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Seven Lilywhite New Year Resolutions

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

Harry Winks – Take More Risks

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

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

Hugo Lloris – Sort Out His Kicking

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

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

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

Moussa Sissoko – Anything. Master The Basics For a Start

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

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

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

Dele Alli – Take Fewer Touches

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

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

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

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

Toby Alderweireld – Sign Up

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

Wanyama and Alderweireld – Get Fit

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

Harry Kane – Do Exactly The Same Thing

And one suspects he probably will.

Dortmund 1-2 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

There will be a cheery whistle on the lips today no doubt, as this was a vastly more satisfactory pitstop than Saturday’s rot. Not perfect, but on the scale of things this was far closer to click-the-heels-and-hat-at-a-jaunty-angle than morning-after-grogginess-and-for-the-love-of-all-things-please-close-those-infernal-curtains.


1. General Attitude: Commendable

Stand-out performances were evident all over the place, which does create something of a mathematical contradiction if you think about it, but the broad swish of things was that the knives were being sharpened, and an en masse reaction was rather urgently needed.

For our heroes to do so, and from a one-goal deficit away from home, was pretty much the sort of thing for which choirs of angels were introduced. Cast your minds back to the sepia-tinged days of last year, when we could not tiptoe from one Champions League fixture to the next without tripping over our shoelaces, and this sort of measured performance looks pretty mightily impressive.

Cast your minds back a mighty two years, to our last trip to Dortmund, when, to put the point delicately, we were royally stuffed from every angle and in every manner conceivable, and suddenly “mightily impressive” comes across as one of the great understatements of our age.

On falling behind, there was no desperation or rush to sever selves at the neckline and do the headless thing. They simply stuck to the gameplan, ticked the boxes and burrowed their way into the lead. Bravo, chaps.

2. Eric Dier Scrunches His Eyes and Concentrates Hard

You sometimes hear about these thoughtful types, who on experiencing a major life event, down tools, leave a note on the fridge and take off to Tibet or similar climes, to have a sit-down and a jolly long old think, returning with all the jigsaw pieces neatly laid out and edges squared away.

One can only logically assume that after the minor miscalculation against Man Utd a few weeks ago, Eric Dier managed to find time between international duty and training and social media to crack off to Tibet for his half hour of zen, because the chap’s defensive focus has rarely looked sharper.

Admittedly, as a unit, communication was awry between the back-three and full-backs, in the opening 20 minutes or so, but individually, Eric Dier was crossing t’s and dotting I’s like nobody’s business. Sliding blocks, covering challenges, towering headers – the young nail was dashed sure he got his full quota.

His passing range is not quite that of the lamented Toby Alderweireld, but as and when the moment arrived he was happy to bring the ball out of defence, and generally gave a happy balance to things on the right of the back-three.

3. Winks And His First Touch

Every day is Valentine’s Day here at AANP Towers, with lovestruck odes and rhyming couplets of adoration being flung around like confetti, all in honour of Harry Winks. The chap is like a tiny metronome sitting in front of the defence, shoving things along and keeping everyone honest.

If he can go forward he will, but if circumstances demand that the dashed thing just goes back whence it came because frankly life is like that sometimes, well then so be it, Winks is still the man for the occasion.
Particularly noteworthy is his judgement of whether his first touch should just kill the thing dead, or take him a yard away from trouble. If opponents are snuffling at his heels the chap does not need to wait for a telegram to announce the news, he just makes sure his first touch sends him away from the foreign legions and closer to friendly climes.

Working back to Point 1, above, re the general sense and patience with which the whole troupe approached things, especially after going behind, Winks set the tone and things pretty much followed from there.

4. Rose Gradually Gets Up To Speed

Having taken a deep breath, contacted the relatives and made the necessary adjustments for life after Danny Rose, following his not-too-subtle elbowing from proceedings on Saturday, I don’t mind admitting I had quite the shock on observing the barrel-chested young buck bounding out onto the pitch last night with not a care in the world. Much as I understand Macbeth felt when, having put an end to Banquo’s innings, he looked up while mangling a spot of lunch and spotted the ghost of the chap, of all things, knocking back the hors d’oeuvres at the far end of the dining table.

