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Liverpool 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

Having not strung consecutive passes together since around 2014, and suffered defeats in recent weeks to such behemoths as Swansea and Southampton, there was a fairly morbid inevitability about the fact that Liverpool would rediscover their joie de vivre against us. Of course they would.

1. Davies

Credit where due, our hosts set off like a pack of hyenas spurred into action by the dinner gong at a zoo. Every time one of our lot were in possession they were rather rudely biffed and barged by at least two or three of the blighters in red, and naturally enough the mistakes duly flowed like it was open season on the things.

Our heroes certainly did not help themselves. Au contraire, they seemed fairly intent on doing their utmost to help Liverpool out of their new year slump, going the extra mile as it were. Which was neighbourly I suppose, but, it struck me, seemed to fly in the face of the overall mission imperative. Wanyama started this rot, setting his radar to “Liverpool Shirt” and letting fly with a mind-boggling five-minute spell in which all he did was intercept the ball and ping it straight to the nearest opponent. The brow furrowed.

Or at least the AANP brow furrowed. By contrast, one could almost see the eyes of Ben Davies light up as he noted the errant Wanyama peddling this insanity. Against Middlesborough and Wycombe and the like, Davies is pretty much the man for the occasion - sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but by and large doing enough to force the deal through. However, one suspects that you or I might be the man for the occasion against that lot. Liverpool away represents a different kettle of fish, something far likelier to test the iron will and moral fibre. This was Davies’ opportunity to prove himself as one of those beasts of the jungle who growls “Jump” and has his fellow beasts hopping to it pronto.

Alas, the reality that transpired was bleak, second-rate and error-strewn. Liverpool rather cruelly opted to hone in on Davies, having identified him as the weaker of the sentry guards on duty, and by golly were they were rewarded. Davies resembled a man who did not quite know which sport he was playing. Helpfully abandoned by Son, and without the reassuring presence and pristine side-parting of Jan Vertonghen beside him, the young bean floundered out of his depth and had his head dunked beneath the surface time and again by Liverpool. One would sympathise, but there is not really much room for sentiment in this narrative.

2. Dier

In a touching show of solidarity with his Welsh chum, Eric Dier peddled a similar line in incompetence, from his vantage point at centre-back. Dwelling on the ball, and displaying a turn of pace that would give hope to passing tortoises, he represented another ill-disguised chink in the lilywhite armour, as Christmas came early for our hosts.

The alarming sentiment continues to gain momentum that Dier is a centre-back who is woefully ill-equipped to perform as one half of a centre-back pairing. Within a back-three his lack of pace matters less, and as midfield cover he is able to slot in for his full-backs and mop things up neatly enough. But plant him at the core of a back-four, with little more than a “How-To” guide and his own autonomy, and the chap flounders. And flounder he did with some majesty yesterday, being directly culpable for the second, and generally unable to cope with the red shirts buzzing all around him.

(To his credit he flew in with one glorious sliding tackle to spare various blushes as Liverpool ran rampant at two-nil, but all a bit late at that juncture, what?)

It made for fairly ghastly viewing, but stepping back from things and giving the chin a little stroke, one starts to ponder the broader, philosophical questions of life, existence and Eric Dier. Not good enough to play in a back-four, and displaced in midfield by Wanyama, where does the young fish fit in?

3. Resources

If you don’t mind me veering away from the minutiae of the match itself, and instead trotting a little further down this existential line, the nub of the thing seems to be that our squad is not quite the all-singing, all-dancing, multi-talented troupe needed for the rigours of this lark. The first-choice XI is a match for the very best in the land, make no mistake. But take out Rose and Vertonghen, and we are a dashed sight weaker. Take out Kane, and poor old Janssen lollops on to stumble over his own feet. Remove Eriksen and it’s the uncontrollable limbs of Cissoko. Young Winks has some dash about him for sure, but he’s no Dembele.

And so on. Not exactly a novel train of thought, but while we were able to gloss over things in previous weeks, the lack of squad depth was exposed in fairly pointed fashion yesterday, and it made for some pretty awkward viewing.

4. Dembele

Still, amidst this rather dank state of affairs there were nevertheless one or two moments to stir the soul, and they typically emanated from the sturdy frame of Dembele. Noting with razor-sharp judgement that he was not about to receive a jot of support from any of his chums in lilywhite, Dembele set about on three or four separate occasions trying to right all the wrongs of the day single-handedly. It was like one of those tragic war-films they show on Sunday afternoons, when our half-dozen heroes are pinned into some sort of bunker by hordes of the enemy, and one particularly selfless old bean decides that the only way in which anyone is going to make it to the end credits is if he makes a noble dash right into the heart of enemy heartland and takes down a few dozen opponents, sacrificing himself in the process.

Dembele had clearly had enough of the imbecilic frippery of Davies, Dier et al, and repeatedly tried to rescue the day be single-handedly weaving his way through massed ranks of red shirts. Alas, he generally made it past two or three before being crowded out and dragged to his doom, but it stirred the loins somewhat to see this will to win.

5. Discipline

Things improved a mite in the second half, to the extent that we were not overrun quite as much, but the game was long gone by then, and we were frankly lucky to be only two down.

