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Lyon 1-1 Spurs: Discombobulation Rules

Discombobulating stuff. Once upon a time our heroes would have folded like an origami swan being trampled underfoot by Rambo as he ripped open the throat of a nameless foe with his bare hands. However, the days of Vega and Nethercott, under the watchful eye of Gerry Francis, appear to be long gone. Yesterday, eschewing the Limp Capitulation technique honed so professionally in years gone by, they beavered away, flinging on attacking substitutes and ending up with just about everyone piling forward to occupy every vacant spot of greenery in and around the Lyon area – and before you could say “Well dash it all, if we can’t rely on Bale to save the day we jolly well need somebody else to dip his shoulder, beat his man and thump the dickens out of the ball, leaving the opposition goalkeeper to adopt a mildly comical pose while prostrate on the ground”, we were treated to a marvellous last-minute about-turn. Huzzah!

On top of all of which – and this, the eagle-eyed (and awake) of you will note, is the discombobulating bit – this Skin-of-Our-Teeth late goal spectacular has happened before. Last week, this week, against Man Utd a couple of weeks ago – whisper it surreptitiously, but it is on the verge of becoming a habit. Make of it what you will, but this certainly is not the wretched Tottenham with which I spent many a miserable afternoon in my formative years. Heavens above, before long this new breed will be winning trophies and all sorts. Discombobulation hath made its masterpiece alright.

That said, one or two of the chaps out there adopted a pretty rummy approach to business earlier on. Young Master Walker may have included passport and foreign currency but he forgot to pack his brain cell, and a variety of ill-advised decision resulted, principally around kicking opponents rather than the ball. Out on t’other flank Benny’s zany solo routines veered swiftly from entertaining to mighty irritating as we chased the game, while there was also rather a mixed bag from Friedel, and although the bawdy howls of exasperation hurled in his direction are a mite unfair, the presence of Lloris stage-right does rather highlight the elder statesman’s failings. I would certainly feel a lot more confident fastening the cuff-links when Inter come to town if I knew Monsieur Lloris were limbering up between the sticks.

till, the second half in particular was a hearty effort, particularly as breaking down a ten-man defence has never exactly been a forte around N17. On top of which, qualifying through a last-minute goal may take a few years of our totals on this mortal sphere, but it is still a mighty satisfying way to finish a game and usher in the following day’s hangover.

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Lyon – Spurs Preview: Twelve vs Eleven

In theory the drill for this one should be simple enough – nice and tight at the back, then step aside to let Bale and Lennon blaze merrily away on the counter-attack, and before you can say “Sur ma tête”, mon fils,” we’ll be home for a late-night bourbon.

Or not. Footballers are renowned for many things, but cerebral robustness probably is not one, and it is easy enough to imagine our heroes straying from the script, and that 2-1 cushion going the way of all flesh within minutes. Still, even if they do take the complicated route, the AANP tuppence is firmly placed on qualification, for our lot simply tend not to lose these days.

The Bale Factor

Quite what the devil we will do once young Master Bale has scarpered for pastures more lucrative is too frightful to contemplate at the moment, but to the pleasure of porcrastinators the world over this is a problem for another day. The One-Man Astonishingness Machine is very much a lilywhite tonight, and as such we line up virtually twelve vs eleven. Stick him on the left, stick him through the middle or just leave him on free-kick detail – his garish size nines are sprinkled with magic dust at the moment, and the Lyon brains-trust are presumably scratching their heads in bewilderment at the task awaiting them.

Grumble Fodder

Elsewhere Messrs Dempsey and Adebayor are each purveying their own unique – but rather different – brand of bally infuriating nonsense, as I believe it is known. Dempsey is certainly a willing trier, so God presumably loves him, but AANP is becoming increasingly irritated at the manner in which his laboured multiple-touch technique sucks the lively juices from any useful-looking attack. Adebayor on the other hand, seems to have made a deep and fervent commitment to doing absolutely anything other than straining every sinew for the lilywhite cause. Nothing that cannot be rectified by a breezy Bale-Lennon-Holtby combo, but still enough to drive one to such despair that there is no option but to emit a sincere – and loaded – tut.

More chopping and changing can presumably be expected in defence, and if he is feeling particularly emotional AVB might use Lloris rather than Friedel. Whatever the minutiae, and whether or not I and my lilywhite office-chums eventually locate a drinking-hole in the Vauxhall area showing itv4, one would expect our heroes to muddle through. Bon chance, gents.

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Spurs – Newcastle Preview: The Latest Big Selection Dilemma

It’s that time of the week once more – AVB’s latest Big Selection Dilemma is upon us. The gravel-voiced one has shown with Lloris and Benny that he is something of a tease when it comes to awarding regular starting berths, but Holtby-time presumably now beckons. It may have only been two substitute appearances against middling opposition, but the lad has already proved himself as good as Pele, Mandela and that Matrix chap combined, so one hopes he manages to oust Dempsey from the starting XI.

