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Villa 2-3 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Shaky Defence and Avoidable Opening Goal

Villa started like a runaway train, which was a reasonable enough stance for them to adopt, so no complaints there, but what did irk was the unnecessarily obliging fashion in which we let them rampage about the place.

The legend surrounding our newest Glorious Leader is that he is the sort of bean who likes nothing better than sitting down with a troupe and instilling the fundamentals of defending deep within their very souls. And Jose having been treated to a good ten days or so to do exactly that, my hopes of seeing some green shoots of defensive stability were, if not exactly high, at least registering on the scale.

However, the evidence paraded was pretty emphatically to the contrary, right from kick-off. In fact, we managed to begin the game looking for all the world like a team hanging on for dear life in the dying embers, which made the mind swim a bit.

Evidently swimming minds was a bit of a theme, because our back four spent those opening exchanges stumbling around as if punch drunk. The fault did not lie entirely at their door, as little was offered by our midfield by way of protection from their runners or wing-backs, but in general the phrase “Knife through butter” was the one that sprung to mind as Villa repeatedly cantered through.

Their opener neatly summed up the state of things at the back. He has generally escaped censure, but I thought Ben Davies could have done more than merely waggle a leg in the first place, allowing the Newcastle lad to gather a head of steam down their right.

The cross that followed admittedly caught a deflection that made it dip in the flight, but I still jabbed an accusatory finger at Monsieur Lloris, for taking one meaningful step towards the ball – as if to come out all guns blazing to gather it and uproot any other object in his path – and then deciding that the quiet life was for him.

And Toby similarly might have averted catastrophe if he had approached the matter with a decisive air and clouted the ball to kingdom come, but alas, between the ball’s dipping flight and Lloris’ quiet life there appeared to be too many variables for the chap to compute, and one could almost see the steam rise from his frazzled circuits as he plopped the ball into his own net.

2. The Front Four And Chances Made

Mercifully, matters improved steadily thereafter. There was still a flimsiness about our defence (although I thought Sanchez went about earning his weekly envelop with admirable composure and solidity), but further north we gradually found our bearings.

Oddly enough, we actually benefited from Villa’s bright opening, as they seemed emboldened to throw men forward, which set things up nicely for our counter-attack. A pleasing irony.

The interplay of Son, Lucas, Dele and Bergwijn acted as a pretty welcome restorative, after the shambles we had sprayed in all directions when in retreat. It appeared that all four members of the quartet were well rehearsed in their dinky passes and searing runs, and the chances duly flowed.

In fact, I cannot remember many occasions in recent times on which the chances have flowed quite so liberally. Playing a lesser light of the Premier League undoubtedly chivvies these things along, but nevertheless. It seemed that every couple of minutes one of our front four were haring into the penalty area.

The effect was admittedly spoilt by the inability of the aforementioned front four to applying the finishing touch, but they undoubtedly generated goodwill in the construction of each chance, and the mood at AANP Towers was accordingly positive. The goals will come”, whispered the voice in my head, and it had a point, for the important thing seemed to be to continue to create chances, rather than worrying too much about the fact that they every one of them seemed to be pinged straight down the gullet of the Villa ‘keeper.

Aside from the general, warm fuzziness provided by seeing our lot repeatedly carve out opportunities, perhaps the most pleasing aspect was the fact that rather than run out of ideas and pass sideways, with half-hearted shrugs as if to say “Out of ideas over here, guv,” when in possession our lot began dabbling in neat, short, diagonal passes forward, complemented by intelligent running ahead of them. Just five- and ten-yard stuff, but it was between the lines, visibly befuddled Villa and generally created a platform for one or other of our mob to have a crack.

Where previously hammering away at teams has much about it of simply banging one’s head against a wall, today, rather than scuttle up cul-de-sacs, our forwards regularly picked out sensible, short, forward passes that moved matters swiftly on. Admittedly none of the three goals were directly due to such devilry, but one could plausibly argue that the cumulative effect of our pressure had some bearing.

3. Dele Alli’s Swagger

He may have spurned chance after chance after chance, but I shall assume that when Dele Alli lights up his meditative evening pipe he will look back on his day with some satisfaction.

Stationed, in the first half at least, high up the pitch behind the main striker, he timed his forward bursts well to provide options to those around him, which we would all do well to bear in mind next time heated dispute breaks out over the whereabouts of his most effective position.

This in itself was pretty stirring stuff, and appreciative nods were therefore already the order of the day. However, what really had me nudging those nearby and murmuring that the chap looks to have returned to former glories was the general swagger with which he peddled his wares.

Not that I go in for this sort of thing in my daily rounds, but seeing him breeze around the pitch with a certain arrogance, wanting to be at the hub of things and rolling out the occasional flick and trick, made for an encouraging sight.

4. Another Breezy Showing From Bergwijn

The boy Bergwijn was another who had evidently taken it up himself pre-game to endear himself to AANP, and I am happy to report that the delivery was every bit as effective as the intent.

Where Son, Lucas and Dele seemed keen to jink inside and sniff around in central areas, as if keen to be up-to-date on all current affairs in the vicinity, Bergwijn tended to keep to himself a little more, generally stationing himself within shouting distance of the left-hand touchline and letting the others take care of things more centrally.

Which is not to say he shirks his responsibilities; far from it. Once the ball approached his sphere of influence – and in fact, pleasingly, even when it did not – he sparked into life and went tearing up the left flank.

His pace causes problems, he is not shy about taking a shot and, with the enthusiasm one would expect of a new cadet eager to please, he seems happy enough to toddle back and muck in with the less glamorous stuff. “Quietly effective” just about sums it up. In common with his attacking chums he spurned a handful of presentable chances, but he made himself a nuisance throughout, and appears to be a handy additional string to the bow.

