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Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Perisic, Forster & Gollini: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Ivan Perisic

The headline summary of AANP’s reaction to this one is somewhere along the lines of “Ripping stuff, what?”

Oddly enough, Perisic is one on whom I’ve had my beady eye for quite some time. And those who know me best will attest to the fact that I do not use the term “oddly enough” casually. For a start, when watching Spurs I rarely compute the identities of any in opposition, so contorted am I in paroxysms of anguish by the performance of our lot. After all, there’s no time to be taking notes on anyone else when you’re busy staving off massive coronary events within your own framework 

And when I do make the very occasional observation of some lad not of lilywhite persuasion, one might label the exercise “Miss” as often as “Hit”. Take Shane Long, for example, a johnnie who presumably looks back on his apples with some satisfaction, and should be able to see out his days in some comfort – but nevertheless not a player one would honestly say has risen to the heights for which AANP earmarked him several years back. 

Perisic, however is a different kettle of fish. Here’s a lad who back at the 2014 World Cup had AANP nodding a sage head and tipping for glory. And while these things are subjective, one would be hard pressed to dismiss a CV that includes the Champions League, titles in Italy and Germany and a goal in a World Cup Final dash it. 

And as it happens it is precisely this clutch of medals and rosettes and whatnot that has AANP nodding with vigorous approval at the scrawl of I. P. on the dotted line. For here is a chap who knows how to win on the biggest stages. A chap who laced his boots before crunch games and Cup Finals, and 90 minutes later waved shiny pots above his head. Marry this to team Hotspur’s famous ability to trip over their own feet at the final hurdle, season after season, and suddenly the sense of the move rather lurches into view. 

Yes we have Monsier Loris who has had his mitts on the World Cup, and Kane with a World Cup Golden Boot, and Dier and Sonny and Hojbjerg, all of whom have been around the block often enough to know how to get things done – and rarely was this nous illustrated better than against Woolwich last month – but laddies who’ve actually done the deed at club level are pretty thin on the ground in N17. So if Conte and chums want to roll out the red carpet for an egg like Perisic then I’m all for it. 

I’m reminded of the invigorating effect of Cambiasso at Leicester a few years back, or even the positive impact reported by those in the know when Edgar Davies rocked up in this parish – attitudes in training, reactions to defeat and so forth – and am inclined to gush a fair bit with excitement. 

On a practical level, I’ve spent the best part of the Conte era bleating that a system like Conte-ball requires as a pretty essential component for success a couple of wing-backs a good few notches above the average, and while Messrs Reguilon and Sessegnon have rarely lacked willing, few of sound mind would categorise them as World Class. 

Admittedly, whether or not Master Perisic can shake a defensive leg is something of an unknown at AANP Towers, but if Conte likes him enough to bring him into the gang then I consider the requisite boxes have been ticked and criteria met. 

The Causes For Concern

The principal objection to the signing of the multi-award winning and still-in-presentable-nick Perisic is his age. 33 don’t you know. Personally, I’d happily murder a lesser member of socially to be that age again, but some of the pickier sorts seem convinced that a fellow who’s been around the sun 33 times ought to have no business in the Premier League when there’s a retirement home sofa with his name on it.

I suppose more pertinently, one wonders about the lung capacity of a chap signed up for wing-back duties at 33, and particularly one transitioning from Serie A to the Premier League. And being a fair-minded sort, even though I am a fully paid-up member of Team Perisic, I am happy to acknowledge the risk in this scheme.

I suppose the riposte here lies in the fact that Perisic will presumably be asked to perform his duties in tandem with young Sessegnon. That is to say, one of the pair will strut his stuff midweek, the other take the stage at weekends. As well as allowing Perisic to catch his breath in between assignments, one might also hope that this Master-Apprentice arrangement might serve to chivvy along the career of young Sessegnon, a bounder whose ability to follow positional instructions appears vastly to outweigh his competence with ball at feet.

And as much as anything else, I’m whistling a particularly upbeat ditty on account of the fact that the whole approach to transfers, firmly embedded in the marble halls of N17 over the last decade or two, appears now to be subject to a minor adjustment. It seems that ever since the ‘90s, The Tottenham Way on such matters has involved hoovering up young sorts as yet unproven on grass but with buckets of potential and – tellingly – sell-on value. As part of a broader strategy, involving one or two experienced heads, this would be sage business. At Spurs, however, the strategy in its entirety seems to have been to bank on these fellows in their early twenties to blossom into world-beaters on our watch, with world football’s more established stars strictly amongst the more non grata breed of persona.

Therefore, seeing us invest in a chap whose finest years might be behind him, and whose sell-on value might be minimal, but who, crucially, has a few tales to tell and medals to display, represents a pretty significant swerve from the route usually trodden. In theory at least, however, it ought to complement well the massed ranks of younger nibs buzzing about the place, and strikes me as a pretty sound piece of thinking.

Fraser Forster In; Pierluigi Gollini Out

The more perceptive amongst you, having skim-read the above, will be unsurprised that the AANP stance on the incoming of Fraser Forster is not a million miles from that on Master Perisic. At 34, Forster could theoretically bounce Perisic on his knee and spin a few tales from his youth, whilst, at the risk of sounding like a Brexit Minister, our quota of home-grown players also apparently receives a nudge in the right direction by virtue of his arrival.

Any reserve goalkeeper worth his salt in a Champions League side ought to have a few decent character references and work experience jaunts, and Forster, while not necessarily amongst the world’s elite between the sticks, seems have enough experience both to fill the void in random Cup games and also to deputise for longer stints should Monsieur Lloris happen to chip a toe-nail at any point during the season.

One might argue that the very fact that Forster has won a clutch of England caps at all says something about him in the first place, because if four decades of watching the national side has taught me anything it’s that back-up goalkeepers rarely get a look-in.

That said, I can’t claim to be any sort of expert on the fellow. Science, a pretty reliable gauge of these sorts of matters, informs me that he measures six foot seven, and while there is more to being a goalkeeper than general mass alone, I dare say he has put his presence to decent use over the years in his chosen profession. However, the issue of whether a chap whose brain is so far from his feet offers any value when kicking the thing is not one to which I can attest.

A cautionary note might be struck in that the last time we welcomed aboard an experienced and seemingly capable, home-grown deputy goalkeeper, the name ‘Hart’ was being ironed across the back of replica shirts. However, while Joe Hart had struck me as a pretty sensible addition when brought into the fold a few years back, on his donning the lilywhite (or lurid goalkeeping equivalent) I was swiftly reminded of his principal failing, namely his inability to save anything directed to his left.

For most of us, I suppose the inability to dive to one’s left might not really interfere with life’s mundane tasks, and far less one’s paid employment – but in a goalkeeper it can be quite the hindrance, and thus it proved with Hart. Principally for this reason, Hart fairly quickly became exposed as being at his best when hollering at those around him, but vastly more limited when pressed into actual on-pitch service.

Young Senor Gollini has similarly underwhelmed during his year at the Lane. The initial plan had apparently been for him to bed in and gradually usurp Lloris, his year-long loan designed to culminate in a triumphant permanent move, which just goes to show how wrong folk can be, what?

The fellow’s sporadic appearances in various Cup competitions were of fairly middling quality, his stint with us most notable for that rather curious if emphatic flap at mid-air during the Carabao Cup defeat to Chelsea. Few, one suspects, will mourn his departure.

All of which seems to point to Forster’s most useful attributes being the fact that he is neither Joe Hart nor Pierluigi Gollini. Nevertheless, it was a spot of business that needed doing, and if he can guide us through the early Cup rounds without too many alarms, then Forster-in-Gollini-out will represent a pretty tidy spot of early-summer give-and-take.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Brighton: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Midfield Distribution

After games such as this one can pretty much close the eyes and point a moody finger in any direction, and one will hit upon a failing. And on Saturday one such failing was the complete absence of interest in attacking play from those dozing away in central midfield.  

What struck me as particularly galling was that the business of playing the ball from defence to attack was not one of those disasters beset in problems from start to finish. It was not one of those tragedies in which the knowledgeable onlooker can spot from a mile away that the whole scheme is destined for failure as soon as it begins. At various points during the game, the beginning of our play-ball-from-defence-to-attack strategy was actually pretty neat and tidy stuff.

For a start, any sniff of danger from what masqueraded as the Brighton high-press around our area was swatted away pretty dismissively. The control of possession demonstrated by Hugo, the three centre-backs and any kindly wing-back who happened to be passing by, was of sufficient quality to sidestep any hint of trouble around our own net. Manoeuvring the ball from A to B – with A being the feet of Hugo and B the feet of anyone else in lilywhite – was an operation for which our lot demonstrated all the requisite levels of competence.

So far, so good. Our lack of a single shot on target could not be pinned upon any perceived difficulties in emerging unscathed from our own penalty area.

At this point, however, the plan started spouting leaks. The challenge seemed to be not so much the risk of losing possession in our own defensive third, as much as the conundrum of how to do anything meaningful with it, at the same point on the map.

In recent weeks, Hojbjerg and, in particular, Bentancur and Kane, have attracted their fair share of awe-struck gazes through the ability casually to flick a ball first-time around the corner, and into space up the flanks for one of the attacking cohort to gallop after. As well as being the sort of scenic stuff one could bring a picnic to watch, such first-time flicks have had the pragmatic advantage of turning the narratives completely on their head, leaving opposition defenders galloping back towards their own goal and pulled apart in all sorts of directions.

