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Spurs 2-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. We Need to Talk About Serge

The little voices in Serge Aurier’s head seem only to whisper “Hero” or “Villain”, with little regard for the countless possibilities that lie between.

The old bean’s assets undoubtedly lie in the attacking third, with the positioning he adopts as a wide man complimented by a capacity to deliver the occasional whipped cross.

However, this modest return in the Credit column is rather blown out of the water by the numerous ills that clog up the Debit column. Since his arrival at the club he has racked up a number of utterly mindless red cards and penalty concessions, all of which are suggestive of a mass walkout by the brain cells and general dereliction of duty.

Yesterday Aurier offered precious little of value before chipping in with his usual moments of idiocy.

The first yellow card was needless in the extreme. One understands the concept of self-sacrificial yellow cards – hauling down an opposing chappie on halfway in order to stymie a counter-attack, that sort of sordid business. One does not condone such conduct, of course, but one follows the thought-process. Falling on one’s sword, and so on and so forth. Presumably in some cultures it can even have a certain nobility.

Aurier’s first yellow card however, against an opponent wandering away from goal and edging towards the side of the pitch, was rock-bottom on the list of Risks Worth Taking. It dealt with no threat, offered zero benefit to anyone and left the abysmal young fool with 65 minutes to spend tip-toeing across a tightrope.

As it happened he didn’t last 5 minutes. One might quibble – and several have – about the circumstances around the second booking, but when an old bean knows that his every move is going to be under the scrutiny of a referee with a touch of the Dolph Lundgren about him, that bean, if he has a jot of sense, reverts to his best behaviour and conducts himself impeccably.

Aurier, the poster-boy of recklessness, did enough to give Dolph a decision to make, and we – three days before facing Bayern Munich – were left to play an hour with ten men.

Credit to Sissoko, for doing a pretty flawless job of things as hastily-identified reserve right-back, but in general it is becoming something of a cursed position, and Aurier will have to do a heck of a job to win back some of that rapidly-draining goodwill.

2. We Need to Talk About Hugo

Given the circumstances surrounding the season – want-away players, thrown away leads – and the circumstances of the game, having just lost a man, one would think that the captain would have been precisely the chap to inject a modicum of calmness into proceedings.

Monsieur Lloris however, picked this of all moments to treat us to his best Benny Hill impression, and it is to the immense credit of all concerned that we managed afterward to regain the lead and then cling on to it.

Lloris’ talents (far more than Aurier’s) are pretty visible and regularly on display. His two second half saves – and in particular the instinctive one from the header – served as neat reminders of the chap’s quality when it comes to the basics of stopping the round thing from entering the rectangle.

Alas, it is impossible to ignore the bedlam that ensues every time the chap has the ball at his feet. Ever since Pep Guardiola dared every other manager in the Top Six to play out from the back, all have been too scared to refuse, with the result that even those goalkeepers who can’t pass six yards with tripping over their own feet are now expected to be modern-day Beckenbauers in their distribution.

Lloris’ short passing tends as often as not to lack sense, guile or even basic accuracy; one can see the hearts of Toby and Jan visibly sinking as the moment approaches, while Davinson Sanchez, when involved, looks every inch the man who wants to run off the pitch and disappear into obscurity; and opposition strikers, understandably enough, lick their lips and come charging into our area like kids towards the tree on Christmas morning.

Yesterday’s mistake was not the first – Lloris has done the same thing in a World Cup Final for heaven’s sake, and not learnt his lesson – but aside from whether or not such absurdity results in a goal conceded, it transmits panic throughout the defence and midfield, and invites pressure.

One understands that if operated well it can be devastatingly effective in bypassing an opposition’s press and creating counter-attack opportunities from halfway – but how often do we operate it well when Lloris is the string-puller-in-chief?

3. Cracking Second Goal

Mercifully, those further up the pitch are a darned sight better with ball at feet, and there will be few better examples of this than our second goal.

There was much to admire about it – but in the first place it was interesting to note that the genesis of the whole thing was a non-nonsense hoick up the pitch by Moussa Sissoko, a chap who could probably teach Lloris a thing or two about the art of Not Dallying Around, and in his native tongue, for added attraction.

Thereafter however, one just sat back and purred at the general magnificence that shone forth. Kane’s strength and cushioned header into Son was terrific. Son’s feet were quick, and having played in Eriksen he did not pause to admire his own handiwork but set off at a lick to avail himself further, in the process leaving behind his marker.

Eriksen similarly played an intelligent pass and then scuttled off to receive a return ball, leaving behind his own marker, and then it was up to Kane – whose first touch was actually not of the exquisite quality one has come to expect.

This mattered little however, because once in the area Kane’s eyes inevitably light up, and he inevitably finds a way. The speed of the whole thing was a delight, it reflected the quality of those involved, their awareness and technique. All that was left was for nobody else in lilywhite to decide to liven things up by gifting some advantage back to our visitors.

4. Kane’s All-Round Game

I have already gone a little misty-eyed at Kane’s involvement in the build-up for the second goal, and it served as a textbook example of how much the chap contributes all over the pitch, not just in delivering the coup de grâce.

An isolated incident it most certainly was not. In fact, look back at the early stages of our first goal and one will note that the impetus is initially injected by Kane picking the ball up deep, muscling various others out of the way and giving a sensible pass.

The chap is a veritable all-rounder, with numerous strings to his bow and all of them pretty dashed impressive.

As if to emphasise the point he also had a shot from the halfway line that missed the mark by only a foot or so.

5. Ndombele Beginning to Show Flashes

In general, our lot made an excellent fist of trying circumstances yesterday. Winks was close to immaculate; Eriksen seemed oddly buoyed by the challenge of having to wear a defensive hat; Lamela was the right substitute at the right moment.

In truth, in the second half Ndombele wandered around with the look of a man wondering what he had signed up for, and his wearying limbs were rested before the final toot. However, in the first half he showed glimpses of the chap about whom we all became so giddy with excitement in the summer.

On several occasions he received the ball on the half-turn, wriggled away from one or two challenges and either dabbed the ball to a chum or drew a foul. It was the sort of stuff that just hinted at the ghost of Mousa Dembele, that ability to turn back-foot into front-foot in the blink of an eye.

Still a work in progress no doubt, but the omens are positive. His penchant for popping in the opposition area to thwack one into the net is also something of a bonus.

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

Olympiacos 2-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Winks

No doubt the mood around the N17 campfire is generally doleful and sombre, so here at AANP Towers we have hit upon the fizzing idea – and you can thank me later – of kicking off things with a topic that, if not exactly seeping joy and plugging in the endorphins, is at least a darned sight more positive than anything else on the horizon.

Said topic is, of course, the performance of young Master Winks. While all around him looked thoroughly bored by proceedings, Winks did his best to confirm suspicions that when created in the lab he had the DNA of a young Jack Russell surreptitiously thrown in for good measure, for he duly bounded about the place as if yesterday were the best thing to happen to him in his life.

When we had the ball he regularly beavered to within 8 yards or so, to demand it; when we didn’t have the ball he scurried to all parts in his attempts to remedy this crisis.

It was all particularly pleasing given that I subjected him to the raised eyebrow and inscrutable stare a few weeks ago against Newcastle. In all honesty I maintain that against such teams, who pack the defence and wait, Winks is of pretty limited value, not being the sort who wanders the streets picking locks and passing through eyes of needles.

But against moderately better-equipped mobs – such as our hosts yesterday – who leave that much more space and have a greater attacking instinct about them, a healthy dose of Winks is precisely what the doctor orders, and he scurried around to excellent effect yesterday. I would hazard a guess that he’ll be in similarly fine fettle away to Leicester at the weekend.

2. Eriksen

If Winks’ afternoon was full of zip and vim, Eriksen’s lay pretty much at the other end of the spectrum.

