All Action, No Plot

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Spurs 2-1 Chelsea: I Heart You Too, Gareth Bale

Someone at the club shop turn this week into a double DVD box-set with a snappy name, and pronto. Here at AANP Towers we considered our prognosis of four points from the visits of l’Arse and Chelski to be noble but sadly blinded by optimism. After last weekend’s debacle, who on God’s green earth ever envisaged a reality that saw us take six points from these two games, and with quite such élan? And all that with a team including the slightly terrifying sight of Kaboul at right-back?Performance Of The Season 

The opening exchanges – in which we pinged the ball around in neat little olé-style triangles – set the tone, with our vanquished opponents notably unable to handle the link-up play of Modders, BAE and (inevitably) Bale, and in fact barely able to touch the ball. Nor was Cheslki’s anticipated second half onslaught allowed to materialise, and I’m not even sure they created a clear-cut chance until the 93rd minute, itself an astonishing testament to our injury-hit defence.

And then there was the second most glorious sight in Christendom: the lightning-quick lilywhite counter-attacks that had us outnumbering them from the halfway line. These really ought to have seen us give the scoreboard a more memorable edge, but they did at least bring about the most glorious sight in Christendom, the sending-off of the ever-likeable John Terry.

Apparently Chelski recorded around twice as many completed passes as our lot. Bravo to them. If anything this stat reinforces the incisiveness of our play, for while they passed sideways and sideways again, in their vain search for a chink in our armour, our heroes scythed through them repeatedly with lightning-quick one-touch moves. We completed fewer passes because we needed fewer passes. Such was the confidence and quality of our football that within two or three passes we were bearing down on goal.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Palacios?

It was the worrying question on our lips last weekend, the cause of several thousand furrowed brows trooping up the High Road. Sergeant Wilson’s two-match ban loomed at seemingly the worst time conceivable – but goodness me it was a problem addressed in quite astonishing fashion. When not in possession, Modders and Hudd did not try to mimic Palacios by rushing out and harrying opponents. Instead they kept their discipline and sat, a two-man barrier in front of the back-four, through which Lampard, Cole et al struggled throughout to fashion an opening. Absolutely ruddy marvellous.

Seasoned visitors to AANP Towers will now that here have not traditionally dwelt the Hudd’s greatest admirers. Against l’Arse and Chelski however he turned in remarkably polished performances. Not one Hollywood pass in sight, he just kept things ticking over with a glorious maturity, playing first-time passes with the air of a man who had had a quick look around immediately prior to receiving possession and therefore knew exactly where the ball would go as soon as it came his way. We kept possession like a team who truly cherished the little white orb, and for that much credit is due to the Hudd, although the contributions of our wide men, as well as Pav and, latterly, the Ice Man, also merit appreciative high-fives.

Modders too has given two of his best showings of the season this week, all slick passing, tight control, intricate dribbling and a determination not to be barged off the ball that belies his paperweight frame. Our little-and-large central midfield pairing have turned themselves into a most accomplished partnership, a feat all the more impressive as it has been achieved against a pair of teams deploying three in central midfield. Unbelievably, the problem now surrounding Wilson Palacios is how to accommodate his return. (The AANP solution is to move Modders to the left and Bale to left-back – a formation which to all intents and purposes works as a five-man midfield, once Modders tucks inside and Bale overlaps).

Other Points Of Note

I’m not entirely sure what any of Bale’s goal celebrations are about, but it’s about time we started to see them. No-one is more deserving of the headlines, but goals had been rather conspicuously absent from his series of bravura performances of recent weeks. I look forward to more curious hand-gestures in coming weeks, while bracing myself for a summer of speculation about his future.

Which unknowing observer would have correctly identified the established England centre-back from the candidates on show? Michael Dawson, I salute thee, even if Don Fabio does not.

As for the penalty calls, AANP considered that there were a couple of strong shouts – Terrys shirt-tug on Defoe, and a sliding challenge (from Malouda?) on Bale  – before the eventual penalty award (which, entertainingly enough, seemed from this vantage point a little harsh on Terry).

Sort out how to break down those deep-lying defensive teams and we could be aiming even higher than the top four. That is a conundrum for another day, however. Now is the time for making merry, and revelling in a quite astonishingly good couple of days.

 

Gary Mabbutt will be signing copies of AANP book Spurs’ Cult Heroes for the masses on the following dates:
Waterstones Stevenage – Saturday 24 April, 12 noon;
Waterstones Walthamstow – Saturday 8 May, 1pm

, is now available in the Spurs shop, all good bookshops and online (at Tottenhamhotspur.com, as well as WHSmith, Amazon , Tesco, Waterstones and Play).  

