Categories
Spurs match reports

Marseille 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sessegnon

I’ll get to the salacious stuff in due course, but during the occasional first half moment when I paused to drink in the full extent of the catastrophe unfolding, one concept that kept bugging me was this business of Sessegnon at right wing-back.

In fact, even before the whistle peeped and all concerned sprung into action, my eye had been drawn to the teamsheet and the forehead had promptly creased. For a start, there was the sight of three more right wing backs, plus one Tanganga, on the bench. (Actually, this was rather well received at AANP Towers, as it meant that Emerson’s interference with proceedings had been restricted, but nevertheless, the cogs were whirring alright.)

Call me old-fashioned, but I had rather assumed that Sessegnon would be stationed on the left, with Perisic, a cove more used to swinging the right boot, assuming RWB duties.  The sight of Sessegnon ambling around on the right from kick-off therefore threw me. It’s happened before of course, fleetingly here and there, but I’ve rarely seen the point of it, and the use of inverted wing-backs in a game as critical as this certainly did wonders for my repertoire of puzzled looks.

Whatever the plan was meant to be, it pretty much died at birth. When the stars align, Sessegnon can be an effective left wing-back – diligent in defence, and pretty willing to stick a foot on the accelerator and make a bit of hay in the final third. Last night however, the stars did not align. If anything, the stars came crashing down from their moorings.

Sessegnon did not make it to halfway, let alone the final third, so whatever the elaborate ruse was around using his left foot to cut inside on the right, we were dashed if we were going to get a glimpse of it. Instead, the young potato bobbed along around the edge of his own area throughout, and while he can’t really be faulted for effort, I felt anything but assured by the sight of him patrolling his spot. Indeed, Marseille’s first decent shot (the volley from the left that Hugo beat away) came about from an attempted Sessegnon clearance that apologetically bobbled about two yards.

A degree of sanity was restored towards the end of the first half, with Sessegnon switched back to the left, but the whole experiment struck me as pretty dashed odd – especially, to repeat, when countless naturally right-footed sorts were giving the beady eye from the substitutes’ bench.

None of this is to suggest that all our first half problems lay at the door of poor old Sessegnon, far from it. For a start the problems seemed a lot bigger than any single player (more on that later). And if we are singling out individuals then Eric Dier, a fellow from whom one would expect a lot better, inexplicably opted to lob a few passes back into our own penalty area, via some passing, low-hanging clouds, as a spirit of general ineptitude spread about the place like wildfire.

So it was not all Sessegnon’s fault by any means; but it would be no understatement to suggest that his deployment on the right baffled the dickens out of AANP.

2. Emerson’s Positive Contribution

Desperate times and all that, but even after observing the car crash that was our first half, and after seeing young Sessegnon square flap around on the right, come half-time I had not reached the stage of yearning for a spot of Emerson to solve things.

But someone in the camp obviously thought that was what was needed, so on he rolled, and promptly introduced himself to the galleries by heading a ball firmly to his right and out of play, when all ten of his teammates loitered at various points to his left.

This seemed ominous, if in keeping with his career to date, but I shifted it from my mind – as is healthy practice when taking in eyefuls of Emerson – and waited keenly to see what might unfold next. And I’ll be dashed if I were not treated to the sight thereafter, of Emerson generally doing the basics in competent and reliable fashion.

It helped, of course, that the entire collective upped their performance level about sixty notches, but nevertheless it was a pretty startling sight to see Emerson contributing healthily as required. Most welcome, but startling nevertheless. As various members of our mob oiled further up the pitch, passing options began to spring up everywhere you looked – and Emerson, to give him his dues, did not shirk responsibility in this respect.

Nor did he overcomplicate things unnecessarily, or bungle crucial interjections. On one or two occasions he galloped up into attack and pinged in a cross as the situation demanded, and while few would suggest that he existed on a different, superior plane to all others, he nevertheless contributed considerably to the marked upturn in our fortunes. Gradually we asserted a spot of control, and, remarkably, Emerson was a played a significant part.

3. Bentancur

If Emerson’s ability to do normal things made my eyes pop out of my head somewhat, Bentancur had the vaguely opposite effect, in that his ability yet again to rise a level or two above everyone else seemed simply to be standard operating procedure.

His anonymity in the first half was a tough one to swallow, but that painful drudgery having been very much a collective effort, one did not dwell. However, whatever the nature of the sorcery that was discussed and greenlit at the break, it seemed that Master Bentancur had been enlisted to play a pretty critical role. With Bissouma thickening things up in midfield (and, in the second half at least, producing one of his better performances in our ranks to date), Bentancur appeared to have a bit of licence to jolly off into attack as the urge grabbed him.

He rattled off his lines with aplomb. Dreamy technique never goes amiss, of course, and having been neutered in the first half he was right on the money second time around; but on top of which, the nature of the thing, with Marseille heaving forward and leaving themselves rather exposed at the rear, meant that Bentancur was often to be observed leading the charge over halfway, sprinting up towards their area, either with ball at feet and killer-pass on radar, or in support of whichever other chappie was at the controls.

