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Spurs match reports

Sporting 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

With apologies for tardiness – gallivanting the States, timings a bit off

1. Emerson Royal

Fans of E. Royal Esquire – and there must be some, by the law of averages and whatnot – might want to avert their eyes at this point, or go for a spot of shut-eye or something. The signs are ominous for him after all: after a late and pretty thorough collapse, in which the man himself was in the vicinity for both goals conceded, and also bungled the best of the chances we created at t’other end, for him then to be first on the list of Talking Points, in a rag with a bit of a history of sticking the knife into him, suggests that the following is not going to be garlands around his neck and rapturous applause.

He actually contributed one of our better first half moments, digging out a cross from the by-line that flashed past around five rather panicked Sporting dignitaries and right across the face of the goal, dash it, with not a single natty sky-blue uniform in sight.

So to shower the fellow only with oaths and criticism would be unfair. In the first half in particular it was pretty much a Standard Emerson Royal Production out on the right – little to recommend it, but nothing too egregiously wrong either.

But part of the problem is that Conte-ball requires a heck of a lot more than a Standard Emerson Royal Production on the right. Conte-ball relies greatly upon the wing-backs to do much of the heavy-lifting going forward.

Out on the left Master Perisic had the right idea, in theory at least. Forward he bobbed, and when he slung in his crosses they were creations of some quality, ticking various useful boxes like ‘Trajectory’, ‘Pace’, ‘Direction’ et cetera. It has been some time since the good ship Hotspur has boasted a fellow capable of such inviting delivery from out wide, and while, all told, this was not his finest hour (in particular, when we were out of possession the Sporting nibs seemed to tiptoe past him at will) one at least saw some benefits to his presence.

Emerson, on the other hand, yet again demonstrated some willing to attack without ever really researching the detail of what this would entail. Quite why the hell Matt Doherty has remained persona non grata this season, particularly after warming to the role at the end of last season, beats the dickens out of me, but there we go. Emerson it is.

And Emerson it was who thrice failed to deliver his lines when the Sporting back-line did its Red Sea thing and allowed him to swan right through to goal. Not necessarily the easiest chances in history, for sure, but I’d have given a limb or two for any of those chances to have fallen to one of the front-three (well, on current form perhaps not Sonny, eh?)

That said, I suspect we would all have settled for a point as the clock ticked over to 90. Now to lay the blame squarely at Emerson’s door for that opener really would be a bit thick. For a start it was a peach of a delivery, definitely in the realm of ‘Mighty Difficult to Defend’. Moreover, the post mortem suggests that the Sporting fellow who did the deed was the man-marking responsibility of that rotter Harry Kane.

Nevertheless, Emerson ended up closest to the action at the key juncture, and had he attacked the ball with the conviction of a man whose very life depended upon getting to it first he would have cleared the thing with plenty left in the account.

One nil was bad enough, but if Emerson’s failings in the first goal could arguably be excused, he really ought to be given a good public thrashing for his role in the second.

Senor Romero does not escape blame here either, making a pretty ham-fisted attempt – and I use the term pretty dashed loosely – at preventing the laddie getting his shot off, and not for the first time in recent weeks.

But it was Royal whose input really made the lip curl in utter disgust. He simply let the chap waltz straight past him, for heaven’s sake. Through his legs, forsooth! Shoulders slumped, pace down, energy barely registering, looking for all the world like he was simply off for an amble in the other direction.

Should he be delivering such high quality in the other 89 minutes of this and every other match as to make himself undroppable I would probably wave him along after a sharp click or two of the tongue (as I essentially do with Messrs Kane and Romero). But Emerson is anything but undroppable. Hook the bounder, fit Doherty for the necessary costume and let’s at least benefit from the latter’s attacking contributions.

2. Lloris

Heaven knows it was a thump and a half to the solar plexus to lose the bally thing thusly, but if there were one amongst our number who would have been excused an even heftier curse or two it was probably poor old Monsieur Lloris.

The poor sap appeared to have saved us a point with his flying leap at what had appeared to be the death, tipping around the post at full stretch one of those curling efforts whose trajectory seemed to scream ‘Bottom Corner’. Coming as it did in minute 89 it seemed a reasonable move to thank the chap for rescuing a draw, before simply bunging away the corner and awaiting the final whistle.

A dashed waste then, to see the resulting corner fly straight back into the net so earnestly protected just moments before, but sometimes life takes these opportunities to illustrate that if it is not one damned thing it will be another.

Had things petered out goallessly I fancy that Lloris would have been a solid bet for the Outstanding Performer gong, at least from our lot. When Sporting counter-attacked for the first time, way back in the in the early knockings, Lloris was on hand to do the full-stretch thing; and when Edwards dusted off his quite sensational Maradona impression it was again left to Lloris’ reflexes to keep the net undisturbed. He, if no-one else, seemed to merit a point.

3. The Son – Richarlison – Kulusevski Love Triangle

Conte has long established himself as one who knows his beans, so there will be precious little criticism of his preferred methods of skinning cats from this quarter, but I nevertheless allowed myself a raised eyebrow when the team news filtered in. Having banged on about the need for squad depth at various points since his N17 coronation, it is a tad rummy to see him so wedded to near enough the same XI, and galling when both performance and result fall flat.

Most eye-catching was this business of again selecting Kulusevski as the odd man out, while Sonny again started. This is of course a point under the heading of ‘Form’ rather than ‘Class’, and I’m not sure any one of sound mind doubts that Sonny will tearing strips out of opposing defences soon enough (indeed, his contribution in getting the Marseille monsieur sent off last week should not be forgotten in a hurry).

But frankly the fellow is off the boil, while Kulusevski has noticeably upped the overall performance level as soon as ushered in, no matter what the role he is asked to fulfil.

Richarlison, like Kulusevski, seems a pill who is on an upward form trajectory, similarly providing a series of headaches to opponents. The understanding of and partnership with Kane could do with a little finessing – witness the mistimed runs for one-on-ones that were flagged offside – but in general the fellow is worth his place.

Now I must hold up a paw or two and confess that I’m not quite sure who plays on which side if Sonny is removed and the equation becomes Richarlison-Kane-Kulusevski, and it might be that there is a significant impediment to this set-up. Frankly, however, I’m inclined to think that such an issue ought to be surmountable for these three. Grown men and all that.

Who knows what plans Our Glorious Leader had had in place for the postponed City game, and what plans he has in place for the upcoming Leicester game – but for the time being at least, it would seem uncontroversial to pluck Sonny from the frontline and utilise Kulusevski.  

4. It’s Been Coming

A bitter pill and all that, and I’d guarded pretty zealously the concept of picking up points while playing badly – but now that we’ve lost, and the dust is settling, I do scratch the bean and wonder if this might be a useful prompt. Encourage the assorted cast members to buck up their ideas, if you know what I mean?

While we sit prettily enough in the Premier League table, and have had a couple of tricky fixtures, I’m not sure we’ve played particularly well for more than half an hour in any game so far this season.

The trend had actually been to start each game with a dreadful, dirge-like apathy, so in that respect at least one improvement was made yesterday – our lot started each half full of beans, pressing high and generally trying to impose themselves. But yet again, it was rather fleeting stuff, and on balance we looked as likely to concede as to score.

As mentioned above, I’m pretty reluctant to chide Conte, so it is in a spirit of well-meaning altruism that I suggest a couple of changes, to either or both of personnel or playing style. If wing-backs or central midfielders need rearranging then rearrange like the dickens; if a more creative centre would deliver the eggs then inject creativity like the stuff is going out of fashion. Either way, this particular mob has a lot more talent than has been displayed in the last couple of months.

Frankly, the AANP dollar is still on qualification from the CL Group Stage and a Top Four finish, but we might as well try to make it a little easier for ourselves, what?

Another of those polite AANP requests: if any of you fine folk know of Vegas venues that show Premier League games, do be a frightful sport and wing over the details, would you? Much obliged.

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Spurs match reports

West Ham 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The First Half: Actually Not Too Bad

Obviously when sifting through the wreckage, shaking the head sadly and tutting knowingly, it seems almost inappropriate to reflect that in the first half things had actually been pootling along fairly comfortably. And yet, when the curtain came down at the halfway stage the mood at AANP Towers was that this was probably the best we’d looked since Day 1. A low bar, admittedly, but still.

For a start, whereas at Forest on Sunday the entire concept of a midfield was ignored and everyone involved just slapped the ball up to the front three at the earliest opportunity, in the first half last night our lot pinged the thing through the pitch in neat, little diagonals. From defence the ball would roll along to Hojbjerg or Kane dropping deep; and from there be worked in another neat little diagonal to Kulusevski or Sonny or Perisic; and the net result was that we regularly worked our way from back to front in bright and breezy fashion. Although none of this was remotely Brazil 1970, our opponents seemed to have their minds blown by it, simply standing around gawping as our heroes slid passes around them at half pace.  

The biggest early impediment to all this was that blasted VAR delay, after which our lot rather dozed off and the other lot remembered their obligations. Even so, by half-time it did feel like anything less than victory would represent a pretty major faux pax on our part.

