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West Brom 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Not The Abysmal Showing I’d Been Promised

A confession of sorts to begin with, as it’s generally best to air these things at the outset – I did not view the game live, so by the time the telly-box re-ran the binge in its entirety I was already well aware of the outcome.

The reports I received gave the impression that it was one of those catastrophic affairs, in which the undead roam the streets, cars and buildings are set alight and humanity is generally going to pot. I braced myself accordingly, poured a more generous than normal dram of the good stuff and settled in.

And was pleasantly surprised. I hesitate to say it, as one prefers not to incur the wrath of one’s public, but I thought we started fairly healthily. Admittedly every set-piece swung into our area caused absurd levels of panic, but those were pretty rare as we cunningly hogged possession. Moreover this was not one of those turgid affairs in which the ball is monotonously shuttled sideways, and all and sundry stick rigidly to their place of dwelling, offering no movement.

Au contraire, there was decent movement and the ball was accordingly shoved around pretty nippily, as well as the usual work-rate that ensured we tended to win back the ball before most of the dignitaries had registered that it had gone. Toby was back in the fold, and wasted little time in pinging his diagonals, while the back-three allowed both Vertonghen to sneak into midfield and the wing-backs to set up camp well over halfway.

We made some respectable chances too – both Kane and Lamela were clean through, and Wanyama’s effort drew a save. Frankly, had I not been oddly blessed with the benefit of hindsight I would have suggested that while no classic, we seemed to be peddling our wares in honest fashion.

2. Short Corners

I appreciate that our Glorious Leader would have taken one look at the opposition teamsheet and decided that the aerial route was strictly for extreme circumstances only, but nevertheless the relentless barrage of comically inept short-corner routines that we delivered throughout did rather make one scratch the head.

There was one glorious throwback to the Anderton-Sheringham era, when Eriksen swept in a low corner and Kane swung a boot at the near post.

That aside one received the impression that precisely nobody involved in these little scenes had remembered their lines. It was questionable whether any of them had been rehearsed at all, as nobody seemed quite sure what was supposed to happen, and between two or three men in lilywhite they contrived to oversee an elaborate process of funnelling the ball back towards halfway, or allowing the ball to trickle apologetically out of play. A little more training ground time appears in order.

3. Toby and Danny Rose

Why these two were suddenly included yesterday, having been pretty unsubtly sidelined for months, is anyone’s guess.

Maybe Poch is keen to remind potential suitors of their value? Maybe he would like to see them sharpen up ahead of the World Cup? Maybe he simply puts all the squad numbers in a hat and picks them out at random?

Whatever the rationale, it was nice to see the pair back in lilywhite. Toby slotted in like he had never been away, and seemed to inspire Davinson Sanchez to similarly great heights. That said, the caveat should be added that this serenity applied only to open play, for set-pieces were an entirely different kettle of fish, with none of our lot looking remotely comfortable when peering upwards at the West Brom aerial barrage.

Danny Rose had a marvellous joust with the West Brom right-back Nyom, winning some and losing some but competing throughout like his life depended on it, which is not something that has ever been said of Ben Davies in the entirety of human history.

Rose’s push-and-shove with Nyom, who stood around two feet taller and three stone heavier, was possibly the highlight of the entire game, and although by the letter of the law Rose might have seen red for raising hand to face, the delayed and dramatic dive that followed from Nyom was good, wholesome comedy.

As with Kyle Walker back in yesteryear, Rose seems to be the sort of bean who cares deeply about his personal duels, and has more than a sprinkling of robustness in his DNA. Not the sort of character upon whom Spurs has traditionally built its reputation, and we will be weaker for his likely departure. Even if he did make quite the pig’s ear of his attempted clearance for the West Brom goal.

4. Lucas Moura’s Cameo

One presumes that next season Lucas Moura will be upgraded from Special Guest Star to Main Cast, because glimpses of him have been pretty fleeting since his January arrival, but generally worth the wait.

Yesterday was no exception, as he put his head down and made a beeline straight for the heart of the West Brom defence every time he received possession, drawing fouls and generally prompting our hosts to run scurry around in a bit of a tizz.

While Son, Lamela and Dele all have quick, jinking feet, none have Lucas’ capacity to run with the ball at pace. It nearly did the trick yesterday, despite limited air-time, and it would be good to see the young egg play a more prominent role in things when next season rumbles around.

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

Brighton 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

Hmm, difficult to know what to make of that one, what? A bit of a struggle to find the delicate phrase that sums it all up. Not that my old man, AANP Senior, had much trouble, mind. “Rubbish,” was his pithy assessment as the bell sounded, and I suppose it’s hard to disagree.

1. The Central Midfield

Being an enlightened sort, who is all for a new wheeze once in a while, I have no problem with the modern concept of ‘change’. A spot of invention is as likely to do good as harm, so if some old bean wants to wheel out a new idea every once in a while it’s fine by me.

However, there is a limit to these things, so when Our Glorious Leader instructed Dembele to put his feet up, and unveiled Messrs Sissoko and Wanyama as his midfield axis of choice, the AANP blood did freeze over a mite.

No doubt both are good, honest chaps, and when it comes to destruction, Victor Wanyama struts around like a bloke who has a diploma in the field. Present him with a slick-passing outfit like Real Madrid, and the chap will likely prowl around like a bulldog scenting blood.

As for Sissoko – well, two years on it is still a little difficult to ascertain quite what benefit he brings to any situation conceivable, but the hound does have an engine on him, even if the connection between feet and brain has something of the Russian Roulette about it.

However, whatever argument one pitches in favour of these two young fish, one cannot look one’s neighbour in the eye and honestly opine that between them they are possessed of the guile and finesse required to unpick a well-organised couple of banks of four. Last night required our central midfield to spot a cute pass and deliver it in nary the blink of any eye. Alas, Wanyama and Sissoko spend that much time bringing the dashed thing under control and carefully laying out all their optins that dew began to settle on the turf around them.

To his credit, Wanyama at least used his destructive capabilities for good, in harassing the Brighton chappie into conceding possession to Son, who created our opener. But by and large, the deep-lying well of creativity was dry as a bone until Dembele lumbered on and began effortlessly rolling past approaching bodies.

2. Full-Backs And The Class Of ‘16/17

Cast your minds back twelve months or so, and you may recall that the Premier League was not quite the one-horse procession of 2018, and the good ship Hotspur was in fact making a dashed good fist of things. All-singing, all-dancing, golden boot-wearing and whatnot. But perhaps key to all this was the quality of our full-backs. Perhaps not, as the counter-argument might go, but still – perhaps.

Danny Rose on one side and Kyle Walker on the left were at the peak of their powers, combining the pace and attacking width of wingers with the pace and defensive upper-body strength of full-backs. Acting as all-rounders in the team, this indefatigable pair sneakily gave us the advantage of effectively having two extra sets of legs on the pitch.

