All Action, No Plot

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Spurs 4-0 Everton: Six Tottenham Conclusions

1. A Half-Hour of Vintage Dembele

One of my cohort of Spurs-watchers was fairly underwhelmed by the entire binge yesterday, which rather goes to show that you can never be too sure of things; but I fancy that if you had been sitting close enough you might have heard me purr at certain points.

Not vintage lilywhite, but we pinged the thing about pretty quickly, and whereas on occasion previously the hills have been alive with the sound of Spurs players meandering around thoroughly unable to unlock a packed defence, yesterday the cup at times overfloweth with bright ideas and nifty passes.

Central to this in the early stages was Dembele, who for whatever reason had evidently woken up thinking that he was going to teach everyone around him a lesson they would dashed well never forget, and spent accordingly spent the first half hour imperiously brushing aside the Everton midfield.

For a bean so brimming with talent it can be pretty frustrating to watch him languidly knock the ball sideways and then shove off behind the bike shed for a quick smoke, but yesterday brought out the best in the man. He ran with the ball, picked some lovely passes and, of course, shoved folk left and right like a particularly hefty jungle beast with little time for the weedier species.

As well as being an aesthetically pleasing sight of itself, this also served the useful purpose of giving his ten chums an act to follow, and the whole thing buzzed with a decent energy.

Dembele faded a little thereafter, as more advanced teammates took the hint and started to run riot, but it was nice to see him rediscover a little of that old swagger.

2. Use of Aurier

Serge Aurier cannot defend, cross or shoot; that much is uncontroversial. However, our glorious leader is clearly one of those “Waste not, want not” types, who will make a soup out of last night’s leftover vegetables through sheer force of habit, and seeing that Aurier simply exists, Poch rather niftily wrung some value out of him. Accordingly, the whole cast was on strict orders yesterday to yank Everton all over the place, by switching play towards the reckless right-back.

Everton, obligingly, spent that time scratching their heads and observing in fairly statue-esque fashion as Aurier roved forward time and again, and although he was as likely to cure cancer as he was to do anything useful with the ball, the tactic helped us to away at our guests.

The opening goal, when it came, was from a shot that might have been arrowing towards the corner flag (and that after a first touch that nearly took him into a different time zone). When one factors in the appalling cross he delivered a few weeks ago that ended up in the back of the net, one starts to wonder if the safest place to be when Serge Aurier is pointing a gun at your face is actually right in front of him.

3. Eriksen

If Dembele were the man to burst through the heart of Everton in the opening exchanges, Eriksen found a niche hovering around him and sprinkling the piece with all manner of glorious flicks and diagonal passes.

When he is at his best, he does not really tend to stand on argument, but instead nudges the ball this way and that in the blink of an eye, in a manner that can muddle even the most organised of opposition.

He was on song in those crucial early stages yesterday, and his goal was rather fitting, for the romantics amongst us. More on that anon.

4. Counter-Attacking at 2-0 And Beyond

After the good honest toe-to-toe-ing of the first half, the second goal about a minute into the second half gave the dynamic of the whole thing a fairly concerted shift, as Everton, understandably, became rather flustered, and in the pursuit of goals lost their sense of space, time and defensive composure. Our heroes obligingly applied boot to throat and squeezed until the last bubbles of life quietly departed them. It was fairly ruthless stuff, in truth, and those of us with a blood lust were well satisfied.

Having looked chipper enough from the outset, by the time we had stretched into a lead, the whole game was just a series of pauses before our next thrilling counter-attack. Son, Eriksen, Alli and Kane appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, having discovered that toying with those vastly inferior can actually bring endless entertainment.

I suppose in moments of sobriety we can reflect that making hay, knocking back drinks and generally indulging in revels of the highest order has never been a problem for our heroes once a couple of goals to the good. The issue tends to be more around fashioning that opening goal, and that was a problem overcome yesterday.

5. That Glorious Fourth Goal

Whichever chappie it is entrusted with maintaining the much-vaunted record books must be a dreadfully dull sort, because his output yesterday would simply have read “Son, Kane, Kane, Eriksen”, with maybe a footnote on the attendance, and unused subs, and other such dreary fluff.

Which I suppose is the sort of honest stuff one needs in life, but it seems to have wandered off around a mile in the wrong direction simply to describe the fourth goals as “Eriksen”, what? That goal was the sort about which lovestruck youths ought to pen odes.

It was glorious, from inception to delivery. In particular the interplay between Son, Alli and Eriksen had me off my feet and hollering “Encore”, three sublime touches, which looked picture perfect on the Wembley turf. Son’s dink and Alli’s backheel could not have been better delivered, and Eriksen’s shot had all the clean contact of leather on willow on a sunny morning at Lord’s.

6. Son

If Son were named Sonaldinho he’d probably be worth around £236.5 million in today’s slightly squiffy market. The chap is current Asian Player of the Year, which I guess isn’t bad given that there are at least a billion to choose from, and is currently motoring along like one of those fellows in a fast car on a country lane, who is feeling top of the world and doesn’t care who knows it.

Oddly enough, his run in the team has come about as a result of the injury to Toby, and the consequent switch from a back three to back four, which, if you do the maths, cunningly opens up a job opportunity in attack.

Be that as it may, it’s quite the bag of tricks he now slings over his shoulder and brings along to each bash. Quick feet, boundless energy, a lovely clean shot, and yesterday, a couple of glorious touches – notably the spin that set him off for the Kane assist, and the flick in the build-up to Eriksen’s goal.

On top of which, the young chap’s attitude marks him out as something of a champion. After his screamer against West Ham, when the television bod shoved a mic in his face and demanded superlatives, Sonny looked utterly broken – due to the fact that, wonder goal or not, we had failed to win. And no praise can be high enough for that sort of thing.

Swansea 0-2 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Observations

1. Mighty Great Big Swathes of Luck

Ask any young oil of my acquaintance and I’m pretty sure that they would report back to you that AANP is a well-rounded young nib, who helps old ladies cross the road, pays his taxes, and above all, has a keen sense of honesty (aside from that whopper of a fib I was forced to tell at Uni regarding that errant pint of beer and the charity pool tournament, but that’s one for another evening). And it is this precise understanding of the virtue of truth-telling that enables me to reel off, as insouciant as you like, that yes, we did indeed benefit from the rub of the green yesterday.

Llorente’s goal? Offside, as clear as day. Davinson Sanchez? Well, if one factors in that the first yellow was perhaps justifiable as a punishment for rank stupidity, a sort of mini-episode of Darwinism, then dash it, yes – he should have been sent from the premises for a second booking. Penalty for Swansea? I don’t see why not. Lloris clobbered the chap like a gangster taking issue with a debtor’s kneecaps.

