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Dortmund 0-1 Spurs Bottlers: Six Tottenham Observations

1. The ‘Thou Shalt Not Pass’ School of Defending

Hindsight being a pretty flawless sort of gem, it is easy for us to playfully nudge each other’s ribs and chortle, “Well that was pretty easy pickings, what?”

But being Spurs fans in general, and having sat through the first 40-odd minutes in particular, I think we can probably all swiftly reach a consensus that this was actually one heck of a delicate operation, and one which, but for six inches here and a millisecond there might have seen us one or two down by half-time and stewing in our juices like nobody’s business.

A three-goal lead we might have held at kick-off, but Dortmund came out of the traps at a fair old lick, and emanated the strong whiff of a team that would go on to nab a second, third and fourth if they could just get that first.

Enormous credit is therefore due to the entire N17 cast for defending as a team, particularly in the first half. Like those rather natty shoals of about a hundred fish that you see weaving this way and that in perfect synchronisation, as if controlled by a single mind, our defence and midfield diligently shuttled hither and thither as Dortmund prodded away like the dickens.

Normally this sort of guff wouldn’t earn a second glance at AANP Towers, where the teeth have been cut on a strict diet of the non-stop, all-action swash and buckle that has lent its name to the place; but there is a time and place for such things, and the drill last night was quite rightly to keep the door shut at all costs during the initial blitz.

This is not to say that our heroes were flawless in their defending as a collective. Had they been, there would not have been need for the last-ditch heroics peddled by Messrs Lloris, Vertonghen and Davies at various junctures.

Nevertheless, I got the impression that if one were to pluck a lilywhite at random and slice him open, one would have discovered intense concentration levels and a strict game-plan coursing through his veins. Our lot were hell-bent on keeping Dortmund at bay.

2. What Lloris Does Best

So as mentioned, the generally topping work done by all eleven was embellished in timely fashion by a couple of goal-worthy challenges from certain members of the back-five; and when even these lines were breached, Monsieur Lloris produced the sort of performance that in truth he’s probably owed us for the past couple of seasons.

Some saves were straightforward, and some were absolutely first rate. Usefully, Lloris was not in discriminatory mood, and did the necessaries with all of them.

In a way, the slightly desperate, last-ditch, backs-to-the-wall nature of the thing in the first half played neatly into Lloris’ hands. The chap seems to be at his best when instinctively thrusting out a paw to repel a close-range snapshot.

Shoot at his legs and there is a moderate-to-good chance the ball will find a way through. Ask him to come dashing from his line to mop things up and any sort of fresh hell might transpire. But simply fire the ball at him from a distance of 5-10 yards, as Dortmund did repeatedly in the first half, and he’s precisely the sort of nib you want manning the phones.

3. The Ironic Need for Sideways and Backwards Passing

Not that Lloris’ heroics and the collective spirit of defence made the first half much more bearable. For all the thrill of seeing a Davies limb extend or a Vertonghen toe intercept, the respite rarely lasted more than around 5 seconds before the next Dortmund wave was upon us. For almost the entirety of the first half we were unable to retain possession, our on-the-ball subtlety rarely extending beyond simply blooting the thing to halfway and trying to regroup for the next yellow attack.

In between staving off heart attacks, the thought did strike me that we would have benefited immensely from a spell of possession, just for its own sake. Not with the aim of pelting towards the Dortmund area in search of an away goal, but simply to relieve the pressure.

Instead, out on the greenery, the only intention seemed to be to launch the ball north, in the hope that Kane and Son might magic a goal out of nothing. The net result was that neither were able to hold up play and we were immediately back under the cosh. What we were crying out for was actually a spot of sideways and backwards passing, with zero attempt to encroach on Dortmund territory, and every intention of simply controlling the game for a few priceless minutes.

Being the sort of egg who’s all for a spot of irony during their daily routine, it did strike me that in recent weeks I have hit something pretty near apoplexy at the sight of Toby, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Winks and Sissoko pinging the ball sideways and backwards ad nauseam. When the games against Burnley, Chelsea and Arsenal were absolutely howling out for some urgency, invention and blasted forward forays, our heroes intransigently pivoted, and pivoted, and then rolled the ball sideways.

Contrast with last night, when all they seemed capable of doing in the first half was attempting unnecessarily and unsuccessfully to force the ball forward. I don’t mind admitting I swept a hand across the fevered brow on more than one occasion.

Mercifully, the penny dropped from about the 40-minute mark, as Dortmund’s enthusiasm for the chase dwindled. Thereafter, our heroes began to look like they were starting rather to enjoy themselves. Aware that it simply did not matter whether they passed forward or backward as long as they retained the ball, they began to lead Dortmund a merry dance, occasionally feinting to attack, and then rather cruelly about-turning and shuttling the ball across the back-line.

4. Kane Adulation

And that, in truth, was pretty much that. Half-time arrived with our heroes in possession, and the early second half goal gave every one of us the opportunity to indulge in a good, old-fashioned spot of exhaling.

Being an absolute machine, Harry Kane did not pause to mess around when presented with his one and only chance. The chap’s Champions League stats already boggle the mind a tad, and the circumstances around his goal yesterday were impressive – one might make the case that the very best strikers need only one chance in the crunch games, and Kane is very much of that ilk.

On top of which, he spent much of the rest of the game pottering around winning free-kicks while strongly outnumbered. A cracking performance from whichever angle one views it.

5. Why Hello There, Eric Dier

A tip of the hat also to Eric Dier, who returned from witness protection looking like these were the circumstances for which he had been born to play.

Thrown on with half an hour to go, instructed to protect the back-four and generally ensure no alarms, he did so with discipline and aggression, as one would expect, but also threw in a neat line of simple and effective short passes that kept the pressure off and gradually sucked the will to live from the Dortmund mob.

With Winks and Sissoko seemingly playing every minute of every game these days, and hobbling off accordingly, the return of Dier, particularly in this sort of mood, is most useful.

6. All Grown Up

Two years ago our heroes were gifted a fairly straightforward draw, and failed to progress from the group.

One year ago our heroes topped a group containing Real Madrid, then outplayed Juve for all but 13 minutes over two legs, and failed to progress past the Round of 16.

This year our heroes have delivered absolutely textbook Home and Away leg performances, and now gambol on to the Quarter Finals. The evidence mounts in pretty compelling fashion to suggest that they improve year on year.

No doubt they will continue to lose the occasional game against big teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’) and occasionally lose to smaller teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’), but the two very different and devastatingly effective performances in this tie – following a group stage in which we faced elimination unless we scored in the last 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and six fixtures – points towards a team that is getting the hang of this lark.

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

Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

If not quite a full-blown disaster, this ongoing implosion has all the core ingredients, in pretty much the right measures and with all requisite utensils.

The casual scattering of six points in half a week has left brows furrowing like nobody’s business, and should we lose to that ‘orrible lot on Saturday – which on present form, is a pretty conceivable scenario – the gap will have narrowed from the chasmic 10 points of what seemed like yesterday, to a thoroughly slippable 1 point.

1. Too Dashed Slow

Rather disappointingly, our heroes simply picked up where they had left off against Burnley. There was a general air of men treading through quicksand throughout, on top of which several feted luminaries seemed to have the dickens of an issue bringing the ball under control. Numerous seemingly perky counter-attacking opportunities were beheaded in their infancy when one of Sonny, Lamela or whomever stumbled upon the ball and let it slip away.

