Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-1 Sporting: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. A Note On Var

One always likes to improve the mind, of course, so if last night’s high jinks concerning VAR have brought anything in the way of a silver lining, it’s the sparkling discovery that one can be offside from a pass directed backwards. A fact – and a pretty critical one at that – of which neither I nor the general population at large were remotely aware until circa. 22.00 last night. And if that doesn’t cushion the blow of the wider thing, I don’t know what does.

For tax purposes and whatnot, I ought to declare that here at AANP Towers we are actually in favour of VAR – in theory. When it does the job for which Mother Nature had intended it, viz. swiftly correcting absolute howlers, then it’s a most welcome addition to the ecosystem. (Neatly illustrating this was an initially disallowed goal just last weekend, by Everton’s Anthony Gordon – he of the Princess Diana tribute hair – whose finish was initially flagged offside, instantly checked and within seconds discovered by the first replay to be as comfortably onside as these things can be.) In theory, a ripper. Howler overturned. Football the winner.

In practice, however, the bods in the video booth seem to have taken this fine and noble theory, of immediately correcting clear and obvious errors, and given it a good kicking before locking it in a basement somewhere, which has increasingly struck me as not really cricket.

If a VAR decision takes longer than the specified period required to boil an egg, the AANP eyebrow leaps into action and does its thing. And if VAR’s offside lines cannot be drawn without inviting pretty fruity debate about their accuracy or width or whatever else, the AANP index finger is raised with calm but thrillingly authoritative purpose. And when any of the above exist in combination, it indicates that a general rumminess is afoot. To spell the thing out scientifically, these are not the kind of acts for which VAR was invented.

And it felt like all of the above, and more, was sprinkled about the place pretty liberally last night. Coming as it did, to puncture the mighty crescendo of last night’s efforts, I don’t mind admitting that I did not necessarily receive the announcement with the exquisite decency that the AANP lineage traditionally demands.

Still, there it is. Deliberately positioning oneself to block the ball can be deemed accidental. Knees can be offside. And we can all rejoice in the fact that we are now that much wiser today than we were yesterday about the capacity to be offside or otherwise from passes delivered in a regressive direction.

2. The Different Second Half Approach

All of which distracts somewhat from the real front-page stuff. Our first half was, for the most part, pretty mouldy fare.

An important asterisk deserves shoving in at this point, because there was a spell of maybe ten minutes or so in the first half when our heroes seemed to stumble, inadvertently or otherwise, upon one-touch football and the pretty sizzling harvest it produces. Kane tended to feature fairly prominent in these vignettes, with Lucas, Doherty and the midfield twins also bobbing into frame for little cameos. Being an optimistic soul, I was pretty encouraged by these moments. Times, it seemed to me, were a-changing. It might not have been quite the whirlwind of irresistible force for which we’d been pining all bally season, but snippets of one-touch stuff were a fair few notches up from the rot of recent weeks.

It was pretty unfortunate therefore that Sporting should choose that moment to beetle down the other end and take the lead. Thereafter, the very concept of one-touch passing seemed to be erased from the minds of all concerned, and our lot returned to that mournful routine of taking three touches and passing sideways in defence again, as if they had been rehearsing it all week.

When out of possession too, the sentiment seemed to be to approach things as if we were actually three or four goals ahead, and were quite content to sit off and let Sporting do their darnedest. The whole approach was equal parts peculiar and excruciating.

Come the second half, however, the gravity of the situation seemed gently to manifest itself into the minds of the main cast, until, by around the 60-minute mark, our lot were hammering away at the Sporting goal at every opportunity.

Certain key factors made themselves known during this period. For a start, the whole business of gloomily shoving the ball left and right in defence, ad infinitum, was shelved. Instead, the back-three seemed collectively struck by the notion that shovelling the ball elsewhere – anywhere, but at a healthy tempo – would start to pop a few Sporting noses out of joint, if you follow.

The wing-backs adopted increasingly adventurous positions – with varying degrees of success in terms of output, I suppose, but by virtue of simply making the effort and being there they benefited the general effort.

Bentancur and Hojbjerg struck up a brief entente cordiale, whereby the former would mind the rear and the latter would charge off to support the attacking mob. (At least temporarily; as the clock did its thing the whole one-sit-one-attack agreement became a little fuzzier around the edges.)

By the final few minutes we even had Romero shrugging his shoulders and mooching up into the centre-forward position.

Admittedly by that point we had rather dispensed with finesse, and Sporting were inclining towards an all-hands-to-the-pump mentality, but in general, the attitude of simply moving the ball quickly struck me as making a world of difference. Funnily enough, showing the desire to win any given loose ball did likewise.

Why the hell it takes concession of a goal and a full 45 of clueless meandering around the halfway line to get there is a mystery that has been stretching out all season now, but AANP is a sunny sort, and if we can bottle the second half approach and uncork it again at 3pm on the nose this Saturday, then I’ll observe matters with a smile on the map and the hum of popular melodies on the lips.

3. Gil

If I quote the date “Summer 2021” and let memory do its thing, you may recall the good ship Hotspur indulging in a spot of over-the-counter trading with Sevilla, to the effect of shoving them one serviceable Lamela plus £20m, and receiving in return a shiny new Gil.

I’ve never really been one for the shops if I’m honest, being more the sort of cove who will buzz in and out to buy things out of necessity rather than wile away hours browsing through every dashed thing on the shelf. As such, I’m not really an expert in these matters, but even so, I have been unable to shake the thought ever since that we congratulated ourselves a little too hastily on that one. Gil is a younger specimen, that much is pretty much scientifically and legally assured. But with each fleeting cameo, the same critical question has occurred, namely whether this chap is really £20m better than Lamela. Actually, a second question also tends to leap to mind, that of why, if he really is that good, does he never play.

And the answer to the second part of the conundrum at least seems to present itself with regard to the young fellow’s bulk – or, rather, lack thereof. Put bluntly, all the pace, willing and trickery in the world doesn’t amount to much puff if the slightest spot of good, honest shoulder-to-shoulder waltzing sends you hurtling into the stands.

I myself am one of the sinewy sort of frame, all skin and bone or, as put lovingly by a 5-a-side teammate, “made of biscuits”. As such, should young Gil and I ever take to a pitch together, I fancy we’d address each other as physical equals. Any coming together would not invite a dark sequel, but rather just a spot of picking up, dusting down and friendly back-slapping. The problem seems to arise when just about anyone of remotely muscular build comes into Gil’s sphere. For all his undoubted trickery and pace, it seems pretty public knowledge that one meaty clump around the upper-body will send the poor nib into next week.

All of the above was in evidence against Frankfurt last week, when Gil produced a similarly endearing and effective cameo, halted every now and then by physical contact, so it was a rather pleasant surprise to note that Sporting seemed pretty ignorant to his obvious Achilles’ heel. And as a result, he was terrific. Unpredictable, willing and creative, it was precisely what we needed at that point. I suppose there is a question around whether he is better resourced against European teams than slighter beefier sorts in the Premier League, but last night such concerns were way down the list.

The sight of Gil operating high up the pitch with Lucas as auxiliary wing-back behind him was particularly thrilling (although Conte then burst that particular bubble to bring on Royal, whose lamentable no-look pass out of play for a goal-kick I would gladly accept as his swansong in lilywhite).

