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"AANP - nobody knows what it means, but it's provocative."

Palace 1-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Eric Dier’s Return

Those whose dispositions are hard and eyes unsmiling will no doubt have noted that after three consecutive wins in a team without Eric Dier, his return to the starting eleven immediately brought an end to the winning sequence. Admittedly – and as fans of Jose will be particularly aware – when it comes to proving anything, Statistics are right up there on the rostrum alongside Lies and Damned Lies. That we failed to win with Dier restored does not automatically make him culpable.

However, the fang-baring critics would no doubt hammer home the fact that young Master Dier can hardly be excused blame simply by citing the age-old defence that It’s-a-team-game-and-all-the-lads-are-in-it-together-so-it’s-collective-responsibility-in-victory-and-defeat-what?

Alas for young Master Dier, when the queue forms for those individually responsible for the goal we conceded, the man himself is slap bang at the front, head bowed and not daring to look either way – as such pretty accurately mimicking his behaviour at the corner from which Palace scored. ‘Dereliction of duty’ just about covers it.

Over in these parts, the objections to Dier’s presence in the team have been pretty well documented, but for those who take one look at the AANP pages and decide they’d be better employed in sawing of their own thumbs than bothering to read it, the gist is that for all his bone-jarring challenges and hard-man persona, the young bean appears to have been designed for stature rather than speed, and therefore seems too often to be a few steps behind the breakneck pace of things; on top of which, for one supposedly comfortable on the ball, his passing strikes me as being as frequently off-boil as on.

The case for the defence would doubtless point to much of his performance yesterday, notably in bailing out the excruciatingly average Davies when trouble began to smoulder on the left side of our defence, and also in taking a few opportunities to stride out of defence and play a forward pass.

Commendable moments indeed, and I suppose it goes to show that life is rarely black and white. Dier has his assets; Dier has his flaws. I nevertheless maintain that he is not of high enough standard, particularly within a team that appears set up to spend up to 70% of a game on the defensive.

(As an aside, it’s also worth noting that when Toby is one side of the centre-back pairing, his partner always looks a notch or two better than when Toby is absent. As with Sanchez in recent weeks so with Dier yesterday. The moral of the story appears to be that Toby is a prized asset whose every wish must be granted and every ailment treated with the utmost concern; and that a top-class partner for the chap would not go amiss.)

2. Another Game, Another Kane Masterclass

Another week, another tour de force from Harry Kane. It’s a quirk of circumstance that if he produced such impressive feats only on an occasional basis they might well be greeted by crowds lining streets, strewing of garlands and a zoom call from the nearest available on-the-ball royal. Instead, precisely because he trots them out so regularly, the general reaction now is simply to shrug, playfully punch someone on the shoulder and declare, “Ah, that Harry Kane, eh? Doing the scarcely believable yet again! And by the way, rain is forecast in the Third Test, wouldn’t you know?”

We take his magnificence for granted because he produces the scarcely believable so regularly. So, ultimately, if the chap is underappreciated, I suppose it’s his own fault.

Yesterday, his goal was made to look pretty straightforward fare, when in fact, of the multiple combinations on offer, the one he adopted was just about the only one that could have brought about a goal. With the entire Palace defence around him and the space of approximately one shoebox in which to operate, he had shifted feet, brought the ball under control and planted a shot at the near post before most of us mere mortals had clocked that he had even taken possession.

On top of which, even those moments in which he drops into midfield to ping an inch-perfect, no-look pass hither or yonder are now becoming something of a weekly occurrence. The chap has somehow turned himself into a combination of both Shearer and Sheringham.

3. A Rush of Excitement When We Concede A Corner

Part of this dubious ‘New Normal’ under Jose, within the hallowed gates of N17, is that the jar marked “Priorities” has been opened, tipped upside down and its contents scattered about the place, so that now one is never really quite sure whether they are coming or going.

It’s a world in which 30% possession is good; semi-permanent residence in or around our own penalty area is to be cheered to the rafters; and a key element of The Grand Plan is quite often simply to bloot the ball 60 yards up the pitch and unleash the hounds in attack.

And an adjunct to this curious state of affairs is that now when we concede a corner, the AANP blood begins to rush around the arteries that much quicker, and the excitement begins to build. This, to repeat, when we concede a corner. When near enough all eleven members of the gang are parked inside our own area and the ball is about to go within spitting distance of our own net.

But such is The Jose Way. Concede a corner, and the opposition merrily send all but two or three of their own mob up the pitch and out of position. Bop the ball away from immediate danger – and the chances of doing so are generally at least in 50-50 territory – and suddenly the tables turn Spurs-wards, because the break is on, and Kane, the three musketeers and any other soul in lilywhite who happens to be captured by the whim are haring up the pitch.

And so, to repeat, when we concede a corner, the AANP eyes light up. Our lot have demonstrated often enough that we can sally along from our area to theirs within about ten seconds and three well-placed passes – and if most of the opposition defence are already up north and well out of position then so much the better.

The principal observation on this peculiar state of affairs (besides from creating a brand of football completely at odds with the Tottenham way) is that it’s a pretty dashed risky game. Now I’m as fond of yelling “Pull” and downing a clay pigeon as the next fellow, but if there is one trait of AANP it is that he knows when and when not to take risks, and as such my dalliance with firearms ends about there. Offer me the clay pigeon and I’m your man; slide a loaded pistol into my hand and murmur about the benefits of Russian Roulette, and I’ll have my polite letter of refusal whipped up within seconds.

Jose, however, seems to thrive on this risk-laden scenario, actively encouraging the opposition to come ever closer to our goal, all with the aim of increasing the chances of a breakneck game of cat-and-mouse when possession is turned over. Its success relies upon the opposition drawing ever nearer to our own goal. The risks were laid pretty bare when Palace used one of their corners to score.

On top of which, on several occasions yesterday, rather than simply clear their lines and be done, our lot played themselves into trouble by dallying on the edge of their own area in search of the perfect pass to set up a counter-attack. One understands the thought-process, but the risks seem huge. As I observed this fandango play out with morbid fascination, the thought did occur that there surely ought to be less risk-laden ways of eking out wins, given the personnel on hand.

4. Europa

It seems almost to discredit the tumultuous nature of the season just endured to declare it over with little more by way of summary than the words, “Sixth; Europa” – and yet, anyone uttering such a truth would be right on the money.

There have, of course, been countless other highs and lows, from Sonny wonder goals to Poch exit-shuffles, but the long and short of it is that Europa it is.

Opinion on this seems somewhat divided. In the Credit column, it is, apparently, a tenth consecutive season of European competition, which, as well as having a pleasing ring about it, also suggests that as a club we are in fairly solid shape, and presumably are spoken of in the high-flying smoking rooms around Europe in terms that are complimentary enough.

Moreover, lest Daniel Levy is casting his eye over these pages, I probably ought to mention that qualification also brings with it £10m, to be stuffed into the back pocket at the earliest convenience. So far, so good, and approving nods all round.

The AANP verdict however, is a little more on the cooler side of things. Whereas every game in the Champions League is sprinkled with some Hollywood sparkle, the earlier stages of the Europa have much about them of the boys’ stag-weekend in some seedy corner of the continent.

Moreover, I cannot shake from my memory the recollection of those seasons in which we did make a decent fist of a Title challenge, only to fall away in the final stages, and be bested by Leicester and Chelsea teams that were free from any European football at all. Not that these things can necessarily be quantified of course, but common sense does suggest that their respective gangs might have been a little fresher towards the latter end of the season for the absence of a constant midweek game in the earlier part. As such, I would quite happily have finished outside the European spots if it meant an improved chance of Top Four qualification next season.

5. Jose’s Talk of Winning The Europa

An additional argument in favour of Europa entry is that it’s an eminently winnable trophy, and indeed this line has been peddled by Our Glorious Leader himself in recent weeks. In fact, he’s been referring to it as a given, stating that if we finish sixth this season we will the Europa next. This did strike me initially as making a fairly sizeable assumption or two, but if he liked to put things that way I saw no reason to stop him.

