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Spurs match reports

Leeds 0-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. A Decent Winks Moment

Given current circumstances at N17, I suspect most of us would have taken an early goal in just about any format, but there was particular delight to be had in celebrating an opener such as yesterday’s, which had about it finery in its every component.

For a start, there was the role of young Winks. As has been well advertised for some time now, Winks is the sort of bounder who is liable to swing pretty heavily in one of two polarising directions. Sometimes a buccaneering type, adventure coursing through the veins and happy to smatter handy passes about the place; but oftentimes a rather tiresome egg, shovelling the damn thing sideways and then trotting after it to demand it back, only then to shovel it backwards and repeat the whole routine from the top.

Yesterday, however, he played the game. Collecting the ball on the half-turn inside his own half, he made his first smart choice in giving the rudder a yank so that he was facing the Leeds end; then followed up with a second S.C. by scampering off like a terrier that has spotted a goodish looking tennis ball, his little legs taking him to the heady heights of the halfway line.

At this point, with options abounding thanks to the movement of his superiors in attack, young Winks took the opportunity to melt the AANP heart by playing my favourite pass in the world. If you’ve ever wandered these parts before you’ll know exactly the one I mean, and are probably rolling your eyes and urging me to get on with it – but nothing makes this particular spine tingle quite like a perfectly-weighted pass inside the full-back, and Winks hit the sweet spot.

2. Sessegnon

And at this point, young Master Sessegnon grabbed the mic and seized the day. If Winks displays flashes that are occasionally good and occasionally bad, poor old Sessegnon has been accumulating nothing but the rotten stuff of late. If ever a blighter needed to dodge the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and unwrap a spot of game-changing produce, that blighter was Sessegnon.

Having been let off the leash by Winks’ pass Sessegnon duly ticked all the necessary boxes – haring onto the thing and then delivering a peach of a cross into the centre, the sort of cross so invitingly whipped that only a man of the dullest intelligence would have contrived to miss out on it.

Nor was this an isolated incident, which is more the point really. On the front-foot, Sessegnon played with the gay abandon of a soul strangely untroubled by any of his recent trials. In recent weeks he has merely tiptoed forward, with the sheepish air of a cove who, not feeling he belongs, considers his best options to be either bursting into tears or running away to the safety of his own half – in short, anything but contributing in confident and productive manner.

Yesterday, however, he bobbed about the place like a man from whose shoulders the weight of the world had recently been removed, and who was dashed well going to celebrate the fact.

Take a look at our second and third goals, and the chap furthest up the pitch on the left was Sessegnon. With Sonny dragging the Leeds right back infield as if a small animal on a string for sport, there were acres in front of Sessegnon and he duly bounded into them at every opportunity.

My soul was also stirred by the quality of his crossing. As noted, the delivery for Doherty’s goal was the sort of good stuff that attracted top marks for everything from geometrical precision to the timing of the gag, and in the early stages of the game in particular, seemingly well aware that he was onto a good thing, he took to dashing down the left and pinging crosses into the area as if the whole thing were a new toy that he couldn’t get enough of.

The early flurry then subsiding, it was time for Sessegnon to ditch the frivolity and get on with the more sombre business of defending his corner. With the elastic-legged Raphinha up against him this threatened to be taxing stuff. Now admiring though I am of Sessegnon’s all-round performance yesterday, I hesitate to turn this into some sort of propaganda leaflet for the chap. So let history record that he made a moderate stab of the defensive side of things, but life in this quarter was not without its hitches.

In plain English, once or twice he was bested. Once or twice, of course, he himself emerged triumphant from the battle of wills and limbs; but once or twice he was bested. In sum, therefore, I suppose you could say it was an even sort of thing.

A sterner judge than AANP might also note that he received a caution for one of his less impressive endeavours, and also contributed a pretty ghastly pass that put into motion the sequence that saw Lloris go racing off into a different postcode, leaving the Leeds chappie to make a pig’s ear of an open goal. All side-splitting stuff come the punchline, but let it not be overlooked that its genesis was the errant boot of Sessegnon.

So all told, definitely one of the lad’s better days, and promising stuff for all who consider paradise to be a world littered with wing-backs who can offer value in the final third; but let it not be overlooked that he is not yet fitted with the all the necessary equipment.

3. Doherty

And on the subject of wing-backs who can offer value in the final third, Matt Doherty looked frightfully pleased with himself for his early contribution, and as well he might.

His finish itself was well taken, but probably no more than that. I think we’d have all have felt pretty disappointed if he had spooned the ball off into the atmosphere somewhere wide of the mark, given the quality of the delivery and relative lack of impediments standing in his way. So well done him.

But more than the finish, the impressive thing here was that Doherty had first hit upon the idea of bolting into the area as the apex of the attack, and then had undertaken the necessary spadework to ensure that this dream became reality.

Had any of Kane, Son or Kulusevski assumed the role of ‘Unnamed Extra Applying Finishing Touch’ one would have breezily shrugged it off as part of the day-job, and joined in with the back-slaps and high-fives as if the whole process were the most natural thing in the world. Arriving in the area to apply the finishing touch is, after all, one of the first bullet-points on the job description of such folk.

For Doherty to have dabbled in this area, however, makes one sit up and chew the thing over a bit. For a start, this was no freak occurrence. Sometimes, for example in the aftermath of a set-piece, a bean such as Davinson Sanchez or Eric Dier or whomever might find himself slap bang in the middle of the six-yard box with the ball bouncing kindly at his right foot and the goal at his mercy. Serendipitous, of course, but hardly part of the masterplan.

Doherty’s arrival as leader of the cavalry, however, seemed to be the conclusion of something that had had a good deal more production value and rehearsal time. When Winks received the ball in his own half – even before he had turned to set off towards the halfway line – Doherty had taken that as his cue and was already switching to Sprint mode, overtaking each of Kane, Son and Kulusevski in the process.

Obviously a joyous conclusion was then reached in this particular sub-plot, but the broader narrative seemed to be something along the lines that here, finally, was an example of a pair of wing-backs making maximum use of all the natural assets bestowed upon them by Mother Nature.

I have rarely been shy of preaching on these very pages of the positive, transformative effect that a good, wholesome, attacking pair of wing-backs can have upon a team, and the contributions of both Sessegnon with his cross and Doherty in having the good sense to motor to the front of the queue, demonstrated this.

Of course, playing a team as tactically naïve and wide open as Leeds did chivvy the thing along no end, and by the final knockings even Emerson Royal was popping up in the centre-forward position, so one ought probably ought not to get too carried away by either the system or the contribution of Doherty. But nevertheless, it was heartening stuff.

One question that remained unanswered by yesterday’s goings-on was around the crossing of Doherty. Emerson’s repeated attempts in this area over the last few months have driven me close to apoplexy, so I tuned in yesterday with pretty feverish anticipation of what delights Doherty might bestow. Alas, I’m not sure I remember him delivering one cross the whole game. The early knockings bore fruit from the left, and later on our tactic became counter-attacking via the size nines of Kane, so there is no further evidence to submit.

4. Kane

But when that rotter Harry Kane is drifting off into his own little world, far advanced of the mere mortals around him, I suppose it does not really matter whether or not one’s right wing-back can cross or not. Such considerations recede in importance. This seemed also to be the train of thought of Kane. In fact, just about every other position on the pitch, and the identities of those occupying them, seemed to recede in importance in the mind of Kane, in the second half, as he took it upon himself to orchestrate every bally thing.

It was ripping stuff. As and when the whim took him, he would collect the ball on the half-turn and calmly bisect with one expertly-judged pass the entire Leeds back-line, with all the languid ease of a man stroking his knife through butter. These moments caused a bit of sensation, leading to such highlights as Doherty’s one-on-one and Sonny’s goal.

But as well as the headline-grabbing stuff, what really caused the punters to murmur was the fact that as the game wore on he gradually just assumed a position of complete control of everything that was happening on the pitch. It rather reminded me of that skinny fellow in the cinematic flick “The Matrix”, who after a while exerted so much control over the ones and zeroes that he just sauntered about the place doing as he bade, and the assorted villains could do little more than say, “Righto”, and leave him to it.

Thus did Kane dominate things. Just wandering about the midfield, collecting the ball and doing whatever he damn well pleased with it. If he were not our best striker he’d arguably be our best midfielder, and towards the death he could be spotted tracking back feverishly in the right-back vicinity, as if to make a further point.

As last week against City, so yesterday against Leeds, his actual goal seemed almost an afterthought, despite being one heck of a finish. Many an inferior striker would have been overcome by the arc of the pass, the angle from which the ball dropped, the tightness of the angle to goal and multiple other taxing elements at play. Kane simply extended a casual limb and deposited the thing in the net.

5. Chances Conceded

Four-nil is obviously a thrashing in anyone’s book, and after the events of recent weeks, when the general sentiment has been that if it is not one thing it is dashed well going to be another, it was a very welcome turn of events too.

Leeds for their part looked like they could keep playing until the end of the year without scoring, such was the dizzying wealth of ways in which they contrived to miss fairly straightforward opportunities. And while this no doubt made for entertaining viewing, it did stir some nameless foreboding deep within me. That is to say, they seemed to carve us open rather too often and too easily, what?

Obviously one does not want to bring down the mood of the thing. If an away day brings four goals and three points then I would be the last person to request that the noise is kept down. But whereas last week we were so systematically organised that City could barely fashion a clear chance – relying on a goalkeeping flap and an iffy penalty – yesterday Leeds seemed to carve us open every five minutes.

Watching them tip-toe time and again to the very brink of our net, I did feel a sense of concern. Had we conceded at three-nil you would not have found a bullish, confident AANP, insisting that ‘twas merely a flesh-wound. You’d have found instead a deeply troubled AANP, convinced that some terrible fate lurked, and was going to upgrade from “lurking” to “dashed well happening” in a matter of minutes.

That we didn’t concede that first goal seemed to owe little to our own defensive capabilities, and much to the inability of Leeds to hit the target.

