All Action, No Plot

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Spurs 3-3 West Ham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Second Half

What with the early carousing in which everything turns to gold, followed by a feeling ultimately of feeling sick to the stomach, this had all the hallmarks of a particularly exuberant night out for which one pays pretty heavily the next day. ‘Moderation’ is generally a watchword at AANP Towers until the drink starts to flow, and between you and me there has been more than one occasion on which I have woken bleary-eyed on the bathroom floor, still wearing the previous night’s layers, with head pounding like the dickens and a ghastly taste in the throat, leaving me to wonder at precisely what point things went from Rip-Roaring-Fun to Oh-So-Terribly-Wrong.

I mention this regrettable morning-after sentiment because that same question – of the point at which things went from RRF to OSTW – seems pretty ripe here.

It would be easy to suggest it was half-time – and the trail of breadcrumbs certainly points to our lot failing remotely to match West Ham’s second half lust for battle.

But here at AANP Towers there were one or two mutterings of discontent even in the first half, even amidst the Kane-and-Sonny double-act, because whenever West Ham probed down the flanks our lot seemed to make quite the song and dance about simply putting out the fires and getting on with life. While it was true that every time we attacked we looked like scoring, and a three-goal lead ought to have been plenty, our back-four could hardly have been described as hammock-swinging and cigar-puffing at any point.

Nevertheless, with a three-nil lead at home to middling opposition, the decent thing to do would have been to shuffle off with all three points. But whereas in the first half we cleared the set-pieces and had some generous spells of midfield possession – with occasional breakneck forward thrusts – in the second half it seemed the urgency levels were gently dialled down as the clock ticked towards 90. Where Ndombele, and Hojbjerg in particular, were pulling strings in the first half, they gently faded into the background in the second.

I suppose, just as one can identify the precise Jagerbomb on the night-before as the moment at which events suddenly veered south, one can point to the removal of Son and his energy, or Sissoko’s failure to challenge for a header at a set-piece, as turning points here. And such individual moments certainly did seem to contribute to the general malaise.

However, unlike the Newcastle last-minute equaliser a few weeks back, we can hardly claim that this was a bolt from the blue – our lot allowed West Ham to have too much of the game in the second half.

2. Aurier and the Void Between his Ears

This was probably one for ‘Collective Responsibility’ rather than zooming in on the obvious, traditional cause of calamity, but as we were increasingly on the defensive in the second half, and given that most of the damage was being done on the flanks, I took it upon myself to conduct a thorough study of Serge Aurier’s second half activity; and, unsurprisingly, the results made for pretty dubious viewing.

It may have been tactically ordained from on high, but Aurier constantly seemed to be ten yards further forward than the rest of the back-four. This obviously accommodated his impulse to attack, which made sense, and Sissoko more often than not slotted in behind him to cover.

This in itself seemed reasonable enough. Not a tactic with which I was terrifically thrilled, but one accepts such things with good grace. What irked no end, however, was that when possession was lost and the defensive gong had clearly sounded, Aurier tended to do little more than watch events unfold from ten yards away. When he ought to have been busting a gut to return to his quarters, he rarely did more than saunter back.

It was disturbing quite how often he was simply in the wrong position. This seemed to be compounded by his urge to race into tackles in midfield – simply because he happened to be in the vicinity. A dollop or two of defensive nous might have encouraged him to leave midfield battles for the midfielders, while he hurried back to his right-back post, but such thoughts rarely seemed to occur.

It was all a little odd, and I rather wish I had studied Reguilon on the other flank to see if similar events were unfolding there.

And then, to compound matters, in the dying seconds Aurier managed in a single movement to segue from being comfortably in possession to needlessly losing possession and conceding a free-kick, from which the equaliser was scored. All the attacking benefits in the world cannot convince me of that man’s worth as a defender.

3. Early Thoughts on Bale

Whisper it, but the much-heralded return of Gareth Bale proved to be one heck of a damp squib, as tends to be the case when one wanders onto the pitch and sees things immediately fall apart at the seams just in time for the final whistle.

Not since the signings were announced of Edgar Davids, and before him Jurgen Klinsmann, has the excitement at AANP Towers reached such giddy levels. For ten mind-boggling minutes we were even treated to the Son-Kane-Bale axis in all its glory. Nothing happened, as all three, in their own unique ways, all looked pretty shattered – but there it was! Actually unfolding!

In time, one suspects those three will absolutely blitz some poor, honest souls who amble up on the wrong day. This, however, was not that day. Bale, frankly, did not look fit. I suspect no-one begrudges him that, and at three-nil with twenty minutes to go it ought not to have mattered, but I suppose we will simply have to wait a few more weeks before that front-three fires on all cylinders.

A dashed shame that Bale fluffed his lines when the big moment arrived, particularly having done the hard work, but he seemed to receive an untimely shove that knocked him off his axis at the crucial moment. The good times will presumably roll soon enough.

4. Deep-Lying Kane

On a brighter note, the japes of the first sixteen minutes were all sorts of fun!

What seemed to begin as a mere whim or flight of fancy of Harry Kane’s, to drop deep and show off his passing range, now seems to have evolved into a bona fide plan, which presumably has files saved online and a ring-binder containing notes and coloured post-its in Jose’s inner sanctum.

When our lot begin passing from our own goal kick, Kane now stations himself in midfield as a matter of permanent residence, in order to collected the lofted ball and make merry.

Things are a little different when we’re in possession around halfway, in which case normality resumes and he’s as likely to be the attacking spearhead; but if the opposition defence is pushed up to halfway, Kane’s drill is to sow his wild oats from a deep-lying starting position.

And why not? His passing is sublime, and his runners willing. Teams will presumably suss this out and deploy appropriate counter-measures – but in a way this will be where the fun really does begin, because we have the option of simply having Kane wander back into attack, and dragging opponents with him.

5. Clinical Finishing

The heading ‘Clinical Finishing’ rings a little hollow now, admittedly, but in the opening twenty minutes or so our finishing was the very dictionary definition of clinical.

I recall several years ago in an away Champions League match – possibly Barcelona, possibly Dortmund – when Son was clean through and shot straight at the ‘keeper, I gave the blighter an absolutely rollicking for several weeks afterwards. Not much point, of course, as he couldn’t hear me, but I was convinced at the time that the lad was not one of nature’s born finishers.

Things have moved on somewhat since then, and now Sonny is as deadly as they come when the frame of the goal looms into view. I did rather titter at the West Ham defender who did not think to prevent his right-footed shot in the first minute – it seems a safe bet that the entire watching global audience could see what Son was going to attempt as soon as he collected the ball – but it’s one thing attempting such manoeuvres and another thing crossing the t’s and dotting the I’s, and these days Sonny just doesn’t seem to miss.

Credit also to Kane for rolling out the double-nutmeg for his first goal, and a slap on the back for young Senor Reguilon and his glorious first-time cross, which practically begged to be nodded home. I cannot imagine that I was the only one who wondered how many attempts that might have taken Ben Davies.

Our lot can barely be contained going forward – if we could just work out how to defend (and no, Eric Dier is not the answer) just imagine where this season would take us. For now, however, it seems all action, no plot.

Man Utd 1-6 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg’s Man of the Match Stuff

When Gary Neville took time out from his 90-minute long soliloquy on Man Utd to toss a Man of the Match award in the direction of the good ship Hotspur, he appropriately enough gave the matter zero thought and rattled off the first name that sprung to his mind, Harry Kane.

Now Kane is a man of multiple talents, just about all of which were on display today – and for those campers who are firmly pro-Kane but a little less decided on all things Hojbjerg, there might be value in skipping over the following few paragraphs and lapping up the Kane-heavy content below.

Here at AANP Towers however, the bouquets were being flung in the direction of P-E Hojbjerg throughout, because in a quiet and understated way the chap absolutely bossed proceedings.

When science progresses to the point that cutting open a chap’s brain to understand clearly how the levers and pulleys work is as regular as flicking on a light switch, I’ll happily petition for Master Hojbjerg to be the first to go under the knife, because his knack for knowing precisely where to be at any given point, on an expanse of land as big as – well, a football pitch – was uncanny.