However, on reflection I found myself growing to admire this take on things. Some might call it arrogance, and it would be a reasonable shout, but Jose comes across as the sort of egg who does not sneeze without carefully planning its timing, audience and calculated effect. When Jose says we will win next season’s Europa, I have a sneaky suspicion that what he is trying to do is gently shove a winning mentality into the heart of the club.

After all, that glorious afternoon of Woodgate’s unknowing header was back in 2008 – we are not a club used to winning trophies. Ours is not a trophy-winning mentality. Eke our way towards a Cup Final and we the fans will dolefully peer around at the other teams left in the competition, and play down our chances – it is a pretty fair bet that the players themselves rarely consider themselves favourites.

So maybe Jose is onto something when he drills into the otherwise vacant loaves of the players that actually this is a trophy that they should be winning. Maybe this is all part of The Plan.

Newcastle 1-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactics (And The Great Jose-AANP Stand-Off)

I’m not actually on personal terms with Jose, but I suspect that if our paths were to cross we would hit it off immediately like a couple of the boys – jesting away, opening a bottle of the good stuff, maybe even dabbling in a little of that lockdown Spanish I’ve been aprend-ing as it’s a tongue Jose has no doubt mastered. One would not be able to hear one’s own thoughts for all the bonhomie about the place.

However, once conversation turned to the little matter of Jose’s Tactics At N17, I cannot help but think that the music would stop, the room would fall silent and a pretty sinister air would descend, and sharpish. Any knives about the place would be busily employed in cutting the tension.

A win is a win, and two wins in pretty similar fashion have no doubt lifted the gloom. This, I graciously grant him. There was much to admire about the energy and attitude of the players against that ‘orrible lot from Woolwich – and frankly one got the sense that, albeit with a tweak in formation and a little less fraught in general, the formula employed last night was of the Rinse-And-Repeat variety. Our lot politely nudged the initiative back to Newcastle, kept them at arm’s length and then, having floated butterfly-like while Newcastle huffed and puffed, stung them like a whole squadron of bees when opportunity arose.

Back to the meeting of minds in the smoking room, and while Jose would no doubt rattle off a few truths about the upturn in results, tension would remain – as is no doubt common in the meeting of two such esteemed footballing minds – as AANP would insist that our lot did not create enough pretty patterns.

This remains a sticking point at AANP Towers. I’m not sure of the collective noun for debacles, but this nameless entity appeared in all its glory during the course of the Sheffield United, Everton and Bournemouth games (even though we won one of them), representing some of the worst football we’ve seen over the years. Things have undoubtedly improved since, and there is now at least a strategy in place – but the chap calling the numbers last night stated at one point that Newcastle average around thirty-something percent possession per game, and yet we seemed happy to let them have as much of the ball as they pleased!

Our strategy – Jose’s strategy – still seems to be one of sitting back and countering. There are lies, and damn lies, and whatnot, and the stats apparently indicate that since taking the reins Jose has the fourth or fifth best record in the division – but the evidence of our eyes is that this is not entertaining stuff. Nor is there much to suggest that this will change in the new season. In any future social engagements between Jose and AANP, a frosty atmosphere will remain.

2. Lucas Eats His Spinach Again

The tactics might not have met with the sort of thunderous applause within AANP Towers that makes its foundations quiver, but I had approving looks that I was dishing about the place with gay abandon for the personnel involved.

‘Sore Limbs’ was no doubt the headline about the place following Sunday’s exertions, but the same starting eleven took to the field and did as instructed, to solid effect.

As on Sunday, Lucas set the early tone, displaying energy both in possession and in tracking back. His little twinkle-toed dribbles, while rarely amounting to much, did nevertheless quicken the pulse and keep the Newcastle lot honest, and much of the success of the 4-3-3-cum-4-5-1 was due to the workrate of he and Sonny around its boundaries.

3. Kane’s All-Rounding

Before his goals, Harry Kane had been tossed little more than an occasional scrap in the penalty area, so he naturally enough came sniffing around in midfield to see what was on offer, and not for the first time gave the impression of being the pick of the midfield bunch, even though the smallprint prevents this from being legally correct.

It might be to do with the fact that collecting the ball when coming from attack – à la Teddy – gives a greater awareness of options than when advancing from defence, but whatever the reasons, I feel like I could pour myself a splash and spend hours on end watching Kane pick up the ball from deep and spray it around the place.

On top of which, he then scored two goals that could immediately be stamped as ‘No Nonsense’, made to look pretty straightforward despite both being far from. Such is the talent of the chap.

4. Winks: Good, In His Limited Way

Further south, young Winks was as neat and tidy as his haircut demands. Forever sprinting to make himself available for passes, with all the gay vivacity of youth, he then typically bipped a quick pass to a nearby chum and repeated the process from the top.

Put yourself in the shoes of any of the back four or midfield sorts, and one suspects you’d be pretty glad that whenever you received the ball you’d always spot a Winks-shaped blur of movement in the corner of your eye, availing himself for service.

This being AANP however – now officially graduated to middle-aged grump, since Covid began – I cannot simply enjoy this good news with a joyous skip in a nearby meadow. Winks, in his breakthrough seasons had the potential of a lad who might have a pass in his pocket reminiscent of those great lock-pickers of recent years. Where Carrick, Hudd and Modric once cut through great swathes with one well-identified killer ball, Winks, one hoped, would follow.

Alas, the whelp seems not to dare play a pass if it carries a jot of risk. One understands, but as he is hardly a defensive enforcer either, it means that even when near his best – as I fancied he was yesterday – although a useful sort to have about the place he flits between being one thing and another, fulfilling the key requirements of neither.

Those yearning for Winks to evolve into a Carrick, Hudd or Modric will be disappointed. Winks has value, and yesterday I thought he was possibly the pick of the bunch, but I suspect this is as good as he will get and as much as he will offer.

5. Lamela And The Impact Subs

It was a big day for impact subs, which I suppose we ought to have foreseen given the short turnaround between games.

It turns out that young Bergwijn had one of his less glorious cameos, when one sits down and actually counts all the beans, but one cannot help but be enthused by what he brings in general, and yesterday he delivered the sort of cross (for Kane’s first goal) that I suspect few of us realised he had in his repertoire.

And then there’s Lamela. Quite the curio this chap. Plainly capable of reaching outrageous heights, when signed there was a murmur that he would become for us essentially what Mo Salah became for Liverpool, even though we signed him before Mo Salah became Mo Salah for Liverpool – which does make the head swim a bit.

The gist is that hopes were high. Fast forward six or seven years, and every Lamela performance is so similar that bingo cards can be produced allowing the eagle-eyed punter to tick off his contributions.

A niggly sort, he will undoubtedly hare around and snap at ankles, often in the late fashion that earns reprieves and stern words if not cards, from the resident officiators.

And then there is his on-ball stuff, which typically involves:
A) A promising dribble, segueing into:
B) The realisation that he is still on the ball when several passing opportunities have been and gone, followed by:
C) The roll of watching eyes as one realises that he is still on the ball, having taken half a dozen touches more than were necessary, but is now being swarmed upon and crowded out.

Add to this the fact that he will roll his foot over the ball at every opportunity – even, in defiance of the laws of physics, when passing it – and one can probably yelp “Lamela Bingo!” and claim a small fluffy toy.

But like a broken clock a couple of times a day, the chap does strike oil, and just as it seemed that his latest dribble was about to result in that swarmed-upon-and-crowded-out routine (C, above), he somehow step-overed his way to freedom and teed himself up for a shot. Quite how he did so is still being investigated, but credit where due, it was pretty special stuff. A shame he could not apply the coup de grâce himself, but it resulted in a goal nevertheless.

Spurs 2-0 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane Getting Back Up to Speed

This whole thing was a marked improvement on the previous grilling, vs Man Utd – which admittedly was not difficult, given how low we set the bar on that occasion – and as Kane motored off into the distance to pop the cherry on things it struck me that his individual performance loosely summed up the general gist of things.

