1. Lack of Effort
When one casts the mind back to the opening game of the season, in which we put in effort by the bucketload against Man City of all people, chasing down every loose ball like the fate of the free world depended on it and then haring off on breakneck counter-attacks, one does rather scratch the bean at the limp fare on offer yesterday.
One accepts defeat – even a 3-0 defeat – if the troops have fought tooth and nail, and simply come up against a mob that have fought toothier and nailier; or indeed, one takes it on the chin when a good fight has been fought and matters have been settled by a spot of magic, or even a dodgy refereeing decision.
But it really wasn’t cricket to watch our lot give it ten minutes and then take to ambling hither and thither, each with that distracted air, as if they one-by-one-realised that a more pressing engagement awaited elsewhere, and this pesky football lark was little more than an inconvenience.
I’m not sure that too many of lilywhite persuasion were getting particularly carried away by the fact that we began the day as league leaders, but even with the Expectations dial sensibly turned to a level somewhere between ‘Middling’ and ‘Low’ I think it was reasonable enough to have expected our chosen few to have least feigned interest in proceedings.
If the rallying pre-match battle cry against City had been about lung-busting determination to thunder into the faces of opponents, one can only assume that the final instructions ahead of kick-off yesterday was more along the lines of an anaemic shrug, because the notion of pressing the opposition seemed a long way down the various To-Do lists. Early on in proceedings, Hojbjerg offered a glimpse of what might be, when his high press helped pickpocket possession and created a chance that he then duly bungled – but nobody else took the hint, and Palace were left to knock the ball around between themselves in undisturbed fashion.
In possession things were just as miserable. Those in lilywhite appeared to consider it beneath them to motor around finding space and offering options for the man in possession. When opportunities for vaguely progressive passing did present themselves, they were firmly rejected, which seemed a pretty bizarre strategy.
Winks and Skipp were amongst the most prominent offenders here, seeming already to have decided to ostracise the new chap, Emerson Royal, by pointedly avoiding passes in his orbit, no matter how much space he tiptoed into. Whatever the question, the Winks-Skipp answer seemed to be ‘Sideways or Backwards’, which certainly tested the patience.
There seemed to be a plan of sorts to look for Reguilon on the left, but it was effected with such little enthusiasm that instead of passing directly to the poor soul the ball was generally just wafted into his postcode, leaving him to battle against the odds.
Even when eleven vs eleven I counted just the one burst of one-touch activity in the whole dashed match, the sort of move that had the ball whizzed around nice and promptly, shifting us the pitch faster than the Palace lot could scurry back. And frankly, one rather thought that if our heroes could only raise themselves for that single, thirty-second exhibition of passable football, then they rather deserved a three-nil hiding.
The absence of half a dozen regular cast members was trumpeted beforehand, and made a handy narrative, but here at AANP Towers we have a keen eye for detail, and it can’t have been much more than twenty-four hours before a few flaws in this story were detected. Admittedly, and in his defence, Nuno did not turn on the waterworks over this, and instead simply got on with life, but nevertheless it’s worth addressing this issue.
From the initial heady list of Sanchez, Romero, Sessegnon, Lo Celso, Bergwijn and Sonny, one could flick through and start discounting suspects, as it were.
Sessegnon, for starters, is rarely spotted anywhere near the first eleven, so dragging his name into things is pretty disingenuous stuff.
Until approximately three weeks ago, the absence of Sanchez, while not necessarily eliciting cheers would hardly have been lamented; while Romero is yet to feature in the league. Now admittedly, the absence of either of these fine specimens would ordinarily have been manageable, being countered by the presence of the other, as it were. The absence of both, therefore, admittedly created a mild quandary; but truth be told, if this were a world utterly bereft of Davinson Sanchezes I’d have no problem with that void being filled by Joe Rodon.
Further up the pitch, the absence of Lo Celso, as with Sessegnon, was hardly critical, meaning that the only real issue was up in attack, where both Sonny and Bergwijn had doctors’ notes to hand. As with Sanchez and Romero, the absence of one of this pair might have been covered by the presence of the other, but missing both did rather change the dynamic of the attack.
