What ho. With the new season rumbling into view we might as well pour ourselves a splash of something with a bit of oof to it, and bring ourselves up to speed on recent events, what?
1. Ange Postecoglou
Now here’s a man the cut of whose jib I can straight away give the approving nod. Ultimately, of course, it will all come down to the meat and veg of the Premier League, but nevertheless, Ange has all made all the right moves so far.
For a start there are his no-nonsense interviews, giving short shrift to baiters and sycophants alike, and generally cutting through the guff. His response to the Bayern shirt stunt in particular, and the Kane noise in general, has neatly summed up much of what there is to like about the fellow – not one to suffer fools, not one to skirt around a point and, one gets the impression, not the sort of chap one wants to antagonise any more than is absolutely necessary.
Nor does the new man give the impression that this set of players, fans, team and whole bally undertaking is beneath him, à la the last couple of incumbents. Whether or not one whole-heartedly buys into every quirk and idiosyncrasy, the broad approach – of wanting to roll up the sleeves and get the best out of our mob – is easy enough to get on board with.
I was also rather taken by Postecoglou’s comments about our heroes’ collective approach to those last few minutes of the first half against Shaktar. The gist of his thoughts on the matter were that, as a collective, they needed a slap about the face with a wet fish (I paraphrase) for indulging in a spot of motions-going-through and clock-playing-down as the half-time whistle approached.
Ange-ball, it appears, does not tolerate taking one’s foot off the pedal and batting for the close of play, as it were. His anthem is something more along the lines of ‘If we have the ball let’s dashed well attack, irrespective of the clock’, and this attitude meets with a pretty rousing chorus of approval at AANP Towers.
2. The New Style of Play
And then there’s the breath of fresh air that is our new style of play. Having spent the last three years positively yowling for something at least vaguely progressive, and instead being treated to a diet of deep-lying defences and vain attempts to soak up pressure – despite the attacking riches available – to say that Ange-ball is a pretty welcome sight understates the thing just a bit.
My spies who like to sit there and count these sorts of things reckon that in the three games so far we’ve totalled over 100 shots on goal. Now caveats abound of course. Our opponents have been so alarmingly weak that I suspect we’d have triumphed even if playing with boots tied together and blindfolds about the head. But nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine racking up a century of shots against these three in the Jose or Conte eras.
And the football itself has quite simply been a lot more fun to watch. It’s all a bit zippier for a start, with one- and two-touch gospels evidently having been drilled into hearts and minds throughout the place.
There seems to have been a collective agreement amongst our lot that these days the ball is going to be shoved from Defence to Midfield to Attack without too many wistful glances backward.
The days of having two poor saps in midfield outnumbered and flogged until they can barely stand also appear to have been given the Orwellian heave-ho. It’s a three-man job these days – or at least it will be on the shiny TV graphics pre-match, but once the starter’s gun fires our lot seem to be buzz about all over the place, with full-backs inverting and midfielders dropping and goodness what else. But AANP is not one to get too bogged down in the minutiae of life. Give me a good bourbon and some one-touch triangles, and I’m a pretty content sort of conker. And the early indications are that Ange-ball’s attacking 4-3-3 will hit the spot.
Until we have to defend, of course.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose is the rather wearied AANP take on our the current state of our back-four. Which is to say it’s pretty much the same old rot in the southernmost quarter, what? Better minds than mine can no doubt grab a scalpel and get into the small-print of precisely how and why we’re conceding chances and goals to even the most amateurish teams out there, but the general sense is that it remains awfully straightforward to waltz through our lot and have a pop.
Reinforcements are apparently incoming (and for what it’s worth, I’d give serious consideration to sacrificing one of my lesser-used limbs in order to secure the services of that Laporte bean), but when Ben Davies is being preferred at centre-back to Messrs Sanchez, Tanganga, Rodon and whomever else, one does conjure up the image of a rather stern-looking Ange giving the barrel a good scrape.
Still, such things take time to perfect, I suppose, and the grand fromage does at least appear acutely aware that the current back-four, and in particular the coterie of centre-backs, is not really fit for purpose.
So to our new arrivals, and the early indications are that James Maddison is pretty much everything we hoped and dreamed.
Not without good reason Daniel Levy takes the occasional slosh around the ear from the faithful, but credit where due, he didn’t hang around in crossing t’s and dotting i’s to get young J. M. bunged into an uber heading up the High Road. The apparent price was pretty reasonable, and again, a silent prayer of thanks was offered for Levy not pulling his usual stunt of haggling over the last fiver and whatnot.
And the chap himself seems to have taken to life in our midfield without too much fuss, and actually with a fair amount of pleasure. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s been years since we had a spot of creativity in central midfield, and with a couple of chums handily placed around him to keep an eye on things, Maddison has appeared to have a whale of a time so far. Long may that continue.
4. Manor Solomon
The ins and outs of his transfer may be a tad confusing to simple folk such as AANP, but on the pitch young Solomon seems to have a few good habits about him.
Some quick-footed trickery is always a good bet to melt the hearts of the watching public, but counts for naught if it ends with a fellow skipping off into a cul-de-sac and ending up in a heap on the floor. Mercifully however, this Solomon bean appears to have the good sense to attach a spot of end-product to his hop-skip-and-jumping, and is happy to hang up a cross or deliver a pull-back as appropriate.