Having weathered any early storm, matters were pretty even at half-time, but the pattern changed after Chelsea’s opener. Thereafter they seemed fairly content to sit back, squeeze everyone into neat defensive formation and, truth be told, light cigars.

For rather than cause them any discernible difficulties, our lot – earnestly but thoroughly ineffectively – took to dwelling on the ball. Every man in possession swivelled this way, and then that, and then hit upon the brain wave of going back the first way again on the off-chance that it might miraculously have opened up invitingly in the preceding 1.5 seconds; meanwhile Chelsea simply cleared the cigar smoke and waited.

The game was crying out for some lilywhite urgency, some swift, one-touch hopping around this way and that. A few neat first-time passes, a triangle here and one-two there might have been sufficient to prise Chelsea from their fort. But alas, it was four-touch stuff as a minimum, all the way.

As a principal but by no means sole culprit, I noted, with pretty aghast eyes, that young Winks made the highest number of passes, with a 97% accuracy rate – but how many of those did the slightest dashed jot of good? Wouldn’t it have been preferable for him to try something a tad more incisive, say attempting 6 or 7 killer balls, on the off-chance that 1 or 2 would strike oil? Heaven forbid, it might have disturbed his pass accuracy stats…

2. Eriksen Decidedly Off The Boil

The game was screaming out for Christian Eriksen to have the whiff of battle in his nostrils, and start pulling strings from midfield like there were no tomorrow.

But alack, the chap simply mooched around with the air of one who would rather be sitting on a small fishing boat in the middle of a calm lake, straw hat on head and toothpick in mouth. He looked, in short, like a man who had taken a look around and thought, “Stuff this, I’m off to Madrid.”

Where we needed some sort of conduit between the southern axis of Sissoko and Winks and the more northerly mechanics of Eriksen-Son-Lamela, the Dane kept his head down and did his best to blend into the background.

3. Lamela Not Fit For Purpose

Earlier this season Lamela hit something of a purple pitch, running at defenders with something that could officially be registered as “menace” and popping up to nab goals with pleasing frequency.

Quite what his injuries have been nobody seems quite sure – the official party line is the rather generic suggestion of “Hip Problem”, although the rumours that have reached AANP Towers make the mind boggle – but since his latest return, for all his purposeful scuttling, he has achieved precious little whenever in possession.

In common with every one of his chums he was wont to dwell on the ball, and with Chelsea intent on pressurising through the medium of The Swarm, he lacked the requisite nimbleness of foot to produce anything remotely productive.

On the bright side, with the referee calling an amnesty on all fouls for 90 minutes he did at least avoid his customary Yellow Card For Mistimed Lunge, but when that is the extent of one’s victory, one jolly well has to slink back and re-read the job description, what?

4. Oh, Trippier!

As one pretty well versed in the art of the Own Goal, on the back of around a thousand of the dashed things in my well-meaning but uncommunicative 5-a-side moonlighting, I am reluctant to do little more than dismiss last night’s circus act with a well-chosen curse and some choice gesticulations.

One might quibble that as schoolchildren, as well as being taught to play the recorder and recite that verbs are doing words, a pretty core element of education is that if you pass back to the goalkeeper, do so wide of the posts, just on the off-chance that should he go haring off in the wrong direction no more lasting damage will be done.

Oh that the infant Trippier had paid more attention in class. Instead, faced with the onrushing Lloris, a man who at any given point in his life looks thoroughly clueless as to what course of action he ought to take, Trippier forgot his ABC, and the consequent toe-poke killed off our chances. Such moments are all part of life’s rich tapestry, I suppose.

Not that the blame lies entirely at his door – I apportion blame in fairly equal ratios between the two protagonists – but it all makes for the most bizarre year in the life of young Master Trippier, whose football career not only seemed to peak with that free-kick in the World Cup Semi-Final, but has now seemed to plumb to its lowest depth and, finding it quite fun, set up camp and stay there. Generally loose play in the right-back area all season has been topped off first by a woeful penalty miss, and now by the most comical of own goals. One fears that in order to complete the set, a red card will be his before the season is out.

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

Spurs 3-0 Dortmund: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Rip-Roaring Stuff – After An Ominous Beginning

Heavens above, who saw that coming? This being AANP Towers, the mood ahead of kick-off was, naturally enough, about as gloomy and pessimistic as these things come, what with one thing (Kane and Dele absences) and another (Dortmund being 5 points clear in Germany).

And that first half did little to brighten the mood. Our lot approached it as something akin to the early stages of a chess match, in which a lot of harmless toddling is done in defence, but no incisions of note are made (bar the dreamy Moura volley out of the blue).

I suppose it made for terrific viewing for fans of centre-backs, as Our Glorious Leader indulged in his own private game of stuffing as many as he could onto the pitch, but the net result was a heck of a lot of sideways passing between the back three, as Dortmund stepped back and squeezed every last inch of space out of midfield. The lilywhite cup did not overfloweth with attacking options.

Moreover, whereas the sum of our endeavours was a countless stream of sideways passing between Messrs Sanchez, Toby and Foyth, Dortmund hit upon the idea of racing into the gaps behind our full-backs and letting that scamp Sancho ooze with the menace of a chap with his finger on the trigger. As the protagonists trooped off for half-time refreshment, the chin-stroking amongst the paying public was of the lugubrious variety.

2. A Love Note To My Best Mate Jan

Goodness knows what pearls of wisdom were imparted at half-time, but I suggest they be recited every morning in classrooms and offices across the country, by law and as a matter of urgency.

“Tactical tweak” seemed to be the buzzword, although I must confess that here the mechanics of the thing were rather lost on me, as the only alteration I spotted was the slightly physics-defying move of having our wing-backs both drop deep into a back-five, to counter Sancho and his whirring legs of wizardry, and simultaneously to push those same wing-backs right up the throats of Dortmund, to act as auxiliary wingers. So, in effect, fielding thirteen players.

Whatever the nature of the sorcery, it worked. Our heroes flew out of the traps, and once Dortmund had altered their game-plan to accept 1-0 we stumbled upon the brainwave of scoring enough goals to take the tie away from them.

As seasoned visitors to this parish may be aware, whether he knows it or not Jan Vertonghen is what I consider a bosom-friend, our paths having crossed a couple of times in the last year. I am therefore modestly willing to accept the credit for his transformation from solid, dependable centre-back to flying, all-action winger, and, no doubt benefiting from my inspiration, the chap delivered an absolute belter of a performance out on the left.

Be it harassing the life out of the Dortmund right-back – thereby forcing him and his chums onto the backfoot – making himself available, intercepting or swinging an array of crosses into that sensitive spot in the penalty area that has goalkeeper and centre-backs nervously looking at one another for a spot of authoritative command, Vertonghen ticked the boxes like a man possessed. And then chipped in with the ghosting run and finish of a seasoned striker.

3. Sonny Delivers Yet Again

The absences of Kane and Dele had weighed heavily upon my heart pre-match, and little I saw in the first half changed that sentiment, but where there is Sonny there is hope. Admittedly there was not an uninhabited ounce of turf for him to excitedly buzz into in the first 45, but this is a chap who emerged from the womb scampering into space, so it was little surprise that his enthusiasm remained undimmed by the first half travails.