It is true that as a collective our lot improved pretty much exponentially, but either because or due to that – and strong cases can be made in each camp – Bentancur was at the hub of much that was good in our second half play. Be it retaining possession and putting in a spot of game-management, or haring up towards their goal, Bentancur was the font from which our goodness spouted. A mild shame that he overhit the pass for Lucas, which would have had the latter through on goal, but that aside his was, again, a performance vastly superior to all others’.

4. First Half vs Second Half

Of course, the column inches on Sessegnon, Emerson and Bentancur amount to polite small-talk. The real front-page news was the umpteenth instance of our transformation from clueless and impotent in the first half, to clued up and punchy in the second – the prompt for such a metamorphosis, as ever, being the concession of a goal.

Why the hell our lot must always wait until falling behind to unleash their better selves is an absolute mystery, but to this end my attention was arrested by a sentence casually lobbed into conversation by Monsieur Lenglet during his post-match buttering last night. Lenglet stated – and I paraphrase here – that the johnnies in the camp were unsure, when pistols were drawn, whether the message from above was fight or flight.

This did not strike me as mightily encouraging. One would have thought that any team at any level would head off to battle with clear instruction ringing in their ears at least as to whether the general approach would be attack or defend. With Conte having a reputation as the sort of egg who drills home tactical instructions for every eventuality, I found the mind boggling a bit at the notion that Lenglet – and who knows how many others? – was not sure in even the broadest sense what the setup was supposed to be.

I certainly understand that a deficit in any game removes any lingering doubt. When trailing, after all, one is rather obliged to up the levels, in order to salvage something. However, the notion that at kick-off the players simply look at each other and shrug, none the wiser as to what course ought to be plotted until they fall behind, seems to me rummy in the extreme.

Another theory being bandied about the place is that Conte is essentially playing rope-a-dope, both in the short- and long-term. In each individual match he wants the opposition to expel every last ounce of puff by around the midway point, so that our heroes have that much more mileage to go snatching and grabbing the points at the death; and over the course of the season he would like us simply to keep pace with things until the World Cup, so that the shackles can be cast aside come the new year and the race be run with a spot more dash and elan. In truth, however, AANP treated this one with a pretty sceptical eye.

Perhaps more believable is the notion that Conte simply does not have much faith in our defence to do as bid, and therefore piles up the reinforcements each game, resulting in scenarios such as the first half last night, when all ten outfield players are wedged within spitting distance of Lloris, and there is no attacking outlet at all.

Whatever the reason, be it accident, design or some otherworldly intervention, it is pretty maddening stuff to ingest every three days. As numerous second halves have indicated, not only are our lot perfectly capable of playing on the front-foot, giving multiple passing options, defending relatively high up the pitch and winning the ball in midfield or higher, but they can actually do it pretty effectively.

All of which makes me fling my head back and howl at them for not simply adopting that approach from the off, and racking up the goals at various points prior to the absolute dying seconds of the game.

On a positive note, however, last night was, ultimately, an absolute joy, the like of which we haven’t experienced in the Champions League since Amsterdam. Qualifying for the knockout stages was a triumph, and I suspect ticked a box that most of us would have scrawled at the start of the season when pondering what a successful campaign would look like. To dump out in such manner a team stocked everywhere you looked with former Woolwich blisters added to the fun. And credit where due – for the third time in a week (albeit ruled out on one occasion by a dubious VAR) our heroes have come from behind to score a winner in the dying seconds, which represents a heck of an improvement from all those lightweight Spurs sides of my youth.

Tweets hither

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

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

West Ham 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The First Half: Actually Not Too Bad

Obviously when sifting through the wreckage, shaking the head sadly and tutting knowingly, it seems almost inappropriate to reflect that in the first half things had actually been pootling along fairly comfortably. And yet, when the curtain came down at the halfway stage the mood at AANP Towers was that this was probably the best we’d looked since Day 1. A low bar, admittedly, but still.

For a start, whereas at Forest on Sunday the entire concept of a midfield was ignored and everyone involved just slapped the ball up to the front three at the earliest opportunity, in the first half last night our lot pinged the thing through the pitch in neat, little diagonals. From defence the ball would roll along to Hojbjerg or Kane dropping deep; and from there be worked in another neat little diagonal to Kulusevski or Sonny or Perisic; and the net result was that we regularly worked our way from back to front in bright and breezy fashion. Although none of this was remotely Brazil 1970, our opponents seemed to have their minds blown by it, simply standing around gawping as our heroes slid passes around them at half pace.  

The biggest early impediment to all this was that blasted VAR delay, after which our lot rather dozed off and the other lot remembered their obligations. Even so, by half-time it did feel like anything less than victory would represent a pretty major faux pax on our part.

In particular I was rather taken by the way that rotter Harry Kane made use of the wide, open spaces nearer halfway, West Ham seemingly oblivious to the trouble he can cause from such positions and he accordingly picking forward passes hither and thither.

Perisic was another who caught the AANP eye, ever willing to explore the lane ahead of him and ever able to deliver a decent cross. Indeed, the winnings from Perisic’s recent crosses have been considerable – the VAR incident here, the penalty against Forest on Sunday, the late equaliser against Chelsea (from a corner admittedly) and a near-miss header from Kane against Wolves.

