-footed lunge was as thick-headed as it was peculiar. I’ve never understood the strategic thinking behind a two-footed lunge. Apart from the fact that just about any referee with a pulse will delight at the chance to thrust a red card in the relevant face, it’s also such an odd manoeuvre. Unnatural, is what I mean. And one does not really need to have played football at the highest level to appreciate that. In fact, one only really needs to possess feet. In my experience, natural motion is generally a one-foot-at-a-time affair, anything else typically leading to physical disarray and a pretty significant confusion of the limbs.

So had Udogie had stretched a single leg for all his worth, I’d have been with him. Had he slowed down and attempted to block off young Sterling, I’d have understood his thinking. But to interrupt his usual stride pattern, specifically to introduce into proceedings an entirely unnatural act was rummy enough; to introduce such an act in the knowledge that it is specifically flagged as being immediately worth a red card – well, to say AANP was perplexed is to understate things.

Had his follow-through clipped the man – and that was well beyond his control, and in the lap of the gods – he could have had no complaints about a red card. Rather than moaning at the ref, I would have strongly urged the defender himself to have his head examined and do a spot of mental arithmetic or something, to jimmy the grey matter along.

Next up was Romero, another who seemed oblivious to the fact that we were giving the other lot a pretty emphatic tonking, with little cause to upset the status quo, and decided instead to pick up the nearest axe and swing.

Once again, his little off-the-ball kick at an opponent seemed unnecessarily to invite a dubious appraisal of things by the ref. And once again, had the officials taken a militant view there would not have been any grumbling towards them from over here, but a few paragraphs of the coarsest Anglo-Saxon directed at the player instead.

3. The Sendings-Off

Romero somehow walked away from that one with his rap-sheet in pristine nick, and perhaps by this point considering himself invincible in the eyes of the law he continued hacking away until spotted and ejected. As a side-note, I do rather miss the days when winning the ball was sufficient and not too many cares were given about the follow-through, but it’s pretty common knowledge that leaving studs on a shin as a parting-gift will receive a pretty dim eyebrow from VAR these days. Once again there were no complaints about the decision, only hands flung skywards at the fat-headedness of our man.

And that really was the turning-point – or the first of them at least. That led to the removal of Johnson, at a point at which it seemed clear that he was well on top in his own private debate out on the left, and ensured that Chelsea’s temporary dominance of possession would become more permanent.

As it happens, I’m actually inclined to shrug off Udogie’s second yellow card. He’s still a prime dolt for his two-footed nonsense earlier in the piece, and admittedly he ought really to have listened to the cautionary whisper from the angel on one shoulder, urging him to exercise a spot of restraint, rather than bowing to the demands from the devil on t’other shoulder, encouraging a lunge on Sterling when he’d already been booked.

But as I say, I had a degree of sympathy, because he had just foiled a 3-v-2 attack by Chelsea, rather heroically and against the odds – and who amongst us has not got a little carried away by a moment of success and promptly over-egged the thing?

4. The High Line

The injuries, of course, were just dashed bad luck. All season there has lurked in the background the nameless fear that an injury or two might rip the spine from our lot, but we had chugged along thus far unscathed, mainly due to the absences being enforced on a strictly one-by-one basis.

Well last night that all went up in flames. Last night I got the distinct sense that if it were not one bally thing it would damn well be another. Romero’s red was followed by VDV’s hamstring, which was followed by Maddison’s ankle, which was followed by Udogie’s red, and there went our spine, for the moment and for the foreseeable.

This four-part calamity, however – and in particular the removals of Messrs VDV and Romero – served only to introduce possibly the most eye-catching segment of the production, which is saying something on a night of 5 goals and 5 disallowed goals and 2 red cards and countless VARs.

The high-line, featuring at its heart Eric Dier, was simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. Defensively – and let’st start with the defensive aspect – it was utterly bonkers. Dier is a loyal servant, and a vocal presence apparently, and various other things that sound good and might serve pretty well in the SAS or some such – but a lightning-quick athlete he isn’t. As such, I found myself holding my breath each time Chelsea dithered around the centre-circle, and our lot lined up on halfway, ready to turn and sprint back to goal.

But it actually happened so often, pretty much most of the time the ball was in play, that I quickly worked out that holding my breath every time was not the way forward. Not enough oxygen. Anyway, we were helped out in this operation by the fact that Chelsea, for all their millions, were actually pretty vacant between the ears themselves, either too impatient or not quite bright enough to time their runs behind us.

On top of which, young Signor Vicario (more on whom later), turned out to take to the role of Auxiliary Sweeper in His Quieter Moments with a casual shrug that did a disservice to quite how capable he was. Whenever Chelsea did time their runs correctly and race off towards goal, they were generally greeted by the well-timed presence of a goalkeeper yet to put a foot wrong, in comparison to a few thousand feet he’s put right in his time at N17.