Naturally he was the catalyst for the second half rout, and while Llorente has done his bit, and the stars of Moura and Lamela intermittently burn bright, it is Sonny who has embraced the role of General Saviour Of Our Skins in the absence of Kane.

Mercifully there now follows a 10-day intermission, at least half of which I would expect Son to spend simply asleep, because the chap has run himself into the ground for us ever since presumably running himself into the ground for his country.

4. Sissoko The Elder Statesman

It is a sign of the times that in our biggest games we can now fairly confidently shift our glances to the right in expectation of another towering performance from Sissoko, and he will deliver.

In the lamented absence of Dembele, he is now emerging as the sort of chap who can pick up the ball inside his own half and set off on an irresistible gallop. What he lacks in aesthetic finesse, he more than makes up for in effectiveness, and at various points he trotted out his usual blend of in-possession forward strides and out-of-possession harrying.

For all the talent in our team, we still occasionally look a little short of those types who will grab the nearest bayonet, sprint to the front-line and lead by example, even more so in the absence of Kane, but Sissoko is beginning to emerge as one of those dependable bods, an elder statesmen to whom others can turn and goggle.

5. Winks Steps Up

Young Winks has earned himself the occasional critical arching of the eyebrow from this quarter in recent weeks, for being a little too risk-averse and light on carpe-ing the nearest diem.

Last night, however, he nailed absolutely every bullet point on the job description. He made it a matter of professional obligation to keep possession in the first half, when others around him were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of options and occasionally sending passes awry; and then in the second half he straddled the line perfectly between playing safe and pushing us forward.

With a little more space within which to operate in the second half, he was always the first option available to our centre-backs, and once in possession took a leaf out of the Christian Eriksen Book of Picking Appropriate Passes, be they short ones backwards or of the more adventurous variety further north.

To do all this against a team of pretty illustrious ilk was thigh-slapping stuff – and indeed, that sentiment can apply to just about every member in lilywhite. It might not have been flawless – Messrs Foyth and Aurier will presumably have mumbled a prayer or two of thanks for some lucky escapes – but that second half in particular was fabulous, sensible and devastatingly effective stuff.

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

Fulham 1-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Grinding It Out – Again

Credit where due. Traditionally our lot have never really gone in for the business of knuckling down and sweating out every last drop, preferring the fancy stuff when it suits, and capitulation when it doesn’t.

This season however we have dragged ourselves back in the dying embers of three Champions League games, won a stack of Premier League games without playing remotely well in the early months – and now a last minute winner when bereft of our three leading scorers, and having last our another leading attacking light during proceedings.

No doubt we’ll be accused of choking again the next time someone sneezes out of turn, but this was the latest in a string of impressive displays that suggests that some stern stuff resides deep within the cores of our troops.

2. The Tragic Llorente

I suspect I might be in a minority of one on this particular point, but I’ve always been rather fond of Llorente. Always cast a rather admiring eye at his ability to cushion an arriving ball into the path of a chum with the delicacy of one of Venus’ suitors giving it their tenderest work. Admittedly there’s not much else to his game, but his cushioned lay-offs were always top-notch.

Alas, I counted but one of those against Fulham – arriving in the 79th minute – and with his heading compass woefully awry there was not a dashed thing to commend about his lumberings.

As a Plan B in the final ten minutes of a cup game, shoved on alongside Kane, he has some merit; as the focal point from first toot to last, the poor blighter offers all the threat of a rabbit in headlights – rooted to spot, limbs incapable of shifting him from point A to point B, a look of utter dread etched across his features.

Bar the occasional headed flick, Llorente offered nothing. He did not drop deep to partake in any build-up play; he did not hare off into channels; he did not hold up the ball; and I don’t recall him at any point collecting the ball with his feet. Given that at the best of times he traipses around the pitch like a weary farm-beast just waiting to be put out of his misery, one imagines the own-goal did not help his confidence.

I suppose the charitable stance is to excuse him on the grounds that none of the above have ever exactly been listed on his CV as attributes, and one can hardly expect him to do that of which he is physically incapable. The pointed counter-argument is that he is a professional footballer – and a striker at that – and therefore dashed well should be able to offer a handful of those assets normally found in a target man.

3. The Other Ten: Politely Ignoring Llorente Throughout

In a charming sort of way, playing with Llorente reminded me of those schoolboy games in which some poor young scab is picked solely because the teacher recognises the name, having taught his older sibling. Everybody was too polite to admit openly that he was utter tripe, but they all knew it.

No particular blame attached to the other ten, who played gallons of football that was neat and tidy and patient – and some that was even effective – but from the off there was a sense of a team playing with ten men.

The sorry conclusion to it all was that out there on the pitch our heroes pattered along with things while ignoring Llorente as respectfully as was possible, and seemingly actively avoiding any opportunity to lob a cross towards him; while here at AANP Towers yours truly sat with head in hands, muttering a choice variety of curses as the game serenely passed the wretch by.

If this is a sign of things to come – we field Llorente, simply ignore him and continue to play our usual intricate way but in effect without a striker – I would prefer we put the Spaniard out to pasture, and field a youngling of the ilk of Kazaiah Sterling instead.

4. Dele Alli, All Our Hopes Rest On Y- Oh

There was something wonderfully predictable about Dele Alli’s headed goal, but it was no less delightful for it. The young bean seems to have perfected the art of ghosting in at the back post to nod the ball in, and all with an appearance of effortless ease that must have Senor Llorente casting all manner of envious glances in his direction.

In recent seasons I have been inclined to give young Dele quite the bashing. Too much frippery and not enough substance, has been the gist of the charges.

To his credit, the young fish has been poring over my words religiously, and this season has done his level best to win back my approval. For this I graciously applaud him. His marvellous technique is now applied to the greater good, if you get my drift, looking to unpick the opposition rather than drifting off on his own little meandering game of nutmegging as many passers-by as possible.

Given the hopeless efforts of Llorente alongside him, much seemed to depend on Dele, both today and in future weeks with sterner tests to come, so the sight of him shuffling to the bench and adopting the gloomy disposition of a man whose hamstring has just gone ‘ping’ was fairly crushing stuff for all concerned.

Where the dickens we go from here is anyone’s guess, but logic dictates that Llorente might get another bash at things. One suspects that back at Casa Pochettino, away from the gaze of the cameras, our glorious leader is lamenting this necessity, and wondering whether he ought to dig out his size nines and start in attack against Chelsea.

5. Winks’ Moment of Glory

Not the likeliest of heroes, but a fairly deserving one, I suspect you’d agree, for it was an honest, if fairly unspectacular day’s work.

Young Winks never wants for eagerness; and if that faint praise sounds a tad damning it was rather meant to be – having been a fully signed up member of the Winks Fan Club in seasons gone by, his doings in recent weeks have left me a tad underwhelmed, and I’ll explain precisely why.

As often as not, when he picks up the ball, his instinct has been to pivot back towards the safety of home, and pass the thing sideways or backwards. It is all something of a contrast to his earlier days in lilywhite, when he seemed to have a more adventurous streak to his DNA. The safety-first approach undoubtedly has its merits, and is often enforced upon him, as the deepest lying midfielder – but as indicated, has left me a couple of notches short of being truly whelmed.

Today seemed to be a welcome return to the more forward-thinking Winks of yesteryear. This was partly helped by the obliging hosts admittedly, who did little to pressurise him when in possession. Nevertheless, whether passing the thing or taking the initiative himself and setting off on a northbound gallop, he generally contributed his tuppence worth to the cause in proactive fashion.