In a team riddled with key personnel, a pretty convincing case could be made for those two being the most important of the lot. Fast forward to the present day and it’s fair to say our tails are not waggling with quite so much aplomb.

Each member of the current gaggle does brim with energy, and they are generally decent wide outlets, ever willing to go flying up the flank in search of glory. But this does not count for much if they consistently peddle utter rot once they get there, no?

To his credit, Trippier does a fairly nifty line in cushion-volleyed-first-time passes (the specimen that set up Dele Alli vs Real makes for a decent Exhibit A), but in general this lot seem to be of the ‘Close Your Eyes And Swing Your Boot’ School of Crossing, with the ball as likely to fly into orbit as it is to bend into a usefully chaotic area.

On top of which, the inclusion of Serge Aurier on matchday is essentially equivalent to conceding a goal start to the opposition, the chap delivering calamitous interventions like a seasoned pro. Yesterday, naturally was an opportunity for him to showcase his imbecilic rot, and he didn’t disappoint, while on t’other side Ben Davies delivered his usual slew of utterly average crosses. It makes the soul droop, it really does.

3. Toby Alderweireld

Might this prove the last appearance in lilywhite of Toby Alderweireld? Quite possibly.

One ought not to quibble with Daniel Levy and his careful management of every last penny, but it does seem a dashed shame that when we hit upon a world class egg like Alderweireld, a reason is promptly dug up to kick the chap off the premises and make clear to him that he is no longer welcome to break bread with us.

Davinson Sanchez is a hearty young buck, and in time might well become one of the best of the lot, but at present he still gets his head in an occasional tizz and blurts out the wrong lines. Toby, by contrast, is near faultless, and together with Vertonghen they form quite the bedrock. But what is one to do?

4. Harry Kane’s Fitness

I asked after Saturday’s defeat, and in that keen analytical way of mine, I’ll ask again now – is the blighter fully fit? There seems to be a slightl sluggishness about the fellow ever since his return, as if he is approaching the latter stages of a particularly gruelling cross-country trek and, all things being equal, would not say no to a cup of tea and a roaring fire.

Not a bad call from Senor Poch mind, to pull him back into the Number 10 role in the second half, as it at least meant that the young bean got to see a little of the ball. It still came to naught, but at least reacquainted him with his erstwhile spherical chum.

I do rather hope that the spring returns to his step fairly sharp-ish. We may well have fourth spot just about in the bag, but to put it bluntly an FA Cup win would be a darned sight easier if Harry Kane were donning a cape and leading opposing defenders a merry dance.

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

Spurs 1-3 Man City: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Off-The-Ball Struggles

I don’t think I’d be deceiving my public in suggesting that that was right up there with the more underwhelming nights in recent memory. Admittedly few of us would have had particularly wild expectations, but City’s recent form was enough to have some of us glancing surreptitiously at one another and whispering “What ho?” with a mischievous smile and a knowing wink or two.

But any such inclings of unlikely glory were given a damn good kicking in that opening half hour. I had, reasonably enough, hoped that we might have taken the game to our visitors and got stuck in at them from the off, to test their mettle so to speak.

Whether that approach might have worked we will never know, because they zapped the ball around as if it were a beam of light, and none of our lot touched the dashed thing until we were two down.

We were not undone by any moments of individual brilliance as much as a bit of a tactical shoeing, as the City chappies oozed from one position to another, and collectively from one formation to another, all of which made our brains melt. Our off-the-ball approach, so often something of a nifty secret weapon, was reduced to the rather depressing sight of simply pattering around a couple of yards behind play, desperately wanting to pause for breath and clarify north from south.

2. Dembele – Genius With A Potential Flaw

I suspect the weekly adoration of Dembele might become a little wearisome to the unconverted, but in this parish it continues like nobody’s business. To say that the chap is merely a “dribbler” is a bit like saying that Grace Kelly or some other such Hollywood siren is “rather a looker” – that is, while true enough per se, it doesn’t really begin to do justice the manifold talents on show.

I can honestly say I have never set eyes upon another soul who gildes past opponents as well as our man. And without wanting to labour the point, it is not as if he throws in an array of befuddling stepovers and party-tricks either. The chap can seemingly send two or three opponents spiralling off in the wrong direction simply by means of a shoulder-dip, some pretty magnetic close control and the body strength of one of the more Herculean bulls going around.

All of which is topping stuff, and has the locals bursting into applause on a regular basis. Look closely enough at the fledgling stages of any Tottenham attack and as often as not you’ll find Dembele’s fingerprints riddling the thing.

However, when we are not in possession – as happened for great swathes of the match yesterday – Dembele’s star burns a little less brightly. The chap is not really blessed with the indefatigable energy reserves of many of his lilywhite chums, and in truth his principle means of terminating an opposing attack tends to be the slightly unrefined Cynical Haul of the Shoulders.

Now personally I am of the opinion that Dembele’s value on the ball pretty much excuses his failings as a defensive midfielder when not in possession, but it is a thought worth chewing over. To pad out the point, a general inability to affect things when not in possession is my principle reason for arguing against the inclusion of First-Rate Rotter Jack Wilshere in the England team.

3. Kane – Fully Fit?

Given the moral outrage generated this week by the public declaration of a striker that he wanted to score goals, I was under the impression that Harry Kane would only ever touch the ball to shoot or tee himself up for a shot. Picture my surprise then, when he found himself around the edge of the area and opted to slide a pass in for Eriksen (to do what Sonny never would, and go flying in amongst the limbs to score), rather than blast the thing goalwards himself.

That, alas, was about as fruity as the participation got for our golden boy. Had I noticed him at any other point in the game I would have observed that he was pretty anonymous, which makes one think.

As someone with zero medical knowledge I don’t mind opining that the young bean did not look fully fit, from my vantage point. Where previously he would dash down the channels like some buccaneering hero, or drop deep to shield the ball and spray to onrushing chums, yesterday there was something of the amble about his gait.

No doubt he sweated a good honest gallon or so of the honest stuff, but he barely got anywhere near the ball throughout. (Not that much can really be done if he is indeed lacking match practise, other than giving him more matches.)

4. Upbeat Stuff From Lucas

By contrast, Lucas Moura set about the thing with all manner of vim and gusto once introduced.

There is, I suppose, the eternal pessimist’s concern that the blighter might be all flash and glitz and whatnot, and no actual end-product – presumably Time, as she often does, will have the final say on that one.

But for now, or, more accurately, then, Lucas’ quick feet and general impression of an eel of the particularly slippery variety quickened the pulse in a most welcome manner. One imagines that tiring defenders would groan and curse at the introduction of such a rascal, and I for one hope that he upgrades from cameo roles sooner rather than later.

5. Another Day, Another Lloris Clanger

What the dickens is up with the chap? His errors of judgement are becoming so regular and costly that somebody somewhere will soon write a strongly-worded letter about it to the one of the big cheeses.