Both Gil and Lucas offered the potential to dash in behind the defence, as well as simply tying up an opponent in knots, but Gil in particular seemed an exponent of this art. In the absence of both Kulusevski and Richarlison, Conte’s next selection in this respect will be intriguing.

4. Lloris

Mercifully, the life and times of our resident last-line were merely a footnote by the time the curtain came down, but despite only popping into focus intermittently, Monsieur Lloris still managed to cram a few extremes into his highlights reel.

To his credit, that reflex save late on in the second half pretty much kept us in the match. After all that nonsense he peddled at the weekend it was pretty heartening to see him hit upon the idea of doing that for which he is paid, with minimal fuss and a fair helping of quality.

Alas, the chap’s wackier side was rarely far behind. A tardy offside flag consigned the moment to history, but his charge out of his area and then off into the south-western corner, giving futile chase to a Sporting soul – and then letting him escape, forsooth! – had seasoned Lloris-watchers covering the eyes of nearby small children.

And this was to say nothing of his role in the goal conceded. Not straightforward of course, and one listens keenly to those who advise walking a mile in a man’s shoes before subjecting him to pelters – but for a fellow who’s saving grace is his shot-stopping, he probably ought to have given a moment’s thought to his own coordinates as Edwards locked on and prepared to fire.

As mentioned, the fun and games which accompanied the mad old finale helped to shove to one side Lloris’ latest indiscretions, but he ought to be in no doubt that the hawk-like eye of AANP will be upon him in the weeks to come.

Tweets yonder

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-2 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris’ Error

Having rolled up his sleeves and put a bit of effort into fighting the good fight midweek, I suppose Monsieur Lloris had a bit of credit in the bank come 4.30pm yesterday, so it says something about his performance that he was pretty firmly established as persona non grata at AANP Towers by around 5.15pm.

Dealing first with what might, in the interests of anatomical accuracy, be described as the chest-bump, opinions will naturally differ on whether or not play ought to have been halted, and frankly that part is of pretty minimal interest over here (AANP being the philosophical sort brought up not to question the ref). Of greater concern was the sequence of choices made by Monsieur Lloris as the episode unfolded.

In the first place he exited the safety of his area, and stepped out into the big, wide world – which was a reasonable enough choice. Crucially, he was first on the scene, which seemed to justify the decision, and while I am pretty much a novice in the mystical arts of top-level goalkeeping, it seemed to me that he had achieved the most risk-laden element of the procedure, and at this point needed only to blast the thing off into the atmosphere or sidelines or wherever, to round off a successful – if rather basic – mission. One of those missions aimed simply at preventing any harm, rather than achieving any great progress.

At least that was the expectation, on having seen him reach the target a good couple of yards ahead of the Newcastle chappie. What followed, alas, was a textbook example of how to make hard-earned midweek goodwill disappear in a puff of smoke. Rather than launching the thing off amongst the stars and being rid of it, Lloris picked this moment to perform a rather curious pelvic thrust at the ball.

Now I’m not picky about aesthetics when it comes to the dirty business of clearing one’s defensive lines. There is a time for looking pretty, and a time for sneering at the pretty stuff and simply getting the job done; and when a strapping forward is haring towards your goal, the time is pretty obviously for s.a.t.p.s.a.s.g.t.j.d. And with this in mind, if the pelvic thrust had been the optimal means for clearing danger, then I’d have been all for it. “Thrust away, squire”, would have been the gist of the communique from these parts.

The trouble was, as well as looking a bit of an ass, Lloris also failed to solve the impending problem. In fact, not only did he fail to solve it, he significantly worsened it. Rather than bring the ball under control (which was presumably the intention, because no pelvic thrust in the world is going to send a ball twenty yards into touch) this daft routine simply transferred its temporary ownership from his own sphere of influence to that of the Newcastle sort.

This was Lloris’ first failing. Scholars could debate long into the night whether or not his second was as bad; either way, it prompted a pretty meaty piece of instant feedback from AANP. For having lost the ball, there then occurred the aforementioned chest-bump. Such things will happen, and a decision as to its legality or otherwise rested with those in authority. But what took the biscuit was that rather than simply getting on with the day-job after this contact, and endeavouring to prevent Callum Wilson from doing any harm, Lloris instead tried to convince the referee, VAR, the gathered hordes and the audience of millions, that some form of assault had been carried out, by dropping to the floor in a manner vastly more dramatic than the whole dance had merited.

(A helpful tip for any simulation-spotters is that if the player’s arms shoot up after contact then he’s up to some dastardly misdeed; one’s arms tend to shoot down to break one’s fall, when genuinely sent to ground.)

It amounted to the cardinal sin of failing to play to the whistle. Goalkeepers do admittedly tend to receive oddly preferential treatment from referees, but nevertheless this was a pretty risky game for Lloris to play, and I have precious little sympathy for the fatheaded oaf in opting to hit the deck rather than rescue the situation. If he had cleared the dashed thing in the first place the eventuality would have been avoided in its entirety; failing that, if he had stayed on his feet and hovered over Wilson to prevent his shot, the goal might yet have been prevented.

Whether the Wilson challenge was fair game or foul play, Lloris’ dubious choices immediately preceding and following it did little to win him the soothing tones and comforting arm around the shoulders here at AANP Towers. Withering glares were more the order of the day, and the fact that the little black book is starting to fill up a bit with these sorts of incidents about the chap does little to brighten the mood.

2. Lloris’ Passing

As if all of that were not enough, we were then also treated to Lloris’ role – understated though it was – in the second goal conceded.

Not wanting to linger too long over the gory details, but the problem had its genesis from a Lloris pass out towards Sess, which leant heavily on height and loop, and skimped a fair bit on accuracy.

Of course, there were about twenty further hoops for the Newcastle laddie to jump through before the ball ended up in the net, and if either of Sessegnon or Lenglet had registered even the faintest level of interest in their designated duties then this particular chat would be assuming a vastly rosier hue. But instead, they took one look at what was happening and waved their respective white flags – Sessegnon sticking out a leg to register his presence, Lenglet not even managing that much – and from a situation of fairly low risk by the right-hand touchline, fifty yards out, Newcastle were suddenly two up.

Lloris may not have been as directly culpable for this one as the first, but his kicking is of a standard that really ought to have the security bods giving each other a concerned look and raising the alert level from Amber to Red.

Conte-Ball seems to rely heavily upon distribution from the nether regions, and while the onus typically falls upon Dier and chums, the fact that Lloris’ passing is dreadful removes what would otherwise be a useful option. The curious fellow can manage those 5-yard goal-kicks to his centre-backs without too much calamity, but anything more adventurous than that seems to frazzle his circuits.

The modern-day goalkeeper, unfortunately, needs to be able to pick out a wing-back hugging the touchline to within a yard or so, and preferably at a height conducive to straightforward control, without the need for said wing-back to contort the limbs and stetch about eight feet. And in this respect Hugo runs into some pretty serious problems.

As mentioned, when building from a goal kick, it leaves those in question straining a bit to retain control of the thing, as such inviting pressure back. The notion of beating the opposing press is great in theory, and sometimes happens via a nifty Romero pass or whatnot – but I struggle to think of a time when Lloris has bypassed the other mob and put us on the front-foot with his passing.

And aside from goal-kicks, all manner of hollow groans ring out when our lot begin in a position of some advance, bob the ball back towards halfway and then decide that if it were done when ‘tis done then ‘twere well it were shuttled all the way back to the least competent passer on the pitch. Such hideous fare not only terminates whatever attack had been in motion, it also just about guarantees that the ball will soon be back with the opposition.

