All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
"AANP - nobody knows what it means, but it's provocative."

Spurs 2-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactics

A much-needed restorative – as restoratives typically are – but I would be deceiving my public if I were to suggest that this was one of those performances bossed by Team Lilywhite throughout, with serene progress being the order of the day and barely a bead of sweat between the eleven.

Truth be told, we scored from two of our three shots, and they from none of their near-twenty, and while the outcome of proceedings is neatly summarised by the epithet “Two-nil”, the story of the thing is better encapsulated by that two-from-three-plays-nought-from-circa-twenty gag.

(Although even that doesn’t tell the half of it, as there were all manner of sub-plots and embellishments, in the form of red cards, VAR, rattling woodwork and whatnot.)

As per the shots on goal stat, this was one of those binges in which no secret was made of the fact that our lot were going to sit tight, organise themselves into “Repel” mode and close their eyes and blindly hope that the ball channeled its inner Spurs fan when deciding which way to bounce. Extraordinarily enough, each of these three critical factors were achieved, and off into the sunset we toddled, three points the precious cargo.

Now being the sort whose greatest influence in their formative years were Ossie’s 5-0-5 formation, and the 4-3 whirlwinds it generated, I can’t say that I’m particularly enamoured of seeing our heroes set up to defend for their lives and play on the counter, but on this occasion – and, one suspects, on others to come – this was a pragmatic enough approach, so one bites the tongue and silently complies. It seemed to be for the greater good.

However, we tried a similar approach a few weeks ago at home to Liverpool, and on that occasion I did not hold back, some stinging rebukes, you will no doubt recall, decorating these very pages. What has changed, you may ask? Well, the scoreline, for a start – questionable tactical approaches are always strangely more palatable when they result in victory after all.

But more than that I was taken by the fact that yesterday our counter-attacking hinged on quick, short passes from defence to midfield to attack, as if a game of pass the parcel were being played at close quarters with a particularly hot potato. It was generally five- to ten-yard stuff, and there was little dithering or standing on ceremony.

This all sat in pleasing contradistinction to the decidedly more neanderthalic counter-attacking efforts against Liverpool, which seemed purely to revolve in blasting the ball sixty yards from defence at every opportunity, and waving the forwards off into the distance with an encouraging yell of “Run, Forrest.”

Yesterday we undoubtedly benefited from the fact that City hit pretty much everything except the net at which they were aiming – and the limited intelligence of the lad Zinchenko – but nevertheless our nifty counter-attacking played a crucial role.

2. Lo Celso

And foremost amongst those executing the nifty counter-attacks – the Nifty Counter-Attacker-In-Chief, if you will – was Lo Celso, an egg whose talents in this area are fast establishing him as the most important cog in our attacking machinery.

Ever since we turned the corner and became actually half-decent at this football lark, elbowing our way into the Top Four and then retaining that spot even as it morphed into a Top Six, the hills have been alive with the sound of groans at our laboured inability to break down defensive teams, due to dwelling on the ball, taking five or six touches and the reverting to the most impotent sideways and backward passes conceivable.

Now Man City are hardly the poster boys for teams that come to the Lane to defend – quite the opposite in fact – but the tendency amongst our midfield to take far more touches than decency permits has generally remained strong.

Yesterday, however, Lo Celso was having none of it. Here was a chap who already has a picture in his head of everyone’s whereabouts long before he receives the ball, and is therefore able to shove it along with minimum fuss and maximum effectiveness as soon as it reaches him. It makes a heck of a difference.

If nothing else it obliges opponents to interrupt their slumbers and shift their own positions, and also has the pleasing side effect of encouraging fellow lilywhites similarly to ping the ball around in prompt fashion (notably Winks, who on several occasions seemed suitably emboldened to pick forward passes, to which I’d previously assumed he were allergic).

As well as a gift for delivering both simple and complex passes without hesitation, Lo Celso also comes across as the sort who did not shove his vegetables to the side of his plate as a youth, bounding around throughout with pleasing energy, and also surprisingly willing to throw himself into physical contact. Here, one gets the sense, is a bean around whom a team could be built.

3. Tanganga

Meanwhile, in the less glamorous seats, Japhet Tanganga’s mind-boggling rise continued.

Having all but silenced Sadio Mane on debut, here he made a mighty impressive fist of things against the combined might of City’s manifold and whizzy attacking sorts, generally matching them for pace and beating them for strength throughout. His judgement occasionally wavers, but this, one would imagine, will improve with experience.

Various, more vaunted luminaries around him may benefit from peering across and taking a note or two, because Tanganga at times looked the most secure of the back-four (admittedly competition in this area was not strong, with Sanchez struggling in his first half distribution to distinguish between friend and foe, and Aurier delivering his customary aberration like clockwork).

If Lo Celso is the creative hub around which a future team could be built, Tanganga has the look of a chap upon whom a solid defensive foundation could be constructed.

4. Lloris

This felt like pretty cathartic stuff for Monsieur Lloris, for all sorts of reasons.

Firstly, the recent injury would presumably have hovered over him like a malevolent imp whispering unedifying notions in his ear, as he was tested throughout in both the shot-stopping and cross-handling departments. It is indicative of how his star has fallen in recent seasons that I was pretty taken aback at quite how faultless his handling was.

A World Cup-winning captain he might be, but the mistakes have flowed pretty thick and fast, so yesterday was one heck of an occasion to churn out his A-game.

On top of which, the penalty save was worth a goal in itself, and in the context of the game probably worth several, for if City had scored first one could well imagine with a shudder quite what carnage might have followed.

Oddly enough, it was not much more than a season ago that I would quite publicly bemoan the fact that I had never seen the blighter save a penalty in his whole Tottenham career. Yet in recent memory he has done so against Woolwich, Leicester and now twice against Man City, and each time in games in which they made a match-changing difference. It just goes to show, what?

Of course, Lloris being Lloris, within two shakes of a lamb’s tail of saving the penalty he was doing his best to concede another, but VAR oddly turned a blind eye, and the reckless oeuf remained a hero.

5. Bergwijn

A passing nod also to young Master Bergwijn, who has bagged himself a decent amount of credit in the bank with that quite marvellous chest and volley. Gorgeous technique, which just illustrates how well things can go when the stars align.

The finish elevated the chap’s debut to some heady heights, when in truth his contribution had until then been limited to a couple of touches of style, and fairly minimal substance.

Early days of course, so this is not to chide him. His box of tricks evidently is evidently a pretty sizeable one, and he appears to have a burst of pace about him and does not shirk a challenge.

However, he was a relatively peripheral figure in the first half, throwing in some nifty footwork on occasions as if to remind us that he was still in residence, before disappearing from sight completely in the second half, until his goal.

One gets the impression that we will only be able to make a full assessment from next season, when he is fully up to speed – and fitness – but it was nevertheless a cracking way to begin life in these parts.

AANP would like to hear from you! I am compiling my latest book, on Spurs fan favourites – if you were a fan of the club in any era from 50s/60s through to 90s/00s, please drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

Spurs 2-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

The gist of the opening 50 or so minutes is that nothing happened, and at a pretty relentless rate.

Well, for the benefit of the pedants who like things just so, nothing positive happened. Pedantically speaking, there was plenty going on about which to slap palm to forehead and liberally scatter curses.

In fact, the tone was set straight from kick-off, when the ball was rolled back to Toby, and the ensuing opening minute was spent observing – in rather aghast fashion, I don’t mind adding – the sight of each member of our central defensive triumvirate dwelling upon the ball for half a dozen touches, before rolling it sideways to the next member of the Toby-Jan-Davinson axis to do exactly the same. Towards the concept of bright and enterprising forward progression, precious little thought was devoted.