That said, the daredevil thrillseeker in me cannot resist suggesting that Llorente was later incorrectly flagged when clean through on goal, and that both Dele and Son had what looked like fairly reasonable penalty claims laughed out of the valleys. With a couple more slices of luck we might have reached double figures.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that the biggest decisions of the game went our way. I recall lobbing a few choice toys out of the AANP pram back in autumn when the Arse benefitted to the tune of a couple of pretty ropey judgement calls, so having lost some then, we have I suppose won some here. But as when l’Arse beat us back then, in this instance the general balance of the thing seemed to tilt anyway towards the team that benefited from the dodgy calls. That is to say, the iffy decision-making only really seemed to hasten something that had all the inevitability of the Titanic taking a dip southwards.

2. A Job Well Done In Those Conditions

When AANP casts his mind back to those formative, teenage years at the alma mater, the principal memory seems to be a whole slew of attempts to drive our teachers to insanity through what might the kids nowadays might loosely term “japes”. Frogs in pencil cases, buckets of water on doors, aerosol cans turned into flamethrowers through use of lighters – all good, honest fun.

But in addition there were also the football and rugger sessions out on the fields (which have since been transformed into Spurs’ state-of-the-art training complex, no word of a lie). And there, by approximately mid-October, the “pitches” such as they were, pretty much resembled the lashings of mud through which the T-Rex strode in 90s animal caper Jurassic Park. With zero drainage, and egged on by some good old-fashioned British downpours, stringing three passes together on those pitches was like curing cancer, and we would return to base absolutely caked in mud.

I delve into this reverie because observing yesterday’s heroics rather took me back a bit. Puddles on the pitch, and the ball refusing to roll as directed, it rather killed the spectacle from the warmth of AANP Towers, but rather than chastising our heroes for failing to purvey anything resembling the Brazil ’70 vintage, I spray them with champagne for splashing their way through and getting the job done.

The dubious early goal doubtless helped, and sans Kane it was difficult to see us threatening the goal too often, but if ever there were a time for a bottom-of-the-division team to flip the tables and smartly yell “Ha!” it was during yesterday’s downpour. Our lot did not shirk the task, beavered away, and were good value for the win.

3. Llorente Just About Delivers

I’m not sure the good Lord Himself could have picked a more obvious moment to field the decidedly less gifted supporting cast member, this being against his former club, and with a second game looming but 48 hours hence. On top of which Harry Kane has a spot of man-flu (a touching act of solidarity with the currently bed-ridden AANP and AANP Snr), so this was most definitely Llorente’s moment.

And to his credit he got his goal. It should not have stood, but the record books tend not to brook too much argument on these points. He did little else of note in truth. With an attack-minded quartet behind him eagerly snuffling away for opportunities, Llorente did not exactly pull the Swansea back-line all over Wales in a blur of non-stop movement, but then I suppose that has never been his forte. He delivered some of those neatly-weighted lay-offs, waddled offside a few times, and then exited after an hour to hearty applause all round. But he bagged a goal, on an evening that might well have become an increasingly frustrating goalless affair, so it can be considered a job well done.

This penchant for players not celebrating against former teams really must stop, however. It shows a lack of respect to his current fans, and the mortified look on these blighters’ faces suggests that they have sentenced the entire fan base to death, rather than kick a ball in the net for a squillion pounds.

4. Welcome Return For Wanyama

All told this was pretty forgettable fare in truth, but amongst the more encouraging moments was the return to action of the irresistible force that is Victor Wanyama. Half an hour sliding through the mud will do the man a world of good, and as well as admiring the views he also found time for a couple of notable contributions – the clearance after the Swansea penalty shout was his work, and at one point later on, when one young Swansea mucker was trying to shimmy this way and that, Wanyama intervened in no uncertain terms, sending the ball into orbit and ensuring the opponent also flew a good couple of feet skywards for good measure.

Our glorious leader will no doubt know best how to continue easing him back into the fold, but with some meaty clashes approaching in a month or so, the return of Wanyama is marvellous news.

Heartwarming also to see young Lamela starting proceedings. Not really a game for him to showcase his most balletic feats, but the young cherub got stuck in from the off, setting the tone for the rest of them, and did well to last.

Seven Lilywhite New Year Resolutions

Happy new year, fellow lilywhite-lovers. An early apology – while idling away the wee small hours a feature on new year’s resolutions seemed a passable idea, for no doubt a tweak is needed here and a polish there. The sum of parts however, is a rather antsy, whingeing piece, which seems to suggest that I have a bone to pick with each of our heroes. So apologies for that, by and large I think they do a grand old job, and I ought not simply to focus on their possible failings, as I have done. Mea culpa.

Harry Winks – Take More Risks

Young Master Winks has become a firm favourite here at AANP Towers. Seeminly convinced that he is about eight foot six he charges around the place spoiling for a fight, he is not afraid to point his dial Northwards and run with the ball, and he has a range of passing that one imagines would have Luka Modric and Tom Huddlestone nodding in approval.

However, on this latter point, of passing range there is still room for improvement, for the chap will still occasionally play things a little too safe, particularly in those bashes against a team absolutely set on all-out defence. Winks is one who has the talent to set wheels in motion from Point A to Point B – witness his pass that allowed Aurier to assist Dele for our opener against Real. The young buck now simply needs to do it on a weekly basis and we will all live happily ever after.

Hugo Lloris – Sort Out His Kicking

And keep an eye on his near post while at it. But the chap’s footwork does not instil confidence by the sackload, and for a team that seems pretty intent on playing the ball out from the back this is something of a gargantuan flaw in the plan.

In theory, one heartily endorses the approach. A cunning short pass here, a serene ten-yarder there, and before you know it we have scythed through half the opposition and are flying at them from all angles. In practice, however, Lloris has a tendency to take his own sweet time, and execute these things in a manner that actually piles the pressure on his own team-mates. Doing the opposition a service, to put it another way.

On top of which, the clip of Lloris gifting a goal to the opposition with an errant clearance while playing for his national mob rather jars in the memory. Man City have shown that this pass-from-the-back approach can reap some dividends, so it’s time for Hugo to buck up his ideas a notch.

Moussa Sissoko – Anything. Master The Basics For a Start

This chap is a pest. In recent weeks I have willed the blighter to improve, and in a sense he has performed a worthy service, being parachuted into the centre of the pitch and told to run at whichever opponent has the ball, in order to terrify them into ceding possession. Powerful, fast and mean-looking, by and large he does this. But it seems a role more appropriate for American Football than our vintage, where some ability with ball at feet is a prerequisite.