And yet on Saturday, of those first-time flicks there was no sign. Instead, both Bentancur and Hojbjerg (Kane having been muzzled by that Bissouma fellow, who I’m sure would look fetching in white upper garments come August) seemed entirely preoccupied with the notion that if anything good were to come of things it would have to have its genesis in a first-time backwards pass. No matter the coordinates, or time of day, or any other consideration of external circumstance: first-time backwards passes had been adopted as the panacea for all ills, and any other consideration was tossed aside.

Now I’m all for the practice of one passing the way they are facing. If anything, I consider it a somewhat neglected art. At the appropriate time and in the appropriate place, few things in life can top a swift nudge of the ball backwards by a fellow who has his back to goal and senses opponents hunting him down. Done in suitable conditions, it can be precisely what the doctor ordered, throwing opponents off the scent and ensuring quick movement of the ball.

But note well the preamble: “in suitable conditions’; “the appropriate time”; and “appropriate place”. All key components, and yet merrily ignored by our heroes, who seemed to think that the backwards-pass routine was such a good yarn they should thrust it into the heart of whatever was happening, irrespective of whether the circumstances required it or not.

While the occasional backward pass can be a ripping little gag, doing it every dashed time one receives the ball starts to make the regulars raise an eyebrow and wonder if all is well at HQ.

While I appreciate that it is difficult to flick around a corner when everyone in lilywhite is static and all Brighton-folk are already in position and set, there were nevertheless opportunities to start attacks, when Brighton had committed numbers up the pitch. On such occasions, some effort had gone into bypassing the Brighton press, and finally the ball was funnelled up to Bentancur and Hojbjerg (and occasionally Son), with the stage set for them to ping the ball into the spaces ahead for attacking sorts to run onto – and instead they simply bunged the thing back into defence again, and everyone in Brighton colours re-took their sentry positions.

It was as if they considered that a quick shove of the ball back towards goal were some sort of triumph in itself, and once completed they could consider their jobs done for the day.

I suppose there are multiple contributory factors here, but from the AANP viewpoint our lot seemed to be missing one heck of a trick. Instead of zipping up the pitch, all in lilywhite ponderously rolled the ball around the halfway line, and by the time last orders were called it was little wonder that we had not managed a single shot on target.

2. The Absence of Doherty

I once heard a pretty ripping gag about chickens and eggs, the nub of which was to speculate as to which arrived on the scene first, which, when you stop to consider it, starts to make the mind swim a bit. I was reminded of this when trying to fathom the root of our problems on Saturday, because on the one hand, as documented above, our midfield mob appeared in no mood to set in motion anything of attacking promise – but on the other hand I did wonder if this might be because the supporting cast were neglecting their duties.

In recent weeks, Master Doherty has carried himself full of buck and vim, taking every opportunity to chip in with his tuppence worth on the right flank, and indeed infield from said flank. He, and whichever less talented equivalent has been patrolling the left flank, have been key components of our attacking apparatus. The front three have hogged headlines and statistics, but the two wing-backs have quietly been going about the place adding meat to things.

The absence of Doherty has now coincided with a game in which we have failed to strike a bally shot on target, which might sound like a spot of AANP amateur dramatics, but, rather disturbingly, is a statement of fact. And the point I’m driving at is to speculate as to whether the two are in some way causally linked.

Certainly, Doherty’s replacement, Emerson Royal, seemed in customary fashion to offer all the on-pitch value of a mannequin, making himself visible without contributing anything of the slightest value. However, it should be noted that on the other flank Senor Reguilon was similarly impotent – and frankly neither did any of the front three display the necessary wit or intelligence to escape the beady Brighton eyes upon them and enjoy a spot of freedom in the attacking third.

So to castigate Emerson in this instance might be a touch rough. Doherty, for all we know, might similarly have laboured pointlessly.

But nevertheless, I rather considered that if the central midfield consists of Hojbjerg and Bentancur – a couple of lads with plenty going for them, but not the fellows you’d back to create twenty goals a season – then your wing-backs are going to deliver some pretty special stuff going forward. And this was precisely the sort of prime fare that Doherty had been spewing forth until having his knee rearranged last week.

To suggest that Doherty has become the most important player in our setup would be laying it on rather too thick, but he was starting to look a pretty important sort of bean in the whole mechanism. One can only hope that Saturday’s ills were indicative of a wider – and isolated – malaise, rather than due to the absence of Doherty and Doherty alone.

3. Hojbjerg

Possibly not the sort of suggestion that will have the paying public hoisting me on their shoulders and sending down the ticker-tape, but in the absence of anyone else dangling a remarkable foot, I thought that P-E H Esq. at least had the decency to suggest he cared about things.

As ventured above, his tendency always to biff the ball back to Romero or Dier upon receipt had me banging the head against whichever wall fancied it, but as the game wore on and most of our lot stubbornly refused to give a damn, I did at least admire the fact that he did not simply slump his shoulders and slink off into the shadows.

In the final knockings, he and he alone could be seen diving into tackles, and, despite the above character assassination built entirely upon his insistence on passing backwards, he did eventually get the gist of things and try to carry the ball forwards once or twice as close of play beckoned.

Hojbjerg is actually a curious egg in that it becomes harder with each passing week fully to grasp what he does. There is a danger that he might simply turn into this season’s Joe Hart, viz. a man of limited playing talent whose principal role seems to be to shout at people. He does not possess either energy, passing ability, tackling ability, dribbling ability or any other ability – bar shouting at people – that really catches the eye, and as such there is a sense that he is merely keeping a seat warm for young Master Skipp.

And yet he fits rather neatly within the Conte system, by virtue of knowing how both to patrol in front of the back-three and ward off foes, and how to collect the ball from the back-three and shovel it along, albeit usually unadventurously. (He does occasionally demonstrate an appetite for an effective forward pass, but these are generally filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Rule’.)

However, given that everyone around him was determined simply to mope about the place until they could scuttle off down the tunnel, Hojbjerg can, if he fancies, treat himself to the AANP going for the day, by dint of his perspiration rather than inspiration. And that rather sad state of affairs neatly captures the whole performance.

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Spurs match reports

Aston Villa 0-4 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The First Three Goals

A casual observer might reasonably expect the opening lines here to be on Goal 1, principally in the interests of chronology; but also to purr a goodish deal about Sonny’s ping, via, perhaps, a carefree chortle about the geographic wildness of Kane’s initial effort.

Alternatively, the same observer would presumably understand if I opened with Goal 2, on account of its dashed handy timing, arriving as it did at the opportune moment to quell a Villa beast still violent and snorting from its first half excursions; as well as a complimentary word or two on the upper-body dimensions of Kane that had Villa defenders bouncing off him; and the dead-eyed finish by Kulusevski, delivered like Midas in the Hollywood days when the going was still good for him.

Or indeed passers-by might anticipate me starting with Goal 3, dwelling in particular upon the surreptitious glance Kane gave, before receiving ball to his dome and chivvying it along with just the appropriate amount of pace and direction, with credits in the small print to Romero for the sort of pass that is well above the pay-grade of the average centre-back, and Sonny for taking a leaf out of the Kulusevski book of making potentially tricky finishes look no bother at all.

2. The Fourth Goal

But I’ll kick things off instead with Goal 4, mainly because it was one of those rare beasts whose every constituent element was a thing of such beauty that by the time its finale rolled around you were practically begging for someone to do the decent thing and stick the ball in the net.  

Astonishingly, the opening line was belted out by Emerson Royal, who had spent the entirety of the first half accommodating his opponents, either by casually letting them drift past him without objection or giving the ball straight to them whenever he happened upon it. I was therefore as taken aback as the next man to see him contribute so proficiently to Goal 4.  

His role in the project began with a rare outbreak of good sense, in getting first to the ball down by his own corner flag and then playing a one-two with Kulusevski, before shovelling on to Hojbjerg and God-speeding him along. This had the dual benefits of emerging from the aforementioned corner – something of a cul-de-sac at the time – and transferring our collective weight from back-foot to front.

Kulusevski for his part threw in a ballerina’s pirouette that had not one but two Villa sorts grasping at thin air and needing a brief sit-down to clear their heads. Fast-forward along some solid keep-it-simpling from Hojbjerg and Kane, and the ball was out with Sonny on the right, who, faced with ever-decreasing options, rolled the ball through the legs of the latest Villa defender queueing up for a spot of ignominy.

At this point Kulusevski took up the reigns again, but simply to report this is a bit like saying “Kong took on Godzilla”, a statement which might accurately capture the identity of the protagonists but actually omits much of the eye-catching nature of the moment. For Kulusevski, for the benefit of latecomers, was the bod who helped Emerson get the ball rolling five seconds earlier down by his own corner flag – and yet here he was, sprinting ahead of Sonny as the most advanced man in the attack, in what could be considered an absolute triumph for the fitness staff.

Kulusevski then took the opportunity to leave on his rear yet another embarrassed defender, the air by this time becoming thick with them, before looking up to pick his pass. And it was at this point that, as mentioned above, one dropped to one’s knees and positively pleaded with someone of Hotspur persuasion to deliver a fitting finale.

As such it was good work on the part of the creative souls who script such things that Son should pop up to complete his hat-trick, en route repeating his earlier gag involving the inside of the post, for added aesthetic value.

3. Lloris

It should not be overlooked that such perfectly-choreographed happy endings would have been a lot less rampant if a few first half moments had fluttered to earth only slightly differently.

Villa having established straight off the bat that the contest was to be undertaken using bar-room brawl rules, augmented their output in more palatable fashion by the deployment of Coutinho in an array of pockets seemingly beyond the remit of any our heroes. The net result was a half composed entirely of a procession of Villa chances, coming so thick and fast that at times it appeared that several were happening simultaneously.