There were echoes of Stamford Bridge last season as the game wore on and our lot struggled to make the slightest dent in proceedings, as they instead resorted to losing their heads and lashing out with all the subtlety of a team of raging bulls in the ceramics aisle. Led, naturally, by Dele Alli, half the team got themselves cautioned for a stream of fairly wild and unseemly hacks and stamps (although young Winks can feel hard done by on that count, poor lamb). One should probably tut and pontificate, but in truth they were only doing on the pitch what I rather felt like doing from the sidelines. The whole thing was bally frustrating, and not least because Liverpool have been so poor in recent weeks.

However, just over the mid-point of the season, and with only home games vs Arsenal and Man Utd remaining of the top six, we are fairly well set. A Top Four finish is eminently doable. Quite what fresh madness awaits when the Europa League returns is anyone’s guess, and a couple of injuries could blast our season out of the water, but as long as this defeat does not trigger a slump there should not be too much cause of concern.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Spurs 2-0 Villa: Five Lilywhite Observations

From the sublime of the markedly, almost scarily professional dismantling of Chelsea, to the pointedly less sublime of an FA Cup 3rd round win against lower league gubbins. This looked every inch the performance of reserves that was advertised in the trailer.

1. First Half Snoozing

The first half was marvellously soporific stuff, as players, fans and the viewing public alike settled in for a gentle Sunday afternoon nap. Naturally enough our first-reserves could not be faulted for effort, but for all their busy scurrying the product tended generally to be little more than a pass to the left, followed by a pass to the right. Even Mike Dean seemed rather uninterested by events on the greenery.

The most notable element of that snoozy opening 45 was the sight on the Villa bench of one Stephen Clemence, a man who once had the pleasure of sharing a nightclub urinal with AANP back in the 90s heyday. It was that sort of half really.

There was a dreadful lack of that neat trickery just outside the penalty area that Messrs Eriksen and Alli have turned into such a dreamy artform. The quick shifting of the orb, and busy off-the-ball buzz, was woefully absent. That Villa fielded literally a back-six did not really help matters, but that was almost the point of the thing, for they were hardly about to rock up to the gates, wave a white flag and politely request to be butchered.

2. Cissoko

Amongst those given a rare chance to flaunt his wares was Cissoko. One moment in the first half rather captured the chap in a microcosm, as he picked up the ball just inside his own half, surged past two or three opponents like some sort of warrior buffalo, then trod on the ball whilst running at full pelt, squirting it onto an opponent whereby it flew straight back off his shin and catapulted fifty yards forward into touch. Not something you or I could have done if we had practised for weeks.

Credit where due however, and the chappie’s day improved a notch or several in the second half. He will probably never be the subtlest bean on the counter, but that head-down/chest-out/limbs-everywhere/charge-right-through-you approach reaped a dividend or two as the game wore on. On a couple of occasions he managed to burst right through the Villa defence like a fist through a paper bag, and while he fluffed his lines after fashioning for himself a one-on-one, he did nifty job of setting up Son for our second.

3. Janssen. Sigh.

It was case of the old plus ca change and whatnot for poor old Janssen. Everything we have seen before, from the plodding attempts to outpace his man, to the well-weighted lay-offs, the look of a man who won’t score if he plays for another thousand years, right through to the early withdrawal. Nothing a seasoned watcher would not have predicted. Poor egg.

4. Alli and a Change in Fortune

Insult duly toddled along and positioned himself next to injury, as Janssen’s replacement, Dele Alli, promptly brought with him a change of tempo and fortunes. Alli offered oodles more movement and creativity on the ball, and the win pretty much took care of itself.

5. Other Semi-Bright Spots

On an underwhelming afternoon, there were a few half-decent performances. N’Koudou as ever looked like a lively sort of pup when he was flung on; young Winks gave another mature and feisty performance; Carter-Vickers at the back did little wrong, albeit without enduring the most testing afternoon.

Frankly, the point of the exercise was probably three-pronged: avoid a replay; avoid injuries/suspensions; win the dashed thing. As such, and with a welcome break for the regulars, this can go down as that most curious of beasts – an eminently forgettable, unqualified success.

Arsenal 1-1 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Three at the Back

Arched eyebrows all round at kick-off, as the meanest defence of all 92 clubs in England swivelled from its traditional back-four to a terrifically trendy and fashionable three-man troupe. Eagle-eyed as ever, AANP was onto it like a flash, and did the only logical thing there is to do in such radical times – I made a list of Pros and Cons.

Pros: In the absence of Toby in midweek, all common sense made a dash for the nearest exit, and the entire back-four took to playing like a team of mechanical wind-up toys that were left to cart around in any direction they pleased, with ball control and retention purely optional. Life could not go on in that Toby-less state, particularly against hot opposition, so the change to a back-three gave a rather meaty extra layer of protection.

Cons: Granted. Not much of a Con there really, what?

Pros: Moreover, every time one of the back-three stepped forward into midfield, the Arsenal mob looked like they had been hit across the money-maker with a sledgehammer. ‘Discombobulated’ does not quite do it – they simply could not comprehend what was happening.

Cons: Until about the 20 minute mark, when they worked it out and started piling into us.

