All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
"AANP - nobody knows what it means, but it's provocative."

Spurs 1-3 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bad, But Marginally Less Bad Than We’re Used To

It’s a sign of things, and a pretty damning sign at that, when progress is being measured by how less disastrous the situation now is compared to previous times, but that’s about the rub of it here at AANP Towers.

Once upon a time – by which I mean just about every game – I would use these pages to wail and lament like a banshee having a particularly bad time of it, on the grounds that we just seemed to observe the same damn thing every damn week. Viz. that our lot would take a lead; drop deep and try soak up pressure; fail to soak up said pressure and concede; concede again dammit with five minutes remaining; and then put on an impressive, but futile attacking display in the dying embers in an attempt to claw back the lost points.

Now this week, while most of the above admittedly remains true, the crucial difference is that we did not drop deep and try to soak up the pressure.

As I result, I got to about the eightieth minute or so of this one feeling less of the usual weekly frustration and ire. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. Seeing our lot churn out something not particularly good, but not quite as bad as usual, felt if not exactly uplifting then at least a mite more calming than the usual tortuous fare. Yes, we were dropping points; but at least we weren’t dropping points in a manner quite as negative as usual.

(Or rather, that was the state of things until we conceded the second, at which point I expected our usual punchy, late attempt to salvage something, but this was also strangely lacking. In fact, our lot seemed to settle for defeat even with ten minutes left on the clock, barely able to get a foot on the ball, let alone mount a late charge at the opposition goal. All of which rather soured my mood of previous calm.)

However – and I refer you back to the opening gambit, above – when progress is being measured by things being slightly less disastrous than usual you know you’re in a bit of a spot.

I’m not quite sure what the plan was, it being neither to play on the front foot nor the counter-attacking back foot. We had our moments, but United generally had more of them. I noted to a chum pre-match that I would prefer seeing us go down in flames as in the 5-4 defeat at Everton then meekly limp to the usual 1-1 draws each week; but this felt like neither. The whole thing was a bit odd and uninspiring; and that was even before we conceded two late goals.

2. Hojbjerg

One definite ray of sunshine was the pitter-patter of Hojbjerg’s size nines around the place. Since the turn of the year he’s occasionally dipped below his usual high standards, but today signalled a return to something like peak Hojbjerg (possibly benefiting from a rare midweek rest?).

If there were a playground-style, thrashing tackle to be made, he merrily stomped in and made it. If there were an opportunity to nip in quickly and win back possession only recently surrendered, he did not wait for the Ts and Cs of the deal to be refined.

At one point in the second half he broke up a potential United counter-attack and appeared for all the world to be appealing for some non-existent crusade; until I realised that he was actually bellowing a celebration at having conceded a throw in the cause of stifling a United move at source.

Not much else in lilywhite clicked today, but Hojbjerg’s performance was impressive.

3. Lucas

Scraping the barrel now admittedly, but Lucas showed a few flashes of creativity, when not being bumped from the number ten spot by Lo Celso.

The chap always brims with pretty honest sweat and endeavour, which is decent of him but of itself not exactly blowing up anyone’s skirts. Where Lucas does add value, however, is in picking up the ball just over halfway and jinking away from scything legs, transferring the action from what might be termed Midfield Stodge to what might equally be termed Final Third Potential.

As with Lamela a month or so ago, he seems to be benefitting from a steady run of starts, and while hardly in the same bracket as Kane and Sonny, he does at least provide decent empirical evidence for his position ahead of Bale in the queue for the coveted role of Fun Uncle.

A smart assist for Sonny’s goal today too; and in fact most of those involved in its genesis (Ndombele, Lo Celso and, to a lesser extent, Kane) attracted commendation. Seeing goals like that equally delights (because lovely goals do make the heart leap, what?) and infuriates (because why the devil can’t we peddle such stuff more often?).

4. The Defence

Given the personnel at his disposal, I’m not sure that Jose could unveil any back-four without inducing a groan from these parts, so when the names Aurier and Dier were rattled off I suspect I wasn’t the only one praying for their guardian angels to be on high alert.

As it happened though, and in another indication of that first point in today’s sermon about progress being measured by a reduction in dreadfulness, the back-four were generally not terrible.

Neither United’s disallowed goal nor their first two legitimate goals were necessarily due to the type of schoolboy defending that has graced the turf a little too often in the last few years (I’ll overlook the third as it stemmed from several of our lot being dragged out of position). United’s movement of the ball for these goals was impressive, and I suspect a neutral might have dished out some polite applause. There was not, on first sight at least, a great deal that might have been done about them.

First sight, however, may have been a little generous.

Eric Dier has few obvious attributes upon which to call, but generally fares better in the more static life that accompanies crosses or passes into the box than the sprint-based existence of chasing from halfway. However, both United’s first two and their disallowed goal were fashioned in and around the penalty area, and for both Cavani’s allowed and disallowed goal Dier simply lost track of the striker.

This is not to suggest that I might have done any better; if one is supposed to walk a mile in a man’s shoes before chipping away at his character I’d be an unholy mess at this point. But that’s not really the point, is it? Dier is supposed to be an international defender, and while Cavani is a master at his art, Dier was not just a yard behind him, he was completely ignorant of his whereabouts.

Aurier, inevitably, dozed off for one of the goals (their second, allowing Cavani to breeze past him unbothered); while young Rodon switched off for the equaliser, when he ought to have been first on the scene after Lloris parried away the initial shot.

So there were some pretty preventable errors scattered about the place for the goals, but nevertheless, this did not seem a game in which to lambast those at the back. By and large they did a presentable job of things, and while Dier may not be the most alert soul on the planet, Rodon at least seemed to know his beans.

Who the hell knows which combo Jose will try next, given that his selection method seems to be to close his eyes and pick names out of a hat, but there would seem to be both immediate and at least medium-term benefit in giving persisting with young Joe Rodon.

Arsenal 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Most Lamela Performance Imaginable

If you want to describe the mood at AANP Towers as “sombre” that will be fine with me, because that was pretty rotten stuff. Since the final whistle I have mostly just aimlessly wandered about the place: not as a devastatingly accurate tribute to those in lilywhite today, but because there was precious little about which to cheer.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, pretty much the sole beacon of light amidst this gloom was – or at least, was until he wasn’t – Erik Lamela.

Quite unperturbed by his rather hurried introduction into affairs, Lamela just set about the game as I imagine he sets about dressing himself in the morning, or eating his breakfast: viz. with high energy, sneaky fouls and a total reliance on his left foot.

It would be a stretch, and in fact a plain untruth, to say that he brimmed with creativity, but as ever he seemed pretty keen to engage in robust exchanges of views with just about anyone clad in red who wandered anywhere near him.

The highlight, of course, was his goal. Has any mortal ever held his right foot in such disregard as Lamela? Not that I’m complaining of course, because I suspect most of us would happily retire after scoring a goal like that, in a game like this (and for added delectation the shot also nutmegged some lost soul en route to goal). For a while it seemed that Lamela had done the most Lamela thing imaginable.

Except, alas, there was more classic Lamela to come. Any game of Lamela Bingo requires a yellow card borne of a fully determined but slightly mistimed tackle, and being the excitable sort of fellow he is, this duly followed. However, on this matter I have a healthy dollop of sympathy for the man, because the sequence of events that earned that first yellow card involved, in chronological order, i) Lamela winning ball, and ii) Lamela flying into opponent.

One might argue that this is simply the manner in which games are officiated these days, and that would be a pretty irresistible point; but in the latter stages I’m pretty sure Xhaka went flying into a challenge on Doherty, taking first ball and then clattering man, and earning nothing more than an unconcerned shrug from those in authority. Scandalous stuff.

Frankly I thought Lamela’s second yellow was also rather soft. Not the wisest course of action from a man already cautioned, ‘tis true, but the supposedly flailing arm could pretty reasonably have been construed as a fairly harmless attempt push away the chest of his opponent. Spilt milk now, of course.

And thus we had every aspect of Lamela, in an hour-long microcosm.

2. Doherty and Bale

Lamela’s goal, and Lucas’ diligent beavering in the final fifteen, were about as uplifting as things got.

Just about everywhere else on the pitch there seemed to be a pretty hefty dereliction of duty, as all involved misplaced passes (Hojbjerg being oddly culpable on multiple occasions), wandered into dead-ends or generally turned in curiously lethargic performances, as if the current state of affairs in the world were weighing on their minds a little too heavily today.