For context, the Great Eriksen Debate generally features those who adamantly insist that the chap is just about the only game-changing soul in our midfield, and has the goals/assists stats to prove it; and the likes of yours truly, who bluster in frustration that for a man of his undoubted lock-picking skills (the type sadly lacking in young Winks, above) he ought to be a lot more prominent in games such as this.

Pretty much every onlooker noted quite how off-colour Eriksen was yesterday, so no point dwelling on that. The more notable angle, to this ill-educated eye, was the contrast between First Half Eriksen and Second Half Eriksen.

To do this back to front, I had some grudging respect for Second Half Eriksen. True, his passing remained wayward, his touch heavy and his creative juices evaporated – plus his brainless dallying led directly to their penalty (I did mention that the respect was only grudging).

But Second Half Eriksen at least demanded the ball. As a collective our heroes showed a tad more urgency (not difficult, comparatively, I realise) and Eriksen seemed to be fairly central to this, in that he regularly trotted over to the man in possession and waved his arms until it was given to him. He did little of note with it, but at least he looked like a man who felt some sort of moral obligation to be at the heart of things.

By contrast, First Half Eriksen seemed positively to shy away from the ball. I barely noticed the chap, apart from that one moment when he found himself leading a promising counter-attack, and seemed to react to the situation in sheer horror, eager to rid himself of the ball at the earliest opportunity before scuttling off to the nearest pit of sand into which he might bury his head.

Admittedly I rather exaggerate the contrast in order to make my point – but it’s a heck of a point. The chap ought always to have the attitude of Second Half Eriksen, greedily demanding the ball and always wanting to be the one at the hub of things from his own little Danish command centre. Instead, too often, we are treated to First Half Eriksen, who flits in and out of existence like that polaroid in Back to the Future.

If he is having a bad day in possession that can probably be forgiven; but what irks AANP like nobody’s business is when he does not seem massively concerned about whether or not he sees much of the ball.

3. Sanchez at Right-Back

Elsewhere, longing glances were cast once again towards Atletico Madrid as Davinson Sanchez was subjected to his latest rather cruel stint at right-back.

The chap did very little wrong defensively, in truth, with most of our woes emanating on t’other flank where Messrs Davies and Vertonghen were getting themselves into numerous muddles.

But going forward, Sanchez’ limitations had some pretty powerful beacons of light shone upon them. For a start he rarely got himself to within 30 yards of the opposition goal-line, therefore failing to provide an attacking outlet that turned around the Olympiakos defence (although in this respect he was not alone, Ben Davies also being generally, oddly, conservative).

On top of which, Nature evidently forgot to bestow upon him the gift of being able to whip, float or simply punt a cross from the right, further limiting his attacking prowess.

Quite what his attacking instructions were in the first half is anyone’s guess; but in the second half Lucas was stationed permanently on the right touchline, and Sanchez added decorative value only.

With Aurier fit, KWP getting there and even Eric Dier now in residence, one would hope that this is the last we’ll see of Sanchez at right-back.

4. The General, Sorry State of Things (A Rant)

A few hardy souls have attempted to silver lining their way through the rubble of this, pointing out that an away point in the CL Group Stage is no bad thing, and that we’ve matched our tally from the first three games of last season, and so on and so forth. And they have a point – two-goal lead surrendered or not, this could have been worse.

But putting aside the immediate context (and one presumes we ought still to qualify from this group), the bigger picture does not make particularly cheery viewing.

Harry Kane has clearly been media-trained to within an inch of his life, and is therefore rarely worth listening to in interviews, so straight is his bat, but there was a hint of exasperation to his reported musings yesterday, as he spotted the nail and gave it a firm thump on its head. We are making the same mistakes as we made 5 or 6 years ago.

And this lack of improvement, year on year, is troubling. I am no doubt being a tad dramatic here: even ignoring the luck involved in Houdini-ing our way past Man City and Ajax last season, we still overcame Dortmund over two legs of textbook professionalism, which was a massive improvement on our slip-up vs Juve the previous year – so we are improving. (And the season before that we didn’t even get out of the group – again, we are improving).

But one important game after another seems to come our way, and we do seem to exhibit the same old flaws. Throwing away leads; failing to quieten and dispirit opponents; wastefulness in front of goal; or simply a lack of creativity and urgency to break down an opponent. For every welcome thrashing of Palace, there’s a struggle against Villa plus a defeat against Newcastle plus a squandered lead against Arsenal. In terms of results we lack consistency; and in terms of performances there are countless sloppy errors scattered all over the pitch, rather than the notable step up in quality that one would hope for season-on-season.

This is by no means a crisis – we remain third domestically, and still ought to qualify from the CL group – but the lack of obvious progression in performances does rather grate, what?

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

Arsenal 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. One Point Dropped Or Two Gained?

What with one thing and another in recent weeks, I think I capture the mood of the general lilywhite populace when I suggest that prior to kick-off we would have toddled off happily enough with a point under our belts from this one.

Form, behind-the-scenes tomfoolery and the fact that the South London Goons traditionally raise their level a couple of notches for this fixture suggested that the planets were doing anything but aligning in our favour, and after last week’s debacle a draw at the Emirates would have seemed to represent a solid haul.

Fast forward to approximately the 45th minute however, and the general aims and goals in life had undergone some pretty severe recalibrating. A two-goal lead, with the ref itching to put the whistle to his lips and give it halfway toot, was the stuff of which loftier aspirations were made. Nobody expected it would be easy, and I suspect every right-minded lilywhite foresaw some sort of counter-punching, but victory was definitely featuring pretty prominently on the Expected Outcomes list.

But then shimmy forward another half hour or so, and with parity having been restored, and momentum shuffling back towards the red corner, if anything it looked like we were clinging on rather.

Until the final five or ten minutes, in which the game oddly opened up as if we were back on the playground and someone had yelled out “Next goal wins”.

All of which leaves the denizens of AANP Towers still scratching heads and trying to decide whether this was one point gained or two dropped. Better, perhaps, to avoid the question altogether, and adopt the mantra “This was no calamity”.

2. The Davison Sanchez Experiment

Love him though we do, I am inclined occasionally to tilt the head at Our Glorious Leader and wonder what on earth he has been drinking, or smoking, or maybe which cult has got hold of him and drilled into him nonsense of the highest order. By and large, when it comes to football management he knows his apples from his oranges as well as the best of them, but every now and then he cannot resist veering wildly off-piste to try some new-fangled innovation. Sonny at left wing-back in a Cup Semi-Final was pretty calamitous; Foyth at right-back was moderately successful.

Yesterday’s square-pegging of Davison Sanchez into a right-back-shaped hole struck me as one that missed the mark pretty spectacularly. Not an unmitigated disaster, as Sanchez made occasional useful interceptions, and certainly knows a thing or two about the art of defending in general.

But from the off, and at various points throughout, he was caught out of position or beaten too easily. Maybe in time he will learn the trade, but I don’t mind going public with the view that I rather hope the experiment is abandoned altogether. (I did actually wonder, when the teams were announced, whether Toby might shuffle over to the right, given that he has international experience in the position, but that’s a debate for another time.)

3. Danny Rose’s Carelessness

Furthermore, as well as being as uncomfortable as one would expect in his new, ill-fitting full-back’s costume, Sanchez also littered his performance, particularly in the first half, with a fairly hefty array of misplaced passes and concession of possession.

In this aspect he was not the sole culprit, for over on the other flank, Danny Rose was similarly careless with the ball at his feet, which seems rather at odds with the entire point of the game when you think about it.

Rose’s tenacity (which seems a handy euphemism for a chap who stalks around like the angriest man in North London, upending any opponent who dares get in his way) is a generally useful asset, and has allowed him to amass plenty in the Credit column over the years, but in recent weeks he seems to have overlooked some of the basics of his trade.