1. Lucas Provides the Saprk

So it was that approximately 49 minutes later, Lucas Moura stumbled upon the dramatic concept of applying some urgency to proceedings. The results were both immediate and gratifying. The Brighton defence, which, until that point, to a man, had been gently dozing as our heroes scratched heads and pottered ineffectively in front of them, were suddenly forced to react to improvised attacking play, and it’s fair to opine that they preferred life the way it had been in the preceding 49-odd minutes.

Lucas, who has about him much of the naturally-talented-but-exasperatingly-selfish playground footballer, took up a position that can probably be loosely described as Central Midfield, and opted each time he received the ball to ignore his teammates and instead try dribbling past every man and his dog bedecked in Brighton black.

Ricochets abounded, and precious little in the way of clear goalscoring chances were created, but the simple act of tearing straight at the heart of the Brighton defence like a rabid beast was enough both to cause obvious discomfort to Brighton, and to rouse all around in lilywhite from their slumbers.

The paying public were invigorated – and not before time – while Lucas’ own teammates took the hint and, one by one and in stages, began to contemplate removing the handbrake.

Ultimately it was another of Lucas’ not entirely flawless slaloms that did the trick, as he ran out of space and flung his hands into the air, while the ball helpfully pinged off several Brighton limbs and into the path of Kane, who did the rest.

Until Lucas’ little display of indulgence precious little creativity had emanated from any of our heroes, so while far from perfect I am quite happy to bestow upon the chap the epithet Gamechanger-In-Chief.

2. Lo Celso’s Impressive Cameo

Every Batman needs a Robin however, and the unlikely sidekick to Lucas, in his sudden twenty-minute burst of intensity, was the rarely-sighted Giovanni Lo Celso.

A fleeting cameo it might have been, but the chap showed numerous tantalising glimpses of talent and appetite for the scrap. Not that he is one of life’s natural scrappers, but it was certainly pleasing to see that upon losing possession he fought like a wronged infant to retrieve it.

Moreover, the aesthetes amongst us could not fail to be impressed by the sight of him receiving the ball and sweetly pinging it first-time to diagonally-positioned chums. None of that six-touch nonsense being peddled so enthusiastically by the back-three in minute one. Lo Celso gave the impression of one who looks this way and that prior to receiving possession, so that as soon as the ball reaches him he can instantly send it elsewhere.

For a rather bizarre fifteen minutes or so, he and Lucas were the architects of the swing of momentum back towards N17.

3. Our Winning Goal and Its Constituent Parts

On Lucas and Lo Celso’s example, various others roused themselves to battle, and ultimately it was a win, comprising greater parts fight than beauty – which in the grand scheme of things is rare enough around N17 to be pretty satisfactory.

That said, the winning goal shone out like a beacon in a land of eternal night-time, boasting a couple of moments of gorgeous quality.

For a start there was the backspun, crossfield ball from Eriksen, over the head of a retreating Brighton bod and into the path of the northward-bound Aurier. Now Eriksen has done much in the last 12 months or so to make himself persona non grata around AANP Towers, but being a reasonable soul I can still appreciate top-notch foot-to-ball contact, and there will be few nuts struck more sweetly this Boxing Day than that particular Eriksen pass.

Credit also by the sackful to Serge Aurier. He may display much about him of the leaking pipe when asked to do the defensive thing, but stick him in and around the opposition area and his eyes seem to light up.

Admittedly he was prompted to dash towards the byline by the irresistible cross from Eriksen, but once there, he displayed a hitherto unknown delicacy in cushioning a volley backwards into the onrushing Dele. It was a pretty difficult-looking skill to execute, but one he did like one trained in the art for years.

And finally, Dele, a man transformed under Jose, had the presence of mind to whizz through the pretty long list of ways in which he might have made a pig’s ear of the finish, ignore them all and instead deliver the required coup de grace with an impressive combo of delicacy and power.

4. Winks Frustrates Again

Another curious – and largely frustrating – chapter in the life of Harry Winks. Stationed as one half of a two-man defensive barricade that barely had a defensive bone in its two bodies, the onus on Winks was largely to collect the ball from those within earshot and spray accordingly.

I suppose by the letter of the law he generally did this. He just did it in such a frustratingly defensive fashion that one was inclined to click the tongue and ask what the hell the point of it was. Time and again he received possession, swerved as if to go forwards, much to the delight of the paying public, and then checked, as if the angel on his shoulder had called an impromptu conference and was delivering some pretty stern words, and before one could yelp “Just travel forward with the ball, dash it”, he had swerved back towards his own goal, and taken the distribution option marked ‘Safety First, Safety Always’.

Watching the aforementioned Eriksen ping for our second goal did make me yearn for Winks to show a little more ambition in his passing. One suspects that the chap has such tricks lurking in his top hat, but alas, one of life’s risk-takers he is not. (Unless the risk involves scything down an opponent in bookable fashion, in which case he’s all for it.)

Gratingly, the one flash of invention he did display was such a peach of a pass that Harry Kane felt obliged to dab it into the net, only for VAR to rear its automated head. A few more of those such game-changing passes, however, would not go amiss.

Spurs 1-1 Watford: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lots of Tinkering, No Obvious Strategy

If ever there were a sign that a manager is not quite sure how to fix things, it is when he makes 7 changes of personnel and a switch in formation, and then switches formation again at half-time.

Not entirely the fault of Poch of course, for if the eleven on the pitch last time out had performed to their abilities no changes would have been needed at all – but nevertheless. The current approach by Our Glorious Leader smacks of a chap whose best-laid plans are but a distant memory, and who is now experimenting his little heart out, with little clear strategy in place.

By and large Our Glorious Leader retains enough credit that the masses are willing to let him untie the various knots and restore some normality. But where previously there was a fairly clear approach – such as the high press, or faith in youth – and one might have correctly named nine or ten of the starting eleven, now it is difficult to know quite what the plan will be from one game to the next.

The first half performance duly reflected the confused organisation of things, with little discernible identity amongst our lot, and we ended up seeming to rely on Toby’s long punts as our main attacking gambit. Few on the pitch seemed particularly clear on how to go about their honest work, and the outputs were suitably uninspiring.

Poch has talked a lot about “trust” and “confidence” and various other concepts that seem to the AANP ears to wander rather off-topic, but I’m none the wiser about what tactical approach he thinks is best to reverse our fortunes. At present the approach appears to be try something new every half hour or so, until we strike oil.

2. Lack of Deep-Lying Creativity

The first half provided the sort of turgid fare that various lilywhite managers of the 90s fought tooth and nail to mark their own trademark.

It seemed from my vantage point that chief amongst our ills was the absence of a deep-lying playmaker, if you get my drift. A Modric/Carrick sort of chap, who could pick up the ball from the defenders and play a pass – long or short, the finer points matter little – that would bypass one or two opponents in the blink of an eye, and make its recipient sit up and say “What ho, if I point my compass north I might have a few yards of space into which to amble and make mischief”.

Or, indeed, a Dembele type of fellow, who, rather than pass, would simply dip a shoulder or puff out a chest, and breeze past one or two opponents – similarly in the blink of an eye – carrying the ball fifteen yards and forcing friend and foe alike to view proceedings in a different way.

Instead, our central midfield pairing were Winks and Sissoko. Now the effort of these two can hardly be faulted, and both have assets that are useful and have earned the respect and affection of most right-minded fans. However, neither of these young eggs really possess in spades the sorts of talents upon which Messrs Modric, Carrick or Dembele made their careers.

Sissoko has it in him to carry the ball 30 yards – which I suppose is the net effect of a Dembele – when a cloud envelops him and he seems to be possessed by some unearthly compunction to take on all-comers. But yesterday, and this season in general, that particular party-trick has remained in his locker.