In the first half in particular, much of the success had by the other lot came down our right. I had neither the energy nor inclination to try to diagnose the problem, but the quartet of lilywhites covering that patch of land (Doherty, Bale, Hojbjerg and Sanchez) between them seemed pretty ill-equipped even to understand what was happening around them, let alone address it.

Doherty in particular gave the impression of a defender on life-support, repeatedly outfoxed by his opponents’ mind-blowing tactic of kicking the ball past him and running. The excuse repeatedly trotted out for this pest is that he is a wing-back, not a full-back, as if this is akin to asking a right-handed fast bowler to design a spaceship, and not something that should be expected of him. Utter rot.

In my calmer moments I actually consider that Doherty is someone who has shown enough in recent seasons to suggest that he will, if still around next campaign, eventually come good. Today, however, he was a shambles, whether in possession or trying to defend.

(Bale, it seemed, took one look at the car crash unfolding behind him and decided to steer well clear. One understands the sentiment, I suppose, but it’s hardly mucking in with the boys.)

3. Sanchez

Another week, and another blot on the Davinson Sanchez escutcheon. Apparently some are arguing that the penalty should not have been awarded; and by the letter of the law perhaps it should not, I did not stick around for the debate. My misgiving about the whole incident was that Sanchez saw fit to clatter into an opponent in the penalty area. Irrespective of what other events were unfolding, that course of action stacked the odds against him. Pull off a stunt like that and immediately the ref has a reason to take action.

It was actually something of a shame, because while Sanchez never has and never will inspire me with the slightest confidence, he was somehow getting things right. Blocks, headers, timing of challenges: all the parts of his game that have me covering my eyes with hands and muttering fevered prayers, in these this afternoon he seemed to emerge triumphant.

But such is the lot of a centre-back. I’m not sure it does much good to turn in an impeccable 89 minutes, if you fill your remaining 60 seconds flattening opposing attackers in the penalty area.

4. Negative Approach

I have no idea who gives the orders to our lot as they limber up, as I am scandalously excluded from the inner sanctum of the club at such times, but after games like these the anthem on my lips is, “Accident, or design?”

That is to say, is it simply an unhappy stroke of fate that our lot mooch gormlessly around the pitch for an hour showing minimal intent to break forward (until they eventually, inevitably, concede and have to)? Or do they conduct themselves with such apathy because someone in the upper echelons has force-fed them the instruction to act in precisely such manner?

All neither here nor there of course. It wouldn’t make much difference if the instructions were being delivered by a booming voice from the clouds, as the net effect is one we have witnessed pretty regularly. We defend, and defend, and only bother attacking once behind.

While at least avoiding the ignominy of defending along the edge of our own area, our heroes did not cover themselves in glory for the first hour or so, by seeming oddly indifferent as to whether or not they had the ball. Whereas the other lot gave the impression of familiarity with the equation that the scoring of goals facilitates the winning of games, those in lilywhite appeared pretty relaxed about the flow of events. “If Arsenal want to attack”, went the thought process of our eleven, “then who are we to interfere?”

That our only shot in the first half brought about a goal seemed to be taken as vindication by those involved that all was well with the world. However, the fact that the other lot twice hit the woodwork during this period, rather than jolting anyone into alternative action, was seemingly taken as further evidence that everything was under control, and even after they equalised the plan remained unmoved: just bob gently about the place, and everything will be alright in the end.

That it took the unholy combination of falling behind and having a man sent off to prompt any change of approach was about as frustrating as these things get, not least because thereafter came the astonishing discovery that if we went and attacked our chances of scoring improved exponentially.

One is tempted to suggest that there is a salutary lesson in there, but it would be a stretch to assume that the combined brain power of those strolling the corridors of power will do anything to change this approach in the next big game we play.

Spurs 4-0 Burnley: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Dream Front Three: Son and Kane

Admittedly it was six months overdue, which does take the gloss of these joyous occasions, but now that the third member of the trio is just about fully fit this could be considered the official unveiling of The Dream Front Three, and they delivered all the traditional punchlines and crowd-pleasing moments that were legally required of them.

Burnley, it must be said, were pretty accepting of their part in the spectacle, dutifully approaching their roles of Lambs Being Led To Slaughter with all the obedient passivity of a mob of extras who are fully aware that their part in the thing is purely to make the superstars look good. When the Dream Front Three needed to combine for the cameras, Burnley gave them all the space they needed; when the Dream Front Three needed to score, Burnley were at pains not to inconvenience them, at one point even subjecting each other to meaty off-the-ball challenges in order to ensure that the day’s neon-lit narrative was not disturbed.

Tougher tests will therefore await, but this was still rousing stuff.

Sonny, who appears to have adjusted his coordinates to pop up less centrally and more towards the left since the renaissance of Bale, made a welcome return to his sprightly self after a bit of a lull in recent weeks. This geographic shift perhaps lends itself to being Creator rather than Finisher, but Son appeared to have no objection to the modification of his job description, and was at the heart of many of our quicker and more penetrating routines.

Kane, for his part, looked thoroughly irked at the indignity of having seen a goal scored within two minutes against Burnley that did not feature him, and set about doing his damnedest to correct that particular clerical error at the earliest opportunity, lashing in shots until one went in; at which point he calmed down and settled back into life within the collective of The Dream Front Three.

2. The Dream Front Three: Bale

Meanwhile Bale, as threatened in recent weeks against Wolfsberger (twice) and West Ham, bobbed about the place with the swagger of a fellow who is one of the best in the business and is pretty well aware of the fact.

He does still wander along with a look of some disdain for those statistics that litter the modern game around yards run, and sprints sprinted, and jugs of breath inhaled and whatnot; but it matters not when a chap has Special Dispensation Because He Is Bale. While not exactly the tireless blur of legs that, for example, defines Sonny, peak Bale possesses a threat that can destroy teams with a couple of well-judged swings of his left tentacle. These have been in evidence in recent weeks, both in the sweet contact for his goals against Wolfsberger but also in the link-up play when drifting in from the right, and all of the above was evidenced again today.

His opening goal was hardly the most spectacular of his career, but was still a triumph for those who enjoy a well-timed run from deep, executed as if some sort of meta-joke in reference to Dele Alli. More usefully, it set the tone for a pretty idyllic afternoon stroll in the sun, taking the pressure of everyone concerned and giving a licence to The Dream Front Three to do dreamy things.

Bale’s pass for Kane’s goal was pretty indulgent stuff, those sprayed, long-range passes being the reserve of those who consider themselves above the rank-and-file of the Premier League, and his audacity to undertake such a project was indicative of an egg who is thoroughly enjoying life.

‘Tis true, he has looked like he has been enjoying life from the moment he re-signed, but more on account of the barrel of laughs that have kept him entertained while watching on from the bench, judging by the televised evidence of him chuckling away on the sidelines every week. While encouraging to see a man in high spirits, he has done little to contribute to the greater good while wrapped up and sedentary, so there was much to welcome about the sight of him today ambling into the spotlight, demanding the ball and spreading play.

Most eye-catchingly, at one point he also treated us to a throwback of Bale at the Lane, when he knocked the ball past his full-back, took him on in a short sprint and comfortably triumphed. This, combined with the absolutely sumptuous technique in his finishing, generously demonstrated again today for his fourth, is the stuff that really gets the masses chattering in excitement, and these little glimpses of the Bale of old bode well for the remainder of the season.

The interplay between The Dream Front Three at times did make the eyes widen with excitement. Stay fit and continue to play together, and one suspects that their understanding and combinations will only improve, which makes the heart race a bit, what?

3. Lucas

AANP is only too well aware that being the youngest of four siblings can at times be a pretty dispiriting gig, particularly in one’s formative years when nature dictates that you are comfortably the least accomplished of the gang. And when perching on the starting blocks and looking up to behold The Dream Front Three scattered around him, I could therefore sympathise with Lucas Moura, who, while possessed of his own set of handy talents, is nevertheless a man whose own mother would have a tough time putting him on the same lofty pedestal as Kane, Son and Bale.

Lucas, one might argue, ranks more alongside Messrs Bergwijn and Lamela in quality, and appears to be scrapping it out with these two and Dele for the coveted Number 10 role, with Senor Lo Celso presumably at some point also due to pop back into frame and offer his tuppence worth.

One therefore had to be careful not to place too much pressure upon Lucas, or, to put it more bluntly, not to judge him by the same standards of his starrier chums. The poor fellow also had to contend with the fact that AANP has made pretty public in recent weeks a level of dissatisfaction with his output, chiefly centring on his obsessions with dribbling past as many opponents as drift into his eyeline. Disheartening stuff for the man to read each week, no doubt.