Pros: You speak sooth. However, the use of a back-three also allowed our full-backs to fulfil lifelong ambitions, and bomb forward like bona fide wing-backs. It was a switch they embraced like a caterpillars discovering wings on their back of all dashed things, and fluttering off with all manner of gaiety. At one point Kyle Walker even went on a crossfield dribble that ended up in the inside left position.

Cons: The opposition got wind of this, and ended up going 2 vs 1 down the wings when they attacked. Admittedly it might have been the role of Wanyama to help out in such circumstances, but the point remains – with the wing-backs bombing on, we were a tad vulnerable down the flanks.

And so on. One gets the gist – there were positives, negatives and all manner of things in between, but mercifully the whole gambit did not backfire, and off we toodled with a fairly hard-earned point.

2. Dembele’s Attacking Ability

After Dembele’s slightly rummy cameo on Wednesday night, I am not afraid to admit that I gave the chin and its elegant whiskers quite the concerned rub. Mercifully today, lions can once again lie with lambs, and sickly orphans smile through their tears, because the young behemoth is clearly back on track and inflicting damage once more, and the world seems that much righter.

It has been a rarely sighted beast this season so far, but the combination of downright elegant slaloming with mind-boggling upper body strength was enough to make even the most hardened old bean purr in appreciation. I am all for zipping the ball hither, thither and yonder in an effort to move things from A (back at base) to B (somewhere in the region of the final third), but all that pretty passing can be neatly sidestepped when a ball-carrier of the ilk of Dembele gets it into his head that by golly, if he just charges forward like a man possessed – albeit bearing an almightily languid gait – then no force on heaven or earth stands much chance of dispossessing him. As if by magic, Dembele has the unique capacity to single-handedly shift the action thirty yards forward and have the opposition back-pedalling and panicking as if their lives depend on it.

And lo, as a passing archangel might have commented, when Dembele was possessed with the idea of the Forward Surge all the way into the opposition area, the result was as gratifying as one might expect. An errant opposition leg here, a referee’s toot there – and we had ourselves a penalty.

All of which does beg the question of why the blighter does not do exactly that each time he touches the ball? Or at least once per game. Instead of haggling over an extra million in transfer fees here and there, could Daniel Levy not write into Dembele’s contract that each game he plays he is legally obliged to carry the ball into the opposition area, at least once per half?

3. Kane and Janssen.

Marvellous to see Kane back, and biffing around like he knew what the job entailed. That first half header was almost glorious; he rather missed out on the winning lottery ticket in both the first half (Son cross) and second half (sliding in at close range); but by and large the chap seemed to know his apples from pears, and everyone around him seemed far happier with life knowing that he was up there and making a fist of things.

Then Janssen entered the fray, and we rather started to settle for a point. I suspect the entire lilywhite population of Christendom absolutely wills the chap to get it right, but things simply do not work out for him. The sensational volley hit his standing leg; the cheeky nudge was pulled up as a foul; and while his earnestness and endeavour deserve firm handshakes, this is most decidedly not yet his time. Next week, maybe but not right now.

4. Son & Eriksen – Too Polite By Half

It would be remiss to describe the Pochettino vintage as a soft-touch, and that squidgy underbelly so cherished by Spurs teams of yore is more or less a thing of history – but by golly one or two of our heroes need toughening up.

Son has racked up goodwill by the sackload in recent weeks, and well deserved it is too. But the Pavlovian response I mutter each time his name is mentioned is “Too dashed lightweight”. Not a fan of a chappie who smiles when he has just made a mistake on the football pitch either, but that is a chunter for another day.

But heavens above, pulling out of a 50-50 challenge with a goalkeeper who is approximately eight miles outside his area, and with the net beckoning invitingly behind him like some sultry temptress of the night – it was too much.  All manner of invective thundered from the AANP lips, the air turned purple and a passing thunderstorm backed away in terror. Give that man a damn good thrashing, because that was game, set and match, right there - and he jumped out of the challenge like a neutered puppy. Dashed sickening to witness.

(I find Eriksen a rather soft sort of bean as well, hence the sub-heading).

All told however, that was a hard-earned and decent point. Admittedly this run of seventy-six consecutive draws is becoming a mite tedious, but in this instance, and with several key figures out injured (plus one comedy figure suspended) it can be officially marked down as “Satisfying Enough”, and positives duly drawn.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Boro 1-2 Spurs: Son, Janssen & Other Lilywhite Thoughts

1. Son’s Unique Brand of Selflessness

In football these days it seems you can’t swing a cat without someone chirping away about new-fangled formations, or all manner of quirky statistics and allsorts. All rather complicated, what?

Enter Son, stage-left, and suddenly football was broken down to playground level again The chap simply gets his head down and sets off on his onei-man mission to dribble past as many people as possible. If there were no white markings on the pitch he would presumably have taken off across Teeside, trying to shimmy around every man, woman and child in the North East. Frankly, once Sone has the ball, neither friend nor foe is going to see it for a while.

Seasoned visitors to these parts will know that this chap is not necessarily my particular brand of cognac, but in a world of neat sideways passing that can often carry all the threat of a neutered rabbit, a quick-footed type like Son can have a well-organised defence thinking to themselves, “I say, this wasn’t in the manual.”