And so it happened that from a state of pessimism and doom, the mood at AANP Towers swiftly turned into one of enjoyment and hilarity. No matter what Chelsea did, they seemed utterly incapable of what ought to have been completely straightforward, and one could almost taste their frustration.

Whenever they did get behind us, Vicario swept up; and when he didn’t sweep up he made an extraordinary save, or one of our panting outfield mob caught up and hacked it away – and the general sense increasingly developed that this was going to be an absolute blast to watch.

It couldn’t last forever of course, but I have since wondered how it might have played out with VDV in the fold, even down to nine men. I rather fancy that Chelsea could have played all night and they would have failed to pick that particular lock.

Anyway, Big Ange seemed pretty unrepentant about it all, and while it made for a fascinating watch while we were defending, I have since filled the idle moment by wondering what the rationale might have been. The best I can come up with is that by playing such a high defensive line, our attackers were able to continue the high press of Chelsea defenders, and sniff around for opportunity. Or, put another way, down to nine men, Big Ange still wanted us to attack.

5. Vicario

As if the game itself wasn’t non-stop, madcap entertainment, I discovered later on that Nicolas Jackson had had the Man of the Match rosette pinned to his breast, which afforded me another chuckle, he having delivered one of the worst striking displays I’ve seen at the place.

From the AANP monocle the standout performer was pretty comfortably the lad Vicario. Again, it was easy to lose in the mists of time, but in the first half, when still 11 v 11, he pulled off a now customary Save-That’s-Actually-Worth-A-Goal, sprawling full length to his left and, that done, having the presence of mind to extend a beefy paw, to make sure of things.

There then followed his quite sensational display of judgement and timing in repeatedly scampering from his line and facing down the assorted Chelsea forwards while Dier and chums were struggling to keep up. On top of which he made some further, remarkable saves, flinging every available limb and, I’m pretty sure, his face into the way of danger to ensure that Chelsea were kept at bay and the hilarity continued.

For the umpteenth time this season I reflected that this was the sort of super-human produce of which our former custodian could only have dreamt. I’m not too sure whose brainwave it was to drag Vicario over to these shores; I’m pretty sure I gave him a murky and quizzical eye when he did arrive; but by golly I’d sell every material possession I own, and quite possibly throw in my soul too, to ensure he stays in N17 long into the future.

Three rousing cheers for Vicario then, and an additional yip thrown in for Hojbjerg too. I’m yet to be convinced that he’s really the man for Ange-Ball, but if ever there were a situation for which he most certainly is the man it’s when the team is down to nine-men. I half-expect his eyes lit up when the red cards were flashed. Hojbjerg scowled and tackled and crunched his way through proceedings, clearing one shot off the line and generally giving the impression that he was born to play in this particular match.

It’s just a shame we couldn’t quite hold out; and then, having failed to hold out, couldn’t quite nab the equaliser, before Chelsea finally worked out how to beat the world’s most obvious offside trap.

But by golly, if one is going to lose one might as well as go down swinging, and I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed such game, determined and entertaining swinging as that. We could all have done without the final three or so minutes of injury-time and what was contained therein; and I know that to admit enjoying a Spurs defeat is one of those cardinal sins for which one is expected to make a grovelling apology on some social media nonsense; and if we entertain while getting stuffed every week then I’ll have a pretty solid rethink.

But this was, yet again, just thoroughly entertaining stuff, the sort of fare I could happily gobble down for an hour and a half every week for the rest of my days. As you’re no doubt aware, the AANP blog began on a wave of still-flowing adrenaline the morning after our 4-4 draw at The Emirates, and last night’s adventure was two hours of the same madcap nonsense. Long may it continue.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Fulham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg

Evidence of the last couple of months suggests that, even though obliged to change his preferred XI by the rules and regulations, Ange did so only with the greatest reluctance, and likely a decent slab of harrumphing. But there we were, Bissouma’s previous follies meaning that Hojbjerg received a promotion, and at AANP Towers we rubbed an ever-so-slightly nervous chin before the curtain went up.

Anyone expecting Hojbjerg simply to get his head down and mimic the every shoulder-drop and forward burst of Bissouma would, of course, have been misreading the situation pretty drastically. Messrs P-E.H. and Y.B. are radically different beasts. Mercifully, however, if one could have drawn up a list beforehand of the preferred fixtures in which to replace the buzz and drive of Bissouma with the stasis and arm-flapping of Hojbjerg, I think a home date with Fulham might well have been pretty high up the list.

And frankly, it proved as gentle a stroll as hoped. In fact, in those opening ten minutes it appeared that we might not need Hojbjerg at all. As against Luton last time out, we had much of the runaway train about our work in last night’s opening scenes, running rings around our opponents and without too much need for the deeper-lying folk. This seemed to owe much to our pressing (which was mightily impressive throughout, strangling the life out of Fulham in their own half, bringing about both goals and generally compensating for a fair amount of sloppiness in the second half).

