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Spurs 6-1 Rochdale: Five THFC Observations

1. VAR, Apparently

Just as well we started thumping in goals from all angles in the second half, because by the midway point of the first half the two dozen or so brave souls who had made the pilgrimage to Wembley appeared ready to grab the nearest pitchfork and riot, in protest at VAR and the accompanying lunacy.

If you are looking for some semblance of sanity or explanation in this direction you can jolly well look elsewhere, because AANP was even more discombobulated than usual. Not only were VAR decisions being made according to the toss of a coin or spin of a wheel, or whatever sorcery it is, but I had the pleasure of watching the whole thing unfold from the rear end of a bar in Malta of all places, which had wisely decided to shun the witterings of the standard commentators and instead peddle a marvellous range of 80s power ballads and 90s pop as the audio backdrop to proceedings. A pretty ripe deal, you might think, and I certainly would not trade it, but without someone narrating the thing it was blank looks all round whenever the ref’s eyes lit up and the VAR machine rolled into town.

So when Lamela’s early “goal” was disallowed, with replays showing nobody offside, no simulation and about as much physical contact as one would normally expect from a game of chess, I could do little more than exchange a quizzical look with my old man, AANP Senior, while R. Kelly warbled in my ear that he could fly.

The decision to award the penalty seemed a slightly rummy one to me, the foul having begun a good few metres outside the area, but having bravely fought off the attentions of his marker for as long as was bearable, young Trippier’s little legs could support him no longer. And while few juries would possibly have convicted on those grounds, Trippier wisely enough reasoned that where there is VAR there is hope for even the most unlikely infraction to be awarded; and Bryan Adams gently crooned his satisfaction.

That said, the decision then to disallow the Son’s goal made me cast a few severe glances around the place like nobody’s business. A Spurs-supporting chum of mine kindly sent me an image from the FA website no less, on the various dos and don’ts of penalty kickery, on which was inscribed the specific words “Feinting is permitted”. It’s permitted, dash it! If anything, the FA bods are practically encouraging it! And while Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” admittedly did a mighty job of soothing this particular savage soul, the injustice of it all had me chuntering away into my Maltese lager.

2. Attacking Trio

So it was with a cocktail comprising two thirds bewilderment and one third effrontery that I sipped the half-time restorer and was serenaded by that virile old devil, Marvin Gaye. VAR had stood virtually as an extra line of defence; our own defence had switched off a little too regularly for comfort, and the Sissoko-Winks defensive screen had a distinctly porous whiff about it.

The saints be praised then, that the attacking triumvirate of Lamela, Son and Lucas were going about their business with gay old abandon. Each one of them bounded around the place as if to say, “Hello! If we play our cards right there could be all sorts of goods on offer here,” and accordingly they came fully armed with trickery on the ball and a decent level of work off it.

Lucas in particular appears to do exactly as advertised in the catalogue, which ought really to be barely worthy of mention, but given that our history of big-money signings has the same calamitous air about is as the passenger list of The Titanic, this is actually quite the triumph. Unlike anyone else in lilywhite he seems capable of skipping past opponents at in Full Gallop mode. On top of which, the young bean knows when to hang on to the ball and when to give it, as evidenced by the part he played in more than one goal. While admittedly this particular flexibility has only been fully demonstrated to date in two encounters with Rochdale, it still gets the juices flowing, as it were.

And if one were to step back, stroke the chin and survey the wider landscape, one might even suggest that there is now a degree of competition or reserve for Messrs Eriksen and Alli. Admittedly nobody is in the class of the former, but having a couple of viable options is no bad thing.

3. Llorente

I suppose that having wasted no opportunity to throw curses around like confetti whenever Senor Llorente has tripped over his own feet, it is only right to doff a cap and raise a glass or two when he scores a perfect hat-trick.

Prior to that point it was the usual fare from him: delightfully-weighted lay-offs coupled with an infuriating inability – or maybe just stubborn refusal, who knows? – to throw his weight around, work up a sweat and win a few blasted headers.