I suppose it is not one about which I should lose too much sleep, for the next game will be another day, and we may well tighten things up both in defence and in those more porous parts of the midfield. And for large parts of the second half in particular, our game-management and control of possession actually ticked along reasonably well. Nevertheless, for all the frivolity about the place at the final whistle, it seemed to me that a soft warning had been sounded, which those in power might do well to cast an eye over.

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Spurs 2-3 Southampton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

This turned out to be one of those imbroglios so madcap and all-action-no-plot that, come the credits, I could not quite keep track of what emotion I ought to register. I therefore made a quick check of my in-match notes, which revealed the following:

FACT: First half was a one-one hammering.

Comment: Eh? That doesn’t sound right.

FACT: Trust me on this one.

Comment: “One-one” suggests a pretty even state of affairs, what? Perhaps some ebb and flow, but all things being equal-

FACT: ‘Twas an unholy battering.

Comment: Crumbs. I say, I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, but the phrase still seems to suggest parity.

FACT: This is Tottenham Hotspur. The laws of logic go out the window.

Comment: Fair.

FACT: We did have five good minutes in that first half though.

Comment: Scoring one and missing a pretty clear chance for another? This suggests that at least something about Conte’s counter-attacking format has t’s crossed and i’s dotted.

FACT: Second half we started to edge on top.

Comment: Decent goal to show for it too.

FACT: Indeed.

Comment: Rather.

FACT: But our attempt then to manage the game was utterly ham-fisted

Comment: Evidently. Within five minutes we were losing, dash it.

FACT: Well, quite. We conceded exactly the same goal twice.

Comment: Yes, I noted that. Rather like watching a car-crash in slow motion. You know the feeling – can see it all unfolding, know it’s going to end disastrously, yet can’t tear the eyes from it.

FACT: We equalised in added time!

Comment: Huzzah! That Bergwijn is certainly good for a-

FACT: Disallowed by VAR.

Comment: Curses.

That being cleared up, the talking points rise to the surface, rather like bloated bodies in a pool.

1. The Counter-Attack Strategy

On paper, it could hardly sound more straightforward: let the oppo have the ball, nick it from them, hare up the pitch and strike.

And as my notes above indicated, when our heroes got to the fun part of this plan – namely haring up the pitch and striking – all was lollipops and rainbows. Sonny, Kane and Lucas have rehearsed this scene often enough to know all the moves with their eyes closed. As if to illustrate this, despite having an otherwise muted sort of time of things Lucas burst into life twice, creating a goal each time; while Sonny and Kane’s combo ought to have led to a goal for Reguilon, who had evidently got wind of the fun being had by the front-three and arrived like a steam train to get in on the frivolity.

When his head hit the pillow, Senor Conte may therefore have noted that the ‘attacking’ element of counter-attacking needs little work. It’s cigars and generous bourbons in that part of the world.

The challenge lies in the earlier premise, of letting the oppo have the ball. Harmless enough on paper, the reality was that Southampton ran rings around our lot for the majority of the first half. And not just the innocuous sort of rings that involve shoving the ball east and west without a whiff of penetration.

Southampton seemed to cut through our heroes at will, fashioning chances whenever the hell they fancied it. Now one accepts that such eventualities will unfold over the course of the season. Go up against the billionaires of Man City, or Liverpool or Chelski on one of their better days, and one can expect that sleeves will be rolled up in all quarters, and the dickens of a defensive shift be put in by every crew member.

But to be pulled from pillar to post non-stop, at home, by Southampton, seemed a bit thick. A decent outfit, for sure, and no doubt they’ll be plundered for their riches come the summer – but really not the sort of opponent that should have any self-respecting team hanging on for dear life. Yet come half-time one rather wanted to throw in a sympathetic towel and lead each of our heroes away for a sit-down and a warm glass of milk.

Difficult to pinpoint any single problem, but a couple of them seemed to reside in midfield, and one at right-back, as will be explored below.

Hojbjerg and Winks did not seem to have enough fingers between them to stick in the countless dykes appearing all over the place. By the end of the first half the pair seemed to offer little more than decorative value, their tactic of dangling an occasional limb proving pretty ineffectual in countering Southampton’s relentless switches to the left.

Watching the horror unfold, I did wonder whether a change of personnel might have eased things a tad. Messrs Skipp and, from early sightings, Bentancur both seem a bit more geared towards actually winning the ball, an approach I’d be happy to see at least attempted, in contrast to the Winks-Hojbjerg slant of staring at the opponent from a distance of five yards and hoping nothing dangerous follows.

Alternatively, the thought occurred that a switch to 3-5-2 might have swung things in our favour. One will never know of course, and it would also mean sacrificing Lucas, but in its previous incarnations (Leicester away, Liverpool home) our lot have rustled up a couple of pretty humdinging performances, which makes one chew a bit.

2. Hojbjerg

Well, this is awkward. That is to say, one doesn’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but Hojbjerg does appear to be discreetly shuffling from the queue marked “Solution” to that marked “Problem”.

Tough to stomach, because one rather admires the attitude of the chap – too often our midfield has been manned by blisters who will casually shrug off defeat as one of life’s little irritations, which rather get in the way of a neat pirouette and dainty flick. Hojbjerg, by contrast, comes across as the sort who spends his down-time chewing on glass and glaring at his offspring, an attitude I for one think we need a dashed sort more of in the corridors of N17.

But alas, attitude alone doth not a midfield general make. Watching as Hojbjerg dabbed pass after pass into a curious ether that couldn’t accurately be classified as “Here” or “There” made one clear the throat and shoot an embarrassed look towards the nearest chum, as if to say, “He’s rather off the boil tonight, what?” And frankly, that nearest chum would shoot a look back as much as to suggest, “And not for the first time, I fear”.

On top of his startling abandonment of geography in his passing, Hojbjerg, as mentioned above, became ever less effective as a defensive screen. It all adds up to a chap who currently seems to be in the team based on tattoos and anger alone. He may just need a rest of course, something that does not seem to have been afforded to him since approximately the summer of 2020. Whatever the cause, something seems amiss.

All that said, such things are not entirely black and white. Hojbjerg’s finer recent moments seem to have been performed up in the final third, either in lending his frame to the high-press or bobbing off on a little jaunt into the opposition area. Such a jolly brought about our opening goal last night, which had me scratching the loaf and wondering if we’ve misunderstood him all this time.

3. Emerson Royal

There seems a lot less misunderstanding to be done on the matter of Emerson Royal. Bang average going forward and pretty woeful going back, I can only assume he produces stuff in training that would make Maradona blush, because game after game the young wag peddles some first-rate rot.

I’ll stick him the charitable stuff first: going forward he at least has the right idea. He knows the drill, and obediently charges off up the right flank, which if nothing else will give the fellow on the other side something to think about.

The problems seem to begin once he has the ball at his feet. If there’s a wrong option to choose, Emerson homes in on it like a moth to a flame. Alternatively, if the situation demands he whip in a cross – and let’s face it, in a wing-back’s line of work this is going to be bread-and-butter stuff – the fabric of the universe seems to melt before his eyes, and the peculiar fellow just cannot seem to muster the capacity. If you excuse the physics lesson, nothing about his crosses suggests he knows anything about trajectory or curl.

It’s pretty maddening stuff, as this must surely have been right up there in bold font on the Job Description, yet I struggle to remember a single decent cross he’s swung in. Tellingly, unlike Reguilon on the other side, Emerson gets nowhere near our set-pieces.

(Lest anyone point to his deflected effort vs Brighton at the weekend, I have a stash of rotten fruit waiting to be hurled, for in the first place there was no-one in the area at whom he could have been aiming, and in the second place the eventual arc of the ball owed everything to the deflection and precious little to Emerson’s own input.)

Moreover, defensively Emerson is such a liability that Southampton made no bones about the fact that he and he alone would be the point of all their attacks. Time and again, in the first half in particular, they targeted him, and time and again he melted away in the face of it all.

While the two late goals conceded made for pretty nasty viewing, there could be little surprise about the fact that Emerson was the nearest in the vicinity for the winning goal in particular. (I exonerate him re Southampton’s second, as Kulusevski switched off instead of tracking his man, leaving Emerson in the unenviable position of having two unmarked forwards on his plate.)

The winning goal, however, was a neat illustration of Emereson’s pretty odd approach to defending, involving him attempting to allow the chap a header and banking on his ability to block its path to goal, rather than actually challenging for the dashed thing.

Meanwhile, Matt Doherty stares on listlessly from the sidelines. This is not to suggest that Doherty’s presence would transform operations, but I do wonder quite what depths Emerson has to plumb before being bundled out the back and having the door locked behind him.

4. Romero

Strange to say, having conceded thrice, but at the heart of defence Romero filed away another solid shift. Not flawless – at one point in the first half he was utterly undone by a straightforward long-ball hoicked over his head – but by and large, whatever came into his sphere was mopped up with minimal fuss, and often a few extra servings of meat.

He would benefit from a few more capable souls to his left and right, and indeed in front of him, but defensively, both on terra firma and up in the atmosphere, he seems a pretty handy nib to have on the premises.

Intriguingly, the fellow is also evidently possessed of a pretty eye-catching pass from deep. Given the general absence of creative spark from our central midfield pair, this could prove to be a pretty significant outlet in weeks to come.

Alas, there were simply too many duds in the defensive unit last night, and it is a bit fruity to expect Romero single-handedly to put out every fire going. The latest cameo from Bentancur suggests that there’s a chap who needs fast-tracking into the starting eleven, and the eventual return of Skipp might also add a sharpened elbow or two to the midfield, but after the dominant performance against Brighton at the weekend, this was mightily disappointing stuff.

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Spurs 3-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

With apologies for tardiness.

1. Winks

Understandably enough the murmur about the place pre kick-off was around the return to the cast list of Messrs Son and Romero; but once all concerned spat on their hands and got down to it, the chappie who quietly emerged to AANP as having a say on things was one H. Winks Esq.