Spurs’ Cult Heroes

You can become a Facebook fan of Spurs’ Cult Heroes and AANP here, follow on Twitter here

Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Supernanny Discovers Her Next Assignment

Real classy from Chelsea. It probably started with Mourinho, instilling arrogance in them, but after the final whistle they just morphed into four year-olds in need of that Supernanny lass. John Terry probably has a right as captain to have a quick word with the ref, but not to scream in his face and finger-jab. The England captain really ought to have some vague notion of decency. That gentle tremor causing the crockery at AANP Towers to shimmer is the sound of Bobby Moore rotating, six feet under. Hiddink acted far more decorously – quiet word, made his point, walked off. As did Lampard, to be fair.Drogba Promotes Schadenfreude 

I honestly didn’t understand why he got involved, having been subbed off long before the final whistle – it’s not as if he was still pumping from having been playing. He would have calmed down on the bench. Struck me almost as if he wanted a bit of limelight. Maybe to distract from missing the easiest chances of both legs (after all, no-one’s talking about that now, are they?)

Mind you, it was mighty impressive that he had the energy to get so involved, having been hacked, beaten, stabbed and shot so frequently by all those phantom challenges, bless him. I do rather wonder what the poor old Chelski physio makes of it, having to run on straight-facedly in front of millions of TV viewers every ten minutes when Drogba goes down, then having to go through the motions of checking he’s not actually hurt, then having to help him limp off the pitch – all the time knowing that it’s just another act.

Curiously, the one thing I did understand – not really condoning, but understood – was Ballack’s fantastic mentalism in the final minutes. Didn’t think it was a penalty, and he put his hands on the ref, which could have been a straight red card – but in the heat of the moment, on the pitch, I can understand instinctively turning around and shrieking at the ref. Thereafter however, is the time to shut up and get on with the game. The instinctive sweary bit I can understand, but once the moment has passed, there is no real excuse.

When Does A Team “Deserve” To Win? 

Not sure who deserved to win – Barca were miles better technically, short-passing their way out of trouble. Whenever Chelsea tried to triangle-pass their way through the move tended to break down. But… what’s the point of Barca’s pretty football if they don’t create one decent chance in 90 mins? It’s not ballet. You don’t “deserve” to win by looking pretty. In the crudest terms, you deserve to win by sticking the round white thing in the net more than the other lot. Barca rather seemed to miss the point, passing to death. Without a Drobga-esque target-man to work around they didn’t have a presence right in the middle, to occupy the centre-backs. All rather reminiscent of last year’s two-legged semi against Man Utd. Chelsea created three or four clear-cut chances, and should have won comfortably – despite being technically inferior. Strange game.

As a neutral though, I had splendid fun – a clash of styles, dodgy reffing, pantomime villains, tense finale. The entire tie might have been more open and entertaining if Barca had scored early at the Nou Camp, forcing Chelski to abandon the six-men-in-their-own-area approach and be a bit more adventurous. Still, the final ought to be cracking fun now, with two teams fairly committed to the all-action-no-plot approach. I back Man U, on the basis that Barca are so determined to walk the ball into the net, coupled with the absence of both full-backs and Marquez from their defence.

England 2-1 Ukraine: If It Ain’t Broke…

It wasn’t particularly broke, it didn’t need fixing. Curious then that Fabio suddenly came over all Norman Bates, picked up an axe and started swinging wildly until something was indeed broken.Lennon was doing a decent job on the right. He had not set the world alight, but there was always a threat, a bit of a buzz, whenever he got the ball and ran at his man. “Menacing” might be the word I’m after. That part in a horror film where the delectable and scantily clad young jezebel finds herself on her own in a dark house – you get the feeling something worth watching is about to happen, even though it might be a red herring.

Lennon on the right offered a genuine attacking threat, balancing (albeit asymmetrically) the Cole-Barry-Gerrard-Rooney combo from the left. At least, that’s how it was in the first half. The withdrawal of Lennon ten mins into the second half robbed England of their only pacy outlet, and coincided with the drop from “urgent” to “perfunctory”.

The introduction of Beckham ought to imply a general shoring up of things, with the game in the bag and 15 mins to go. Instead he was brought on with only a one-goal lead and 35 mins to play. Beckham didn’t get within 30 yards of the Ukraine by-line.

However, Beckham did provide the cross for the winner, which is basically his raison d’être in the team these days, and is something Lennon generally can’t do (certainly not from deep). So was Fabio right after all to withdraw Lennon? The case in his defence – Beckham’s assist – has been made; the prosecution argues that his introduction of Wright-Phillips once Ukraine had equalised indicates that Capello recognised the need for pace missing since Lennon’s withdrawal.