However, his first goal was an exquisite finish, and thereafter he did what a good striker ought to do. While goals at home to Rochdale perhaps do not raise the chap’s stock to the extent that global markets will be in disarray, it does mean that his confidence will be heading north, his teammates might be a little less nervous about his presence than they were 24 hours ago, and Harry Kane was granted a night off.

4. The Usual Array of Slightly Bewildering Substitutions

Other luminaries were less fortunate than Kane, however. With the tie in the bag, and the weather atrocious, our glorious leader hit upon the faintly ludicrous area of instructing Mousa Dembele, the undisputed owner of the Most Important Whilst Being Most Fragile award, to don a t-shirt and go haring about in the snow for half an hour. And ten minutes later he had Dele doing the same.
Quite what the heck he thought any of the above would achieve is absolutely beyond me. No good could possibly have resulted, and there seemed, in shipping forecast parlance, a moderate-to-fair chance of someone hurtling through the snow to their doom.
On top of which, while Erik Lamela charged around the pitch on his weekly mission to get himself sent off in double-quick time, Pochettino saw fit to remove Son, and leave Lamela to challenge the referee to a thirty-minute game of Chicken.

For all his virtues – and the list is as long as they come – Pochettino does come across as an odd sort of egg when it comes to substitutions, the type who will see we need a goal in the final ten minutes and bring on Trippier for Dier.

5. Snow

It matters little I suppose, but if you are after a blow-by-blow account of the final half hour or so you are most certainly in the wrong neck of the woods, because I could barely see a blasted thing. Having spent five minutes shouting over Justin Bieber to suggest to AANP Senior that they might want to use a yellow ball, I finally noticed that they were indeed using a yellow ball, and it was adding nothing in the Visibility column.

Nice to see Walker-Peters get five minutes; nicer to see that the Grand Fromage opted against hurling on Harry Kane for a wince-inducing and pointless five minutes; and thoroughly heart-warming to see Walker-Peters sprinting away in celebration after presumably scoring his first Spurs goal, although in real-time it simply appeared that he was going through a rigorous warm-up routine sans ball.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is pretty reasonably priced on Amazon…

Rochdale 2-2 Spurs: Four THFC Observations

1. Aggression, or Lack Thereof

Should any passing strangely politely enquire whether we have the ability to field two separate elevens they can now be answered fairly emphatically in the affirmative, the evidence being paraded on the pitch at kick-off. Eleven completely different pairs of legs, from those that did the business in Turin, and if pre kick-off our glorious leader allowed himself a private moment of self-congratulation on the fact, who could have begrudged him?
However, should the line of questioning trickle towards the ability of that back-up eleven to bring home the goods as required, there may be one or two shuffles of feet and sheepish sideways glances.

In truth, the ability of the “reserves” paraded today is not in question, as most are internationals and by my reckoning around eight-elevenths of them would do the necessaries if flung into a Premier League game alongside their more vaunted associates. (Sissoko, Llorente and Vorm, since you ask.)

For some reason however, pitch them together at a lower-league ground and they collectively wobble away like nobody’s business, looking rusty even if they aren’t, and slightly bewildered by the pace, and the crowd, and even the very concept of a cup tie for goodness sake.

Now given that the above pretty much hammers home that this was a collective failing, one might opine that I’m something of a rotter for picking on one individual, particularly when that individual is as loveable and honest as Son, but such is life.

Son in fact at least had the decency to look interested and energetic throughout; his motivation was not really in question. Rather, he seemed to be lacking in willingness to get stuck into things and emerge with a few cuts and scrapes for the sake of the greater good. One can imagine that if offered a sword and shield before a gladiatorial biff, he would look at them in horror, and enquire if the whole affair could be settled without any need for physical contact. The spirit, one might say, is willing enough in Son, but the flesh is as weak as they come.

And so, predictably, the young nib could be seen pulling out of 50-50 challenges, getting wrestled off his chosen path and generally being bullied this way and that. And in a way, that was our performance in a microcosm, at least for the first hour or so.