Today, however, I thought Lucas made a decent fist of things. His energy was impressive, and probably necessary given that scampering around incessantly is not quite the principal virtue of G. Bale Esquire. Lucas also job-shared with Harry Kane the duty of dropping into midfield to help out the frontline staff who were getting their hands dirty, one of the game’s less glamorous undertakings but a box that no doubt needed ticking.

And I am also a personal fan of the young bean’s penchant for treating every opportunity that falls to him without discrimination, but simply lashing it as hard as his little legs allow, and trusting in God to do the rest. On one occasion today this sent the ball into orbit; on another occasion he thumped it straight at the ‘keeper, when any modicum of deftness would have brought about a goal; but the ‘Close Your Eyes And Hammer It’ approach duly struck oil on his other opportunity, so well done him.

The personal preference in these parts would be for peak Dele to make Number 10 his own, or, if tireless industry is specifically required, Erik Lamela. Indeed, a fit-again Lo Celso would also be above Lucas in the pecking order if I had my way on these things; but there can be few grumbles about either Lucas’ input or output today.

4. Davinson Sanchez

Another of our lot whose persual of these pages in recent weeks will have tested his fortitude is Davinson Sanchez. If being left to chew turf by Gundogan a few weeks ago represented the nadir of Sanchez’ Tottenham career, then his backheeled pass to a teammate in the 79th minute might well have been its zenith. Party tricks aside however, in general, this will go down in The Book of Records as one of his finest displays in lilywhite.

Four-nil though the scoreline might have been – and a pretty fair reflection of affairs at that – this was not a game without incident for the centre-backs. Make no mistake, Sanchez earned his weekly envelope today.

Burnley have generally offered a pretty stern physical and aerial test over the years, and this Sanchez (and Toby) withstood well, all the more so given that Lloris’ attitude of non-interference means that he will stay on his line come hell or high water, and that the centre-backs cannot not expect a damn jot of help from his quarter.

And having been given nightmares by the twists and turns of Gundogan on terra firma a few weeks back, Sanchez also deserves credit for sticking to his guns when similar attempts on his dignity were made today. In the areas of both shepherding and blocking, he seemed to meet all challenges thrown his way, and even at one point displayed his rarely-sighted burst of pace.

Now I’ve heard it said that one swallow does not make a summer, and as I understand it the chap who penned that particular gag was referring specifically to Sanchez and the prospect of him turning in a solid performance, the gist being that a clean sheet against Burnley does not mean Sanchez is guaranteed to be the bedrock upon which a watertight Tottenham defence will be built for years to come. And this seems a reasonable assertion, for there is plenty of evidence in the bank pointing to Sanchez being anything but bedrock as he goes about his duties.

Nevertheless, this was encouraging stuff, both in terms of the practical output and the confidence it will give him. One hopes that he can bash out similar fare against Fulham in midweek, because I think we would all breathe a little easier if the centre-back pairing in N17 began at least to look the part.

West Ham 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dier, Lloris and Tanganga’s Role in the Opener

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m of the school of thought that has it that the purpose of a defence is to keep opponents as far away as possible from the goods. Something akin to the attitude of a Test batsman refusing to surrender his wicket at any cost, “Over-my-dead-body” pretty much being the anthem of choice.

By contrast, the attitude of our defence seems to be far more easy-going and liberal, seeming to suggest that if you fancy wandering straight into our inner sanctum then come right in and make yourselves at home. This was strongly evident from the off, as Lloris, Dier and Tanganga were politeness personified, not daring to do anything that might impede the serene progress of West Ham towards our holiest of holies.

The cross for the opener was undoubtedly a decent one, but nothing that a firm application of Dier’s forehead would have failed to remedy pretty swiftly, and at this stage I think most right-minded observers anticipated him taking the uncontroversial step of nodding the ball back whence it came and letting the experts get on with things further up the pitch. Dier’s decision therefore to adopt a policy of non-interference made the mind swim a bit, but this curious experiment in passivity having been executed we at least had Monsieur Lloris to fall back on.

Alas, Lloris clings to his goal-line in much the same way as a toddler might cling to a cherished blanket, and although the ball hove into view within the six-yard box, and Lloris, for clarification, was fully entitled to use his hands to affect proceedings as he saw fit, he instead took a leaf out of Dier’s “Wait and See” book. While this says much for his spirit of intellectual curiosity, it didn’t really aid us in the matter at hand.

For his part, the West Ham forward in the middle of this slapstick, Antonio, reacted with all the incredulity one would expect of a man who had heard much of the fabled spirit of generosity amongst the Tottenham defence but still could not quite believe it was happening. He helped himself to two unchallenged attempts at goal from inside six yards, and who could blame him for filling his boots so greedily?

A word in passing also for young Tanganga for his role in all this. With Dier dragged out of position by the front post runner, responsibility for chaperoning Antonio fell upon the shoulders of Tanganga. It was therefore unfortunate to see him look to his elders for inspiration, and do what Dier and Lloris had done before, by staying rooted to his position with resolute passivity, determined not to influence matters but instead to watch them unfold around him. Oh, Japhet.

To his credit Tanganga made an admirable stab at a rather brutal task against Man City last week, when he was asked to keep tabs on the combined might of Sterling and Gundogan, and in general he shown an adequate grasp of the basics to merit some time in the starting line-up, but this was the sort of sizeable clanger it is pretty difficult to laugh off.

2. Sanchez

Elsewhere in the heart of what passes these days for our defence, Davinson Sanchez made one of the smarter decisions of his entire Tottenham career to date by staying well clear of affairs for the opening goal, and entrusting duties to his colleagues.

This was about the only intelligent choice he made all afternoon. He may have avoided anything in the category of ‘Monumentally Catastrophic’, but this is hardly the sign of a job well done. In general there is much about which to shoot concerned glances when observing Sanchez in action, and for anyone wondering to what sort of things I might be referring, the chap kindly provided demonstrations of many of them today, like some grotesque form of Error-Strewn Bingo.

He misjudges the flight of aerial balls; is too easily turned inside out by any opposing attacker who has the temerity to attempt a stepover; is outmuscled too easily; appears pretty petrified of the ball when in possession, typically turning back to the goalkeeper as if afraid that the ball might combust if it moves forward; and at one point was outpaced by Declan Rice. Using the age-old AANP technique of asking who would buy him if he were available, it seems a fair bet that the queue of Champions League-chasing sides would not be stretching around the block – making one ask what the hell is he doing playing for our lot?

When watching two centre-backs struggling to negotiate the absolute basics of space and time, there is a temptation for the absence of others to make the heart grow fonder, and thus I find myself now yearning for a pairing of Toby and Rodon. But realistically, this is unlikely to present much of an improvement either.

Toby’s heart remains willing, but his flesh grows weaker with each passing match; and Rodon’s love of a dramatic sliding challenge rather masks the fact that his positional errors bring about the need for such challenges in the first place.

In short, none of the current bunch are what would you describe as a towering presence at the back, and throw in a goalkeeper whose understanding of his grasp of reality and his place within it is becoming ever shakier, and it’s a heck of a problem. Our defence (and ‘keeper) seem to be worth a two-goal deficit in each game they play.

It is probably a bit much to ask any manager to turn that disjointed and error-strewn rabble into world-beaters, but I had at least hoped on his arrival that Jose might turn our back four into something greater than the sum of their parts. There is precious little indication of this happening, which suggests that the for the foreseeable future the onus will be on the attacking mob to score at least two or three each game simply to give us a chance of a point.

3. Bale and Our Second Half in General

This being Jose’s Tottenham, we waited until two goals down before showing any particular attacking urgency, but when the penny did finally drop we put on a surprisingly compelling show. Given that the combined talents of Kane, Son, Bale, Dele, Lucas and Ndombele were all in attendance one wouldn’t expect much less, but it still made a pleasant change to feel a frisson of excitement as our lot pummelled away at the opposition.

Central to this late rally was Gareth Bale, which is not a phrase I necessarily ever expected to utter again. But there he was, in glorious technicolour, looking as if he cared, and showing an impressive knack for doing mundane things with superstar quality.

His list of merits included link-up play on the right with Doherty (albeit a deployment that was enforced when Plan A, of using Tanganga as a more containing full-back, went up in smoke inside five minutes when we went behind); occasional darts infield; runs behind the defence; and, most stylishly, the deft little flicks and nudges that on paper could be recorded as simply standing in one place and dangling a limb, but in practice amounted to gloriously misleading two or three opponents into setting off in one direction while facing in the opposite direction.