The only certainty is that Defoe is out, so AVB will be donning a blindfold and sticking pins upon one or two from Holtby, Adebayor, Dempsey and possibly even Bale. A similar approach will presumably be used at the back, but marvellous news reaches these parts that Monsieur Kaboul is about to resume training.

As for the opposition, a fiendishly deceiving basket of wriggly elks if ever I beheld one. Be not fooled, ye lilywhites, by Newcastle’s laughably low rung on the ladder, this lot just trumped the European Champions no less. A whiff of garlic and fromage now emanates from the black and white corner, and Newcastle’s newly-acquired French clan appear to know their way around a pitch, so a challenge et un demi is to be expected. Still, our lot tend always to snatch at least a point these days, and on home turf, against a team not resolutely set on defending for their lives, we ought to have enough about us for all three.

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Villa 0-4 Spurs: Blessed Relief, Following the World Record First Half

I suspect few other teams could labour quite so much en route to a 4-0 win as our lot did in what will go down in history as The First Half of A Thousand Corners, but by the end it was a certified cakewalk, and for eventually carpeing the diem with such aplomb our heroes deserve all sorts of credit and an extra yuletide tipple.

Men Against Boys

Last time I checked Villa had plenty chaps old enough to know how to handle a razor – the likes of Dunne and Melberg (admittedly the latter was not one with too great a penchant for the razor – and jolly impressive he looked for it too) but it seems the current Villa policy is to raid the nearest primary school nativity play cast-list and hope for the best. Consequently some sort of world record was set, as for the first 43 minutes the ball did not cross halfway, only three Villa players actually touched the ball and at one point Lloris leaned up against a goal post and fell asleep. A tough lesson for the assorted eight year-olds in claret and blue, yet they survived to half-time unscathed. Indeed, the first half was one we have viewed aghast a thousand times at the Lane, as unscrupulous visitors arrange an eight-man defence and open their Alamo Do-It-Yourself handbook.

Handily enough, the much-needed Christmas miracle turned out to be Villa hoisting themselves by their own petard, their gamble of actually trying to come out and attack in the second half neatly backfiring as they consequently sacrificed the eight-man defence that had done such a sterling job in the opening 45.

No doubt about it, life become a jolly sight easier once Villa left gaps at the back and our heroes duly cut them to ribbons, with Bale rather conspicuously abandoning his flank and bludgeoning his way straight down the centre.

Subtlety in the Centre (or Lack Thereof)

Back to that first half though, if I may, and the lack of lock-picking ingenuity down the centre. I certainly would not utter a word of dissent to the faces of either Sandro or Dembele, for the pair of them are like genetically-engineered man-beasts, ripped into shape thorugh the regimented approach undertaken by Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. Which is all well and good for snapping back the neck of an Italian stallion with a single punch under the imposing gaze of Brigitte Nielsen, but perhaps lacking the requisite subtlety for the dissection of an eight-man defence. Instead, naturally enough, the first half drill was to set Bale off on a left-wing gallop. ‘Tis a problem that has bedevilled us for several years now, and I’ll be darned if I see a solution in the offing.

Pardon the digression. The second half, by contrast, was oodles of fun, as the schoolboys abandoned the very notion of ‘formation’ and instead ran around in little circles and bumped into each other, while our heroes fizzed neat little one-twos forward and backward until we were four up and away over the hills. Particular credit is due to young Master Naughton for an absolute dream of a first-time weighted pass into Defoe for the opener (who knew the boy had that in him?). Elsewhere on the pitch Monsieur Lloris enjoyed one of the more straightforward clean sheets of his career, Vertonghen gave a glimpse of what a beautiful future might look like when he steps forward to intercept from centre-back, and somebody somewhere deserves a rasping thump on the back in recognition of the masterstroke that was kitting out our heroes in navy blue shorts.

Fours points represents an adequate haul so far for the yuletide foursome, and fourth place satisfactory at the halfway stage of the season. Downhill all the way now.

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Spurs 0-0 Stoke: The Annual Bleeding-Eyes Experience

‘Twas ever thus, against that particular bunch, and AVB can hardly be lambasted for drawing a blank where countless others have done similarly. If anything this was further frustrating proof that this particular Levy-endorsed project is a long-term one, and still at its nascent stages. Teams will set out to defend with their lives at the Lane, Stoke will set out to DESTROY FOOTBALL everywhere, and ‘tis hardly revelatory to note that our heroes rather lack the necessary je ne sais quoi to slice open a defence with a 10-yard diagonal pass so cunning it can conjure up in its right hand the very cravat that surely sat around your neck just a bally second ago.