In a way, the current Winks vintage – Winks 3.0, you might say – requires for full appreciation an acknowledgement of what he is not. That is to say, Winks is not some all-singing, all-dancing box of trickery. If it’s Ndombele-esque body-swerves you’re after, of indeed Mousa Dembele-esque wriggles-from-tight-corners, then look elsewhere. And if you’re the sort who needs a Luka Modric eye-of-the-needle pass to get your pulse racing, then young Winks will not do much to soothe the savage beast lurking within.

Instead, on Saturday night, “neat and tidy” seemed to be the chorus on the lips of the fellow. I was rather taken by the manner in which our heroes regularly one- and two-touched their way out of ever-diminishing little defensive alleys, and Winks was as often as not front and centre of these operations. He availed himself whenever crisis (in the form of onrushing Brighton folk) approached a defensive chum, and having received the ball, did not stand around making speeches or counting his blessings, but swiftly shoved it along to someone better placed and less harassed.

A criticism of Winks, from this corner of the interweb as much as any other, has been his tendency, after surveying the terrain and weighing up all options, to take the rather excessive step of deciding that the slightest whisper of danger means the immediate cancellation of all forward-thinking possibilities. As a result, whatever the question, Winks’ answer has tended to be to go backwards.

This, however, might be described as Winks 2.0. The current, Conte-fied version (Winks 3.0) is by no means averse to passing backwards, but – crucially – does not view such retreat as the panacea to all that life throws at him. Winks 3.0 instead seems to be motivated primarily by an urge to do whatever the situation requires, as long as it’s done without too much hesitation.

This, at least to my uneducated eye, seems an infinitely more productive approach. It means that his primary motivation is simply to move the ball along, and preferably into a less troubled climate – and if that means going forward, backwards, underground or up into the atmosphere, Winks is on board.

And so on Saturday, we were treated to such delights as Winks dabbing little diagonals, Winks nudging the ball back towards goal, Winks chipping the ball square into space, and so on. The imp seemed to understand that what mattered was simply moving the object of the piece from Point A to Point B with minimal delay – and in the first half in particular this seemed to amount to a pretty critical part of the overall operation of pinching the thing from under Brighton’s noses and racing off on the counter-attack.

Winks was not perfect – the growing influence of Brighton’s Bissouma in the second half was evidence of that – but he seemed fully attuned to the company policy of swiftly turning defence into attack through swift distribution, and in this sense did enough to earn himself a much sought-after nod of approval from AANP.

2. Romero

As mentioned, Saturday brought about the welcome return of Senor Romero, and a welcome one it was too.

Everything seemed in working order, at least until his various sinews malfunctioned on 75 mins, but by then I think all concerned had seen enough to have any doubts about his return to the front-line suitably eased.

Part of the appeal of Romero is that he seems to do the majority of his business in an understated way, such that one wouldn’t necessarily notice he were there if one weren’t actively on the lookout for him. It helps that he is but one cog in an increasingly well-oiled defensive machine, all five of them (plus midfield helpers) seeming to know their lines and starting spots. The back-line was not necessarily impenetrable, but nor did it have the look of a gang hastily cobbled together with all concerned improvising their way through life. When on the back-foot, our defensive five appear to know their eggs, and Romero seemed perfectly content with his role and responsibility as bean-at-centre-of-things.

As well as simply being in the appropriate location at the appointed time, Romero also went off on the occasional wander to pretty good effect. If a Brighton wag had the temerity to scuttle into dangerous territory with the ball at his feet, Romero was perfectly happy to trot along after him and present himself as a rather imposing barrier, which in the circumstances seemed a reasonable enough approach.

On one occasion he was also temporarily possessed by the spirit of Beckenbauer, and accordingly went for a spin up over halfway and deep into opposition territory. Such day-trips appear to be heartily encouraged by Our Glorious Leader, and are facilitated by the presence of a back-three plus midfield minders, so we can probably get used to such raids.

3. Sanchez

On the subject of defensive eggs finding themselves tempted into the sordid world of the opposition half, Davinson Sanchez was oddly emboldened from start to finish.

Context here is crucial, for in all his appearances in lilywhite to date, Sanchez has given the impression that nothing distresses him more than finding the ball at his feet and being instructed to do something useful with it.

Go charging after an attacker, and Sanchez is in his element, bobbing from side to side like an out-of-control rowing boat until he is able to go charging into a challenge, sometimes taking ball, sometimes taking man, but always walking away from the crime-scene with the look of a man satisfied that he has done all asked of him.

Alternatively, if faced up by an attacker and given the opportunity to clear the ball to safety, Sanchez defers to no man in his ability to blast the thing as far from danger as possible, like a committed trooper hurling a live grenade out of his immediate sphere. There are few frills to Sanchez’ game, and one can almost read within his eyes that he sees no reason why there should be. Football, to Davinson Sanchez, is a game played by clearing all immediate danger, using whatever means necessary. Given this framework, he appears only too glad to have been blessed with the ability to draw back his right peg and deliver an almighty swing.

All of which had me rubbing the eyes and raising a puzzled finger on Saturday night, as we were treated to regular viewings of Sanchez charging up the right and towards the promised land of Brighton territory. What the hell possessed the chap is anyone’s guess. Personally, I blame Ben Davies, whose forays up towards the enemy penalty area in recent months have evidently not gone unnoticed in the Colombian quarter.

Admittedly, Sanchez’ actions betrayed the mentality of a man whose strategy seemed to be to act first and think later. He would set off full of buck and brio, looking every inch a fellow driven by an irresistible spirit of adventure – but on approaching halfway, reality seemed to hit and he typically slammed on the brakes, suddenly aware of the practical implications of his behaviour.

It’s a pretty telling indication of the state of things when one turns to Emerson Royal for help, but as it dawned upon Sanchez that all eyes were on him and that the thing at his feet was a real, live football, Emerson suddenly became the life-raft to which he felt the urge to attach himself.

At one point, unless my eyes deceived, Sanchez even found himself up in something like a centre-forward position. The whole thing was most peculiar in truth, but here at AANP Towers we were all for it. All too often we have been treated to the sight of Sanchez receiving a harmless pass and doing his best not to spontaneously combust at the shock of it all, so if he is prepared to venture like some new-born lamb, over halfway and up along the right flank, then it seems a more productive approach to life.

4. Kuluslevski and Bentancur

The other headline of the evening was the unveiling of our shiny new toys. Actually, the headline as far as AANP was concerned was the burst of pace shown by Sonny to set up our third goal, a blur of heels so rapid that the nearest Brighton defender completely lost control of his limbs and all sense of spatio-temporal awareness, and somehow found himself dribbling the ball unstoppably towards his own goal.

(The sub-headline of the evening was Ben Davies randomly unleashing an inch-perfect fifty yard cross-field pass to Kane.)

Back to the debutants. Kuluslevski was given half an hour or so entertain himself, and did so principally by making clear to the gallery that he has one preferred trick and will keep repeating it until time is called. In fairness, the old “Cutting Infield Onto Your Left Foot” gambit was sufficient for Arjen Robben to carve out an entire career, so Kuluslevski might argue that this is no bad tree up which to bark. Nevertheless, after seeing him put into practice this same manoeuvre a fourth time in his single cameo I did wonder about the extent of the research taken into this chap.

Bentancur on the other hand was given only five minutes, a period he put to good use in diving straight for the heart of the action in central midfield. One obviously hesitates to read anything into a five-minute teaser, but nevertheless I was encouraged by the fellow’s gusto in homing in on the busiest hub, as well as his neat footwork and one or two well-judged interventions.

He even found time to pick up a caution for a foul low on subtlety and high on efficiency, in putting a stop to an opponent’s forward intent by simply grabbing him by a couple of his limbs and refusing to relinquish. Again, what struck me here was not so much the specifics of the interaction as the general message it sent: for here was a soul concerned only to stop the other chap prospering, and if that meant brazenly committing Rule Violation 101 in full view of the ref then our man had absolutely no compunction. And I rather liked that about him.

Of course, the coming weeks and months will tell us a lot more about both, but it was nevertheless handy that each could take in a personal tour of the place. More broadly, given that Brighton are no mugs, a comfortable win against them should go down as a pretty slick evening’s work.

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Leicester 2-3 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Midfield Three

A day later it is with a steadier – if throbbing – head that I pore over this one. The first point of note was that the formation – and specifically the use of a midfield three – struck oil.

For clarity, that midfield three read, from west to east:
– Hojbjerg (advancing)
– Winks (sitting)
– Skipp (advancing)

When Leicester had possession, this triumvirate seemed keen not to be any further than about ten yards from one another, presumably under careful instruction rather than simply a gnawing loneliness, and the effect was to narrow the gaps through which Leicester could operate. It was not fool-proof – Leicester did construct two perfectly serviceable goals by penetrating this outer crust – but in general that midfield gang provided a handy first line of defence.

Their real value, however, came in the other direction.

Young Master Skipp is a man of many talents, but I must confess that I had never numbered amongst these any particular capability in the field of galloping forward adventurously into the final third. And yet there he was, in glorious technicolour, trading in every last breath from his lungs in order to avail himself in a rather niche but surprisingly effective inside-right sort of position. It was not so much what he did with the ball that attracted the admiring glance, as the positions he took up in making himself available. Be it for Emerson on the right-hand touchline or Kane dropping deep, Skipp took seriously this role of Main Supporting Actor On The Right, and it contributed strongly to our general dominance.

In a slightly less energetic manner, Hojbjerg chipped in similarly in and around the inside-left channel, and all the while Winks held fort at the base of things (and also took a whole procession of some of the best corners I can remember from our lot).