2. Janssen – A Man For Others

I think it’s fair to say we can forget all that rot, peddled on his arrival, about Victor Janssen being some sort of unstoppable goalscoring machine who hits the net in his asleep. The chap is clearly instead more of a great big lumbering giant with a heart of gold, the sort who reunites orphans with their kindly aunts and saves small villages from famine.

He was at it again yesterday, doing all the selfless stuff, with no goal in mind other than the greater good of those around him. The polar opposite of Son, some might suggest.

If there were a ball to hold up, he would manfully roll up his sleeves and hold it up. If possession needed shielding while team-mates galloped up in support, I’ll be damned if he were not shielding the thing like his life depended on it.

Naturally enough then, when Sonny decided he had gone a good 30 seconds without trying to dribble his way out of the North-East, Janssen once more did the honourable thing, holding off his man – with back to goal, naturally – and timing his lay-off just so, for Son to gather up without breaking stride and ping home.

And that rather summed up the chappie. If we are hoping for a van Nistelrooy sort of egg, who will loiter in the six-yard box resolutely folding his arms until the scent of a goal wafts his way, and consequently poking and prodding in 20-odd goals a season – well we had better make ourselves comfortable. Janssen’s strengths seem to lie in running defenders ragged away from goal, peeling into spaces to allow Alli and gang to grab the glory.

3 Squad Rotation

After last season’s team selections - which had all the reassuring consistency of the sun rising, right on cue, each morning - this season our glorious leader has chopped and changed as if discovering a shiny new toy with all manner of bells and whistles to keep him entertained.

This makes perfect sense. Ploughing into the Premier League one minute, and then Champions League and whatnot five minutes later, requires a pretty delicate set of fingers and toes, and Pochettino is duly doing his bit with some natty midfield tweaks.

Last season, dabbing on the war-paint with neither Dier nor Dembele in sight would have some of the weaker members of our clan hurling themselves out of the nearest window in despair. This time round however, the Brains Trust barely break sweat, and simply slot Messrs Wanyama and Cissoko into the middle.

Wanyama duly set about doing his best Dier impression, and although the chap tends not to concern himself too much with covering the full-backs, as is a particular signature of Dier, he put himself about with a healthy set of blocks and crunching tackles, to help things tick along.

Son, as mentioned, got the nod further forward, and this time Lamela was left to twiddle his thumbs on the bench – and so on. The gist of the thing is that this is rather a charmed life, what? The handful of signings made over the summer might not have caused robust types to go weak at the knees and reach for the smelling salts, but they have contributed to a healthy gaggle fit for the rigours of a midweek-weekend binge. Before you can turn to a nearby soul and remark “This squad depth lark is not such a bad thing after all?” we seem to have hit upon a formula that allows us to take down a lower-rate Premiership team and then turn our attentions to the CL meat, without breaking sweat.

4. Cissoko’s Room For Improvement

That said, I thought the boy Cissoko fluffed his lines at rather crucial junctures yesterday. I don’t really see the point of being built like a fortified tree trunk, if at the vital moment you allow some other soppy chap to clamber all over you and nod the ball apologetically into the net. Clamber right back at him, dash it.

On top of which, the instruction manual suggested that the whole premise of Cissoko is to burst forward from midfield scattering every man, woman and child in his way. Yesterday I would suggest the young bean did no more than dabble in this, which was fair enough given that we had Boro penned back for much of the game anyway, but nevertheless. All the more galling then, to see Boro bring on a substitute, the Traore chap, who promptly out-Cissokoed Cissoko with a full-length gallop which tore a sizeable strip through the heart of our team.

5. Quietly Mooching Into Second

Still, such things are minor quibbles. It was only Middlesbrough, and so on and so forth, but win these irritating little away days and the Top Four – or more – starts to take care of itself. Almost without anyone realising we’re up to second, and while there will be tougher tests, not least next weekend ,things have pootled around pretty darned serenely to date.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Spurs 1-1 Liverpool: Five Lilywhite Musings

I suppose in theory one could quite rightly point to a win and two draws as a solid, meat-and-two-veg sort of return on the opening few weeks, the sort of thing upon which vast and dashed successful empires were built in the days of yore.

Nevertheless, at the final whistle yesterday it felt not so much like we had purred through the gears so much as just about got the thing back into the garage in one piece, and with some pretty dubious coughing and spluttering sounds emanating from the engine.

1. Vorm Earns His Corn

Repeatedly the bridesmaid since arriving at the Lane, Vorm’s contributions to date have pretty much been limited to waving a pretty slippery pair of gloves around in the occasional cup match. Confidence in the chap has therefore not really been full to bursting, but by golly he corrected that with some gusto yesterday by taking every drop of a hat as his cue to go haring from his area like a particularly buoyant whippet and belting the ball into orbit before any onrushing foe could make merry. It made for quite the spectacle, albeit one which had palpitations surging through the very core of every watching lilywhite.

However, never let it be said that AANP is a man who fails to dish out great dollops of credit where it is due, for the old bean seemed to time his little sprints with some aplomb. In fact, after the first couple I started to get the sneaky suspicion that he was just doing it for sport, but it certainly did the job.