Depending on any given circumstance in the game, Hojbjerg seemed able to glide into the optimal position to stick his oar into other people’s business. It mattered not whether we were in possession inside our own half, or just outside their area, or on the retreat as the other lot attacked – in much the same manner as one of those time-travelling robot assassins of Cyberdyne fame, Hojbjerg seemed able to whistle through a multitude of options in his head and instantly select the appropriate one, positioning himself accordingly.

At one point towards the end of the first half, first Reguilon and then Ndombele let possession slither away, and as the United dogs eagerly looked up for a counter-attack opportunity they were abruptly stopped by six feet and a few inches of pure Hojbjerg, stomping into view like one of those over-zealous doormen who are oddly averse to sitting down and discussing differences in the manner that decorum demands.

And if the situation called for those six feet and several inches to exert themselves in the muscle-and-sinew department. Hojbjerg was even more game, and at one point his enthusiasm for the lilywhite cause extended to an on-pitch celebration for a tackle by Serge Aurier. And how we have needed something like that at N17.

And then, as his piece de resistance, just when AANP thought that were no more worlds for the young Dane to conquer, he went and delivered – first time and with perfect weight – that pass inside the full-back that is the stuff of deities, to set up Aurier for his goal.

2. Kane Dropping Deep

As has been evidenced in recent weeks, Harry Kane, seems to have decided that he’s proved all he needs to prove in terms of goalscoring, and while everyone else gets on with the day-job he will throw in a spot of extra-curricular work in the Number 10 position.

The pass from the free-kick to release Son for one of the goals early on (let’s face it, it’s a struggle to remember them all, let alone their order) was the sort of stuff of which any lifelong, deep-lying creator would be proud.

He also pinged a couple of Hollywood balls into the path of Serge Aurier – although admittedly United’s defending was such that at times it seemed rude not to pick out Aurier – and even when not directly creating goalscoring opportunities, his tendency to stroll all the way back to halfway and even further gave the impression that here was an egg who was rather enjoying his latest hobby.

With Sonny the ever-willing runner ahead of him, and Lamela finding the whole thing an awfully good jape too, Kane’s drifts into deeper positions were pretty well complemented. Thrown Bale into the mix and I think we’re all going to need a stiff drink and a decent lie-down.

Not that Kane was going to neglect completely the meat and veg, and up he duly popped to score a poacher’s goal in the first half, and a trademark perfect penalty, into the side netting rather than the corner. All seemingly without breaking sweat.

On top of which, he, in common with various others – Lamela, Hojbjerg, Ndombele, Sonny, Aurier, Reguilon – was snapping at United heels like a man possessed from the off.

3. Aurier and Reguilon

Young Senor Reguilon had the sort of debut that will make the crowds gather and beg for more. Beating United 6-1 in their own backyard is pretty much beyond the stuff of dreams – but there it was for him, in black and white.

His own contribution seemed to pick up where he had left against Chelsea in midweek. The directive to go haring up the left-flank was one he seemed to receive as a small child might receive instruction to take whatever the hell he pleased from a sweetshop, and like some sort of little lamb in a nursery rhyme, whenever Sonny decided to stretch his legs on the inside left position, one could bet the mortgage that Regulon would be sure to go in a supporting role, five yards to the left.

Another feature of Reguilon’s game was more of that child-like enthusiasm in chasing down loose balls or opponents at every opportunity, as if absolutely desperate to impress his new paymasters. And quite rightly too, it’s the attitude one would expect from all in lilywhite. One hopes that experience does not diminish this youthful zeal.

On the other flank, Christmas came early for young Monsier Aurier, who was allowed to do whatever the hell he wanted all game. All of this was aided by United not really picking up the gist of the thing, and seemingly dealing with the problem by closing their eyes, putting their hands over their ears and singing loudly. In certain scenarios this counter-measure might prove effective, but today it did little to dent Aurier’s ambitions, and as well as multiple opportunities to cross he was also afforded enough time to score, which really is a nadir for any opposing defence.

Question marks over Aurier’s defending will presumably never disappear, but the suspicion remains that he considers himself an attacking sort, and when the opportunity arises to hit the final third he often delivers.

4. Lamela and the Dark Arts

Most self-respecting folk have had the good sense to acknowledge that rather than turn the game, the red card simply sped up the inevitable, whilst perhaps adding a dollop or two of good, honest comedy to the situation. Already in one heck of a pickle at that stage, United went through various stages of a toddler’s tantrum, by getting everything wrong, then sulkily giving up and then becoming rather aggressive – but at the time of the offence our lot were already leading, had missed multiple chances and were noticeably sharper in almost every area.

That said, the AANP view was that there could have been few complaints had Lamela also seen red. Presumably he didn’t because he struck the throat, whereas the other lad struck the face; and if countless John Grisham novels have taught me anything it’s that the devil is in the detail in these legal matters.

I suspect that not even the most committed United fan could ignore the irony of complaining about a harsh refereeing decision at Old Trafford, but there can be little doubt that our lot benefited a tad from this one (on almost the exact spot at which a missed handball allowed United to score past Heurelho Gomes several years back).

While the Sky studio pundits were racing through the various stages of grief at the whole spectacle, I did rather wonder what Our Glorious Leader made of Lamela’s sudden surrender to the charms of gravity.

One could be forgiven for having missed it, as it was not particularly widely publicised, but a certain channel recently aired a documentary of behind-the-scenes footage from N17, which was in places at least, eye-opening stuff. At one point, which does rather stick in the memory, Jose requested his troops – using the sort of fruity language that would make the elderly swoon, I don’t mind telling you – that they needed to be less courteous in how they went about things. Less pleasant. More unbecoming.

And so, when Lamela took his unseemly tumble, while hardly applauding the young bean, I did wonder if this were evidence of precisely that sort of uncouth stuff that Jose had craved. A small step, one might suggest, on the road to increasing the general savviness about the place – and maybe even winning a trophy?

There were plenty of other positives, and plenty of other highlights (Maguire hauling down Luke Shaw for the first goal; the sight of United players careering off into the wrong postcode every time Ndombele executed a turn; the fake crowd booing off United at half-time). Ultimately however, this has turned into one of our greatest weeks in recent memory. Bumping Chelsea out of the Carabao Cup; securing the Europa group stage with seven goals in the process; signing a striker of all things – and now sticking six past United at their own place.

How does one sum up that sort of narrative? Lads, it’s Tottenham.

Spurs 1-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lo Celso

Odd to say it now, but things started pretty swimmingly.

Our lot, without ever really purring into top gear, were on top throughout. There have been plenty of games in recent years when opponents have sat back to defend, and we have laboured accordingly, passing sideways and backwards without a glimmer of a chance – this was not one of those occasions. For sure we ought to have hit the bottom corners – no fantasy points are awarded to a player for hitting woodwork, blast it – but opportunities were at least being created at a fair old lick.

(It should be pointed out that Newcastle were absolutely appalling, seemingly incapable of executing even the most basic facets of the game.

Lob a ball gently at one of their lot, and it would bounce off them as if hitting a concrete wall. Invite them to roll a six-yard pass under no pressure, and they would instead ping the thing out of play. At one point one of their number tried to turn approximately ninety degrees in a clockwise direction – a skill that most able-bodied folk manage to execute breezily enough – but succeeded only in falling to earth like a collapsing tower, and, for added comedic value, grabbing the ball with his hand on his way down.)

No doubt Newcastle’s players are better than their performance today indicated, but even with our umpteen missed chances I did not at any point have the slightest concern about our profligacy (until Carroll biffed along, and the aerial bombardment began). Until that point there seemed no way on earth that Newcastle would trouble us. Bar the goalkeeper, collectively they had a stinker.

Back to our lot, and they put on show some pretty decent fare throughout. For this, I give much of the credit to Lo Celso. He might not necessarily be as naturally gifted as Christian Eriksen, but where Eriksen would quietly fade out of existence during games, Lo Celso, like some annoying, attention-seeking youth, seemed pretty eager to be at the centre of things.

Taking up a possession neatly in between midfield and attack, much of what was good went through his size nines, a sure sign that here was a bounder in no mood to shirk responsibility.

Moreover, he appears to be one of those rare beasts whose natural instinct on receiving the ball is automatically to pass forward. This might not sound particularly revolutionary, but after the diet of midfield sorts who seem intent on passing sideways or backwards as if their lives depend on it, this makes for pretty refreshing stuff.