In our last couple of games he has been at fault for letting men drift into goalscoring positions unattended – a charge that could be laid at his door for the second goal yesterday – but it was the concession of possession in the lead-up to the first goal that really gnawed. With the clock ticking down to half-time, the importance of protecting our two-goal lead really ought not to have been lost on the fellow, but instead, and not for the first time, he saw fit to try nutmegging an opponent within spitting distance of his own penalty area, and approximately ten seconds or so later the ball was in the net and the complexion of the game had undergone some significant editing.

4. Our Counter-Attacking

I suppose one has come to expect it of this, the most all-action-no-plot fixture in the calendar, but throughout the spectacle one did get the sense that every time either team went on the attack they looked like they would score.

At the start of the first half and for much of the second, Arsenal had plenty of possession and bundled their way a little too close to our goal for comfort.

Mercifully however, our counter-attacking set-up looked as if it had been rehearsed for weeks with precisely this game in mind, and every time we crossed halfway the eyes lit up, as we seemed but one well-timed pass away from being in on goal.

Son was the principle outlet, and our opponents never really got to grips with the threat he posed in that inside-left sort of position. It was quite a shame, if understandable enough, that he ended up dropping deeper and deeper during the second half, as this essentially did Arsenal’s job for them by nullifying his counter-attacking threat.

Credit also to the three other members of the counter-attacking quartet, particularly in the first half, because within a couple of shakes of a lamb’s tail, and via some neat one-touch passing, we repeatedly opened up the Arsenal back-line. Kane dabbled in some lovely little link-up play; Eriksen seemed to be in his element dinking passes over the back of the defence and into space; and Lamela did plenty of off-the-ball running to create space for others – generally being ignored by his teammates but engaging the attentions of opposing defenders, which was arguably the point of the exercise.

Just a shame we only had the two goals to show for it, and that the threat dwindled in the second half (until the dying stages) because this felt like the first time this season that our attackers really clicked.

5. Penalty Appeals and Going to Ground

I’m generally not a fan of complaining about the referee, the AANP stance on such matters being very much along the lines of “Just accept the decision and get on with things, there’s a good boy.” And yesterday is no exception – no complaints about the decisions.

That said, given that there is a bit of chatter about the late shout for a penalty – Arsenal chappie vs Kane – I thought I made wade in with my tuppence worth.

As mentioned, no complaint about the decision not to award it – but similarly I’d have thought it fair if a penalty had been awarded. The gist of it is the notion of defenders giving the referee the option to make a call. The Arsenal chappie appeared to put his arms up towards the back of Kane, and while it arguably wasn’t enough to send a grown man sprawling, it does rather diminish the case for the defence. Don’t want to concede a penalty? Then don’t stick your hands into someone’s back in the area. (In the interests of equality, I thought the same of Sissoko’s handball in the CL Final – wasn’t particularly thrilled with the call, but if his arm hadn’t been raised the ref would not have had a decision to make; ditto Lamela’s wrestling of someone a couple of weeks ago – there could have been no complaints if that were called up, so just don’t give the referee the option.)

Kane does seem to deploy the tactic of going to ground if he feels contact, which seems understandable enough. Going to ground when no contact is made would be bare-faced cheating; going to ground once he feels contact seems to me to ask a question of the defender as to why he made contact.

Goodness knows I’ve chastised our own defenders often enough, on these very pages, for conceding soft penalties by making contact in the box, rather than abusing the game’s arbiter for awarding a soft one. My principle remains, whether for or against my own team – don’t give the referee the option.

Food for thought – and dispute, no doubt – but on a merrier note, few things gladden my heart like seeing Kane strike a penalty. Not into the corners, but into the side of the net, which I think qualifies as geometrically unstoppable, even before one considers the ferocity with which he lashes the thing. That coupled with his lovely effort that came back off the post does give the impression of a goalscorer at the peak of his powers.

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

Spurs 0-2 Liverpool: Five Tottenham Talking Points

Well this was a most peculiar anti-climax. Full of effort and yet somehow devoid of urgency, and with excitement and quality levels similarly low on the barometer, the whole thing resembled seeing a balloon being immediately deflated and then simply left lying unattended for another 89 minutes.

Rather than lumber tragically through the seven stages of grief, or find some perceived injustice and rage at it, the sentiment at AANP Towers is therefore one of curious frustration. Given that Liverpool themselves were oddly underwhelming, this ought probably to be listed as a Missed Opportunity, alongside the Leicester season – and yet somehow, the mood is one of philosophical acceptance.

Probably best just to toddle over to the corpse and begin dissecting.

1. The Penalty Decision

Not all will agree – and judging by the high-pitched apoplexy emanating from his larynx, Glenn Hoddle most certainly did not – but I must confess I had little problem with the penalty decision itself.

To clarify, I did not perform any sort of jig of delight – in fact those around me needed to deliver a rigorous prod between the ribs to check that the blood was still flowing, such was the horror-stricken, frozen chill with which I reacted – but I did follow the logic of the sturdy fellow making the call. Although the ball bounced off chest first, it did then receive an inadvertent stroke from the incoming arm of Sissoko.

Worse crimes have undoubtedly been perpetuated within the vicinity of the 18-yard rectangle during the history of the game, but I understood why, in that situation, a jury might convict.

Just a dashed shame – if quintessentially, absurdly Tottenham – that it happened within thirty seconds of the start of the biggest game in our history.

2. Best Laid Plans vs First-Minute Penalty

More of a concern was the impact of that early farce upon the best-laid plans of Our Glorious Leader. According to the newswires, Pochettino’s three-week preparations had included inviting the players to plant their feet on hot coals (a strategy that, if you ask me, carries an inherent flaw, given that these chaps’ feet are the most important dashed parts of them), breaking arrows with their necks and all manner of other eyebrow-raising sorcery. Frankly it struck me that he might have had a little too much preparation time on his hands.

Alas, the one circumstance for which he presumably had not prepared was the concession of a penalty in the opening minute. One sympathises, for why would he?

And in fact, our lot reacted to this decidedly unseemly new set of circumstances with admirable stiffening of the upper lip and some neat and tidy interplay around halfway.

The problem with the early goal was not so much its effect upon our heroes as its effect upon Liverpool. It meant that for the remaining 89 minutes they did not need to take any sort of risk, or show any sort of forward intent that would allow even a whiff of an opening behind them. They were content to strangle the life out of us, and pretty much did just that.

3. The Kane Selection

Our Glorious Leader had made the reasonable point that hindsight would tell whether his team selection would go down as masterstroke or clanger, so naturally enough the knives are out in some quarters. All of which places me in a terrifically delicate spot, as Poch, having presumably pored over these very pages in recent days, rather scarily opted for the precise team and formation for which I had been marching around town campaigning in the past week or two.

Kane undoubtedly had fairly minimal effect upon proceedings, finally threatening around the peripheries in the final twenty or so, without ever eking out – or having eked for him – that half a yard that would have allowed him a decent pot at goal.

However, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the better half of North London, I do not think our general bluntness was much to do with him, for the chap was barely given a touch of the ball by his chums in the opening hour or so.

He might have been in the form of his life and it would not have mattered, because our build-up play, particularly in the first half, was thoroughly bogged down by the time we hit the final third (almost as if the players were sinking beneath the weight of tactical instruction, which rather makes one wonder).

Even in hindsight I am still not particularly convinced that starting Lucas instead would necessarily have been the solution, for sniper-quality though his finishing was against Ajax, his involvement in build-up play was nothing about which to ring the church bells, and when he was eventually introduced last night his impact was neither here nor there.

The problem struck me as not so much to do with Kane’s fitness or the absence of Lucas, as the dearth of creativity and service from the ranks behind them.

4. Eriksen, The Selected Scapegoat

At such times as these I feel legally obliged to identify a scapegoat.