In particular I was rather taken by the way that rotter Harry Kane made use of the wide, open spaces nearer halfway, West Ham seemingly oblivious to the trouble he can cause from such positions and he accordingly picking forward passes hither and thither.

Perisic was another who caught the AANP eye, ever willing to explore the lane ahead of him and ever able to deliver a decent cross. Indeed, the winnings from Perisic’s recent crosses have been considerable – the VAR incident here, the penalty against Forest on Sunday, the late equaliser against Chelsea (from a corner admittedly) and a near-miss header from Kane against Wolves.

On top of which, the fellow is as wily as they come, well-versed in the murky arts that facilitate the shielding of the ball and winning of free-kicks and whatnot. Not since Edgar Davids have we been blessed with one of these more experienced eggs, who manages to deliver the goods with little more than a knowing wink and spot of upper-body muscle.

2. Our Goal

I alluded earlier to the crispness of some of our first half interplay from defence onwards, and rarely was this better exemplified than in our goal, a move of such slickness it looked like they’d been rehearsing it for weeks.

In the first place it came about when the defensive siren was being sounded, with the other lot on the attack and attempting to tiptoe their way into our area. At this juncture Eric Dier made a couple of his better life-choices, firstly in stepping forward from the defensive line to intercept an opposing forward pass. This having been done he then rattled through the options, and rather than belting the ball to within an inch of its life, slid the thing about ten yards north to the waiting Kane.

As mentioned, despite having turned into an art-form the practice of dropping deep, and having given fair warning of his ability in this sector for a good three or four years now, West Ham seemed utterly oblivious to the threat posed by Harry Kane in such situations. There were few complaints from AANP Towers. Kane collected the ball ten yards outside his own area, toddled along with it another ten yards and then biffed it out to Kulusevski, in about the time it takes to murmur, “Defence into attack”.


One of the marvellous things about Kulusevski is that he is the sort of bean who’s happy to run first and think later, seemingly living by the maxim that life will present a solution further down the line. Having collected the pass from Kane around the halfway line he injected a little more urgency into the move, flicking the dial from “Saunter” to “Gallop”, which in turn was a signal for Kane and Sonny to rev up and pick their supportive spots. Kane went outside, Sonny inside, and by the time Kulusevski had arrived at the edge of the West Ham area all sorts of options were presenting themselves, fitting confirmation of the Swede’s aforementioned life motto.

It would be easy to overlook, but in dinking inwards, giving the impression of being the sort of fruit who’s about to ping a shot with his left clog, Kulusevski did just enough to sway all three claret shirts around him in one direction, leaving the streets free for Kane to charge off in the other direction. As his pièce de résistance, Kulusevski then timed his flicked pass to perfection, ensuring that Kane was onside and his view unimpaired for the climax of the piece.

Sonny’s luck being what it is these days, an opposing sort got in first to poke the ball home, but rarely has an own goal been crafted with such beauty and precision.

As mentioned, come half-time, although a long way from first gear, AANP gazed upon the breadth of the domain and greeted it with a fairly care-free shrug. Matters seemed in hand.

3. Their Goal

Matters, however, then pretty swiftly u-turned. For a bod who appears to pride himself, and build entire empires, on defensive organisation, one can imagine that Senor Conte would have been out for blood after observing the goal we conceded, sloppiness oozing from its every pore.

At the time the throw-in was (rather dubiously, to my beady eye) taken, both Perisic and Hojbjerg were looking in directions other than the ball, which at any level of football is pretty thick stuff.

Had Perisic been on the right planet he might have assisted with the general operation to nullify Antonio, but by the time the penny dropped matters had progressed and the danger heightened. Now Perisic is something of a favourite around these parts, but there are times in life when one has to put one’s foot down. All the whipped crosses and wily know-how in the world doesn’t count for much if one is then going to drift off to the land of fairies when a throw-in is being taken within spitting distance, dash it.

Had any one of Sessegnon, Sanchez or Emerson been guilty of this they’d have had the book – and various heavier, blunter instruments – thrown at them by AANP, so there is no reason for Perisic to escape censure. The fellow deserves stern words and a brief thrashing.

Meanwhile Hojbjerg, another who really ought to know better, was, unbelievably, similarly gazing elsewhere at the crucial juncture. In his defence he was at least facing the ball, and had seemingly turned his head to yell at someone in the way footballers like to do to pass the time, but it was still a heck of an oversight.

Worse than this however, once he had refocused on current affairs, he (along with Bissouma) was far too slow to respond to the forward dart of Soucek. Both Messrs H. and B. had a couple of yards on Soucek, and yet while the latter built up a head of steam, our two did not accelerate beyond a common jog. By the time Hojbjerg bucked up his ideas it was far too late, while Bissouma didn’t even reach the point of bucking up ideas, and simply ambled along providing decoration to the piece.

All in all, a pretty soggy goal to concede, and one which rather summed up much of our play in the second half. Inevitably, Richarlison immediately brought a little spark when introduced, and one might charitably suggest that an away draw in a London derby is no small fry, but really, throwing away a lead against this mob was pretty criminal stuff. They were not particularly good; but frankly, neither were we.

4. Bissouma

I mentioned young Bissouma’s input – or lack thereof – into the goal conceded, and it summed up a rather underwhelming first start for the chap.

I actually thought his early knockings were pretty encouraging. He seemed more comfortable than most in receiving possession, unflustered by the presence of opposing legs around him and generally doing a pretty good impression of Bentancur when it came to receiving and redirecting the ball around the halfway line.

Matters started to take a turn for the murky when he picked up his yellow card. This in itself was pretty fat-headed stuff – unlucky though he was to be penalised for a foul, seemingly on the basis of crowd reaction rather than the referee having actually seen anything, thumping the ball away in response marked him out as a pretty dim cove.

If one wanted to quibble one might have cleared the throat and politely mentioned that thereafter he didn’t always have to play the way he was facing, his habit of popping the ball straight back to Davinson Sanchez frankly doing more harm than good given the latter’s pretty limited passing ability (it seems no coincidence that Emerson barely offers an attacking threat when Sanchez rather than Romero lines up for company inside him).

By half-time, it seemed from my vantage point that Bissouma had morphed from Bentancur to Winks during the course of proceedings, so it was some relief to see him approach the second half in a marginally more offensive spirit, receiving the ball on the half-turn and generally looking north for a useful pass to pick.

Nevertheless, it was all a little disappointing. Of his fabled zeal for intercepting and tackling there were only glimpses, and as mentioned, his role in the goal conceded was lamentable.

None of which is to write the chap off; far from it, he is one of the shrewdest signings we’ve made for some time. Just a shame that his middling performance last night was in keeping with all around him, and led to the forfeiting of a couple of quite obtainable points.

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Spurs match reports

Nott’m Forest 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Richarlison The Bounder

One of the more agreeable outcomes of Sunday’s festivities was the revelation that there are few things in life more entertaining than seeing an absolute bounder at his most dastardly, as long as the aforementioned b. is draped in your team’s colours. Richarlison’s little production was marvellous stuff, as guaranteed to delight his followers as it was to incense his opponents.

Naturally enough it incurred the spluttering apoplexy of great swathes of the population, incensed at the sight of Man Providing Entertainment During Game (although oddly accepting of the Forest chap whose response to being offended was to hack Richarlison at the knee, the principle here seeming to be that hurt feelings matter more than hurt limbs).

Here at AANP Towers the reaction was pretty rapturous, my inclination being to march over to Nottingham, hoist the chap on my shoulders and ferry him around the pitch to drink in acclaim from all sides. If Richarlison’s to-do list for Sunday included ‘Endear Self To N17 Fanbase’ he certainly hit upon a fool-proof way of doing it, the chap breezing his way towards cult hero status with a crack like that.

And more broadly, the sight of such chicanery being peddled by one in lilywhite was all the more welcome, for adding a little bite to what has, for as long as I’ve been watching, been a team with far too soft an underbelly. Rascals like Richarlison, Romero and the late, lamented Lamela add the sort of devil to proceedings that is guaranteed to rattle even the most serene of opposing minds. There is a limit to such things of course, and one wouldn’t want the entire collective to approach each game as some sort of gangland showdown, but anything that makes opponents bristle and provokes a degree or two of ire will be warmly welcomed around these parts.

2. Richarlison The Genius

Richarlison’s unspeakable acts rather detracted from his other critical input of the day, in quite gloriously creating an unmissable chance for our second.

It was all the more impressive for its genesis coming at a point in play when, from an attacking point of view, all appeared to have been lost, at least temporarily. Matters might have been resolved more swiftly and conventionally had young Sessegnon not dithered at a rather crucial moment (a moment that seemed to me to illustrate that for all his youthful exuberance, he rather lacks the nous and wiles of Perisic).