And once Dier was slung on alongside him he pretty well took the hint that the shackles were off and he had licence to poke his nose further forward – and poke his nose he duly did, and with some aplomb.

Spurs 0-1 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Observations

1. A Heartening Performance

Curses are naturally flowing pretty liberally around the white half of north London, but here at AANP Towers we’re actually sipping the early-evening double whisky with a generous dollop of equanimity.

The wound of defeat obviously cuts deep, and so on and so forth – but after the laboured 90 minutes against Chelsea, and a first half here in which there was a collective air of legs ploughing through quicksand, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the rip-roaring stab of things made by our heroes in the second half.

No doubt about it, every lilywhite out there this afternoon looked utterly drained – and have done for a few weeks now – and I’m pretty sure I saw several of them being scooped up off the turf and carried off at the denouement.
Yet despite that, we kept beavering, making enough presentable chances to win a couple of games and frankly appeared to have a few bursts more energy than our opponents who were supposedly freshly sunned and rested.

Moreover, I was secretly rather chuffed that we kept our heads and continued to probe in those closing stages, rather than blindly whacking the thing north and offering up prayers. Up against a deep United defence-and-midfield I had wondered in the first half how the devil we were supposed to break them down at all. As it happened we did so on around a dozen occasions in the second half alone.

2. Our Finishing. Too Close To The Keeper, Don’t You Think?

Bunting is being decked and champagne sprayed around the United keeper, and one understands the sentiment, for the chap wasn’t allowed to catch his breath before sticking out another limb and keeping the good ship Hotspur at bay.

And far be it for me to deny the fellow his fifteen minutes, but I can’t help thinking we made his job a heck of a lot easier by firing most of those shots within his wingspan.

I trust my public will forgive me if I don’t list and analyse each individual chance separately, as I’m not sure the abacus has been invented that can track that sort of thing, but certainly both Kane and Dele shot at him rather than the corners when clean through, and one or two of the other less straightforward opportunities might also have been more emphatically tucked away.

Just one of those things I suppose. On another day – and there have been several of them in the past month alone – we might have hit the corners and been four or five up. Such is the rummy nature of life.

3. Poch’s Tactical Switch

And while immersing ourselves in rather pointless crumbs of comfort, a begrudging nod in the vague direction of Our Glorious Leader. One of the few sticks with which the sunny chap is ever beaten is his perceived inability to roll up his sleeves midway through a game and do some first-rate tinkering.

Come half-time today however, and with the likeliest form of attack having thus far been The Hopeful Alderweireld Punt, Poch duly tinkered away like the best of them, and produced more of a 4-2-3-1, of sorts.

Now the prosecution might well make the point that his hand was rather forced by the injury to Sissoko pretty much bang on half-time, and a jolly compelling point it would be too. I’m nevertheless inclined to give Poch the benefit of the doubt however, for he might have stuck with the midfield diamond and watched on gloomily.

Instead, Sonny went left, Davies was kept firmly under lock and key within the back-four – where many a cynic might observe he is far better placed – Eriksen sat deeper, and the outlook pretty instantly became a heck of a lot sunnier.

4. Squad Depth (Lack Thereof)

As alluded to above, one can only really applaud the efforts of the chaps out on the pitch, who appeared pretty much to use up their final bubbles of oxygen and every last ounce of energy in hammering away at the United door.

The unhappy fact remains, however, that the slew of crunch fixtures shows neither sign of abating nor adopting any less crunch. On top of which, the cast members themselves are now, rather inevitably, beginning to drop like flies.

The hooking of Sonny for yet another international tournament seems rather heartless, as he’s only just got over the jet-lag from the previous one, but into every life some rain must fall I suppose.

The injuries are just a plain nuisance, and no less annoying for being so utterly predictable. Winks and Sissoko seem to have partnered each other for around a dozen games in a row, so the sight of muscles twanging away mid-game was greeted with as many philosophical shrugs as gloomy grimaces.

Kane also seemed to exit the stage in far worse health than he entered, having taken a royal clattering in the dying embers of the game, and with Dier still not fit, Wanyama now just a picture on a Missing Person’s poster, Moura apparently injured and Dembele eyeing up the exit door, the whole carefully constructed and delicately held-together structure does look set to come tumbling down at any point.

Oh that we were minded to shell out a few quid in the transfer market, what? The party line remains that no signings will be made if they cannot improve the starting eleven, which sounds suitably bland and professional; but the argument grows stronger by the day that simply recruiting a few extra bodies of precisely the same quality would be no bad thing, if it allows for one or two of our mob to catch their breath between games.

Frankly there seems to be more chance of the sun exploding, which means we can potentially look forward to Skipp and Winks behind a front two of Lamela and Llorente in weeks to come.

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

Everton 2-6 Spurs: Six Tottenham Observations

1. Our Glorious Front Four

If you are anything like me you might have tucked into your pre-match reviver with a nervous frown on your lips, because “Everton (away)”, as the first of four bashes in ten days, while not exactly having us barricading the doors and praying for divine intervention, nevertheless seemed a fruity prospect. Local intelligence dictated that a stern test awaited.

But then what does local intelligence know? Even when Everton went ahead, our rapier-like attacking thrusts had already been dropping hints like the dickens that our front four were in the mood for running amok, and at a hefty lick too.

Options wait eagerly in the wings – Lamela looked his usual rather arrogant, niggly self when unveiled in the second half, and Lucas, lest we forget, was talk of the town in the early weeks of the season – but there is little point arguing with the notion that Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Son are about as irresistible an attacking quartet as one might find if languidly spinning a globe, closing one’s eyes and jabbing one’s finger at it to compare the options from some other part of the world. Best simply to let the notion wash over oneself and embrace it. Those four, when on song, are as close as one gets these days to unstoppable.

It was as much the case at 0-0 and 1-0 down as it was when 1-3 up and beyond.

It certainly helped that Everton opted to fight fire with all manner of flammable material, essentially opening up the double doors, laying down a red carpet and inviting our attacking quartet to make merry as they pleased, with great yawning expanses all over the midfield and precious little protection for a pair of centre-backs faced with both Son and Kane in attack.

2. A Cautionary Note on Winks

Before tucking into the main course, a cautionary word about young Winks, who by and large admittedly had a whale of a time in the centre, but who is beginning to display a worrying tendency to bite off a darned sight more than he can chew.

Every now and then he seems possessed by the urge when collecting the ball to put his head down and wriggle away from approaching swarms as if it’s all just one sunny jamboree in the local park. I’m all for encouraging the chap’s inner Modric, but there a few delicate steps to be taken by the young muskrat before he can consider himself anywhere near that sort of celebrated level, and he would do well to keep things a dashed sight simpler for now.

Taking leaf out of the book of young Skipp might not be the worst move at the current juncture, Skipp bounding on for a brief cameo in which he did not put a foot wrong either in possession or out.

3. Sonny’s Goals

But back to the fun stuff. Specifically Son’s first goal, which boasted two constituent parts of considerable swash and buckle.

In the first place, the first time pass from Kane was the swivel-and-ping of a man having an absolute blast, and not really caring who knows it. As against Arsenal in midweek, he demonstrated how there is so much more to his game than simply planting ball into net, with both awareness and execution at the top of the dial.