Back to Hojbjerg, and to his credit he did the various odd-jobs asked of him with pretty minimal fuss. The setup seemed to require him to fill in around various unglamorous locations towards the rear, but Hojbjerg being one of those curious eggs whose take on life is that the grubbier the task the better, this turned out to be a pretty convenient marriage. Fulham tried to clear to halfway, and Hojbjerg stepped up to snuffle it out; our heroes were forced to poke the ball backwards for a moment, and Hojbjerg availed himself to receive and re-distribute; and for good measure, when we threatened to become irresponsibly blasé about a one-goal lead, Hojbjerg was there to win possession high up the pitch and set up Sonny to set up Maddison for our second.

On the debit side, he did pick up an unnecessary and slightly odd booking, for opting to lunge at a Fulham body, changing his mind about matters fairly swiftly but finding that the laws of physics prevented him from effecting any alteration, and having simply to skid irresistibly about ten yards along the turf until he ploughed into his man; but then on the credit side he also played one of the passes of the season, about midway through the first half, reversing matters from left to right in a Harry Kane sort of way; so all told it was a perfectly acceptable night’s work.

Not a performance to win him any awards, nor to earn him a starting spot when Bissouma returns; but he did not look miles off the pace nor appear visibly out of sync when stepping into a unit that has been tightly-knit without him for 8 games, so he probably merits a nod of acknowledgement.   

2. Udogie

Never mind the miracles Big Ange has worked for our lot – his decision to hook young Master Udogie before we hit the 60-minute mark has left a pretty sickly hue over my fantasy team, so I’ll be demanding a full explanation at our next tete-a-tete.

I don’t know about you, but Udogie – or rather the positions and instructions Udogie is given – make my mind boggle like nobody’s business. It’s one of those awkward situations in which the more one tries to understand the thing the more complicated it all seems to become.

What I’m getting at is where the devil does he actually play? Convention would dictate ‘left-back’; the achingly fashionable amongst us call it ‘inverted full-back’; but watching the match unfold he seemed to decide that it was open season anywhere on the left, and if he had to slap a hand on the Bible and absolutely swear under oath he’d announce that an attacking midfield role, ever-so-slightly left of centre, was the spot for him. And since everyone around him was too polite or too consumed with their own affairs to correct him, there he stayed.

In the interests of accuracy, I probably ought to acknowledge that when we were out of possession he did trot back to an old-fashion left-back spot. In general, however, I cast a beady eye, spotted him a-wandering and duly scratched my head.

Anyway, whatever the hell you want to call his role, he did it pretty well, at least in an attacking sense. Maddison, as ever, was the brains of the operation, but I derived a fair amount of enjoyment in seeing Fulham simply unable to cope with the mere presence of Udogie as an additional forward body, adding to the numbers and generally making a nuisance of himself in between Richarlison and Son.

Out on the other side, Porro seemed more inclined to obey the rules of convention and hover within spitting distance of the touchline, generally limiting himself to one or two visits to the opposition area; but Udogie appears constantly to be one well-timed burst away from being our second striker.

As is often the case with these things, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when Udogie was removed I thought we missed him somewhat. Emerson Royal, being a barmy sort, gave his own, rather madcap interpretation of the role, and with the entire collective being not quite at the races in the second half, the quality dipped notably.

So while I don’t pretend to understand his precise purpose, with each game I enjoy more and more the input from young Udogie, and hope that his early retirement last night was merely precautionary.

3. Romero

Not for the first time, some occasionally breathtaking football did not quite produce the rich harvest one would have hoped, and with only one first half goal to show for our efforts, those in the rear needed to pay a dashed sight more attention than one would have thought necessary.

At this point one could easily have gazed into the mid-distance, painted vivid images in the mind’s eye of Van de Ven neatly defusing bombs and extinguishing fires – and perfectly weighting passes that led directly to our opener, come to think of it – and purred appropriately at the chap for his highly impressive Jan Vertonghen Tribute Act.

But instead the AANP eye was drawn more towards the other side of central defence, where young Romero was busily plotting a flawless course through the night. Whenever Fulham broke down our right – and it seemed to happen far too often for my liking, considering the one-sided nature of proceedings – we seemed rather taken by surprise, as if such an eventuality simply hadn’t figured in all the pre-match planning. It was all a little too easy for Fulham to use that route to get within shooting distance. Where Senor Porro was in all this I’m not too sure, but happily the 2023/24 version of Cristian Romero has such matters well in hand.