I guess the conclusion is that the whole bally lot of them rather lost urgency in the second half, and the replacement of Lennon with Beckham was a contributory factor – but, when it was needed, Beckham offered an attacking threat, albeit in a vastly different way from Lennon.

The Rest of Them

Elsewhere, it’s broken-record time, as Gerrard’s performance for country was again patently less impressive than his typical displays for club (which is the cue for all Liverpool fans to create life-size models of All-Action-No-Plot Towers and then burn them down in incandescence). Gerrard remains a square peg in a round hole for England. He is most effective behind the front man; but this would negate Rooney, who in a different sort of way is also most effective behind the front man. The bar ain’t big enough for the two of them.

Gerrard on the left is fine against Slovakia, but one wonders if he’ll be quite as effective on the left in the latter stages of a World Cup. Personally I’d go with J. Cole left, and Gerrard-Barry in the centre, with Gerrard having more licence to attack than Lampard currently does. The whole business of Lampard playing a more “disciplined” – i.e. defensive – role had me flailing my arms and muttering in frustration all night.

My man-crush on Rooney continues, but that darned red mist enveloped him once again.

James – calamity.

Ashley Cole – strangely beset by an identity crisis that had him thoroughly clueless as to his nationality, with the result that he spent most of the game passing to Ukrainians. Someone dig out the boy’s passport and talk him through it.

Terry – good assist, and smartly-taken goal, but reckless in conceding the free-kick for their goal. Oh that Ledley’s knee was healthy.

Crouch’s goal was also smartly-taken, but the celebrations for both goals were rubbish. Crouch at least had the decency to look thoroughly embarrassed by whatever the hell he was doing. The Terry-Rooney routine was as appalling as it was perplexing.

However, the bright and breezy take on the game is that we were excellent in the first half, patient and dangerous; and when we absolutely had to raise our game in the second half we did. Three points is all-important in qualifying. If/when we make the World Cup Finals, no-one will care about that dodgy half 30 mins in the second half vs Ukraine in April.

England – Ukraine Preview: JT, Rooney and Darren Bent’s Confidence

For all the well-deserved plaudits, we didn’t learn much about England on Saturday. Rather reminded me of a wedding rehearsal – polite, happy, didn’t count for anything. Slovakia played like footballing eunuchs and were duly thrashed at a canter.Ukraine, and their occasionally-preceding definite article, ought to prove a slightly different kettle of fish – but only slightly. Fifa’s curious ranking system has Ukraine within the top 20, and it is worth noting that, like England, they made the World Cup quarter finals in 2006. Shevchenko and chums are no mugs then – but this is the sort of straight-faced diplomacy trotted out by the players, in those excruciatingly bland pre-match press conferences sprinkled with phrases like “We won’t be underestimating them… No easy games at international level…”

Cutting through the blandness, and Fabio’s England, on the back of some perky form and with a team brimming full of Champions League connoisseurs, certainly ought to beat Ukraine at home. It’s unlikely to be quite as merry a cakewalk as on Saturday, but we still ought to win. While our position five points clear of Croatia gives us some margin for error, it would be better to have that in hand for the trip to Kiev, or visit of Croatia to Wembley. Ukraine at home is not really the time to slip up.

John Terry

After the maternal members of the Terry family tried their hands at shoplifiting last week, there seemed grounds to suggest that at the weekend the family brain cell was being used by the England captain. This argument was promptly shot down at Wembley when JT ensured that a certain Crouch goal was disallowed for offside, by tapping in from one yard, when the ball was already past the ‘keeper and heading for the net. Better it happens in a friendly, I guess, but hardly the most impressive display of tactical acumen. Looks like Rio will be back to partner him on Wednesday.

Roooo-ney, Roooo-ney 

A propos Rooney, the news that Crouch has recovered from injury suggests that Wednesday will see the beanpole up top, with the human gargoyle in that scrumptious position just off the main striker. Nods of approval at AANP Towers. Presumably Gerrard will continue on the left, where he did a good job on Saturday. The link-up play between him and Rooney has inevitably attracted plenty of praise, but he’s nevertheless a square peg in a round hole out there, and a better team then Slovakia (a fairly wide-ranging criterion admittedly) could expose both his right-footedness and defensive lapses. However, it seems this is his home for now, so he might as well bed in and make himself comfy.