On top of which, the fellow is as wily as they come, well-versed in the murky arts that facilitate the shielding of the ball and winning of free-kicks and whatnot. Not since Edgar Davids have we been blessed with one of these more experienced eggs, who manages to deliver the goods with little more than a knowing wink and spot of upper-body muscle.

2. Our Goal

I alluded earlier to the crispness of some of our first half interplay from defence onwards, and rarely was this better exemplified than in our goal, a move of such slickness it looked like they’d been rehearsing it for weeks.

In the first place it came about when the defensive siren was being sounded, with the other lot on the attack and attempting to tiptoe their way into our area. At this juncture Eric Dier made a couple of his better life-choices, firstly in stepping forward from the defensive line to intercept an opposing forward pass. This having been done he then rattled through the options, and rather than belting the ball to within an inch of its life, slid the thing about ten yards north to the waiting Kane.

As mentioned, despite having turned into an art-form the practice of dropping deep, and having given fair warning of his ability in this sector for a good three or four years now, West Ham seemed utterly oblivious to the threat posed by Harry Kane in such situations. There were few complaints from AANP Towers. Kane collected the ball ten yards outside his own area, toddled along with it another ten yards and then biffed it out to Kulusevski, in about the time it takes to murmur, “Defence into attack”.


One of the marvellous things about Kulusevski is that he is the sort of bean who’s happy to run first and think later, seemingly living by the maxim that life will present a solution further down the line. Having collected the pass from Kane around the halfway line he injected a little more urgency into the move, flicking the dial from “Saunter” to “Gallop”, which in turn was a signal for Kane and Sonny to rev up and pick their supportive spots. Kane went outside, Sonny inside, and by the time Kulusevski had arrived at the edge of the West Ham area all sorts of options were presenting themselves, fitting confirmation of the Swede’s aforementioned life motto.

It would be easy to overlook, but in dinking inwards, giving the impression of being the sort of fruit who’s about to ping a shot with his left clog, Kulusevski did just enough to sway all three claret shirts around him in one direction, leaving the streets free for Kane to charge off in the other direction. As his pièce de résistance, Kulusevski then timed his flicked pass to perfection, ensuring that Kane was onside and his view unimpaired for the climax of the piece.

Sonny’s luck being what it is these days, an opposing sort got in first to poke the ball home, but rarely has an own goal been crafted with such beauty and precision.

As mentioned, come half-time, although a long way from first gear, AANP gazed upon the breadth of the domain and greeted it with a fairly care-free shrug. Matters seemed in hand.

3. Their Goal

Matters, however, then pretty swiftly u-turned. For a bod who appears to pride himself, and build entire empires, on defensive organisation, one can imagine that Senor Conte would have been out for blood after observing the goal we conceded, sloppiness oozing from its every pore.

At the time the throw-in was (rather dubiously, to my beady eye) taken, both Perisic and Hojbjerg were looking in directions other than the ball, which at any level of football is pretty thick stuff.

Had Perisic been on the right planet he might have assisted with the general operation to nullify Antonio, but by the time the penny dropped matters had progressed and the danger heightened. Now Perisic is something of a favourite around these parts, but there are times in life when one has to put one’s foot down. All the whipped crosses and wily know-how in the world doesn’t count for much if one is then going to drift off to the land of fairies when a throw-in is being taken within spitting distance, dash it.

Had any one of Sessegnon, Sanchez or Emerson been guilty of this they’d have had the book – and various heavier, blunter instruments – thrown at them by AANP, so there is no reason for Perisic to escape censure. The fellow deserves stern words and a brief thrashing.

Meanwhile Hojbjerg, another who really ought to know better, was, unbelievably, similarly gazing elsewhere at the crucial juncture. In his defence he was at least facing the ball, and had seemingly turned his head to yell at someone in the way footballers like to do to pass the time, but it was still a heck of an oversight.

Worse than this however, once he had refocused on current affairs, he (along with Bissouma) was far too slow to respond to the forward dart of Soucek. Both Messrs H. and B. had a couple of yards on Soucek, and yet while the latter built up a head of steam, our two did not accelerate beyond a common jog. By the time Hojbjerg bucked up his ideas it was far too late, while Bissouma didn’t even reach the point of bucking up ideas, and simply ambled along providing decoration to the piece.

All in all, a pretty soggy goal to concede, and one which rather summed up much of our play in the second half. Inevitably, Richarlison immediately brought a little spark when introduced, and one might charitably suggest that an away draw in a London derby is no small fry, but really, throwing away a lead against this mob was pretty criminal stuff. They were not particularly good; but frankly, neither were we.

4. Bissouma

I mentioned young Bissouma’s input – or lack thereof – into the goal conceded, and it summed up a rather underwhelming first start for the chap.

I actually thought his early knockings were pretty encouraging. He seemed more comfortable than most in receiving possession, unflustered by the presence of opposing legs around him and generally doing a pretty good impression of Bentancur when it came to receiving and redirecting the ball around the halfway line.