On several occasions Romero popped up in precisely the spot in which trouble appeared about to befall, and for good measure, rather than simply blooting the ball to kingdom come, he typically had the presence of mind to make good use of it, either with a calming pass sideways, or, occasionally, with a gallop up the pitch.

As the game wore on and all in lilywhite cared less and less, Romero was called upon to do more than just intercept loose balls in his own area, increasingly being called upon to sprint back towards his own goal and put a lid on any looming trouble.

Much has been made of the calmer and wiser Romero, who this season thinks before hacking to pieces an opponent, but even with this new thoughtful head atop his shoulders, he still took every opportunity to put a bit of meaning into his tackles, going to ground and caring little if he upset the surrounding furniture.

As mentioned, Van de Ven did everything asked of him on the left, but I did particularly enjoy Romero’s bad-cop routine on the right.

4. Vicario

I trust that when Signor Vicario dived beneath the duvet and started totting up sheep last night, he was able to reflect on a pretty satisfactory day’s work for the employer. So far this season the young bean has attracted plaudits as much for his contributions to penalty area keep-ball as anything else, but last night he was called upon on a couple of occasions to lend a hand in the more traditional sense, and he did so in mightily impressive fashion.

It was the first half save that really caught the eye. A full-length extension, to a headed effort that for all the world looked already to be nestling in the net, was not to be sniffed at. Moreover, this came when the score was still 0-0, and when, although our lot were dominant, it was not yet clear that Fulham would be quite as bad as they were. It was worth a goal, and young Master V. ought to be serenaded appropriately for his efforts.

He had to make a couple more sharp-ish stops towards the end of things too, at that point at which a pact seemed to have been agreed by all concerned that 2-0 it would be, yet Fulham sneakily tried to score anyway. These later saves were a dash more straightforward, the ball being leathered pretty much straight at his frame, but I can think of former members of the parish who might have made a pig’s ear of them. They needed saving; and save them Vicario did.

Ironically enough, for one whose major contribution to date has been his confidence and capability with ball at feet, Vicario actually dropped something of a clanger in precisely that field in the first half, gifting possession to some Fulham sort inside our own area. Luckily enough, one of the main principles of the day – that Fulham were dreadful from root to stem – was swiftly reinforced, and they made little of the moment, but I thought it was a pleasing indication of quite how much Vicario has already banked that none in the galleries reacted with any opprobrium towards him.

5. A Below-Par Second Half

By my reckoning we ought to have been about 6-2 up at half-time, but instead had to make do with just the one – which would have been reasonable enough had we begun the second half with the same vim and vigour as that with which we ended the first.

Alas, our lot appeared to have tucked into sizeable portions of pasta at half-time, quite possibly washed down with an ale or two, because the sluggish second half approach was very much that of a troupe who felt their night’s serious business was done, and were content to pay only the loosest attention to proceedings for the remainder, seemingly adopting the view that any matters of precision and accuracy would take care of themselves.

Against anyone else this might have been a problem. Mercifully, Fulham – and in particular that lad Bassey, at the back – appeared to be Spurs fans at heart, and did their best to ensure a smooth passage to victory for us, both in spurning an alarming number of late chances but also, crucially, in gifting us a second goal to wrap things up, just when it seemed that we were starting to lose control of things.

How our heroes might have coped with the late concession of a goal, bringing the score back to 2-1, will forever remain unknown, but AANP certainly ground a displeased tooth as that second half unfolded. One would hope that the careless attitude was a product of the circumstance – a poor opponent; the sense that we could go up a gear or two if needed; the fixture list throwing up another joust on Friday night – but I would much rather have seen us roll up sleeves, apply boot to neck and see off the thing a little more professionally.

Still, it ended up being a mightily comfortable win, and with the Title now practically sewn up, the only question left at AANP Towers is whether we will bag the FA Cup as well.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Liverpool: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Spursy

Another day, another winner in the final minute of added time, and an interested onlooker might observe that our heroes are beginning to make a habit of this.

There are worse habits of course, and I suppose if one could guarantee that come the 98th or so minute our troops would always scuttle off to form a messy human pyramid in some corner of the South Stand, then I’d be all for it.

There is of course a snag here, for it is a bit rich to expect that every huff-and-puff from minute 70 onwards will result in the triumphant last-minute gallop of all on the bench over to the corner flag.

Against Sheff Utd a couple of weeks back, it was to the credit of our troops that they just about adhered to The Plan. No gormless lumping off the ball into orbit, they instead stuck religiously to the diet of short sideways passing, all fully signed up to the notion that Ange-Ball would deliver. Admittedly it took a Perisic corner of pretty much celestial quality to get the equaliser, but the winner when it came was pure, distilled Ange-Ball – from the moment Udogie managed to pilfer possession high up the pitch by first invading the opponent’s personal space and then completely engulfing him, to the quick series of passes that set up Kulusevski.