And one would have been forgiven for flinging arms towards the heavens, and settling in for another five minutes of Forest keep-ball, had Richarlison not stomped over to the left flank to take matters into his own hands. Moreover, with the ball edging off towards the sideline, and a Forest player commandeering that patch of land, the odds were not stacked in his favour. And yet, none of this seemed to strike the young imp as any sort of problem.

Of the Forest blighter, Richarlison made light work. One solid biff of the upper body, and the F.B was as a felled log, effectively removed from the picture. There then followed the issue of how best to distribute his newly-acquired winnings, for between Richarlison and the lone lilywhite figure of Kane were five red shirts plus a goalkeeper. However, where most mere mortals would have seen challenge, Richarlison appeared to see only opportunity. What followed was the sort of moment that makes one widen the eyes and feel the lower jaw loosen from its moorings, for the chap was somehow struck by the notion that the appropriate thing to do would be to unleash a peach of a ball with the outside of his boot.

Look closely enough and I’m pretty sure one would spot that the ball itself was smiling, because everything about the delivery was perfect. Arc, curl, height and geometric plotting were all immaculate, to the extent that I’m not sure Kane needed even to shuffle his feet in order to bop the thing home.

Here at AANP Towers we have long regarded The-Weighted-Ball-Inside-The-Full-Back as without peer when it comes to aesthetically pleasing passes, but frankly Richarlison’s ball for Kane has turned on its head everything we thought we knew about the art.

3. Davinson Sanchez

Those who know AANP best would no doubt take one look at the heading ‘Davinson Sanchez’ and brace themselves for a few paragraphs couched in the fruitiest Anglo-Saxon. I remember a gag from my A-Level days in which one fellow said of another fellow, “I come here to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” which just about sums up my usual take on young Sanchez. This time around, however, it seems the square thing to do is slather a bit of praise on the chap, because he seemed from my vantage point to get better and better as the game progressed.

That said, the start was pretty inauspicious.  He managed to orchestrate an illegal tangle of limbs within literally the first ten seconds of the match, which was pretty heavy going even by his standards, gifting Forest a free-kick in a dangerous position and prompting an agonised howl from AANP Towers.

Naturally enough, his every touch thereafter prompted a nervous tension to wrack my entire being, but in possession he kept things simple and when called upon to defend I’m not sure he put too many feet wrong.

As the minutes ticked by and he chalked off a frankly preposterous nine hours without conceding, he even produced a casual Cruyff turn inside his own area, as if to hammer home the point to any remaining naysayers that actually, in Davinson Sanchez country, nothing could be simpler than keeping opposing strikers at bay.

Messrs Dier and Davies obviously played their part, but I struggled to shift the gaze too far beyond the figure of Sanchez, gently batting away all attempts to sneak past him. Make no mistake, Romero will be welcomed back with open arms the very minute the assembled First Aiders give the nod, but for now I can do no more than salute Davinson Sanchez, for a job well done.

4. Conte-Ball

Scour the back pages for the scoreline only and one would assume that this was routine stuff. Two-nil, plus a missed penalty, at a newly-promoted mob, seems to tell a pretty straightforward story.

The blow-by-blow account, however, speaks of an infinitely less comfortable affair, in which our lot barely had control of the dashed thing for any sequence lasting longer than thirty seconds. Moreover, in the first half in particular, Forest were not purely kept at arm’s length, but were short-triangling their way into our holiest of holies, popping the ball along inside our area. That they barely managed a shot on target all game was due in no small part to the massed ranks of lilywhite bodies arranged in protective formation inside the area, and willing to fling every available appendage in the way of the ball.

The whole pattern of proceedings, was bizarre in the extreme. Whenever we did obtain possession, the drill seemed to be to leg it up the pitch as fast as humanly possible, and pop off a shot – an exercise that never seemed to last more than about twenty seconds, but which nevertheless proved oddly successful. It meant that despite minimal touches of the ball, and a complete bypassing of central midfield throughout, our lot actually racked up a good half-dozen near misses in each half, which amounted to a darned sight more than Forest managed.

And yet at no point (until the second goal, circa 80 minutes) did we seem to have control of things. Au contraire, our general game-plan appeared to have much about it of skin-of-teeth. I’m sure I was not alone in feeling deeply uncomfortable in seeing wave after wave of Forest possession – generally not amounting to too much, admittedly, but emitting ominous noises nevertheless.

And yet, by setting up with a central midfield pair, Conte seems almost to concede that we will perpetually be outnumbered in that area. He seems almost to be gambling that our defensive five, plus Bentancur-Hojbjerg, will do all the defensive necessaries, and our front three, plus wing-backs, will produce as many chances as needed. Which, oddly enough, on both counts is exactly what happened on Sunday.

So one might argue that it works, but by golly it’s not much fun to watch. And had the Forest bod learnt how to head a ball midway through the second half, it would not have worked. There were shades of Jose’s defend-defend-counter, and although our countering was pretty effective, and with better finishing would have eased the nervous strain considerably, the whole thing did make me wonder if we might not try to approach games by actually bossing possession and dominating things.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-0 Wolves: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Perisic

The nomination of I. Perisic Esq. from the gun was welcomed pretty heartily here at AANP Towers, where we’ve taken every opportunity to pen admiring odes and poems and whatnot about the chap, and this week even went as far as to bring him into the fantasy team.

Alas, the distinct absence of fizz about the place in the first half extended to the Croat. Quite why our lot simply don’t bother spitting on their hands and getting down to business during minutes 1-45 is beyond me. Thrice in three games it’s happened this season, to say nothing of some similar guff last season, but there it is.

As well as the strange impotence in open play, the Brains Trust had also opted to pop Sonny on corners rather than Perisic, and while the whole thing worked a dream in the second half, during that opening 45 there was some prime chuntering emanating from these parts. As if to make the point that he considered this set-piece-taking hierarchy an oversight, Perisic proceeded to whip in a peach of a cross from absolutely nowhere right at the end of the half, when seemingly penned into a corner and facing the wrong way, resulting in a Kane header that but for the grace of God and extended goalkeeping limb would have hit the top corner.

Of course one decent cross doth not a wing-back masterclass make, and it was only in the second half that Perisic really put a wriggle on and started making hay down the left. It was impressive stuff. Evidently no slouch over fifteen yards, Perisic stacked the odds further in his favour in every going sprint by stationing himself as high up the pitch as decency allowed, meaning that when our lot hit the final third he had morphed into every inch the bona fide winger.

On top of which, the chap threw in stepovers and feints and all sorts, the type of jiggery-pokery that looks all the more impressive after a wing-back diet of Emerson, Doherty and Sessegnon for the last year, and it all tended to finish off with some devilish delivery.

The near-post flick for Kane’s goal was another tick in the box, but it was his output with ball at feet and engines revved that really caught the eye. I would not go as far as to say Perisic’s second half contribution changed the game, because levels were upped in just about all attacking spots after half-time, but it was cracking stuff to drink in.

2. Kulusevski

Dejan Kulusevski was another whose presence barely registered in the first half, only to whip off the mask and give the punters their money worth in the second. The chap had clearly been at the spinach during the half-time pause-for-thought, because the figure that re-emerged was the Kulusevski of old, all strangely unstoppable running and delicious delivery.

I am not and probably never will be the sort who advocates statues for players, but if anyone fancies plotting on a spreadsheet the prefect arc of Kulusevski’s curling crosses I’ll happily frame the thing, hang it on a wall and narrate its back-story to all who pass through the place. The cross that Kane headed against the bar was a thing of considerable beauty, the sort of pass I’d happily watch endlessly whistle through the air.

But as much as his delivery it was the general energy with which Kulusevski approached life in the second half that made itself felt. He took to the pitch seemingly intent on putting his head down and running, at every opportunity, and the attitude bore multiple fruits.

For a start it served to jolt into life those around him, so that it wasn’t too long before the pitch was abuzz with lilywhites haring off into attacking spaces.

And moreover, Kulusevki’s running seemed to cause Wolves a dickens of a problem every time. As a minimum their emergency panel evidently deemed it prudent to assign two men to him each time he went off on the charge, and on at least one occasion he earned a yellow card for one of them who had evidently had enough of chasing the chap’s shadow around the place.

With Sonny again oddly muted throughout, and Emerson’s attacking produce some way short of the standards set by Perisic, it was as well that Kulusevski bucked up his ideas in the second half.

3. Sanchez

I suppose you might say it’s not really cricket to spy a fellow’s name on the teamsheet and resolve from the off to subject him to the beady eye throughout, in search of any hint of error – but show me the name “Sanchez, D” in Arial 12 and the first thing I’ll do is train the monocle on the chap, pitchfork at the ready.

If one were in philosophical mood one might consider the absence of Romero for the next few games to be oddly just, given that he escaped a red card and three-match ban by what you might describe as a hair’s breadth last time out. So here we were, Romero-less, which meant that we were Sanchez-ful, and as befitting the occasion there was a sharp intake of breath every time the Colombian went near the ball.  

And I was not the only one showing my appreciation when the young prune’s first involvement proved to be as punchy as it was crucial, some Wolves laddie haring off towards the right-hand side of the area, with circumstances somehow dictating that Sanchez was the last line of defence between him and the whites of Lloris’ eyes.