A few years back, the inability of a goalkeeper to pick out a teammate with an accurate pass would have barely made the footnotes, let alone been an agenda item; now, as we watch our back-three awkwardly shuffle left to right and back again, Lloris’ poor passing is causing something of a hindrance to our attacking play.


3. Dier

On the subject of errant passing from the back, if the name ‘Eric Dier’ isn’t burning the lips of anyone else, it dashed well is mine.

Now I appreciate that I have to tread carefully here. One does not want to upset the natives. One respects the natives. Eric Dier is a bean with his own song after all, and indeed, I’ll belt it out as lustily as the rest of them. But this train of thought, which seems to have quite some momentum behind it, that he is some sort of deep-lying font of creativity on account of his passing, is one of those lines that will have me biting the lip, and engaging in a slightly strained silence.

Credit where due, Dier can pick a lovely pass. He picked at least two of them yesterday – both, I noted, diagonals, from somewhere left of centre to a coordinate in approximately an inside-right sort of spot.

But he also, far too often for my liking, lobs the ball forward in a straight line, and gifts possession to the opposition. He, in common with those to his immediate left and right, is also a little too eager to wheel around on his axis and roll the ball back to Lloris; and if you’ve read this far you’ll know that such a manoeuvre prompts howls of anguish from AANP Towers.

I suppose in this respect he has my sympathy, because if a centre-back is forced to head back to goal – and to Lloris of all people – it reflects pretty badly on those employed ahead of him to scuttle off into space and frantically wave their arms at him. If nobody is offering Dier a reasonable passing option, what, he might well articulate, is he supposed to do?

One thing he really ought not to do is fire the ball back in a fashion that looks suspiciously like a shot at his own net, but at one point in the first half he managed to do precisely that. Now it would be pretty unreasonable to castigate the chap for this unless he made a habit of it. Even the finest amongst us rather lose the thread of things every once in a while. But when a fellow like Dier, the sort who seems to buy pretty readily into the hype about being a passer extraordinaire, ends up slapping the ball just a yard wide of his own goal when under no pressure, one starts, after removing head from hands, to reflect that our entire approach of passing out from the back is in need of some pretty drastic surgery.

4. Conte

The mood around the campfire is taking a bit of a dive, make no mistake.

Pre-match, the thought had occurred that we have been led a merry old dance by three of the traditional gang of 6 (Chelsea, Woolwich and Man Utd); and have toppled, albeit making the deuce of a palaver of it, various sides orbiting mid-table or lower. As such, Newcastle seemed a pretty solid test of our current status.

One might argue that we started sprightly, creating three or four reasonable chances. Skipp seemed to itch to shove things forward at every opportunity, and Sonny really ought to have put us one up. Benancur was a delight throughout.

Nevertheless, our best moments, as ever, came from the speedy counter-attack. The pattern was not one in which we, as the home team, asserted ourselves and hammered away. The inability to build from the back again loomed over our play.

Casually gifting two pretty avoidable goals did not help things, but these seemed completely in keeping with our play at the moment – sloppy; no strong plan or belief in playing from the back; frankly poor-quality football.

Our Glorious Leader took to the soapbox afterwards to bleat his usual refrains about needing more time and money and such bobbins, and one appreciates that it is unreasonable to expect us to have blown away all-comers. But after a year at the controls, one would reasonably expect us to blow away some comers. After a year, one would reasonably expect our football to be a little more enjoyable to drink in – and not to rely so strongly on Kulusevski.

Conte rarely wastes an opportunity to drone on about more transfers, and again one sees his point. But while some amongst our number do peddle some rot, there are plenty of talented sorts there – enough to play football that brings to the soul a little more joy than the current slop. Moreover, if he is set to walk away next summer – and there seems a moderate chance he might – it is questionable whether there is any sense in stuffing a chequebook in his hands and encouraging him to go to Disneyland.

The concern is that Conte seems actively to be encouraging the dreary stuff. He could arrange our troops to set about things with more fizz and bang; he chooses not to.

Tweets abaft

Categories
Spurs match reports

Man Utd 2-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. At Least Lloris Put On A Show, What?

This being a new day I thought I’d begin with a once-over of the positives from last night. Alarmingly, there was in fact only one, but never mind that, and step forward Monsieur Lloris.

There’s a train of thought that it’s a bit redundant to bleat, “We would have lost by such and such an amount if not for our goalkeeper,” because the whole point is that the fellow is our goalkeeper, and that making those saves is precisely his job within our team – but nevertheless seeing everyone in front of him simply melt away time after time, forcing the poor chap into about eighty different extended reaches, did seem a bit much.

Oddly enough, Lloris’ evening had threatened to get off to a pretty horrendous start. Just about his first involvement occurred when a United sort spotted him off his line after a botched clearance, and attempted a lob. These are usually pretty anticlimactic interludes, promising much but typically fizzling out on launch, and so it proved as the shot barely reached head height.

Now I’m no goalkeeper, but if I see a ball gently float towards me I prefer to take the old-fashioned approach and catch it, ideally keeping any additional fuss to a minimum. And this had appeared the designated tactic of Lloris, until at the last minute he appeared to lose control of just about all of his critical limbs, and somehow, from a standing start, ended up flailing around on the ground, only just managing to pat at the ball, and diverting it marginally wide of the post.

It had seemed a pretty ominous start, and had me bracing myself from one of those nerve-riddled routines of his between the sticks. However, in one of those nifty little quirks of fate, that moment actually turned out to be the cue for everyone else to peddle absolute rot, while Lloris transformed into something vastly beyond the realms of mortal man, pulling off a whole sequence of full-stretch saves from around that point until the end of the match an hour later.

One in particular (from Rashford, if I recall correctly) had him in full flight in one direction, but having the presence of mind to stick out a paw in the other direction, whence he had come, creating the overall effect of a chappie who had mastered the matrix and was able to defy physics by bobbing around faster than the eye could make sense of. It just seemed rather a shame that this whole exhibition was of pretty minimal value. I mean, it stopped us losing about eight-nil, so I suppose it could be argued that it did in fact teem at the edges with value, but you know what I mean. Losing cause and whatnot. Still, bravo Hugo – which is more than any other of the blighters deserve.

2. The Fabled 3-5-2

With the regular 3-4-3 having made dashed hard work of such luminaries as Forest and Everton so far this season, in recent days you couldn’t have lobbed a brick in North London without it hitting on the head someone pleading for Our Glorious Leader to switch to 3-5-2.

All such wishes were granted last night, as injuries to Richarlison and Kulusevski rather tied poor old Conte’s hands on this front (admittedly I think most reasonable folk of lilywhite persuasion would have gnawed off their own arm to have Kulusevski restored, he being pretty much the missing link in all this). And moreover, with Emerson by his own idiocy absented, we armchair experts even had the luxury of Doherty on the right. As such, the pre-match sentiment at AANP Towers was one of cautious optimism. Quietly smug, knowing smiles were very much the order of the day. This one seemed winnable.

Or at least it did until the game actually started, at which point it pretty swiftly fell apart at the seams. Having howled away that we were getting outnumbered in midfield with the 3-4-3, the sight of our lot having rings run around them in a 3-5-2 had the AANP map turning a pretty impressive shade of crimson. Numbers of pairs of legs, it appeared, had not a dashed thing to do with it. Quite frankly, our lot were utter rot.