And Winks constantly appears to be on the cusp of changing the game. He seems to tick numerous boxes – availing himself when defenders have the ball, picking up possession on the half-turn, driving forward – but ultimately his final pass, nine times out of ten, goes sideways or backwards. He keeps possession and fizzes with energy, but hardly tests opposing defences with his passing range.

The causes of these two were not helped by both Lucas and Dele generally adopting positions within a couple of yards of Kane, leaving precious little in the way of link-up between midfield and attack. (On the one occasion in which Lucas did drop a little deeper, the planets aligned and we almost scored – Winks fed Lucas straight through the middle, Lucas fed Dele – still straight through the middle – and, not standing on ceremony, Dele took our one and only shot on target in the first half.)

Anyway, on the point of deep-lying playmakers – perhaps Lo Celso or Ndombele can, in time, provide the answer. Or the more attacking sorts can simply drop ten yards deeper. Either way something has to change, because watching the ball end up with Toby time and again, to punt a hopeful diagonal, made the eyes water a tad.

3. Introduction of Son

Things perked up noticeably once Sonny was introduced – which, on reflection, is the sort of statement that would ring true on just about any given day in any given circumstances.

The removal of Sanchez and reversion from 3 centre-backs to 2 made bucketloads of sense. While Watford threatened on the counter a few times, the third centre-back was by and large a wasted player, given that his most significant role tended to be simply rolling the back right or left to his neighbouring centre-back, in what was reminiscent of those pointless bureaucratic processes one sometimes encounters in life.

Watford did not present enough of a threat to merit such defensive caution; and if the idea were more of an attacking one, to allow our wing-backs to bomb forward in the manner of Walker-and-Rose-circa-2016, it fell pretty flat. I have called Serge Aurier a few choice names in my time, but “An impressive likeness to the Kyle Walker of 2016” has not been amongst them. Similarly, Danny Rose is now an angry shadow of the marauding soul who set the tone in those halcyon days.

So after the break Son moved to the right, to provide an extra body linking defence to attack, and both the changed shape and the particular individual improved things ten-fold. Sonny tore around like a puppy reunited with its owner, and others around him seemed to perk up, as if struck by the thought that his high-octane approach to life might bring about a change in fortunes.

Moreover, with Son installed on the right, where once midfield and attack had resembled strangers harbouring deep, mutual suspicions, in the second half there appeared to be consensus amongst all that collaboration would bring about a goal.

4. VAR Luck

Ultimately we were good value for the draw, having bossed possession and had the decency to show some urgency in the second half. That said, Lady Luck gave us a few admiring glances along the way, for Dele’s goal could quite reasonably have been ruled out.

I’m pretty sure that a few weeks ago Man City had a late winner against us disallowed for use of the upper arm in the build-up, so to say I was perplexed that Dele’s shoulder-nudge was waved on is to understate things.

More to the point, my best mate Jan rather forget the laws of the game in the first half, when he slid in and aimed one or two little kicks at his man. It’s not allowed, Jan! Except that in this instance, it was. The inconsistency of the thing is most puzzling, but there we go and here we are.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Brighton 3-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Latest Lloris Howler

Decorum naturally dictates that in speaking of Monsieur Lloris one first ought to wish him a speedy recovery, because the slings and arrows of performance-critiquing are one thing, but a particularly nasty-looking injury rather trumps all that, and is not a fate one wishes upon an enemy, let alone one of our own.

As to performance-critiquing however, in his two-minute appearance Lloris was gently lobbed one task, and – as has become his most unwelcome trademark – he made a complete hash of it, conjuring up a mistake where none had seemed possible.

Over the last season or two his aberrations have assumed a gloomy inevitability, albeit generally involving an envelopment of panic when the ball reaches his feet. This time, perhaps in order to vary the monotony, he opted to make a pig’s ear of things with his hands rather than with his feet. Credit is due, he may argue, for livening things up from the off, but today of all days it was the last thing we needed.

After the midweek scoreline and murmurs of internal unrest, there was a fairly obvious need to launch into things today with purpose and confidence. And although physiognomy is a pretty complex art at the best of times, immediately before kick-off our heroes did at least have the dignity to look suitably determined as they prepared for the task at hand.

It really needed a solid opening spell to set the tone, and, above all, an end to the sloppiness and silly mistakes that have littered our season to date. Alas, Lloris’ latest, absurd, needless howler had pretty much the opposite effect, deflating the whole lot of them within the opening two minutes.

The evident severity of Lloris’ injury suggests that his enforced absence will be considerable in length; but even a fully-fit Lloris cannot continue to make such costly errors with such regularity before tongues start wagging and awkward conversations are planned.

2. Listless Players & The Problem This Poses Poch

My inclination in such post-match reflections as these is to pour myself a celebratory or consolatory splash of the good stuff, and single out one or two of the troupe for a stiff going-over. On this occasion however, the whole bally team were so insipid that it is difficult to hone in upon any given one of them as the fellow to whom attention was immediately drawn.

The problem appeared to be a team-wide malaise, which is bad news in anyone’s book. Tactically one might quibble – as indeed I did, during the first half – that Ndombele and Lamela did little to protect the back four, or that Eriksen needed to arrive in support of Kane rather than assume that position as his starting spot.

But after a while I rather flung my hands in the air and muttered “Blast it all,” and wondered if there were any formation in the world that might have arrested the decline of a group of players so consistently failing to win their personal 50-50 challenges, and misplacing their passes, and failing to move enough to provide options for the man in possession, and regarding their required short sprints with the disdain of a reluctant schoolboy sloping off to class.

In short they looked any semblance of urgency, dash it. Very few individuals appeared to be busting a gut for the cause. Lamela and Winks, when introduced, showed glimpses of determination, and Sissoko stuck to his task pretty manfully, in that rather clumsy way of his – but just about all the others appeared simply to go through the motions, failing to give their all and looking for all the world like they wanted the final whistle to arrive.

It all rather feeds the train of thought that Our Glorious Leader is the type of soul at his best when he is cajoling bright, hungry young things to fulfil their potential. This lot are neither young nor, on today’s showing, particularly hungry – which, according to the theory at least, limits Poch’s abilities with them. The signing of Sessegnon and willingness to allow Rose to move on seems to fit this narrative, and it would also explain Poch’s very public calls over the summer for the chance to clear out the closet and go shopping for new outfits, if you get my drift.

Instead, we appear to be left with a group of players brimming with listlessness, and a manager hardly in his element when working with them. It all makes the mind boggle and brow furrow a tad, what?

3. Dier’s Ignominious Return

Back to the action itself, and I suppose it was a big day for Master Dier. The blighter’s fall in the AANP graces has been fairly solidly documented over the last year or two, my principal objections to the chap being that for all his airs of intimidation and aggression, he is rather lacking in timing of the tackle, accuracy of the pass and swiftness of the sprint. (Leaving him with precious little else in the way of a professional footballer, one might suggest, but that’s a matter for a different time.)

In theory, however, Dier makes sense as a footballer, and in his absence in recent weeks, some have understandably called for his inclusion, given that nobody else in lilywhite appears to demonstrate the faintest interest in such boring, menial tasks as protecting the back-four. I was not personally amongst that chorus, but I did appreciate the rationale. According to the instructions on the side of the box in which he is packaged, Dier’s purpose in life is apparently to protect the back-four.

And to his credit, as he buzzed slowly around the pitch, he did appear at least to have the correct instructions ringing in his ears. He chugged over to whichever Brighton soul were in possession and gave a nudge and a kick, then shuffled over to the next chap in possession and repeated the exercise.

It was all rather laboured however – or, to dispense with euphemisms, slow – and therefore to minimal effect. Brighton beat the Dier press by simply passing or dribbling around him, and goodness knows nobody else in midfield was minded to stop them.

Moreover, Dier’s distribution was that of a man whose faith in compasses is long gone, and has resorted to being guided by guesswork, or possibly smell. Whatever it was, his six-yarders rarely hit the target, and it was little surprise to see him shoved back into defence at the interval and a new plan dreamt up.