Against Man Utd he had barely registered his participation, seeming to serve decorative value only and appearing to have forgotten many of the basics of physics whenever involved in the action, judging by his negligible ball control and pretty severe case of the huffs and puffs when required to move. Similarly, our lot as a whole seemed unfit, devoid of ideas and pretty content to tick the box marked ‘Passive’ rather than ‘Active’.

Yesterday, however, Kane gave a pretty good impression of one who, if not necessarily firing on every conceivable cylinder, was nevertheless giving the engine a pretty thorough going-over – and indeed, the team as a whole at least seemed to peddle a bit more ambition than before, albeit against pretty limited opposition.

Those keenly observing Kane’s performance, with checklist in hand and pen at the ready, were kept well involved throughout. There were early hints that his memories of former glories were returning, as in the first half he pinged a shot from distance and then spread play to the wings – with the outside of his boot, no less – both pretty sure signs that, having been kept hidden from view against Man Utd, the Kane of old was making a bid for freedom here.

It continued in the second half with a lung-busting sprint of all things. Admittedly this ended in anticlimactic fashion, with him dragging his shot wide, but nevertheless, for a chap whose likeliest weakness is probably a lack of pace, the sight of him overtaking various defenders as he hared towards the penalty area would no doubt have had some pretty knowing looks exchanged in living rooms across the country.

And as if to emphasise the point, he did near enough the same thing again ten minutes later, but to better effect. The weighting of Sonny’s pass helped no end, meaning as it did that there was little need to break stride or take too many touches, but Kane’s hamstrings still held up well to the rigours of a dash towards goal, and his finish made the whole thing look vastly more straightforward than it was.

He then lay on the ground for around a minute refilling his lungs, but one can excuse that. It might not quite be peak Kane just yet, but this was far brighter stuff than I had dared hope.

2. Dele’s Free(Ish) Role

After West Ham’s initial ten-minute surge had gone up in smoke, and possession was ours to do with as we pleased, the game gradually settled into that age-old conundrum of how to break down two banks of four that have set up camp and desire little more in life than to remain that way with net untroubled.

A pretty convoluted plan seemed to have been concocted in this respect, with The Brains Trust deciding to cut their losses on Aurier by stationing him up the pitch as a right winger, thereby minimising his capacity to produce the calamitous within shooting distance of his own goal.

Meanwhile on t’other flank Ben Davies had presumably been fitted with one of those tagging devices that prevented him from mooching too far beyond the halfway line.

All of which meant that Sonny was our sole representative on the left flank and therefore had limited opportunity to cut infield and hare towards goal, and the AANP was left swimming a bit as it tried to work out the mechanics of the whole thing.

In short however, all the tactical scrawls in the world could not disguise the fact that our lot were pretty ponderous in possession – neither shifting the ball quickly when they had it, nor moving enough off the ball when they didn’t.

The pleasing exception to this rigidity was Dele. Whether under instruction to do so or simply exercising his autonomy and going where he pleased, as young folk will do, the rascal floated hither and thither, and by so-doing added a drop of the unexpected to our gentle probings.

Only a drop, mind. There was much of the inside left about his role, but when opportunity arose he seemed to go for a wander into pockets of space – on one such occasion inviting a lovely through ball from Davies, who had evidently broken his own positional diktat to wander up the pitch, and Dele was away in the penalty area.

The young egg’s swagger was also in evidence once again, with drag-backs and flicks aplenty. This can grate a little – there is, after all, a time and a place for such nonsense – but in general I thought he struck the right balance, injecting a little spontaneity into our attacking play that otherwise was pretty heavily steeped in the monotony of sideways passing.

It was a shame for him that he was hooked early in the second half, just as the game began to open up and the fun to start, but this constituted a decent innings on his return to the side.

3. Lo Celso Easing Into The Groove

The Man of the Match gong was officially awarded to Lo Celso, which was reasonable enough, but there is certainly more to come from the chap.

In the first half in particular, when, as mentioned above, we laboured to precious little effect, I thought we might have benefitted from grabbing the lad by his armpits, hoisting him into the air and depositing him some twenty yards further up the pitch, to sprinkle some mischief. In a world of sideways pass upon sideways pass, the vision and technique of Lo Celso makes him stand out as one of the few amongst us who might magic a chance out of nothing.

Indeed, on the one occasion that he did make it to the heady heights of the edge of the West Ham area his jinking feet made an instant impact, creating the chance for Sonny that was ruled out.

As the game became rather more stretched in the second half he became more prominent, able to indulge his partiality for embarking on a gentle gallop with ball at feet. One suspects he will be a pretty significant presence within the Mourinho vintage.

4. Ndombele – Persona Non Grata

There were other, low-key points of note – Sissoko became more dominant as the game progressed, Aurier not for the first time seemed rather to enjoy life without all that defensive nonsense burdening him – but one of the more significant developments of the evening was the conspicuous absence of a certain member of the troupe.

What future for Tanguy Ndombele in lilywhite? Fit enough for the elongated bench, but presumably not rated highly enough even for a late cameo to add some protection to midfield (young Master Winks instead thrown on for the final few minutes, to play the role of burly doorman), a betting man would presumably steer well clear of any wager on Ndombele to be the fulcrum around which the team is built.

Much was made pre-lockdown of Ndombele’s rather alarming lack of puff, and the young bean’s training regime during lockdown received similarly hefty coverage. As such, I suspect I was not the only one eagerly awaiting the sight of him emerging trim and buoyant, newly entrusted by Jose to turn defence into attack.

The reality appears vastly at odds with this scenario. The shape of the things in the immediate future appears to include the move of Dier back into defence, Sissoko and Winks as the more trusted deep-lying sorts, and Lo Celso pulling strings for the headline-seekers in attack – with Ndombele left to socially distance in the stands.

With games coming thick and fast in coming weeks one would expect that he’ll be beckoned to the fore at some point, but if the first two games are indicators of how Jose sees the world – and there’s every reason to interpret them as such – then this new normal does not appear to include Ndombele.

Spurs 1-1 Man Utd: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Negative Mentality

Good heavens this ghastly dirge is too much to stomach. One understands that there’s a time and a place for the gung-ho “If you score four we’ll just biff up the pitch and score five” approach, but this new normal – of low possession, sitting deep and simply attempting to soak up pressure from first whistle to last – is laying it on a bit thick.

One presumes that once Bill Nick and Danny Blanchflower made it past the pearly gates they got stuck into the entertainment on offer and had a whale of a time, not bothering to check back over their shoulders to monitor goings-on at N17 – but if they did happen to glance back one can only imagine how unrecognisable this rot might appear to them.

“The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

The aforementioned memo evidently did not make it to the Mourinho inbox. Instead we’re stuck with this dreadful imitation of Sven’s England, persisting with the ludicrous notion that football is a game best played by allowing the opposition to have the ball for as long as they please, of all absurd notions, providing that there are enough last-ditch limbs around to prevent them from scoring.

Any display of attacking intent was strictly an afterthought – and the longer the game wore on the more unlikely these became anyway, for even when we tried to pass our way forward rather than blasting it into orbit, we simply did not have enough troops stationed in attack, every man and his dog having been dragged back into the final third for defensive drills ad infinitum.

A point from yesterday’s game was certainly a good result, but if this is to be the go-to approach – and it is – frankly I would rather we had lost while playing with more ambition.

No doubt we will nick the odd game by the skin of teeth and against the run of play – witness the home win vs Man City pre-lockdown – but, without wanting to sound too dramatic, this business of simply surrendering possession and inviting the other lot to have a go for 90 straight minutes saps the will to live.

2. Kane Fitness

It came as little surprise to note that Harry Kane barely registered his presence throughout proceedings, given that the young nib typically needs half a dozen games to build up a head of steam.