Calling all Spurs fans – if you like to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players, then leave a comment below, or drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

Spurs 2-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Lo Celso

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Tanganga

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

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

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

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

4. Lloris

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Bergwijn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs 0-2 Chelsea: Five Tottenham Talking Points

Against the backdrop of the pre-match buzz – around the closing of the gap, the master and the apprentice, the Top Four, and so on and so forth – the limp and error-strewn manner of this latest capitulation was scarcely believable. There was such a rich and bountiful catalogue of errors that one could quite comfortably file them alphabetically, and potentially colour-code them for good measure.

1. The Utterly Incomprehensible Gazzaniga Karate Kick

Going in at half-time 0-1 down would certainly have represented a deviation from the script that Jose and chums had been lovingly penning all week, but catastrophic it would not necessarily have been. A few stern words here, a cunning tactical switch there, and one might have thought our lot could have emerged for the second half, given the challenge the once-over and declared en masse “Far from insurmountable, what?”

Shortly before half-time, however, one of the more outstanding of the numerous moments of idiocy was rolled out. Quite what went through Gazzaniga’s head is a conundrum that will have the best and brightest minds in the country stymied for some years to come.

Heaven knows what sort of goalkeeping drills are undertaken at the shiny new training ground these days, but the art of simply catching a ball gently lobbed towards them like a dandelion in the breeze has evidently had the dickens complicated out of it. After Lloris dropping a harmless cross at the feet of a striker a yard from goal, and dislocating his elbow in the process, a few weeks back, when required to carry out the task – mastered by all seven of my nephews and nieces shortly after nappies – of catching a gently lobbed ball, yesterday we were treated to Gazza’s wild, head-height karate kick, which sat on the list of options some way beneath “Catch it – no, really, just catch the gently floating ball” and the criminally underrated “Or just leave it, to loop gently out for a goal-kick”.

The most reasonable explanation I can think of is that he forgot he possessed hands, which I suppose can happen from time to time, to a chap with a lot on his mind – and in his defence there has been an awful lot to ponder in this of all weeks, what with an election at one end of it and Christmas at the other. Even such a momentary and inconvenient moment of amnesia, however, did not preclude him from sticking his lot on the second option, and accepting the goal-kick.

If there were any murmurs that Gazza might be making a fist for the number one jersey on a permanent basis, I suspect they have been silenced by this little moment of career suicide.

2. Sonny’s Own Moment of Idiocy

Not to be outdone in the idiocy stakes – the notion of edging back into the game having long since been dismissed as folly of the highest order – Sonny decided to chip in with his latest in a growing series of fairly needless red cards.

The Everton red can be expunged from the records, and with good reason, but as against Bournemouth late last season this was a pretty unholy contribution to proceedings, and betrayed the fact that the chap has a flame within that needs quelling and pronto. We can’t have every opponent within his armspan tapping their forehead knowledgeably and giving him a sly prod here, sly dig of the elbow into ribs there and sly stomp on the foot elsewhere, safe in the knowledge that the red mist will descend and Son will wave a retaliatory limb in less sly fashion.

Some might object that Rudiger went down as if impaled by a narwhal task when actually the contact from Son’s boot was more akin to a tickle, and that nameless chorus would have a point. But, oddly enough, that point misses this point. Which is that if you wave your studs at someone’s chest, you automatically run the risk of the whole episode rolling into the High Court.

It’s something of a mantra around AANP Towers, but if you want to avoid being on the sharp end of an officiating decision – be it a soft penalty or a disputed red card – then simply don’t give the referee the option.

3. A Musing or Two on Tactics

Individual moments of mind-boggling lunacy aside, there was plenty else about which to sink head into hands (and that is deliberately limiting comment to on-pitch matters).

AANP approaches his football much as I understand the Romans approached the fun and games of the amphitheatre – wanting to be entertained by action, without too much consideration for the underlying plot. As such, the chapter in the AANP book on “Tactical Analysis” is a pretty light read, and I wouldn’t pretend to have layer upon layer of insight into the stuff.

The long and short of it seemed to be that Chelsea’s setup completely bewildered our mob. Both their back three and front three respectively seemed only too happy to saunter up the field and press, winning the ball high up the pitch and denying us options to escape.

As ever, Jose opted for the lopsided approach of Aurier roving up the right wing, while at left-back my best mate Jan kept a respectful distance south of the halfway line, and tucked in alongside the centre-backs. This single-wing-back take on life is all fun and games in matches against lower-quality dirge, but yesterday it was nullified from the off. Chelsea hit upon the notion of attacking Aurier – not rocket-science, given his track record for dancing with calamity at every opportunity – and with Vertonghen not daring to advance beyond halfway we were oddly narrow.

Sprinkle into that mix the painfully limited ball-playing abilities of Dier and Sissoko in central midfield, and it’s little wonder that our first half descended into an endless stream of pretty hopeful punts from the centre-backs that sailed harmlessly over everyone’s heads.
This is the normally the point at which I and the various other armchair critics come oiling out of the woodwork to rant and rave about Poch’s inability to make game-changing tweaks, so it is only fair to wag a similarly critical finger at Jose. The formation change at half-time did not have the desired effect, with Lucas’ role as near enough a wing-back simply resulting in him being asked to take on defensive duties for which, though willing, he has not been well equipped by nature.

4. General Lack of Anything Resembling Lustre

For all the hours of riveting tactical chuntering, there is a pretty lucid counter – or perhaps additional – thread of argument along the lines of “Tactics be damned if we simply outfight the other lot”.