It’s all very well pointing out that United were on pretty spiffing form, but if any team can make Fred look like a master of all he surveys then one has to wonder if there’s some deep-rooted failure lies within. And sure enough, the problems amongst our lot were so numerous that I started to look about me for parchment and quill, for simply trying to keep track in my head was becoming increasingly problematic.

Defensively, despite having five fine specimens neatly lined up across the back, with a further three doing the doorman thing in front of them, there were great yawning gaps out wide. When United did tuck inside, our heroes seemed pretty spooked by the novel approach being used against them, of quick, one-touch passing, and gaps promptly appeared amongst our clustered bodies. Out on our left, all of the years of experience and League Title medals about his frame did little to prompt Ivan Perisic to stop Anthony chap cutting infield with gay abandon.

There was a train of thought within the AANP circle that part of the problem was that Bentancur seemed to have licence to roam forward, leaving us understaffed further south. While true enough at the outset, thereafter it seemed that even if Bentancur got his coordinates bang on it was of little use.

Moreover, the 3-5-2 meant that there was no useful means by which to stop their wide chaps chugging forward at will, as Sonny and Kane were both narrow.

All of the above, and various other failings, created the bizarre scenario that our massed defensive ranks seemed bizarrely incapable of robbing United of the ball outside our area, or preventing either their passes or shots in around the same vicinity.

On top of which, whenever our lot did stumble upon the ball they made a point of stumbling back off it again pretty sharpish. Not one of them seemed to have the good sense to seek out a teammate when in possession, the drill seeming to be that life might as well be made as difficult as possible. And unable to play beyond the United press, the net result was a pretty incessant barrage of all things United, from bally start to bally finish.

The 3-5-2 will see better days, but by golly this was a mess.

3. Conte

Rather awkwardly, the whole sorry affair does rather make one shoot a dubious look at Senor Conte, and clear the throat in meaningful manner. Knocking over Forest and such rot is one thing; and if we were losing with grace and elan to Top Four types that would be another; but simply mooching about on the edge of one’s own area and waiting to be blown away, against each of Chelsea, Woolwich and Man Utd, really is a bit thick, what?

It’s the style of play, of course. Watching the likes of Newcastle and Woolwich bound about the place with gusto and attacking intent does make one scratch the chin and wonder why our mob couldn’t be cajoled into something similar. It’s not as if we lack the talented individuals for such things.

Instead, we have a slicker version of Jose’s anti-football, all defence and countering. Against the weaker teams it’s rarely much fun to watch; and against the better teams we barely hang on to the coat-tails.

The counter-arguments, however, are pretty loaded. It would be a pretty significant dereliction of duty as a fan of the good ship Hotspur to forget quite what a stinker poor old Nuno had left us in, and quite what a job Conte did of dragging the club up by the armpits and into the Top Four.

Moreover, by the end of last season, the football was starting to flow and the goals fly in from all angles. There’s a pretty reasonable train of thought that if we can get to the World Cup in or around the Top Four, then a similar gallop in the second half of the season, possibly nudged along by a January signing or two, would be just the ticket.

And then, as alluded to earlier, there’s Kulusevski. Now a cautionary note ought not just to be struck, but given the full gong treatment, because nothing increases the value of a young nib like his absence from the team. One can gloss over how good he actually is – simply the fact that he is not in a team that is performing badly is generally enough to convince the human mind that the lad in question is the answer to all prayers. As recently as last week this was the case for Doherty; already it is becoming the case for Spence; and one does not have to cast the mind back too far to find umpteen other examples.

Nevertheless, Kulusevski became pretty critical to our play in his guise as ‘Johnnie Linking Defence to Attack’, and also providing our lot with some creativity beyond simply ‘Kane Diagonalling the Thing into Son’. That surge in the second half of last season, to which I alluded above, owed much to the fact that Kulusevski was fit and firing in just about every game. His absence is keenly felt. Bring him back, or so goes the narrative, and the Jose-esque dross currently being peddled morphs into something vastly more palatable.

Either way, the garbage on show last night was nowhere good enough. The visit of Newcastle this Sunday therefore takes on a rather meatier hue – not quite Top Four sorts yet, they are certainly a notch or two above Everton and the like, so our performance as much as our result will be watched with a pretty critical eye.

Tweets yonder

Categories
Spurs match reports

Arsenal 3-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactical Set-Up

Even the most committed creature of habit could learn a thing or two from Our Glorious Leader, who reacted to all the noise about playing a midfield three by sticking his fingers in his ears and scrawling ‘3-4-3’ across his teamsheet for the umpteenth consecutive game.

‘Twas the usual suspects then, in the usual formation – and funnily enough with the usual outcome, as our lot spent the opening twenty minutes penned back in and around our own area, looking longingly at all the possession the other lot were churning through.

Show me a nib who enjoys watching that sort of thing and I’ll show you a chappie who should go and boil his own head, because it makes for pretty ghastly viewing. The opposition hog the damn thing; their every pass feels like a prelude to something ominous; on top of which our defence is so deep that the slightest miscalculation is pretty much guaranteed to gift a goal to the foe (as Lloris helpfully demonstrated). Needless to say, watching it unfold blow by blow had the heart fairly racing along in a manner that would have even the most upbeat cardiologist chewing a nervous lip.

Nerve-shredding stuff to observe then, but as Senor Conte would presumably point out, if done properly it does tend to work. For all the prodding and probing, Woolwich only broke through in that first half via a long-range pop, and in the second via a goalkeeping mistake (I artfully dodge the 10 vs 11 activity). That at least would presumably be the gist of the argument. I’m not sure too many juries would be swayed, but there we go.

The argument would continue that our lot sprang into life on the counter attack enough times in that first half to have scored more than just the one – and towards that point I’m a bit more inclined to clink glasses and offer a friendly nod. There were a few occasions on which our front-three set off on a scamper, and but for a careless final ball would have been through on goal.

But even so, it’s all a bit thick, no? One can only hold one’s breath and hope that the opposition foul things up for so long, what? If one were feeling particularly unkind one might suggest that the whole setup is simply a more polished version of the utter dirge that was peddled under Jose. Opportunities were there on the break, and on another day we might have led by half-time, but as under Jose the strategy relies a little too heavily on both flawless defending and pretty damn clinical finishing.

We sit within the Top Four, so fans of this sort of stuff would have a pretty compelling point if they told me to shove off and take my bleating with me. Nevertheless, here at AANP Towers we would be whistling a lot more gaily if the mantra were to win games by controlling possession and whizzing along a dashed sight closer to the opposition area.

Having gone on a bit about the doom and gloom side of things, I probably ought to mention that, given the rather tough hand they’d been dealt, Messrs Hojbjerg and, in particular, Benancur, made a pretty decent fist of things in the midfield two. Every Bentancur involvement seemed to end with him winning the ball or locating a chum – or, indeed, doing both, as happened at the start of the move that led to our penalty. One sympathised with their plight, being but two men in a midfield swarming with Woolwich goons; and one cast a few longing glances towards the forms of Bissouma and Skipp on the bench; but this defeat was not for lack of good, honest perspiration from H. and B.

2. Emerson

No such comforting words and bobbish sentiment for Master Royal however. That dashed pest ought to be slung out onto the streets and given a good old-fashioned thrashing.