Everton at this point continued their theme of seasonal generosity, with Zouma and Pickford making balloon animals and firing each other out of cannons before bumping into each other, tumbling into a clown-like heap and daring Sonny to shoot into an open goal from a fast-diminishing angle.

But by heck how well he finished. Sprinting in the wrong direction and with daylight seeping away by the millisecond, it was a brilliant effort.

4. Dele’s Goal

On another occasion I would have rattled away about the technique deployed by Dele to keep low his shot when the ball was bobbing and bouncing at him like an over-animated yo-yo, but when there are five other goals to choose from, Dele’s finish merits little more than a shrug and a polite ripple of applause, before we all excitedly chatter about the Eriksen volley or passing move for Kane or whatnot.

Mind you, the build-up to Dele’s goal had a hefty swig of punch to it. Sissoko’s one-two was fairly pleasing on the eye, and like a broken clock surprising us twice a day the big man also managed to nail a perfectly weighted pass, into the path of Son. The rest is history, but that build-up neatly encapsulated much that was sublime about our forward play today – swift, incisive passing, aided by intelligent, buzzy movement.

5. Eriksen’s Goal

Oh to have in any walk of life the ability that Eriksen has when striking a football. I suppose such things are a little easier to attempt at 3-1 up – the shoulders are less hunched, the spirit runs a little freer, the whole soul sways this way and that with a casual air as if to say “Well it doesn’t really matter either way, does it, whether I make a pig’s ear of this or the sweetest connection imaginable?”

And of course, this being Eriksen, he went down the route of a connection so sweet I pledged my undying love to it, there and then. Watch the replay closely and you’ll notice the ball itself is smiling as it flies in.

6. Kane’s Second

If you’ll excuse the disservice done to Trippier’s free-kick-taking abilities, I will coast blithely past Kane’s first, and instead cut straight to the business of ogling and salivating and stamping my feet at the second.

The numbers bods counted precisely umpteen passes in the build-up to this one, which I’m pretty sure automatically qualifies it for some sort of award for Services to Aesthetics. In fact, at the outset of the move, when our back-four and Lloris were carefully slipping the ball this way and that around our own area, my old man AANP Senior, whose lifetime of Spurs-supporting has understandably imbued him with a certain cynicism when watching, grumpily opined that he was not the most ardent supporter of the policy of playing out time in such joyless fashion.

Hush, aged one, I might have replied – but didn’t – because within approximately a dozen more glorious first-time passes in neat triangles around the hapless Everton mob, we were breaking away down the left like a bunch of escaped convicts breathing in glorious freedom.

Davies, in a rare moment of not-incurring-the-wrath-of-AANP, fed Son first-time, who whizzed it across to Kane first-time, who did what Kane does; and the whole thing had me purring away like a cat who stumbles upon a whole vat of the semi-skimmed good stuff.

So of the 4 games in 10 days, the least winnable one has been won. Traditionally I would sullenly mutter that we will probably undo all that good work in the next game or two, but this Spurs team repeatedly and pointedly demonstrates the stern stuff of which it is made, so shoots of festive optimism pop forth. Have a merry and blessed Christmas.

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

Arsenal 0-2 Spurs: Six Tottenham Observations

So all those “North London is red” cackles seem pretty ill-judged now. A peculiar bash this one, as Arsenal arguably had most of the chances, without ever looking in the slightest like winning. In fact the final 20 or so passed off with all the peaceful serenity of one of those delightful afternoon naps in the sun, when the greatest exertion is simply waving a lazy hand at passing flies.

1. Dele’s Goal

I trust the viewing public will understand if I dispense with chronology and skip straight to the evening’s highlight, because Dele’s goal was of the sort to be placed in a commemorative box and paraded at family reunions.

As part of the preamble the young scoundrel plucked Kane’s cross from the skies, which was neat and tidy but hardly the sort of stuff to have those in the stalls jumping to their feet and strewing flowers around.

At this point I think most self-respecting bookies would have pulled down the shutters and announced that they had stopped taking bets on ball ending up in net, because it was a fairly routine opportunity. And yet herein lay the beauty of the thing, because even before we mere mortals had a chance to process the sequence of events – and certainly before Master Cech in the Arsenal goal had had a chance to get his bearings and adjust his feet and wave his arms – Dele was already taking the plaudits, having dinked away with all the impudence of the Artful Dodger at his most artful.

Having spent much of last year over-elaborating simply for the heck of it, this season the point appears to have wormed its way into his brain that at his best he is on a level above most others on the pitch, and can therefore change games, rather than dribbling into odd little cul-de-sacs in midfield.

2. Kane’s Impact

Son, Lucas and Dele himself all buzzed around in their own ways, but each offered the same sort of thing in attack, if you get my drift. If glancing over the CV of each you would no doubt be impressed, but might struggle to differentiate one from the other with any emphatic judgement, and as a result all our attacks were cut from similar cloth – namely intricate and sneaky, with trickery at every corner.

Enter Kane, and within 60 seconds or so he had demonstrated a useful alternative piece of apparatus, and our lead had doubled. A goalscoring anomaly he undoubtedly is, but the young bean’s work in deeper pastures continues to boggle the mind. On this occasion it was trapping on his chest the sort of 50-yard punt that would have had an evens chance of sending me flying across the turf if I had attempted the same.

That done, he took one look, and weighted a pass into the path of Dele that pretty much begged to be despatched as a matter of decency.

3. The First Goal

And while I’m at it, it seems only right to pay a little deference to the first goal too.

Dele’s assist again illustrated the point made above, that when on song he effortlessly rises to a level above the rabble surrounding him. It was a pass identified while most onlookers were still adjusting to the bodies falling to earth around him, and executed to perfection.

And neatly finished by Sonny, just as my mind was flitting back to his saved one-on-one vs Barca around this time last week.

Naturally enough, with that impeccable judgement that his earned me my armchair seat a million miles away from the actual football, I spent the opening exchanges lamenting the presence of Son in a game of this feist. Certainly if you’re advertising for someone to lose 50-50 battles in the heat of battle, then he’s the man to hang your hat on.

But just trying to imagine having to defend against him makes me want to sit down in a darkened room for a few minutes and compose myself, and despite the Barca miss he is quite the dab-hand in front of goal. Many a time and oft I have used these pages to vent an anguished howl or two at our wastefulness in front of goal; yesterday the mantra on all lilywhite lips was “Clinical finishing”.

4. The Weekly Sissoko Adoration

Well, almost clinical finishing. The one notable chance that went begging was that which fell to Moussa Sissoko, and such is the chap’s tortured history in front of goal that as he the ball rolled invitingly towards him most self-respecting bookies were pulling down their shutters and announcing that they had stopped taking bets on ball launching into orbit.

Apart from that he did not put too many feet wrong. His performances have become a mesmerising phenomenon. He remains utterly imperious, and yet this being despite – as the skied shot illustrated – so oddly lacking in the finesse of a natural footballer.

However, as Arsenal had done to us a couple of weeks back, so last night we successfully strangled the life out of them every time they touched the thing, with an instant press that no doubt had onlooking packs of hounds nodding admiringly; and Sissoko – along with the indefatigable, if error-riddled, Winks – was central to the mechanics of this.