Matters started to take a turn for the murky when he picked up his yellow card. This in itself was pretty fat-headed stuff – unlucky though he was to be penalised for a foul, seemingly on the basis of crowd reaction rather than the referee having actually seen anything, thumping the ball away in response marked him out as a pretty dim cove.

If one wanted to quibble one might have cleared the throat and politely mentioned that thereafter he didn’t always have to play the way he was facing, his habit of popping the ball straight back to Davinson Sanchez frankly doing more harm than good given the latter’s pretty limited passing ability (it seems no coincidence that Emerson barely offers an attacking threat when Sanchez rather than Romero lines up for company inside him).

By half-time, it seemed from my vantage point that Bissouma had morphed from Bentancur to Winks during the course of proceedings, so it was some relief to see him approach the second half in a marginally more offensive spirit, receiving the ball on the half-turn and generally looking north for a useful pass to pick.

Nevertheless, it was all a little disappointing. Of his fabled zeal for intercepting and tackling there were only glimpses, and as mentioned, his role in the goal conceded was lamentable.

None of which is to write the chap off; far from it, he is one of the shrewdest signings we’ve made for some time. Just a shame that his middling performance last night was in keeping with all around him, and led to the forfeiting of a couple of quite obtainable points.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-0 Wolves: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Perisic

The nomination of I. Perisic Esq. from the gun was welcomed pretty heartily here at AANP Towers, where we’ve taken every opportunity to pen admiring odes and poems and whatnot about the chap, and this week even went as far as to bring him into the fantasy team.

Alas, the distinct absence of fizz about the place in the first half extended to the Croat. Quite why our lot simply don’t bother spitting on their hands and getting down to business during minutes 1-45 is beyond me. Thrice in three games it’s happened this season, to say nothing of some similar guff last season, but there it is.

As well as the strange impotence in open play, the Brains Trust had also opted to pop Sonny on corners rather than Perisic, and while the whole thing worked a dream in the second half, during that opening 45 there was some prime chuntering emanating from these parts. As if to make the point that he considered this set-piece-taking hierarchy an oversight, Perisic proceeded to whip in a peach of a cross from absolutely nowhere right at the end of the half, when seemingly penned into a corner and facing the wrong way, resulting in a Kane header that but for the grace of God and extended goalkeeping limb would have hit the top corner.

Of course one decent cross doth not a wing-back masterclass make, and it was only in the second half that Perisic really put a wriggle on and started making hay down the left. It was impressive stuff. Evidently no slouch over fifteen yards, Perisic stacked the odds further in his favour in every going sprint by stationing himself as high up the pitch as decency allowed, meaning that when our lot hit the final third he had morphed into every inch the bona fide winger.

On top of which, the chap threw in stepovers and feints and all sorts, the type of jiggery-pokery that looks all the more impressive after a wing-back diet of Emerson, Doherty and Sessegnon for the last year, and it all tended to finish off with some devilish delivery.

The near-post flick for Kane’s goal was another tick in the box, but it was his output with ball at feet and engines revved that really caught the eye. I would not go as far as to say Perisic’s second half contribution changed the game, because levels were upped in just about all attacking spots after half-time, but it was cracking stuff to drink in.

2. Kulusevski

Dejan Kulusevski was another whose presence barely registered in the first half, only to whip off the mask and give the punters their money worth in the second. The chap had clearly been at the spinach during the half-time pause-for-thought, because the figure that re-emerged was the Kulusevski of old, all strangely unstoppable running and delicious delivery.

I am not and probably never will be the sort who advocates statues for players, but if anyone fancies plotting on a spreadsheet the prefect arc of Kulusevski’s curling crosses I’ll happily frame the thing, hang it on a wall and narrate its back-story to all who pass through the place. The cross that Kane headed against the bar was a thing of considerable beauty, the sort of pass I’d happily watch endlessly whistle through the air.

But as much as his delivery it was the general energy with which Kulusevski approached life in the second half that made itself felt. He took to the pitch seemingly intent on putting his head down and running, at every opportunity, and the attitude bore multiple fruits.

For a start it served to jolt into life those around him, so that it wasn’t too long before the pitch was abuzz with lilywhites haring off into attacking spaces.

And moreover, Kulusevki’s running seemed to cause Wolves a dickens of a problem every time. As a minimum their emergency panel evidently deemed it prudent to assign two men to him each time he went off on the charge, and on at least one occasion he earned a yellow card for one of them who had evidently had enough of chasing the chap’s shadow around the place.

With Sonny again oddly muted throughout, and Emerson’s attacking produce some way short of the standards set by Perisic, it was as well that Kulusevski bucked up his ideas in the second half.

3. Sanchez

I suppose you might say it’s not really cricket to spy a fellow’s name on the teamsheet and resolve from the off to subject him to the beady eye throughout, in search of any hint of error – but show me the name “Sanchez, D” in Arial 12 and the first thing I’ll do is train the monocle on the chap, pitchfork at the ready.

If one were in philosophical mood one might consider the absence of Romero for the next few games to be oddly just, given that he escaped a red card and three-match ban by what you might describe as a hair’s breadth last time out. So here we were, Romero-less, which meant that we were Sanchez-ful, and as befitting the occasion there was a sharp intake of breath every time the Colombian went near the ball.  