It occurred to me that there was something of a parallel between his character arc and that of England’s resident clot, Harry Maguire, vs Germany the other night – in that neither were too bad until the moment they were very bad indeed.

For most of the game Emerson did the sort of stuff we now expect Emerson to do. He galloped forward gamely enough, and then failed to produce any decent output when given the opportunity, his crosses being blocked for a corner or sailing beyond any souls in lilywhite. This being Emerson, and his bar being low, the AANP reaction was simply to roll the eyes, mutter a choice curse and then see what would happen next. It was pretty much standard fare.

And in fact, at one point in the first half, he made one of the better tackles of his entire Spurs career, inserting a well-timed foot when I think Gabriel Jesus went off on a jink. If he cannot offer anything useful in attack he might as well provide something in defence, or so goes the theory, so by the time the second half rolled around he was in pretty solid ‘6 out of 10’ territory.

However, there then followed his red card, which judging by the current internal mood might well prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, in what legal bods might term the case of “AANP’s Patience vs Emerson Royal”.

No doubt one or two hardy souls will protest that a yellow card would have sufficed, to which the usual AANP line is drearily trotted out, about not being daft enough to give the referee a choice to make in the first place.

And “daft” really doesn’t do the chap justice, for this was about as fat-headed a move as I’ve ever seen. There couldn’t have been less threat if the Woolwich lad had curled up in a ball to take a nap. He was oiling off towards his own corner flag for heaven’s sake! Nor was it the case that tempers had already flared and shoves been exchanged., or any of that sort of jolly guff.

Martinelli had generally led Royal a merry dance the whole afternoon, which admittedly is the sort of sinister sequence of events that might prompt a tantrum from amongst the younger AANP nephews and nieces, but for it to prompt a professional footballer to stamp on the ankle of an opponent makes the brain sizzle a bit.

The silver lining of this nonsense is that Royal will now be legally barred from entering the pitch for another three games, and opportunity knocks for Doherty, Spence, Perisic, Sessegnon, Kulusevski, Lucas, Tanganga or frankly anyone else who fancies a stab at beetling up and down the right for a while. Simply being there would be sufficient to reach the standards set by Royal; any further input would class as an improvement. Safe to say I’m rather fed up to the gills with that chap.

3. Lloris Mistake

Monsieur Lloris, of course, has a vastly larger stash of goodwill stocked up, and he would have grasped at great clumping handfuls of the stuff (possibly dropping some) after today’s faux pas.

A funny old oeuf, is Lloris, in that despite being about as loyal as they come, and having loitered about the corridors for longer than anyone else in the place, he is not necessarily revered as one of our heroes. This is hardly a scientific and robust, evidence-driven conclusion, but I get the sense that most of lilywhite persuasion are generally happy enough with him, but harbour a reservation or two. The sort of chappie about whom not too many tears would be shed if he biffed off and a half-decent newbie were unearthed.

In general, his shot-stopping has been top notch and his handling a touch squiffy. Today, however, his were a pretty basic couple of errors in the shot-stopping sector, and on a stage on which we needed the experienced sorts to bring their A-games.

First in padding out the shot centrally rather than off to the sides, and then in making a heck of a mess of the follow-up shot, Lloris put us in a bit of a spot.

For what it’s worth, I rather fancied us to equalise again when 11 vs 11, and Lloris alone was not at fault for our falling behind – the sluggish start to the second half was very much a collective effort. But dash it, that was pretty basic fare, and while one ideally one would rather not concede at all, if it has to happen I would much rather the other lot were made to work their socks off for the privilege.

4. Waving The White Flag

As mentioned, at 2-1 and while fully staffed, the AANP mood was still hopeful enough. “More of the first half routine” was pretty much the chorus on the lips – until the third goal went in. At that point, the odds no doubt lengthened, but hope still spluttered along. A second goal for our lot in the last few minutes would have caused the nerves to flutter amongst the Woolwich mob, what?

You can picture AANP’s displeasure, therefore, when Our Glorious Leader effectively threw in the towel with a good twenty or so minutes remaining. The swapping of Lenglet for Sanchez one could abide, in isolation; but the removal of Richarlison and Sonny, for various assembled defenders, left none in the galleries in any doubt. Conte conceded this one.

And I don’t mind admitting that I frowned at that. Might have folded the arms and pursed the lips a bit too. I’m of a vintage that waits all week (or however long) to see our lot play, and then expects maximum effort from every one of the blighters until the final toot. If they’ve done their jobs properly they should be collapsing in puddles on the ground at full-time, and scraped up in wheelbarrows by the support staff. Having the manager effectively signal that they can simply give up with twenty minutes remaining, against Woolwich of all teams, does not sit well around these parts.

The argument will presumably run that there are games every couple of days, and Lenglet, Richarlison, Sonny et al will be needed for the CL on Wednesday. All of which makes sense – but at the same time, throwing in the towel did not seem right. It’s not really cricket. Perhaps one or two might have been withdrawn, but whilst still maintaining some sort of attacking threat (flinging Gil up at the apex, to offer some pace alongside Kane, for example).

One continues to trust Conte, of course, but that does not preclude criticism of the chap. This was a pretty unpleasant end to a thoroughly unpleasant afternoon.

Tweets hither

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 6-2 Leicester: Four Tottenham Talking Points

While decency would normally dictate that I apologise for tardiness, between Vegas, Denver and some unspecified spot over the Atlantic, AANP can barely remember its own name, let alone the date and time.

1. Defensive Rotation

Discovering that the rarely-heard Drury was on comms for the screening of this match in Vegas was quite the pre-match mood-enhancer and morning-after pick-me-up; but alas, the good news ended there as a quick scan of the cast members indicated a Romero-shaped hole, awkwardly occupied by the various uncontrollable limbs of Davinson Sanchez.

Of course, being a man of chivalry and values, I let Sanchez proceed with perfect objectivity, and he duly took about two minutes to confirm, to what I now understand to be a global audience, that he is, in fact, a chump of the highest order. Everything about his diving, sliding, obvious and unnecessary foul was utterly clot-headed, and nor is it the first time he’s produced such mind-boggling idiocy at the earliest possible juncture (that time we hammered Man Utd away springs to mind, Sanchez similarly gifting away a penalty in the opening exchanges).

One understands that the fixture schedule requires a spot of management of the more important dramatis personae, what with World Cups, Champions Leagues, Carabao Cups and bread-and-butter League games every three days from now until around 2038. And if an A-lister like Romero can’t be allowed to put the feet up and catch the breath in a home fixture against the bottom team, then one might reasonably ask when the devil can he?

And all of this makes perfect sense, until one throws Sanchez into the equation, as first back-up. Now his legions of fans will no doubt point to the fact that prior to Saturday night we hadn’t conceded in an absolute age with him on sentry duty. On top of which, aside from the ridiculous early penalty he actually carried out his tasks dutifully enough – but that’s not really the point is it? What good is a defender trotting around doing the basics if he’s already stuffed up and given away a goal for nothing in the opening exchanges?

The debate will presumably loop around pointlessly until he is eventually sold, so best just accept it for now. Such was our lack of control that Conte saw fit to hook the blighter and interrupt Romero’s night off, calling upon him to keep the door bolted for the final twenty or so.