With Liverpool content to allow us the ball and take their chances as a defensive unit, plenty of onus was placed upon the assorted size nines in our midfield. We found ourselves in desperate need of some wit and ingenuity, someone who could make use of ample possession in midfield, and boast both the vision to pick a defence-splitting pass and the technique also to deliver it.

In short we needed Christian Eriksen.

The opportunity could not have been better made for him if it had taken him aside beforehand and measured him for size. This was the precise scenario that Mother Nature had had in mind when she fashioned him all those years ago, and the stage was that for which one would expect the true greats of the game to don their capes and leap into action.

But cometh the hour, Eriksen had little to offer that dropped the jaw and made the heart skip a beat or two.

It’s a source of some pretty ripe debate in lilywhite circles. The chap’s ability is not in question – he produces some silky stuff of which most teammates simply aren’t capable. The issue here at AANP Towers is that he is something of a Match of the Day player: his best bits make the highlights reel, and come 10.30pm on a Saturday night he can look pretty spectacular. But roll up and watch the whole 90 minutes, and too often he does too little to effect things, much less boss an entire match. Last night was a case in point.

By contrast, Winks and Sissoko – neither of whom anyone of sound mind and teetotal disposition would ever suggest were better players than Eriksen – did more at least to attempt to inject a little vim and energy into our midfield play.

5: Clinical Finishing (And Lack Thereof)

Whatever the virtues or otherwise of Eriksen’s performance, it seemed that, like me, the players were labouring under the misapprehension that clear-cut chances would simply materialise automatically, because this was the Champions League 2019 and frankly that’s what has tended to happen. This time however, we were a little too patient and passive for our own good.

By around the 70-minute mark the memo to get heads down and dig out a goal had evidently reached all in lilywhite, and there was an urgency to our play in the final third. The Liverpool goalkeeper was even having to get his gloves dirty, as our heroes stumbled upon the novel idea of trying an occasional, polite shot at goal.

Alas and alack and woe upon woe, we did not actually create one decent chance throughout the whole desperate affair. Instead, we needed to be at our clinical best to take advantage of whatever scraps and glimmers of opportunities came our way.

In short, we needed to produce the sort of clinical finish from one of those half-chances that Divock Origi did at the other end, at the death, summoning the ghost of Lineker in the Italia ’90 Semi-Final to turn a sniff of a chance into a goal.

But where Origi caught his shot as sweetly as a front-foot cover drive at Lord’s, Sonny and Lucas did not quite make the clean connection that makes the heart skip a beat and young ladies swoon; and Dele’s chipped effort was rather cruelly made to look a heck of a lot closer to hitting the top corner than it actually did, by that most wretched and evil prankster, the Deceptive Camera Angle.

And that was that. The whole Champions League campaign has been, until this point absolutely riotous fun, so warm applause and stiff drinks are deserved all round. Just a shame that the finale was such an oddly damp squib, but such is life I suppose.

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CL Final Preview: 5 Things Tottenham Must Do To Win

1. Kane at His Sharpest

Not to point too fine a point on it, but Kane’s contribution to proceedings will be constitute pretty critical stuff.

Casting minds all the way back to the start of the season, and in that post-World Cup fug much of the chatter revolved around the fact that the chap looked every inch a man in desperate need of a good lie-down. His touch was heavy, his movement was laboured. He protested otherwise, and the goals generally continued to flow, but for whatever reason we certainly were not witnessing Peak Kane.

In the here and now, Kane is once again insisting that he is in fine fettle, and I’m inclined to believe that the ankle is now fully healed. The concern remains however, that his match sharpness – by which I mean that aforementioned touch and movement – is several marks off the ideal.

While we have stumbled our way through previous rounds using patched-together teams, and often sans Kane, this match of matches really requires our star player to be at the peak of his powers.

The question of whether he should start or come off the bench continues to linger (the AANP tuppence-worth is to start with him), but starting also presents a problem, because sharp or not, he presumably will struggle to last 90 minutes, and were he to start and the game to drag into extra-time, one suspects he will toddle off for a warm coat and isotonic snifter at some point.

Kane at his best, however, would be a massive asset to our heroes, and cause Liverpool all sorts of problems, from all sorts of angles. Fingers firmly crossed.

2. Sense Over Sentiment in Team Selection

Following his Amsterdam heroics, young Lucas is quite rightly being lauded everywhere he goes, and one would hope the chap will never have to buy his own drink ever again.

However, many are calling for his inclusion in the starting line-up for the Final, on the basis of an argument that can essentially be distilled down to “It would be harsh not to”. Such discourse is greeted with a narrowing of the eyes at AANP Towers, and a sniff that could be considered haughty. This is a Champions League Final, not a mid-summer testimonial or a Sunday afternoon 1950s romance on Channel 4.

There should be no room for sentiment in this one, we absolutely need to pick the team that will win on the day – and if that means shunting Lucas into the attack then so be it, but I fall pretty firmly into the camp that thinks that Kane and Son ought to be the front pairing.

The alternative suggestion is cramming all three of Kane, Son and Lucas into attack – which would presumably mean a midfield of Dele, Sissoko and Eriksen. This, I fancy, would be madness of the highest degree. Away to Man City, and at home to Ajax, Eriksen and Dele confirmed what was already universally known, that they pretty much offer cosmetic value only when doing off-the-ball defensive work. Not their faults of course, as nature created them to attack. Set up with that 4-3-3 and I fear Liverpool will be over the hills and out of sight before we know what has hit us.

Sense, rather than sentiment, would appear to dictate that we use a midfield 4, with one of Winks, Dier or Wanyama in amongst the rest, tasked with rolling up sleeves and mucking in.

3. A Plan to Nullify Their Full-Backs

We have played Liverpool twice this season, receiving something of a spanking at home, albeit by only one goal, which rather flattered us, and losing by one own goal away from home, which rather flattered them.

Prominent in both encounters, particularly during those chunks during which Liverpool were in the ascendancy, were the red full-backs. When we played at Wembley, our own full-backs were in full kamikaze mode, and charged up the pitch, leaving Robertson and TAA plenty of room to set up camp and make merry. At Anfield, our lot went to the other extreme, and began in an ultra-conservative back five.

The solution, one imagines, lies somewhere in between. A back-four, perhaps, with both Rose and Trippier afforded a degree of protection from those in front? The second half at Anfield might prove a useful template, as we edged on top on that occasion, and were dashed unlucky to lose.

Whatever the solution, this is one of the notable problems over which Our Glorious Leader and his Brains Trust will need to chew and ruminate, preferably long into the night and within clouds of cigar smoke.

4. No Ludicrous Mistakes

Conceding a goal is always galling, but when it comes about because the other lot whir into hyperspace and slice us open with a thousand cuts – as in the style of Ajax in the first leg, for example – at least there are few regrets or recriminations. One might point a half-hearted finger at the left-back who may have moved a step to the side in the build-up, but essentially it is blameless stuff, and all involved are best off simply stiffening the upper lip and contemplating the riposte.

What is utterly infuriating is conceding a goal out of nowhere and under no pressure, as a complete gift to the opposition. Disturbingly, our heroes have made something of a habit of this over the course of the season, and it goes without saying that such nonsense makes the job in hand massively more taxing.

Trippier’s own goal; Lloris’ palm against Liverpool; Foyth’s own-area dallying; Trippier’s own-area attempted nutmegs; Lloris’ rushes of blood to the head and rushes of feet from his goal – the list is worryingly long. To say nothing of free headers at set-pieces.

Playing Liverpool will be hard enough, and the drill ought to be to force them to work dashed hard for every chance. On this of all occasions we need to cut out the utterly absurd, unforced errors.

5. No More Comebacks

No doubt about it, our heroes have turned the sensational comeback into something of an art-form during this Champions League campaign.

