All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Leeds – Spurs Preview: Look After Lennon

Naturally enough, murmurs will be murmured and chins stroked about the various merits or otherwise of our heroes going hell for leather at the FA Cup. The opinion that matters most is that of our shrill-voiced leader AVB, and in a far-from-straightforward gambol such as this, team selection will say much of his priorities.

The drum being banged at AANP Towers this weekend is to forget about the children and instead please think of Aaron Lennon. While the handsome young Welshman remains tormentor-in-chief, Lennon has added Sagacity in Decision-Making to the already well-established qualities of Feet Moving At A Blur, Left-Back Left Gasping and Jazz Hands Whirring. However, while Bale is quite the physical specimen these days, I do hold my breath every time Lennon winds up and sprints off, for fear that one of his hamstrings might roll their eyes and just give up on him. For an FA Cup 4th Round tie I would dare to recommend that Lennon and his little legs are spared the rigours of a full 90 minutes, or even a full 45. Give the blighter the day off.

The choices at full-back will be of interest, with Walker below par and Naughton not really in his comfort zone on the left – if he is feeling particularly adventurous might AVB put Benny on the left and Naughton on the right? Hudd, Dempsey and Sigurdsson might also expect some game time, and Friedel will presumably be in goal. It has been mentioned that our heroes have a squad strong enough to field two distinct and quite capable starting XIs, and while choice of strikers in the second XI would be of interest, the gist of it is clear enough. Time for our heroes to give a pointed reminder of aforementioned squad depth.

Sunderland – Spurs Preview: Harmless Fluff No More

Now this is not really cricket, is it? All season Sunderland have hummed around with such innocuous, harmless fluff that we all rather forgot they existed, and a gentle away point (or three) beckoned. Until now. Two days before they entertain our lot they go and beat the blinking champions, and what had not so long ago seemed about as harmless as a neutered kitten is now likely to require cunning and nous and graft and quite possibly He-Man’s Sword of Omens. Bother.Still, the laws of physics simply prevent any team for whom Danny Rose is a luminary from posing any greater threat than a particularly reticent snow-flake, so there is certainly hope for our heroes. After his exploits on Boxing Day our handsome young Welshman will presumably be afforded even tenderer tender loving care than usual, so someone else within our mob may be forced to don a thinking cap and provide a little ingenuity going forward.

AVB has shown little inclination to rotate so far this yuletide, beyond a little mixing and matching of Daws, Gallas and Naughton, but Parker, Hudd and Sigurdsson will presumably be primed for action, and Dempsey may be involved again. In theory, with Reading at home to follow, a point at Sunderland should be handy enough – but come now, how many planets would E.T. have conquered if he had adopted that meek and mild attitude? We’ve just won 4-0 away from home, let’s jolly well outscore this lot too.

(Don’t hold your breath for a match report on this one, AANP is absconding for a day or two)

Villa – Spurs Preview: The Only Thing Worse Than Losing 8-0?

A rather queer bucket of nuts, the Christmas fixture list. Umpteen fixtures crammed into about a week, and before you’ve separated your gin-based aperitif from your post-dessert port you find yourself rubbing shoulders with Swansea and West Brom in a mediocre scrambling for Europa places, while Chelski disappear into the distance ensconced in third, with l’Arse hot on their heels. Heavens above, don’t we know that particular feeling a little too well? The run of four winnable festive fixtures got off to an inevitably underwhelming start, and we really need at least two wins from the next three. (Well, not strictly true – I suppose we could lose all of these festive fixtures and then win every ruddy game remaining, and there were would be few complaints – but you get the gist: these three Christmas games are made for winning.)

If there is anything worse than losing 8-0 it is presumably losing to a team that has itself just lost 8-0, and the pessimists amongst us would wager that this game has ‘Villa bounce back’ etched all over it. Never mind the three points – imagine the ignominy. Villa took just about every opportunity to let Chelski score the other day, but while they will presumably have had the basics of ‘For’ and ‘Against’ drummed into them by the great and the good of Brummie-land, but one would expect Bale, Defoe et al be capable of leading them a sufficiently merry dance, particularly if they show any hint of ambition on their own turf, and thereby provide our lot with that most gratefully-received yuletide gift: space into which to gallop on the counter.