And I was not the only one showing my appreciation when the young prune’s first involvement proved to be as punchy as it was crucial, some Wolves laddie haring off towards the right-hand side of the area, with circumstances somehow dictating that Sanchez was the last line of defence between him and the whites of Lloris’ eyes.

Now if Sanchez has demonstrated one thing in his time at N17 it’s that he is not one for the subtle interception. Not for him a delicate toe stretched at just the optimum moment, to nick the ball from an opponent’s foot. When Davinson Sanchez intervenes he does so with meaning, pouring heart and soul into the act. In fact, to “heart” and “soul” in the above description you can generally add “body” too. There is no changing direction or arresting momentum. A Davinson Sanchez block is very much a one-way ticket.

And so it came to pass that in this particular incident Sanchez executed a block by flinging his entire self, feet first, in the way of the ball. It makes for a peculiar look, this giant of a man skidding along the turf on his rear, both legs sticking out in front of him like an oversized child on a water-slide. And if any attacker were to do their research they’d know that one straightforward drag-back would leave Sanchez sliding away into a different postcode, the path to goal no longer obscured.

However, the manoeuvre proved immensely effective, which is the point of the thing, and as with so many of Wolves’ attacks in and around the area, the whole episode was snuffed out before Lloris was summoned to action.

Having started his afternoon thusly, I had hoped that Sanchez might use his early success as a prompt for calmness of mind and further success, but for the remainder of the first half at least it was a slightly mixed bag. No crisis befell, but nor did I feel much assurance when play drifted into his orbit.

Whatever his attributes as a defender, when opportunity presents itself to act decisively he still seems instead gripped by nerves, as if weighing up the best and worst of all possible worlds and finding himself irresistibly drawn towards the latter. This was illustrated around halfway through the first half, when he engaged in some back-and-forth in the right-back neck of the woods, and ended the exchange on the floor and decidedly second best, requiring Emerson to tidy up the mess.

Still, no lasting damage was done, and in the second half activity in Sanchez Avenue was a lot quieter, largely due to the general dialling up of quality from out lot in other areas. With fewer mano-a-mano battles the honest fellow was largely tasked with holding his shape within the back three, and the time passed largely without incident.

His distribution was, understandably enough, some way short of the standards of Romero, but as eye-of-the-needle passing has never been the primary purpose of a Davinson Sanchez I am generally prepared to turn a blind eye as long as nothing too calamitous emanates from his size nines. And apart from a few aimless hoicks into the mid-distance he generally had the good sense to keep things simple, dabbing the ball off to Dier inside him or Emerson outside.

If one could pick a fixture into which to fling the chap, ‘Wolves (H)’ would be near the top of most lists, given that they consider winning to be beneath them, and tend to set about their business without a striker worthy of the name. A similarly kind fixture list in the coming weeks means that we should muddle through the absence of Romero – and consequent inclusion of Sanchez – without too much further incident. The chap cannot be faulted for effort and, as evidenced by that early block, he has a grasp of the basics, but the pulse will certainly ease down a tad when Romero returns.

Tweets hither

Categories
Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-2 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Second-Quickest to Everything, Dash It

As happens maybe every five years or so before a crunch game, I actually approached this one in a spirit of quiet optimism. The summer transfers, the pre-season hard work, Chelsea not quite looking themselves – it would be a stretch to say I foresaw us steamrolling them, but word definitely got about the place over the weekend that AANP thought we would edge this one.

I should have known better of course. Four decades of watching our lot should have taught me that if nothing else, just when it seems that things are looking up, we would find some way to make a pig’s ear of things.

The preferred method yesterday of gamming up the entire operation was to approach the thing from about five minutes in with a spirit of half-paced drowsiness. Our lot seemed convinced that they would have this thing won if only the other lot would leave them alone for a dashed minute or two. Each time anyone in lilywhite received the ball, the immediate reaction appeared to be to celebrate the fact by pausing, taking another touch, dwelling on it for a goodish bit, taking an additional touch, having a look around and then setting about the business of deciding what to do next.

I suppose one might kindly say that the theory behind this was reasonable enough, as one likes to get things just right in life, but in a bash against one of the best teams out there this was never going to wash. Chelsea rotters were swarming around our heroes as soon ball hit lilywhite boot. The above sequence never progressed beyond “pausing”. If it had not dawned upon our lot beforehand that matters were going to be conducted at breakneck pace in all areas of the pitch, it ought to have become clear once the game started and our every touch saw blue shirts harass the dickens out of us.

I’m not sure any of our number escapes censure for this, which is pretty troubling stuff. Kane had one of those days, which occasionally happens, when he drops deep in search of the thing, but finds the opposition are wise to the ruse, and have designated someone to shadow him like Mary’s bally lamb, nicking the ball from him before it even reaches him (I seem to recall Bissouma doing this to him last season).

Sonny’s every involvement had much about it of Hudson’s last stand in Aliens, as he was generally crowded out and made to disappear from view before he knew what had hit him.