After the three-games-one-point ‘Arry Redknapp tribute at the start of the group phase, we went into the final 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and sixth games needing at least one goal to avoid elimination – and duly delivered each time. Against City we again needed a late-ish goal (and an even later VAR call), and then there was the madness of Amsterdam. On top of which, we seem to have imprinted into the gameplan the slightly curious tactic of conceding within the opening 5 minutes.

All thrilling stuff and so on and so forth, but this insanity really must end, for the good of all concerned. The constitution simply cannot take it, for a start – and heaven knows what the nerves will be like during a Champions League Final – but more pertinently we just cannot repeatedly rely upon comebacks. A two-goal half-time deficit will not always be overturned, and I certainly wouldn’t fancy our chances of doing so against this lot.

Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, to canter into a lead, and then hold onto it?

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CL Final Preview: 6 Players Who Took Tottenham To The Final

1. Hugo Lloris

Heaven knows I’ve been at the front of the queue when it’s come to sticking the knife into our skipper – and giving it a vigorous twist for good measure too – because the absurd, unforced errors have come thick and fast in the last season or two. However, when push met shove in the business end of this season’s Champions League, Lloris thrust out limbs like nobody’s business.

The Dortmund away leg springs to mind, a game into which we took a three-goal lead but looked for all the money in the world like we wouldn’t make it to half-time without being pegged back.

Dortmund brought their A-game, slicing us apart with the sort of blurry whizz of motion that Ajax were to replicate in the semi-final. Time and again they skipped past each of our massed ranks until finding themselves staring into the whites of Lloris’ eyes; but time and again our captain did the necessary, no matter how unlikely the laws of physics suggested this would be. Re-watch the highlights of that first half in particular, and one needs to dust off the abacus to rack up the precise number of point-blank saves made.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and within ten minutes of the quarter-final first leg at home to Man City, VAR had awarded a penalty against Danny Rose, and the customary uphill slog looked set to kick in.

Enter, yet again, Monsieur Lloris, to repel Aguero’s spot-kick and breathe fresh life into this unlikeliest of campaigns. Had Aguero scored, the away goals advantage would have gone up in smoke there and then, and more pertinently City might well have racked up a hatful.

2. Moussa Sissoko

AANP’s player of the season, Sissoko seems to have improved with every game, transforming before our goggling eyes from figure of fun to critical cog in the machinery. One moment that summed up this metamorphosis was his gallop forward in the closing stages at home to Inter.

By that stage of the campaign it was win or bust, thrice in a row. A sloppy start had left our heroes with one point from three games, and any thoughts of winning the whole dashed thing had been tied up in a sack, weighed down with bricks and dropped overboard. Needing a win to avoid elimination in each of Matchdays 4, 5 and 6, this seemed rather unlikely against Inter, until the final 10 minutes, when Sissoko took it upon himself to put his head down and charge into enemy territory.

One is reluctant to blame the Inter mob for backing off, for it would be a brave man to try to impede a Sissoko gathering a head of steam. The chap drove from Point A, around 10 yards inside his own half, to Point B well inside the Inter penalty area, with the sort of steely determination that one dares not interrupt, and with each step began imprinting himself into Tottenham folklore.

He found Dele, who swivelled and found Eriksen, and his finish kept our heads above water. Just.

Further approving nods to Sissoko for setting up Kane away to Dortmund, and filling in at auxiliary right-back away to Barcelona, after KWP was hooked and we went in desperate search of an equaliser.

And of course, his introduction against Ajax in the semi-final first leg did just about enough to wrest the game away from them.

3. Jan Vertonghen

One of several who made pretty vital, last-ditch stretches away to Dortmund, to keep our hosts at bay and our 3-0 lead in tact when it seemed that calamity might befall, my best mate’s true value was demonstrated in the first leg of that same tie.

Playing at left wing-back Vertonghen first went toe-to-toe with Jadon Sancho, by the skin of his teeth keeping the young pup contained in a first half in which we were decidedly second best.

In the second half, however, Vertonghen emerged as an irresistible creative force from left-back, flying down the flank with unsullied abandon, whipping in a series of crosses that sent the Dortmund central defence into a frightful tizz and capping things off with a striker’s finish to put us two goals ahead and take something of a knife to Dortmund’s spirits.

That Vertonghen-inspired win gave us enough breathing space to survive the second leg onslaught – and just like that, we were in the quarter-finals.

4. Harry Kane

An enforced absentee for various critical stages of the campaign, Kane still popped up with a number of pretty vital finishes hither and thither. Hardly a surprise, as 14 goals in 18 Champions League appearances does point to a chap who bounds around the place ticking boxes at this level like it’s going out of fashion, but it’s still rather easy to forget his contribution to this season’s effort.

Most notably this occurred at home to PSV in the group stage. Again, it was a game in which nothing less than victory would suffice – so obviously we went behind in the first minute.

And there we remained until the final 10, when Kane’s relentless focus on hitting the target paid off, albeit in slightly more nerve-jangly fashion than would have been ideal.

First a pot-shot in a crowded area found the bottom corner; and then in the final moments a header towards the right-hand corner took a hefty deflection of one PSV torso to send it towards the middle of the goal, and then for good measure detoured again, of another PSV limb, to trickle apologetically into the bottom left.

They all count – as Kane, more than most, will testify – and on we stumbled marched.

5. Fernando Llorente

Another of those chaps who puts the “fickle” into “AANP”, I can quite easily wile away a spare half hour by simply lambasting Fernando Llorente – and yet few have been more critical to what might be the most brilliant success in our history.

As aforementioned, when needing a win at home to PSV, we did it the Spurs way and entered the final 10 minutes a goal down. By this point Llorente had been unceremoniously deposited into the PSV area, and duly earned his keep. Give him a chance two yards in front of goal and the ball might end up anywhere in the solar system, but tell him to hold up the ball, hold off a central defender and lay the ball delicately into the path of Harry Kane, and he’s in business. He did just that, Kane scored and we went on to scrape a win.

Fast forward to the quarter-final away leg at Man City, and Llorente produced the sort of finish that only a man of his questionable finishing ability can produce. Closing his eyes and hoping to win a header from a waist-height cross, he did enough to bundle his way in front of his man, and use a questionable combination of hip and possibly-or-possibly-not wrist to force the ball in. And then celebrated like we fans were celebrating.

Fast forward even further, and with nothing left to lose in the semi-final second leg against Ajax, Llorente’s very presence, introduced at half-time, did enough to sow seeds amongst the Ajax defence. Daly Blind in particular spent most of that half casting a perturbed hand across a distinctly fevered brow, as Llorente simply bullied him.

Aside from any contributions to goals, this helped changed the pattern of play, and momentum of the game. And then, ultimately, his ungainly, angular poke of the ball, in the final minute of added time, was enough to give Dele a yard, and then Lucas Moura… [goosebumps]

6. Lucas Moura

Not just a man for a semi-final hat-trick, Lucas also scored in the dying minutes against Barcelona, in yet another of those group stage games in which we desperately needed a win and therefore conceded early.

Lucas charged in to slap the ball home from close range, and with a little help from PSV we went from one point after three games, to qualification for the knockouts.

And what a knockout it was shaping up to be in the semi-final. In truth, until he scored I was rather despairing of Lucas’ contribution. Frenetic and a little wasteful when on the gallop; unable to link with midfield when dropping deep with back to goal; and without a shot in anger in the whole first half, he seemed just another one of those waving forlornly as the game passed him by.

But then, by golly what an impact. The surge of pace to latch on to Dele’s touch for the first goal was worthy of an Olympic sprinter.

The footwork to dance around the Ajax 6-yard box before scoring the second was worthy of any head-down 9 year-old in the playground.