Admittedly the foul was outside the area – but, by heck, what a foul! He could not have been less subtle if he had set off from his line with an axe slung over his shoulder and brandishing a sign that read “Regardez! I’m looking for a striker to upend.” Not the sort of thing for which he earns the weekly envelope, I’m pretty damned sure.

Watching the ghastly scene unfold did make me pause and stroke the chin, and wonder what had become of those halcyon days in which Lloris played as a genuine “Sweeper Keeper”, to coin a phrase. Back then, it was as common a sight as a singing lark to see the young egg haring fully thirty yards from his goal to triumphantly intercept an opposition pass and boot it roughly back when it came.

Such interventions would be jolly useful in season 2017/18, given that our eye-wateringly high defensive line often begins business up around the halfway line, but Lloris seems to have decided that racing off his line to help out his back four is now strictly for nostalgic reminiscence only.

So we are left with a defeat that we suspected might come our way, and which does not do much damage to our Top Four push – but finishing third has now become a mite trickier, which bothers me a tad, given that 4th spot would presumably mean a CL play-off during post-World Cup season. The brow furrows.

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

Bournemouth 1-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Reaction to Defeat

“The true test of a team is not how they celebrate victory, but how they react to defeat.”

I’d be deceiving my public if I claimed that line – paraphrased, don’t you know – as one of my own. In fact I’m not sure who said it, and frankly with gags like that, whoever did say it could hardly have been the life and soul of a Saturday night jaunt on the town, but whatever the chap’s personal flaws he certainly had a point when it came to football.

The mood at AANP Towers over the last few days since Juve has pretty much boasted all the joyous revelry of the wake of a fondly-remembered family pet. Morose, gloomy and pretty starkly lacking even a splash of the traditional joie de vivre. I imagine it has been the same in lilywhite households across the land too, so heavens knows how the players felt as they laced up the footwear and prepared for today’s skirmish.

Unsurprisingly, they began proceedings with the same moroseness and gloom with which I had become so familiar in recent days, and when Bournemouth hit the bar and then hit the net within the first five minutes, the reaction to Wednesday’s defeat appeared to be one of general listlessness. The omens, it is fair to say, were pretty negative.
Matters worsened when the poster boy limped off, so our heroes deserve enormous credit for snapping out of their hangovers and raising their level.

Undoubtedly the scoreline flattered us, but the win was richly deserved, and in truth having lamented our lack of midweek ruthlessness in front of goal like one of the miserable Greek poets who only ever bangs on about the bad things in life, I was buoyed like nobody’s business to see us bury our chances so efficiently today.

I had remarked on these very pages last time out that there was a danger of feeling sorry for ourselves and needlessly dropping points; thumping backslaps all round then, to the players for bouncing straight back.

2. Front Four

As mentioned, the rolling of the precious Kane ankle might have been the cue for a general waving off the white flag and a whole cacophony of wailing and gnashing of teeth, so it was good to see that instead our lot took the opportunity rather sneakily to showcase their talents. There was something of “The King is dead – I say, rather than lament the chap, we could go and make names for ourselves here” about it all.

The decision not to bring on Llorente was hardly surprising, as the old bean simply is not at the required quality notch, irrespective of his Rochdale hat-tricks and whatnot. Moreover, tactically I had feared that wheeling him out would have made us a little too one-dimensional. Firing everything at a static beanpole, if you get my drift, for Llorente’s assets cannot be truthfully said to include indefatigable energy levels.

Instead, Lamela skipped on, brash young buck that he is, Son moved upfront, and those two, along with Dele and Eriksen spent the following hour buzzing around all over the place. The loose plan was Son up top; but each of the aforementioned appeared to have been granted carte blanche when it came to whizzing hither and thither into each other’s nominal patch of turf, and with the full-backs providing width we had a decent attacking armoury, even sans Kane.

Admittedly the full-backs’ actual crosses nine times out of ten ranked under the Pretty Dashed Woeful column, but their very presence helped stretched things, and like a broken clock Serge Aurier took time out from foul-throwing and other general acts of imbecility to deliver a peach of a cross for young Dele’s goal.

3. Life Without Kane

Digressing from the 90 minutes in question, the likely absence of Kane for presumably 4-6 weeks can hardly be greeted with thunderous cheers of acclaim, but we have managed without him for such periods in recent seasons, and today did demonstrate that we have the personnel to at least maintain the sprightly style of play.

The presence of Lucas on the bench provides another option, as I suppose does Llorente, in his own loveable way, so I suspect we’ll muddle through. Mind you, the first hint of a below-par showing and the internet will presumably combust under the weight of rabid commentators insisting that we cannot cope without the chap.

Much rides on our next two encounters.

4. Son’s Miskicks

Having retreated into his shell somewhat during February, Son has responded as one would expect to the indignity of being sold from the AANP Fantasy Football Team. He now boasts a couple of fancy new party tricks in his repertoire, as well. The rounding-the-keeper gag never fails to impress onlookers, and it was entertaining to see him wave an arm at Lamela as part of the routine to deceive the Bournemouth custodian into thinking that he would square the ball. The scamp!

But as deception goes, he will have to go some distance to top his array of miskicks. First the scuff onto his standing foot vs Juve, and this week the thump into the turf to create a delicate loop over the goalkeeper.

It does all suggest that he ought to stop watching Sissoko for his footballing inspiration, but on a less facetious note the chap should be applauded for getting into the right positions, and if a slice of luck is shoved his way then few can begrudge him.

5. Eriksen

So the record books will record for posterity that Son scored twice, and decades down the line few will be the wiser as to the intricacies of the job, but one really had to watch matters unfold with one’s own two eyes to appreciate the role played by Christian Eriksen in all of this.

Unruffled and in control throughout, he was patient in his passing, always looking for the killer ball but more often than not simply nudging it more straightforwardly if the circumstances dictated it. Yet he just makes things tick, and when the opportunity arises will supplement things with an outrageously well-spotted and weighted through ball.

The pass to Kane (for the disallowed goal which brought about the injury) was one such example, and the pass to Son for his second, while being simpler, was still delivered to perfection. I can certainly imagine some amongst our number who would have made rather a pig’s ear of that one.

Also worth noting the energy the chap displays week in, week out. Not for the first time he could be seen leading the chase when Bournemouth countered, shepherding the ball out for goal-kicks of all things.

So a particularly knowing tip of the cap to Eriksen, but it’s high-fives and elaborate handshakes all round, for this might have been the moment when our season started to unravel. Not a bit of it.

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

Spurs 1-2 Juventus: Five Tottenham Observations

1. That Sickening Feeling

It was with a moody, morose, hangdog expression that I picked at the morning repast, I don’t mind admitting. One sometimes reads the phrase, “Sick to the pit of his stomach”, in murder mysteries and horror yarns and the like, and I never quite knew what the chap was getting at, although it sounded something one definitely wanted to swerve.
But now I know. Sick to the pit of my stomach. It pretty much hits nail squarely on head, when it comes to capturing the mood at AANP Towers ever since that blasted final whistle. The feeling of not wanting to get out of bed, even when you’re not actually in bed.