Perhaps rather more importantly was the unlikely save he made in the opening exchanges, by virtue of an outstretched leg, when the Liverpool chappie seemed so certain to score that various bookmakers were already dishing out. It was not his only useful save either, so should a single point at the end of the season mean the difference between dancing in the streets and doleful despair, we ought not to forget to wheel out Vorm for a hearty hand and some good-natured wolf-whistles.

2. The Strangely Impotent Forward Line

As the first half wore in somewhat troubling manner, Liverpool forwards buzzed around in a way that had our lot not quite knowing where the next one was about to appear. On top of which, one would hardly say that at the business end of the pitch our heroes were parading around with all the verve and entertainment of some sort of irresistible, all-singing-all-dancing  theatre troupe. Au contraire. There was a distinct lack of whatsit about our occasional forward jabs.

Lamela has rather won me over in recent months, just by virtue of seeming to get the message that these eggs do not crack themselves, and consequently rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in each week, but the chap looked strangely neutered yesterday. Alli stomped around like the angry young buck he is, but by and large got his feet in a tangle each the ball went anywhere near him; and Eriksen was so peripheral that at times I rather fancied he faded in and out of existence like Marty McFly when all was going awry at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance.

And so it went on. Janssen is a man who applies himself well enough, but this never looked like being an occasion which would end with his name blazing out in neon lights across Broadway, and by full-time he had reddened his face but achieved very little. Kane had a rather awful time of things, but one expects that he will be back.

The moral of the story is that as tick followed tock it became pretty dashed difficult to identify which particular goose was going to lay a golden egg and get us back to parity.

3. Useful Input From Rose

Cometh the hour, cometh the flying chunkster. In truth, well before his goal, young Master Rose had popped up on the left with reassuring regularity, to add a little drive to proceedings when all around him seemed to be losing interest. I’m not sure if Liverpool thought it was against the rules or perhaps the spirit of the thing to try to stop him, but he seemed our most likely creative option in the first half.

And just when it seemed that we really would continue to bash our heads fruitlessly against a wall, he delivered one of the most exquisite mis-hits of the season. I would suggest that he rather earned his luck there, by displaying the willingness to lope forward in the first place.

This was not his most reassuring defensive display ever, but the chap does add a certain je ne sais quoi when he hurtles forward. On top of which, the sight of him flying horizontally through the air every time there is a clash of limbs absolutely never fails to entertain.

4. A Small Nod in the Direction of Wanyama

The attack might have resembled the soft, toothless gums of a newborn rather than the menacing gnashers of one of those great big wild cats of the Sahara; and the back four seemed to come replete with sizeable gaps in their very core; but Victor Wanyama at least turned up for work with the right idea.

As appropriate, the young egg chipped in with interceptions and tackles, and generally appeared impervious to the ghastly malady of pinging the thing straight to the nearest opponent whenever the cutting-edge concept of passing was required. On a day of precious few cockle-warming positives, Wanyama at least seemed to do the minimum.

5. Return of Dembele – What of Dier?

Whichever sage chirped that absence makes the heart grow fonder no doubt had in mind Moussa Dembele as he sits out half a dozen games for eye-gouging, because the whole thing is currently flatter than a warm beer left on a table the morning after one of those terrific all-night binges you have before kids enter your life. Going forward, our heroes had the same look as King Kong when atop the tower and being peppered by fighter planes, a look that rather suggests that all is not as much fun as was advertised.

As mentioned above, Wanyama is earning his corn well enough, and few would doubt the importance of Dier to the whole fandango – but both are essentially destructors, whose duty lies in snuffling out the opposition and then handing things over to the more handsome cast members. To date this season our midfield has been notable for a distinct absence of the sort of chap that has opponents gasping “Crumbs, here comes a human tank with an absolute barrel for a chest”, and diving for cover accordingly. Such a sequence of events is not just quite the spectator sport, but also creates all manner of fun opportunities for Kane et al further forward.

So there can be little doubt that Dembele will head straight back into the eleven at the earliest opportunity – but at whose expense? Dier may be the more established cog, but it was notable last week that he was hooked before the hour, and this week he has been shunted into defence to accommodate a change in formation.

And what would the connotations be if Dier did find himself demoted to first reserve? How would Dele Alli react? All in the realms of speculation for the time being, but it does rather make one think, what?

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Spurs 1-0 Palace: Four Lilywhite Musings

A new season, and to all intents and purposes the same serving of near-incessant pressure against a well-drilled defensive mob – but we at AANP Towers are nothing if not eagle-eyed, and the subtle differences being paraded to the masses yesterday did not escape detection.

There was the giant hole in the stadium for a start, which those with less keen powers of observation might simply have overlooked, or dismissed as one of those things that happens during the summer months. And then there were the moderate but unmistakeable tweaks to various knobs and dials that Pochettino had effected in advance of proceedings. For a start we tumbled out onto the pitch with a Dele Alli-shaped hole in the midfield; and with Kane now occupying a more withdrawn role; while Janssen swanned around atop the formation. Changes so delicate that many would have failed to notice, but the AANP detective squad were all over them, every sense atuned and sinew strained.