Every game he plays features a wild, swinging miskick. As often as not he will butcher a sure-fire goalscoring opportunity by over- or under-hitting the crucial pass. He could stand in front of goal all day firing in shots, and not one would find the net. And so on – one gets the gist.

How he ever because a professional footballer is utterly beyond me, and the thought of us splurging thirty million on the chap, or some such guff, honestly makes me want to weep, but that is where we find ourselves, so I suggest that Sissoko just focuses on the basics – win the ball, and pass it five yards to literally anyone in lilywhite – and we will be better for it.

Dele Alli – Take Fewer Touches

Some would suggest that this young whelp needs to hike up a mountain and master the art of zen, but here at AANP Towers we consider that Dele’s temper is here to stay, and the occasional three-match ban is simply an occupational hazard. Not what one would wish for, all things being equal, but such is the hand dealt.

Vastly more troubling to this observer is the chap’s tendency to revert to playground mode literally every time he touches the ball, and actively seek out someone to nutmeg. It matters not whether it helps or hinders the broader tapestry, it seems an obsession with the chap.

I would suggest we are at our best when firing off quick, short passes between personnel, but the approach is fairly thoroughly negated when one amongst the number insists on going for a walk, whilst taking half a dozen touches, and then attempting a nutmeg, irrespective of whether ball retention is feasible.

Still, in recent weeks he has seemed to reclaim a little of his traditional swagger and effectiveness, particularly with the switch in formation allowing Sonny and Eriksen to buzz around him, so maybe fortunes are taking an upturn.

Toby Alderweireld – Sign Up

Because it would be a couple of steps forward (Sanchez joins) and three backwards if Toby were to depart.

Wanyama and Alderweireld – Get Fit

We certainly miss these two, particularly in the season’s crunch games. Albeit we somehow beat Real minus Wanyama, with Toby limping off and with Sissoko on the pitch.

Harry Kane – Do Exactly The Same Thing

And one suspects he probably will.

Burnley 0-3 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Dele Alli

Better start at the beginning, what? First of all, the yellow card challenge, which seemed something of a non-event when one dons the white coat and rushes to the microscope. Our man appeared to be attempting to block the other chap, rather than crush his legs, and arrived late, making fairly minimal contact as far as I could see.

Whereas last week’s challenge on de Bruyne had all the hallmarks of Attila in a particularly bellicose mood, this
one was a little messy, and not a great deal more.

Of more concern from my vantage point was the fact that it all came about because young Dele insisted yet again upon taking approximately umpteen touches of the ball – leading to the inevitable attempted nutmeg and overrunning of the thing – rather than simply giving it early and setting in motion something exciting. But these young folk will insist on over-complicating things.

The penalty was similarly straightforward. The young bean in opposition made a fairly ill-advised foray into proceedings, Dele gratefully took a tumble, and the cause of universal chagrin appears to be that he went to ground under a challenge that was unlikely to maim him. Little sympathy for Burnley on that one. And credit to Kane for taking a penalty that bore all the hallmarks of the exquisite Euro 96 vintage between England and Germany, pre-sudden death.

2. Oddly in Praise of Sissoko

Poor old Moussa Sissoko. In a team so choc full of extravagant technicians that one cannot scratch one’s own nose without bumping into a master of the first-time-control-and-spin-all-in-a-single-movement, Sissoko is without doubt the slightly backward kid who requires extra tuition while the rest are at assembly.

As is traditional, he greeted his latest starting spot with a wild miskick, but thereafter I thought the chap actually made a decent enough fist of things. Admittedly, one judges him by far gentler criteria than his more illustrious chums, for whom pinged forty yard cross-field diagonals are key objectives, but Sissoko is evidently under strict instructions to keep things as simple as possible, and this he just about did.

Off the ball he harassed and pressurised, limbs a-flailing, bearing down upon his prey; and in possession he did as no doubt told, slowly manoeuvring himself into the perfect position to execute a simple side-footed pass, and doing so repeatedly, to effect several of the aforementioned, each of around three feet, towards those more accomplished.

Alas, when given time to think, in that glorious one-on-one chance in the first half, it was all too much for the chap to handle, and smoke came billowing out of his ears, preceding the inevitable miss. (In truth, he did actually send the ‘keeper the wrong way, and was only denied by an outstretched leg, but nevertheless – he should have scored).

All told however, he did what was required. An all-singing, all-dancing, creator extraordinaire he evidently is not, but as a muscular ball of energy, charging around so that others can play, he does adequately enough.

3. Sanchez

When historians gather round in decades to come and pore over the minutiae of this one, no doubt they will muse that the match was won in the more advanced plots of earth, but we at AANP Towers are nothing if not reasonable folk, and thus it is only right to pay due homage to the efforts of Davison Sanchez at the back.

Not for the first time this season it can fairly legitimately be remarked that the chap navigated his way through proceedings without putting a foot wrong the whole way through. Having checked the records – and for the matter watched the entire game – I can verify that opposition forwards were indeed on the pitch, but Sanchez simply cruised through like a young monarch being pampered to within an inch of his life, without a care in the world.

Any semblance of an attack was snuffled out with minimal fuss, on top of which the chap also took it upon himself every now and then to drop a shoulder and bring the ball out of defence. The absence of Toby had threatened to envelop every man, woman and child in a sense of foreboding, but Sanchez just seems to brush off these worries like a man without a care in the world.

4. Son and Eriksen

On a vaguely tactical note, whether enforced by the absence of Toby or not, the switch to choice of four at the back once again allowed for the use of Son in attack, as well as Eriksen and Alli, and when the whole lot of them were in full flow one rather wanted to alert a neighbour so that they too could sit back and marvel.

Unlike last week, our heroes were razor-sharp with their passing right from the off, with Son in particular providing plenty of movement, and in the first half hour the Burnley mob seemed to look around at each other as if to ask whether they would not be better off simply waving their white flags and planning for next week instead.

Mercifully it mattered not that our shooting was all over the place for much of the game, and frankly I am far happier that we were making clear cut chances and missing them, as opposed to the travails of recent weeks when we have barely mustered a decent opportunity all game.

All of which digresses a tad from the point that Son and Eriksen were bang on the money throughout.

5. Exactly What We Ought To Do

One or two around these parts had stiffly warned of all manner of frightful eventualities coming to pass under the banner of “Burnley Away”, and they are, I suppose, temporarily at least, Top Four rivals.
Nevertheless, the sentiment within these four walls was that if we are to be a side that makes a decent fist of things against the Champions League elite, than we dashed well should be putting Burnley to the side, red-hot form or not.

This therefore, was absolutely par. Absolutely what should be expected. We should beat every team, bar the Top Six, home and away, and that is pretty much while the eagle-eyed amongst you would have spotted the ever-so-slightly satisfied look in my eyes as matters rolled to their conclusion yesterday.