Or, more specifically, that feeling of having by and large, all things considered, outplayed a team over two legs, save for ten minutes in the first joust and five minutes in the second – and still ending up trudging home empty-handed and out of the competition for another year, after months of labour which actually begin at the start of last season when just qualifying for the bally thing. There’s something World Cup-esque about it all.

There were no injustices about which to complain (okay, the stamp on Son, the odd tenuous handball appeal – but if anything Lady Luck leant towards lilywhite), and no real complaints about the outcome. And yet the manner of the dashed thing is bitterly difficult to take. A lesson for us all, what?

2. Be More Clinical

And on the subject of lessons, they flew at us by the absolute bucketload yesterday. Most obviously I suppose was the need to make all the hay available when the sun is out and the conditions ship shape.

In the first half in particular we did a pretty topping job of opening up the Juve defence, and creating a decent fistful of presentable opportunities, but only scored one. The key protagonists, if not quite allowed the freedom of a fortnight back, were still looking pretty hot. Dembele was gliding, Eriksen was picking his men, Son was a little blur of whirring legs. But just the one goal. At half-time that seemed a pretty satisfactory night’s work, and there were back slaps all round; but how young and foolish we were back in those halcyon days of half-time.
In the second half it was more a case of well-set shots flying just wide of the mark. At school this would have earned that slightly patronising praise for effort, but yesterday it didn’t really tackle the meat of the problem, namely ticks in the Goals Scored column.

By contrast, Juve created two clear chances, tucked both away and that was enough. The lesson is not just obvious, it stands directly in front of you and raps you over the head with a blunt instrument.

Our heroes can certainly be proud of the fact that they twice took the game to that lot, outplayed them for large periods and created a hatful of chances. The next step, then, is to score goals at the slightest hint of an invitation, and in every period of dominance, because this stage of the Champions League is evidently pretty unforgiving, and points are not awarded for artistic finesse.

The Kane chance when he rounded the keeper; the Son effort dragged wide just before his goal; the Son header straight at the ‘keeper; Lamela’s slight delay in chasing the Kane header which hit the post – whereas in the Premier League, even against the top teams, another opportunity will likely toddle along (and if not, within seven days there is an opportunity to right all wrongs and forget about past mistakes), in the last 16 of the CL there is evidently a limit to the number of bites at the cherry over the course of 180 minutes, and if you miss your moment then you are simply plucked by the shoulders and tossed unceremoniously to the back of the queue.

3. Various Other Lessons Learned

Aside from simply sticking the thing in the blasted net from time to time, there was plenty else to learn from the way Juve got the job done, so I trust that our glorious leader and indeed those on the pitch took the time to whip out their notepads and scribble away like nobody’s business.

I suppose a lot of it could be filed under the loose heading of “General Savviness and Nous”. Things like tactical fouls, changing shape (and reacting to shape-changes), delaying play, and general game management. Some would probably be labelled fairly dark arts, but others are considerably brighter, and simply reflect a little exercising of the grey matter. Oddly enough it seems there’s more to playing football than simply playing football, which really makes one stop and think.

On a side note, amongst numerous other things I give credit to the Juve top dog for staggering his double substitution at the hour mark. Where most would simply have bunged both subs onto the pitch in one dollop, signalling a clear change of tack, the Allegri chap made his changes a minute apart.

Nothing too sinister in that, one might think, but as one of the TV bods pointed out, the effect was to give our lot more food for thought than their little minds could handle. Barely had they computed Sub No. 1 and the accompanying change in approach, than Sub No. 2 was galloping into view, and more time was spent by those in lilywhite scratching their heads and trying to figure out what the dickens was happening. Within five minutes, while we were still adjusting our dials, Juve had scored and it was all too late.

4. A Team In The Manager’s Image (For Better And Worse)

An Arsenal-supporting chum, of all things, noted to me that possibly the only flaw in the management style of Senor Pochettino is a slightly rudimentary approach to the art of substitutions, and I suppose I am inclined to agree there, because for all his qualities the old bean rarely turns a game on its head with his mid-match tinkering.

By and large we tend to muddle through anyway, but on occasions like yesterday some inspiration from Stage Right would certainly not have gone amiss. However, I suppose that, like the troupe out on the pitch, our glorious leader himself is also rather green behind the ears in these matters.

The whole team is very much in the manager’s image, which by and large makes for pretty topping stuff – the whole cast singing from the same hymnsheet as it were – but it also means that they share his few flaws, and the inexperience from top to bottom cost us yesterday.

5. Progress and Next Steps

It is often said that while you can take AANP out of the analysis I’ll be dashed if you can take the analyst out of AANP, and as such we probably ought to consider next steps.

Beating Bournemouth seems like a sensible starting point. Ordinarily this would go without saying, but given the soul-destroying nature of last night, Sunday’s game shoulders an extra wedge or two of significance. Get back on the wagon and despatch that lot, and our season remains on track. Feel sorry for ourselves and roll around morosely, and we might start dropping points, and before you know it the whole thing is falling apart and locals are running for the hills.

But on a cheerier note, there is pretty visible progress from one season to the next. A couple of years ago we stumbled and crashed through a fairly ghastly Europa experience.
Last season we were gifted a pretty cheery-looking CL group, and made a most awful mess of things, then did the same in the Europa.

This season we were pretty solid third favourites in a group of four, but topped the thing, beating the current champions, then rather cruelly were rewarded with a knockout against the other finalist, and made a respectable fist of things.

As trajectories go, the Pochettino Vintage is up there with some of the great parabolas of our time, and you cannot get much higher praise than that.

Spurs 6-1 Rochdale: Five THFC Observations

1. VAR, Apparently

Just as well we started thumping in goals from all angles in the second half, because by the midway point of the first half the two dozen or so brave souls who had made the pilgrimage to Wembley appeared ready to grab the nearest pitchfork and riot, in protest at VAR and the accompanying lunacy.

If you are looking for some semblance of sanity or explanation in this direction you can jolly well look elsewhere, because AANP was even more discombobulated than usual. Not only were VAR decisions being made according to the toss of a coin or spin of a wheel, or whatever sorcery it is, but I had the pleasure of watching the whole thing unfold from the rear end of a bar in Malta of all places, which had wisely decided to shun the witterings of the standard commentators and instead peddle a marvellous range of 80s power ballads and 90s pop as the audio backdrop to proceedings. A pretty ripe deal, you might think, and I certainly would not trade it, but without someone narrating the thing it was blank looks all round whenever the ref’s eyes lit up and the VAR machine rolled into town.

