All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Spurs Summer Musings – Paulinho, Hudd & New Blue Socks

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

Paulinho (and Indeed Dembele)

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

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

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

Hudd

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

Blue Socks

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

Spurs 3-1 Man City: The Incredible Hudd (& Other Superheroes)

Quite the 80th birthday present for AANP Senior. Is there a more joyous sight to behold in nature than a tide of adrenalin-pumped lilywhites pouring forward in wave after wave of irresistible attack at a sun-baked White Hart Lane?  A spritely cheetah catching a young upstart of a gazelle and tearing it to pieces perhaps? That scene in Terminator 2 when Arnie shoots the padlock while riding his bike, then reloads seamlessly by twirling the shotgun around in his hand, and shooting another padlock? All worthy of a moment’s silent admiration, and reason if ever it existed to top up the tumbler with a fresh splash of bourbon in a gesture of unadulterated admiration – but by golly the sight of our heroes simply overwhelming the current champions in that mesmerising final 20 minutes, to the soundtrack of the most remarkable White Hart Lane din, was enough to make me smash a bottle of champagne against the side of the nearest ship, so rip-roaring were the events unfolding.

All of which came about, incredibly enough, after a dispiriting hour in which the dream looked set to die. The willingness of our heroes could not be faulted, but in the early stages ‘twas eerily reminiscent of many a Saturday evening in the nightspots of London, when AANP has attempted to woo the good womenfolk of London by delivering a ten-minute stream of unfunny bluster, before a rival cad strolls by to instantly sweep the young maiden off her feet with little more than an arched eyebrow. Thus was our valiant but slightly desperate gameplan of headless chickenry swiftly punctuated by one effortless flash of genius from Tevez, and lo – we trailed.

The pattern changed little thereafter, our attacking trio of Dempsey, Bale and Sigurdsson conspicuously lacking the nous of a Tevez, while ahead of them Adebayor gave a glimpse of a dystopian future in which teams play without a striker.

AVB’s Moment of Glory

But enter stage left the sort of managerial jiggery-pokery so barnstorming it can shoot pterodactyls out of the sky whilst blindfolded. While here at AANP Towers the suggested solution was nothing more progressive than a plaintive whinge about swapping strikers, AVB turned the universe on its head by switching from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, and unleashing the Hudd. Memories of the introduction of Jamie Redknapp at half-time in the Euro 96 England-Scotland match no doubt came flooding back to the lot of us, as Hudd instantly brought with him the perfect polygamous marriage of calmness, vision, technique and hair, giving us complete control and a nifty selection of dreamy, defence-splitting passes. The lad looked like he owned the ruddy pitch, and with Holtby buzzing around like a demented wasp ahead of him, Bale flicking the ‘Magic ’ switch on his left boot and Defoe showing the sort of bloody-minded eye for goal that Adebayor would not know if it slapped him in the face with a wet fish, all pretty swiftly became right with the world.

This does create a wonderful few conundra for AVB, around whether to select Defoe or Adebayor next up (relatively straightforward methinks); and whether to go with the brand of sorcery that Hudd delivers a little too effortlessly, within a 4-3-3, or the tireless but slightly directionless pirouetting of Parker, in a 4-2-3-1 (perchance more of a poser). These are queries for another day; now is without doubt still the time for making merry and, frankly, rubbing our eyes in disbelief. Where on earth it came from is slightly mystifying, but our heroes have got their groove back, and it was rollicking stuff.