Had our heroes came shooting out of the blocks like a whole brigade of moths legging it towards the nearest flame like their lives depended on it, then all the wonky full-backs in the world would have been of little consequence.

Instead, alas, as against Man Utd a few weeks back, so yesterday against Chelsea. Our lot turned up, had a quick look around and appeared immediately to decide that such competitive pursuits were beneath them. Chelsea, accordingly, won at a canter.

The complete absence of urgency was as baffling as it was maddening. Do these blighters not realise the magnitude of these things? One wonders what the hell else has been passing through their tiny brains all week if not the absolute imperative to strain every sinew going in pursuit of a favourable outcome at yesterday’s set-to.

Depressingly, Chelsea seemed to get the gist. From the off they were executing the high press – and, come to think of it the low and middling presses too – like they had been doing it all their lives. I did briefly hope that our lot might simply ride out the storm before vrooming into top gear, but such basic concepts were obviously far beyond their collective capacities, and within ten minutes Serge Aurier was doing his thing and Chelsea were ahead.

5. A Begrudging Word in Defence of Sissoko

I suppose it would be a little harsh – only a little, mind – to tar Sissoko with the same brush as the rest of the incompetents who wandered gormlessly across N17 between the hours of 16.30 and 18.30 while Chelsea made merry.

Man of the match stuff it was not, but Sissoko did at least have the decency, after watching the game bypass him for long enough, to roll his sleeves up, put his head down and attempt on several occasions to bludgeon his way through the entire Chelsea team. One understands his rationale, as nobody else in lilywhite had given the faintest indication that they were worth involving in the fightback.

It didn’t work, apart from the mild satisfaction of clobbering the Chelsea ‘keeper and getting away with it. But for the sake of the annals, let the records show that Sissoko was slightly less bad than the rest for some portion of the first half.

And that faintest of faint praise is about the only etching in the Credit column. This was sensationally poor fare. Mercifully the next games come thick and fast, and by the time 2020 lands this garbage ought to have been long forgotten.

Everton 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. One Red Card and Two Penalty Shouts

First of all one wishes Andre Gomes well.

Yet at the risk of drawing a dirty glance or two, the severity of the injury ought not to colour one’s observations on the bread and butter of things – as was the case with poor old Monsieur Lloris a couple of weeks ago, whose arm injury did not exonerate a faux pas of pretty seismic proportions.

So today, though one did not particularly want to dwell on the replays of the incident, there seemed little to merit a red card, and the official rationale – that the challenge endangered the safety of the opponent – is hardly watertight stuff. A late challenge for sure, a yellow card offence most sages would agree, but the injury appeared to come from poor old Gomes’ landing.

This left our lot down to ten men for around fifteen or twenty minutes – as ever, there’s no knowing how we might have fared with eleven, but being down to ten was hardly of assistance.

As for the penalty shouts – a clash of knees by the Everton chap on Son, and a rogue, waving hand from Dele – the AANP stance, as ever, is that as soon as one makes contact with an attacker, or raises a hand in the area, one’s grounds for complaint quickly descend to wafer-thin levels. Don’t give the referee the option, and there will be no need to practice the poker face as the VAR bods do their stuff.

2. Yet Another Eriksen Off-Day

One does not like to denigrate one’s fellow man, particularly when they clock in for a shift at the office simply to put a loaf or two on the table, but this was pretty dreadful fare from most concerned, and Christian Eriksen obligingly epitomised the dross on show by turning in what is now becoming his trademark for season 2019/20.

The game was absolutely yowling for a midfielder with a sprinkling of class in his size nines to holler for possession and dominate proceedings accordingly. Eriksen’s CV certainly has enough about it to suggest that in circumstances such as these, he’s your man, but once again the Eriksen who spent his afternoon misplacing passes was a shadow of the chap who once picked out the eyes of needles and demonstrated the sort of technique of which we mortals can only dream.

With the Sissoko-Ndombele axis behind him providing a fairly serviceable and solid base, and his position in the Number 10 role essentially giving him a free pass on the defensive front, the stage was set for Eriksen to enjoy himself and wow the regulars.

He did hint at a return to the Eriksen of yore on a couple of occasions – one first half pass from the centre circle almost had Son in behind the last defender; and a second half free-kick was neatly placed into a dangerous area behind the Everton defensive line – but really, when one pays one’s entrance fee and sees the chap’s name in lights, one expects a heck of a lot more from his performance.

3. More Glimpses From Ndombele

He’s still not quite motoring along like the reincarnation of peak Mousa Dembele, but Tanguy Ndombele is continuing to inch his way in that direction.

Ideally one would have liked the chap regularly to have picked up the ball just inside his own half, and within two shakes of a lamb’s tail have turned back-foot into front-foot, either via the medium of a particularly cunning pass, or otherwise a drop of the shoulder and short gallop north.

There were hints of this sort of thing, but generally the bounding fellow tended to adopt more of a safety-first option, turning back-foot into more of a position of calm than anything definitively front-foot, by picking up the ball in a position of potential peril, and finding someone nearby in considerably less peril. It wasn’t the sort of stuff that turned the game on its head; rather it put out the occasional fire and restored order to those in lilywhite. In a game desperately low on quality, it rather caught the wearied eye.

4. A Moment of Class From Dele

The rehabilitation of Dele Alli slowly continues. In common with everyone else who set foot on the pitch, he hardly delivered a performance that blew the mind and challenged everything we ever knew – but he did at least inject into the game our one moment of quality.