‘Tis the season for a strained hamstring or two (with Aaron Lennon the AANP hot tip to start feeling the back of his leggings around the half mark), and I confess to being rather curious about the extent to which AVB believes in squad rotation at this juncture, particularly given his insistence in going all guns blazing at the Europa League. Parker, Sigurdsson and Hudd are presumably fronting the list of rotational candidates, should such a list exist within the Villas-Boas cranium, and one wonders whether young Master Defoe might be told to put his feet up this evening, for one reason and another. Whatever the team selections however, this really ought to be a straightforward three points. (Because that always happens with our lot.)

Arsenal – Spurs Preview: The Art of Mutual Pessimism

Pessimistic times at AANP Towers, as yours truly reflects morosely upon the unholy concoction of unconvincing wins and limp defeats. Curiously enough, our resident l’Arse-supporting chum, Hawthy, is in similarly sombre mood going into this one, as apparently that horrible lot from down the road are doing just as topping a job as we are of creating needless problems from thin air. As you can imagine, recent drinking sessions have been real bundles of fun, as we regale each other with prognostications of gloom. The result of this general coterie of despondency is an insistence on both sides that defeat is inevitable. The sharp-eyed amongst you early Saturday morning robins will notice that logic prevents the transpiring of such mutual ignominies – which leads to the inevitable conclusion that this match must end in a 7-7 draw. (Although I’m still willing to wager that we will throw away a winning position as the clock ticks beyond 89).

The general inability of our heroes to bed in this season has of course been hindered no end by injuries to key personnel, and the absences of Dembele and Kaboul in particular will again be keenly felt today of all days, while Parker and BAE also remain out, and the Friday news was that Defoe and Lennon were amongst those having fitness tests. Crivens. AVB may mischievously fire the occasional curve-ball, but it seems safe to assume that the usual suspects will line up to demand the keys, which means that Messieurs Lloris and Defoe will moodily take their places on the bench today. Young Caulker faces the latest in a series of rather sizeable tests of ability and nerve, and Messrs Vertonghen and Walker could jolly well do with bucking up their ideas from last week, but possibly the greatest onus lies on the rather broad shoulders of Sandro and Hudd, to control matters in the middle. I must confess, the AANP heart is hardly indulging in cheery leaps and whoops at the prospect.

Having beaten United away our heroes ought to have grounds for optimism, but on these occasions there really is no knowing what the dickens will transpire. The AANP prediction is simply that there will be goals.

Southampton 1-2 Spurs: As Straightforward As It Gets With Out Lot

Top four after a quarter of the season – and in a team sans Dembele, Kaboul, Adebayor, Parker, BAE and Lloris – there ought really to be few grounds for grumbling. And yet… Asking any Spurs fan not to grumble is like asking a 1920s dandy to stay in for the afternoon and peruse some Descartes – it rather flies in the face of that whole raison d’etre jamboree. Thus it transpires that top four though we may be, one jolly well hopes that AVB’s tactical genius extends to more than these slightly desperate attempts to cling on against teams skipping around the relegation zone. Our glorious leader can hardly be judged on 10 or so games, but performances to date have hardly been of the ilk of the majority under ‘Arry.

First Half Fun

In that joyous first half of course things were so entertainingly one-sided it seemed almost cruel, and the two-goal lead was the half-time minimum. Recent mumblings about lack of fluidity were merrily shoved back down the AANP gullet as Hudd had a whale of a time in those midfield acres, Bale did his usual thing and Lennon’s form continued to be as sparkly as many can remember in his lilywhite career.