And here one might waggle a stern eyebrow in the direction of Our Glorious Leader, for when one has a perfectly serviceably Bryan Gil waiting in the wings, the decision to shove Dele into the ill-fitting role of pacy forward chappie seemed a tad misguided. (Not to mention that Dele’s removal from the midfield three also left us with a pretty functional and bland combo in the mid-section, of Hojbjerg, Skipp and Winks.)
So in truth, from the list of six, the only real challenge came around the two in attack – and could in itself have been countered through the deployment of young Gil. Hardly a justification for the dirge on show yesterday.
Where we were a tad unlucky was in the early exit of Dier. As mentioned, being a fan of Rodon I had no problem with his introduction yesterday, and actually lauded the move; but the fact that Tanganga had also to be shifted into central defence was a shame, for while Emerson Royal made a decent fist of things against Zaha, his was hardly a comfortable afternoon. It was a duel I’d have preferred had featured Tanganga.
3. Kane: Help or Hindrance?
As an aside, while touching on the subject of the front three, and the absences of Sonny and Bergwijn, this might be the moment for a rather awkward conversation about Harry Kane.
Carefully and deliberately leaving aside personal opinions about whether the absolute rotter should be welcomed back into the fold with open arms after having had the gall to try worming his way out of a contract without making a transfer request, several of my acquaintance have started to question whether the chap’s very presence is hindering operations; and they may have a point.
Referring again to the win against City, and indeed to various brighter moments the following week against Wolves, much of what was good about us in an attacking sense derived from the ability of Son, Bergwijn and Lucas to motor up the pitch as soon as possession was swiped, creating three-on-three situations that played out not just in real time but seemingly in fast-forward, the whole thing a blur of whizzing legs and interchanging positions.
However, remove one of the aforementioned three, plop in Kane, and the machinery doesn’t operate with half as much pace. In short, Kane slows down those counters, either by virtue of not whirring the little legs as quickly, or simply by deciding to take up residence about thirty yards further south. (Yesterday he seemed to offer neither, which was all the more odd.)
The AANP opinion has not yet been cast on this matter, and there seems more to it than just Kane (as mentioned, poor passing of the parcel from midfield to attacking full-backs didn’t help) – but with sterner tests awaiting, the optimal utilisation of that rotter Kane and his myriad talents cannot happen fast enough.
Unusually in a performance of such ineptitude, there were actually a couple of presentable individual turns in amongst the dross.
Lucas, who can consider himself particularly unlucky to have been hooked for that rotter Kane last time out, was, not for the first time this season, particularly full of beans.
The young bean has never been averse to grabbing possession, putting his head down and wriggling like the dickens away from all-comers, but to this thoroughly agreeable trait he also appears to have now added a half-decent end-product, typically sensible distribution of the thing. In fact, one can imagine that in other teams (Exhibit A, Palace with Zaha) a chap of his ilk and predilections might be the sort around whom the team is built; but we being Tottenham he’ll presumably be back on the bench next week.
It was a joy to behold though, and, one imagines, a nightmare against which to defend.
And in closing, an earnest salute in the direction of young Master Rodon. Quite why he is fourth cab on the centre-back rank is a mite baffling, given that those in front are hardly of the lineage of Moore, Beckenbauer and King; but fourth cab he is, and seemingly for use strictly in emergencies only.
However, he demonstrated a decent enough grasp of the basics when called upon last season; he seemed to do the necessaries for Wales during the Euros; and yesterday, if he put a foot wrong at all, I’m not sure I noticed it.
Actually, he and Tanganga both impressed, and it was just a dashed shame that the latter rather got carried away by things (although by the letter of the law Zaha should have been off himself, having tickled Tanganga’s face with a front paw at least thrice by my reckoning). While we were pretty woeful going forward, and the midfield was doing little to stem the flow of things in the second half, the centre backs were at least standing up to the challenge until the red card. Further outings for Rodon – and given the state of the various scattered centre-backs at the club, these seem inevitable – would be no bad thing.