Stubbly, gravelly of voice and still disgustingly young he may be, but alas, ‘alchemy’ is notably lacking from the AVB CV. The poor blighter did what he could at the outset, for there was sense in the selections of Daws at the back, and both bona fide strikers in attack. That said, Sigurdsson might have been given a bit longer to set off on his customary dash hither and thither (although the poor lamb does seem destined to become master of the near-miss) and young Master Townsend might have been employed to have a fresh-legged scuttle at the Stoke back-eight.

Instead, we were treated to nothing more novel than the swapping of Lennon and Bale for a fruitless half hour, which seems to have become the mid-game masterstroke of choice amongst the Brains Trust. The move always elicits a rather bemused shrug around these parts. Harmless enough I suppose, but there’s the rub – it is indeed generally quite harmless. I suppose it gives the opposing full-backs something new to ponder, and changes the scenery, and maybe benefits an unscrupulous spot-fixing syndicate in some unholy outreach of the globe, but in terms of genuinely blowing up our skirts and leaving bewildered opponents clawing out their own eyes, I struggle to remember it ever having truly noted it in awestruck tones as a game-changer par excellence. But ‘tis just an idle musing, and it might as well be attempted when a game threatens to peter out to 0-0 as early as the opening five minutes. The point remains that the VDV- and Modric-shaped holes have yet to be filled, and creativity lacketh accordingly.

Elsewhere, Vertonghen again had the air of a man with whom you would want to share a tumbler of whiskey to soothe the nerves on a particularly fraught festive afternoon, and Monsieur Lloris has himself another clean sheet, but Dembele and Sandro increasingly looked like they would rather be playing football than Stoke. Understandably enough. However, in the ‘Small Mercies’ column we did at least avoid concession of some criminally undeserved, scrappy set-piece goal, which at various stages of the second half appeared to be all that was missing from the whole, sorry, eye-bleedingly frustrating experience. Still, if we can erase the episode from our collective memories, it turns out that our heroes are in action again in just a day or two, when happier times – or at least grumbles of a different ilk – await.

Merry Christmas one and all, do allow yourselves a moderate celebration.

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Arsenal – Spurs Preview: The Art of Mutual Pessimism

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

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

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

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

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

First Half Fun

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

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

Second Half Regression

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

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

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

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

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

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Spurs – Chelsea Preview: Little Concern For The Chap On The Touchline

This horrible lot again. Revulsion levels for Chelski were upped to a shuddering maximum over the summer, when they scandalously denied us our CL spot by somehow flouncing off with the shiny European pot last summer (the moment of their winning penalty – and our CL elimination – as seen through AANP eyes, was thoughtfully captured hither by a chum while on stag in Portugal).

Just about every article printed over the last 24 hours has lathered on interminably about AVB, his former mob, his current mob, the clash of his former against his current mob, and every other AVB connotation at which one can wave a jolly large stick. But really, for the faithful who troop along to the Lane at lunchtime the nub of the thing is whether our lot outscore t’other lot, with relatively little concern for whichever chap wears the suit on the sidelines.

While four consecutive wins is, statistically, about as fine fettle as we could wish for, the on-pitch stuff has not quite been the very model of fluency. A Terry-less Chelsea provides opportunity, particularly with our handsome young Welshman approaching top form at a gallop, but Messrs Sandro and Dembele will jolly well need to have their defensive hats well secured, as the opponents will have all manner of shiny, expensive foreign types charging at our high defensive line.

Aside from the media frenzy about his former employers, AVB will have to focus on the day job and make one or two sizeable calls regarding personnel. The choice of goalkeeper for a game of this magnitude likely to resonate along the N17 corridors (and while ‘tis neither here nor there admittedly, saving a Cesc Fabregas penalty midweek was a smart move from Lloris, a couple of weeks into his Tottenham career). The other point of interest will be in attack, where Adebayor is by all accounts now back to fitness, and may be deemed a more suitable option as pressure-release in a game like this, despite Defoe’s barely containable gusto of recent weeks. If AANP were in charge the two of them would start, but alas being in charge is a make-believe world in which Gazza’s career would have been saved, 2unlimited would still rule the airwaves and drastic re-writes would have been ordered of the scripts of both Alien 3 and Terminator 3.

Having already bettered Man Utd, through that curious mix of brio and last-ditch defending, our heroes already have one sizeable scalp displayed proudly on the mantelpiece, and that same combo will presumably be required again today. A fifth consecutive win would make this one of the cheeriest crises of the modern era.

(Apologies – blasted comments box still not fixed)

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Idle Musings on Spurs vs Greeks and Villains

Panathanaikos 1 – 1 Spurs

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

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

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

Spurs 2-0 Villa

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

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

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

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

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

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Spurs – Lazio Preview: The New Dawn Continueth

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

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

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