Even Kulusevski, who for six months has been carving out quite a career for himself as A Chap Who Always Finds A Way, now found himself muzzled at every turn. Indeed, so rotten was Kulusevski’s day that he ended up as one of the principal villains in the second goal conceded, being shoved to the floor when in possession and left to wave a few forlorn arms in protest – a sure sign of guilt – as Chelsea got on with things and scored.

The introduction of Richarlison and tweak of shape helped to ease things a bit – more on that below – but a fifteen-minute uplift in matters was not simply going to paper over the cracks of the previous hour as if all had been bonny and gay throughout. AANP does not easily forget. If anything, AANP stews in his juices and reproaches bitterly all in lilywhite long after it is appropriate to continue doing so.

As such I remain deeply troubled by the general approach of being second-quickest to just about every exchange that happened on the pitch until that point. Whether it was a tactical flaw brought about by the stationing of Chelsea’s midfield bodies, or technical flaws on the part of each of our own mob, or indeed attitudinal flaws on the part of each of our own m., or some unholy combination of the above, it was not something that we ought to peddle, and we were pretty fortunate to escape with a point.

2. Richarlison

I read in some post-match critique or other that Richarlison only touched the ball seven times, a revelation which, if true, is quite the shot in the arm for those who like to trumpet the merits of quality over quantity.

It did not require the keenest intelligence to note that things bucked up a bit when he entered the fray and went stomping about the place. I suppose this upturn in fortunes could be attributed in part to the change in shape that he brought with him – giving the Chelsea defence an extra body to keep their beady eyes upon (a factor that almost brought home immediate bacon when Koulibaly was caught wondering whether to shadow the newly-arrived Richarlison or stick to his position, and ended up dithering for long enough to allow Kane to march in on goal unmarshalled, for the chance that was dragged wide).

Equally, the upturn in fortunes could be attributed to Richarlison himself. Seven touches he may only have had – and I’m dashed if I can remember any of them to be honest – but he took to the challenge of changing the game like a man who had spent the preceding hour itching to get involved in the various scraps unfolding on the pitch.

He bounded about the place with an energy I’m not sure any of his colleagues had displayed, and generally gave the impression of a chap who, rather than fling up his arms every time he received a barge to the upper half, instead positively sought out such stuff as precisely the kind of bally-hoo for which he was designed. This felt like the exact stage and scenario for which he was brought to the club.

3. The Second Equaliser

That said, the congratulatory back-slaps and whoops were rendered pretty hollow within minutes, as Chelsea reacted to conceding the first equaliser by rearranging their own pieces on the board, upping the intensity and scoring again.

(A cursory note on the general din surrounding our first goal, while on the subject – Bentacur touched the ball, and the goalkeeper could see the ball.)

Come the 96th and final minute, things were bubbling nicely, with Senor Romero no doubt fortunate that the eye in the sky did not take a dimmer view of his latest approach to settling differences. It was understandable enough that he felt the urge to tug the chap’s sensational mane – had I shared a pitch with Cucurella I’d have given it a friendly pull every time I passed him, for sporting a coiffure that voluminous in any sporting arena should not come without consequence – but using the ridiculous hairpiece as a lever by which to yank him to the ground was ill thought-through on Romero’s part.

Nevertheless, there was deep satisfaction to be gained from the antics of Romero and Richarlison in general. Dastardly stuff of course, and one would never publicly advocate this sort of thing, but behind closed doors all manner of knowing winks are exchanged, and rightly so. One assumes that somewhere in Spain, Erik Lamela nodded approvingly before shrugging his shoulders in a gesture of wide-eyed innocence. Moreover, as Thiago Silva will remind us from last season, this is a fixture in which one simply has to accept the referee’s call and stiffen the upper lip.

Back to our second equaliser, and there was much to digest. Let the quality of Perisic’s deliveries in that final minute not be overlooked in the first place, for goodness knows we have seen our fair share of terrible corners over the years (in fact, Master P’s first effort of the match was something of a shocker, but one forgives and forgets).

The timing of the thing also merits a moment’s consideration. Scoring a late equaliser of course always comes drenched in lashings of smug satisfaction and schadenfreude, but for our lot to beaver away until the end reflects rather well on the mindset of those involved – all the more so on a day on which any slump in shoulders would probably have seen Chelsea wrap the thing up.

But most eye-catching from my viewpoint was the fact that as the corner came in it was greeted by a veritable parade of Tottenham bodies. Kane of course took the credit, but had he decided against jumping for the thing his absence would not have been lamented, for Richarlison was right behind him in the queue. I noted that Richarlison was strangely unattended by anyone in blue, which seemed one heck of an oversight given the situation but also thoroughly at odds with the approach Chelsea had taken the whole game.

Not that I quibbled, of course, and in fact, even had Kane not been there I doubt Richarlison would have been able to indulge, because at the crucial moment we were additionally treated to the sight of Lucas Moura absolutely hurling himself at the ball, having taken a running leap at the thing.

Again, there was not a resisting defender in sight, which was rather rummy – but I was simply thrilled to see three of our number so emphatically intent on winning the ball and bagging the goal. Having been second best in so much of what had gone before, and seemingly unmoved to attempt to remedy it, the sight of three of them doing their damnedest to barge to the front of the queue for the equaliser was satisfying stuff. Had every challenge been greeted with such bloody-minded gusto the whole thing might have turned a different shade, but this was good enough.