But back in the fold Danny Rose most certainly was, nailing that Banquo impression. And, much like Banquo’s ghost, Rose was looking like he might have raided the larder at some point, because that figure-hugging shirt seemed to betray a spot of extra timber around the waist.

Nothing wrong with Rose’s confidence though, as evidenced by the bizarre moment in which he opted to use his shoulder of all things to find a teammate. However, in those early stages he did seem one teaspoon short of his full set of cutlery. Rusty, if you will. Rough around the edges.

To his credit, the young whelp seemed to remember his lines better the longer the game wore on, and by the end of proceedings he gave the impression that he was rapidly approaching tickety-boo.

5. Ever-Dependable Son

Son is a dependable chap, what? One imagines that if Dele Alli’s tap sprung a leak, or Ben Davies was missing the appropriately-sized screwdriver to hang the family portrait, Son would drop whatever he was up to and dash over to casa Alli or Davies, as the case may be, with the necessary tools and a cheery grin.

Yesterday, he bustled around with all the energy one has come to expect, and we appeared to have an added dimension to our attacking play. Dele has been a little off-colour of late (although to his credit yesterday, while still struggling to strike oil, he made a couple of game-changing suggestions), so Son’s presence was all the more important. Because let’s face it, the chap is a pest. He also seems pretty keen to buzz around Kane as a bona fide supporting striker, rather than the Number 10 attacking midfield role, or whatever label the kids are using to describe Dele these days.

Quite right then, that he should have the honour of applying the coup de grace, a subtle first touch followed by a pretty emphatic swish to get the job done. Food for thought for the Brains Trust, because the chap delivers the goods every time.

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

Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid: Seven Lilywhite Observations

1. Bright Moments From Dele

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Other Side of Kane’s Game

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

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

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

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

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

3. Trippier Bosses Things

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

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

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

4. Eriksen Makes Hay

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

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

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

5. The Defence Just About Holds Firm

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

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

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

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

6. Winks Assisting Assists

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

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

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

7. This Game’s Sissoko Moment

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

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

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

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

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

Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. The Eriksen-Modric Fantasy Clash

I don’t mind admitting that the heart skipped a lovestruck beat when I saw Messrs Modric and Eriksen line up in opposition in the centre of the Bernabeu. It was like one of those classic films in which an inspired casting director has called in a few favours and pulled a few strings, with the result that he has managed to obtain the services of two absolute giants of the silver screen, to peddle their muck alongside one another for the first time. Think Expendables 2 and you have the idea.

So there, in glorious technicolour, were Modric and Eriksen. Master and Apprentice if you will, of the control panel at N17. Creator Extraordinaire Past and C. E. Present. Even the dullest, most heartless observer would have salivated uncontrollably at the prospect.

Alas, what transpired was quite the mismatch. Modric, unsurprisingly, stuck to his part of the deal, and duly ran the show from first toot to last. All that we had known and loved on the hallowed turf of the Lane was blazing away again, from the man once voted Real’s Worst Ever Signing. The exquisite technique, vision and execution, all allied to an impressive degree of hither-and-thither scurrying. It was A-Game stuff, and our heroes had to be on their toes throughout to prevent the chap running riot (which, to their credit, they did with aplomb, but more on that later).

But alas, I said, and it’s worth repeating: alas. For Eriksen, who by any loose estimation has hit quite the heights already this season, was dreadfully off colour. The heir to the Moric mantle seemed to have attached left boot to right foot and vice versa, and possibly then tied the laces of both boots together for good measure. He barely struck a right note the whole evening. Dashed odd, and terrifically frustrating, because if ever we needed our String-Puller-In-Chief to earn the monthly envelope it was away to the European Champions.

He will have better days – in truth he can barely have worse – and his work-rate was as earnest as ever, but there could barely be fainter praise for the chap.