Not that Dier alone was responsible for the whole sorry mess. He didn’t look remotely fit for a start, but his inclusion did shine something of a light upon the glaring lop-sidedness of our squad, full of nippy attacking sorts, and pretty short passers, and bursting at the seams with centre-backs, but without an adequate defensive midfielder worthy of the name.

But as mentioned above, more than the tactics or formation, this seemed to be a failing of application.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Spurs 2-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. We Need to Talk About Serge

The little voices in Serge Aurier’s head seem only to whisper “Hero” or “Villain”, with little regard for the countless possibilities that lie between.

The old bean’s assets undoubtedly lie in the attacking third, with the positioning he adopts as a wide man complimented by a capacity to deliver the occasional whipped cross.

However, this modest return in the Credit column is rather blown out of the water by the numerous ills that clog up the Debit column. Since his arrival at the club he has racked up a number of utterly mindless red cards and penalty concessions, all of which are suggestive of a mass walkout by the brain cells and general dereliction of duty.

Yesterday Aurier offered precious little of value before chipping in with his usual moments of idiocy.

The first yellow card was needless in the extreme. One understands the concept of self-sacrificial yellow cards – hauling down an opposing chappie on halfway in order to stymie a counter-attack, that sort of sordid business. One does not condone such conduct, of course, but one follows the thought-process. Falling on one’s sword, and so on and so forth. Presumably in some cultures it can even have a certain nobility.

Aurier’s first yellow card however, against an opponent wandering away from goal and edging towards the side of the pitch, was rock-bottom on the list of Risks Worth Taking. It dealt with no threat, offered zero benefit to anyone and left the abysmal young fool with 65 minutes to spend tip-toeing across a tightrope.

As it happened he didn’t last 5 minutes. One might quibble – and several have – about the circumstances around the second booking, but when an old bean knows that his every move is going to be under the scrutiny of a referee with a touch of the Dolph Lundgren about him, that bean, if he has a jot of sense, reverts to his best behaviour and conducts himself impeccably.

Aurier, the poster-boy of recklessness, did enough to give Dolph a decision to make, and we – three days before facing Bayern Munich – were left to play an hour with ten men.

Credit to Sissoko, for doing a pretty flawless job of things as hastily-identified reserve right-back, but in general it is becoming something of a cursed position, and Aurier will have to do a heck of a job to win back some of that rapidly-draining goodwill.

2. We Need to Talk About Hugo

Given the circumstances surrounding the season – want-away players, thrown away leads – and the circumstances of the game, having just lost a man, one would think that the captain would have been precisely the chap to inject a modicum of calmness into proceedings.

Monsieur Lloris however, picked this of all moments to treat us to his best Benny Hill impression, and it is to the immense credit of all concerned that we managed afterward to regain the lead and then cling on to it.

Lloris’ talents (far more than Aurier’s) are pretty visible and regularly on display. His two second half saves – and in particular the instinctive one from the header – served as neat reminders of the chap’s quality when it comes to the basics of stopping the round thing from entering the rectangle.

Alas, it is impossible to ignore the bedlam that ensues every time the chap has the ball at his feet. Ever since Pep Guardiola dared every other manager in the Top Six to play out from the back, all have been too scared to refuse, with the result that even those goalkeepers who can’t pass six yards with tripping over their own feet are now expected to be modern-day Beckenbauers in their distribution.

Lloris’ short passing tends as often as not to lack sense, guile or even basic accuracy; one can see the hearts of Toby and Jan visibly sinking as the moment approaches, while Davinson Sanchez, when involved, looks every inch the man who wants to run off the pitch and disappear into obscurity; and opposition strikers, understandably enough, lick their lips and come charging into our area like kids towards the tree on Christmas morning.

Yesterday’s mistake was not the first – Lloris has done the same thing in a World Cup Final for heaven’s sake, and not learnt his lesson – but aside from whether or not such absurdity results in a goal conceded, it transmits panic throughout the defence and midfield, and invites pressure.

One understands that if operated well it can be devastatingly effective in bypassing an opposition’s press and creating counter-attack opportunities from halfway – but how often do we operate it well when Lloris is the string-puller-in-chief?

3. Cracking Second Goal

Mercifully, those further up the pitch are a darned sight better with ball at feet, and there will be few better examples of this than our second goal.

There was much to admire about it – but in the first place it was interesting to note that the genesis of the whole thing was a non-nonsense hoick up the pitch by Moussa Sissoko, a chap who could probably teach Lloris a thing or two about the art of Not Dallying Around, and in his native tongue, for added attraction.

Thereafter however, one just sat back and purred at the general magnificence that shone forth. Kane’s strength and cushioned header into Son was terrific. Son’s feet were quick, and having played in Eriksen he did not pause to admire his own handiwork but set off at a lick to avail himself further, in the process leaving behind his marker.

Eriksen similarly played an intelligent pass and then scuttled off to receive a return ball, leaving behind his own marker, and then it was up to Kane – whose first touch was actually not of the exquisite quality one has come to expect.

This mattered little however, because once in the area Kane’s eyes inevitably light up, and he inevitably finds a way. The speed of the whole thing was a delight, it reflected the quality of those involved, their awareness and technique. All that was left was for nobody else in lilywhite to decide to liven things up by gifting some advantage back to our visitors.

4. Kane’s All-Round Game

I have already gone a little misty-eyed at Kane’s involvement in the build-up for the second goal, and it served as a textbook example of how much the chap contributes all over the pitch, not just in delivering the coup de grâce.

An isolated incident it most certainly was not. In fact, look back at the early stages of our first goal and one will note that the impetus is initially injected by Kane picking the ball up deep, muscling various others out of the way and giving a sensible pass.

The chap is a veritable all-rounder, with numerous strings to his bow and all of them pretty dashed impressive.

As if to emphasise the point he also had a shot from the halfway line that missed the mark by only a foot or so.

5. Ndombele Beginning to Show Flashes

In general, our lot made an excellent fist of trying circumstances yesterday. Winks was close to immaculate; Eriksen seemed oddly buoyed by the challenge of having to wear a defensive hat; Lamela was the right substitute at the right moment.

In truth, in the second half Ndombele wandered around with the look of a man wondering what he had signed up for, and his wearying limbs were rested before the final toot. However, in the first half he showed glimpses of the chap about whom we all became so giddy with excitement in the summer.

On several occasions he received the ball on the half-turn, wriggled away from one or two challenges and either dabbed the ball to a chum or drew a foul. It was the sort of stuff that just hinted at the ghost of Mousa Dembele, that ability to turn back-foot into front-foot in the blink of an eye.

Still a work in progress no doubt, but the omens are positive. His penchant for popping in the opposition area to thwack one into the net is also something of a bonus.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Leicester 2-1 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Decent Showing From Lamela

I would be deceiving my public were I to describe the first hour or so as a barrel of laughs, but while we led there was at least a certain gaiety in the N17 air, suggestive of good times that, if not exactly rolling, were limbering up for a prime-time slot.

Where in midweek we began sluggishly and showed little inclination to pep up at any point, here we began with fire in belly, snap in challenge and sharpness in passing. And much of this came from the frame of one E. Lamela Esq.

In common with just about every other attacking sort we have gathered over the years, Lamela only really looks the part when given a run of at least half a dozen consecutive starts, and at times today he began to tick, in that attacking midfield role.

He picked up threatening positions, weighted some delicious threaded passes and corrected a particularly grating flaw that he seems to have demonstrated ever since emerging from the womb, namely that of hanging on to the ball far too long. Not a bit of here – if a pass were on he dashed well effected it, and the whole machinery whirred away more smoothly as a result.