5. Gazzaniga Reassures Again

Elsewhere, Paolo Gazzaniga continues to throw a few choice lumps of earth over the grave of Michel Vorm’s Spurs career. His shot-stopping is what most obviously catches the eye and no doubt brings him the glamorous women and fast cars, and as if to hammer home the point he thrust out his paws to such good effect last night that they were worth a couple of goals.

It is praise of a pretty dashed high order to state that when I see his name on the teamsheet, the second thought that springs to mind is that there is no need to panic about the absence of Monsieur Lloris. (The first thought is, naturally, to reminisce about our first Gazza.)

A stern eyebrow did however waggle northwards when Gazzaniga took his Lloris impression a little too far and began fooling around with the ball at his feet, a block-headed move that very nearly let Arsenal back into the game, but the broader point remains that he is an entirely able deputy between the sticks – and that puts him streets ahead of Vorm.

6. Davies At Centre-Back

A final observation on the personnel was young Ben Davies. Never exactly a favoured son here at AANP Towers, primarily due to being pretty thoroughly average in all respects, I’ve been intrigued to see the chap nudged into the left side of central defence in recent days.

This is not quite the bold and pioneering manoeuvre it might appear on first glance, Davies having cut his teeth on the left side of a back-three while on national duty, but to see the chap become our fifth centre-back of the season has still been enough to prompt chattering amongst the paying punters.

When passing judgement it is easy to suggest that he is better suited to life at centre-back than dashing up the wing, simply by virtue of not being required to do any attacking or, more pertinently, deliver any crosses. Whereas at left-back his crosses either into the first opponent or ballooned into vast expanses beyond the back post have me tearing out my hair, at centre-back he is required to concentrate on defence and defence only.

And this, to his credit, he did solidly enough. His reading of the game was sound, and as a result he made useful interceptions throughout the piece.

His was not an entirely blameless showing, mind. After the Gazzaniga first half error Davies took the wild thin-air swing of a man testing a newly-attached limb for the first time; but by and large the experiment proved successful – and also spared young Foyth what might have been a tortuous return to the lions’ den.

So a good night all round, and while the fixture pile-up does begin to sport a rather ominous look about it, superiority over that horrible lot down the road has been reasserted with minimum fuss.

Need a last-minute Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Leicester 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

I’m not sure how public opinion will come down once the votes are in, but by my estimation this ranked amongst the best results of our season.

Before you gather your rotten tomatoes and start flexing your throwing arm, consider the evidence. Leicester, though not world-beaters, are no slouches, and had been in pretty rare fettle prior to last night’s events. On top of which, this rather cruel habit of the Fixture Gods, of scheduling a game every five minutes or so, continues unabated. Barcelona await on Tuesday, and to that end, most crucially, we entered battle with our two key weapons safely ensconced in training gear on the bench.

Throw in the usual raft of injuries – Dembele, Sanchez, Trippier, Lamela, Wanyama – and by the time the preliminaries were done I was fully expecting our heroes to drop a couple of points at the minimum.

1. Life Without Kane and Eriksen

After his disastrous Foyth-For-Toby gambit around this time last week, I don’t mind telling you that AANP was in unforgiving mood when the teamsheet went up in lights, revealing both Kane and Eriksen to be surplus to requirements. The eyebrow shimmered upwards with displeasure, make no mistake.

Now admittedly, ever since the World Cup, yours truly has been near the front of the queue of those yowling that Harry Kane needs to be given the occasional night off with his feet up and a mug of something warming in his hands. Pretty rich, you might therefore say, of me to yowl with equal displeasure when that very same wish is granted. And you would in fact have a fairly watertight point.

But the nub of the thing is that to drop one key player at a time might seem like common sense, but to drop two in one go, dash it, is really taking one heck of a chance.

Or so the argument ran pre-match.

As things transpired, Our Glorious Leader played his hand to perfection, keeping our star men about as fresh as a particularly buoyant couple of daisies ahead of the date with Barcelona, whilst maintaining league form that, if not quite relentless, feels like it’s about seven eighths of the way there. A mumbled apology duly falls from the AANP lips and wings its way Pochwards.

That said, for around 45 of 46 first half minutes we did scuttle around with a distinct absence of cut and thrust.
Kane’s absence, while hardly something for which one can compensate with an insouciant shrug of the shoulders and a carefree whistle on the lips, is nevertheless one of those trials in life with which one learns to cope. Not even Sonny’s own parents would suggest that he has the bulk and build to hold up the ball like Kane, and indeed the chap seemed to present all the physical presence upfront of a particularly wet piece of card, but with his pace and trickery he is at least capable of posing a threat as a striker. Lucas similarly has enough about him to make an opposing defender scratch his head and curl a lip or two.

Eriksen’s absence, however, is an altogether thornier subject to broach over post-prandial coffee. Nobody else in the team can pick and execute his brand of scything chances, and while we can tinker with formation and personnel until blue in the face, we look a darned sight more ordinary without him. That we ultimately won at such a cigar-puffing canter is a credit to Sonny for his quite marvellous opener, and Dele for a fabulous all-round performance.

2. Dele

Dele has never quite blown my skirt up as one would expect of a 50-goal midfielder, but by the time the curtain came down on proceedings yesterday I was one of the first out of my seat strewing the stage with flowers and yelling for an encore.

Eriksen he might not be when it comes to unpicking a lock with minimal fuss and a hefty dollop of suaveness, but the young imp still has a heck of a lot of technique and good-old fashioned schoolboy skill in his size eights. Last night he took the opportunity to rattle through a back-catalogue of his Greatest Hits, doing a passable impression of a young Gascoigne in the process.

What really made the world a sunnier place was that his dribbling and flicks were integrated within a pretty sound all-round display of decision-making. Whereas previously he has simply hogged the ball for the heck of it, ignoring the imploring pleas of better-placed colleagues, last night he seemed surprisingly alert to the fact that passing the thing was a real and credible option, and he hit a healthy balance between solo dribbles and well-judged distribution.

One still gets the impression that he would rather gnaw off his own arm than dish out a pass, but he mixed it up to good effect. In the absence of Kane and Eriksen, he seemed quite happy to take the lead, and his goal – though marginally the wrong side of the law, if we quibble about these things – was as richly deserved by the individual as by the team.

3. Full-Backs: No Longer A Forte

I saw this point made in one of last week’s evening papers, so if you already caught it yourself you might want to potter off and pour yourself a cheeky whiskey at this juncture, and rejoin the action in a couple of paragraphs’ time.

It’s the old gag about the current vintage of full-backs vs the circa 2015/16 vintage. Back then, Walker and Rose struck the fear of God into just about any opposing wide-men and managers you cared to name. They genuinely were amongst the best in Europe, and in a team full of assets and prized individuals had made a pretty solid stab at being the pick of the bunch.

But, as the cliché so neatly puts it, what a difference a couple of seasons, a huge transfer fee and personal ambition in a right-back, and a bout of depression, homesickness and injuries in a left-back makes. Walker is off dancing with the stars, Rose is a puzzlingly neutered version of his old self, and whichever personnel we use these days one’s instinct as an onlooker is to hold the breath and fear the worst.

Trippier, for all his whipped crosses onto the ample Kane forehead, sits rather awkwardly within a back-four as opposed to outside a back-three, as if itching for someone else to do the defensive stuff so that he can motor on into attack.

Aurier, while having generally cut the wild and reckless horizontal lunges from his game, is still neither one thing nor another, being both average at defending his patch and middling at attacking another’s.