Now if Sanchez has demonstrated one thing in his time at N17 it’s that he is not one for the subtle interception. Not for him a delicate toe stretched at just the optimum moment, to nick the ball from an opponent’s foot. When Davinson Sanchez intervenes he does so with meaning, pouring heart and soul into the act. In fact, to “heart” and “soul” in the above description you can generally add “body” too. There is no changing direction or arresting momentum. A Davinson Sanchez block is very much a one-way ticket.

And so it came to pass that in this particular incident Sanchez executed a block by flinging his entire self, feet first, in the way of the ball. It makes for a peculiar look, this giant of a man skidding along the turf on his rear, both legs sticking out in front of him like an oversized child on a water-slide. And if any attacker were to do their research they’d know that one straightforward drag-back would leave Sanchez sliding away into a different postcode, the path to goal no longer obscured.

However, the manoeuvre proved immensely effective, which is the point of the thing, and as with so many of Wolves’ attacks in and around the area, the whole episode was snuffed out before Lloris was summoned to action.

Having started his afternoon thusly, I had hoped that Sanchez might use his early success as a prompt for calmness of mind and further success, but for the remainder of the first half at least it was a slightly mixed bag. No crisis befell, but nor did I feel much assurance when play drifted into his orbit.

Whatever his attributes as a defender, when opportunity presents itself to act decisively he still seems instead gripped by nerves, as if weighing up the best and worst of all possible worlds and finding himself irresistibly drawn towards the latter. This was illustrated around halfway through the first half, when he engaged in some back-and-forth in the right-back neck of the woods, and ended the exchange on the floor and decidedly second best, requiring Emerson to tidy up the mess.

Still, no lasting damage was done, and in the second half activity in Sanchez Avenue was a lot quieter, largely due to the general dialling up of quality from out lot in other areas. With fewer mano-a-mano battles the honest fellow was largely tasked with holding his shape within the back three, and the time passed largely without incident.

His distribution was, understandably enough, some way short of the standards of Romero, but as eye-of-the-needle passing has never been the primary purpose of a Davinson Sanchez I am generally prepared to turn a blind eye as long as nothing too calamitous emanates from his size nines. And apart from a few aimless hoicks into the mid-distance he generally had the good sense to keep things simple, dabbing the ball off to Dier inside him or Emerson outside.

If one could pick a fixture into which to fling the chap, ‘Wolves (H)’ would be near the top of most lists, given that they consider winning to be beneath them, and tend to set about their business without a striker worthy of the name. A similarly kind fixture list in the coming weeks means that we should muddle through the absence of Romero – and consequent inclusion of Sanchez – without too much further incident. The chap cannot be faulted for effort and, as evidenced by that early block, he has a grasp of the basics, but the pulse will certainly ease down a tad when Romero returns.

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Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-2 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Second-Quickest to Everything, Dash It

As happens maybe every five years or so before a crunch game, I actually approached this one in a spirit of quiet optimism. The summer transfers, the pre-season hard work, Chelsea not quite looking themselves – it would be a stretch to say I foresaw us steamrolling them, but word definitely got about the place over the weekend that AANP thought we would edge this one.

I should have known better of course. Four decades of watching our lot should have taught me that if nothing else, just when it seems that things are looking up, we would find some way to make a pig’s ear of things.

The preferred method yesterday of gamming up the entire operation was to approach the thing from about five minutes in with a spirit of half-paced drowsiness. Our lot seemed convinced that they would have this thing won if only the other lot would leave them alone for a dashed minute or two. Each time anyone in lilywhite received the ball, the immediate reaction appeared to be to celebrate the fact by pausing, taking another touch, dwelling on it for a goodish bit, taking an additional touch, having a look around and then setting about the business of deciding what to do next.

I suppose one might kindly say that the theory behind this was reasonable enough, as one likes to get things just right in life, but in a bash against one of the best teams out there this was never going to wash. Chelsea rotters were swarming around our heroes as soon ball hit lilywhite boot. The above sequence never progressed beyond “pausing”. If it had not dawned upon our lot beforehand that matters were going to be conducted at breakneck pace in all areas of the pitch, it ought to have become clear once the game started and our every touch saw blue shirts harass the dickens out of us.

I’m not sure any of our number escapes censure for this, which is pretty troubling stuff. Kane had one of those days, which occasionally happens, when he drops deep in search of the thing, but finds the opposition are wise to the ruse, and have designated someone to shadow him like Mary’s bally lamb, nicking the ball from him before it even reaches him (I seem to recall Bissouma doing this to him last season).

Sonny’s every involvement had much about it of Hudson’s last stand in Aliens, as he was generally crowded out and made to disappear from view before he knew what had hit him.

Even Kulusevski, who for six months has been carving out quite a career for himself as A Chap Who Always Finds A Way, now found himself muzzled at every turn. Indeed, so rotten was Kulusevski’s day that he ended up as one of the principal villains in the second goal conceded, being shoved to the floor when in possession and left to wave a few forlorn arms in protest – a sure sign of guilt – as Chelsea got on with things and scored.

The introduction of Richarlison and tweak of shape helped to ease things a bit – more on that below – but a fifteen-minute uplift in matters was not simply going to paper over the cracks of the previous hour as if all had been bonny and gay throughout. AANP does not easily forget. If anything, AANP stews in his juices and reproaches bitterly all in lilywhite long after it is appropriate to continue doing so.

As such I remain deeply troubled by the general approach of being second-quickest to just about every exchange that happened on the pitch until that point. Whether it was a tactical flaw brought about by the stationing of Chelsea’s midfield bodies, or technical flaws on the part of each of our own mob, or indeed attitudinal flaws on the part of each of our own m., or some unholy combination of the above, it was not something that we ought to peddle, and we were pretty fortunate to escape with a point.

2. Richarlison

I read in some post-match critique or other that Richarlison only touched the ball seven times, a revelation which, if true, is quite the shot in the arm for those who like to trumpet the merits of quality over quantity.

It did not require the keenest intelligence to note that things bucked up a bit when he entered the fray and went stomping about the place. I suppose this upturn in fortunes could be attributed in part to the change in shape that he brought with him – giving the Chelsea defence an extra body to keep their beady eyes upon (a factor that almost brought home immediate bacon when Koulibaly was caught wondering whether to shadow the newly-arrived Richarlison or stick to his position, and ended up dithering for long enough to allow Kane to march in on goal unmarshalled, for the chance that was dragged wide).

Equally, the upturn in fortunes could be attributed to Richarlison himself. Seven touches he may only have had – and I’m dashed if I can remember any of them to be honest – but he took to the challenge of changing the game like a man who had spent the preceding hour itching to get involved in the various scraps unfolding on the pitch.

He bounded about the place with an energy I’m not sure any of his colleagues had displayed, and generally gave the impression of a chap who, rather than fling up his arms every time he received a barge to the upper half, instead positively sought out such stuff as precisely the kind of bally-hoo for which he was designed. This felt like the exact stage and scenario for which he was brought to the club.

3. The Second Equaliser

That said, the congratulatory back-slaps and whoops were rendered pretty hollow within minutes, as Chelsea reacted to conceding the first equaliser by rearranging their own pieces on the board, upping the intensity and scoring again.

(A cursory note on the general din surrounding our first goal, while on the subject – Bentacur touched the ball, and the goalkeeper could see the ball.)

Come the 96th and final minute, things were bubbling nicely, with Senor Romero no doubt fortunate that the eye in the sky did not take a dimmer view of his latest approach to settling differences. It was understandable enough that he felt the urge to tug the chap’s sensational mane – had I shared a pitch with Cucurella I’d have given it a friendly pull every time I passed him, for sporting a coiffure that voluminous in any sporting arena should not come without consequence – but using the ridiculous hairpiece as a lever by which to yank him to the ground was ill thought-through on Romero’s part.

Nevertheless, there was deep satisfaction to be gained from the antics of Romero and Richarlison in general. Dastardly stuff of course, and one would never publicly advocate this sort of thing, but behind closed doors all manner of knowing winks are exchanged, and rightly so. One assumes that somewhere in Spain, Erik Lamela nodded approvingly before shrugging his shoulders in a gesture of wide-eyed innocence. Moreover, as Thiago Silva will remind us from last season, this is a fixture in which one simply has to accept the referee’s call and stiffen the upper lip.

Back to our second equaliser, and there was much to digest. Let the quality of Perisic’s deliveries in that final minute not be overlooked in the first place, for goodness knows we have seen our fair share of terrible corners over the years (in fact, Master P’s first effort of the match was something of a shocker, but one forgives and forgets).

The timing of the thing also merits a moment’s consideration. Scoring a late equaliser of course always comes drenched in lashings of smug satisfaction and schadenfreude, but for our lot to beaver away until the end reflects rather well on the mindset of those involved – all the more so on a day on which any slump in shoulders would probably have seen Chelsea wrap the thing up.