1. Janssen’s Home Debut

Football observers of a particularly wily vintage will tell you that mid-August is no time to be flinging around judgements of new signings. The Test series has only just ended, the Olympians are still just about aiming faster, higher and whatnot – give the big-money signing another five minutes at least to catch his breath and re-read his notes.

So the distinctive whiff emanating from AANP Towers is not judgement, or any particular doubt about the new lad’s ability, but simply fear. The unmistakeable fear of the Spurs fan who has watched on over the years, as the shiny and rather pricey new bounder takes to the field in attack, and proceeds to fluff his lines. Postiga, Bent, Soldado – all men who arrived at the Lane looking bucked and full of the joys, and with good reason too, because all were, in their own ways, rather nifty in one medium or other. But somehow things simply did not fall into place in front of goal, and now if one closes the eyes and tiptoes down Memory Lane, the first dashed image that springs to mind is the pained look of disbelief shared by each of Messrs Postiga, Bent and Soldado (typically accompanied by hands raised headwards) as yet another chance flew left, or right, or into the ‘keepers arms, or into the side netting, or into orbit – frankly any dashed place but the net.

One shudders. And one certainly does not judge Janssen, because in truth he seems a decent sort of bean when kitted out in lilywhite, ticking such boxes as “Laudable Movement”, “Lay-Offs Weighted Just So” and “Robust Sort of Blighter”. So if anything, the judgement is that the chap does indeed appear to cross enough t’s and dot enough i’s to give Kane five minutes every now and then to catch his breath and swig an isotonic whatsit.

But the fear remains, because the chap dashed well needs to beg, steal or borrow a goal at some point soonish, or the thing will start weighing on his mind, what? The chance last week he tucked into well enough, but the ‘keeper thrust out a paw and such was life. With the first chance yesterday – the rebound from Kane’s effort – again one could hardly quibble that he failed to get the basics right or suchlike, but life being what it is the ball stayed out.

It was the final chance, through on goal in the second half, which really brought the first sense of fear my way. Clean through, defenders politely stepping aside, net beckoning warmly. The thing only required him to sign on the dotted line, but instead he channelled the spirit of a thousand Bents or Soldados. The major concern is that if he goes without a goal for any length of time the issue might begin to gnaw away at him, as can happen to a blighter with a thing on his mind, and before you know it he has packed his bags and shuffled off with tears in his eyes, and his friends turn to each other and say “What the deuces happened to him, he seemed rather a sharp old nut?”

However, with a bit of luck he’ll casually bang home a couple next time out, and we can all live happily ever after.

2. Kane’s New Home

Should any defence be needed of young Master Janssen, one might point out that Kane has not exactly been pelting them in from all angles so far this season either.

Yesterday, our glorious leader took the fairly radical measure of deploying two in attack, with Kane playing Sheringham to Janssen’s Shearer. Given that this was a home match against a team whose drill was always likely to be sit back, lap the thing up and hope for a handy bolt of lightning from above or some other such stroke of luck, the Two-In-Attack gambit made a truckload of sense, so Pochettino duly receives an approving nod.

And to his credit, Kane seemed to roll through proceedings like a man pretty well versed in the art (not entirely surprisingly, given that he has dabbled in it before). Yesterday was not necessarily a masterclass, but he rolled up his sleeves and ferried things around like a well-trained hound, and did not scrimp when it came to blasting the bally thing towards goal with everything he could muster.

A couple of shots from distance, plus a header narrowly wide, suggested that here was a man whose lust for life was not diminished by his new set of responsibilities – and for good measure he rallied round just when things appeared to be slipping away, to nod the thing goalwards for Wanyama to pop it in.

3. Dele Alli

No doubt about it, one or two tongues wagged pre kick-off yesterday, when news of Dele Alli’s demotion rippled around, but the truth of thing was rather more mundane than some would have had us believe. The poor lamb had been under the weather, nothing more sinister.

Nevertheless, news that he was only on the bench was generally greeted with a considered and approving nod around these parts. This season promises to be quite the ordeal, with European concerns now to be treated as meaningful rather than a chance for the reserves to parade their wares. At some point or other, our heroes will need to be omitted, and at home to Palace seems as reasonable a time as any.

As it happened, when he was finally introduced, Alli’s impact was a credit to the NHS, because the chap seemed to be in rude health. The pass to Janssen for the second half chance was masterfully delivered, and later on he let fly with a shot that earned top marks for technique and aesthetics, if falling short by a whisker or two in the accuracy stakes.

4. Life Without Dembele

A congratulatory word for Victor Wanyama, who looked suitably braced with his efforts, and why not? Wanyama certainly applies himself with the sort of rigour that one likes to see from the stands, and which one hopes sends a message to the chums either side of him that there is something to be said for getting stuck in and giving it what for.

It is probably fair to say that he does not quite replicate the role of Dembele, in terms of acting as marauder par excellence, but that’s not really the point. I’m not sure that another man exists in Christendom who can replicate the Dembele role. Wanyama offers a different sort of basket of eggs, and it is a dashed useful one to have, and certainly a notch up on the alternatives (Carroll, Mason and the like).