Not every pass necessarily hit the mark, but as often as not he tried to pick an early pass in between defenders, for the attacking mob to run onto, and frankly it’s a joy to behold.

2. Winks’ Game of Two Halves

On the subject of sideways and backwards passing, in the first half young Master Winks did not miss many opportunities to swivel back towards home and roll the ball thither.

On occasion, this is certainly no bad thing, but against a Newcastle team both devoid of ideas and pretty lacking in talent this seemed pretty heavy stuff, and unnecessarily so. If Lo Celso’s instinct was always first to seek a forward pass, Winks’ was the opposite, as if created as the precise genetic inverse. It grated.

In Winks’ defence, one cannot fault his energy levels. If a man in lilywhite needed a chum within ten yards, Winks was doing the neighbourly thing. If the ball fell loose, Winks was the one racing in to pick up the scraps. It simply appeared, particularly in the first half, that he was misjudging the mood of the occasion, and adopting a safety-first approach when there was not a whiff of danger within a mile of the place.

Mercifully, whatever pleasantries were exchanged at half-time had a pretty positive effect, and in the second half young Winks emerged with a far more positive take on life. He did not dwell on the ball, nor did he attempt the outrageous, yet simply by playing simple, forward passes he increased the general fluency of the spectacle, and the world seemed a better place for it.

3. Ndombele’s Cameo

A topic of chatter amongst the thinkers of N17 is how both Lo Celso and Ndombele might be accommodated in the same team. At present, with Jose preferring two deeper-lying midfielders, it appears that only one or other can get the gig in the more advanced position.

While very different fish, both Lo Celso and Ndombele appear most effective when granted the licence to wander forward and do their damnedest. Lo Celso’s is a more energetic form of linking attacking and midfield, but Ndombele again showed, in his fifteen or so minutes, that his boots are made of pretty silken stuff.

If opportunity allows for a quick pass Ndombele does not hang around for the formalities, and it is potentially game-changing fare. His cute first-timers visibly rattle the opposing defence, and help create gaps that the mere mortal does not necessarily spot on an initial cursory glance.

Over the coming week, the fixture-list suggests that it will be one or t’other, with two defensive midfielders positioned behind them for solidarity; but in the longer-term one wonders whether Jose might ink his forearm, dye his hair blue and include both Lo Celso and Ndombele in the same eleven, while filming the whole thing on his phone and posting it on social media.

4. Kane Dropping Deep – The Future?

While the cute, eye-of-the-needle passes were the preserve of Messrs Lo Celso and Ndombele, Harry Kane continues to make his case for ultimately becoming Creator-in-Chief of this mob.

I’m not sure anyone in the squad can rival him for big, booming crossfield passes onto the very toe of a teammate, and as the last couple of games have illustrated, his vision and weight of passes typically leave his striking partner with little option but to roll the ball into the net.

One senses from his warblings over the last year that the coming 12 months are fairly critical to him, but should we retain his services in the longer-term, a future might beckon for him in a deeper, number 10 role – andI’m not sure many in the game would be better equipped for it.

5. Handball Rot

And so this dreary slab of nonsense. If, like AANP, you rather enjoying wiling away a couple of hours with the pleasures of an all-no-plot film, you may be familiar with that moment of oddly perfect calm displayed by a sort who realises he’s about to go the way of all flesh and pronto.

Andy Garcia in Black Rain, as an example, was pattering about the place trying to solve several of the world’s ills, until a chap with what appeared to be a samurai sword, of all the dashed things, made a beeline for him. And at that point Andy Garcia, realising his race was run, appeared entirely at peace with things and rather philosophically just accepted it (and promptly had his stem separated from its moorings).

I mention this because it was with that same philosophical calm that AANP exhaled, once the VAR routine kicked off in minute 90+5, and accepted that things were going to end badly. Where Jose stomped off, and Eric Dier presumably screamed out more choice expletives as loudly as comically possible in an empty, microphoned stadium, my sentiment was more along the Andy Garcia lines of “Well I can see where this is going, and there’s not a bally thing I can do about, so might as well just accept it.”

If you’ve toddled this way hoping for some fresh and original pearls on the matter I’m afraid that – much like Andy Garcia, and indeed Jose, Dier et al – you’re bang out of luck. The AANP sentiments are in common with most others. To summarise: the current handball law is a rummy one.

Some have grumbled that the referees ought to exercise common sense, but I’m not having that – if the rules are in place let’s at least apply them consistently so that everyone knows where they stand. I’ll happily throw a blunt object at anyone who argues otherwise on that one.

However, there are a couple of pointers I would lob into the mix. One is that the handball rule is apparently supposed to take into account the distance the ball travels before it reaches the offending limb. While, admittedly, I was not privy to the whisperings between officials as the decision was made, it seems a safe bet that on the issue of ‘Distance Travelled by Ball’ precious little dialogue was exchanged.

The other grumble from AANP Towers is that the award of the free-kick which led to the whole fandango was rummy in the extreme. Watch again and it rather appears that the Newcastle player in question plays a pass and then hurls his body headlong into Hojbjerg – for which curious sequence of events he is awarded a free-kick.

None of it counts for a great deal now, of course, but when the numbers are racked up at the end of the season, should we fall two points short of something exciting I wonder if we might look back on this afternoon and roll out some of Eric Dier’s most choice observations.

Southampton 2-5 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

As 5-2 victories go this one was of the lesser-sighted ilk, that has one slapping the thigh in satisfaction, for sure, but also musing to one’s neighbour that we pulled it off without at any point playing particularly well. It would be a little crude to say that this was simply a triumph of lobbing balls over the top of a fairly clueless opposition defence – but only a little.

1. Ndombele

Premier Sports appear to have hit upon one heck of a market strategy judging by the midweek experience, of pocketing AANP’s hard-earned cash and promptly downing tools. However, in between the blank screens and random Serie A montages during our Europa jaunt on Thursday I did get to see enough of Ndombele’s cameo to suggest that if the stars align he could be the one that gets the pistons firing.

The shoulder-dips to wriggle free of minders were reminiscent of Mousa Dembele – blessed be his name – while Ndombele also appeared instinctively to look for those short, defence-splitting, diagonal passes whenever the aforementioned shoulder-dip had allowed him room.

After the torpor that had preceded, it made for pretty radical viewing, and although one rarely knows quite how the cogs whir inside Jose’s curious little mind it was no massive surprise to see Ndombele given the opportunity to peddle his wares from the off today.

And when he did end up in possession I thought he delivered more of the same. The problem was that he only ended up in possession about five times in the entire half, but it ought not to detract from the fact that each of those occasions made for a pretty pleasing highlights reel. Shoulder-dip-enabled wriggles and diagonal passes were very much the instructions being delivered by the voices in his head, and he held up his part of the bargain.

Early on he played a pass through the middle, and while both Sonny and Kane were each comfortably offside, the very fact that he possessed both the vision and chops to attempt such a thing – in a land in which Harry Winks was haring around demanding the ball just so that he could immediately roll it backwards ten yards – was the sort of encouraging stuff one gulps down.

Ndombele’s piece de resistance of course, was the moment bang on half-time in which he somehow managed to unite in one movement tribute acts to both Mousa Dembele and Luka Modric, arguably our two finest midfielders of the past twenty years.

The strength and control to pirouette was worthy of Dembele, and took out two Southampton defenders at once; the placement and weighting of the pass took out another two. Kane and Sonny delivered their lines with the professionalism one would expect, and we went into half-time with a parity that was barely deserved.

Much of the purring around that goal was directed towards Kane and Son, which was understandable enough, given that each made a pretty difficult task look akin to shelling peas stolen from babies – but here at AANP Towers we have rather the soft spot for those unsung heroes who assist the assist, and Ndombele’s contribution did much to alter the momentum of a game that was drifting from us a tad.

2. Lo Celso

So it was no real surprise to see Jose hook Ndombele immediately and dabble in a spot of Lo Celso for the second half instead.

And credit where due, where Ndombele’s contribution had vitally altered the scoreline, Lo Celso’s altered the general pattern of play. One does not want to massage the ego any more than is absolutely necessary, but a congratulatory nod is probably due to our esteemed head coach.

Lo Celso appeared to pitch his tent a good ten or fifteen yards further north of Ndombele’s stomping ground, and it allowed for a little more subtlety to the general tactic of lobbing the ball over the top and chasing.