On the other side of defence, Lenglet oiled around reasonably enough in lieu of the indisposed Davies, with a straightforward interception here and a (usually, though not universally) accurate forward pass there. He might not sweep the board at the awards ceremonies for outstanding individual contributions come May, but he ticks enough boxes to give us two solid left-sided options.

The spots that furrow the brow are the other centre-back positions. Sanchez and Tanganga do not really instil confidence, even when flanked by more competent souls. Worse, opponents are exchanging knowing looks and beginning to target Sanchez. Somehow, we must muddle through.

2. Wing-Backs

However, if the centre-back rotation gambit was fraught with risk, the latest wing-back experiment had about it an air that was bonny, bright and gay.

A few muted voices had half-heartedly wondered aloud in recent weeks, on the back of Emerson’s obvious limitations, whether Perisic might be deployed on the right, but I’m not sure anyone really believed it would actually happen. And yet there it was, in glorious technicolour, from the off.

And it worked pretty well, at least going forward. Perisic was as game as ever going forward, his compass evidently still in full working order despite the switch from West to East. The restored Kulusevski marked his return to the fold by haring off down the right at every opportunity, and taking the full-back with him, while young Sessegnon was not about to miss out on the fun, signalling his intentions with a few early crosses from the left.

This was all well and good, but a fairly crucial component of its success was that we were in possession. And as time continued its irresistible march, and we rather surrendered the initiative (more on that below), the defensive frailties of our wing-backs rather awkwardly rose to prominence.

Not that I blame Perisic. Here is a man who made his name on the front-foot, and if he’s anything like AANP he has untold lung capacity for the forward charge, but needs a bit of a blow when it comes to the defensive side of things. As with Sporting in midweek, so against Leicester on Saturday, he seemed to be beaten a little too easily in the mano a mano items, and with Sanchez behind him the brow began to furrow with a decent amount of nervousness.

Similarly, Sessegnon gave a full display of his fallibilities, not for the first time being fairly straightforwardly beaten in the air in the build-up to the second goal, in a manner that suggested he offers decorative value only when it comes to aerial combat.

So for all the early promise and excitement of Perisic-right and Sessegnon-left, Conte then switched the pair, and ultimately resorted to Emerson, presumably in the name of tightening the locks a smidge.

The whole sequence did again make me wonder what the hell Matt Doherty has to do these days to get a game, while Djed Spence may also be stroking a thoughtful chin, but the Perisic-Sess experiment, while showing a few rays of promise, was not quite the unmitigated success for which I’d hoped.

3. Central Midfield

In those early exchanges our lot seemed mercifully undeterred by the early deficit, and I thought were fairly good value for the 2-1 first half lead, at least in possession. Alas, as the pattern evolved to that rot about sitting deep and looking to counter, Leicester began to get to grips with life – which really is utter muck if you think about it. This lot were bottom, conceding goals for fun – and yet there they were, controlling possession for five-minute chunks, in our own back yard!

Well, you can imagine the harrumphing emanating from this corner of Vegas, and the dashed thing is this is hardly the first time we’ve seen our midfield lose control of things. I don’t really blame either of Messrs Bentancur or Hojbjerg, as the problem seems to be quantity rather than quality. Any team with three in midfield simply has more available legs in the area.

The point of the 3-4-3 seems to be to ensure that we have plenty of men manning the back-door at any given point, but even within this packed environment Leicester did not have to break too much sweat to bop their way around us.

Helpfully, Leicester were simply not very good, so while we let them offer far more threat than decency ought to allow a team at the bottom of the table, there was rarely a point at which I felt we would not outscore them. However, any semblance of control of the dashed thing only really emerged once Bissouma was introduced and we switched to a three-man midfield.

Conte has made Bissouma kick his heels a tad, for reasons of fitness or tactical education or some such rot apparently, but the fellow was on the button once introduced on Saturday, happy to treat the masses to his fabled array of interceptions and tackles.

Various pundits will hone in on a chap who scores and mark them out as a standout performer, irrespective of anything else contributed or lacking during the course of the 90, and I’m a tad wary of doing the same with young Master Bentancur. His goal was certainly a triumph for high pressing and general alertness, and I’m pretty sure he contributed crucially to one of Sonny’s goals through another sprightly tackle. All told, however, he seemed to me to swan through life in his usual neat, tidy and effective way.

The challenge he faces each week is, as mentioned above, that that central midfield pair is too often outnumbered. All of which does make one wonder whether there might be scope for Bissouma to be added more permanently, and a switch to 5-3-2 to be effected (I’ve heard it mentioned that Kulusevski could occupy the right wing-back slot for such a move).  Such jiggery-pokery might also allow Bentancur to shove forward ten yards or so, and allow the creative juices to flow a little more freely. The Brains Trust, no doubt, have all options under consideration.

4. Sonny

Only right to give the chap a mention I suppose. Personally I’d have preferred him to make less of a song and dance about it all – stiff upper lip and all that – but a man has his feelings I suppose, and the whole business of getting dropped and then scoring from all angles would presumably have been a lot to digest in one afternoon.

Aside from the drama that surrounded the honest fellow, I was most taken by the gumption he displayed in striking the shot for his first goal. By the time of his third the narrative was well established – Leicester were falling to pieces, and Sonny’s redemption arc was well into its third act.

But when he collected the ball and set off towards goal at 3-2, he was still a man who had been dropped, was without a goal, hadn’t smiled since May and appeared to have forgotten which foot was which. Given this context, for him then to bend one from approximately a mile out, and shape it from outside the post to within, with whip and height and all sorts, was remarkable stuff indeed.

His confidence having been at a low ebb, one would have bottled up a sigh and forgiven him for shuffling off with the ball towards some cul-de-sac near the corner flag. And had he swiped at the ball and got his geometrics wrong, the groans would have been audible down the High Road. To eject himself from his rut, and in such fashion as that first goal, was a triumph. (As was the sweet, sweet strike for his second, while we’re on the topic.)

I suppose one might glance at the scoreline and label this a triumph for defensive rotation, but given that Hugo had to make three or four pretty spectacular leaps about the place this felt anything but comfortable until the final fifteen or so. It’s a remarkable thing to engineer an unconvincing 6-2 win, but there we are. I must confess to looking ahead to the game away to Woolwich with a fair amount of dread, given the way our lot have struggled to exercise control over any opponent so far this season. As such I might quietly start a campaign for a three-man midfield, in the hope that it grows into quite the din by 1 October. For now, however, despite being oddly off the boil, we remain comfortably ensconced in the top four.

Tweets hither

Categories
Spurs match reports

Sporting 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

With apologies for tardiness – gallivanting the States, timings a bit off

1. Emerson Royal

Fans of E. Royal Esquire – and there must be some, by the law of averages and whatnot – might want to avert their eyes at this point, or go for a spot of shut-eye or something. The signs are ominous for him after all: after a late and pretty thorough collapse, in which the man himself was in the vicinity for both goals conceded, and also bungled the best of the chances we created at t’other end, for him then to be first on the list of Talking Points, in a rag with a bit of a history of sticking the knife into him, suggests that the following is not going to be garlands around his neck and rapturous applause.

He actually contributed one of our better first half moments, digging out a cross from the by-line that flashed past around five rather panicked Sporting dignitaries and right across the face of the goal, dash it, with not a single natty sky-blue uniform in sight.

So to shower the fellow only with oaths and criticism would be unfair. In the first half in particular it was pretty much a Standard Emerson Royal Production out on the right – little to recommend it, but nothing too egregiously wrong either.