This is to say nothing of the assist for Lucas’ goal (which, by the by, I made approximately the umpteenth example of a goal from a corner since Eriksen left and took his corner deliveries with him) and the volley that grazed the crossbar. Of course, hitting the bar counts for little unless he were aiming for it – and even then it would be a pretty odd objective – but all these elements amounted to the sort of performance that was a notch or two above that of which most of his contemporaries are capable.

It bodes well. No doubt it is tempting to add a grumble that it is about damn time he boded well, having spent the last six months boding anything but, while seeming happy enough to claim his weekly envelope and not giving a fig about how things boded – but for the avoidance of doubt, this was good stuff.

In recent weeks Sonny has been slightly more reticent, as if moved to find a quiet spot out on the left and reflect, undisturbed, upon life; and Kane’s radar today was around six inches away from where it ought to have been at any given moment; but it is now conceivable that all three of these might be about to hit their straps simultaneously, and with Burnley and Fulham looming large on the fixture list, a release of some pent-up frustration would be pretty timely.

4. Lamela

The general upturn in life’s events in the final half hour – in performance at least, if not in outcome – did much to soothe the savage beast that had been unleashed within me at half-time, on learning of the withdrawal of Lamela, a bullet that Lucas rather scandalously dodged.

Lamela, as has been the case on almost every occasion since his return, struck me as the pick of our bunch while in attendance. His little dribble from halfway to a spot well beyond, to set up Kane, struck me as a masterclass in how to run at pace away from would-be antagonists while being spectacularly one-footed and still managing to effect trademark stepovers even though nothing about the circumstances should, by rights, have allowed such a thing.

And in general, he combined his usual urgency with some decision-making that was probably as sensible as the situation allowed. Naturally he also found time for that customary combo of a yellow card for a late challenge aligned with a look of utter incredulity, but there is much to love about an attacker who is so affronted at not having possession that he considers it within his rights to fly into his man with the full force of every available limb in order to win the thing back.

By contrast, and as ever, any good intentions Lucas might have had at kick-off were swiftly drowned beneath his irrepressible urge to be dribbling at any point and in any part of the field, irrespective of whether the situation demanded such an undertaking or otherwise.

We will always have Amsterdam, of course, and there are times when to beat an opponent or two does everyone a service, but watching the chap get his head down and race off mazily into a cul-de-sac I cannot help but feel the I have watched him play the same game for Tottenham about a hundred times.

Of the aforementioned sextet of attacking talent with which we ended the game, Lucas struck me as arguably the weakest link, and in the straight shootout perennially in my head between Lucas and Lamela, the latter is comfortably ahead. I can only assume that Lamela, rather than Lucas, was hooked at the interval because of Lamela’s yellow: but in future weeks I expect to see a front four of Kane, Son, Bale and Lamela.

Man city 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

One does not really like to dwell on the misfortune of others, but it would be remiss not to record in the Book of Events the latest series of errors from our resident gate-keeper.

For the first two goals (and some might make convincing arguments also for the third) he seemed to do the hard part, of stationing himself at the appropriate coordinates and at the appointed time, with relevant limb duly outstretched, in order to make the necessary saves. These boxes having been ticked, all that remained seemed to be for him to complete the job by ensuring that aforementioned outstretched limb completed its principle purpose in life, viz. to prevent the ball entering his net.

Of course at this juncture the operation seemed to collapse in pieces. It is pretty vexing stuff, because shot-stopping has tended to be Lloris’ headline trick. One rarely sees him dashing from his line to claim crosses, and his distribution tends not to win too many awards: but for the past however many years he has at least amassed a decent array of saves. Take this away from him and tongues will wag.

And on the subject of his diminishing shot-stopping powers, I’ve noted a recent tendency of his to fall backwards as he attempts to carry out this particular duty. The second and third goals yesterday, and also the first goal against Everton (Calvert-Lewin’s powerful volley, for those struggling to keep track), each featured our man tumbling back onto his derriere.

Now not having been particularly schooled in the art as a whole I couldn’t offer much expertise on the matter, but it does seem a peculiar quirk. One would have thought a chap aiming to spring into action ought to plant his weight on his toes. This business of falling backwards suggests that the chap is more inclined to rock on his heels.

2. Hojbjerg

Regulars in this part of the world will be well aware that the affection for Hojbjerg all season has been strong. Alas, yesterday he dipped below the expected standards.

Following his errors against Everton in midweek, Hojbjerg was at it again yesterday. Some have suggested that the penalty should not have been awarded, but before examining the case for that particular defence I chide the man for getting himself into that position in the first place. The opponent in questions was Gundogan, who, in order to station himself for the aforementioned drama to unfold, had to amble forward into the area, while a chum was in possession; and at this point Hojbjerg simply watched him skip past.

As derelictions of duty go it was pretty thick stuff, and most unlike the chap. Had he tracked this run with the eagerness of a boy scout I dare say the various legs that then became tangled would have remained in tangle-free state.

Personally I had no beef with the decision itself, as it appeared that Hojbjerg kicked the chap’s standing leg, the principal crime here being one of clumsiness. All in all, as bursts of five-seconds-of-action go, this was one of the more flawed exhibits.

3. Lamela and Lucas

While Hojbjerg has been looked upon fondly all season, a more recent favourite at AANP Towers has been Erik Lamela, primarily for his combination of high energy, skulduggery and useful – if heavily left-footed – creative spark. It was also a rare opportunity for Lucas to do his damnedest, and whether by accident or design the pair of them interchanged their first half roles pretty regularly.

However, as with Hojbjerg, this seemed not to be the sort of performance upon which either man will look back with any particular fondness. It was not so much that they made any specific, game-changing mistakes – there were plenty others queueing up to do that.

Rather, it was the fact that Lamela having begun to display his talents in the final third in recent games, nothing really clicked for the young nib yesterday, and Lucas was similarly wanting. Both were guilty of making the occasional poor decision, when the very limited opportunities arose for us to poke and prod at the City back-line.

City defended well, no doubt, but our game tends to rely on correct choices in the counter-attack, to ensure that the ball whizzes from point A to B, and onto C, with blink-of-an-eye alacrity, and while this pair had fairly regular opportunities to bring the ball over halfway, neither seemed to pick the most effective options having done so.

4. Ndombele and the First Half Formation

By the time the last rites came round City were basically toying with us, but in the first half the front-page news seemed to be that Jose had dispensed with the customary tactic against Man City, of deploying a back-six under strict instruction to venture no further than their own penalty area. Instead, while hardly expansive, our lot seemed willing to poke cautious noses into the swathes of turf that lay further north.

This I welcomed. It made a pleasant change, reduced the chances of conceding and was less painful to watch than might otherwise have been the case. In practice, of course, it mattered little, but the symbolism of the thing was duly recorded here at AANP Towers.

And directly linked to this mildly more progressive outlook was the deployment of Ndombele as one of the two deeper-lying midfield souls. Pre-Christmas, the Mourinho Dirge had been founded upon a deep-lying pairing of Sissoko and Hojbjerg, both of whom seemed pretty well drilled in the art of slotting in betwixt full-back and centre-back at the drop of a hat.

With Ndombele occupying the berth however, it’s a different kettle of fish. He follows the T’s and C’s of defensively midfielding adequately enough, but coursing through his veins is an urge to pick up the ball and drag it with him over halfway and into opposition territory. In short, his deployment in the role changes the dynamic of our play. This scheme was initially pursued against West Brom last week, which, in the politest terms, was a pretty low-risk test of its efficacy. It was then wheeled out for the manic Cup-tie vs Everton, the sheer lunacy of which game made it pretty difficult to gauge its success, although Ndombele’s breaks from deep did add a useful additional dynamic to our play.

However, then to use Ndombele in the deeper role against the juggernaut that is City struck me a a pretty significant act of faith in his abilities.

The experiment went the way of all flesh in the second half, as Sissoko came on and sat deep, while Ndombele shoved forward, before being hooked – but not before this additional piece of symbolism had similarly had its details taken. Amidst the doom and gloom about the place, I do at least look forward to further use of Ndombele as a deep-lying attacking threat, in coming weeks.

5. Bale and Alli

Funnily enough it flew completely under the radar that we finished the game with something of a fantasy line-up, of Kane, Son, Bale and Dele Alli in attack.

I don’t really keep track of these things but I’d imagine it can’t have been that long ago that a decent proportion of the world’s lilywhites would have given their right arms to see that quartet in action simultaneously.