It was a triumph for a good half hour of patient adherence to His Master’s Voice. Yesterday, however, that half hour dedicated to Huffing, Puffing and Blowing the House Down did not really come across as particularly intelligently spent.

For a start, one of the key principles of Ange-Ball is that whatever great idea is being hatched, it is hatched at breakneck pace. The art of dithering is unwelcome. If, through some sequence of events, the ball ends up at your feet, the only real requirement is that whatever you do next you do it quickly. A lilywhite receiveth and that same lilywhite shoveth on pronto, about sums it up.

But yesterday, once Liverpool were down to nine, a trend arose for whomever was in possession to clear their throat, stare off into the mid-distance and take an absolute eternity to get on with things. It was not at all in keeping with what has gone before this season, and it hindered rather than helped the operation yesterday.

Another oddity was this business of trying to pick a path through the mightily congested central areas. Once down to 9 Liverpool understandably enough crowded both central defence and central midfield, which I would have thought would have been a cue for our lot to maximise the width and stretch them out a bit. But whether by accident or design, this notion seemed to be well down the list of priorities, the principle of just standing around and taking a bit too long evidently deemed far more important than hugging the touchline and dragging opponents out of position.

Personally, I’m also rather a fan of getting to the byline and firing the ball across the face of goal, this having the advantage of turning defenders to face their own goal and giving them a fresh quandary to chew over. Again, it was not an option that our lot really explored until the final minute, when it ultimately brought about the own goal. This is not to suggest that the principle will succeed infallibly and in all instances, but rather that a spot of variety might have been nice, after the umpteenth attempt to pick a path through the centre came up short.

Anyway, it all worked out swimmingly, and while in future I think we’d all rather such issues were wrapped up with time for cocktails and cigars, that we somehow find ways to win these things is in itself worth a tip of the cap. Not so long ago – about five months ago in fact – going one down at home to Sheff Utd with half an hour to play would have been a bit of a death rattle. Similarly, hammering away at a locked door against nine men would not only have ended with us drawing a blank but may well have seen us somehow contrive to concede some nonsense on the counter-attack in the dying seconds.

In these nascent moments of The Ange Revolution, there’s a very different air about the place. Early days and all that, but there appear to be forces afoot, that would have it that our lot do not simply collapse like a pack of particularly brittle cards at the first whiff of trouble, but hang about a bit, even daring occasionally to find a way.

Yesterday’s was arguably our least impressive performance of the season – not too bad when 11 vs 10, with Liverpool seeming to regard the removal of one of their number as little more than a flesh-wound, and continuing to attack, thereby feeding into our approach neatly enough – but pretty grim viewing when 11 vs 9. And yet, our lot found a way. As impressive as the flashy one-touch stuff is from Maddison and Bissouma et al, when we go flying up the pitch with sparkle and jazz, this ability to stay in the fight and just linger, giving ourselves a sniff even as the clock ticks past 90, represents a touch of steel that I don’t remember existing in too many of the previous iterations.

2. Red Cards and VAR and Whatnot

If you’ve stopped off at this corner of the interweb before you’ll know that ever since the youthful AANP had the temerity to suggest that the referee was wrong, and received a pretty meaningful clip around the ear for his troubles from the unforgiving AANP Senior, the motto around these parts has been that the referee is always right, and there ends the narrative.

This was the case last week, when Romero found that an unfortunate by-product of owning arms is that they will exist in time and space, and even if there is nowhere to pop them short of detaching them then handball will still be called; was the case during the Champions League Final when the ball hit Sissoko’s armpit and the ref decided that was plenty; was the case back in April when Jota studded Skipp in the head and then popped up to score the last-minute winner; and was indeed the case yesterday when Udogie won the ball but was penalised for a foul from which Liverpool scored their equaliser. One takes rough; one takes smooth; and one stiffens the upper lip and accepts the referee’s call.

The fact that Luis Diaz’s strike was so obviously onside, and that the VAR mob actually agreed it was onside but failed to clock that it had been disallowed in the first place, is therefore mightily unfortunate for all concerned of Liverpudlian persuasion, but absolutely gut-burstingly hilarious to this particular observer. AANP Towers pretty much rocked to its foundations to the sounds of howls of laughter from within. Every team has its own sizeable portfolio of hard-luck VAR stories – the Good Ship Hotspur as much as any other – and none generally receives much sympathy from without.

So if you have pottered along expecting leaders from different political and religious spheres, lined up with heads bowed and pretty sombre expressions all round, I’m afraid you’re bang out of luck. Nothing but uncontrollable mirth around here, and the snatching of whatever goodies are being doled out. Goodness knows we’ll fall foul of VAR again soon enough, so tonight we make merry.