But part of the problem is that Conte-ball requires a heck of a lot more than a Standard Emerson Royal Production on the right. Conte-ball relies greatly upon the wing-backs to do much of the heavy-lifting going forward.

Out on the left Master Perisic had the right idea, in theory at least. Forward he bobbed, and when he slung in his crosses they were creations of some quality, ticking various useful boxes like ‘Trajectory’, ‘Pace’, ‘Direction’ et cetera. It has been some time since the good ship Hotspur has boasted a fellow capable of such inviting delivery from out wide, and while, all told, this was not his finest hour (in particular, when we were out of possession the Sporting nibs seemed to tiptoe past him at will) one at least saw some benefits to his presence.

Emerson, on the other hand, yet again demonstrated some willing to attack without ever really researching the detail of what this would entail. Quite why the hell Matt Doherty has remained persona non grata this season, particularly after warming to the role at the end of last season, beats the dickens out of me, but there we go. Emerson it is.

And Emerson it was who thrice failed to deliver his lines when the Sporting back-line did its Red Sea thing and allowed him to swan right through to goal. Not necessarily the easiest chances in history, for sure, but I’d have given a limb or two for any of those chances to have fallen to one of the front-three (well, on current form perhaps not Sonny, eh?)

That said, I suspect we would all have settled for a point as the clock ticked over to 90. Now to lay the blame squarely at Emerson’s door for that opener really would be a bit thick. For a start it was a peach of a delivery, definitely in the realm of ‘Mighty Difficult to Defend’. Moreover, the post mortem suggests that the Sporting fellow who did the deed was the man-marking responsibility of that rotter Harry Kane.

Nevertheless, Emerson ended up closest to the action at the key juncture, and had he attacked the ball with the conviction of a man whose very life depended upon getting to it first he would have cleared the thing with plenty left in the account.

One nil was bad enough, but if Emerson’s failings in the first goal could arguably be excused, he really ought to be given a good public thrashing for his role in the second.

Senor Romero does not escape blame here either, making a pretty ham-fisted attempt – and I use the term pretty dashed loosely – at preventing the laddie getting his shot off, and not for the first time in recent weeks.

But it was Royal whose input really made the lip curl in utter disgust. He simply let the chap waltz straight past him, for heaven’s sake. Through his legs, forsooth! Shoulders slumped, pace down, energy barely registering, looking for all the world like he was simply off for an amble in the other direction.

Should he be delivering such high quality in the other 89 minutes of this and every other match as to make himself undroppable I would probably wave him along after a sharp click or two of the tongue (as I essentially do with Messrs Kane and Romero). But Emerson is anything but undroppable. Hook the bounder, fit Doherty for the necessary costume and let’s at least benefit from the latter’s attacking contributions.

2. Lloris

Heaven knows it was a thump and a half to the solar plexus to lose the bally thing thusly, but if there were one amongst our number who would have been excused an even heftier curse or two it was probably poor old Monsieur Lloris.

The poor sap appeared to have saved us a point with his flying leap at what had appeared to be the death, tipping around the post at full stretch one of those curling efforts whose trajectory seemed to scream ‘Bottom Corner’. Coming as it did in minute 89 it seemed a reasonable move to thank the chap for rescuing a draw, before simply bunging away the corner and awaiting the final whistle.

A dashed waste then, to see the resulting corner fly straight back into the net so earnestly protected just moments before, but sometimes life takes these opportunities to illustrate that if it is not one damned thing it will be another.

Had things petered out goallessly I fancy that Lloris would have been a solid bet for the Outstanding Performer gong, at least from our lot. When Sporting counter-attacked for the first time, way back in the in the early knockings, Lloris was on hand to do the full-stretch thing; and when Edwards dusted off his quite sensational Maradona impression it was again left to Lloris’ reflexes to keep the net undisturbed. He, if no-one else, seemed to merit a point.

3. The Son – Richarlison – Kulusevski Love Triangle

Conte has long established himself as one who knows his beans, so there will be precious little criticism of his preferred methods of skinning cats from this quarter, but I nevertheless allowed myself a raised eyebrow when the team news filtered in. Having banged on about the need for squad depth at various points since his N17 coronation, it is a tad rummy to see him so wedded to near enough the same XI, and galling when both performance and result fall flat.

Most eye-catching was this business of again selecting Kulusevski as the odd man out, while Sonny again started. This is of course a point under the heading of ‘Form’ rather than ‘Class’, and I’m not sure any one of sound mind doubts that Sonny will tearing strips out of opposing defences soon enough (indeed, his contribution in getting the Marseille monsieur sent off last week should not be forgotten in a hurry).

But frankly the fellow is off the boil, while Kulusevski has noticeably upped the overall performance level as soon as ushered in, no matter what the role he is asked to fulfil.

Richarlison, like Kulusevski, seems a pill who is on an upward form trajectory, similarly providing a series of headaches to opponents. The understanding of and partnership with Kane could do with a little finessing – witness the mistimed runs for one-on-ones that were flagged offside – but in general the fellow is worth his place.

Now I must hold up a paw or two and confess that I’m not quite sure who plays on which side if Sonny is removed and the equation becomes Richarlison-Kane-Kulusevski, and it might be that there is a significant impediment to this set-up. Frankly, however, I’m inclined to think that such an issue ought to be surmountable for these three. Grown men and all that.

Who knows what plans Our Glorious Leader had had in place for the postponed City game, and what plans he has in place for the upcoming Leicester game – but for the time being at least, it would seem uncontroversial to pluck Sonny from the frontline and utilise Kulusevski.  

4. It’s Been Coming

A bitter pill and all that, and I’d guarded pretty zealously the concept of picking up points while playing badly – but now that we’ve lost, and the dust is settling, I do scratch the bean and wonder if this might be a useful prompt. Encourage the assorted cast members to buck up their ideas, if you know what I mean?

While we sit prettily enough in the Premier League table, and have had a couple of tricky fixtures, I’m not sure we’ve played particularly well for more than half an hour in any game so far this season.

The trend had actually been to start each game with a dreadful, dirge-like apathy, so in that respect at least one improvement was made yesterday – our lot started each half full of beans, pressing high and generally trying to impose themselves. But yet again, it was rather fleeting stuff, and on balance we looked as likely to concede as to score.

As mentioned above, I’m pretty reluctant to chide Conte, so it is in a spirit of well-meaning altruism that I suggest a couple of changes, to either or both of personnel or playing style. If wing-backs or central midfielders need rearranging then rearrange like the dickens; if a more creative centre would deliver the eggs then inject creativity like the stuff is going out of fashion. Either way, this particular mob has a lot more talent than has been displayed in the last couple of months.

Frankly, the AANP dollar is still on qualification from the CL Group Stage and a Top Four finish, but we might as well try to make it a little easier for ourselves, what?

Another of those polite AANP requests: if any of you fine folk know of Vegas venues that show Premier League games, do be a frightful sport and wing over the details, would you? Much obliged.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Fulham: Three Tottenham Talking Points

Parish Notice No. 1

In my experience, if you’ve dropped something of a howler it’s best to stiffen the upper lip and be out with it. Honesty the best policy and all that. And in that spirit it seems only right to look my public square in the eye and disclose – to gasps from the gallery, no doubt – that life being what it is, I didn’t get to see one minute of live action yesterday. Missed the whole thing. A heck of a shame if the reported 23 shots (and 10 on target) are anything to go by, but these things will happen.