No doubt there are some vastly knowledgeable eggs out there who could take one look at that first half and diagnose precisely the causes of our difficulties. Here at AANP Towers however, we simply watched in horror, occasionally damning the lineage of all those involved, as possession was repeatedly lobbed back to Villa to encourage them to try again.

Naturally we could only peddle such rot for so long without someone making a useful intervention, so it was as well that Monsieur Lloris was keeping up with current affairs.

Now I don’t want to stretch things by suggesting that this one of those days on which he leapt around doing the impossible, extending the appropriate paw to angles that defied physics or faster than the naked eye could detect, or any other such eye-popping stuff. Lloris had a good game, but not one of those that has one querying whether some deity has taken possession of his frame.

There certainly were some decent interruptions on his part, notably the one from the young nib Ramsey, which seemed to require that our man extended his mitts upwards with all the express pace of someone rising towards the heavens after sitting on an upturned drawing pin.

By and large, however, Lloris occupied his time making saves the like of which one would expect from a fellow who has collected a World Cup doing such things. Villa sorts thumped the ball well within his orbit; he extended his frame and thumped the ball off in another direction. Why goalkeepers these days scorn the act of catching shots is rather beyond me, but the point is that he made a string of decent saves without which we’d have been in some bother.

He also plucked a couple of crosses from the heavens, which might not sound much but spared us some pretty awkward moments in toe-poke territory. In general, Lloris is a fellow who eyes with suspicion any plot of land more than two or three yards from his own goal line, and while this can, on occasion, prove quite the shortcoming, yesterday it turned out to be rather a handy quirk, as various of the crosses requiring attention seemed to have a flight path of near enough the goal-line.

And between Lloris’ first half necessaries, and the flawless whirring of our attacking cogs, this, like last week against Newcastle, evolved from something of a first-half struggle into an absolute second half canter. What with Woolwich’s comical implosions and our goal difference going through the roof, the whole business has become rather good fun again.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 5-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Doherty

Having spent the last couple of years drooping his frame and acting like the whole football lark is a new one on him, in the last few weeks Matt Doherty has ripped off the mask to reveal that all along he was actually one of the better right wing-backs around.

It therefore seemed pretty cruel to react to the absence of Reguilon and Sessegnon by shoving him in at left wing-back. I mean, really. He’s only just found his feet, and now we jab a finger at him and say, “But can you do it on the left-hand side?”

On top of which, the re-jig meant that Emerson Royal and his mobile clown show was the custodian on the right. Moving our one decent wing-back to an alien position, in order to accommodate an infinitely less competent wing-back, seemed rather knuckle-headed thinking to me. As our heroes lined up at kick-off, I chewed a pretty nervous lip.

As it turned out, the one Johnnie completely unflustered by all this behind-the-scenes complexity was Doherty himself. These days it seems he wakes up each morning convinced he’s some distant relative of Pele, and not giving too many damns which flank he’s asked to patrol.

It actually works to Doherty’s advantage that he’s not really one for whipping in crosses all day and night. As far as Doherty is concerned, a wing-back’s job is to make himself available at various points up the flank, and indeed further infield, popping short passes to chums who fizz around nearby.

‘Interplay’ seems to be the anthem on Doherty’s lips, with ‘Whipped Crosses’ coming a long way down his list. And this being the case, it doesn’t really matter if he’s on his weaker foot, because even the weakest limb going will not stop a man adopting useful positions and dabbing handy five-yard passes that keep attacks healthily ticking along.

Our opening goal (the Ben Davies header) was a case in point. Naturally, much has been made of Sonny’s whipped cross for that goal, but rewind a good minute or so, and the corner was earned after Sonny went on the gallop from circa halfway to circa the six-yard box; and (stay with me here) rewind a further ten seconds or so and, crucially, this gallop would not have happened but for a perfectly-weighted, first-time, half-volleyed cushioned pass from Doherty.

For context, immediately prior to this, Romero and Lloris had been rolling the ball left and right to no real purpose, before the latter punted it upfield in the general direction of Doherty. Until then our entire game had been characterised by the absence of quick, forward-thinking distribution. Doherty’s first-time pass to Son admittedly did not look like much at the time, but I’d suggest that it was precisely the sort of injection of urgency we’d been begging for.

Admittedly I suppose we could keep on rewinding indefinitely, and count our lucky stars that the game kicked off at all, but having kept a pretty beady eye on Doherty and his left-sided escapades I clocked this one with approval.

As if to hammer home the point that being right-footed is neither here nor there if you tick all the other left wing-back boxes, Doherty then popped up with a goal at the far post, which is the sort of good habit to be encouraged in any wing-back, and even followed it up with some jiggery-pokery to set up Emerson to clown-shoe in our third.

2. Romero

Young Master Romero continues to raise his performance level drastically with each game, which by my reckoning means that he should become the best defender in the history of the game by approximately Easter Sunday.

When the match was long won, a four-goal lead established that even our lot couldn’t have messed up, I derived some entertainment from watching that Saint Maximin fellow scuttle away and perform step-overs and whatnot, looking for all the world like he possessed eight legs rather than the designated two. It generally required three in lilywhite to crowd him out on such occasions – except, however, when Romero sized him up.

There was a marvellous thrill in watching Romero trot over, cut through the bluster and fly into a challenge that pretty emphatically took ownership of the ball, whilst also uprooting young S-M and sending him a few feet into the atmosphere.

Simply to close the chapter on that violent note would, however, be to do Romero a grave injustice. The rattling challenges constitute only approximately 50% of the sketch. As has been noted with awe in recent weeks, part of the fellow’s magnetism lies in the fact that he also uses the ball with such good sense.

Romero tends to look for something fresh and spring-like when delivering a pass, as if to send the ball on its way with a message that he isn’t simply idling away the hours but genuinely believes that that act might be the start of something magnificent.

Which is not to suggest that every pass he plays scythes open the opposition: that is more the domain of rotter-in-chief, Harry Kane. Much of the time Romero’s passes are pretty gentle beasts – but they seem to me to have two critical points of delight.

Firstly, they are almost always forward, looking to advance the play by shifting the narrative from Defence to Midfield. Only in extreme circumstances does Romero go in for the rather negative business of bunging it back to the goalkeeper.  And secondly, they are generally very specific in nature, plastered all over with the name and whereabouts of the recipient, as opposed to simply being hoicked up the line with a fair amount of meat, for an unholy scrap to ensue between opposing members of the supporting cast.

It says much about the chap that when the ball rests at his size nines, rather than letting my eyes glaze over and contemplating the infinite, I crane the neck with a goodish amount of fevered anticipation.

3. Kane

I’m not sure whether Kane determines such things by poring over the data or simply tossing a coin, but this was evidently a day on which he decided that he would be Creator rather than Finisher, and after going through the motions a bit in the first half – like everyone else in lilywhite – he duly rolled up his sleeves and became unplayable thereafter.

I did wonder quite what the Newcastle tactical bods did with their time in the lead-up to this game, because Kane’s ability to drop deep and spray the ball wherever he damn well pleases is hardly an innovation. But as often as not when he picked up the ball around halfway, the Newcastle mob seemed to think he could be left to his own devices without causing any damage, seemingly oblivious to his ability to pick out teammates from just about anywhere on the pitch.

As ever there was some dreamy stuff, and the only shame was that he couldn’t be on the other end of his own passes. But I suppose that would be asking rather a lot, even for him, so we had to make do with him having the absolute time of his life in that withdrawn sort of role, orchestrating things like nobody’s business. In fact, by the end of proceedings he was starting to deliver no-look flicks and pings, which really are the hallmark of a chappie in his absolute prime.

Moreover, those around him started to pick up the rhythm of the thing too, realising that if Kane were in possession around them then they had better upgrade their own personal outputs. Thus it happened that Kulusevski started his dashes before Kane had even received the ball, and Emerson Royal – who in truth, rarely takes much convincing that he is a far better player than he actually is – began unleashing back-heeled passes and whatnot whenever his path crossed with Kane.

Of course, being a rotter, it is unclear quite how much longer Kane will remain a member of this particular parish, but while we’ve got him we might as well marvel at him.

4. Bentancur

Far fewer column inches will be devoted to young Master Bentancur. This strikes me as something of an injustice, for if column inches were to be dished out for artistry alone then Bentancur ought to have entire volumes written about him, as he both glides around the place and then typically picks a dickens of a useful forward pass, to chivvy things along and have the attackers snapping to it.

Even in that slightly moribund first half, when our heroes seemed to think that every pass required a detailed dossier of pros and cons before execution, Bentancur had the presence of mind to give the dashed thing swiftly, a hint rather lost on his colleagues.

This might not have been a day on which Bentancur’s passing brought obvious rewards – in terms of leading to goals and near-misses and the like – but with an egg like him taking possession of the thing in the middle third, life feels a lot less worrisome than it otherwise might.  

While Hojbjerg alongside him had one of his better days, I nevertheless remain impatient for the return of Skipp, and the unleashing of a double-act that promises to blow up the skirts of all onlookers. I rather fancy that Skipp’s energy would complement Bentancur’s smooth amblings around the place, and the overall effect would be ultimately to overwhelm all-comers.

5. Conte’s Attacking Substitution

On a final note, I was mightily impressed with Our Glorious Leader’s decision, in the final knockings, to replace Emerson with Bergwijn, and switch from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 (terms I use loosely, given the fluidity of it all, but you get the gist). I was jolly surprised too, for the record, but mightily impressed nonetheless.