As for Davies, the blighter would have my hair going a rich and glistening shade of grey if he had not already caused me to yank out great clumps of it in sheer frustration. His defending, as with the aforementioned, is generally no more than adequate – and quite often a few shades short of even that.

And as for his attacking, I can barely remember the last time one of his crosses hit the sweet spot in the heart of an opponent’s area. The Data Analysts amongst you will I’m sure report that the majority of his crosses bounce harmlessly off the nearest opponent. Even his less adventurous distribution seems oddly ill-executed, with misplaced passes and frequent instances of his being dispossessed seeming to litter the highlights reel.

To his credit, his infield pass ultimately set up our second goal yesterday, but this struck me very much as one to be filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Rule’. The young sore’s calling in life may well be within the safety-netted no-man’s-land that is the left side of a back three.

In general however, whomever one picks from the models on offer, our full-back selection is no longer a thing of menace and threat.

4. Doing Remarkably Well – Despite Evidence To The Contrary

Getting back to the specifics, Leicester were oddly obliging about things once Sonny had struck oil right on the half-time gong, and the second half was about as serene as I’ve witnessed Spurs in seeing out one of these away wins.

Lloris did eventually have to make a couple of saves, but nothing of the ilk to have one clutching feverishly at the nearest friend for support. Toby and Jan were unruffled at the back, which bodes well for Tuesday and makes one yet again rue the team selection vs Arsenal, and while young Winks does often opt to for the safety-first option of a backwards pass when something a little more adventurous would not go amiss, his was a very secure performance, laced with an occasional forwards surge.

One cannot really go into the Barcelona game with any sentiment further north of hope, but even should the worst happen and we fall into the doom-laden pit of despair that is the Europa League, we still find ourselves in remarkably fine health. This despite playing 10 of 16 games away from home; despite ‘home’ itself now emitting a decidedly unwelcome whiff; despite muscle injuries for 9 of our 12 World Cup Semi-Finalists; and despite the fact that aside from one (vs Chelsea) and a half (vs Man Utd) games we have yet to play genuinely well, in the truest sense of the word, all season.

Start actually playing consistently well and good knows where we might end up.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Spurs 1-0 Inter: Five Tottenham Observations

1. All Hail Sissoko. Again.

Nowhere else to begin, of course. The chap’s stock continues to soar, greeted from all sides with a peculiar mixture of bewilderment and delight. The all-action defensive style, which sees him gallop like a thoroughbred before using a vast array of limbs to wipe out opponents, has been of great value in our two most recent jaunts, in patrolling the right-and-central defensive areas, providing some friendly companionship to Serge Aurier.

But his occasional forays up the pitch, rarely in anything more than a straight line, have been weirdly mesmeric, and yesterday they struck oil when oil was the one thing we jolly well needed to strike most.

To begin at the beginning, once it became clear that Inter were not about to do as Chelsea did, and simply roll over to have their tummies tickled, we became embroiled in one of those tense, suspenseful larks, like the twisty spy thrillers one occasionally reads, in which everyone is actually double-crossing their dearest chum and one never quite knows what is coming on the next page, other than a heck more tension.

Patiently we prodded and poked, and introduced our starry subs, and admirably did not panic – but the problem remained. We needed a spark.

Enter Sissoko, simultaneously the least and most likely hero. His run was, again, little more than a gallop in a straight line – but what a gallop! Inter folk bore the look of a mob who had never quite seen this sort of thing before, torn between being drawn towards him and backing off him.

Mercifully, he ended his little dash by following the instructions that appear to have been hammered home to him by the entire coaching stuff, namely to keep it simple. Keep it simple he duly did, slipping the ball to Dele, and the rest was marvellous, fabulous history.

2. Nagging Concerns About Sissoko

After the rotten start to his N17 career the young fish deserves every plaudit going. He also deserves quite the formally-worded letter of apology, from AANP Towers amongst others, which I am quite happy to pen myself.
In my quiet moments, however, I do still stroke the chin and scratch the head and murmur to myself, “Really? I mean, dash it, really?”

There can be no doubting the empirical evidence: Sissoko is now a crucial component of this team, providing a defensive barrier, of strength and pace, as well as an attacking outlet – also of strength and pace, as it happens.

And as noted above, he is well aware of the need to keep things simple, and that he does, with his awkward, very telegraphed, but successful six-yard passes to the nearest lilywhite.

My concern remains that the bubble looks at any and every given moment like it is about to burst. I would be deceiving my public to say I wake up in cold sweats thinking about it, but I cannot shake off the worry that at any given point his control will utterly desert him, and he will once again become a liability. And by “control” I refer both to his control of the ball, when in possession, and his control of his limbs when moving up the gears. Put bluntly, it always seems as if his control of ball and limbs is as much a matter of luck as design. I sense he is about to overrun the ball, or trip over his own feet, every time.

This may well be thoroughly unfair; it may well just be the inherent pessimistic Spurs fan inside me; but I suspect I will need a few more months of this new, magic Sissoko before I am truly converted.

Still, the chap’s cult hero status is already pretty much secured, what?

3. Irreplaceable Eriksen

I suspect anyone with their ear pinned to the walls of the Away Dressing Room would report back that there were few grumbles from the Italian quarter about the outcome. A tight old joust it might have been, but our lot were superior, and 1-0 seemed about right.

1-0 it almost wasn’t however, because for all our superiority, and the generally more forward-thinking attitude, we did lack that little sprinkle of ingenuity in the final third. In short, we lacked Eriksen.

This is not to quibble with the team selection – more on that below – but just to note that the one, crucial position in which lack a quality reserve seems to be Eriksen’s. Even Kane, if removed, can be handily deputised for by Sonny’s scampering – a different kettle of fish, admittedly, but one that proves effective.

But remove Eriksen, and the wit and devilry of the whole troupe seems to dial down a notch. The nifty one-twos on the edge of the area fall a tad short, attempts to dribble past countless opponents are thwarted at the last, crosses are swung in, shots are fired from outside the area. Sissoko’s burst did the trick yesterday, but the moments of true guile come from Eriksen.

It presents a two-fold problem, of how to cope without the honest chap, and whether we can hang on to him beyond his current contract.

4. Squad Rotation

The pre-match natter was all about Eriksen and Sonny mooching on from the sidelines, with plenty of scribbles in both the Credit and Debit columns on this one.

Hindsight, surprisingly enough, has just about come down in favour of Our Glorious Leader’s position – we won, just, and kept the two imps fresh for Sunday.

The Case for the Prosecution, at kick-off and throughout the first hour or so, was that the front four of Eriksen, Son, Dele and Kane had absolutely shredded Chelsea at the weekend, so why the devil weren’t they being unleashed again here, when victory was essential?

A compelling point, actually. Poch’s Sustitution Gambit was risky, even if ultimately successful, but the philosophical AANP view at kick-off was that simply picking Son and Eriksen was no guarantee that they would replicate their success of Saturday. It is not impossible to imagine that they, like Lucas and Lamela, might have huffed and puffed from a distance of twenty-plus yards and to little effect, if played from the start.

As it happened, Sonny’s impact was immediate. He may well have been as effective if he’d started, or he may simply have benefited from being introduced against wearying limbs. Who knows?

It’s all a little moot now, and it ended well enough. On an uplifting sidenote, the lad appears to have rediscovered that joie de vivre that appeared to be absent in the opening weeks of the season, when he was shuttling across the globe.