Now obviously when this dream team is assembled within the circumstances of a three-goal deficit in the dying embers of a match, it loses much of its sheen. But if somehow the best can be coaxed out of Dele, and anything remotely near fitness and form out of Bale, we might potentially have a front four that, frankly, would be far beyond anything Jose has ever done to deserve.

I suspect most of us are scratching our heads at Bale’s odd flurry of non-performances so far, but in one fleet-footed dribble past multiple City legs yesterday he gave a brief flash of hope that perhaps his appetite for such things may not have fizzled out completely.

With transfer speculation about Dele now put to bed for at least the next few months it appears that Jose has moodily decided he might as well play the two-time Young Player of the Year, on the off-chance that he has something about him. There is still enough time in the season for he and Bale to hit some loose approximation of form – and should either, or, God-willing, both do so, and with Ndombele prompting things from deep, our attacking options would suddenly abound.

Everton 5-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. All Action, No Plot

Cut me open and you’ll find me bleeding lilywhite, and so on and so forth; and every defeat for our lot conjures up that hurtful feeling of being bitten in the leg by a personal friend, and so on and forth; but I have to admit, that having felt like my soul was being dragged from my very being while watching our lot resolutely defend their own penalty area for the last six months, to see the return of all-action-no-plot football last night brought a certain satisfaction.

As I will bleat to anyone within earshot, I would much rather see our lot lose while buccaneering like a whole regiment of particularly well-oiled musketeers, than settling for 28% possession and aimlessly hacking clearance after clearance, before conceding in the final five minutes anyway.

It might not be the opinion that has the masses flooding to the ballot box to formalise their support, but give me an-all-action-no plot display any day of the week.

And make no mistake, this was AANP of the highest order. A team denuded of Harry Kane always prompts a few pursed lips and quizzical glances about the place, but from the off our heroes took to the challenge like a bag of cats freshly released. The football in general was one-touch, which is always one of life’s more positive omens, bringing with it, by definition, a rapid shifting of the central orb from points A to B and back again.

Chances were created and shots taken at a healthy rate from the opening minutes onwards, and while it was an annoyance to see just about all of them disappear straight down the throat of the Everton ‘keeper, each routine seemed to be undertaken in the right spirit. The movement of each of the front four was lively; and both the nominal deep-lying midfielders, Hojbjerg and Ndombele, seemed to treat the opportunities to motor forward with all the relish of a pair of teenagers allowed out to their first party.

In short it was pretty unrecognisable from the defensive fare we’ve had rammed down our throats for so long under Jose, and while the first half hour or so brought only a one-goal lead and around half a dozen missed chances for a second, the entertainment alone was ample compensation for an underwhelming scoreline.

Looking back, but for the five-minute burst of defensive howlers before half-time we may have shaded the thing on balance – not that the book of events records such speculation. I suppose we can draw some mild consolation from the fact that we did not concede due to inviting wave after wave of pressure, or being in ragged defensive shape, but primarily due to forming a neat queue of individuals eager to have their own individual howlers given air-time, with Messrs Hojbjerg and Lloris oddly intent on stretching the boundaries of the calamitous.

Having clawed the thing back twice in normal time, it was pretty galling to see it all disappear in smoke at stumps – but while others may grumble, I was simply glad to have at least been entertained. Rather a 4-5 after extra-time, than an impotent 0-1 utterly devoid of invention.

2. Lamela

I must confess it is not immediately clear to me which particular ghost has elected to inhabit the wiry frame of Erik Lamela in these two and a half games since his latest return from injury, but I like the cut of his spectral jib.

In attitude as much as output, Lamela has been a joy to behold, all energy, urgency and will to win. While his actual stats might not necessarily have been flawless, he was the creative hub regularly enough, and his goal seemed a pretty fair reward for a few hours of good honest graft in the last week or two.

3. Lucas

The offering from Lucas was more of a mixed bag. In the credit column, his attitude was also admirable from the off.

Now I appreciate that this is akin to dishing out a sympathetic pat upon the head of the chubby lad in the class, and awarding him a prize for effort, but this upbeat, energetic take on life was pretty critical. Cast the mind back just a week or two, to the utterly lifeless showings against Chelsea and Brighton, and one realises that we cannot simply take for granted that our lot will career about the place like men possessed.

And while Lucas’ capacity to dribble into cul-de-sacs, and dismiss multiple opportunities to pass because he simply prefers to do it all himself, does drive the casual observer to a state of apoplexy, it was pretty vital that he devoted himself with energy to even these hollow pursuits, for this beavering contributed crucially to the general dynamism of the whole.

4. Out Substitutions and the Loss of Energy and Shape

The value of Lucas’ contribution seemed to become clearer once he was withdrawn. To put it another way, cast the mind back to the latter stages of normal time and the entirety of extra-time, when the subs were thrown on, and our energy disappeared along with our shape.

Where Ndombele had repeatedly dragged the ball from defence to attack for ninety minutes, offering a sixth attacking option that helped maintain a constant threat, Winks replaced him and promptly set about chiselling out one of the worst cameos in recent memory, capping off an array of misplaced passes with the concession of possession that led to the Everton winner.

For all his over-elaboration, Lucas was also missed once hooked, with Dele doing little to affect matters.

Most tellingly, the introduction of Kane seemed to slow down a lot of our attacking play, with the high-energy buzz of the opening hour or so replaced by a slightly more circumspect approach. At three-one down one can hardly quibble with the decision to send on the greatest goalscorer of his generation (and both Sonny’s cross and his diving header, for our fourth, together amounted to a thing of beauty), but the front-foot attacking style with which we had swaggered through the first half certainly sapped away.

5. Lloris

Ultimately though, four goals really ought to have been enough, and probably would have been but for the steady stream of individual clangers that littered the place.

Hojbjerg without doubt has enough credit in the bank to be excused his part in the mess, which comprised principally a heavy touch to allow Everton their first. Little doubt that he also clipped his man for the penalty, but I am inclined to exonerate him on the grounds that this did not appear one of those fouls that had been delivered on the back of hours of planning, our man instead seemingly bumping into the chap, as one tends to do in a crowded spot.

Winks, as mentioned, had a bit of a stinker all round, and played himself into trouble when he really ought to have known better.

But the rotten tomatoes ought really to be reserved for Monsieur Lloris. A lame duck might have done better with at least two of the goals; a World Cup-winning goalkeeper ought to have snaffled them with pretty minimal breaking of sweat.

The first was particularly lamentable stuff, given that the ball came straight at him, and that his chosen course of action was then simply to shovel the ball onwards in its journey, while falling backwards into the net. I suppose one can give him the benefit of the doubt with the second, and the penalty left him with little chance; but for the fourth he again struck me as being a little too keen to wave the white flag.

That fourth, from Richarlison, was at a pretty tight angle for the forward, and while it is not really my place to lecture Lloris, I do wonder if the outcome might have been altered if he had thought to display a little less goal, or maybe stuck out a paw in preventative manner as a means of voiding the attempt. Just a thought.

So it’s all slightly unfortunate that there’s a bitter taste in the mouth now that the dust has settled; but whereas in almost every previous week of the last couple of months the grumbles have lasted long into the night on account of having to sit through utterly dire fare, I take some solace in the fact that at least this, and in particular our play going forward, was entertaining fare.

Spurs 2-0 West Brom: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lamela

It’s a rummy thing about life, and also a pretty essential cornerstone of democratic civilization, that two souls seeing exactly the same thing will draw vastly different opinions of it. With that in mind I appreciate that the view over here might not necessarily be universally shared, but I rather fancied that Erik Lamela deserves to have the rosette for being Star Performer pinned to his blazer today.

There were actually quite a few contenders, which is a rare treat, but I thought that from the off Lamela did much to set the tone. There may well be occasions on which Lamela adopts a cautious approach to life, taking a back seat and allowing himself a good half hour to get a sense of how events are playing out before getting involved; but this occasion was not one of those occasions. Instead, picking up where he had left off in midweek, he began proceedings with the air of a man pretty determined to get things done pronto.

Whenever a chum had the ball Lamela seemed to be on the move. Where in previous weeks whichever man were in possession would look up to find that all his friends had deserted him, today every time we had the ball – which was most of the time – a quick glance gave evidence of a nearby little blur of white, which on more considered inspection typically transpired to be Lamela scuttling into frame and pleading his case for involvement.

It proved a popular approach, for Lucas was in similarly supportive mood. The net result was a range of options for whomever was in possession, a treat the like of which in recent weeks has seemed a thing of wild fantasy. As a neat consequence there was variety to our attacking play, and chances came along at a pretty healthy lick.