Lest we overlook the context, this change was made when we were already 4-1 up, so hardly the sort of situation that called for flinging on an extra attacking body. If anything, I would have expected the rather dispiriting if understandable sight of Davinson Sanchez tripping over his feet and into the fray, stage right, while Sonny or someone similarly attack-minded made the long walk around the perimeter.

Quite what the rationale was I cannot be sure, Conte still opting not to single out AANP for a quick tactical chat about this and that after the curtain falls. However, if the thinking was to press the foot on the accelerator and up the goal difference while opportunity knocked, then I think I might have to hastily rewrite the will and bequeath everything I own to this genius of a man.

It has long been a frustration of mine that when dishing out a hammering, and faced with an opponent desperately wanting to exit the premises and disappear up the motorway, rather than taking full advantage and peppering them with attack after remorseless attack as the clock winds down, our lot will too often stroke the ball around between themselves, as if content that their work is done. The concept of making a bit more hay while the sun is blazing down like the dickens appears lost on them.

All of which made the Emerson-Off-Bergwijn-On gambit yesterday even more pleasing. And you can probably picture AANP’s delight when the thing brought near-instant rewards, with Bergwijn bobbing along for his customary goal. As well as the entertainment value of dishing out a good thrashing, these things may also have some practical value come mid-May when the points are totted up. It was only a month ago that our goal difference was ten or so worse than the other lot; now we’re ahead by a nose. Long may the needless attacking substitutions continue.

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Spurs match reports

Burnley 1-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Classic Spurs

First things first: of course, none of what played out last night will have come as any surprise to anyone who’s ever put more than five minutes of their life into supporting Spurs.

Having put heart and soul into beating the league leaders – who’d only lost twice all season – on the Saturday, it was the most natural progression in the world for exactly the same Spurs eleven then to splutter like a dying engine three days later against a side near enough bottom, who’d only won twice all season, dash it. Barely a Tottenham fan of my acquaintance registered even a flicker of surprise at the sequence of events.

It had a grim but absolutely irresistible inevitability about it. Anything else would have been like those stories you hear of a butterfly flapping its wings in Germany and inadvertently setting off a volcano in Peru as a result. Upset the status quo and before you know it things are spiralling. For Spurs not to have lurched from glorious on Saturday to impotent last night would have set off some pretty catastrophic natural disaster elsewhere.

And not only was it inevitable we would lose, it was inevitable we would lose in precisely that fashion too. Being hounded in possession, toothless going forward and, of course, conceding a pretty avoidable header from a pretty unnecessary free-kick. All against the backdrop of rain that fancied laying it on thick for a night, and a gigantic Burnley striker off whom each of our lot bounced in turn.

The goal itself was one of those routines at which we might have had 57 centre-backs stationed in the area and still somehow have failed to prevent the critical header. It is difficult to close one’s eyes and imagine a world in which we do not concede precisely this goal to a team in the relegation zone.

Naturally, Monsieur Lloris took one look at the ball drifting into the six-yard box at eminently catchable height and made a swift and emphatic decision not to get involved, the whole concept of moving from his line being one which he has for around ten years now considered well beyond his remit.  

So, whereas the defeat against Southampton had me tearing clumps of hair from the scalp, and the nonsense against Wolves had me thumping the loaf against the nearest brick wall, last night’s elicited little more than a shrug absolutely loaded to the brim with resigned acceptance.

2. Conte’s Reaction

As mentioned, for those of us who make a habit of watching Spurs, this was all pretty familiar stuff. Not exactly the fare that sends us home with a cheery whistle on our lips, but at least we’ve all long known what we’re letting ourselves in for.

For poor old Antonio Conte however, this evidently landed pretty heavily. One does not need to have framed diplomas on the wall to know that he was taking it thick. It’s easy to forget when you’ve been watching our lot week in and week out for a lifetime, but sudden exposure to the madness of Tottenham Hotspur can be pretty damaging stuff, and a real-time example of it was playing out in the post-match sparring last night.

Now I’ve never actually seen a man still alive after having had his soul removed, but from the haunted, vacant look in his eyes I’d be willing to lay a few bob that such a fate had befallen Signor Conte last night. While on the one hand I wanted to lay a consoling hand on his shoulder, at the same time it seemed wiser to tiptoe quietly away and let whatever demons were tormenting him have five minutes, to see which way things would go.

And that was before he’d even opened his mouth. If his look, of a man well and truly broken by Spurs, were not already enough to have us  wondering if there were a professional on hand equipped to deal with this sort of thing, the words he came out with dashed well had us all dropping what we were doing and sprinting to our panic stations.

Obviously at the time this was the sort of stuff that had us goggling a bit, for although some of his speech patterns lacked perfect coherence, it did not require the keenest intelligence to pick up that here was a chap unhappy with his lot in life. More specifically, Conte seemed to be wondering out loud if the role of Master and Commander of the Good Ship Hotspur were really worth the monthly envelopes.

But sometimes the thing to do in life is take a step back, and just see how things land. Obviously, this is a mantra one would preferred our defence and goalkeeper not to have adopted around minute 71 last night, but drinking in Conte’s pearls of wisdom in front of the cameras each week, I start to get the sense that here’s a lad who might benefit from the deep-breath-and-count-to-ten approach.

So now, twenty-four hours on, I suspect that he’s probably surveying the world around him in more considered fashion. Maybe he looks back on last night with a certain sheepishness; maybe he doesn’t. But while various sub-plots might bubble away behind closed doors, any notion of him thrusting hands into pockets and mooching off, never to return, can, for now, probably be considered unlikely. I suspect we might all just have to get used to his airing of unedited, real-time sentiments – and he to the infuriating world of managing our lot.

3. On-Pitch Impotence

As to matters on the pitch, aside from the goal conceded the whole bally thing just had one gnawing at one’s arm in frustration. It was that sort of performance.

Taking things in their proper order, in the first half we struggled to keep heads above water. The worry here is two-fold, because for a start a side second from bottom ought not to be strangling the life out of us; and secondly this is hardly an isolated occurrence.

One can point to the weather, and the fact that Burnley had just won with a clean sheet days earlier, and the alignment of planets and so on and so forth – but really, there’s no excuse. This is a side that went into their appointment nineteenth in the league, and at this stage of the season that can hardly be laughed off as one of those unfortunate misunderstandings.

And as mentioned, in recent weeks several teams have hit upon the notion that if they just press our midfield sorts in turn, then soon enough the whole damn edifice will come crumbling down.

Bentancur has dropped the occasional hint that he is the type of bird who doesn’t mind where or how he receives the ball – it’s all the same to him, he’ll just bring the thing under his spell, drop a shoulder or two and roll it onwards without ceremony.

The rest of the midfield mob, however, view opposition pressure as one of those evils in life from which there is no escape and against which there is no cure. Hojbjerg, Winks and too many of our defenders appear all to malfunction if an opponent scuttles in too close by. Possession may be retained, but if so it is not done with any degree of comfort or control – and frankly half the time possession simply isn’t retained.

And in a way this general unease amongst our midfield when in contact with the ball wouldn’t really matter so much if our wing-backs could be relied upon as dependable sources of inspiration.

But Sessegnon continues to stare at his feet as if only recently bequeathed to him, and Royal remains impeccable in all areas of his work apart from attacking and defending. It was notable that the best right-sided cross of the night came when that rotter Harry Kane took it upon himself to demonstrate that as well as half a dozen other positions he may also be our best right wing-back.

With four defeats in five, a midfield that cannot create, wing-backs who cannot cross and a manager who appears one defensive clanger away from a complete breakdown, one might suggest that the outlook is not entirely sunshine and blue skies. Our next opponents, Leeds, have just shipped six, which I suppose some might view as a positive – but it is probably in the best interests of the club if someone has a word in Conte’s ear about how that particular narrative tends to pan out.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-2 Wolves: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris and Davies Setting the Tone

After the midweek debacle, what we all needed – apart from perhaps a bracing drink and a holiday in sunnier climes – was for the more experienced souls amongst our number to march to the centre of the stage and begin proceedings by announcing in no uncertain terms that this was an afternoon for clear thinking and sensible decision-making.

Unfortunately, as seems to happen around these parts, somewhere between the changing room and the pitch such wholesome principles were discarded as far too bland, replaced by motives far more eye-catching, if dubious. By the time the game kicked off our lot seemed convinced that this was the day for playing fast and loose with the finer points of the sport, and simply went about the place lobbing in whatever madcap scheme struck them, with zero consideration for consequences.

Monsieur Lloris, the sort of oeuf on whom one would normally bet a healthy chunk of the mortgage on doing the sensible thing, set the tone with their opener, by deciding that today was as good as any to dispense with the safety-first approach to goalkeeping.  

This is not to excuse from blame those around him of course, for just about everyone (bar perhaps Kane) lent their full support to the drive not only to usher Wolves in at their leisure, but to do so in the manner that gave best expression to visual comedy. So when the first Wolves chappie steadied himself to shoot goalwards in the build-up to their opener, rather than wave a deterring limb at him, those in lilywhite simply stood aside and urged him on.

To his credit Lloris at least had the decency to leap hither and thither repelling the initial attempts, safe in the knowledge that none of his teammates were inclined to interrupt with any preventative measures. But when the opportunity finally presented itself for him simply to catch the ball gently lobbed towards him, he unveiled the sort of needless mid-air flap that seemed better suited to interpretative dance than the rigours of penalty area necessaries.