Son’s pass to him was pretty topping stuff by the way, and has been rather underrated, but once Dele had the thing in his possession he weaved his way goalward with admirable poise – aided, admittedly, by some comically generous defending – and then delivered a similarly pleasing coup de grace. Amidst the dirge-like goings-on of the rest of the game, the aesthetics of it all stood out a mile, and would have made for a fitting winner.

It hardly constitutes a return to the headiest heights for the young nib, but cumulatively the signs are beginning to stack up that the chap is remembering his lines. One would like to see him make some more telling contributions to our build-up play, and offer more regular goalscoring threat, but within a desperately sub-par team, Dele’s trajectory is at least a positive one.

So this most mediocre of seasons limps on. This really ought to have been won, for Everton lack either the quality of the bigger teams or tenacity of the lesser ones; on top of which they barely threatened until they did finally score. A chance missed then, and the wait for a genuine upturn in fortunes continues.

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Liverpool 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Waiting Until We Trail To Begin Playing

So that was a game of one seven-ninth and one two-ninth, if ever I saw it. (Strictly speaking, it was more a game of one minute, one seven-ninth and one two-ninth, but I suppose such pedantry can be overlooked on Sundays.)

Having got our noses in front at the earliest possible convenience, our heroes collectively decided to shuffle back as deeply as the laws of the game allowed, and rather inevitably did not budge from this obviously doomed tactic until Liverpool had taken the lead, at around the 70 minute mark.

Thereafter, and with only 20 minutes remaining, they hit upon the remarkable notion of actually taking the fight to their hosts. The whole farcical spectacle made one fling one’s hands in the air and wonder what the point of it all is.

Who knows how things might have panned out had our lot tried to keep possession and link midfield to attack earlier in the piece? One understands the principle of exercising some caution and avoiding unnecessary risks, but we seemed to afford our hosts the sort of respect one would normally reserve for 1970 Brazil. Arguably if we had displayed more attacking intent in the first hour we would still have lost, but the All-Action-No-Plot streak that courses through the veins rather wishes we had lived a smidgeon more by the sword, rather than waiting until the dying embers, to die wondering.

Easy to blame Our Glorious Leader for the ultra-conservative approach, but I doubt that the instructions were to sit quite so deep. In fact, for the first twenty, a semblance of a gameplan seemed to poke its head into view and offer a cheery wave. The formation appeared to be along 4-2-3-1 lines rather than 4-5-1; our counter-attack had a sprinkling of menace (witness our opener); and if anything there was something heartening about the zeal with which our lot adopted a well-organised set-up when out of possession.

But inch by inch and minute by minute, good organisation out of possession morphed into something vastly more negative, and by the half hour mark we appeared to have set up legal residence in the fifteen yards or so outside our own penalty area, the thought of venturing any further north evidently the last thing on anyone’s mind.

2. Eriksen

If Christian Eriksen thinks the blame is all going to be directed at tactics and he can simply sidle quietly out of view, he will jolly well have another think coming.

In his defence, it was hardly his fault that he spent his entire match chasing Robertson’s shadow. This did admittedly appear a thankless task for someone whose DNA does not exactly brim with the ins and outs of tracking opposing attackers. Moreover, ill-suited though he was to such an activity, he did not shirk it, and instead hared around with willing, albeit to only moderate effect.

However, in a game that increasingly cried out for some control and possession, I don’t mind pointing a finger in Eriksen’s direction, and giving it a couple of meaningful jabs for good measure, for we barely strung three passes together for the first hour or so – and if Eriksen cannot contribute to this particular challenge, for which nature appears specifically to have created him, then one is entitled to wonder what the dickens he is doing on the pitch.

The game-plan was evidently to hit Liverpool at breakneck speed on the counter, but after incessant defensive drills one would have thought there would have been some merit in simply retaining possession for a few minutes, and letting Liverpool shuffle back into their own half. This ought to have been Eriksen’s brand of cognac, but the chap offered precious little in possession, and while he was by no means the only culprit, this can go down as yet another big game in which he offered precious little to justify the reputation.

3. Dele Alli

In recent games young Dele seems to have rolled up his sleeves and at least given the appearance of trying to right a few wrongs. This has presumably been due to his jettisoning from the England squad rather than anything else, but the shoots of a return to form have been spotted by the particularly eagle-eyed, so one was inclined to hope for the best today.

Alas, as with Eriksen, the whole back-foot set-up seemed to grab young Dele squarely by the shoulders and fling him a considerable distance out of his comfort zone. Where we looked to the young bean to link midfield to attack, instead he simply had to roll out an Eric Dier impression and chase Liverpool shadows in midfield.

To an extent both Eriksen and Dele can plead mitigating circumstances, because they certainly did not sign up to such nonsense as tracking opposing forwards thirty yards from their own goal. Yet there they both were, and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that neither appeared particularly thrilled with life.

Sympathy was in short supply from these quarters, however. When life gives you lemons, you must, as the adage has it, make lemonade; and when Liverpool hog possession and throw wave after wave of attack at you, you must cherish the few touches of the ball that they offer, and show some composure in possession. Alas, it is a damning indictment on both Messrs Eriksen and Alli that neither lemonade nor any semblance of composed possession was on display.

I suppose we should not be surprised that Dele seemed more like his old self once we fell behind, for at that point the whole team shifted forward into attacking positions, and he appeared vastly more comfortable with his surroundings.

4. Gazzaniga

A note on Paolo Gazzaniga, who did not do a whole lot wrong, throughout the ninety.

Now this might sound like the faintest praise with which to damn a chap, but when one puts it into the context of Hugo Lloris and his ever more inventive modes of calamity, simply “not doing a whole lot wrong” gives Gazzaniga the sheen of some divine being, sent from on high.