And then the winner, placed into the only available spot in the net, at the last possible moment before two Ajax defenders could and would have blocked it, and as the clock ticked from 94:59 to 95:00…

I’m not sure there will ever be a Tottenham Hotspur moment quite like it. The bedlam, the en masse Ajax faceplant, the repeated viewings and the full 24 hours it took to register the enormity. On top of which, it’s rather pleasing that the hero of the hour was one of the more unlikely sorts, as it does hammer home that the whole thing was quite the collective effort (which makes a mockery of a list of 6 individuals, but over that we quietly gloss). Heroes, predictable and otherwise, at every turn – one wonders if there is room for one more name to be heralded on Saturday…

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Spurs 1-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Observations

1. A Marvellous Team Effort

What splendid viewing that made. And all the better for being a couple of notches above and beyond wildest dreams.

Given recent form, the quality of the opposition and, frankly, the weathering effect upon the soul that three decades of Spurs-supporting inevitably has, the pre-match mood at AANP Towers was defeatist to the point of philosophical. “What the heck?” was the general, resigned tone, accompanied by suitably accepting shrug, “We aren’t expected or likely to win, so this amounts to something of a free hit.”

But goodness me, with the presumably strict tactical instructions of Our Glorious Leader ringing in their ears, our heroes played out scene after scene just about to perfection.

They hunted in packs as appropriate, but cunningly did so only at suitable junctures and as a team, similarly picking moments simply to sit off and let City mooch around in possession. While the sound of jangling nerves undoubtedly resounded a few times, particularly in the second half, as City buzzed around the edges of our area, they did not actually fashion a clear-cut chance, and Lloris was relatively untroubled.

Quite the triumph for teamwork then, but also as individuals just about every man in lilywhite – including subs Lucas, Wanyama and Llorente – excelled in their individual duties. Pre-match I had feared that 89 minutes of good honest graft might be undone by those increasingly typical moments of unforced madness that various individuals are liable to sprinkle around the place; but yesterday every man was near-faultless.

Sissoko was immense, carrying the ball forward like the slightly clunky ghost of Dembele and defending with non-nonsense force; Toby and Jan were watertight; young Winks repeatedly picked the sensible options, be they backwards or forwards; and Rose was a constant threat in his intriguing match-up with erstwhile chum Walker.

2. Lloris

Recent history dictates that if anyone were going to magic a calamitous error out of thin air it was our resident net-protector, but his handling was secure, and in saving the penalty he gave the entire place an almighty fillip.

This penalty-saving lark is becoming something of a habit, what? Which is all the more pleasing given that in his previous half-dozen or so years of employment I’m not sure I remember him diving into the right postcode when faced with a spot-kick, let alone saving one. Yet there he was, as clear as day, beating the thing away as if it were the most natural way in the world to right a wrong and inject a little fire into sixty thousand bellies.

Heaven knows I malign the chap like the dickens when he errs, so it is only right to salute him today.

3. Sonny Saves Augments The Day

By the time Sonny popped up with his coup de grâce I would happily have traded in my right arm for a goalless draw, so it would be a slight mangling of the Queen’s English to suggest that the cheery soul saved the day, but by golly he certainly popped a cherry on the top of it.

At that stage, deep into the second half, City had decided to go about their business with a darned sight more urgency, and while we weren’t exactly clinging on for dear life, we were backtracking into that sort of territory.

As so often happens, the absence of Kane seemed to remove a chain or two from the being of Son, and he appeared more than happy to occupy the vacated limelight.

It is an odd quirk, that the sight of Kane limping off down the multi-million pound tunnel did not sear my very core as once it might have done. Make no mistake, yesterday was a fine advert for the honest fellow’s general hold-up play, and until Llorente came on we had no similar apparatus in operation. However, this lot are now pretty well-versed in the art of Kanelessness, and actually I was more alarmed by the sight of Sonny going down with a wince a few minutes later.

Sonny will presumably be the focal point in future weeks, and much therefore depends on the supporting roles of Lucas, Llorente and Dele (plus Lamela, if he returns to fitness). All told, the absence of Kane is not the terminal blow it might seem.

4. Eriksen

While most in lilywhite peddled their wares with intense concentration and sterling effectiveness, for much of the game, and in keeping with recent weeks, I paced the corridors with concern at the outputs of Master Eriksen.

His workrate remains as good as ever, but for an hour or so his distribution was decidedly careless. For a man of such ability to misplace ten-yard passes, or suck the momentum out of attacks by passing south, struck me as a real waste, and a poorly-timed one at that. It seems no coincidence to me that our flatness during February and March has coincided with his swerve into off-boil territory.

Mercifully, he righted numerous recent wrongs with that delightful chip into the path of Sonny for the goal, and in general in the final twenty or so minutes of proceedings he danced around the expensive place with some of the old menace.

5. VAR

In truth I prefer not to wade into any topic that doesn’t have Tottenham at its front and centre, and frankly if the rules state that Rose’s was a handball then I’m willing to accept that and toddle along because such is life.

However, the lack of consistency irked me, I don’t mind admitting. The fact that the penalty was awarded despite literally no appeals for a handball does not irk me (it merely suggests that none of them were particularly familiar with the current rules); the lack of consistency does.

I happened to catch snippets of the Liverpool game being played concurrently, during which a pretty similar accidental handball occurred, and VAR decided against a penalty award. All of which gives the impression that rather than mete these things out consistently, they might as well be adjudged by the toss of a coin. If they want a ridiculous rule then so be it; but dash it, apply that rule consistently.

On top of which, it appears that elbows to the head are now also above board, in the all-seeing eyes of video refs. Which is fine by me, if that approach will now be universally applied; one rather suspects it won’t.

A tad harsh on Rose to be yellow-carded too, but such are the mind-boggling days in which we live. Ultimately the whole curious affair simply provided our heroes with a greater sense of injustice with which to fire them along.

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Liverpool 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

For goodness’ sake, dash it all. Is there a more galling way to lose than through a last-minute own-goal, when you’ve actually done enough to win the thing?

Despite every element of it being perfectly above board and within the rules, this somehow feels like a gross injustice – not least because we should have been a couple of goals ahead by the time the clock rumbled over to 90.

1. Much Improved Performance. So That’s Nice.

It’s now one point from fifteen, which officially qualifies as Dreadful Form, but at contrast to the four preceding games, this one at least came with a performance that, for the second half at least, was pretty impressive fare.

Once the necessary tweaks had been made to the tactical levers and pulleys, our heroes rattled along with something approaching rhythm, pinging neat first-time passes and shimmying around in sprightly manner off the ball, which always makes for a winning combo. At one-nil down we took the game to Liverpool and gave them a thing or two over which to chew; and at one-one we looked particularly nifty on the counter, and really ought to have sewn the thing up with a few deliveries to spare.

2. Tactics, Tactics

Pre-game, much of the nattering at AANP Towers had been doleful recollections of how in previous games against the Top Six this season – including Liverpool at home – our wing-backs have flown off as far up the pitch as physics allows, leaving enough greenery behind them to set up a small farm and live off the land, and opponents have duly taken advantage like nobody’s business.

Consequently I barely dared to look at the set-up from the opening toot yesterday, for fear of what fresh hell might unfold. As it happened however, our lot went to the other extreme, with Rose and Trippier erring so far on the side of caution that at times the defence resembled a string of five centre-backs. With Sissoko’s ball-carrying neutered by the instruction to sit in front of the back-three and protect, matters were pretty decidedly awry, and Liverpool’s attacking full-backs had a whale of a time.

Credit to Our Glorious Leader then, from his lofty perch, for adjusting first to a 5-4-1 out of possession, and then to a 4-4-2. The Liverpool wide threat was largely neutered, and our lot began to impose themselves.

Our equaliser was thoroughly merited, and had any one of Eriksen, Dele or the wild shooting boots of dear old Sissoko converted the second half chances that came their way, I suspect most right-minded observers would have deemed matters perfectly reasonable, and given the green light. Which makes the wretched finale all the more galling, but such are the vicissitudes of life, dash it all.