With Lo Celso pushing further up the field, and Kane dropping into deeper pockets, the relationship between midfield and attack, which in the first half had been little more than strangers in similar garb exchanging suspicious looks, blossomed into something vastly more convivial. As if to cement the entente cordiale, Lo Celso duly assisted two of the assists in the second half., which obviously made him the toast of the town within these four walls.

The successes – of sorts – of both Lo Celso and Ndombele in their respective cameos in that third midfield slot does make one dizzyingly wonder quite how the cup of creativity might overfloweth if the two of them were paired together. But perhaps we cannot expect Jose’s attacking instincts to extend quite so far, and for the foreseeable it will be one or the other, with two midfield minders in attendance to keep a lid on any frivolity.

3. Dele Alli

Quite where Dele Alli fits into all this is one for the square-peg-round-hole specialists to mull over. Our Glorious Leader does have something of the vindictive ex-wife about him when it comes to picking a scapegoat and slinging some mud, so Dele probably ought not to take his squad exclusion too greatly to heart, but for this month at least he appears to have been identified by Jose as The Cause Of All Life’s Ills, so he had better get used to the feeling.

One might argue, and in pretty compelling fashion, given the evidence of the senses, that Dele’s particular bag of tricks is not quite the right fit for the current formation. However, I am inclined to think that if Jose wanted team Hotspur to include one Alli, D. Esquire then Jose would find a way to do so. It is not so much that the young eel does not fit the formation as that Jose is simply casting his admiring glances at other shiny toys in his box – and Dele will simply have to apply more make-up in order to win back those lost affections.

While there have been some rumbles of discontent about the place at the omission of the chap, it would be remiss to suggest that pitchforks are being sharpened and villages burned in indignation. His absence is not being particularly lamented. When on song, Dele has the technique – not to mention eye for goal – to make himself a nuisance in and around the opposition box.

But when off the boil – and let’s face it, for various reasons this has been the case for at least a season – he appears neither one thing nor another. Unless one of those things is a midfield presence who takes far too many touches in possession, sucking momentum out of attacks, in which case he is absolutely that thing.

The breathless nature of the fixture list in the coming weeks means that Dele need not sulk in the corner for too long, as his services will doubtless be required. The Carabao Cup must, after all, go on. He would be well advised, however, to take a cautionary glance over his shoulder, for with a sudden overload of attacking sorts mooching about the camp he will need to do more than simply go through the motions and attempt nutmegs every time he receives possession if he is to elbow his way back up the midfield pecking order.

4. Son, Kane… and Bale

Son and Kane naturally enough are the names in lights tonight, what with their clinical finishing and exquisite vision and passing. The humility overload as every figure in lilywhite attempted to pass credit to someone else did nauseate pretty swiftly, but that can be excused. They were five lovely goals, and whatever else is malfunctioning about the place we are dashed lucky to have those two up top.

Given what had gone before, this game seemed like it would result in anything but a five-goal salvo. The evidence of the first half suggested that this was set to be another dubious Jose performance, as low on fight as possession – but such is the benefit of having world-class strikers. Having been second best for half the game, our forwards randomly turned the scoreline into an absolute mauling before anyone had really registered how that midfield struggle of the first half was unfolding in the second.

And with the excitement of Bale’s return in recent days, it has made one reflect that the last time he was in our ranks, our lot were similarly low on a defined system. Back then, the plan as often as not was simply to cross halfway, give it to Bale and sit back in the knowledge that he’d likely find a way to score (typically by galloping forward twenty yards and then leathering it from distance, teammates present for decorative value only).

And in the first half at least, until Lo Celso did the honourable thing, the tactic seemed to be a variation on a similar theme – lob the ball into the final third for Son and Kane, and sit back in the knowledge that they’d likely find a way to score. The tactics barely need tweaking to accommodate Bale.

However, given that the excitement dial has simply exploded into a puff of smoke at AANP Towers, in a fashion not seen since Klinsmann’s signing was unveiled in ’94, one can be excused for simply waving away tactics and dreaming of quite how good the attack might look. If Kane and Son can magic up five goals between them at the head of a fairly rudimentary system, imagine what delights Kane, Son and Bale might provide. The mind boggles.

Spurs 0-1 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. New Season, Same Dross

The cheery new-season optimism at AANP Towers dissipated after around 7 minutes, which feels like it might be some sort of record.

Having raced around immediately post kick-off as though they meant business, our heroes pretty swiftly reverted to type once those initial sprints had been sprinted, and spent the remaining 83+ minutes of the game displaying all those ominous traits that had wormed their way into the fittings at the end of last season.

Mistaking today’s opponents for Barcelona circa 2012 we generally sat off them, genial hosts that we are, and let them do as they please, wherever they pleased.

In possession, ‘Anything But Urgency’ seemed to be the mantra, as the ball was gently plopped this way and that in the slow, soothing and threat-free manner of a lullaby one might hum to a sleepy infant.

Service of any sort to Kane was unapologetically removed from the menu; a goal was conceded from a pretty rudimentary set-piece; and having gone behind our lot appeared to down tools and relax, seemingly under the misapprehension that this was a two-legged affair, and there would be plenty of opportunity to correct things at a later date.

Since his arrival Jose has seemed to enjoy reeling off a chorus along the lines of ‘Give me a pre-season and I’ll show you a team in my image’ – but the evidence of our eyes was that of a team whose dial has been set to ‘Underwhelming’ and is absolutely not for deviating from that course.

2. Hojbjerg

Since I write this thing under oath I might as well come clean and admit to my public that when Hojbjerg signed up, while not exactly moved to dancing a jig, I nevertheless went out of my way to nod in approval and insist to those within earshot that here was a smart purchase.

On paper, everywhere you cared to look there was a ticked box. The chap was evidently fond of a tackle, had the good sense to position himself in the sort of positions that upset opposition attacks at source, had run a lap or two in the Premier League and was reasonably well priced. A cure to all life’s ills he might not quite have been, but a dashed handy addition to the rack he most certainly was.

And, continuing the spirit of Bible-sworn honesty, I thought that his opening quarter of an hour in lilywhite did much of what was scrawled on the tin. He tackled, he positioned himself usefully within spitting distance of the back-four, he poked his nose in Everton’s business. It was low-key stuff admittedly, and no bones were shattered or worlds set alight – but it seemed to be the good, honest stuff of which behind-the-scenes midfield minders are made.

The commentary bods evidently disagreed, and with considerable strength of feeling, but in the early stages at least I thought it was all palatable enough. Being Tottenham through and through, one is inclined to give the newbies the benefit of the doubt, plus a little extra. To do otherwise would not be cricket.

However, as the hands of time continued on their relentless march, so Hojbjerg’s contributions became by turns less remarkable, then more ordinary, and then downright ragged, if you pardon the fruity language.

Now one does not slander one’s fellow Spur lightly, and much less on debut, so a little perspective would not go amiss. This was no horror-show, it simply meandered into ineffective territory, which happens to the best of us.

But having been heralded as the sort of bean who would call spades spades and stamp down on any nonsense, it was a heck of a downer to see levels of midfield bite drop to zero, levels of midfield creativity fail to rise above zero and life drain away well before the curtain came down. Hojbjerg remains a good player, and the odds are that the coming weeks and months will demonstrate as much, but this was disappointing stuff.

3. Doherty

The other shiny new toy in the cupboard was shoved about a mile up the right wing and told to get on with it. Hopes were high for young Doherty, and who knows, if he had picked his spot six inches to the east or west when through on goal the headlines might be of the upbeat and celebratory variety.

Alas, his diem went un-carped, and instead we were left to reflect on a curious sort of performance that was neither one thing nor the other until he ran out of puff and had mercy shown.

He seemed to get the broad gist that his role was as much attacking as anything else, and it is worth remembering that by virtue of not being Serge Aurier he did not contribute anything in the way of kamikaze penalties or red cards from thin air.

At the same time, one got the impression as often as not that a geography lesson or two might be in order, as at times he seemed to be a member of the back-four in name only, being stationed a good twenty yards from the others even when on the back-foot.