His saves were solid enough, but in truth shot-stopping was never Lloris’ weakness. It was the other business, the bread and butter stuff, that caught the eye – which again, sounds a bit of an oddity until one puts it into the context of Lloris. Gazzaniga caught crosses that Lloris would arguably have spilled. Gazzaniga punted the ball upfield when Lloris would arguably have played his centre-backs into trouble. Gazzaniga stayed on his feet when Lloris would arguably have tripped over his own shoelaces and shoved the ball into the path of an attacker.

The penalty wrong-footed him, which was a shame, but there was a vaguely reassuring presence about him, which bodes well for the coming weeks.

One might make other observations about our mob – a promising cameo from Ndombele; yet another remarkable finish from Kane; Aurier actually a mite unlucky with this week’s calamity – but having been sucked into a defensive vacuum for over an hour we can hardly complain about having lost. The infuriatingly inconsistent season bobbles on, and one must hope that next week we summon the spirit of last week, and finally turn that dashed corner.

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

Brighton 3-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Latest Lloris Howler

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Listless Players & The Problem This Poses Poch

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Dier’s Ignominious Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs 2-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. We Need to Talk About Serge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. We Need to Talk About Hugo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Cracking Second Goal

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

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

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

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

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

4. Kane’s All-Round Game

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

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

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

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

5. Ndombele Beginning to Show Flashes

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

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

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

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

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

CL Final Preview: 5 Things Tottenham Must Do To Win

1. Kane at His Sharpest

Not to point too fine a point on it, but Kane’s contribution to proceedings will be constitute pretty critical stuff.

Casting minds all the way back to the start of the season, and in that post-World Cup fug much of the chatter revolved around the fact that the chap looked every inch a man in desperate need of a good lie-down. His touch was heavy, his movement was laboured. He protested otherwise, and the goals generally continued to flow, but for whatever reason we certainly were not witnessing Peak Kane.

In the here and now, Kane is once again insisting that he is in fine fettle, and I’m inclined to believe that the ankle is now fully healed. The concern remains however, that his match sharpness – by which I mean that aforementioned touch and movement – is several marks off the ideal.

While we have stumbled our way through previous rounds using patched-together teams, and often sans Kane, this match of matches really requires our star player to be at the peak of his powers.

The question of whether he should start or come off the bench continues to linger (the AANP tuppence-worth is to start with him), but starting also presents a problem, because sharp or not, he presumably will struggle to last 90 minutes, and were he to start and the game to drag into extra-time, one suspects he will toddle off for a warm coat and isotonic snifter at some point.

Kane at his best, however, would be a massive asset to our heroes, and cause Liverpool all sorts of problems, from all sorts of angles. Fingers firmly crossed.

2. Sense Over Sentiment in Team Selection

Following his Amsterdam heroics, young Lucas is quite rightly being lauded everywhere he goes, and one would hope the chap will never have to buy his own drink ever again.

However, many are calling for his inclusion in the starting line-up for the Final, on the basis of an argument that can essentially be distilled down to “It would be harsh not to”. Such discourse is greeted with a narrowing of the eyes at AANP Towers, and a sniff that could be considered haughty. This is a Champions League Final, not a mid-summer testimonial or a Sunday afternoon 1950s romance on Channel 4.

There should be no room for sentiment in this one, we absolutely need to pick the team that will win on the day – and if that means shunting Lucas into the attack then so be it, but I fall pretty firmly into the camp that thinks that Kane and Son ought to be the front pairing.

The alternative suggestion is cramming all three of Kane, Son and Lucas into attack – which would presumably mean a midfield of Dele, Sissoko and Eriksen. This, I fancy, would be madness of the highest degree. Away to Man City, and at home to Ajax, Eriksen and Dele confirmed what was already universally known, that they pretty much offer cosmetic value only when doing off-the-ball defensive work. Not their faults of course, as nature created them to attack. Set up with that 4-3-3 and I fear Liverpool will be over the hills and out of sight before we know what has hit us.

Sense, rather than sentiment, would appear to dictate that we use a midfield 4, with one of Winks, Dier or Wanyama in amongst the rest, tasked with rolling up sleeves and mucking in.

3. A Plan to Nullify Their Full-Backs

We have played Liverpool twice this season, receiving something of a spanking at home, albeit by only one goal, which rather flattered us, and losing by one own goal away from home, which rather flattered them.

Prominent in both encounters, particularly during those chunks during which Liverpool were in the ascendancy, were the red full-backs. When we played at Wembley, our own full-backs were in full kamikaze mode, and charged up the pitch, leaving Robertson and TAA plenty of room to set up camp and make merry. At Anfield, our lot went to the other extreme, and began in an ultra-conservative back five.

The solution, one imagines, lies somewhere in between. A back-four, perhaps, with both Rose and Trippier afforded a degree of protection from those in front? The second half at Anfield might prove a useful template, as we edged on top on that occasion, and were dashed unlucky to lose.

Whatever the solution, this is one of the notable problems over which Our Glorious Leader and his Brains Trust will need to chew and ruminate, preferably long into the night and within clouds of cigar smoke.

4. No Ludicrous Mistakes

Conceding a goal is always galling, but when it comes about because the other lot whir into hyperspace and slice us open with a thousand cuts – as in the style of Ajax in the first leg, for example – at least there are few regrets or recriminations. One might point a half-hearted finger at the left-back who may have moved a step to the side in the build-up, but essentially it is blameless stuff, and all involved are best off simply stiffening the upper lip and contemplating the riposte.