On the rare occasions the ball sailed through his sphere of influence he duly trotted out his impression of one trudging through quicksand, all notions of him bursting into a blur of acceleration kept well under lock and key.

Not that I’m criticising the chap particularly, for he was hardly the only one who seemed taken by surprise by the fact that an actual game of football was happening around him, but I think we had all sneakily hoped that having recovered from injury Kane might already have been in peak condition and straining at the leash.

His lack of match sharpness should, in theory, present a conundrum of sorts, as the only way in which he can attain the aforementioned MS is by obediently trotting out one game after another, which is far from ideal when the engine is yet to rev up. However, in practice it’s no conundrum at all, as omitting this particular slab of meat is clearly not an option.

3. Everyone Else’s Fitness

As mentioned, Kane was not the only soul who seemed not to be up with current affairs.

The dashing, breezy Sonny of yesteryear was replaced by a sullen twin. While seeming to give brief consideration to forward bursts whenever he received the ball, after a short conflab of the voices in his head he appeared repeatedly to conclude that discretion beat valour hands down each time, and Walking Football was the order of the day.

Winks and Sissoko seemed similarly invisible for much of the evening, which I suppose had much to do with the fact that, rather than being in possession of the ball, they spent most of the game dutifully chasing the shadows of United players as they pinged the thing one way and another. Both intermittently flitted into view, in the manner of one who, when working from home, sends an occasional calculated email to remind The Boss of their existence, but in general each was a model nonentity, and seemed perfectly content with the label.

4. Lamela

Young Lamela occasionally caught the eye by virtue of being marginally less average than the rest of the mob, at least in intent, if not end-product.

It is generally a pretty reliable bet that he will be cautioned within fifteen minutes of entering the fray, and while he avoided that fate yesterday this was as much due to the random goodwill of the chief arbiter of proceedings, rather than any restraint on Lamela’s part. He seems always to scoot around with the air of one who has been wronged and is therefore determined to have a petulant kick at anyone who wafts into his vicinity.

This is mildly preferable to the meek and mild approach of far too many in lilywhite over the years, for it at least suggests that he cares a jot or two, so I rather welcomed the sight of his pointless snaps and nibbles yesterday.

Generally however, it was all to little avail. When his energy gave him the opportunity to affect the game in a more productive way, he repeatedly failed to deliver the right ball, and one wondered if the technical bods had at their fingertips the sound effects of the White Hart Lane groan.

Lamela would do well to take a leaf out of the Bergwijn book of end products – but one suspects he will have to do so pretty swiftly, for it can only be a matter of time before Our Glorious Leader beats the attacking vim and verve out of Bergwijn, and has him gloomily ceding possession and backing off into a defensive template like everyone else.

5. Son’s Corners

But on a pleasing note, Son’s corners are a dashed sight better than the bizarrely inept dross that Christian Eriksen used to purvey, Son’s having the distinct virtue of reaching beyond the body-parts of the nearest defender. So maybe there is hope in this brave new world after all. Huzzah!

Spurs – Man Utd Preview: 4 Tottenham Talking Points

And so it begins again – and in truth receiving a pretty frosty reception in this part of town.

Given our form, injuries and the general way of all things lilywhite pre-apocalypse, I had greeted the abrupt end to proceedings with secret relief, and was all for the expunging of records. “Restore the end-18/19 standings,” was the anthem resounding at AANP Towers, “And if the managerial changes can also be undone, so much the better.”

Alas, such reasonable requests have been ignored. Joseball will be making our eyes bleed again quicker than we can ask “Is a tactic of 35% possession at home and looking to nick something in the final ten really the best way to go about things?”

1. Jose’s Tactics

The Ben Davies Gambit, unveiled to considerable success in Jose’s first game (of 4 at the back when defending and 3 when attacking, resulting in joyous attacking overloads and Good Dele) has proved a hoax. Jose’s true intentions all along appear to have been to retreat 20 years into our own half straight from kick off, and, broadly, hope for the best.

While one sucks up this rot when it’s an injury-hit Champions League night vs Leipzig, the whole routine is rather heavy going when it’s at home to Norwich or some such dross on the lower rungs.

Now admittedly the chap took on a tough gig. CL Finalists we might have been in name, but the mob he inherited needed more than just a lick of paint to get rediscover the old swagger. Key players were past their peak; those who weren’t had been flogged into the ground over the last few seasons; and there was an odd lop-sidedness to the whole mechanism.

So not necessarily the sort of vehicle one would proudly parade in front of envious neighbours – but neither was it the sort of decrepit cast of vagrants and amateurs fit only for ceding possession and playing on the counter-attack. Just about every young bean on the payroll was an international, capable of attracting admiring glances from CL Teams if subjected to the ‘Who Would Buy Them?’ test. Clueless, pootling mid-tablers they were not.

However, Jose has now had a few weeks to mould this lot to his foul preferences. While not exactly a bona fide pre-season it’s probably been the next been thing, so while it is probably a bit much to expect some sort of all-singing, all-dancing, feast of whirring goodness, at the very least one would hope for some defensive solidity and a game-plan slightly more expansive than soak-it-up-and-hope.

2. Injuries No More (Almost)

I still don’t think it fully excused the unique blend of negativity and chaos that stank the place out each week, but the swathe of injuries certainly did knock the stuffing somewhat, pre-Covid.

Merrily that excuse is can now elbowed aside – well, to an extent, as it appears that the boy Lo Celso is made of biscuits and therefore not yet ready for action. This is actually one heck of an elbow to the ribs, as the young egg gave a good impression of the sort around whom a team might be built.

Young Tanganga is also tucked up in bed necking paracetamol, but better news resounds on those other beans who were last seen covered from stern to stem in bandages. Messrs Kane, Son and Sissoko are apparently now injury-free, which is a blessed relief, because without them we increasingly resembled the victims of cinematic ne’er-do-well The Predator once their spines had been ripped from them, they too ending up with a bereft and useless air.

Young Master Bergwijn has also apparently been given an approving nod by some intelligent sort with a stethoscope, which means that Our Glorious Leader will have options a-plenty when the twenty-minute mark rolls along and he decides to make five substitutions at once.

3. Kane And The Need to Hit The Ground Running

The life and works of Harry Kane are generally headline news, so all eyes will presumably be trained in his direction once he lumbers into action, and while his return from injury for these final ten games is a blessing, there is a distinct caution in the air.

For all his assets – and one generally cannot swing a cat without hitting two or three of them – he is generally not the quickest out of the blocks when first settling into things, be it at the start of a new season or on his return from an injury.

Having been bunkered away for something like six months, one fears that it might take him several games to build a full head of steam, and with the games coming thick and fast we rather need him to dispense with the gentle warm-up and go flying straight into battle at full pelt.

Not to over-egg the point but much depends on the honest fellow, so while the empty stadium will not resound to much more than grunts and curses of those playing, you can bet that living rooms across the country will be filled with the muttered prayers of the long-suffering, willing the chap to hit peak form and pronto.

4. An Improved (And Fit) Ndombele?

In theory I suppose one might hone in every member of the squad and wonder what sort of player they will be when emerging back onto the greenery, but Ndombele will make for a particularly fascinating case-study.

Having been feted as up there alongside sliced bread and the wheel when first unveiled, and even now boasting a highlights reel that makes him look pretty unplayable, a full, unedited 90 minutes makes for a slightly more underwhelming spectacle.

One doesn’t like to poke fun, but the lad did seem rather to struggle with the pace of things here in sunny north London, to the extent that it appeared necessary to ration him to one single, solitary sprint per match, after which he could do little more than stagger around the centre circle in exhaustion.

The whispers from on high suggest that improving Ndombele’s fitness became something of a personal crusade for Jose during lockdown. If it bore fruit it will have been time well spent, because one imagines that a fit and active Ndombele could be a thing of beauty, and one heck of an asset to his nearby chums. The fear, of course, is that his allergy to stamina will live with him from cradle to grave, so one holds the breath and rattles off a few more of those living-room prayers.