But most eye-catching from my viewpoint was the fact that as the corner came in it was greeted by a veritable parade of Tottenham bodies. Kane of course took the credit, but had he decided against jumping for the thing his absence would not have been lamented, for Richarlison was right behind him in the queue. I noted that Richarlison was strangely unattended by anyone in blue, which seemed one heck of an oversight given the situation but also thoroughly at odds with the approach Chelsea had taken the whole game.

Not that I quibbled, of course, and in fact, even had Kane not been there I doubt Richarlison would have been able to indulge, because at the crucial moment we were additionally treated to the sight of Lucas Moura absolutely hurling himself at the ball, having taken a running leap at the thing.

Again, there was not a resisting defender in sight, which was rather rummy – but I was simply thrilled to see three of our number so emphatically intent on winning the ball and bagging the goal. Having been second best in so much of what had gone before, and seemingly unmoved to attempt to remedy it, the sight of three of them doing their damnedest to barge to the front of the queue for the equaliser was satisfying stuff. Had every challenge been greeted with such bloody-minded gusto the whole thing might have turned a different shade, but this was good enough.

This was a rare occasion on which even in the face of seeming defeat I rather enjoyed the thing as a spectacle, which just goes to show. The rapidly escalating mutual dislike between the two managers – which, of course, no-one likes to see – was the sort of stuff everyone loves to see, and added a pleasing garnish to the general spectacle. And having thought beforehand that this would serve as a useful gauge of our progress (and having, as mentioned, registered some optimism about our chances) the reality-check, that work remains in order to overhaul this lot, was useful; while at the same time fighting back to nab a point in the face of defeat, away to a Top Four side, sent us off home in cheery enough mood.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 4-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson

Emerson had what might officially go down in the tome of such things as his best game in lilywhite. Admittedly the bar in this particular area is pretty low, the memory lingering long of countless dreadful attempted crosses last season, but let that not detract from some surprisingly impressive stuff in all areas for the peculiar chap. Who knew he had it in him?

If Emerson is the sort to let the failings of previous seasons weigh on him, he hides it well. Here is a fellow not wanting for self-confidence, irrespective of how much the evidence of the senses and weight of data has suggested he ought to think otherwise.

Watching him scurry off down the right, find himself incapable off beating a man or whipping in a cross, therefore decide to keep scurrying and eventually hit the byline, before attempting to pull back the ball out of necessity as much as anything else, you would think from his manner that he had long ago decided, with supreme confidence from the off, that scurrying to the byine and pulling back the ball was in fact the best possible plan, and nobody on earth could convince him that any alternative would be better – or indeed that any other living soul could execute it better than he. 

Impressively, however, it worked. In fact, just about everything Emerson tried on Saturday struck oil. From the starter’s clap he went about his business yesterday like a newly-born lamb having his first taste of spring and deciding that he’d be dashed if he was going to be prevented from gambolling about the place.

With Kulusevski on hand to provide attacking finesse as required, Senhor E’s willing and energy, and runs and uncomplicated passes, had the left side of Southampton scampering around in something of a muddle throughout.

His input for Kulusevski’s goal illustrated much of what he was doing well – first summoning the energetic spirit of that new-born lamb to bound off towards that murky area in between corner flag and penalty area, then picking a pass as simple as it was effective for Master K, who did the rest with customary aplomb.

His contribution to the own-goal was ultimately a little less conventional, his self-confidence by this point reaching the stratospheric height at which simply being wing-back was beneath him, and he fancied himself rather as a Haaland sort, motoring through the centre as the furthermost forward – but mark the preamble. Emerson tackled his man cleanly in the traditional right-back berth, then, rather than sitting back to admire his handiwork, led the charge over halfway at the sort of lick that was less new-born lamb and more thoroughbred racehorse.

Having successfully communicated the message that one need not whip in crosses from deep in order to fulfil one’s attacking remit as a wing-back, it is also worth noting that his attacking success did not come at the expense of his defensive duties. In fact, he was as diligent as the next man when on sentry duty. It was all most impressive. Whether he can hit such heights next week, say, at Chelsea, is for another day, but with Dohertys and Spences now littering the place one cannot fault Emerson’s first stab at the role of 22/23 RWB.

2. Kulusevski

Not that Saturday was simply the Emerson Show, with others in attendance offering supporting roles only. Far from it. The list of standout performers was pretty extensive – which mangles the language somewhat when you think about it, but such was the quality of the various presentations.

Kulusevski, yet again, hit impressive heights. He is quite the curio, being one of those attackers who bursts with creativity despite not having some obvious eye-catching quality. He is neither lightning-quick, nor possessed of stepovers and mazy dribbles and whatnot, and can sometimes give the air of one of those types who was not bestowed abundant gifts by Mother Nature, but made the most of what he had through hard work. Think Lampard or Kane.

And yet, his wealth of talents were on full display on Saturday, rendering him quite the unpredictable force. He seemed at any given moment as likely to go on the gallop; or pick a cute, short pass; or drag the ball back and switch directions, making the entire Southampton back-line trip over themselves; or whip in a cross begging to be despatched; or have a shot for himself. Whenever the ball entered his orbit, marvellous things began to happen.

If he had done nothing more than deliver the cross for Sessegnon’s goal I’d still have purred about him a goodish bit – but that was arguably not even the best cross he delivered, one in the second half that Romero might have flung himself at being arguably of finer quality. The second half also saw him pick out something close to the perfect pass for Sessegnon to steam onto; on top of which there was his goal, stroked in with the nonchalance of one idly pinging a ball from A to B while stretching his limbs on the training pitch.

How long it will be before he is spoken of in the exalted terms generally reserved for English-born folk remains to be seen – it took Sonny a good half-dozen years – but if he continues to deliver on a weekly basis to limited acclaim beyond N17 then there will be no complaints over here.

3. Bentancur

And yet even Kulusevski cannot necessarily be deemed the outright champion of all he surveyed on Saturday. As seems to have happened every time he skims the surface in lilywhite, Master Bentancur breezed through the game on a different plane from anyone else.

He really is the rarest of nibs, one who seems to see the game from a vantage point about twenty yards above ground level, with panoramic vision that takes in the positions and movements of all other bodies on the pitch. How else to explain the marvellous fellow’s ability to flick first-time passes in directions well beyond the realms of terrestrial vision?

Here at AANP Towers we are very much of the opinion that passes do not necessarily need to be earth-shattering as long as they are popped along swiftly. A first-time pass can rearrange the pieces just as effectively as one of those pearlers that bisects a clutch of opponents. Bentancur seems effortlessly to have mastered both disciplines, often at the same time. One could remover the goals from the pitch, and still delight in watching him dip his shoulders and ping his passes, simply for the heck of it.

On top of which, any asterisked concerns in his early days about him sometimes being ambushed by the pace of things over here seem to have been dispelled. The young bean was shuttling the ball off in new directions before opponents realised he had it; on top of which he was pretty zesty in the tackle too.

4. Sessegnon

Here at AANP Towers we are certainly fond of the grumble, and at various and regular points last season wasted little time in jabbing an accusing finger at young Master Sessegnon.

As with Emerson on t’other flank, Sessegnon seems to have used his summer weeks wisely, and went about his business on Saturday looking a darned sight more assured about his trade than previously.

The early goal presumably helped chivvy him along in this sense, but in general where last season a nameless fear seemed to envelop everything he did, often manifesting itself in heavy touches and complete absence of ball control, on Saturday he seemed vastly more capable when it came to the basics, and was a viable option on the left throughout his hour.

It was rather satisfying to note that the chap has well and truly got to grips with Conte-ball, regularly popping up in the area as an auxiliary attacker, as any wing-back should under Our Glorious Leader. He scored one, had one disallowed for offside – admittedly his own fault for jumping the gun, but again reflecting an eagerness to elbow his way into positions from which he can observe the whites of the goalkeepers’ eyes – and was denied a second goal only by a last-ditch tackle from KEP.

(A note on KWP while on the subject – the young pip has attracted some attention, with various fellow lilywhites reverently bawling that we should be in for his services again. To these I wave a dismissive hand, because no self-respecting defender ought ever to be outmuscled in the air, and in his own six-yard box, by anyone, let alone by the waif-like physique of Sessegnon; and to anyone who marvelled at the aforementioned last-ditch tackle I suggest that the best defenders read the game well enough not to need to make up five yards and execute sliding tackles from behind.)

But reverting back to Sessegnon – as with more than one of the above, this was comfortably one of his better days in lilywhite. One would expect Perisic to assume responsibilities for bigger tests, but if Sessegnon gets wheeled out for Southampton and the like he’ll get a glowing reference and rousing hand from me.

5. The Debutants

After six summer signings, I rather liked the fact that the only new sight was the gleaming kit (top marks from AANP by the way, a fan of the simple white shirt over here) and a couple of new-fangled set-piece operations. It sent the message that one has to earn one’s place in this team – earn one’s spurs, if you will – and helped to cement the notion that ours is a setup that increasingly needs to think like a big club.