What is utterly infuriating is conceding a goal out of nowhere and under no pressure, as a complete gift to the opposition. Disturbingly, our heroes have made something of a habit of this over the course of the season, and it goes without saying that such nonsense makes the job in hand massively more taxing.

Trippier’s own goal; Lloris’ palm against Liverpool; Foyth’s own-area dallying; Trippier’s own-area attempted nutmegs; Lloris’ rushes of blood to the head and rushes of feet from his goal – the list is worryingly long. To say nothing of free headers at set-pieces.

Playing Liverpool will be hard enough, and the drill ought to be to force them to work dashed hard for every chance. On this of all occasions we need to cut out the utterly absurd, unforced errors.

5. No More Comebacks

No doubt about it, our heroes have turned the sensational comeback into something of an art-form during this Champions League campaign.

After the three-games-one-point ‘Arry Redknapp tribute at the start of the group phase, we went into the final 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and sixth games needing at least one goal to avoid elimination – and duly delivered each time. Against City we again needed a late-ish goal (and an even later VAR call), and then there was the madness of Amsterdam. On top of which, we seem to have imprinted into the gameplan the slightly curious tactic of conceding within the opening 5 minutes.

All thrilling stuff and so on and so forth, but this insanity really must end, for the good of all concerned. The constitution simply cannot take it, for a start – and heaven knows what the nerves will be like during a Champions League Final – but more pertinently we just cannot repeatedly rely upon comebacks. A two-goal half-time deficit will not always be overturned, and I certainly wouldn’t fancy our chances of doing so against this lot.

Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, to canter into a lead, and then hold onto it?

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CL Final Preview: 6 Players Who Took Tottenham To The Final

1. Hugo Lloris

Heaven knows I’ve been at the front of the queue when it’s come to sticking the knife into our skipper – and giving it a vigorous twist for good measure too – because the absurd, unforced errors have come thick and fast in the last season or two. However, when push met shove in the business end of this season’s Champions League, Lloris thrust out limbs like nobody’s business.

The Dortmund away leg springs to mind, a game into which we took a three-goal lead but looked for all the money in the world like we wouldn’t make it to half-time without being pegged back.

Dortmund brought their A-game, slicing us apart with the sort of blurry whizz of motion that Ajax were to replicate in the semi-final. Time and again they skipped past each of our massed ranks until finding themselves staring into the whites of Lloris’ eyes; but time and again our captain did the necessary, no matter how unlikely the laws of physics suggested this would be. Re-watch the highlights of that first half in particular, and one needs to dust off the abacus to rack up the precise number of point-blank saves made.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and within ten minutes of the quarter-final first leg at home to Man City, VAR had awarded a penalty against Danny Rose, and the customary uphill slog looked set to kick in.

Enter, yet again, Monsieur Lloris, to repel Aguero’s spot-kick and breathe fresh life into this unlikeliest of campaigns. Had Aguero scored, the away goals advantage would have gone up in smoke there and then, and more pertinently City might well have racked up a hatful.

2. Moussa Sissoko

AANP’s player of the season, Sissoko seems to have improved with every game, transforming before our goggling eyes from figure of fun to critical cog in the machinery. One moment that summed up this metamorphosis was his gallop forward in the closing stages at home to Inter.

By that stage of the campaign it was win or bust, thrice in a row. A sloppy start had left our heroes with one point from three games, and any thoughts of winning the whole dashed thing had been tied up in a sack, weighed down with bricks and dropped overboard. Needing a win to avoid elimination in each of Matchdays 4, 5 and 6, this seemed rather unlikely against Inter, until the final 10 minutes, when Sissoko took it upon himself to put his head down and charge into enemy territory.

One is reluctant to blame the Inter mob for backing off, for it would be a brave man to try to impede a Sissoko gathering a head of steam. The chap drove from Point A, around 10 yards inside his own half, to Point B well inside the Inter penalty area, with the sort of steely determination that one dares not interrupt, and with each step began imprinting himself into Tottenham folklore.

He found Dele, who swivelled and found Eriksen, and his finish kept our heads above water. Just.

Further approving nods to Sissoko for setting up Kane away to Dortmund, and filling in at auxiliary right-back away to Barcelona, after KWP was hooked and we went in desperate search of an equaliser.

And of course, his introduction against Ajax in the semi-final first leg did just about enough to wrest the game away from them.

3. Jan Vertonghen

One of several who made pretty vital, last-ditch stretches away to Dortmund, to keep our hosts at bay and our 3-0 lead in tact when it seemed that calamity might befall, my best mate’s true value was demonstrated in the first leg of that same tie.

Playing at left wing-back Vertonghen first went toe-to-toe with Jadon Sancho, by the skin of his teeth keeping the young pup contained in a first half in which we were decidedly second best.

In the second half, however, Vertonghen emerged as an irresistible creative force from left-back, flying down the flank with unsullied abandon, whipping in a series of crosses that sent the Dortmund central defence into a frightful tizz and capping things off with a striker’s finish to put us two goals ahead and take something of a knife to Dortmund’s spirits.

That Vertonghen-inspired win gave us enough breathing space to survive the second leg onslaught – and just like that, we were in the quarter-finals.

4. Harry Kane

An enforced absentee for various critical stages of the campaign, Kane still popped up with a number of pretty vital finishes hither and thither. Hardly a surprise, as 14 goals in 18 Champions League appearances does point to a chap who bounds around the place ticking boxes at this level like it’s going out of fashion, but it’s still rather easy to forget his contribution to this season’s effort.

Most notably this occurred at home to PSV in the group stage. Again, it was a game in which nothing less than victory would suffice – so obviously we went behind in the first minute.