2. Substitutes Raising The Entire Team

That general sentiment of tentativeness and dislike for the less fragrant elements of cup football only really began to change once the substitutes were shoved on. Admittedly young Winks came out in the second half looking suitably mortified for his error, and determined to atone by scurrying around for as long as his legs would obey, but by and large we continued to potter about the place with only a passing degree of interest, and if the final whistle had sounded and we had been eliminated I’m not sure the eleven on the pitch would have been motivated to do much more than shrug shoulders and enquire what was for dinner.

So it was left to the subs to address matters. They were introduced iteratively, and our performance improved in direct proportion. Lamela and Dele brought with them not only energy, speed of thought and some deft touches; they also managed to haul everyone around them up to a fairly similar level.

Quite why we could not have started with that same sharpness is beyond me, but I suppose we should just be glad that it transpired at all. Lamela and Dele suggested the novel concept of picking their way through Rochdale midfield and defence, and the rest of our heroes cottoned on to the idea and joined in, as if it were the first time they had ever heard of such a scheme but by golly they wanted part of it.

3. The Curious Incident of Danny Rose Randomly Upping His Game

If Son’s timidity in the face of a flailing limb or two were frustrating, but mitigated by that willing spirit, the contrast in Danny Rose’s attitude pre- and post-substitutions was downright bizarre. For the first hour or so the Rose locker was utterly bereft of willing spirit. The young bean seemed to do little more for two thirds of the game than go through the motions, as if to wave his arms and wonder out loud why some people were picked to play away to Juventus while some other people were picked to play away to Rochdale.

All of which made some sense, for here, after all, is a man who, when not happy with his lot at N17, will grab the nearest megaphone and broadcast the fact to society at large.

But what followed made for pretty odd viewing, because as Lamela, Dele and Kane popped in to wave hello, young Rose went through the gears at breakneck speed, until he ended up as some sort of Gerrard-esque driving force ploughing straight through central midfield and towards the Rochdale penalty area. Willing spirit, flesh that was anything but weak – by the time our second goal came round Rose had discovered the whole bally lot.

(And then he lost his bearings slightly for the equaliser.)

4. Moura Looks A Nifty Sort

The silver linings in all this admittedly took quite some locating, they not being of the ilk that jostled for position and yelled “Me! Me! Me!” in a desperate attempt to make themselves stand out from the crowd.
However, the newbie looks a fun sort of fish, what? If “Lack of match practice” were the official party line, the memo sure as heck did not reach Moura Towers, because the young buck tore about the place like a kid on Christmas morning.

He managed in the opening ten minutes the sort of feats that nobody at Spurs has done in several season – viz. waltz around opponents for the sheer joy of being alive. A pretty handy type of name to have in one’s address book, if you get my drift.

A (near-enough) debut goal will also do the honest fellow some good, I imagine. And a propos that equaliser – and at the risk of having the universe collapse under the weight of absurdity – I must commend Monsieur Sissoko for a perfectly-weighted through ball for our newest recruit. Odd, isn’t it?

Spurs 2-0 Newport: Four THFC Observations

1. Squad Depth Like A Military Parade

Pre kick-off, our glorious leader made every change conceivable to the starting eleven, which, he’ll be delighted to know, was fine by me. Bigger fish await, and all that. Amongst other things this gave the opportunity to parade to the watching world the full extent of our squad depth, as one understands some of our foreign cousins are rather fond of doing, as if to say to neighbours, “Don’t you get any ideas, you bounders.”

While hardly comparable to the bankrolled elite who trouser several hundred thousand big ones per week, when fully restored to health our list of first reserves is nevertheless of respectable ilk. Hardly world class, granted, but enough there to suggest if some players exit stage left while others enter stage right, there will not be any discernible dips in quality in the majority of positions.

Accordingly, when the curtain went up we were able to showcase one of the best centre-backs in the country, a central midfield pairing potentially capable of going toe-to-toe with most in the Champions League, and a couple of inside forwards of nimble mind and fleet foot. Useful tins of muck to have knocking around in storage, as the pointy end of the season beckons.