In previous weeks the supporting roles to Son and Kane have been provided by Bergwijn, who is typically preoccupied with marking an opponent, and Ndombele, whose myriad talents could not truthfully be said to number amongst them ‘Limitless Energy’. The contributions of Lamela and Lucas therefore, simply off-the-ball and in providing options, made a massive impact.

It’s almost an afterthought, but when in possession too they performed handily enough, Lucas in particular seeming to delight in the opportunity to indulge in a few playground-esque wriggles around as many opponents as he could draw in.

2. Hojbjerg’s Passing

On the subject of the Star Performer rosette, what I believe in the trade is known as “An Honourable Mention” ought to be made for the ever-impressive P-E Hojbjerg.

So far, so AANP, I hear you mumble; but in the sort of plot-twist that typically happens around p. 195 and is greeted by gasps of disbelief, in this case the plaudits for Hojbjerg are not so much for the role of indefatigable caretaker (although it should be said that his caretaking was of the usual efficient and no-nonsense ilk) but instead for his surprisingly impressive forward-passing range.

This, I confess, took me by surprise. The point of stationing Ndombele in the deep-lying midfield role alongside Hojbjerg seemed to me to have been that the latter would roll up his sleeves and fly through the muck, precisely in order that the former might receive possession and pick out killer passes.

Instead, while Ndombele seemed often to wander off in the directionless manner one sometimes sees traced by snails along the ground – you know the sort, meandering around and back on themselves, with no clear end-point in evidence – Hojbjerg seemed to take it upon himself to combine the rolls of muck-flying and killer-passing. And he did the latter in particular with aplomb.

I recall he had shown in the game away to Man Utd a surprising knack for the weighted pass inside the full-back, a routine looked upon with particular fondness here at AANP Towers, and he was at it here again, sliding in Aurier deliciously in the first half.

Much has been made of the well-spotted and equally well-weighted pass to set up Kane’s opener, but it ought not to be overlooked that immediately prior to that he set the whole routine in motion by playing another ball inside the opposing full-back to pick out Ben Davies, in a mini-acre of space on the left wing. Ben Davies, being Ben Davies, took the blandest option available and wandered infield to little effect before giving the ball back to Hojbjerg, and from there the goal was duly assisted.

However, even Homer occasionally nods, and at one point Hojbjerg made a pig’s ear of things by allowing himself to be caught in possession and a West Brom counter-attack to magic itself out of nothing.

(But as it turned even this was drizzled in stardust, as the resulting passage of play saw West Brom pile men forward, only for our lot to pinch possession and set off on the counter-attack for our second. One is tempted to suggest that Hojbjerg, in his infinite wisdom, deliberately lost possession in order to draw out West Brom for the counter-attack – but this is maybe a little too fanciful.)

3. Kane

Inevitably, where there is a discussion of Star Performer rosettes, one need not wait too long before the distinctive brogue of Harry Kane is making itself heard, and in his understated – and at times, headline-grabbing – manner he was at it again today.

His radar was actually decidedly shonky in the early portions, but that particular wrong was righted in good time, and his equalling of Bobby Smith’s mark as our second highest scorer ever gave a handy moment for reflection on quite how magnificent he is.

However, as is often the case these days, his goal amounts almost to an afterthought, because it was the overall Kane display that got the juices flowing here. The whole game was, of course, a completely different kettle of fish from the Chelsea debacle in midweek, but nevertheless the contrast between Vinicius against Chelsea and Kane today could not have been much starker.

Where Vinicius was honest but limited as a fairly static and ineffective target man, Kane bobbed and weaved about the place, dropping deep as often as he headed to the uppermost point in the formation.

Naturally enough, West Brom were pretty spectacularly out of their depth when it came to handling him, and while they went through all the correct and official motions it was basically to little effect, because these days Kane just does what he wants and there is precious little that most defences can do to contain him.

The chest-off to Lucas for our second goal was a particular highlight, and the interplay with Lamela, Lucas, Son and, slightly oddly, Ben Davies, in the first half in particular, brought a bit of fun back into our football.

4. Jose’s Redeeming Tactics

All things considered I’m not sure this could have been more satisfactory if specifically hand-picked from a catalogue of such things.

Having wasted no opportunity to deliver both barrels at Out Glorious Leader in recent weeks for the style (was there ever a greater misnomer?) he has cultivated to such ghastly effect, it is only fair to give a faint but meaningful nod of the head towards him today for making such tweaks as were necessary, to both personnel and positioning of personnel. Even before kick-off, the teamsheet alone had an uplifting whiff about it.

Aside from the return to arms of Kane, which to the amateur sleuths amongst us wasn’t really as much of a shock as the BT commentator seemed to have it, in selecting his team Jose appeared to have set out with the express intention to win back some of the favour lost at AANP Towers in recent weeks.

Now if you don’t mind, at this point I’ll take a minute to delve into the technicalities, so by all means feel free to disappear elsewhere for a few minutes, and pick up again at the next paragraph. Essentially, by shoving Sissoko out of the picture, dragging Ndombele back into a deeper role alongside Hojbjerg, where once Sissoko had stood, and giving Lamela the freedom of N17 in the more advanced midfield role – where once Ndombele had stood – the whole setup looked infinitely better balanced than in previous weeks.

For whatever reason, and despite possessing many of the necessary attributes for the role, Ndombele is rarely at the peak of his powers when granted the dream role of Number 10. Instead his many talents seem better evidenced when getting stuck into the action from a deeper starting point, and particularly when excused of too many defensive duties, so his delegation in the deeper role today made good sense. Oddly enough, despite the tailor-made platform, his performance ended up being slightly muted, but it mattered little given that the eyes of everyone else on show fairly lit up from the off.

Admittedly one had to take certain accommodating circumstances into account, not least the fact that this was a West Brom team seemingly determined to be even more like Jose’s Tottenham than Jose’s Tottenham, taking every opportunity to sit back and defend their own area until they fell behind. To have set up in the face of this with the usual back-six would have been a bit thick even by Jose’s standards. Nevertheless, we showed precious little attacking intent recently against a similarly lowly Fulham, so the more progressive tweaks in personnel and position were very welcome today – even if the cynic inside me does suspect a return to drearier ways in upcoming fixtures.

Spurs 0-1 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. New Season, Same Dross

The cheery new-season optimism at AANP Towers dissipated after around 7 minutes, which feels like it might be some sort of record.

Having raced around immediately post kick-off as though they meant business, our heroes pretty swiftly reverted to type once those initial sprints had been sprinted, and spent the remaining 83+ minutes of the game displaying all those ominous traits that had wormed their way into the fittings at the end of last season.

Mistaking today’s opponents for Barcelona circa 2012 we generally sat off them, genial hosts that we are, and let them do as they please, wherever they pleased.

In possession, ‘Anything But Urgency’ seemed to be the mantra, as the ball was gently plopped this way and that in the slow, soothing and threat-free manner of a lullaby one might hum to a sleepy infant.

Service of any sort to Kane was unapologetically removed from the menu; a goal was conceded from a pretty rudimentary set-piece; and having gone behind our lot appeared to down tools and relax, seemingly under the misapprehension that this was a two-legged affair, and there would be plenty of opportunity to correct things at a later date.

Since his arrival Jose has seemed to enjoy reeling off a chorus along the lines of ‘Give me a pre-season and I’ll show you a team in my image’ – but the evidence of our eyes was that of a team whose dial has been set to ‘Underwhelming’ and is absolutely not for deviating from that course.

2. Hojbjerg

Since I write this thing under oath I might as well come clean and admit to my public that when Hojbjerg signed up, while not exactly moved to dancing a jig, I nevertheless went out of my way to nod in approval and insist to those within earshot that here was a smart purchase.

On paper, everywhere you cared to look there was a ticked box. The chap was evidently fond of a tackle, had the good sense to position himself in the sort of positions that upset opposition attacks at source, had run a lap or two in the Premier League and was reasonably well priced. A cure to all life’s ills he might not quite have been, but a dashed handy addition to the rack he most certainly was.

And, continuing the spirit of Bible-sworn honesty, I thought that his opening quarter of an hour in lilywhite did much of what was scrawled on the tin. He tackled, he positioned himself usefully within spitting distance of the back-four, he poked his nose in Everton’s business. It was low-key stuff admittedly, and no bones were shattered or worlds set alight – but it seemed to be the good, honest stuff of which behind-the-scenes midfield minders are made.

The commentary bods evidently disagreed, and with considerable strength of feeling, but in the early stages at least I thought it was all palatable enough. Being Tottenham through and through, one is inclined to give the newbies the benefit of the doubt, plus a little extra. To do otherwise would not be cricket.