As one would expect, a Hojbjerg – Winks – Skipp combo was a tad light on effervescent creativity, these particular beans preferring to shuffle things along in orderly fashion rather than scythe apart anyone in opposing colours. And yet nevertheless, first Skipp (in intercepting) and then Winks (in his excellently-weighted assist) put pretty much all the bricks and mortar in place for our first goal; Hojbjerg’s vision carved out our second; and Hojbjerg was at the base of things for our third as well, in intercepting the original Leicester pass.

It has not gone unnoticed that arguably our two finest performances of the fledgling Conte era have come in a 3-5-2 formations (Liverpool at home, lest ye be racking the brain). In this latest instance, the switch to 3-5-2 was forced somewhat by the absence of Sonny, and his return would prompt the ghastly question of whether Lucas ought to be relegated in order to maintain the 3-5-2. For now, however, we might as well just continue the ongoing period of basking, and enjoy the fact that the formation tweak and use of a midfield three worked out in pretty splendid fashion.

2. Doherty

If there were one failing in the first half it was that Emerson Royal was being Emerson Royal. There are worse things he could have been of course, and being Emerson Royal does not automatically make one a hindrance to operations; but nevertheless, it does limit forward-looking options – and by extension this slightly neuters the entire, carefully-constructed mechanism.

In plain English, our formation under Conte depends heavily on the wing-backs to motor into the final third and produce things of value once there. And there appears to be something lurking deep within the core of Emerson Royal that, for now at least, prevents him flinging off the shackles and living the riotous life of a wing-back with unfettered joy and gay brio.

Instead, having adopted the requisite positions north of halfway, Emerson’s life seems to grind to a halt, and those around him often seem to decide it best to carry on with things as if he weren’t actually there at all.

Bizarrely enough, it took the introduction of Matt Doherty of all people, to introduce a few rays of sunshine to the right wing-back position.

My surprise at this development can be readily explained. Doherty is the sort of egg whose lilywhite career to date has been so crushingly underwhelming that I rarely utter his name without the prefix “Poor Old”, or “That Wretched”, or even sometimes a choice of words less family-friendly. Whenever he has popped up on the right, the complexities of a life in football have generally seemed to overwhelm him, with the result that every choice he has made has been the wrong one.

(In an act of generosity I’ll spare him too much comment on those rather ghastly visits he’s had to endure to the left wing, as these are not his fault.)

Yesterday, however, as soon as he took to the field, Doherty seemed to stumble upon some unlikely alchemy for the role of right wing-back, and scarcely able to believe his luck made the decision simply to roll with it for as long as he could.

His very first involvement was a series of one-twos with Kane that seemed to blow the minds of all Leicester folk in the vicinity; and from that moment on he clearly decided that he was on a good thing in charging into the final third, and kept returning to that particular well for more.

Positionally, this was a choice stuffed with goodness. At any given point at which we attacked, it became an accepted truth that Doherty would be motoring up the right, and
one only had to glance the laziest of eyes in that direction to nail down his coordinates.

Crucially, however, in addition simply to being in useful places, Doherty also produced a flurry of half-decent crosses. Some were admittedly plucked out of the sky without too much inconvenience by Schmeichel, and others just missed their mark, but it nevertheless made a pleasant change to see such crosses being delivered at all, aerially and towards the back-post, rather than simply slammed into the first functioning opponent.

And Doherty’s spirit of adventure was ultimately critical in bringing about our equaliser, by dint of creating a sufficient nuisance for the ball to end up obligingly at Bergwijn’s size nines. Admittedly he lost possession and fell to earth at the crucial juncture, but fortune favoured him, and defeat turned into victory.

Might this prove a turning-point for the chap?

3. Kane

I noted in the home leg against Chelsea last week that that rotter Harry Kane appeared to have rediscovered his old swagger, and as if to hammer home the point he actively sought out every opportunity to showcase it last night. In fact, if anything, he rather overdid it at times. By the midway point of the second half one wanted to take him by the hand, give him a calming pat or two and point out that we were all now fully aware of his resurgence, and he really did not need to belt the ball as hard as he could into the stands at every opportunity.

However, the occasional misguided long-range swipe is part of the overall package of a Harry Kane brimming with confidence, as he genuinely seems convinced that he can do anything. While he will never, ever take even a half-threatening free-kick, everything else in his bag of tricks looked mightily impressive yesterday.

The headline acts of course were his goal, executed like the most seasoned assassin, and his pass to for Bergwijn to seal the win, spotted and delivered with huge bundles of aplomb.

However, two moments alone a highlights reel might make, but hardly tell the whole story. And the whole story was loosely along the lines that almost every time he touched the ball he did something useful with it, and that he played a pretty primary role in much that was good about our lot. And when you consider that our lot were on top for at least a good hour of the ninety, it reflects even more impressively on the chap.

His hold-up play, choices of when to drop deep and passes to bring in others for fifteen minutes of fame were all pretty wisely selected and effected. Moreover, in hitting the bar and having one cleared off the line he did almost enough to claim a hat-trick that few could really have begrudged him. Cracking stuff from a man back at the top of his game.

4. Sanchez

One of the oddities of last night was the fact that Davinson Sanchez looked oddly assured for the most part. Admittedly one might point to a needless lunge by the touchline to earn a caution, and the fact that he was wrong-footed for the second Leicester goal, and these would be fair points – the blighter was not faultless.

Nevertheless, having been inadvertently promoted, by virtue of injuries first to Romero and then Dier, from fourth choice centre-back to leader of the pack, a conclusion that nobody in their right mind would ever will into reality, he seems to have shrugged his shoulders, accepted his lot and started to make a decent fist of it.

It might be that he simply looks more impressive given that next to him resides young Tanganga, who while full of promise has looked in recent weeks like a man terrified of his own shadow. But much to my astonishment Sanchez showed authority, strength and pretty good judgement yesterday.

He even occasionally strolled out of defence with the ball at his feet. The enormity of this ought not to be underplayed, for in almost every previous lilywhite appearance he has danced around the ball as if scared that it will suddenly develop legs and attack him.

If I were a betting man I might stick a few bob on the name Sanchez being ridiculed in weeks to come on these very pages, but last night he took on responsibility within that back three, and at the very least that deserves acknowledgement.

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Spurs match reports

Southampton 1-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Weirdly Rubbish First Half

At the risk of sending mixed messages, I found myself concluding that our lot were today equal parts utter garbage and frightfully unlucky. I’ll start with the garbage, not least because that’s exactly what our heroes did.

Having sung antiphons of joy just two days ago, about the virtues of our press and energy in winning possession high up the pitch, against Palace, I was deeply disturbed to find the boot on the other foot today. But on the other foot it was, as our lot turned from high pressers to high pressees. Any time they even thought about bringing the ball under control in the defensive third, they were molested by someone in red and had possession unceremoniously snatched from them.

With our entire team oddly accepting that this was the way of things and there was nothing that could be done to prevent it, Southampton’s opener was alarmingly inevitable, and it prompted the nasty suspicion that matters would degenerate further.

But at that point, Fate cleared her throat, declared, “All change”, and with the red card and equaliser delivered in just about a single motion, we had ourselves a completely different set-up.

Now the fellows paid to spout forth on TV seemed pretty convinced that our heroes did little to merit a second goal, which is of course their prerogative; and on hearing this I declared them both asses whose opinions I would never again entertain, which is of course my prerogative.

For clarity, our second half performance was far from faultless, and might have benefited from swifter exchanges of passes or, whisper it, an input or two from Ndombele. Nevertheless, in going up against a ten-man defence I thought we had a pretty decent stab at things, particularly when getting behind their defence on the right flank. The fact that their goalkeeper made ten saves would seem to support the notion the Pretty Decent Stab theory; the problem being rather that most of our attempts went straight at the gigantic fellow, rather than texting his reflexes to the east or west.

This, one might reasonably counter, is just part of life; and, if anything, represented a failing of which we were the authors. After all, no prizes are awarded for directing shots straight into the keepers’ mitts.

2. Disallowed Goals

However, you will recall that, mingled with the utter garbage of the first half, I referenced our Frightful Bad Luck, and this took the stage and belted out its greatest hits in the second half. For all the missed attempts, the point of contention is that we twice put the ball in the net, as required, and were still denied the contracted rewards. And this, put bluntly, is just not cricket.

The offside decision was a nonsense, and on multiple levels. While red and blue lines were helpfully scrawled across the screen to indicate who was where, the fact that they were level with each other rather gave the game away.

This was telling enough; but for added farce, the line for Kane was drawn from his armpit, rather than his head or foot, both of which were comfortably behind the Coloured Lines of Doom.

And if one really wants to gauge the accuracy of the decision, one only needs to imagine whether Southampton would have complained post-match had the goal been allowed – which it is difficult to imagine they would have done, what with Kane having been level with rather than ahead of the defender.

The second point of dispute was the Doherty incident. In fairness, this was more subjective than the offside call, so I am more inclined to bow the head and accept this one with good grace, but it nevertheless had one scratching the bean and re-watching about thirty times to detect where exactly any offence occurred. It seems reasonable to assert that had this incident taken place anywhere else on the pitch, play would have been waved on merrily; but referees rarely miss an opportunity to toot away in favour of a goalkeeper, and if nothing else the whole thing put to good use Matt Doherty’s permanent, open-jawed, hangdog expression.

We certainly might have done more to force the issue against the ten men, urgency only really elbowing its way into the fray in the final fifteen or so – but having pretty reasonably deposited ball in net on a couple of occasions prior to this, one does waggle the arms a bit and chunter on about the injustice of it all.

3. Winks

The inclusion of both Winks and Dele in itself delivered something of a pre kick-off jolt; the fact that this pair were included at the expense of Skipp and Lucas, two of the shinier of our lights in recent weeks, nudged the stakes that bit higher.

Winks delivered an oddly mixed bag. So keen was he to be noticed that he eagerly devoted much of his energy into being the Player Most Regularly Caught In Possession, an award for which, as noted above, there was pretty stiff competition from all quarters, in the first half in particular. In mitigation, he did at least have the decency to hare back after the ball in an attempt to win it back, whenever he was pickpocketed or passed straight to the opposition, but in general in those early knockings one was moved to scrawl his name under the heading of ‘Problem’ rather than ‘Solution’.