Bissouma only got five minutes or so, but seemed determined not to be constrained by such mortal limitations as time, and set about cramming as much action as possible into his brief cameo. Thus we were treated to Bissouma blocks, interceptions, sensible passes, a yellow card and, intriguingly, a long-distance effort hit with some wattage. With Hojbjerg hitting (the pass in the build-up to Kulusevski’s goal was a weighted delight) but also missing (various misplaced passes littered the place), Bissouma’s brief bustle made for quite the hors d’ouevres.

Perisic had a little longer to acquaint himself with things, and similarly caught the AANP eye. The headlines of his half-hour were a couple of forays in the meaty end of things – stepovers and party-tricks to evade his man, followed by a couple of crosses into dangerous squares of the penalty area. These bode well, and in time one imagines Kane and chums feasting on his produce.

But as a long-time admirer of the chap, I kept a particular eye on his positioning at every given point, and noted that it is safe to say that rumours of him being well attuned to the whims of Senor Conte are resoundingly true. As soon as we turned over possession he was off on the gallop, well in advance of the defensive line – and, as often as not, in advance of the midfield line too. Where Sessegnon seems content enough to stay within a stone’s throw of Ben Davies, Perisic has more heady ambitions, and could regularly be spotted further up the pitch than anyone else, and frankly straining at the leash for a ball to be released onto which he might run.

All of which meant that when we lost possession he was a good-ish distance up the pitch, but the honest fellow made the effort to sprint back to his post. Should he feature against Chelsea next week I’ll be intrigued as to the extent to which his attacking instincts are indulged or otherwise.

And finally there was also a brief cameo for Lenglet, who took up the appropriate position on the left, and seemed to make the sensible hand-gestures of one who wants at least to look he knows what he’s about. He also picked a handy pass in the move that led to Bissouma’s long-distance shot, which earned him a subtle nod of approval – but his appearance was little more than a chance for Conte to flex a bicep and show the world that he has Levy eating out of the palm of his hand.

So after one fixture we sit pretty atop the pile. While it is, of course, mathematically possible that we might yet blow this, frankly anything less than the title would now be a massive disappointment.

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Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Richarlison: Three Tottenham Talking Points

AANP was woken from mid-summer slumber last week by the unmistakeable pitter-patter of newly-signed feet, which seems as good an excuse as any to scribble some thoughts (with the usual apologies for more Covid-induced tardiness).

1. Positionally

Spurs have signed a competent striker, and this alone is pretty sensational stuff.

Now I suppose some might immediately quibble that Mother Nature did not roll up her sleeves and use the ‘Striker’ template when fashioning Richarlison, he being more the sort of laddie to be found starting wide and buzzing infield, as is very much the vogue these days.

It’s a fair point, and actually quite the bonus, an element that no doubt fed strongly into the decision to raid the vault for the necessary sums. Richarlison will not just be an able deputy for Kane, but also for Sonny and Kulusevski.

All well and good, but it’s the ‘Central Striker’ part of the arrangement that has really put the spring in the step of those at AANP Towers. The failure time and again to arrange suitable cover for Kane had pretty swiftly evolved from mild curio to major design flaw in the workings at N17, over the course of the last half-dozen years.

Alternatives to Kane had either taken the form of ghastly inexperience (see Carlos Vincius, who seemed to find his level with a hat-trick against Marine) or fellows at the other end of the spectrum, just about ready to be put out to pasture (see Fernando Llorente, a chap to whose hip I will always be grateful, contributing as it did towards the great Etihad CL victory, but who otherwise devoted his energies to the twin pursuits of general immobility and finding all manner of ways to miss presentable chances).  

Throw in a Janssen here and a Clinton N’Jie there, and one begins to appreciate the excitement at the hiring of this Richarlison chappie. In notable contradistinction to any of the aforementioned, here is a lad who has proven himself quite capable of leading the line; who comes already programmed with a few years of experience in the Premier League; and who at 25 is approaching his peak.

The whole business of five substitutes next season means that he ought not to want for game-time, on top of which he can expect to lead the line in those random early-round Cup ties that clutter the calendar at various points. As such, the sentiment around these parts is that we should bung him into a lilywhite shirt and unleash him at the earliest opportunity.

2. Character

To say that Richarlison is a sullen sort of fellow barely scratches the surface. Here is a lad whose face would crack in about seventeen different places if obliged by law to uncork a smile. Much of the moody teenager about him.

Indeed, one does not need an in-depth knowledge of the internet and its various nooks and crannies to find footage of Richarlison and his newest teammate, Cristian Romero, lunging at each other’s kneecaps, in what I suppose you might call a spirit of national fervour.

Is this a problem? Quite the opposite. As my old man, AANP Senior has been known to observe, having been brought up on the Double-winners and whatnot, what our lot lack is a Mackay prowling the place and ensuring that all concerned charge around like their lives depend on it.

Being of a more recent vintage, the standard I tend to use is one from the Keane-Vieira mould, who will scream blue murder in the face of colleagues to ensure that standards are high, and set the radar to ‘Seek and Destroy’ when dealing with opponents.

Now Our Glorious Leader has without doubt done much to change the mentality at N17, to the extent that defeats are no longer simply to be shrugged off, but are intended to wound deeply. And learned sorts with inside knowledge of Richarlison have highlighted that here is a fellow who of a similar mind. Apparently he is the type of egg who expends every last drop of oxygen in the cause of victory, and then broods like the dickens for a few days after if things do not positively unfold. Frankly, I cannot wait to have a sort like that stalking the corridors.

3. Business

A final note on this particular transaction is to note that once again, presumably at the behest of the Big Cheese and his desire for a full and uninterrupted pre-season, the T’s are being crossed and I’s dotted on this nice and early in the piece.

In recent years we long-suffering lilywhites have become accustomed to transfer windows defined by final-hour haggling, refusals to cough up the necessary few bob and a hastily-struck loan for Fraizer Campbell. To have four players signed up and ready to go as early as the start of July is therefore as welcome as it is discombobulating – and while it does make me wonder why the dickens we couldn’t have done our business this way every year, the move is further evidence of the shift to a more professional approach being instilled across the club by Signor Conte.

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Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Yves Bissouma: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Joyous Tidings

If you happened to notice AANP bounding about the place in particularly bonny, blithe and gay fashion in the last week or so I’d congratulate you on your perceptive nature. Every now and then our lot unveil a new signing that puts no end of buck in the step, and the scrawl of Yves Bissouma across the headed notepaper has done precisely that.

I mentioned in my last tuppence worth, a couple of weeks back, that I’m not generally one to devote my energies to watching opponents, being far too consumed with monitoring the every move of those in lilywhite. As a result, it’s something of an event when an opposing player catches the AANP eye during a Tottenham game, but in this category young Monsieur Bissouma can proudly step up to collect a gong and clear his throat for a victory speech.

The job he did when we travelled to Brighton last season, was quite something to behold. Memory suggests that while some other chappie pinched the last-minute goal that weighted the scoreline in Brighton’s favour, it was Bissouma’s security work in the central areas that won the thing. In particular, I wouldn’t wonder if that rotter Harry Kane greeted Bissouma’s arrival in N17 by bunging him over the head with a brick, such was the job done by the latter on the former in that match. Whenever the ball was shoved in the general radius of Kane, Bissouma was upon him in an instant, sucking the life – and most of our collective creative juices – out of him for the entirety of the gig.

And while admittedly one random shindig in the sun last season is not the sort of stuff upon which one ought to base a fully-fledged opinion, the bespectacled sorts who crunch numbers have rather more weight to throw behind the chap. For a start, the numbers have him down as having made more frequent tackles and interceptions than anyone else in the league last season, which lends a touch more gravity to the argument and has me nodding an admiring head.

Of course, he might still swan into the team and prove a dreary letdown (he wouldn’t be the first in the hallowed corridors of the Lane) but frankly the odds are stacked in his favour. A player who looked in charge of much he surveyed last season, with a couple of years of Premier League experience and, at 25, one would presume a fair amount of oxygen to in his lungs, represents one heck of a deal at £25m.

Indeed, he even popped up with a rather eye-catching solo goal in the Cup fixture at N17 last season; although my spies assure me that such activities are the exception rather than the norm when it comes to Bissouma’s list of bullet points. Nice to know that he’s capable of such things, of course, but the fellow has been designed by Mother Nature for more defensive-minded inputs.

And that’s fine by me. While Bentancur would collect the ball and dreamily pop it along to the better-placed, Hojbjerg last season grafted away but often seemed to be operating on the very last couple of drops of energy wrung from his tissues. The addition therefore of a bona fide midfield enforcer is pretty exciting stuff, particularly given that in our neck of the woods midfielders tend to be the creative sorts who’d rather not waggle too many defensive legs if they can get away with it.

2. How He Fits In

The central options next season therefore appear to read: Bentancur, Bissouman, Skipp and Hojbjerg, the first two of whom will presumably rise, cream-like to the top, but the latter two of whom have respectively the energy and nous to deputise at the drop of any hats and with minimal disruption or – crucially – dip in quality.