Dembele will presumably be welcomed back into the fold with open arms and a hearty embrace once his sentence is served; but bear in mind that whenever he was absent last season, we more or less folded like a pack of cards on a blustery day at the seafront. This time round we have a win and a draw without him already, so let this be a ringing endorsement for squad reinforcement.

A solid start then, and already an improvement on this time last season. To have achieved this without two of the more influential souls in the line-up (Lloris and Dembele), and having fairly successfully integrated a couple of new faces, bodes jolly well.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Everton 1-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Slow Start

Cantering past Inter in a pre-season jaunt is one thing, but the whole purpose of those warm-up jamborees was to ensure that our entire mob snapped into the agenda as soon as the referee tooted his whistle to begin 2015/16. Alas, our heroes took to the first half with all the dash and verve of a languid cat casually settling in for forty afternoon winks.

There was a sizeable slab of onus on the dainty shoulders of Eriksen in that first half, to grab the thing by the scruff of its neck, but instead he preferred to ruffle its fur and tickle its tummy. Alli and Lamela applied themselves with suitable levels of huff and puff, but success in these matters is measured by skewered opposition defences rather than beads of perspiration.

Inevitably enough, in a nostalgic nod to the days of Stephen Carr at the turn of the century, our most meaningful threat seemed to emanate from right-back, where Kyle Walker gleefully took one deep breath and proceeded to motor up and down the line non-stop for 45 minutes, like a particularly fleet-footed cheetah hitching a lift on one of those modified supercars that are capable of breaking the sound barrier.

The Everton defence, however, sailed through that opening 45 in remarkably unconcerned fashion. Mover, there was a whiff of fallibility each time our centre-backs were made to turn and run. As if to put a representative stamp on things, Monsieur Lloris then hobbled off stage right, and matters were most certainly in rum territory when the half-time pips sounded.

2. Pochettiono Lives By The Sword

If affairs in the first half were undertaken with a distinct air of the underwhelming, they jolly well perked up a notch second time around. Much of this was due to the introduction for the first time in lilywhite of young Master Janssen – and particularly for the cunning decision to play him alongside rather than instead of Kane. As such, our glorious leader can bask in the warm glow of his first congratulatory gold star of the new season. His decision to dispense with resident guard-dog Eric Dier, in order to accommodate Janssen in a two-man attack, was a jolly bold one only ten minutes into the second half.

The risk of duly dying by the sword was lingering in the air, but the move paid dividends. With two strikers flaunting their wares, the Everton rearguard found themselves working overtime, and our supporting cast of Lamela, Eriksen and Alli started to enjoy things a little more.

3. Bodies In The Box

One of the problems of playing Kane as a lone striker last season was that he often resembled the deeply unpopular chap at school, left to mooch around on his own, not a chum within twenty yards of him. How it warmed the cockles then, bang on the hour, to see Walker whip in a cross towards more than one lilywhite shirt in the penalty area. Lamela showed the hunger for the fight that is fast becoming a trademark of sorts, in getting his immaculately-coiffeured crown to the thing, and thereafter it became a Tottenham-run affair.

4. Janssen Debut

The introduction of Janssen then was certainly a turning point of sorts, but one would be rather stretching things to say that the chap himself made the difference, if you get my drift. The change in formation did the necessaries.

Janssen himself? Well no doubt about it, his jib is cut in a way that meets with approval here at AANP Towers. He boasts the sort of commanding frame that one would generally steer clear of, seems to know his left from right when it comes to linking up play and partaking in general one-touchery, and by and large seemed happy enough to run the good race and make himself a nuisance.

A shame then that he was unable to apply the coup de grâce when the goal beckoned like an inviting lady of the night, but such is the run of things. One senses that he has enough of an all-round game for his name to flash in neon lights in the not too distant future.

5. Wanyama on Debut

Nice to have Wanyama in the fold. Where last season the absence of Dembele would result in the Panic Gong being hastily sounded as Mason or some such middling sort was foisted into the middle, this time round it does at least seem like we have a first-reserve who looks at home on sentry duty. Wanyama strikes me as the sort who would quite happily spend all season chasing down an opponent like a feral animal sensing blood, winning the ball, giving the aforementioned opponent a healthy shove into the bargain, and playing a simple five-yard pass to a nearby chum. A useful summer signing.

Not without his flaws, mind. One would hope it is not too obvious a sign of things to come that his first half was punctuated with concession of a pair of central free-kicks, one of which led to the Everton goal, the other bringing a fingertip save from Lloris. Three red cards last season suggests that dedicated adherence to the rules and regulations is not the chap’s principal asset.

6. Six On A List Of Five. I Spoil You.

And thus we up and run. An opening day fixture away to Everton, particularly under new management, did not look the most straightforward task conceivable, and so it proved. Mildly irksome in truth, as I would happily venture that with a head of mid-season steam we might have turned them over, but in such ways do cookies crumble.

Having started sluggishly last season, one hopes that our heroes will be firing on every cylinder available by next weekend, because these dropped points do not really contribute to a barrel of laughs come May.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Summer Lilywhite Musings

Here at AANP Towers we are pretty firmly of the opinion that not a dashed jot ought to be read into the great big tease that is The Pre-Season Friendly, and in that spirit I’m inclined to care not a hang about the two defeats. Of rather more interest were the shiny new personnel who gambolled around the Melbourne Cricket Ground (a turn of events that did get me thinking that the last time I tried playing football on a cricket green I was unceremoniously booted off, with the threat the local constabulary were to be involved, but such is life).