Presumably other days will showcase better his crossing ability, but it was a shame that his expertise in this area was rarely used. The dash forward and one-two with Kane that led to his big chance did at least give the watching world a glimpse of the man’s capabilities, and I rather fancy that if the urgency he showed in driving into the Everton area in that instance were to become the norm, then the world would be a better place.

As with Hojbjerg, one would assume that better days will come.

4. Brighter Notes

Still feeling in honest mood I’ll confess that this is gearing up to be one of the shorter paragraphs of the memoirs, but I thought Davies made a passable contribution, and hared forward a few times as if he knew Danny Rose were watching and waiting for fresh material about which to complain.

Lucas also at least had the decency to look interested, even if just about every attempt of his to build a head of steam and become some unstoppable force of nature stalled at take-off.

And, gloriously, we always have Jose’ secret weapon, The Lightning Quick Counter-Attack From The Opposition Corner. In the absence of any other tactic, one deviously wonders if we might start deliberately conceding corners, precisely to create the platform for Sonny, Lucas and Kane to gallop the length of the pitch and fashion a one-on-one. Now if that’s not grounds for boundless, sunny optimism about the future, then frankly I don’t know what is.

Palace 1-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Eric Dier’s Return

Those whose dispositions are hard and eyes unsmiling will no doubt have noted that after three consecutive wins in a team without Eric Dier, his return to the starting eleven immediately brought an end to the winning sequence. Admittedly – and as fans of Jose will be particularly aware – when it comes to proving anything, Statistics are right up there on the rostrum alongside Lies and Damned Lies. That we failed to win with Dier restored does not automatically make him culpable.

However, the fang-baring critics would no doubt hammer home the fact that young Master Dier can hardly be excused blame simply by citing the age-old defence that It’s-a-team-game-and-all-the-lads-are-in-it-together-so-it’s-collective-responsibility-in-victory-and-defeat-what?

Alas for young Master Dier, when the queue forms for those individually responsible for the goal we conceded, the man himself is slap bang at the front, head bowed and not daring to look either way – as such pretty accurately mimicking his behaviour at the corner from which Palace scored. ‘Dereliction of duty’ just about covers it.

Over in these parts, the objections to Dier’s presence in the team have been pretty well documented, but for those who take one look at the AANP pages and decide they’d be better employed in sawing of their own thumbs than bothering to read it, the gist is that for all his bone-jarring challenges and hard-man persona, the young bean appears to have been designed for stature rather than speed, and therefore seems too often to be a few steps behind the breakneck pace of things; on top of which, for one supposedly comfortable on the ball, his passing strikes me as being as frequently off-boil as on.

The case for the defence would doubtless point to much of his performance yesterday, notably in bailing out the excruciatingly average Davies when trouble began to smoulder on the left side of our defence, and also in taking a few opportunities to stride out of defence and play a forward pass.

Commendable moments indeed, and I suppose it goes to show that life is rarely black and white. Dier has his assets; Dier has his flaws. I nevertheless maintain that he is not of high enough standard, particularly within a team that appears set up to spend up to 70% of a game on the defensive.

(As an aside, it’s also worth noting that when Toby is one side of the centre-back pairing, his partner always looks a notch or two better than when Toby is absent. As with Sanchez in recent weeks so with Dier yesterday. The moral of the story appears to be that Toby is a prized asset whose every wish must be granted and every ailment treated with the utmost concern; and that a top-class partner for the chap would not go amiss.)

2. Another Game, Another Kane Masterclass

Another week, another tour de force from Harry Kane. It’s a quirk of circumstance that if he produced such impressive feats only on an occasional basis they might well be greeted by crowds lining streets, strewing of garlands and a zoom call from the nearest available on-the-ball royal. Instead, precisely because he trots them out so regularly, the general reaction now is simply to shrug, playfully punch someone on the shoulder and declare, “Ah, that Harry Kane, eh? Doing the scarcely believable yet again! And by the way, rain is forecast in the Third Test, wouldn’t you know?”

We take his magnificence for granted because he produces the scarcely believable so regularly. So, ultimately, if the chap is underappreciated, I suppose it’s his own fault.

Yesterday, his goal was made to look pretty straightforward fare, when in fact, of the multiple combinations on offer, the one he adopted was just about the only one that could have brought about a goal. With the entire Palace defence around him and the space of approximately one shoebox in which to operate, he had shifted feet, brought the ball under control and planted a shot at the near post before most of us mere mortals had clocked that he had even taken possession.

On top of which, even those moments in which he drops into midfield to ping an inch-perfect, no-look pass hither or yonder are now becoming something of a weekly occurrence. The chap has somehow turned himself into a combination of both Shearer and Sheringham.

3. A Rush of Excitement When We Concede A Corner

Part of this dubious ‘New Normal’ under Jose, within the hallowed gates of N17, is that the jar marked “Priorities” has been opened, tipped upside down and its contents scattered about the place, so that now one is never really quite sure whether they are coming or going.

It’s a world in which 30% possession is good; semi-permanent residence in or around our own penalty area is to be cheered to the rafters; and a key element of The Grand Plan is quite often simply to bloot the ball 60 yards up the pitch and unleash the hounds in attack.

And an adjunct to this curious state of affairs is that now when we concede a corner, the AANP blood begins to rush around the arteries that much quicker, and the excitement begins to build. This, to repeat, when we concede a corner. When near enough all eleven members of the gang are parked inside our own area and the ball is about to go within spitting distance of our own net.

But such is The Jose Way. Concede a corner, and the opposition merrily send all but two or three of their own mob up the pitch and out of position. Bop the ball away from immediate danger – and the chances of doing so are generally at least in 50-50 territory – and suddenly the tables turn Spurs-wards, because the break is on, and Kane, the three musketeers and any other soul in lilywhite who happens to be captured by the whim are haring up the pitch.

And so, to repeat, when we concede a corner, the AANP eyes light up. Our lot have demonstrated often enough that we can sally along from our area to theirs within about ten seconds and three well-placed passes – and if most of the opposition defence are already up north and well out of position then so much the better.

The principal observation on this peculiar state of affairs (besides from creating a brand of football completely at odds with the Tottenham way) is that it’s a pretty dashed risky game. Now I’m as fond of yelling “Pull” and downing a clay pigeon as the next fellow, but if there is one trait of AANP it is that he knows when and when not to take risks, and as such my dalliance with firearms ends about there. Offer me the clay pigeon and I’m your man; slide a loaded pistol into my hand and murmur about the benefits of Russian Roulette, and I’ll have my polite letter of refusal whipped up within seconds.

Jose, however, seems to thrive on this risk-laden scenario, actively encouraging the opposition to come ever closer to our goal, all with the aim of increasing the chances of a breakneck game of cat-and-mouse when possession is turned over. Its success relies upon the opposition drawing ever nearer to our own goal. The risks were laid pretty bare when Palace used one of their corners to score.

On top of which, on several occasions yesterday, rather than simply clear their lines and be done, our lot played themselves into trouble by dallying on the edge of their own area in search of the perfect pass to set up a counter-attack. One understands the thought-process, but the risks seem huge. As I observed this fandango play out with morbid fascination, the thought did occur that there surely ought to be less risk-laden ways of eking out wins, given the personnel on hand.

4. Europa

It seems almost to discredit the tumultuous nature of the season just endured to declare it over with little more by way of summary than the words, “Sixth; Europa” – and yet, anyone uttering such a truth would be right on the money.

There have, of course, been countless other highs and lows, from Sonny wonder goals to Poch exit-shuffles, but the long and short of it is that Europa it is.

Opinion on this seems somewhat divided. In the Credit column, it is, apparently, a tenth consecutive season of European competition, which, as well as having a pleasing ring about it, also suggests that as a club we are in fairly solid shape, and presumably are spoken of in the high-flying smoking rooms around Europe in terms that are complimentary enough.

Moreover, lest Daniel Levy is casting his eye over these pages, I probably ought to mention that qualification also brings with it £10m, to be stuffed into the back pocket at the earliest convenience. So far, so good, and approving nods all round.

The AANP verdict however, is a little more on the cooler side of things. Whereas every game in the Champions League is sprinkled with some Hollywood sparkle, the earlier stages of the Europa have much about them of the boys’ stag-weekend in some seedy corner of the continent.