One might, of course, quibble, that between this quartet there is still something of a dearth of creative tricks and party-pieces that make the eyes pop and opposition fall apart at the seams, but that’s not really the point. Conte-ball seems to require a central midfield pairing that neutralises all threats and shifts us from back- to front-foot in the blink of an eye, and in both respects Bissouma appears to be precisely the sort of egg about whom exciting montages are spliced together.

(Some might also point that the potential incoming of a certain free-of-charge alumnus in central midfield would add a degree of creativity, and the option for tactical tweaks away from 3-4-3, but that’s a debate for another time.)

3. Our Changing Transfer System

Part of the thrill of all this to-ing and fro-ing is the pretty radical departure it signals from the traditional way of doing things in N17. We’ve been raised (rather cruelly it seems to me) on a diet of tortuous transfer sagas stretching the entirety of the summer, before a last-minute panic to complete deals, and the signing of a couple of unproven bods in their early twenties with potential sell-on value.

Witness the current contrast. Three deals inked and ready to go before the longest day of the year has stretched its legs; each of whom are proven in their positions. This rather than being the sort for whom we wait, with fingers crossed and lips pursed, to see if they’ll fulfil their potential.

Frankly, the good sense of this summer’s dealings thus far, coupled with the no-nonsense way in which players have been identified as the best available to meet the necessary criteria, makes this seem like a game of Football Manager rather than the Way of Things in Hotspur-land.

The immediacy of it all – buying proven players who can waltz straight into the starting line-up and will improve our league position in this coming season, rather than three years hence – is both unusual and jolly entertaining. Frankly, it represents a degree of sensible thinking I had not thought possible with our lot. But then, Conte has seemingly had that effect in all he does about the place. And Grandmaster Levy, rather sensationally, is now backing the honest fellow! Long may the sanity continue!

(Not wanting to gloss over the potential seriousness of the legal case hanging over him, but with no information available it’s near-impossible to opine one way or t’other at present, so the ramblings above are purely football-related)

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Spurs match reports

Brentford 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Matty Cash (Stay With Me Here)

When Mother Nature was fashioning right wing-backs I fancy she sneaked off for a few minutes away from prying eyes, to surreptitiously create a red herring in amongst the quality stock, because Emerson Royal may have his talents (a debatable point, come to think of it) but wing-backery is not one of them. In fact, I’m still not convinced that this man is actually a professional footballer, in terms of the fine print and T’s and C’s. And yet history will record that this utter charlatan thrice appeared for Barcelona, which if nothing else goes to show what sorcery a cunning football agent is capable of.

To the surprise of no-one Emerson was at it again on Saturday, charging into cul-de-sacs like a toddler thrilling at a new game, and taking every available opportunity to make a pig’s ear of things when in possession.

There’s a broken record resounding with the four walls of AANP Towers, which continually belts out the refrain that for Conte’s system to work it blasted well needs a pair of pretty inspired wing-backs. Until Christian Eriksen returns we’re certainly not going to set any pulses racing in central midfield, where Messrs Hojbjerg and Bentancur are unfailingly polite and diligent, but respond with rather blank looks and the offer of a sideways pass when asked to create something. As such, the burden of expectation falls on those patrolling the flanks.

And this is where that pest Matty Cash lumbers into view, because until he took it upon himself to fling his entire body-weight at the knee of Matt Doherty a few weeks back, our lot could go about their 9-to-5 with at least one semi-decent wing-back in the ranks. Doherty seemed to have read the manual and got the gist of where to be and when. Even though, curiously, crossing the thing was never too high on his To-Do list, he still had enough good sense to plant himself in helpful attacking spots about the place.

Emerson, by contrast, is cursed with an inability to contribute helpfully to attacking matters – which to be honest, quite likely stems from his underlying inability to contribute helpfully to footballing matters more generally.

So when attempts to weave pretty meticulous routes straight down the centre came to naught, hopeful looks were cast towards the flanks for a spot of timely inspiration, only for those looks to fall upon Emerson Royal and become infused with a few shades of anguish.

Nor did the other flank bring a more productive harvest, being populated by young Sessegnon, who appears still petrified of his own shadow. All of which leaves me cursing with a great deal of spirit that damned Matty Cash (and, for good measure, Steven Gerrard, still hoovering up the goodwill around the place from his playing career to get away with such uncouth tactics as a manager). The Woolwich would do well to reward both with a handsome chunk of the winnings should they make the CL spot, because the absence of Doherty, while not the sole factor, has caused the whole operation to sag a bit.

2. Plan A

As alluded to above, the well of central midfield invention, if not quite bone dry, was certainly not threatening to spill over at the sides on Saturday.

That said, I’m not one to slap on the sackcloth and ashes and start bleating that our heroes simply moped about the place without caring a hang for matters of the turf. That was their domain last weekend vs Brighton. On Saturday vs Brentford, investment was at least made in the concept of prising out a chance.

The flanks were pretty derelict, arid territories, but our lot did have a couple of stabs at that business of quick, one-touching passing straight through the middle. And a chief inspector of such things might note that these endeavours met with some success. On a couple of occasions we successfully transferred the orb from circa. centre circle to circa. oppo penalty area with minimal oppo interference.

The problem was that by the time we hit oppo p.a. the whole operation ground to a halt, as we discovered that Brentford had populated the place with about fifty of their finest, and every possible avenue for entry was sealed off.

And that was pretty much the beginning, middle and end of Plan A. There was simply no way through via the centre, and our wing-backs were too dashed gormless to conjure up anything out east or out west.

3. Plan B

With Plan A thus fizzling out pretty much upon take-off, one could not impress enough upon our heroes the importance of a sturdy and viable Plan B, the sort that would force the Brentford mob to reconsider their lot in life and conjure up chances from new and exciting angles.

Unfortunately, while the theory of Plan B was sound, the reality of Plan B hit upon a pretty sizeable flaw, of the existential variety, in that it didn’t actually exist.

It’s difficult to say where the blame lies for this. Certainly the obvious direction for the accusatory finger to point is that of Our Glorious Leader, he being the nib tasked with devising such ruses. Conte appears very much a creature of tactical habit, wedded not only to his wing-backed 3-4-3, but also to pretty much an identical XI every week, if availability allows.

However, having played two games without registering a shot on target one might reasonably suggest that opponents are starting to get the hang of The Conte Way and, worse, finding ways to neuter it. And this, surely, is where the Big Cheese earns his monthly envelope, shrugging his shoulders at the unfortunate fate of Plan A and unveiling with a flourish some dastardly Plan B – and, ideally, also Plans C, D and E for good measure, if he is really in the mood.

Instead, Conte seems at as much of a loss as the rest of us, if the 3-4-3 and identical XI aren’t delivering the goods.

Now strictly speaking, if recording these musings under oath I would be in a bit of a spot, because this is a mild untruth. Cast your mind back to the rip-snorting draw with Liverpool back in December, and Conte lined up our heroes in a 5-3-2, to pretty decent effect when one takes all things into account.

These days however, Conte’s gambling blood doesn’t really extend much beyond flinging on Lucas for a ten-minute scamper and possibly Bergwijn in the dying embers of added time, neither of which really tear up the manual and indicate a wild and daring inversion of tactics.

Aside from Conte, I suppose one might direct a chastising poke of the ribs towards the actual players themselves, they being the souls in most direct command of proceedings. One never really feels comfortable attributing to footballers the capacity of enlightened thought and ingenuity, so it is perhaps asking a bit much of them to fix the tactical machinery mid-game. However, while it would be nice to see, unfortunately beyond Kane dropping into his little holes the market for such in-game player spontaneity is pretty much closed.

The alarming thing is that with only a handful of games left and precious little scope for further dropped points, we need a few viable alternatives and pronto. Actually, the alarming thing is the failure to hit a bally shot on target in two games, but you appreciate the forward-looking concern too.

4. Eriksen’s Corners

Of course, all such miseries and concerns rather faded away when one drank in the sight of Christian Eriksen treading the boards again, and long may he continue to do so.

His touch remains in pretty decent working order, and I noted with interest that the data bods awarded him the rosette for Most Distance Covered, which is the sort of stat that will do no harm to the Returning To Spurs rumours.

Back in his lilywhite days, my main gripe with the chap was that he tended to deliver his wizardry in fits and starts, flitting around the periphery of the match for much of it, rather than wading around knee-deep in the stuff from first whistle to last, as a man of his talent ought. Whether he is therefore the solution to our ills is debatable – although his advocates would make the pretty reasonable point that with him pottering around the midfield it is unlikely that we would go two games without a shot on target.

But aside from all that, what really caught the eye was the sight of him pinging corners and free-kicks about the place like a chap who’d been blessed with such ability since childhood.

Much has been made of the fact that three first-half corners were delivered pretty much on a sixpence to Toney at the far post. Anyone within earshot of AANP as these sailed over would have recoiled at the coarse and earthy language being gaily splashed around the place, such was my disgust at the complete abandonment of marking duties displayed by Sonny on these occasions, he evidently not being the sort for any of that enlightened thought or ingenuity I mentioned earlier (or even the plain common sense to spot the same thing happening and act upon it at the third time of asking).