It was fitting that his pass (weighted, again, to perfection) helped set in motion our goal, albeit in these days of assists and stats his contribution will likely be overlooked.

In general, for the first half certainly, he did most of the things one would hope a talented attacking midfield string-puller would do – and I don’t mind admitting that I wondered if Messrs Eriksen and Alli were taking notes at just how central to things Lamela was making himself.

2. Another Busy One From Winks

If Lamela were busy rattling off most of the creative lines, as ever the harder graft was being done by Winks just a little further south.

Regular drinkers at the AANP well will be aware that I consider him a slightly wasted figure against teams who settle in for 90 minutes of defending; but a Leicester side with attacking intent were the perfect platform for him to peddle his wares both as indefatigable Scurrier-in-Chief, nipping hither and yon in search of ankles at which to snap, as well as an intelligent distributor of possession, finding space and occasionally spraying the ball wide if the planets seemed to align suitably.

His attitude, in common with Lamela’s, helped ensure that while it was hardly one-way traffic, our lot did at least approach the whole affair with an aggression that has often been absent from out play.

3. Sissoko (Including That Tackle)

Monsieur Sissoko has not yet been quite the revelation this season that he was last, and he seemed to attract some mixed reviews from the galleries on Saturday, but I generally thought that he caught the gist of things from Winks and Lamela, and seemed to enjoy the rough-and-tumble nature of events.

This was not flawless stuff, mind – at 0-1 Sissoko’s sloppy concession of possession allowed Vardy in for a near miss (the one that Gazza saved and Rose cleared), and although it came to naught it was precisely the sort of sloppy nonsense of which we have been far too guilty in recent weeks, in allowing leads to slip.

All told, however, I was pretty happy to keep my subscription to the Sissoko Fan Club rolling in while he was on the pitch.

In particular, the full-blooded challenge that earned him a yellow card in the first half was met with a roar of hearty approval from AANP Towers. That he ended up sliding in with both feet was a cause for concern, until I realised that he did so because he lost his footing. The challenge itself was fabulous, and fairly obviously won the ball. Sending an opponent flying into the air as part of the follow-through seemed a pretty pleasant offshoot of the whole thing. (One imagines Danny Rose looked on with approval.)

Naturally the authorities took a dim view of this, seemingly because the crowd instructed as much (they strangely refrained from baying for red when Jonny Evans did the same to Kane twenty minutes later), but I would much rather see our lot go flying in full-blooded than ducking out of the way of such things.

4. Aurier and The Ongoing Right-Back Problem

Whichever egg it was who first piped up with the notion that absence makes the heart grow fonder was a smart old sort, no doubt about it, because there ought really to be a petition to have it become an interim motto for the club.

Despite his repeated howlers over the course of 2018/19, the sale of Kieran Trippier has turned him into something of a yearned-for ex-girlfriend amongst right-backs, being a chap who can – gasp – deliver a cross amongst other things. Then in midweek, as Sanchez laboured to fairly impotent effect in Greece, the AANP heart yowled longingly for Aurier.

And now after this latest performance, I’m rather inclined to shove Aurier aside and enquire as to the health of Juan Foyth (I’m not at the KWP stage just yet).

Aurier, as a chum pointed out, did a good job positionally, and was full of willing. By at least carting himself up the pitch and into crossing positions level with the Leicester area, he made the formation work, in an attacking sense, and Davinson Sanchez was no doubt taking copious notes.

Alas, his crossing missed many more times than it hit. Dashed unlikely to have his goal ruled out, mind, but by and large the end-product did not really match the expectation.

Moreover, he seemed to wander off into the wrong postcode for the Leicester winner, which was pretty inexcusable stuff for a right-back. If he is a work in progress it will need one heck of a project management team.

5. The VAR Disallowed Goal (Ours, Not Theirs)

A minor note on this, primarily because it is so galling, dash it all.

No complaints with the decision itself, if you get my drift – offside by a hair’s breadth is still offside – but to be honest I struggle to understand how it was decided that he was indeed a hair’s breadth the wrong side of the law.

Skynet appears to have selected part of Son’s armpit and Evan’s right knee as their body parts of choice, which I suppose in one sense is fair enough – after all, why not? – but in another sense does make one scratch the chin and murmur “Rummy stuff, what?”

(The “clear and obvious error” part of VAR appears to have been made pretty unwelcome in this particular saloon – but that I can understand, for as mentioned, offside is offside, whether by millimetres or miles.)

So to be clear – while confused about which body parts are selected and why, this is more of a rant of self-pity about being denied a goal by a sliver, rather than a complaint against VAR or the decision reached.

6. Another Lead Squandered

Of far more concern is the fact that our heroes have done it again.

For all our attacking threat – and this was an improvement of sorts on recent weeks, for we did create decent chances in different ways – we always looked vulnerable defensively. One can analyse the individual errors from this or previous games that have led to goals, but the general patterns of play in these games in which we’ve led and conceded twice will not necessarily highlight any single, recurring tactical error.

I noted an article earlier this week (about Christian Eriksen specifically, but the point seems applicable to our mob more widely) which noted a lack of a “slightly sociopathic” desire not to lose, not to make the same mistakes and so on and so forth. While it is perhaps not the sort of comment I would drop in certain company around the dining table, this certainly resonated as a general team trait.

Which is not to doubt that our heroes want to win, but the penny does not ever seem to drop that in order to do so that they have to bust every inch of gut, and be ruthlessly critical of their own standards. Misplaced passes, poor control and wandering out of position are all mistakes that seem to be made too readily, and with an accompanying air that it’s disappointing but life will go on.

There is enough talent floating around the squad, but for as long as I can recall we’ve lacked that “slightly sociopathic” ruthlessness – and it is little surprise that we keep squandering leads.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Olympiacos 2-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Winks

No doubt the mood around the N17 campfire is generally doleful and sombre, so here at AANP Towers we have hit upon the fizzing idea – and you can thank me later – of kicking off things with a topic that, if not exactly seeping joy and plugging in the endorphins, is at least a darned sight more positive than anything else on the horizon.

Said topic is, of course, the performance of young Master Winks. While all around him looked thoroughly bored by proceedings, Winks did his best to confirm suspicions that when created in the lab he had the DNA of a young Jack Russell surreptitiously thrown in for good measure, for he duly bounded about the place as if yesterday were the best thing to happen to him in his life.

When we had the ball he regularly beavered to within 8 yards or so, to demand it; when we didn’t have the ball he scurried to all parts in his attempts to remedy this crisis.

It was all particularly pleasing given that I subjected him to the raised eyebrow and inscrutable stare a few weeks ago against Newcastle. In all honesty I maintain that against such teams, who pack the defence and wait, Winks is of pretty limited value, not being the sort who wanders the streets picking locks and passing through eyes of needles.

But against moderately better-equipped mobs – such as our hosts yesterday – who leave that much more space and have a greater attacking instinct about them, a healthy dose of Winks is precisely what the doctor orders, and he scurried around to excellent effect yesterday. I would hazard a guess that he’ll be in similarly fine fettle away to Leicester at the weekend.

2. Eriksen

If Winks’ afternoon was full of zip and vim, Eriksen’s lay pretty much at the other end of the spectrum.

For context, the Great Eriksen Debate generally features those who adamantly insist that the chap is just about the only game-changing soul in our midfield, and has the goals/assists stats to prove it; and the likes of yours truly, who bluster in frustration that for a man of his undoubted lock-picking skills (the type sadly lacking in young Winks, above) he ought to be a lot more prominent in games such as this.

Pretty much every onlooker noted quite how off-colour Eriksen was yesterday, so no point dwelling on that. The more notable angle, to this ill-educated eye, was the contrast between First Half Eriksen and Second Half Eriksen.

To do this back to front, I had some grudging respect for Second Half Eriksen. True, his passing remained wayward, his touch heavy and his creative juices evaporated – plus his brainless dallying led directly to their penalty (I did mention that the respect was only grudging).