3. Lucas: A Handy Contribution

By and large, Lucas Moura has underwhelmed a tad when introduced from the bench this season. Way back in August he was awarded one of those awfully modern Player of the Month awards, on the back of a match-winning dazzle at Old Trafford and a fistful of other handy contributions while those around him shook off the jet-lag from their World Cup adventures.

Since then, the starting nod alongside Kane has tended to be for Sonny, or occasionally Lamela, and Lucas has been shoved on as something as an afterthought for the dying embers.

At Anfield however, with Sonny having racked up enough midweek air-miles to travel to the moon, Lucas was in from the start, and immediately looked like he had a thing or two to tell the locals, and didn’t care how it would be received. It would be stretching things to say he ran the Liverpool back-line ragged, but he certainly carried bundles of whizz and pop every time he touched the ball, and he merited his goal.

4. Errors At The Back

Here in this corner of the interweb we have never been averse to a spot of pedantry, so while it might seem churlish to shine a great glaring light upon the marginal defensive errors that cost us the game, someone has to kick up a stink about these things.

Exhibit A was Kieran Trippier’s delicately-executed hokey-cokey in the first half, as he went in, and out, and in, and out again, when faced with Robertson and ball. The net effect was that the opponent was thoroughly untroubled, and obliged by swinging in a peach of a cross that was nodded in for Liverpool’s opener.

Worth noting that Exhibit A during the game happened to be something like Exhibit J or K or so, in Trippier’s own personal Case For The Prosecution This Season, because his performances since the World Cup have been littered with defensive errors. (He does deliver a wicked cross when up the other end of the pitch though.)

A pedant might point to Danny Rose’s half-moment of ball-watching at the death as Exhibit B, as this allowed Mo Salah to deliver his fateful header.

Exhibit C, however, was Monsieur Lloris’ nonsense of a non-save. It seems to be quite the fashion amongst the young folk who bear the mitts and stand between the posts these days to push and punch and do everything but catch the blasted ball. It’s an absolute blight upon society, and Lloris deserves a good thrashing for such wispy nonsense.

On top of which, his errant clearance actually sat neatly at the root cause of the opening goal we conceded. The time to look at other goalkeeping options has arrived.

5. Danny Rose Popping Up Everywhere

Danny Rose, once he had been sucked out of the ultra-defensive mode that saw him glued to the back-three in the early stages, did what Danny Rose does, and took it upon himself to forage forward with that familiar, angry air of one who is being continually wronged. It makes for splendid viewing.

Rose was then indulged in his preference for a full-time placement further up the field, as we emerged in the second half in a shiny 4-4-2, of which he played left midfield. This naturally played to his strengths, and reminds us also that we should be grateful for the flexibility of my personal chum Jan Vertonghen.

Not that Rose’s dalliance in midfield lasted too long, as he ended up back at left-back once Sonny arrived, but I do quite enjoy seeing him being unleashed in midfield, even if he does start to think he’s Pele and take on all-comers.

And as a valedictory point, the highlight of AANP’s day was arguably the gorgeous cross-field ball from Kane to pick out Trippier in the build-up to the equaliser. Quibblers have duly insisted that the ball was rolling – whether it should have stood or not, it was a ping of the highest quality. Allied to his hold-up play when dropping deep, and his robotic scoring ability, the man’s talents are mind-boggling.

One would hope our heroes take the spirit of the second half here, as well as any perceived injustice about the ultimate nature of the demise, and unleash it in the spanking new bowl on Wednesday.

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Dortmund 0-1 Spurs Bottlers: Six Tottenham Observations

1. The ‘Thou Shalt Not Pass’ School of Defending

Hindsight being a pretty flawless sort of gem, it is easy for us to playfully nudge each other’s ribs and chortle, “Well that was pretty easy pickings, what?”

But being Spurs fans in general, and having sat through the first 40-odd minutes in particular, I think we can probably all swiftly reach a consensus that this was actually one heck of a delicate operation, and one which, but for six inches here and a millisecond there might have seen us one or two down by half-time and stewing in our juices like nobody’s business.

A three-goal lead we might have held at kick-off, but Dortmund came out of the traps at a fair old lick, and emanated the strong whiff of a team that would go on to nab a second, third and fourth if they could just get that first.

Enormous credit is therefore due to the entire N17 cast for defending as a team, particularly in the first half. Like those rather natty shoals of about a hundred fish that you see weaving this way and that in perfect synchronisation, as if controlled by a single mind, our defence and midfield diligently shuttled hither and thither as Dortmund prodded away like the dickens.

Normally this sort of guff wouldn’t earn a second glance at AANP Towers, where the teeth have been cut on a strict diet of the non-stop, all-action swash and buckle that has lent its name to the place; but there is a time and place for such things, and the drill last night was quite rightly to keep the door shut at all costs during the initial blitz.

This is not to say that our heroes were flawless in their defending as a collective. Had they been, there would not have been need for the last-ditch heroics peddled by Messrs Lloris, Vertonghen and Davies at various junctures.

Nevertheless, I got the impression that if one were to pluck a lilywhite at random and slice him open, one would have discovered intense concentration levels and a strict game-plan coursing through his veins. Our lot were hell-bent on keeping Dortmund at bay.

2. What Lloris Does Best

So as mentioned, the generally topping work done by all eleven was embellished in timely fashion by a couple of goal-worthy challenges from certain members of the back-five; and when even these lines were breached, Monsieur Lloris produced the sort of performance that in truth he’s probably owed us for the past couple of seasons.

Some saves were straightforward, and some were absolutely first rate. Usefully, Lloris was not in discriminatory mood, and did the necessaries with all of them.

In a way, the slightly desperate, last-ditch, backs-to-the-wall nature of the thing in the first half played neatly into Lloris’ hands. The chap seems to be at his best when instinctively thrusting out a paw to repel a close-range snapshot.

Shoot at his legs and there is a moderate-to-good chance the ball will find a way through. Ask him to come dashing from his line to mop things up and any sort of fresh hell might transpire. But simply fire the ball at him from a distance of 5-10 yards, as Dortmund did repeatedly in the first half, and he’s precisely the sort of nib you want manning the phones.

3. The Ironic Need for Sideways and Backwards Passing

Not that Lloris’ heroics and the collective spirit of defence made the first half much more bearable. For all the thrill of seeing a Davies limb extend or a Vertonghen toe intercept, the respite rarely lasted more than around 5 seconds before the next Dortmund wave was upon us. For almost the entirety of the first half we were unable to retain possession, our on-the-ball subtlety rarely extending beyond simply blooting the thing to halfway and trying to regroup for the next yellow attack.

In between staving off heart attacks, the thought did strike me that we would have benefited immensely from a spell of possession, just for its own sake. Not with the aim of pelting towards the Dortmund area in search of an away goal, but simply to relieve the pressure.

Instead, out on the greenery, the only intention seemed to be to launch the ball north, in the hope that Kane and Son might magic a goal out of nothing. The net result was that neither were able to hold up play and we were immediately back under the cosh. What we were crying out for was actually a spot of sideways and backwards passing, with zero attempt to encroach on Dortmund territory, and every intention of simply controlling the game for a few priceless minutes.

Being the sort of egg who’s all for a spot of irony during their daily routine, it did strike me that in recent weeks I have hit something pretty near apoplexy at the sight of Toby, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Winks and Sissoko pinging the ball sideways and backwards ad nauseam. When the games against Burnley, Chelsea and Arsenal were absolutely howling out for some urgency, invention and blasted forward forays, our heroes intransigently pivoted, and pivoted, and then rolled the ball sideways.

Contrast with last night, when all they seemed capable of doing in the first half was attempting unnecessarily and unsuccessfully to force the ball forward. I don’t mind admitting I swept a hand across the fevered brow on more than one occasion.