However, the more charitable pundits about the place chose instead to focus their energies upon a spot of good old-fashioned sycophancy at Eriksen and his set-piece delivery, and I must admit that I did give it an eye. It was all the more remarkable to me, however, because one of the abiding memories of the chap’s final season in N17 was his bizarre inability to deliver a decent set-piece. It was quite the curiosity that so many of his corners would skim along the turf and straight to the first defender, incurring some early variations of that coarse and earthy language.

On Saturday, however, set-piece delivery appeared, once again, to have become his speciality, and it dashed well near enough sank us, leading to two rattles of the frame and one off-the-line clearance.

So much for Eriksen, and good luck to the honest fellow. As for our lot, one heck of an upturn is needed, and pronto, because this thing is slipping away. Strictly speaking it does remain in our hands – win all remaining fixtures, including the North London derby, and fourth is ours – but for any of the above to materialise, on-pitch matters need some pretty immediate and effective surgery.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Brighton: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Midfield Distribution

After games such as this one can pretty much close the eyes and point a moody finger in any direction, and one will hit upon a failing. And on Saturday one such failing was the complete absence of interest in attacking play from those dozing away in central midfield.  

What struck me as particularly galling was that the business of playing the ball from defence to attack was not one of those disasters beset in problems from start to finish. It was not one of those tragedies in which the knowledgeable onlooker can spot from a mile away that the whole scheme is destined for failure as soon as it begins. At various points during the game, the beginning of our play-ball-from-defence-to-attack strategy was actually pretty neat and tidy stuff.

For a start, any sniff of danger from what masqueraded as the Brighton high-press around our area was swatted away pretty dismissively. The control of possession demonstrated by Hugo, the three centre-backs and any kindly wing-back who happened to be passing by, was of sufficient quality to sidestep any hint of trouble around our own net. Manoeuvring the ball from A to B – with A being the feet of Hugo and B the feet of anyone else in lilywhite – was an operation for which our lot demonstrated all the requisite levels of competence.

So far, so good. Our lack of a single shot on target could not be pinned upon any perceived difficulties in emerging unscathed from our own penalty area.

At this point, however, the plan started spouting leaks. The challenge seemed to be not so much the risk of losing possession in our own defensive third, as much as the conundrum of how to do anything meaningful with it, at the same point on the map.

In recent weeks, Hojbjerg and, in particular, Bentancur and Kane, have attracted their fair share of awe-struck gazes through the ability casually to flick a ball first-time around the corner, and into space up the flanks for one of the attacking cohort to gallop after. As well as being the sort of scenic stuff one could bring a picnic to watch, such first-time flicks have had the pragmatic advantage of turning the narratives completely on their head, leaving opposition defenders galloping back towards their own goal and pulled apart in all sorts of directions.

And yet on Saturday, of those first-time flicks there was no sign. Instead, both Bentancur and Hojbjerg (Kane having been muzzled by that Bissouma fellow, who I’m sure would look fetching in white upper garments come August) seemed entirely preoccupied with the notion that if anything good were to come of things it would have to have its genesis in a first-time backwards pass. No matter the coordinates, or time of day, or any other consideration of external circumstance: first-time backwards passes had been adopted as the panacea for all ills, and any other consideration was tossed aside.

Now I’m all for the practice of one passing the way they are facing. If anything, I consider it a somewhat neglected art. At the appropriate time and in the appropriate place, few things in life can top a swift nudge of the ball backwards by a fellow who has his back to goal and senses opponents hunting him down. Done in suitable conditions, it can be precisely what the doctor ordered, throwing opponents off the scent and ensuring quick movement of the ball.

But note well the preamble: “in suitable conditions’; “the appropriate time”; and “appropriate place”. All key components, and yet merrily ignored by our heroes, who seemed to think that the backwards-pass routine was such a good yarn they should thrust it into the heart of whatever was happening, irrespective of whether the circumstances required it or not.

While the occasional backward pass can be a ripping little gag, doing it every dashed time one receives the ball starts to make the regulars raise an eyebrow and wonder if all is well at HQ.

While I appreciate that it is difficult to flick around a corner when everyone in lilywhite is static and all Brighton-folk are already in position and set, there were nevertheless opportunities to start attacks, when Brighton had committed numbers up the pitch. On such occasions, some effort had gone into bypassing the Brighton press, and finally the ball was funnelled up to Bentancur and Hojbjerg (and occasionally Son), with the stage set for them to ping the ball into the spaces ahead for attacking sorts to run onto – and instead they simply bunged the thing back into defence again, and everyone in Brighton colours re-took their sentry positions.

It was as if they considered that a quick shove of the ball back towards goal were some sort of triumph in itself, and once completed they could consider their jobs done for the day.

I suppose there are multiple contributory factors here, but from the AANP viewpoint our lot seemed to be missing one heck of a trick. Instead of zipping up the pitch, all in lilywhite ponderously rolled the ball around the halfway line, and by the time last orders were called it was little wonder that we had not managed a single shot on target.

2. The Absence of Doherty

I once heard a pretty ripping gag about chickens and eggs, the nub of which was to speculate as to which arrived on the scene first, which, when you stop to consider it, starts to make the mind swim a bit. I was reminded of this when trying to fathom the root of our problems on Saturday, because on the one hand, as documented above, our midfield mob appeared in no mood to set in motion anything of attacking promise – but on the other hand I did wonder if this might be because the supporting cast were neglecting their duties.

In recent weeks, Master Doherty has carried himself full of buck and vim, taking every opportunity to chip in with his tuppence worth on the right flank, and indeed infield from said flank. He, and whichever less talented equivalent has been patrolling the left flank, have been key components of our attacking apparatus. The front three have hogged headlines and statistics, but the two wing-backs have quietly been going about the place adding meat to things.

The absence of Doherty has now coincided with a game in which we have failed to strike a bally shot on target, which might sound like a spot of AANP amateur dramatics, but, rather disturbingly, is a statement of fact. And the point I’m driving at is to speculate as to whether the two are in some way causally linked.

Certainly, Doherty’s replacement, Emerson Royal, seemed in customary fashion to offer all the on-pitch value of a mannequin, making himself visible without contributing anything of the slightest value. However, it should be noted that on the other flank Senor Reguilon was similarly impotent – and frankly neither did any of the front three display the necessary wit or intelligence to escape the beady Brighton eyes upon them and enjoy a spot of freedom in the attacking third.

So to castigate Emerson in this instance might be a touch rough. Doherty, for all we know, might similarly have laboured pointlessly.

But nevertheless, I rather considered that if the central midfield consists of Hojbjerg and Bentancur – a couple of lads with plenty going for them, but not the fellows you’d back to create twenty goals a season – then your wing-backs are going to deliver some pretty special stuff going forward. And this was precisely the sort of prime fare that Doherty had been spewing forth until having his knee rearranged last week.

To suggest that Doherty has become the most important player in our setup would be laying it on rather too thick, but he was starting to look a pretty important sort of bean in the whole mechanism. One can only hope that Saturday’s ills were indicative of a wider – and isolated – malaise, rather than due to the absence of Doherty and Doherty alone.

3. Hojbjerg

Possibly not the sort of suggestion that will have the paying public hoisting me on their shoulders and sending down the ticker-tape, but in the absence of anyone else dangling a remarkable foot, I thought that P-E H Esq. at least had the decency to suggest he cared about things.

As ventured above, his tendency always to biff the ball back to Romero or Dier upon receipt had me banging the head against whichever wall fancied it, but as the game wore on and most of our lot stubbornly refused to give a damn, I did at least admire the fact that he did not simply slump his shoulders and slink off into the shadows.

In the final knockings, he and he alone could be seen diving into tackles, and, despite the above character assassination built entirely upon his insistence on passing backwards, he did eventually get the gist of things and try to carry the ball forwards once or twice as close of play beckoned.

Hojbjerg is actually a curious egg in that it becomes harder with each passing week fully to grasp what he does. There is a danger that he might simply turn into this season’s Joe Hart, viz. a man of limited playing talent whose principal role seems to be to shout at people. He does not possess either energy, passing ability, tackling ability, dribbling ability or any other ability – bar shouting at people – that really catches the eye, and as such there is a sense that he is merely keeping a seat warm for young Master Skipp.

And yet he fits rather neatly within the Conte system, by virtue of knowing how both to patrol in front of the back-three and ward off foes, and how to collect the ball from the back-three and shovel it along, albeit usually unadventurously. (He does occasionally demonstrate an appetite for an effective forward pass, but these are generally filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Rule’.)

However, given that everyone around him was determined simply to mope about the place until they could scuttle off down the tunnel, Hojbjerg can, if he fancies, treat himself to the AANP going for the day, by dint of his perspiration rather than inspiration. And that rather sad state of affairs neatly captures the whole performance.