At this point, however, Winks delved into his box of tricks, and delivered a couple of eye-catching plot twists, in the shape of two pretty glorious passes – each of which resulted in the ball obligingly finding the net, and one of which also brought about Southampton’s red card).

The first of Winks’ glorious passes was the one that had Sonny chopped down in the area; the second the one that Kane tucked away only to be called offside. For all his eccentricities, in spinning around multiple times before playing the most obvious pass anyway, and losing possession on the edge of his own area, he evidently does still have it in him to split a defence when the stars align.

4. Dele

Dele, however, did not have such riches to offer.

Being a generous sort, I’ll toss him a smidge of sympathy for being stationed in what appeared to be a Right Midfield sort of spot, which seemed to be neither one thing nor another – and most pertinently was definitely not a Supporting Second Striker sort of role, as such diminishing his chances of success pretty heftily.

When he did turn up to support attacks he did so from a wider berth, which might have been better suited to Bergwijn or Gil, rather than the late, central burst from deep on which his reputation was built.

To his credit Dele did not shy away from matters. However, few mountains have ever been scaled or lands conquered simply by not shying away from matters. This was a time for brio and whizz, or at the very least for some seamless interplay with Sonny and Kane – but alas, Dele’s basket of S. I. with S. and K. was fresh out of produce, and he idled away his hour out on the right flank, getting sucked into pointless little skirmishes alongside Emerson Royal, which is the sort of activity that offers little value to anyone.

5. Doherty

With Reguilon bundled off the pitch for the avoidance of further unrest and general benefit of society, an unlikely opportunity presented itself for the rarely-sighted Matt Doherty. As ever, he delivered a performance that was well-intentioned and fully in compliance with company policy, but frustratingly light on any sort of quality.

With Doherty, as with the aforementioned Dele, a pretty hefty caveat must be swung into view, for here was another of our entourage who was dealt a fairly thankless positional hand. Doherty is evidently a soul who has been nurtured since birth for life on the right-hand side of the pitch, so all the good luck messages and back-slaps in the world would have been of pretty limited use to him once he was told to play out on the left.

And it very quickly became evident that his career as a left wing-back was indeed going to be considerably hamstrung, as the chap quickly took pains to indicate to the entire watching gallery that his left-sided lower limb was an appendage entirely foreign to him.

In fact, Doherty wandered about the place with the air of a man shocked to discover that he had a left leg at all. Having discovered it, however, he quickly made it plain that he was damned if he was ever going to be tempted to use it, with the result that every single time he touched the ball he shifted infield onto his right peg.

Gallingly, Doherty’s principal chances for glory fell to his left foot – but the man was nothing if not consistent, and preferred to contort his body into new and fantastical shapes rather than experiment with the mysterious limb, with the result that his various opportunities were belted by his right foot in every direction but the goal.

Ben Davies, bless his soul, did his best to ease the shock of left-leg-ownership that had beset Doherty, by taking every opportunity to motor off outside him and offer a bona fide left-footed option. But by and large, Doherty’s attacking potential was neutered, and by the end of proceedings our lot had pretty much given up on the left flank as an avenue of attack.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-2 Liverpool: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane

The more eagle-eyed regulars at the AANP Arms may have noticed that since his summer antics, that rotter Harry Kane has not exactly been the most popular so-and-so around these parts. However, if there were one moment yesterday that went some way towards mending bridges it was not his goal, and certainly not the never-ending stream of wasted opportunities to put the game to bed.

No, it was that moment midway through the first half when Kane completely forgot that he’d rather leave N17 for shiny pots in Manchester, and, rather carried away by the fun of it all, went flying in to win a loose ball and sent his opponent cartwheeling off into the north London air.

The legal minutiae of the punishment he then received will be pored over below. What caught the eye was the fact that here was a rare outbreak of passion from the man.

Typically sighted over the last six months looking forlorn, exhaling glumly and generally giving the impression of a fellow who would much rather be elsewhere, there was something remarkably uplifting about the sight of Kane being so carried on the wave of joy and energy brought about by his goal that he would merrily go flying, studs up, into an opponent. In short, it was nice to see him looking once more like he cared.

It arguably helped him feel more like his old self to have all the furniture arranged around him specifically to replicate the good old days of Poch. There, never more than ten yards away, like an obedient lamb in a nursery rhyme, was Sonny, the pair now deployed as a front two; fast arriving in the rear-view mirror was Dele Alli, supplementing attacks with well-timed bursts from midfield just as he did in the glory days. The whole production could not have dripped in more nostalgia if they had all worn Under Armour kits with great big blue flashes across the front.

Being part of a dedicated front two, and not just any front-two but a front-two specifically instructed to play on the counter-attack (and curiously aided in this respect by a Liverpool defence that seemed hell-bent on pushing right up to halfway and allowing us to race beyond them at every opportunity), Kane also benefited positionally. By and large, this had the welcome consequence of ensuring that when shots needed shooting in and around the penalty area, Kane was on hand to carry out his obligations.

This may sound obvious, but as we’re all well aware this has not always been the case, such is his unwavering faith in his abilities as a deep-lying creator. Yesterday, mercifully, the instruction was clear, and Kane lurked throughout at the northernmost point of the structure.

2. Winks

Opinion seems to have varied regarding the precise identity of our standout performer. The rejuvenated Dele has attracted a healthy chunk of popular opinion, while several members of the fourth estate have sung the praises of Sonny (which seemed a rummy one to me in truth).

Here at AANP Towers, the congratulatory rosette would probably be pinned to the breast of young H. Winks Esq.

To say that this was his finest performance in several years, while true, would also be fairly faint praise, the Winks bar having been lowered pretty dramatically since, I would suggest, the 2019 Champions League Final. But nevertheless, yesterday’s was the sort of product that would be most gratefully lapped up on a weekly basis. Particularly in the absence of young Skipp, Winks provided the engine that kept the whole machine ticking over, if you follow.

Winks has never been wanting for enthusiasm, so it was no surprise that this was in evidence throughout yesterday. The challenge with the recent vintage of Winks has been that he has developed about himself much in common with a tortoise reeling itself back into the security of its shell. Winks has gradually taken fewer and fewer risks with his passing, ultimately getting to the point of folding in on himself, with the result that he stagnates rather than ignites our play.

Yesterday, however, he tore about the place like a man who, if not quite actually at the peak of his powers, had a one-way ticket to get there and was thoroughly enjoying the journey. It did of course help that he was up against a Liverpool midfield cobbled together from their reserves, veterans and what looked like a minor plucked from the middle of his GCSEs, but it was to Winks’ credit that he took full advantage.

When receiving the ball, he popped it along briskly; crucially, he looked to move it forward at every opportunity; and when Liverpool were in possession, he rolled up the sleeves and scrapped away at them.

While it is easy – and rather lazy – to get carried away by the goals scored, Winks’ role in both neatly captured much that was good about his work. In the build-up to the first goal, he contributed one of the lengthiest slide tackles in living memory, seeming to begin his challenge somewhere around the centre circle and then sliding approximately a mile and a half before winning possession from one of Liverpool’s midfield competition winners. Play continued, the ball reached Ndombele, and before you could say, ‘Gorgeously-weighted and -shaped pass’, we were ahead.

Then for our second, Winks managed to combine all the core qualities of great central midfielding into a single, digestible nugget. First he played a neat one-two within in his own half to remove from the equation half of the Liverpool midfield. He then hared off over halfway, in the sort of ball-carrying operation that is fairly basic when you break it down, but pretty dashed effective at the right place and time. At this point, however, the value of the whole manoeuvre hinged on his output. Here, after all, was a man who had spent the last two years taking every opportunity to pivot one-eighty and find a safe passing option to his rear.

There need not have been any cause for concern. The Harry Winks of 19-12-21 was a man in whom the creative flames burned bright, and with Son and Kane already in motion ahead of him, his curved pass around the defender and into space was an excellent choice. The execution was actually not quite perfect, but Alisson helpfully trialled a new party-trick, and the net result was an open goal for Sonny.

An asterisk should probably be printed highlighting that Winks’ contributions were by no means limited to these two goals. Rather, while these made for pleasing additions to the highlights reel, they were indicative of an overall performance characterised by equal parts feist and intelligence.

And this bodes well in the broader scheme of things. With Hojbjerg looking every inch a man who is rolled out to perform in every minute of every game without respite, gulping oxygen and retaining limbs in their sockets by sheer force of will, the all-action performance of Winks potentially offers a credible alternative in midfield.

3. Dele

As with Winks, so Dele similarly took the opportunity to unveil his most impressive day’s work in a good few years.

Dele, like Kane, seemed to benefit considerably from the formation tweak (which rather makes you think, what?), and, like Kane, cavorted about the place like it was somewhere between 2016 and 2018.

Nominally one of the midfield three, Dele beavered as necessary when we were on the back-foot, albeit with greater proportions of enthusiasm than competence for the dirty work of central midfield.

However, it was when we nicked possession and the forward gallop began that Dele really rediscovered the joys of his youth.

Such was the all action, no plot nature of the spectacle that I lost track of the number of times our lot found themselves wandering the Liverpool penalty area with not a defensive soul in sight, and while it was galling in the extreme to witness a whole procession of straightforward chances go the way of all flesh, there was something extremely comforting in seeing Dele front and centre of things, by virtue of his well-timed sorties from midfield.

It was prime Dele (apart, I suppose from the execution, around which there were almost visible layers of rust). That the Liverpool midfield repeatedly lost sight of him as he slunk forward says much of the natural gift for timing that resides within him.

As with Winks it is too early to slaughter the fattened calf and crack open the vintage stuff just yet, but the signs were hugely promising, both in terms of his individual form and also the potential tactical option his rejuvenation might provide.