Not content with gifting Wolves their opener thusly, Lloris then took it upon himself to set in train the slapstick sequence for their second. He picked the most unlikely method to do so too, as if to demonstrate that here within the confines of N17, no situation, no matter how harmless and child-proof, is exempt from buffoonery. His method of choice was to take the simple five-yard pass and turn it into a construction fraught with danger, utterly wrong-footing Ben Davies by thumping it towards the by-line, a radical alternative to the conventional approach of rolling gently it to his feet.

Davies, by this point, needed no further invitation to muscle in on the slapstick. He was, after all, fresh from losing a battle with his own feet against Southampton, which had resulted in him collapsing in a heap when the easier option was to effect a clearance, thereby allowing our midweek visitors their first goal.

Today therefore, for him simply to resume where he had left off was the work of a moment. As options abounded for quelling the danger – conceding a corner, finding row z, hoicking the thing towards the heavens – Davies cunningly whipped the ball back into play and straight at a Wolves sort.

And inspired by the lunacy of these esteemed figures, those all around them in our back-line scrambled to get in on the act, skidding on the surface and bungling their clearances until a Wolves bod almost apologetically put an end to the routine by dabbing the ball home.

That our visitors did not score a third was something of a curiosity, and not for lack of further cluelessness amongst the principals in lilywhite. While I thought Romero could again be excused from too much blame, alongside him young Sanchez continued to make a drama out of any of the most mundane situations imaginable; while the midfield pair seemed to make a joint, executive decision that they would keep their interference to a minimum and leave the defence to sort out their own troubles.

2. The Early Substitution

Having seen his plan for settling into the match in calm and sensible fashion merrily torn to shreds by his troops, Our Glorious Leader understandably enough went for the nuclear option, and after twenty-five minutes simply closed his eyes and stuck a finger blindly at a different formation on his iPad.

I must confess to emitting a sigh of some disappointment at this. Admittedly a sigh of disappointment was a pretty different response from the disbelieving curses that had been flowing freely in the preceding moments, but nevertheless, trusting sort that I am, at kick-off I had rather been looking forward to seeing this line-up.

For a start I had welcomed the opportunity to watch Doherty fill the size nines of Emerson Royal, but more on that below.

Bentancur for Hojbjerg was also a selection that met with approval. Bentancur had spent the first ten seconds or so of his league debut midweek convincing us that he was our best signing ever, when he followed one nifty drag-back with a mightily impressive forty-yard diagonal.

As such I was determined to greet his every touch with the sort of parental pride you find in a lioness gazing adoringly upon a cherished cub. And to his credit, he does have pretty slick technique, which he was quite happily to showcase as being superior to most of those around him. A handy sort of egg then, but a midfield enforcer – of the ilk we rather crave – he is not. Nor is he two people, and while he can hardly be blamed for this, it proved nevertheless a drawback in the early stages, as he and Winks were comfortably outnumbered in the centre.

Conte’s attempt to remedy this numerical conundrum was to hook poor old Sessegnon, shove Kulusevski into midfield and rearrange the deck-chairs into a 4-3-3.

Sessegnon has achieved impressive feat of having me feel both sympathy and exasperation in perfect concurrence. On the one hand, I get the impression that if a piano were to fall from the sky, the fates would conspire for Sessegnon to set off on a stroll in the exact spot it hit the earth, such is the sort of luck he attracts.

On the other hand, he currently tiptoes around the place looking like a lad who has never laced a pair of boots before, and is aware that he is about to be found out. He can hardly be singled out for blame for his twenty minutes today – Lloris and Davies were worse – but of the high-flying youngster signed a few moons back there is currently not a whiff.

As mentioned, Sessegnon’s removal brought Kulusevski bounding into frame. He seems a harmless sort of fellow, and adds some squad depth, which was evidently an itch that Conte wanted scratching. But if the question is whether we have brought in someone who can improve our First XI, Kulusevski seems at first glance not to be the answer. However, at that price, and in that window, I suspect we all already knew that.

3. Doherty

As mentioned, being the wide-eyed, gullible sort, I had greeted with enthusiasm the news that Doherty was to be entrusted with RWB duties. Admittedly this reaction was principally based upon the manner in which Emerson Royal’s performances in that position have sucked so much of my very being from my soul. Nevertheless, if pressed I could also point to Doherty’s second half against Leicester a few weeks back as a pointer that the chap might know his way about the right flank.

Alas, to say that Doherty did nor really cover himself in glory is to understate things. Remarkably, he managed to achieve the feat of looking like a poor version of Emerson (stay with me here). While Emerson does little more defensively than stand and wave as opponents waltz past him, and while history has yet to record him delivering a cross worthy of the name, he does at least have the decency to run into appropriate attacking positions when we are on the front-foot. Things may fall to pieces swiftly afterwards, but he gets that much right. Today, as well as being defensively average, Doherty could not even muster the courage to station himself in the final third.

There is a mitigating circumstance I suppose, for the switch to a back-four meant that Doherty’s wing-back slot faded out of existence, and he became a more conventional right-back. Charitably, one might suggest that we would need to see Doherty given a full 90 minutes at wing-back – and more than once – to get a sense of whether he has either the interest or grey cells for the role.

But today, even before the tactical switch neutered him, he seemed pretty reluctant to set foot over halfway, and oddly overwhelmed by events every time he touched the ball. This is not to cast him as the villain of the piece – most around him were similarly impotent. It was just rather a let-down. Conte-ball does, after all, depend rather heavily on a pair of wing-backs who bristle with life and brio.

4. Winks

Young Winks is a peculiar fish. One cannot fault his willing. Even the most casual and uninterested observer would be struck by his determination to do things right and, rather tellingly, make amends for the mistake he has just executed. He has much about him of the over-excited puppy, simply pleased to be there.

But by golly he makes a lot of mistakes. We should be grateful, I suppose, that in his present incarnation, under Conte, Winks v3.0 is pretty open to the notion of The Forward Pass, for so long a manoeuvre shrouded in mystery to him. And I ought therefore to cut him some slack when he gives away possession in the name of attempting something progressive – for I have not forgotten the days of yowling at him at least to try going forward, rather than forever spinning southwards.

But at the same time, for a chap who built his reputation upon passing of the neat-and-tidy variety he does seem to fudge a lot of that bread-and-butter stuff. On top of which, one can add “Caught In Possession” and “Failing To Close Down Shots” to his rap-sheet.

I do wonder whether a lot of the individual errors in midfield would be removed by adopting a midfield three, as vs Leicester and Liverpool in recent weeks, but that might be a debate for a different day. On the other hand, one might argue with some justification that we did indeed have a midfield three today, and a fat lot of good it did us. Either way, the suspicion lingers that that midfield area needs more than just cosmetic surgery.

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Spurs news, rants

Spurs’ January Transfer Window: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dele

AANP has traditionally been one to greet bad news with a stiffening of the upper lip and, if pushed, a solemn, unspoken nod at a nearby chum who feels similarly. And rarely has the upper lip been stiffer in recent times than upon learning of the departure of young Dele.

Utterly inevitable of course. The young bean had long ago fizzled out, and generally only popped up in lilywhite in recent years to drift along in his own little world before another month or two on the bench. If any other wag did what he’s been doing – slowing down the game, hogging the ball, moodily waving the arms and giving up the cause when dispossessed – the knives would have been out and pitchforks flung in his direction a long time ago.

By the time the bitter end swung around Dele offered purely decorative value. We’d spot him pre-match, forlornly nutmegging his fellow subs during the warm-up, but thereafter his biggest contribution tended to be in unwrapping a blanket for his legs as he watched on from the bench. If ever a former bright young thing needed a change of scenery, it is Dele. One does not disagree with the unceremonious binning.

Quite why it all went wrong is a rummy one. Dele’s problem seemed ultimately to be an existential one, in that his favoured No. 10 position simply ceased to exist. Disappeared into the ether. This must have been pretty tough for the chap to take, essentially turning up to work to find that his desk had been removed, but I suppose time – and systems involving one central striker and two inverted wingers – wait for no man.

Within Conte’s 3-4-3, there is no room for a midfielder who yearns deep inside to be a forward. Conte’s midfielders must midfield first, and ghost into the opposition area only on special occasions.

(Admittedly the 3-5-2 set-up, which brought something like the best out of Dele vs Liverpool a few weeks back, suggested that there might be life in the old dog yet, and I confess to being a mite surprised that this experiment was not repeated, but Conte presumably had seen enough.)

So off he has popped – and yet it does lower the mood about the place, what? Peak Dele was, if not necessarily the heartbeat, then certainly one of the essential organs of the whole glorious-without-actually-bringing-home-any-specific-glory Poch era.

This is not so much for what he did (although the list is plentiful and glorious: popping up as young scamps will do, with goals against Real, and Arse, and Chelsea; demonstrating some quite glorious touches to pluck falling footballs from the sky; grinning cheekily while kicking out slyly; contorting thumb and forefinger; and so on).

It’s as much for what the very presence of the chap said about our last fun adventure: Poch-era Tottenham. Here was a brash young bounder who oozed talent and positively revelled in flicking the ears of shinier opponents. Think of him in his bursting-from-midfield pomp, and it’s hard not to think of that all-singing, all-dancing team of nearly-men who had an absolute blast and took us to within a whisker of pots of various sizes.

And by a similar token, removing Dele in effect dismantles more of that Poch machinery, leaving behind just the top and tail of the thing.

“Here’s Dele Alli… here’s Lucas Moura… OH THEY’VE DONE IT!