A merry and blessed Christmas to you all.

Arsenal 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Off the Boil

No doubt about it, that performance stank like the rancid contents of last week’s lunch, left to its own devices in the AANP refrigerator. No man (bar the boy Davinson Sanchez) escapes censure. Despite having successfully negotiated the tests of Dortmund, Liverpool and Real blinking Madrid for goodness sake, by the oh so devastatingly subtle technique of sitting back and then countering like the dickens, the slightly more dubious ploy yesterday appeared to be to go into it toe to toe, and trust that good would triumph over evil.

All well and good, but the plan swiftly morphed into close-eyes-and-keep-fingers-crossed territory, which admittedly is often sufficient to overcome that incompetent rabble – but which yesterday missed the mark like a wild Sissoko swing at thin air.

This being their cup final they threw the kitchen sink at us, pressing us all over the pitch and capitalising upon the mistakes, dash it. Our heroes simply failed to muster sufficient nous, wiles or good old-fashioned gung-ho to make a spectacle of the thing. No excuses, that horrible lot bettered us tactically, and fought for the thing tooth and nail, while our strangely subdued heroes seemed a little perplexed that they did not simply roll over and invite us to tickle their tummies.

2. Alli Anonymous…

Another day, another fairly impotent showing from young Dele. No doubt some of the great thinkers of our age lock themselves away in secluded spots to ponder the mysteries of ethics, aesthetics and the specifics of Dele Alli in the Number 10 role.

To date this season he has chugged away to pretty minimal effect, his outputs primarily notable for unsuccessful dribbles, unsuccessful nutmegs and that toddler tantrum routine whereby he flings himself to the ground then flings his arms skywards, with a particularly grieved expression delicately etched all over his visage, while life just meanders on around him uninterrupted.

But the crux of the thing with this particular scamp is that on the rare occasions (this season) when the planets do align and he ticks his necessary boxes, the result tends to be a goal, which in a way makes the whole laboured fandango worthwhile.

Which obviously sounds marvellous, that being pretty much the nub of the whole exercise, but unless he chips in thusly, he essentially mooches around for the rest of the game like a deaf, blind mute. One might qualify yesterday as Exhibit A in all this, except that it sits alongside multiple other, similar Exhibits from this season. Something must be done.

3… While Son Sits It Out

Which leads seamlessly to the substitutes’ bench where young Sonny twiddles his thumbs. Given that Dele’s contributions seem to be fading from natural sight much like that picture of Marty McFly when things got rather hairy, one wonders whether he might be snaffled from view and sneakily replaced by Son, before anyone notices.

This sort of mild slap on the wrist might do Dele some good, while Son has rarely made it his business to let anyone down when called upon. More specifically, the energy and movement offered by Son would not just have been welcomed yesterday, it would have been clasped to the bosom in a fairly tender embrace, such was the remoteness that existed between defence and attack.

A better technical footballer Dele might be, but at present he neither avails himself sufficiently nor uses the ball with requisite shrewdness.

4. Midfield Protection

If one were to feistily counter that it is a little harsh to single out the boy Dele when barely anyone else sloshed themselves in glory then I would reply in similarly spirited manner, “Well, that is fine by me, and frankly I laud both your honesty and your eagle-eyed sense of observation.” One could not swing a cat without hitting a chap in lilywhite delivering a sub-par performance.

Kane in truth never looks sharp, simply by virtue of his paradoxically lumbering manner, but there seemed to be a consensus that he was decidedly unfit yesterday. Eriksen cut a strangely peripheral figure, as often running away from the action as demanding to hog the limelight and orchestrate the binge; and while Sissoko saw a fair amount of the ball, and applied himself with his usual eagerness, his ability to misplace short passes continues to eat away at my very soul.

On top of which, the absence of Toby meant that Dier was shunted back into central defence, and as a result the protection afforded to the defence was rather negligible throughout.

Where once Wanyama, or latterly Dier, patrolled the middle like nightclub bouncers with chips on their shoulders, yesterday the Arsenal mob were able to play all manner of little diagonals behind our full-backs, with their runners haring away into space like a team of young bucks exploring a great big spring meadow. The runs were neither prevented at source nor tracked during their lifespan, and it was little surprise to the nation’s soothsayers when one such sequence brought about a goal.

Neither Dembele nor Sissoko are the types of midfielder whose neuro-wirings are typically set to Protect and Defend, and we suffered for it yesterday.

5. The Curious Incident of Danny Rose

So not really an episode with which to regale the grandchildren in years to come, and as well as the limp showing on the pitch, there was also some rummy old business off it.

The exclusion of Danny Rose from the entire matchday squad was one of those that is pretty much guaranteed to raise an eyebrow or two amongst the baying masses, and Our Glorious Leader’s explanations did little to tighten the loose ends. The young blighter is not fit apparently, which makes fair enough grammatical and conceptual sense, but pause to examine the evidence and suddenly one heck of a mystery starts to simmer amongst the eagle-eyed.

For Master Rose played near enough 90 minutes against both Palace a fortnight ago and Germany last week, and while one does not want to work the chap into the ground so soon after his return from the desert island on which he had been stranded during injury, the whole business has a decidedly unnatural whiff to it.

His ill-chosen words during the summer might well have made him persona non grata chez Pochettino, but if that were the case then why the devil was he back in the fold in recent weeks? All terrifically mysterious, but one imagines that the blighter is unlikely to live happily ever after at N17. A rather unhappy footnote to a deeply unsatisfying weekend.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid: Seven Lilywhite Observations

1. Bright Moments From Dele

Young Dele has been smothered in fuss for around two years without a pause for breath, so naturally the young fish is today being feted as the second coming, after one scrappy poke, a heavily deflected second and an open goal miss.

A curious specimen this chap, because his performances frequently feature errors strewn about the place like confetti, alongside the glimpses of match-winning élan. Dives, attempted nutmegs and a bizarre tendency to channel his inner Moussa Sissoko and overrun the ball have generally been in evidence this season, and a selection of the above again made themselves known in the opening minutes last night, prompting me to raise an eyebrow or two.

But lo, when the planets align the young imp becomes something of a force of nature. His timing of runs, slap bang into the meat of an opponent’s soft underbelly could not have been more effective if he were waving an axe and yelling “Ho!”. Whether as a supporting act to Kane (arriving those critical few moments later and when defenders are already preoccupied), or as a temporary central striker(when the leading man had gone snuffling away down the flanks) Dele got his numbers right yesterday.

It certainly helped that Real adopted the Shrug-And-Scatter art of defending, but our man had his green cross code down to a t, knowing almost instinctively when to stop and when to pelt it forward.