As for the red cards, I suspect you’ve picked up the general tone by now. Again, a bit of a motto amongst the AANP clan through the ages – more typically aimed at our own block-heads than those in opposing colours – is simply to avoid giving the referee the option. Which is to say that if young Master Jones had not applied his studs to the lower leg vicinity of Bissouma, none of the referee or the VAR mob or anyone else would have got involved.

3. Vicario

In games such as these, when the last half hour is played pretty exclusively in the opposition half, it is easy enough to forget that the resident Last Line of Defence is even still pottering about in the vicinity.

But back in the first half, when the game was still a contest, at both 11 vs 11 and 11 vs 10, young Signor Vicario, not for the first time, was quietly going about doing all the necessaries. Actually, not that quietly, as the chap seems to be one of those slightly bonkers sorts who thinks that each of life’s daily achievements, from boiling an egg to crossing a road, is worthy of a pretty passionate scream of delight. Young people, what?

Anyway, nothing attracts the eye to a goalkeeper like an action-packed save or two, and when Liverpool were slicing straight into the heart of our penalty area with a bit too much ease, I was mightily grateful that we had Vicario stationed in the hotseat rather than veteran iteration of his predecessor.

Vicario’s double-save from Gakpo and then Robertson was pretty Hollywood stuff. One might flounce a bit and counter that both shots were essentially straight at him, and it would be a good point well made; but what attracted the AANP eye was that having repelled the Gakpo effort he understandably found that the aftermath had left him prostrate, and with limbs ill-assembled. Lesser men might have sought a moment to re-combobulate – reassess the bearings, check that all appendages remained in working order, that sort of thing.

Vicario was mercifully alert to the fact that there was no real time for such surveying of surroundings and drinking in of circumstances. Actually, it was a mindset he might usefully have passed onto his outfield chums later in the piece, but the point is that having made his save and hit the floor, he saw the value in immediately springing back to his feet in order bat away the damnedest that Robertson could fire at him.

Simply to hone in on his shot-stopping does a pretty major disservice to Vicario, for the transformation from defensive dullards to Ange-Ball entertainers owes much to the chap’s calmness and capability with ball at feet, in playing out against the opposition press. But nevertheless, his saves were pretty vital. It was a tight old game throughout, and in recent seasons we have not been able to rely upon our goalkeeper to pull off the point-blank stuff.

4. Richarlison

A strange old fish, Richarlison. One of those for whom a pretty persuasive argument could be made either way, if you get my drift.

One might point to his stats, and his goals output, and missed chances and offsides and various other rotten tomatoes and conclude that he’s not quite the bean for the job.

But yesterday, having been told to shove off to the left and make some lemonade, he seemed to cause a decent dollop of bother to those in his path. More so when out left than when stationed centrally in fact, although mitigating circumstances abounded here, not least that Liverpool switched to three centre-backs at the point, thereby pretty much depriving the poor chap of even the occasional bubble of oxygen.

But in the first half in particular, when out on the left, I thought Richarlison ran a pretty honest race. He buzzed around, linked with Udogie and took every opportunity to pop onto a plate goalscoring opportunities for those stationed in more easterly outposts. That early ball he whipped across the area was a good example, he seemingly defying physics by angling the thing back into the centre of the goal at a point when he was running off in the opposite direction. In fact the fist he made it of it was so surprisingly impressive that not a single dashed chum had anticipated it, and what ought to have been a tap-in from about five yards instead just whistled across N17.

He also hit the post at one point, which seems to sum up the way life is treating the poor chap at present, but when it came to picking out Sonny for our opener he nailed it. Maddison deserves the loudest ovation for that one actually, the weight and direction of his pass executed so as to take out approximately 8 Liverpool players in one go, but Richarlison got the memo and ensured that Sonny was left with little more to do than pop the thing into the empty net.

As mentioned, and in common with all his teammates, his well ran dry in the second half as the whole operation ground to a halt somewhat, but in a tough old fixture he made himself a nuisance, and where a few weeks ago there might have been doubts and question marks around his name, he now seems a viable option in the starting XI.

So in the space of seven days, our heroes have faced a couple of the bigger hitters, and emerged in decent shape. The draw last week was impressive for various reasons – a draw in a fixture we normally lose comfortably; twice coming from behind; looking as likely to win as the other lot, away from home – while yesterday’s was something of an oddity, in which we went toe-to-toe when 11 vs 11 and 11 vs 10, but badly lost our way when 11 vs 9 and somehow still found a win. A run of winnable fixtures loometh, but these last two games alone suggest that the current vintage is much improved on the previous few incarnations.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Man Utd: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sarr

Not to be uncharitable to Oliver Skipp – as honest a bean as ever trod the hallowed turf – but when tasked with recalling his contribution to last week’s affair I drew a blank for an uncomfortably long time, before a single word floated to mind: ‘nondescript’.  