This was a rare occasion on which even in the face of seeming defeat I rather enjoyed the thing as a spectacle, which just goes to show. The rapidly escalating mutual dislike between the two managers – which, of course, no-one likes to see – was the sort of stuff everyone loves to see, and added a pleasing garnish to the general spectacle. And having thought beforehand that this would serve as a useful gauge of our progress (and having, as mentioned, registered some optimism about our chances) the reality-check, that work remains in order to overhaul this lot, was useful; while at the same time fighting back to nab a point in the face of defeat, away to a Top Four side, sent us off home in cheery enough mood.

Tweets hither

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 4-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson

Emerson had what might officially go down in the tome of such things as his best game in lilywhite. Admittedly the bar in this particular area is pretty low, the memory lingering long of countless dreadful attempted crosses last season, but let that not detract from some surprisingly impressive stuff in all areas for the peculiar chap. Who knew he had it in him?

If Emerson is the sort to let the failings of previous seasons weigh on him, he hides it well. Here is a fellow not wanting for self-confidence, irrespective of how much the evidence of the senses and weight of data has suggested he ought to think otherwise.

Watching him scurry off down the right, find himself incapable off beating a man or whipping in a cross, therefore decide to keep scurrying and eventually hit the byline, before attempting to pull back the ball out of necessity as much as anything else, you would think from his manner that he had long ago decided, with supreme confidence from the off, that scurrying to the byine and pulling back the ball was in fact the best possible plan, and nobody on earth could convince him that any alternative would be better – or indeed that any other living soul could execute it better than he. 

Impressively, however, it worked. In fact, just about everything Emerson tried on Saturday struck oil. From the starter’s clap he went about his business yesterday like a newly-born lamb having his first taste of spring and deciding that he’d be dashed if he was going to be prevented from gambolling about the place.

With Kulusevski on hand to provide attacking finesse as required, Senhor E’s willing and energy, and runs and uncomplicated passes, had the left side of Southampton scampering around in something of a muddle throughout.

His input for Kulusevski’s goal illustrated much of what he was doing well – first summoning the energetic spirit of that new-born lamb to bound off towards that murky area in between corner flag and penalty area, then picking a pass as simple as it was effective for Master K, who did the rest with customary aplomb.

His contribution to the own-goal was ultimately a little less conventional, his self-confidence by this point reaching the stratospheric height at which simply being wing-back was beneath him, and he fancied himself rather as a Haaland sort, motoring through the centre as the furthermost forward – but mark the preamble. Emerson tackled his man cleanly in the traditional right-back berth, then, rather than sitting back to admire his handiwork, led the charge over halfway at the sort of lick that was less new-born lamb and more thoroughbred racehorse.

Having successfully communicated the message that one need not whip in crosses from deep in order to fulfil one’s attacking remit as a wing-back, it is also worth noting that his attacking success did not come at the expense of his defensive duties. In fact, he was as diligent as the next man when on sentry duty. It was all most impressive. Whether he can hit such heights next week, say, at Chelsea, is for another day, but with Dohertys and Spences now littering the place one cannot fault Emerson’s first stab at the role of 22/23 RWB.

2. Kulusevski

Not that Saturday was simply the Emerson Show, with others in attendance offering supporting roles only. Far from it. The list of standout performers was pretty extensive – which mangles the language somewhat when you think about it, but such was the quality of the various presentations.

Kulusevski, yet again, hit impressive heights. He is quite the curio, being one of those attackers who bursts with creativity despite not having some obvious eye-catching quality. He is neither lightning-quick, nor possessed of stepovers and mazy dribbles and whatnot, and can sometimes give the air of one of those types who was not bestowed abundant gifts by Mother Nature, but made the most of what he had through hard work. Think Lampard or Kane.

And yet, his wealth of talents were on full display on Saturday, rendering him quite the unpredictable force. He seemed at any given moment as likely to go on the gallop; or pick a cute, short pass; or drag the ball back and switch directions, making the entire Southampton back-line trip over themselves; or whip in a cross begging to be despatched; or have a shot for himself. Whenever the ball entered his orbit, marvellous things began to happen.

If he had done nothing more than deliver the cross for Sessegnon’s goal I’d still have purred about him a goodish bit – but that was arguably not even the best cross he delivered, one in the second half that Romero might have flung himself at being arguably of finer quality. The second half also saw him pick out something close to the perfect pass for Sessegnon to steam onto; on top of which there was his goal, stroked in with the nonchalance of one idly pinging a ball from A to B while stretching his limbs on the training pitch.

How long it will be before he is spoken of in the exalted terms generally reserved for English-born folk remains to be seen – it took Sonny a good half-dozen years – but if he continues to deliver on a weekly basis to limited acclaim beyond N17 then there will be no complaints over here.

3. Bentancur

And yet even Kulusevski cannot necessarily be deemed the outright champion of all he surveyed on Saturday. As seems to have happened every time he skims the surface in lilywhite, Master Bentancur breezed through the game on a different plane from anyone else.