One rather disappointing offshoot of the Solomon Gambit appears to be the elbowing out of shot of young Bryan Gil, a creature of whom I’d grown rather fond in his occasional cameos last season. Injured, at the moment, apparently, but once fit I imagine he’d be quite a long way down the waiting list.
I also personally hope that Ivan Perisic sticks around, particularly if he is to be relieved of defensive duties and deployed solely in the wide attacking role for which Nature appears to have fitted him. Not necessarily a popular opinion, that one, so I won’t labour it, but if the ability to beat a man and whip in a cross with either foot is of value, then he strikes me as an egg it is worth having about the place.
The brow furrows a bit here, I must confess. A bit early to make any sort of call on the new chappie tasked with ensuring the back-door is locked. All goals he’s conceded so far seem to have come from close range and not really given him too much chance.
That said, of the snippets of action over which I’ve cast my eye, I’ve not really had the old skirt blown up by his attitude towards dealing with crosses, he not yet having given the impression of being of the school of wiping out all in his path and thwacking the ball away with a bit of meat.
He does at least appear to be a bit more comfortable with ball at feet than poor old Monsieur Lloris – a low bar admittedly – and these days all the young folk are starting attacks from goal-kicks, so we might as well not fight it. But one over whom to keep a watchful eye, for now.
6. Van de Ven
AANP has spent his summer in man edifying ways – improving the mind, penning a book or two, giving the Aussies some clobber from the sidelines – but alas, I must confess that that time has not really been spent poring over hours of footage of young Master Van de Ven.
As such, he’s a bit of an unknown quantity in these parts; but consider at least what is known about the fellow. For a start, he’s supposed to one of the quicker of the featherless bipeds plying their trade in these parts – and if we’re going to be playing a high line, that will likely be a handy trait.
He’s also left-footed, which might not sound like much I suppose, but in his line of work, and given the current state of our centre-back menagerie, actually fits rather swimmingly into the broader piece.
None of this conjecture counts for much of course, until Sunday lunchtime, but with Eric Dier still knocking about the place as first reserve I fancy we have a further spot of shopping to do. In theory at least, a Romero-VDV defensive combo sounds like it ought to hit the spot. Fingers crossed for the chap.
7. Fare Thee Well, Young Master Winks
A quick valedictory note on poor old Harry Winks too, who’s biffed off down a division, which seems a tad unfortunate, to Leicester.
The young sport was never short of willing or devotion to the club, and as such will always be welcome for a bourbon at AANP Towers, but he was definitely one of those – and we’ve had a few – who appeared to have a lot of the ‘Cultured Midfielder’ about him but somehow seemed unable to kick on.
A decent enough first touch, and a willingness to collect the ball from his defensive chums seemed to bode well, but was too often topped off with an immediate shovel straight back to the defence, rather than an instinct for something a bit more ambitious.
Still, the chap was arguably our best player in the Champions League Final, which sounds like being an unlikely quiz question in years to come. So he’s no doubt deserving of kind words, but sic transit gloria mundi and all that. Better for everyone this way.
Who knows, eh?
Opinions differ, naturally, and the AANP take is that I’d rather have Kane for a season than £100 million. Not least because our record of exchanging great big swathes of cash for footballers has been pretty patchy (the mind cannot help but flit back to the Bale money, and Soldado, Chiriches, Paulinho et al); but also because even if we did spend wisely, we would never bring in someone of his quality. There’s a train of thought that if he gets us into the Champions League (which apparently extends to a Top Five this season) then he immediately nets us £50m or whatever, but even brushing aside that argument, I’m still firmly rooted in the ‘Keep The Blighter’ camp.
I’m quite content with the thought of 25 or so of his goals, a dozen or so assists and a cheery wave goodbye next summer. In fact, given that we didn’t spend anything to acquire him there’s even a spot of the from-dust-he-came-to-dust-he-shall-return about losing him on a free. Obviously not ideal, but if that were to transpire I’d lap it up happily enough. And who knows, if Ange-ball really takes off he might hang around and start scouting out the retirement homes of N17.
Bayern have been doing their pantomime villain stuff pretty well, going about their business in dastardly and, frankly, wildly ill-advised fashion. Most peculiar, actually. For a start their Brains Trust seems to have spent several weeks missing the quite straightforward point that they won’t get their man unless they pay the required fee. Seems a pretty obvious one, that.
On top of which, at least one of their number ought really to have done a bit of basic homework on Daniel Levy and his negotiating style, but again, they’ve sailed through that one with seemingly blissful ignorance, presumably adopting an approach that works domestically, of simply demanding and expecting then to receive. To give Levy another little doff of the cap, that he allegedly responded to their arbitrary deadline last week by first ignoring it and then jetting off on holiday is, if true (and it’s debatable) pretty ripping stuff.
As for Kane himself, he’s obviously convinced it’s the move of choice, but it seems a rummy old one to me. I suppose if the chap absolutely desperately wants a medal, then there are fewer surer bets than a Bundesliga at Bayern; but when the curtain comes down on him I doubt anyone will remember him for that rather than his goalscoring records with club and country (in the same way as Alan Shearer is generally thought of as a record goalscorer rather than Premier League winner with Blackburn). But to each their own. These young people will follow their own peculiar whims.
And that pretty much brings us up to speed. Admittedly it’s all a state of flux, and it seems there will be quite a few more bodies shoved out of one door while one or two are dragged in another, but one gets the gist – and by the time our paths next cross, the new season will be upon us!