On top of which, he made a far better fist of life as a midfielder than he has done to date this season. As mentioned, the dribbles have rarely struck oil in 2017/18, but yesterday his twinkling little toes were deployed to cracking effect, notably in the build-up to the third goal.

2. The Other Side of Kane’s Game

So we can all take a deep breath and get used to another nine months or so of press hysteria about Dele leading us to World Cup glory, but in the meantime there was a slightly more subtle demonstration of things great and good from Harry Kane.

Not one of those days on which he rams home his ability to flick through the A-to-Z of goalscoring and score literally every type of goal invented, instead this was a game in which he beavered away for the cause, like one of those unsung heroes in a black and white war epic on a Sunday afternoon.

The harassment to win that early throw-in that led to our opener – and the presence of mind to keep the metronome clicking away by taking the aforementioned throw-in swiftly – were early indications that he would scrap away for everything, because you never quite know.

Then when haring away, to have the awareness and skill to pick out Eriksen with a pass weighted to perfection, again suggested that this was a man who knew when to stick, when to twist and when to do the honourable thing by his chums.

Moreover, I quite enjoyed the fact that when high balls were lobbed into his general vicinity, opposing defenders simply bounced off his ample frame, possession was retained and an air of brute-like superiority was established.

3. Trippier Bosses Things

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Our Glorious Leader likes to alternate his wing-backs pretty much every game, but I dashed well wish that Aurier would be tucked away at the back of the cupboard and forgotten about until the next spring clean. Not that I wish ill upon the chap, but whereas he has the letters L-I-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y stamped across the back of his shirt, Trippier busily does everything required of him by contract, then goes back and pointedly exceeds each one of his duties, as if curious to ascertain precisely how devastatingly effective one single right wing-back can be on a field with 21 others.

The result was that while memories of Aurier flying in feet first hovered in the air, Trippier got down to brass tacks and delivered an absolute masterclass in spying a downed opponent and applying his foot to said opponent’s neck. As solid as dutifully required when defending, Trippier delivered a tour de force going forward, which on a night of counter-attacking frolics was precisely what the doctor ordered.

The first time volleyed deliveries across the penalty area ought really to belong in a museum, and even though he had a bucket of luck tipped all over him in being adjudged onside for the opening goal, here at AANP Towers we were too busy drooling over the technique to care a hang. Fingers are firmly crossed that Pochettino finds a sneaky way to ensure that Aurier is employed against the small-fry, and Trippier gets the nod for every crunch game.

4. Eriksen Makes Hay

A couple of weeks ago I lamented, if that’s the word I want, that our magnificent Dane forgot to take his magnificence with him when he travelled to the Bernabeu, and delivered about as anaemic as a an earthworm having a particularly pallid time of things.

It was very much consigned to the annals yesterday, however, as the bizarre tactics of Real allowed Eriksen to have an absolute blast, like a teenager whose parents have vacated the premises for the weekend and allowed him to run wild.

Given that Modric had bested him at the Bernabeu, there was something particularly poetic – and downright hilarious – about seeing the Croat desperately try, and fail, to prevent Eriksen poking in our third. It was a goal that did as much credit to the Dane’s indefatigability as to his technique, those little legs going like the clappers to carry him just about the full length of the pitch at breakneck pace.

5. The Defence Just About Holds Firm

An air of mystery still surrounds the absence of Davinson Sanchez from proceedings at the weekend, the blighter having done little wrong in previous excursions, but normality was restored to her throne last night, and as it happens Davinson and chums as one made a pretty solid fist of things.

It would be rather glossing over things a tad too enthusiastically to suggest that the defence were in supreme control throughout, their 90 minutes unsullied by the weight of duty, because while the balance of play seemed to be firmly lilywhite, there were a number of close calls in front of – or indeed level with – Monsieur Hugo, which had the heart leaping out of the chest, beyond the throat and embedding itself within the mouth.

Nevertheless, by hook, crook or by one Real attacker slamming the ball against another but a yard from the goal-line, our heroes just about kept the visitors at bay, which in the final analysis was joly well deserved both ways.
The loss of Alderweireld will have to be classified as collateral damage, sustained within the great swathe of fixtures that currently envelops, but the international break might help to the various sinews and muscles to return to former glories.

Alderweireld’s unscheduled exit meant a nifty shuttling of Dier into the back three, and the young mass of muscle did a sterling job. The whole troupe did likwiese in fact, with Vertonghen picking a few moments to provide Ronaldo with a delicate welcome back to these shores, and Sanchez showing a little more guile on the ball than in recent weeks.

6. Winks Assisting Assists

Naturally enough, a celebratory AANP Towers would not be the same without a few splashes of the good stuff in honour of current flavour of the month, Harry Winks. Rather like a poor lamb diving headfirst into his GCSEs, it has been one gruelling test after another for Master Winks in recent weeks, and the engine just about ran out of juice in the second half.

The chap does seem fond of an errant pass or two, but by and large he fought the good fight, and it was marvellous to see that instinct for a useful forward pass bearing fruit, not once but twice. In setting up the first girl he pinged the ball wide to Trippier, when easier, less risky options abounded. Then for the third goal, it would be easy to overlook that from within his own area, rather than blast the thing into orbit, he picked out Dele, who skinned his man, fed Kane, and Eriksen was in.

Few folk care too much about the man who assists the assist, but five years on I still remember fondly that when we beat Milan at the San Siro, the man who set Aaron Lennon away on halfway, to assist Crouch, was one Luka Modric. Whisper it, but Winks may have something similar about him.

7. This Game’s Sissoko Moment

Naturally enough, a celebratory AANP Towers would not be the same without a few splashes of the good stuff to calm the nerves following the latest Sissoko farce. A couple of weeks ago it was his errant last-minute pass when we counter-attacked 4 vs 1. At the weekend it was his shot vertically into the air after De Gea fumbled.

Yesterday it was his wild air shot when the ball was gently rolled into his path, a napkin attached around his neck and gleaming cutlery placed in his hands. I realise that Winks did the same, but Winks then redeemed himself by dribbling through half the Real defence, as well as setting in motion two goals. Sissoko decidedly did not.

One can only assume that Sissoko plays like Pele in training, because there is little other reason for him to be so heavily involved in things.

Sissoko’s guff mattered not in the end, for this was right up there with the very best in our history. The upward trajectory continues, and players, and particularly the manager, deserve all the acclaim going spare.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Struggles Without Kane

Having spent the last 48 hours or so confidently assuring friend and foe alike that we are plenty more than a one-man team, and the loss of Kane would be swatted away with the care-free insouciance of an elephant dispatching a few errant flies on its muzzle, you can well imagine the awkwardness at AANP Towers as events unfolded on Saturday.
Naturally there was no shortage of huff, puff and elbow-grease by the bucketload, but having opted for a team without a recognised, bona fide striker, funnily enough we rather turned in the performance of a team without a recognised bona fide striker.