The injuries to Heskey, Carlton Cole and Crouch led to some speculation over who would be called up. Michael Owen and Kevin Davies were the names being bandied around. In those kits I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Terry Thomas make an appearance. As it happened our very own Darren Bent got the nod.

The Darren Bent Confidence-O-Meter 

Sat 7 March – Recalled to the Spurs starting XI against Sunderland, the dial on Bent’s Confidence-O-Meter stirs into life and hits 4 out of 10. However, a trademark Bent miss high into the north-east sky, sees the dial return to rock bottom, with our hero considering packing it all in.

Sun 15 March – Bent keeps his place in the starting XI for Villa, and the dial pings upwards again. His sensational two-inch tap-in sees the dial go right off the scale. Winning goal! Victory at Villa! The man is a hero – at least inside his own head – and his confidence has never been so high!

Weds 18March – Forgets to take the bin out for collection. Confidence begins to slump.

Sat 21 March – Retains his place in the starting XI, for visit of Chelski, and all is right with the world again. To his credit he worked his hoopy socks off, and contributed worthily to another fine win. These happy thoughts have the Confidence-O-Meter right up at level 10. However, every time he remembers that he didn’t actually score, it drops down several levels – such is the brittle existence of a “confidence player”. Just stay positive Dazza!

Sunday 29 March – The Bent Confidence-O-Meter explodes irreparably after Fabio calls him up for international duty, following injuries to the first 18 strikers on the list.

So it’s a good day to be Darren Bent. Or at least it was until he did his knee in training and Fabio called up Agbonlahor. Crouch and Rooney will start up front for England, and if things are going to plan I’d imagine Fabio will replace a striker with a midfielder in the closing stages, which will mean precious little action for either Bent of Agbonlahor.

Milestones for Terry and Beckham 

On a final and belated note, AANP Towers politely and sincerely applauds Terry on winning his 50th cap, and similarly lauds Beckham on his 109th. One suspects that this newly-set record for outfield appearances will itself be surpassed soon enough – the modern-day international calendar seeing to it that the Ukraine game is Rooney’s 50th for England, at age 23. Nevertheless, while subtly steering clear of any sort of debate over his selection, I suggest that, whatever his off-pitch shenanigans, Beckham’s attitude in an England shirt always seems to be one of fierce and honest commitment. If all goes to plan more applause will be ringing out on Wednesday night.

England 4-0 Slovakia: On-Pitch Fluffiness, Off-Pitch Soap Opera

A virulent strain of man-flu left me stuck in AANP Towers, and unable to venture out in search of the curious GCSE Media project that is Setanta. 5Live and ITV highlights for me – the extended exposure to 5Live’s Alan Green robbing me of much of the will to live – so my take on the game, tactically wanting at the best of times, is about as meaty as a vegan’s lunch-box today.I had hoped for the challenge of a decent period of parity, to give England a bit of a test of patience and creativity. The early goal duly robbed the game of much purpose, although it’s one for the Wembley crowd to tell disbelieving grandchildren several decades hence, having been netted by Heskey. The eventual 4-0 scoreline suggests that the Slovaks obediently fulfilled their roles of sacrificial lambs without demur.

Some fluffy and inane thoughts to pass the time, based purely on the noises that came from my radio:

 

·         There is a concern that the Upson-Terry central defensive pairing has a lack of pace that would be punished by better teams (a penny for Ledley’s thoughts).

·         A bizarre, Darren Anderton-themed game of musical chairs amongst the strikers saw about twenty of them trot on, get injured and trot straight off. I’m cleaning my boots in anticipation of a call-up to the squad for Wednesday. As is Kevin Davies, according to the good folk of the BBC. Distressingly, only one of these statements is made in jest. (Hot off the press –  well, luke-warm – is the news that big bad Dazza Bent is to transfer that hurt, confused, hands-half-raised-to-head look from club to country, having been summoned by the Don. Cripes. Another penny please, this time for Michael Owen’s thoughts.)

·         The question of whether to build the team around Gerrard or Rooney seems to have replaced the question of whether to pick Gerrard or Lampard.

·         Lennon, apparently, was ok (and, mercifully, withdrawn without injury). However, there was something approaching consensus on the view that Beckham’s crossing gives him the edge, even if Lennon gets the nod on Wednesday.

Fairly bland, satisfactory and meaningless then, as anticipated by all and sundry. More entertainingly, away from the lumpy Wembley turf there had been an increasingly farcical air about the England soap opera over the last day or two, conjuring up images of poorly-scripted day-time TV soap operas.

·         Bewilderingly, both the mother and mother-in-law of John Terry found themselves in trouble with Her Majesty’s finest, for shop-lifting. The mind boggles. It’s like a caption competition without a picture.