The news that young Master Sarr had inherited his berth for this one was therefore met with a raised eyebrow of intrigue in this neck of the woods. Certainly, the mood around these (and, as I understand, many other) parts had been that while Bissouma and Maddison were doing all their respective necessaries, and with flying colours, a job opening was presenting itself for the final part of that midfield triumvirate. Mid-game (last weekend) there had been a few understandable yelps for Lo Celso; give it a few months and the knees will weaken considerably when Bentancur bobs back into view; but I was as curious as the next fellow to see what Sarr might bring.

And to his credit, the young egg brought a decent-sized sackful of the good stuff. Admittedly in the first half hour or so he seemed to be peddling an Oliver Skipp impression – working hard but to little great effect – but for this he could be excused, as Bissouma aside, not too many in lilywhite were having the game of their lives.

Thereafter, however, seemingly struck by the realisation that this stage was actually a pretty good fit for him, he began belting out a few greatest hits. Tackles were won (and as often as not with a spot of additional biff, for meaning), and crisp passes were passed, which meant that he fitted right in with the happy campers all sides of him. That aforementioned triumvirate had a pretty balanced look to it, which might sound like a rather dreary physics experiment but is actually intended as a compliment of the highest order. To Bissouma’s all-action defence-to-attack dribbling, and Maddison’s creativity, one could add decent wedges of energy and intelligence from Sarr.

On top of which he made a difficult finish look pea-shellingly easy. Having already dipped into that well of energy and intelligence to Platt/Scholes/Dele his way into the penalty area at just the right moment, he then managed to keep under control a ball that was both bobbling and moving away from him. Lashed into the net it might have been, but as he swung back the appropriate limb in preparation for his shot, the AANP mortgage was on the ball sailing off into the gods.

Big Ange still seems to be in Test Mode when it comes to identifying the right fit for the starting eleven, but P-M Sarr’s struck me as one heck of an audition for the coming 36 games.

2. Bissouma

As mentioned, however, it was Bissouma and Maddison who again elevated the thing.

Some may have cleared the throat with a spot of indignation at the comparisons to Mousa Dembele being tossed about the place when it comes to Yves Bissouma, but if a fellow is going to collect the ball from his own defenders and then glide past an endless stream of opposing midfielders with little more than a spot of upper-body misdirection, then what else is there to do but draw precisely such comparisons?

A common lament echoing around the walls of AANP Towers last season was that none amongst our midfield number seemed either confident or capable of collecting the ball under pressure, much less shielding it and turning with it and finding nearby chums and whatnot. Close the eyes, and it is not too difficult to conjure up an image of a Skipp, Hojbjerg, Winks or whomever facing their own goal and being bundled out of possession, ensuing catastrophe not far behind.

Bissouma, however, is a different and vastly preferable kettle of fish. Whether receiving the ball just inside his own area or just outside the opposition’s, he seems to exhibit a pretty minimal level of concern either way, and just gets on with the business of dipping a shoulder and easing his way around swinging opposition limbs. It is an absolute joy to behold. Presumably there will come times when this approach backfires and Bissouma comes to look something of a chump, but frankly he is already amassing a decent wodge of credit in the bank.

The newly-signed misfit of last season is unrecognisable. If he really were unable to master Conte’s tactics, then I rather scorn the tactics and the man who oversaw them, because Bissouma has twice in a week looked comfortably the best player on the pitch.

3. Maddison


And Maddison was not far behind him. At times in the first half, and then regularly in the second, he seemed to delight in first demanding the ball and then strutting around with the thing once it had been sent his way.

Nor was it just for show. Be it a pass or a dribble, Maddison seemed pretty adept at picking an option that caused a fair amount of consternation – or blind panic – amongst the United bods. He may not have scored or created a goal today, but his contribution was considerable, not least in that glorious period after half-time when our heroes really had the other lot against the ropes and gave them a good old-fashioned pummelling.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Maddison share a midfield with one Christian Eriksen, the last creative spark to bound about the place. A regular grumble about the latter was that he was a bit too polite about things when in lilywhite, happy to let others grab the mic as it were, while he sidled off into the background.

By contrast, Maddison seems always to be popping up about the place demanding to be involved. I suppose strictly speaking his official position is on the left-ish side of the centre, but the net result seems to be that if the ball is in play then he is merrily bobbing towards it, happy to take on the responsibility of pulling a few of the key strings.

4. Porro

Not that it was all a bed of roses in midfield. As well as Sarr, the other tweak from last week’s line-up was Porro for Emerson, in that right-back-cum-who-the-hell-knows role. It was not Master P.P.’s finest hour and a half. That whole collect-the-ball-on-the-half-turn-outside-one’s-own-area gambit may look a whizz when Yves Bissouma casually unveils it, but Porro’s attempts were rather more on the ham-fisted side of things. Whether it was lack of technique, lack of awareness or lack of eyes in the back of his head, it soon became evident that popping the ball to Porro outside our area was a manoeuvre absolutely dripping in risk.