Son, Alli and, heaven help us, Sissoko, were each in their own way relatively willing to meander forward and cautiously poke their noses into the opposition area every now and then, but each seemed set on playing a supporting role, seemingly forgetting that Harry Kane was not amongst the troops.

After the scratchy opening 15 minutes or so in which we barely touched the ball, we had a fair amount of possession, without ever looking remotely threatening. Our lack of an imposing central striker was utterly, glaringly obvious. And curiously it was not a matter massively improved when Llorente waddled on either, the chap lacking the imposing Untameable Beast-like quality of our absent friend.

It all had the sombre gloom of a Greek tragedy, dealing a sharp slap to the AANP face into the bargain, for all those churlish, positive, pre-match suggestions that we would handle Kanelessness like billy-o. Against lesser teams I imagine either Son and/or Llorente will do the trick, but this time out the whole masterplan had that same nagging flaw about it that one feels when one trots off to the office and discovers en route that a machete is embedded in one’s back and blood is draining out like nobody’s business. It hinders things.

2. Opting Against The Forward Pass

No doubt operating without a designated forward was limiting in the way that operating complex machinery without a head on one’s shoulders can prove quite the obstacle, but I felt that matters were exacerbated by a curious snese of caution that seemed to envelop our heroes as they plied their business.

The two may well be interlinked of course, but time and again it seemed that when the ball was at the feet of Eriksen, and a world of possibilities opened up before him, promising health, wealth, happiness and allsorts, he rather moodily about turned and sucked the joy out of life by seeking a sideways or backwards pass.

This exercise in pessimism and gloom was all the more curious given the gay abandon with which he and chums had torn into Liverpool last week, and indeed puffed out their chests and gone biff-for-biff with Real at the Bernabeu. As mentioned, perhaps the acute awareness of the Kane-shaped hole up the top of the pitch wormed its way into their subconscious.

3. Sissoko and Dembele

To general acclaim so far this season I heroes have muddled through without either Dembele or Wanyama with admirable stiff upper lips and the positivity in the sense of adversity that one hears went down a storm amongst those Christians when they were thrown to the lions and left without a bally hope.

All well and good, but I feel that the narrative takes a fairly hefty swerve when the great and good start waxing lyrical about the alleged improvement in Moussa Sissoko this season. The fact that he is being picked each week does not in itself constitute improvement. To my admittedly heavily biased and untrained eye, it simply reflects the fact that the all the other cabs on the rank have been temporarily pulled from service or are elsewhere employed.

Anyway, the hour came, the man came, and the limbs entangled once more. The chap is simply not up to scratch, seemingly as uncertain about what will happen when he approaches the action as any of the rest of us, due to the disconnect between his brain and limbs that stretches the very boundaries of human biology. This week’s Sissoko Moment was the wild slash of a ball vertically into the air, when the goal gaped, in the first half.

And as if to emphasise all of the above, he was replaced by Mousa Dembele who, while not faultless, demonstrated a level of control and smooth technique on the ball that a whole team of Sissokos would not achieve if they were left at typewriters for an eternity.

4. Rare Mistakes at the Back

By and large, there is rarely much to say about our back-three, which in itself is quite the compliment. They rather diligently just put heads down and get on with things, snaffling attacks, sweeping up messes, crossing t’s and dotting I’s.

All of which renders the more galling the subtle combination of errors that brought about our downfall yesterday. Messrs Alderweireld, Vertonghen and, I thought in particular Dier, were making a fairly decent fist of things, but each put a foot slightly wrong in the blur of events that was the United goal, and before you could splutter “But that is literally just a straightforward punt down the centre of the pitch” the ball was in our net and things had gone abruptly south. Just goes to show.

Why this could not have happened on one of those days when we were already four goals to the good I don’t know (I suppose if you were being clever you could say it actually did happen on one of those days when we were already four goals to the good, just last weekend, against Liverpool, so there). However, happen it did, and losing to a goal as soft as that was a bit like seeing two rhinoceroses going toe-to-toe only to have the clash settled by a stubbed toe.

But as I like to think in these situations, I would rather win one and lose one then draw two, so to have three points and a couple of goals in the bag from two fixtures against Liverpool and Man United is passable.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Spurs 4-1 Liverpool: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Kane, A Thing of Awesome Wonder

It is not meant at all as a slight to say that Harry Kane simply does not look like a footballer, rather more like God intended to make a manual labourer but a mix-up at HQ resulted in him being slapped onto a football pitch in a shirt two sizes too small.

But by golly, for a man fairly bereft of any semblance of balletic grace or easy-on-the-eye technique, he repeatedly proves himself to be more effective than Alan Shearer, who was arguably the most complete striker of my three and a half decades. I simply wave my hands in incredulity, for Kane is fast proving to be utterly, incomprehensibly, brilliant.

Jolly decent-seeming chap to, for what it’s worth. We are thoroughly lucky to have him. Fingers crossed that that hamstring strain was nothing too sinister.

2. Managerial Tinkering and The Liability That is Aurier

Our glorious leader will presumably make quite the children’s entertainer should this whole top-level football management lark not quite work out, because he simply cannot resist springing a surprise upon his unsuspecting public with his selections, in much the manner of a chappie suddenly yanking a rabbit from his sleeve and turning it into a bunch of flowers, at little Timmy’s 4th. Yesterday’s treat featured a right-back at left-back while two left-backs sat it out on the bench, as well as the central midfield rejig, more of which later.

In that we beat a supposed equal at quite the canter, I suppose Operation Aurier at Left-Back could be considered a roaring success. Empirical evidence however, makes a fairly deafening case to the contrary.

Why the dickens the bounder cannot go five minutes without taking a running leap and landing on his posterior is quite beyond me, but it does nobody the darnedest bit of good. The term “hit-and-miss” may well have been invented for this technique, because Aurier’s sliding tackle success rate seems pretty much to verge on 50-50. Not the odds one wants a defender to carry into Premiership or Champions League clashes, particularly when one of those 50s is liable to involve conceding penalties or picking up a card or two.

Aurier would do well to elevate Jan Vertonghen to the top of his Christmas card list, and bundle in a bottle or two of the good stuff at various other points in the year as well, because the Belgian ended up playing babysitter to the blighter time and again. Liverpool’s Salah had the beating of our lot for pace, which was bad enough, but with Aurier’s decision mode consisting of “Lose A Straight Foot Race” and “Dive In Like Bally-O” poor old Vertonghen ended up marshalling the left-back pasture like a traffic warden. And a sterling job he did of it too, but it rather goes to show.