A final note on both Winks and Dele: having regressed so alarmingly under both Jose and Nuno, our latest Glorious Leader can probably bask in some credit for the improvements on display yesterday. Two swallows are admittedly a different kettle of fish from a whole summer, but the omens are good, and the critical difference would appear to be the change in leadership. Bravo, Conte.

4. The Refereeing

Any sequence of events that results in Jurgen Klopp reaching a level of apoplexy fit to make his explode is, of course, to be applauded, so in this respect yesterday’s oversight of proceedings was an absolute joy.

However, had a red card been brandished at Harry Kane, the Defence Lawyers would have had a devil of a time wriggling out of it, because by the letter of the law all boxes appeared to have been ticked.

There have certainly been plenty of instances of dubious refereeing decisions going against our lot – against these very opponents, and in fact, in this very match – so one has certainly learnt to take this particular smoothness with the various rough calls over time, but frankly any other decisions made are pretty irrelevant. Had Kane seen red there could not have been too many complaints, and given how early the Kane incident occurred, one ought to sympathise. One does not. One chortles. But one ought to sympathise.

Similarly, had Emerson (who from the AANP vantage point, was comfortably our weakest performer) been penalised for his less-than-dainty interference with Jota in the penalty area, one would not have had much of a counter-argument. However, as Dele can attest, this was not a day on which shoves to the back were deemed sufficient to merit sanction.

The claim from Dele was no doubt weaker than that from Jota, but in both instances, as ever, the AANP take is to wag a disapproving finger at the defenders in question, and suggest that they do not give the referee the option of giving a penalty.

There was also a crude exchange of views between Winks and some Liverpool defender, which resulted in our returning hero being flattened in a manner that in most other areas of the pitch would have drawn a perfunctory whistle. However, by that stage I was automatically defaulting to the wise words of my old man, AANP Senior, who would drill into me in my youth that, “The referee’s decision is final,” thereby closing the case without the option of appeal.

It only remained for Salah’s handball to be merrily waved away as an offence that didn’t take place at the right time, and Robertson to protest wide-eyed innocence at his own attempt at full-blown assault. By which stage there had been so much whizzing and banging that I had lost track of whether or not I was supposed to feel aggrieved.

Within such a strange, contradictory set of events (less possession but far more clear chances; good luck with the Kane decision, bad luck with the Salah handball) it has been quite a task to make sense of things, and far easier simply to pour a splash of early afternoon bourbon and enjoy – but the gist of it all seems to be that this Conte era has got something about it.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Brentford: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Skipp

As esteemed a judge as Glenn Hoddle piped up to say that he thought young Master Skipp was pick of the bunch last night.

(As an aside, and before getting into the meat of things on the pitch, given Hoddle’s tactical knowledge, and the fact he bleeds lilywhite, the AANP heart does yearn for him to be involved in the club in some way on the inside, rather than from the outside in the commentary box. Just a thought, albeit an oft-recurring one.)

Back to young Skipp. Hoddle had judged well, for Skipp ferreted about the place from first whistle to last like a man born to mop up loose ends, breaking down Brentford attacks before they started with the sort of challenges that put hair on the chest.

Alongside him, Hojbjerg put in a pretty convincing impression of a metronome, ticking along steadily and repeatedly in fairly controlled manner. One might say this was moderately pleasing, eliciting perhaps a polite ripple of applause. Skipp however, the enthusiasm of youth seeping from his every pore, was the more energetic of the midfield pair, displaying the sort of blood and thunder that had the natives bellowing approval. Oh that all in lilywhite would set about their business with his attitude and energy.

Moreover, as an unexpected bonus, Skipp’s rarely-sighted attacking juices were on display yesterday. He played a gorgeous pass to set Kane through for a one-on-one in the second half, and was also buzzing forward to good effect in the build-up to Kane squaring for Hojbjerg’s miss.

2. Sanchez

If Skipp was impressing in most things he did, poor old Davinson Sanchez was somewhere nearer the other end of the spectrum.

The spirit is obviously pretty willing – after all no defender of sound mind would ever take to the field intending to be bullied by his opposite number, or to wobble around the pitch when the night calls for strength of mind and body.

But somehow, Sanchez wandered the place last night with the air of a chap not really convinced of his own ability, a perspective that seemed to be shared by a decent proportion of the 60,000 onlookers.

I am occasionally inclined to tilt the head sympathetically and point out, on his more testing days, that he had the misfortune to come up against a tough opponent. However, this being the Premier League, that eventuality is likely to occur in just about every fixture. Every opponent has a tough old centre-forward leading their line, and Sanchez has rarely looked at ease against any of them.

So it was last night. Some duels he won; but in too many for my liking he was rather too easily shoved aside. Both in the air and on the ground, the fellow seems only just about to have a handle on things, and a nameless dread lingered throughout that the next attack directed towards him might be the one in which his legs collapsed beneath him and Brentford sauntered through unhindered.

On top of which, the poor old lamb looks utterly terrified in possession, dancing around the ball as if he has never in his life seen such a contraption, whenever it is gently rolled to him, before awkwardly pivoting back towards goal and shovelling it to Lloris. All while Joe Rodon watches on from afar.

Still, with Romero out for the foreseeable, the sight of Sanchez riding his luck for 90 minutes is one we can expect to see a lot more of.

3. Kane

That rotter Harry Kane had another game in which the good and bad mingled pretty freely.

There is in general still a stodginess about his play, as if the turf turns to treacle beneath his feet, giving him heck of a challenge simply to lumber from Point A to Point B when in possession. In his defence, his cause was not helped by the swarm of opposing bodies that closed ranks on him whenever he neared the area. Nevertheless, the air exuded was not one of slickness and confidence (one might refer to the pass he played to Lucas early on in the piece, when he might have shot but didn’t, and then overhit the pass for Lucas).

In this context his second half miss was dashed frustrating, but in truth I doubt that anyone is too concerned on that front – if he is getting himself into positions for one-on-ones then the goals will flow soon enough. The greater worry tends to be when he boycotts the area and lingers in midfield.

To his credit however, his contribution in link-up play to our second goal yesterday was an absolute delight. Nothing melts the AANP heart like a well-weighted ball inside the full-back – and there were a few of them on offer yesterday, with Skipp, as mentioned above, and Winks each producing one that made me go a little weak at the knees. Kane’s into the path of Reguilon was weighted to perfection, and deserved nothing less than the goal that followed for Sonny.

4. Set-Pieces

Our lot started things in pretty ripe fashion last night, pressing high, winning the ball and generally charging about the place like a bunch who’d been told in no uncertain terms to buck up following the Mura debacle.

This early pressure brought as its princely reward a slew of corners – at which point AANP’s enthusiasm waned considerably. Because for some reason, our effectiveness from corners is near enough on a par with repeatedly banging one’s head against a brick wall. It’s an oddity, frankly, because there are enough strapping sorts in our line-up to cause aerial problems, and even those who are less hefty – Moura, Davies – can be pretty effective in such situations. And yet we never score from the dashed things.

Mercifully, the trend was bucked last night, albeit in a manner that was equal parts luck and good, honest comedy.

However, own-goal though it might have been, I heap praise on the slender frame of Sonny, who has managed to take the thankless and quite possibly cursed role of Spurs’ Corner Taker and turn it into a surprisingly effective weapon.

I’m not quite sure why the likes of Eriksen and Lo Celso – chaps you’d bet could literally land the ball on a postage stamp from twenty yards – completely malfunction when faced with a stationery ball next to a corner flag, but Son is proving himself pleasingly adept in this particular field. Not only does his delivery consist of the requisite proportions of whip and height, but the little variations he threw in yesterday, in engineering short-corners, were effective enough to bring us a goal.

This bodes well. In the same way that I loudly denounce each conceded set-piece goal as something of a nonsense, being so cheaply conceded, so I delight in what is essentially something of a freebie when we score from one.

(As an aside, I’m minded to pop down to Hotspur Way myself and pointedly show all and sundry a few videos of the old Sheringham-Anderton corner routine, which despite being devilishly effective has lain neglected for two and a half decades.)

And while on the subject of set-pieces, I was particularly pleased with how our lot coped with the barrage of long throws from Brentford. Not a fan of such things myself, but one has to stiffen the upper lip and deal with this type of nonsense, and ultimately our heroes did so effectively enough – a precis that might well be applied to the game as a whole.

Tweets here; AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, here, lest ye be thinking of Christmas gifts

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Spurs 2-1 Leeds: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Conte

As not one of our lot produced a performance greater than middling in quality (although, credit where due, as a collective they did at least have the decency to roll up second half sleeves and turn defeat to victory through sheer force of will), the principal focus of AANP’s attention, by the time the curtain came down, was our newest Glorious Leader.

I suppose the various media outlets about the land will have gorged themselves on the sight of him frantically waving every available limb from the sideline, and while this is perhaps the least important element of his role it was good to see him at least give a dam.

But of vastly greater interest in AANP Towers was whatever the devil he said at half-time. Naturally, I was not privy to it, but I’m pretty convinced that it would have been the stuff of Hollywood, because on the back of his tuppence worth, our heroes came out in the second half not so much all-guns-blazing as i) wondrously able to find each other with their five-yard passes, and ii) wondrously facilitated with their ability to sprint where previously they had loped. And as it turned out. both of these were pretty critical elements in executing the 180 degree turnaround that followed.

As mentioned, we were still pretty light on quality in that second half, but attitude and intensity were noticeably up several notches, so in terms of delivering his Churchillian stuff at the mid-point I think it’s fair to say that Conte hit the spot.

That said – and not wanting to nitpick any more than is strictly necessary – but in my idler moments since the final whistle I have wondered why whatever sweet nothings were whispered at half-time could not have been drilled into the cast members immediately pre-kick-off. Tactically, of course, there was no real knowing beforehand that, for example, that Phillips lad would pop up in Leeds’ central defence, causing Kane and Sonny’s minds to explode; but in terms of the general sentiment of simply charging around the place like the game genuinely mattered, this strikes me as the sort of instruction that might have been issued circa 16.25 GMT, thereby saving everyone concerned from going through the stress of it all.