Moreover, I cannot shake from my memory the recollection of those seasons in which we did make a decent fist of a Title challenge, only to fall away in the final stages, and be bested by Leicester and Chelsea teams that were free from any European football at all. Not that these things can necessarily be quantified of course, but common sense does suggest that their respective gangs might have been a little fresher towards the latter end of the season for the absence of a constant midweek game in the earlier part. As such, I would quite happily have finished outside the European spots if it meant an improved chance of Top Four qualification next season.

5. Jose’s Talk of Winning The Europa

An additional argument in favour of Europa entry is that it’s an eminently winnable trophy, and indeed this line has been peddled by Our Glorious Leader himself in recent weeks. In fact, he’s been referring to it as a given, stating that if we finish sixth this season we will the Europa next. This did strike me initially as making a fairly sizeable assumption or two, but if he liked to put things that way I saw no reason to stop him.

However, on reflection I found myself growing to admire this take on things. Some might call it arrogance, and it would be a reasonable shout, but Jose comes across as the sort of egg who does not sneeze without carefully planning its timing, audience and calculated effect. When Jose says we will win next season’s Europa, I have a sneaky suspicion that what he is trying to do is gently shove a winning mentality into the heart of the club.

After all, that glorious afternoon of Woodgate’s unknowing header was back in 2008 – we are not a club used to winning trophies. Ours is not a trophy-winning mentality. Eke our way towards a Cup Final and we the fans will dolefully peer around at the other teams left in the competition, and play down our chances – it is a pretty fair bet that the players themselves rarely consider themselves favourites.

So maybe Jose is onto something when he drills into the otherwise vacant loaves of the players that actually this is a trophy that they should be winning. Maybe this is all part of The Plan.

Newcastle 1-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactics (And The Great Jose-AANP Stand-Off)

I’m not actually on personal terms with Jose, but I suspect that if our paths were to cross we would hit it off immediately like a couple of the boys – jesting away, opening a bottle of the good stuff, maybe even dabbling in a little of that lockdown Spanish I’ve been aprend-ing as it’s a tongue Jose has no doubt mastered. One would not be able to hear one’s own thoughts for all the bonhomie about the place.

However, once conversation turned to the little matter of Jose’s Tactics At N17, I cannot help but think that the music would stop, the room would fall silent and a pretty sinister air would descend, and sharpish. Any knives about the place would be busily employed in cutting the tension.

A win is a win, and two wins in pretty similar fashion have no doubt lifted the gloom. This, I graciously grant him. There was much to admire about the energy and attitude of the players against that ‘orrible lot from Woolwich – and frankly one got the sense that, albeit with a tweak in formation and a little less fraught in general, the formula employed last night was of the Rinse-And-Repeat variety. Our lot politely nudged the initiative back to Newcastle, kept them at arm’s length and then, having floated butterfly-like while Newcastle huffed and puffed, stung them like a whole squadron of bees when opportunity arose.

Back to the meeting of minds in the smoking room, and while Jose would no doubt rattle off a few truths about the upturn in results, tension would remain – as is no doubt common in the meeting of two such esteemed footballing minds – as AANP would insist that our lot did not create enough pretty patterns.

This remains a sticking point at AANP Towers. I’m not sure of the collective noun for debacles, but this nameless entity appeared in all its glory during the course of the Sheffield United, Everton and Bournemouth games (even though we won one of them), representing some of the worst football we’ve seen over the years. Things have undoubtedly improved since, and there is now at least a strategy in place – but the chap calling the numbers last night stated at one point that Newcastle average around thirty-something percent possession per game, and yet we seemed happy to let them have as much of the ball as they pleased!

Our strategy – Jose’s strategy – still seems to be one of sitting back and countering. There are lies, and damn lies, and whatnot, and the stats apparently indicate that since taking the reins Jose has the fourth or fifth best record in the division – but the evidence of our eyes is that this is not entertaining stuff. Nor is there much to suggest that this will change in the new season. In any future social engagements between Jose and AANP, a frosty atmosphere will remain.

2. Lucas Eats His Spinach Again

The tactics might not have met with the sort of thunderous applause within AANP Towers that makes its foundations quiver, but I had approving looks that I was dishing about the place with gay abandon for the personnel involved.

‘Sore Limbs’ was no doubt the headline about the place following Sunday’s exertions, but the same starting eleven took to the field and did as instructed, to solid effect.

As on Sunday, Lucas set the early tone, displaying energy both in possession and in tracking back. His little twinkle-toed dribbles, while rarely amounting to much, did nevertheless quicken the pulse and keep the Newcastle lot honest, and much of the success of the 4-3-3-cum-4-5-1 was due to the workrate of he and Sonny around its boundaries.

3. Kane’s All-Rounding

Before his goals, Harry Kane had been tossed little more than an occasional scrap in the penalty area, so he naturally enough came sniffing around in midfield to see what was on offer, and not for the first time gave the impression of being the pick of the midfield bunch, even though the smallprint prevents this from being legally correct.

It might be to do with the fact that collecting the ball when coming from attack – à la Teddy – gives a greater awareness of options than when advancing from defence, but whatever the reasons, I feel like I could pour myself a splash and spend hours on end watching Kane pick up the ball from deep and spray it around the place.

On top of which, he then scored two goals that could immediately be stamped as ‘No Nonsense’, made to look pretty straightforward despite both being far from. Such is the talent of the chap.

4. Winks: Good, In His Limited Way

Further south, young Winks was as neat and tidy as his haircut demands. Forever sprinting to make himself available for passes, with all the gay vivacity of youth, he then typically bipped a quick pass to a nearby chum and repeated the process from the top.

Put yourself in the shoes of any of the back four or midfield sorts, and one suspects you’d be pretty glad that whenever you received the ball you’d always spot a Winks-shaped blur of movement in the corner of your eye, availing himself for service.

This being AANP however – now officially graduated to middle-aged grump, since Covid began – I cannot simply enjoy this good news with a joyous skip in a nearby meadow. Winks, in his breakthrough seasons had the potential of a lad who might have a pass in his pocket reminiscent of those great lock-pickers of recent years. Where Carrick, Hudd and Modric once cut through great swathes with one well-identified killer ball, Winks, one hoped, would follow.

Alas, the whelp seems not to dare play a pass if it carries a jot of risk. One understands, but as he is hardly a defensive enforcer either, it means that even when near his best – as I fancied he was yesterday – although a useful sort to have about the place he flits between being one thing and another, fulfilling the key requirements of neither.

Those yearning for Winks to evolve into a Carrick, Hudd or Modric will be disappointed. Winks has value, and yesterday I thought he was possibly the pick of the bunch, but I suspect this is as good as he will get and as much as he will offer.

5. Lamela And The Impact Subs

It was a big day for impact subs, which I suppose we ought to have foreseen given the short turnaround between games.

It turns out that young Bergwijn had one of his less glorious cameos, when one sits down and actually counts all the beans, but one cannot help but be enthused by what he brings in general, and yesterday he delivered the sort of cross (for Kane’s first goal) that I suspect few of us realised he had in his repertoire.

And then there’s Lamela. Quite the curio this chap. Plainly capable of reaching outrageous heights, when signed there was a murmur that he would become for us essentially what Mo Salah became for Liverpool, even though we signed him before Mo Salah became Mo Salah for Liverpool – which does make the head swim a bit.

The gist is that hopes were high. Fast forward six or seven years, and every Lamela performance is so similar that bingo cards can be produced allowing the eagle-eyed punter to tick off his contributions.

A niggly sort, he will undoubtedly hare around and snap at ankles, often in the late fashion that earns reprieves and stern words if not cards, from the resident officiators.

And then there is his on-ball stuff, which typically involves:
A) A promising dribble, segueing into:
B) The realisation that he is still on the ball when several passing opportunities have been and gone, followed by:
C) The roll of watching eyes as one realises that he is still on the ball, having taken half a dozen touches more than were necessary, but is now being swarmed upon and crowded out.

Add to this the fact that he will roll his foot over the ball at every opportunity – even, in defiance of the laws of physics, when passing it – and one can probably yelp “Lamela Bingo!” and claim a small fluffy toy.

But like a broken clock a couple of times a day, the chap does strike oil, and just as it seemed that his latest dribble was about to result in that swarmed-upon-and-crowded-out routine (C, above), he somehow step-overed his way to freedom and teed himself up for a shot. Quite how he did so is still being investigated, but credit where due, it was pretty special stuff. A shame he could not apply the coup de grâce himself, but it resulted in a goal nevertheless.