2. Ndombele and Lo Celso

Tottenham Hotspur is, of course, where talented foreign footballers go to die, so we probably should not be too surprised that having looked like the sort of beans around whom Title-challenging teams could be built in their YouTube compilations and international performances, Ndombele and Lo Celso are now being bundled out of the nearest exit.

Dashed shame though. One didn’t need to boast the keenest football eye to detect that each of the aforementioned were capable of some pretty ripping stuff with a ball at their feet – and I rather fancy that they’ll do more of the same in sunnier climes in the months and years to come, when bedecked in anything but lilywhite.

And yet, present them with the lush greenery of N17 and the pair of them struggled to remember what game they were playing.

Actually, I do Ndombele a disservice there. The chap’s great flaw was not his touch, or delivery, or any such thing. The main challenge Ndombele seemed to encounter any time he finished tying his laces was that after one quick trot around the pitch he seemed to need a full week to recover, gasping for air, his lungs aflame and legs as jelly.

If inclined one could probably write a long-ish essay on what went wrong and what might have been a bit right-er about Ndombele’s time at Spurs. There were moments when he would receive the ball in the narrowest of corners, boxed in by a variety of opposing limbs, and still mesmerically emerge from said dead-end with ball at feet and opponents dizzied. Sometimes he would even throw in end-product too, a delightfully-weighted pass or a shot from the edge of the area.

Ultimately, however, neither he nor Lo Celso seemed remotely cut out for a life in the heart of the Tottenham midfield. Lo Celso in particular seemed to make a habit, in recent months, of doing small things with great error, be it a simple pass to tick along the midfield or a corner to beat the first man.

Perhaps if any of the umpteen managers who oversaw them had seen fit to take either of these two souls, stick them slap-bang in the heart of things and construct a team around them, their talents might have blazed forth and all would have been right with the world.

But it is telling that none of those managers did. Sometimes no words need uttering, and these appears to be those times. A knowing nod, and tap of the nose speaks volumes. “Ndombele and Lo Celso”, one manager after another seems to have been saying, without actually saying, “not the sort of eggs upon whom one can rely.” And if an egg can’t be relied upon in midfield, there’s not much left for them other than the scraps of substitute appearances and an occasional Europa start.

3. Bryan Gil

There are loans and then there are loans, and while Ndombele and Lo Celso’s loans seem to carry with them a rather unsubtle message that if they want to stick around in their new homes then it’s fine by all back at HQ, the loan of Bryan Gil has more of the bona fide have-him-for-a-bit-but-then-return-him about it.

The view at AANP Towers is pretty unimpressed about this one, from start to finish. One probably should let bygones be bygones and whatnot, but I still chafe a bit at the thought that we traded in one perfectly serviceable Lamela – plus £20m, dash it – for this Gil character.

Not Gil’s fault of course, he can do little more than turn up where told, at the appointed hour and with hair combed just so. But the logic behind the whole trade-off to this day has me scratching the old loaf. I should probably revisit the whole script in a few years’ time, when Gil has discovered the joys of steak lunches and bench presses, but for now he is a boy in a man’s world if ever there were one.

The loan at least means he can get his size fives in contact with a ball again, so silver linings and all that. More terrifyingly, in conjunction with the paperwork on Dele, Ndombele and Lo Celso, it leaves the creative cupboard pretty bare – but this is presumably a contingency for which Our Glorious Leader has planned.

4. Bentancur and Kulusevski

As ever, if you want a detailed analysis of these fellows’ strengths, weaknesses, preferences and whatnot then you are in a laughably bad spot of the interweb, but do stick around anyway.

AANP can be pretty sharp at times, and having seen Conte get rid of three creative central midfield types, and summon Bentancur – yet another of those fellows whose idea of a good time is rolling up their sleeves, scrapping for the ball and then shoving it sideways – I get the impression that Our Glorious Leader has a type.

As such this means another seat will be needed around the Central Midfield campfire, next time Messrs Hojbjerg, Skipp and Winks gather to chew the fat. Whether Bentancur proves to be any improvement on current produce remains to be seen, but he is another pair of legs for that midfield slot, so this can be considered a good week for anyone who has ever taken a look at our squad and tearfully warbled about its depth.

As for Kulusevski, this is apparently a chap fitted out for life in the more advanced positions, either coming in from the right or, intriguingly, straight through the centre (albeit as a supporting act rather than line-leading sort).

It would be a bit of a stretch therefore to suggest that in him we have that much-needed back-up to Harry Kane, but I think the gist is that he can be shoved into any of the attacking spots and expected to know his way around the premises.

As ever, one wishes him the best, and patience will be the watch-word, and so on and so forth – but having witnessed Lamela, Lucas, Bergwijn and Gil all try their luck in these wide-ish attacking positions, my enthusiasm for another off the production line is a little muted.

5. Non-Purchases

The failed attempts to snaffle Traore and Luis Diaz, while rather embarrassing, seem hardly calamitous.

The Traore affair struck me as good for a chuckle rather than having any obvious, analytical merit. Here was a chap who in the first place was undoubtedly muscular, and seemed nigh on unstoppable whenever he played against us. So far so good, one might suggest.

Get down to the nitty-gritty however, and a few plot-holes seemed to emerge. For all his muscles and love of a direct approach to attacking life, his end-product seemed pretty wild – and having sat through half a season of Emerson Royal’s struggles to deliver just one adequate cross from the right, I’m not sure Traore and his blast-it-anywhere approach is quite the remedy we’re after.

Moreover, the fellow is not a defender, and while Conte has some history of alchemy in this respect (Exhibit A, Victor Moses), the whole thing leaves me pretty sanguine about missing out on him.

As for Diaz, my Porto-dwelling chum Hawth has for some time been raving about the fellow’s attributes, and it is not hard to see why, so this one does rankle a tad. Even here though, the blow is softened considerably by the fact that Diaz earns his weekly wage in exactly the same position as one Son Heung-Min Esquire. So while the ignominy of rejection is again hard to swallow, this particular plot-twist did not exactly leave us any worse off than a month prior.

More of a frustration at AANP Towers is the passing of yet another transfer window without a sniff of a worthy understudy to that rotter Harry Kane. Lovely though it is to see Kane returning to his finest fettle in recent weeks, we are yet again left hoping that he navigates the remainder of the season without injury. Sonny, Bergwijn or potentially the new chap Kulusevski could all theoretically deputise on the odd occasion, but lose Kane for, say, six weeks or so and the panic button will be slammed with some gusto.

The failure to bring in another right wing-back is similarly being declared a mis-step by some sages, but in truth I’m rather encouraged by the 45-minute cameo of Matt Doherty against Leicester a few weeks back, so would be all for the chap being given a further stab at the gig, if only to keep Emerson Royal off stage.

6. Lloris

Perhaps the greatest triumph of the window, however, was the retention for the foreseeable future of Monsieur Lloris. It seemed a little bizarre that we even reached the stage that he was free to bat eyelids at other suitors, but Grandmaster Levy and chums move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform, and the moral of the story is that the chap remains ours for a couple more years, so it’s back-slaps and cigars all round.

While Lloris’ standards have taken a few notable wobbles in recent years, this season he has come out swinging, and our lot have looked all the better for it. Nobody is perfect of course, and I still wonder for example whether he might have waved a paw at that Chelsea opener from Ziyech in our last game – but one only has to cast the mind back to Gollini’s bizarre flap against Chelsea a few weeks earlier to realise how grateful we should be that Lloris is prepared to ride off into the sunset with AIA tattooed across his gut.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

The lot of the goalkeeper is a pretty dreary and thankless one. Make a mistake and their reputation is up in flames; but do all that is asked of them and more, and come the end of the game they’ll still look up to see that the chap being hoisted on shoulders and having their name shouted into the night sky is the middling striker who spent most of the game dribbling into trouble and failing to hold up the ball.

And last night seemed a good case in point. I thought Monsieur Lloris was near enough faultless in just about every respect, but when I donned the robe and scanned the morning papers, the headlines led me to believe that this was a single-handed Bergwijn success. For all the coverage given to the goalkeeping, the uninformed amongst us might have inferred that this was one of those cup ties in which one from the conveyor belt of unremarkable reserves was shoved between the sticks.

If I have had a criticism of Lloris over the years it is that, while his shot-stopping is right up there with the best of them, when it comes to ambling forward from his line to wave his limbs and do decisive things – command the area, collect crosses and so forth – the venerable fellow’s powers seem not so much to wane as to fall off a cliff and disappear.

Yesterday, however, Lloris set about his business as if personally piqued by such stinging criticism, and determined to address it in no uncertain terms. Limited in imagination though West Ham may have been in the first half, they executed pretty well their tactic of relentlessly swinging in crosses and set-pieces. The effect was to spoon huge dollops of confusion all over our penalty area. In short, it was the sort of situation that called for a goalkeeper to roll up his sleeves, sharpen his elbows, wade through all-comers and take charge of events.

And where previously I’ve felt that Lloris has been all too easily bullied into the background in such situations, yesterday he flung himself into the midst of them like a slightly too well-oiled Englishman abroad. He grabbed and/or punched whenever the situation required, and, in particularly extreme circumstances, back-pedalled like the dickens to arch his back and fingertip the ball away from peril.

The furniture was rearranged a tad in the second half, when our heroes followed a worryingly Jose-esque strategy of sitting back and looking to hit on the counter (although to the extent that this generally reduced West Ham to little more than hopeful pops from the edge of the area, I suppose one could argue that it worked. It did few favours for the heart-rate, mind – we are most decidedly not a team built to defend a narrow lead).