All told, there is a nameless dread filling the air at AANP Towers, in case you hadn’t picked up as much already. And yet, beneath it all, there lurks that tiny sliver of hope – that actually, we’re still within social distance of the CL places; that the injury crisis is over; that Jose has drilled some tactical sense into even those stupid enough to post pictures of themselves on social media breaking lockdown; that these remaining games might even be a moderate success, and we might yet make the Champions League.

Spurs’ Transfer Window: 5 Tottenham Talking Points

1. Farewell Danny Rose

When history looks back on the Tottenham career of D. Rose Esq. it is difficult to know quite what sort of conclusions will be drawn. One of the more curious eggs, for sure, he has something of the Russian doll about him, in that just when you think you have him sussed he pops open to reveal another layer, which requires fresh examination – and can be a tad unnerving if you’re not expecting it.

On the pitch, the whole tempestuous affair began in fairly rollicking style, with that thunderbolt volley against the Woolwich, numerous moons ago. Quite the entrance, but finer hours were to come, notably a few years ago when he and Kyle Walker on the opposite flank established themselves as the galloping full-backs against which all other galloping full-backs would be compared.

In common with Master Walker, Rose hit upon the belting notion that every time he took to the pitch he would contest his personal duels as if his life depended upon winning them. One could never be too sure about his commitment to the club – quite the contrary in fact, as he often emitted the distinctive whiff of a chap who didn’t care too many jots for London and its assorted entertainments – but it mattered little.

Once on the pitch he would skulk around with the air of one pretty vexed with all going on around him, staring daggers at all who dared to cross him and hurtling around the place as if he had made a pact with some unseen entity either to kick little lumps out of others or have little lumps kicked out of himself. And it just happened that he wore the lilywhite while all this took place.

His commitment to the challenge, married to sufficient bucketloads of energy that handily enabled him to charge both north and south as circumstances required, made him one heck of a full-back.

Undoubtedly in the last 12 months or so his powers waned. The stares and glares remained, as ever, those of a man fed up to the back-teeth by all going on around him, but the pitch-long gallops were less frequent and effective, and his crossing at times became a little wild, the distribution not quite as of old. (Although there was still time for a charming swansong, his being the nutmeg and cross-field pass that set in motion our Champions League comeback against Ajax.)

However, the rather damning conclusion was that he ended his Tottenham career behind novices like Tanganga and Sessegnon, and the creakily-limbed Vertonghen, in the left-back pecking order.

All of which is to say nothing of his off-pitch behaviour. While the chap has been rightly applauded for the candid manner in which he has spoken on many issues, one did read some of his interviews about life at Spurs and get the impression that he skipped those classes on tact, delicacy of phrasing and subtlety.

A favourite of Poch he may have been, and for a couple of halcyon seasons few around were more full-blooded in the challenge, but whatever affection he may have held for the club pretty evidently went up in smoke some years back, and by the time he legged it back up north last week I daresay the air was rich with sighs of relief from all concerned.

2. Toodle-Oo Christian Eriksen

It has been a big week for the jettisoning of cargo that was once looked upon fondly but is now mildly embarrassing to be seen with. Having quite happily allowed his soul to depart the premises a good 12 months ago, Christian Eriksen finally exited in body as well, with few kinder sentiments ringing in his ears than some moody shrugs from the regulars, and the odd ripple of polite applause amongst the grumbles.

As with the aforementioned Rose, one struggles neatly to summarise the Tottenham career of Eriksen.

As with Rose, there were a couple of seasons when we were blessed to have a fellow in our midst who was evidently at the peak of his powers. At times he glided around the place like a man who, if not quite possessed of the Midas Touch on a 24-7 basis, certainly had a pretty regular subscription to the stuff.

Many were the games threatening to drift away from us in dreary fashion that he rescued with a late, long-range thing of beauty; on top of which the young bean was the fortunate recipient of twin blessings from Mother Nature, in the form of both the vision to pick an exquisite pass and the technique to deliver it.

All impressive stuff, and we natives purred over it often enough, but the ongoing frustration throughout his career was that for a nib who quite obviously was a hit when it came to producing the good stuff stuff, he did not therefore make it his default setting. Honestly, if you or I woke up one morning and found we were as talented at this football lark as Christian Eriksen, surely we would spend the entire 90 minutes each week demonstrating exactly that?

Easy to criticise from the armchairs of AANP Towers of course, but depending on my mood I would scratch chin or pull out hair in varying levels of exasperation that Eriksen did not employ himself from first minute to last in dictating games and pulling strings. Once or twice a game he would pull out some wondrous feat of creativity, as if the urge had only just struck him – but for the rest of the game he seemed happy to slink off into the shadows, as if he preferred the anonymity of being a mere mortal slumming it with the rest of the Premier League.

The fact that once or twice a game he would make such decisive contributions would be enough to fool the casual Match of the Day viewer into thinking that from start to finish such games were The Christian Eriksen Show, in which the other 23 were merely supporting cast. Alas, the truth was quite often that he had spent the remainder of the game shuttling about the place to negligible effect (and rolling his corners straight into the first defender).

On the biggest stage of them all, the Champions League Final, Eriksen curled up into a ball and watched quietly as events unfolded around him, as if aghast at the thought of disturbing matters. One does not want to lay it on too thick, but to fade out of existence at the time when we needed him most had a vaguely symbolic air to it.

3. Lo Celso Becomes Permanent

As I understand, once upon a time those who wanted to get ahead in life would remark, every time the reigning monarch biffed off this mortal sphere, “The King is dead, long live the King”, the gist of the gag being that before the previous incumbent was even cold all attention had turned to the newly-installed punter.

I mention this because a similar set of circumstances appears to be unfolding at N17. The air of North London still retains traces of Eau de Eriksen and already the chap has been consigned to the annals, with his heir apparent having wasted little time in getting up to speed.

Lo Celso is now permanently on the payroll, having been upgraded from Loanee to Fully-Fledged Lilywhite last month. After a few brief cameos in the early months, recent weeks have seen the young cove go through the whole caterpillar-chrysalis-butterfly routine with some aplomb, and it’s not a huge exaggeration to say that others on the pitch, as well as thousands in the stands, are now looking to him above all others to provide creative spark.

In the last couple of games in particular one cannot help but notice that amidst the humdrum of sideways passing and cul-de-sac meandering, Lo Celso’s contributions have generally been to pick and deliver a pass that has parted opposition defences like an Old Testament deity having his way with the Red Sea.

It’s precisely the sort of stuff we require in spades, especially against the more defensive types, and it’s the sort of stuff that Eriksen, if you remember the chap, would spray about the place on all too rare occasions. One does not want to get ahead of oneself, but the early signs are that Lo Celso has a bit more appetite for this sort of thing, which in my book makes him a shrewd signing.

4. Fingers Crossed for Fernandes and Bergwijn

As for the other two arrivals, I cannot claim to be one of those who pores over foreign matches, analysing each player on show. As such I cannot provide much info on either of Messrs Fernandes and Bergwijn, other than to note that the latter’s YouTube compilations make for pretty underwhelming viewing, featuring numerous instances of him being bundled to the ground or smashing a shot wide. One assumes that The Brains Trust has a better grip on affairs.

More encouragingly, it is simply a relief to have brought in a couple of reinforcements. I don’t subscribe to this bilge about the first eleven being perfectly hunky-dory and therefore there being no need for any further signings. For a start, our first eleven has slopped pretty dramatically off-kilter in recent months.

But more to the point, even if Fernandes and Bergwijn are not noticeable improvements on the current residents, their very presence at training ought to make the likes of Dier, Winks, Lucas and Lamela think to themselves “What ho, we’ve got some competition here, might be time to buck up our ideas and raise our levels a notch or two.”

Proven world-beaters they might not be, and Danny Rose would presumably have greeted their arrivals with some prize chuntering, but in these injury-hit times I’m happy to stand them a bourbon or two.