2. Harry Winks’ 60 Seconds Worth of Distance Run

Seasoned visitors to these 4 walls will know that the AANP cup overfloweth with good honest man-love for young Master Winks. That he is one of our own and lives the dream is certainly pleasing, and poetic and whatnot, but pleasing and poetic alone does not win football matches. But by heck what does win football matches is receiving the ball and instantly spinning the needle Northwards to see what is available, then ploughing forward via the best transport mode available, be it pass or dribble.

The chap is not faultless – his loss of possession on halfway resulted five seconds later in a one-on-one for one of the greatest goalscorers in history, not the sort of error of judgement one wants to make too readily.

But allowing for the fact that young Winks is mortal, and that to err will very much be an occasional part of his DNA, he held his own in the face of arguably the stiffest midfield test in world football today.

The assorted boxes ticked included “Body Strength to Protect the Thing”, “Defensive Awareness (Both Positioning and Tackling)” and, as mentioned above, a pleasingly anti-Jenas ability to prompt a forward move. Those doubting the young bean’s ability would be advised to soak up a replay of our goal, featuring Winks shrugging off a challenge and playing the short but effective forward pass which set the thing in motion down the right flank.

3. Aurier and Sissoko

A propos that right flank, quite the eventful evening for those on patrol. Aurier’s greatest hits in lilywhite now include an assist vs Real Madrid, a penalty conceded for a wild lunge, a red card for two wild lunges, and an absolute hatful of other wild lunges delivered at regular intervals, executed with groan-inducing wildness and as likely to succeed as the toss of a coin.

A rough diamond then, as a particularly kindly diplomat might put it. The cross for our goal was scrumptious, and after the initial 20-minute bedding-in period in which every member of our back-five had evidently been instructed to remain within spitting distance of our own penalty area upon pain of death, he gradually began to don his marauder’s hat and go marauding up the right with the best of them.

The link-up play with Sissoko certainly did have the occasional look of ‘Accident’ rather than ‘Design’, but effective is as effective does, and Aurier caused them problems.

That said, watching him perfect the needless art of the Wild Lunge did make me want to reach out and offer a consoling pat to the head of Kieran Trippier.

Elsewhere on the right, the broken clock that yesterday told the right time was Sissoko and his limb collection. The consensus is that the chap did a decent job, and he certainly contributed to the unlikely double-act with Aurier. However, I would hardly number myself amongst the converts. For every extravagant scorpion-kick control-on-the-run there was a wild swing and miss on the edge of his own area. It did the job, he played his part, so credit where due, but every passing day – and every errant pass – makes me yearn more for Dembele and Wanyama.

4. Lloris’ Disdain for Physics

To date this season Monsieur Lloris has been cultivating quite the eye-catching collection of monumental aberrations, but such big tent capers can be forgiven in an instant when one observes the frankly physics-defying stunts he pulls off in the name of the last line of defence.

As with the left-hand scoop vs Bournemouth at the weekend, his leggy block of Benzema’s header yesterday seemed to cause a rip in the very fabric of space-time. The thing just did not seem possible, and was worth toasting to the rafters every jot as much as a goal at t’other end.

The save from Ronaldo’s volley, while slightly more aligned to the laws of physics, was nevertheless similarly first-rate. The chap is a keeper, if you get my drift.

5. Pochettino’s Tactics

AANP has no bones about attributing the rightful name to a digging implement, and when our glorious leader erroneously gambled on Son at left wing-back vs Chelsea in the Cup last year, a bashing was duly administered which no doubt still makes the chap cower to this day.

Last night, the assorted absentees forced him into another tactical gamble, and a startling one it was too, with the teamsheet prompting around 18 different interpretations from seasoned onlookers of what shape and arrangement might transpire.

5-3-2 as it happened, in a pleasing throwback to AANP’s failed experiments on early 90s Championship Manager, but credit by the truckload to Pochettino for deciding upon it, and the lilywhite troupe for executing it.