2. Lackadaisical Start

Having suffered the indignity of having to appear at a lower-division pitch a couple of weeks ago, and almost paid the price for such thinly-veiled snobbery, the replay appeared a more straightforward proposition, given the size and quality of the pitch if nothing else. It did, however, require our chosen few to fasten the bayonets and get into the spirit of the thing, for at least long enough to put the whole ruse to beyond doubt.

In truth, things did not initially unfurl in as hot a manner as was hoped. In the opening five minutes or so, the curiously chosen buzzword was “lackadaisical”. A funny old term, given that it looks like a flower and is routinely mispronounced despite being about as phonetically straightforward as they come; but it pretty much summed up the way of things in our back-line straight from kick-off.

The much-peddled system of playing from the back was rolled out once more, but cast members in defence insisted on taking every chance available, as if convinced that they were impervious to harm. Passes were despatched in errant manner on the edge of our own area of all places, and an ominous sense arose that we were approaching the whole affair in far too slapdash a manner. Newport, in those opening breaths, hared about with decent gusto – and amongst our lot, “lackadaisical” just about summed it up. “A better team,” a voice in my ear seemed to whisper, “might have made hay, don’t you know, and then where would we be?”

Mercifully, however, that was about as hairy as things got. Newport ran out of steam, and thereafter our heroes remembered what the whole wheeze was about, and light-heartedly went about sealing the deal.

3. Returnees Picking Up Where They Left Off

No alarms and no surprises, as the chap warbled, just the reinforcing of various stereotypes.

Son and Lamela darted around in good spirits, and were generally at the heart of all moments of inspiration. Lamela certainly seems to have rediscovered his joie de vivre, looking sharp and mischievous, and ended up strolling around the place with rather a swagger, as if this were his game and he would dashed well do as he pleased. It was good to see, and the young buck provides a useful option should any part of the Alli-Eriksen-Son axis fail to motor as advertised. (As, one hopes, will Lucas Moura).

Winks was neat and tidy, if a little reluctant to play some of the more incisive passes of which he is capable, and complemented well the blood and thunder of Wanyama, whose shooting has returned to a more familiar a style.

Of the other key returnees, Rose played with decent energy, and it was nice to see him resuming that habit of yore, whereby he cannot simply stumble to the floor, but has to fly horizontally around three feet off the ground before hitting the deck.

And possibly the most pleasing sight of all, Toby Alderweireld rolled up, not a hair out of place, to amble through proceedings unbothered and unscathed.

4. The Lost Causes

Naturally, some of the less vaunted members of the troupe were also let loose, and, in a manner of speaking, they did not disappoint either.

Sissoko was as clumsy as ever. I had rather laughably harboured hopes beforehand that a lower quality of opposition might make the cove appear more sophisticated – by comparison, don’t you know – but evidently there is just no refining a certified buffoon. He simply did what he usually does, forcing his way through any crowded alley, misplacing as many passes as he nailed, and generally making life seem pretty dashed complicated.

There was a perverse symmetry to the fact that he created a goal by firing the ball straight at an opponent and seeing it ping off him in a different direction.

And Llorente did everything we have come to expect of the chap. Further evidence was offered that in a previous life he may have been an enormous cushion, as he spent the first hour or so gently laying the ball off to nearby chums with warmth and love.

Running, as ever, was rather a tall order for the chap, and made for pretty painful viewing, as his limbs moved one at a time, as if controlled from on high by a particularly nervous puppeteer. Alas, his two golden opportunities flashed inches wide, as if to convince anyone stopping by that he could play football all night without ever scoring.

The suspicion remains that should any ill fate befall Kane, then Son will be pressed into service atop the tree before the siren ever sounds for Llorente.

So no reason to slaughter the fattened calf, but as these things go it was a jolly enough little bash, and the 90 or so minutes achieved by Toby, Rose, Winks, Wanyama and Lamela feel like they could prove useful as sub-plots in the coming weeks.

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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