Wanyama

I probably ought to caveat at the outset that while I pride myself on my ability to procrastinate and undertake myriad pointless hobbies, researching the whys and wherefores of Europe’s – or indeed the Preimership’s – top talent does not really feature on the 500 or so on my list. So if you are looking for an infallible scout’s guide to the players we ought to be welcoming to N17, I’m afraid you’ve quite markedly stumbled upon the wrong corner of the interweb.

With that ringing endorsement in place, I may as well run the rule over the chap Wanyama.

In a nutshell – I’m jolly glad that we’ve pickled this particular egg. No doubt about it, sans Dier, Dembele or – heaven forbid – both, we are a dashed sight less rambunctious than with. Dier seemed to be wheeled out for just about every game of every competition last season, either on guard-dog patrol in front of the back-four or as cup competition centre-back. While it seems unlikely that Wanyama will dislodge Dier in a hurry, he does offer both reserve and competition, in what is possibly the most important position in our team.

From what I remember of previous seasons (although again, I can hardly profess to being a seasoned Wanyama-watcher) the chap can get stuck in and is rarely happier than when harassing an opponent to within an inch of his life. The pre-season gubbins appeared to bear out this point, as he seemed happy enough to sit deep and go snuffling for possession. On paper therefore, the chap seems a pretty sensible purchase, so a gold start to someone in the Brains Trust.

Janssen

Again on paper, the concept of a reserve for (or possibly competitor to) young Master Kane makes sense by the bucketload. Kane is blessed with a natural gait and demeanour that makes him look a tad weary at the best of times, but by the end of the season (and during those wretched, wretched Euros) he looked to have wrung every last drop of energy from his body. As with Dier then, news of another pair of legs to fill the striking berth seems as good a reason as any to strike the celebratory gong.

However, as just about every lilywhite who has roamed the earth will testify, and as the names Postiga and Soldado rather damningly evidence, there is no guarantee that any expensive foreign striker who swans into the Lane will necessarily blow up anyone’s skirts once throats are cleared and business begins. One frets.

Good luck to the chap nevertheless. He showed some nifty touches in the Atletico friendly in particular, linking up and holding up, as the jargon has it, although I’m not sure he had a sight of goal over the course of the two games so judgement on his ability to score from every angle is necessarily deferred. I suppose that in the meantime one is inclined to keep fingers firmly crossed and mutter a gentle prayer as the season draws near.

Euros Personnel

It is still difficult to hark back to the Euros without seeking out the nearest wall and banging my head against it repeatedly in a fit of something between frustration and rage, but this is the hand we are dealt.

As mentioned earlier, Harry Kane trudged around as if every lost drop had been sucked from his body, and alas the endearing memory of his participation will likely be the image of him blasting corners and free-kicks way off into the stratosphere.

Dele Alli hardly did himself justice either, although I felt jolly miffed on the chap’s account that the shoe-horning of Rooney into the team meant that young Alli was shunted around from his natural habitat… Apologies, ‘tis a rant that ought to be left to rest

Dier, Walker, Rose

On a brighter note, Messrs Dier, Walker and Rose were more impressive. Walker and Rose for the most part carried on doing what they had done with aplomb for the best part of 2015/16, hurtling up the flanks with startling indefatigability. Alas, having spent the first three games of the tournament with concentration etched across his face as he strained every sinew to avoid lobbing in a seismic defensive mistake, Walker eventually switched off and lost his man for the first Iceland goal – an unfortunate blot on an otherwise cheery showing.

Dier too appeared to be at fault for an Icelandic goal, but again this ought not to detract from some impressive nine-to-five stuff in front of the defence. Where the dickens that free-kick came from is anyone’s guess.

Davies, The Belgiums, Lloris

Elsewhere, Belgium’s decision to play Vertonghen at left-back had eyebrows arching up and down the High Road, and Toby Alderweireld was made to look rather silly by that Welsh chap who was not registered with any club, which is something of a low.

Ben Davies playing as one third of a back-three prompted the mother of all dull-and-inebriated discussions between AANP and a chum, and Monsieur Lloris confirmed what most of the watching world already knew about his ranking as a tip-top net guardian. The poor lamb can consider himself dashed unlucky not to have lifted the shiny vase at the end of it all.

However, the real losers of the whole tournament appeared to be our lot, with Spurs players apparently spending more minutes on the pitch than any other Premiership team. One can barely contain excitement at the prospect of a sluggish lilywhite start to season 2016/17. My medical expertise does not quite extend to knowing whether the rigours of the summer will leave them too tired or not up to match-fitness come mid-August, but the first excuse of the season is already well prepared here at AANP Towers.

New Kit

Such is the dearth of activity in these moribund summer months that it comes to this. We have a new kit, sensationally it is white and blue. As befits a curmudgeonly grump, I am not a fan (of the blue shoulder thing in particular), but no point in complaining. Young people will do these things, and somewhere a cash register is whirring. As ever though, they could play in bin-liners for all I care, as long as there is success to toast come May 2017…

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