Spurs 2-0 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane Getting Back Up to Speed

This whole thing was a marked improvement on the previous grilling, vs Man Utd – which admittedly was not difficult, given how low we set the bar on that occasion – and as Kane motored off into the distance to pop the cherry on things it struck me that his individual performance loosely summed up the general gist of things.

Against Man Utd he had barely registered his participation, seeming to serve decorative value only and appearing to have forgotten many of the basics of physics whenever involved in the action, judging by his negligible ball control and pretty severe case of the huffs and puffs when required to move. Similarly, our lot as a whole seemed unfit, devoid of ideas and pretty content to tick the box marked ‘Passive’ rather than ‘Active’.

Yesterday, however, Kane gave a pretty good impression of one who, if not necessarily firing on every conceivable cylinder, was nevertheless giving the engine a pretty thorough going-over – and indeed, the team as a whole at least seemed to peddle a bit more ambition than before, albeit against pretty limited opposition.

Those keenly observing Kane’s performance, with checklist in hand and pen at the ready, were kept well involved throughout. There were early hints that his memories of former glories were returning, as in the first half he pinged a shot from distance and then spread play to the wings – with the outside of his boot, no less – both pretty sure signs that, having been kept hidden from view against Man Utd, the Kane of old was making a bid for freedom here.

It continued in the second half with a lung-busting sprint of all things. Admittedly this ended in anticlimactic fashion, with him dragging his shot wide, but nevertheless, for a chap whose likeliest weakness is probably a lack of pace, the sight of him overtaking various defenders as he hared towards the penalty area would no doubt have had some pretty knowing looks exchanged in living rooms across the country.

And as if to emphasise the point, he did near enough the same thing again ten minutes later, but to better effect. The weighting of Sonny’s pass helped no end, meaning as it did that there was little need to break stride or take too many touches, but Kane’s hamstrings still held up well to the rigours of a dash towards goal, and his finish made the whole thing look vastly more straightforward than it was.

He then lay on the ground for around a minute refilling his lungs, but one can excuse that. It might not quite be peak Kane just yet, but this was far brighter stuff than I had dared hope.

2. Dele’s Free(Ish) Role

After West Ham’s initial ten-minute surge had gone up in smoke, and possession was ours to do with as we pleased, the game gradually settled into that age-old conundrum of how to break down two banks of four that have set up camp and desire little more in life than to remain that way with net untroubled.

A pretty convoluted plan seemed to have been concocted in this respect, with The Brains Trust deciding to cut their losses on Aurier by stationing him up the pitch as a right winger, thereby minimising his capacity to produce the calamitous within shooting distance of his own goal.

Meanwhile on t’other flank Ben Davies had presumably been fitted with one of those tagging devices that prevented him from mooching too far beyond the halfway line.

All of which meant that Sonny was our sole representative on the left flank and therefore had limited opportunity to cut infield and hare towards goal, and the AANP was left swimming a bit as it tried to work out the mechanics of the whole thing.

In short however, all the tactical scrawls in the world could not disguise the fact that our lot were pretty ponderous in possession – neither shifting the ball quickly when they had it, nor moving enough off the ball when they didn’t.

The pleasing exception to this rigidity was Dele. Whether under instruction to do so or simply exercising his autonomy and going where he pleased, as young folk will do, the rascal floated hither and thither, and by so-doing added a drop of the unexpected to our gentle probings.

Only a drop, mind. There was much of the inside left about his role, but when opportunity arose he seemed to go for a wander into pockets of space – on one such occasion inviting a lovely through ball from Davies, who had evidently broken his own positional diktat to wander up the pitch, and Dele was away in the penalty area.

The young egg’s swagger was also in evidence once again, with drag-backs and flicks aplenty. This can grate a little – there is, after all, a time and a place for such nonsense – but in general I thought he struck the right balance, injecting a little spontaneity into our attacking play that otherwise was pretty heavily steeped in the monotony of sideways passing.

It was a shame for him that he was hooked early in the second half, just as the game began to open up and the fun to start, but this constituted a decent innings on his return to the side.

3. Lo Celso Easing Into The Groove

The Man of the Match gong was officially awarded to Lo Celso, which was reasonable enough, but there is certainly more to come from the chap.

In the first half in particular, when, as mentioned above, we laboured to precious little effect, I thought we might have benefitted from grabbing the lad by his armpits, hoisting him into the air and depositing him some twenty yards further up the pitch, to sprinkle some mischief. In a world of sideways pass upon sideways pass, the vision and technique of Lo Celso makes him stand out as one of the few amongst us who might magic a chance out of nothing.

Indeed, on the one occasion that he did make it to the heady heights of the edge of the West Ham area his jinking feet made an instant impact, creating the chance for Sonny that was ruled out.

As the game became rather more stretched in the second half he became more prominent, able to indulge his partiality for embarking on a gentle gallop with ball at feet. One suspects he will be a pretty significant presence within the Mourinho vintage.

4. Ndombele – Persona Non Grata

There were other, low-key points of note – Sissoko became more dominant as the game progressed, Aurier not for the first time seemed rather to enjoy life without all that defensive nonsense burdening him – but one of the more significant developments of the evening was the conspicuous absence of a certain member of the troupe.

What future for Tanguy Ndombele in lilywhite? Fit enough for the elongated bench, but presumably not rated highly enough even for a late cameo to add some protection to midfield (young Master Winks instead thrown on for the final few minutes, to play the role of burly doorman), a betting man would presumably steer well clear of any wager on Ndombele to be the fulcrum around which the team is built.

Much was made pre-lockdown of Ndombele’s rather alarming lack of puff, and the young bean’s training regime during lockdown received similarly hefty coverage. As such, I suspect I was not the only one eagerly awaiting the sight of him emerging trim and buoyant, newly entrusted by Jose to turn defence into attack.

The reality appears vastly at odds with this scenario. The shape of the things in the immediate future appears to include the move of Dier back into defence, Sissoko and Winks as the more trusted deep-lying sorts, and Lo Celso pulling strings for the headline-seekers in attack – with Ndombele left to socially distance in the stands.

With games coming thick and fast in coming weeks one would expect that he’ll be beckoned to the fore at some point, but if the first two games are indicators of how Jose sees the world – and there’s every reason to interpret them as such – then this new normal does not appear to include Ndombele.

Spurs 1-1 Man Utd: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Negative Mentality

Good heavens this ghastly dirge is too much to stomach. One understands that there’s a time and a place for the gung-ho “If you score four we’ll just biff up the pitch and score five” approach, but this new normal – of low possession, sitting deep and simply attempting to soak up pressure from first whistle to last – is laying it on a bit thick.

One presumes that once Bill Nick and Danny Blanchflower made it past the pearly gates they got stuck into the entertainment on offer and had a whale of a time, not bothering to check back over their shoulders to monitor goings-on at N17 – but if they did happen to glance back one can only imagine how unrecognisable this rot might appear to them.

“The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

The aforementioned memo evidently did not make it to the Mourinho inbox. Instead we’re stuck with this dreadful imitation of Sven’s England, persisting with the ludicrous notion that football is a game best played by allowing the opposition to have the ball for as long as they please, of all absurd notions, providing that there are enough last-ditch limbs around to prevent them from scoring.

Any display of attacking intent was strictly an afterthought – and the longer the game wore on the more unlikely these became anyway, for even when we tried to pass our way forward rather than blasting it into orbit, we simply did not have enough troops stationed in attack, every man and his dog having been dragged back into the final third for defensive drills ad infinitum.

A point from yesterday’s game was certainly a good result, but if this is to be the go-to approach – and it is – frankly I would rather we had lost while playing with more ambition.

No doubt we will nick the odd game by the skin of teeth and against the run of play – witness the home win vs Man City pre-lockdown – but, without wanting to sound too dramatic, this business of simply surrendering possession and inviting the other lot to have a go for 90 straight minutes saps the will to live.

2. Kane Fitness

It came as little surprise to note that Harry Kane barely registered his presence throughout proceedings, given that the young nib typically needs half a dozen games to build up a head of steam.

On the rare occasions the ball sailed through his sphere of influence he duly trotted out his impression of one trudging through quicksand, all notions of him bursting into a blur of acceleration kept well under lock and key.