Basel 2-2 Spurs: The True Villain Of The Piece Unmasked…

With curses duly bestowed to the interweb for breaking yesterday, preventing this from being a more timely posting…true villain of the piece as… Vertonghen! Except that that is not a particularly fashionable line of social media punditry to adopt, so dedicated truth-hounds that we are, an even closer inspection reveals that Vertonghen only had to make his challenge because possession was conceded when Daws chugged forward and mis-controlled straight to a Basel player, who played his pass into the gap vacated, leaving Vertonghen to cover. Which means that the actual villain of the piece can be unmasked as… Dawson! But that really would not be cricket, because the blighter was… what’s the phrase we used to use for Sol Campbell before we learnt to hate…? Colossus! Dawson was a colossus, becoming increasingly colossus-esque with each passing minute, so no blame there. (Apart from several madcap lunges in the first-half over which Basel forwards nonchalantly skipped.) And besides, going back to the red card, if one were to don the monocle and look closely at the replay it appears that Vertonghen did actually nick the ball. So perhaps it ought not to have been a red card, which means that the villain, inevitably, is… the ref! On top of which, the corner from which Basel scored their second mighty well looked like it should not have been awarded, having touched a home player last. Which points to the real villain being… the extra official who semi-squats on the goal-line and intensely stares at the action three yards away from him before looking up at the ref with a blank expression! Oh dash it all, let’s just blame Adebayor, it’s far easier.

I suppose Adebayor most conveniently matches the e-fit of “Dastardly Scapegoat” that was issued almost as soon as the deed was done on Thursday night – and he certainly made a complete pig’s ear of the penalty, but in the occasional moments of sanguinity that have interrupted the otherwise non-stop grump at AANP Towers since then, it has seemed reasonable to attribute both praise and opprobrium where appropriate.

In which spirit – yes, ‘twas a wretched penalty, but rather than hanging on for penalties with last-ditch blocks, cramping limbs and a couple of players appearing to need chest compression before they could get back on their feet, we might have continued with that momentum we gained after our second goal, and gone into extra-time on the front-foot with a realistic chance of scoring a third – and potentially decisive – away goal. That we lost this momentum is nothing to do with Adebayor, but due to the sending-off… which means that in the finest tradition of Scooby-Doo we can unmask the

Elsewhere On The Pitch

Frankly there is little inclination around these parts to do much else than sift half-heartedly through the wreckage and zip up a few body-bags, rather like in the post-climax scene in Terminator. Or indeed Alien 3. As against Everton last weekend there was a fair amount of controlled possession, but a distinct dearth of By-Jiminy-That-Has-Carved-Them-Open incisive passing from our lot. The ball was regularly shipped sideways, but with right-footers on the left flank and no natural right winger on the right (try babbling that after a few good bourbons), crosses into the box were at a premium. Which was rather a shame, as we looked to have the beating of them in the air. Dembele was a little off-kilter, but by golly Messrs Dempsey, Sigurdsson and Holtby pounded the treadmill, and Carroll made some useful little contributions, albeit without exactly bossing things. Whether or not Hudd might have become an influential midfield figure in extra-time we will never know, the re-jig forcing him back into defence, and ‘tis a blinking shame, because having created our second there was just a suspicion that he might have grown in influence.

 

Oh well. If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly. Except this being Spurs, it were done in excruciatingly long-drawn out and agonising fashion, with the not entirely salubrious side-effects of sapping the beans out of half of our squad and occasionally costing us Sunday points. All things considered however, I am actually rather glad for this season’s European jaunt, for as a long-term exercise it has its benefits (familiarity with the AVB way; experience gained of how to handle these nights; some impressive never-say-die Henry V stuff) and the nights themselves have thrown up more enjoyment than when done by the ‘Arry drill. Just an opinion, I hardly expect universal concurrence. days off then. Use them well.

Ten

Spurs – Everton Preview: Quite the Test for AVB

No Bale. No Lennon. And just in time for the most crucial multipack of fixtures of the season. Maybe Skynet did win after all.

‘Tis a test that ought to put some hair on the AVB chest. For all the huffing, puffing and neat technique, if our heroes are not scything teams open through nifty interplay and a killer pass of the VDV mould – and these days it tends to be the exception rather than the norm – the default setting does seem to be to look to Bale to magic up a goal from nothing, on his own. Time for AVB to stun the watching world, and Everton, with the mother of all Plan Bs.

On top of which, the absence of Lennon stirs some eminently forgettable memories of our lot taking to the field in lopsided manner and promptly turning a 12-game unbeaten run into a three-match losing streak. Presumably rather than the ill-advised solution of sticking Dembele onto the right wing again, the plan this time will be to muddle Messrs Sigurdsson, Dempsey and Holtby around the left, right and central positions, while letting Dembele run operations from the centre.