The crosses were a little less threatening and majority of shots were straight at Lloris, but on the one occasion when a ball over the top seemed to out-fox our centre-backs, Lloris had the presence of mind to gallop off his line – again, a quality he has not typically demonstrated to have been in his armoury in recent years – and crisis was averted.

It has not gone unnoticed that the fellow’s contract is up next summer, and there has not been a whisper to date around the camp-fire about it being extended, which seems something of an oversight. However, Conte seems the sort of fellow who knows his eggs, so I would imagine that some sort of plan is being hatched to address this eventuality.

2. Bergwijn

As mentioned, many of the column inches were dedicated to young Master Bergwijn, and this is understandable enough, as we live in an era in which the principal currency is Goals and Assists. (A shame, for such statistics do little justice to the talents of deep-lying creative sorts like Carrick and Modric, but that’s a debate for another day).

Bergwijn began his game in exactly the manner one would expect of someone restored to the team for the first time in an age, and with the expectant eyes of the better half of North London focused upon him. He beavered willingly but nervously, and, with each unsuccessful dribble and charged down shot, seemed to be learning on the hoof one of life’s critical lessons, that things don’t really go according to plan.

However, when, around half an hour later, things did click for him, they did so pretty spectacularly. In the first place, he might want to send a particularly fruity Christmas present the way of Hojbjerg Towers. The Dane’s sprightliness to burst into the area, followed by his presence of mind to cut the ball back, were markedly more impressive than much that had gone before, and presented Bergwijn with about as straightforward a chance as one could hope for on one’s return to the fold.

And buoyed by this sudden turn of events, Bergwijn took it upon himself to turn temporarily into Lionel Messi, wriggling around opponents in the area before teeing up Lucas (who himself might consider his goal a neat reward for that glorious pass into Kane in the early exchanges).

While Bergwijn did not necessarily thereafter replicate such heady success, he did at least look a dashed sight more comfortable in his role, joining in the slick, half-turn counter-attacking interplay with gay aplomb, and generally giving the impression of one who, as required, would probably do an adequate job of deputising for either of Messrs Son or Lucas in a 3-4-3.

A success then, and I would also highlight that this practice, of making two changes to core personnel, whilst maintaining the spine who know each other’s’ games, seems a much better way of executing squad rotation than changing eight or nine at once and expecting them immediately to gel.

3. Doherty

The rarely-sighted Matt Doherty was the other key change, and it’s probably fair to say that his evening did not quite reach the heights achieved by Bergwijn.

Which is not to fault his willing. In fact, Doherty’s performance had much in common with the early knockings of the Dutchman, being similarly full of enthusiasm, coloured somewhat by nerves and generally resulting in things not quite going according to plan.

To his credit, Doherty seemed to follow instructions positionally. He happily provided attacking width and offered himself as an option on the right, whilst also having the energy to scuttle back when the defensive klaxon sounded.

It was just a slight shame that, to put it bluntly, his crossing wasn’t up to much. It was actually rather an eye-catching curiosity that most of his crosses seemed to be dragged back behind the waiting queue of penalty area snafflers, rather than whipped into their path. Needless to say, from the comfort of my viewing perch, I have never misplaced a cross so egregiously.

However, while his output might have been better, he at least adhered to the plan, and could hardly be accused of dereliction of duties. I would be interested to see how he might perform given a run of games, because there is little about Emerson Royal to suggest that the right wing-back slot is closed for business. And as Walker & Rose – and indeed Trent & Robertson – have shown, a cracking pair of wing-backs can absolutely transform a side.

4. Dier

Having been singled out by Our Glorious Leader a day earlier as having the potential to become the ‘best in the world’ in his position – a suggestion I can only presume was intended as motivational hyperbole rather than factual prediction – Eric Dier wasted little time in correcting any such wild and fanciful notions by reminding us all of some of the flaws in his DNA.

Now before I assassinate the chap’s character, I am happy to admit that his performances in recent weeks have been amongst the brightest of the whole troupe, in terms of positioning, organisation, concentration and distribution. Moreover, the limitations of his that have previously driven me to distraction (principally his lack of pace and late, lunging challenges) are well compensated for by the switch to the back-three.

Yesterday, however, he made rather a pig’s ear of things, in his role in the West Ham goal. In the first place, his pass out of defence was dreadful, and put us in one heck of a pickle. I can only imagine he was aiming for Kane, up near the halfway line, but to attempt this pass from within his six-yard box and along the ground was a risky idea at best, and the execution pretty ghastly.

All of which is a shame, because in general his long passing from the back has been a real asset in recent weeks, adding a useful string to our attacking bow.

However, such things happen. It was then all the more unfortunate that in attempting to rectify the situation by blocking Bowen’s shot, Dier lunged off into a different postcode as the ball was flicked from left foot to right. In fairness, I don’t really blame Dier for this, as it made sense for him to spread his limbs and attempt as wide a block as possible. It just looked rather silly.

Thereafter – and, in fact, beforehand – he seemed to do all that was required of him. In the first half he was in the midst of the aerial carnage, and in the second he played his part in restricting West Ham to the more speculative stuff from the edge of the area, and then extending the necessary appendages to block said stuff. Talk of being the world’s best does still make raise an AANP eyebrow or three, and as a unit the back-three still strike me as slightly cumbersome, but they withstood the pressure last night, and Dier’s latest renaissance continues to inch along.

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Spurs match reports

Everton 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. One-Touch Passing! Huzzah!

I haven’t paid too much attention to fan sentiment this weekend, domestic life being what it is, but I imagine that the internet has been creaking under the weight of Spurs fans chuntering like nobody’s business about our lack of shots on target. One might quibble that this is a tad rich, given that Lo Celso came within a cat’s whisker of scoring yesterday rather than hitting the base of a post – but the fact remains that we haven’t had a shot on target in an age, and the broader point is a strong one, that we lack a spot of thrust in the business area of the pitch.

Yet despite this, the mood at AANP Towers yesterday on watching the spectacle unfold, was decidedly bobbish, and I’ll tell you why. “Never mind that we haven’t created a chance worthy of the name,” was pretty much the chorus around these parts, “just look at how slick our passing game has become as we traverse from south to north!”

I appreciate the counter-argument would doubtless be along the lines that all the slick passing games in the world aren’t worth a dam if nobody at the business end is drawing back his arrow and letting rip – but I maintain, my spirits were buoyed immensely by the sight.

The reason being that for what seems like an absolute eternity – specifically ever since the arrival of Jose, however many moons ago – our passing, particularly from the back, seems to have degenerated into a stodgy mess in which nothing happens, but in an endless cycle of repetition. Close your eyes and I’m sure you can picture the scene as sharply as if it were happening again in front of you. It was chiefly characterised by each party taking turns to dwell on the ball around the halfway line, pivot one way, then another, waggle the arms rather pleadingly at those nearby – before passing sideways or backwards, for the exercise to begin again with a new principal.

Yesterday, however, whether by dint of the new formation or the new manager, the directive seemed to be for someone in defence to sneak a cheeky angled pass between the lines into midfield, at which point everybody involved donned their one-touch-outside-of-the-boot passing shoes, and within a blink or two the ball was being zipped over halfway and towards the final third.

Given the slow and turgid guff that had previously been peddled, incessantly, this was an absolute pleasure to behold.

Nor was it an isolated incident. Whenever we nicked possession from Everton, particularly when they were on the attack and hovering by our penalty area, a switch appeared to be flicked and everyone in lilywhite adopted one-touch mode, the aim of the exercise being to get up the pitch at a rate of knots, using no more than one touch each to get over halfway.

Now while it would obviously have been pretty spiffing stuff to have rounded off all this slick build-up play with a clear-cut chance or two – or even, dare I suggest, a goal – I’m inclined to think that playing this progressive way will inevitably lead to opportunities before long. Until that happens, I would qualify myself as moderately happy to watch our lot zip the ball around in such appealing one-touch fashion.

2. Passing Out From the Back

A related, if less inspiring, feature of Conte-ball has been the ongoing determination of our heroes to pass out from the back. “Nothing novel about that,” you might chide, and with some justification, but the Conte version of passing from the back involves doing so amongst a back-three rather than back-four, as well as wing-backs, goalkeeper, central midfielders and even occasionally Lucas all popping their heads in to lend assistance.

Whereas trying to pass out from the back within a back-four always seemed to have much of the Skin-Of-The-Teeth about it, somehow passing out from the back via the back-three and various supporting cast members comes across as a much more manageable operation – even if the protagonists are eminently capable of over-elaborating and gifting the ball to the opposition right outside our penalty area (witness Lucas in midweek ahead of Vitesse’s second goal).

To spell the thing out, within this formation the man in possession seems always to have more options when picking his next move, as opposed to those attempts of yesteryear within a back-four.

I suppose this approach is assisted to an extent by the fact that each of the aforementioned back-three (Davies, Dier, Romero) are, at least according to the official literature on the side of the tin, vaguely comfortable in possession (where ‘vaguely comfortable in possession’ could be contrasted with Davinson Sanchez levels of anxiety in possession that lead to him visibly panicking before either passing backwards or blasting the ball into no man’s land).

To be clear, however, this is not an element of our play that remotely excites me, unlike the one-touch stuff described above. This is merely an observation. It neither thrills nor devastates me; it merely happens, and I observe it. Done correctly and it can lead to the one-touch stuff, causing me to sit bolt upright and rub my hands with glee; but of itself it does little more than mark the passage of time.