It’s one of life’s imponderables I suppose, and the important thing here seems to be that Conte dragged a winning performance out of our lot, so well done him.

(For what it’s worth, I was also rather taken by the sight of him celebrating with some gusto with each individual player afterwards. None of them seemed to consider it quite such an achievement – and frankly that strikes me as a large part of the problem, but if he can instil in them the concept that each game is something for which it’s worth sweating every available drop, then maybe they might even care enough to give their all from opening whistle to last.)

2. The Good and Bad of Reguilon

AANP’s lockdown Spanish is still something of a work in progress, so I couldn’t inform my public whether or not there is an equivalent idiom to “All’s well that ends well” en español, but if there is then I’d wager that young Senor Reguilon cheerfully whistled it a few times last night.

It was entirely appropriate, given the nature of our performance as a whole, that his goal should have had its genesis in the unsightly combination of both a massive deflection and a ricochet off the post, but the alacrity shown by the chap in springing into action as soon as Dier struck his free-kick was worthy of the highest praise. I would suggest that he showed the instinct of a natural striker – but not even our own, much-vaunted striker shows that much spring in his step these days.

Moreover, as with Conte at the final whistle, the lifelong fan in me took a particular pleasure in seeing him celebrate his goal like it meant the world to him.

This was all a far cry from his role in the concession of Leeds’ opener. In what was a depressingly familiar tale amongst our defenders, of dozing off on the job and failing to carry out the basics, Reguilon simply let his man waltz by him to tap in.

Had he been bamboozled by trickery one might have waved a forgiving hand, but to be caught on his heels and outsprinted by someone who had given him a five-yard start was pretty criminal stuff. Should Reguilon continue to play under the new Grand Fromage – and he seems to have been designed specifically to fit within Conte’s system – then he’ll need to tighten up his defensive game, and sharpish.

Moreover, even Reguilon’s forte, of charging over halfway and into enemy territory, brought groans from the faithful during that dreadful first half. He was actually one of the more sprightly amongst our number, but one moment in particular had the natives offering some forthright opinions, as he led a bona fide counter-attack, veered infield, and as Leeds’ defence obligingly channelled their inner Red Sea and split themselves right down the middle for our convenience, he rather bafflingly opted not to play the obvious pass, to Emerson Royal clean through on goal, but instead carried on veering infield and off into the nearest cul-de-sac.

All in all, it looked set to be one of the less auspicious specimens from the Reguilon repertoire, so to end proceedings as the match-winner was an unexpected bonus for the fellow.

3. Emerson Royal

Not to be outdone when it came to moments of substandard wing-backery, over on the right-hand side Emerson Royal was busily making his own lamentable contribution to Leeds’ goal. He simply sold himself a little too easily in the build-up to that goal, allowing his man first to bypass him and then to hold him off, when really any defender with a shred of dignity would have explored a few additional means of preventing the opponent from haring away so.

An interesting specimen, is young Royal. While not culpable of such calamities as were so frequently offered by Serge Aurier, and generally pretty committed to the cause, he nevertheless strikes me as the sort of bean who will as regularly lose his mano e mano duels as win them. And, bluntly, a hit-rate of around fifty per cent hit rate is not really good enough.

Going forward, as with Reguilon on the left, he certainly is not a man who needs to be asked twice, and tends usefully to station himself in pretty advanced positions. As such he seems to be handy enough, without necessarily being what any self-respecting judge would describe as ‘top-drawer’.

But in a sense, this is about as much as one can expect from a £25m defender, which does me scratch the loaf and wonder why we bought him in the first place. Competent going forward, and nothing special defensively, Royal is precisely the standard of player I would much rather we put back on the shelf when perusing the aisles, waiting instead for the real premium stuff.

However, here we are, and here he is, so fingers crossed that Conte weaves his magic and extracts the best from him. There is certainly the basis of a very good wing-back lurking beneath his outer crust.

4. Lucas

I offer comment on Lucas not because he features prominently in the list of nominees for either Most Prominent Hero or Villain, but more because his individual performance neatly encapsulated that of the collective, in the sense that he peddled no end of rot in the first half, and upped his game pretty markedly in the second.

In his defence, First Half Lucas did not shirk the challenge, he just hit the wrong notes over and over again. Every time he received the ball his eyes lit up and off he scampered, which in theory is the sort of stuff upon which kingdoms and dominions are built. In practice however, Leeds put a stop to him within about three paces, each time he set off. The net result was pretty unseemly, particularly as much of this seemed to take place within spitting distance of his own penalty area.

Things bucked up considerably in the second half, as he replaced the run-into-trouble approach with a vastly more productive flick-the-ball-swiftly-onwards scheme. This threatened to bear fruit within about thirty seconds of the re-start, freeing up that rotter Kane, and rewards were duly reaped later on.

Both Sonny and Lucas seemed to have the right idea from that point on, playing a tad narrower, flitting this way and that and, crucially, not dwelling too long on the ball.

And as mentioned, Lucas was not the only one whose performance improved markedly after the break. Young Winks missed as much he hit throughout, but if nothing else simply played a bit further up the pitch in the second half, and Hojbjerg also made himself more useful second time around.

Having taken my seat at the outset confident that two full weeks of Conte training would have had us fully prepped to steamroll some average opposition at home, this was something of a reality check, but for now it’s probably just important to win these things in any fashion going.

Tweets here; AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, here, lest ye be thinking of Christmas gifts

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-2 Vitesse: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. An All-Action-No-Plot Welcome for Conte

I recall a few years ago visiting the pictures in order to watch a talkie, which started off sensibly enough following a couple of bank robbers, but then took a sudden swerve into a completely different genre, in which everybody turned into vampires, of all things. I distinctly recall stumbling out of the place as amused as I was bewildered by what I had witnessed. Last night’s outlay had about it much in common with that motion picture, starting as it did one way, turning into a bit of a struggle – and then swerving violently into a different sort of thing altogether by the close. Sort of segueing abruptly from the Thriller genre to Slapstick Comedy, if you get my drift.

Given the frankly hilarious nature of the finale, it was easy to forget that for an hour or so we had a tight – if pretty amateurish – football match on our hands. Yet towards the latter stages this descended into the sort of farce that was reminiscent of two groups of drunks challenging each other to a kickabout on an oversized field, encapsulated by Emerson Royal attempting multiple step-overs (and doing so for the first time in his life, judging by their cumbersome execution), Sergio Reguilon doing keepie-uppies during the game and wide open spaces everywhere you looked, as befitted a match of 10 vs 9.

If Signor Conte were in any doubt about the madcap, all-action-no-plot way of things at N17 beforehand, he would have seen just about everything he needed to know last night.

2. Shiny New Formation

I cannot quite remember the last time I watched a game staring so intently at the formation of the collective, rather than the what was actually happening with the ball – but after all the chatter and videos about Conte’s supposed strategy, this was definitely one such occasion.

Much of the pre-match wisdom had been that we could expect to feast our eyes upon some form of 3-5-2, so I don’t mind admitting that I raised an eyebrow or two when our heroes trotted out adhering to a strict 3-4-3, with Sonny and Lucas either side of that rotter Kane.

And within that 3-4-3 there was not a hint of Kane dropping deep, Conte seemingly true to his word about viewing the fellow as one best employed in and around the penalty area.

Admittedly it might not be everyone’s idea of a wild day out, but I shall watch with considerable interest to see whether we stick with 3 in attack, or revert to a front 2 and an extra creative soul in midfield.

Yesterday, at least, it seemed a case of Conte moulding the formation to the personnel, rather than vice versa, and therefore accommodating Lucas within the front 3; but in time I wonder whether he might find himself shoved into a Number 10 role, demoted to the bench in favour of A.N. Other at Number 10 – or even reinvented as a wing-back. There seems a rather unfortunate irony in the fact that he and young Skipp – arguably our two standout players of the season so far (slim pickings, admittedly) – appear the least likely fits into Conte’s supposedly favoured 3-5-2 system, so it was awfully square of our newest Glorious Leader to accommodate both last night.

Further south, Conte pretty emphatically nailed his colours to the Back-3-And-Wing-Backs mast, to the extent that even when reduced to 10 men, and therefore presented with every excuse to revert to a back-four, he instead hooked a sweaty midfielder and brought on another centre-back, to ensure that B-3-A-W-Bs remained the order of the day.

It’s certainly an exciting idea in theory, but perhaps slightly flawed in practice, at present, by the fact that the various centre-backs at our disposal seem to demonstrate between them a few different shades of dubiousness.

The other captivating point of note around our formation was quite how wide the wing-backs stayed when we were in possession. If this were park football, with jumpers for goalposts and no set boundaries, both Reguilon and Emerson would have disappeared over the horizon and only reappeared at tea-time; but as it happened they each stuck pretty obediently to their respective touchlines, no matter which of our mob had possession, or where. And one understands the principle. We have a huge pitch, so why not utilise every blade, and give the opposition full-backs something to ponder?

(Of course, all the formation-tweaking in the world is of little use if Dier is going to be beaten to a straightforward header from a corner; and various of them contrive to make a pig’s ear of passing out of defence to gift Vitesse their second; but these are the joys on which Conte can reflect as his head hits his pillow each night.)

3. Romero

A word on the dismissal of young Romero, who by and large seems to have had the right idea about things since joining the madhouse.

Now footballers are not renowned for being the most cerebrally blessed, but even the thickest among them ought to be able to compute that once cautioned they should avoid like the plague any interaction that might land them a second yellow, unless absolutely necessary. (And for avoidance of doubt, ‘absolutely necessary’ here covers pretty much only saving a life or preventing a goal.)

So for Romero to go carting through the back of an opponent – on halfway – having already been booked, was pretty unforgiveable stuff. There was hardly any imminent danger, and the mind simply boggles at what the hell his thought process might have been. We dodged that particular bullet last night, thanks to Vitesse’s handy implosion, but on a bigger stage that would be one heck of a blunder.