Elsewhere, Adebayor’s reign as Lilywhite Enemy Number One is reinforced by the game, with the usual array of mis-controls and air-kicks, but in truth I thought the blighter put the effort in on Thursday, his cause not helped by a lack of service. The defence at least ought to have a more solid look to it, with Lloris back and Gallas nowhere to be seen.

There really isno’t any margin for error now, especially with l’Arse churning out results, but Everton are themselves without a couple of key  players, and if our lot can rediscover the zippy passing groove that occasionally surfaces it will matter not that Bale or Lennon are not on hand. Fingers crossed.


Liverpool – Spurs Preview: Pilfering the Anfield Larder

Another day, another dickens of a lip-smacking fixture for the good ship Hotspur. Merrily enough, our heroes have spent the week positively sneering at the reputations dandily waved around by opponents who dare share the turf – in particular the reaction to the final whistle on Thursday, when a comprehensive battering of Inter elicited little more than a couple of back-slaps and a business-like march back to the changing rooms, suggests that standards have been raised in N17. Pilfering the Anfield larders is not necessarily high on the list of Traditionally Straightforward Premiership Jollies, but our heroes can certainly approach matters in a buoyant mood, for should they play anything like they did on Thursday the red mob will probably wander off in a huff at not being allowed even a touch of the ball. But alas, ‘tis a new day, and our foes are unlikely to roll over and request a playful tickle of their tummies, in the manner of Inter. A slippery prospect looms; such challenges have been met with several shades of aplomb in recent weeks.

Personnel

There is presumably a smidgeon of doubt around Aaron Lennon and his jazz-hands, so Sigurdsson-right and Holtby-left could be on the cards, which is far from being the worst amended line-up ever to traipse the greenery. Having oozed class as if afflicted by some puss-inducing malady in his last two outings at centre-back, Vertonghen would be well-advised to wring out every last drop of the stuff in preparation for an afternoon’s duelling with the multi-talented and renowned good egg Suarez. Dawson and Lloris will presumably return, and while Defoe attracted opprobrium in some quarters for the narrow-mindedness of his approach, his propensity for leathering the orb goalwards at every opportunity renders him the sort of foe to jolly well keep an opponent on his toes – and as such he seems a vastly preferable attacking option to Adebayor.

It seems safe to assume that a stern test awaits, but with our heroes now knee-deep in the tricky final slew of fixtures and faring well enough we can probably approach this one with cautious optimism.

Spurs 3-0 Inter: Oozing Marvellousness From Every Pore

He already has a few on the CV, but this ranks amongst AVB’s finest moments for sure, and was most certainly the finest performance. To date it has been effective and disciplined, but with off-the-ball movement, slick passing and Inter carved open at will, this was as marvellous as a fruity sorbet drizzled in champagne and served by that sultry young thing who appears at the very end of the Golddigger video.

You can jolly well stick into a hat, shake around, say a magic word and pick out at random the name of any one of a half-dozen lilywhites who purred their way through proceedings with the aplomb of a man twirling his cane with every step – Dembele, Parker, Sigurdsson, Walker, Lennon and Vertonghen all oozed lickety-split.

It started off perkily and progressed into a 90-minute highlights reel. The serenading of Lee Dixon; the manic second half 80-yard sprint between Bale, Lennon and Walker; Lennon’s cheeky nutmeg; the presence of a striker who dashed well wanted to score every time he even sniffed the ball within a 10-yard radius (for sure he might pick a pass from time to time, but he can reasonably be excused on the grounds that he is around a thousand times better than the Adebayor of recent weeks); and quite simply the fact that our heroes won every darned tackle going and passed so many triangles around Inter that they wanted to eat their own heads in frustration.

Of blots on the escutcheon there were but few. The caution for Bale – regrettably deserved (if rendered pleasantly redundant); the worrying disappearance of Lennon with sock rolled down; the egregious Vertonghen song. The resident pedant of AANP Towers is murmuring in the background that we might have had more than three, but this result, clean sheet and all, ought to be plenty, even without Bale. The tie should be safe, there is sufficient swagger to whisper about silverware in a couple of months – and a 3-0 floodlit win over Inter is the sort of result that could be polished, framed and hung rather splendidly amidst the family portraits.