However, as the hands of time continued on their relentless march, so Hojbjerg’s contributions became by turns less remarkable, then more ordinary, and then downright ragged, if you pardon the fruity language.

Now one does not slander one’s fellow Spur lightly, and much less on debut, so a little perspective would not go amiss. This was no horror-show, it simply meandered into ineffective territory, which happens to the best of us.

But having been heralded as the sort of bean who would call spades spades and stamp down on any nonsense, it was a heck of a downer to see levels of midfield bite drop to zero, levels of midfield creativity fail to rise above zero and life drain away well before the curtain came down. Hojbjerg remains a good player, and the odds are that the coming weeks and months will demonstrate as much, but this was disappointing stuff.

3. Doherty

The other shiny new toy in the cupboard was shoved about a mile up the right wing and told to get on with it. Hopes were high for young Doherty, and who knows, if he had picked his spot six inches to the east or west when through on goal the headlines might be of the upbeat and celebratory variety.

Alas, his diem went un-carped, and instead we were left to reflect on a curious sort of performance that was neither one thing nor the other until he ran out of puff and had mercy shown.

He seemed to get the broad gist that his role was as much attacking as anything else, and it is worth remembering that by virtue of not being Serge Aurier he did not contribute anything in the way of kamikaze penalties or red cards from thin air.

At the same time, one got the impression as often as not that a geography lesson or two might be in order, as at times he seemed to be a member of the back-four in name only, being stationed a good twenty yards from the others even when on the back-foot.

Presumably other days will showcase better his crossing ability, but it was a shame that his expertise in this area was rarely used. The dash forward and one-two with Kane that led to his big chance did at least give the watching world a glimpse of the man’s capabilities, and I rather fancy that if the urgency he showed in driving into the Everton area in that instance were to become the norm, then the world would be a better place.

As with Hojbjerg, one would assume that better days will come.

4. Brighter Notes

Still feeling in honest mood I’ll confess that this is gearing up to be one of the shorter paragraphs of the memoirs, but I thought Davies made a passable contribution, and hared forward a few times as if he knew Danny Rose were watching and waiting for fresh material about which to complain.

Lucas also at least had the decency to look interested, even if just about every attempt of his to build a head of steam and become some unstoppable force of nature stalled at take-off.

And, gloriously, we always have Jose’ secret weapon, The Lightning Quick Counter-Attack From The Opposition Corner. In the absence of any other tactic, one deviously wonders if we might start deliberately conceding corners, precisely to create the platform for Sonny, Lucas and Kane to gallop the length of the pitch and fashion a one-on-one. Now if that’s not grounds for boundless, sunny optimism about the future, then frankly I don’t know what is.

Spurs 2-1 Arsenal: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Jose’s Masterplan

Being a noble sort, having spent the last six months aiming pelters at Jose from all angles for the bad he has done our club, I have no problem whatsoever in muttering a grudging half-compliment in his direction, for masterminding The Most Jose Victory Imaginable. Cut AANP open and you find humility coursing through his veins.

I asked on these very pages last week whether we would take a trophy playing the way we have been (specifically it was after beating Everton in a game that made the nation’s eyes bleed) – and while the answer over here is, I’m afraid, still a resounding “Not on your life,” nothing soothes the soul like beating that ‘orrible lot from South London. Seeing Sol Campbell looking so deflated in the telly box afterwards was a charming bonus.

The second half in particular spelled out in huge font exactly how The Masterplan was to work. Team Lilywhite kept their shape admirably, and made the conscious decision to rock onto the back foot and soak up all that Arse could throw our way. An approach not without risk, but to their credit each individual carried out their instructions, maintaining discipline in both position-keeping and decision-making.

It would be stretching things to say it was backs-to-the-wall stuff, “Arm’s length” being the more accurate headline for that particular half hour’s frivolities, and let’s not forget that Arse were within a lick of paint of getting their goal and leaving us in a considerable pickle.

The reward on this defensive investment came in the form of counter-attacks, which gradually increased in frequency as the second half wore on. The pace of Sonny and occasionally Lucas, coupled with the usual bloody-mindedness of Kane, ensured that there was plenty of threat about this counter-attack, and with Arse boasting their very own version of Serge Aurier in that lad Mustafi, opportunities for our lot going forward were scattered surprisingly liberally. Indeed, in the final ten or so, once Arse had to chase the game, we might have had far more than just the single-goal lead.

2. Formation

Having tinkered on a weekly basis with personnel, formations and intricate instructions involving lopsided wing-backs when attacking and interchanging of positions depending on the angle of the sun in the sky, Jose switched to 4-4-2, and a calm descended upon the team.

Given that this has become the worst Tottenham side since the 90s, there was a pleasing symmetry to the choice of this most 90s-esque formation, but it proved a good move. For a start, any reversion to 90s popular culture gets the AANP Seal of Approval, and moreover 4-4-2 seemed a sufficiently uncomplicated system for even our most stupid personnel to understand.

It was pretty rigid stuff, but after the interpretative dance routines that have been on display defensively in recent games, some rigidity was much needed. Within this 4-4-2 the instructions were pretty clear all round. Essentially, all eleven were popped into position at the outset, ordered to stay there throughout, and just like that we had some much-needed structure.

In fact, rather than a 90s homage, there was something of ‘Arry’s Tottenham about the set-up, with Winks and Lo Celso giving passable imitations of Hudd and Modric on sentry duty in front of a back four.

Whether or not this is the formation to be adopted going forward remains to be seen, but it was both charming and, crucially, effective in its simplicity. Our lot held their positions and repelled whatever was thrown at them, limiting Arse to precious few clear chances, and countered in a speedy blur of legs as the game wore on.

3. Lucas’ Contribution

Of course, all the planning in the world, masterful or not, would have counted for precious little if our heroes had wandered off and boiled their heads, so it was a blessed relief that by and large they obediently carried out instructions like a pack of well-trained Labradors.

It was also pretty crucial that they displayed a dashed sight more vim about their business than in recent weeks. Admittedly, the bar in this respect could hardly have been lower, but it was still necessary that someone set the tone, and in this respect Lucas made his most important – and, some cynics might impertinently intone, his first – contribution since The Miracle of Amsterdam, by racing out of the starting blocks to thwack a first-minute effort against the palms of the Arse goalkeeper.

That it did not go in was relatively moot – the important point was that at least one of our lot appeared sufficiently awake to have understood that a football match was in progress, and if any of his teammates had missed the memo beforehand, that contribution might have reinforced the message.

Lucas looked lively throughout the first half, albeit within the confines of his left midfield pen. In a curious way, the limitations of his position seemed to liberate him, and he did not need asking twice to get his head down and attempt a dribble.

Even more impressive was his vision and weighting of a pass into Kane in the second half – from which, I think, Kane’s saved shot brought about the corner from which Toby scored. Admittedly there is something of the butterfly-flapping-wings-in-one-continent-and-all-hell-breaking-loose-in-another about that, but it was a heck of a pass nevertheless. Others may get the plaudits (although the game was not brimming with stand-out contributions), but Lucas’ little inputs played their part.

On an editorial note, I have since found out that he made more tackles than anyone else seemingly in history, so back-slaps galore in his direction.

4. Serge Aurier – Still Our First Choice Right-Back

Meanwhile, Serge Aurier was busy doing what Serge Aurier does.

That none of his moments of utter cranial absence resulted in goals/penalties/red cards does not mask the fact that he still continues to litter them about the place with the carefree insouciance of a man who knows there is not another bona fide right-back at the club.

(Strictly speaking one might point an accusing finger at him for not mopping things up immediately prior to the first Arse goal, but given that the goal was both a) random and b) blistering in nature, I’ll deign to excuse him for that one.)

The goal aside, Aurier produced his usual medley – a needless corner here, a needless going to ground there. And this, head-scratchingly, is our undisputed number one when it comes to the number 2 shirt.

Young Walker-Peters has at least been gaining playing time out at Southampton, but the chap does not yet appear anywhere near the standard needed for a supposed CL team. Other options at right-back include Foyth, Toby and Sissoko – none of whom were sculpted for the role by Mother Nature.

When one harks back to the Walker-Rose axis of a few years ago, one realises quite what a difference a top class full-back can make. Aurier at right-back is a wrong that needs righting as a matter of priority this summer.

5. Toby’s Many Virtues (Including Not Being Eric Dier)

Mercifully, at the other end of the scale of Defensive Ability from Aurier sits Toby Alderweireld.