·         After much fanfare the new, £50(!) England shirt was unveiled. Presumably intended to hark back to the days of Lofthouse et al, it looks rather like the design brief was assigned to an eight year-old, who quickly became distracted and forgot to complete it. It certainly evokes memories of Tottenham – both Spurs’ plain white shirt of last season, and the PE uniform I wore as a nipper in the playground on the High Road, just opposite White Hart Lane. Neither here nor there I guess, but it does aggrieve me to think that someone somewhere is minted on the back of designing that.

·         The tête-a-tête between Fabio and ‘Arry simmers on, although now less Rocky vs Apollo Creed, and more schoolgirls spreading gossip about each other. Fabio raised the point that there was no objection to the call-up of Alan Hutton to the Scotland squad, after several months out, as there had reportedly been to Ledley’s selection. Possibly a mistake on the Italian’s part, as the circumstances are different. The Ledley objection revolves around his recovery time, as a strictly once-a-week player; Hutton is more straightforwardly just back from a one-off, non-recurrent injury.


So all a bit surreal, but pleasing enough. Things should at least pick up as the more serious business of the qualifier vs Ukraine approaches, followed by the Premiership programme next weekend. Bon weekend, one and all.

Spurs – Chelsea Preview: A Dirty Secret

As the visit of Chelski approacheth the time is probably right for me to confess my sordid little secret – I don’t actually hate Ashley Cole.Controversial Indifference About Ashley Cole 

The reason for this is probably his level of performance in an England shirt. Generally, he keeps his head down and gets on with things when he’s wearing the three lions. Few histrionics or whinges, unlike some of his international (and club) colleagues. He’s a very solid left-back, pops up with his fair share of last-ditch tackles and goal-line clearances and, as befits the 21st century full-back, he also provides an extra attacking outlet by bombing up the wing.

I feel like I’m dodging rotten tomatoes as I write this, but tomorrow I’ll probably direct my abuse elsewhere. The allegations of greed and infidelity don’t particularly bother or concern me, as they merely suggest that he’s a member of the species homo footballens, completely oblivious to the true nature of life on earth. These players are signed as young teenagers, have the annual GDPs of small African countries waved at them before they’re 21, have hot ladies tripping over themselves to snare them, and have never touched a 9-to-5 job with a bargepole.

Little wonder then, that they grow up with pound signs in their eyes, and a penchant for a bit of skirt, within wedlock or otherwise. Even Saint Gary of Lineker was at it, back in the day. I’m not condoning it – Cole’s a rotter for messing around that minx of a wife – but he’s not alone in living on a completely different planet from the rest of us. 

Bile Towards The Rest of Them 

Drogba for example – built like a boxer, yet cries like a girl who’s been called nasty names. For goodness’ sake, take it like a man. And by “it” I mean everything that comes your way. I’ll never forget the sight of him tumbling like he’d been shot under a tap from Zokora at Wembley last year, picking himself up to score the free-kick, and then comfortably supporting two or three team-mates who jumped on top of him.

Terry seems to think that being an England player cloaks him in immunity from punishment. Quite why he is England captain is bewildering. A role model he most certainly ain’t – unless the asbo generation are seeking inspiration – and neither is he the best player in the team, or even the best player in the pair of centre-backs. That business of him giving a rousing speech before the Croatia game a couple of years ago, also had me spitting feathers. If the team wanted verbal inspiration then the poet laureate ought to have been hauled before them; but the entire business of pre-match speeches by the captain struck me as ludicrous, and entirely worthless once the whistle blew for kick-off. Honestly, if the players weren’t sufficiently psyched for a crunch game like that I hardly think some pearls of wisdom from John “Byron” Terry would have done the trick. And after all that fuss we were rubbish anyway.

I’ll resist the urge to go through the entire Chelski team firing off bile-soaked rants. You get the point. Unlike Peter Kenyon. Not so long ago Kenyon fastened blinkers to his head and quite earnestly banged on about turning them into the biggest club in the world by 2014. Without either an illustrious history or a massive long-term fan-base they will never be categorised as a true great of the English game. I can imagine Kenyon staring blankly at me as I try to explain this, then picking up a bag full of coins and shaking it at me, by way of counter-argument.

’Arry’s CV, Lennon’s Contract 

Lennon against Cole is likely to be critical to the outcome of tomorrow’s game, on which topic, three cheers for young Lennon for putting pen to paper. Wise move, son. It would be convenient at this juncture to forget quite how worthless footballer’s contracts are, and instead breeze into the Lane tomorrow on a wave of goodwill and optimism.

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