As for Aurier? Haul him out of the team and hammer some sense into him, leaving the full-back berths to Rose, Davies, Trippier and Walker-Peters.

3. Managerial Tinkering and Midfield Discipline

Having become so accustomed to seeing responsibility lie on the shoulders of Eriksen, Alli and chums to unpick a stubborn opposing defence, it made an interesting change to observe these fellows adopting more of the wait-and-see approach. “Tactical masterstroke” I think is the term, as these two natural attacking types sat back, kept their shape and let Liverpool collectively take aim and fire at their own feet, before picking them off.

It would not have worked if either Eriksen or Alli had deserted their post and gone storming up the pitch in search of neon lights, fast cars, loose women and headlines, so caps should be doffed. Dele in particular has seemed to struggle somewhat to control the urge to go wandering off and making up his own rules, so he jolly well deserved his goal. Nice to see him throw in a few party tricks as well.

4. Dependable Son

Having been curiously limited to a two-minute cameo against Real, I thought Sonny was a little unfortunate to be hooked around the hour mark yesterday. The chap was tireless, providing an excellent foil to Kane and contributing heartily to that mauling of the opening 20 minutes.

If anything, he should probably have had a first half hat-trick, but a hearty round of applause will suffice for the half-pitch gallop and controlled finish that brought him his goal.

The use of Son with Dele and Eriksen in a deeper role, following the use of Llorente up top on Tuesday, rather hammers home the versatility and options which Pochettino is somehow unearthing in this squad, like a loveable alchemist choc-full of bright ideas. If he can find the time I would rather like to see him manage the Ashes squad and oversee Brexit too.

5. The Wembley “Curse”

Those frenzied press witterings about a Wembley “curse” or “hoodoo” or whatnot had always struck me as rot of a pretty high order, and psychologically at least, yesterday’s rout ought to do our heroes good by the truckload when it comes to glancing at the fixture list and drinking in the “open bracket, h, close bracket” at the end of each line.

But poppycock though the notion of a curse may be, life on the hallowed turf is likely still to present some problems. Liverpool yesterday pretty much offered a step-by-step illustrated masterclass in how not to play the mighty Spurs. Pouring men forward, defending with a high line and leaving the back-door guided by a chap who resembled one of those harmless, aged, partially blind shaggy dogs that is kept around on this mortal coil strictly for sentimental purposes only, Liverpool well and truly gifted the thing to us.

The concern then, or at least the food for thought, is around how we deal with other guests at Wembley who are not quite so obliging. Liverpool and Dortmund were lured into something of a trap, invited to pile forward and then counter-attacked with all the rapier-like thrusts of a team of particularly sprightly musketeers. A loosely similar plan, of soak up and counter-attack, was effected, creditably enough, at the Bernabeu, and will presumably be adopted again in a couple of weeks.

But what we do with against the dross of the bottom half of the Premiership table remains a concern. Such blighters will not be quite so accommodating, but will doubtless sit back themselves with 9 or 10 behind the ball. One for the Brain’s Trust then, but at least Wembley has now become a place in which we can tear an opponent limb from limb.

6…

And finally, nothing to do with our heroes, but I happened to catch, on Match of the Day 2 last night, possibly the most brilliant goal I’ve ever seen. If you can, check out the random Southampton bean, Boufal I think he calls himself. Utterly incredible goal.

Liverpool 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

Having not strung consecutive passes together since around 2014, and suffered defeats in recent weeks to such behemoths as Swansea and Southampton, there was a fairly morbid inevitability about the fact that Liverpool would rediscover their joie de vivre against us. Of course they would.

1. Davies

Credit where due, our hosts set off like a pack of hyenas spurred into action by the dinner gong at a zoo. Every time one of our lot were in possession they were rather rudely biffed and barged by at least two or three of the blighters in red, and naturally enough the mistakes duly flowed like it was open season on the things.

Our heroes certainly did not help themselves. Au contraire, they seemed fairly intent on doing their utmost to help Liverpool out of their new year slump, going the extra mile as it were. Which was neighbourly I suppose, but, it struck me, seemed to fly in the face of the overall mission imperative. Wanyama started this rot, setting his radar to “Liverpool Shirt” and letting fly with a mind-boggling five-minute spell in which all he did was intercept the ball and ping it straight to the nearest opponent. The brow furrowed.

Or at least the AANP brow furrowed. By contrast, one could almost see the eyes of Ben Davies light up as he noted the errant Wanyama peddling this insanity. Against Middlesborough and Wycombe and the like, Davies is pretty much the man for the occasion – sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but by and large doing enough to force the deal through. However, one suspects that you or I might be the man for the occasion against that lot. Liverpool away represents a different kettle of fish, something far likelier to test the iron will and moral fibre. This was Davies’ opportunity to prove himself as one of those beasts of the jungle who growls “Jump” and has his fellow beasts hopping to it pronto.

Alas, the reality that transpired was bleak, second-rate and error-strewn. Liverpool rather cruelly opted to hone in on Davies, having identified him as the weaker of the sentry guards on duty, and by golly were they were rewarded. Davies resembled a man who did not quite know which sport he was playing. Helpfully abandoned by Son, and without the reassuring presence and pristine side-parting of Jan Vertonghen beside him, the young bean floundered out of his depth and had his head dunked beneath the surface time and again by Liverpool. One would sympathise, but there is not really much room for sentiment in this narrative.

2. Dier

In a touching show of solidarity with his Welsh chum, Eric Dier peddled a similar line in incompetence, from his vantage point at centre-back. Dwelling on the ball, and displaying a turn of pace that would give hope to passing tortoises, he represented another ill-disguised chink in the lilywhite armour, as Christmas came early for our hosts.

The alarming sentiment continues to gain momentum that Dier is a centre-back who is woefully ill-equipped to perform as one half of a centre-back pairing. Within a back-three his lack of pace matters less, and as midfield cover he is able to slot in for his full-backs and mop things up neatly enough. But plant him at the core of a back-four, with little more than a “How-To” guide and his own autonomy, and the chap flounders. And flounder he did with some majesty yesterday, being directly culpable for the second, and generally unable to cope with the red shirts buzzing all around him.

(To his credit he flew in with one glorious sliding tackle to spare various blushes as Liverpool ran rampant at two-nil, but all a bit late at that juncture, what?)

It made for fairly ghastly viewing, but stepping back from things and giving the chin a little stroke, one starts to ponder the broader, philosophical questions of life, existence and Eric Dier. Not good enough to play in a back-four, and displaced in midfield by Wanyama, where does the young fish fit in?