And there we remained until the final 10, when Kane’s relentless focus on hitting the target paid off, albeit in slightly more nerve-jangly fashion than would have been ideal.

First a pot-shot in a crowded area found the bottom corner; and then in the final moments a header towards the right-hand corner took a hefty deflection of one PSV torso to send it towards the middle of the goal, and then for good measure detoured again, of another PSV limb, to trickle apologetically into the bottom left.

They all count – as Kane, more than most, will testify – and on we stumbled marched.

5. Fernando Llorente

Another of those chaps who puts the “fickle” into “AANP”, I can quite easily wile away a spare half hour by simply lambasting Fernando Llorente – and yet few have been more critical to what might be the most brilliant success in our history.

As aforementioned, when needing a win at home to PSV, we did it the Spurs way and entered the final 10 minutes a goal down. By this point Llorente had been unceremoniously deposited into the PSV area, and duly earned his keep. Give him a chance two yards in front of goal and the ball might end up anywhere in the solar system, but tell him to hold up the ball, hold off a central defender and lay the ball delicately into the path of Harry Kane, and he’s in business. He did just that, Kane scored and we went on to scrape a win.

Fast forward to the quarter-final away leg at Man City, and Llorente produced the sort of finish that only a man of his questionable finishing ability can produce. Closing his eyes and hoping to win a header from a waist-height cross, he did enough to bundle his way in front of his man, and use a questionable combination of hip and possibly-or-possibly-not wrist to force the ball in. And then celebrated like we fans were celebrating.

Fast forward even further, and with nothing left to lose in the semi-final second leg against Ajax, Llorente’s very presence, introduced at half-time, did enough to sow seeds amongst the Ajax defence. Daly Blind in particular spent most of that half casting a perturbed hand across a distinctly fevered brow, as Llorente simply bullied him.

Aside from any contributions to goals, this helped changed the pattern of play, and momentum of the game. And then, ultimately, his ungainly, angular poke of the ball, in the final minute of added time, was enough to give Dele a yard, and then Lucas Moura… [goosebumps]

6. Lucas Moura

Not just a man for a semi-final hat-trick, Lucas also scored in the dying minutes against Barcelona, in yet another of those group stage games in which we desperately needed a win and therefore conceded early.

Lucas charged in to slap the ball home from close range, and with a little help from PSV we went from one point after three games, to qualification for the knockouts.

And what a knockout it was shaping up to be in the semi-final. In truth, until he scored I was rather despairing of Lucas’ contribution. Frenetic and a little wasteful when on the gallop; unable to link with midfield when dropping deep with back to goal; and without a shot in anger in the whole first half, he seemed just another one of those waving forlornly as the game passed him by.

But then, by golly what an impact. The surge of pace to latch on to Dele’s touch for the first goal was worthy of an Olympic sprinter.

The footwork to dance around the Ajax 6-yard box before scoring the second was worthy of any head-down 9 year-old in the playground.

And then the winner, placed into the only available spot in the net, at the last possible moment before two Ajax defenders could and would have blocked it, and as the clock ticked from 94:59 to 95:00…

I’m not sure there will ever be a Tottenham Hotspur moment quite like it. The bedlam, the en masse Ajax faceplant, the repeated viewings and the full 24 hours it took to register the enormity. On top of which, it’s rather pleasing that the hero of the hour was one of the more unlikely sorts, as it does hammer home that the whole thing was quite the collective effort (which makes a mockery of a list of 6 individuals, but over that we quietly gloss). Heroes, predictable and otherwise, at every turn – one wonders if there is room for one more name to be heralded on Saturday…

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Ajax 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

Real life rather rudely interrupted the celebrations at AANP Towers last week, but since we’re all still floating around atop a cumulonimbus there seems no harm in peddling a few belated observations from our gloriest of glory glory nights…

1. The Complete Absence of Hope

Had we cantered to victory in serene and most un-Tottenham fashion it would undoubtedly have been a thrill, but presumably not one that will live in the memory quite like this magnificent absurdity.

After about 5 minutes of the first leg I was already groaning the groan of a man on death row who hears fresh coins being popped into the electricity meter; by half-time in the second leg I had already whizzed through all seven stages of grief and was starting to wonder about England’s batting line-up for the Ashes.

Even after Moura’s first two goals I simply refused to countenance the possibility of anything other than glorious failure, which in hindsight says quite a lot about how damaging the last three decades of lilywhite faith have been.

But to score the goal that sends us into the Champions League Final, just as the clock in the top left corner ticked over literally to the final second of the allocated extra 5 minutes – well it’s little wonder that we’ve all rewound and watched that moment about a hundred times each. Frankly just writing about it makes me need another lie-down, and etches that massive grin across the chops once more.

2: Llorente: Flawed But Wonderful Hero

As if to encapsulate the glorious lunacy of the night, the man who made the difference was Fernando Llorente.

With reserves so depleted that we genuinely checked beforehand whether Vincent Janssen was eligible, Our Glorious Leader made the call of a man who realises that his entire life’s possessions have gone down the drain so he might as well go all in on his last hand because to hell with it. If Janssen were eligible I suspect he might have been flung on too, but as it happened the only resource left was Llorente, the striker with a penchant for missing from 2 yards. On he duly shuffled.

And it changed the entire pattern of the game. By simply attaching himself to Daly Blind and swaying gently in the Amsterdam air every time the ball was lofted into orbit, he did more to discombobulate Ajax than any amount of fancy footwork and attempted sorcery from the more illustrious colleagues around him.