He really is the rarest of nibs, one who seems to see the game from a vantage point about twenty yards above ground level, with panoramic vision that takes in the positions and movements of all other bodies on the pitch. How else to explain the marvellous fellow’s ability to flick first-time passes in directions well beyond the realms of terrestrial vision?

Here at AANP Towers we are very much of the opinion that passes do not necessarily need to be earth-shattering as long as they are popped along swiftly. A first-time pass can rearrange the pieces just as effectively as one of those pearlers that bisects a clutch of opponents. Bentancur seems effortlessly to have mastered both disciplines, often at the same time. One could remover the goals from the pitch, and still delight in watching him dip his shoulders and ping his passes, simply for the heck of it.

On top of which, any asterisked concerns in his early days about him sometimes being ambushed by the pace of things over here seem to have been dispelled. The young bean was shuttling the ball off in new directions before opponents realised he had it; on top of which he was pretty zesty in the tackle too.

4. Sessegnon

Here at AANP Towers we are certainly fond of the grumble, and at various and regular points last season wasted little time in jabbing an accusing finger at young Master Sessegnon.

As with Emerson on t’other flank, Sessegnon seems to have used his summer weeks wisely, and went about his business on Saturday looking a darned sight more assured about his trade than previously.

The early goal presumably helped chivvy him along in this sense, but in general where last season a nameless fear seemed to envelop everything he did, often manifesting itself in heavy touches and complete absence of ball control, on Saturday he seemed vastly more capable when it came to the basics, and was a viable option on the left throughout his hour.

It was rather satisfying to note that the chap has well and truly got to grips with Conte-ball, regularly popping up in the area as an auxiliary attacker, as any wing-back should under Our Glorious Leader. He scored one, had one disallowed for offside – admittedly his own fault for jumping the gun, but again reflecting an eagerness to elbow his way into positions from which he can observe the whites of the goalkeepers’ eyes – and was denied a second goal only by a last-ditch tackle from KEP.

(A note on KWP while on the subject – the young pip has attracted some attention, with various fellow lilywhites reverently bawling that we should be in for his services again. To these I wave a dismissive hand, because no self-respecting defender ought ever to be outmuscled in the air, and in his own six-yard box, by anyone, let alone by the waif-like physique of Sessegnon; and to anyone who marvelled at the aforementioned last-ditch tackle I suggest that the best defenders read the game well enough not to need to make up five yards and execute sliding tackles from behind.)

But reverting back to Sessegnon – as with more than one of the above, this was comfortably one of his better days in lilywhite. One would expect Perisic to assume responsibilities for bigger tests, but if Sessegnon gets wheeled out for Southampton and the like he’ll get a glowing reference and rousing hand from me.

5. The Debutants

After six summer signings, I rather liked the fact that the only new sight was the gleaming kit (top marks from AANP by the way, a fan of the simple white shirt over here) and a couple of new-fangled set-piece operations. It sent the message that one has to earn one’s place in this team – earn one’s spurs, if you will – and helped to cement the notion that ours is a setup that increasingly needs to think like a big club.

Bissouma only got five minutes or so, but seemed determined not to be constrained by such mortal limitations as time, and set about cramming as much action as possible into his brief cameo. Thus we were treated to Bissouma blocks, interceptions, sensible passes, a yellow card and, intriguingly, a long-distance effort hit with some wattage. With Hojbjerg hitting (the pass in the build-up to Kulusevski’s goal was a weighted delight) but also missing (various misplaced passes littered the place), Bissouma’s brief bustle made for quite the hors d’ouevres.

Perisic had a little longer to acquaint himself with things, and similarly caught the AANP eye. The headlines of his half-hour were a couple of forays in the meaty end of things – stepovers and party-tricks to evade his man, followed by a couple of crosses into dangerous squares of the penalty area. These bode well, and in time one imagines Kane and chums feasting on his produce.

But as a long-time admirer of the chap, I kept a particular eye on his positioning at every given point, and noted that it is safe to say that rumours of him being well attuned to the whims of Senor Conte are resoundingly true. As soon as we turned over possession he was off on the gallop, well in advance of the defensive line – and, as often as not, in advance of the midfield line too. Where Sessegnon seems content enough to stay within a stone’s throw of Ben Davies, Perisic has more heady ambitions, and could regularly be spotted further up the pitch than anyone else, and frankly straining at the leash for a ball to be released onto which he might run.

All of which meant that when we lost possession he was a good-ish distance up the pitch, but the honest fellow made the effort to sprint back to his post. Should he feature against Chelsea next week I’ll be intrigued as to the extent to which his attacking instincts are indulged or otherwise.

And finally there was also a brief cameo for Lenglet, who took up the appropriate position on the left, and seemed to make the sensible hand-gestures of one who wants at least to look he knows what he’s about. He also picked a handy pass in the move that led to Bissouma’s long-distance shot, which earned him a subtle nod of approval – but his appearance was little more than a chance for Conte to flex a bicep and show the world that he has Levy eating out of the palm of his hand.

So after one fixture we sit pretty atop the pile. While it is, of course, mathematically possible that we might yet blow this, frankly anything less than the title would now be a massive disappointment.

(Tweets hither)

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.