5. New Strikers (Or Absence Thereof)

Perhaps the most striking feature of this transfer window was neither an arrival nor departure but the complete absence of activity on the centre-forward front.

With Harry Kane having broken his fingernail as early as 1st Jan, there was plenty of time for those tasked with such things to get themselves down to the nearest charity shop and bag themselves a striker – yet come 1st Feb the cupboard was depressingly bare.

Not being privy to the machinations of striker-purchasing one can only speculate as to the reasons why we remain one proven goalscorer light, but the net result is that we are ill-equipped for the rigours of the spring and summer months. This parlous state of affairs is added to by the fact that Jose’s modus operandi rather depends on most eggs being placed into the Sizeable Centre Forward basket. Between the long balls from Toby and crosses from Aurier, ours is a team increasingly set up for some sort of Homme de Target, as the French no doubt put it.

Instead we are now left to make do with Sonny and Lucas, and heaven help us if either of those should catch a sniffle or worse. Both are of course handy sorts in their own ways, but when Nature was fashioning Target Men from scratch it’s a pretty fair bet that these two were not amongst the prototypes.

The names of Giroud, Willian Jose and Piatek were mentioned at various points during January, and these three being affordable and willing enough, it is a pretty cruel blow to saunter away from the bargaining table with not one striker to our name.

Game by game no doubt all involved will make a decent stab at it, but all things considered this has been yet another of those transfer windows that leaves one in pretty low spirits, and frankly the approaching months have a fairly gloomy look about them.

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Spurs 2-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

The gist of the opening 50 or so minutes is that nothing happened, and at a pretty relentless rate.

Well, for the benefit of the pedants who like things just so, nothing positive happened. Pedantically speaking, there was plenty going on about which to slap palm to forehead and liberally scatter curses.

In fact, the tone was set straight from kick-off, when the ball was rolled back to Toby, and the ensuing opening minute was spent observing – in rather aghast fashion, I don’t mind adding – the sight of each member of our central defensive triumvirate dwelling upon the ball for half a dozen touches, before rolling it sideways to the next member of the Toby-Jan-Davinson axis to do exactly the same. Towards the concept of bright and enterprising forward progression, precious little thought was devoted.

1. Lucas Provides the Saprk

So it was that approximately 49 minutes later, Lucas Moura stumbled upon the dramatic concept of applying some urgency to proceedings. The results were both immediate and gratifying. The Brighton defence, which, until that point, to a man, had been gently dozing as our heroes scratched heads and pottered ineffectively in front of them, were suddenly forced to react to improvised attacking play, and it’s fair to opine that they preferred life the way it had been in the preceding 49-odd minutes.

Lucas, who has about him much of the naturally-talented-but-exasperatingly-selfish playground footballer, took up a position that can probably be loosely described as Central Midfield, and opted each time he received the ball to ignore his teammates and instead try dribbling past every man and his dog bedecked in Brighton black.

Ricochets abounded, and precious little in the way of clear goalscoring chances were created, but the simple act of tearing straight at the heart of the Brighton defence like a rabid beast was enough both to cause obvious discomfort to Brighton, and to rouse all around in lilywhite from their slumbers.

The paying public were invigorated – and not before time – while Lucas’ own teammates took the hint and, one by one and in stages, began to contemplate removing the handbrake.

Ultimately it was another of Lucas’ not entirely flawless slaloms that did the trick, as he ran out of space and flung his hands into the air, while the ball helpfully pinged off several Brighton limbs and into the path of Kane, who did the rest.

Until Lucas’ little display of indulgence precious little creativity had emanated from any of our heroes, so while far from perfect I am quite happy to bestow upon the chap the epithet Gamechanger-In-Chief.

2. Lo Celso’s Impressive Cameo

Every Batman needs a Robin however, and the unlikely sidekick to Lucas, in his sudden twenty-minute burst of intensity, was the rarely-sighted Giovanni Lo Celso.

A fleeting cameo it might have been, but the chap showed numerous tantalising glimpses of talent and appetite for the scrap. Not that he is one of life’s natural scrappers, but it was certainly pleasing to see that upon losing possession he fought like a wronged infant to retrieve it.

Moreover, the aesthetes amongst us could not fail to be impressed by the sight of him receiving the ball and sweetly pinging it first-time to diagonally-positioned chums. None of that six-touch nonsense being peddled so enthusiastically by the back-three in minute one. Lo Celso gave the impression of one who looks this way and that prior to receiving possession, so that as soon as the ball reaches him he can instantly send it elsewhere.

For a rather bizarre fifteen minutes or so, he and Lucas were the architects of the swing of momentum back towards N17.

3. Our Winning Goal and Its Constituent Parts

On Lucas and Lo Celso’s example, various others roused themselves to battle, and ultimately it was a win, comprising greater parts fight than beauty – which in the grand scheme of things is rare enough around N17 to be pretty satisfactory.

That said, the winning goal shone out like a beacon in a land of eternal night-time, boasting a couple of moments of gorgeous quality.

For a start there was the backspun, crossfield ball from Eriksen, over the head of a retreating Brighton bod and into the path of the northward-bound Aurier. Now Eriksen has done much in the last 12 months or so to make himself persona non grata around AANP Towers, but being a reasonable soul I can still appreciate top-notch foot-to-ball contact, and there will be few nuts struck more sweetly this Boxing Day than that particular Eriksen pass.

Credit also by the sackful to Serge Aurier. He may display much about him of the leaking pipe when asked to do the defensive thing, but stick him in and around the opposition area and his eyes seem to light up.

Admittedly he was prompted to dash towards the byline by the irresistible cross from Eriksen, but once there, he displayed a hitherto unknown delicacy in cushioning a volley backwards into the onrushing Dele. It was a pretty difficult-looking skill to execute, but one he did like one trained in the art for years.

And finally, Dele, a man transformed under Jose, had the presence of mind to whizz through the pretty long list of ways in which he might have made a pig’s ear of the finish, ignore them all and instead deliver the required coup de grace with an impressive combo of delicacy and power.

4. Winks Frustrates Again

Another curious – and largely frustrating – chapter in the life of Harry Winks. Stationed as one half of a two-man defensive barricade that barely had a defensive bone in its two bodies, the onus on Winks was largely to collect the ball from those within earshot and spray accordingly.

I suppose by the letter of the law he generally did this. He just did it in such a frustratingly defensive fashion that one was inclined to click the tongue and ask what the hell the point of it was. Time and again he received possession, swerved as if to go forwards, much to the delight of the paying public, and then checked, as if the angel on his shoulder had called an impromptu conference and was delivering some pretty stern words, and before one could yelp “Just travel forward with the ball, dash it”, he had swerved back towards his own goal, and taken the distribution option marked ‘Safety First, Safety Always’.

Watching the aforementioned Eriksen ping for our second goal did make me yearn for Winks to show a little more ambition in his passing. One suspects that the chap has such tricks lurking in his top hat, but alas, one of life’s risk-takers he is not. (Unless the risk involves scything down an opponent in bookable fashion, in which case he’s all for it.)

Gratingly, the one flash of invention he did display was such a peach of a pass that Harry Kane felt obliged to dab it into the net, only for VAR to rear its automated head. A few more of those such game-changing passes, however, would not go amiss.

Spurs 5-0 Burnley: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sonny’s Wonder Goal

Only one place to start. Bless him, Sonny appeared to misread the invitation, and rather than going through the motions in dirge-like fashion as would befit a cold and wet December afternoon, he trotted out the sort of once-in-a-lifetime fare that one normally reserves for when the Queen oozes into town.

I suspect that even now, 24 hours later, some of the patrons are still on their feet applauding, because that was a goal the like of which is now only ever seen in the playground or on the computer box. Put bluntly, nobody dribbles past the entire team any more. It was a relic of a bygone era, and a pretty glorious one at that.

For all the tittle-tattle about Jose, new tactics, ballboys, and so on and so forth, there was something most gratifying about seeing a mist descend upon a player, and then seeing said player give a shrug as if to say “To heck with all this, I’m going to run the entire length of the pitch and take on literally every player in the opposing team before scoring”.