With the sort of cruel irony that just about proves that the gods like nothing more than toying with the mortals below, this Ajax team who were so masterful and fizz-popping in possession that they made one dizzy just by watching, were utterly flummoxed by the most basic tactic in football. Time and again our heroes launched the ball to the big man, time and again he angled himself in suitably ungainly fashion to ensure that the ball apologetically bounced off him and into the general vicinity of Dele, Lucas and chums.

Naturally, being Fernando Llorente, he contrived to miss from two yards when the laws of physics seemed to dictate that it was impossible to do so; and naturally, being Fernando Llorente he spurned what appeared to be our final chance of the tie by heading over from a corner when unmarked in the dying embers. But nobody cares a jot, because Llorente’s value that night was priceless.

Seemingly created as a striker in concept alone, who adds value in theory, but abandoned by nature before any of the practical specifics of being a striker could be added, Llorente swung the game back our way before Lucas had even begun adjusting his sighter. All credit to him and Poch.

3: Dele’s Touch

Amidst the general bedlam, it was pretty easy to overlook the cutting-edge, shiny, 24-carat quality of Dele Alli’s soft dab of the ball into Lucas Moura’s path for the third.

The general mood around the campfire has been that Dele has owed a decent contribution for a while now. Not his fault, of course, that his season has been staccatoed by injuries, and there have been times when an outbreak of class has threatened. By and large, however, this has been another of those seasons in which one winces, and scratches the head, and generally starts digging for suitable excuses for the chap.

Last Wednesday however, the memo finally wound its way to the Alli grey matter, and he obligingly picked one heck of an occasion to make a handful of those flicks and flourishes finally count.

Observers first stirred at the sight of him making a Platt/Scholes-esque dash to the far post, early in the second half, only for his volleyed close-range mid-air shot to be patted away by the Ajax ‘keeper. The juices were however flowing, as, funnily enough, he seemed rather to enjoy life at the top of a diamond behind the front two.

I suspect that in setting up the first goal for Lucas he was trying to do it all himself, and might have thrown something of an arm-waving tizzy at his colleague for steaming onto the ball, had it not wound up in the net.

But it was the flick that set up the third goal that really had me purring. Well, I tell a gross untruth, because “purring” is not really the adjective to describe what madness ensued as the third rolled in – but the point is that it was an absolutely exquisite touch.

Simply to have the nerve to attempt a pass like that, at a time like that, with stakes like that, borders on the unfathomable. Watch the goal back for the 101st time and treat yourself to a goggle at the fact that he plays it the wrong side of the defender, and without even looking. How the dickens he knew that Lucas was curving his run into that area is beyond me, given that he was looking in the other direction completely, but that I suppose is why he earns the hefty envelope.

4: Danny Rose Starting The Comeback

A loving pat on the head also for Danny Rose – who no doubt would enjoy that sort of thing – for getting the ball rolling, in a matter of speaking. Three down on aggregate, his nutmeg on the Ajax chap, followed by cross-field pass to Lucas, set the whole comeback in motion.

Of course if one wants to trace the origins of the thing back even further one could start heaping credit upon Sonny for feeding Rose in the preceding moments, or Paul Stalteri for haring into the West Ham penalty area, because these things are all part of the sequence of contributory events don’t you know? It was, however, a slick little piece of skill.

5: Hugo’s Saves

Since I’m here and dishing out gold stars in slightly scattergun fashion, I might as well gobble down a frog’s leg and raise une verre to Monsieur Lloris, for a couple of critical saves that kept the thing simmering along nicely.

Stick the ball at his feet and one is inclined to dive behind the nearest sofa and cover the eyes, for fear of what fresh hell might unfold.

However, tell the chap to stick to the business of leaping hither and yon with arms outstretched, and he gets the gist in double-quick time. At 2-2 on the night, and with the clock ticking down in that ominous fashion so typical of the things, Lloris was called upon to do produce the cat-like stuff, and he did not fluff his lines.

6: Everyone’s Positioning At The Final Goal

I have to admit to raising a particularly quizzical eyebrow at the manner of Christian Eriksen’s immediate post-match interview, in which he gave the impression of struggling to stay awake for sheer boredom, even as the walls of AANP Towers were resounding to the clatter of yells and leaps and a general orgy uncontainable excitement. However, if Eriksen spoke one truth it was that tactics rather packed their bags and exited the premises sharpish in that second half.

The introductions of Llorente for Wanyama, and Lamela for Trippier, gave pretty broad hints that as attempts at conventional 4-5-1s and 4-4-2s were bringing little joy, the approach would swiftly alter to more of an Everyone-Pelt-Forward-At-Every-Opportunity-And-Let’s-See-How-It-Lands.

And so we ended up in that last minute with Sissoko starting the attack from a sweeper position (which made some sense because, as we now all recognise, the chap is actually a football genius); Eriksen and Ben Davies alongside him; Toby and Jan desperately edging into wing-back positions; Sonny as a deep-lying midfielder; and everybody else haring straight up the middle in attack. And all this about thirty seconds after Hugo had raced into the opposition penalty area.

It was glorious stuff, utterly in keeping with the all-action-no-plot madness of the game, and fully justifies the constant re-watches, because one never really tires of watching the careering reactions of absolutely everyone involved.

To say nothing of Lucas himself, who seemed only to touch the ball on the three occasions in which he planted it into the net with the dead-eyed precision of a sniper (plus, I suppose, the extraordinary dribble of an uncle toying with his nephews that set up his own second).

Quite why there is a three-week wait for the Final is anyone’s guess, but if it allows more time to revel in the absolute glory of Amsterdam, then it gets the AANP vote.

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