But Second Half Eriksen at least demanded the ball. As a collective our heroes showed a tad more urgency (not difficult, comparatively, I realise) and Eriksen seemed to be fairly central to this, in that he regularly trotted over to the man in possession and waved his arms until it was given to him. He did little of note with it, but at least he looked like a man who felt some sort of moral obligation to be at the heart of things.

By contrast, First Half Eriksen seemed positively to shy away from the ball. I barely noticed the chap, apart from that one moment when he found himself leading a promising counter-attack, and seemed to react to the situation in sheer horror, eager to rid himself of the ball at the earliest opportunity before scuttling off to the nearest pit of sand into which he might bury his head.

Admittedly I rather exaggerate the contrast in order to make my point – but it’s a heck of a point. The chap ought always to have the attitude of Second Half Eriksen, greedily demanding the ball and always wanting to be the one at the hub of things from his own little Danish command centre. Instead, too often, we are treated to First Half Eriksen, who flits in and out of existence like that polaroid in Back to the Future.

If he is having a bad day in possession that can probably be forgiven; but what irks AANP like nobody’s business is when he does not seem massively concerned about whether or not he sees much of the ball.

3. Sanchez at Right-Back

Elsewhere, longing glances were cast once again towards Atletico Madrid as Davinson Sanchez was subjected to his latest rather cruel stint at right-back.

The chap did very little wrong defensively, in truth, with most of our woes emanating on t’other flank where Messrs Davies and Vertonghen were getting themselves into numerous muddles.

But going forward, Sanchez’ limitations had some pretty powerful beacons of light shone upon them. For a start he rarely got himself to within 30 yards of the opposition goal-line, therefore failing to provide an attacking outlet that turned around the Olympiakos defence (although in this respect he was not alone, Ben Davies also being generally, oddly, conservative).

On top of which, Nature evidently forgot to bestow upon him the gift of being able to whip, float or simply punt a cross from the right, further limiting his attacking prowess.

Quite what his attacking instructions were in the first half is anyone’s guess; but in the second half Lucas was stationed permanently on the right touchline, and Sanchez added decorative value only.

With Aurier fit, KWP getting there and even Eric Dier now in residence, one would hope that this is the last we’ll see of Sanchez at right-back.

4. The General, Sorry State of Things (A Rant)

A few hardy souls have attempted to silver lining their way through the rubble of this, pointing out that an away point in the CL Group Stage is no bad thing, and that we’ve matched our tally from the first three games of last season, and so on and so forth. And they have a point – two-goal lead surrendered or not, this could have been worse.

But putting aside the immediate context (and one presumes we ought still to qualify from this group), the bigger picture does not make particularly cheery viewing.

Harry Kane has clearly been media-trained to within an inch of his life, and is therefore rarely worth listening to in interviews, so straight is his bat, but there was a hint of exasperation to his reported musings yesterday, as he spotted the nail and gave it a firm thump on its head. We are making the same mistakes as we made 5 or 6 years ago.

And this lack of improvement, year on year, is troubling. I am no doubt being a tad dramatic here: even ignoring the luck involved in Houdini-ing our way past Man City and Ajax last season, we still overcame Dortmund over two legs of textbook professionalism, which was a massive improvement on our slip-up vs Juve the previous year – so we are improving. (And the season before that we didn’t even get out of the group – again, we are improving).

But one important game after another seems to come our way, and we do seem to exhibit the same old flaws. Throwing away leads; failing to quieten and dispirit opponents; wastefulness in front of goal; or simply a lack of creativity and urgency to break down an opponent. For every welcome thrashing of Palace, there’s a struggle against Villa plus a defeat against Newcastle plus a squandered lead against Arsenal. In terms of results we lack consistency; and in terms of performances there are countless sloppy errors scattered all over the pitch, rather than the notable step up in quality that one would hope for season-on-season.

This is by no means a crisis – we remain third domestically, and still ought to qualify from the CL group – but the lack of obvious progression in performances does rather grate, what?

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Spurs 0-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Shift The Ball Quicker For Heaven’s Sake

On the bright side, anyone who missed that dreadful dirge need not waste a couple of hours of their life, as they can simply cast their minds back to approximately umpteen games at home to similarly lowly opposition, and recall how we pass ineffectually and without urgency, sideways and sideways – and then sideways again.

It is tempting to bellow – or silently weep – for a player with a smidgeon of creativity and élan, but the yearning in the AANP heart was more for quick release of the ball. (At this point I might as well hark back to any one of several dozen witterings on previous matches, and highlight the relevant passage, as it’s a drum I’ve banged pretty relentlessly since 1981.)

Quick one- or two-touch passing can at least keep an opposition on their toes, even if it is just a one-two of the sideways variety. Alas, our heroes today seemed utterly stymied by things, each man dwelling on the ball for several touches before shifting the ball sideways and keeping fingers firmly crossed that, buck having been passed, some other bright spark might provide a moment of inspiration.

Some nerdy soul somewhere presumably tallies up the number of one-touch passes made, but the naked eye suggests there weren’t many (precious few early crosses either, although that’s a rant for another day). What the devil is the point of those rondos they practice so regularly? Ping the ball quickly back and forth and one would imagine the opposition will leave something unlocked; dwell on the ball for several touches and they pretty much drop anchor in a given spot and watch events unfold in front of them.

2. Lamela, Son and Lucas

As quick, slick passing was off the menu (and early crosses were a pretty alien concept, despite the panic they caused when flung in) the onus fell upon the attacking triumvirate to get their heads down and start carving open Newcastle.

No shortage of perspiration, and if God loves a trier the Almighty must absolutely adore those three. Alas, they generally resembled clones of each other, trying the same tricks to tap-dance their way through massed ranks of orange shirts, and with the same level of success (or lack thereof).

One understands the pre-match thinking of Our Glorious Leader, for the likely pattern of things was pretty predictable stuff, so cramming in all three of the chaps famed for their nifty footwork seemed the right way to go about things. “Dribblers can unlock defences,” seemingly being the catchphrase of choice as teamsheets were completed.

But not one of them found a square inch of space, and whichever of the three tried his hand it was all a bit repetitive.

The introduction of Eriksen offered something a little different, as he seemed the only chap out there willing to try slicing open Newcastle with a pass – which does reflect the fact that he’s probably the only one able. Maybe had he benefited from a full 90 minutes’ worth he would have found that one magic pass – but Newcastle were so dashed compact I still personally bob back to my quick-short-passing argument.

3. The Limitations of Winks

A seasoned favourite of AANP he undoubtedly is, but Winks’ limitations in games of this sort were pretty openly paraded this afternoon.

When it comes to keeping possession ticking over he’s one of the first names on the list, but today was one for creative spark and a dash of ingenuity. Alas, the voices in Winks’ head fairly evidently whisper “Sidways!” or “Backwards!” and precious little else, because the most creative the young eel gets is to spread play out to the full-backs so that we can all watch them dally before buck-passing further.

While he doesn’t mind getting stuck in, in the rather quaint manner of a young pup scampering around the legs of a beast literally twice his size, Winks cannot really be labelled a Defensive Sort by any right-minded observer, and he is about as risk-averse as they come it is a stretch to call him An Attacking Force either. His raison d’être seems to be simply to protect possession.

As such, he’s arguably more use in games against bigger and better opponents, when ball retention is pretty key and an opposing defensive camp is less of an issue. In games against mid- to lower-table opposition, Winks’ contributions lie somewhere between Impotent and Utterly Redundant on the spectrum of things.

4. Lo Celso-Watch

This was also our first glimpse of the much-heralded – and often mispronounced – Lo Celso, and it was rather a shame that circumstances dictated that all eyes swung towards him with pretty feverish expectation as he made his bow.