2. The Front Four

It seems over-generous to tip the hat in Dele’s direction, for the decoy run that created a yard of space for Son to set off on his gallop, because it would not have mattered if there were no team-mates on the pitch at all – Son would still have taken on anyone Burnley threw at him.

Nevertheless, Dele did head off in a westerly direction as Son headed north, and it struck me as a pleasing aspect of Jose’s Tottenham that enthusiastic backing from the supporting cast of forwards is very much a feature of our attacking play now.

Dele has attracted the recent headlines, Kane tends to score whatever the circumstances and Son will never stop buzzing around – but it is the fact that when the ball breaks this lot spring into action as a quartet (featuring Lucas or Sissoko, as appropriate, as the fourth musketeer) that catches the eye.

Watching all four of them hare off as one towards goal reminds me of those nature programmes in which a veritable gaggle of fish take it upon themselves to switch direction en masse, almost as if they’ve been rehearsing the move for weeks. Flocks of birds dabble in this practice too, I’ve noticed over the course of my thirty-eight summers. And now, on the signal of a ball blooted towards the opposition goal, our front four of Kane, Dele, Son and Lucas/Sissoko have taken this particular gag, first demonstrated in nature, and neatly perfected it while wearing football boots and Nike clobber.

It’s a heck of a party piece, providing numerous moving parts upon which the opposition defence need to keep tabs. As it happened, of our five goals, the one with the least to recommend it in the aesthetics department was the one which owed most to the all four members of the quartet. Lucas’ goal came about as a result of Sonny’s dribble, Kane’s decoy run and Dele snuffling for scraps. Had but one of them lost interest halfway through the routine, and ambled along towards the area at half-pace, the goal would not have been forced. Which just goes to show.

3. Kane – An Unlikely Undercard

The problem with the metronomic, robotic efficiency of Harry Kane is that after a while it is tempting to take the young stub for granted. One is inclined to mooch around noting that the sun has risen, a selection of leaves have fallen and Harry Kane has notched another goal. Human nature I suppose, and I am as guilty of this as the best of them.

So, easy though it is to lose sight of his input during a five-goal rout that featured arguably the goal of the season, one probably ought to scribble a note to remind oneself that Kane scored two – and not just that but his opener was all his own work and set a tone that was very necessary.

Had he not scored so early, one can never be quite sure how things might have panned out, but on the back of a mightily underwhelming midweek performance, a fast start was dashed handy stuff.

Nor was that opener a tap-in either, or the result of a finely-crafted team move. When he collected the ball the opposition goalkeeper may have began preparing his game-face, but one would be hard pressed to suggest that there was any imminent danger. And yet Kane demonstrated, not for the first time, that he does not really care for such niceties and social norms. Few others would think to leather a shot from that range, but that’s part of the quality of the chap.

That goal out of nothing set the tone, and within five minutes the game was as good as done.

And that is before mentioning the absolutely exquisite pass he played a moment later, inside the Burnley full-back and into the path of Aurier. It is likely to be forgotten as the dust settles and other highlights are re-watched, but during the entire game that pass was bettered only by Son’s goal. (The perfectly-weighted return pass for Sissoko’s goal was another masterpiece – and yet only the fourth best thing Kane did yesterday.)

4. Toby’s Long Passes

A feature of the Jose reign has been the welcome return, like some long-lost lover, of the sight of Toby Alderweireld pinging fifty-yard passes slap bang into the path of one of the attacking mob.

Quite why this feature disappeared from our play is an oddity, having been such a tool in the armoury for a couple of years, but disappear it did, as part of the general implosion of the final year or so of Poch’s reign.

However, it is back now in glorious technicolour, and wheeled out at least a couple of times each game – and why not? Not only does Toby have the happy knack of sticking a pass onto a postage stamp from absolute miles out, but the whole routine is a pretty nifty way of keeping opponents on their toes, varying the type of attack and making for a pleasant change from the short-pass routine.

It won’t always work, I suppose, but when dusted down and wheeled out yesterday all the pipes appeared in rude health, and we can expect it to continue to be a feature.

A rare clean sheet, an improved Dier shielding performance and some enthusiastic flaps from the younglings all helped to round off a pretty satisfactory afternoon. It’s the sort of thing we should be doing regularly at home against the middling lot – but it was a habit that became neglected under Poch, so this sort of result helps no end to shove us towards the Top Four.

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Liverpool 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Waiting Until We Trail To Begin Playing

So that was a game of one seven-ninth and one two-ninth, if ever I saw it. (Strictly speaking, it was more a game of one minute, one seven-ninth and one two-ninth, but I suppose such pedantry can be overlooked on Sundays.)

Having got our noses in front at the earliest possible convenience, our heroes collectively decided to shuffle back as deeply as the laws of the game allowed, and rather inevitably did not budge from this obviously doomed tactic until Liverpool had taken the lead, at around the 70 minute mark.

Thereafter, and with only 20 minutes remaining, they hit upon the remarkable notion of actually taking the fight to their hosts. The whole farcical spectacle made one fling one’s hands in the air and wonder what the point of it all is.

Who knows how things might have panned out had our lot tried to keep possession and link midfield to attack earlier in the piece? One understands the principle of exercising some caution and avoiding unnecessary risks, but we seemed to afford our hosts the sort of respect one would normally reserve for 1970 Brazil. Arguably if we had displayed more attacking intent in the first hour we would still have lost, but the All-Action-No-Plot streak that courses through the veins rather wishes we had lived a smidgeon more by the sword, rather than waiting until the dying embers, to die wondering.

Easy to blame Our Glorious Leader for the ultra-conservative approach, but I doubt that the instructions were to sit quite so deep. In fact, for the first twenty, a semblance of a gameplan seemed to poke its head into view and offer a cheery wave. The formation appeared to be along 4-2-3-1 lines rather than 4-5-1; our counter-attack had a sprinkling of menace (witness our opener); and if anything there was something heartening about the zeal with which our lot adopted a well-organised set-up when out of possession.

But inch by inch and minute by minute, good organisation out of possession morphed into something vastly more negative, and by the half hour mark we appeared to have set up legal residence in the fifteen yards or so outside our own penalty area, the thought of venturing any further north evidently the last thing on anyone’s mind.

2. Eriksen

If Christian Eriksen thinks the blame is all going to be directed at tactics and he can simply sidle quietly out of view, he will jolly well have another think coming.

In his defence, it was hardly his fault that he spent his entire match chasing Robertson’s shadow. This did admittedly appear a thankless task for someone whose DNA does not exactly brim with the ins and outs of tracking opposing attackers. Moreover, ill-suited though he was to such an activity, he did not shirk it, and instead hared around with willing, albeit to only moderate effect.

However, in a game that increasingly cried out for some control and possession, I don’t mind pointing a finger in Eriksen’s direction, and giving it a couple of meaningful jabs for good measure, for we barely strung three passes together for the first hour or so – and if Eriksen cannot contribute to this particular challenge, for which nature appears specifically to have created him, then one is entitled to wonder what the dickens he is doing on the pitch.

The game-plan was evidently to hit Liverpool at breakneck speed on the counter, but after incessant defensive drills one would have thought there would have been some merit in simply retaining possession for a few minutes, and letting Liverpool shuffle back into their own half. This ought to have been Eriksen’s brand of cognac, but the chap offered precious little in possession, and while he was by no means the only culprit, this can go down as yet another big game in which he offered precious little to justify the reputation.

3. Dele Alli

In recent games young Dele seems to have rolled up his sleeves and at least given the appearance of trying to right a few wrongs. This has presumably been due to his jettisoning from the England squad rather than anything else, but the shoots of a return to form have been spotted by the particularly eagle-eyed, so one was inclined to hope for the best today.