Not that I’m criticising the chap particularly, for he was hardly the only one who seemed taken by surprise by the fact that an actual game of football was happening around him, but I think we had all sneakily hoped that having recovered from injury Kane might already have been in peak condition and straining at the leash.

His lack of match sharpness should, in theory, present a conundrum of sorts, as the only way in which he can attain the aforementioned MS is by obediently trotting out one game after another, which is far from ideal when the engine is yet to rev up. However, in practice it’s no conundrum at all, as omitting this particular slab of meat is clearly not an option.

3. Everyone Else’s Fitness

As mentioned, Kane was not the only soul who seemed not to be up with current affairs.

The dashing, breezy Sonny of yesteryear was replaced by a sullen twin. While seeming to give brief consideration to forward bursts whenever he received the ball, after a short conflab of the voices in his head he appeared repeatedly to conclude that discretion beat valour hands down each time, and Walking Football was the order of the day.

Winks and Sissoko seemed similarly invisible for much of the evening, which I suppose had much to do with the fact that, rather than being in possession of the ball, they spent most of the game dutifully chasing the shadows of United players as they pinged the thing one way and another. Both intermittently flitted into view, in the manner of one who, when working from home, sends an occasional calculated email to remind The Boss of their existence, but in general each was a model nonentity, and seemed perfectly content with the label.

4. Lamela

Young Lamela occasionally caught the eye by virtue of being marginally less average than the rest of the mob, at least in intent, if not end-product.

It is generally a pretty reliable bet that he will be cautioned within fifteen minutes of entering the fray, and while he avoided that fate yesterday this was as much due to the random goodwill of the chief arbiter of proceedings, rather than any restraint on Lamela’s part. He seems always to scoot around with the air of one who has been wronged and is therefore determined to have a petulant kick at anyone who wafts into his vicinity.

This is mildly preferable to the meek and mild approach of far too many in lilywhite over the years, for it at least suggests that he cares a jot or two, so I rather welcomed the sight of his pointless snaps and nibbles yesterday.

Generally however, it was all to little avail. When his energy gave him the opportunity to affect the game in a more productive way, he repeatedly failed to deliver the right ball, and one wondered if the technical bods had at their fingertips the sound effects of the White Hart Lane groan.

Lamela would do well to take a leaf out of the Bergwijn book of end products – but one suspects he will have to do so pretty swiftly, for it can only be a matter of time before Our Glorious Leader beats the attacking vim and verve out of Bergwijn, and has him gloomily ceding possession and backing off into a defensive template like everyone else.

5. Son’s Corners

But on a pleasing note, Son’s corners are a dashed sight better than the bizarrely inept dross that Christian Eriksen used to purvey, Son’s having the distinct virtue of reaching beyond the body-parts of the nearest defender. So maybe there is hope in this brave new world after all. Huzzah!

Spurs – Man Utd Preview: 4 Tottenham Talking Points

And so it begins again – and in truth receiving a pretty frosty reception in this part of town.

Given our form, injuries and the general way of all things lilywhite pre-apocalypse, I had greeted the abrupt end to proceedings with secret relief, and was all for the expunging of records. “Restore the end-18/19 standings,” was the anthem resounding at AANP Towers, “And if the managerial changes can also be undone, so much the better.”

Alas, such reasonable requests have been ignored. Joseball will be making our eyes bleed again quicker than we can ask “Is a tactic of 35% possession at home and looking to nick something in the final ten really the best way to go about things?”

1. Jose’s Tactics

The Ben Davies Gambit, unveiled to considerable success in Jose’s first game (of 4 at the back when defending and 3 when attacking, resulting in joyous attacking overloads and Good Dele) has proved a hoax. Jose’s true intentions all along appear to have been to retreat 20 years into our own half straight from kick off, and, broadly, hope for the best.

While one sucks up this rot when it’s an injury-hit Champions League night vs Leipzig, the whole routine is rather heavy going when it’s at home to Norwich or some such dross on the lower rungs.

Now admittedly the chap took on a tough gig. CL Finalists we might have been in name, but the mob he inherited needed more than just a lick of paint to get rediscover the old swagger. Key players were past their peak; those who weren’t had been flogged into the ground over the last few seasons; and there was an odd lop-sidedness to the whole mechanism.

So not necessarily the sort of vehicle one would proudly parade in front of envious neighbours – but neither was it the sort of decrepit cast of vagrants and amateurs fit only for ceding possession and playing on the counter-attack. Just about every young bean on the payroll was an international, capable of attracting admiring glances from CL Teams if subjected to the ‘Who Would Buy Them?’ test. Clueless, pootling mid-tablers they were not.

However, Jose has now had a few weeks to mould this lot to his foul preferences. While not exactly a bona fide pre-season it’s probably been the next been thing, so while it is probably a bit much to expect some sort of all-singing, all-dancing, feast of whirring goodness, at the very least one would hope for some defensive solidity and a game-plan slightly more expansive than soak-it-up-and-hope.

2. Injuries No More (Almost)

I still don’t think it fully excused the unique blend of negativity and chaos that stank the place out each week, but the swathe of injuries certainly did knock the stuffing somewhat, pre-Covid.

Merrily that excuse is can now elbowed aside – well, to an extent, as it appears that the boy Lo Celso is made of biscuits and therefore not yet ready for action. This is actually one heck of an elbow to the ribs, as the young egg gave a good impression of the sort around whom a team might be built.

Young Tanganga is also tucked up in bed necking paracetamol, but better news resounds on those other beans who were last seen covered from stern to stem in bandages. Messrs Kane, Son and Sissoko are apparently now injury-free, which is a blessed relief, because without them we increasingly resembled the victims of cinematic ne’er-do-well The Predator once their spines had been ripped from them, they too ending up with a bereft and useless air.

Young Master Bergwijn has also apparently been given an approving nod by some intelligent sort with a stethoscope, which means that Our Glorious Leader will have options a-plenty when the twenty-minute mark rolls along and he decides to make five substitutions at once.

3. Kane And The Need to Hit The Ground Running

The life and works of Harry Kane are generally headline news, so all eyes will presumably be trained in his direction once he lumbers into action, and while his return from injury for these final ten games is a blessing, there is a distinct caution in the air.

For all his assets – and one generally cannot swing a cat without hitting two or three of them – he is generally not the quickest out of the blocks when first settling into things, be it at the start of a new season or on his return from an injury.

Having been bunkered away for something like six months, one fears that it might take him several games to build a full head of steam, and with the games coming thick and fast we rather need him to dispense with the gentle warm-up and go flying straight into battle at full pelt.

Not to over-egg the point but much depends on the honest fellow, so while the empty stadium will not resound to much more than grunts and curses of those playing, you can bet that living rooms across the country will be filled with the muttered prayers of the long-suffering, willing the chap to hit peak form and pronto.

4. An Improved (And Fit) Ndombele?

In theory I suppose one might hone in every member of the squad and wonder what sort of player they will be when emerging back onto the greenery, but Ndombele will make for a particularly fascinating case-study.

Having been feted as up there alongside sliced bread and the wheel when first unveiled, and even now boasting a highlights reel that makes him look pretty unplayable, a full, unedited 90 minutes makes for a slightly more underwhelming spectacle.

One doesn’t like to poke fun, but the lad did seem rather to struggle with the pace of things here in sunny north London, to the extent that it appeared necessary to ration him to one single, solitary sprint per match, after which he could do little more than stagger around the centre circle in exhaustion.

The whispers from on high suggest that improving Ndombele’s fitness became something of a personal crusade for Jose during lockdown. If it bore fruit it will have been time well spent, because one imagines that a fit and active Ndombele could be a thing of beauty, and one heck of an asset to his nearby chums. The fear, of course, is that his allergy to stamina will live with him from cradle to grave, so one holds the breath and rattles off a few more of those living-room prayers.

All told, there is a nameless dread filling the air at AANP Towers, in case you hadn’t picked up as much already. And yet, beneath it all, there lurks that tiny sliver of hope – that actually, we’re still within social distance of the CL places; that the injury crisis is over; that Jose has drilled some tactical sense into even those stupid enough to post pictures of themselves on social media breaking lockdown; that these remaining games might even be a moderate success, and we might yet make the Champions League.

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