Spurs 2-1 Arsenal: Still Smug

Whereas the pre-match optimism in this corner of the interweb had been based on the fact that our forward line knows a few more trade secrets than that other lot, and were therefore likelier to get the best of the half-dozen goals that seemed likely, winning a game of this magnitude on the strength of a superior defence did have me sipping the celebratory late-night bourbon in a rather thoughtful manner.

Truth be told, that first half may have been a triumph for scrumptiously-weighted passes into the path of onrushing lilywhite midfield types, but it was something of a disaster for the dubious art of high-line defending. Vertonghen stuck out a limb in timely manner on a couple of occasions in that first half, but the high line hardly looked watertight, for willing though they are, neither the Belgian nor Dawson are really blessed with the most searing bursts of pace. Still, l’Arse did not have the sense to play the right pass when opportunity presented itself in the first half, and in the second the whole business of high defensive lines was largely negated by our lot dropping deeper (albeit presumably by accident rather than design), the aforementioned centre-backs repelling everything with all the gusto of a couple of heroes from a big-budget Hollywood battle epic. Nerve-wracking it most certainly was, but barely a clear chance was actually fashioned at our goal.

One ought not to muse on proceedings without pausing to toast the two goals, for hilariously inept though the defending was, the passes from Sigurdsson and (oddly enough) Parker were enough to merit that a small gold star be ironed onto the sleeve of their shirts next time they take to the pitch. Amidst all the hullaballoo there has also been a tendency to overlook the quality of the two finishes, which is really just not cricket. Identical chances, taken in very different but equally expert styles – someone in a smartly-fitting suit ought to tap his glass and say a few words of tribute amidst a cloud of cigar smoke.

Elsewhere on the pitch it was hard-earned and mighty satisfying fare all round. (Almost all round, on reflection, for if you will excuse the slightly awkward clearing of throat it is difficult to ignore the fact that things perked up in the second half once Adebayor had been scraped from the turf and hauled away, with Defoe seemingly far more interested in applying himself to the day-job.) Our heroes may have segued seamlessly from perspiring elbow-greasers to care-free spring gambollers had one of those straightforward second half chances been popped in (quite what masterplan popped into the Sigurdsson cranium at the vital juncture is a poser), but in a curious way it was somehow more fun to see l’Arse toil so feverishly to no avail. So near, yet seven points afar. The heart bleeds for them.

Tedious points will presumably be made at this juncture about the remaining fixtures and last season and whatnot – for another time, please. Smug grins remain the order of the day.

West Ham 2-3 Spurs: To Unsung Heroes (And One Of More Heralded Ilk)

Stirring stuff. Not quite a game of two halves, but most certainly a game of a slightly moribund lilywhite first hour followed by an unashamedly spiffing comeback in the last half hour or so.

No doubt it was yet again wrapped up by the young maestro doing that thing he does, but I implore ye, stun your loved ones by donning headwear even though sitting indoors, just so that you can doff it in the direction of the various unsung – or at least sung in a more piano style – lilywhite supporting cast members. (A troupe that most pointedly does not include Master Adebayor – for him I recommend you reserve your coldest, most contemptible stare.)

Gold Stars

Monsieur Lloris is unlikely ever to garner the headlines of Bale, poor lamb, but the save he made at 2-1 down was worth a goal – and the speed at which he zipped from between the sticks to the feet of the onrushing attacker was indicative of a man who obediently ate his greens as a child.

Mind-bogglingly enough, Scott Parker rolled back the years to transform himself into some sort of all-action, galloping, swashbuckler of a midfielder. Well not quite, but I do rather fancy that the Brains Trust may have finally had a word in his ear these past few days, about taking half a dozen touches before popping the ball 10 yards backwards, for when the chips were down at 2-1 he seemed the first to grab the initiative and trundle forward 40 yards with it. Admittedly there was not necessarily always a useful end-product, this intriguing Dembele impression did shift our heroes from back- to front-foot, and once they hit their stride the chances came whizzing in from all angles.