So when Lamela’s early “goal” was disallowed, with replays showing nobody offside, no simulation and about as much physical contact as one would normally expect from a game of chess, I could do little more than exchange a quizzical look with my old man, AANP Senior, while R. Kelly warbled in my ear that he could fly.

The decision to award the penalty seemed a slightly rummy one to me, the foul having begun a good few metres outside the area, but having bravely fought off the attentions of his marker for as long as was bearable, young Trippier’s little legs could support him no longer. And while few juries would possibly have convicted on those grounds, Trippier wisely enough reasoned that where there is VAR there is hope for even the most unlikely infraction to be awarded; and Bryan Adams gently crooned his satisfaction.

That said, the decision then to disallow the Son’s goal made me cast a few severe glances around the place like nobody’s business. A Spurs-supporting chum of mine kindly sent me an image from the FA website no less, on the various dos and don’ts of penalty kickery, on which was inscribed the specific words “Feinting is permitted”. It’s permitted, dash it! If anything, the FA bods are practically encouraging it! And while Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” admittedly did a mighty job of soothing this particular savage soul, the injustice of it all had me chuntering away into my Maltese lager.

2. Attacking Trio

So it was with a cocktail comprising two thirds bewilderment and one third effrontery that I sipped the half-time restorer and was serenaded by that virile old devil, Marvin Gaye. VAR had stood virtually as an extra line of defence; our own defence had switched off a little too regularly for comfort, and the Sissoko-Winks defensive screen had a distinctly porous whiff about it.

The saints be praised then, that the attacking triumvirate of Lamela, Son and Lucas were going about their business with gay old abandon. Each one of them bounded around the place as if to say, “Hello! If we play our cards right there could be all sorts of goods on offer here,” and accordingly they came fully armed with trickery on the ball and a decent level of work off it.

Lucas in particular appears to do exactly as advertised in the catalogue, which ought really to be barely worthy of mention, but given that our history of big-money signings has the same calamitous air about is as the passenger list of The Titanic, this is actually quite the triumph. Unlike anyone else in lilywhite he seems capable of skipping past opponents at in Full Gallop mode. On top of which, the young bean knows when to hang on to the ball and when to give it, as evidenced by the part he played in more than one goal. While admittedly this particular flexibility has only been fully demonstrated to date in two encounters with Rochdale, it still gets the juices flowing, as it were.

And if one were to step back, stroke the chin and survey the wider landscape, one might even suggest that there is now a degree of competition or reserve for Messrs Eriksen and Alli. Admittedly nobody is in the class of the former, but having a couple of viable options is no bad thing.

3. Llorente

I suppose that having wasted no opportunity to throw curses around like confetti whenever Senor Llorente has tripped over his own feet, it is only right to doff a cap and raise a glass or two when he scores a perfect hat-trick.

Prior to that point it was the usual fare from him: delightfully-weighted lay-offs coupled with an infuriating inability – or maybe just stubborn refusal, who knows? – to throw his weight around, work up a sweat and win a few blasted headers.

However, his first goal was an exquisite finish, and thereafter he did what a good striker ought to do. While goals at home to Rochdale perhaps do not raise the chap’s stock to the extent that global markets will be in disarray, it does mean that his confidence will be heading north, his teammates might be a little less nervous about his presence than they were 24 hours ago, and Harry Kane was granted a night off.

4. The Usual Array of Slightly Bewildering Substitutions

Other luminaries were less fortunate than Kane, however. With the tie in the bag, and the weather atrocious, our glorious leader hit upon the faintly ludicrous area of instructing Mousa Dembele, the undisputed owner of the Most Important Whilst Being Most Fragile award, to don a t-shirt and go haring about in the snow for half an hour. And ten minutes later he had Dele doing the same.
Quite what the heck he thought any of the above would achieve is absolutely beyond me. No good could possibly have resulted, and there seemed, in shipping forecast parlance, a moderate-to-fair chance of someone hurtling through the snow to their doom.
On top of which, while Erik Lamela charged around the pitch on his weekly mission to get himself sent off in double-quick time, Pochettino saw fit to remove Son, and leave Lamela to challenge the referee to a thirty-minute game of Chicken.

For all his virtues – and the list is as long as they come – Pochettino does come across as an odd sort of egg when it comes to substitutions, the type who will see we need a goal in the final ten minutes and bring on Trippier for Dier.

5. Snow

It matters little I suppose, but if you are after a blow-by-blow account of the final half hour or so you are most certainly in the wrong neck of the woods, because I could barely see a blasted thing. Having spent five minutes shouting over Justin Bieber to suggest to AANP Senior that they might want to use a yellow ball, I finally noticed that they were indeed using a yellow ball, and it was adding nothing in the Visibility column.

Nice to see Walker-Peters get five minutes; nicer to see that the Grand Fromage opted against hurling on Harry Kane for a wince-inducing and pointless five minutes; and thoroughly heart-warming to see Walker-Peters sprinting away in celebration after presumably scoring his first Spurs goal, although in real-time it simply appeared that he was going through a rigorous warm-up routine sans ball.

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

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Lackadaisical From Top To Bottom

The quickest route from A to B, so the boffins used to instruct me, is in a straight line, which seems a reasonable enough way of approaching that particular conundrum; but if you are a member of the good ship Hotspur it pretty much is a condition of employment these days that anything resembling a straight line gets tossed out of the window, and the most convoluted and complicated way of doing things is instead selected. Be it Juve or Liverpool, or Newport or Rochdale, our lot have recently been quite taken by the idea of drawing out matters and increasing the tension minute by minute.

So, rather than scoring a couple of goals in the first ten minutes, as was briefly threatened, nerves were frayed, fingernails gnawed to bone and curses flung around like confetti, until the 89th minute for goodness sake.

Despite being utterly dominant from first bell to last, we managed also to be incredibly slack and error-strewn throughout. And whereas this is normally the cue to take a deep breath and launch into a tirade against Sissoko, today the culprits were the much-feted A-listers in our ranks, which makes the mind boggle a bit.

Eriksen and Dembele, upon whom one would normally bet one’s right arm to keep possession ticking over, kept gifting the ball to Palace as if they’d been practising it all week. Harry Kane, upon whom would happily wager the life of a less-cherished cousin to stick away a couple of six-yard chances, made rather a pig’s ear of his opportunities in the opening 88 minutes.

Just about everyone else in lilywhite was similarly careless (young Sanchez can maybe be exonerated). It was almost as if the collective attitude was a carefree shrug, and the general sentiment that “Accuracy doesn’t really matter, Kane will presumably pop up at the death and we’ll win anyway, what?”

2. Aurier Finding New Ways To Be A Liability

As mentioned, Sanchez got his lines right throughout, which is no mean feat when up against a robust soul like Benteke, and alongside him, while his distribution certainly veered towards the errant, Dier nailed the bread-and-butter of keeping Palace forwards at bay.