The sum of it is that if you want an account of Actual Events then you’d be best off draining your glass and heading for the nearest exit. No grudges will be held on this side.

If, however, you are in the mood for what might be known as The Christian Eriksen Approach to Talking Points, in which only those moments that made the highlights packages are subject to consideration, while the rest is given Orwellian treatment and simply wiped from history, then by all means stick around.

1. Richarlison

For various reasons, most of the AANP column inches on Richarlison last week centred on the more mischievous side to his nature. No particular harm done, and all the sort of valid stuff that would stand up to legal scrutiny, but if ever there were a couple of highlights packages to make a man buck and up and think, “What ho! There’s a heck of a lot more to this blighter than I realised!” they were the highlights packages from yesterday’s game.

I suppose there must have been a few missteps here and there over the course of the full 90, but the overriding sense from the snippets was of a fellow pouring his heart and soul into the mission – and chalking up a fair number in the ‘Reap’ column as well as the ‘Sow’ column, if you follow my drift.

The headline stuff was the volley that gave a slap in the face to the goalpost, and the disallowed goal. That volley certainly grabbed the attention. Equal parts vicious and pretty, the thing was struck about as sweetly as physics will allow, but was all the more impressive for actually being a heck of a difficult shot to control. Sometimes the ball sits up perfectly – at just the right height, with few foreign objects in the way, and with all of nature giving the sense that it is cheering the fellow on and doing its best to create accommodating circumstances.

This was not one of those occasions. Instead, the ball was rather shoved down his gullet by Sonny – not to apportion any blame to the latter, it just happened that the pull-back was delivered with a bit too much meaning for Richarlison to wade onto it in leisurely fashion.

On top of which, it also sailed through the N17 atmosphere at a height that did not really lend itself to a first-time strike. A little elevation can be a wonderful thing; but this pass was at the sort of waist-height level that can have even the most decisive sort of nib flitting between his options, with “Shoot the dashed thing,” nestling somewhere between “Open the body and cushion to a chum,” and “Use the thigh, that’s why thy maker gave it to thee,” on the list of potential actions to be undertaken.

The lad therefore deserves all the more credit for contorting his body into all manner of right angles, looking like several limbs had been dislocated by the time he actually made contact – but as indicated above, what sweet contact it was. Rather than ballooning it off into orbit he actually angled the ball downwards, and it was a frightful shame that such technique ended up being a mere footnote. All the more unfortunate that Fulham promptly went up the other end and scored, but life does hand us these crosses to bear, what?

The poor imp’s luck did not deviate from ‘Rotten’ when his goal was chalked off (but his yellow card wasn’t, forsooth). No quibbling the decision, but given that every moment deemed highlight-worthy seemed to include Richarlison elbowing his way front and centre it did again seem a shame that he had no personal glory in which to revel.

And this is very much the point – Richarlison did not simply seem to pop up for his two near misses and flit back out of existence. He seemed involved in the genesis of every decent attacking moment, and even more impressively, appeared frequently to muck in with the plebs to chase back and press. The caveat remains that thirty minutes of highlights do not a fair appreciation provide, but nevertheless he seemed to produce a lot of positive output.

2. Romero

The problem, of course, with highlights, is that the valued contributions in possession of such apostles of the cause as Bentancur, Romero and, by all accounts, young Monsieur Lenglet, are rather scrubbed from the annals, so that one needs to rely on word of mouth rather than the evidence of the eyes to verify such things.

Instead, the principal involvement highlighted of the returning Romero did not cover the fellow in glory. This is a shame, because his absence has been keenly felt in previous games, both in terms of one might term the ‘day job’, of blocking, heading, repelling and whatnot, but also in terms of his ability on the ball. In his absence, distribution from the right side of defence has regressed to the most crude and basic of equations. Reliable sources inform me that this particular metric was upped like nobody’s business with Romero back in the fold yesterday, which is most welcome, even not having been able to bear witness to it myself.

What I did see, alas, was Romero do little more than dangle a foot in the face of impending danger, for the Fulham goal. Nor was it a decisive foot, one hewn of granite and polished over the course of a thousand red-blooded challenges. This was a pretty lazy and perfunctory foot, waggled in the general direction of danger as if to acknowledge danger in the vicinity, and formally register an attempt to prevent further harm, but containing little in the way of real meaning.

I rather fancy that this is not the first time Romero has simply stuck out a leg, while momentum is taking him off elsewhere and his bearings are generally nowhere to be seen. The fellow is hardly riddled with flaws of course, so one doesn’t look to hammer him too much for the occasional wobble, but still. This is his bread and butter. All things considered he did not make things as difficult for the Fulham cove as one might have expected.

An irritated tut in the direction of Dier too, who might have done more to close down the angle. As with Romero, the disclaimer applies that one doesn’t like to scrutinise the little things too heavily, but it just seemed a pretty soft one to concede.

Let none of this detract, however, from the more important communiqué, viz. that Romero is once again of rude health – and with CL and genetically-engineered goal-monsters fast approaching this is a most welcome tiding.

3. Lloris

The other fellow whose selected involvements caught the AANP eye was our resident last line of defence.

In ten years, the feeling still nags that Monsieur Lloris is accepted happily enough but not necessarily adored by the natives of N17. Be that as it may but his shot-stopping has generally been a forte, and as if to hammer home this point he pulled off a couple of saves that may have had much about them of the theatrical, but were nevertheless prime morsels.

Both were the products of deflections, and as such simultaneously added the complication of changing coordinates while subtracting the obstacle typically presented in such moments by good old-fashioned velocity.

For symmetry’s sake, one involved Lloris springing off a gauche, and the other a droite. I suppose he would have looked a bit of an ass if he had let the first one beat him, once he had adjusted to the re-directing of the thing, as it was pretty serviceable stuff, but still – a flying leap and full body extension was needed, and a f. l. a. f. b. e. he delivered, with solid delivery and a couple of accompanying rolls afterwards, just to make sure everyone knew about it.

So far so good, but the second save was the one that really gave HR the nudge that here was a man well worth his monthly envelope. For a start, it came at a time when it looked rather cruelly like we might exit the piece with only one point, for Fulham’s late rally was in full flight and the scoreline reduced to 2-1. Context mattered at this point, and Lloris did his bit.

But also, I thought it was one heck of a save in itself, aside from any context. Had he stopped to check the egg-timer Lloris may have noted with some alarm that time was not his ally at this point, because even with the deflection the ball was motoring along at a fair whack. And because of the deflection, a decent amount of back-pedalling was required and pronto, on top of which an even fuller body extension was summoned at the last.

One only has to cast the mind back to the deeply scarring Italia ’90 semi-final (AANP? Holding onto old football wounds far too long? Never!) to know that a goalkeeper’s back-pedalling is not a manoeuvre easily executed, so while the thirty-year psychological trauma might have been awakened deep within me, mercifully our lot at least escaped with the win. (Or evidently had done several hours earlier, when the game actually occurred.) Bravo, Monsieur Lloris.

Parish Notice No. 2:
AANP will be mingling with the locals of Denver Colorado by the end of the week (and Vegas the week after), so if you’re of lilywhite persuasion and of those parts do please drop me a line or tweet me a tweet, as viewing venues will be needed


Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.