Mercifully, the penny dropped from about the 40-minute mark, as Dortmund’s enthusiasm for the chase dwindled. Thereafter, our heroes began to look like they were starting rather to enjoy themselves. Aware that it simply did not matter whether they passed forward or backward as long as they retained the ball, they began to lead Dortmund a merry dance, occasionally feinting to attack, and then rather cruelly about-turning and shuttling the ball across the back-line.

4. Kane Adulation

And that, in truth, was pretty much that. Half-time arrived with our heroes in possession, and the early second half goal gave every one of us the opportunity to indulge in a good, old-fashioned spot of exhaling.

Being an absolute machine, Harry Kane did not pause to mess around when presented with his one and only chance. The chap’s Champions League stats already boggle the mind a tad, and the circumstances around his goal yesterday were impressive – one might make the case that the very best strikers need only one chance in the crunch games, and Kane is very much of that ilk.

On top of which, he spent much of the rest of the game pottering around winning free-kicks while strongly outnumbered. A cracking performance from whichever angle one views it.

5. Why Hello There, Eric Dier

A tip of the hat also to Eric Dier, who returned from witness protection looking like these were the circumstances for which he had been born to play.

Thrown on with half an hour to go, instructed to protect the back-four and generally ensure no alarms, he did so with discipline and aggression, as one would expect, but also threw in a neat line of simple and effective short passes that kept the pressure off and gradually sucked the will to live from the Dortmund mob.

With Winks and Sissoko seemingly playing every minute of every game these days, and hobbling off accordingly, the return of Dier, particularly in this sort of mood, is most useful.

6. All Grown Up

Two years ago our heroes were gifted a fairly straightforward draw, and failed to progress from the group.

One year ago our heroes topped a group containing Real Madrid, then outplayed Juve for all but 13 minutes over two legs, and failed to progress past the Round of 16.

This year our heroes have delivered absolutely textbook Home and Away leg performances, and now gambol on to the Quarter Finals. The evidence mounts in pretty compelling fashion to suggest that they improve year on year.

No doubt they will continue to lose the occasional game against big teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’) and occasionally lose to smaller teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’), but the two very different and devastatingly effective performances in this tie – following a group stage in which we faced elimination unless we scored in the last 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and six fixtures – points towards a team that is getting the hang of this lark.

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Spurs 1-1 Arsenal: Five Tottenham Observations

1. If Sissoko Is Our Man of the Match, Something Is Not Quite Right

It has come to this. Moussa Sissoko was our star performer, seemingly the only man in lilywhite who recognised throughout the importance of the game. Rather than limit himself to his usual, highly effective but sensibly contained game of providing monstrous defensive cover and occasional forward runs as a supporting cast member, yesterday the notion struck him that if he did not seize the game by the scruff of the neck then nobody else jolly well would.

Consequently we were treated to the unlikely sight of Sissoko being the fountain from which most of our creative urgency sprang. Eriksen was either too well shackled or just too plain bored to get involved, and the option of feeding Rose an early ball and letting him set off at a gallop was oddly overlooked. The default seemed to be the usual turgid wealth of ineffective short passes, punctuated by some aimless long ones.

Sissoko at least had the decency to try righting the many wrongs surrounding him. Adorably, he tried doing his best Dembele impressions to force the issue. Ultimately they tended to amount to little, as he overplayed his hand on just about every occasion, but the effect was at least mildly galvanising to the watching hordes.

Lamela did little once introduced, bar earn his customary yellow card for his customary mistimed lunge; Lucas Moura remained unused throughout; and even Danny Rose was invited to try his luck as a creator from deep in the final fifteen or so, but like Sissoko, got a little carried away by his own high opinion of himself and got it in his head that the best option was to try taking on the entire Arsenal team from deep within his own half. The spirit was willing, the flesh was weak.

2. Eriksen Still Below Par

As alluded to above, part of the problem is that Eriksen remain off-key. Arsenal seemed well drilled in this respect, generally snapping around him, but even when afforded space and time, his act appeared tired and lacklustre.

Which points to a deeper problem within the fold, namely that when Eriksen is misfiring, to whom the heck do we turn for a creative spark? Occasions such as these suggest that Eriksen is the most important component within our DNA (for even when Kane is absent we have a system, of sorts, that enables us to cope). Remove or nullify Eriksen, and the whole delicately-arranged construction starts to come crashing down.

The immediate concern is that the chap is below par; the lingering longer-term worry is that he might not be too much longer of our parish.

3. Sanchez Mistakes

Davinson Sanchez’s progress in the last couple of years has been, if not quite blemish-free, then certainly on the pleasing side of such parabolas. However, he does retain the ability to make a fairly notable pig’s ear of things where none should really exist, and yesterday he threw in a couple of stinkers that, by rights, ought really to have cost us the match.

Having been at fault for Ramsey’s goal, I suppose there are massed throngs who will howl that he ought never to have been penalised for the late penalty as well, but this rather misses the point.

Rather than quibble about the minutiae of how much contact is required to justify the award of a penalty, I have long banged the drum that we would all be in a much happier place if those concerned simply steered well clear, and did not give the referee the option or chance to award a foul. And certainly not in the last minute, when the striker is haring away from goal and towards the byline.

Sanchez is not quite in the Juan Foyth school of Sudden and Massive Defensive Aberrations, but these are not isolated incidents either. With Toby likely to shuffle out the nearest exit come the summer, Sanchez will need to up his game a notch or two.

4. Son’s Diminishing Impact Now That Kane Is Back

One of the more curious findings from the day’s gallivanting was that since Kane has returned, our attack has seemed even more neutered than in those games in which Llorente stood in one single spot for 90 minutes and Sonny whizzed around him.

Kane, naturally enough, has waltzed back into town to receive star billing, diamond slippers and have an army of admirers tripping over themselves to light his cigarettes; all of which makes a strong bucketful of sense, since the chap, as is commonly recognised, is something of a freak of nature.

Nor is Sonny, with his permanent smile and boundless energy, the sort to go around upsetting apple-carts and spitting out dummies. Despite having been rightly showered with plaudits for his various acts of skin-saving over the last month or so, he has simply tried his best to adapt to life as Not Quite The Star Man.

The trouble is, it’s just not quite working at the moment. Kane and Son have resembled a couple of strangers whose paths occasionally and fleetingly cross, but between whom even the most die-hard romantic would struggle to say there were any genuine relationship.

And even this would be excusable if they were separately being nurtured by the rest of the mob, but service to them over the last three games has been poor, whilst opponents have been organised and sat deep. I’m not sure either man has had carved out for them a red-blooded and meaty chance worthy of the name in the last three games.

They sure as heck do not currently resemble a partnership, and nor is there any obvious conduit from midfield towards them. The mind boggles to recollect that just a couple of months ago these two, alongside ERiksen and Dele Alli, were absolutely shredding Everton seemingly at will.

I am certainly not advocating that we simply shunt out Kane, field Llorente and hope that Sonny can be restored to former glories; but sorcery of some type that elevates Kane and Son to the sum of their parts would be pretty dashed handy at this point.

5. Current Form: A Worry

This may prove a controversial opinion amongst the masses, but in the latter stages of the first half I rather fancied we were making a decent enough fist of things. It was hardly exhibition stuff admittedly, but every man in possession at least had an air of urgency, and there was a swiftness to our work.

What a glorious seven or eight minutes it was – Trippier whipped in a couple of crosses; Sonny beavered around the periphery; and in what was possibly the highlight of the past four and a half hours of outfield play, Kane dinked a cute pass into Eriksen. Who promptly missed a sitter.

Prior to that, and indeed throughout most of the second half, there was no discernible improvement in performance levels from the previous couple of mooches.

Now while I’m all for beating around the bush when the situation demands it, this is some pretty darned worrying stuff. Our heroes teeter between toothless and plain uninterested in attack, and have demonstrated themselves to be fairly consistently riddled with mistakes in defence, irrespective of the personnel selected. If ever there were a time for the Brains Trust to earn their weekly envelope, this might well be it

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

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