3. Resources

If you don’t mind me veering away from the minutiae of the match itself, and instead trotting a little further down this existential line, the nub of the thing seems to be that our squad is not quite the all-singing, all-dancing, multi-talented troupe needed for the rigours of this lark. The first-choice XI is a match for the very best in the land, make no mistake. But take out Rose and Vertonghen, and we are a dashed sight weaker. Take out Kane, and poor old Janssen lollops on to stumble over his own feet. Remove Eriksen and it’s the uncontrollable limbs of Cissoko. Young Winks has some dash about him for sure, but he’s no Dembele.

And so on. Not exactly a novel train of thought, but while we were able to gloss over things in previous weeks, the lack of squad depth was exposed in fairly pointed fashion yesterday, and it made for some pretty awkward viewing.

4. Dembele

Still, amidst this rather dank state of affairs there were nevertheless one or two moments to stir the soul, and they typically emanated from the sturdy frame of Dembele. Noting with razor-sharp judgement that he was not about to receive a jot of support from any of his chums in lilywhite, Dembele set about on three or four separate occasions trying to right all the wrongs of the day single-handedly. It was like one of those tragic war-films they show on Sunday afternoons, when our half-dozen heroes are pinned into some sort of bunker by hordes of the enemy, and one particularly selfless old bean decides that the only way in which anyone is going to make it to the end credits is if he makes a noble dash right into the heart of enemy heartland and takes down a few dozen opponents, sacrificing himself in the process.

Dembele had clearly had enough of the imbecilic frippery of Davies, Dier et al, and repeatedly tried to rescue the day be single-handedly weaving his way through massed ranks of red shirts. Alas, he generally made it past two or three before being crowded out and dragged to his doom, but it stirred the loins somewhat to see this will to win.

5. Discipline

Things improved a mite in the second half, to the extent that we were not overrun quite as much, but the game was long gone by then, and we were frankly lucky to be only two down.

There were echoes of Stamford Bridge last season as the game wore on and our lot struggled to make the slightest dent in proceedings, as they instead resorted to losing their heads and lashing out with all the subtlety of a team of raging bulls in the ceramics aisle. Led, naturally, by Dele Alli, half the team got themselves cautioned for a stream of fairly wild and unseemly hacks and stamps (although young Winks can feel hard done by on that count, poor lamb). One should probably tut and pontificate, but in truth they were only doing on the pitch what I rather felt like doing from the sidelines. The whole thing was bally frustrating, and not least because Liverpool have been so poor in recent weeks.

However, just over the mid-point of the season, and with only home games vs Arsenal and Man Utd remaining of the top six, we are fairly well set. A Top Four finish is eminently doable. Quite what fresh madness awaits when the Europa League returns is anyone’s guess, and a couple of injuries could blast our season out of the water, but as long as this defeat does not trigger a slump there should not be too much cause of concern.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. A Distinct Lack of Energy

Well I can’t say that did much to whelm me. It’s not yet Christmas and the whole bally season already feels dreadfully flat. Even the 5-0 win last week was an oddly muted affair, with all and sundry still lamenting the Champions League debacle. Today it seemed that our heroes simply turned up and expected to walk off with the thing, with a distinct lack of hum or ding about them.

The peculiar game plan seemed to be to construct a series of pretty triangles between our own goalkeeper and defence, before losing the ball around halfway. To their credit the players seemed to nail this. A triumph of sorts then, but not really of much value in the grand scheme of things when all and sundry return to the ranch and compare notes.

The principle of playing out from the back is of course noble and gallant, but when not a smidgeon of creativity exists further forward one does rather wonder why they bother at all. More often than not it seemed to be left to Dembele and Wanyama to provide the creative spark, but with little movement around them it was a fairly lost cause.

2. Backwards Passing

Eriksen in recent weeks seems to have rediscovered his joie de vivre, and as such we peered eagerly in his direction for a little to joy to spread around the place, but today he seemed content to pass the ball backwards as often as not.

By and large the malady spread throughout the team, only really punctuated by such a bevy of misplaced passes that one wondered if some sort of private, festive game were underway within the dressing-room, in the finest tradition of footballers’ japery. If this were indeed the case then Kane presumably wins for striking the jackpot with a six-yard pass straight to an opponent that set up the winning goal. Bingo.

3. Lamela and the Pressing Game

That inadvertent assist appeared to be one of only a two or three occasions on which Kane touched the ball at all, which summed up the dreary state of things. Both he and Alli seemed to decide that today was absolutely 100% not the day to play the Pochettino high pressing game, and when the two furthest forward scoff at the notion the whole idea rather loses its way.

As such, I suddenly found myself with the most peculiar yearning to see Lamela back on the pitch. The young imp has never exactly proven himself to be a game-changer of the ilk that one would expect for £30 million, but he dashed well knows how to hurtle towards an opponent with the express intention of hurrying him along and breathing down his neck, what?

The absolute archetype of the pressing game was our win against Man City earlier in the season, and in a fixture like today’s, with a chance to put some daylight between ourselves and our nearest challenger, it would have seemed appropriate to replicate that particular formula. Alas not. No Lamela, and little in the way of high-pitch press from Kane, Alli or any of their chums. Instead, a gentle and harmless drift towards defeat.

4. Sissoko, Unlikely Near-Hero

Things perked up briefly around ten minutes into the second half, but by and large there seemed little likelihood of our lot stumbling into parity, until Sissoko of all people tripped over himself and landed on the pitch. To date, Sissoko has come across as a chap who can neither bat, bowl nor keep wicket, if you get my drift, so his introduction did little more than elicit a standard groan or two from the watching faithful.

But I’ll be dashed if the chap didn’t suddenly look the most threatening lilywhite on the pitch. Whether by accident or design is debatable, but as sure as day following night he managed to bundle his way past the full-back every blinking time he touched the thing. Moving like the alien queen in Aliens, all tangled limbs and awkwardness, he suddenly seemed the likeliest route back into the match. While he sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from, say, the silky touch of Son, he has a darned sight more brute force, and today gave an injection of pace and power that had been lacking throughout.

Quite what this means for the future is a little terrifying to contemplate, but after a series of displays that have been comically poor it was nice to see him bulldozing his way forward to some good effect.

5. Strange, Muted Times

It has been such a peculiar season to date that I rather than try to make sense of it I would prefer to pour myself a bourbon and have a lie down. A 5-0 win followed by defeat at Old Trafford is, all things digested, marginally cheerier than the relentless series of draws previously being churned out. The defeat at Chelsea was actually one of our better performances. The Champions League campaign has been as disastrous as these things can get without bursting into flames. What the deuces is it all about?

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint. One for a Secret Santa, what?

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