Come to think of it, Ben Davies also mixed rough with smooth in a passable sort of way. The chap’s crossing tends to have a success rate that lurks in 50-50 territory, but as the game wore and the second half became one-way traffic he at least had the good sense to set up camp well inside the Palace half and provide a left-flank option.

And on that note, of picking a respectable position and giving the opposition something about which to brood, one should probably give Serge Aurier his due; he was always available. Here at AANP Towers we also noticed Aurier execute an impeccably-timed sliding tackle to spare our blushes, which beforehand I would have ranked as about as likely as a flying dinosaur landing on the pitch, so it just goes to show.

But whereas Aurier is normally an absolute liability in defence, he picked today to demonstrate that when it comes to fouling things up in the most ghastly and imbecilic manner, he is as capable of demonstrating these abilities in attack. Taking multiple foul-throws is really the sort of rot for which a professional footballer ought to have a finger lopped off, as well as sacrificing his entire weekly packet. Just to hammer home the farcical nature of Life as Serge Aurier, the blighter then managed to miss an open goal from around three yards by treading on the ball or some such nonsense.

3. Dele Alli: Dives and Penalties

There was an unsightly moment midway through the second half when young Dele flung himself to ground over the onrushing goalkeeper, with not an opposition limb in sight.

I do not have much problem with he or anyone else rediscovering the joys of gravity if – and it’s rather a crucial if – an opponent has bludgeoned, belted or even gently brushed against him. After all, referees will not award a free-kick if a chap stays upright; and if contact is made with man rather than ball, then a jury has every right to convict.

As it happened, Dele might have had a penalty not long beforehand, when a Palace defender (van Aanholt?) tried to dispossess him with a fairly wild swing of his peg. But the dive over the goalkeeper was an attempt to cheat, and while he is unlikely to be shoved in a dungeon and have the key lobbed into a nearby moat, the young buck will hardly be able to complain if he is politely told to biff off and amuse himself in other ways for three games.

Aside from the charge sheet against Dele himself, it is probably worth pointing out that we had an absolutely nailed on penalty (the goalkeeper against Davies) turned down in the opening moments, for no discernible reason other than that goalkeepers are sometimes granted licence to clatter folk. Kane might also have had a penalty, on a technicality, but life sometimes gives us these crosses to bear.

4. Team Selection

While most of the game was spent huffing, puffing and misplacing, the choice of personnel at the outset did make me arch a quizzical eyebrow or two.

The absence of Vertonghen was fair enough – a man is allowed to be injured every now and then – but while the same can officially be said of Alderweireld, it seems that the latter’s days in lilywhite might be numbered, which is a dashed shame.

Now I don’t really know the ins and outs of these contract negotiations, and while I would love to imagine that it is simply two men sitting opposite each other and shouting numbers back and forth, I suspect the truth is a little more complex; but could we not just find a way to give the chap the dosh he wants, through bonuses or hidden treasure or whatever it is? Heck, and do the same for the rest of them, if it means parity of payment. Seems a tad simpler than trying to identify another world-class centre-back at a bargain price, but then I’ve always been pretty nifty at solving all of life’s problems from this particular armchair.

Getting back to the teamsheet, I had actually swallowed a gulp or two when I saw the back-four announced, neither Dier nor Aurier being exactly the most watertight in the business, but I need not really have worried on that front, as Palace struggled to get over the halfway line.

The demotion of Son made sense, as the chap has slightly gone off the boil in recent weeks, following his all-conquering winter spell, and Lamela has looked sharp. Given that, one wonders how long before Dele serves some time on the bench.

I had also hoped that Lucas Moura would produce a little more than he did when eventually introduced, but the chap’s engine barely started. Early days though.

5. A Triumph For Football

In truth, the whole affair was fairly forgettable, but having spent the entire game trying only to defend, it struck me as good for football, and mankind as a whole, that the ultra-defensive approach adopted by Palace was rewarded with concession of a last-minute goal. The moral of the story was that being defensive doesn’t pay, and I can’t think of a more noble message to send to the children.

Rochdale 2-2 Spurs: Four THFC Observations

1. Aggression, or Lack Thereof

Should any passing strangely politely enquire whether we have the ability to field two separate elevens they can now be answered fairly emphatically in the affirmative, the evidence being paraded on the pitch at kick-off. Eleven completely different pairs of legs, from those that did the business in Turin, and if pre kick-off our glorious leader allowed himself a private moment of self-congratulation on the fact, who could have begrudged him?
However, should the line of questioning trickle towards the ability of that back-up eleven to bring home the goods as required, there may be one or two shuffles of feet and sheepish sideways glances.

In truth, the ability of the “reserves” paraded today is not in question, as most are internationals and by my reckoning around eight-elevenths of them would do the necessaries if flung into a Premier League game alongside their more vaunted associates. (Sissoko, Llorente and Vorm, since you ask.)

For some reason however, pitch them together at a lower-league ground and they collectively wobble away like nobody’s business, looking rusty even if they aren’t, and slightly bewildered by the pace, and the crowd, and even the very concept of a cup tie for goodness sake.

Now given that the above pretty much hammers home that this was a collective failing, one might opine that I’m something of a rotter for picking on one individual, particularly when that individual is as loveable and honest as Son, but such is life.

Son in fact at least had the decency to look interested and energetic throughout; his motivation was not really in question. Rather, he seemed to be lacking in willingness to get stuck into things and emerge with a few cuts and scrapes for the sake of the greater good. One can imagine that if offered a sword and shield before a gladiatorial biff, he would look at them in horror, and enquire if the whole affair could be settled without any need for physical contact. The spirit, one might say, is willing enough in Son, but the flesh is as weak as they come.

And so, predictably, the young nib could be seen pulling out of 50-50 challenges, getting wrestled off his chosen path and generally being bullied this way and that. And in a way, that was our performance in a microcosm, at least for the first hour or so.

2. Substitutes Raising The Entire Team

That general sentiment of tentativeness and dislike for the less fragrant elements of cup football only really began to change once the substitutes were shoved on. Admittedly young Winks came out in the second half looking suitably mortified for his error, and determined to atone by scurrying around for as long as his legs would obey, but by and large we continued to potter about the place with only a passing degree of interest, and if the final whistle had sounded and we had been eliminated I’m not sure the eleven on the pitch would have been motivated to do much more than shrug shoulders and enquire what was for dinner.

So it was left to the subs to address matters. They were introduced iteratively, and our performance improved in direct proportion. Lamela and Dele brought with them not only energy, speed of thought and some deft touches; they also managed to haul everyone around them up to a fairly similar level.

Quite why we could not have started with that same sharpness is beyond me, but I suppose we should just be glad that it transpired at all. Lamela and Dele suggested the novel concept of picking their way through Rochdale midfield and defence, and the rest of our heroes cottoned on to the idea and joined in, as if it were the first time they had ever heard of such a scheme but by golly they wanted part of it.