It might have been gentler on the young bean to have been rolled on with a 3-0 lead in the bag so that he could enjoy himself with few cares in the world, but this being us we were desperate for a goal and therefore implored him to be the second incarnation of Maradona as soon as he set his size eights on the hallowed greenery.

Unfortunately, if unsurprisingly, it was fairly nondescript stuff. Few will judge him on this, nor should they, but for what it was worth he simply trotted out an impression of everyone else in midfield – scurrying hither and thither, and pretty eager not to take any risks, heaven forbid.

The young soul’s reputation suggests he will deliver some half-decent things; as with Monsieur Ndombele we may be forced into the outrageous act of showing him some patience.

5. KWP-Watch

Another thought-provoking contribution from young Walker-Peters. It’s rather difficult to know what to make of the fellow. He beavers away, usually to good effect, but without producing any of the sort of stuff that will earn thunderous acclaim.

Defensively, his scurrying tends to do the job – except for when it doesn’t. The occasional stark error lurks deep within his soul. One is inclined to forgive that, because at this early stage of his career it’s probably better to encourage than crucify him, and because those errors are not too frequent or calamitous. Yet.

And going forward, he similarly tends to do more right than wrong, in a safety-first sort of way.

There is something rather limited about him though. He seems to play as if taking very literally whatever pre-match instructions as he’s been passed, and as if acutely aware of his own limitations. It all means he comes across as a player who gets a 6 out of 10 for natural ability, but a firm 9 or so for effort.

At one stage he cantered forward, drifting infield and cutting back out, carrying the ball for a good 20 yards while Newcastle backed him off – but at no stage did the onlooker feel inspired with the confidence that here was a man dictating play, and who had decided that the tide in his affairs was to be taken at its flood. Instead he appeared more a newborn lamb taking some initial steps out into the world and finding that, fun though such japes are, it’s better to err on the side of caution.

Maybe he needs more confidence, maybe he needs more games – quite likely a combo of both (and he certainly needs to learn the mystical art of crossing) – but all in all, while he’s steady enough, and at his age is worth a little perserverance, I must confess that I regularly flung my hands skywards and yearned for Trippier to toss in an early cross and make the Newcastle back-line earn their wage. Games like today’s will do that to a man.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Man City 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Excellent Result, Pretty Middling Performance

A wonkily-balanced beast if ever I set eyes upon one, this was a result that on paper merited the highest praise going, because as well being an all-conquering sort of mob, who routinely pummel their opponents for five of six of the finest, City were on a run of 15 consecutive wins, which even the most begrudging would admit is indicative of a team that knows what it’s about.

You would therefore think that a draw against this lot is something about which to make quite the song and dance. And yet…

Not to put too fine a point on it, and not to denigrate the efforts of our honest lot – but we were pretty bang average throughout. One understands the mentality of setting up to defend as if lives depended upon it, but there was little chance of this tactic holding out for the full 90 minutes, and as it happened it only lasted 20.
Nor was our defending much to write home about. Admittedly City don’t make such tangos particularly easy work, but for all the finery about the build-up to City’s two goals, our defending was pretty wretched fare, with runs not tracked and lethal strikers not appropriately shackled.

And aside from the goals, City did not just dominate possession, they fairly comfortably made a hatful of chances.

So defensively this was no particular masterclass, and going forward there was no great bite either. The bods inform me that we managed three shots in the entire game – one of which was Kane from halfway, and the other two of which we scored. And as the goals themselves were from a corner and a most peculiar long-range effort, it all points towards a performance in which we did precious little to trouble City in any department.

So much for the debit column. Squinting so that the glass is actually half-full, the fact is that we scored twice at the Etihad and came away with a draw. Precious few teams will do either of these things this season.

To play as poorly as that and come away with a point, against the current and likely future Champions no less, is the sign of a team that has some backbone to it. In seasons gone by we have fallen short in our away fixtures to the Top Six. No matter how we went about it, ultimately we achieved something pretty impressive yesterday.

2. KWP Survives

Pre kick-off the prognostications of doom amongst the great and good of AANP Towers were so heartfelt and unanimous that one might have been in the waiting room for the fires of Hades. ‘We’ll take a hammering’ was the gist of things around the campfire, with young Walker-Peters identified as the egg in for the worst of the treatment, being up against Sterling.

It is to KWP’s credit therefore, that he lived to tell the tale.
He was not quite flawless in his day’s work – Sterling had the freedom of Manchester for the first goal, and bested our man in a couple of one-on-ones thereafter – but nor was this the stuff of nightmares. Considering his defensive prowess alone, KEP certainly rolls up his sleeves and sticks to the task at hand.

He received a degree of help from midfielders in the vicinity, as I am sure Our Glorious Leader had mapped out ought to be the case beforehand, but with memories of Sterling tearing apart Trippier in last season’s Champions League, it was a mild relief to see that KWP possessed at least a vague sense of the guidelines around right-backing-vs-Sterling.

3. Playing Out From The Back

For the first 20 minutes our heroes did not touch the ball, at the culmination of which period City scored and all manner of problems arose. Immediately afterwards however, and for occasional short bursts thereafter, the gameplan from our lot seemed to be to pass out from the back.

Now as any right-minded soul will tell you, the sight of your team trying casually to one- and two-touch their way from their own penalty area up to halfway is enough to do the cardio apparatus some serious mischief. I’ve seen it with England, and yesterday our heroes had the AANP heart-rate surging through the roof as every one of them who received possession in and around our own penalty area casually left it until the last possible moment before releasing to a nearby chum.

Marvellously, and barely credibly, it often worked. With City attackers homing in on whomever of our mob were in possession, said man in possession would dip a shoulder and squirt the ball towards a colleague, who would gather it in the nick of time, dip a shoulder and squirt the ball onwards, and the whole death-defying system repeated.

At any given juncture in this precarious fandango, it appeared that an approaching City type would steal in and be away with the ball, and in on goal. As such, the whole thing could only be watched from behind the sofa.

But somehow, and to the credit of goalkeeper, defenders and midfielders, our lot generally kept their heads sufficiently to keep doing this, and successfully so.

In theory, this can be a pretty handy way of beating a high press and finding things opening up considerably on halfway. It retains possession – which is a pretty vital commodity against City – better than a goalkeeper’s punt upfield would. It’s just torture to watch.

4. Winks

Within this approach of playing out from the back, I’ll give a gentle doff of the cap to young Master Winks.

As noted in these very pages last week, when we’re pushing for a goal and in need of an incisive, defence-splitting pass, Winks is not necessarily the man. His safety-first mentality and tendency to protect possession first and worry about creating chances later means that he is not really the chap towards whom you turn when in need of attacking inspiration.

However, if the order of the day is protecting possession because failure to do so will result in City running rings – and passing triangles – around you, then Winks’ number ought to be on speed-dial, and I thought that yesterday, when we had those little spells of possession, he played the role of string-puller-in-chief with a decent slab of aplomb.

In terms of protecting the ball, dipping his shoulder, finding space and then giving it, he starts to remind me of Michael Carrick, from the misty-eyed days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name). Winks does not have the passing range of Carrick, but something about the way in which he protects possession gladdens the soul.

However, after an hour we were trailing and in need of a goal, so he was rightly hooked.

5. Eriksen Anonymous

A bit harsh to single out Eriksen as under-performing, as few in lilywhite (or rather natty dark blue) did much to enhance their reputations yesterday.

However, the debate about the merits of otherwise of Eriksen rages on. To recap, the AANP view is that for a man of such talent, he ought to be the central figure in games, with everything going through him and emanating from him – much as was the case last week when he trotted on against West Ham. Too often, continues the AANP view, Eriksen will produce one or two gorgeous moments, which make it to Match of the Day highlights, but will be largely anonymous for the remaining 89 or so minutes.