The use of Lennon in particular in that inside right channel also has the merry side-effect of unleashing the increasingly angry young Master Walker to gallop up the flank, and while his form this season has not quite been what it was, one imagines that opposing left-backs would rather he just stayed in his own half and picked his nose.

Second Half Regression

So all tickety-boo by the break, prompting ill-advised musings in the AANP cranium as to whether this might be the day on which we racked up four, five or more. Wrist-slappings have been duly administered for such churlish optimism about our heroes’ capacity to get from A to B in the simplest manner possible.

Naturally enough, what followed was not the hiding of Southampton lives, but the gradual regression of our lilywhite lot (or black and grey quarters, or whatever the blinking heck that pyjama outfit is supposed to be. Quite what relevance those colours have to anything in our history is beyond me. Honestly, young people these days.).

Presumably the AVB order was not to drop back ten yards en masse and be a distant second to every other loose ball (at least one jolly well hopes that that was not the AVB order) but in the finest White Hart Lane tradition they certainly contrived to make dashed hard work of it.

Whatever the problem was, poor old Livermore did not seem to be the solution, but in calmer moments of reflection one expects he will improve in time. The overall contribution of Dempsey also remains a little mysterious, and Sandro has some way to go before he can be classified as Dembele-esque (although that close-range, near-decapitating head-block certainly go the juices flowing – good lad).

Plenty of room for improvement then, but one way or another we are picking up these wins, which is the nub of the thing I suppose. Not exactly comfortable though, is it?

Southampton – Spurs Preview: Do Buck Up Now, Chaps

Sniffing around the Top Four is probably just about where we would have wanted to be when the clocks changed, so bravo to our troops, but if focus is switched from the numbers to the pittering and pattering of multi-coloured boots on lush greenery then the outlook is not quite as rosy. Wins have been won, but by and large in slightly unconvincing fashion, with sparks of fluid attacking genius all a bit too rare.

A fixture against second-bottom Southampton, whose shipping of goals left, right and centre is turning into a trademark feature, ought to give our heroes a chance to find some fluidity. Dembele-lessness continues, which means the slightly less energetic frame of Hudd will be lumbering around the centre, but he has it in his armoury to boss the game, particularly against one of the division’s weaker outfits. Elsewhere Adebayor’s injury means that Defoe will again be the lone man in attack, but Bale is back and that alone ought to be enough. For all the adages and pre-match comments for the press, anything less than victory would represent shoddy work. Over to you, chaps.

Maribor 1-1 Spurs: The Half-Hearted Amble to Glory Continueth

Still not really clicking, which is just about grumpily bearable against the European champions, but a darned sight more irritating against Slovenia’s finest. The lack of cutting edge in attack had me thumping my head repeatedly against the nearest wall from around midway through the first half. Injury to Adebayor was a shame, for this game had ‘Two-Man Attack’ scrawled across it in the sort of chunky font normally reserved for unintelligible graffiti. Elsewhere a couple of campaigns were given more scarcely-needed impetus, as the ‘Without-Bale-And-Dembele-We’re-Worryingly-Impotent’ brigade were given a second boost within a week, while the ‘VDV-And-Modders-For-Sigurdsson-And-Dempsey-Is-A-Slightly-Rubbish-Trade-Off-When-You-Think-About-It’ movement, which first stirred into life in August, is gaining credibility by the game.

‘Twas a night on which, given our lack of personnel to play two up front, our deeper midfielders Hudd and Sandro might have shown more attacking urgency. Lennon too just seemed too dashed nice as he went about his business, seemingly reluctant to embarrass his hosts by tearing them to pieces and instead settling for that pause-and-limply-pass-infield routine that is inevitably met with sighs of relief all round amongst the opponents.

here were a few moments – the lad Falque shook things up a tad on his introduction, and young Masters Caulker and Naughton put in decent performances, but ‘tis rather depressing to clutch at such straws after a bland draw against this lot. Having banged on about what a glitzy, glam competition this Europa thing is, AVB needs to inject some ingenuity and ruthlessness into the training ground protein shakes, and jolly well destroy this lot when they visit the Lane for the return fixture.