5. Maturing

And so this most taxing of weeks is beginning to assume a surprisingly sunny hue. A romp against Chelsea, a tough old points-victory against Inter, and just the wretched Woolwich lot left to come. (And then another hundred or so games between now and 2019.)

One thing that strikes me in the final analysis is that our current vintage seem finally to be playing with a generous splash of maturity. The late PSV win, from one-down after a minute, was a triumph for persistence, skill and discipline, when it would have been easy to have neglected any or all of those three.

And here again, to keep ticking along patiently until the 80th minute, without panicking or losing their discipline, and against pretty high-quality opponents, was another little marker.

(On the discipline point – I didn’t really spot what happened with Winks, but Erik Lamela needs to be on the receiving end of a damn good thrashing, because his challenge was appalling. Could have injured the opponent, could have had us down to ten men with a lot of the game to play. But that aside, I thought our heroes kept their heads fairly well.)

Our ability to hang on to a lead for any length of time against top opposition still remains questionable, I suppose, but when we’ve needed goals we’ve found a way. It’s almost the sort of thing that is enough to win a trophy.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Foyth

When Juan Foyth’s name and number was fanfared pre-kickoff, we lilywhite hordes did the civil thing and wished the young bean well, with images of his rather painful flurry of mishaps from last week’s debut trot still pretty fresh in the memory.

The early signs in this week’s concerto, it seems fair to say, were not the rosiest. A clumsy foul here, a strong contender for the 2018 instalment of Most Idiotic Concession of a Corner there, and within fifteen minutes one was already casting anxious glances in the direction of Our Glorious Leader as to whether the decent thing might simply be to hook the young fish and let him pass out the rest of his lilywhite days in the U23s.

Such a rush to judgement proved wildly misguided. Thereafter, young Foyth handled himself with several hefty slabs of aplomb.

Now one might argue that the Palace attack, baring as it did all the threat of a kitten entangled in a ball of wool, did not pose the fiercest threat, particularly when shorn of young Master Zaha.

However, spirited defenders of the boy Foyth might very reasonably counter by pointing to the weather, the nerves, the rollicking home crowd and the fact that everyone in Palace colours had read the memo recommending that whenever young Foyth went within sniffing distance of the ball he was to be homed in upon by anyone in the vicinity not otherwise engaged. The nub of the thing is that this was no cakewalk for the chap.

To his credit as a ball-playing footballer, and as a man of mental fortitude and fire-filled belly, he metamorphosed during the following hour or so into one heck of a dependable egg. His composure in possession did give the occasional palpitation but was broadly laudable, while his actual day-job of defending became increasingly impressive, in a right-place-right-time sort of way.

With Messrs Sanchez, Vertonghen and Dier at differing stages of fitness, Foyth’s performance does makes the world seem a cheerier place.

On top of which, his goal was poached with impressive swiftness of thought and movement, and was greeted with pretty unrestrained joy by his colleagues, which suggests that he’s a popular chap amongst the gang.

2. Sissoko

It speaks volumes about the instantly forgettable first half that its highlight was a marauding stroll past four opponents, finishing with a blocked shot, by one Moussa Sissoko, but that was where we found ourselves.

Let not that detract however, from the latest oddly impressive showing from our limited but effective cult hero.

Seemingly now fully aware that his role in proceedings is simply to follow two or three basic instructions, Sissoko patiently fed early balls to Trippier/Aurier in no-frills fashion; obediently tracked back to assist the aforementioned in defence as required; and occasionally trotted out his mesmerising dispossess-and-gallop routine.

Simple it might have been, but it also became pretty dashed effective, and as all around him laboured to unpick the Palace defence Sissoko suddenly started to emerge as a star shining particularly brightly amongst the lilywhite ranks.

By the time the second half was in full swing, the honest fellow was beginning to display hitherto unknown flashes of quality. A delightful first-time cushioned lay-off, some wrong-footing of oncoming foes whilst on the charge – it was bewildering, but mightily impressive stuff.

I still wouldn’t trust the blighter to knock a square pass five yards to a team-mate unchallenged if I were told to pick any professional footballer ever and have my life depend on it, for he retains within his genetic constitution something of the clumsy and calamitous; but in recent weeks the applause for Sissoko at AANP Towers has segued from ironic to sincere.

3. Lloris

The occasional panicked flap there may have been, but this will go down as one of Monsieur Lloris’ performances from the column marked “Game-Saving Stuff”.

Some saves were relatively routine, and some were of the faster-than-the-naked-eye-can-clearly-detect ilk, but after an unflustered opening hour or so our resident gate-keeper was called upon on several occasions, and can reflect with some serenity today as he collects the weekly envelope that this was a salary well-earned.

Doubts still nibble away, around his catching, kicking and sprinting hopelessly from his line, but the case for his abilities as a shot-stopper is pretty cut and dry.

4. Lack of Forward Thinking in Midfield

If sitting through the opening hour made your heart swell and pulse race then you’re made of sturdier stuff than I.
Palace, as noted above, might as well not have bothered crossing halfway for all the threat they offered until around the 70-minute mark; but our heroes, for all their possession, seemed to consider actually exploring the route to the opposition goal to be way down the list of priorities.

It was pretty infuriating stuff to behold, particularly in central midfield. Perhaps the weekly diet of Eriksen, with his keen eye and delicate thread of pass, has spoiled me, but none of those employed for the task seemed to cotton on the fact that taking their own sweet time about things, and looking sideways and backwards as a first instinct, served only to swell the massed ranks of Palace defenders.

Where Dembele or Winks will receive possession and immediately explore the options that lay in a northerly direction, yesterday Wanyama, Sissoko and Dele seemed to treat forward distribution as the absolute last resort.

A win is a win, as sure as eggs is eggs, and a goal from a set-piece has value in its own special way, but good grief – until we nabbed them on the counter late on there was precious little about which to beat the drum and yell a rousing chorus.

5. Hanging On. Again.

So after a turgid opening hour in which we hogged possession and did nothing with it; and a ten-minute spell after our goal in which we hogged possession and smoked cigars a little more nonchalantly than a one-goal cushion really merited; the game culminated in the inevitable nail-biting final twenty minutes in which we desperately clung on to the lead with the sort knuckle-whitening tension of which Hitchcock would have been proud.

On paper this string of victories, and the cosy position snugly ensconced within the Top Four, might give the uninitiated the impression that all is bright and breezy at Casa Tottenham. Oh that this were so.

The truth is that given the choice between an eternity spent in the fires of hell or the opportunity to escape and instead watch Spurs trying to close out a win, the souls of the damned would as likely as not opt for the never-ending flames, for there really is no strain upon the nerves comparable to seeing our lot doing the last-ditch routine for the final ten-to-fifteen, particularly given that they will have spent the previous half hour casually missing chance after chance.

Somehow, incredibly, we pull it off every time, in the sort of fashion that would have Houdini stroking his chin suspiciously. But this skin-of-the-teeth stuff seems utterly unsustainable; and if it is indeed sustainable it should frankly be banned on the grounds of being damaging to public health, because viewing it is enough to prompt any man of even the most regular constitution yelp in anguish and start birthing kittens.

Can someone please instruct our heroes to do the honourable thing and start wrapping up these matches by three or four goals so that we can all let the final ten minutes drift by with the serenity of an ocean cruise?

That aside, this was most satisfactory.

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