The contrary view is that this does the chap an enormous disservice, that he was overworked last season – which explains his occasional quiet games – and that he is the one man in the team capable of producing game-changing moments of creativity from midfield.

To be honest I think it is possible to hold both views without contradiction, but that’s one for another day.

Yesterday, having been restored to the starting line-up, I looked pleadingly towards Eriksen for some on-ball leadership, but after 90 minute it felt that this was another one chalked up as a bit of a non-event for the fellow.

To reiterate, a little harsh to single him out, but in the context of the ongoing arguments about whether he really is indispensable to our cause, this was an opportunity missed for him to get on the ball and boss things.

All in all, points away to Man City are like gold dust. For all the grumbles about performance, this was one heck of a result for us, and should performances dial up a notch or two, as one would expect, we might be in for a decent ride this season.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Spurs 0-2 Liverpool: Five Tottenham Talking Points

Well this was a most peculiar anti-climax. Full of effort and yet somehow devoid of urgency, and with excitement and quality levels similarly low on the barometer, the whole thing resembled seeing a balloon being immediately deflated and then simply left lying unattended for another 89 minutes.

Rather than lumber tragically through the seven stages of grief, or find some perceived injustice and rage at it, the sentiment at AANP Towers is therefore one of curious frustration. Given that Liverpool themselves were oddly underwhelming, this ought probably to be listed as a Missed Opportunity, alongside the Leicester season – and yet somehow, the mood is one of philosophical acceptance.

Probably best just to toddle over to the corpse and begin dissecting.

1. The Penalty Decision

Not all will agree – and judging by the high-pitched apoplexy emanating from his larynx, Glenn Hoddle most certainly did not – but I must confess I had little problem with the penalty decision itself.

To clarify, I did not perform any sort of jig of delight – in fact those around me needed to deliver a rigorous prod between the ribs to check that the blood was still flowing, such was the horror-stricken, frozen chill with which I reacted – but I did follow the logic of the sturdy fellow making the call. Although the ball bounced off chest first, it did then receive an inadvertent stroke from the incoming arm of Sissoko.

Worse crimes have undoubtedly been perpetuated within the vicinity of the 18-yard rectangle during the history of the game, but I understood why, in that situation, a jury might convict.

Just a dashed shame – if quintessentially, absurdly Tottenham – that it happened within thirty seconds of the start of the biggest game in our history.

2. Best Laid Plans vs First-Minute Penalty

More of a concern was the impact of that early farce upon the best-laid plans of Our Glorious Leader. According to the newswires, Pochettino’s three-week preparations had included inviting the players to plant their feet on hot coals (a strategy that, if you ask me, carries an inherent flaw, given that these chaps’ feet are the most important dashed parts of them), breaking arrows with their necks and all manner of other eyebrow-raising sorcery. Frankly it struck me that he might have had a little too much preparation time on his hands.

Alas, the one circumstance for which he presumably had not prepared was the concession of a penalty in the opening minute. One sympathises, for why would he?

And in fact, our lot reacted to this decidedly unseemly new set of circumstances with admirable stiffening of the upper lip and some neat and tidy interplay around halfway.

The problem with the early goal was not so much its effect upon our heroes as its effect upon Liverpool. It meant that for the remaining 89 minutes they did not need to take any sort of risk, or show any sort of forward intent that would allow even a whiff of an opening behind them. They were content to strangle the life out of us, and pretty much did just that.

3. The Kane Selection

Our Glorious Leader had made the reasonable point that hindsight would tell whether his team selection would go down as masterstroke or clanger, so naturally enough the knives are out in some quarters. All of which places me in a terrifically delicate spot, as Poch, having presumably pored over these very pages in recent days, rather scarily opted for the precise team and formation for which I had been marching around town campaigning in the past week or two.

Kane undoubtedly had fairly minimal effect upon proceedings, finally threatening around the peripheries in the final twenty or so, without ever eking out – or having eked for him – that half a yard that would have allowed him a decent pot at goal.

However, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the better half of North London, I do not think our general bluntness was much to do with him, for the chap was barely given a touch of the ball by his chums in the opening hour or so.

He might have been in the form of his life and it would not have mattered, because our build-up play, particularly in the first half, was thoroughly bogged down by the time we hit the final third (almost as if the players were sinking beneath the weight of tactical instruction, which rather makes one wonder).

Even in hindsight I am still not particularly convinced that starting Lucas instead would necessarily have been the solution, for sniper-quality though his finishing was against Ajax, his involvement in build-up play was nothing about which to ring the church bells, and when he was eventually introduced last night his impact was neither here nor there.

The problem struck me as not so much to do with Kane’s fitness or the absence of Lucas, as the dearth of creativity and service from the ranks behind them.

4. Eriksen, The Selected Scapegoat

At such times as these I feel legally obliged to identify a scapegoat.

With Liverpool content to allow us the ball and take their chances as a defensive unit, plenty of onus was placed upon the assorted size nines in our midfield. We found ourselves in desperate need of some wit and ingenuity, someone who could make use of ample possession in midfield, and boast both the vision to pick a defence-splitting pass and the technique also to deliver it.

In short we needed Christian Eriksen.

The opportunity could not have been better made for him if it had taken him aside beforehand and measured him for size. This was the precise scenario that Mother Nature had had in mind when she fashioned him all those years ago, and the stage was that for which one would expect the true greats of the game to don their capes and leap into action.

But cometh the hour, Eriksen had little to offer that dropped the jaw and made the heart skip a beat or two.

It’s a source of some pretty ripe debate in lilywhite circles. The chap’s ability is not in question – he produces some silky stuff of which most teammates simply aren’t capable. The issue here at AANP Towers is that he is something of a Match of the Day player: his best bits make the highlights reel, and come 10.30pm on a Saturday night he can look pretty spectacular. But roll up and watch the whole 90 minutes, and too often he does too little to effect things, much less boss an entire match. Last night was a case in point.

By contrast, Winks and Sissoko – neither of whom anyone of sound mind and teetotal disposition would ever suggest were better players than Eriksen – did more at least to attempt to inject a little vim and energy into our midfield play.

5: Clinical Finishing (And Lack Thereof)

Whatever the virtues or otherwise of Eriksen’s performance, it seemed that, like me, the players were labouring under the misapprehension that clear-cut chances would simply materialise automatically, because this was the Champions League 2019 and frankly that’s what has tended to happen. This time however, we were a little too patient and passive for our own good.

By around the 70-minute mark the memo to get heads down and dig out a goal had evidently reached all in lilywhite, and there was an urgency to our play in the final third. The Liverpool goalkeeper was even having to get his gloves dirty, as our heroes stumbled upon the novel idea of trying an occasional, polite shot at goal.

Alas and alack and woe upon woe, we did not actually create one decent chance throughout the whole desperate affair. Instead, we needed to be at our clinical best to take advantage of whatever scraps and glimmers of opportunities came our way.

In short, we needed to produce the sort of clinical finish from one of those half-chances that Divock Origi did at the other end, at the death, summoning the ghost of Lineker in the Italia ’90 Semi-Final to turn a sniff of a chance into a goal.

But where Origi caught his shot as sweetly as a front-foot cover drive at Lord’s, Sonny and Lucas did not quite make the clean connection that makes the heart skip a beat and young ladies swoon; and Dele’s chipped effort was rather cruelly made to look a heck of a lot closer to hitting the top corner than it actually did, by that most wretched and evil prankster, the Deceptive Camera Angle.

And that was that. The whole Champions League campaign has been, until this point absolutely riotous fun, so warm applause and stiff drinks are deserved all round. Just a shame that the finale was such an oddly damp squib, but such is life I suppose.

Twitter. YouTube. Book.

All Action, No Plot © 2020. Theme Squared created by Rodrigo Ghedin.