Chelsea 4-2 Spurs: Who Knew A Baby Could Cause So Much Trouble?

Some would possibly consider it poor form to wish a thousand violent and irreversible curses upon the new baby Bale, but new mewling, puking wretch will have a few things to answer for as it comes of age. (As luck would have it AANP’s latest newphew was born in Wales a couple of days earlier, so will be instructed to steal Bale Jr’s crayons by way of retribution, at the earliest opportunity). Every inch the modern man, our handsome young Welshman ignored the folk who churn out his millionaire’s salary each week, and instead prepared for kick-off by scarpering off to the homeland to witness the debut of the fruit of his loins. One can hardly prevent such lunacy I suppose (although as Ms AANP pointed out, come the birthing hour in her native land of Modric the menfolk are consigned to the waiting room anyway, while the fairer sex do the hard work).

So with Bale’s gallops directed elsewhere, and Moussa Dembele already out injured, the game was practically ceded before kick-off. Minus Bale and Dembele our heroes looked fairly bereft of attacking ideas in the first half in particular, particularly given the curious game-plan of carefully rationing Aaron Lennon’s involvement to an absolute minimum. Hudd retains possession well enough, but he does tend to do things rather slowly, and the breakneck counter-attacks on which we have been brought up consequently petered out prematurely, epitomised at one head-scratchingly baffling point when Dempsey opted to spin round and dribble back towards halfway.

Having struggled to put two passes together in the first half our lot did buck up a bit in the second, but AVB will have to earn his corn to solve this little tickler, because without our two leading lights the supporting cast do look decidedly less potent. Matters were exacerbated somewhat by our lot’s complete impotence in the face of Chelsea’s slick passing triangles. Be it their back-four or that jolly dangerous attacking triumvirate of Oscar, Mata and Hazard, there were far too many occasions when that horrible mob simply six-yarded their way out of trouble and right up into our area.

Elsewhere on the Pitch

The returns of either BAE or Kaboul cannot come quickly enough, as Gallas chipped in with his now customary sprinkling of lapses. A handy chap to have around the squad, days like yesterday suggested that the visit of the league-leaders is not really the time to be relying upon his creaking limbs. The sooner Kaboul or Vertongehn can replace him in the centre, the better.

Dempsey and Sigurdsson also still look a bit too much like squad players at the moment; and young Master Walker presented the world and his Twitter followers with the most bizarre brain meltdown in the closing stages to seal our fate; but at least Defoe remains in fine fettle, responding to his controversial axing from the AANP fantasy team with the sort of predatory strike that had AANP Senior murmuring something about Greaves. Seeing Torres fluff his lines at t’other end only made it sweeter.

Irritatingly, the nagging suspicion remains that at full strength we would have fared a darned sight better, but such is life, and by the time Match of the Day started we were still in fifth, which was an unexpected bonus. Already this season we have played worse and won, so one rather hopes that Southampton will feel the wrath – and joys of fatherhood – of the lilywhite heroes next week.

(Apologies again – comments box remains unco-operative)
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Idle Musings on Spurs vs Greeks and Villains

Panathanaikos 1 – 1 Spurs

A curious one, that Greek escapade, to the casual observer at least, as our heroes seemed determined to sleepwalk through the entire episode. Possibly considering the whole Europa evening school beneath them following the vanquishing of more illustrious foes in Manchester days earlier, or maybe distracted en masse by that curious ‘Adebayor Power Horse’ advertising hoarding that kept flashing up, our heroes determinedly flicked the dial to ‘General Apathy’ and half-heartedly ambled their way through the motions – into the lead, back to parity and ultimately rather clinging on somewhat, all the while giving the impression that unless the nearest chum gave a sharp prod they might just curl up into a ball and nap for a few minutes on Greek soil.