3. The Curious Incident of Danny Rose Randomly Upping His Game

If Son’s timidity in the face of a flailing limb or two were frustrating, but mitigated by that willing spirit, the contrast in Danny Rose’s attitude pre- and post-substitutions was downright bizarre. For the first hour or so the Rose locker was utterly bereft of willing spirit. The young bean seemed to do little more for two thirds of the game than go through the motions, as if to wave his arms and wonder out loud why some people were picked to play away to Juventus while some other people were picked to play away to Rochdale.

All of which made some sense, for here, after all, is a man who, when not happy with his lot at N17, will grab the nearest megaphone and broadcast the fact to society at large.

But what followed made for pretty odd viewing, because as Lamela, Dele and Kane popped in to wave hello, young Rose went through the gears at breakneck speed, until he ended up as some sort of Gerrard-esque driving force ploughing straight through central midfield and towards the Rochdale penalty area. Willing spirit, flesh that was anything but weak – by the time our second goal came round Rose had discovered the whole bally lot.

(And then he lost his bearings slightly for the equaliser.)

4. Moura Looks A Nifty Sort

The silver linings in all this admittedly took quite some locating, they not being of the ilk that jostled for position and yelled “Me! Me! Me!” in a desperate attempt to make themselves stand out from the crowd.
However, the newbie looks a fun sort of fish, what? If “Lack of match practice” were the official party line, the memo sure as heck did not reach Moura Towers, because the young buck tore about the place like a kid on Christmas morning.

He managed in the opening ten minutes the sort of feats that nobody at Spurs has done in several season – viz. waltz around opponents for the sheer joy of being alive. A pretty handy type of name to have in one’s address book, if you get my drift.

A (near-enough) debut goal will also do the honest fellow some good, I imagine. And a propos that equaliser – and at the risk of having the universe collapse under the weight of absurdity – I must commend Monsieur Sissoko for a perfectly-weighted through ball for our newest recruit. Odd, isn’t it?

Spurs 1-0 Arsenal: Four THFC Observations

1. Second Half Performances

I think any jury would agree that the first half was a fairly cagey affair. Not a million miles away from a game of chess I suppose, with one side nudging a pawn forward a step or two, and the other side dangling an experimental bishop to survey the battlefield. Their lot were denied a chance by a pretty rotten call from the linesman; our heroes fashioned one that was a mite too high for the forehead of Kane; and at half-time the thing could hardly have been described as a pyrotechnic spectacular.

When the cast reassembled for the second forty-five however, a completely different kettle of fish was produced. En masse, our heroes went up a couple of gears, took the lead and but for some pretty wayward work in the Finishing-Touch department would have delivered an absolute thrashing.

I wonder if you happen to notice a trend in recent weeks? Against Man Utd, our heroes went at it hammer and tongs in the second half, leaving United to simply wilt away and give up the thing completely at around the hour mark. Then against Liverpool last week, following a fairly mediocre stab at the first 45, we overwhelmed them in the second half, restoring parity and looking odds on to wrap up matters until that slightly madcap final five minutes. And then yesterday, another run-of-the-mill first half was followed in the second by the most one-sided 1-0 hammering you will see.

The gist of the thing is that Pochettino’s current vintage are capable of producing the dickens of a second half performance when necessary. The energy levels shoot off the scale, and three of the best in the country have been utterly unable to live with us.

One might well want to pause on the general back-slapping and cork-popping to ask some pretty salient questions, such as why it takes us 45 minutes to reach these levels (to which the answer might be that the opposition themselves are pretty stoked in the first halves of these tete-a-tetes, but run out of steam while our lot go into overdrive in the second halves); and why we aren’t evidencing our dominance with a whole hatful of goals each time.

But on the back of seven points from these three crunch games, through the use of pretty much identical personnel, it would be miserly in the extreme to wag admonitory fingers and complain about one thing and another.

2. Off-The-Ball Press

Having the privilege of observing yesterday’s narrative unfold in the presence of an Arsenal-supporting chum, I noted that at several points he lamented the manner in which his team surrendered possession.

Well he might have complained, but one need not scratch too far beneath the surface to identify a critical cog in the whole Cause-and-Effect narrative on this point. For as befell United and Liverpool in recent weeks, this was not a case of Arsenal randomly falling apart, but of Tottenham hounding them down until they broke.

That horrible lot kept ceding possession primarily because they were subjected to levels of harassment, press and general bother that in other walks of life would border on the uncouth, if not the downright illegal.

Our mob, from front to back, are fast mastering the art of winning back possession high up the pitch, with all the relentless tenacity of a team of rabid dogs, and then haring off into attack once more. It is jolly impressive stuff, and neatly complements the variety and gusto with which we attack when actually in possession.

3. Missed Chances

For all the off-ball press and on-ball creativity, one could not help after a while glance at what was unfolding on the pitch, and then at the scoreboard, and then back to the pitch, with rather a furrowed brow. Dominate a team thusly and we should dashed well have a hatful of goals to show for it. Instead, we squandered chances with all the carefree abandon of a couple of young lambs gambolling in a field without a care in the world.

In a sense it did not seem to matter, for in a second-half that was simply a procession of Tottenham near-things, another gilt-edged opportunity was always just around the corner and the players on both sides knew it. But in another sense, the suspicion started to nag that our heroes were missing the point of the whole spectacle if they kept bypassing one chance, shrugging their shoulders and eagerly bobbing up and down in anticipation of the next one. The logic, I began to suspect, was flawed. There was a simpler way to go about this.

Kane (twice), Lamela (twice), Dele, Son and Trippier all made rather a pickle of eminently presentable opportunities, on top of which Eriksen’s free-kick would have hit the top corner but for a timely paw from Cech.

And as has been well documented, we were jolly well nearly made to pay, which would have made the whole game seem like an act of the basest treachery. The moral of the story seems to be to score and score again, and then once more for luck, when the opportunities arise; but these young folk do like to do things their own way.

4. Dembele, Yet Again

After a collective effort like that, and particularly having just penned reams and reams about the team’s off-the-ball work en masse, it does seem rather a disservice to the majority to single out one or two for particular approval. I imagine the legal bods representing Messrs Kane and Eriksen, for example, might raise an eyebrow and have the headed notepaper at the ready on hearing that praise is being lavished elsewhere. Nevertheless, Mousa Dembele continues to deliver absolute tour de force performances.

If the common denominators across these three distinguished results has been our second half performances, the man at the hub of those second halves has been Dembele.

I suppose in this age of shiny statistics the casual passer-by might poke his head in and wonder what the fuss is about, because the old sport rarely scores or sets up goals. But by golly he makes the world a brighter place, and manages to make the hurly-burly of crunch Top Six games look about as serene and effortless a breeze as simply floating down a river in a paddle-boat with a newspaper over one’s head.