As mentioned, the fellow has generally done more right than wrong so far, and indeed one ought to tip the cap in recognition of his neat pass through the lines that set up the lovely goal for Lucas. But Romero’s bread and butter is at the opposite end, and no professional with an ounce of common sense ought to pick up a second yellow for a challenge on the blasted halfway line.

4. Davies

Regular drinkers at the AANP well will be fully aware that Ben Davies is not regarded with any particular fondness by yours truly. A decent enough egg, for sure; a footballer worthy of the lilywhite shirt, I’m not so sure.

It’s been a bone of some contention, mind, mine being an opinion that is not universally shared, which seems fair enough, as one is always happy to chivvy democracy along with a friendly wave.

But rather than enter into that debate again, I highlight him here more to marvel at the fact that, like some sort of cat that’s already died eight times and is now being dropped from a considerable height, the chap seems to have landed plum on his feet with the arrival of Antonio Conte.

The evidence of a few hundred appearances suggests to me that Davies is not much of a left-back, primarily because his crosses too often go anywhere but the waiting limbs of a comrade. On top of which, he’s racked up his fair share of pretty avoidable and careless defensive lapses (and he was dashed lucky to get away with another one yesterday, waggling an errant foot at an opponent in the area when the game was still 0-0, and thanking the watching gods that the Europa Conference is too cool for VAR).

It is possibly because of those lapses that one would head a long way down the pecking order before selecting him as a centre-back in a back-four.

But introduce a back-three, and suddenly Davies becomes a pretty credible option. Being left-footed is the principle advantage here; but not far behind that is the fact that he’s not a particularly – or indeed remotely – devastating wing-back. Whereas Reguilon was fashioned from clay specifically in order to make merry on the wing, and should therefore on no account be regarded as a centre-back, Davies is sufficiently circumspect to be useful in a back-three.

Having two others alongside him is a useful insurance policy, to guard against those accidents to which he is prone; and being left-footed serves him well both in facing up opponents and in distributing the ball.

He still strikes me as the luckiest man in N17 to have found himself in Conte’s first line-up, but that position, on the left of a back three, strikes me as the one for which Mother Nature has best equipped him, and until January reinforcements arrive he might well become a regular feature of Conte-ball.

(Still not sure quite how he ended up furthest forward, and inside the opposition area, to create our third goal; and I’ll skimp on the praise because he actually made a pickle of an intended shot, rather than deliberately picking out a pass – but the assist goes down to Davies, B. so well done him.)

One could go one – there is much to be said about the pros and cons of Emerson Royal; the potential re-introduction of Winks; the Ndombele body-swerve and Lo Celso’s latest clanger – but this was a presentation to Conte, rather than a representation of him. What the hell he truly made of it all is anyone’s guess, but it was good of our lot to make crystal clear to him the size of the task that awaits. And frankly, if the entertainment continues to be as good as it was last night, then the remainder of this season will be an absolute blast.

Tweets here; AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, here, lest ye be thinking of Christmas gifts

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Vitesse 1-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Eleven Strangers

It might come as some surprise to those who have witnessed AANP rise in incandescence to yell a thousand foul-mouthed curses at our lot over the years, but I actually give the players a lot of slack when, as tonight, they are tossed in as an eleven for the first time, each having never played with the other ten previously (and, on the evidence of tonight, possibly not having met before).

In fact, several Spurs-supporting chums of mine received a message immediately prior to kick-off to precisely this effect. The gist of my thinking at around 17.30 BST was that while these were eleven relatively talented individuals, it rarely works to throw any eleven together for the first time (and that’s the crucial bit – it was their first time). Were this lot to play as a collective for five or six consecutive weeks they might develop into a heck of a unit, because goodness knows there are enough amongst them skilled at keepy-uppies and whatnot. But assemble them like the sort of ragtag group of mercenaries one sees thrown together by fate in mindless Hollywood action fare, and the bar for their first outing will be set low.

So, when Lo Celso, Gil and Scarlett tried a zippy little exchange of passes towards the end of the first half that ended with the ball rather apologetically rolling into an empty space in the Vitesse area, the reaction at AANP Towers was forgiving. The conciliatory hand gesture could be interpreted by those who know me best as meaning “Fret ye not, oh lilywhite heroes, you are forgiven, for AANP understands that razor-sharp interplay takes time to develop.”

One might therefore assume that vengeance points towards Our Glorious Leader, for having cobbled together the aforementioned group of mercenaries. But even here, the mood at AANP Towers is one of understanding and magnanimity. Now AANP is the last person to advocate such dastardly fare as match-fixing, but the arithmetic suggests that if ever there were a good time to rest an entire eleven ahead of a visit to the least bad West Ham team in decades, this was probably that time. For even with the defeat tonight, we are three points behind Rennes, with three games left to play – including Rennes themselves at home. Do the necessaries back at base, and this Europa gubbins ought to take care of itself.

In short, some sympathy for the players for being handed a tough gig; and at the same time few complaints about the team selection.

2. Lazy Attitudes

However, if anyone in lilywhite – or wild elderberry or whatever the heck that that oddity is – thinks that the unfamiliar starting XI grants them immunity from criticism they can unpack another think and sharpish.

No matter what the circumstances, the players on stage ought as a minimum to have run themselves into the ground and have needed to have been carried off by the time the credits rolled.

Instead, we were treated to such sights as Lo Celso losing possession and slowing to a walk, exerting only the energy necessary to fling his arms up skyward. Possession will be lost, alas, such things are inevitable and I’m not about to chide an attacker for attempting a spot of creativity that does not materialise; but for heaven’s sake, then to react by simply giving up and expecting others to retrieve the situation is dastardly conduct, and if I had my way I’d subject the chap to a couple of lashes across the back, without right of appeal.

I single out Lo Celso merely because that particular incident sticks in the mind’s eye, but he was hardly alone. As Glenn put it on the tellybox afterwards, none of that rabble treated this bash like a Cup Final (I paraphrase), when as professionals representing our club, they ought.

Picking on another of the guilty parties, young Gil is one whose effort generally is pretty admirable, but he was chiefly to blame for allowing the chappie who scored the freedom of the D in which to arrange his volley.

And so on. One after another of our number seemed oddly lackadaisical, until, inevitably, we fell behind, at which juncture it was, of course, fresh injections of urgency all round.

Again, at the risk of labouring the point – attacking interplay that doesn’t quite strike oil is forgivable, given that these fellows are not necessarily used to each other’s games; but failure to strain every sinew is not.

3. Back-Up Players

Nor, to my eyes, was this only a failing of attitude. It also struck me that a number of supposedly talented players – seasoned internationals and whatnot – were putting in some pretty solid impressions of a bunch of bang-average performers.

If any of the midfield three were under orders to march in and dictate the game from start to finish, they did a pretty good job of disguising the fact from human observation. Lo Celso did show some bright ideas going forward (more on him below) but Dele and Winks were too peripheral in possession, and none of these three really provided the necessary protection for the back-four whenever the time came to lower the shields.

All of which was bad enough on the day, but given that this was a chance (and, indeed, the latest chance) for all eleven to prove to the Brains Trust that they are worthy of the First Choice XI, it was pretty alarming fodder from all concerned. Heaven forbid, but after seeing Winks, Dele and Lo Celso gradually lose the plot against the might of Vitesse, the old bean does perspire a tad at the thought of either Hojbjerg or, heaven forbid, young Skipp (currently on 4 yellow cards, lest we forget) being rendered unfit for public service in the coming games vs West Ham and Man Utd.

Similarly, upfront, while young Scarlett did not want for effort, he looked every inch a 17 year-old playing against seasoned pros. To chide him for this would be a bit like moaning at the sun for setting each evening. In short, it’s hardly his fault. But should a piano fall from the sky and onto the head of Kane it will put us in one heck of a pickle; and should any errant keys from the rapidly disintegrating piano fly off into the surroundings and poke young Sonny in the eye, I dread to speculate as to the players from whom our next goals might emanate.

It’s a big old squad, but judging by tonight’s fare, those first reserves do not fill to the gills with confidence.

4. Lo Celso

As alluded to, Lo Celso occasionally threatened to break into something resembling a pretty handy performance, which makes his eventual output all the more frustrating.

It can probably at least be said in his defence that what little quality we did produce going forward seemed at some point to pass through his size nines en route. In particular, the Gil shot that hit the bar was teed up by Senor GLC, and I’m pretty sure that when Bergwijn fluffed his lines halfway through the second half, Lo Celso’s were one of those pair of hooves that passed the parcel over halfway.

However, on the whole, without wanting to put too fine a point on it, not much that he tried actually worked. Passes seemed not quite to find their man; attempted dribbles seemed to result in him being tackled; and the whole thing was neatly seemed up right at the death when we packed their area with bodies only for his delivery to sale harmlessly into the stands. In a curious way, his performance reminded me of the early years of Lucas Moura in lilywhite, when he would flatter to deceive before running into a dead end and losing both his bearings and the ball.

Now when Lo Celso played against Mura a few weeks back, he again seemed a shadow of his potential self, when really the stage was set for him to run the show. Things only really changed when the big guns entered the fray – with Lucas, Sonny and Kane around him, Lo Celso played the Number 10 role like a man born to do so.

The nagging frustration is that he seems to need, as a matter of absolute necessity, great players around him to play at his best. Must this be the case, particularly against fairly middling opponents? No doubt having better players to each of the north, east and west will make the day-job a lot easier for anyone; but Lo Celso ought to be good enough still to run shows like tonight’s without needing the assistance of some of the best in the world around him.

On the bright side, as mentioned above, tonight’s result ought not to harm our chances of ultimately winning this dashed trophy; and ought also to enhance our chances vs West Ham on Sunday. It’s rather soured the evening here at AANP Towers though, make no mistake.

Hither for tweets.