A couple of useful contributions too from Sigurdsson, both in terms of whipping in crosses and generally offering sufficient assistance to Bale to distract the West Ham ruffians, while young Lennon looked threatening, once his team-mates remembered that he was on the pitch.

The Goldest Star of All

But by golly, bravo Bale. The line of frightened rabbits in the West Ham defence did not know whether to sit back and let him belt one in from range, or charge at him and watch him skip merrily away. Is there anything the young blighter cannot do? Tap-ins, I suppose. These are privileged times.

Momentous Stuff, What?

Hindsight will confirm I suppose, but this did rather strike me as a potentially momentous notch on the lilywhite bedpost. Another last-minute winner, away from home, coming from behind and against a team whose physical approach made us feel jolly uncomfortable throughout – ‘twas not the sort of thing we used to do. The celebrations suggested that our heroes, both on the pitch and on the coaching staff knew it.

Spurs – Lyon Preview: The Pointy End Beginneth

This smells like the pointy end of things. Forthcoming opponents including l’Arse, Liverpool, City, Chelski and Everton, and what better whistle-whetter for such rumblings than a nifty-looking European tie? You can shove the mundane group games into a musky sack, and give them a furtive kick while you’re at it, because this one has a faint whiff of seriousness. Two legs, away goals, prime-time on ITV1 no less – the pointy end indeed.

Whether AVB is quite aware of the regal privilege of tonight’s scheduling arrangement is debatable, but with no game this weekend he might be tempted to send out a full-strength team. If one player might be given a breather it is Scott Parker, who likes increasingly as if he is about to die in the latter stages of every game he plays. Messrs Livermore, Hudd, Carroll and Sigurdsson chomp at the bit – or jolly well ought to.

Gallas is apparently being readied for action, and Friedel will presumably be unleashed for his monthly gambol, while this might be an opportune moment for Master Adebayor to start recovering some of that goodwill he has been haemorrhaging at a rate of knots. A clean sheet and lead to take to France is presumably the aim tonight. Rather looking forward to this.

West Brom – Spurs Preview: A Useful Mantra Ignored

Here at AANP Towers we love a good mantra, as many an unimpressed would-be paramour can presumably confirm. “Never turn down a free drink,” has often been trumpeted, and then slurred, and then sobbed, and then snored in a cab on the shoulder of a long-suffering and impressively loyal chum. “They mostly come out at night… mostly,” is well worth remembering, lest ye ever find yourself sans one working spaceship on a foreign planet whilst being emphatically blitzed by hordes of less benign salivating types; but back in early January the official AANP line of choice was, loosely, “Bag ourselves a top striker and the Top Four is surely ours”. The sort of line that really deserved to be appended by a scarily evil laugh, it may have been impossible to verify but it made a solid enough point. With the big lad on a different continent, the wee man nursing a sore pelvis and Dempsey and Sigurdsson being – now, how can one put this delicately – NOT ACTUAL FORWARDS, it seemed straightforward enough. All areas could in theory be strengthened, but from 1 Jan there seemed to be an element of urgency about the forward line. In case, for example, just plucking a random scenario from the air, one striker toddled off to a different continent and another had a sore pelvis.

But alas, after the last-minute attempt to lure Leandro Damaio went the way of all flesh AVB sagaciously noted that the deal would probably have been secured if only we had had more time. Would a month have sufficed, Andre?

Still, not all doom and gloom. Far from it. Jenas is no more for goodness sake – someone slaughter a fattened calf! On top of which, despite the recent stutters in Cup and League we remain handily placed, the boy Holtby showed a few touches of panache during his cameo, and up in third spot the rotters from Chelski continued their ongoing implosion. Opportunity knocks for sure. West Brom have hit some high notes this season, but Top Four qualifications were built upon wins in games such as this.

In terms of personnel, the usual card-shuffle can be expected at the back, but the more interesting conundrum is in attack, where AVB may be tempted to start with Holtby and give Dempsey a furtive elbow in the ribs as he takes his seat on the bench, for Services to Ineffective Half-Midfield-Half-Attack Meandering. Fingers crossed that Defoe is match-fit.

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