Admittedly, the deep-defensive approach does induce palpitations by the bucketload amongst the observing throng, but by and large it worked. In the first half, after the early woodwork scare, Real struggled to get their paws into the meat of the thing, viz. our penalty area. Admittedly we in turn struggled to prevent the ball returning straight back at us, particularly at the start of the second half, but with Real looking vulnerable at the back, the “2” element of 5-3-2 proved a smart move, and we should have toddled off home with more than just the one goal.
Credit, on that cheery note, to Llorente, who, while no whippet, showed both strength and a delicate touch in his role as Robin to Kane’s Batman.

Other observations were that Son was surprisingly underused, and Danny Rose seems to have spent his entire rehabilitation period deprived of any grooming products, but in the absence of 4 of our first choice 11, a point away at the European Champions was a fantastic result. Qualification is all but guaranteed, and in the grand scheme of things, the development of this bunch continues apace. Marked progress from last year, the upward trajectory continues.

Liverpool 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

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

1. Davies

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

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

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

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

2. Dier

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

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

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

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

3. Resources

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

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

4. Dembele

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

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

5. Discipline

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

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

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

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

Spurs 2-0 Villa: Five Lilywhite Observations

From the sublime of the markedly, almost scarily professional dismantling of Chelsea, to the pointedly less sublime of an FA Cup 3rd round win against lower league gubbins. This looked every inch the performance of reserves that was advertised in the trailer.

1. First Half Snoozing

The first half was marvellously soporific stuff, as players, fans and the viewing public alike settled in for a gentle Sunday afternoon nap. Naturally enough our first-reserves could not be faulted for effort, but for all their busy scurrying the product tended generally to be little more than a pass to the left, followed by a pass to the right. Even Mike Dean seemed rather uninterested by events on the greenery.

The most notable element of that snoozy opening 45 was the sight on the Villa bench of one Stephen Clemence, a man who once had the pleasure of sharing a nightclub urinal with AANP back in the 90s heyday. It was that sort of half really.

There was a dreadful lack of that neat trickery just outside the penalty area that Messrs Eriksen and Alli have turned into such a dreamy artform. The quick shifting of the orb, and busy off-the-ball buzz, was woefully absent. That Villa fielded literally a back-six did not really help matters, but that was almost the point of the thing, for they were hardly about to rock up to the gates, wave a white flag and politely request to be butchered.

2. Cissoko

Amongst those given a rare chance to flaunt his wares was Cissoko. One moment in the first half rather captured the chap in a microcosm, as he picked up the ball just inside his own half, surged past two or three opponents like some sort of warrior buffalo, then trod on the ball whilst running at full pelt, squirting it onto an opponent whereby it flew straight back off his shin and catapulted fifty yards forward into touch. Not something you or I could have done if we had practised for weeks.

Credit where due however, and the chappie’s day improved a notch or several in the second half. He will probably never be the subtlest bean on the counter, but that head-down/chest-out/limbs-everywhere/charge-right-through-you approach reaped a dividend or two as the game wore on. On a couple of occasions he managed to burst right through the Villa defence like a fist through a paper bag, and while he fluffed his lines after fashioning for himself a one-on-one, he did nifty job of setting up Son for our second.

3. Janssen. Sigh.

It was case of the old plus ca change and whatnot for poor old Janssen. Everything we have seen before, from the plodding attempts to outpace his man, to the well-weighted lay-offs, the look of a man who won’t score if he plays for another thousand years, right through to the early withdrawal. Nothing a seasoned watcher would not have predicted. Poor egg.

4. Alli and a Change in Fortune

Insult duly toddled along and positioned himself next to injury, as Janssen’s replacement, Dele Alli, promptly brought with him a change of tempo and fortunes. Alli offered oodles more movement and creativity on the ball, and the win pretty much took care of itself.

5. Other Semi-Bright Spots

On an underwhelming afternoon, there were a few half-decent performances. N’Koudou as ever looked like a lively sort of pup when he was flung on; young Winks gave another mature and feisty performance; Carter-Vickers at the back did little wrong, albeit without enduring the most testing afternoon.

Frankly, the point of the exercise was probably three-pronged: avoid a replay; avoid injuries/suspensions; win the dashed thing. As such, and with a welcome break for the regulars, this can go down as that most curious of beasts – an eminently forgettable, unqualified success.

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