In truth I felt rather sorry for the young nib. I mean, there he was brought to these shores under the beady eye of one chappie, who then exploded in rage and biffed off, to be replaced by another chappie with vastly different ideas about the way of things. Because lest we forget, Porro was beginning to demonstrate himself to be one of the better wing-backs about the place. Play a vaguely conventional system, and ask him to bomb up the right flank, and he’s your man. Be it crosses, cute passes or pretty lethal finishing, his final third armoury was well-stocked.

And instead, he’s now being asked to tuck inside and spend a goodish amount of time pretending to be three-fifths of a defensive midfielder. As with Emerson last week, he seems to be a fairly capable square peg being asked to rearrange the features in order to squeeze into a round hole. Porro, like Emerson, is pretty decent at what he does best, but this system seems to ask him to do something rather different.

5. Vicario

A successful afternoon’s work for young Signor Vicario. Opinions ranged a bit last week – I was rather taken by his calmness on the ball; others seemed to resent being driven to the brink of coronary failure by it – but this time around we can probably agree that, like or loathe the approach, he did not put too many feet wrong.

His presence certainly adds a pretty natty line of operation to our defensive setup. Whereas in the days of Lloris, on seeing our lot attempt to play out from the back the anthem on the AANP lips was typically some variant of “Just clear the bally thing, dash it,” nowadays I watch on with a curiosity bordering on admiration.

Vicario seems awfully comfortable in possession. Heck, I rather fancy that if necessary he could do a better job than Porro in that spot just outside the penalty area. Well maybe not, but you get the gist. Picking a pass from within the six-yard box seems to be just another unspectacular part of the day-job for the fellow. This brave new era will certainly take a bit of getting used to, but having a goalkeeper as available for a spot of keep-ball as any of the outfield mob certainly makes things a few notches easier.

Vicario also had a handful of saves to make, many of which were straight down his gullet, but one or two of which involved a spot of the old spring-heeled action. And again, say what you want about the aesthetics of it all, but he did precisely what was required in each instance. For all the leaping around in the latter stages, I personally thought that his low block in the early moments, when dashing off his line to face Rashford, was the pick of the bunch.

Still too early to opine wisely either way, but this at least was reassuring stuff.

6. Ange-Ball

So another day, and another triumph for Ange-Ball. Not just in terms of the result, but very much in terms of the performance too. As with last week, and the various pre-season jaunts, this was something that brought the joy back to watching our lot.

The usual caveats apply – we might have been well behind before we really got the hang of the thing; the whizzy football was produced in fits and starts; Richarlison still seems to be playing the wrong sport – but this was often marvellous stuff to take in.

Worth bearing in mind too that we are, in patches, purring away after only about six or seven weeks of the new regime. The draw last week was against a side that has had a settled and organised way of doing things for a season; the win today against a Top Four team whose manager has been in situ for over a year. Frankly, the thought of where our lot might be after a year of Ange makes me rather giddy.

Oddly enough, one of the moments that really left its mark over in this corner of the interweb came from the size nines of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, a chap who has generally been shovelled well off into the background since Our Glorious Leader came rumbling into view (to the extent that this might have been his final appearance in lilywhite, Atletico-infused rumours doing the rounds).

In the dying embers, Hojbjerg, having been brought on to wise-old-head the game to its conclusion, popped up in a right-back sort of spot – and I mean a conventional right-back spot, rather than the new-fangled midfield-ish one. From out of nowhere, Hojbjerg produced a rather thrilling turn to leave his man groping at thin air, and for a moment he seemed to be away. The pitch opened up ahead of him; momentum suddenly shifted onto the front-foot; that opponent was still groping away in the wrong direction. Opportunity knocked.

But Hojbjerg, being Hojbjerg, responded to this new and exciting possibility by picking the option that I suppose made him so undroppable under Jose and Conte, and put his foot on the ball before spinning around and passing the damn thing backwards. And one understands – the game was almost won and the lead well established, so playing it safe would bring its reward.

But the whole episode jarred rather, precisely because it was so out of keeping with the 180 minutes of Ange-Ball we have witnessed to date. This current Tottenham vintage turns its man and doesn’t look back, but puts its head down and races forward, or at the very least pings off a pass in a northerly direction for some well-intentioned colleague to do the racing forward instead. Watching Hojbjerg default to safety-first seemed to ram home the fact that he was one of the last of the old era, while all around him were Bissoumas and Maddisons and the like, for whom receiving the ball was basically a prompt to go wandering off on the attack.

All a rather long-winded way of saying that this newly-adopted style is absolutely ripping stuff, nascent and rough around the edges though it might be, and I for one cannot wait for the next instalment.