Alas, as with Eriksen, the whole back-foot set-up seemed to grab young Dele squarely by the shoulders and fling him a considerable distance out of his comfort zone. Where we looked to the young bean to link midfield to attack, instead he simply had to roll out an Eric Dier impression and chase Liverpool shadows in midfield.

To an extent both Eriksen and Dele can plead mitigating circumstances, because they certainly did not sign up to such nonsense as tracking opposing forwards thirty yards from their own goal. Yet there they both were, and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that neither appeared particularly thrilled with life.

Sympathy was in short supply from these quarters, however. When life gives you lemons, you must, as the adage has it, make lemonade; and when Liverpool hog possession and throw wave after wave of attack at you, you must cherish the few touches of the ball that they offer, and show some composure in possession. Alas, it is a damning indictment on both Messrs Eriksen and Alli that neither lemonade nor any semblance of composed possession was on display.

I suppose we should not be surprised that Dele seemed more like his old self once we fell behind, for at that point the whole team shifted forward into attacking positions, and he appeared vastly more comfortable with his surroundings.

4. Gazzaniga

A note on Paolo Gazzaniga, who did not do a whole lot wrong, throughout the ninety.

Now this might sound like the faintest praise with which to damn a chap, but when one puts it into the context of Hugo Lloris and his ever more inventive modes of calamity, simply “not doing a whole lot wrong” gives Gazzaniga the sheen of some divine being, sent from on high.

His saves were solid enough, but in truth shot-stopping was never Lloris’ weakness. It was the other business, the bread and butter stuff, that caught the eye – which again, sounds a bit of an oddity until one puts it into the context of Lloris. Gazzaniga caught crosses that Lloris would arguably have spilled. Gazzaniga punted the ball upfield when Lloris would arguably have played his centre-backs into trouble. Gazzaniga stayed on his feet when Lloris would arguably have tripped over his own shoelaces and shoved the ball into the path of an attacker.

The penalty wrong-footed him, which was a shame, but there was a vaguely reassuring presence about him, which bodes well for the coming weeks.

One might make other observations about our mob – a promising cameo from Ndombele; yet another remarkable finish from Kane; Aurier actually a mite unlucky with this week’s calamity – but having been sucked into a defensive vacuum for over an hour we can hardly complain about having lost. The infuriatingly inconsistent season bobbles on, and one must hope that next week we summon the spirit of last week, and finally turn that dashed corner.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Spurs 1-1 Watford: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lots of Tinkering, No Obvious Strategy

If ever there were a sign that a manager is not quite sure how to fix things, it is when he makes 7 changes of personnel and a switch in formation, and then switches formation again at half-time.

Not entirely the fault of Poch of course, for if the eleven on the pitch last time out had performed to their abilities no changes would have been needed at all – but nevertheless. The current approach by Our Glorious Leader smacks of a chap whose best-laid plans are but a distant memory, and who is now experimenting his little heart out, with little clear strategy in place.

By and large Our Glorious Leader retains enough credit that the masses are willing to let him untie the various knots and restore some normality. But where previously there was a fairly clear approach – such as the high press, or faith in youth – and one might have correctly named nine or ten of the starting eleven, now it is difficult to know quite what the plan will be from one game to the next.

The first half performance duly reflected the confused organisation of things, with little discernible identity amongst our lot, and we ended up seeming to rely on Toby’s long punts as our main attacking gambit. Few on the pitch seemed particularly clear on how to go about their honest work, and the outputs were suitably uninspiring.

Poch has talked a lot about “trust” and “confidence” and various other concepts that seem to the AANP ears to wander rather off-topic, but I’m none the wiser about what tactical approach he thinks is best to reverse our fortunes. At present the approach appears to be try something new every half hour or so, until we strike oil.

2. Lack of Deep-Lying Creativity

The first half provided the sort of turgid fare that various lilywhite managers of the 90s fought tooth and nail to mark their own trademark.

It seemed from my vantage point that chief amongst our ills was the absence of a deep-lying playmaker, if you get my drift. A Modric/Carrick sort of chap, who could pick up the ball from the defenders and play a pass – long or short, the finer points matter little – that would bypass one or two opponents in the blink of an eye, and make its recipient sit up and say “What ho, if I point my compass north I might have a few yards of space into which to amble and make mischief”.

Or, indeed, a Dembele type of fellow, who, rather than pass, would simply dip a shoulder or puff out a chest, and breeze past one or two opponents – similarly in the blink of an eye – carrying the ball fifteen yards and forcing friend and foe alike to view proceedings in a different way.

Instead, our central midfield pairing were Winks and Sissoko. Now the effort of these two can hardly be faulted, and both have assets that are useful and have earned the respect and affection of most right-minded fans. However, neither of these young eggs really possess in spades the sorts of talents upon which Messrs Modric, Carrick or Dembele made their careers.

Sissoko has it in him to carry the ball 30 yards – which I suppose is the net effect of a Dembele – when a cloud envelops him and he seems to be possessed by some unearthly compunction to take on all-comers. But yesterday, and this season in general, that particular party-trick has remained in his locker.

And Winks constantly appears to be on the cusp of changing the game. He seems to tick numerous boxes – availing himself when defenders have the ball, picking up possession on the half-turn, driving forward – but ultimately his final pass, nine times out of ten, goes sideways or backwards. He keeps possession and fizzes with energy, but hardly tests opposing defences with his passing range.

The causes of these two were not helped by both Lucas and Dele generally adopting positions within a couple of yards of Kane, leaving precious little in the way of link-up between midfield and attack. (On the one occasion in which Lucas did drop a little deeper, the planets aligned and we almost scored – Winks fed Lucas straight through the middle, Lucas fed Dele – still straight through the middle – and, not standing on ceremony, Dele took our one and only shot on target in the first half.)

Anyway, on the point of deep-lying playmakers – perhaps Lo Celso or Ndombele can, in time, provide the answer. Or the more attacking sorts can simply drop ten yards deeper. Either way something has to change, because watching the ball end up with Toby time and again, to punt a hopeful diagonal, made the eyes water a tad.

3. Introduction of Son

Things perked up noticeably once Sonny was introduced – which, on reflection, is the sort of statement that would ring true on just about any given day in any given circumstances.

The removal of Sanchez and reversion from 3 centre-backs to 2 made bucketloads of sense. While Watford threatened on the counter a few times, the third centre-back was by and large a wasted player, given that his most significant role tended to be simply rolling the back right or left to his neighbouring centre-back, in what was reminiscent of those pointless bureaucratic processes one sometimes encounters in life.

Watford did not present enough of a threat to merit such defensive caution; and if the idea were more of an attacking one, to allow our wing-backs to bomb forward in the manner of Walker-and-Rose-circa-2016, it fell pretty flat. I have called Serge Aurier a few choice names in my time, but “An impressive likeness to the Kyle Walker of 2016” has not been amongst them. Similarly, Danny Rose is now an angry shadow of the marauding soul who set the tone in those halcyon days.

So after the break Son moved to the right, to provide an extra body linking defence to attack, and both the changed shape and the particular individual improved things ten-fold. Sonny tore around like a puppy reunited with its owner, and others around him seemed to perk up, as if struck by the thought that his high-octane approach to life might bring about a change in fortunes.

Moreover, with Son installed on the right, where once midfield and attack had resembled strangers harbouring deep, mutual suspicions, in the second half there appeared to be consensus amongst all that collaboration would bring about a goal.

4. VAR Luck

Ultimately we were good value for the draw, having bossed possession and had the decency to show some urgency in the second half. That said, Lady Luck gave us a few admiring glances along the way, for Dele’s goal could quite reasonably have been ruled out.

I’m pretty sure that a few weeks ago Man City had a late winner against us disallowed for use of the upper arm in the build-up, so to say I was perplexed that Dele’s shoulder-nudge was waved on is to understate things.

More to the point, my best mate Jan rather forget the laws of the game in the first half, when he slid in and aimed one or two little kicks at his man. It’s not allowed, Jan! Except that in this instance, it was. The inconsistency of the thing is most puzzling, but there we go and here we are.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

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