Viewed with particular interest from the AANP armchair were the performances of Hudd and Daws, neither of whom are exactly the rocks upon which the kingdom of AVB are to be built. Alas, much though I wanted Hudd in particular to outshine all around him and produce a performance to be immortalised on youtube under the title ‘Ruddy Hudd Masterclass in Dreamy Technique’, it was a rather hit-and-miss affair, with some inch-perfect, raking diagonals interspersed with the odd misplaced pass, against a backdrop of slightly tubby huff and puff.

As for Daws, ‘twas his pros and cons all neatly packaged into one handy ninety-minute demo. A towering, heart-and-soul header for our goal, followed by leaden-footed sluggishiness as the opposing striker disappeared into the distance and equalised, the unfortunate truth was that it justified AVB’s decision to shunt him well down the queue of Premiership starters. In this era of indecently young mangers, high defensive lines and manic work-rates, it is easy to see why Messrs Hudd and Daws are putting in some mighty serious thumb-twiddling time on the fringes.

Spurs 2-0 Villa

Merrily woken from their slumbers by last Sunday, this was still not quite the vintage Hotspur. Once the two-goal lead was established it all became simple enough, and by the time Villa were reduced to ten it was  but a merry little training ground exercise (which, the pedants amongst us grumbled, ought to have seen our goal difference upped) but for the best part of an hour there was a conspicuous lack of fluency.

The wisdom of Dempsey/Gylfi playing off the front-man remains debatable, particularly at the Lane against teams we expect to dominate, but if we can ease our way to victory while not at the peak of our powers then this ‘crisis’ remains most welcome.

At the other end poor old Friedel can feel a mite piqued at his omission (although he may want to use the spare time to work on gathering crosses) but there is no particular grumble in this quarter over the use of Lloris. Solid enough from le Frenchman – indeed, a first clean-sheet of the league season – but it will probably require the best part of a season before we can judge the chap. No idea why ‘keepers these days punch everything though, what the devil has happened to the good old-fashioned art of just catching the bally thing?

So as we drum our fingers, teach ourselves new skills (darning, at AANP Towers, since you ask – and very handy it’s proving too) and wait for the international to-and-fro to wind down it’s four Premiership wins in a row, and a Europa campaign that has been a little unnecessarily complicated. And who amongst us would not have settled for such fare when the troops were jeered off against Norwich a few weeks back?

(Frightfully sorry about the invisible comments section by the way – the world’s most over-zealous spam-catcher has taken to the black arts to prevent anyone from posting below. Fret not, the village plumber has been summoned. Should be fixed in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.)

Spurs – Lazio Preview: The New Dawn Continueth

Ah Lazio, adopted Italian team of many a lilywhite who grew up imitating P. Gascoigne Esq., in the playground, and spent their Sunday afternoons settling into the sofa on to hear that chap yell “GoooLLLAAAZZZZZooooo”, before seeing Gazza turn four players inside out and then merrily burp into the camera.Happy days indeed, and more such joyous occasions are to follow as of this very evening apparently, because the glorious lilywhites of N17 are quite sincere about pilfering the Europa trophy come May 2013, if AVB is to be believed. The new dawn really doth continueth apace.

Champions League qualification is presumably still the priority, but silverware of any sort is most welcome, and the daring combo of AVB’s commitment and our status as one of a handful of favourites suggests that actually winning this whole dashed thing is not beyond the realms of possibility.

With Lazio cheerily waving down from (jointly) atop the Serie A pile, this has assumed the status of rather a heavyweight European clash, and as such one suspects that AVB won’t go a-tinkering with too much gay abandon. Lloris can be expected to bid us all a sunny bonjour from between the sticks; injury to Adebayor means Defoe could be replaced by Dempsey, if our glorious leader is feeling particularly inventive; and the likes of Daws, Hudd and Caulker might also be glimpsed; but a team of scrawny teens last seen practising for a recorder concert this almost certainly won’t be. As Thursday night, ITV4 fare goes, this is shaping up to be quite the lip-smacker.

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