3. Ben Davies

Inspired by his jaunt into the opposition penalty area to set up a goal in midweek, bang average Ben Davies yesterday seemed particularly keen to hammer home the point that that was not simply a one-off event, but an attraction that we might all become accustomed to seeing.

It makes for an interesting, additional tactical quirk. One would hardly say it is pivotal to our approach-play, nor does it define Conte-ball, but Davies’ sallies into the final third now seem to occur often enough to be classified as officially part of The Masterplan, rather than simply the whim of someone devastatingly unspectacular in everything he does.

And to his credit, and indeed to the credit of whichever member of The Brains Trust concocted this ruse, it adds some moderate benefits. With Reguilon hugging the touchline, and Son as inclined to cut infield, the presence of another left-footer lends – well, I hesitate to use the word ‘threat’, because I’m not sure Ben Davies could ever be described as ‘threatening’, but when he wanders upfield, waving his arms and definitely being present it presumably gives opposing defenders an extra bullet point on their To-Do lists.

4. Lloris

A complimentary mot or two seem due to Monsieur Lloris, not least because he is vaguely topical, after the VAR penalty call.

Starting with that penalty call, it was pretty uncontroversially correct, and really ought not to have escalated to the extent that it did. First glance, and the change in direction of the ball, was enough to indicate that Lloris must have stuck a paw on it. I’m a little surprised that the referee did not pick up on this basic principle of physics himself, but justice was done and life pootled on. Lloris can be commended for timing this intervention particularly well.

But more than this, I was rather intrigued, and gently impressed, by the way in which he dealt with Everton’s first half tactic of bunting the ball into orbit and letting the wind swirl it around a bit.

Nobody likes a gust of wind. It can’t be seen, arrives without warning and generally makes a mess of things, or at least threatens to do so. And for clarity, I’m not talking about a gentle breeze that tickles the chin; I refer to full-on gusts.

Everton cunningly decided to use these gusts to their advantage yesterday, by tossing the ball over the top of our centre-backs and chasing. The result was that what would ordinarily have been tucked neatly into the back-pocket without a second thought suddenly became a vaguely mesmeric battle with the elements, as Dier and Romero washed their hands of all responsibility, leaving it to Lloris to come charging forward to resolve things as efficiently as circumstances allowed.

Not the most dramatic stuff one will ever see, admittedly, but I thought he handled these potentially awkward spots extremely efficiently. Credit to him for his starting position, awareness to gallop forward and then presence of mind to head the ball clear each time it became clear that the wind would prevent it from sailing safely into the area.

All of which is really a polite way of apologising to the chap for omitting to praise – or even mention – him for his impressive performance vs Vitesse last week. I’ve been rather surprised to read of our supposed interest in potential replacement keepers for next season, given that he is looking as sharp for us as he has ever done. His clean sheet yesterday seemed a fitting reward for his week’s efforts.

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Spurs match reports

West Ham 1-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane

Thoughts to follow on the grander scheme of things, but any self-respecting mob will want to follow the scent of blood before they do anything else, so logic dictates that we grab the nearest flaming club and brandish it at the scoundrel chiefly responsible for the game’s deciding moment.

When that corner came in for Antonio’s goal, one could attest, I suppose, in purely physical terms, that Harry Kane was indeed present and in situ, socks pulled up and hair neatly combed. For some onlookers, of a more traditional bent, this might have been sufficient. But what this utter ass did not seem to compute was that simply to stroll back into the area for the corner, confirm his attendance and consider his work thereby done for that particular episode was a dereliction of duty that bordered on disgraceful.

If Antonio had the presence of mind to stick out a pedal as the ball flew across him, why the blazes didn’t Kane do likewise? Had it been up the other end, I’m willing to bet a decent chunk of the mortgage that in his quest for personal glory Kane would have happily enough elbowed out of the way anyone in his path to make sure he was first in line. So when defending, simply to stand observe as Antonio waggled the necessary limb was enough to make me absolutely bellow in fury.

Now this egregious oversight might have been excused if it had been the only blot on the Kane escutcheon today. Instead, for shame, it pretty much summed up the rotter’s entire abysmal performance. Barely a pass of his seemed to find his mark; several moves that threatened to stir into life broke down when the ball reached his feet; and when at 0-0 an opportunity arose to square the ball for a Son tap-in he misjudged the geometry pretty poorly.

One might claim that the whole display from him was unusually neutered, but, depressingly, there was nothing particularly unusual about it. Ever since throwing his toys from the pram after not getting what he wanted in the summer, this supposed model professional has largely gone through the motions. As Monsieur Lloris himself has been quick to point out, our lot lack leaders on the pitch at present, and it would be reasonable to expect Kane to be foremost in this respect. Instead, he barely seems to show even personal pride in his performances.

2. Tactics

One might argue that it is rather harsh to castigate the chap so, simply for a lack of mettle when defending a corner, but in a game of fine margins such moments make all the difference. And make no mistake, in this game the margins were wafer-fine.

Personally, I do not subscribe quite so heavily to the view that we were toothless and impotent throughout. While hardly the sort of game in which defences were merrily ripped asunder every thirty seconds, our lot did nevertheless create a handful of chances at 0-0 that, with a little more care, ought to have seen us in front. As mentioned above, Kane had the chance to square to Sonny; Ndombele had a near identical opportunity to square one for Kane; and when a pass was squared from the left for a Skipp tap-in, the baton-exchange was not quite what it ought to have been, and the ball went abaft instead of ahead of the man, which rather shot down the opportunity in its prime.

One understood the irate howls for as higher tempo as our lot carefully poked the ball sideways around halfway, as it hardly gave the impression of lung-busting urgency, but again I was inclined to bend a sympathetic ear to the players on this point. This was chiefly because West Ham did not seem to push anyone forward to press, but simply held their defensive positions, from front to back. As such, space in which to make mischief was at something of a premium. When the AANP voice-box did emit a grumble or two was on the rare occasions that a West Ham nib did fly out of position – as instead of haring away to take advantage of the vacated space, our lot continued to shovel the ball backwards, egads.

But by and large, this seemed to be a game of probing and careful nudging of chess pieces, with much responsibility on the shoulders of Messrs Lucas and Ndombele to produce the necessary fancy footwork that might drag opponents out of position. They struggled to break us down; we struggled to break them down; the game turned on some flat-footed defending from a corner.

3. Skipp

I’m not sure if it says anything too complimentary about the rest of the rabble, but with each passing game I’m increasingly inclined to think young Master Skipp the most important cog in the lilywhite machine.

He certainly seems to be one of the few on the payroll willing to do his damnedest for the cause, and several of his Fly-In-Now-Discuss-Later challenges were again in evidence today, indicating an admirable willing.

However, rather alarmingly I also noted a chink in the young bean’s armour, which, once seen, was rather difficult to unsee, if you get my drift. Namely, when the opposition attack, while our centre-backs glance upwards and attach themselves to the most appropriate attacking body – Romero to Antonio, Dier to Benrahma and so forth – Skipp appears not to appreciate the importance of picking up the second wave as it were, the sort of chappies who make a later dash into the box from midfield.

This was particularly evident when Soucek had an unchallenged header in the first half, and happened on another occasion in the first half (although if you want the names and addresses of the witnesses I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere).

Hardly a fatal flaw in young Skipp’s constitution, but it did strike me that some kindly soul ought at some point to tap him on the shoulder and mention that next time an opposing midfielder puts his head down and beelines towards goal, it might be more effective to pump the arms and beeline alongside him, rather than slow to a jog and watch from afar.

That apart, Skipp was as honest as ever. He doesn’t necessarily seem to know quite what to do when up in the opposition area, and his passing hardly scythes through opposing teams – but as neither of those elements are exactly key to his output I think we can wave them by without too much fuss.

4. Odd Refereeing Decisions

Regular diners at the AANP table will be aware that I’m not generally inclined to bash referees, they being only human and the whole practice of interrogating their decisions being, to my mind, not really cricket.

However, VAR is a different kettle of fish, as this allows for – and indeed is created entirely in order to – eradicating human errors by those on the pitch. So, when the Ndombele affair in the first half was waved away as ‘No Penalty’ it would be no exaggeration to say that I popped a blood vessel, hit the roof and turned the air purple with a shower of the fruitiest profanities.

And to my dying day I will consider myself entirely just in having done so. Irrespective of what Ndombele was doing (and frankly the chap seemed to malfunction, treading on the ball with his standing foot if my eyes did not deceive), the fact remains that the defender did not touch the ball, but instead made contact with his leg. The net effect of which was that Ndombele went sprawling as the ball rolled merrily on its way.

In real-time this was rather a messy sequence of affairs, so one understands the on-pitch referee taking one look and deciding he had better things to do; but how the blazes VAR missed this is absolutely beyond me. How the hell was that not a penalty?

That apoplexy having taken the best part of an hour to subside, the AANP blood was again made to boil when Senor Romero was shown the yellow card for, as far as I could tell, the heinous crime of bending over a prostrate opponent and shouting at him. If he had shouted at the ref, I would have fully understood. If he had fouled the player, one would have vaguely followed the ref’s train of thought.

But Romero did none of the above, for heaven’s sake! He won the ball cleanly (a throw-in was awarded), then entered into frank discussion with him – and was cautioned for this! It mattered little in the grand scheme of things, but let that not distract from the fact that it was utter rot and the sort of nonsense for which the ref ought really to taken out the back and given a good thrashing.

The Ndombele incident would presuably have pretty radically altered the timeline if a penalty had been awarded, but even allowing for this, the whole production struck me as a fairly even affair, and, gallingly, one that we certainly ought not to have lost, and probably should have one.

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