Had Eric Dier not waded into the stands to engage in polite conversation all those months back, he might not have been banned, might still be starting in defence and, arguably, our back-four would not have looked half as robust as it has done since he was bundled off the stage and Toby brought in.

Random, unprompted moments of defensive madness are now at a minimum, which might sound a strange compliment to pay any team above Sunday League level, but when one considers quite how many goals we’ve conceded from individual errors this season, this absence of U.M. of D.M. actually becomes pretty crucial. And Toby can take a heck of a lot of credit for this.

For a start, he just does not make as many mistakes as Dier and Sanchez, on top of which his reading of the game generally has the effect of dousing a fire before the flames ever really kick in and make merry.

One can only speculate, but as a supporter the presence of Toby in the back four immediately lowers the pulse, reduces the greying and adds a few years onto life expectancy; one imagines that behind the diplomatic witterings the players themselves must be queueing up to thank Jose for picking him.

Lovely headed goal, too (and when was the last time we ever saw the late, lamented Christian Eriksen deliver a corner of that quality?)

6. The Jose Way’ vs ‘The Tottenham Way’

A win against that lot is always to be enjoyed, but I maintain that there is something galling about seeing our heroes set up to defend and counter. Ceding possession and camping in our own defensive third seems to me a little too close to announcing that we consider ourselves not as good as the other lot, and avoiding going toe-to-toe.

One would understand the sentiment against Barcelona away, but this is a fairly moderate Arse side. At what point do we consider ourselves capable enough simply to outplay an opponent? And, more to the point, aren’t we a club built upon the notion of outplaying an opponent, making exceptions only for the likes of Barcelona away – and even then only because there is a home leg to come?

It might be, however, that insisting that we stick to The Tottenham Way, at a time when confidence is shot and a result is desperately needed, is simply allowing pride to have its devious way – and since we’re going so big on 90s themes today, it is probably worth remembering that Marcellus Wallace, of Pulp Fiction fame, had some pretty pointed and uncomplimentary thoughts on pride. In short, he was not a fan.

I maintain that most other managers worth their salt would find more pleasing ways to get us from A to B. However, for now at least, Jose it is – and this appears to be The Masterplan. Yesterday it could not have been much more effective, but the prospect of this approach becoming the norm in N17 does still makes one shudder with a nameless fear.

Sheff Utd 3-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Exciting Front Four In The First Half!

Nothing like a jot of positivity before we get stuck into the gloom, what? And in that jolly vein, I thought that in the first half, going forward our lot had a decent dollop of oomph.

In that glorious first 45, possibly excluding the opening 5 or 10 in which Sheff Utd started stronger, the case was made for a front four sans Dele, at least when counter-attacking. Lucas, Bergwijn and particularly Son seemed each to derive a certain pleasure from getting their heads down, revving up the motor and haring away.

Where Dele dances and pirouettes and takes umpteen touches seemingly intent on slowing things down so that we might all take our seats and marvel at the Dele Alli Fancy Touches Show, these three were keener to get from A to B in the quickest time possible.

The disallowed goal, far from knocking the stuffing from us, seemed instead to pique our lot, and by the time the half-time toot sounded an equaliser, if not exactly an inevitability, looked a heck of a decent bet.

Admittedly, despite our 70% possession, on the two or three occasions on which our hosts set foot in our area they looked like scoring, but more about our defensive shambles anon. For one further sentence, let’s just marvel at the first half threat we occasionally posed!

2. Yet Another of the Worst Performances We Can Remember (Esp. The Defending)

Thereafter, alas, things took a lurch southwards, and the second half ranks as one of our worst since the 90s – or it would do if there weren’t so many poor performances this season alongside which it shuffles neatly into place. Brighton away and Leipzig spring immediately to mind, but I suspect that I’ve managed successfully to expunge a couple of other debacles from the loaf, through the cunning use of copious amounts of post-match bourbon.

Back to the second half. As soon as the players were released from the traps the set-up began to wobble like the dickens. We continued to have the bulk of possession, making it a smashing evening for fans of multiple-touch football and slow and ineffective passes.

It was a less triumphant affair for those who had rather hoped that our lot might fight tooth and nail for every loose ball. It should not be possible to be so obviously second best despite having twice as much possession, and yet there in full technicolour was the proof.

As if the impotent attacking play and general lack of fight were not enough, we were also treated to defending the like of which had us rubbing our eyes and wondering if some elaborate hoax were in effect. Despite having been under the watchful tutelage of that supposed master of the art of defending, Our Glorious Leader himself, for the past few months, our lot approached their defensive duties in the style of a troupe to whom the concept of football had been newly introduced only an hour or two earlier.

It began in the first half, as each time a United player set foot in our area, despite there being copious bodies back in the general vicinity, not one of them thought to close the blighter down. We got away with it once or twice, but when United scored their opener the chap did so having had the time to settle in and make a cup of tea beforehand, despite half our team being in situ in the penalty area.

And then it happened again for their second. The various Tottenham bodies scuttled back into the six yard box, and then actively ignored the whereabouts of either ball or opposing players. They simply loitered in their chosen spots and watched as the United lot freely sauntered into the gaping spaces.

What the dickens is Jose teaching them? What are they saying amongst themselves? How are these paid professionals quite so incapable of grasping the basics?

Time for a sit-down and a stiff drink.

3. Pretty Poor Stuff in Midfield Too

Nor was this solely a disaster for the back four, although the tactic of squashing themselves into a narrow line within the six yard box and hoping that nothing bad would happen beyond that was pretty peculiar stuff. The midfield played their part by virtue of letting United breeze through them at will when on the defensive, and offering precious little going forward.

Perhaps I do them an injustice, when one considers the first half. Lo Celso certainly didn’t offer much, happy to slink into the shadows when he really ought to have been bounding around screaming for the ball so that he could direct operations.

But Sissoko in the first half made a couple of rather odd forays into the limelight, demonstrating much that is good and bad about him, often in the same motion. More than once he picked up possession from deep and charged forward in that unstoppable fashion of his, only to reach the point at which a decision ought to be made and duly panicking, in that slightly comical fashion of his.

The pair of them were neither a defensive shield nor a font of attacking ideas, and by the second half they numbered amongst our numerous passengers.

(A note on the rarely-sighted Ndombele: not much reason either to laud or chide the fellow, but the one pass he played, for an offside Son to pop into the net, was a little reminder that he does have in his locker absolutely exquisite vision.)

4. Lamela and His Many, Many Touches

I happened to read the other day that Erik Lamela has been at the club something like six or seven years now, which is a pretty extraordinary act of misdirection on his part. How did he get away with that?

So often hinting at a game-changing trick or two, and always charging around with the very welcome sackfuls of aggression but also rather regrettably low intelligence of a wounded bull, the young bean yet again expended a lot of energy without delivering anything of note.

Heaven knows how he fares in those training ground exercises in which only one or two consecutive touches are allowed, because he wanders the pitch with the air of one who was deprived of his own ball as a child, and now insists on keeping it to himself for as long as possible, before being swarmed upon by opponents.

Lockdown has been a test for all of us, but few things have driven me to swear out loud within an empty room like the sight of Lamela taking umpteen more touches than is necessary before messing up the end-product.

5. VAR – Not A Game-Changer, As We Were Perfectly Rubbish Without It, But Still Odd

Few right-minded folk will stomp their feet with too much animation about the VAR decisions, given how bad we were thereafter, but as ever the decisions did make one scratch the head and wonder if the point of spotting clear and obvious errors has been lost somewhat.

With respect to the disallowed goal, eggs is eggs and rules, unfortunately, are rules. Deliberate or not, fouled or not, if the ball hit Lucas’ hand then the case for the prosecution can sign off early. An iffy rule no doubt, but the honest souls paid to watch on a screen and make a decision are only carrying out orders.

My objection, rather, was that it did not appear 100% – or, to you use the parlance de jour, it was not “clear and obvious” – that the ball struck the hand/arm of Lucas at all. A case could be made that it did, a case could be made that it did not, but clear and obvious it was not. (And of course, it should have restarted with a free-kick.)

I was equally miffed that a moment or two later a Sheff Utd player (Norwood?) who had only just been booked escaped scot-free having taken a look at Sonny, raised an arm and given him a healthy clobbering to the head. A straight red card in the AANP book of such things, and even when looked at more objectively it might have been deemed a second yellow; but such is life’s rich tapestry.

Let none of it distract minds, however, from the fact that we were utter garbage and our defence is populated by incompetents.

All Action, No Plot © 2021. Theme Squared created by Rodrigo Ghedin.