You know the drill – power, control, and a unique ability to retain possession even when baying hordes pursue him at every turn. Injuries never seem far away, poor chap, but when he is in this sort of form he simply purrs, which rather makes me purr, and after a while all there is is Dembele gliding away from people and a heck of a lot of purring.

Whether he will be in any shape to dust himself down and go again on Tuesday in Turin is debatable, but his absence on that stage would be a shame, both aesthetically and in terms of the nuts and bolts of winning the game. We shall see.

Liverpool 2-2 Spurs: Six THFC Observations

As just about every living soul on the planet has immersed themselves in the rights and wrongs of the various decisions in those final ten minutes, I might incline the bean towards the various other goings-on.

1. Lloris Playing From The Back

Starting at the beginning, I think the shrewder observers amongst us would have been bang on the money in identifying that, in the first half, all was not well on the domestic front.

For a start, one imagines that unless Pochettino had been in a particularly eccentric mood, “Concede an early goal” would have been nowhere near the top of the to-do list, yet our lot couldn’t facilitate this fast enough, what with Sanchez spinning around like a dog incensed by its own tail, Dier slotting obliging passes to the opposition and Lloris prostrating himself about an hour too early as Salah approached.

So, two minutes in, and things were already squiffy. What then transpired was a farce not seen since the circus act away to Manchester City, as Monsieur Lloris went through the list of his less impressive attributes, picked the very worst one of the lot, and spent the rest of the half showcasing it.

The chap’s distribution is dreadful, with the ultimate destination of the ball often a complete lottery. Poor old Sanchez and Vertonghen had evidently been roped into this little charade against their will, and had their work cut out just keeping the dashed thing in play, as Lloris picked the worst possible time to indulge in his own warped little game of Fetch.

On top of which, even if his distribution were on a par with that of Pele himself, the whole ruse of zipping the ball to the centre-backs when pinned up against their own corner flags was about as ill thought-through as it gets. There was zero element of surprise, which meant that the nearest Liverpool player simply waddled up to the man, and immediately we were under pressure. The ball was desperately hacked to halfway, or less, and came straight back at us.

Honestly, my eyes bled just watching it, don’t you know. And we had got into exactly the same mess against City a few months back. Honestly, is this the grand plan for outfoxing Top Six opponents away from home? Literally backing ourselves into a corner? Heavens above.

2. First Half Possession

All that said, the first half struck me as a geographical game of two halves, if you follow me. What I’m getting at, is that inside our own half of the pitch, our heroes resembled the passengers on the Titanic after things turned sour. General panic and a distinct lack of clarity seemed about the sum of things, and Liverpool accordingly looked like scoring every time they breezed forward.

But once we passed the halfway line, I actually thought we looked rather nifty. Now I realise that this is the sort of statement that will have me pelted with rotten fruit and then trussed up in the nearest strait jacket and hurled into a small white room, as public opinion seems fairly firmly signed up to the manifesto that we were utter rot in the first 45.

But having seen us labour so excruciatingly in various games this season, when we have hopelessly passed the ball sideways and shown zero off-the-ball movement, I was pretty enthused by how we set about things when we got into the Liverpool half. Admittedly we fell short at the final hurdle, in that we created only the one real chance, for Son – and I admit some might point to that as evidence of a fairly crucial flaw in the plan. However, I nevertheless thought we pinged the ball around neatly, and on several occasions came within but one stretched Liverpool leg of being through on goal.

3. Dembele in Possession

Central to this was the surging of Dembele, from halfway. The chap simply glided straight through the middle, bypassing two or three foes at a time, and apparently was fouled for his troubles five times in the first half alone.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record about the blighter, it’s the same package he delivers with regularity – strength of an ox, grace of a ballerina. His defensive abilities have dipped to the level of simply hauling down whomever has the run on him, but when it comes to turning defence into attack, the chap is a marvel.

4. Dier Something of a Liability

Providing a neat symmetry to the quality of Dembele was the erratic offering from young Master Dier.

It’s not really black and white with this chap, because he has his qualities, and when he gets it right he looks quite the defensive giant. A well-timed Dier sliding challenge can put hair on a man’s chest, and if an opposing team politely enquires if anyone in lilywhite fancies a scrap, Dier will be one of the first to roll up his sleeves. I sometimes think the chap might feel more comfortable taking to the pitch with a giant club in his hands, or some similar bludgeoning instrument.

However, there is something about him that reminds one of a man running through quicksand, for blessed with a lightning quick turn of pace he is most definitely not. This particular crack tends to be papered over by planting him in midfield and closing one’s eyes tightly. Alas, there is no real escaping another fairly critical flaw in his DNA, which is that his ball distribution swings fairly wildly between passable-enough-old-sport and downright horrid.

The back-pass for Salah’s opener yesterday was the one that ended up in neon lights, but at various points the chap forgets to consult his compass and consequently pings the ball in whichever direction takes his fancy.

5. Sanchez

Perhaps it was the sight of Dier in front of him, struggling to align brain and feet, or maybe it was the constant threat of Lloris about to sell him out with another one of those calamitous short goal-kicks, but Sanchez looked like a man to whom shocked deer in headlights turn for modelling advice.

The poor egg has turned in some pretty robust showings in his half-season or so, but yesterday he looked utterly traumatised right from kick off.

Unable to cope with the movement of Liverpool, the trauma of it all fairly inevitably spread to his ball distribution, and we could all be pretty grateful that Jan Vertonghen alongside him had packed his A-game.

The second half withdrawal of Sanchez for Lamela had an obvious tactical glint to it, but nevertheless there was a whiff of euthanasia about the whole thing.

6. Cracking Second Half

Mercifully, things upped about a thousand notches in the second half, culminating in all manner of revelry in those moments before the final gong.

Liverpool ran out of energy pretty much as soon as the second half started, and our one-touch passing began to click like bally-oh. Dembele glided, Son and Dele did a roaring trade in neat first-time-flicks into space, and the full-backs looked at the patches of greenery ahead of them and thought “Wel,l why the devil not?”

I have read some column inches criticising Dele for his lack of input – or, I suppose, output – highlighting that his well of goals and assists is running dry. No arguing with the lies, damn lies and statistics I suppose, but aside from those numbers the chap appears to be rediscovering his joie de vivre, making the sort of runs from midfield that gets the masses chattering. One would hope that this will be the last we see of him hurling himself to terra firma as well.

A quick cap-doff to our glorious leader for making substitutions that pretty directly impacted the storyline, and to Kane for holding his nerve at the death.

As for the penalties, fouls, offsides and decisions – even those of fairly modest deductive capacity should be able to infer the side of the various fences on which I sit.

It was a rip-roaring spectacle, and although coronary failure is now a genuine risk at AANP Towers that our second half display giving some genuine cause for optimism. From two of these three crunch fixtures we now have a home win and away draw. Win at home to our dastardly neighbours and this will amount to a most satisfactory little jaunt.

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